Day #27 – The Happiness Loophole

In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight.

The past two weekends have reminded me—more like smacked me over the head with—that I still have the capacity for happiness, for creativity, for connection and communion with people who share my interests and who care for me. I am happy for that timely reminder because my Inner Negative Voice does everything it can to shout the opposite conclusion. So I will try, in my meager 500 words, to outline some of the basic points, an incomplete but potent list, that I can use to tell my Inner Negative Voice it can fuck right off.

Last weekend I spent with four of my closest friends, sitting on a lawn, listening to musicians I love, whose work has meant so much to me over the years, simply enjoying the moment. I laughed, I joked, I danced, I sang. At one point, someone pointed out that they had not heard me laugh like that in a long time, and I was surprised and delighted to realize that they were correct. I smiled. It’s possible it was the company, it’s possible it was the entertainment, it’s possible the small edible I ate contributed to positive brain chemistry, but whatever it was, I felt good and centered and connected and happy. So happy I completely brushed off getting rained on and being cold, that’s how happy I was.

I always look forward to being with my friends, Terry and Ken and Tracy, but I am not always laughing when I am. Bad days happen. But let last weekend’s outing with them serve as one of many touchstones that I am still able to feel joy.

Then the work week rolled through and my Inner Negative Voice doubled its efforts, and it even caused me to miss a day of work so that when Friday came, I was not looking forward to going to Rose City Comic Con, something I’d planned to do with Terry for months. We even missed the first night of the convention because of my grumpiness. Then standing in line to get in Saturday morning, I felt overstimulated and on the verge of falling in to a dark cloud.

But a funny thing happened. Wandering the show floor and being surrounded by people enjoying their passions, I got a distraction from my Inner Negative Voice. And I remembered that there are things in the world I love, too. Sure, it’s superheroes and space battles and good and evil, but there is a moral center to the stories I care about. Heroes may not always win, but heroes in those stories will always fight back against the darkness. If they get knocked down, the best of us will always get back up. They can do this all day if they have to.

And even when one is surrounded by darkness, joy can be found. And the darkness can’t silence the voices of those around me who also need joy and light.

I have far too many little examples from this weekend to fit into one of my 500 word posts. Maybe in the coming days I can document some of them. But one of the mementos I bring from the comic con this weekend is a little silver-and-green ring, pictured above: Green Lantern’s ring of power. To some it may seem a cheap trinket, but for me, it’s a reminder of a few things I value: determination and willpower are what makes the Green Lantern a hero; connection and teamwork makes them stronger, being part of the Lantern Corps; and that even heroes need to recharge from time to time, even though they will never completely retire from the good fight.

I’m happy to be here, and happy to tell my stories. Thank you for listening. There are more, and many many more, to come.

Day #26 – Nothing Ever Goes As Planned

Should I be writing this at 1:09 AM in the morning? Sure, why not? It’s late but it’s after midnight so it’s technically Saturday which means it’s technically the next day, and I have a busy day planned to so I might not have time otherwise to write my 500 words later. I’m writing those 500 words now, before I fall towards bed.

I’m feeling drunk (duh) and lonely and unconnected. Did you read my previous post? Obviously I’m not feeling happy and content lately. It’s a sad, angry, lonely feeling. I lack something that I want, or need, to have, and that something is understanding and connection.

If any of my friends are out there reading this, it’s not your fault. You tell me you’re my friends, and I have every reason to believe you. You spend time with me, and I appreciate every minute. You reach out to me, you say you care about me and love me, you encourage me to do the things I’m dreaming of doing and you praise all my good qualities. I do not doubt you when you do and say and encourage and praise. But there’s that Inner Negative Voice in my head, that’s working to counter everything you say, and the voice in my head is stronger than a hundred of you (if only there were a hundred of you, out there, saying and doing and encouraging and praising, alas.)

But I’m stuck with the head I’ve got, and it’s telling me I’m a piece of shit in a short, hairy, old, wrinkly body, and it’s really really hard to not see it that way, when I look in the mirror and see a bald old ugly fat lump looking back at me. This is the place I’ve ended up, and this is where I live now. It’s really hard to talk back to that Inner Negative Voice and tell it it’s full of crap. It’s much easier to fall into the warm mush and see things the way the Inner Negative Voice sees them.

