Rant: What we wish for.

Unfortunately, today I do not have any great inspiration for writing a story (although I do have a great concept of a rusting robot walking around post-apocalyptic Earth floating in the back of my mind, although the idea hasn’t solidified into a working plot yet), so I am instead going to rant.  Feel free to ignore this, and check back in another two days for, hopefully, a wonderful little short tale instead.

One of the biggest disappointments that I have found so far in life is this: I wish for things, because I believe they will make my life easier.  In my experience, however, this is completely and categorically untrue.

Perhaps this would be more accurate if it was rephrased: I wish for things, because I believe they will make my life different in a way I prefer to its current state.

Are you lost yet?  I am, after reading those last couple sentences, and I’m the one who’s writing them.  Let me explain a little.

Often, especially on the Internet, I see people complaining that they don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend/pansexual lover/empathizing robot.  These people earnestly believe that their lives would be easier if they could find a significant other.

This is untrue.

Having a significant other does not make life easier; if anything, it makes things harder, because now you are being forced to consider someone else’s feelings as well as your own.  (If you aren’t considering the other person’s feelings, by the way, this may be a clue into why you are alone right now.)  You might not have to deal with feeling lonely on Friday nights any longer, but now you have to plan evenings out, pay the bill for multiple people, come up with witty banter, raise yourself to a minimal level of physical attractiveness, shower more often, and overall put a lot more exertion into your social life than was necessary when you were single and lonely.  Life hasn’t gotten any easier.

On the other hand, has life gotten better?  This could be true, since “better” is an entirely subjective term.  If a warm body in bed next to you has a greater intrinsic value than the stress of planning “date nights”, then yes, your life is better off.  If that stress is making your heart fail and giving you panic attacks, then gaining a significant other didn’t make you any better off; in fact, it made you worse off.  That’s a devil’s bargain, right there.

Still not with me yet?  Here’s another example.  Many people wish that they were rich.  “If only I had a million dollars, all my problems would be solved!” they proclaim dramatically.

Once again, say it with me, not true.

Sure, a huge payday will solve a lot of problems (pay off credit cards, student loans, rent payments, eat at fancy restaurants, full tanks of gas, repaired car, etc.).  But that fat bank account brings a whole new host of problems, as well.  Do you know how to invest your money?  Will you keep your job?  Will that money last until your retirement?  How will your lifestyle change, and can you afford the changes, even with the increased income?  Are newfound friends only after you for your money?  Is that cute girl just a gold digger? Life has changed, in new and exciting ways, but it certainly hasn’t gotten any easier.

Dishwashers were introduced to make life easier, to save time on having to hand-wash dishes.  I know some people, however, who are so frustrated with loading, unloading, and running the dishwasher that they still prefer to clean by hand.  That dishwasher solved one problem, but added five more, to the point where it didn’t make their lives any better.

Cars let us get around much faster than horses or walking.  But they are smelly, pollute the environment, require us to find parking spaces, drain our bank accounts through their guzzling of gasoline, and have an unfortunate tendency to break down just when they are most needed.  They are not making our lives easier.  Different, and possibly better, but not easier.

For this reason, I have come to treat “easy solutions” with a very healthy measure of distrust.  If something makes a blase promise to make my life easier, my BS detectors go off, and I look very carefully before continuing.  There might be a free lunch out there, somewhere, but I’m sure it will exact its price somewhere in the digestive process.

On Date Anxiety

Ever been super excited for a date, because you simply can’t wait to see that person again, and every second between now and that date seems to last for an eternity?  But with other dates, you don’t feel nearly as passionate about it?  That, my friend, is because there are different levels of dates.

