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5am Rambling: Not Quite a Sob Story

No one likes a sob story post. And it’s not like I’m crying. It’s more like, when it comes to love – well, have you ever lost something really valuable to you? Like your keys, maybe, or a treasured photo or something else of the sort. Something that is not unique, perhaps, but far from easily replaced. And you look and look and look for it, spending so much time and energy, knowing it must have gone somewhere. And by damn, anywhere your stuff can go, you can go too! But you start to doubt that as the hours pass.

Eventually, it’s no longer worth it to keep looking. Chances are more slim, reason states, the more time has passed. You can hunt more, but that time would be better spent almost anywhere else; hunting for what is lost may well be fruitless, and the more you do it the more your emotions get invested in the unlikely odds.

It feels like a certain sort of hole when you give up, and continuing to search seems to be a way to fill that hole, however temporarily. And if you could find your valued item, then what a joy that would be. And maybe it will turn up at some point in the future, when you’re not looking. But it’s exhausting to continue the search.

It’s not a sob story. It’s just a story of unlikely things that may one day turn up when I’m not looking for them.


Eyes on the Storm: What I’ve Learned

Move in date: February 22nd, 2010
Move out date: May 15th, 2011

This marks the longest I’ve stayed in any place since I left my parent’s home at age 17 (in mid-2004). I look back at the path that’s taken me here, and see a life, not marked by great victories, but by learning experiences that have been both painful and costly. My list of accomplishments is long but entirely negligible. I have bought things which now weigh me down like a lead yoke. I have earned money but spent more. I have loved but have lost more. At the end of the day, all I have left is myself – perhaps the one resource that I have neglected most.

Each year I believe in less and less. I feel like I’ve been falling.

“The Summer of 2005.” I keep going back there in my mind because it’s the only time where I was consistently happy. Not perpetually. But enough. My bank account was empty, and my days were filled with friendship. I worked a job that paid me very little but gave a lot of meaning. I spent my free time in creative expression. I was getting in great shape, I liked who I was – what happened?

It’s far too easy to blame the rest on the relationship that took place directly after that summer. Yes, that relationship was toxic, but it neither started nor had to be that way. Steph was an impressive and good person, with no more to be forgiven for than I myself am. But I was selfish and insecure. I couldn’t handle the reality of that relationship. My fantasy version of the world was broken, as it had been before, and rather than fixing it (something I feel that, at age 19 and scarred as I was, I was not capable of yet) or walking away, I took the coward’s way out: I made a home in the rut, miserable myself and intent (at some level) at making her miserable too.

What I’m trying to do here is find the eye of the storm. I was there once. I can navigate back, can’t I? Eyes to the storm, then. To find that calm spot in the center of this world.

It’s why I’m here. Salt Lake was not the solution I hoped it would be, and all that’s happened since has been a slide backwards. Giving my cats to the humane society (for adoption) is one of the more difficult things I’ve done. Most of my possessions have been given away. Transferring away from the University of Utah means that some of my credits will become useless. The move itself cost more than its share. The anxiety and isolation of being a work-at-home professional without a social network prevented a lot of career progress. I gained weight.

What I’ve learned is to turn the difficulty down. I’m not a superman. I’m just a plain old person, ready to drink the koolaid and follow the pack of sheep, if only it didn’t seem so morally nauseating. Fifteen months and thousands of dollars is enough to learn that lesson. I must be someplace where I can grow; don’t expect orange trees to grow in Alaska, don’t expect evergreens in the jungle. While finding a culture I like more is admirable, doing so much at once (re-establishing a social circle, school, establishing myself in a new and challenging career, learning a new skillset for working at home, etc.) nearly killed me.

What I’ve learned is I don’t need to be perfect. I don’t need big victories. Just to keep moving forward, and to be happy. And I think for that I need to re-learn the belief in something: goodness, kindness, grace, love. Just something.

I’m here. I’m here for now. I’m here until it seems wise – authentically wise – to leave. I’m trying to navigate this little tempest of mine. I’m trying to believe in something.


The Buddhism Experiment

I am not very happy.

I don’t pretend that this makes me unique – even a minority. We are all, it seems, in varying states of unhappiness, struggling against the pseudo-apocalyptic adversary of 21st-century life. Statistically, however, there are certain factors that make people predictably more happy. One of them happens to be religion (which multiple studies confirmed as increasing self-identified life satisfaction and happiness).

In my ongoing pursuit of happiness, I’ve decided to give religion another go. I’ll be doing this through Buddhism, experimentally, for one month.

Why Buddhism?

Why not, say, Mormonism? My family is Mormon, the community I’m going to live in will be Mormon, and so on. Alas and alack, however, I do not believe in the 1) fundamental moral principles of Mormonism, 2) the impact Mormonism has in the world, 3) the political norms of Mormonism, 4) the Mormon scriptures, or 5) the truth or validity of Mormonism’s religious history. (Sorry, Mom!)

