I had a friend who lied to me

30 Jan

The larger story isn’t mine to tell. This is my personal experience, shared not for sympathy but to give some sense of where I’m coming from. I’m not defending anyone.

I met K. through mutual friends on Twitter. We bonded pretty quickly, as is often the case with people I get to know on the internet. When you put two neurotic, self-involved individuals together, they will never run out of things to talk about. We love finding out that we’re crazy in all the same ways! For a while, we chatted every day — first on Gchat, then via text. I had a friendcrush, and if I’m being honest, a crush-crush, too. Can you blame me? He was a musician. And even though he was straight, he liked to flirt, sometimes almost dangling the possibility of a tryst in front of me. I’m not saying I fell hard or anything. I’m just saying he was cute.

We made plans to meet up in person. He was going to stay with me for a whole weekend, and I was kind of thrilled. I felt like we’d really gotten to know each other at that point, but I was eager to see how we connected IRL. We talked about watching The Simpsons and staying up all night talking about our feelings. It sounded pretty ideal. The night before he was supposed to fly out to LA, he called me. It was the first time we’d ever spoken on the phone, and yes, I was enough of a dork to make note of that. I was panicked that he was going to cancel. Instead, he’d called because he wanted to tell me how excited he was about hanging out.

And then came the next day: the frantic early morning text, the cancellation, the tough-to-swallow story, the promise to make it up to me. I’m ashamed to say this happened three weekends in a row. Seriously. Each time, the excuse was harder to believe, but always too serious to call his bluff. Was he lying about a sick parent, a suicidal friend, a medical emergency? The second time he flaked I realized there was something not right, but he assured me that he was on the level. He knew how it looked, but it was just a case of really bad timing, and the universe being a colossal piece of shit. That was something I could get behind. I had an easier time accepting that the fates were conspiring against us than that someone I considered a good friend was a compulsive liar.

Over time, I began to suspect that the problem was him. His stories didn’t line up. He would contradict himself mid-conversation. It all came to a head when I learned about the lies he was telling other people. I won’t go into that: like I said, it’s not my story to tell. Suffice it to say, others had it way worse than I did. I tried to intervene on a couple occasions. The first time, he was able to talk himself out of it. I pointed out how unlikely it was that he was really a victim on all this — where there’s smoke… But he was very convincing. I let it go for a while. When it came up again, I confronted him more assertively. That’s when he told me to stop getting involved in other people’s business.

I was livid. I was hurt, too, but that seemed secondary. I tried to tell people that he was full of shit, that I’d seen through his lies, but I had little evidence. Worse, I worried about the repercussions of waging a full-on campaign against him. As outraged as I was by what he was doing to people I cared about, I feared that when the dust settled, I’d look like the asshole. He’d turn it all against me, and I’d just be some whiny asshole who got jealous and tried to make life difficult for someone cooler than he was. Even when I felt justified in my cause, I also kind of felt like a dick. And there was always this stupid doubt gnawing at me: what if he really was telling the truth? Maybe I didn’t have the whole story.

I know what I said about K. got to him eventually. That’s OK — I heard some of the awful things he said about me. It stung, but I felt some need to keep up appearances. We tweeted at each other, sometimes with slight hostility but always under the guise of friendship. It seems dumb in retrospect, but it was part my being taken in by his lies, and part my fear of consequences. Once when I did unfollow him after a particularly heated exchange, he sent me an apology email. The apology email is my greatest weakness: I probably shouldn’t admit this, but it’s the easiest way to end a conflict with me. I will always accept your apology. I will always feel crappy that I was ever angry.

When I first heard that his life was falling apart, I thought, “Fucking finally.” I’m not exactly proud of that reaction. On the one hand, I wanted him to suffer for what he’d put my friends through. On the other, I was reveling in the misfortune of someone else. There was so much about his behavior that never made sense — it was fucked-up and terrible, but it was also pathological. That’s a word I used often when trying to explain him. (Is it even the right one? What do I know.) This guy was a womanizer and a dickbag and a shitty friend, but he was also like me: a person whose brain didn’t function properly, a tremendously insecure narcissist, a drug addict.

And so, eventually, the anger faded. It’s not hard to forgive him for what he did to me, because it really wasn’t much. If I let him take me in, that’s my fault, too. But I can’t forgive him for what he did to anyone else — that’s not my place. And I want to reiterate that I’m not defending anyone: your actions may be reprehensible because of bad wiring in your brain, but they’re still reprehensible. I’m not making excuses — I’m looking for compassion. I hope that distinction makes sense. Maybe it seems silly that I’m writing all of this. If you only knew how long I’ve been waiting to get it out. It’s still such a small fraction of the bigger picture: it’s inconsequential in the long run.

