In-Between Times and Schizophrenia

I’ve said for a number of years that we’re living in In-Between Times.  We have tons of technology that promise us a better world, but it’s not quite ready yet.  Electric self-driving cars, home 3D printers, and home energy-creation is going to kick ass when they get it right.  For now, though, we’re stuck with rear back-up cameras, DIY refillable printer cartridges, and texts from the electric company letting you know your power is back on.

I think the current trend of mass shootings is linked to this.  I know that’s a big jump, but hear me out.

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Which of these people is actually experiencing life?

Everyone knows we spend entirely too much time on our phones.  It doesn’t matter why — The Wife plays a Harry Potter game and shares pictures of The Kids on Facebook, my mom plays Words with Friends with strangers, I look for 8-bit erotica — it takes a significant portion of our day.  So much of our day, in fact, that we don’t really deal with the real world anymore.

When I hang out with my friends or watch TV or catch up on the news, I’m not really dealing with the real world; I’m texting quick jokes while I’m binging a show while clicking on catered-for-me links on Twitter.  I’m still fulfilling all of my responsibilities — sure the dishes get done, the floor gets swept, the bills get paid — but even that happens without much interaction: I have a dishwasher and a roomba and automatic debits. I don’t live in the real world.  I’m not alone (although I think I’m in a minority of people who realize it).  We all have a low-grade form of schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is basically a breakdown between reality and the world in one’s head.  I think that’s what we’re all experiencing.

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Sure, you could say that the rise in mass shootings is a direct consequence of the rise in white supremacy (and, by extension, conspiracy theories and the election of the president), but I think that stems from it too.

What kind of mental acrobatics to you have to perform to think that some people, based solely on the amount of melanin in their skin, are akin to vermin?  If you live in the real world — especially in 2019 — quite a bit.  But if you live in your own little internet-based world, if you’re borderline schizophrenic, those acrobatics become a simple cartwheel.  

This idea of creating one’s own reality on the internet is a new one.  We were promised a world where everyone with a passion could meet other people with the same passion; no one would be weird, no one feel ashamed because of their interests.  But because we’re living in In-Between Times, we still don’t have the kinks worked out.  Maybe some people should feel ashamed; maybe some people should be cast out.

Until we get to the other side of the In-Between, I think this’ll get worse.  That’s just what I think.  Maybe I’m doing my own mental acrobatics, though.  What’s the alternative to this theory?

[T]he White people who insisted that it was their Constitutional right to keep military weapons in their homes all looked forward to the day when they could shot Americans who didn’t have what they had, who didn’t look like their friends and relatives, in a sort of open-air shooting gallery we used to call in Vietnam a “Free Fire Zone.” You could shoot anything that moved, for the good of the greater society, which was always someplace far away, like Paradise.

— Kurt Vonnegut, Hocus Pocus

Fixing Flint

I always do my best to rise above any argument to get at the core.  For example, there’s a classic “Do teachers get paid enough” argument that always turns into “they get every summer off” vs. “with their education, they’d be making double in the private sector”.  The correct answer is a step back: If you want good teachers, you’ll have to pay them enough to stay.

I’ve been trying — for years — to use this same type of thinking toward the problems of Flint.  Too much crime, too much poverty, the schools suck, there’re no businesses, the water is undrinkable, etc.  Surely there has to be something that can be done, when we take a step back, that would be an obvious answer.  I cracked it today:

Flint is too serious.  Everyone has to treat Flint like it’s a joke.

I don’t mean “a joke” like it is now.  If you watch anything about Flint, especially the local news, it looks like it should be on an episode of Documentary Now.  People might laugh at it, but it’s a sad kind of laughter, like when an old man can’t figure out that his dentures are backwards.

I mean the city has to make everything relating to Flint laugh-out-loud funny.  Make it look like the city is in on the joke.  The city needs to make a statue that deliberately misquotes Einstein (“if you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best”).  They need to make a local ordinance that says “We’re proudly the only city in America where ‘No Shirt No Shoes No Service’ has been repealed”. They need to send out a survey asking which upcoming apocalyptic movie should be shot here.

I know it sounds a little cruel, but it’s for the best.

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This, like Flint, is TOO serious.  

Think of an actor who had like one good movie and then we never really heard from them again.  Where’s your brain go? Ralph Macchio?  Scott Baio?  Sarah Michelle Gellar? Robert Pattinson?  What about Mark Hamill or George Takei?  They all had one super-famous opportunity, yet only Hamill and Takai are continually in the zeitgeist.  What’s the difference?  Hamill and Takei both started to be in on the joke.  You can call it type-casting if you want, but at one point, they both figured out that they’d be passed over for serious roles for the rest of their lives.  So instead, they make fun of themselves and play their over-seriousness as humor.  Haley Joel Osment and Andre Braugher have both learned this lesson too.  And because of this humor, they’re not type-cast anymore.  Because of this self-awareness — because they’re showing us all that they used to take themselves too seriously and they acknowledge that they never really had the talent of a Daniel Day Lewis — they work again.  They got better.

