Jealousy and Confusion

I’m almost always excited when I see people I know succeed. It’s gratifying to see people I’ve worked with, people I’ve learned from, people I’ve mentored, or even people I’ve influenced become successful in their own way. It’s also great to see people who I’ve looked up to be successful. In some cases, they were already doing well for themselves when I heard of them. In other cases, that person was as anonymous as me when I first met them, but they’ve made something of themselves. It’s an awesome thing to see.

Yet, for some reason I cannot fully explain or comprehend, I find myself jealous of that success. Instead of solely being happy for my friend or colleague, I’m wishing that I had received that book deal or that I been the one to get that promotion — even if their triumph was in an area that has little to nothing to do with what I’m good at doing or what I enjoy doing.

As a kid, I wanted to be a lot of different things when I grew up (as most kids are wont to do). At various points, I wanted to be a history teacher, a pro football player, a race car driver, an author, and a famous musician. Somewhere in there, around the age of 11 or so, I wanted to be a professional wrestler. The urge to be a wrestler didn’t last any longer than the other things that I wanted to be when I grew up[1], but it sticks out to me as an adult because of how vividly I had thought things through. I was going to go wrestle for the WWF, where my ring name would be the Juke Box Hero — an odd cross between early 1990s Randy Savage and HBK-era Shawn Michaels —  and my finishing move would be a knee drop from the top turnbuckle. My dad even got mad at me when I broke my brother’s bed by performing said knee drop on one of my pillows. My entrance music? Clearly already picked out for me.

I obviously didn’t become a pro wrestler[2]. I have zero regrets about not being one either. But I think the appeal to that childhood ambition was to be noticed. When you’re in the wrestling ring, the focus is, by its very nature, on you. The better you and your opponent are at putting on a show and telling a story, the more the crowd cares about what you have to say. Professional wrestling is just as much about story telling as it is feats of athletic prowess. Just don’t tell that to pre-teen me.

As an adult, I’ve learned that I don’t always want the spotlight on me. In an age of social media panic, every action we take is judged and misjudged until the meaning is largely lost. Yet that same technology is also the technology that allowed me to get what I had to say out to the masses — be that this blog, my book, my podcast, or just the random bullshit I spouted off for whatever reason.

I know these people I see around me being successful are becoming that way because they’re working their asses off. I know I do the same — just not to the same extent. It’s not to say I don’t try hard. I definitely try hard and I definitely care a ton about the creative work I create. If I could be someone who just creates meaningful content for a living, be that my own work or something educational like Crash Course, that would be the ideal job situation for me.

Yet I haven’t completely found the thing that moves me so much that I want to create content about that thing and nothing more. I haven’t found that idea that sparks me to want to develop that pro wrestling persona that I thought up as a child (or at least its adulthood applicable equivalent). And that fact is both inspiring and depressing. On one hand, I know I have a lot of time to get to the point where I am inspired. Yet, on the other hand, I know the longer that inspiration goes unfound, the harder it’ll be for me to act upon it.

Adult responsibilities kill time. There’s only so much time to be had before you have no free time left. And to create quality work, you need time to focus your energy on that work. That means for me, and for many others, if you’re working a full-time job and trying to create creative content, you need some time to unwind. It works out great if you never sleep. That said, I’ve found that sleep deprived content rarely turns out positive.

I want to see my work be successful. I want to achieve some modicum of greatness with my life. I want to make an impact with the work I do. I wouldn’t be jealous of the success of others if I didn’t want these things. I’m just confused as to the direction I need to go.

Expectations

I laid in bed the other night, my mind adrift with thought after thought keeping me from my slumber as I simultaneously stared off into space, pondering the answer to one simple question.

Why do our expectations — or society’s expectations — not match reality?

I thought of numerous ways to address this question. Some were elegant, some were blunt. Others were passive and sarcastic, yet others direct and rage-fueled. No matter how many ways I went about attacking the question, I never quite came to the same end result. Was this, perhaps, a simple question without a simple answer? Was I wrong to seek out a silver bullet to explain human actions and behaviors, particularly in a time where we are so divided as humans?


