Life Without a Car

Living without a car gives you an entirely new perspective on life.

I’ve heard it been told that in many cities, namely Chicago and New York, you can get around just fine by bus, subway or taxi but in Nashville it’s extremely different.

Everyone here has a car.  Family of 6?  You’ll probably see 6 cars in the driveway.

Between 11-1 P.M. and 4-6 P.M. traffic comes to almost a complete standstill because every square inch of pavement is covered by a car.

Ever since I lost my car (wrecked it, sad to say) I’ve been getting around by bus, uber and walking.  It’s not bad but it is inconvenient and it is expensive.  I find that because of my limited mobility I spend a lot more time at home or doing things in my immediate neighborhood.  I also take a lot of walks and bike rides.  In these ways, not having a car has been positive on my health and my ability to take enjoyment out of the smaller things in my life.  But at the same time it’s made it a lot harder to see people far away from me or check out new places.

I enjoy my pedestrian life, honestly.  But perhaps the most annoying albeit eye-opening part of my situation is the attitude people with cars have towards me.  Numerous times I’ve almost been run over at crosswalks or just walking down the sides of residential roads.  I’ve been yelled at, honked at, thrown trash at all for the sole reason of being a pedestrian.  It’s not like I’m wearing clothing with things like “I’m a Nazi” written on them but I constantly feel like I have a bullseye on my back just for having to walk to get around.  Sadly, it seems like not having a car devalues me as person to some people.  Perhaps they think it’s because I’m lazy, or poor or some kind of degenerate who can’t afford to pay for a personal car like any decent self-reliant American should.  Who knows what goes through these people’s minds but the fact remains being without a car/being a pedestrian carries some kind of prejudice or stigma with it.  Just the other day an older neighbor of mind accosted me for taking a shortcut through her driveway to make it to the bus on time.  I offered her a friendly “Good morning” as she stood in her garage, waiting for her Mercedes to warm up.  Her response, “Are you aware this is a private driveway?”  My desired response was, “No, I thought it was public,” but suppressing my smart-ass attitude for a moment I simply explained that it saved me precious minutes in catching the morning bus to work.  She scowled and gruffly told me to “save myself some more time in the morning.”  Translation:  Go fuck yourself.  She then continued to spend her easily expendable time waiting for her car to warm up.

In this interaction I did nothing to provoke or threaten the woman yet she still treated me with suspicion and hostility.  Something tells me were I to drive a better car than her she might have treated me a little differently.  But because I was there, walking to catch a bus to work, I was somehow untrustworthy, somehow beneath her.  I can only imagine how she would treat a homeless person.

In conclusion, people can be judgmental bastards towards those with less privileges than themselves.  If I’m to be treated differently simply for having no car imagine how awful it is for people who live without even the most basic necessities in this country despite their own concerted efforts to work and take care of themselves.  Step out from behind your tinted windows and treat people with respect.  Wouldn’t you want them to do the same to you?

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Slow and Steady

How to cope with how your anxiety affects others.

I have a question.

Really it’s more of a concern.

Is it better to be completely honest about your anger and depression or try harder to be positive and happy?

On the one hand, refusing to acknowledge inner turmoil has dire consequences.  You can only bottle up those negative emotions for so long before they explode with terrible force, damaging not only yourself but others around you.  Coming to grips with these negative emotions and expressing them truthfully is extremely helpful in preventing explosive episodes.

But who wants to be around someone who dwells in misery and rage?  Being honest about one’s personal issues doesn’t exactly correlate with making new friends.  More often than not you have to maintain a charismatic, positive attitude to get others to want to spend more time with you.  At least initially.

These two attitudes aren’t mutually exclusive, but a balance must be struck in order to cope with the self and others.  Imagine for a moment if, as someone struggling with anxiety and depression, you treated your friends the way you treated yourself, loading them up with all the shame, anger and sadness you inflict upon yourself on a daily basis.  You would be a scourge, a social pariah.  We have to dial back our inner struggles if we wish to attract people’s company.  New friendships are formed on common likes and interests and it is only after extended time together that deeper connections can be formed around common pains and struggles.  Time is essential.

