I am rather bad at sticking to decisions.

Or, how I signed up for Substack then returned to WordPress.

Author’s Note: Hey, remember when I posted that long rambling explanation of how and why I wanted to jump ship to Substack in the hopes of making money there? Yeah, that didn’t feel right. So I took back that decision. I wrote a whole other rambling explanation of my decision to return to WordPress; I originally posted it on Substack, but I really like WordPress so I’m copying that write-up, making some edits, and posting it here. Thanks for reading!

Hey folks, it’s me – a writer screaming into the void of the internet. I’ve been doing this for a long time now – almost nine years since I started blogging on WordPress, but if we count the ol’ MySpace bulletins, I suppose I’ve been putting my thoughts online for even longer.

To be totally honest, I only signed up for Substack because I wanted to read other people’s work; a few of the activists and thinkers I respect use Substack as a platform, and I want to read their analyses and thoughts when they publish them. So I signed up for Substack and I thought “Whoa, people make money on this website? Maybe I should try it!” While I believe that folks should be paid for their work in this shitty capitalist system, making folks pay for my stuff online never sat right with me; I’m proud and a little abashed to say that I like writing, and I’ll post my poems and random thoughts whether I get paid or not.

At first, I fought myself over this line of thinking. I’ve been writing for decades, it’s been a lifelong passion, and I’m pretty good at it when I want to be. Since capitalism demands money from us, shouldn’t I use my skills to get that money? Well, yes and no; while I’d love to write for a living, the naked truth is that I live for writing. I enjoy the act of writing, of using words to make something, to evoke a feeling or suggest a thought. It’s a joyful act for me, and if I suddenly felt beholden to a boss or an audience, I think it would deflate the goodness I feel when I pen something.

I also believe it’s possible to hold two (or more!) disparate thoughts in one’s head at once. I could write ads or copy or whatever other schlock a company wants and get paid for it, and then write my soulful stuff in my free time. I could do that. I might try that again. I used to freelance for mere pennies a word, and while I’d ask for more money these days, I also have to say that time is precious. I don’t like deadlines. I used to beat myself up for not applying myself to a writerly career, but Christ, I hate the whole notion of a career. I have to put in a ridiculous amount of effort and jump through a disgusting number of hoops to earn crumbs from some boss? Yeah, fuckin’ no thanks.

What does all this talk of writing careers and getting paid have to do with my Substack? Well, I thought I’d try that whole subscription feature, and it didn’t feel right, so now I’m turning off that feature. I uploaded the whole of this nine-year-old WordPress blog to that site, then locked the majority of it behind paywalls. While that may be a good business decision, my writing doesn’t come from a desire to start a business. My writing comes from a desire to have fun and challenge myself to share thoughts and feelings with words. Sometimes, words fail, and they’re not enough, or they’re too much. But I love wrangling with the damn things, despite their shortcomings. So yeah, I turned off the paywall. All the older writing I uploaded to Substack is now available to any random person who finds my site and decides to read it. But as I said earlier, the main reason I signed up for Substack was to read other people’s stuff. So going forward, I don’t know if I’m gonna post too much on Substack. What I will do is continue posting here, on my good old WordPress blog. With no paywalls. Everything I’ve ever written and shared is here, for free, and I like it that way.

I may feel inclined to double-dip and just post everything I write to WordPress and Substack. If I get lucky and someone decides my words are fit to be published for money, then I’ll talk with that person and see what we can do together. Until then, I’m gonna keep writing poems and thinking about how I can turn video game stories into anti-capitalist fables. Fuck it, it won’t all be anti-capitalist stuff, but that’s where my brain tends to go these days.

What I’m saying is, I’m gonna keep writing, and sharing my words. Thanks for bearing with me, and I hope you have a damn good day.


I’m Mad as Hell

Every day that I feel my blood sugar is high but I don’t have the money for glucose test strips I wonder “Is this a prolonged death?” And what a sad way to go, rotting from the inside because big pharmaceutical executives/assholes want to milk chronically ill people for everything they have. As long as they get a ton of money by selling diabetes supplies, why would they care that millions of diabetics’ lives are shortened through their disgusting capitalist greed? It makes me so mad that I want to do whatever I need to do to survive, to spit in the face of greedy pharmaceutical executives and their shareholders, to rage against the machine until the bastards in charge are thrown from their towers or forcibly guillotined. I’d love to live a mostly normal life, without worrying about how close my next *purchase* of life-saving medicine and supplies will bring me to bankruptcy. I put *purchase* in asterisks because I want to draw attention to how disgusting it is that chronically ill folks like myself have to *buy* the things we need to live. I understand that within capitalism, everyone has to *spend money* to live, and I find this system abhorrent, but dare I say it’s even worse for chronically ill folks. Eh, fuck it, perhaps we’re all chronically ill within capitalism, after all the horrors we face daily just to *earn* our food and shelter. We have to *earn* the right to live – what a twisted world the powers-that-be have designed. And that’s just the thing, isn’t it? This is all by design, to keep us all poor and desperate enough to cling to whatever bullshit jobs will siphon profits from us to the bastards at the top. Fuck it. We need to destroy the rich.


Sick Week

It’s not a thing that sounds exciting. Not in this economy, anyway. I got back from a shift on Halloween night only to discover that my roommates weren’t home. Two of them had just recovered from an awful respiratory sickness that wasn’t COVID but was probably COVID-adjacent – they tested negative but they coughed like death was trying to escape their throats. I’d been avoiding illness with every fiber of my being, masking up in shared spaces and washing my hands after touching anything they may have touched. We all thought we were safe. We all live in my brother’s house, and when my poor sick roommates recovered, they all went to a shindig together. My brother came back on Halloween night, sniffling and sneezing. Somehow, he sneezed on me. Just a little bit – he might have covered part of his mouth, but I still felt a little wetness land on me. I don’t know if it was literal or psychological, but after that night, I started feeling sick. Like, just a little sick, the kind of thing where your brain and body are humming at a low frequency – enough to feel off, but not so bad that you’re bedridden. That’s what my sick week was like.

I didn’t go to work on Tuesday ’cause that’s when the sick humming first started, and I didn’t wanna risk infecting anyone. On Wednesday, I texted my boss and my co-workers: I felt sick and I didn’t feel right coming into the office and endangering anyone. So I stayed away from work, thinking that if I felt better soon, I might go in on Saturday or Sunday to make up for missed hours. Hours mean money, for me – I’m not salaried, I’m an hourly worker. So when I avoided work for four days, then decided to stay in all weekend, I was giving up a decent chunk of money.

Working for an hourly wage means that any of the joy associated with not working also brings a requisite unease at the lost pay. This is why so many of us were and are still afraid of COVID: being locked away for even a week can cause a worker to miss bills, rent, the works. That’s why those stimulus checks were a thing. Even though they barely made dents in most workers’ expenses, they helped a little. So my sick week was simultaneously one of joy for finally being able to sit back and relax, but also one of fear, both for my ailing body and for my dwindling bank account. I sat back and started a new podcast and a new game and I tried to get a few of my fun things in order. Old Kickstarter gambles started paying off, and I got cool packages with neat stuff inside. I let them sit for a bit, before mustering the energy I needed to organize my room.

What I’m trying to say is that my sick week, and most workers’ sick times, are never easy or totally relaxing. There’s always work to be done, even if it’s not done for a wage.