The greatest example is the president.  If you remember, no one thought (including himself) he was going to win.  He was a big joke.  The daily headline was, “Can you believe what this clown said?  What a joke.  Now let’s discuss the serious policies of Hilary Clinton, the obvious next president.”  The one we all laughed at won.

This is what has to happen to Flint.  We can’t have “The proudest people in America live in this city” anymore.  We can’t keep getting more and more serious.  It’s not working.  We have to start showing America, “Yeah.  Flint is awful.  We know it.  We like it like that. It’s more fun.”

Then maybe it can work again.  Flint will get better.

Capital_City_Plaza_Hotel

Change “Capital City Plaza Hotel” to “Flint Vehicle City” and “1990” to “2022”.

Bi-Partisan

I’ve talked several times before about trying to step back from any argument in order to get the crux of the situation. I’ve found that stepping away from the minutiae of most arguments is a good way to avoid and/or win an argument.

This is a good example of what I mean:

coexist

This is a bumper sticker from a democrat 

If you’re a liberal and you see this on a car, you think, “Yeah, why can’t we all just get along?”  If you’re a conservative, you think, “What a pussy.  Come up with a real solution!”

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This is a bumper sticker from a republican

If you’re a liberal and you see this on a car, you think, “What a dick.  You can’t even show your home state without threatening to kill somebody!”  If you’re a conservative, you think, “Yeah, that’s the Michigan I know!”

When you take a step back, you see that they’re just both saying, “Don’t hit my car.”  Argument avoided.

Men’s Health

I had heart surgery last year.  I tried to pretend everything was ok for most of that year, but I was constantly thinking either “This might be the last time I do this” (before the surgery) or “ow” (after the surgery).  This year — although I just realized it — it seems that I’ve spent all my time redoing 2018, without the existential dread.  Case in point: Lake Leanne.

Last year we rented a house (actually, the bottom floor of a house) on a tiny lake in southern Michigan.  I had had surgery a month beforehand; I was sleepy and sore and my constipation had just let up.  I spent the entire time simply appreciating that I wasn’t sitting in an armchair.  I wouldn’t call that a vacation.  So we rented the same place this year.

IMG_3054It was nice.  Last year, it was a respite from recovery; this year it forced everyone to just relax simply because there was nothing to do.  I grilled some hot dogs, we paddled to the park across the lake, we went to Special Ed’s and got the best donuts I’ve ever had (they serve it out of a tiny bus parked on some guy’s property).  I even read a few magazines they had laying around, which is where I came across this:

Because I’m 40, I’ve been thinking lately about how people change.  A Men’s Health issue addressed just that.  Below is a series of infographics that talk about ideal health at various stages of a man’s life.  It’s complete bullshit.

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“average” for your 20s

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“average” for your 30s

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“average” for your 40s

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“average” for your 50s

Apparently, there is no physical difference between being 21 and being 58.

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For example

From a reader’s perspective, I think maybe the data is skewed because of a self-selecting sample (for instance, 58-year-old men who read Men’s Health magazine are bound to be those weirdos who have $900 triathlon bikes and highlight their chest hair).

 

From the writer’s perspective, I think, “why even publish this?”  If all health data remains the same for 40 years, why open your mouth?  Just say, “Regardless of age, your BMI should be about 27.5, your RHR should be about 63.5, you should have about 10,000 daily steps, an hour of active minutes, and more than 6 hours of sleep.”

And then I would investigate why “aging” is even a thing.

I mean, why do people die at all?

Internet Clairvoyant

crystalball

Because I grew up when I did, I have a sort of “third eye” when it comes to the internet.  I remember chat rooms and geocities and command lines.  I’ve seen everything evolve.  It’s why I’m not surprised there’s a resurgence of white-supremacy (the internet is a place where anyone who has a passion can find like-minded people; hating brown people is a passion), it’s why I’m not surprised that Google won the search engine wars (the second “Google” became a verb (no one ever said, “Go Lycos it”) I knew it was over).  It’s also why I’m never surprised when things don’t go right when I order something through a service where a human being is never consulted.  For those of you born after UHF was released, this story will confuse you:

I recently bought a Jeep.  Because I recently bought a Jeep, I recently bought a hitch.  Because I recently bought a hitch, I bought some things to attach to a hitch.  There were some shipping problems.

jeeptrunk

The trunk is as deep as 2 Fast 2 Furious

The “trunk” of a Jeep is very tiny.  It’ll hold a hamster cage, a hamster, an empty paper towel tube, some lubricant, and not much else.  So The Wife, still thinking that we might be a “camping family”, decided I should get one of those hitch-baskets to haul tents and bikes and fiddles and washboards and sifting pans and all the other camping stuff people need.  Since Jeep is all about modifications, I figured they’d have a huge selection.  They do.

