Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmastime: When I'm (Almost) Normal

I love Christmas, as much as a part of me protests the very idea. All the phony cheer, that horrible music, commercialism, and mythology. And yet, I can't resist its charm. I don't understand the cheer, I hate Christmas music, I despise commercialism whilst cynically accepting its inevitability, and although I have a huge soft spot for Jesus and the sentiment surrounding him, I recognize that the Nativity story is very likely a total fabrication. Yet when the air starts to get a chill, a chill that never goes too far beyond that here in California, and I start seeing multi-colored lights everywhere, lights that eat up so much electricity, wasting a great deal of money and resources that could be used to actually help people, somehow my heart warms to it all. Christmas in America is an extremely stupid affair, but I love it.

No doubt this in part because I was raised to love it. I was spoon fed it, being brought up in a white, middle class, American family descended mostly from Protestants. (My mother is agnostic and has a Russian father with Jewish blood, although we didn't know we were Jewish at all until recently. But our Christmases were, I imagine, about the same as any other average WASP family). I loved Christmas. I mean, what middle class white kid with kind-hearted parents wouldn't? We were dysfunctional and nuts of course, but nobody got hit, nobody yelled too much, and nobody put anyone down (well, I got put down for my weight all year, but I'll chalk that up to ignorant American ideals and clumsy adults failing to recognize the power their words have over children). On the whole, we were what you'd call a very normal family (We didn't fall apart until I hit puberty, which also seems fairly normal). But when I was a child, Christmas was great.

We had plenty of presents, and of course I was always excited about that. These days, of course, my intellectual side yells at me about how brainwashed I was, and how sick the idea of Santa Claus truly is; a Greek saint perverted into a magical white man from the North Pole as an incentive to squeeze some extra good behavior out of children who can't think abstractly enough to understand that good is not always rewarded nor bad always punished in the real world. It's like Western soteriology gone totally mad. But still, I loved it at the time. Now I think that if I ever have children of my own, I'd prefer to dismiss the Santa myth. But I'd still want to do presents. Get rid of the naughty/nice bullshit, and just have an excuse to give a little extra and get a little extra.

I also like the idea of going to church on Christmas or Christmas Eve. I find the idea of God incarnating to dwell with us so very heartwarming and sweet, whatever the twisted theological circumstances Christianity claims warranted it. St. Irenaeus believed that it was always God's intention to come to Earth in the flesh, but the horrific state of humankind made Him come down early to clean up our act. (To a cynic like me, that's not all that far-fetched, really. Not if you believe in God, at any rate).

I like the Christmas story, and I like having that be a part of Christmas, even if I don't believe in the religion anymore. I still believe in God, in a most heretical way, but I pray on my own terms. That doesn't take away the beauty of Christmas, the angels, or Mary and Joseph to me, however. Going to church, with the lights low, some cheesy hymns, and a narrative you've heard a million times before, sometimes acted out laughably by children making the whole thing insufferably cute, with maybe a short homily or sermon attempting to make it relevant again each year; these things will always hold a special place in my damaged heart.

This is all my Christmas past and present. But I also fantasize about the future around this time of year. I resist it, I even hate it at times, but I fantasize. Winter brings with it the desire for more closeness. It's very physical, very natural, very base. We're cold, so we have stronger urges to have bodies against us. Pretty cut and dry when you look at the facts. But that doesn't weaken the emotional sway over us. I'm a neurotic freak who values his space, but I'm also extremely touchy-feely. Physical contact is very important to me, which is why I don't ever take it lightly. I don't like being touched by people I don't know, especially unexpectedly, but I like being very close to and touching people who I love. That applies to family and friends, but obviously there is a whole other level of contact that you get with someone you're in a romantic relationship with. And because that's what I lack every year, that's what I fantasize most about, against all my better judgment. (All right, that's not 100% true. I spent one Christmas in a relationship. Not a great one, but not terrible either. Another Christmas I spent dating someone, but I was drunk for about 99% of the time I was involved with that person, so whatever regrettable glee and closeness I was feeling was certainly not what you'd call "authentic.")

Christmas is a beautiful time of year to me, and I hate that I always experience that beauty alone. During the rest of the year I watch sunsets alone, I go for drives through the mountains alone, I walk through gardens and trails alone, and I watch sappy movies alone. Christmas is just another one of those things I'd love to share. I fantasize about holding hands with someone and simply walking around somewhere where people are engaged in cliche and silly Christmas activities, like the downtown or square of a small town, even local ones here in Southern California (hell, even Los Angeles has areas like this). I think about walking around, hand-in-hand, mainly in silence, just absorbing the sights, sounds, and smells of Christmas. Christmas tree lots (oh don't get me started on what an egregious and ridiculous waste of good trees those are! Potted trees, people. Potted!!), outdoor malls, ice-skating rinks (yes, we have those in L.A.), art walks, even cemeteries (people leave extra flowers or decorations on the graves of their loved ones at certain times of the year) - everything comes to life a bit more at Christmas.

I want to walk around these places with someone close to me, near the crowd but never really in the crowd, staying on the periphery, and enjoying the fact that other people are enjoying themselves; Allowing my over-analytical brain to switch off and appreciate other people's joy for once, no matter how shallow it may be. I want to spend nights like this with someone, ending the evenings by going home together and watching horrible, cheesy holiday movies.