You understand, don’t you? Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re like my closest friend, who has always seemed to be lucky and connected and accepted everywhere they go. Maybe you’re like my other closest friend who has had bad things happen to them because of their own behavior but has never actually changed how they act because of all that, and are still succeeding and going strong. Or you’re like another close friend who has seemingly always made the right decisions and is now living a life doing what they’ve always wanted, having built the life they want.

I’m not any of those folks. I’m the one who has always zagged when everyone else has zigged. I’m the one who has run away from any kind of foundation, who was balked at building up anything of value. I’m the guy who has spent any savings they had, whether financial or social or cultural. I’m just me, and I’m tired, and it’s late, and I’m drunk, and I’m feeling that self-pity kind of feeling. I get what I get, and it’s less than some and more than others, but somehow I can only see the lesser-than, tonight.

I’ll be better tomorrow. There’s always tomorrow.

I love you all. I always say that, and I always mean that. But tonight I do not love myself, and that’s where I’m at.

Day #25 – This Year

This song speaks to me. Is that bad?

If you’ve never heard it, t’s about dragging one’s self through an awful situation with some glimmers of hope. It’s about Young Man Anger and resentment, and making promises to yourself about how different things will be… later, always later. When will the good times begin?

But the narrator (probably not 100% autobiographical on the part of songwriter John Darnielle, although perhaps there are some truthful bits—he’s a talented storyteller, but he’s also an adult man, so who can say? I haven’t been able to find any comment from him on how much of it is based on his own life) is also missing some of the good things in their life. Cathy, for instance, although the narrator treats her, like most young men, as an adornment and recipient of his need, rather than a person.

The narrator also has enough freedom to own a car. Somehow has gotten a hold of some booze—probably stolen from the off-screen but looming stepfather, he who does not approve and with whom the narrator comes home to fight.

I’ve been that angry young man, with some differences. My Cathy was named Amy, and we mostly didn’t have a car during the three years we were together. And it wasn’t a stepfather, it was my own dad. But I did steal booze from him, and Amy and I would steal weed from her mom, and we’d sneak off and dream and rant about how things were going to get better someday.

And, lean in close, because I have a secret to tell whoever is reading this (thank you for that, dear reader): for no good reason, I have that same angst and anxiety right now. I feel trapped. I shouldn’t, but my brain is clearly stuck in a fight-or-flight mode. I want to quit everything and just run away into the sunset. This, my rational brain knows, would be bad. I need some income. I need my health insurance—not least of all, I need health insurance to get my brain sorted out, quieted down, brought back into alignment with my overall goals.

It’s a battle inside my head, between flight (quit everything, hide, run far away where noone can hurt you) and fight (stay, dig in, throw metaphorical punches at the negative voices, build on the positives). I know who I want to win but there it is.

If you got this far, know that I am seeing a therapist, and have a doctor’s appointment for a physical (in case this black cloud has some biomechanical/biochemical cause), and at least this time I’m aware of the scope of the problem. I’m aware of it because, to no one’s surprise, I’ve faced these feelings before. Mostly running did not turn out well, despite some incredibly good luck. Most recently, I survived thanks in part to a large insurance settlement, offered to my complete surprise years after the accident that shook me to my core, oddly enough; what goes around comes around, don’t you know?

And this time?

I am going to make it through this year if it kills me.

Day #24 – Hello, Young(er) Brian

18 December 2004, Space Needle, Seattle, Washington

There was a brief window of time, in late 2004, when I could almost consider myself attractive. Physically attractive, I mean. I was eating well and exercising well. I had a bunch of great friends. I earned more than I needed to get the bare necessities of life and spent some of the rest on fun stuff like road trips to Seattle with a friend to see a band I really liked. I even had a pet cat who mostly liked me.

Look at that guy. He’s smiling. He’s got some hair (don’t look in the back, there’s a balding spot that’s only going to get worse as the years roll on; within a year, he’ll be just shaving his head rather than trying to fool anyone). It’s 10 days until his 40th birthday; the last, carefree days of being a thirtysomething.

Would that Brian tell us he’s happy, or would he have other concerns? I suspect that he would not admit or commit 100% to being happy. But try as I might, I can only think of a handful of things he could possibly be worried about—which is easy, since I was once him, and he eventually became me.