Three different levels, to be precise.
Now, please, contain your cries of amazement.  That such an incredibly complex idea such as a meeting between two adults can be condensed down to such a reductionistic list of a mere three levels is truly mind-boggling.  And yet, despite all odds, I have accomplished such a wondrous task.  
So, without any further ado, here are the three levels of dates:
1.  The Stereotypical “First Date” Date
This is the typical first date, the one that most people approach with cautious optimism.  Maybe a friend is setting the two of you up, and although you haven’t met this other person yet, they are being described in glowing terms and this isn’t one of your asshole friends that lies about these things or just wants to watch you have the worst date of your life.  
Maybe the two of you met briefly at another event, and they seemed nice enough to be worth a few hours of your Friday night.  Maybe you found their online dating profile, and even though everyone exaggerates on those and picks out their absolute best pictures, they are still witty/pretty/grammatically correct enough for you to think this might go well.  
In any case, you go into this date at about a 7/10 for both anxiety and expectations.  You’re hoping things will go well, and you’ll probably feel a little bad if the whole thing flops and ends up going down in flames.
Occurrence rate: 50%, depending on your social anxiety level.
2.  The “Ugh, fine, I’ll Get Out of the House” Date
Ever decided to go on a date solely to temporarily alleviate that feeling of dread and existential horror that you’ll be alone for the rest of your life?  That’s this date.  
This is the date that you have to put a reminder on your calendar for, because otherwise, there’s a good chance you’ll forget about it completely.  Maybe things will go great, everything will be better than expected, and this date will end up being quite pleasant and enjoyable.  It’s probably not likely, though.  
So why are you going on this date?  Sadly, it’s more about you than it is about them.  They’re probably a very nice person.  Although not to you, since otherwise you’d be more excited.  But you’ve been single for months, and at this point you fear you may be becoming asexual.  So, to make yourself feel better, you’re going to go out and spend money on an evening with somebody you don’t really care about, just for the change of pace and to delude yourself that you’re getting somewhere in your love life.
Occurrence rate: 35%, but it goes up as you get lonelier.
These are the best dates.  On the other hand, these are the worst dates.  This is when that angel at the club, dancing in the spotlight above everyone else, passes you her number and tells you to give her a call.  This is when that drop-dead-gorgeous coworker, the one that every single guy at work drools over, laughs at your joke, touches your arm, and tells you that she’d love to get coffee sometime.  This is when that perfect barista at the coffee shop you stop every day mentions that she’s single to you with a knowing wink, and then hands you a coffee with her number written on the cup.  This is that moment when you have to do a double take, to make sure you’re not dreaming or caught in some alternative romantic-comedy universe.
In the lead up to these dates, you’re caught in a spider’s web of ecstatic delight that you’ve got this date, and gut-wrenching horror that you’re going to somehow mess it all up.  One wrong word, one off-color joke, one forgotten detail, and this beautiful woman is going to come to her senses and realize that you’re a lot less like Ryan Reynolds than she first believed.  This could go wrong so easily, so many ways.

On the other hand, what if it doesn’t?

This could be your future wife, right here.  And if the date falls through, then it probably wasn’t meant to be.  But if things work out . . . you may have the “early relationship” blinders on right now, but this woman seems flawless.  And you can’t wait to verify that, again and again and again…

Occurrence rate: 15%, although that depends a lot on your confidence and standards.  Gotta get out there to get there, you know.

On the Frustration of Mistimed Inspiration

Fortunately for me, my personal muse is both prolific and diverse, gracing me with a wonderfully varied flow of story ideas. Unfortunately, she hasn’t quite got her timing down right.

For example, the other day I was sitting around, minding my own business, when she gifted me with a brilliant idea. Of course, I don’t remember the idea now, but I know it involved time travel and was a wonderfully complex and interwoven plotline. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of driving out to a job site, and by the time I finished work, my muse had given up on me and taken off, probably for someplace sandy and warmer. Deserted for a desert.

On the other hand, after I’ve gotten home from work, when my laptop is close at hand and I am completely ready to write, my muse is usually off gallivanting, nowhere to be found. “I am an open book, ready for inspiration!”, I will yell, but my muse is far from earshot. I will stare at a blank page, struggling for a story to write, until I eventually give up and watch television.

