Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Resolutions for the Same Beginning



Normally I write about how much I hate things, and talk about how much I hate things. Hate and hate and hate. My friends know. I use the word ‘hate’ far too often, especially since I don’t ‘hate’ as much as I lead on that I do.

I thought about starting this by writing: I hate New Year’s Resolutions. That I hate the people who make them, how resolutions are pointless, and no abides by them after January 2nd, etcetera (we’ve all read, said, heard, written, all this before). But I didn’t want my first post of the year to be about hate, so I decided not to. Instead, I thought about resolutions. About what they really are, what they really mean for those that make them, and I realized I just don’t like them, or understand them.

Over the years I’ve made resolutions along with the rest, mostly during high school, during that time when I still believed that I could change the world, make some kind of difference, be an influence for good; when I believed in individuality and the importance of the ‘One’. Somewhere between high school graduation and attending Sac State, I stopped resolving to ‘change’ solely because the date changed. I wish now that I had a list of all the resolutions I made as a teenager: be nicer, exercise, eat better, learn to play the guitar better, whatever. Something like that. But I digress.

The point is: I don’t make resolutions. They are meaningless word fodder. A list of hopes or dreams or desired outcomes for the year that I didn’t achieve the previous year. That’s all it is. And the list is always the same, a repetition of what was not accomplished from years previous. But we do it anyway, instinctually (whether inherent in genes or instilled by societal expectations), as if we cannot become better people without waiting for a number to change on the calendar and publicly announcing, “This year will be different. It will be better. I will do things. Because I said I will be, and now you know I mean it.” It makes no sense to me.

Internet news feeds for the last week have been filled with lists of “25 Resolutions You Should Make This Year” and “What Resolutions shouldn’t you make for 2014”. How do you what I need to resolve to do in the following year? Let alone at any time in my life?

Nonsense.

But all that is not to say that some form of resolutions can’t or don’t work for some people. They can. I’m sure they can. I know that there is someone out in the world right now who made some specific resolution to change in the New Year, that they needed a specific marker to initiate that change within their self, and that 2014 will actually be different for that person. To that I say: fantastic. For those that make and keep resolutions, you are far stronger than I am. And I’m okay with that. I know my limitations, and they include not making resolutions. Because I’ve never once kept a resolution. Not one.

Rather than resolutions, the Wife and I set goals. I know ‘goals’ and ‘resolutions’ sound the same, but they are not. Resolutions are arbitrary statements with no means or concept of how to achieve or complete. They are whimsical delusions of progress, made rashly, under pressure, without thought. Goals inherently are structured with a plan, an outline from beginning to end on how that desire will be accomplished. They are support by time and pondering, they are the way of pragmatism. When the Wife and I got married, someone gave us this black spiral-bound notebook. I don’t remember who, but that doesn’t matter. We got this book, and we decided that at the beginning of each year we would review our goals from the previous year, see what we accomplished and what we failed at, why we succeeded or failed, and then set new goals for the coming year. Here are a few of my goals from 2013:

  • Get the Novella published (fail)
  • Find a job (sort of)
  • Move out of my parents’ house (major fail)

Just to name a few. The outlook is not so good. But I tried. I submitted the Novella to half a dozen publishers, and one contest (I have only heard from two of the publishers). Technically I got a job, albeit not exactly what we were hoping for (but at least it’s a paycheck). And the parents . . . well that is just a straight up fail, but not for lack of trying. However, we also did a ton of stuff. Every year we have a theme for our family, and this year was the “Year of Exploration”. Each month we tried something new that we’ve always wanted to try but never have. I’m going to get into the specifics of it here, but if you want to know what we did, you can check out the Wife’s blog for details. I will say that we are amazing, and did some pretty sweet stuff (I don’t think I can be more vague than that).

My point in all this is that resolutions are too broad, too big, too unobtainable. They are crap. They mean nothing, and go nowhere. What we should be making (or setting) are goals. Aspirations that will make our lives better. As my good friend wrote just a few days ago: “Instead of making resolutions to live longer, let's resolve to live better.” And the Wife and I need to live better for 2014.

