Thursday, December 31, 2015

End of Year Reflection, or Introspective Nightmare, or For Jay Whitecotton

No one makes me think "fuck you, you're right" on a daily basis like my friend Jay Whitecotton. He is my confidant, adviser and sounding board. He recently mentioned how much he enjoys reading a person's "year in review", which was motivation enough to write this. And considering I've been a bit desperate for inspiration recently, I'll take what I can get.

This has been a tumultuous year for so many people, so it has been a little odd that 2015 was, for me, "The Year I Did Jack Shit." I needed it, though. I've spent the previous two years creating a new lifestyle without drugs or booze while jumping through hoops for probation. Having a year free of any obligations outside of my job and my cat was a welcome change.

There were a few things in the realm of "self-improvement" that I pursued and successfully infused into my daily schedule. I read every day now. I drink smoothies because it's the best way to trick myself into consuming fruit and vegetables. I work out. Yes, really. Shut up.

Those are all nice things. But I noticed one change from the previous couple of years. I hardly posted any blogs or essays this year. I think this occurred for a couple of reasons. First, I became very comfortable with who I am and the life I lead. My anxiety due to addiction or daily struggles had subsided significantly, and I didn't feel the need to "write that shit out" as often as I used to. The need to work it out is a big motivator for my writing, and I almost think I was spoiled with a consistent need to have something to say. The downside to this was I got used to only writing when I was inspired. So once everything was fine...I quit posting.

I'm not a fan of not writing, by the way. When you constantly overthink and analyze every thought, interaction and activity of your day, you will at some point feel guilty that things are fine. "Really, John? It's a good day, is it? Then why aren't you being a productive artist?" It's like my brain will impose some kind of creativity quota for the day that has no logic to it. "You can't just watch that TV show now. You need to write something. A new joke would be nice. Okay, fine, that was an impressively mediocre tweet. Enjoy Rick & Morty."

(Incidentally, if anyone has any suggestions on how to escape thoughts without self-destruction, I'd be glad to hear them. I am visiting the concept of meditation's not as effective as heroin or Jameson, unfortunately.)

I did write a bit this year...almost 2 composition books worth of journal entries and random thoughts. But here's the second reason I didn't post as much on my blog: I wanted to be "right." 2015 certainly felt like "The Year of the Opinion." Daily outrage coupled with multiple convenient soapboxes to jump on turned social media into a very loud place. It's like a crowd of people gathered together, and everyone has a megaphone. How do you make yourself heard? And if people actually listen to you, what if you're wrong?

Being wrong is one of the three big fears of people like me (white). We don't want to be thought of as a) racist, b) a hipster, or c) not in the right on a subject. Keep that in mind if you really want to nail someone. Ooh, or sexist! HOMOPHOBIC, yeah. Fit all those in. You're full of shit, you racist, bigoted, misogynistic hipster motherfucker. (brain explodes)

It seems to me that the reason opinions online are expressed so strongly (besides uncontrolled emotions and lack of empathy) is we're compensating to quiet any possible doubt that what we're saying might not be the whole truth...that it's a point of view based on our limited experience and perception. The fear of publicly being wrong and taking damage to one's ego could be key to why we don't really listen to each other. We don't share ideas and have discussions. We take turns vocalizing points of view without compromise.

Strong opinions are odd when you consider that really, we all know nothing. Outside of personal experience, everything we know we've read or been told, and we assume it to be true. So it's really presumptuous to think that we know the whole truth about anything.

Even knowing and observing this, I felt like just avoiding any possible confrontation on social media. What is the point in presenting questioning thoughts that conflicted with the opinions of friends or acquaintances, I thought. In retrospect, I think the point is to add another perspective to the collective.

