My Dream Job

A dream job. A dream career. Oh, how I have spent most of my 29.5 years looking for you. Wherefore art thou dream career? I’ve searched high and low. I’ve begged and pleaded with the multiverse (Hawking has recently come to the conclusion this isn’t realistic, hasn’t he? Such a shame).

The formula is so simple. Find your passion + research how to monetize it = you’ll never work a day in your life. There’s nothing innately wrong with the formula, per se, if your passion allows it. My friend’s passion is to travel, so he became a flight attendant. He travels all over and gets paid to do it. It’s wonderful for him. For him. For him. Not for everyone. Not for most people. Why? Because a passion doesn’t always allow for likely monetization. I’m not saying it’s impossible – it’s possible to make money doing just about anything. But is it likely? Are the odds in your favor? Now factor in a family. Whatever small odds you already had plummet significantly.

Life isn’t a motivational poster, regardless of what 99% of your Facebook and Instagram friends would lead you to believe. Life is hard. Staying alive and afloat is hard. We’re not entitled to fuck all. Not in the least. And there’s nothing wrong with admitting that, though it might be scary as hell the first time you do. Just like the first time I admitted to myself that being a Catholic was no longer for me. I’d done 8 years in Catholic school. I was baptized. Confirmed. Yet … no. I couldn’t help but feel guilty. Guilty for what? Guilty for betraying God, of course! But, wait, I didn’t believe that anymore. So who were my feelings of guilt aimed at? Ah. Myself. I was guilty with myself. But then this weird thing happened. A moment of clarity. I don’t remember when. I don’t remember where. But it materialized like a melting skull on a bad acid trip. And it felt good. It felt new and scary. But good.

Here’s the thing: most of us will never make a decent living through our passions. Mr. Fuckin’ Buzzkill, huh? Yeah, well, if I have to realize the truth, so do all of you! This doesn’t mean you can’t keep trying. It doesn’t mean you can’t go your entire life failing miserably and still love every second of it. Because odds are, if you understand you’re just doing it for the love of the game, good for you. You’re one step ahead of most of us. One step ahead of us sad saps who took a little too long to figure that out and are left without much of a choice in the grand scheme.

But when you do realize it? It’s magical. It’s relieving. And, hey, if one day you find yourself quitting your day job to write novels, play songs, or make dog bow ties and you’re still able to fill your stomach, then more power to you. You’ve done it. You’ve bucked the system. You’re one of the few. Run with it for however long you can and don’t look back. You’re extremely talented, extremely savvy, and extremely lucky (and don’t feel guilty about any of that).

I don’t say any of this to discourage anyone. In fact, that’s quite the opposite of my intentions. Once you realize you’re fighting a losing battle, you can take control of your passion. You can remember why you love what you do and do it for that reason. You can find a way to make a living without resenting whatever it is you’re doing. Because, hey, if you enjoy your day job more than you don’t, then you’ve really won. You are probably content with your life more than you’re not. That’s beautiful. And rare. And not rare for any more reason than most people do things out of necessity not choice. Especially an occupation.

Nothing is easy. Nothing is great all of the time. Nothing. Not your love life. Not your children. Not the meal you order at your favorite restaurant. Nothing.

My passion is to tell stories. I get discouraged when my Amazon ranking isn’t as high as I’d like it to be. Or when I find a typo a year after my book has been released. But I know I’m good. I know I can tell a good story and entertain someone. And when that happens, and when someone tells me they’ve been blown away, it means the world. And that person could be my wife. Or a friend. That’s all I need. I can go back to whatever day job I have and know that later that night (or, realistically, very very early the next morning) I can return to what I love and give it my best shot without bringing my world crashing down around me. Around the ones I care about. No, I can’t do that. Not because I think I deserve something without actually having it. And I do think I deserve it. But that doesn’t mean I’ll get it. And it doesn’t mean I should get it. It doesn’t mean anything.

This is a letter to myself as much as it is to you. But I hope it can help you as much as it’ll help me when I feel like burning my hard drive. Take the $3 in royalties you made on that dog bow tie and go buy a cup of coffee. And drink it slowly. Savor it. You’ve earned it.

We Survived Childhood, And You Can Too!

Great Uncle Norm sits back at the dinner table after plowing through his pork chops and mashed potatoes. He examines the room around him: to his left, his granddaughter, checking her email on her iPhone. To his right, his great-grandnephew, a PSP locked into his mitts.

“I can’t believe kids these days. They don’t talk to each other. They don’t play outside. They don’t even know how to write anymore! When I was their age, my mother kicked me out of the house and told me not to come home until the streetlights came on. Parents coddle their children nowadays. Can’t eat this, can’t eat that. Hell, we never had helmets when we rode our bicycles. And we never had a cell phone, either. If we wanted to talk to someone, we waited! And I’m here! I survived!”

We’ve all experienced it before – the adult soapbox. Hell, I’m guilty already, and I’m not even thirty. The box is tall, and to mount it you must have some years of experience – but its construction is rickety and ready to collapse at any given time. And for one simple reason. Ready for it?

KIDS FUCKING DIE.

I’m sorry, is that a new revelation? Does it sting? Yes, you’re here, Uncle Norm, and you survived. You know why that’s easy for you to say? Because you’re here, and you survived. What a cop out. You’re not making it very fair for Little Timmy, who was swallowed by the John Deere driving mower in ’72 because, hey, “we didn’t even watch our kids when they were young” – to defend himself. Know what I’m willing to bet he’d say? “I really wish I had a PSP to stop me from lying on the grass as Uncle Jim and his Jim Beam went buzzing through the yard doing 85.”