I can't allow myself to spend too much time thinking about this, because it makes my heart ache, and I can't afford much more of that. But it's never too far from the surface. Foolish hope and quiet desperation don't lend themselves well to successful searching for potential partners, especially if you're a heterosexual male in this society (Okay, quiet desperation may be the wrong term. I never really do anything quietly). Nevertheless, it's what I want, and what, somewhere deep down, I believe I deserve. For all my self-loathing and low self-esteem, I still somehow believe I deserve it, even whilst I believe I may never find it.

But that's part of Christmas to me. Closeness of all kinds, an extra surge of emotions both good and bad, and a little slice of foolish hope and pipe dreams. I do all I can to pragmatically sort out my past, effectively utilize my present, and make my way toward a better future, but there is still a ridiculous and stupid poet that occupies part of my brain, and, I don't know how, but he's not dead yet. Actually, I'm grudgingly glad he's not dead. I need him. I need that idiotic romantic to save me from horrible, horrible reality. Reality can get overwhelming at times, and that dumbass poet sitting under imaginary trees, convening with spirits no respectable person would ever convene with, well, he is my hope. And he is most alive at Christmas. He helps me more than he hurts me (although he does plenty of that too). And deep down, when I feel that cold air in my lungs, taste eggnog, see all those beautiful twinkling lights, or hear songs about a baby Jew born two thousand years ago, I very much welcome that stupid part of me to take over for awhile.

Have a happy Christmas, Chanukkah, and Kwanzaa, everybody. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Depression and Getting Out of Bed: The Battle at Fort Comforter

Some mornings, this is just the way it goes... 

: "Get out of bed."
VOICE: "You need to get up."
OTHER VOICE: "Go away. Depressed."
VOICE: "All the more reason. Get up. You gotta take a pill and then wait an hour before you eat. During that hour you can start working. That'll make you feel better."
OTHER VOICE: "Can't move. It's cold."
VOICE: "That sounds like an excuse."
OTHER VOICE: "Damn right it is."
VOICE: "You'll feel better when you start working."
OTHER VOICE: "What's the point? No one gives a shit about my art anyway."
VOICE: "That's not technically true."
OTHER VOICE: "Right. I post a stupid meme or a lame joke and I've gotten like 80 likes. I post a song I wrote and poured my heart into and I get like 7 at most."
VOICE: "First of all, social media is really not the best way to measure success. Second of all, 7 is better than none, right?"
OTHER VOICE: "Doesn't feel like it."
VOICE: "Ok, look, if in a year's time you still have such a small audience, I'll admit that we're failing pretty hard. Right now, you're building up from nothing. So 7 is a success."
OTHER VOICE: "But the numbers haven't grown at all."
VOICE: "You also haven't been able to do much promotion yet. In the meantime, you need to work on this other stuff."
OTHER VOICE: "No. I wanna stay here and die."
VOICE: "Look, you're not going to build an audience from that bed!"
OTHER VOICE: "I'm lonely."
VOICE: "I... what? Where did that come from?"
OTHER VOICE: "You know damn well where that came from."
VOICE: "Fair enough, but you're not going to find a partner by laying in bed, and, as you put it, dying, now are you?"
OTHER VOICE: "Maybe I will. Maybe Jesus will give me somebody when I'm dead."
VOICE: "You're so dramatic."
OTHER VOICE: "Yes I am. Now go away."
VOICE: "Look, I'm not promising you success; I'm not promising you happiness. All I'm saying is that you will be in less pain if you get up, put on whatever clothes you find, and sit your ass in front of the computer. There are three songs that need your attention right now, and before you tell me that no one will listen to them, remember, I'm not saying they will. I'm just saying that working on them is better for you than not working on them at this very moment."
OTHER VOICE: "So my goal is not to attain anything good so much as distract myself from anything bad."
VOICE: "For today, yes. You only need to survive today. Tomorrow may bring different opportunities. But your chances of them being any better than today's are significantly smaller if you don't get up right now."
OTHER VOICE: "You... hey...  don't try and invalidate my pain with your logic!"
VOICE: "Your pain is quite valid. Haven't I let you stay in bed many times before? Don't I recognize days when it would probably be better to just cocoon yourself and hide from the world?"
VOICE: "But today is not one such day."
OTHER VOICE: "Uuugggghhhh."
VOICE: "You won't find artistic validation nor love by staying in that bed today, now get the fuck up!"
OTHER VOICE: "GAH! FINE! I'm up, all right? FUCK!!"
VOICE: "That a boy."

Monday, September 29, 2014

"Mowaige" - The Disillusioned Wedding Officiant

"Mowaige" was the first word out of my mouth when I officiated my best friend's wedding. I'd guess about half of the people gathered there knew what movie that came from. My friend had specifically told me to begin that way. While solemnity was important, she also wanted humor and light-heartedness. And that's why I was asked to officiate. She and I had our own little version of "church" - just the two of us throwing theological concepts back and forth and seeing what bounced, what gelled, and what was positively absurd. She'd helped me get through a lot of my worst spiritual crises, and I'd helped her do the same. But, most important of all, we'd always make each other laugh about it. So when she and her boyfriend decided to get married, she told me that I was the one she wanted to officiate.

