Category Archives: attitude

Wristcutters…The Movie. And, The Meaning of Life.

I just finished watching the film Wristcutters (2006), written by Goran Dukic. The movie is about a bunch of people trapped in a dreary purgatory created specifically for those who have “offed” themselves. The people who run this purgatory are referred to as the P.I.C., for people in charge (how great is that?!). They decide who got there by accident, who gets to leave and who has to stay. In purgatory, as in life, there is an order that doesn’t make sense.

Sounds like a real upper, doesn’t it? Well, although you’d think I’d need to keep a box of Kleenex and my therapist’s phone number nearby, the film was actually funny. In a dark way, of course.

I’ve always seen the darkness and the humor in almost everything. It’s either my god-given talent or a severe mental malfunction, but that’s neither here nor there. What touched me about the film was the main characters’ desire to figure out the MEANING OF LIFE and how they fit into the whole mess.

Everyone with a brain can relate to the desire to understand LIFE. But not everyone can relate to wanting to die. Anne Sexton, who offed herself in 1974 and is one of my favorite poets, wrote:

But suicides have a special language. Like carpenters they want to know which tools. They never ask why build.” –Anne Sexton, “Wanting to Die”

I’ve been there–at that confusing point in your journey where nothing makes sense, where lines cross and goodness is blurry, and the option of jumping off the train is more appealing than staying on the ride. But luckily, unlike the characters in Wristcutters, unlike my favorite poets, I didn’t have to kill myself to realize that death isn’t THE GREAT ANSWER.

The thing is, none of us are above getting lost. None of us are above needing something to believe in. Something to hang onto. All I can say is that I’m glad I’ve stuck it out so far because it feels like every five years or so I experience a rebirth (I think they call this maturity?). The longer I deal with this life thing, the more I learn to shake my head, laugh, and say to the P.I.C., ‘what have you got for me today?’

Today’s musical companion is “Home,” by The Engineers.

“Home/Is this my home/Been starting over/Bathe in the water/Time/Time after time/I’m feeling so sorry/I run out of words to say/Relieved/I’m so relieved/The tables are turning/Don’t sacrifice this feeling/Goals/There are no goals/There is no order/Paid for in laughter/Home/Is this my home/Been starting over/Bathe in the water.”

Then We Came to the End…A Question of PTSD

Then We Came to the End, written by Joshua Ferris, is a book about getting laid-off. And it’s fucking hilarious. Except getting laid-off in real life–as I was around this time last year–is not so hilarious.

Instead of being able to smugly shrug off the fact that I got canned (without warning, I may add, like a goddamn terrorist attack), I freak out on a daily basis that I’m going to lose the job I have now at any minute. It’s that survivalist mentality
(you know, of people who actually lived through terrorist attacks and war) that it’s going to happen again!

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as: “an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened.” OK, so maybe I don’t technically suffer from PTSD–losing my job wasn’t exactly a physical trauma (but I do have flashbacks, mmm…k?). But seriously, for someone who places so much importance and pride in the work I do, getting let-go, laid-off, fired, canned, axed, was traumatic. I became a victim of sorts. As Ferris writes in his book: “Every lovelorn jerk is the victim of bad timing, good intentions, and someone else’s poor decision making.” Yup. One day you walk into your job and walk out never to return.

The point of no return for me came right before I was supposed to have my six-month review. I was called into HR the day before my review was scheduled and was told that I just wasn’t the right fit. (I’ve since learned that this meant I didn’t fit into the budget anymore.) If you want to know the nitty-gritty details of what happened on that fateful day, just check out an “anonymous” post I wrote titled “The Editor and the Cockroach: A Tale of Karmic Retribution. Or Something” for my friend’s blog, Your Unemployed Daughter.

Now, close to a year later, I’m still freaked out about losing my job whether it’s babysitting or editing. People tell me I should be proud of myself and the fact that I never went a day without work, even after getting laid-off, and how that proves how talented I am. But in my mind, there’s a difference between surviving and excelling. I survived. It was instinctual. But I always imagined I’d be an accelerator, running fast up that ladder to the tippy top. This is my post traumatic stress disorder: I’m haunted by failure. The vision I had of my career path hasn’t quite materialized. Instead, I’ve been on this unpredictable ride where there are terrifying delays and entertaining rest stops with some lucky opportunities in between. I once knew where I wanted to land, but experience has taught me to stop looking so far ahead. In the meantime, I wish I knew how to avoid hearing the bombs of fear go off in my head.