2013 was a difficult year (mostly for the Wife). Finding work was next to impossible for me. Thanks to a good friend I am teaching extremely part-time, which is better than my previous job: nothing. Before, it was a hard year of unemployment. A Master of Arts in Creative Writing means you have no marketable skills but are over qualified for regular jobs, or so it seems. But the part-time teaching has only been for the last six months, and that’s only one to two classes a term. Work has just not been good. Schools don’t want to employ you because you have no experience, but you can’t get experience without a degree, and you can’t get adequate experience while getting a degree. It’s a vicious cycle. Add on the disappearance of tenureship, and that basically kills the possibility of a stable, if even possible, teaching job at any Junior College or University. Now add over a hundred reject letters for short stories, flash fictions, prose poems, a few attempts at the Novella, even job applications at Junior Colleges, and it gets depressing (John Daulton if you are reading this, I know, self-publish, the eBook is the way of the future). But, like I said, it has been much much worse for the Wife. Compile all my stress and failures and put them on her shoulders, while taking care of our family with having the only somewhat fulltime job. Add our 17 month old child were trying to raise. And living with my parents. And being six months pregnant. That alone is enough to break the strongest of individuals. But that is nothing. Several of her friends and family members have been hospitalized, gone through surgery, or been diagnosed with stage four cancers. Then, her younger cousin died at age 17 of Ewing Sarcoma that he fought for six year, and a good friend from her childhood died at 26 from an intense infection that ravaged her already weak body. Both within a week of each other. The Wife has lost a lot this year. But she wouldn’t say it. Wouldn’t even think it. She, instead, worries about the families that have lost their loved ones, wonders how those families are doing, what they must be going through. Not a single complaint uttered. I know I wrote a month or two ago about empathy, stating that it doesn’t exist –- I still don’t think it does -- but if any mortal were to possess the actual ability to empathize, it would be her. She loves more than most can understand. More than I understand, for sure. By no means is she perfect, but when she loves someone, she loves them to the end, unconditionally.

We are glad to see 2013 finally end. It was a rough year. A year we would like to forgot. Maybe in 10 years it won’t look so bad. I hope so.

All I can say is that 2014 is going to be better. That’s not a resolution, it’s a choice. To improve. To live better. It sucks, really, that this rejuvenation has come right at the cusp of the year change, so this rant looks like a resolution, but it’s not. Trust me. It comes from going to two funerals in December for people younger than me, who were doing more with their lives than I am now; from a place where living with my parents may be killing me, my wife, my child(ren), and our marriage; from watching others be successful with their degrees, in careers that they are happy with, or publishing stories and books; from wanting to work on my own art, to focus on my work and taking care of my family. Wanting to be the husband, father, provider, friend, and artist that I want and deserve to be.

I want to live better. This year I am going to live better.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The point of no return (or something like that)



I’ve thought about writing this for a month now.

But I haven’t written anything since November 11th. I know the exact day because it was two days after starting the 27 Act Play about Capitalism (which was never completed, and most likely will never be completed).

Today was the first day I read a book in two months (I don’t want to read it, but I’m in a book club, and I need to man up). Even for work, where I teach two classes twice a week for four hours, I haven’t read a single text to prepare for class. I’ve avoided reading and writing like some bad simile or metaphor that I can’t think of.

I don’t know what happened. I know how it happened, but the why eludes me. At the beginning of November I got an email from Sixfold.org about some new fiction and poetry they recently released. Nothing special, just an update from one of the many publishers that I periodically receive. I read the excerpts from each book embedded in the email—then something sort of snapped in my brain: “I’ve read this before, a thousand times, these words in this order, trying to tell this story.” Or something very much close to it. Possibly from my own writing. Bland, predictable, na├»ve and inarticulate. Perhaps to the point of being amateurish. Maybe. I don’t know. But since then, I’ve done nothing except watch TV and play on the internet (in the time that I’m not at work, which isn’t much). I’ll do an occasional craft project with the wife, but my writing, my reading, my growth as a human: stagnant. Truthfully, dying, because without those valuable nutrients books offer, my brain and creativity are slowly wilting to dust.

I don’t know what to do, how to snap out of this.