The idea was exciting to me. When I was a child, I was regular acolyte at the Lutheran church I attended. I was always excited to take part in the rituals. I liked the idea of being a preacher or a minister. Part of this was of course because I enjoy being the center of attention, but I also wanted to have a more intimate relationship with the divine. That relationship went through its ups and downs over the years, but my outspokenness and insistence at being the center and impetus of theological debate or spiritual practice never died. Later I became a yoga teacher for the same reasons. And then I considered ministry. I went to college and got my Bachelor's degree in comparative religion. Spirituality had been at the forefront of my existence since I was a little boy. And even when I was an atheist for those few years in high school, I was always talking about it, trying to incite debate, pushing peoples' buttons.

After all those years of searching and searching, and talking and talking, when my friend asked if I'd officiate, it only seemed like the next logical step. Nobody else among my friends was as interested or educated in theology as me. And since I never once told anyone else what to believe, people would always come to me to ask me about different religions and perspectives when they were having spiritual crises, and I delighted in helping them through. It was something I relished for a long time. On top of that, I'm a good writer. My blogs may not reflect that all that well, seeing as how my blogs are mostly stream-of-consciousness ranting, but when I want to put something neat and pretty together, I can do it. I won an award in college for one of my essays on religion from a sociological perspective. I was asked to speak on behalf of my department at graduation. Obviously some people think I know what I'm doing.

And I'm a born fool for the romantic. I can write about love, and I can write about God, or the gods, or basically whatever a couple wants me to write about. Thus far I've done several secular weddings, wherein all metaphor and poetic expression was kept earthly, and I've done several Christian weddings. Secularism and Christianity are easy to cover, since I live in a culture where they dominate the spiritual landscape. But I'd have no trouble performing a Buddhist wedding or some kind of esoteric Eastern philosophy wedding. I could adapt to any form of spirituality. Lord knows I have all the books for it. With a little research, I could probably pull off any wedding as though I belonged to the religion. This isn't far from the truth. I don't believe any religion has it right, nor do any have it all wrong. There are archetypes within them that are shared almost universally and which serve similar psychological and sociological purposes. If the gods do exist, or multiple expressions of one God exist, then I believe it is perfectly reasonable that they are experienced and interpreted differently by all people relative to time, place, and personality. (If you don't agree, I really don't care to hear it, so kindly move along if this offends you. I'm done debating religion. I've been doing it for 15 years, and I'm through. My beliefs are mine and I owe you no explanation for them, nor does anyone else).

I leapt at subsequent chances to officiate weddings. For awhile there, I was on a roll. But something eventually broke in me. I lost count, but I think I've now officiated seven weddings, and I've been to over twenty just within the last few years. I'm 30; practically everyone in my life is getting married if they weren't already. After so many weddings they all begin to sound repetitive. Same vows, same rituals, all with slightly different twists. There's nothing wrong with that, but the individual weddings ceased to feel special to me. I did everything I could to customize my services to the couples whose weddings I performed, and they were always happy with what I came up with. And their families seemed appreciative that my weddings were traditional enough but still light, humorous, and very representative of the couple. That's the job of an officiant, or at least I believe it should be. But I've begun to feel like a complete phony standing up there, rambling on about love and devotion when, to be perfectly blunt, I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about. Love, you say? What is this "love" of which you speak?

If we're being generous, we could say that being single really only counts from 15 onward, although of course lots of people, myself included, started to feel the pangs and the longing much earlier than that. If we use 15 as our base, then I've been single for 14 of the last 15 years. The one year I wasn't single was a learning experience, and I don't regret it, but it wasn't love. It was a toe in the water, it was rite of passage, but it was with someone who was incredibly wrong for me and for whom I was incredibly wrong. The rest of the time I've either been too devoted to other pursuits or just fumbling my way through dating like the socially anxious weirdo I am. Only over the last year or so have I discovered some of the major things I've been doing wrong all these years, and part of it has simply to do with the fact that I didn't know I was suffering social anxiety all this time. Now at least I can start working on the real issue and attempt to improve my mental health which will, hopefully, help me deal with everything else better.

All my life I've been listening to horrible advice from people who have no clue what it's like to suffer from intense and irrational fear. They could never understand why phrases like, "Play the field," "Have fun," "Just relax and be yourself," in regard to dating were just about the most absurd things I'd ever heard in my life. "Have fun"? What the hell part of dating is fun? If you're one of the lucky ones, you have an answer to that question. I don't have an answer. I hate dating. Oh, how I hate it. However, to be fair, the "be yourself" part is true, but part of having anxiety is that you tend to throw up about ten different versions of yourself on one date because you're so terrified that you don't even know which one is the real you anymore. And I'm an actor as well, so I've got even more personalities trying to make me believe they are the superior version of me. I always calm down eventually when I'm with someone who makes me comfortable, but the number of women I've dated that made me feel comfortable even for a moment can probably be counted on one hand. I tend to be awkward and weird even around my best friends until we've been hanging out for an hour or so. It takes me awhile to relax into any social situation. You can imagine how much worse it is when I'm on a first date. (In my defense, I know I don't come of as insane as I'm feeling inside when I'm on a date. But I can be quiet, fidgety, too talkative, or just say the stupidest things that I later kick myself for. Everyone can experience those nerves, but my problem is not what I'm doing on a date, it's what I'm thinking. The utter terror in the mind of a person with anxiety kind of makes it next to impossible to communicate like a normal human, and this includes reading signals like indicators that someone might actually be quite interested in you).