We’re all so hesitant to accept change because it’s not comfortable. I get it. Sometimes change sucks. When crisp, beautiful fall gives way to rip-roaring winter winds and blizzard snowfall, it’s a terrible time (for me, at least). But let’s not butt heads with inevitable change just for the sake of it. Give me a good reason, why don’t you? Just because you managed to play chicken with Darwin and jump out of the way just in time doesn’t mean we all should.

“My mother cleaned the litter box when she was pregnant, and I’m just fine!”

Criticize modern medicine – check. Tempt fate just because someone else managed to successfully – check. Be an asshole – check.

How many of you younger parents have your own parents criticize your every move?

“You’re holding him too much! He’s never going to get off that boob (his main source of, you know, nutrition)!”
“When is she going to sleep in her own bed. The marital bed is for the husband and wife. She’ll be in your bed forever (I guess I still sleep in my mother’s bed, then)!”
“Listeria, schmisteria. I’ve never heard such a thing (which means it doesn’t exist)!”

Knowledge is critical for any facet of life, isn’t it? You can’t go anywhere without knowledge, unless you’re so full of dumb luck that you shit horseshoes. And even then, it’ll almost certainly run out one day. So why are people so reluctant to open their mind to something? Perhaps it’s that ugly change word again. Change is hard. When everything you think you know is suddenly wrong, that defense mechanism fires up with gusto.

Kids incessantly taking pictures of themselves makes me want to punch them in the neck, too. I’m with you, trust me. But the same kid can also take that photography machine and call 911 when they’re stuck in a snowstorm in the middle of nowhere because they’re teens and teens do stupid things. They can use it to call 911 when some drunk asshole is following them down the street at 11:30 in the evening. I think the tradeoff is fair, don’t you? And let’s be real, the people taking 243 pictures of themselves posing and posting them to Instagram are the same people who would figure out another way to be attention-whoring, narcissistic assbags in whatever other ways they could conjure up. It’s not the device that creates stupidity, it’s inherent genetics in combination with shit parenting. Playstation doesn’t make your child violent – fifty years ago, he’d be shooting pretend injuns with pretend guns.

I do not believe that our parents and grandparents were terrible. They did what they were told and took what they were given when it came to things like health, outlook on life, and convenience. Smoke a cigarette to relax. Serve these compact, pre-made meals to your children to save time after work, and park them in front of the TV so you have some peace and quiet. That was understandable, given the circumstances. But it’s 2014. The video game nerds of the 90s are engineering lifesaving software for brain surgeons. The parents who gave their kids a little more love and hugs are the ones passing laws allowing gay people to marry. And the kids who wore helmets on their bicycles were still able to fill their non-concussed brains with enough information to profess it to our generation, creating intelligent people – quite the contrary of what previous generations seem to think.

We’re told we don’t talk to each other anymore (has anyone met my five-year-old?). Whose fault is that? Is it Johnny Gameboy sitting at the dinner table playing Angry Birds? Or is it the parent who preaches about how different their childhoods were but refuses to simply take the phone away for dinner? It’s not one way or the other. You can be strict and firm and still loving and supportive.

Perhaps we do have our faces buried in our iPads on our morning commutes, walks to the store, or while sitting in a waiting room. But to that, I’ll leave you this:

kubrick-subway-newspapers

Thanks for the photo, Stanley Kubrick.

When In Doubt, Go For The Dick Joke

“I don’t want to live in a world where Robin Williams commits suicide.”

That’s a quote from Reddit user filmfiend999. At first glance, it’s quite fitting. But I think there’s more to it.

Most of my life consists of me lost in my own head, wondering about the many things I cannot control. These things have the ability to take over a mind and tear you up inside.

Nihilism is a strange concept to many – unbelievable to many, too. But there are times it makes sense. Perfect sense. How can a child, so innocent and pure, have cancer ravage its tiny body? How can an entire nation starve when just an ocean away we binge eat on pizza and cheeseburgers? How can a man, so humble and giving, so spectacularly funny and talented, be in so much pain? The hardest part for any of us is simply picturing him so very sad that this was the answer. What a horrid image.

“There’s a plan for everything.”

No there’s not. A plan is an attempted execution of events, sequenced to accomplish a final task or goal. A plan makes sense in context and works towards the completion of something in accordance. A plan (not a sane one, at least) is not an amalgamation of things, packed together by large hands creating a meatball of shit, in order to accomplish the ultimate goal. Which is what, in this case? The self-imposed death of a genius?

There is no plan. There is no ultimate goal, aside from what is the direct result. You eat, you get full. You cut yourself, you bleed. You live, you die. Things happen because they do, because that’s life. And life is not a test. Life is not a prerequisite. Robin Williams didn’t kill himself because nature decided to make him an example for the many lives he might have saved yesterday, to be anointed a saint (or, conversely, to burn in hell). That was simply the result, not the reason. The reason was because the human brain isn’t perfect. For all the marvel and all the wonder, it’s still broken in the vast majority of people – myself included. It just so happens that all some people need are an oil change or a tune-up, where someone like Robin Williams or Phillip Seymour Hoffman or Kurt Cobain or the kid my wife went to high school with were irrevocably damaged – head on collisions with a force to strong they couldn’t help but drive into it.