In December of 2015, YouTuber and podcaster Gaby Dunn wrote an article on Fusion.net titled “Get rich or die vlogging: The sad economics of internet fame“. The article covers the unfortunate realities of being internet famous, particularly the large divide between the public perception of those who are internet famous versus their own reality. Unless you’re one of the top content creators on the internet, there’s a good chance you’ve got another job to help you make ends meet. When that job is in a public place like a restaurant, internet celebrities are forced to deal with questions about why they’re working there at all.

There was a particular line in the article that really hit home for me, even though I’m nowhere remotely close to being internet famous. It was as follows.

YouTubers are allowed to have struggled in the past tense, because overcoming makes us brave and relatable. But we can’t be struggling now or we’re labeled “whiners.” – Gaby Dunn

I have this inherent guilt somewhere deep inside me that comes up more often than I’d like to admit. It’s almost always around when I’m trying to publicize my book, regardless of whether it’s for the charity drive going on now or for profit otherwise. It’s this nagging feeling yelling at me to shut up. To stop asking people to buy my book. To stop asking for their help in sharing. If people want my work badly enough, they’ll come to me for it. There’s no need to try to push my creations on them.

I know where this feeling comes from, I think. Asking for help is to show weakness, or so it was ingrained in my mind from a young age. If you ask for help, you’re a charity case. No one likes a charity case. No one wants to hear you whine. If you can’t succeed for yourself — BY YOURSELF — then you have no one to blame but yourself. Involving other people only runs the risk of dragging them down along the way.


In May of this year, shortly after I found out the publisher that had signed on to publish my book was going out of business, I traded emails back and forth with Kat Argo, who had very kindly offered to help me figure out what in the hell I was doing self-publishing. In one of our emails, she made a comment essentially suggesting that I shouldn’t have high expectations for the sales of my book.

I knew she was right. I was (and still largely am) an unknown author writing in a relatively saturated genre. My book, while decently written, wasn’t perfect. If I could do it over again, I would have worked to be more inclusive in my writing — perhaps by explicitly calling out which characters were persons of color or minorities rather than leaving it up to the readers to assign race in some situations. There were things I had done well and things I had not done so well. My only marketing was word of mouth and even that has its limitations.

Yet, I was optimistic. There were a few people rooting for me to do well. There were a few others — albeit a significantly lesser number — not only wanting me to do well, but believing that this book would become a success. Their words made me hopeful that Kat would be wrong…that the reality of being an author would not match the pragmatic expectations being set before me.

It’s too early to determine if my book will become a long-term success. It’s evident five months in that the book most certainly is not a short-term success. The book is relatively well reviewed on both Goodreads and Amazon. Most of those who have read the book and have shared feedback have been optimistic. But turning what was months and years of hard work into a published book was the easy part. Selling it and marketing it — two skills that I not only objectively lack, but that I’m objectively terrible at — is the hard part.


We have a tendency as humans to seek out those similar to us. The similarity we seek is not the same from social group to social group. Whether it’s race, economic class, religion, sexual orientation, sports fandom, subcultures, or some sort of clique, humans are a tribal people by nature. We will look for some way to feel like we belong.

When we see someone or something in our tribe that we don’t like or that differs from our social norm, we retract, like a tortoise head into its shell. While those in our group will try to distance themselves from that act of difference — particular if that action was harmful — those outside of the group often use it as a way to build an us versus them mentality.

“State U.’s fans are saying something bad about my team, State Tech! Their fans are terrible people!”

“This movie character who I share a defining trait with is actually the bad guy in this story due to actions that have nothing to do with said defining trait! The director is a terrible person who shouldn’t make movies ever again!”

“Her skin color/gender/religion is different than what I identify as superior (read: my own)! Throw them out of this country and build a wall so they can’t get back in!”

I’ve found it very difficult to talk to my family about my book. Unless they’ve found out through their own means — which seems unlikely as most of my family are the type of people to mention something that gets on their nerves — the majority of my family doesn’t even know I’ve written a book. I think I’m okay with that.