I did eventually go back to work, yesterday, which, for me right now, means Monday. I looked at my timesheet and made some calculated decisions: if I work all week, take a break on Saturday, then go in on Sunday to start the week early, I’ll get a decent paycheck for this pay period. It’s not even close to the 80 hours I would normally work, but it’s better than nothing. With the last pay period’s check, and this current pay period’s check, I should be able to cover my expenses and all that scary monetary jazz. But wouldn’t you know it, the day I decide to return to work and put my nose to the grindstone, leads to the night when the first big snow of the season falls!

So today was a snow day. I might have been able to make it to work in my small car, but I didn’t want to risk it. Maybe part of me is still clinging to the half-joy, half-fear of the sick week, of sitting around all day and not fretting about money. But now I have to subtract eight hours from my calculations. Even missing one day can throw off everything. I should be fretting about money.

I’ll be fine, even if I’ll have to look at my spending much closer than I’d like to. I’ll drive real slow and careful to work tomorrow, if there’s snow on the ground. Maybe I’ll work a few hours on Saturday, just to make up a little bit for missing today.

As many people have said about work, I don’t want to do it. But I need the money.


Animal Crossing: Capitalist Fairytale and Half-hearted Community Simulator

*AUTHOR’S NOTE: I used no headings in this piece and I did not plan it out at all. That’s why I tag these sorts of pieces as “rambling.” If you’re used to listicles and nicely separated chunks of writing, I apologize; this is almost a stream-of-consciousness, and I end up using ALL CAPS in the second half. Once again, I apologize. If you don’t mind my rambling ways, or you’re curious about where the hell my brain takes me, please read on.

I wrote the above title a little over two months ago, as my brain feverishly grappled with a few contradictions within the popular video game’s implicit ethos. I have now forgotten most of those feverish thoughts, but this idea has stuck with me; I simply have to write about it, or I won’t be free of this obsession. Yes, I enjoy Animal Crossing. I’ve played the series since its North American inception twenty (yes, 20) years ago. Jesus, I’m aging. In my teenage years, I heard the names Jack Kerouac and Walt Whitman and I still believed in the American Dream (corporations may as well copyright that damn phrase with how much they’ve been selling it). I didn’t quite have the “adult” experience to understand how wild it was that my little avatar (presumably a stand-in for then-thirteen-year-old me) just took a train to a new town and had already agreed to purchase a brand-new home. Maybe this is the first of Animal Crossing’s big capitalist moments. Allow me to explain.

Capitalism is predicated upon exploitation. Some bigwig(s) with a ton of capital (money, property, or a disgusting combination of both) offer shitty jobs and/or products to workers under the very real yet implicit threat of homelessness, starvation, discomfort – really, it’s a disgusting combination of all those threats. Most folks from working-class families (these days, that’s most families) understand pretty early that without money, you’re gonna have a hard time on this planet.

*I’d like to pause real quick and warn folks that I’ve lived in the U.S. all my life and I’m writing from a North American’s perspective. I’m also a white dude. I have a ton of privileges, and I still feel crushed by the pressures of capitalism. Fuck.

Anyway, I was saying that most workers understand that unless they agree to work for wages, they’re not gonna get far in the capitalist world. The American Dream promises that if you work hard (i.e. at least full-time, if not more than full-time – exploitation is a rat bastard) you may one day enjoy the comforts of a house, with a fridge full of food and a garage full of cars, plus a TV in every room, enough bathrooms for your family, and oh yeah, a family. Working within capitalism supposedly nets each hard worker enough capital to afford all these beautiful amenities, and even allows room to float several other people in that sweet sweet house!

Does it sound too good to be true? By golly, it is! These days, working full-time in the U.S. doesn’t even net enough money to cover rent in many places. That’s right, I said “rent” – owning a house is an impossibility for most workers in the U.S. That’s why a few ultra-predatory companies are buying up apartments and homes like hotcakes: they know that workers will rent living spaces, and if corporations own most of them, that’s more money for the property owners.

But shit, I was talking about Animal Crossing. A big capitalist moment is when, near the beginning of the game (and every Animal Crossing game, as far as I recall), you agree to “buy” a house. Except, you don’t have enough money to buy the house outright, so what does the real estate mogul Tom Nook do? He sells you the house anyway, and tells you that you can work for him until it’s paid off. The little opportunist catches you in a bind, and uses your vulnerability to squeeze labor out of you! So yes, you get a place to live, but by signing the deed to the house you’re also agreeing to work super hard to afford the big box of supposed luxury that was just thrust upon you. This is actually not all that different from real life: in most cases, workers don’t have enough money to buy a house outright, so banks and real estate agents and other devotees of capitalism check into your credit history and your work history and decide whether or not you, an exploited worker, are ripe for further exploitation.

If your bank account and your credit score check out, the bank and the real estate parasites understand that you’ll be able to make mortgage payments on the house you just bought. You have agreed to continue working for a bigwig so you may keep the supposed box of luxury you now “own.” You are, arguably, more firmly tied to the capitalist system now: you make those mortgage payments and pay the bills, or you don’t have a big box of luxury. I keep calling houses big boxes of luxury, but sometimes houses aren’t that luxurious … I digress.

You keep giving Tom Nook money in the game. Many of us were kids when we first played Animal Crossing, and it’s funny, in retrospect, to imagine a real estate mogul salivating at the chance to tie a child to wage labor for years on end. I can shrug it off and say that, hey, video games are fun – and they are! – but if I look back on my time with any Animal Crossing game, it’s probably accurate to say that I spent hours upon hours saving up money to pay off my virtual house. Yes, there have been weeks where I managed to play video games for 40 hours; that’s full-time work, in the Animal Crossing world!

Jesus, I was supposed to be talking about contradictions in Animal Crossing and I started ranting about real estate. Let me get into a few of those contradictions.

You move into a village/town where a gaggle of animal folks already lives, and you do your best to integrate into the community. This is where my feverish thoughts first started: in a way, Animal Crossing is a series about community, but it still falls into hierarchical pitfalls of capitalism. You begin on the same financial level as your neighbors, but with time and effort, your house and collection of possessions will dwarf those of your animal friends. You might read the relative material stagnation of your neighbors as a contented appreciation for the few things they have, and this would be a weirdly positive outlook for your animal friends to hold, if they didn’t sometimes profess their amazement at your financial acumen – they eventually notice that you’re making big bucks, and they express their wishes to do the same! Why, then, are your neighbors accruing next to nothing while you make out like a bandit?

It’s never explicitly stated, but it’s implied that you get the good stuff because you’re just WoRkInG hArDeR than everyone else. Now, this is a video game and video games are made with progression in mind – if your early bird animal neighbors went to the store and bought everything before you even booted up the game, well, that wouldn’t be very fun, would it? So there’s a sensible reason for your fellow townsfolk to just neglect buying and selling stuff. Yet the game still highlights the growing disparity between you and your community. This runs parallel to the real-world notion that “anyone can become rich”: this huge lie is one piece of the propaganda machine that convinces workers to submit to exploitation. The caveat to that lie is that you can become rich(er) if you’re already rich, and/or if you choose to exploit the working class for profit. In the game, your neighbors may look to your big-ass house and all your stuff and say “One day, I can have that.” In real life, we and our neighbors are told that we can have what Bill Gates and Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have, if we work hard enough. But hard work doesn’t make billionaires: exploitation of the working class does. Thank the maker(s) that the animals in Animal Crossing never actually fall for the lie: they keep living their relatively cushy lives, content with the few things they have.