It’s easy to take from that the misery and disgust many have. It’s easy to take a look at it and think, well, there is no real purpose. But that, in itself, might just be the real purpose. You live life to live life. And while I find myself, a person with two children and a pretty goddamn good life, asking what the purpose is quite often, I come up with this answer most of the time.

We all live the same life. We’re born, we try our best to survive (and most of us to survive with the same purpose – just because the ideals are different doesn’t mean the intentions are) and we die. Everything in between is luck of the draw, and what we do with it is of our own accord. Robin Williams, as tormented and demonized as he seemed to be, took his talent and humility and made the world a slightly better place for many, and a much better place for some. But he did. And when you can still live life accordingly, with love and generosity, knowing that at the end of the day everything you touch with be gone, leaving only those who remember your stories to be your advocates, you’re a special person. Maybe that’s what separates someone from the rest.

So while I don’t want to live in a world where Robin Williams kills himself, I do want to live in a world where Robin Williams lived.

“When in doubt, go for the dick joke.” – Robin Williams.

Having A Child Doesn’t Make You A Parent

My first daughter was born on May 12, 2009. The entire time my wife was pregnant felt like a dream.

I was going to have a child. My DNA was going to be spliced with someone else’s and a living thing would bear that mishmash for the rest of its life. Boy, that’s a heavy responsibility. Your kid gets whatever sequence you inherited, minus a few hit-or-miss pieces. A crapshoot, really.

“I hope it has your eyes.”

“I hope it has your nose.”

“I hope it has your lips.”

“I hope it doesn’t have your predisposition for diabetes.”

“I hope it has everything great about both of us and none of our terrible shit.”

It’ll have all that and more. Its own beauty. Its own flaws.

I read many stories and listened to many lectures, both by mothers and by fathers, and, oddly enough, by people who didn’t even have children. What is with that? Women who’ve never carried so much as a sunflower seed in their stomach and men who’ve never had so much as a scare have the balls to toss in their opinion and advice. We had more experience parenting the moment we both looked at each other and said, “Oops.”

I heard it all. Prevalent among the bunch was one sentiment that I seemed to hear once a day. “Your life will change the moment you see that baby.” Right on, I thought. I’ll see my child and my entire world will change. I will be a parent, forever entrenched in the love and adoration that comes with siring a child. I’ll be her god and she’ll be my protégé.

But that wasn’t how it worked. Especially not for the first child. Not for me.

I was more worried about my wife’s well-being toward the end of the pregnancy than my own insecurities. I’d read a story about a man who had lost his wife the day after she gave birth. The story stuck with me – not just during my wife’s first labor, but throughout the last five years and into this last pregnancy. In fact, it was the first thing I thought of upon hearing that she was pregnant. It lingered throughout the months and came roaring back in the delivery room, where it was my responsibility to remain collected.

For the first baby, my wife was lucky enough to have a water birth. Our little girl bobbed to the surface like a buoy in the ocean, and I met her proper not a few seconds later. She was chock full o’ vernix and her face was swollen. She was cute in the way only a mother or father could see. But she was ours.

I wish that I could say my first reaction was one of swooning and melting. But it wasn’t. The feeling was certainly indescribable, sure. I was staring at my child. No matter how many times you see mommy’s belly morph, it’s still nothing compared to those first few seconds out of the womb.

In all honesty, she scared the shit out of me. I was never more petrified than seeing something so helpless for which I was suddenly responsible.

There’s a difference between becoming an instant parental idiot savant and relishing in the adoption of a lifetime of selfless, unending responsibility. The former simply doesn’t exist. The latter settles in once the anxiety of the gravity of the situation fades. Once you accept your new reality.

Shit is real. Let’s do this.

Realizing that I needed to strive to be everything perfect in a father figure wasn’t about a magical look or sudden jolt of reality. I’d had nine months to think about that. Realizing that becoming the perfect parent is not an instant reaction to seeing your flesh and blood was the jolt of reality.

By the time my daughter began to recognize me as one of the two main people in her life, I was beginning to recognize myself as one of the two main people in her life. I’d put in the time to see the seed sprout (no pun intended… a little pun intended).

Tonight at dinner, my daughter did something stupid, as all five-year-olds do. Stupid is the modus operandi of the five-year-old. And I, being the disciplinarian, put her in her place. Immediately after, she asked if she could hug me. Those are the moments of swooning and melting. That feeling of being a parent that I was told I’d feel the moment my daughter arrived.

I’m not the ideal parent yet. I may never be. But I’m closer to being one than ever before. Constantly moving forward and inching closer. Provided I’m doing that, and not moving backwards, I’m okay with it. And that requires work and dedication. And love. And faith that what I’m doing is best for my child.

My second daughter was born a week and a half ago, on July 14th, 2014. The feeling was different. The fear of becoming a parent was gone. That comes with the territory. Been there, done that fits the bill a bit more. And that’s not a bad thing. Would you rather a surgeon who’s standing there with a look of sheer terror on her face, or one who is confident, knowing that this isn’t her first rodeo.

I’m a parent to my first daughter. But I’m a beginner yet again with my second. I have a slight advantage, but I’ll still need to work my ass off trying to perfect the craft. Trying to earn that special title – Dad.

Shit is real. Let’s do this. Again.