No, I don't think we need to ban guns, but it would be nice if they weren't easier to own than an automobile. I don't think all cops are bad, but the system sure makes it difficult to not be. There's a difference between "racism" and "prejudice." If there is no god then let people believe dumb things and move on with your life. Caring about money more than people isn't Christlike. Some people like to victimize themselves so that they can appear to overcome adversity that isn't really there...because we all want to be the protagonist in an inspirational movie. No one asked you to formulate and vocalize a verdict on whether a sexual assault victim is telling the truth or not. Being an American and telling another American to check their privilege seems kind of stupid. Redefining language and terminology is easier than actually having a conversation and addressing the problem...which is why we do it so much. Maybe we shouldn't quantify and compare suffering of individuals and instead attempt to rectify problems. You don't know how it feels to be another person.

Sorry. I needed to get all that out. Here's the deal. I'm probably wrong about some of those things. The more I think about it, maybe I need to be vocal not because I have something to offer necessarily, but because I need to be wrong. You don't get anything out of being right other than an ego boost. Being wrong leads to actual growth...and that's what we all need. We grow and learn until we die.

That's what I've learned this year, Jay. Be vocal but questioning rather than accusing, if possible. Attempt to share thoughts and ideas vs opinions. Don't be another asshole with a megaphone. Be open and willing to be wrong.

Also, I should smoke less.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

It's Complicated

Let's say you and your partner "Kris" are going through a divorce. It is important to finalize the paperwork quickly because your kids are involved, not to mention the costs associated with litigation and the entire process. And of course, the mental and emotional stress associated with this ordeal weighs heavily on you both.

It's a complicated situation. There are many assets to divide up...there's a visitation schedule to work out...numerous factors. Unfortunately, you're deadlocked on all of it because both sides feel they're in the right.

What should happen is both parties finding compromise through effective communication in order to achieve a resolution. Instead, you and Kris avoid starting a dialogue, and you jump on social media. You post on Facebook, publicly admonishing Kris for their behavior and actions. You detail all the times Kris has wronged you and your children. Kris starts tweeting your indiscretions, painting you as a one-dimensional Bond villain.

Friends and neighbors get involved. Some take your side, while others side with Kris. Some are concerned about your children. "What about the children," they say repeatedly. A couple of them worry your pets are being neglected. All have strong opinions, regardless of how much this divorce directly affects them. All feel the need to emotionally express themselves and their points of view online.

Memes are created so that Captain Picard and Willy Wonka can weigh in on the subject. YouTube videos are recorded showing pasty-faced talking heads ranting in untidy bedrooms with bad lighting. GoFundMe pages are created for both sides so that you can continue the good fight.

Hashtags are created and start trending:

Think pieces are written. Some for you...some against you...many say the issue is bigger than you. It's about justice. No, it's about the sanctity of marriage. No, it's about ALL THE CHILDREN! And they're all written with the right amount of smugness and snark to create a personal sense of rightness for the author and to elicit validation from like-minded readers.

And still, you and Kris continue to talk on social media and not to each other.

Why? Why won't you start a real that involves truly listening and that utilizes empathy for that other human being, free of ego?

Because it's hard. Because it is easier to just shout an opinion on a virtual soapbox. Because you'd rather be right than reach an understanding or agreement that might cost you something. Because you're selfish and stupid.

We are all very, very stupid.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Fuck Leaf Blowers

I apologize for the tactless and uncouth title, but I mean it. Fuck leaf blowers. Nothing can completely alter my mood and behavior as quickly as a noisy, destructive, pointless leaf blower droning on at a painful volume in my vicinity.

I don't know how annoying you find them, but let me try to give you an idea of the level of hate I have in my heart for leaf blowers. It's like a coworker telling you a "joke" joke and then repeating the punchline over and over for 20 minutes. It's akin to a random yahoo in a car laying on his horn in one long honk as he follows you while you walk down the street. When I hear a leaf blower, it's as painful to me as being a judge in a Gilbert Gottfried impression competition in which the contestants were Andy Dick, Nancy Grace and Adnan Syed's attorney.