For what it’s worth, though, I feel a little better.

Stop hating Skyler White

31 Jul

WARNING: Vague spoilers through the most recent episode of Breaking Bad. Read at your own discretion.

Skyler is my favorite character on Breaking Bad. Seriously. This isn’t a new development: I’ve loved her from the beginning. But over the course of the past three seasons, she’s become the most sympathetic character. In my mind, she’s our point of identification, the sane person caught in the middle of Walt’s bullshit, trying to keep her head above water and protect her family. Skyler gets shit on the most and offends the least. She’s the victim in all of this.

These are my opinions, and I understand they’re contentious. You don’t have to love Skyler the way I do, of course, but hating her seems unjustified. Again, these things are subjective: I can’t help if there’s just something about Anna Gunn that rubs you the wrong way. But what has the character of Skyler really done to earn your hatred? How can you dismiss her as the show’s weakest link? (Especially when that position so clearly belongs to poor Walt Jr.)

Here is what bothers me about the Skyler hate: it’s the same misplaced hostility faced by countless TV wives in the past. And while you certainly can dislike a female character without being a misogynist, so much of the vitriol against Skyler uses the gendered language you might expect: She’s a bitch, she’s a cunt, she’s the shrew wife.

What it comes down to is that Skyler, the ol’ ball and chain, is a thorn in Walt’s side. She’s not submissive or even faithful. She questions his behavior and she challenges his plans. And somehow, that makes her a bitch.

Here’s what all of Skyler’s critics seem to forget — Walt is a fucking terrible person. Whatever noble causes he once had are gone. He’s a power-hungry egomaniac and a danger to those around him. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy Walt as a character, but I can’t fathom siding with him. Meth aside, this is a man who let his friend’s girlfriend choke to death on her own vomit, who poisoned a child just to spur his plan into action. Hating Skyler for the way she responds to Walt is absurd: she’s reacting out of fear and a desire to protect her loved ones.

But she’s a pain in the ass to our main character, and that makes it easy to dismiss her as a “bitch.” We see this often in sitcoms: the obnoxious manchild of a leading man gets a free pass on being an imbecile, while his wife — the one who calls him on his bad behavior — is a nag. In some ways, Malcolm in the Middle is a good example of this, and not only because of the Bryan Cranston connection. It’s not quite the same in that Lois is admittedly a nutball (this being the heightened reality of a sitcom), but I still think she is unfairly maligned. Look at her husband and her asshole kids — is it really any wonder she spent so much of the series losing her shit?

Skyler isn’t without fault: she’s been put into a situation that has forced her to do some terrible things. Which is not to say she’s justified, but rather that her mistakes are a product of her circumstance. There was a time when I would say the same about Walt, but it’s clear he’s no longer doing this for anyone but himself. Skyler’s transition from ignorant wife to scheming accomplice is about protecting her son, her baby, and herself. She’s not mad with power or rolling around in piles of meth money. She’s simply the only one holding it all together.

I’ve posed this question on Twitter and on Facebook, and now I ask it here: Why do you hate Skyler? Of all the characters, she really does strike me as the most blameless. Whether or not she’s a saint, she’s about the furthest thing from a villain. And it’s silly for me to get so worked up, but so much of the response I’ve seen does tend to stem from this anti-feminist conception of a “good wife,” which Skyler isn’t. She’s a bitch because she’s difficult. I can’t accept that.

There’s no denying that, at her most confrontational, Skyler makes things harder for Walt — but can you really argue that he doesn’t deserve it?

Assorted pop culture bitching (5/15/12)

15 May

When I first started this blog, I intended it to be a mix of pop culture musings and the occasional serious business post about feelings. Somehow it became much more of the latter, which is likely because I do enough pop culture writing for actual publications, and because I no longer have a LiveJournal and this is what it sounds like when doves cry.

In the spirit of the former, though, I’m going to try to make “assorted pop culture bitching” a semi-regular feature here. Keep in mind I sometimes go a month or two without blogging. If I manage to churn out one of these posts a year, that probably qualifies as semi-regular.

This particular set of complaints is horror-themed. Boo, etc.

The Paranormal Activity series
I just finished watching Paranormal Activity 3, which was — like the previous installments — annoyingly frightening. Not frightening in the sense that I’m going to have to sleep with the lights on tonight (I always fall asleep to The Golden Girls, anyway), but frightening in that I jumped several times.