 

eyeseeyou1

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

“I have to, like, organize everything on my desk, otherwise I’ll go completely crazy! I’m so OCD!”

“Really? Because I, like, have to make sure my stove is off before I go out. I’m TOTALLY OCD.”

I’m not into correcting people who aren’t my immediate friends or family. It generally doesn’t have any impact on my life in one way or another, so I look the other way. I have a hard time telling people they are wrong about something when I am wrong about so many things. But every once in awhile, someone is so wrong about something that I can’t help myself. It’s an itch at the tip of my nose when my hands are full. Majority of the time, I get worked up because it’s something that has an impact on someone else’s everyday life.

First, to clarify, no one can be OCD. You cannot be a disorder or disease. You can have a disorder or disease. You cannot be cancer. You can have cancer. This is not grammar policing. This is a slap in the face to those who suffer from the disorder. It shows that you truly don’t know anything about obsessive-compulsive disorder, don’t care to know anything about it, and think it’s a harmless, eccentric quirk. It’s not. I assure you, it’s not.

When I was in third grade, my mom slipped a pack of N’ICE cough drops into my backpack. During class, I took them out, popped one out of the packaging, and threw it into my mouth. It was blue, I remember. A minute later I was choking – on my spit, not on the cough drop. I don’t think I realized the difference (or was too dramatic to care). I jumped up and ran out of the classroom, coughing. My tiny Filipino teacher chased me into the hallway, slamming me on the back with her hand as I screamed, “I’M CHOKIN’!” the entire time.

The panic attack subsided. I saw the nurse and was sent home. I think. I don’t really remember.

Later that night, as I was eating dinner, I started to choke again. Yet, I was speaking and breathing just fine, albeit a bit rapid from the panic again coursing through my little body.

“I’M CHOKIN’!”

A few days later, there was the sesame seed from the bagel I’d eaten earlier in the day. A solitary sesame seed. And I was goddamned sure I was choking on it. It was in there, magically, hours later, adhered to the back of my throat. I sat on the edge of the bathtub while my mother sat on the closed toilet bowl, trying to talk some sense into my nine-year-old head. It was useless.

“I’M CHOKIN’!”

Right around the same time, slightly after the choking incidents, my mother started dating again (after losing my father some years prior). When I say dating, I mean going out for an hour or two a few nights a month with a guy she knew from work. She would leave me with very close friends or family. This is the woman who didn’t allow me to take the training wheels off of my bicycle until right around the same time. She made sure I was in good hands. But it didn’t matter.

“SHE’S NEVER COMIN’ BACK!” I surmised.

Every date was a meltdown. But not a temper tantrum. And I wasn’t angry. I was hurt. I was convinced that she wasn’t going to come home to me. Maybe she would run away with him. Maybe she would be hurt in an accident. Maybe he would steal her. I was fixated on it. I would throw up and run a fever until she came home. I feared it even when they weren’t on the date. I feared it when she was sitting right next to me.

People suggested it was the result of the loss of my father, and I was petrified of losing my mom too. That might’ve been true. But that’s not where the obsessive behavior came from.

A few years later, we moved to a different part of NJ. A rural area, with lots of trees and dirt bikes and fishing and people unlike I’d ever met in Jersey City. I changed the way I acted. The music I listened to. The way I dressed. I grew my hair long and started wearing a chain wallet and JNCO jeans (once my mother caved and bought me a pair after I cut up my perfectly good jeans in order to get them to flare in the front). But I needed… needed… them to flair perfectly in the front. They needed to cover the front of my shoes at precisely the right length. My hair needed to be parted directly down the middle. Not a hair out of place, or I’d have to start over again. Not because I couldn’t move that hair without screwing up the rest of my mushroom, but because… well, I didn’t know why. I just knew that I needed to start over again.

Wet my hair, comb it back until there was a straight line in the exact center of my head, and then part it. Sometimes it took three tries. Sometimes four. Sometimes twenty. I would cry, frustrated. Only to myself, though. Why would I tell my mother? What would I tell my mother?

“I CAN’T PART MY FUCKIN’ HAIR!”

She’d yell at me from the other side of the door. “What the hell are you doin’ in there? You’re gonna’ be late for school! You are late for school!

“I’ll be right out! I’m almost done!”

But I didn’t know if I was almost done. I still had a few more attempts at a part before I would throw the comb and shake with rage – but never make a sound. Couldn’t let anyone know what the problem was. Pick that comb back up. Find the part again.

After school wasn’t much easier. I spent a lot of time in my room. My mother must’ve thought I was playing video games or watching TV (Christ only knows, I didn’t do much homework without her breathing down my neck… which was hard to do with the mushroom haircut in the way). I wasn’t. I was likely, quietly, pulling the door shut, opening it, pulling it shut, opening it, pulling it shut until I could get it to click just right. Then I was letting go of the doorknob precisely the right way. Or trying to. Grab the doorknob, pull my hand off. Grab the doorknob, pull my hand off. Grab the doorknob, pull my hand off. Clench my fists, squeeze out a tear, focus on the doorknob. Never, ever, did it enter into my preteen brain that I didn’t need to do any of this. That came later. And it still didn’t stop me. It only made it that much more frustrating.

I went to Catholic school. Aside from the Catholic school agenda, I have some pretty fond memories of my elementary school years. But, nonetheless, religion was drilled into my oh-so-impressionable noggin. Church, daily class, prayers in the morning and evening, God-guilt, as I like to call it.