I’m not trying to say that everyone should just stop wanting nicer lives; I’m just saying that until everyone is taken care of and given shelter, food, and comfort, then no one should have excess. The sad reality of the world is that we have enough resources to take care of everyone, but a ridiculously small number of capitalists hoard many of those resources for their own gains. In a way, while Animal Crossing eventually builds the player up as a successful capitalist, it’s also portraying most of the non-human characters as community members who live equitably with each other.

Holy shit. Animal Crossing might actually be anti-capitalist, if read a certain way.

Yet the game continues to present the joy of having more and more stuff: your house gets graded depending on how well-decorated it is, and you receive rare items for contributing to the museum. Museums are a whole sub-level of capitalism and colonialism, and I’d love to rant about them here, but I’ll pause that rant for now and just say that the Animal Crossing museum is another place where the game portrays the player as a capitalist and the animal villagers as, well, anti-capitalists. Fuck it, we’ll go whole hog here: the animals are communists. And I love them.

Throughout your time in the Animal Crossing universe, you’ll find fossils, fish, bugs, and works of art that you may donate to the local museum. Keep in mind that you’re never originally from the town in which you now live: you’re an outsider. And you’re digging up bones in lands not your own. Oh boy. I know it’s a video game, but I’m taking it seriously as a portrayal of lifestyles and modes of thought within capitalism. So yeah, Animal Crossing has colonial elements to it. Sweet Jesus. You acquire the works of art from a shady art dealer, so who knows where he got them? All the wealth is stolen! Anywho, in my teenaged completionist brain, I wanted to donate every. Single. Thing. To the museum. I caught all the fish, I caught all the bugs, I eventually bought all the art. Digging up the fossils was a daily ritual for me and many of my friends. And unless you welcomed another player into your town, and that player brought something you hadn’t found yet, you could fill the museum all by yourself. For some reason (read: capitalist propaganda about rugged individualism) I was always proud that I could fill the museum ALONE. NO HELP. NO COMMUNITY. NO GODS OR MASTERS BUT ME. Jesus, I bought into American individualism and I liked it – please send help!

Anyway, perhaps to give individualistic players like myself the satisfaction of having their name plastered all over the museum (as though I own all those animals and artworks, sheesh), Nintendo decided that your villagers will not and cannot donate anything to the museum. They just can’t. As far as I recall, it’s not even possible within the game’s programming for them to donate stuff to the museum. So all the credit and accolades go to you, the player, the human who is already being lauded as some kind of super-successful workaholic with a big house. While the animals who form an actual community literally can’t participate. If we make up our own little headcanon which states that the animals once again CHOOSE NOT to engage with the theft inherent in capitalism, then the animals are further solidified as beautiful communists. They won’t engage with capitalism and colonialism’s rampant insistence that we take stuff from everywhere, and put it in boxes, and sell it to people for a premium. I like this reading. I choose to accept it.

So the player makes all the money, the player buys all the stuff, the player gets all the credit, and the player has all the power. There is actually one game in which the player literally wields all the power as THE MAYOR of the town to which they move. Like, you stroll in, the former mayor has just retired, and you’re the new boss in town. I actually don’t recall if that was the game’s “story,” or if you happened to move in and they made you the mayor just because. Anyhow, the fact remains that you make big decisions about the town’s layout, and what stuff the town has inside it, and all this stuff costs money to build, AND YOU FUND MOST OF IT. Just like the museum, your neighbors won’t pay for public works projects – and once again, I choose to read this as beautiful communist resistance to the capitalist status quo. You, the well-paid and powerful mayor, make all the big decisions about what to build and where it’s built; your neighbors’ only act of agency is to choose whether or not they help you with your power trip! And by god, they don’t help you. They pay next to nothing for those projects, and if they decide to put money in, it’s like, a very small amount. They won’t help you, the bigwig, do whatever you want. They’re gonna go chill in their modest homes and wander around all day and pick fruit from trees.

In my funny little reading of Animal Crossing, the player(s) are participants within capitalism, and the animals/neighbors are the communist resistance to capitalist influence. The animals won’t spend money to get bigger houses or more stuff. They won’t capture wildlife and dig up bones for credit at the museum. They won’t fund the mayor’s selfish and conceited public works projects. They are content. They live their best lives. They might just be free.

I initially imagined this rambling write-up as a critique of Animal Crossing’s dependence on the capitalist framework, and while the game does serve as a bona fide capitalist daydream (I can have a house with HOW MANY rooms?), the contrast between the player and the NPCs highlights the plight of the workers within capitalism. As you read/saw, I had to go out of my way to imagine myself in the animals’ shoes (do they even have shoes?), and I stretched to make some claims, but I do believe it’s fully possible to view the human player as a burgeoning capitalist bigwig hellbent on ownership, and to see the animals as a communist collective whose members mostly refuse to participate in the financial tomfoolery of capitalism. I don’t believe this is the intent of the game’s designers – I think they know what makes players tick and capitalism ensures that we all want more stuff and tons of money, even when it’s virtual – but damn it, I love using this fun little video game series as a tool to examine the systems I despise.

Thanks for putting up with my flitting brain and my weird reliance on all caps near the end. I got carried away, but it was fun. Happy days to all of you!


Reasons For This Co-Star Experiment

As you may have noticed, I’ve been cribbing lines from my daily Co-Star readings … advice … whatever you want to call the “personalized” Co-Star pronouncements you get each day. A few weeks ago I opened my Co-Star app and I realized that all the headings for the day flowed fairly well, and I thought, whoa, Co-Star is writing poetry to me. So I decided I’d try to keep a near-daily journal of my Co-Star headings.

This was both a good and a bad idea. It was good because it showcased just how creative the Co-Star folks can be; there are days when their writing does read really smoothly. However, I may have done the poor writers a disservice: I stole their lines, and I cut out the meat of their daily pronouncements. The thing about that app is that each heading is just that, a heading; there’s usually another sentence or two, sometimes even a whole paragraph, that details the heading’s importance. I cut out all that substance and just used the general gist of each day’s advice. Really, the failure of this tiny experiment is on me, and not the creatives behind the app itself.

The other not-so-perfect thing about a daily-use app like Co-Star is that, eventually, you see all there is to see; a lot of days blend together, and their readings and pronouncements start to repeat themselves. It’s just the nature of day-to-day life, right? Sometimes we get stuck on certain problems, or we repeat particular behaviors, and Co-Star’s repeated readings reflect our own repetitive lives. That was a lot of arrs, matey. Bad pirate joke aside, I don’t fault Co-Star for giving me the same advice every now and again; it’s just that, if I’m going to compile a few handfuls of their readings, I’m going to wind up doing similar stuff, day in and day out. And they’re not my words. So I feel a little disingenuous when I post them.

All that being said, I’m going to stop my Co-Star posting for a while. If I get a daily reading that knocks my socks off, I’ll probably post it. To be frank, I think I’ve forgotten what my own creativity looks like. What it sounds like, what it feels like … so I turned to other people for help. I’d like to return to my own skin. Look forward to my rebirth, and thanks for sticking with me.


Contortion for Cash

Last week I answered a call that I never wanted to answer again. The name on this metaphoric caller ID? Capitalism.