If you, like me, are someone who struggles with anxiety and depression I am not suggesting you cover up your true self.  Always remain aware of who you are no matter what.  But don’t force that raw, unbridled energy of emotional frustration on everyone you meet.  As with any introduction you must gradually express facets of yourself over time until a clear picture takes shape.  After that, whether or not someone decides to keep your company is no longer up to you.  Some people may leave and others might stay but in the long run you will be surrounded by the people who see you for who you truly are and genuinely care for you all the same.

Slow and steady, slow and steady.

Authenticity and Social Darwinism

What does it mean to be authentic?

Perhaps the better question is whether or not we have an innate character/natural-born truth or define ourselves by our own desires, experiences and ambitions.

There is evidence for both.  From the day we are born we exhibit certain qualities that separate us from others.  Some are more talkative and emotional, others are more cooperative and stoic.  As we grow older though our natural characteristics become shaped by our environment.  Perhaps the talkative little girl grew up in a family that reprimanded her constant chatter and made her self-conscious and wary of talking.  Likewise, perhaps the stoic boy grew up in a more emotional household and feels wrong for holding a more logical viewpoint.  Whatever our natural instincts may be, our environment begins to influence our perception of our own behavior for better or for worse.  Our “authentic” self sometimes contradicts with what we want to become.  So is it more authentic to spit in the face of authority and say This is who I am, faults and all, or is it more authentic to become that ambitious version of ourselves and weed out the parts of ourselves we don’t care for?

In the past and even in the present American society glorified the triumphant tale of the impoverished young man or woman who, through sheer force of will and determination, made an empire for themselves.  The classic rags to riches story.  In many of these stories the main character often looked with distaste at their original life, sometimes even eschewing their friends and family in pursuit of their fortune.  In these tales hard work was the vehicle by which one arrived at the top and the poor man’s lighthearted but bleak sense of the randomness of general life was seen as an obstacle to be overcome.  How could our hero blame his family, his neighborhood or even his government for his situation?  The ambitious youngster bound for greatness does not dwell on the chaos of life but sees only a ladder possessed of a natural and fixed order which can be climbed by anyone if only they want it hard enough.  The moral?  Success is a choice and only the weak choose failure.

What does all this have to do with authenticity?

Well, my biggest concern is that once someone accomplishes what they’ve set out to accomplish are they even really the same person they were when they started?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m glad that what we used to think of as “success” is changing.  No longer do we constantly push people to continue climbing the ladder in order to validate themselves.  We encourage our children and our friends to seek out a life and career that gives them a sense of purpose, a sense of authenticity if you will, and find success in that.  On that same note I also think that nowadays we celebrate our natural-born characteristics more than we used to.  We used to think through force of will and therapy everyone could be straight.  Now we acknowledge and celebrate the sexual orientation we are born with.  We used to think hard work could get you anywhere.  Now we acknowledge the systemic roadblocks that make it harder for minorities to succeed on the same merit as whites.  In terms of authenticity, we used to think it was your choice whether to succeed or fail in life.  You were either authentically a wolf or a sheep.  Now we acknowledge that attributes we’ve traditionally ascribed as weak have just as much value as traditionally strong attributes.  You’re not a failure if you choose to avoid climbing the corporate ladder nor should you be worse off for making that decision.  It seems the days of social Darwinism are declining and the days of self-realization are building.  So when it comes to being authentic:  work hard at finding a life that suits you.  And may your path be illuminated by a strong sense of meaning and purpose and not by the idols of wealth and power.

Cover to Cover

The death of the newspaper and the future of journalism.

About 2 months ago I was roped into purchasing a physical subscription to The Tennessean.  For those of you who don’t know, which is probably a good deal, that’s Nashville’s biggest newspaper.  To be honest I had my reservations but the dude pitching it to me seemed liked an honest, hardworking sort and for only $8.00 a month I figured maybe it was worth a shot.  As I mulled over the offer I was reminded of blissful weekend mornings of my childhood reading the comics and pouring over the sports sections with Mom’s home-cooked breakfast — crispy bacon, fluffy, scrambled eggs and toasted English muffins covered in jam.  Sensing my nostalgia or banking on the trend of young people’s affinity for old-timey, obsolete things, the salesman became visibly more confident.  Only $8.00 a month, he reminded me, and I could cancel the subscription at anytime.