The point is, I've never been in love. Not even close. I've been infatuated, I've feel strong attachments, I've had crushes, and the crushes that lasted longest were invariably the unrequited ones. Hey, unrequited crushes are safe. There's no risk because you've got no chance. Or at least I imagine that's what the sick part of my brain is thinking when I have crushes that last just a bit too long instead of moving along or paying attention to someone who actually notices me. (And by "a bit too long" I mean "WAY too fucking long"). But love? Nah, I'm fairly certain I'd know if I had experienced that.

I went to another wedding this past weekend. Thankfully I wasn't officiating it. I was just there to watch an old friend tie the knot. And during the vows and the exchange of rings I caught myself thinking something I've thought during far too many weddings recently: "What's going through their minds? Is this actually special or are they just doing it to appease their families? Are they doing it for taxes? Is this old hat to them? Do they believe in the act of God joining to people? How can they be so certain and trusting of another human being? Are they nervous because of the ritual or because of stage fright?" But the main thought I had is this: "What, in the Name of God, are they feeling for each other right now??" I don't have a clue. I don't know love. Oh, I can write love, I can sing love, I can mythologize love, but I don't know love. To get to that place in a relationship after you've stayed with someone who gets you and appreciates you, whom you admire and adore, when the infatuation is a bit settled and then a deeper devotion and trust comes to the fore? I can't imagine it. Don't have a clue what that feels like. And yet, I'm often up there rambling on about this shit! Madness! What's an officiant to do?

The words I've written for the weddings I've performed were not written in a spirit of selfishness or phoniness. They were sincere. I wanted to help these people articulate what they wanted to articulate in a quick, sweet, and meaningful way. And I accomplished that. Yet I'm left feeling like a fraud. And not to single out the Catholics, because aside from their views on gender and sexuality, I'm actually a huge fan of Catholicism in general, but I can never imagine what gives a person who is celibate the right to talk about marriage. They can talk ritual, they can talk Sacrament, they can talk divine metaphor, but what do they know of intimate interpersonal love? And I'm beginning to feel like that's all I am - a monk, a priest with no right to talk of these things. The only real difference between me and a priest is that I never took vows. God didn't tell me not to date and get laid - my anxiety took care of that.

The idea of being this otherworldly, priestly figure was romanticized and desirable to me when I was 20. I was so into this bullshit, self-aggrandizing spirituality (I was all about "We're not humans having a spiritual experience, we're spiritual beings having a human experience." Sweet Jesus, really? That phrase just about makes me want to vomit on the nearest hippy now). Having lived that life for a few years, embracing the sick, superhuman ideal, I finally saw just how sick and wrong it was for me. Maybe some people can really roll with that stuff, but for a guy who barely feels human in the first place, floating on Cloud 9 only increases the dissociation to a terribly unhealthy degree. I feel like I've become inhuman not only to myself, but to others as well. I've heard people make the classic complaint: "Always a bridesmaid never a bride," and I can't even claim that. I've never been close enough to anyone to even be a groomsmen. I'm not the groom, I'm not the groomsman, so I'm the priest guy. I'm the village shaman who lives in a hut by himself and has crazy visions of the gods because no one else can have a normal conversation with him (no I don't have visions, but you get what I'm saying).

Sometimes I feel like I've gone too far and I'm never going to feel normal again, or understand how normal people feel about anything. Granted, there are myriad ways in which I thank my lucky stars that I'm not like normal people, but there's one way I envy them, oh Jesus, how I envy them. Normal people seem to be able to fall in love, give into their passions, be impulsive, and when they've got that out of their systems, they seem to be able to find others who understand them and who accept them. Or maybe they're all settling. Fuck if I know. But I wonder what that's like. I can barely imagine it. I don't even feel like my friends want me around most of the time anymore. The second I start talking about what's actually on my mind, I feel like I'm just dragging them down because I have very little positive to say these days (I had a major life crisis last year and was practically a ghost for much of it, I have been without booze for three years, without nicotine for two years - two of the only things that ever calmed me down - I run my business almost entirely by myself and I'm currently doing the jobs of a record company, manager, producer, promoter, and artist, and to top it all off I'm already prone to anxiety, depression, and if I'm stupid enough to pay attention to what's going on in the world or with our government, I just about want to slam my head into a wall).

I feel like I'm going crazy, and there are only two things that convince me that I'm not: One, my best friend deals with the same shit I deal with, often more than I do, and she's a functional person with a job and husband. Two, my psychologist is very clear on this point with me. "Daniel," he says, "You're not crazy. Crazy people don't recognize when they're about to go over the edge, but you're constantly worried about it and working on it. If I start seeing signs, I'll let you know."