"You know, I think screaming babies are worse than leaf blowers." I think you should maybe look into that child hate issue you have, but all right. A crying toddler can certainly shit on your mood. Ahem. However, no mother puts their screaming baby right up against my window to torture me at home like leaf blowers do. They invade privacy and drive me mad wherever I am. There is no hiding from the madness.

My hatred of leaf blowers is so intense that I actually did research on them...not "let me inform myself" research, but more like "what asshole unleashed this scourge upon the earth" kind of research. His name was Dom Quinto. I say "was" because if there is any karma in this world, he's very dead now. Okay, actually, he introduced them in the '50's, so...pretty good chance he's not around. There is very little about who he is online, which is really odd considering the amount of information available to us online. Could it be that the real inventor is hiding his identity to protect his family from being harassed and verbally attacked due to his infernal device that constantly plagues our world? Makes sense to me, because I have the incredible urge to call the house of his relative and just go, "AAAAAAHHHH" into the phone for half an hour. I'm not alone either. Somebody has already submitted "How can I find information on Dom Quinto the person who invented the leaf blower" to Yahoo Answers years ago. I'm guessing not because they want to tell him, "Hey, great job, guy."

Leaf blowers were originally presented as chemical sprayers, but then the manufacturers found out that people were using them with the chemicals removed rather than use a broom or rake. The manufacturers went with supply and demand. So, if you've been wondering, "Hey, why does the noise of a leaf blower anger me more than say any other loud annoying motor", it's because the sound comes from the worst invention of all mankind...a byproduct of poison, laziness and capitalism, invading your life and ear drums at 102 decibels.

"Hang on...worst invention ever? What about nuclear weapons?" You would have a point except that Joe Dipshit next door doesn't own an atom bomb. But he certainly wields a goddamn leaf blower as he blows all his lawn clippings out into the street and sidewalk on a regular basis. Why? Because he's a selfish lazy douchebag who's willing to annoy and destroy just so he can have a few more minutes of PornHub time in his life.

If you're looking for a balanced, informative article/editorial on this topic, obviously this is not it. I would recommend this article by Cliff Weathers, who is certainly more level-headed about the topic of leaf blowers than I am. He presents other arguments against them regarding health and environmental issues, in case you want to legitimize the hate: more emissions than multiple automobiles, allergy inflammation, topsoil erosion, lung and ear damage, and so on. Plenty of stuff there to loathe. Hey! It's harmful to children, if that does it for you. Sure.

Cliff's article also touches on neighborhood and community bans of leaf blowers and how they're difficult to get into place and ultimately to enforce. All of that is a discussion for rational adults. After dealing with leaf blowers on a daily basis at home, work and just being outside in general, I am no longer rational. I am not calling for a ban on leaf blowers in my neighborhood, city, county, state or country. I am calling for a motherfucking witch hunt. I want an angry mob with pitchforks. I want leaf blowers drug from people's homes and off of landscaping trucks and brought to town square where we guillotine them, French Revolution-style.

Give me vigilantes and anti-leaf blower rebel forces. Every time the sound of a leaf blower interrupts our serenity, I want it ripped out of the hands of the person using it and slammed to the pavement repeatedly until it makes no more noise. Then that person is handed a broom and told, "Suck it up, you lazy shit." Unless it's a person working with a landscaping company...then they're told, "Lo siento."

How happy would you be to see a leaf blower getting curb stomped? I would totally Instagram that shit.

If you can get angry enough, we can do something about this once and for all. The nightmare can end today.

Fuck them.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Online Dating and the Sensory Deprivation Tank

I spent a considerable amount of time alone last year. Most of that time was healthy, I think. I was in my head for a significant portion of my solitude...introspection, self-reflection and ridiculous day-dreaming. At some point, I identified that I was beginning to over-think my feelings and behavior. I felt it necessary to figure out why I was irritated or upset for no apparent reason, and sometimes the answer should just be left at "because you are a human being."