Buddhism makes a lot of sense for me. It incorporates (or can incorporate) multiple practices that I have already found to be beneficial, including but not limited to:

  • Vegetarianism.
  • Meditation.
  • Yoga.
Further, Buddhism is a very open religion. Buddha himself was likely an agnostic. The Buddha (the guy who, according to the religion’s mythology, obtained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree) prompted his followers to question him. Buddhism, perhaps more than any other faith, respects science and scientific discovery. Even reincarnation is an optional belief; one of the most interesting pamphlets I ever read was from a Buddhist preacher who was explaining why he believed that reincarnation was simply a metaphor.
This openness makes Buddhism flexible enough for me, it values many of the things I value, and I won’t feel pressured to accept things that seem incredibly far-fetched.
How Will I Practice?

Well, I’ve already read a good deal of research into Buddhism, so I have some vague outline of what being a “good, practicing Buddhist” means. I’ll be attempting the following for the duration of May:
  • I won’t violate the five precepts (i.e., no theft, no killing, no rape, no physical over-indulgence, no lying).
  • I will set up a special place of worship within my home or environment where I can spend time in “quiet tranquility” each day. This includes meditation, twice each day.
  • I will strive to accept the four noble truths (life is marked with suffering > which is born out of attachment > which can be overcome > by following the eight-fold path).
  • I will seek to understand and follow the eight-fold path.
  • I will try to make it up to the Buddhist temple of Salt Lake City each week.
  • I will keep a vegetarian diet.
  • I will keep a high spiritual regard for all living things.
  • I will study Buddhist philosophy daily, using the texts I currently have, online articles, and any other information that seems pertinent.
  • I will participate in online communities to learn more about Buddhism and its potential place in my life.
What Sect of Buddhism?
As with Christianity, Buddhism sees many different sects. However, Buddhist philosophies tend to be more cross-compatible. I will begin as a non-denominational Buddhist, and we’ll see how practice and research changes that over the course of things.
The experiment will take place from May 1st to May 31st. I’ll try to journal to at least some degree!
Aisatsu,
Rob

Call to Order

Disclaimer: This is my personal blog, not my professional face. You’re responsible for seeking out my opinions here. That said, all of my written thoughts are – as always – expressed as honestly as I can make them.

Call to Order

“99% of everything done in the world, good or bad, is done to pay a mortgage. Perhaps the world would be a better place if everyone rented.” ~Thank You for Smoking

Let’s see if I can get all this straight.
I have quit job after job after job. My primary motive, almost every time: Ethical disagreements. I saw my company trapping healthy adults in a cage, and they refused to speak. I saw my company refusing to take care of its customers. I saw my company lying to people. I saw my company underpaying employees. I saw my company profiting off overfed ignorance. These aren’t isolated issues. They’re an epidemic. Over and over again, I feel enraged, I suffer, my work suffers, they try to get me to behave, and … I quit.
It’s a shitty, shitty pattern to get into, but there are really only two options:
1) Give up on any company I work for ever living up to my ethical standards.
2) Be picky.
Being a freelancer should, hypothetically, open up option two for me. Should. Hypothetically. But there’s also the little matter of paying bills. How picky should I be, really, on what I consider ethical?
It’s not just, say, murdering babies that I’m upset by. I think it’s unethical that a company will repeatedly cut the wages of workers, even if the set of workers being impacted doesn’t include me directly. I think it’s unethical for a company to repeatedly pay its employees late. I think it’s unethical for a company to expect more than its wage makes legitimate, even if it’s not from me.
I think it’s unethical for a company to sell a product whose object is to pump low-quality traffic to a low-quality site to expose visitors to low-quality advertisements. I think it’s unethical for a company to pay people to do nothing more than regurgitate the unqualified, non-expert opinions that have been circulated in dozens of formats. I think it’s unethical for any company to rely on tricks, gimmicks, content-milling, or loop-holes to get attention and income. I think it’s unethical to game the search engines. I think it’s unethical to fill the information channels of the world with trash. 
I think it’s unethical for a real writer to accept that their copy can be used for all these rubbish purposes. I think it’s unethical for a real writer to churn out content that isn’t worth reading. I think it’s unethical for a real writer to use money – whether that money is needed for rent, school, debt – as an excuse to settle for less from themselves and their clients.
What I must confess, then, is that either I’m not a real writer or I’m not ethical.
I demand a change, but the scope of my control is limited; my reach falls short of my grasp. But I don’t have an alternative. If I stay here – keep doing work that is short of who I am – no one wins.
If life is my mistress, than how should I woo her? By giving her something worthy of herself. What I’ve given so far has not been. I can do better. I will do better. When my clients don’t provide room for it, I’ll make room or find new clients. When I recall my “freelance” job title, perhaps the first syllable deserves more attention. And what good is freedom, anyway, if we don’t use it for something worthwhile?
The words are still chaos on a page. But I’m starting to make order out of everything. This is just the beginning, the initial call that strikes for change.
A better world can start.
It will.
It must.