But that doesn't stave off the paranoia. I feel like most of my friends don't want me around anymore, but that is a very self-centered thought. I know they all have lives, most of which are busier and more complex than mine. Most of us have a close circle of friends that we center our lives around when we're young. As we grow up and get careers, homes, and meet someone to build new lives with or even make babies with, the circle moves to the side as these new things take center stage. People create new family units of their own. And all of my friends grew up while I stayed in one place. I got left behind, and that's nobody's fault but mine. I don't resent my friends for moving on with their lives. And it's not that we're not all friends anymore, it's just that priorities shift and time constrains. I also don't drink anymore so I don't really care for places where there's lots of drinking, and most of my friends still do. Drinking is unwinding for them, whereas it's disastrous for me. The only reason going to bars or partying was remotely fun for me in the past was because I was a binge drinker and within an hour I was too hammered for the pseudo-intellectual elitist pig in my head to see how stupid it was. And now that I've actually managed to get a life, I tend to work and perform on weekends, when most of my friends are not working.

See, there's a million rational reasons why I never hear from anybody. But, whatever the reasons, it wears on you when don't have somebody around who regularly wants to know how you're doing (I wonder if that's part of that "love" thing). How many of my friends would disappear if I stopped contacting them, I constantly wonder. I'm usually the one to call, so that clearly means they don't need me anymore. Naturally I can't attest to the objective truth of any of these paranoid thoughts because anxiety disorders and depression are incredibly adept at convincing us to damage our own relationships by making us believe that we're unloved and unwanted by people who are probably wondering why we haven't called them. The answer as to why I haven't called them is because I feel invasive every single time I call anyone. My current level of confidence is such that I can't imagine anyone being glad to hear from me, even though I know that's probably not true. It's not rational. But that's how my brain misinterprets reality. You see, living with anxiety is basically like living with an abusive partner who runs you down and isolates you from your support base.

The worst part is that I know I'm supposed to pretend to be all strong and content with my life in order to attract someone. Naturally, nobody's gonna want to spend time with somebody who is miserable 24 hours a day, and that's fair. But it's becoming harder and harder to fake it. It's not that I don't have a sense of humor about it, it's just that my sense of humor is particularly cynical and dark because it is born of a place of suffering. I'm not laughing because I'm happy, I'm laughing because I'm sad and I need to laugh. The glorified image of a strong, stoic male that our society has forced everyone to idolize as the ideal man from childhood on is problematic when you realize that most men actually live here on Earth and have emotions. I've spent a great deal of my life trying to be that guy. And, for better or worse, there's a still a large part of me that wants to be him. But I'm not there. I'm nowhere close. I'm not content. I'm not happy. (I'll give myself strong. I am really fucking strong. Most people wouldn't last a couple days living in my head. They'd throw themselves off a fucking bridge, and I've never even tried to off myself. So I'll go ahead an own my strength).

Sure, I'm happy with some things. I'm happy with the music I make, though not with its reception. I'm grateful that I've got a good family and some friends who are probably wondering why I don't call them when I'm thinking the same thing. I've got four walls around me, a ceiling, and a floor. I live in a privileged society, I'm a privileged sex, and a privileged race (But just wait for it, thanks to Putin and Obama's little word war and proxy fighting in Ukraine, Russians are gonna be marginalized again any day now).

So yeah, I've got things I'm happy about. But I'm not happy. Not at all. And part of that is because the longer I go without knowing or experiencing real life, whatever that is, the more inhuman I feel. It's not just relationships. I've searched my whole life for the ol' cliche "raison d'être," and every time I think I've got it, it falls apart. Only over the last year and a half have I begun to work on something that might just give me at least a vague sense of meaning and purpose. But we'll see. The relationship thing is more complex. And to Hell, to the 9th fucking circle of Hell, with anyone who spits that toxic expression, "No one will love you until you love yourself." Funny thing, actually, we are taught how to love by our parents. As infants and toddlers, we learn to love by being loved. We can't actually love ourselves until we are loved first. We are taught that we are valuable by others and thus we learn to value ourselves and others. We are social animals and we require validation. And I've spent my entire adult life being loved and validated as a brother, a son, a nephew, a friend. Never as a lover. And it's been going on for so long that I can't even see myself as one anymore. I'm starting to lose the picture I once had of myself. When I was younger, naiveté and hope gave me an image of myself as a good boyfriend, lover, husband, etc., but that was merely an act of faith to prepare and placate me. It's what we all do until the real thing comes along. It's like playing house until you're old enough date.

Naturally, we can't center our entire life and world around the love of any particular person, family, friend, or lover; we cannot allow all of our confidence, self-assurance, and sense of safety to rest with the affections of any one person, but without that reassurance, we are not fully human either. It doesn't mean we all have to get married or be monogamous. But there are some needs that only certain types of relationships can fulfill both physically and emotionally, not to mention that sexual relationships, brief or long term, are quintessential to a healthy existence as organic beings (sex is only thing our bodies actually want us to accomplish before we die. It's the only physical reason for our existence, however many other psychological or philosophical reasons we give ourselves to kill the time).