I’m not sure though. The book itself deals with topics that were considered to be taboo growing up. Whether its race, sexuality (whether it be homosexuality, bisexuality, or just pre-marital sex), mental illness, or the use of religion as a driver of fear, there’s a lot of topics in the book that would create awkward silences at Thanksgiving dinner if people knew I wrote about them.

On one hand, I should have done a better job of addressing more issues in my book. On the other hand, am I really doing enough with my writing if the people I know are going to be the most against what I have to say don’t know I’m saying it? Is it my responsibility to market my book, sell my book, and break down the cultural silos that have developed between me and my family? The same silos that have developed across America only to lead to an overtly bigoted individual getting elected to the highest public office in the land.


You can suffer for your success. You just can’t let anyone see it. That what the internet wants. That’s what social media wants. That’s what society wants. They just want to see the feel good story at the end. They don’t care about the shit you had to go through to get there. Just give them the end product.

That’s not reality. Those aren’t the expectations we should have as a society. It’s hard work to be successful. It’s hard work to make yourself into something. And if you, society, can’t handle the fact that I get a little (or a lot) down on myself when things aren’t going well, that’s a you problem, not a me problem.

That said…it’s a problem I can’t get out of my head. It doesn’t go away. No one set these expectations.

Chai Tea and Other Clear and Present Dangers to Society

I don’t remember when chai tea[1] became a thing in the USA. A quick Google and Wikipedia search gave me no help beyond “in recent years”, however I have an educated guess, at least as to when I first heard about it. I recall first hearing about this drink that everyone kept referring to as chai tea shortly after I went to college. I wasn’t a big tea drinker by any means. My mom occasionally made chamomile tea for my brother and I when we were sick, but between the fact that we didn’t live with my mom and the fact that chamomile is revolting, I didn’t develop a liking for tea.

During my first year of college, I lived on the same floor as a girl named Amy[2] who I had multiple Spanish classes with. Amy and I regularly spent time in her dorm room studying[3] for class. As Amy was an avid tea drinker, this lead to her often offering me tea. Though I politely declined a few times, eventually I started having a cup every now and again. My usual fare was raspberry or Earl Grey, but Amy almost always had a tea she referred to as masala chai. In one of the very few conversations my mom and I had during my college years, I asked her about this tea, only to learn that masala chai was the same thing that most people around me — including my mom — regularly referred to as chai tea.

I was left in a bit of a conundrum mentally. Amy’s tea smelled really good. Since I was still relatively new to liking tea, I preferred to play it safe with the teas I liked, however based on smell alone, I figured that chai was a tea that I’d like. On the other hand, I’d regularly heard both sides of my black coffee drinking, eat the same meals for life family talking about how chai tea wasn’t just bad. No. Chai tea was part of a foreigner conspiracy to tear apart what it means to be American.

I can’t recall exactly who in my family said those words. I have my guesses, but names are better left unsaid when a ten-year-old memory is fuzzy. But I do remember the sentiment coming up more than once. This benign drink — one that smelled really good — was as dangerous to my American identity now as communism was in the 1980s[4], hippie counterculture was in the 1960s, and alcohol was in the late 1920s.

Of course, chai isn’t going to destroy America. That’s just silly. I had a wonderful chai tea latte from Panera a few weeks ago. No one died[5]. I also had black coffee with my breakfast this morning. It was lovely too. I knew I liked black coffee when I was studying with Amy. I didn’t know I liked chai tea. And the reason I didn’t know was because I was afraid to try it, afraid to be associated with something that my family didn’t approve of, and most of all, afraid to open up to something that was not like the drinks I had grown up consuming.