After about 6 days of newspapers piling up on my doorstep I realized I had made a big mistake.  I just wasn’t going to read these.  Maybe an article or two here and there that caught my attention and a crossword puzzle but an entire newspaper?  That was just too tall an order — a millennial’s attention span just isn’t that long.  In the time it takes to read a newspaper front to back, I speculated, I could have watched three episodes of Game of Thrones, played half a game of Civilization or caught several pokemon in my area.  The possibilities of how else I could have been spending my time absolutely bloomed.  I canceled my subscription the next day.

The representative on the phone did everything she possibly could to convince me to keep my subscription.  She offered me deals, laid out long-term strategies, tried to persuade me that I was keeping a bastion of culture and integrity afloat in an age of misinformation.  In the end, out of pity and a slim hope I would actually read it, I did opt for the digital subscription (only $10.00 for two years) but I must ashamedly admit I still haven’t looked through it.  The desire isn’t there.

As a writer a part of me feels sad.  Shouldn’t I be trying to convince myself and others of the importance of print journalism, fact-based reporting and keeping up to date with current events locally?  Perhaps I should, but I can’t stoke a desire that isn’t there.  The truth is television and the internet have made it so easy to get news that we show little reaction to it and take much of that constant influx of information for granted.  With Facebook we don’t even have to worry about searching out news — it searches us out.  And we don’t even have to face news that we don’t like or that challenges our beliefs.  It’s easier than ever before to keep your belief bubble airtight and free from threat.  Just look at what all the networks said prior to the 2016 presidential election and then look at the results.  They hardly influenced people’s opinions at all.

Newspapers are dying, that much is true.  Perhaps they’re already dead.  But if there is one thing that we should take from this antiquated establishment it’s the spirit of integrity and truth in reporting the news that has stood for so long.  We all remember the movies about the brash, young reporter with an inspired vision of giving the people the unbridled truth even when that truth was hard to hear.  If you want you can completely avoid the truth and shut yourself in with clickbait articles that kowtow to your own warrants.  That is your right after all.  But if you want to know what’s really going on in the world read the newspaper or any publication that holds itself to a standard of excellence.  The future of journalism may not be on paper but it must carry that same spirit of truth in the face of all else.

The Birth of a Monarchy

Exploring the consequences of the 2016 presidential election and the deep division in America.

The results of the 2016 Presidential Election have confirmed beyond any shadow of a doubt something we already knew but secretly refused to acknowledge:  there are two polar opposite Americas today that share little, if any, common ideological ground.

One of those Americas includes the youth, ethnic minorities, the LGBT community, immigrants and the college educated.  This is an America that believes in equal opportunity and equal representation.  This is an America that has transformed the constitutional goal of our forefathers from that of liberty and justice for all Christian, white men to that of liberty and justice for all.  Period.  Full Stop.  Faced with an unstable job market and a changing social and global landscape, this is an America that values ingenuity and a multitude of perspectives.  This is an America that seeks to create new jobs, new markets and looks forward to a more unified world full of new ideas.  This is an America with a pioneering spirit and a heavy feeling of responsibility towards fulfilling that pioneering spirit.  This is an America that believes we are responsible for taking care of each other because when one group of people becomes disenfranchised it means any group of people can become disenfranchised as well.  No one is safe.

The other America includes uneducated, working class white men and women who have watched their old lifestyles vanish and are frightened of the future.  This is an America that would rather see the wheels of progress come to a grinding halt than embrace the new challenges that a more global, more accepting, more inter-connected society has presented them.  This is an America with severe insecurity issues.  This is an America that can’t handle more than one sexual orientation, that believes foreign perspectives and peoples are dangerous and evil.  This is an America that has known only one way of life and doesn’t know how to live differently.  This is an America that imagines its vanishing way of life to be the product of a deliberate attack on them by a morally corrupt, insensitive government.  This is an America that hasn’t learned how to cope and has misplaced their trust in an ignorant, arrogant megalomaniac who has never known struggle or hard-work but who promises to smite their enemies and deliver them from evil.  In other words, a king — the very thing this country was established to denounce.

