dashboardcitizen.com

the thoughts and tales of a college student and writer living out of his car

For Joseph

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You know, it’s funny, but I can never quite remember the first time I meet someone. Something about that first encounter always tends to get lost in the ether – like some brain gremlin has found his way into my head and snatched up that memory.

But that wasn’t really the case with a good friend of mine named Joseph. I remember exactly the moment I met him. And honestly, I don’t think it was for any deep or clairvoyant reason – like I knew he was going to make some huge impact on my life – but just because I thought he was a little funny looking that first time around.

Now, the reason I say that is because the first time I met Joseph, he kind of reminded me of the Pillsbury Doughboy. He was bald and plump and round in his features, and his skin color had this pale hue to it.

We had ended up in the same “computer systems” class together – which, really, was just an excuse to play video games in school – and he had come up to me and made some snarky remark about this stupid cat t-shirt I had on. Naturally, I found it funny and sometime during the ensuing conversation, I realized that I had made a new friend.

Of course, this being a not-so-tough class, we had plenty of time to socialize. And it was during that time that I really got to know Joseph. And it was also during that time that I learned that he had had osteocarcoma. Or bone cancer, as you might know it.

Evidently, the surgery he had undergone to remove a portion of the infected marrow in his arm had caused his body to retain fluid, which explained why he looked the way he did – the chemotherapy being responsible for the hair loss and pale color.

Fortunately, though, the operation had been a success. And as time went on I began to realize that Joseph was becoming noticeably healthier, regaining his hair and skin color and losing a great deal of his former “plump” self.

And we were all happy to see that.

Now, it may come as a surprise to you that I wasn’t exactly the most popular guy in my high school. Even amongst my group of friends, I was pretty consistently the butt of a great number of poorly constructed jokes. But the one thing I do remember about Joseph is that he never made fun of me. In fact, he usually came to my aid, turning whatever high school jeer had just been thrust at me back onto the offending party.

And he was pretty good at it, too. Not really because he was the wittiest guy in the world. But because he had this amazing confidence that could win out on almost any argument. And on more than one occasion did he use it to humiliate one of my many detractors.

I’m not really sure why he did all that for me, but if I had to take a guess, I think it was because we were both loners. Me, by choice. And him, by necessity.

The fact that I was an introvert and the fact that he was recovering from cancer meant that we both spent a lot of time by ourselves in our rooms. And I think we alleviated a lot of that loneliness with each other’s company, playing online games together.

——————-

Soon, though, we graduated. And I eventually found myself thrust thousands of miles away from home in some city I had never heard of in some state I had never been to. I made absolutely zero friends that first year of college, and it was during this period of interminable loneliness that my depression took a turn for the worse, with the thoughts of suicide first beginning to creep their way into my head.

My only respite away from this was really through my computer. Where I knew, as soon as I logged, I would find Joseph, usually sitting by himself in some TeamSpeak lobby and usually already in-game.

I never told him about my depression – or the fact that he was my only escape from it at the time – but some part of me thinks he already knew and that that’s why he was always there for me. I couldn’t help but drop a few hints just from the state of mind I was beginning to slip into.

Still, time dragged on. And I did eventually make new friends. And while my depression wasn’t getting any better, I tried to find solace in these new people.

So I just stopped playing one day. And before I knew it, I had lost contact with him – and everyone back home, really – for a good year or so…

That was until one day when I got a text from an old friend. “Call me, it’s about Joseph,” is what it said.

Of course, it was a jarring thing to read, and my initial fear was that his cancer had come back. So, hastily, I grabbed my phone and began to redial the number. But before I could finish, I accidentally pulled open some Facebook app and much to my horror, began to read a litany of “RIPs” and “condolences” from  friends all in dedication to Joseph.

He was dead.

In the matter of a week, his cancer had grown aggressively, metastasizing from his bone to his lungs and killing him by basically suffocating him. And as much as I wanted to deny it, I couldn’t. He was really gone this time. And it was staring me right in the face…

It wouldn’t be for some time after that I would hear the full story. Apparently, a group of my friends had dropped by his hospital bed to say “hi” and even though he knew just how dire his situation was, he never told them. Because he didn’t want them to worry. Because, really, that was just his character.

I often can’t help but imagine how I would act had I been in his shoes. And, honestly, in every scenario I can think of, I’m bawling like a baby — clinging to my friends, begging for help or comfort. But not Joseph. He was brave as hell, and the last thing he would ever want or do is to become a burden or source of worry to other people.

In any case, my friends left him that night completely oblivious of the fact that that would be the last time any of them would speak to him. And, naturally, when he died the next morning, they didn’t quite know how to process it all.