The Summer of 2005

The Summer of 2005. It’s a matra to me now. Right now I’m stuck on about five levels. I have two major articles (8 pages total) to write by tomorrow morning. I am 4 days behind on two of my recurring projects. I haven’t finished the newsletter for one of my major clients. I’ve been binge-eating.

I feel fat. I feel lazy. I am depressed and anxious and I never quite know how to solve this. But what I’m trying right now is to be the person I was in the Summer of 2005.

What would he have done? Well … stuck in a rut, Rob of June 2005 would have had a lot more failsafes, and he would have a lot less of his identity invested in his job. His work was not who he was, despite the fact that he felt good about it. His plan was that when he got fired he would pick up and move, just for the adventure of it. And he had theater as a backbone to his schedule. He would be at the show; that was a given. Anything else revolved around that timing.

But if he felt horrible, he would have … well, cut himself, probably. I always forget to mention that this happiest of summers is also the time when I was most deeply into self-mutilation. I carved the letters “CYP” into my arm. It stood for “choose your path,” a reminder that I could will myself to do anything.

I would also do yoga and meditate. I would pray. I would seek spiritual equilibrium as a foundation to any further happiness.

I was 18 back then. A self-mutilating theater junkie who didn’t care whether or not he got fired. Who went into debt when he wanted a laptop. But who was so happy.

Okay. I’ll probably skip the cutting, but how about yoga and meditation and then some work. 🙂 We’ll see what I can do.


Visualization

One of the more common suggestions in getting motivation for something, anyway, is to visualize where you want to be. Our minds are solving machines, and when we focus on our destination our creative powers come up with solutions to get us there. I’m not going to stretch this out too far into future, and I’m not going to make it all-encompassing. This is about work (aka, money) and I’m looking to . . .

December 30th of 2012

My desk is by the window, my desktop computer, Serenity, sitting on the ground to the right. It’s whirring quietly, more suped up than ever. The acer screen, 22″, in front of me has its brightness turned down to conserve energy. The blue lights on the LED strip on the front of the tower and the fan inside glow out lightly, augmenting the lights of the room itself. The lights in the room are bright, almost a sunlight glow.

The room around me is strewn with posters, all of which have frames. My two demotivators posters and the demotivators calendar. The “I Think, Therefore I Am; I Feel, Therefore I Can Be Free” framed picture. 18 postcards of beautiful locations in Utah. The Hit Girl poster from Kick Ass. Two Monet posters. The Rise Against poster. The Buddha picture. The Spartan warrior picture. The Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children wide cloth poster. The Ironman poster. The Ninja Turtles poster. My four Oatmeal grammar posters. My license plate. A Firefly poster. The Samurai X cloth poster. The entire room is a mosaic of things that make me happy.

In the background, instrumental music plays – a calming, fluid set of sounds that resonates so crystal clear it might as well be live. My audiophile speakers are one of my many small escapes into pure quality.

In front of me, my Alot cup steams with a decaf green tea plus raspberry. I’ve added just the smallest drizzles of raw honey.

My hands rest lightly against the ergonomic keyboard. I pause for a moment as I think of how to best end the article I’m writing. After a few moments, I’m satisfied with my phrasing – it feels like it’s got punch – and I type it out at my touch-type speed. Then I look over the entire thing, taking my time to go through it sentence my sentence. I catch a few “whoops” mistakes that I quickly resolve. I look up whether or not to hyphenate one phrase and find, once again, it’s a tad ambiguous. I come up with better phrasing for two of my sentences. I change the title. I smile and nod. This is a good article. Then I click “submit.”

Using all the shortcut keys I know, I swap over to my “earnings” summary. I update the total for the day. It’s a Friday, which means I’ve set all my weekly maintenance items. I’ve also gotten ahead for items not due until the next week. My sum total for the day is $132. A very solid day. I smile at the figure, and the total that has populated in the spreadsheet below. $632 for the week. My mind starts to stray toward “taxes are going to be such a – ” and I interrupt myself. I have money set aside. That’s all taken care of.

Money set aside. That brings me to “point the next.” I pull up my MACU account. The balance is $5000 in savings, $785 in checking. I stick my tongue out at the number in checking, then laugh a little. I have money in PayPal too. Plus, the $5000, that’s enough to cover six full months of no income, now that I’ve paid off my consumer debt. Still another $5000 to go to meet my goal, though. I shake my head at my own pessimism. Come on, Rob, I think. You could take more than a semester off. You’re doing fine. No, you’re doing great. Give yourself some credit. I pause and nod to myself. This really is good, considering everything. Yes. Really, really good.

