Category Archives: real life

Sacrificed on the Altar of Content

There is no single Moment that defines a person’s life, not really. We like to pretend there is, as a culture, because it makes for easier exposition in movies and TV and books; hell, even for regular everyday exposition to the people we talk to.

But, deep down, we know different. There are Moments — plural, many — that strike at the soul and make it more inclined to one course of action or another; and yet always, they are preceded by others, and in general they are followed by others, and these tend to be equal in importance.

I have lost count of the Moments in my life, as most people have, but sometimes they rise, unbidden, from the carpet of dust in the back of my mind.

I am not exactly eager to see them. They involve the breaks and bumps and bruises of the psyche: The Moment someone said they no longer loved me. The Moment I realized my exact insignificance to the world at large. The Moment I realized something had long ago pressed the self-destruct button in me, and that there was nothing on this earth that could prevent its fruition; there were only small things that could delay. The moment the Universe threw me off yet another mountain top.

We are a collection of Moments, all of us here, half-remembered and acted upon unthinkingly, for the most part. The things you think are inked in your memory for the rest of your days (how the lips of your first love felt against your own) will fade. Others (that one time you were mortifyingly unkind to a stranger) will crackle across your cortex as long as you draw breath.

The key to living, it would seem, would be to filter these according to what you need to survive, to lay the unhelpful back into murky unconsciousness. But what happens when you can’t?

One way to solve this issue is to simply avoid introspection altogether, a strategy I have not yet mastered and fear I never will. Theoretically, one does this by keeping catastrophically busy at all times; by burying oneself in work and play, in various substances, in other people’s problems.

Of course, when one makes a living writing, that becomes all but impossible. Writing is, by its nature, that most solipsistic of endeavors.

Even if you are reporting what other people have said, or simple facts, the words still come from within, plucked from the stream that runs through your mind, sometimes too quickly, sometimes maddeningly slow. You can never truly lose yourself in a story you are writing — journalistic, fictional, some cross thereof — because it is from your very deepest self that it comes.

This is a peril, too, of making work one’s life, a thing that every person of my generation has been encouraged to do. The Work: that is the thing that will not only put a roof over your head, but will also make you whole, will in fact fill the hole, the yawning singularity in your chest. The Work is given automatic capitalization, a wide berth. It is the center of your life, because it is so much more reliable than individuals.

Or so it seems. But always there comes a time when the Work is halted, when a job is lost, when a beloved boss moves on. This is the ongoing epidemic in fields deemed “creative.” Your writers, your editors, your white-collar proles attempting to figure out what words people want to read, all being washed away by a tide of willful ignorance.

As with all tides, this one is eternal. The difference now is that we are being borne toward a post-word world.

Entire publications are throwing up their hands and using the word “content” in all seriousness. Videos — some with bile-raising ads in front, others without (which seems nearly as big a waste) — play automatically above every piece of this “content.” Whether it adds to the reader’s experience or renders the “content” unreadable is of no concern to all those who own summer homes but refuse to pay out vacation time to laid-off employees, those sacrifices on the Altar of #Content.

And so another Moment has come, another realization: I am obsolete. I have probably always been obsolete, would have been even had I been born a decade or two before I was. Perhaps it is this inherent obsolescence that activated that self-destruct button all those years ago, and why this second, third, fourth interruption of our regularly scheduled life cuts so deep. For eight months, I was surrounded by people who believed as I did — that there was a place in the world for what we were doing.

We have been taught otherwise, hearts cut out and burned as an offering to an indifferent audience, and now we wait for the tide to finish the job.

The Way the World Ends

This is the thing you scream, at first, in your mind, hurling the thought towards Brooklyn as hard as you possibly can, all-caps; thundering, you hope, across the night sky, straight into their temporal lobe.

This is the thing that echoes in your mind for hours, refreshing when you least expect it, the sound behind the pressure in your eyes.

This is the thing you mutter, in your mind, when you see old voicemails you will not, cannot, delete; that you will not, cannot, listen to again.

This is the thing you whisper, months later, in your mind, when you see them across the room, as you near each other with sad smiles of recognition; fearful they’ll hear you, wondering if they share the same fear.

“I miss you.”

This Is Not a Metaphor

Once upon a time, there was an Unstoppable Force. She was a young Force, perhaps too young to truly deserve her name; but she had not met an obstacle in this life she could not overcome.

Once upon a time, there was an Immovable Object. He was older (he had seen a thing or two), ossified in his isolation, convinced that there was no Force in this life strong enough to relieve him of his perch– and yet not without the hope and fear that one would appear.

Once upon a time, Unstoppable and Immovable met, driven into each other’s orbit by the vagaries of chance, or maybe fate, as one of them secretly believed. They had some drinks, and for a few hours, they forgot their names, each delirious in the light of having found something so like themselves, down to the least boson, to the last quark. The world did not end; in fact, it was as though a new world had been given being, born out of the quantum entanglements of their improbable proximity.