Really, I think for me, the worst part of it wasn’t only the fact that I didn’t get to see him that last time but that so much of him has been left behind. So many of our conversations have been archived in chat sessions and scoreboards. And I don’t even play online anymore because I have to face that every growing timestamp under his profile: “…hasn’t signed in in 2 years.”

And while I know I should cherish some of these things, a lot of the time they just feel like a ghost to me — one that I can’t say “goodbye” to and one that I can’t ever make peace with. I guess the world just seems a lot emptier without knowing he’s there, and for someone like me, already riddled with depression and loneliness, that can be the emptiest of feelings…

People, in their infinite stupidity, like to say that ‘all things happen for a reason,’ but I know better. I know they don’t, and I know they’re wrong. Because there was no reason for Joseph to die. Because if anyone deserved to live a long and happy life, it was him.

And I’m certain of no greater truth than that.

Wish you were here, buddy.

Why Facebook Keeps Me From Growing Up

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Today I caught myself doing that whole thing that people like to call “Facebook stalking.” Going through the countless pages and photos of old high school friends and girlfriends and trying to see what they’re up to now — and, naturally, comparing their lives to my own. But on about the 50th photo of the 4th or so friend, I got a funny twinge in my stomach and really stopped and asked myself: Is this healthy? And more importantly, is it healthy for all the people who do it every single day?

I guess I should preface all this by saying there’s a lot of good things that come from social media. All of these platforms keep us connected and some of them, like Twitter, have been responsible for really changing the world in a big way. But there’s also a dark side to all of this interconnectedness, and no, I’m not just talking about privacy issues or cyberbullying — although all that stuff is important, too.

I’m speaking on a much more basic level. On a just growing into a normal,  functional adult level. Because there’s an important part of being an adult called ‘moving on’, and sites like Facebook, I’ve found, aren’t very good at letting that process takes its course.

Because as you grow up, you’ll find that people come and go. You fall in love, fall out of love, make friends, lose friends, and while all of that can be very painful in the time that you endure it, it’s okay. It’s okay because your brain is designed to cope with that stuff, to push it out over time, and more importantly, learn from it.

But that whole growth process is kind of interrupted when you have to rehash these people’s existence every few seconds through their vapid news feed updates or pictures — even after you’ve removed them physically from your life. And soon you end up obsessing over past feuds and reliving silly little squabbles and relationships that should have been filed away in that dark, forgetful corner of your mind many, many years ago.

And so Facebook — and others like it — can become a lot like an open sore. A nasty little reminder of the past that just won’t find its way to scar over. That just won’t let you move on.

And that can be a real challenge, especially considering that we’re the first generation to have to deal with this new social variable. It’ll be interesting to see how it affects us in the long term — if it hurts us or help us.

Personally, I’m a little pessimistic. But maybe, hopefully, I’m wrong.

On Failure

“You’re circling failure in a rapidly decaying orbit. That’s the reality as we talk now. But you can change that. It’s in your power to change that.”

I’m convinced these are some of the greatest lines ever written for any form of visual media ever. And the best part is that they’re delivered by the incredible actor Garry Marshall — that dude from Pretty Woman, in case you’re not familiar with him.

I like to come back to them whenever I’m feeling down because I’ve failed — or am in the process of failing — at one of my most recent endeavors. There’s something so incredibly inspiring about them. And I think it’s because they’re more “real” than what you usually get from the you can do it-type crap and platitudes.

Because unlike those fucking cliches, reality is pretty daunting. If you aspire to be anything that might command some respect or idealize some notion of success, the odds are immediately against you. Chances are you will fail. And you’ll probably feel really crappy about it afterwards, too.

But while all that may be true, there’s still that little sliver of a thing called hope. That little just maybe in the back of all of our minds that for, whatever reason, pushes us forward. Because while, yes, a lot of people — most people — fail each and every single day, there will always be that tiny minority that finds success. And some naive part of us thinks that we can be among them.

But that naiveté is important. Because the worst thing you can do in life is become sick and tired and jaded. Because living your life like that, through a constant prism of cynicism and complacency, only guarantees failure every single time. It only guarantees that you’ll get the worst out of living — and nobody wants that.

So it’s important to take note of what Garry Marshall is saying in these lines. To take note of the fact that you will fail. To realize that it’s really just an inevitability and that it’s going to kick the shit out of you on more than one occasion. But you do have some control. As futile as it may seem, if you work harder and push yourself to be better, you might be able to tip the odds in your favor.