“Annoyingly” because these are cheap scares, and they are the same in every Paranormal Activity movie. These films are not without merit: the first was the closest we’ve come to Blair Witch Project since, uh, Blair Witch Project. And there’s something particularly effective about scenes of mundanity (people sleeping, chattering on about bullshit) punctuated with loud bangs and creepy shit happening.

But “effective” doesn’t mean “good.” Once the novelty wears off, we’re left with reiterations of the same concept, and that pisses me off. There was more creativity in the Saw series, which — while often uniquely terrible — at least gave us different deaths each go-around. I keep watching Paranormal Activity movies because I half-expect them to try something new. Will I ever learn?

Probably not. Look, I don’t mind sitting through 90 minutes of people sleeping and occasionally being thrown into walls once a year, but if you want to actually impress me, find something new to do with the found-footage horror genre. At this point, we’re basically over it, because we get how it works. We’ll jump, and then we’ll shrug it off. There is unique work to be done with first-person perspective. It’s just not happening in this series.

Zombie apocalypse guides
Today I got a press release about a new zombie apocalypse guide. I’m not going to link to it, because I refuse to encourage this behavior. This was (or should have been) a single-use idea. Max Brooks’ The Zombie Survival Guide is brilliant, because it follows the form of actual survival guides and gives it a fun, supernatural twist.

Treating the horror world with sincerity was a somewhat novel concept at the time, and Brooks’ execution is perfect. It’s hilarious, because you’re reading a how-to guide on an impossible situation, but it’s also a little bit scary — some tiny part of you can’t help thinking, “Wait, but what if…?” Brooks’ novel World War Z works in a similar fashion. I highly recommend both.

But seriously, fuck the knock-offs. We can stop talking about how to survive the zombie apocalypse now. There will never be a zombie apocalypse. I am not sure of most things, but I’m willing to bet on that. If I’m wrong — well, if I’m wrong I’ll be torn apart by the undead, which is at least as bad as hearing you say, “I told you so.” It’s just such an absurd concept to keep milking, and nothing anyone does will stop feeling derivative.

I guess part of me is also annoyed by the way these persistent guides remove the mystery from the supernatural. It’s fun to do every once in a while: tell me how to stop a werewolf, or the best way to ward off vampires. But when you treat this as an actual genre with new, increasingly mechanical installments, you dilute supernatural fiction as a whole. Find a way to make zombies scary again, or move on to mummies.

Horror on television
I would love to see a good horror TV series, but I recognize that’s probably impossible. There are a lot of limitations to the form — on a practical level, a smaller screen size makes it tougher to scare your audience. Also, most shows won’t kill off major characters, so there’s not the same sense of foreboding. And violence, while not essential to all horror, is restricted on non-cable networks.

Still, TV horror could be better. I loved the sequence in the season finale of The Vampire Diaries in which Alaric stalked Rebekah (just smile and nod, non-fans), because it felt like I was watching a slasher movie. On a smaller scale, sure, but the set-up, cinematography, and direction all worked together to give the scene a horror movie feel. More of that, please.

The X-Files used to do it pretty well. But Supernatural is the closest thing we have to The X-Files now, and aside from the fact the current season is awful, it’s just not scary. The pilot was to some extent, so why doesn’t the show try for that anymore? American Horror Story attempted it, but mostly ended up being really gross. I will give the show props for (SPOILER ALERT) killing off essentially every character in the first season. The stakes were high, at least.

One of my silly dreams that I don’t often admit is the creation of a horror anthology series, like Tales From the Crypt. (I’ve seen some episodes of Masters of Horror. Meh.) Perhaps horror doesn’t work episodically: colossal disappointment The River was largely done in by unfortunate pacing and commercial breaks. Anyway, if someone wants to finance Peitzman Presents or whatever, I promise I’ll at least try to creep you out.

The age of entitlement

23 Apr

Gawker turned off comments recently. I miss them. I mean, on the one hand, it’s nice to be able to write a blog post without being subjected to countless iterations of how awful I am. On the other hand, sometimes people say nice things, too. And I enjoy a spirited debate for the five seconds before it turns nasty and name-calling.

That’s not the point. What’s astounded me about Gawker’s brief foray into commentlessness (it’s a word — look it up) and the announcement of a new commenting system is the outrage. I suppose “astounded” isn’t the right word: every development on the internet is greeted with some level of horror, vitriol, and disgust. Certainly I understand that change is scary — I am 25, and I live with my parents (temporarily). But there’s something so gross to me about the way it’s articulated. It’s not, “I’m upset because a website I like is making a change I don’t agree with.” It’s, “How dare you” or “You had no right” or “Do you not care about my needs at all?”