The Unstoppable Force glanced off the Immovable Object once, only to find herself pulled back by a force perhaps stronger than herself.

For a time, Unstoppable and Immovable sat as they were. Unstoppable enjoyed the Object’s solidity; Immovable found the weight pleasant. They waited, content, until the friction became burning, until the weight became too much to bear.

What happens when an Unstoppable Force meets an Immovable Object?

They continue as they have, striving to be proved wrong: they are not as they have always thought themselves. Striving not to break the other, but to be broken.

The Five Stages of GBH

I’m no stranger to grievous bodily harm, if not in the strict British legal sense. Eight and a half years ago, I fell down the stairs of my family’s brand-goddamn-new two-story house and ended up in a wheelchair for about two months and on crutches/in a walking cast for a couple weeks after that. Four fractures: Left fifth metatarsal, and then all across the right foot, at the joining of the second, third, and fourth metatarsals to the tarsus.

I’ve had various other mishaps, mostly dealing with one ankle or the other, which might seem to indicate some form of ligamentous laxity. But all these years I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid another double whammy. Until two weeks ago, of course.

Luckily, the tumble I took didn’t result in any fractures. Unluckily, it resulted in a pretty rough high right ankle sprain and a badly bruised/twisted left ankle. (At least, I’m assuming. I had no way of getting myself to a doctor, initially, and by the time I was able to sort of hobble around I knew it wasn’t serious enough to bother. I own a walking cast, for fuck’s sake; I don’t need to pay $40 to have someone tell me to wear it and make sure to use ice and ibuprofen. Though interestingly enough, the worst of the bruising on both sides was right around where the fractures were. Anyway.) But as many times as I’ve gone through this, it’s still easy to get caught up in the fairly intense emotions your brain decides are appropriate for the situation. And you know, it’s actually not so different from the Kübler-Ross model of the grieving process.

Denial: “NO SERIOUSLY YOU GUYS I’M FINE. I CAN MAKE IT TO THE TRAIN. I JUST NEED TO SIT HERE FOR A FEW MORE MINUTES.”

“IT’S COOL, JUST…JUST HELP ME WALK TO THE CAB.”

“NO, MR. CABBIE, I DON’T NEED TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL. I AM CRYING FROM JOY.”

“THEY’RE NOT BROKEN, I’LL BE TOTALLY FINE IN THE MORNING.”

….

“I CAN TOTALLY PUT WEIGHT ON THESE SUCKERS.”

“Oh, fuck.”

Anger: “Oh my god, seriously? My entire Memorial Day weekend is completely fucked. And I have to fly four times in the next week and a half. I HATE EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE, FOREVER. PLEASE GO DIE IN A FIRE THAT PROBABLY BURNS LIKE THE PAIN IN MY LEGS.”

Bargaining: “Look, Universe. If you let me make it from my couch to the door without having to stifle yelps of pain, I’ll tip the delivery guy an extra dollar. Okay? Okay.”

Depression: “Everyone is now looking at me like a two-legged dog. New Yorkers are looking at me like I’m abnormal. I’m slowing down my group, which is clearly chomping at the bit to just be at this next location already, for shit’s sake. Now that my walking cast is off, people don’t see that my gimpiness is just a temporary condition or that it really sucks to have to stand on the subway and you should really give me your seat, Mr. Roidasaurus. Everything is a total bummer.”

Next is supposed to come “Acceptance,” but that never really happens in these cases. The previous stage lasts throughout the healing process, and it only ends once you’re back to normal. But even after all that, there’s still…

Fear: For months, or even years, after the pain and swelling have subsided and the bruises have faded through, the thought will come to you as you’re racing for the train or stumble over a dip in the sidewalk: This step could be my last. The image will appear, unbidden, of those ligaments giving out, all those bones snapping; and you’ll hear the crack preceding the phantom pain. Unconsciously, you fall back into the gait you had when you initially learned how to walk– a little unsteady, uncertain, planting each foot down as though that is the first step you’ve ever taken. As far as I can tell, this is a fear that will never completely abate, a sort of metaphysical scar tissue to match the corporeal.

In which I tackle Something Serious

Well, this is terrifying.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a parent at 22, having just passed that agemarker myself. I would probably be a total wreck, and you certainly wouldn’t be reading this blog. But the above story of the woman and her child really is indicative of something very, very wrong with our medical system.

Everyone knows we’re living with a broken system, one that sees medical costs eating up 17 percent of our GDP and inflating at a rate three times that of the Consumer Price Index. The blame doesn’t just lie at the feet of insurance companies, though. (They’re certainly not helping, but they actually have a much slimmer profit margin than you might think.) Americans are starting to (starting to) fall into two categories: Those who don’t give a shit about their health or can’t afford to give a shit (which sucks so very badly), thus not receiving the treatment they need; and those who overreact and seek treatment for every little problem they encounter.