To be frank, the last six months have taken something out of me. I got a pretty hefty paycheck in the middle of January, thanks to my working ridiculous hours during the holidays, and things were looking good. Then I contracted COVID-19, and I sat in my room for two weeks, and I made no money. My chunk of change was shrinking, but I went back to work in the beginning of February. Sadly, I let things go from there. Despite avoiding food delivery the first two years of the pandemic, I obsessed over DoorDash after I suffered COVID; maybe I just didn’t want to get the virus again, or maybe I didn’t want to expend any more effort than I needed to in order to get food.

So instead of expending effort, I expended money. A lot of it.

I’ve written about my struggles with DoorDash, and I think it’s no lie to say that I was legitimately addicted to the service for a few months. My money was running out faster and faster, when BAM – my tax return came through right before March. I’d also contracted myself out as a dog-watcher for the parents of a friend, and they paid quite well. With the tax return and the dog-watching money combined, I had a big-ass chunk of change just sitting in my bank account. At least, I would have had a big-ass chunk of change, only …

I bought a used car right before the dog-watching gig.

And I kept ordering Doordash.

And I really like this very particular gacha game.

So my bank account experienced all manner of ups and downs throughout the spring. I always managed to keep myself afloat, but the summer has pushed me closer to the red than I like to be. Within the past three months, I’ve traveled to two weddings, and while that may not sound expensive to some people, for a part-time worker like myself, two distant weddings can add up. I pride myself on my ability to withstand a certain amount of financial whiplash, but the last wedding almost pushed me down to overdraft territory.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m hung up on the weddings for some reason, but my troubles go beyond two fun-yet-pricy adventures. I’m making car payments, and paying a little more for car insurance than I used to, and I had to register the damn car, and I hate – hate hate hate – working more than twenty hours a week. Call me what you will, but I’m firmly of the belief that human beings can’t stay productive beyond the four or five-hour mark; if a person works longer than that, their brain gets mushy and they can’t focus very well. Researchers keep concluding, despite the late-stage capitalist machine, that we’re not made to push ourselves to some ridiculous “full-time” work schedule. I’ve adopted some radical beliefs: I believe everyone should work no more than twenty hours a week, and I think the “work week” should only be four days long. That’s four days of work, five hours a day, for twenty hours total.

I realize all sorts of problems crop up at this point, mostly because, within the current culture and system we’ve created/allowed to continue, no one makes enough money to survive on just twenty hours a week. Well, some people do, but they’re the exceptions to shitty capitalist rules.

I know I sound like a conspiracy theorist, but these shitty conditions are exactly where the powers-that-be want us workers to be. Struggling, barely able to survive, holding onto whatever job(s) add up to forty or more working hours a week, and feeling too tired and messed up to go out and enjoy what little free time we have. This reasoning is why I try my damnedest to avoid working more than twenty hours a week – but oh, my bank account!

As I said in the beginning of this ramble, I answered the frightening call of capitalism. I was talking with my supervisor last week, before she left on vacation, and she mentioned the work that would carry our team to the end of the year. She said she’d need someone building some new stuff, forty hours a week. I said “Hey, you know that’s kinda my area, I could build our new stuff full-time.”

She looked at me funny, because she knows how I feel about coercive capitalist tactics. She knows I don’t actually want to work forty hours a week. And I was screaming at myself internally, because I’m pretty sure I don’t want to work forty hours a week …

But I said I would. So I started practicing: eight hours a day, for a few days. Just to remember what it’s like. By the time my weekend was over, I was still tired and fucked up. My time to rest felt so short. I went in on Monday, managed to stay relatively busy for eight hours, then returned home to crash. I slept in on Tuesday (yesterday), and, feeling a little ill, I texted my co-worker to let her know I wouldn’t make it in. I took it easy yesterday, but I still managed to stay up really late, and I slept in again today (Wednesday). Despite feeling mostly recovered, I decided to stay home again. The bulk of the stuff I need to finish by the end of the week won’t actually happen until Thursday and Friday anyway, so I can get away with my loose approach here.

And that’s my beautiful struggle: I’m a big fan of making things up as I go along, working only when I feel like it, and taking a lot of time to rest and recharge. I’m privileged that I can usually afford to do so, and this new push to work “full-time” is some half-assed attempt to fit myself into the mold that capitalism forces on us.

I hate the capitalist mold. But I did the math, and if I can manage to increase my hours from twenty to thirty-two a week, I’ll have so much extra money.

And despite the coercion inherent in capitalism, I gotta survive and enjoy myself in the shitty process. So for now, I’ll take the damn money. I’ll seethe at the system all the while, and think of ways around it, but I’ll work for that money too.

Fuck. Who have I become?


The Sun After a Storm

I live in the high desert, where humidity is almost always 0%. In the winter, if we’re lucky, it snows and the snowpack provides us with water for the coming months. In the summer, if we’re even luckier, it rains; those are my favorite times. I’ve had that one Sting song stuck in my head, off and on, for years now: you know, the one where the chorus goes “And I miss you like the deserts miss the rain”? I think that’s how it goes. Anyway, deserts do miss a lot of rain, and that means desert rats like myself miss rain too. So when the clouds darken and thunder rumbles, I get giddy.

It’s happening right now, on this day, the 4th of August in the year 2022. It also happened yesterday, but today’s rainfall has been stronger and more consistent. I was lucky enough to step outside and feel the rain kiss my clothes. I never wear a hat or use an umbrella when it rains; I want to feel the miracle seep into me.

I remember a blustery fall evening over ten years ago, when the air was shedding its summer heat and the sky started to darken. I’d recently quit a shitty mall job and I had a decent number of games downloaded to my Xbox 360. Halloween was approaching, and my annual tradition of playing a Castlevania game during spooky season was just beginning. The dark skies, the rumbling storm, the uncertainty of what happens next, these factors all converged to make that night stand out in my memory banks. What looked like a dark night of the soul was actually a distant lantern at midnight, cutting through shadows and beckoning me onward. I could do anything. I was rudderless, but I could swim and I was free.

It’s not spooky season yet, but the rain reminds me of that night; I want to play Castlevania and relax. Lately, I don’t enjoy my job all that much; as many people say, it pays the bills. When that’s all a job does, work loses what little luster it had. I’m going to keep working because I need the money, but I’m thinking of detaching my rudder in a storm again. Of jumping out in the darkness and looking for any lamplight. It’s raining and things are generally spooky, but as I and the Belmonts know, these are the perfect times for adventure.

Maybe this time, instead of running to the nearest safe space, I’ll make my own lantern and hold out ’til morning.


A Brief Lesson on Limits

Yes, we’ve all heard or read this one before: know your limits. In other words, don’t push yourself too hard. I’m sure we’ve all been hearing and reading about another phenomenon that has become a buzzword: burnout. I’m not here to wax poetic about burnout (though I should probably get back to posting poetry at some point in the near future), but I will say that I don’t think I have very large limits. I get to my limits quickly and easily. This is both good and bad. The awful work culture of the U.S. has never been my thing, and my lower breaking point means I haven’t been through the wringer in as harrowing a way as many folks; I’m a firm believer that too much time in the capitalist meat grinder tricks people into enjoying their destruction, or at least, pretending they enjoy it. Fuck, I said I wouldn’t wax poetic. I should stop now. But, as the title implies, this should be a brief lesson on limits.

