Archive for July, 2014


Sunday, July 27th, 2014

I’ve been fantasizing about winning the lottery. The instant cache that derails misfortune, opens the sky into a liberal infinity. It’s common, perhaps elementally common, of the people, all of that. This is why people buy the damned tickets, to dream of a better life, solid gold house, champagne bubble bath.

But my fantasies haven’t been focused on what I would actually do with the cash. No, I’ve just had these notions of escape. It does seem that the easiest way to solve your problems is to strap yourself to a rocket and blast the fuck away from everything and everyone. Move to Tralfamadore. Slip into a tesseract and try it all again.

Avoid life by buying out of it.

Meanwhile, options appear self-constraining, each one a collapsing event horizon. Hopelessness starts with this dismissal of options. Yes, there are choices all around you. But your brain takes each choice and derives an assumed outcome. Those outcomes contract. They don’t branch out to fractal choices. They are processed and crunched, projected forward in the same way that a limit approaches zero, until they seem both inevitable and futile. Terminal. You assume that these options are just flat out improbable. You transform choice into autopilot fate.

So winning the lottery becomes just as likely as acting on slippery, unattainable options. You fantasize about all of it, push it all into fantasy.

That’s hopelessness.

And that’s when suicide seems concrete.

It comes to you dressed as a choice. And it is a choice, yes. But it is not a legitimate choice. Your brain doesn’t push suicide into the same “it could never work out” scope. You know it will work. There is no risk of failure. And in that, nothing to gain.

All of those choices that you have assumed lead to shit, they are all rooted in your current situation. Your job, your love and happiness, your loss and mistakes and hurt. Suicide addresses none of that. It just takes the “you” out of everything. The problems don’t disappear. The people don’t go away. Suicide seems like a solution, but it can’t be. There is no problem solved or addressed. It is out of scope.

It’s ugly, trying to look straight into your own illogic.

I do know this: If it all seems hopeless, if suicide seems to be one of your choices, then what is the harm in at least trying one of the things that is destined to fail? You can always kill yourself later. The suicide choice is not a moment of opportunity, it’s an absolute.

So that ran through my head the other day, when I had shifted from lottery-fantasy to despair, to really thinking that I had no choices. I had to stop myself, my brain, and ask myself why in the hell I was seriously thinking about something like suicide and NOT seriously thinking about doing something about my problems.

In my work, I often receive packages of cluttered, jumbled information, usually as PowerPoint slides. Then I’m supposed to dissect them and reconstruct them into something that makes sense. Blow it all up and create something clean.

Every one of those projects starts with a moment of dread. It’s just too much, too convoluted. There’s no way to wrap my head around all of it. It’s hopeless.

Then I come back to it. Read through a few slides. Start taking a few notes. Nibble away, bit by bit. Tiny clicks. Moments. Mini-solutions. There is no cloud-bursting beam of illumination. There is no instant satisfaction. But I work through it, and it is no longer impenetrable.

There are options. And those options are rooted in taking the time to think about your problems and chip away, in any way. No lottery windfall. No rocket to oblivion. No grand solution. Just work.

And the thing is, I don’t even play the damned lottery.


Saturday, July 19th, 2014

I bought a six-pack of tall Schlitz cans as a sort of research endeavor. The beer pops up throughout a novel I’ve been finishing, in the late-editing stages. The book takes place in the mid-80s, so I figured that Schlitz would be nice touch, and the name is just so unbeatable. Then I started seeing it show up here and there, general cultural references throughout the last couple years, and now it seems about as uniquely comedic as PBR. So I decided the better move would be to buy a little, activate the “spirits journalist” side of me. Yes, I have actually been paid to drink a bunch of alcohol and write, in great and accurate detail, about what the hell is happening inside my mouth.

Today’s Schlitz is a revival of a pre-80s recipe. After a bit of research (which I should have done before writing the damned novel), I found that they screwed up the flavor some time in the early 80s, and it basically killed the brand. So now I’m drinking my way back in time. Really.

This is the taste of childhood. It’s the taste of that first sip of my dad’s beer, out on a family camping trip, sitting around the fire and the marshmallows and the warm, exhausted feeling of having played in the woods and the sand all day. Honesty, singularity of purpose.

We all miss it, and I have met very few people who have been able to hold onto it. Some of us have been able to come around full circle and rediscover it, the child, the purity. I’m not going to say it goes into “innocence,” because kids don’t stay very innocent. They are devious and secretive, destructive. But they still tend to be honest to their own tendencies. They haven’t built the layers of behavior and reaction that can push us into becoming an extrapolation of who we really are.

I’m speaking of myself, here. Extrapolation, distance from origin, confusion of intent. This has been a major focus for me, to recognize my actions and understand the origin of intent. It’s dirty work, and it’s very much in progress. And, in that progress, I’ve hurt people. It’s not good.

Still, I’m recognizing reactivity and the way that it drives my actions. That is, a reaction doesn’t always have a clear connection to deliberate intent. I’ve been very reactive lately, depressed at times, even fatalistic as if watching a string of dominoes, having no idea where or how they started falling. And there’s a madness in that, in trying to dig up the origins of the reactions and understand them. An instrument can have a hell of a time trying to operate on itself.

Today, though, driving all over Chicago with the windows down, Rush and Bob Mould cranking, cruising through my first neighborhood, I started to think outside of the dominoes. Yes, there are reactions and cascades of emotion and despair. But within that turmoil, I’m never taking the time to ask myself what I actually want. And I’ve found that to be a profound and very difficult question: What do you want?

I don’t know the answer. Not at all. But that’s at least a better place to start, instead of getting carried away with my own drama, forgetting that I am still a person who has free will, that the moment I am living in is now, right now.

So: I decided that I wanted a Schlitz.

And I remember my dad, remember the simple sweetness of our camping trips. I do what we often do when we’ve had a few tall ones. We remember the people who mattered to us, the ones who are gone. The ones who are still here.