Don’t want to wait to see your general practitioner? Go to the ER. Feeling a bit under the weather? Better go to a doctor straightaway to get some antibiotics. (Not long ago, I was sick every couple weeks for a period of four months. Ear infection, cold, flu–you name it, I had it. My boss at the time harangued me, during each of these illnesses, to go to the doctor immediately, and was offended when I told him, other than the ear infection, that it really wasn’t necessary; I’m young, have a high-functioning immune system, and most of the time the doctor isn’t even sure what you have. They look at you for five minutes and send you on your way with a prescription for an antibiotic.)

Is your toddler acting up? Get thee to a child psychiatrist or neurologist, so he can be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a condition that is incredibly difficult to diagnose in adults and encompasses a wide array of subconditions, and is really more of a spectrum than a discrete label. Finding the right medicine (hell, the right doctor) to treat the disorder is a long, grueling process that often doesn’t even have an endpoint. When you’re not the patient, you can’t possibly know what’s going on inside his head; you’re limited to interpreting external signals, which can be indicative of a huge number of mental states–even ones that fall within sociological norms. What makes this a hundred times more difficult is when the patient is just learning to speak and interact with other people in a meaningful way.

Now, again: I don’t have kids. But I was one once, and I helped my siblings grow into the surly teens they are today. (I’m 5 1/2 years older than my brother and 7 years older than my sister, so I have a pretty decent memory as far as their upbringing is concerned.) As my mother so helpfully reminds me every few weeks or so, I was an absolute monster from about the ages of six months to 3 years–in private. I yelled and screamed and beat my head with my fists and kicked the floor. But then I grew out of it (or was disciplined out of it, maybe). At gymnastics class at age 3, I was the kid who sat quietly while everyone else in the class gamboled about, driving the teacher nuts. I was the minority.

Kids are active, flighty little buggers; their brains are trying to figure out how to filter and process the overwhelming amount of information they receive every second, and they have an astonishing amount of energy. Sometimes that energy gets funneled into some pretty negative activities: My brother would frequently do something mean to me (either as retaliation against something I did to him–I’d be penalized too, in this case–or just because he felt like it, because he’s a boy, and that’s what little boys do), and would be sent to his room as punishment. Naturally, he did not approve of this punishment (purely, I suspect, because it was framed as a punishment; it’s not like his room was a broom closet or an iron maiden). How did he express his displeasure? Why, by lying on the floor in front of the door and just kicking the shit out of it. While screaming bloody murder, of course. He would do this for 20 minutes or more, sometimes kicking so hard, the locked-from-the-outside door would be jarred open. My parents did not medicate him into submission. They simply ignored his attention-seeking behavior when it was negative, and rewarded him when it was positive. When he did something bad, he was punished, and so learned that his actions have consequences. My brother is almost 18 now, and he’s just fine, aside from being obnoxiously arrogant; he is, after all, a 17-year-old boy.

My siblings and I were fortunate in that our parents were very intelligent people who knew the cognitive and behavioral milestones that children pass, and though their own were ahead of the curve, they understood that every child is different, and, just as some are a little faster, others develop at a slower pace. It’s when you have (metaphorically) poor young parents who are in way over their heads that you get problems. Of course there are fantastic young parents out there; they educate themselves and try to make as few mistakes as possible, like every other parent, and they tread carefully when it comes to medical treatment. But that can’t happen all the time. They’re busy, they’re stressed, they’re scraping by and/or going it alone, and when their kid starts acting like a total maniac or won’t talk even though the same-aged baby down the block is talking, they assume something is terribly wrong, when really it’s the kid being a kid. Maybe he’s acting out for more attention, maybe he’s just a little slower than the baby down the block or doesn’t feel the need to communicate. You can’t know this with any certainty, but what you can know is that drugs like Seroquel and Risperidal have a pretty serious side effect profile, and their impact on childhood development remains to be seen.

This is different from those horrible, awful people spreading the lie that vaccines cause autism. Vaccinations are necessary for disease control, and have a proven, demonstrable positive effect. Loading children up with antipsychotics (especially when they’re being prescribed off-label) brings us to the very fine line between “Better Living Through Chemistry” and “Just Being a Kid.”

Some children absolutely need medication. Obvious cases of ADD and ADHD, autism, etc. should be treated; it would be irresponsible not to. But cases like the one first mentioned are increasing at an unprecedented rate–shouldn’t we be exercising a little more caution here? Bringing down the number of overdiagnoses will bring down medical costs and save who knows how many kids from missing out on their childhood.