“You should love God more than your mother or father!” professed my third grade teacher. Oh, hell no. No one comes before my mom!

“You are lying to me. You will burn in eternal hell for your mortal sins if you do not repent and attend church every Sunday!” exclaimed our monsignor as I sat in an (open) confessional with him.

An individual with a fairly normal functioning brain would either stick with their religion or they wouldn’t. Instead, religion became an obsession for me. It wasn’t in the same way a devout Catholic would obsess. I didn’t care about going to church. I didn’t care to preach or sit through sermons. But I needed to pray. First it was before bed.  Then it was upon waking up. Before eating. Before going to the bathroom. It was the same routine. The prayer changed for each task. All in my head. And if I messed it up while thinking it? Well, I’d just have to start over again. And again. And again. I might not fall asleep for an hour some nights. It really sucked struggling to sleep and then waking up extra early to part my hair down the middle.

As I got older – into my mid teens – guilt and embarrassment started to seep in. Guilt for thoughts I was having. Embarrassment for the resulting compulsions that would result. I’d gone through puberty. Girls were pretty. But admiring a girl was a sin. Thinking about them in certain lights was a sin. And sex? God, no. Sex before marriage was another mortal sin. So I’d beg for forgiveness in my head for even thinking about it.

“Stop looking. Stop staring. Stop thinking.”

But the more I tried, the more I’d think. The more I’d think, the more I’d beg. The more I’d beg, the more frustrated I would get. Then the embarrassment would flood in.

The apologies evolved into saying sorry for everything.

“I’m sorry for walking on that crack (how stereotypical could I be!). I’m sorry for thinking of that word. I’m sorry for thinking of the word sorry the wrong way.”

The strength of the thoughts was appalling. I’d tried to suppress them. Block them out completely. That led to them wrestling their way out and materializing in other ways. Physical ways. How can I acknowledge God without thinking? To give my brain a break? So every time I’d say sorry, I’d blink at the sky, where I had imagined God would be. It was my way of acknowledging him. The blink became a compulsion, along with many other physical impulses. I smiled. I nodded. Anything signifying an acknowledgement.

I would rearrange my fingers so that my middle finger wasn’t raised higher than the rest. I couldn’t give the sky the middle finger. I couldn’t give God the middle finger.

Then my mother came into the mix. The only other person I loved as much. In what direction was my mother? Okay, blink that way. Smile that way. Turning over in my bed? I’d have to turn my entire body in that direction. If that meant rotating the complete opposite way, so be it.

I did all this without anyone noticing, initially. I would sneak a blink or a smile or any other compulsion while someone turned their head and be back to normal by the time they looked back. Shit, it must’ve been quite comical/unnerving to look at.

But compulsions quickly become habits, as anyone with OCD will tell you. I started doing it without even realizing. The compulsions lost all meaning (as ridiculous as that meaning was). They were simply ticks at that point. Self-regulating ticks. The same way one cracks their knuckles or fixes their shirt. Only, for me, self-regulating looked a lot like Tourette’s Syndrome.

When it started to rear its head in front of people, the horrifying reality of my situation hit me like a locomotive.

“What the fuck is wrong with you? You got Tourette’s?”
“Oh, no. I wear contacts and they dry out. I have to blink really fast to re-wet them.” I would laugh nervously.

“Dude, you spazzing out on me?”
“My neck’s just hurting. That’s all.”

Sometimes I’d think I was alone, and I’d let all my ticks hang loose. It wasn’t bad when I’d be noticed by a stranger. I’d drive away from the red light or out of the parking lot and never have to face them again. But when friends or my ex-girlfriend would catch me out of the corner of their eye or from a line of sight I’d thought I’d avoided the next room over, I’d feel sick. It was akin to being caught without clothes on. I was naked – exposing myself for everyone to see. The humiliation was equal.

“What is wrong with me? Why am I this way? Am I fucking crazy? I am fucking crazy.”

Self-realization. It’s a scary thought when recognizing that you’re not “right.” Further, as I matured, the simple thought that my religious obsession might be a part of it made me want to throw up. All this torment for nothing? I might not end up in an OCD heaven, with angels and cherubs nodding and smiling and blinking and twitching?

When I was twelve, I snuck into my mom’s boyfriend’s office and secretly read Howard Stern’s Private Parts. It was the first time I came across the words obsessive-compulsive disorder. Even at such a young age, it made sense. Perfect sense. But it didn’t absorb. It came up in my record-skipping-like brain once in awhile, but exited just as the next compulsion to blink came around the corner.

At 18, I got on the computer and finally did some research, admitting to myself that I needed help. It didn’t take long to rediscover OCD. I ticked off every symptom. I remembered back through the years and found a for-instance for every item on every list on every website. I accepted that there was something wrong with me. I approached my mother and told her about it. She didn’t buy it.

“There’s nothing wrong with you.” Typical and understandable response from the tough-it-out upbringing of her youth. Except that when your own brain turns on you, toughing it out can have some dire consequences.

I internalized it. I fought it tooth and nail. And, as with anything in my life, I obsessed about it. I obsessed about getting rid of my obsessive-compulsive disorder. Counter-productive? Probably. Effective? Seemed like it. Eventually.