On one hand, maybe I can trap my muse the next time she shows her face. Handcuff her to a radiator, or lock her in the basement. Of course, I don’t have any radiators in my apartment and the basement lock is on the inside, so I am ill-prepared for her capture. Even if I make the necessary preparations, though, I doubt that a captured muse would yield the same level of inspiration as one that is permitted to run wild.

So to my muse, my inspiration, who is generous with her gifts but awful with her timing, I say this: thank you for the ideas. Your stories range from intimate and funny to grand and far-reaching, and you refuse to limit me to a single genre. Your ideas are sometimes serious, sometimes funny, and sometimes a perfect blend of the two. Keep on providing me with this same level of brilliance, and we will go far together.

Just please, o muse, try to share your gift with me in the late afternoon, when I can take the time to write it down.

Internal Dialogue 2: Free Time

Author’s note: As in my previous internal dialogue, I’m spicing this one up by making it a conversation between me and good ol’ Honest Abe.  Please note that I do not actually believe I am talking to Abraham Lincoln.

When I got to the bar, our sixteenth president was already sitting at the bar, nose buried in a large mug of beer.  I flop down heavily on the stool next to him.  “Ugh,” I announce loudly, voicing my opinion of the world in general with a single snort.

Lincoln glances over at me.  “Oh, it’s just you again,” he comments without rancor.  “You know, you seem to imagine me up a lot for these sorts of things.”

“So?” I shoot back.  “What’s wrong with conversing with an imaginary version of the Great Emancipator?”

Abe shrugs back, taking a pull of beer.  “Nothing, as long as you pay my bar tab.”  He sets the glass down and turns to face me.  “So, what’s up, holmes?”


“I’m trying something new,” he says.  “Just because I’ve been dead for a hundred and fifty years doesn’t mean I can’t learn the new words all the kids are using!”

I decide not to correct him.  “Okay, you know all about my work, right?” I begin.

“Sure,” he responds.  “You work for Habitat for Humanity, rebuilding peoples’ homes, fixing them up when the residents aren’t able to afford it.  Noble stuff.  Could have used a few of you back after the whole war thing was finished, going around fixing up the South.  Might have alleviated a little tension, now that I think about it.”

“Yeah, exactly,” I say.  “Noble stuff.  Helping out people in need.  Except that’s the problem.”

“They aren’t in need?” Abe guesses shrewdly.

“Exactly!” I exclaim, thumping the top of the bar for emphasis.  The bartender glances down at me.  I wasn’t originally trying to attract his attention, but I figure I shouldn’t waste it, and order a beer.  Next to me, Lincoln holds up his empty glass, waving it back and forth in the universal gesture for a refill.

After I’ve taken a long swig of alcohol, I resume my complaint.  “Most of the time, these people that we help are at the house while we’re working,” I explain.  “But they aren’t usually doing much!  I’d expect them to try to help us, you know, since we’re doing all of this work for them for free, basically no strings attached.  But instead, we get nothing from them!”

“Maybe they don’t know how to help, though?” Abe guesses.

“Then they should ask!  It’s really not hard, in most cases – if you can move a paintbrush back and forth, you can help out!  But instead, they just sit around like lumps, eyes glued to Maury on the television!  They literally just sit there, watching TV, for the entire day!”  I slump back in my seat, frustrated.

The President considers this for a minute as he sucks the foamy head off his beer.  “So you’re frustrated that they’re just sitting back and not working for themselves,” he clarifies.

“That’s pretty much my complaint, yeah.”

Lincoln sets down his drink, already nearly halfway empty.  “But hold on for a moment.  What do you do when you get home from work?”

“Well, I relax,” I respond, taken aback slightly by the question out of left field.  “You know, take off my socks, recline, catch up on my TV shows-“

“Aha!” Abe cuts me off.  “So you also spend your free time lazing about and watching television!”