Around that time when I decided to quit analyzing everything, a thought occurred to me: you might need to interact with a female in a quasi-dating capacity. Huh. Shit. Is that really necessary? I mean, my current situation is just fine, isn't it? I already have someone in my life that is my partner in crime and fills any void, isn't that right, Sid?

She said nothing.

A good friend of mine recommended online dating, specifically OkCupid. He had met his wife on there, which surprised me because A) I didn't think that actually ever happened and B) he is an admitted asshole that I just assumed was not date-able. (I presided over their wedding, so keep them in your thoughts and prayers.)

I've been wary of online dating, but not because I was afraid I would meet someone crazy. Truth be told, crazy is pretty fun...destructive, but never a dull moment. No, I was afraid that the dating site would deliver what it promises. "We're going to find the perfect match for you!"


Yeah...I don't want the perfect match for me. I'm a retired alcoholic/drug-addict stand-up comedian dishwasher with a felony who skateboards everywhere in his 40's. Who do you have that matches up perfectly with that? A one-legged kleptomaniac who dips and works at Arby's? If I'm going to date, I want to meet someone way better than me...who has really poor judgment. I think that is what dating is all about, actually: finding that special someone who makes the poor decision to give you a chance.

A real dating site sounded like an investment, so I looked at Tinder first. I had been avoiding it for a while as it's just a "hot or not" hook-up app, which is fine if you're 20-something, but seems ridiculous for me. However, you can't just say, "I'm too old and mature for Tinder," and then ride off on your skateboard exclaiming, "Wheeeee!"

I uninstalled it after a week. Turns out develop empathy and feel guilt for swiping left on a person while watching their photo drift off to oblivion with "NOPE" on their forehead. Also, I prefer long profiles to read and not an "About Me" section full of nothing but emojis.
", does the picture of the plane mean you like flying planes?"
"No, silly! Travel!"
"Ah. Is there an emoji for 'fuck your idiot hieroglyphs'?"

Side Note: I set the search parameters on Tinder for women ages 24-44. I thought that was reasonable. And Tinder, which is 100% superficial has no moral core whatsoever, looked at my settings and said, "24. Really, John? Hey, how about we try a woman in her 30's, what do you say, you creepy old man?"

So, it was on to OkCupid. This site and others like it have been around a while, and there are plenty of pieces written about them and many stories shared online. It's well-worn territory, so I'll just go into how much I suck at communicating on them. I read numerous complaints in profiles about how guys just message "hi", "hey" or "sup" and expect that to be an acceptable initial message. I decided to go the exact opposite route and send manifesto-style messages. Why? Because I'm a chatty idiot with no apparent filter or concept of restraint.

"Hey there. So, I'm not sure why we're a 93% match but 14% enemies. It's really vague, you know? Shouldn't OkCupid's algorithm be helpful and say, 'you guys would have a great time just don't have a conversation about cats vs dogs or whether 14 sexual partners is a small or average number.' Weird...'OkCupid' is considered misspelled on their own I don't trust them to have their shit together. Anyway, you said you're interested in personal growth and balance. One thing that I found helpful was complete self-destruction, which gives you a place to start from after everything is gone. This one time..."

I've been told this is not a very effective way of initial communication with someone who doesn't know who you are. So I've been trying to find a middle ground between too brief and manifesto. Things like:

"Sup. Do you find daily joy in life to be fleeting?"

"Say ever read Nietzsche?"

The other thing I've noticed is that as soon as I was aware of how many awful, pervy and psychotic men are on OkCupid, I started trying to take that into consideration in my interactions with women on the site. Yeah, don't do that, because overcompensating for creepy is creepy itself. Nothing makes you sound more like a serial killer than trying to come off like you're not a serial killer.

"Would you like to get coffee...during the a crowded public place...where you'll be safe?"

It's a work in progress. Right, kitty?
Still nothing.