The division between these two Americas has never been clearer than now.  Fed up with the establishment and perceived attacks on their way of life, the latter of these two Americas has set out to prove a point — that they do still have influence, a lot of it.  Despite every effort of the past 8 years to eliminate prejudice in this country and address the underbelly of sexism and racism that exists in our society they have thrown their votes in to take the easy way out — to bow down before fear and insecurity and place their faith in a tyrant full of hot-air and hate.  Ironically (and I say ironically because I know most Christians voted for this tyrant), I am reminded of that passage in Exodus when Moses returns from Mount Sinai with God’s Ten Commandments to find the Israelites worshipping a golden calf.  It took them only 40 days of unease during Moses’ departure to throw out everything their leader had done for them and resort to idol worship.  40 days.  This country has benefited from 8 years of steady, intelligent leadership and still we have elected to worship an idol in its wake.

The next four years are going to be full of fear and anxiety for that first America, the America of minorities and the educated.  This isn’t just about losing out over differences in economic policy, infrastructure and trade deals.  This is about losing the most basic human rights of freedom and opportunity.  But while the second America revels in their perceived victory the more intelligent among them may soon realize that they have not voted to make their own lives better but only to make their neighbors lives worse, wrongly believing the discrepancy between them to mean that they are better off.

After all, this is how kings remain in control — by pitting the peasants against each other.

 

American Self-Importance

If you know me then you know that for the past 2-3 months I’ve been binge watching The Sopranos.  That’s because I won’t shut up about it, and for good reason!  Ever since I started this blog with the intention of exploring anxiety and depression in the modern age I keep being reminded of this one scene from Season 4 Episode 10 in which Svetlana, a Russian immigrant who lost her leg from god knows where, tells Tony her feelings toward Americans.  Tony, struggling with his own problems, can’t comprehend how Svetlana continues to live a productive and hard-working life despite her physical handicap.  Svetlana simply scoffs, casually lights a cigarette and bemusedly remarks, “That’s the problem with you Americans.  You’ve got too much time to think about yourselves.”

She nails it!  She nails the issue right on the head.  Constantly thinking about oneself, tallying up the injuries and injustices done to you and dwelling on them paralyzes you, sinks you further into depression and anxiety.  When I think about this show and how Tony battles anxiety and depression while trying to balance his personal and professional lives her comment just throws so much into perspective.  It’s so true that we as Americans live so much better off than a large portion of the world’s population that we create and invent problems for ourselves because we’re just bored and overstimulated.  We have so much that surrounds us that we take for granted — wealth, entertainment, connectivity, nourishment, technology.  Yet we walk around in these bubbles of our personalities checking our Facebooks and Instagrams for likes, constantly thinking about ourselves and what others think of us.  I’ve always resented being labeled as part of the Me generation, the Selfie generation, but perhaps the label is accurate.

In any case, this post isn’t simply a condemnation of who we are — selfish young people who refuse to engage in the culture and concerns around us.  It makes me think of my parents, and our parents’ generation.  When I was young and I first felt these feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation from my peers I tried talking to my parents about it and they always did their best to understand.  But they just really couldn’t quite empathize.  And that’s not their fault!  When I was young I used to resent them for it, used to think they didn’t understand me or that they were simpletons in some way.  Now the older I get the more I respect them for who they are — salt of the earth kind of people who still believe in the value of hard work and the promise of the future.  My mother grew up in the projects of Lackawanna, NY, the granddaughter of Italian immigrants and the daughter of a housewife and a steel worker.  My dad grew up on an Indian reservation in the middle of nowhere, NY.   Both had jobs in their early teenage years and haven’t stopped working since.  They lived lives where struggle was a constant companion and they didn’t have the luxury of sitting around the house and bemoaning their misfortunes.  Sure, at times they felt overwhelmed and heartbroken as well but they learned how to cope in whatever way they could.  They didn’t let the anxiety and depression consume them and that’s something well worth respecting.