We hated not knowing something. We hated not knowing who was next to walk Spanish down the hall. How would our bills get paid? And where would we find new work? We knew the power of the credit card companies and the collection agencies and the consequences of bankruptcy. They put your name into a system, and from that point forward vital parts of the American dream were foreclosed upon. These were not Jeffersonian ideals, perhaps, on par with life and liberty, but at this advanced stage, with the West won and the Cold War over, they too, seemed among our inalienable rights.” -J.F.

Today’s musical end note is provided by Led Zeppelin. “Ten Years Gone” is my favorite song of theirs, for good reason.

If you’re too lazy to listen to 8 minutes of brilliance, at least check out the lyrics here.

The Power of Oprah Compels You!

Oprah, the new messiah

All right, look, I’ve watched The Secret, I’ve highlighted inspirational quotes in self-help books; I’ve even enjoyed visiting quotelady.com and thinkexist.com for famous words of wisdom (and still do sometimes). And yes, there was even a time when I enjoyed watching Oprah and reading her magazine (it’s a good magazine and I’m not writing that because I’m afraid of her). But when I opened my mail yesterday and saw an issue of O magazine with my name on it, I felt a burning sensation of rage.

Now I know how satan feels during an exorcism. The dude just wants to be left alone with his misery and his mischief. You can’t cancel a subscription if it’s a gift from someone!* (You know, kind of how the devil can’t fight against a crucifix.)

Who would violate me like this? My mother. She’s always trying to push self-help literature on me. Some of the reading material she’s left in my room or in my bag over the years: Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man (Steve Harvey), The Essence of Attitude: Quotations for Igniting Positive Attitudes, and for my recent birthday, It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be (Paul Arden). So basically my mom thinks I’m a negative, unambitious, lesbian. Does she give this crap literature to my brother, the married surgeon who gave her grandchildren? Nooooo. Just leave me alone with my misery and my mischief! I’m happy being a malcontent. Honestly. It’s a safe space. Do you get that, Jesus? Mom? (Um, Jesus, if you’re reading this, I do love you. I truly fear you just like a good Catholic girl should.)

As for you mom, I love you too. But here’s the thing: Yes, I’m jaded. I’m cynical. I can count the people I trust and truly love on one hand (fine, almost two).  And that’s OK. I have best friends, I’ve found the love of my life (it’s a man!), and, well, I kind of have a career (freelance doesn’t mean unemployed, no matter what dad thinks). And the truth is I don’t care to be the greatest or the best, I just want to keep my job. Books aren’t going to teach me how to be in a relationship, my boyfriend will. And I don’t need inspiration. I do what I gotta do and that’s great enough. So, please, cancel your 12-month subscription to Oprah in my name because I don’t want to live my best life according to Oprah, or you, or to anyone else.

And because all of my posts need to end on a musical note:

*But you can change your address and have the magazine shipped to the gift giver instead, mwah ha ha.

Be Careful Who You Look Up To: A Cautionary Tale

Time magazine you cover “Nobody can be you as efficiently as you can.” -Norman Vincent Peale, author of The Power of Positive Thinking

I was a fat kid. I embrace that, now. But back then I was miserable. I understood the power of cute and I knew I didn’t have it. To sum up my psychosis, I had a low self-esteem. (I know, call the WAHambulance.) Anyway, my theory is that having a low self-esteem made me this kind of super fan. Any teacher or coach–hell, anyone–that believed in me became my superhero. Get made fun of enough in life and anyone who doesn’t do that to you is AH-maz-ing. Even after I lost weight and became “cute,” I never felt comfortable with my own power. I was already comfortable giving that power to other people. If Coach puts me on varsity, then dammit I am a golden god! If Coach uses me as a bench warmer, then god damn I suck.

Now you can imagine that as I approach 30, I’m pretty exhausted by obsessing over what other people think of me. After all these years of looking up to people, my eyes hurt. It’s easier to look straight ahead nowadays. (Cue Michael Jackson “Man in the Mirror” video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgtWIx2zLtk.)

It’s cool to look up to people, don’t get me wrong. We all need a little inspiration. Just don’t do what I did and invest all your proverbial eggs in that basket. If one boss says you’re a gem and the next boss lets you go, c’est la vie.  Take what you will and make like Frank Sinatra and do it your way.