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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Five hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes.

Like Christmas I'm not a big fan of New Year's Eve. I don't get the purpose of going out getting drunk and kissing whoever is around (although this year I am happy to be kissing a very special somebody). Sure it's only once a year and it's a big deal because it's the end of a decade (although wouldn't next year be the end of the decade?) and all that, but is tomorrow any different because you write down a different date? It's not the celebration of the New Year that bothers me so much as people's idea that somehow because it is a new year tomorrow everything is going to be different. I'm pretty sure that as rational adults we all realize there is no such thing as Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Bogey Man, Superman, etc. So why do we believe in the New Year Fairy? Some magical entity that will sprinkle glittery dust on our lives and poof everything is all right. It sounds nice and I'd like to believe this, but I simply cannot. I do not make new years resolutions to loose weight, quite bad habits, go for some goal that I've thought about for months, but did not have the ambition to go after. I do not need a special day of the year to get drunk and party only to sleep all day tomorrow, wake up hungover and realize that I'm not going to do any of these things just because it is a new year. The only tradition I can appreciate on New Years Eve is reflection and therefore instead of making a list of things that I can change in my life on ANY given day I will reflect on the past year of my life.

A year ago I was leaving the Marine Corps. My office was packed. My apartment was packed. My life was packed in neat boxes locked up in a storage unit right outside of base. I left for Central and South Florida on January 1st then ventured on to Peru. I saw the Everglades, the rainforest, The Amazon, Machu Picchu, cloud forest, the Panama Canal, and much more. I came back and traveled around California tasting wine and visiting friends and family. I spent a week packing up my dear friend, Beth, in Yuma and helped her leave the Marine Corps. I went to Salvation Mountain in the middle of the desert. I ran more miles than I want to add up. I competed in and finished the NYC marathon. I fell in love. I laughed until I cried. I cried until I laughed. I held my newest nephew (2 weeks old at the time). I hugged my oldest nephew. I saw friends I haven't seen in 5 years and picked up exactly where we left off. I lost friends, made new friends, published essays, wrote more essays, finished a semester of school, drank Guinness on a one-to-one ratio to miles I ran. I stressed about money. I spent money frivolously. I slept more than I have since I was a kid. I slept on more couches than I did beds. I mad mistakes. I said I was sorry. I finished goals. I abandoned some dreams. I missed someone so much it hurts to think about now. I loved someone so much I can't even write the words to express it. I traveled to another hemisphere and I found my way home. I learned things about myself I never expected. I found out things about myself I hate and still try to forgive. It was one hell of a year.

In the musical Rent there is a song titled "Seasons of Love." In this song the cast sing about how you measure the life in a year. They sing that there are five-hundred, twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes in a year. In the novel and movie, Fight Club, the narrator says, "This is your life and it's ending one minute at a time." A couple years ago I saw the writer of Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk, and asked him why he writes. He told me, "I'm going to die. My friends are going to die, but in my stories they live on." He is right and everyday we add to our own stories no matter what four numbers are at the end of the date. So, I don't hope that 2010 will be any better than 2009 (a pretty fucking phenomenal year). I hope that that my health remains, that I get to see my family more often and most importantly that I have the courage to make my dreams and goals happen on any day of the year rather than waiting another 525,600 minutes to make resolutions. On one final note of 2009, in honor of the late Kurt Vonnegut I hope in 2010 anyone who reads this will take this advice: "And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'if this isn't nice, I don't know what is.' " Why not wait until the end of next year to realize everything you want, need or have is all within your grasp.

2010 you have some high expectations to live up to my friend. . . I only hope I find it in myself to make it all happen! To infinity and beyond. . .

Saturday, December 5, 2009

"Things Will Work Out."

