Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dan Auerbach Makes Me Wanna

   I have recently rediscovered The Black Keys.  More specifically, I have newly discovered the deliciousness that is their album Brothers, and which makes me want to sit out on my balcony in black lace lingerie at three a.m. and put out cigarettes in my Jack Daniel's after I use them to light the next one and then drink it anyway.
   I haven't felt like this, sincerely, since I got back from The Road Trip and called up my old Irish Catholic not-boyfriend and had an epic one-up war involving Smirnoff, his girlfriend I didn't know about, Sharpie pens, a stripper, and his best friend's truck bed; or at least I haven't felt like this since the last time I read some Bukowski.
   Now, I am a very serious proponent of long-distance running and fluffy kittens and sunshine, but The Black Keys have me thinking about the deconstructive urge and its validity--and specifically, the dualism of the human experience and its effect on happiness.
    Because there are two halves to human life: living, and dying.  And it's good to invest in living--it's good to eat well and exercise and do your dishes and build things, long-lasting things like love and happiness and family and positive social structure and all of the constructs that are allowed only by the existence of human rationality, of communication, of order.
    And very little breaks my heart harder than those people who forgo all of those things to chase the romance of their destructive side; who spend all the time and energy and talents they have trying to escape the permanence and risk of choosing which investments are worthwhile. I think everyone knows someone like that.  I have probably dated him. 
    But I do think (and Arizona's economy will totally have my back on this one) that there's such a thing as too much construction. (Zing). 
    We don't talk about dying in this country.  We don't talk about destruction in a healthy way, even when it comes to the economy (Dear Lord! We can't let the car companies go out of business! Forget that they haven't made a relevant or improved product in thirty years--DYING IS BAD), and especially when it comes to ourselves.  We have this weird mentality that insists on a hybrid of growth and immortality, which, as far as I'm concerned, are mutually exclusive concepts.  You can't grow without pruning, at least not into something worth being; and the only things that withstand time are those which change very little.  Want to know what both grows infinitely and lives forever?  A cancer cell.  Yeah.  Not very healthy or useful.  Infinite growth + immortality= giant blob of parasitic mutant. 
     Sometimes, however, the constructs of rationality go stale.  You could go your whole life getting up at 6 a.m., running, eating right, working hard, cleaning up, taking care of your family, getting enough sleep, and never actually do anything at all.
     I don't think that the answer to this is a weekend in Vegas, or any of the other prescribed methods offered us for "having fun."  I do think the answer is in deconstruction, in taking apart your own life a little bit to let in the more animalistic pieces of your nature, to remember the fact that one day you will not be here anymore and that every day is crap shoot in terms of survival.  However you deconstruct is okay, as long as you do it.  Getting drunk is the traditional way, and rightfully so, because nothing dulls human rationality like liquor.  But that one's dicey, because sometimes it also allows you to forgo the processing part of the breakdown--it can make it harder to connect to yourself, and allow you to continue to ignore the gentle pressure of the darker, lustful parts of your being.  Sex works, and so does dancing, and so does cliff diving, and so does anything that lets you into your body, into transience and risk, and out of the mathematics of construction.
    I'm just saying--there's a reason you can't name a gritty blues band The White Keys.

Friday, July 23, 2010

What Form Rejection Means to Me

1.  Dwyer better get the hell back from his stint in Mongolia and set up a handle of Jack Daniel's on my patio table
2.  Must...keep...writing....  Not...sure...why....
3.  There IS a real world, and high school DID prepare me for it
4.  There has to be an alternate tactic to increasing my self-satisfaction in proportion to the number of rejection letters in my file.  JD is probably not it. 
5.  JD makes me a real writer, though, right?
6.  Seriously, why am I doing this?  What is this sh*t?  What am I even TALKING about?!
7.  We need more heroines like Cher from Clueless.  I'm sick of this whole insecure snarky tomboy shindig.  What happened to the pretty girls?
8.  I know! I'll write a new story!  They'll have to want that one!
9.  Cher from Clueless + one of Neptune's moons + my literary talent =
10.  F*ck.
12.  If I start drinking JD by myself, then I'm definitely a real writer.  Right?  Right?