At first, I gritted my teeth and battled it. Literally. I have chips on all of my front teeth. Some of them are from biting down really hard for no good reason, which was another compulsion, but many of them are from fighting the urge to tick. If I’d tense all the muscles, it would help me remember not to do it. As long as I was aware, I could control it. Same way I could control it when around other people.

It was hard. Damn near impossible at times. I developed other habits in relation to it. I’d catch myself clicking my teeth together – sometimes hard – as I’d developed a habit from the compulsion to control my other habits. A vicious cycle. I’d bite my tongue or my lip by accident – sometimes clean through a chunk of skin. They’d bleed and turn into canker sores. I’d have four or five at a time.

I still cried out of frustration. I’d all but renounced my faith at that point, come to terms with my mental issues, and tried to take control of it all. At times it felt damn near impossible. At times it was damn near impossible. But, slowly, it started to taper off. It wasn’t fast. It wasn’t pretty. I’d still have my many, many setbacks, like when I had my lip pierced and I chewed so hard on the post (had to bite it just right) that I cracked my tooth straight up to the gum. But a normal life was in sight, and that was enough to relieve the tension a bit.

Maybe it was age. In fact, that’s quite likely. But I’d like to think that my realization that I did not have to succumb to my compulsions and my fortitude to turn breaking my habits into a habit played a small role in it all. Maybe I tricked my OCD into working for me, instead of against me.

I still bite my lip every once in awhile because I chew, nervously, a bit too hard. I still catch myself taking a blink every once in awhile, even if it is just a comfort at this point. An homage to the person I used to be, and the shell of him remaining. And that’s a good thing. I still have OCD. I’ll always have OCD. It still controls so very many aspects of my existence, from my personality to my occupation. My obsessions and compulsions are different these days, sure. Some of them might even be similar to a “normal” mind. Feeling the need to teach my daughter to read or feeling the need to keep the house clean and in order. But there will always be that smidgen of difference between me and my wife. Or between me and my best friends. That one step further that I tend to take everything. I look back at the picture of me at six or seven, with my Play-Doh accessories lined up neatly, in perfect size order, and I’ll remind myself that I’ve got it good right now. And that there are many other who aren’t so lucky. My curse was religion and my family. Someone else’s might be washing their hands and showering. It doesn’t matter what the bait is – the hook is always the same.

So before you pronounce to anyone within ear or eye-shot how totally OCD you are, take a moment to remember that for some, obsessive-compulsive disorder is hell. And for others, it’s a major life inconvenience that can alter every single day. It’s in jest when I say not to ever say it again. But maybe now you’ll understand that it isn’t just counting how many bites of food you’ve eaten.

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Mortality

Mortality is a fucker, isn’t it?

I’ve recently (well, not so recently . . . a few months now) started the project of converting all my family photographs to digital. The inventory starts somewhere in the late 1930s and ends somewhere around 2008, once everyone in my immediate family made the conversion to digital. We still print a few select photos, but considering they were digital first, that’s a moot point.

The process is tedious and time-consuming. I know, what isn’t time-consuming? Everything chews away time, some just more noticeably than others. This is one of those. That’s not saying it isn’t fun. These are pictures I’ve seen a million times, but between sorting them into a timeline (instead of by categories like birthdays, weddings, etc.) and then scanning them individually, one by one (or two or three, depending on how many I can fit in the scanner at once), I’m seeing things I’ve never noticed before. Like my uncle giving the middle finger to the camera at my first birthday party, for instance. These are the important details I’ve missed for 27 years. The most exciting thing about all of this is finding things in the pictures that I’d either completely forgotten about (old stuffed animals, pieces of furniture) or things that I’d remembered but couldn’t really place in my mind (my dad’s old guitar, the layout of a room, etc.). It’s stimulating and fun.

But there has been a lasting impression I never would have expected when starting project. I find myself mulling over my own mortality (and everyone else’s) quite frequently.

I’ve always been intrigued by the thought of something physical in nature being around longer than someone has been or will be alive. The hallway where you took your first steps. The stoop where you had your first kiss. The patch of concrete where you stood in your graduation gown when your parents stole a quick snapshot of you. Chances are, these things have all been around longer than we’ve been alive, and will probably be around long after we’re gone, waiting for someone else to make a memory.

Admiring pictures of people that are close to you (living or gone) is a surreal feeling when you think about it. Looking at a photograph of my mother at my age now is a trip. Looking at photographs of my father (who died when I was five) at my age now is even more mind-bending, and that feeling is compounded when I look at pictures of the two of us when I was my daughter’s age. I remember my father as a man. A grown man. I have pictures (not many) of him as a younger man and a child, but they aren’t as real to me because I never saw him that way. I remember him towering over me, fathering me (to an extent), and doing adult things. To think that I’m older now than some of my memories of him is amazing and scary. And four years and some change from now, which is an incredibly small amount of time, I will be older than my father ever lived to be (if, of course, I make it that far).

As I said before, mortality is a fucker. You plan for a future that isn’t guaranteed (not by a long shot), yet you can’t live for today completely because you’ll have a hard time surviving tomorrow. There is always a limerick or haiku about life and living it, but it’s all bullshit in the end. Some truisms exist but it really is as simple as: shit happens, go with the flow, be thankful for right now, and do the best you can.

 dad

Self-Publishing: Print

A few months ago, I’d written a blog post on the Glimpse website about the process of self-publishing. There are two categories when it comes to self-publishing – print and digital. I’m going to reblog my original post about the process of getting your manuscript ready for print. Next week or some time after, I’ll do one for digital.