So we'll see if I'll ever make it to fully human. Right now I feel positively alien. At least I've got lots of great episodes of 3rd Rock From The Sun to make me laugh about my situation. I don't know if I'll ever officiate another wedding (well, except the one that I will not allow anyone else to officiate. If you're reading this, Mikey and Baum, remember that. No one is allowed to marry you two except me. I called dibs, dag nabbit!) Maybe someday these horrible feelings of isolation and detachment will go away and I'll be able to better appreciate, or God-willing even understand, someone else's love. At the moment the word "love" seems utterly empty to me, just a fanciful and fantastical word for a bunch of hormonal rushes that initially attract us to one another which are then followed by a patterned dependency that keeps us around. That definition doesn't make it bad, it just makes it look automatic and lifeless. Looking at love like an anthropologist from another planet, studying this bizarre species and their behavior, is just about the saddest thing I've ever experienced. What's to distinguish the beautiful from the mechanical? I'll tell you what distinguishes them - the experience. It doesn't matter how logical and scientific you think you are, if you actually feel love, who gives a shit about the science? Sure, you'll want to keep your wits about you enough to know once the infatuation calms down whether or not this person is actually a good match or if it was just a lovely fling - but if you spend your life looking at people like the biological units we truly are, you're not living life. And right now, I'm filled with doubts as to whether or not I've got what it takes to really live, let alone to know what the fuck to do if someone right for me comes along, or how to not instantaneously fuck that up.

At least I still experience anxiety and depression regularly, I still laugh and get teary-eyed like a sap when I see baby animals being insufferably cute, and I still won't eat meat because the idea of killing something innocent horrifies me, so I know part of my brain still functions like a human. I guess that's a good sign. It'll do for now, anway. It'll keep me alive awhile longer. But if you're ever with me and ask how I'm doing and my responses is to shrug my shoulders and say, "Meh," it's because I don't want to lie and say, "Good," but I also don't want to vomit everything I just wrote herein above to an innocent bystander. And I only just scratched the surface. So take "Meh" as politeness. It's nothing personal or that I don't want to talk to you. It's that, trust me, you probably don't want me to open up.   


Monday, April 28, 2014

A Life Wasted: Anxiety, Regret, And Learning To Live Again

I don't know what I'm doing. Of course, most people don't. Others just seem to have the good fortune of delusional conviction. Or they're just good at faking it. When a cat demands to be let outside, it always seems to have a definite purpose in mind. Cats at the door seem so driven. They stand arrogantly and stare at you until you open the damn thing already! Then, when you open the door for them, they run outside like they're on a mission from God. They run across the threshold, out into the world... then they get halfway across the lawn or down the sidewalk and they stop, sit down, and lick themselves. They had no idea what they wanted to go outside for. All they knew was that they wanted outside. I envy their ignorant conviction. Hell, at least they have conviction.

I don't know what I'm doing. So I'm writing. I'm writing out what I'm going through. Maybe someone will be able to relate and it will help them. Maybe I'm just desperate for expression (well... the latter is definitely true since my music hasn't taken off just yet. Stilling taxiing, as it were).

It was almost exactly a year ago when my life turned on its head. I realized, honestly and without a hint of irony or exaggeration for dramatic effect, that I had no reason to live. None. The only people who wanted me around were my friends and family, and they'd be fine if I left. Oh, it would hurt because they'd miss me, but over time they'd heal, and they wouldn't have my bitching to deal with as often as they always have (Then again, they might miss the bitching. I'm told I'm a very entertaining speaker even when I'm miserable. Russians, eh?) I acknowledged that there were people who'd be sad were I to shuffle off the ol' mortal coil, but none of them truly need me. They have their own families, their own loved ones, their own lives. And as much as I know my family loves me, none of them need me.

I'd spent years making music. I'd spent years academically and experientially studying religion and spirituality. For what? To be ignored. The numbers of people who acknowledged my music were in the dozens at best, and the people who cared what I thought about the things I actually studied, even fewer. Now in hindsight, I realize that this was largely because I knew nothing about marketing or strategy, which is something I'm trying to learn now. But at the time, it hit me - I had no love life. No children. No career. No direction. Nothing. In fact, my friends and family were all I had. They immediately came to the forefront as my list of reasons not to give up. When I was feeling like Death would be a welcome visitor, I had to pull out mental flashcards of people who would be devastated if I walked off screen. And it helped. I never had a razor to my wrist or a gun to my head, but there were many days when constantly running down that list of people was very necessary. Still, that wasn't enough. As much as I appreciate them and how much I know they love me and I love them, I needed a reason to live that came from within me. What did I have to offer the world? Did anyone need me?

The choice came down to two things I've already mentioned: religion or music. I went through the process of applying to grad school for a Ph.D. program in the Philosophy of Religion. I got accepted. But while I was waiting for the acceptance letter, I had time to step back from the process and ask myself why I was doing it. And what answer came to me? I was doing it because of a future that lay far off in the distance. It was a vague hope and a dream I desired would happen were I to pursue this path. Specifically, I was aiming to become a professor of religious studies at a secular university for the income, job security, and very little else. Then I realized that half of the reason why I wanted to get a Ph.D. was to merely prove I could do it, and then turn my back on the pretentious world of academia. Half of my motivation was adolescent rage. That's not a very good reason to pursue 6 to 8 years of miserable, hard work. Besides, if I wanted to prove to the intellectual elite that I was better than them, I could do so without playing it their way.