In Honor of The Rejectionist's Blogiversary

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Comprehensive List of All the Sh*t I Am Managing To Stay Cheerful In the Face Of:

1. Personal overuse of sentences ending in prepositions
2. That illness last week that knocked me off my feet for five days and made my glands feel like burst potatoes moving into my eyeballs and setting them on what felt like fire (aka viral pink eye FTW)
3. Housesitting.  When you are unemployed this sounds lucrative and easy; eventually you will realize that there is an insane amount of driving involved in this, that other people's pets are not anything like your pets, that other people's beds are not nearly as comfortable as your bed, and that you are basically living out of your car because other people do not keep their houses stocked with contact lens solution and a backup pair of yoga pants.
4. A slow tire leak.  This could suck a lot less if you don't live in a state where metal air hoses are exposed to bright sunlight and 113-degree temperatures for 8 hours a day.  My lifeline has burn marks.
5. 113-degree temperatures.
6. Friends who don't answer their cellular telephones when I am incapable of opening my eyes for long enough to turn over my car's engine after they told me to call if I needed anything WHEN I KNOW THEY ARE SITTING ON THEIR ASSES PLAYING OBLIVION AND SMOKING BLUE MIST SHISHA YES I AM LOOKING AT YOU EX-ROOMMATE
7. An extra project at work with a somewhat-possibly-not-quite-reasonable deadline
8. Bad news about grandpere's state of health. 
9. Having to reschedule all of my outreaches for this week. This is possibly the weirdest thing about me: I have a phobia of making phone calls to strangers.  I would so much rather talk to someone in person, or in writing.  In writing I have enough time to think about what I need to say; and in person I can read their face and mood and respond to that.  On the phone people can get mad at me for no reason at all.  And I have no idea what they're thinking, or what I'm supposed to be asking.  There are no clues!  I can't handle it.
10. Dealing with the DMV--over the phone.  That said, this may have been the easiest interaction I've had all week, and they totally had an oldies station playing while I was on hold (Breaking Up Is Hard To Do FTW)

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Crash Course In Nonviolence

"It is better to be violent if there is violence in our hearts than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence." -Mahatma Gandhi

My father is a nonviolence professor.  This gives a certain zen-like picture to my home life, but this has been a learned thing for him.  When he was a little kid he used to dress up as Zorro and run around putting fake Zs on people's clothing and challenging them to sword fights.  And when I was a little girl sometimes he would get into a temper and storm around the house swearing and projecting big huge angry vibes and generally scaring the crap out of me.
Eventually I told him that he was extremely scary to me; around the same time one of our family friends, while walking their son to school, caught my father cussing up a storm in the driver's seat, and laughed hysterically at him. 
My father hasn't thrown a temper tantrum since.  I literally can't remember one.

One of the things that he comes up against, a lot, when talking to his students and critics, is the idea that nonviolence is somehow weaker than violence.  That a person who practices nonviolence, is, in fact, impotent, or scared, or passive, or a number of things.

But from all of my years growing up with my father, and talking to him about his work, and watching him in action, I can testify that this is not the case.

Nonviolence is a commitment to avoiding hurting other people.  Nonviolence has nothing to do with getting what you want, and everything to do with respecting life in all its forms--including your own.  This is the important part.  Your life, and your health and your well-being, is just as important as everyone else's, and nonviolence is a commitment to recognizing that importance in every daily action. 
Gandhi said that it was better to be violent if there is violence in your heart than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence.  I heard this quote used in an action movie recently to justify one character's decision to return to kicking ass, and that really depressed me.  Because that's not really what he meant.  He meant, "Don't be passive, or weak, and pretend that you are acting morally when really you are just afraid.  It is better to be violent if that is the truth about yourself and how you feel than it is to lie about your commitment to nonviolence."  He thought nonviolence was important, but he thought truth was more so.
Gandhi also said, "I can't teach you to be nonviolent--but I can teach you not to bow your head before anybody."
A true nonviolentist doesn't ever let others walk all over him.  A true nonviolentist doesn't let a foreign government treat his countrymen as second-class citizens because of the color of their skin.  But he also never expresses those views, or insists on his own way, in a way that hurts anybody else. 

A true nonviolentist knows that other people act based on their own beliefs and wants and needs, and not on any reaction to himself; and he respects those wants and needs as best he can without slighting his own.  A true nonviolentist knows that his own ego, and hurt feelings, are less important than his own inherent dignity and the dignity of others. 

A true nonviolentist realizes that expressing anger is not nearly as important as creating a loving and safe atmosphere for his children--and when he realizes this, he never lets himself cross that line again.