Whenever someone has a rough day, or is waiting for good or bad news or for any other reason someone might suffer anxiety we are conditioned to say "Things will work out." So I'm holding my breath trying to wait until Monday, or such and such are back in their office after a holiday break and a lot of other reasons my life is basically on hold and everyone says to me, "It'll all work out." What if it doesn't? What if things are out of our control and there is nothing we can do about it? What do you say when all that is left is to admit defeat? Sometimes it doesn't just conveniently work out ... oh wait, for those with good attitudes who work hard everything will unfold like the Full House Christmas special. Bust out the hot cocoa, friends and relax knowing it will work out. For those of us who apparently have sinned in a former life I ask you when do you admit defeat? At what point do people stop telling you it will work out and to get over it and move on? How long should one hold their breath in hopes that there's an off chance that things might actually go well for you for once? I'm running out of oxygen. I don't know how much more longer I can hold my breath. I'm drowning and what if things simply don't work out? Then what?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Final Thoughts on Action Vs Attitude

Buddha was correct. Life is suffering. How we handle the suffering through our actions, not our attitudes is what will change the world. In my adult lifetime I have watched one leader’s incompetency lead the American people to hold their breath in hope for for the next leader. Obama was elected on the campaign slogan of “Hope.” Now, America has taken that hope and turned it into the attitude that Obama can change the world. Some people are pleased with his actions some are not, but the common people are not stepping up to the plate to do anything about it either way. My generation is known for their apathy. We have taken the tradition of letting the government take care of things and as long as we vote we have done our part. Our apathy is forcing us to give up basic civil rights like health care and the freedom to assemble. Our laziness is letting this happen. Someday when we have given up all the freedoms that our country was founded on we will line up along Main Street and point our fingers at the government once again. This time we will blame the new leaders for riding on our wave of hope and destroying us. None of us will see that it was our lazy attitude, our lackadaisical approach to politics, our inability to not eat McDonalds and buy crap at Wal-Mart just to buy crap at Wal-Mart that forced our government to change our health care, bail out the common man, take away our constitutional freedoms because we did not want the responsibility that came with these freedoms. The world is changing and rather than be blindly be a part of it I recommend you educate yourself, fight for our freedoms, take on the responsibility that they entail and have hope in yourself rather than someone else to do your part in making the world a better place.

The Last Living Optimist.

Life is suffering.


This morning I woke up and checked my email like I do every morning. There was an email from my older brother, who rarely emails me, with the subject “reminder.” I was curious what I had apparently forgotten and opened it up to this message:

Be the change you want to see in the world.-Gandhi

Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path…and leave a trail.-Thoreau

If you wake up convinced your going to have a bad day…you’ll never disappoint yourself. Just a reminder as we go into the holiday season. You can’t change what the world throws at you; you can only change your attitude. Some people will have things much easier than you, other will have it much worse…but ultimately you are accountable for how you rise up and face each challenge despite how it ranks in the grand scheme of things.

Its how normal everyday people can go charging into the face of danger and staggering adversity with a smile, and how a one person moves a mountain and triumphs against all odds. Are they just that much more gifted, lucky, blessed?

It is attitude, and that’s one thing you have 100% control over. So take a deep breath, and no matter how much it hurts the muscles, force a smile and give thanks for the ability that even though we can’t necessarily control our own destiny; we can control how we feel about it.

Now, I normally hate forwards of this nature anyways, but this particular message on this particular day particularly pissed me off.

First off – Consumerism. I hate the holiday season. It brings out the best in some people and the worst in all people. Everyone rushes to the stores to fight over cheap plastic toys made in China and dipped in lead paint. Too often I see people who are living outside of their means and trying to keep up with the Joneses by buying crap that they don’t need, don’t want and are purchasing merely because it is marketed so that they think the ignorant consumer thinks he/she is getting a good deal. And we wonder how we wound up in such an economic crisis?! It is disgusting. I work my ass off to pay off my school loans while these same slobbering pigs take out multiple credit cards to buy shit at Wal-Mart and then claim bankruptcy and America will bail them out because they are the hard workers that live on Main Street. Maybe there’s something to the work ethic of those who made it to Wall Street and manage to keep themselves out of the crazy credit card debt that seems to plague Main Street.

Secondly, I can’t afford to go home for the holidays. Now, this doesn’t mean I’d travel if I could afford it because traveling over the holidays is about as enjoyable as getting a Brazilian bikini wax. We live in a society where people are self absorbed. We don’t help the old lady get down the cramped airplane aisle, we push her out of the way while cussing her out for being slow. I have people I spend my holidays with even though I’d rather sit at home alone watching movies that represent the wonderful human spirit that we celebrate this time of year. I think Wall-E is appropriate.