My motivation was 50% my own cartoonishly immature ego, and 50% working toward a home and a future which may never come my way. I could work hard, I could buy a home, but that's not going to miraculously conjure up the love of my life or children. And so it dawned on me that I was pursuing a myth. I was living my life for something that was so far out of my reach that I could no longer fool myself. It wasn't tangible. It wasn't real enough. I saw through my own delusions. What was I left with? Music. Music was literally the only thing I had left to live for. So, naturally, as any animal does in a similar situation, I chose the thing that would keep me alive. I chose music. Adolescent rage wouldn't serve me well in academia, but it would serve me damn well in writing relatable songs.

At last, this pre-mid-life crisis had given me the direction I'd always needed. I finally decided it was time to face the demons who had been stopping me from pursuing what I'm actually best at. The fear of the industry, the fear of my own failures, and, worst of all, the fear of rejection had completely crippled me. I never allowed myself to make a move. I stagnated and settled for wasting time. I recorded albums, and I'd let them sit there collecting dust, heard by only a handful of people nearest to me. I had clipped my own wings.

The positive side of realizing this: I found a reason to live and the motivation to get my music moving again. The negative side: I dragged the river bed and turned up infinitely more junk than I'd bargained for. Alongside realizing that my fears had stopped me from pursuing my desire to write and perform music, they had also stopped me from pursuing love. I was brilliant, so brilliant, at writing about love, wallowing in bleeding-heart, poetic misery, but did I ever actually talk to girls or show interest in them? Oh no. That would've required courage. I flirted, but I did so in such a way that made damn sure that they would take it as a joke. I wanted them, but I kept them all at bay. Now, let me explain a little bit as to why that is. Or at least the parts I know.

From the age of 4 years old and on, I was skinny. Very skinny. You think I'm skinny now? You should've seen me then! I have muscles on my body now. They're lean and long. But they're there. I used to have only skin and ligaments. For literally as a long as I can remember, everyone, including most of my family and our family friends, would comment on my weight. My mother and one aunt are the only ones I don't recall giving me much shit (thank God for them). But from everyone else there was a constant influx of "Do you eat enough?"; "Boy, you need to get some meat on your bones!"; "You need to eat some red meat!"; etc., etc. and so forth. People in this country seem to be under the delusion that it's only impolite to mention someone's weight if they're fat. Wrong. People also seem to be under the impression that you can only damage someone's self-image if they're female. Wrong again. I didn't realize it at the time, but I'd developed quite a complex by middle school. The irony of course was that I wasn't unhealthy. I played sports, I was very active, and I ate plenty. I wasn't a sickly child, I was just skinny. I often didn't want to eat what I was given, but that's called being a picky and stubborn child, something that has very little to do with weight and more to do with... being a picky and stubborn child. And no adult in my life, again aside from my mother and aunt, seemed to think that perhaps constantly telling a child that there's something wrong with his appearance was going to cause problems. 

Middle school came and chiseled that complex right into my brain. The other boys' voices started dropping and then hair started sprouting on their faces. Not me. I still looked like a little boy for a year or two after most other guys were shaving and grunting like oafs. Result? Girls wanted nothing to do with me. When I was in middle school I had still had some foolhardy courage in me. The kind you're supposed to have as an adolescent. But I was rejected enough times that I started to believe I must be hideous. And after a lifetime of being told that there was something wrong with my appearance and that I should try to fix it, what the fuck else was I to believe? The game was rigged from the git-go, and, big surprise, I lost.

In high school, I had a chance to grow beyond those things. I could've conquered those demons and said, "Fuck you!" to the body haters. At a certain point I found a subculture that could roll with my physical deformities and psychological peculiarities. Goth was seemingly a good place for a guy like me. Goth girls liked me. But by that point I'd grown to so hate myself that I dismissed any girl who would be stupid enough to be attracted to me. Clearly there had to be something wrong with a woman who was into me. Fate rigged the game, and then I took over and ensured that Fate's plan was carried out.

I'd had anxiety since I was a child. It was around the age of 7 that I started having a panic attacks. They came and went over the years. In high school I never had any major panic attacks until junior year. But the anxiety came in other, subtler forms. Take the normal fear that every guy has when he's trying to ask a woman out and combine it with social anxiety and self-loathing from a lifetime of body-shaming. I was quite simply fucked. (Or rather, not fucked at all). Still, I had chances to beat it. I had outs. I had opportunities. But I, bleeding-heart martyr that I always wanted to be, instead chose to succumb to my fear and doubt. Step aside Fate, you ain't got nothin' on what I was about to do to myself!

All those years I should've been practicing doing what humans do: fighting, fucking, confronting, alleviating, peacemaking, interacting, practicing, learning, learning, learning, and what was I doing? Building up a wall between myself and the rest of the world (strange to think how much I loved Pink Floyd's "The Wall" in high school and I never once saw the connection). Once in awhile I'd try to break the chains. But it was so hard to come out of my little world in the first place that when I did and subsequently experienced failure, rather than taking that as a learning experience and toughening up, I'd run back in and rebuild the wall. By that point I'd started becoming very good at justifying my issues by masking them with other things (i.e. I was terrified of intimacy. So rather than own up to the fears and face them, I just convinced myself that I was choosing celibacy from some vague religious conviction that I didn't actually believe in).