I would like to talk to him, though. Hear him out. Listen to his worries and his cares. Buy him a drink and shoot the shit. 2004 was an election year, wasn’t it? That was the year Bush won his second term, right? That has got to be one of his (our) biggest concerns right there.

Hold the phone, wait up. I can find out what 2004 Brian was thinking about because this very blog goes back before that date! Hang on, let me browse the archives…

Financial matters, paying off my credit cards and becoming debt-free. I made it, too, for a short while. Veiled metaphors about the woman I was dating at the time. Some political stuff. I even found the post I wrote about the night that picture, above, was taken.

None of those posts have titles, because back when I was writing them, Blogger didn’t have that option. They’re all called “Untitled” now, and it’s confusing. It’d probably be a lot of work to go fix that, though. I’ll leave it as an artifact of the passing of time.

Other marks of the passing of time: I used a FlexCar to drive to Seattle. FlexCar was a car-sharing service that became ZipCar, which then got bought or became something else I’m too lazy to look up right now. Still, a worthwhile service, though I don’t have need of it since I have bought a cheap and somewhat reliable car for myself.

Also, iPods. Remember iPods? I was just talking about music, wasn’t I? iPods were one of the many ways I kept music going around me, allowing me to put a soundtrack to my life. I loved my iPods. From the posts, it appears I named one of mine “DeadSexy”. That’s obviously before I settled on naming all my computer-y devices after authors (I’m writing this on Gygax, for example, which is my Windows desktop I built myself).

Turns out, 15 years ago wasn’t that long ago. I can still relate to that Brian. He’s earned his smile; I’ll leave him to it.

Day#23 – The Music Thing

Got some Ben Folds in my head this morning.

He’s so talented! I love his music because he writes clever lyrics and does amazing jazz-y piano-y things. Also I saw him perform last weekend with Ken, Tracy, and Terry. We were at Edgefield, which, if you don’t know, is an outdoor venue. Also it pretty much rained the entire show, from when we were filing in to when we were wandering back to the car. But the weather did not dampen our spirits and did not detract from enjoying the show.

CAKE (they capitalize their band name, so I do, too) played as well, and they are always a delight. The show seemed a little short; Mr. Folds and CAKE each only had about an hour-long set. Maybe that’s normal with two headliners? Who knows, man.

Music gets down in our brains and complements and encourages complex emotions and reactions. I watched a great video about music this morning before work, from Evan Puschak, a.k.a., NerdWriter, called “Why Sergio Leone Played Music On Set”, that made this exact point. Puschak talked about how sometimes people listen to music to soundtrack their life, to make it more cinematic and to heighten the experiences they are living through.

That could not be more true for me, and it’s an experience that technology has really delivered for me, from the little AM/FM radios I listened to as a kid, to the giant component stereo system my dad bought and then I took over, to the Walkmans and Discmans and Rio 500s and iPods, and iPhones.

I can think of countless times in my life where music, specific songs, bled into what I was going through.

I remember a walk at night, in the rain, through the warehouses and factories of Central Eastside, long before gentrification, when I was brokenhearted and angry and feeling betrayed by (of course) a woman who did not feel for me the way I (thought) I felt for her. The song playing on my Walkman, over and over again, which somehow captured the moment, was Richie Sambora’s “Stranger In This Town”, a lost rock-blues classic from the guitarist better known in his role in Bon Jovi.

Of course, of course, immortalized in the very title of the post about it, when I think about my Thanksgiving Day crash on the lonely highways of the Oregon Coastal Range, and feel the stomach-clenching lack of control as the car spun around and around, bouncing off the guard rails twice, I hear Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Long As I Can See The Light”. Still happy to be here.

I can remember a windy, partly-sunny day in downtown Portland. I felt good, and happy, and content (happiness is not the same as contentment), and as I recall being bundled against the autumn chill, and missing the summer warmth, and the feeling of knowing everything is going to be alright, I can hear Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place” begin, with it’s background buzzing, the electronic notes bouncing higher and higher, and Thom Yorke’s thin, nasaly voice both reassuring and, somehow, anxious-making at the same time.

…I could go on. I imagine, so could you.