Unrelated (well, kinda related) — I’ve always loved how my parents enjoy things like football games and cable TV shows without a goading sense of irony and sarcasm like everyone else does these days.  Anytime I get excited over a sports game there’s always someone in the background making a crack about “sportsball” and honestly it’s not that funny and kind of rude.  Comments like that are so self-important — they ignore the communal spirit of those around them who are genuinely enjoying themselves.  I love that my parents can genuinely enjoy a ballgame and I see no reason to make them, or anyone else, feel inferior for it.

In any case, be like Svetlana!  Don’t let a broken heart, a rejection letter or even a lost limb keep you from picking yourself back up and carrying on.  Don’t let struggle dishearten you.  Embrace it.  Challenge yourself on a daily basis.  Put yourself into uncomfortable situations.  Just don’t feel sorry for yourself — no one else will.

 

First Blog Post

Exploring the holes in our persons.

This is my first blog post.

This is the post by which all future posts will be judged.

There is not much to report in this first post.  Today was a cloudy, gray day.  The weather was brisk.  I sat outside beneath the shedding trees reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and nursed a terrible hole in my heart.  You know, the usual.

So let’s talk about the hole.  I’ve had this hole for as long as I can remember.  The first time I can remember being aware of its presence was in the 7th grade when I experienced my first unrequited “love.”  There was this cute girl who lived in my neighborhood and we would ride the bus to school together.  I had such an intense fascination with her and felt so oddly drawn to her but I never felt I could even acknowledge the feeling truly.  Not among her, my friends or even myself.  It was like a hidden treasure I kept only to myself.  But like a treasure it was a weight as well, a burden.  It grew on me and wore me down.  It became an all-consuming, vacuous hole — a conviction that I would never be truly satisfied.

I think all of us, or at the very least most of us, nurse a terrible hole or burden inside ourselves.  Plath certainly understood this; her character Esther compares herself to a hole in the ground no more than 8 pages in to the book when she watches as the third wheel while her friend Doreen becomes flirtatious with another man.

It’s easy to equate this hole with loneliness and unrequited love.  For many of us this is the first way in which we become acquainted with our holes.  But that’s not all it is.  At its deepest root it is a lack of fulfillment.  And if nobody has felt that in at least one point in their life they’ve either (A) Found Jesus (B) become extremely good at deluding themselves (which some people would call “A”) or (C) been smoking something I definitely want a hit of.

In reading Plath I’ve come to believe that women have a deeper, more intimate understanding of this hole than men do.  They make their peace with it earlier than men, they’re more mature about it.  I think this is because for their entire lives people are trying to fill them up with things, treating them like holes.  Their parents, their teachers, their bosses, friends and lovers are constantly filling them with expectations, responsibilities, marriage proposals, careers, dreams, ideas and goals that aren’t theirs.  In human society they’ve been taught it’s not so important that you do what you want as a woman but that you do what others want of you.  Plath, a woman of the 50s and early 60s, must have experienced this and the agonizing emptying feeling that goes with it very intimately.

Conversely, as men, we’re told to fill up the world.  Take whatever dream you have inside of you and jam it, uncomfortably, into the world around you.  Tough luck if you hurt yourself or others around you in the process.  Better that you tried to start something new anyway.  Men’s holes become not only their problems, but others.

In reading Plath though I’ve come to a better understanding about this hole inside of me.  I’ve come to realize that it will probably never leave me.  Even when everything is good, fine, or in the right place.  Even when I can appease it for a long while and be genuinely happy that hole will never go away.  I think it’s important that we make peace with this before we let our holes get any bigger.  All we can do is take steps to keep that hole as small as possible and fill it up with things that offer more than just temporary solutions but lasting, continuous relief.   It’s so easy to walk down the street and into a supermarket and throw money at our empty feelings until we come home laden with bags and feeling, at least for a moment, full.  Instead, it’s better to make lasting relationships with people who accept us for who we are, and devote ourselves to ideas we truly believe in.  Because even if you come home worn out and exhausted from work, if it’s work that really means something to you, that form of suffering will be its own reward.  And your hole won’t grow any bigger.