And while that’s never a guarantee, it could be just enough to achieve that oh-so-elusive title of success.

Writers are Underpaid (And It’s Kind of Their Fault)

Awhile back, I saw this interview with Harlan Ellison in a movie called “Dreams With Sharp Teeth .” For those of you who don’t know who that is, he’s the guy who’s probably writing the screenplay for your next favorite sci-fi film or TV show.

Anyway, in this film, he complains that even a guy as respected as he gets called up and asked to basically give his work away for free by a number of big film studios. What’s interesting, though, is that he doesn’t blame the studios for this — after all,  if you can get an award-winning script for free, that’s just good business — but other writers. “Professionals,” he insists, “get undercut by the amateurs,” who teach the studios they can get away with robbery.

And I kind of agree with him.

Because this is the one thing that pisses me off about most writers — they don’t know a damned thing about business. And the reason most of them don’t is because of some misguided notion that doing so would be selling their soul or tainting their “art.”

What these guys need to realize, though, is that if you want to make a living off doing what you love, then you need to commodify what it is that you love. You need to get off your “holier than thou” soapbox and turn your work into something you can sell. Into something that people want and that they’re willing to put money down for. Because otherwise, smart people and smart businessmen are just going to take advantage of you, and then they’re going to turn around take advantage of other writers who are going to have no choice but to follow suit.

Because here’s the thing. We live in what’s called a services economy. And basically that means that the vast majority of money that is made in this country is through intangible goods like knowledge or entertainment. If you’re a marketing or financial consultant, for example, you make a lot of money. Why? Because you possess knowledge that you can sell and that businesses are in high demand for.

So the question become this: why aren’t the guys — or even a majority of the guys — who can write readable and engaging prose making money like consultants? Or, I don’t know, even a livable salary? Well, because unlike the consultants, they’re giving away all their stuff for pennies on the dollar. Which means that if one of them stands up for themselves and says ‘no, I want a higher salary,’ some other idiot in line will draft up twice the work for half the price.

And yes, yes, I know. It’s easy to sit there and blame greedy corporations or businessmen for all of your problems. But look, it’s those guys’ job to spend as little money as possible while making as much as possible. So if you sit there and hand them your work for nothing, then of course they’re going to take it.

So I think it’s about time that we, as writers,  grow up. That’s not to say that all writing needs to yield a profit — if you want to give your stuff away  to the public, then by all means, more power to you. But we do need to say goodbye to the days where we give away hours of hard work and labor to some business or studio in the hopes that maybe one day we’ll get a decent paycheck.

Because there’s nothing wrong with making a buck off what you love. Because as long as you’re doing it for the right reasons, money isn’t some corrupting force or some root of all evil, as people love to say. It’s just a symbol of the fact that others value your work enough to invest their time and energy into it.

And, really. Is there any greater token of respect than that?

 

Why Do I Write?

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‘Why do you write?’ This is a question that I often ask myself. And typically when I’m in the shower and pretending that I’m famous and being interviewed by NPR or the New York Times or something like that — c’mon, you know you do it, too.

But it’s a good question. And the answer I give is usually the same: ‘I started writing because I felt alone and sad one day. And it’s one thing to tell people you feel alone and sad. And it’s another to tell them a story about loneliness and sadness.’

Because I like to think of writing as well, one, catharsis. As a way of purging out all those nasty feelings you get from the daily pangs of life. But I also like to think of it as a means of finding out that you’re not alone in this world.

Because there’s something about a story that people connect with — be it a book or a piece of journalism or even a blog post. And whether we (as writers) like to believe it or not, every one of us embeds a little bit of ourselves into our work to make that connection.

And so when people write back to me like they did with my post on depression, and tell me about their own experiences, I feel just a little bit better. Because at least I know that that greatest fear of mine — that I’m all alone in this — isn’t true. That everywhere people are going through the exact same thing.

And there’s an incredible amount of relief in that.

But it’s also just not all about the authors. I think readers are searching for something similar when they read. I know when I first met Charlie in The Perks of Being A Wallflower or Holden in The Catcher in the Rye, I felt connected to them. And the fact that so many other people felt the exact same way gave me comfort.

So I guess the important thing to remember is that you’re never alone when you write (or read, for that matter). As long as you have books and can put a pen to paper, you will always have company.

And that. That is all the reason in the world to keep on doing it.

photo credit: fiddle oak via photopin cc

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Introvert

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I’m an introvert; I avoid social situations. In fact, I probably can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve stood in a crowd and felt completely lost. And when I say that, I don’t mean it in a “boohoo,  I’m sad kind of way.” I mean it in a “what the fuck am I doing here?” kind of way.