Last week I published a book of short fiction and creative non-fiction that a select group of friends from Sacramento and I wrote. Twelve of us, all graduates for the same Master’s program at Sac State. I’ve been working on this book since July. We all have. Working with the authors editing their work, revising, proofreading, compiling, and finally designing and publishing the book through CreateSpace. But by the end, I didn’t want to read anymore. Nothing. Especially this book. Everything finalized, just upload the PDF, proof it, and approve. Of course I’d read through each of their stories intensely at least three times, and done a number of skims on top of that. When it came to that final proof . . . I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t read through it one more time, and because of it, there are inexcusable typos throughout the book, typos I could have easily avoided and rectified if I so chose. I didn’t. I want to care that I didn’t, but I don’t. And that scares me.

“It’s ok, you’re just going through a tough patch.”
“Don’t worry, man, it’s just a rut, we all go through it.”
“This happens to everyone.”
“Me too, I totally know what that’s like.”

I hear it all the time. I expect some reading this think the same about me and my current state of being. Of course you do, we all do. We do it to anyone who is struggling, because we don’t really know what to say. How could we? It is impossible for any human being to feel what another human is feeling. We are not that person, and can never be that person. I’ve come to find the word ‘empathy’ to be impossible, one of those non-words we somehow created and gave meaning to without realizing its textual existence did not correspond to our corporeal reality. According to dictionary.com, empathy is: 1) the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another; 2) the imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself. The second definition I’m not even going to consider. The first one is impossibility. How can we presume to have the ability of “vicarious[ly] experiencing . . . the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another,” when we can’t even explain or understand our own internal machinations? For so long I lived under the pretense that I could ‘empathize’ with another human, that it was possible for me to feel exactly what someone else felt. Over the years I have doled out advice under the guise of empathic understanding, because I ‘felt’ someone else’s situation. Foolish dribble and delusion. Even if I wanted to live the life of another, make it part of my own living, my own experiencing, I couldn’t. Our physical partitions inhibit that possibility. Our separation, our inherent inability to ‘know’ another, is the only attribute that makes us unique. It is the epitome of individuality. We may never do anything truly original, or genius, or even noteworthy, but because we exist, that makes us unique, because our experiences and emotions and memories cannot be experienced by another. No matter how hard science tries to bridge that gap, it can never be crossed. Ever.

And that is what makes where I am at so difficult. I don’t want to talk to anyone, because I don’t want those generic answers, they don’t help. And I don’t want attempts at real advice, because they are meaningful and genuine and come from somewhere loving (I think), but they don’t help either, because they are wrong. They are always wrong. You. Me. Everyone. Always wrong. When it comes to giving people advice. We can get close. Damn close. But we will always come up short.

I don’t know where to go from here. Every day I get on the computer to check my emails, Facebook, do the good American routine and give my soul to the interwebs. And then I think, “eh, maybe I should try writing something.” Then I sit, staring. Avoiding the Microsoft Word icon on the bottom of the screen. Maybe look through some pictures, open those folders hiding old stories and read their titles but leave their contents alone. Afterwards, I slip back onto the internet, or go watch TV, or just sit and stare and mope.

Maybe it is just a phase. A rough patch. The weight of no job prospects and publishing almost an impossibility (let alone opening my own independent publishing house) and learning to be a good father and failing at being a good husband and dealing with living at my parents’ because I can’t afford a one bedroom apartment anywhere and squishing two entire lives into my old high school bedroom with reminders everywhere that even after ten years I have gone nowhere with my life (little glow in the dark stars burning on the ceiling at night, mocking, and Star Wars spaceship miniatures dangling amidst those stars watching my incapacity to grow) while on my wall the Calvin and Hobbes mural I started when I was 14 waits to be completed but never will be no matter how hard I try to finish it. I lay awake a lot at night with my room taunting me, asking me what I am still doing in there, now with a wife, and a child right down the hall, why nothing has changed, and where did that extra 30 pounds come from?

Maybe it’s not a phase. Maybe I broke something in my head. Maybe after 28 years my neurons aligned (or disconnected) in just the right way to fracture all my neuropathways that made it possible for me to function, to be happy, to create.

I don’t know.

So now I am here. Writing for the first time in over a month. It’s not much, but it’s something. A step forward, I guess. Perhaps this will open my mind to finally write that non-fiction piece I was going to start the week following the 27 Act Play on Capitalism, to finally put down on paper or digital space the sentence I’ve repeated to myself at least once every day since the beginning of November:

“I take drugs because I’m afraid.”