A company called Quadratec has a line of hitches called “versahitch”, which contains three hitch-mounts, making anything you attach to it more stable.  They had a deal where if I buy the hitch, the hitch-basket, and all mounting hardware, I’d get some d-rings for free.

dring

Those red things are d-rings.  

D-rings only look cool.  I would have no use for them.  But they were free.

When I clicked “submit order” I was greeted with a “part of your order is out of stock and will ship soon!”  This is where my Internet Clairvoyance kicked in.


When I told this story to a younger friend of mine, Andy — he’s about 30 — I paused here, as if to say “…you know where this is going”.  Because of the pause, he gave me the same look he would’ve given to his elderly grandpa who was searching for the glasses that are already on his face.

This is because Andy’s entire relationship with online shopping has been Amazon.  They routinely ship multiple items from the same order at different times.


I knew they would forget this other item.  They did.

About a month later I got on to Quadratec’s little chatbox thing that every internet site seems to have now and asked what the problem was.  They didn’t know what I was talking about.  It took about an hour, giving my name, shipping address, verifying credit card information, and finally finding the url of the deal I got before they said, “Oh!  I see now.  Those won’t be available until June.”  Imagine my surprise when I got a box in the mail two days later.  It contained one of the two d-rings.


rings

He was also getting uncomfortable because he thought a “d-ring” was the same thing as a “c-ring”.

Again, I paused for Andy so that we could share a “Can you believe it?” moment.  Instead, as if he’s struggling to understand a foreign language, he says, “Only one to go!”  My Internet Clairvoyance told me otherwise.


I contacted Quadratec again.  Again it took about an hour.  Eventually, they understood that I was supposed to get two d-rings.  The contact person said, “You’ll get the other one as soon as we get it in.  It’ll be about a month.”


I thought by this time, Andy would start to see a pattern.  It was clear this is all he saw:


I waited six weeks and contacted them again.  The “chat” took about an hour.  Again I made things as clear as I could.  The agent said, “I’ll send the other one out right away.”  My clairvoyance wouldn’t shut up so I asked, “What do I do if this one doesn’t match the one I already have?”  She asked, “Why wouldn’t they?”


Andy agreed with her.  It was then I realized we are from completely different backgrounds.  Andy gave me the same quizzical look about this order that I gave my parents when they were trying to explain the Jim Crow laws.


A few days later, I got it.  It wasn’t the same d-ring.  It also didn’t come with any mounting hardware.  When I contacted Quadratec (this, I believe, was hour four of “chatting” with an agent about a free bonus gift) I was told that I never got a free gift.  I was told that I actually ordered one d-ring separately from the hitch-basket package and the second one they sent was to placate me.  They have a 30-day return policy and the customer must pay return shipping.


Andy was confused:

kimmy

“Why would they not take it back?”  I shrugged.  “Or just send you the part you wanted.”  I shrugged harder.  “Isn’t the thing you want like eleven dollars?”  I threw out my rotator cuff shrugging.  “You’ve spent like $400 through Quadratec already.  It’s in their best interest to simply give you an eleven-dollar part because you’ll probably be back to spend at least that much again.”

I replied, “Most of my time spent buying things has revolved around begging people to take my money. ”


I realized that THIS is the internet revolution.  I felt like my dad explaining that “There was just a time where we all thought black people and white people were different, so we needed different toilets.”  It’s not about the Arab Spring or The Squad or having a job as an “influencer”.  Those are all side-effects.  The real goal of the internet is to make everything as simple as we were promised.

We aren’t there yet.

My Mid-Life Crisis

I turned 40 this year and I’m having a hard time with it.  Not the number; way too many people have a problem with the number (just the existence of phrases like “you’re only as old as you feel” or “40 is the new 20” is proof of that).  I’m having a problem with this phase of life.

It’s an inherent belief that it takes about four years to hit my stride.  It took about four years to figure out high school (and then I was done); it took about four years to figure out college (and then I was done); it took me about four years to figure out how to be a boyfriend (then I got married); it took me about four years to figure out how to be a husband (then I had kids); it took me about four years to figure out fatherhood (I still work at it, but I only get incrementally better); it took about four years to figure out my job (I still work at it, but I only get incrementally better)…

This is the first time since I could string together a coherent sentence that I’m not trying to work through four years of something. There is no life milestone that’s staring me in the face.  There’s nothing I have to adjust.  It’s off-putting.