It’s not that I don’t like people — you shouldn’t mistake me for a misanthrope — but more like they kind of give me the creeps. When I walk into a bar or a club or any crowded place, I can feel people’s gazes. I can feel them watching me. And the resulting mix-up of raced thoughts and adrenaline isn’t exactly a pleasant feeling.

So I avoid them.

But that leaves me with a bit of an unpleasant paradox. Because, you see, while I can’t stand to be around people, I also need them. Like any functioning human, I need bonding and interaction and validation — from people. And being the way that I am, that often means that these needs go unmet, and I end up lonely. A lot.

It’s not completely bad, though. I like to think that because I have so few people in my life that the people that are there mean a lot more to me — and, believe it or not, there’s quite a bit of evidence to back me up on that. I also like to think that a lot of good things come out of my loneliness. And that the reason I write, for example, is because I’m longing or feeling sad.

Naturally, a lot of people have tried to  “fix me” over the years. And I’ve even tried to fix myself a couple of times. But the funny thing is that even though I’ve been on stage multiple times — I’m a musican — and even though I’ve been able to quell the anxiety from time to time, I still prefer my solitude.

So I guess the one thing I’ve figured out throughout all of this is that there is nothing to fix. This is simply who I am.

Yes, it comes at the expense of a lot of loneliness sometimes but maybe that’s okay. Because even though the world isn’t really designed for people like me, maybe there’s a little niche out there that I can crawl myself into.

And maybe once I find that happy little place, I’ll finally also find my peace of mind.

photo credit: Thomas Leuthard via photopin cc

Why Nick Offerman is Our Only Hope for the Future

You know, I never understood people who yearn for the good ol’ days. From what I can see, the past has just been a litany of really, really crappy ideas and situations. The 50s were full of misogyny and racism, the 60s played host to the Vietnam War, the 70s had the Cambodian genocide, and the 80s gave us hair metal.

Still, I have to say the past does have its silver lining…well, except for the 80s.  The one thing I miss in our current generation that the past ones had so much of is resourcefulness. There was a “do-it-yourselfer” attitude in our fathers and grandfathers that has decreased exponentially as time has passed on.  And, as a guy who really likes to work with his hands, it’s kind of sad to see a generation grow up around me that doesn’t even know the first thing about changing a tire.

But I’m not the kind of dude who sits on his ass and dreams about what might have been. I like to be proactive in changing the world…and I think it’s about time we bring back that good old fashioned know-how to the forefront society again.

medium_9109938173This is not Nick Offerman. Just some dude that looks like him.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  How are we going to do that? Better education? More public discourse? Government intervention? No. Everyone knows that if you want to accomplish anything in the public arena these days, there’s only one way to do it…

Celebrity endorsement.

From cancer research to those really sad commercials with abused puppies that ruin your Saturday evenings, there’s no better way to gather public support behind your cause than by plastering some famous singer or athlete or actor’s face all over it. And when it comes to being a do-it-yourselfer, there’s no better advocate than Nick Offerman.

Offerman has everything that you’d want in a DIY celebrity endorser: a badass moustache, an aura of manliness, and his own home carpentry workshop. Even his character on Parks and Recreation — the incorrigible Ron Swanson — mimics his real life persona in his general badassery. Hell, a quick look through his official Offerman Woodshop page shows just what manly artistry the guy is capable of. Boats, beds, tables — it’s all there and looks fantastic.

So I think it’s pretty clear who you should turn to if you’re wondering who the one moral exemplar for your kids should be. With the temperament of an artist and the spirit of a staunchly Libertarian bear, why would you pick any one other than The Offerman?


Yes, you do, Nick. Yes,  you do.

photo credit: Jake Sutton via photopin cc
photo credit: bbaltimore via photopin cc

No Post For You

Today is my birthday, so unfortunately that means no new post.

But in the meantime, please, enjoy this picture of my cat. Her name is Helen of Troy.

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4 Reasons Tim Taylor Would Make the Perfect Mafia Hitman

4.)He’s mastered the art of turning seemingly innocuous power tools into deadly weapons

The difference between being a plain old murderer and being a hitman is the art of subtlety. Pros don’t just go around knifing people every chance they get; they stage it. An exposed electric wire. A misplaced bowling ball. A grizzly bear in the garbage disposal…making things looks like an accident is one of the most important parts of the job and it’s something few people can pull off well.

In case you’re not familiar with Tim Taylor, his whole shtick is basically almost-but-not-really killing people (and himself), which he usually pulls off through a number of elaborate tool accidents. Granted, most of those accidents are real accidents, I’d imagine it wouldn’t be that difficult to hone that skill into something a bit more deadly.