Total tonal shift: DoorDash is dangerous if you’re one person. In the beginning of the pandemic, I managed to avoid DoorDashing for myself because my brother, saint that he is, went to the grocery store and kept our supplies coming in. I didn’t download any of the delivery apps ’cause if I wanted food to be brought to my door, I got old-school and channeled my inner Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (trademark, hashtag, whatever) by ordering pizza. And that worked, for a long while. It even worked in the midst of my COVID-19 infection. Both my brother and I suffered the virus in the middle of January, and even during my 10-day quarantine, I didn’t use DoorDash for myself; once again, my brother came to my rescue and just ordered food for both of us. Was I using DoorDash by proxy? Eh, I guess so. But anyway, my point is, I didn’t even get into DoorDash until we were nearly two years into this pandemic mess.

But oh lord, when I finally embraced DoorDash, I embraced it wholeheartedly. I opted into the monthly fee (mistake number one). Now, every time I go to order food, I get that reminder that I have to spend at least $12 before my delivery fee is waived. Now, if I was some kind of gourmand or a DoorDash expert, I’d take full advantage of this and order all kinds of shit to save for later. But I’m neither of the aforementioned beings: I’m just a dude who’s too lazy to drive down the street to McDonald’s. The McDonald’s mention is important, and I’ll tell you why. No, I’m not sponsored by McDonald’s, though I eat there enough to be. McDonald’s is the great representative of fast food the world over; if the U.S. wants to get its foot in the door anywhere, it need only deploy the two M’s: the military, and McDonald’s. Neither one of these entities is good for the world, but I came here to talk about DoorDash and (a lack of) limits. I’ll leave the military for another brief rant.

Anyway, back to the big yellow M. The first time I used DoorDash, I actually ordered Cheesecake Factory for myself and some of my tabletop buddies, and I don’t think I had opted into the monthly fees yet. Those came later, post-quarantine, after I’d recovered from COVID and I found myself even more unwilling to leave the house. I didn’t want to go anywhere, but I still wanted food. Could I have groceries delivered to my door? Sure, that’s one way to solve a problem, but like, I’m not great at buying groceries. There was a time when I worked in a grocery store and that made my grocery life so much easier: I’d make a list of shit we needed and I’d buy it on my way out the door, after a shift or whatever. I probably should have been more clever and bought my groceries while I was on the clock, but hey, I was a lot more brainwashed then. So I decided not to order groceries for myself. Instead, I asked DoorDash to do what I didn’t want to do: drive down to the nearest fast food joint and grab greasy crap so I could shove it down my gullet.

Damn it, I said this would be brief. I lied. Seeing as how I just wanted one fast food meal at a time, I’d open up the app and look at my options. On nearly all of the options available to me, a little reminder hung below the card for each “restaurant”: “Spend $12 or more for free delivery.” I put that last part in quotes though I didn’t actually check the app’s verbiage; the fact remains, every fast food joint offers the free delivery, IF you cave and buy twelve bucks’ worth of fast food (how much can one buck eat?). Do you know how much fast food one skinny-ish dude needs to be sated? Like, nine bucks’ worth, maybe, if you’re going for a combo. If you’re going for value menu shit, you can get by with like, six or seven bucks’ worth of fast food. Some places offer what they call “deluxe” combos. Everyone should convert “deluxe” into “baconified” in their heads, ’cause that’s usually what a deluxe fast food combo offers: bacon, and more bacon if you’re into that. Today, I ordered almost thirteen bucks’ worth ($13!) of McDonald’s, because I don’t want to pay the delivery fee and I’m stubborn and damn it, I can still eat that much fast food. But Ronald Christ McDonald, eating that much fast food is neither fun nor healthy. Let me break it down this way: the Big Mac Combo, which is likely the most popular combo meal offered by McDonald’s, only costs about $8.99 or something. We’ll round up to nine bucks ($9!). On a day where I’m really hungry, a Big Mac Combo (trademark, hashtag, whatever ((I know the hashtag should go before the phrase, I’m just being willfully obtuse at this point))) would be a whole dinner for me and I’d be happy. Full. Fulfilled.

But gods damn it, I have to spend more than nine bucks to waive the delivery fee.

So what do I do? Well, I’ve done a few things to get around this dilemma. Solution number one: buy 20 McNuggets. Now, I don’t advise this solution unless you have friends/family members/roommates to whom you may offer many nuggets. ’cause eating a whole combo meal AND THEN trying to shove McNuggets into your throat is not a recipe for a good time. So only attempt solution number one if you have assistance. I went for solution number two today: I ordered another burger, believing I would save it for later, after I’d digested my Big Mac Meal and started feeling peckish. Big spoiler: I did not save that extra burger for later, and here’s why. I ate the Big Mac. I ate all the fries. I forgot to mention earlier that when I go for fast food combos, I opt for the large size or the local equivalent, ’cause I’m a fool. So I ate all those fucking fries. And as I finished the mondo mound of fries, I could feel my stomach expanding. It could barely fit all that shit in there, and it didn’t want me to put any other food into it. But y’see, I’d been thinking about my options. There were, as far as I could tell, three of them.

Option one: put the extra burger in the fridge and eat it later.

Option two: eat the burger now. Do it, coward.

Option three: toss that shit.

I didn’t like option three at all, ’cause I only bought the extra burger to avoid paying the delivery fee. I’d be tossing, like, four bucks ($4!) into the trash! So I couldn’t stomach (ha) option three. Option one sounded ideal, until I reminded myself that a cold burger isn’t great, and a reheated burger might even be worse. So that left me with option two, an option which mine stomach didst protest. Yet I didn’t want to waste a perfectly good bad burger. So I … I ate the damn thing.

My stomach bulged even more than it had already, and as I write this I can feel the food baby melting. Or dissolving. Whatever the fuck happens to food in one’s stomach. Now, I realize that I am a fool because I opted into this dilemma: I choose to pay that monthly fee. The only thing the monthly fee actually gets you is the sweet delivery fee avoidance, but that avoidance comes at a price. The extra money it takes to spend more than $12 (twelve bucks!). I’m pretty sure most delivery fees come out to like, four or five bucks (4 or $5?! How does one write that with numbers and symbols?), and typically, I gotta shell out about three or four bucks to waive the fee. So I don’t even think my solution is that cost-effective.

I can imagine that for families who all share one DoorDash account and typically order food together, the monthly service is great and they easily avoid delivery fees ’cause they buy food for multiple people at once. For me, a single, lonely, still-sorta-scrawny guy, it’s hard to order twelve bucks’ ($12!) worth of food. I can manage it most of the time, but my wallet isn’t happy. My body isn’t happy either; I’ve eaten more fast food over the last three months than I ate in the like, two years prior to that. Maybe it’s not that bad, I could be hyperbolizing here, but the point still stands: I’m eating too much fast food. I’m spending too much money on a service that I honestly don’t need.

I think my problems go way deeper than my newfound DoorDash addiction, but for now, I’ll apologize for not being brief at all. The title will still stand, though, a testament to good intentions and poor execution.