I graduated in a class of 140 students. Of those students, 137 were white America, 2 were of South Korean descent (though still American), and 1 was an exchange student from Norway. I was not surrounded by diversity of race nor by diversity of religion. Political diversity was a little more existent in my school, though most students — myself included — held opinions that where extremely conservative and extremely driven by both the molding of our parents and a religious upbringing. While there were some[6] who treated every with love, care, and compassion, these political and religious views were often combined with views that blended racism, sexism, homophobia, and nationalism into a belief system that was not only considered to be acceptable, but in some cases encouraged. While I didn’t agree with every opinion that was taught to me, I vividly recall being in speech class and debating against a female student on the topic of abortion. My argument, pro-life, was one that I believed in not because I went to church regularly or because I was particularly religious, but because that what I had learned was right.

College was an eye-opening experience for me. My asshole roommate[7] was a hard-partying, extremely liberal guy who enjoyed Guitar Hero and cheap beer a bit too much. The two guys that lived across the hall from us were from affluent suburbs of Detroit and Chicago. Had they come around me in high school, I likely would have considered them thuggish or worse. After a few days around them, I learned that they were nice guys who wanted to become a journalist and a police officer. A girl who lived down the hall from Amy was a student from Iran who had come to the US to study business. Last I knew, she had moved to the US, become a US citizen, and is happy married to her wife. High school me would have formed so many ill-advised opinions about her that it makes my head hurt.

I’ve changed a lot in the past ten years. According to Political Compass, I test at a -5.25, -6.1 now[8], though inputting answers that would best reflect 18-year-old me, I test at a -1.0, 4.0[9]. But regardless of how my political views have changes, there’s a few things I’ve learned that matter more than anything else.

  1. Everyone should be treated equally…and that treatment should be filled with respect and compassion.
  2. If someone is different from you — be that in their looks, their beliefs, their practices, or some other way — you’ll get farther if you work to understand their point of view than if you hole up in your own.
  3. If we cannot do the first two things on this list, we cannot grow as people.

The other day, I was texting with a member of my family asking if they had watched the third and final presidential debate. In my discussion, I was making a plea with my family member that supporting a candidate who is racist, sexist, nationalist, and does not support the peaceful transition of power following an election is not a good thing. In the next two texts, our discussion went from civil, though heated, discourse to full on Godwin’s Law when my family member told me that Hillary is literally Hitler reincarnated and that she’s going to repeal the Constitution to make herself queen.

On one hand, I shouldn’t have been surprised. This is the same person in my family who spent the first six years of Obama’s presidency referring to the President as “President Kunta Kinte”. But on the other hand, it hurt — really bad — to see/hear someone I had grown up around…someone who had helped me to shape the person that I am today…continue to show such hate in their speech. It made me feel like I had failed in some way because I had not been able to bring the compassion and openness I’ve been learning to have for others to my family. I also know that somewhere in my mind — somewhere in a deep, dark place I hope to never see again — those behavioral patterns and early-life teachings are still in there.

I ended the conversation without saying another word to the person in question. I sat in my office and I cried a little bit. I felt hurt to be associated, even indirectly, with such an angry opinion. And to hear it come from someone who typically was one of the more rational people in my family[10]…was there hope for me? Would I revert back to these base lessons that I was taught at a young age and go back to believing that my kind was superior to those around me?

I bounced this quandary off of a co-worker/close friend. While she didn’t say much beyond the fact that it happens to her too, she managed to get me thinking about why it’s critical for us to call out clear and present dangers to our society, but to do so in a respectful manner. A clear and present danger is not something like masala chai…or sour cream, no matter how vile of a taste it is.

What is a clear and present danger is when people act in a manner that demeans someone because of their race, sexuality, gender, national origin, or some other difference they have. What is a clear and present danger is using a belief that a specific characteristic, be that your race, environment, social class, religion, or something else, makes you distinctly and completely more of a person than your neighbor. What is a clear and present danger to our society is hate.

We can and we must act with compassion to those around us, even those who we disagree with. If we fail to do that, the hate will only continue to grow. And then it wins.