“It’s not the same!” I protest.  “I’m doing it after a long day of work!  I’ve been productive already!”

Abe waggles a finger at me, in what I find to be a rather insulting manner.  “It’s very similar, though.  We all need to take time to relax, and most of us choose to immerse ourselves in TV to serve as a distraction from the real world, a place where things really do work out at the end of the half hour.”  He pauses for a second. “Well, almost everyone does this.  I don’t, first because television wasn’t around back in my time, and secondly because I’m a figment of your imagination.  But you get the idea.”

I finish off my drink.  “I still disagree.  I’ve earned my time of zoning out.  People need to work harder!”  Lincoln starts to wave the bartender over once again, but I hold up a hand in protest.  “No more for me.  I’m headed home.”

“To do what?” he asks.

I shout back over my shoulder, “To relax!”


It’s funny how hope works.  It always seems to arise in the least likely times.

Hope comes when I glance at my email, and see that someone has replied to me, someone I recognize.  I don’t have time to read the entire message; I’m dashing out the door, late to work or a meeting.  But I know that there’s a little message, a sign of caring, waiting for me when I return.  The promise of a wonderful message gives me hope.

Hope comes when my eyes are following a pretty girl who’s walked into the room, and she looks back at me with a smile.  Sometimes, that smile is a playful grin, as if she can read my thoughts and is enticing me on.  Sometimes, it’s a shy acknowledgement of my interest, yet still mixed with surprise that someone finds her beautiful.  Sometimes it’s a beaming flash of teeth, simple joy from experiencing the world.  But that smile says that there is hope.

Hope comes from a single, lingering kiss good night.  That kiss will be followed by a parting, by a pulling away.  That magical night of late night talking, kissing, coupling?  That won’t happen tonight.  But that last kiss says that it could come, that it isn’t off the table, that it might be just around the corner.  That kiss says that there is the potential for more, that this relationship is worth continuing, has a deeper, innate value.  That kiss, hauntingly bittersweet, gives me hope.

Hope can appear at the brightest of times or the darkest of times.  Hope can strike while on vacation, loving every minute of life and already riding high and happy.  But hope can also help salvage a horrible day, when the rain falls on a silenced alarm clock, on lost keys, on angry retorts and foul moods.  Hope is unpredictable, but always welcomed and wonderful.

No one can seek out hope.  Instead, we must wait for hope to find us.

Planes suck

No story today, just a rant.

Plane travel is amazing.  It allows us to travel thousands of miles, as far as halfway around the globe, in a matter of hours.  Our ancestors wouldn’t even be able to fathom such accomplishments.  Not only can we travel at over five hundred miles per hour, for a sustained period, but we are able to do so as the crow flies, surmounting all obstacles in our way.

And yet, despite this, it really, really, sucks.

How does flight lose its magic?  For centuries, man has dreamed of flight, of being able to shed his earthly shackles and take to the sky.  From Icarus to Superman, flight is one of the most common wishes.  We all dream of flight.

Despite this, I dread heading to the airport.  Why?  Let’s look at how we humans undertake the majesty of flight; let’s outline the steps of this incredible journey.

First, we’ll head to a large building in the middle of nowhere, where the air conditioning is always on high and there are never any comfortable seats.  After being segregated and sorted by monkeys dressed in uniforms, we must stand in lines.  After shuffling through these agonizingly slow lines, dragging along our belongings in canvas sacks, we are submitted to a humiliating series of poking and prodding and scanning examinations.  Our belongings are also thoroughly searched.  We must be stripped, x-rayed, and felt down by very unattractive people.

But once we’ve made it through this ordeal, the skies are ours, right?  Yes, sort of.

We are crowded and herded into a very cramped metal tube, filled with other disagreeable members of our species.  We must squeeze through too-small aisles into too-small seats, where we are basically locked into a single bent position for the duration of our flight.  Crammed shoulder to shoulder, elbow to elbow with our neighbors, whom we often have never met before, we must stare out of tiny portholes as the ground lifts away, while a tin voice blares over speakers about “attaching your own oxygen mask before helping others.”