When I started writing Glimpse, I didn’t know whether or not I would print physical copies. In today’s world, anything and everything is done online. As much as I love holding a book in my hands, I really didn’t think it would be worth it for me to print a trade copy. After some self-debate and polling of friends and family, I decided to go ahead with it. I’ve self-published before and I know how much of a task I would be taking on. It’s been nearly five years since the last time I’ve gone through the process and things have changed quite a bit. I figured I’d give you all some insight into the operation.

The first thing to worry about is editing. Odds are, if you’re self-publishing, you’re hard-pressed in the money department. Hiring an editor is not cheap. A keen eye and an understand of everything English is completely necessary. And you still won’t catch everything. Professional editors who work for Ingram Publishing don’t catch everything. I learned that the hard way the first time. The magic of an independent book, however, is that if it’s made with enough love and passion, it doesn’t need to be perfect. In the world of writing, there will always and forever be mistakes and typos. Nonetheless, it’s still frustrating to catch something after your book as gone into print. Hence, second and third (and fourth and twelfth) editions. If you can swing the dough (and I highly suggest saving up), get yourself on Elance (or whatever equivalent) and get an editor. You can find some excellent talent at fairly reason prices (for editing). A good edit with bring your book to levels you never knew it could (or needed to) go. If you need some direction, feel free to email me or leave a comment with your email address, and I’ll be sure to point you the right way.

Next, it’s all about formatting. Certain self-publishing houses will guide you in the process, but these are companies that sell packaged deals and mark up the purchase of copies quite significantly. This is the route I went the last time, at first. After smartening up and realizing that I could pay less cost per book, I made the switch to a company that does nothing but print. No support. No formatting. That meant I had to do everything myself (and again with Glimpse). It’s not easy, but it’s worth it in the end.

In my case, I had to worry about illustrations. It’s one thing to have to format every line of text, every page number, every chapter, copyright page, Table Of Contents page, and anything else that goes into the writing portion. But to add in formatting illustrations for print? A whole different monster. Now I had to worry about color matching, clarity and print quality, and accuracy on each page. Once you submit your manuscript, the printing press makes no further alterations. Wherever your files are and however they are positioned is how they will print. Math plays a large part in the procedure, and a mathematician I am not.

The next step is the cover. Before anything is started, an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) number is necessary. Individually, they are $125. For a block of 10, $250. Quite a steep discount at that price. For any version of the book you publish (hardcover, paperback, e-book, etc.) a unique number needs to be assigned, however, so you end up using them quite quickly. Just five years ago, they were $50. Some inflation, huh?

Getting your cover set up is more than just the front of the book. There are a plethora of different sizes you can choose from when publishing a book. It’s really up to you and what style you are looking for. I chose 8.5 x 5.5 for Glimpse. This is because the book is a hybrid between a novel and a graphic novel. I wanted to keep it convenient for others to carry with them and also to store in your library at home.

The spine of the book is just as important. It’s the first thing people are going to see when Glimpse is sitting on a bookshelf (hopefully) somewhere. It needs to be centered and perfect, and that is so much easier said than done.

The next step is to submit the manuscript for approval. As long as the file types are right, they’ll be accepted and then the printing process beings. There is a set up fee for every new title of give or take $100. After everything is accepted processed, it is time to order a proof. A proof runs about $30 (and costs $30 for every subsequent one ordered if corrections needs to be made). After you are satisfied, you can lock in your title and start ordering real prints. If your manuscript needs to be edited, it will cost another $40 to edit and re-submit.

It is a painstakingly tedious process that demands patience (and money). However, once you you have that final product in your hand, it’s all worth it.

-Justin

The Habits Of A Human

I’ve lived my entire life cursing structure and habit. Working the same hours and days. The schedule of school. How long I get to sleep before I am obligated to be somewhere for something. Despising it. Anyone that is close to me can attest to that.

For a few days, weeks, and even months (rarely) I can live with it. Once I get beyond my tipping point, it’s all over. It’s like this innate inability to exist on a regular schedule handed out to me. I regress into a child, taking temper tantrums and screaming, “I don’t wanna do it!” in my own head (and sometimes out loud). Most of the time, I do reside in my own head. No one really wants to hear me complain about something so frivolous, as important and as detrimental as it might be to me. And I get it. If you’re not born feeling this way, someone is going to look at you and roll their eyes. After all, they probably have much bigger tasks to deal with. Nothing is relative to the person who’s got it much worse, most of the time. That’s understandable.

I get some of my best thinking done in the shower, which is fairly odd because I don’t like standing in any one place for a significant amount of time. I get antsy and want to keep moving. But I find it very easy to concentrate in the shower. I imagine it could be the hot water (I practically boil myself) or the rhythmic sound of the water hitting the cast iron tub. I’m not quite sure.

Two nights ago, as I was scrubbing away the day’s dirt and sins, I found myself disinterested in thinking about future books and art projects (which is what I consistently think about) and pondering why I am so mentally empowered while naked in a steamy room. Normally I’m anything but mentally empowered while naked and in a steamy room. I digress.