He also has the odd tenacity to survive most of his self-inflicted wounds, which is something that might come in handy in case things go awry — which they almost certainly would, all the while being backed by studio audience laughter.

3.)  He has the perfect disguise

Life isn’t like the movies. Every good Mafia hitman knows you can’t just walk around in public wearing a Gucci suit and brandishing an exposed Desert Eagle. Why? Because flashy clothing and shiny objects that make loud noises tend to attract attention. And when you’re trying to off someone in the most clandestine way possible, attention is usually the last thing you want.

small__3951875706This is not how you kill people.

So…you’re going to need a disguise.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many professions that allow you to carry around a potentially deadly weapon and also provide you with a decent cover — I mean, janitors don’t usually walk around with machetes, right? That is, unless you’re the Toolman.

You see, being a handyman/toolman/anything construction-y comes with the odd perk of being able to carry around an arsenal of sharp, pointy objects and other means of dispatching a human life without getting tackled by the nearest security guard. When a normal-looking guy walks into pretty much anywhere wielding a 6-inch saw, people start running. When the tool guy does it, everyone just assumes he’s there to fix the pipe. Mix that in with a charismatic TV personality a la Tim and no one would ever suspect you of being a blood thirsty killer.

2.) His nickname

Every good Mafia hitman needs a cool nickname — Willie “Two-Knife” Aldieri,” Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski, David “Chippy” Robinson. A hitman needs a name that that is both memorable and will strike fear into the heart of his next target.

tim taylor“What body?”

So it comes as no surprise that Tim “The Toolman” Taylor pretty much beats out everyone in this category. I mean, sure, “Two-Knife” and the “The Iceman” are cool-sounding but “The Toolman”…that sounds like a guy who would pull out your teeth with a socket wrench. And then steal your leaf blower.

Add in the fact that the guy’s got his own signature growl and you’ve got one terrifying tour de force.

1.) He already has a rap sheet

This one may not be too fair because it’s about the actor Tim Allen and not Tim Taylor, but c’mon, we had to mention it…

It may surprise you to learn that Tim Allen has been in trouble with the law before. And I don’t mean “once got a parking ticket” trouble; I mean “once got caught smuggling 1.4 lbs of cocaine across the border and had to do 2 years of hard time” kind of trouble.

tim-allen-mugshotWilson would be so disappointed.

That’s right. On October 2, 1978, Tim Allen, the guy who played Santa Claus in that one 90’s movie, was arrested at the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport for possession of 650 grams of pure Colombian bam-bam. Facing a life imprisonment charge, he turned in his other dealers for a 3-7 year sentence at a Federal Correctional Institution in Minnesota before being paroled in 1981. He even had his own register number and everything.

Crazy.

photo credit: illuminaut via photopin cc

Lessons in Being Different

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It’s a cliche, I know, to say ‘be different.’

It’s something I heard all the time from adults, from my parents or my teachers, while growing up. And the funny thing is that they developed a million different platitudes to etch it into my then-pubescent head.

“Don’t fall in with the crowd.” “Go against the flow.” “If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?” And blah, blah, blah, blah…

But what’s weird is that while I knew that I was supposed to be different, nobody really explained to me how to be different. And that posed a serious problem for me as I got older.

Because, when I was a kid, I thought being different meant being alone. I thought it meant isolating yourself from normal people and normal things — after all “normal” people and things couldn’t be unique, right?

But what I found at the end of that road wasn’t enlightenment or success or wisdom. What I found instead was a great deal of loneliness and anger and heartache. And it took me a really long time to pull myself out of all that, in a much too late part of my life.

What I did learn, though, is that while it is important to be different, to think differently, to see differently, you have to go about the right way doing it.

My favorite example of this comes from my all-time favorite Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor. Miss O’Connor is famous, of course, for being the first woman to take a seat at the Supreme Court. And while that’s certainly historic, I always loved her more for her of way of seeing things.

She was the swing vote on the Supreme Court. And the fact that she took that independence of mind amongst a relatively ideological Court meant that she wielded extraordinary power. Many of the country’s most difficult policy decisions came down to her — affirmative action, abortion, Bush vs Gore — and all because she had the gall to think differently.

The lesson to learn from O’Connor is that, yes, it’s good to be different. But you have to be strategic and mature about it.

Because being contrarian simply for the sake of being contrarian will only leave you alone. But being contrarian when there’s a real need for dissent gives you power.

And understanding that makes, well, all the difference.