I'm finding it hard to see the weakness in that.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Why Bad Things Happen to Regular People; or, It Has Nothing To Do With You

I am not a person who believes that things happen for a reason.
I'm not cynical and I'm not a pessimist. What I believe is that things happen, and you can choose to find the good in them or not; but I don't believe that good and bad are inherent properties.  I don't believe that people are naturally good or bad.  Rather, I believe that people act badly in proportion to the amount of pain they've experienced.  And so sometimes people do bad things to you, and there's no visible reason--and it had nothing to do with you or your life, or whether you deserved it. 
Today I learned that the world really doesn't revolve around me.
I hear this phrase used a lot but it never struck home--I never realized its full import until today.
Sometimes bad things happen for no reason, earthquakes and car accidents and disease and all those other things we can't control.  Generally those sorts of things don't happen to me and in that I am very lucky.
Today, however, I came down with a case of excruciatingly painful pink eye while I was housesitting 40 minutes away from my apartment, two hours before I was supposed to go to a driving class on the last possible day before they suspend my license for not going.  I couldn't open my eyes well enough to drive myself anywhere and my phone had died. I was pretty well stranded.
 Luckily there was a landline at the house and I have some phone numbers memorized, and I got to the ER and then home again with only a few hiccups thanks to some crazy awesome friends of mine, but the point I want to make is that sometimes the good thing that comes out of a situation like that has nothing to do with you.
Sometimes your ER nurse is having the worst day ever and the fact that your case is relatively stress-free is the good thing.  You won't know about it and you won't know that there is any good hanging around your pink eye.
Sometimes your pharmacist was only breaking even for the week and your perfectly curable illness pushed her into the black.  (I'm making this up.  I have no idea if this ever happens, but I assume it does because a business is a business, right?  No matter how expensive your BC is.)
Sometimes you get rear-ended and have to pay your deductible with your vacation money, but that person never ever texts when driving ever again.  They don't write you a letter to tell you so but they also don't kill anybody.
Sometimes Job loses all his children and cows and gets boils on his ass without even an explanation from God, but every Bible-reader that comes after has a story to turn to for understanding.
And you will lie in bed with one eye crusted shut wondering what the hell you ever did to deserve this--but just remember: there is some good in it, somewhere, but it has nothing to do with you.
Nothing ever does.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What I Want to Talk About When I Talk About Happiness

    I went home for my and my father's birthday weekend and my mom threw us a giant party.  One of the guests was my dad's colleague, who studies happiness for a living (he's a psych guy).  And he was standing around laughing and making jokes and drinking a beer and I thought, oh, what the hell, so I asked him,  "Hey, Chuck, what advice would you give someone who wants to be happy?"
   He seemed a little astonished that I really wanted to hear about his work; I was slightly astonished that he isn't accosted regularly like a sports med doc at a pre-marathon carb fest.  The guy's an expert on happiness.  Shouldn't everyone want to talk to him?
    To get him started, I said, "Gretchen Rubin says you should make your bed every day, which I find a little inspirationally lacking."
   He said, "Well, you know, your everyday environment does have an effect on you, but the current literature suggests that happiness is actually an emergent property that occurs when seven or eight factors are present in the right relation to each other."
    That made so much sense that I put my drink down and prepared to be enlightened.    "What are they?"
    He again looked a little shocked (seriously, what are people talking about at parties these days? Sports? Psh.), but then he was kind enough to list them off for me:
    "Well, number one, and probably the most important, is growth. You have to feel like you're growing as a person and that you have long-term goals you can aim for. 
    "Two, you need to have work that you find fulfilling.
     "Three, some sort of spirituality through which you can understand your life and the things that happen to you, and possibly a supportive spiritual community. 
     "Four, younger, or less experienced people whom you can mentor and provide support for. 
     "Five, older or more experienced people whom you can look to for mentoring and support.
     "Six, a group of peers who can provide emotional resonance and who are interested in the things that interest you."