I started to think about my routine. I like to shower at night. I like climbing into a clean bed and knowing that I can sleep in a little longer in the morning because I’m ready to throw clothes on and start my day (side note: I’ve had many debates over showering in the evening vs. showering in the morning. I don’t care what you’re opinion is, because mine is right. Unless you  rub the cat’s ass all over your face while you sleep, there is nothing that a morning face wash can’t absolve). Perhaps it goes back to my hatred of schedules (and my love of sleep), but I love to manipulate my own terms around someone else’s as much as possible without actually disregarding theirs completely.

Then my thinking went a little deeper. I went back about a month and milled over a few-days-long anxiety attack that hit me like a ton of bricks in the middle of March. Even though it was much worse at night for the length of the attack, getting into bed was the most comforting part of it all. The feelings of panic and anxiety nearly melted away strictly because had I pulled up the blankets, took out a book or put on a TV show, and settled in. At first I thought it was because I was truly relaxing. But in reality, I’d been relaxing all day. I took it easy during that time, making sure I wasn’t too manic and making things worse, which I have a very, very easy time doing.

Weeks went by and I didn’t really give it much thought. The only thing that really struck me was that feeling of true complacency when getting into my bed had never actually faded. Even with the anxiety long gone, that overwhelming feeling of comfort (and not just because of the pillow-top) stayed and was more prevalent than ever. Now, here I was standing in the shower, and it hit me all at once. I loved the routine. The habit. The structure. Getting out of the shower, brushing my teeth (sometimes in the shower . . . very underrated experience) putting on pajamas, checking the days work on the computer (writing, web work, statistics, sales, etc.), feeding the cats (which I routinely forget to do – thanks Lyss for making sure they don’t die and/or rip our bedroom door off its hinges while we sleep), spraying cologne on the door so the asshole cats don’t rip the door off its hinges, shutting the blinds (probably should do that before taking the towel off and putting on clothes), and jumping in bed.

It hasn’t always been this way. I used to be night owl (granted, this still happens at 1 or 2am), but things have changed, albeit slightly. Yet, when it’s different, and my routine changes or disappears entirely, there is another one waiting for me.  Whether its how I make my morning oatmeal, the rituals I practice before I start my car and drive to [insert place here], what I do before sitting down to work (actually at work or at this art thing I pretend to call work), it’s all a routine.

Note: this all occurred to me in about 30 seconds while washing my neck and nipples. Quite a time to have an epiphany of sorts. It goes to show how insignificant we believe the mundane things are but just how important they tend to be – if only for sanity.

For you, Lyss.

Moral of this ramble? A big, stereotypical “enjoy everything” message. Embrace all of your favorite schticks. From the big, shit-eating-grin-feeling of reaching into the cabinet, grabbing a pint glass, cracking open the bottle, pouring, admiring, and sipping the first mouthful of your nightly beer, to the relief of  seeing your favorite show has DVR’d correctly and that there is, in fact, a new episode of How I Met Your Mother this week.

Earning money from my work

I received my first Amazon royalty check today (for the month of February).

I knew it was coming and didn’t think much of it. Didn’t really believe it would have too much of an impact on my psyche as a writer or an artist. But, surprisingly, it has.

I was notified via email this morning and it was a nice kickstart to the day. To officially be a paid writer is quite an accomplished feeling. Granted, watching the royalty checks grow in monetary size is the next step. Getting the same amount every month without any sort of exponential growth will have quite the opposite impact on my productivity over time, I’m sure.

When I tell people that I’m striving to make a living as an author/artist, I get all kinds of cocked-eyebrows and snooty eye rolls. If I bring up the fact that I have a three-year-old daughter? Forget it. I might as well be hanged or lynched. The “struggling artist” stigma follows us around wherever we go.

“Get a real job!”

“Provide for your family!”

“Stop dreaming and provide a nest egg, you silly bastard!”

The thing is, these people are right! Well, partially right. Providing for my family is priority number one. If providing for your family isn’t the first thing on your mind, then you have some things you need to work out.

But the magical (not to sound too Doug Henning) part about the art world now is that it’s become business – that is, if you’re aspiring to run the entire show yourself. You’re no longer the writer/artist, but you’re the writer/artist/small business owner/marketer/street team/web designer/social marketing and SEO expert/salesman/the list goes on and on. I do more work now than I have at any job I’ve ever worked, which is a significant number, and some with an equally significant workload. The problem, as with any other small business start-up, is that I don’t make any money doing it. Yet. Hopefully, yet. To say yet is to assume that I will. There is no guarantee. So I rescind the word yet.

At the end of the day, all I can do is put out great content and lots of it. If the fruits of my labor (I hate that saying) are out there, odds are that they will come in one way, shape, or form. That form could potentially be failure. And I’m okay with that. Rotten fruit exists. Some in our fruit bowl right now.

I think as a business owner, you have to be okay with failure looming. If you’re going into something thinking that you can’t (and by can’t, I mean both cannot because you’re too good to fail or cannot because you can’t afford to fail) then you are not prepared to fall and will surely smack your chin on the concrete, knocking out a few teeth and making it even harder to get a regular gig on the business failure rebound. I digress.

Hopefully, March’s royalty check will be a tad more. And more after that. And so on and so forth. I would sign on for a modest income for the rest of my days if it meant being successful in what I love. But my family will tell me that I sound like a broken record, because I’ve been saying that since the beginning of time.

Incremental and consistent is all I can hope for, which is quite fitting considering that is the same thing you, the reader and customer, expect from me. I will hold up my end of the deal. I just hope that you continue bestowing upon me your sweet fruit. Wait, what?

-Justin