Whenever I was working through one of these four-year-strides, I had an enthusiasm about the future.  I was looking forward to something.  In high school: “getting out on my own is going to be great”, as an apartment-dweller: “having a house is going to be great”, as someone who just likes to stay in and make fun of what’s on TV: “marriage is going to be great.”  I was always looking toward the immediate future knowing that, “Once I conquer this, I will have that.”   What’s the next milestone?  Retirement?  Kids’ graduation?  Those are a decade away (at least).

I was reading Timequake a few days ago.  It’s the last novel Kurt Vonnegut, an already-wise man, ever wrote.  It’s about how he was trying to make a story about everyone having to live years of their lives over because of some weird jump in the universe, but because the universe operates the way it does, no one could make a different choice; everyone had to simply watch their lives turn out the way they already watched their lives turn out. But he couldn’t make it work.  He worked for years and years on it and it just never seemed right, so, instead, it’s a series loosely-connected snippets of his original Timequake novel along with how he felt about writing it and how he feels now that it’s done.  It’s full of nuggets of wisdom:

“For Christ’s sake, let’s help more of our frightened people get through this thing, whatever it is.”

“If there is a god, he sure hates people”

“Listen: We are here on Earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different!”

“Science never cheered up anyone. the human situation is just too awful.”

“So it is not one whit mysterious that we poison the water and air and topsoil, and construct ever more cunning doomsday devices, both industrial and military. Let us be perfectly frank for a change. For practically everybody, the end of the world can’t come soon enough.”

“They like life alright, but that they would like it even better if they could know that it was going to end sometime.”

“Why throw money at problems? That is what money is for. Should the nation’s wealth be redistributed? It has been and continues to be redistributed to a few people in a manner strikingly unhelpful.”

After I read it, I got jealous.  Not at the author’s ability (he’s on another level), but his insight.  He wrote this thing when he was like 80.  He had an entire life behind him and all the reasons in the world to share these truths.  Like me, he wasn’t looking forward to anything either.  He was only looking back.  That’s what I was jealous of: this clear focus that he was finished with whatever this is; if he has to look, back is the only direction possible.

And that’s my crisis.  I don’t have a full life to look forward to — not like I used to — but I’m also not done — not like I will be.  I’m stuck between being enthusiastic about tomorrow (like I was with all those other milestones) and being nostalgic about what was (like Vonnegut).

That’s what I have to work through.

Maybe that’s the next four years.

Story Starters

We all have a bunch of amusing stories that we tell other people.  You know how it is; when someone talks about how the seat on airplanes are “just getting too close together”, you have a story about accidentally opening the emergency exit door instead of the bathroom.  It’s not one-upsmanship, you’re just contributing to the conversation.

A friend asked me to start writing mine down.  She’s an English teacher and said that a lot of my openers would make good story-starters for her 10th-grade classes.

So here’s a list of single sentences — that are all true, by the way — that might help spur your imagination.  I’ll add to them from time to time.

  • It was the first of the month, so Billy could finally get his leg back from the pawn shop.
  • I was in the bathroom, attempting my morning constitution, when my roommate asked soberly, “I have some sad news; are you sitting down?”
  • “You know what we got for Christmas in County?  CHOCOLATE milk!”
  • All catalytic converters have platinum in them, and I already have a sawzall.
  • Sure, Gordie has cerebral palsy, but that doesn’t make him less of an asshole.
  • My mom texted “I love you.”  I have no idea how to respond to that.
  • It cost $11,000 to flush my toilet with the lights on.
  • He said, “I don’t remember a thing from my 20’s.”
  • I was changing her diaper when it shot clear across the room.
  • On our first date I broke both her arms.  I wish I could say I was surprised, but she was the fifth person I hurt on a trampoline.
  • He’d already lost a toe, then half a foot, then a whole foot, then half a leg to diabetes, but he was taking a stand.
  • I offered to buy coffee for her everyday for a year if she’d just ask him out.; unfortunately, she was bold and a venti-extra-shot kind of girl.
  • Everyone said it’d be different when they’re your own, but I still don’t like babies.
  • They had an honest-to-god canon that we loaded with a bowling ball and shot every Thanksgiving.
  • It was another Thanksgiving at The Bus.
  • As we were picking up souvenir cups off the ground of Tiger Stadium, my uncle said, “Leave those.  You never know who has eggs.” It was 1988.
  • It was like, if I get enough broken cars, it would equal one car that runs.
  • Because he squatted to pee, we didn’t know if Bowser was a boy or girl for months.
  • It was two weeks after my dad died; come to find out, it was my brother who’d been stealing all my mom’s money and M&Ms.
  • Eminent Domain is great when it works the other way around.