     At this point I interrupted him.  "So most of these have to do with relationships with other people."
    "Yes," he said, "they do.   It can be horribly detrimental to your mental health and happiness if you don't have some long-term, close relationships."  He talked a little bit then about his brother who had moved away fairly recently and the large but unexpected impact the move had had on his own family's happiness and feeling of being a family, and on the brother himself.  Then he said, "It's really just in our culture that we place so much emphasis on individualism and individual expression, and it's actually not very healthy."
    I felt a little weird about this, because in my family I am the one who has moved away, and it has been detrimental to my happiness, and to my family's happiness, too.  I can't be there for them for the little things, or even some of the big things, and I don't really have a place there. And it's a weird sort of problem, because I love Arizona, and being here has provided me with opportunities for personal growth and jobs I would never have had back in my small hometown, but it has also lost me my sense of place among people.  I said as much to Chuck, and he nodded sagely and said, "It's really a tough spot to be in."
     "Do you think," I asked, "that people in more family-oriented cultures are happier than we are?"
     He did not even hesitate.  "Oh, definitely.  It's not even a question."
     Isn't that strange?  Our entire culture is dedicated to making people as self-sufficient as possible, to giving them full individual expression and attention, and what that actually does is prevent us from being truly happy.
     So why do we do it?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

I Told You So

Today was, after all my talk, not a "best" day.
Today I talked too much about myself and got impatient and bored with people I care about and situations I was in.   And I accidentally left Harry outside on the balcony in 100-degree weather while I went to a bar.
Sometimes this happens when I don't get enough alone time; but I've spent the last 72 hours in bed with all-over bodyaches and swollen glands reading copies of SELF magazine (and also Stern Men, by Elizabeth Gilbert, which was like a small piece of profane heaven), so I'm pretty sure it wasn't that.
(Did you know the cure for unspecific viral illness--in the form of all-over bodyaches and swollen glands--was a slideshow of your running partner's trip to Nicaragua and some b*tchin' Nicaraguan rum? I didn't, either.)
Sometimes this also happens when I'm feeling entitled to something superior than what's in front of me.
If I were actually entitled to something superior than what's in front of me, wouldn't I have it already?
Feeling entitled sometimes happens when some non-related area of my life has disappointed me and I haven't dealt with that.
I really want to go to Nicaragua.
Or India.
Being sick kind of sucks.
My best friend and road-trip partner hasn't been answering my calls or texts.  I'm sure it's not for any reason in particular.  Which is almost worse.

This was not me at my best, but I'm going to try again tomorrow.

There were monsoons today.
Harry forgave me.
It's all good.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Me at My Best: A Challenge

   Last week I was talking to a newer friend of mine, and we were drinking and it was late so of course we were having one of those conversations and something prompted me to say, "You've only known me at my worst, which I'm kind of sorry about," which of course set off the truth-moment alarm bell in my head.
  There are whole six-month to year-long periods I can recall in which I was acting, most of the time, as me at my worst: selfish and depressed and expecting everybody else to help me without reciprocation.  And I wondered what it would be like to be able to point to six months and say, "That was me at my best."  I guess I remember the summer between high school and college as being a time when I really felt good about my actions and about myself in general, but that was seven years ago. 
   So for the last few days, I've been trying to be only me at my best: whenever I've been feeling down, or lazy, I just ask myself, "Hil, is this the best you've got?" and of course I have to say, "No," and then this somehow forces me to look on the bright side or to do the thing I've been avoiding doing.  It's been surprisingly easy, and I'd really, really like to make it to December with this.
   I'm actually kind of hesitant to post this all here because sometimes when I talk about things all of my energy goes into talking about it and not into actually doing it--but that wouldn't be me at my best.  So I'll post it, and follow through on it.
   The really nice part about this is the time limit.  It doesn't feel so weighty or impossible, because I only have to do this for six months, and then I can go back to being a selfish b*tch if I feel like it. 
   So, for the next six months, I will:
   -be as cheerful as possible
   -do more listening than talking
   -keep my promises and commitments
   -avoid making any promises or commitments I don't think I can keep
   -do the things that need to be done, and do them well, even if I don't feel like it
   -be honest with myself about what I want and don't want
   -be honest with others about what I'm willing or not willing to do/put up with
   -give my opinion only if asked
   -make time for my friends and family, and make that time about them and not me
   -write as often and as well as I possibly can
   -pay careful attention to other people and make an effort to recognize and fulfill their wants and needs
  -pay careful attention to my surroundings
  -make no judgments until there is sufficient evidence; and always allow for exceptions and change
  -avoid any action or speech that will cause real hurt to others or to myself
  -be open to criticism and willing to change

  I thought this list would be longer but I'm pretty sure this covers everything, at least indirectly, that I have noticed and thought about in the past few days.
  I know these are things I am capable of; and the best part is I don't have to do it forever, nor perfectly.  I just have to do it the best I can.
  I'm sort of oddly looking forward to this.