Riffing on Music

I’m old enough to recall the last gasping breaths of cassette tapes. Maybe they were more like, the last creaky attempts to reel the tapes back in? Either way, music on cassettes lay dying as newfangled CD technology struggled to be born. Flash forward about 25 years and my stories of finding new music for myself usually start with “Spotify showed me … ” or “I was listening to a song on YouTube, and … ” The algorithms are probably designed to feel sort of organic, as in, I can trace the branches back to the trunk and the roots of my musical tastes, moving backward from the seemingly random song that’s playing now to the band or artist who was similar to an artist who was similar to my current ear worm. And it shouldn’t have taken me so long to figure out that algorithms are designed, intentionally, to mimic a more “natural” flow of information from one person to another. Today I woke up thinking about music, and the ways my consumption of it have changed, and these are my initial responses to the questions I’ve been asking myself. Before I ramble too long about the present, however, I should probably hop into my personal music history.

The first music cassette I ever owned was a Chumbawamba tape that I got for, you guessed it, “Tubthumping.” In a twist made more amusing in retrospect, I don’t think I ever actively listened to another cassette. For a slightly entertaining modification to the pervasive 1990s ear worm, replace every “[alcoholic beverage]” with “whiskey drink.” So the song now goes “He takes a whiskey drink, he drinks a [whiskey drink], he drinks a [whiskey drink], he drinks a [whiskey drink].” It’s all whiskey now. To take this game even further, replace “good times” and “best times” with “whiskey drink”; now the chorus concludes “He sings the songs that remind him of the [whiskey drink], he sings the songs that remind him of the [whiskey drink, whiskey drink].”

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve started singing “Tubthumping” to myself only to get caught up in endless flights of whiskey drinks. This is the way my brain has altered thanks to early internet staples such as FunnyJunk and YTMND, and the glorious DIY era of early YouTube. Lines, limericks, images, everything gets thrown in the blender that is my mind and turned into some weird variation of YouTube-poopified reality. Have I strayed too far from music? Let’s get back to music.

I grew up listening to mainstream radio in the 90s, and thanks to my mom being in tune with the times, I knew the legend of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana; I listened to a lot of Bush, and eventually, my teenage brain looked into Pearl Jam. At some point in this essay I’ll wax poetic about the importance of nuanced, evolving takes on music, musicians, bands, et cetera, but at the time, Pearl Jam was my obsession. I was single-minded about them; I started with Ten and, thanks to one of the first internet forums in which I participated, I learned Pearl Jam’s whole discography and methodically bought each and every CD they’d released to that point (that point being 2003, the year I was a freshman in high school). I seemed destined to get into grunge and long-haired rocker shit. I was a child of the 90s, after all. When I was a pre-teen, I asked my parents for a CD player; I probably should have mentioned this sooner, but the story is flowing from me in the way that it wants to. This CD player could also tune into the radio, so I’d switch from bombarding my ears with Eddie Vedder and company to consuming all the popular crap on the local “alternative” station. While a half-step from mainstream is hardly alternative, radio stations gotta stay afloat somehow, I suppose; I recall hearing a lot of bands on the radio for the first time, from Audioslave to The Killers to Interpol and, to my ever-changing appraisal, Coheed and Cambria.

I listened to the first Audioslave album for a while, usually on the bus ride to school in the morning; my first girlfriend didn’t like Audioslave, and she didn’t like Pearl Jam, but we sorta liked each other and that’s what mattered at the time. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure my brain only has enough attention for things that are right in front of me, and anything beyond the present bubble of time is sorta relegated to the shadow realm of “non-existent to me.” So like, while I should have known that current bands like Audioslave and The Killers would keep releasing new music, I only listened to their first albums and let things sit like that for a long time. To be honest, Hot Fuss has been stuck in my head, off and on, for … almost twenty years? Oh shit. I listened to it a ton, then put it away for a handful of years until one night when I decided to deep-clean my room. And for some reason, the best music for getting into a cleaning mindset was that first Killers’ album. Maybe because by that time, it had become an almost mindless, comfort listen for me. So I sank into its familiar hooks and melodies, sang along when I felt like it, and cleaned the shit out of my room. Antics by Interpol was treated sorta the same in that I was way into it for a short while, like, a whole summer, then I put it away for good. Every now and then the chorus of an early Interpol song will emerge from my mind and my mouth, but for the most part, I don’t listen to them anymore.

Some of you may be wondering “Are you just a music opportunist?” And that’s a valid question. In my teenage years, I think I was; I listened to the radio until one song or another really hit me the right way, then I’d seek out the particular album on which that song lives, and I’d give that album and that band a chance. A lot of that stuff was “one album and done”; for what it’s worth, I heard so much about The Beatles when I was young that when my parents burned one disc of some kinda “Greatest Hits” compilation, I listened to like all 25 of those songs for months and got them stuck in my head. Then I stopped looking into The Beatles. I only needed the bangers; everything else was just so much white noise to me. (Lol, The Beatles and white noise, Elvis stealing black musicians’ sounds and styles, oh god so much music is theft. I’m not an expert on this subject so I’ll stop now.) Anyway, I picked up and abandoned bands and artists all the time. Some stayed: my older stepsister started listening to a bunch of Queen when I was 14 or 15, and I became obsessed with Queen. Then there’s Coheed. Oh god, there’s Coheed.

One weekend I heard a really interesting song on the local “alternative” radio station: it was called “A Favor House Atlantic” by a band named Coheed and Cambria, and according to the DJ, Coheed’s music was based on a comic book written by the lead singer of the band. It was so many cool nerdy things at once: prog rock, writing, a comic book story. I had to hear the whole album. To my chagrin, this album wasn’t Coheed’s first musical creation; it was called In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3. 3? THREE?! There are two other albums I need to hear?! I learned fairly fast that there was actually just one other album I needed to hear, The Second Stage Turbine Blade; the first part of the story and thus, the “first” album, hadn’t been completely written yet. “Good writer man,” you may be saying, “are you telling us that you finally went beyond a band’s current discography?” I mean, yes; I used to be obsessed with Pearl Jam, remember? But truly, Coheed and Cambria was probably the second band that made me pay attention to their whole output. To be transparent, I don’t always listen to the lyrics of a song, as in, I’ll pick up the words and sing along and get really into the feeling of a song but I won’t think too much about what the actual words are saying. And well, Coheed is a band that puts a whole fucking narrative into each song. Since each song covers a part of a whole comic book narrative, each song tells a story. My teenage brain wasn’t preoccupied with those details though; my teenage brain was like “Whoa, this dude sings in a high pitch and it sounds awesome!” So when the end of one song goes “Pull the trigger and the nightmare stops” repeatedly, I didn’t stop and go “Damn, that’s dark.” I just kept singing it. To be fair to myself, I grew up with stories of Kurt Cobain and sang a whole lot of “Yeah I swear that I don’t have a gun.” The darker aspects of existence, the sadness that can consume a person, I think I lived with feelings similar to them without actually confronting them.

So for a long time, I just accepted Coheed’s lyrics, and sang them as best as I could, and just kinda loved each song’s vibe. I thought In Keeping Secrets was fucking rad, but Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness came out when I was a senior in high school. This album. Fucking. Shredded. In many ways, I think it was the most proggy of the band’s stuff to that point, and Jesus, it was dark. Darker than pulling the trigger and stopping the nightmare. This album, according to hearsay and eventually the lead singer’s own admission, was his response to a real-life failed romantic relationship. He took that breakup hard. And, as it turns out, the protagonist was based on the lead singer, and the in-comic-book-universe writer of the comic book was based on the lead singer, and the respective women connected to each of these fictional dudes was based on the lead singer’s girlfriend-now-ex, and … the story hardly makes sense through hearsay, but like, he did some fucked up stuff through this album. At the time, I thought that like, the mingling of the real world with the fictional world and the use of fiction as a method to cope with grief was really cool and interesting, so I just accepted that general vibe and didn’t think too hard about the lyrics. Until one day, just a few years ago, when I was driving a co-worker to a public event shortly before COVID kept us all inside.