Thirdly, I’m not religious. The holidays hold no value to me whatsoever except a day off work. Only I no longer work so it’s a day like any other day with no significance at all.

Fourth, Gluttony. I try to eat healthy. However, I eat an apple a day to feed my stomach as much as I do to feed my absolute fear of gaining weight. I wouldn’t call 911 on me for any eating disorders yet, but the holiday smorgasbords of sugar and fat give me panic attacks like they give Uncle Lardo heart failure.

So back to my big brother’s email. Fuck holiday spirit. If we all had holiday spirit would we need to forward emails about keeping basic manners during this time of year in the first place?

Now, on to attitude. I try to look for the silver lining in life. I really do try. I think it’s my genuine effort to find the silver lining that in the end fails me. The world loves to squish the dreams of the few true optimists there are left.

Oh attitude. Like in Luke’s email you decide how your day is going to go when you wake up. I woke up yesterday excited to start the day. I had finally finished my thesis paper for grad school and was getting ready to start my final semester. It’s a two year program and it’s already taken me two and a half years to get this far because of a deployment to Iraq and trip to South America. I was excited to prepare for my last semester that starts in a week. However, life has that funny way of ruining your day. For the last two and a half years of my life every single semester starts like this:

Registrar’s office: Dear MFA student, you are not registered or enrolled in classes because you haven’t paid.

Libby to Registrar’s office: Dear school, I can’t pay until you send the VA my registration information so I can get GI Bill money to pay my tuition.

Every semester. So, I have learned to anticipate this. The school has not. Just over a week before classes start I find myself in the same conundrum only this time it is the Post 9/11 GI Bill. In the school’s defense the VA has had a plethora of problems since it was activated the new bill last fall. So, it might not be the school or my fault, but fault of the VA. But this is silly, pointing the finger gets us nothing in life except the culprit of the stinky fart. This morning I decided to move on in life. I am not holding my breath that things will or won’t work out. I don’t care. I could finish my degree for the prestige that having a masters degree would get me, but if I don’t I still have the tools if not the qualifying documentation. In short I am completely defeated today. Things are out of my power to change so fuck it. I just don’t care anymore. I will move forward expecting my day to progressively get worse. And so fate has killed the last living optimist.

I grew up in a world of rainbows and butterflies. My parents looked on the brighter side of life, even if the brighter side was a bit abstract. When things went to hell my dad would always say, “Everyday we take a bite out of life’s shit sandwich. Some days it’s a little bite and some days it’s the whole damn sandwich.” Truer words had never been spoken until my sister recently informed me that we are the people lined up at the all you can eat shit buffet.

I can’t recall a particular event that led the rest of my family to believe that life is suffering and changing your attitude only prolongs the suffering until the day you realize it really is just suffering and you have been living a facade. However, until now I kept on believing things would indeed one day get better. I went through the Marine Corps with this blind hope. I took on each school and duty station with the sincere belief that things would work out now. They had to, there’s no way things could possibly get worse! Unfortunately I left the Marine Corps with no respect for most of the men and women I served alongside with and a lot of respect for the few honest men and women who put up with the bull shit so they can proudly wear the uniform.

Each unit I went my fellow servicemen got progressively more self-centered, more vindictive and all in all simply bad people. I left because I wanted to hold onto what little hope I still had in the human race. To me a group of men and women who take the same oath to defend our constitution should work together, but 99% of them waged war within the unit rather than our perceived enemy. And even more unfortunate 99% of them teamed together to wage war against those who didn’t drink their kool-aid brewed of discontent.

I left and yet things aren’t getting any better. I watch war unfold on CNN with the constant fear that I will be called back. I will honor my commitment to the Corps and proudly serve against my reservations I now have about the wars if this happens. I try to have a good attitude. I try to believe in the good of the human race, but apathy, laziness, incompetency of my fellow Americans make this hard. I watch as the government slowly seizes our constitutional rights and nobody does anything about it because it is easier not to fight. I try to look on the bright side of life because going through life knowing things will get worse with no hope at all will make you bitter and jaded – like my older sister. However, it was recently (just this morning) I realized why I am the last living optimist and my sister was the second to last. It has nothing to do with the events of your life or the attitude you take. It has to do with where your path is to begin with.