I shut down the bank page, trying to get past my silly fixation on money. I switch the music to a techno rock station. Then I look down at the system clock. “1:34pm.” Woohoo! I didn’t realize it was still so early. I’ve got plans with friends tonight, at about 7, but until then I can just . . . whatever. My portfolio is up-to-date. I don’t have classes today. I think I’ll read . . . maybe get in some good creative writing time. I’ve got a few short story projects I’m really excited about, or I could submit my existing projects to a few more publishers. One of these days, someone will say yes. I know that. I absolutely know that. And the more I submit, well, the sooner that will happen.

I look outside at the snow. It’s beautiful, peaceful, and cold. I’m staying inside. I’ve gotten into the routine of doing yoga at night, so I’ll save that for later. I’ll maybe cook a nice lunch. But my time is mine, and I’m totally free for the rest of the weekend. I feel free. I feel empowered. I feel like I’ve done an excellent job at maneuvering my own life.

One more thing first, though. I pull up my email and go to my last “yearly review.” I fill in the segments with the new information.

December Review
1) How was this month’s earning?


$2624.00
2) What do I want to earn next month?

Bills ($700)

+ $200 (new seasonal clothes)

$900

3) What major items did I accomplish?

I stayed up-to-date.
I did well in school.
I added two new pieces to my portfolio.
I sent two short stories to eight different publishers.

4)  What major items would I like to accomplish this month?
Stay caught up on projects.
I’m thinking: California.

5)  How satisfied do I feel about last month?

Great.  Very productive. Very on top of things.

Yearly Review

What did I accomplish?

I wrote dozens of writing projects. I submitted my short stories to a long list of publishers. I got some solid work done on two novels.

I secured and maintained a number of prominent clients. I received “top writer” awards twice.

I paid off all of my consumer debt, meeting the one goal I had for the year.

I did great. 😀

😀 😀 😀

Thanks,

Rob Young
Lead Writer
RDY Writing

Then I sign out, shut the computer, and grab a book off the shelf. I lay back on my bed, thumbing through to where I left off. Just another end of a chapter, I think. In a good story. A really good story.

No, I’m Really Not

It’s been bad recently.

This is something like . . . should we call it day nineteen? Two, maybe three weeks into severe depression.

I’m cornered. Trying to get myself out of depression, I hype up on energy drinks and start having panic episodes that last three to ten hours. Trying to get myself out of anxiety, I avoid work or I drink, triggering depression. In both states I overeat, and feel ashamed for it. My psycho-semantic worries (oh no, is my heart rate going up? am I freaking out? Well, if I wasn’t before!) surround me like jail-keepers.

It all roots back to not knowing what I’m doing any of this for. Yes, I’m fighting, I’m struggling, and I’m even capable – but why? So I can live a standard life in the status quo of this society?

Does this – can this – all be simplified to a desire to tell stories? It’s the one thing where my passion and desire haven’t disappeared completely. I can still see a peace in telling stories, a peace that’s been robbed in everything else. But is it enough? It doesn’t feel like it some days.

Day nineteen. My professional and school-oriented work have stacked up and now cage me in. My fitness has gone out the window. My apartment is a mess. My friends have come and spent time with me here recently, it’s been a boon, but I still feel this desperate, hollow loneliness. I want to be touched, loved, held; I want to get lost in an obsession as high and persistent as a daily SSRI.

“Do you think about hurting yourself?” asks the doctor. Constantly, I think. But instead I say, “Self-mutilation is part of my history, and it’s certainly associated with depression. But no, I’m not afraid I’ll hurt myself in any substantial way. I’m certainly not concerned that I’ll kill myself.”

Every time the train comes, I envision myself toppling in front of it. The free-fall sensation that turns to a sudden infinity of noise, dissolving into embracing silence. We call this suicidal ideation. “Suicidal ideation,” I tell the doctor, “has been a part of my lifestyle at least since high school. I’m not worried that I’ll act on any of it. I use it as a way to . . . calm myself down. Knowing I always have that escape hatch, it makes things seem smaller somehow.”

If I were my clients, I would have already dismissed me. That’s not to say I’ve completely abandoned things. But I’m behind. I’m trying to communicate, I’m trying to catch up, but I’m not the writer I should be. It’s just a few hours of work left to catch up, but it still feels like an insurmountable barrier.

I have dreams where I’m trying to defend myself against attackers, and I go to punch them, but as I swing my arm the muscle goes limp and I can’t hit them with any force at all. That’s what this struggle feels like. Every day.