Shades of Darkness

“Am I a friend or foe – or a little of each? Are the important things black and white, or maybe a little gray?”  – Svetlana Chmakova, Witch & Wizard: The Manga, Vol. 1

On September 11, 2001, I was 13 years old. I was sitting in my eighth grade English class when the first plane struck the World Trade Center in New York City. I know this, not because I saw the destruction and horror first hand on television like so many others did that terrible day. I know this because it was at that time our middle school principal came around to all of the classrooms and pulled the teachers out of class to tell them what was going on. They were under orders to discuss nothing with their students, but to know that all after school activities were being cancelled, and that parents may be picking up their kids early. I only know this because our algebra teacher felt we were “adult enough to discuss current events” and shared what happened. Since algebra was my last class of the day, the first time I heard about the events around the country was nearly six hours after they had begun.

In the aftermath of that day, I began to hear a pair of words I’d only in limited amounts prior to the day itself. Those words “Islam” and “Muslim” were said regularly, first as qualifiers to help explain what happened on September 11th, then as derogatory terms with connotations that anyone who followed the religion was a terrible human being.

I was torn on the subject. On one hand, what little I’d read about non-Christian/Jewish religions in my social studies textbooks seemed like followers of the Islamic faith were people just like me, only with a different, though similar, belief system. On the other hand, I had my mom preaching to me from infancy onward that anyone who wasn’t Christian needed God to come to them…and that it was my responsibility as a Christian to show them the way by any means necessary.

Looking back on my youth, I realize that allowing myself to struggle with whether or not someone practices Islam is inherently bad[1] was more a product of the environment I lived in than anything else. My mom made every effort to shelter my bother and I from other cultures, races, religions, and belief systems. While my dad didn’t make the same sheltering efforts, he also didn’t exactly encourage us to go out and learn about the world. For me, it took going off to college and learning[2] that the world wasn’t just WASPs. My opinions and beliefs have changed — in some cases rather drastically — from the opinions and beliefs that I was raised to have.

As I have become more educated, as I have become exposed to a greater diversity of cultures and religions, and as I have allowed myself to work to understand the political ideologies of a broader range of people, I’ve realized a great many things. Above all else, I have realized that no one group of people is perfect and blameless and that no one group of people is completely corrupt and evil.

We have our disagreements as human beings. We can hold differences of opinion. Those opinions can be over minor items. For example, I hold the opinion that Taylor Swift’s music isn’t very good. I personally don’t like her music or find it pleasing. That said, record sales and concert attendance show that many, many people disagree with me on this item. And you know what? That’s fine. They’re allowed to.

Likewise, disagreements can come on more important or politically sensitive items too. I support the ability for members of the LGBT community to marry someone of the same sex, if that is the person that they choose to marry. I recognize that many people in my family, as well as many others around the country, disagree with this opinion. While I would love it if those who hold contrary opinions to mine on this topic would change their mind and become more accepting of someone else’s love, I also realize that it is not my place to tell someone that they need to change their mind.

Living in Northeast Ohio means that I get to be front and center to the Republican National Convention this week, wherein the Republican Party is expected to name Donald Trump their nominee for president. While the GOP’s platform hasn’t fully been voted on at the time I’m writing this[3], the platform is set to include items like a border wall with Mexico, the declaration of pornography as a public health crisis, barring women from serving in the military, and going back to the “traditional”[4] definition of marriage. Rhetoric used in the party platform plays on the fear of those who are already well entrenched in a similar set of belief systems. While the Democratic Party platform has not yet been released, don’t be shocked if whatever items they take a social stance on are given similar fear-inducing wording in the platform.

That fucking frightens me.

What politics is doing, particularly in America, but also around the world, is creating an Us vs. Them mentality. If your political viewpoint wins, the good guys have won. If your political viewpoint loses, the evil empire has triumphed. And though, yes, there is good and evil in the world to some extent, when politics are made the main driving force behind culture over compassion and altruism, we create our own divides where none previously existed.

There is not one group of people — not a single solitary one — in the entire world that is perfectly free of blame. Not Republicans. Not Democrats. Not whites. Not blacks. Not Latinos. Not Asians. Not men. Not women. Not heterosexuals. Not the LGBT community. Not Christians. Not Jews. Not Muslims. Not Taoists. Not Hindus. Not Americans. Not Mexicans. Not Germans. Not Russians. Not muggles. Not wizards. Not sports fans. Not bookworms. Not any group I’ve neglected to mention or even think of. Not you. Not me. Not anyone. Literally[5] no one is perfect.