Like my experiences in the Marine Corps I go through life with the absolute blind faith that things could be better. I have spent my whole life thinking that my actions could lead me to this better world where I could live a better life. People with better attitudes just think their mindset can lead them down a sunnier path. I think it’s the path itself that is in the wrong location. My path is stuck in monsoon season. No matter how sunshiny I go through life it will always rain. My only hope is to change my path altogether. This is going to be difficult. Everyone else lives in normal clients where they get rainstorms only on occasion and can make it through holding onto the hope that there might be a rainbow afterwards if they hold their heads up high. They don’t have the difficult challenge of moving their path.

I can change my attitude but it would merely be a temporary fix. The fact that after year after year of living in a monsoon I still dumbly believe that it can get better makes me the last living optimist. Unfortunately, lately it seems my monsoon is teaming up with tsunami’s and I can’t even see the path anymore. My optimism isn’t lost, it’s drowning. But I have a responsibility. I have to find a way to move my path and lead others to do the same. Live by example. Changing my attitude would do little compared to changing my actions. So I move on from Antioch and the VA defeated, but this is just one battle. There are many more to fight. To loose. To win. Instead of going into this holiday season with the perceived good attitude full of holiday cheer I will live the whole year looking for opportunities to help those in need. I will not wait to celebrate the birth of Christ to pass on good will towards men. I will carry it throughout the year. On days that I am down I will look towards the realists, not the optimists to help pull me out of the flood and I will do my duty to the world as the last living optimists to believe this world can be better and it will take more than merely a good attitude to make that happen.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

That time of year again.

I’ve been talking to my older sister on the phone recently and both of us have been suffering from unexplainable depression and anxiety. I think it’s not as unexplainable as it is just that time of year again. I could include statistics about seasonal depression, but that’s boring. Truth is Christmas and all the holiday cheer is the most paralyzing depressive time of the year. I realize that this makes me about as weird as aliens from Mars, but it’s true. Take into account the factors:

Winter – I don’t mind the cold air. Cold air has a way of waking you up and making you feel more alive. What I do mind is the short days. Whoever created daylight savings enjoys watching people suffer. It makes the transition of the shorter days even more intense and miserable. Indiana never recognized daylight savings time until a few years ago, so I can speak from the unique perspective of both sides. When you don’t practice daylight savings time the shortening of days seems much more natural – trust me.

Christmas – Sure, with thanks to marketing it has lost all religious values, but if you don’t believe in Santa or Jesus is there really a reason to celebrate other than good deals at the mall? Seriously. If you are an unemployed atheist how much fun can the Christmas spirit really be?!

New Years – I have personal reasons to hate New Years Eve that I won’t go into detail about on here, but think about it – New Years. It’s the whole glass empty/full conundrum. For me the glass is always empty on New Year’s Eve. Sure you can look at it with all the hope and promise of what next year might bring, but I see the all the failure, disappointment and disillusionment of last year. I am a firm believer that you make your own destiny, but at the same time that destiny is limited by the powers that be. Some people are handed a short straw at birth and no many how many new years and resolutions and dreams and wishes pass – some things are just not meant to be. So, New Years to me represents all the disappointments of the year that passed and putting all my faith and hope into another 365 days seems unreasonable and (in words of my high school band director, Dave Humbert) about as intelligent as running your car into a tree, putting the car in reverse, backing up, putting it back in drive and hitting the tree over and over and over again.

Then the new year hits. . . all the merry merry joy and there are no more significant holidays for awhile (even counting Valentines day - you have to wait 2 months). There is always Groundhog’s Day (my personal favorite holiday) in which all our faith in weather is put into a rodent. This day is more religiously enlightening to me than Christmas.

So, ’tis the mother fucking season for depression, anxiety attacks, not to mention the alcohol consumption increase due to family gatherings (my family excluded in this holiday tradition). Cheers to fighting people at the mall for a spot in line for the hot holiday item. Accidents on black ice and white snow that turns into black slush in the colder parts of the country.

Thank you Jesus for being born, cheers to the Christians who spread across the world like the black plague telling of your goodness in the form of rape, murder, torture and terrorism, and a special cheers to my big sister Megan who is the only pessimist who thinks the world is shittier than I do. Merry Christmas and a shitty new year!