Day #22 – Starting Late

OK, I admit it I almost let this one go. I didn’t get to it this morning before work, I didn’t pound out some words on my lunch break, and when I got home I got wrapped up in making delicious chicken chile verde and doing laundry and nearly spaced out on my writing chore.

But here I am. I’m due downstairs in the kitchen in less than 20 minutes to stir the pot—the damned recipe is very delicious but it takes freakin’ forever to cook – three hours! Three. Hours. I didn’t feel like eating dinner at 10 PM so instead of the chile verde I just microwaved a burrito. Don’t hate me. I’ll have plenty of chile verde tomorrow and Thursday, believe you me.

Starting late is OK as long as I get it done. And even if I miss a day, I need to not internalize that as a failure. I need to just get back on the job at the next opportunity.

I actually treat my nutrition this way. I try to eat right daily, but if I don’t, I talk myself out of feeling stress about it and then just get right back to it the very next chance I can. So why is writing so hard for me to treat similarly? Once I stop, I can hear the Inner Negative Voice chime in with the “writer’s block” talk. It’s tedious and disheartening. I don’t much like it. How does one talk back to the Inner Negative Voice? That stupid mo’fucker isn’t going away, but it sure would be nice to shut them up once in a while.

But let’s focus on the positives right now. For instance, my apartment smells delicious! I love it when it smells delicious. Smelling good food is my second favorite thing to do with food.

And I’m working on laundry! Clean clothes are always a plus. I even fold my laundry and put it away most of the time (he said, knowing he has a basket full of clean, folded clothes he’s been using since the last laundry day (shut up, I said most of the time.))

And of course, I’m writing my words. Building that habit. Greasing the groove, through which more and better words will come. I can just keep going like this until I hit my goal, which will be soon, because I’m typing nonsense right now, and that’s perfectly OK. This may not make for riveting blog posts (sorry, SEO fans) but it’s an exercise that is helping me tremendously for the moment.

Take that, Inner Negative Voice! I’m doing my best to ignore you and press on with my goals. If that doesn’t shut you up, I don’t know what will.

I ran out of steam there and I still have ~50 words to go (not counting this sentence) so here’s my anti-climax: I just want to get to my destination, where I’m writing all the time. When will that get here? Who knows, man? Who freaking knows?

Day #21 – The Hurry-Up-And-Wait Thing

Writing on my lunch break. Today is a prolonged day. There are about 4 or 5 open tickets right now, but they’re all at a waiting stage, so I can’t really work on them. Waiting to hear back, waiting to get access to the system, waiting to see if a problem will recur… waiting. Just waiting.

Today is my 21st day in a row. I have to keep the streak going. I’m at work and super-not-motivated. So glad that no one actually reads these posts, but, hey, I’m being honest here. I am unmotivated. I feel oppressed by reality: money, health, politics, the capitalist system, gravity, you name it, it feels like all of it is holding us all down these days.

Am I a bummer? Sorry. It is Monday, my friends, and that is not typically a day for my celebration. But. I am working on it. Slowly but with the help of trained professionals. I am on it. I have set a goal, and I am working towards it. Or maybe the journey is the goal, in some kind of wild transferrence maneuver.

I am not a patient person most times. I’m very impatient when I don’t know how long something will take, and only mildly impatient when I know where the finish line is. Knowing the deadline doesn’t really tamp down my annoyance at waiting. I know I could be a bigger, better, more patient person, but I’m familiar enough with the inside of my own head to know that that is simply not meant to be.

What’s funny (to me) is that I have been seen as incredibly patient. For example, by tech-non-savvy people who have just been walked through a series of steps to diagnose or repair a computer problem. “Wow, you’re so patient!” they say, while I’m on the other end of the phone banging my fist against the table and making the angriest faces despite a deliberate-paced and even-toned voice. I don’t feel very patient in those moments but I’m seeing those moments from the inside of my own head; apparently the screams of frustration don’t pass through my skull, more’s the pity.

Can someone be both patient and impatient? At the same time? Or is the ability to suppress the symptoms of impatience to the level where they are unnoticeable actually patience? Maybe my definition of impatience includes other people’s definition of patience. That would be funny. I mean, it’s all funny to me. Except for the aggravation. That’s never funny in the moment; sometimes it’s funny after the fact, though.