This co-worker and I did our best to share pieces of our lives with each other, and when we had to drive an hour to a place, then another hour back home, we naturally turned to music to help smooth out the experience. I’m not picky; I’ll give almost any music a chance. One weekend, however, she asked me to play something I enjoyed. Well, Coheed was always ready to return to my brain, and I really liked the mix of storytelling and real-world personal events, so I … played Good Apollo Volume One. And I sang along. And like, the whole album is about the fictional writer planning to kill off his protagonist’s love interest to force himself to get over his breakup, which is the actual writer’s way of coming to terms with the real breakup, and no matter how I try to spin this, this dude is using imagined violence to do away with a woman who gives him trouble. It’s not good. Imagine suffering a breakup and concluding “I just need to kill at least one person to make myself feel better.” I totally understand that it’s fiction, and no real people were physically harmed through the music, but uh … mentally and emotionally, I think it’s all different. The lead singer/actual writer imagined killing a fictional character based heavily on his actual ex. He sang some twisted lyrics that are, according to his explicit admission, inspired by this breakup. A lot of imagined violence against women. And I was singing through that imagination. In a car. With my co-worker.

I don’t know if she felt unsafe, but she definitely told me that she didn’t like the music. So I turned off that album and handed her the aux. Her reaction finally got me thinking: how far should we all read into fiction, especially when the writer himself states that it’s heavily based on real life? Should we be concerned when artists display and/or describe violence that is, at least in part, inspired by real-world pain? I believe that art is a useful response to pain and trauma, but something about Coheed and Cambria cutting so close to the bone is unsettling. I think that the lead singer, Claudio, even spoke out eventually and said that if he could do one thing differently, he would change a lot of that album. I believe it’s due to the speed with which he reacted: they broke up, he was hurt, and he put all that pain directly into the album. It made it violent and dark, darker than their other stuff, and their stuff is pretty dark. A lot of murder and vengeance and bloody conspiracy. But this, this felt more personal. Maybe that’s why it’s unsettling: personal grievances turned into fictional violence feel way too close to real violence.

No matter how I look at that particular album, the follow-up just seemed lackluster in comparison. Which is a shame, given the impetus behind the first volume. It’s possible that my time with Coheed was just done; I listened to the “final” album of the story, and when they finally looped back and wrote the “first” part of the story and released that album, I didn’t even listen to it. I think that this is an organic way to approach music: we figure out what we like about it, we stick with that, and when a song or an album doesn’t hit us right, we either throw it out immediately or we listen until it grows on us. Or we listen a few times to verify that it won’t grow on us, then we abandon it.

People tried to get me to hop back on a few musical trains. A woman I dated for a long time loves The Killers, and she gave me all the albums I’d ignored since Hot Fuss came out. I listened to them a while in preparation for a concert, then stopped listening altogether. I’ll go back to Hot Fuss every now and again, but I sorta leave The Killers alone now. A former friend was even more obsessed with Coheed than I was, and every now and then he’d try to get me to listen to their newer stuff; I’d express polite interest, then put Coheed away for good. Shit, I forgot to even mention the Fall Out Boy times; in high school I loved Fall Out Boy, and that love lasted a good few years. At some point, I stopped listening to them too. I remember, back in the MySpace days, one person’s profile stated something like “I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know.” At the time, it seemed like the epitome of arrogance, and in a way it is, but the general truth remains: some people consume so much information and knowledge that it overflows and leaks out. I feel like my history with music is this way, with me picking up on random bands for a while, then discarding them when I want to experience something else. Details get left behind.

Where once I tried to remember every person who showed me that one band and how many other people I shared that band with, now all I have to do is recall whether I found new stuff through YouTube, Spotify, or maybe an Instagram story. Which incorporates Spotify, usually. The algorithm has come along and replaced human interaction, in many ways. I don’t need to talk with people about the music I like to hear what they have to say or if they have suggestions for my next listen; instead, I listen to someone on Spotify, and the algorithm does all the connecting of dots for me. A few years ago, when the “lo-fi hip-hop beats to study/relax to” joke first started, I actually really enjoyed that playlist. And that playlist connected to a lot of other YouTube playlists that were actually pretty good! I found a bunch of future-funk and synthwave that way. My word, the retrowave playlists are everywhere on YouTube these days. But thanks to YouTube, I found a bunch of electronica-adjacent artists, and now that I have Spotify, I can sink down weird chip-tuney rabbit holes. My ears have never been more curious, or more tired.

Don’t get me wrong, I like talking about music with real people. But with COVID running rampant and everyone staying inside, the algorithm might be the next best thing. I say this as I’m fully aware that all this data is used to figure out what I like, what products to which I’ll respond, and which tactics will convince me to part with my money. Damn it, big tech is too powerful. In a way though, sharing intimate details of how I found such-and-such band and what they mean to me, that’s a lot. Not every stranger wants to hear that shit. Not every person wants to know my musical history. Not many would care. So uh, if you read this whole thing out of curiosity, thank you. It started with an idea, and I didn’t exactly refine it the way I thought I would. It became a rambling exploration of some of my past. We all have different ways of tracing our forming, and this is but one part of my formation. Maybe one day we can all swap stories organically; for now, it’s algorithms and random encounters. To the tune of a great ear worm from the 90s, “He takes a whiskey drink, he drinks a whiskey drink, he drinks a whiskey drink, he drinks a whiskey drink; he sings the songs that remind him of the whiskey drink, he sings the songs that remind him of the whiskey drink (whiskey drink).” Happy whiskey drink, everyone.


Reminding Myself to Make Waves

(Author’s Note: I actually looked up the film I describe here, and I got a few details wrong. Aaron Eckhart plays a married man who learns his wife is cheating on him, and he mentors a kid, and he and the kid and one of his new friends go on a quest to … fix his life? My memories are hazy at best, so I got some of the film’s synopsis wrong. Oops. The general gist is still the same: dude tries to fix his life.)

I remember browsing video stores when I was younger. When I was around 17 or 18 years old, I recall wandering a local Blockbuster and scanning the shelves to see if any combination of actors, titles, and cover images caught my attention. At the time, I’d recently watched Thank You For Smoking, a satire that examined the life of a cigarette lobbyist played by Aaron Eckhart. I suppose I could pinpoint the year I perused the shelves of this now-gone Blockbuster, given I recall a few specific details, but the particular year doesn’t quite matter; what matters is that I was relatively young, approaching the end of high school and the possibility of college, one more crucial step toward “adulthood.” This general vibe of progression will make more sense when I describe why I recall Aaron Eckhart.