Faced with such a dreary voyage, we are tempted to slip off into the peaceful oblivion of sleep.  Yet the wailing baby, the small child who kicks the seat, and the obese man who insists on fully reclining all band together to deny us even that simple pleasure.

Instead, we are forced to remain awake, breathing stale air and attempting to entertain ourselves with in-flight magazines of ridiculous purchasable items until we are finally set blessedly free from the confinement.

When did flying become such a chore?  Build us glass planes with oversized windows, with benches and leg room instead of cramped individual seats, with bean-bag chairs, multi-person scanners hooked to supercomputers for ultra-rapid analysis, courteous personnel, and tasty, delicious, freshly cooked snacks for a very minimal fee!  Do this, and maybe flying will once again capture our dreams and imaginations.

Dead blogger day #1: no post

Author’s note: Today, I have returned from a 10-day expedition to Israel.  After a very long flight, I simply need to crash, and have no energy to write a story.  So, with much sadness, I’m afraid I must take this day for myself.

Instead of enjoying a story . . . 

Gaze at this screen.  Squint your eyes slightly, possibly turning on a light in the room or tilting the screen back or to one side, until you can see your own reflection.

Your head should be floating in the middle of the screen, eyes open but focused as you strain to view both your own reflection and this text.  Your familiar face greets you, the face that you have seen every day when you look in the mirror.

Can you see it?

This face, this image that you see, is yours alone to behold.  No one else has viewed this face.  When you venture out into the world, each day, whether it’s to a job, to buy groceries, or to simply be immersed in the great sea of humanity, the face that you present to the world is not this face.  It is similar, yes, but it is not this face.

Do you know why?

This face is different.  This face is ever so slightly off.  If you showed this face to your friends, your family, your loved ones, they would recognize it.  They would know it is you.  But in the back of their minds, a naggling suspicion would tell them that it is not quite right.

But why is this, you wonder?

It’s in the details.

You see, this face you see is reversed.  This is not your face.  The image that greets you in the bathroom, in the mirror, in this screen, is the reversed reflection of your face.  What is on the left is on the right.  What is on the right is on the left.  (The top and bottom are still the same, yes, but then it would just be way too obvious.)  

So smile, as you look at yourself.  This is a private face, a personal face, a view that is meant for you and only you to enjoy.  The strangers of the world will never have a chance to see this aspect.  So go ahead.  Make a silly face.   Smear your makeup.  It’s okay.  This is meant just for you.