But I’m being too hard on myself. There are plenty of times I have been patient. I can wait through unpleasant or boring times. I can distract myself to where I hardly notice the passing of time. Is it patience if I go to bed and sleep rather than pine away for relief from boredom? I’ve done that. Have you?

What do you think patience and impatience look like? Are the signs different depending on if you’re the giver vs. being the receiver? I’m listening.

Day #20 – Ten K Or Bust

I’m not even paying attention to my writing. I’ve got a video playing on my TV (see below) and I’m sitting on the couch with my laptop. I’m just tapping out in words what I’m actually doing, and it’s just as boring as you might imagine.

If I were starting this experiment over again, I might change the rules so that I don’t have to publish the 500 words every day. Because my guts are telling me that it might be better to only publish the good ones, the ones that may be of interest to people who aren’t me. I could write the posts and build up a backlog and then pick and choose the best posts out of the bunch to actually post? Am I overthinking this?

When I post this, I will have written over 10,000 words in the past 3 weeks. That’s a tenth of a NaNoWriMo. I’m happy about it and I want to keep building on that streak. This appears to be working for the intended purpose.

As I’m hinting at above, though, I think the next step is to… write better? Wait, hang on, is my Negative Inner Voice just trying to tear me down again? I can’t even enjoy the moment for the accomplishment it is when the Negative Inner Voice tries to make me think poorly about the output. No victory is too good not to tarnish with mental insults. Dammit. I’ve just got to keep on going.

(I typed that and then set my laptop down and watched YouTube some more… we return to this post after an hour-plus break.)

There’s a part of my personality that will do anything to sabotage me. Sometimes I give in to its destructive suggestions, like avoiding writing anything because I’m very close to a goal. Eventually, though, I can fight past it. I may fail at the 500-words-a-day challenge I set myself, but not today. Here I am typing out words, the more words the better, in order to put this duty aside for the rest of the day.

On top of my own brain telling me I can’t do the thing I’m literally in the middle of doing, I’m also hampered by reminders that I can’t see very well right now: I’m wearing my glasses, which are a very old prescription, instead of my contact lenses. I like to give my eyes a rest from contacts about once a week, although honestly I haven’t been doing that lately. My eyes are due for a rest. But in the meantime my eyesight is fuzzy, at least for reading text on a computer screen. I can see far away normally; I’m near-sighted, though.

But regardless, I’m almost done with today’s challenge. These may not be the only words I write today—I have plans that I’m keeping to myself for now—but as long as I pass 500 words in this post, after much mental struggle, I will have kept my promise to myself. I may fail, but not today.

Day #19 – The Readiness Thing

If you stay ready, you don't have to get ready. - Will Smith
“If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.” – Will Smith

I’m sitting in front of my computer, full of bacon and oatmeal (yes, my morning routine spills over into the weekend, too) and watching YouTube videos while waiting for a patch to download for Elder Scrolls Online. The last video I watched is “On Motivation” from John Green, and while he spends most of the video disparaging the idea of pithy motivational quotes, he also acknowledges their power. Particularly the phrase often attributed to Will Smith, which I’ve quoted above.

(In the video, John Green phrases it backwards, i.e., “You don’t have to get ready if you stay ready,” which, honestly, to my ear, sounds better. It’s ending on a positive note. It’s telling you the part you want to do last, so it sticks with you, unlike the more common phrase I found all over the internet, linked above. But I also want to quote correctly, so, there it is.)

Like any aphorism, it has a ring of truth but can fall apart if you dig in too deep or examine it and compare it to real-world examples. Nobody is ready all the time. That would be exhausting. But it does seem like a good practice to, well, practice doing the hard thing you’re planning on doing in the future, to build up some momentum towards it rather than try to tackle the hard job from ground zero or square one or oval negative-3, if you’re particularly out of practice.

Right? Staying ready at all times takes some energy, but jump-starting from complete unreadiness might take more energy. Dishing it out slowly over time means you may use less energy overall. There’s some intuitiveness to that concept. It rings true, even if you can poke holes in it if you look at it with a critical eye.