Everyone has skeletons in their closet. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has fucked up and everyone can work with those around us in an effort to create a better world.

The problem lies in actions that go on one of two extremes of the same mentality. The first I’ve discussed at lengthy already above — the use of fear to exclude, persecute, and hate others. When you ignore the opinions and beliefs of others because you do not wish to expose yourself, your family, and your world to them, you’re only harming the long-term growth of our society. This goes both ways. It’s why if I ever have children, they’ll still meet and interact with the members of my family whose political and religious views are vastly different than mine. By educating ourselves about others and doing so in a manner that is objective, rational, and open-minded, we allow our society to continue to move toward a more progressive society.

At the same time, we cannot assume that everyone whose opinions we agree with or whose beliefs are blameless or incapable of doing something wrong. I remember numerous people who hold Christian beliefs saying that there was no possible way that Robert Lewis Dear could have actually been a Christian when he killed numerous people in Colorado Springs. To say that any religion, political ideology, race, sexual orientation, or any other identifier you can think of lacks a single person capable of horrific crimes, excessive violence, sociopathic actions, or general hatred is a foolish assumption. It’s uncomfortable to think about and it might make you upset. But it’s reality.

You know what else is reality? You don’t have to be that person. You can be the change that brings the world together. Perhaps you can’t do it by yourself. But with enough compassionate, kind, and altruistic people in the world, those many shades of darkness we see all over the news every day will begin to fade away. We’ll likely never have a perfect world — but we can take actions to make our world a better place for everyone, even those we don’t agree with.

100 Posts, Quiet Sounds, and Trying to Revive My Writer

Today’s post marks number 100 since TTW started last year. I’m frankly a bit surprised that this post snuck up on me the way that it did. Hell, I didn’t even realize I was close to 100 posts until I was sitting at home the day before Labor Day, happened to look at my posts and thought ‘hey, I only need 2 more posts for 100…that’s neat’. Blogging has been one of the furthest things from my mind lately.

As I talked about Monday, I’ve had pneumonia over the past week, so that took me out for a bit. Catching up with work around that wasn’t exactly fun, and apartment searching was even less so — though that might be a bit better saved for another post. The closest I’d gotten to caring about blogging was trading off tweets with Bloglovin’s Twitter account where I called them out for being biased against adult language, they asked how, I told them, and they they never answered me again. Not that I’d expect any less from Bloglovin, but that’s not the point.

It’s been quiet around this blog lately as well. REALLY quiet. Quiet to the point where I’ve briefly considered shutting this blog down from time to time((Or at the very least going back to a non-self-hosted website.)). I’m not going to for various reasons, but the thought has crossed my mind. It’s a very surreal feeling, not knowing if I want to be blogging. I’ve written blogs in some capacity off and on since I was 17, and I’m nearing my 28th birthday this year. It’s not necessarily that I’ve become tired of blogging. Perhaps I’m just running out of things to write about. Perhaps my inner writer has gone quiet.

That thought itself — that my inner writer has gone quiet — worries me a bit too. The publishing process for my book has taken A LOT longer than I would have expected, though that could be due to nothing more than naivety on my part. Even so, I’ve had a handful of really good writing related ideas, some fiction writing related and some not, that I haven’t been able to bring myself to write. The sad part is that I know that at least one of those ideas((One of the fiction writing ones.)) is a really good story idea, and yet I feel too…something…to write it. I don’t know if it’s a too tired, too stressed, too fatigued, too apathetic, too something else or everything at once. Regardless, I can’t put pen to paper and that saddens me.

I may try writing some short stories on this blog in the near future, just to see if it helps me out. No promises. After all, I’m not exactly sure what I’d write about at a short story level. That said, I’ve already written 100 posts for this blog and have yet to get another good story started since the first one went up. What’s the worst it could do?