My Understanding of the Web

Websites I ought to be visiting (but usually aren’t)
www.forbes.com – an exhaustive source of everything business related, where I could gain savvy and really come to understand how to operate in the business world – if I ever had the patience to read the articles.  Not that they aren’t interesting, but for some reason it’s tough to sit down and learn.
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/– The ultimate encyclopedia of articles on anything and everything science.  If a budding scientist read every research article on his topic on PubMed, he would be a leader in the field.  And yet, the soul-crushing density of the papers repels me like lipid bubbles repel macromolecular proteins from entry. 
www.wsj.com – The Wall Street Journal is a reliable and informative news source.  Yet somehow, its dry tone makes me certain that half of one article about controlling my home via my iPad is all the news I need.
www.gq.com – The upscale guide to men’s style, GQ makes me wish I could look better, wearing nicer clothing than my jeans and free tee shirt from Welcome Week.  Then I remember that I’m poor and can’t afford to fill my closet with $500 sport jackets.
Websites I sometimes visit (and feel good about)
www.cnn.com – News is always good, and while CNN may have a bit of bias, it’s often great to check up on for trending topics.  If only I didn’t get bogged down by human interest pieces.  Look, a teenager shot up his family in Alabama!  What a totally unexpected surprise!
www.mademan.com – An awesome guide to everything manly, ranging from style to health to tech to good general advice to live by.  Whenever I read up on these articles I feel secure and strong in my gender.  If only I remembered to visit this site more often.
www.newsmap.jp – An interactive map that shows what’s trending in news, presented in beautiful colors that make me forget how horrible the world is.
www.uncrate.com – The ultimate guide to cool man’s stuff, which makes me realize how much money I will need to truly be happy.  Just kidding!  But a couple hundred grand to drop on a luxury car and some fine whiskey wouldn’t go amiss.  Just sayin’.
Websites I often visit (and am ambivalent about)
www.imgur.com – A massive conglomeration of beautiful pictures, insightful observations, hilarious captions, and cute cat and dog pictures, I can waste hours browsing picture after picture.  Thank goodness I have plenty of bandwidth, or I would burn through it all in minutes on this site.  I’m glad I don’t live in Canada!
www.fmylife.com – Sometimes, it’s nice to remember how good I have it.  While reading FMLs can become tiresome, they always remind me that, even though my stubbed toe is aching, at least my parents haven’t stolen my college fund and I’m not being fired from McDonald’s.
www.notalwaysright.com– While Imgur gives me my chuckles in picture form, Not Always Right lets me get my literary jollies on, with (thankfully punctuation-corrected) stories about the dark side of retail.  This also teaches me what I should NOT yell at the waiter on my next restaurant visit.
www.hulu.com – Being able to watch all the TV I miss is amazing, until I realize that I’ve spent the entire afternoon doing nothing but watching television on my computer.
Websites I occasionally visit (and feel really bad about)
www.facebook.com – Seriously, it feels like everyone on here is doing better than me – moving to fantastic places?  Getting married?  Having children?  I’m going back to FML.
www.icanhascheezburger.com– a time-wasting cesspool of memes and bad Facebook statuses, as well as awkwardly captioned cat pictures.  I can be sucked in for hours, but always emerge with the feeling that I need a shower.
www.youtube.com – Unless I’m listening to music, I try to stay away from YouTube.  Most videos aren’t worth the time it takes to sit through them, and the comments appear to be typed by monkeys addicted to methamphetamines.  

Rant: Email Sorting

So I’m going to take a day off from writing short stories to rant about emails.  I tend to sort my emails into general categories, and determine whether to read them based on what category they fall into.

Spam (From: ladksfjadlkfawe69696969@hotmail.com Subject: 3nl4rg3 j00r p3n15)

These are spam messages.  They are almost never opened, unless I want to get a good laugh out of how much bigger I could make various body appendages.

Updates and Deals/Advertisements (From: Cheap-4-U Deals Subject: Save 11% on Brazilian waxes when you bring a friend!)

These aren’t spam, but most of the time I treat them as such.  They are almost never opened unless they pertain to something super relevant.  Most of the time, I can get the gist from the title of the email without ever needing to read them.

Facebook (That one friend you haven’t talked to in five years has just poked you!)

These are almost always deleted, except for wall posts, which I will read in email format if I don’t want to be bothered to visit Facebook.

Important emails (From: My girlfriend Subject: Innocuous title that could have deeper unpleasant implications!)

Girlfriend messages are always read.

Replies (From: Professor Subject: Re: your unexcused absence in my class)

Replies are always read.

But here’s the annoying category:

Messages that are important enough that they should be read, but pertain to vaguely uncomfortable life decisions (From: Graduate program that raises feelings of unworthiness Subject: Information to know about applying to us, better have references lined up!)

These messages are too important to ignore or delete completely, but I don’t want to open or read them – they just take too much effort!  I don’t want to have to invest this much energy and worry in an email, so I tend to simply ignore them.  This results in them piling up in my inbox, still at the top of the stack, still patiently waiting to be opened, but never actually touched.  This, dear readers, is my procrastination.

Horrible news?  I’ll read it and groan.  Great news?  I’ll read it and cheer.  Slightly disappointing news?  I will leave it alone, never reading it, and put it off forever.