I have lived my whole life too terrified to actually, well... live it. Over the last 6 months, so many of these things have come to light, so many people, so many times, so many places... regrets. I've always despised people who shout like damn hippies "Live without regrets!" as if they're completely enlightened Buddhas who truly see the wisdom and virtue of all pain and misfortune. Yeah, my ass you do. But I've also never been the kind of person who over-focused on regrets and past mistakes. I was hard on myself. But it wasn't the past I was always lamenting. Well, I'm sure feeling the past now.

I have so great and so many regrets that these last few weeks (I turned 30 this month) have been spent trying to just breathe normally. Sometimes it feels like my own life has me in a choke-hold and I can't get enough air. Half of the time I want to break free and fight back, the other half I want to collapse and let it kill me. Tension can't remain forever. Something has to give.

I want to go back and punch my 17-year-old self in the throat, either to wake him the hell up or kill him. Either way would probably lead to a better place than where I'm at right now. But part of being a coward is being too afraid to initiate change, and were God Himself to give me the chance to change my past, I'd probably even be too afraid to do that. But maybe not. My anger and desire for change is finally beginning to overwhelm my fear.

I can't know that for certain that my life would've been any better had I done things differently. It doesn't matter anyway, because it's all fantasy and illusion. There is no past. It doesn't exist. There's a Russian expression: Из песни слов не выкинешь - "You can't pull the words out of a song" - Meaning, everything in the past has led to this moment, and you either accept all of it, or you accept  none of it. At the moment, I'm having a hard time accepting all of it.

I'm plagued by thoughts of, "You should've have talked to this girl, you should have slept with that girl, you should've played that show, you should've listened to your dad," etc., etc. And those thoughts are useful only in that they haunt me and make me so miserable that I don't honestly believe I can ever go back to the cowardly complacency in which I'd lived in for so long. The kicker, then, is how to make the change happen. I've started to confront the fears of the music industry, and I'm doing it slowly because I want to do it right. Women are a whole different ball game of terror for me. There I feel like I have to move even slower because people are easier to scare away than business opportunities. I feel the same anxiety with women as I do with music industry problems, but it's easier for me to be charismatic and take rejection in professional forums because, although my music is very personal, the rejection is less personal. Of course, no rejection is actually personal unless someone actually knows you very well. But I still have rushes of "She said no because you're an ugly, pale twig." Those thoughts are not as frequent as they used to be. But they're still there. And they're there often enough to cripple me when I'm attempting to convince myself that I am in fact a man of value, and that a woman would be in good hands in my hands. Oh, sure, my friends will tell you that. But my friends have never hated me as I have hated me.

The only thing I've won at in life are my friends. I have some pretty amazing friends. But they didn't know or understand what I was going through. How could they? I didn't even know myself. Nevertheless, they remain at the top of my list of reasons to live. They're all I've got. For my music I am finally working toward earnestly making things happen, and that keeps me going. But my friends and family are the only things I already have that can sustain me in the present moment. Now the real bitch is trying to figure out how to navigate romantic relationships like a human.

I started to break the egg shell, which is good because I'm running out of yolk, and if I stay in here much longer I'll either starve to death or get too cramped and snap my neck. But I can only do so slowly. I don't know what the fuck I'm doing, because I should've learned these things when I was a stupid teenager, foolhardy and carefree. Of course, I was never really foolhardy or carefree. I was born an old man, and a cynical one at that. Only now am I finding any semblance of youthful energy in me. And now I have to learn to harness it as a "normal" person does; "normal" meaning people who went through delicate and terribly emotional changes during the crucial formative years one should go through those things. (How I long for the good ol' days when I would've been married to a stranger at 13. Okay, no, but at least then I would've been made to experience a lot of important things during adolescence like Nature intended).

It's fucking daunting, and sometimes I hate myself all the more for what I did to myself and what I didn't do for myself. But that's okay (well, it's not okay, but I have to be okay with it). The key is to balance acting like an adult while secretly dealing with shit that most people learned as teenagers. Much as I'd love to go crazy and be a complete dill-hole, I know that's not going to help. I didn't like reckless people when I was a teenager, and I wouldn't like myself as one now. I don't drink or use any such substances anymore, because my anxiety is so bad that I overuse anything that remotely alleviates it and then I become a blundering idiot. You can't perform a good set, talk to a DJ, or pick up a woman if you're hammered. But still, there are things I can learn from fools.

I have to learn to live. I have to uncage this beast inside me before he rips me apart from within. Except I can't just let him wreak havoc like I would've, or rather should've, 15 years ago.

Those with social anxiety will probably understand some of this. Those without may not understand how in God's Name I could have wound myself into such a tight knot. Nevertheless, I think we can all understand the experience of past mistakes, regrets (if you don't, you're probably on drugs or a fucking liar), and how when they finally hit you with their full weight, you're left with two choices: live or die. I'm not comfortable making affirmative declarations, but I will tentatively say that at the moment, although I cannot even describe to you how much it hurts some days to wake up, and how often I want to disappear and fade into oblivion... I choose to live.