Thanks to Thank You For Smoking, I’d become something of an Aaron Eckhart fan. I’d see his face or hear his voice somewhere and I’d lean in, intrigued. So that day in the Blockbuster, my eyes scanned the shelves until they hit upon some rom-com-dramedy sort of deal starring, well, Mr. Eckhart himself. There were a few other folks on the cover, a pretty young woman and some other people, but Aaron Eckhart played the protagonist. The synopsis on the back went something like this: 35-year-old dude played by Aaron Eckhart works a dead-end job and he’s super sad about it. His friends/co-workers help him refresh his life and get a new lease on excitement, or something. All I remember is that this character was in his mid-30s, and he was not happy. Why, dear writer, are you recalling this film at this point in your life? Good question, reader. I’m in my 30s and I’m not happy. I guess I could have defaulted to the contemplative early-to-mid-oughts Zach Braff stuff, but for some reason, that never stuck with me. My criteria make no sense, I know; films I watched all the way through, like Garden State and The Last Kiss, didn’t come to mind when I started to think about my life spiraling to an eerie standstill in my 30s, but the vague premise of a movie starring Aaron Eckhart that I didn’t even rent or watch suddenly becomes all-consuming.

It might have something to do with the way I remember reacting to this back-of-the-box synopsis. As an aging teenager, I thought my spirit was enough to defend me from any sort of stagnation, that I would never allow myself to become an adult with a dead soul or a dying sense of adventure. That I wouldn’t be stuck in habits tailored to solitude and introversion, sitting in my room for hours at a time and talking with no one, afraid that my thoughts and feelings would be invalidated by some heartless logician or know-it-all asshole. I think I actually went through a “know-it-all asshole” phase, whereby I caused folks to use adjectives like “pretentious” and nouns like “hipster” to describe me. I had particular tastes, and back then I wasn’t afraid to speak of them. Teenage me scoffed at the idea of being 35 and needing a soft reset.

Now, I desperately crave a soft reset. I’m 33 and I’ve attended two weddings in the past year, despite a legitimate personal fear of COVID. I actually suffered COVID in January, and went through another quarantine two weeks ago because my roommate went to Coachella and caught it there. I didn’t get COVID again, but I still locked myself in my room and really enjoyed myself, for a time. A few of my friends have earnest discussions with their spouses about the “right time” to have children. Everyone, it seems, is getting one advanced degree or another. Everyone is working toward a promotion of some sort. Everyone is moving, not in the “I’m leaving one home for another” sense, but in the “my life is dynamic and I change” sense. And I know that, even though I maintain connections and have a decent group of friends, I haven’t grown in quite some time.

All the personality tests say that I’m the sort of person who thinks through their feelings. I think this is what most of my writing is about: I put my feelings through the colander of my brain and see what the words say once I sift them. The overall sense I get from wordifying my latest feelings is, I’m really sad and I’m really tired but I need to do something to get moving again. Last weekend I did something I hadn’t done in a long time: I went on a road trip. “Great,” you may be thinking, “that’s a good way to break the monotony!” But here’s the thing: two of the three days of this endeavor were spent driving, and I wasn’t the driver. One day to drive to the location of a wedding, another day for the wedding itself, and the third day for driving home. I didn’t drive, my brother did; I didn’t arrange the AirBnB, my brother did; I didn’t really do anything, my brother did all the hard work.

Those personality tests say there’s another thing I do: I act like a child so that others will take care of me. That’s right, I’m a 33-year-old man who infantilizes himself to trick people into doing stuff for him. I don’t do it on purpose, not all the time; indeed, as a person who’s too self-aware, I tend to just narrate my thoughts, so if I’m doing something I’m not familiar with, I’ll say that out loud. And whoa, suddenly people are there to help, to give encouragement, to make sure I do it right. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just trying to get everyone in on something, like a team effort or what-have-you. A collective endeavor. Some folks argue that a person needs to do everything for themselves, and those folks will get red in the face as they espouse the virtues of individuality. Don’t get me wrong, it’s clear that I need to make some choices for myself and do certain things on my own to improve my life, but I think the “FrEeDoM” crowd misses the importance of community. Teamwork is a beautiful thing, and when people work well together, collaboration is refreshing and enjoyable. Too many of our social ills stem from this idea that it’s up to individuals to address their own shortcomings, as though the systems and institutions we’ve allowed to proliferate aren’t exploitative and responsible for most of our troubles. But I’m veering into a whole other territory of subjects with which I don’t intend to grapple here!

My point is, I have some strange way of avoiding responsibilities, and my self-diagnosis is that I need to try new things and be braver with my words. I fantasize too often and end up regretting my lack of real-world actions. At the wedding I attended over the weekend, I was one of the “young” guests, young meaning somewhere in the neighborhood of folks under 40. My parents and relatives, obviously, all had partners of some sort, and even the other young folks were paired with their respective people. I met one guest who made it clear that she was single, and like a drop of mustard to a clean t-shirt, I was drawn to her. She was incredibly gregarious, she was self-aware, she was funny, she was pretty, and I have a problem whereby I turn any new female I meet into a potential match in my brain. I imagine scenarios that see us getting together. Like I said, I have a problem; I’m incredibly lonely and I badly want to connect with someone.

Anyway, things seemed to be going well. She said things like “You’re a delight” and, after I said I really should go to the dance floor, she replied “Oh, there are plenty of girls who’d love to dance with you!” I realize she may have just sensed my overwhelming insecurity and she was bolstering my confidence any way she could; I also realized, in retrospect, that I should have been more direct. Fantasy fights reality, right? In my fantasy, she and I wind up dancing together. In reality, I thanked her for the compliments and left the opening as a gaping hole in the realm of possibility. I could have said “Hey, would you like to dance with me?” and seen where things went. At the end of the night, when my brother said he’d start the car, I said I’d make my goodbyes and meet him in a few minutes. I wanted to establish some kind of connection, but how? In this instance, I had little to no agency; my brother was my ride, all weekend, and while I could have resorted to Uber or a cab, I didn’t want to force a situation into existence. So, when this particular woman said “So, is this the end-all be-all?” I said “It doesn’t have to be!,” which probably should have meant more than “I’ll get your phone number” or “I’ll add you on social media.” But that’s where my tired mind went: I didn’t want to take a chance and say, like, “Do you wanna grab food somewhere?” So I took the coward’s way out: I got her number, I texted her as though we lived in the same city, and everything ground to a halt. ’cause we don’t live in the same city, or even the same state; we are now separate from each other, and any intense interest I may have felt is now forced to be snuffed out.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about that random Aaron Eckhart film where he’s 35 and desperate for a soft reset of his life. I’m 33 and I need to make some changes, for my health. Physically, I’m soft; mentally, I’m tired; emotionally, I’m sad. While I don’t want to become a creep, I’d like to have the ability to take more chances with relational connections; that night at the wedding, I would have liked to have my own car so I could ask questions like “Do you wanna get out of here?” I think, under all this desperation, there’s a desire to be braver. I was once told that I’m “afraid of women.” And those interactions (more like, my lack of actions) at the wedding prove that statement true. I didn’t ask this woman to dance, I didn’t ask if she wanted to go on an adventure, and the worst thing that could’ve happened was I heard “No, thanks.” Rejection is better than nothing and silence. I’m 33, I’m working a job that doesn’t fulfill me, and I haven’t done all that much to move forward. Maybe I’m being hard on myself, but I’m sad and I want to make my daydreams into reality. I want to dance, and say my thoughts out loud. I think I’ll look up that movie now, and actually watch it. Maybe it sucks. Maybe it’s just ok. Maybe it’ll speak to me because I find its subject matter relatable. All in all, I won’t know unless I give it a chance.