The part that struck me, though, is that whole building-up-to-something-hard is what I’ve been trying to do with my 30 days of 500 words per day thing, of which this post is day #19. I’m trying to build up to something I’ve attempted but have never completed: NaNoWriMo, where someone writes 50,000 words in 30 days, which requires, on average, 1,666.667 words every day. Usually, I barely make it to my 10th day, and typically fall much shorter than that. On my best attempt, I managed 13,000 words, if my memory serves me correctly (and it was years ago, and I haven’t double-checked, so who knows?)

But also I usually decide to jump in only a few days ahead of the start of November. I steel myself, I build up the mental energy but never actually write much in the days leading up to the 1st of November. I start from zero, after having gone over and over in my mind how much I need to get done out of the gate. Nothing on the 31st of October, then a giant burst of writing at the earliest possible moment when the next day rolls around.

This year, however, I will have practice. I will have a minimum of 19 days in a row of writing something, 500 words, every day. And every day after this that I keep this up will add to that streak, and get me closer to the start of NaNoWriMo. Assuming I do, in fact, make it 30 days, I can either keep going, staying ready, or push myself a little closer to the ultimate goal of 1666+ words per day. Maybe increase it to 750, or even 1,000 words per day. I can ramp up. Because, clearly, I can do 500 words a day. I’ve demonstrated that to myself. If this were NaNoWriMo, I would already be over my previous—you know what, I’m going to go check my official stats, hold on.

According to my stats page on the official NaNoWriMo site, my best year was 2016, when I logged 22,145 words, lasting 16 days, on a novel I called “The Elites Ran Away.” I don’t really remember that, even though it was only 3 years ago. But as I was saying, by writing 500+ words per day for 19 days, I’ve already logged almost half that amount. I can definitely do this.

This year, I’m getting ready now and staying ready all the way through November.

Day #18 – The Long Day

Had a very long day at work today (see my previous post for a hint). But it didn’t stop with troubleshooting an in-car computer and having to take dashboards apart and copying and copying and copying files to and from various drives and servers.

It ended with my monthly server updates, where I go through and run Windows update on all the servers under my care, make sure that the updates install correctly and don’t break anything, and rebooting them and verifying that all essential services are working properly. Even when it’s easy it takes forever, and I can’t really start until the regular staff goes home.

Today it wasn’t easy. Had several updates break, had more than one server that just didn’t feel like booting up again afterward, and had one server that was still downloading updates 2 hours after my normal quitting time.

I wrestled most everything back into working order and left that one last server downloading updates. I’ll check on it Monday and reboot it after hours next week. But I’m also going to be worrying about all the updates that failed to install, and what problems those failed updates may cause me down the line, and I’ll also be beating myself up for not being able to pull off this seemingly simple task smoothly.

In my 6 months (hey! I’ve been on the new job for 6 months as of next Friday!), I think the server updates have worked as hoped for exactly once. If I told you your odds of surviving were 1 in 6, you’d probably think those are terrible odds. Sometimes a Windows network feels like it’s held together with duct tape and baling wire. That’s not just me, right? Other Windows sysadmins feel that, too?

I’ll be honest here (since nobody is reading this)—from the moment I woke up, I had tightness and pain in my chest and abdomen that, I was convinced, was an impending heart attack. Nevermind that I have no history of heart failure on either side of my family. Nevermind that I walk and exercise regularly. I was just sure it was a heart attack, and I felt the anxiety grow as I pondered that thought.

It was a vicious circle, though. My worry was causing my anxiety to spike, which made me worry more, which upped my stress and anxiety. I was anxious about work, and the things I’ve had to leave undone to put out fires, and the shortcuts I’ve had to take to get the fires put out, and wondering what everyone else thought about me and my job. It was horrible, and it took a lot of self-talk to walk myself back from that. I’m not 100% convinced I’ve got it entirely under control, but at least now I have the weekend to try to put it behind me.

Tomorrow I’m going to Edgefield to see one of my all-time favorite bands, Cake, playing with Ben Folds, a performer I like but have never seen live. I’m going to sit on the grass surrounded by people I love and who love me, and sing along, and enjoy a cold delicious adult beverage. That’s my one and only plan for this coming weekend.

(Oh I plan to keep writing 500 words per day, of course. Sunday will be my twentieth in a row!)

G’night. I love you all.