Fellow comedian Lashonda Lester recommended Zen Blend to me when she shared her experience in a flotation tank. A sensory deprivation tank is a soundproof, light-less tank of salt water that is heated to skin temperature. You lie on your back in it and float weightlessly, and it frees up your mind to do...whatever. It allows your alpha/beta brainwaves to convert to theta brainwaves in longer sessions. I don't know what that means, but I wanted to demonstrate that I still know how to use Wikipedia.

Lashonda said she did it to work on her writer's block, and that appealed to me as I hadn't felt very inspired recently. Also, I've passed the point where psychedelics are an option for mind expansion. I figured the isolation tank would be like taking meditation to another level. And it was.

I picked an unfavorable time to go, because it was 40 outside and high winds. Zen Blend is over a mile south of Slaughter Lane and Manchaca, so to get there from east Austin requires two buses and a healthy skate from the most southern bus stop in Austin. It was like a pilgrimage. They had everything ready for me when I arrived, though. All I had to do was put ear plugs in, shower ahead of time and then get into the tank for 90 minutes. 90. That sounds like a long time if it sucks, I thought.

When I first got in and started to float, there was about 10 to 20 seconds of panic, because I was holding on to nothing. My control issues went absolutely ape shit. Despite beginning to freak out, I "remembered to breathe", and the panic went away. The first 20 minutes had soothing music, and then there was silence for the remaining time. That first half hour was all about allowing my breathing to deepen and my mind to quiet down. You can't make yourself stop thinking about shit, you just have to let it happen. Alan Watts said it's like trying to "smooth rough water with a flat iron - you are just going to disturb it all the more." So, I let it happen.

It was over before I knew it. The last 45 minutes felt like maybe one or two. I emerged from the flotation tank completely relaxed and a bit spaced out...and I remained in that state for the rest of the day. When I left Zen Blend and walked outside, the sun had finally come out, and I didn't even skate back to the bus stop. I just strolled, not even bothered by the wind.

How effective was it on my mood? I had a smile on my face on the bus ride. On the bus. I'm pretty sure I creeped everyone out. Even the chatty homeless man didn't say a word to me.

Now, here's the deal about experiencing insight and epiphanies: they are usually very obvious points that have been in your blind spot. They mean the world to you, but when you try to tell someone about them, they look at you like, "Uh, yeah...everyone knows that if you eat better you feel better." Regardless, here are a couple of things I experienced:

I couldn't help but be reminded of growing up in an old house with a clawfoot tub, and there was always a sweet spot while taking a bath when I would just float in the tub, without a care in the world. I realize now that it was when the water was skin temperature...that was that short window of bliss before it became cold. That was a very comforting memory that I thought was gone but was unlocked in that tank.

About 4 or 5 times during the session, my foot or hand touched the side of the tank due to slowly drifting in the water. When that happened, it would be a subtle reminder that the only thing that was real was the tank. Everything else I was experiencing was all in my head. And boy, did that make for a great metaphor for my life. I can spend so much time focusing on things that have no real substance and that are made up. Occasionally, I need to touch the side of the tank and be reminded what is actually real to me...what in my life has meaning. Everything else is just details and fluff.

And that brought me back to OkCupid, oddly enough. Why am I trying to alter my behavior to make myself seem like more of a charmer? Do I really want to go out on dates with people who like a modified me? I mean, sure, sometimes I need to work on my filter...or do I? Be yourself and see what happens. I'd rather have little to know response being completely me than greater success on my "best" behavior. "Hooray! I won you over! I'm completely uncomfortable, I dislike you immensely but at least I'm not alone!!"

A friend told me that some people are successful with online dating by treating it like a job interview, which could not be less appealing to me. The idea of establishing any kind of relationship based on a resume, how well you dress and how you answer ridiculous questions is as unnatural and miserable to me as trying to get a job you hate just because you want more money. No thanks. Sometimes you have to take a job you don't have to participate in relationships you hate.

I'll be going back to Zen Blend next month.