I can’t speak for Gawker, but I can speak for myself. I feel the same way about these comments as I do when people proudly announce that I’m no longer funny on Twitter and they have to unfollow — what makes you think I give a shit?

You know how I respond to your indignation? With indignation of my own. We are absurdly privileged to have access to an infinite amount of free content on the internet, much of which is actually quite good. We don’t pay (or we pay minimally) for movies, music, news, criticism, original fiction, porn — and then we complain about it. Because we’ve been conditioned to believe that it’s our right to do so. If I’m following a person on Twitter and he makes a joke I don’t like, surely I should let him know. Even though I’m just one of the people who follows him, and he didn’t write the joke for me, and I’m making the choice to include him in my feed.

Before you start prattling on about censorship, believe me that I’m all for everyone speaking their mind. Of course you have a right to complain about a free service. I’m just saying, I have the right to think that makes you an ungrateful tool. But that’s beside the point. What I’m annoyed by is the entitlement, the sense that you think you’ve earned a say, that you deserve one just by virtue of having internet access and a keyboard. Everyone has the right to speak, but your words may not have any effect. And that’s fine — that’s the way it always has been. Not all comments are created equal. Not all criticism is valid.

I’m not saying shut up. (Or I am, but if that’s the case, I’m telling myself to shut up, too. Not uncommon.) I’m saying take a step back and look at what you’re saying. Are you making a valid point, or are you just whining because a website isn’t catering to your specific demands? Again, I do it, too. I probably won’t stop doing it. It’s just something to be aware of, the next time you or I bitch about a Facebook redesign or a new login system on OKCupid or, yes, Gawker temporarily disabling comments. Complaining is fine, but acting like you are owed more than what you’re getting is obnoxious.

I’m going to take this in a different direction, and I hope you’ll pardon the shift. Just go with me on it, and if you think I’m an idiot, feel free to let me know! (You will.)

It’s the same sense of entitlement that has inspired much of the criticism behind HBO’s Girls, a sharp and hilarious new series that drives most creative twentysomethings a little crazy because, yes, this is what our lives are like, and damn it, Lena Dunham beat us to it. That’s not a criticism of the show: that’s a credit to the voice it has captured. Of course I relate to the English major writing a book of personal essays while trying to find a “real job” and navigate the sexual politics of 21st century dating. To quote the last generation: “duh.”

And while I’m reluctant to dismiss all criticism as jealousy — “You’re just jealous” is a useless response in most every scenario in which it’s used — I do think that many of the anti-Girls voices on the internet are simply people who wish they had written Girls. It doesn’t manifest in simple admissions of that, because this is the age of entitlement. Instead, it goes back to that same indignant question that’s asked when a website opts for a new design: “What gives you the right?”

It is fine to not like Girls. You probably like a lot of shows that I think are terrible. (Smash? Reallly?) But what bothers me is how much of that hatred seems derived from a sense of “unfairness.” The charges of nepotism are ludicrous: everyone in Hollywood has some sort of advantage. You know someone or you’re related to someone or you fucked someone or you’re just naturally more good looking than anyone else. There is no clear path, and more often than not, you don’t end up on TV just because you’re someone’s kid. If Girls were a bad show, then perhaps you could complain about nepotism. But it’s a good show that should be on the air, regardless of anyone’s parents.

Ask yourself this: are you mad at Lena Dunham’s success because you don’t think she deserves it? Or perhaps more to the point, do you think that you deserve it more than she does?

If I can tie this all together — and yes, that’s going to be a challenge — I’d say that the internet has placed all of us on what appears to be an even playing field. We all have a voice and a say and a direct line of communication to “the right people.” It looks that way, but that’s a false perception. Some of us are smarter and funnier and better than others — and I say that as a person who acknowledges that there are plenty of people smarter and funnier and better than I am. We succeed on the basis of our own merits, but also on luck and timing and, yes, who we know.

Regardless, we feel as though we deserve success. That same narcissism and privilege we see reflected in some of the characters on Girls is what drives rejection of the show. Read my blog. Watch my show. Let me be more famous than you.

And none of this is really a comment on Gawker (or its commenters) or Girls or even Gawker’s opinion on Girls. I’m just reflecting on the fact that now more than ever, everyone on the internet feels equally as important as everyone else, and that has caused a tremendous level of perpetual dissatisfaction. The world can’t revolve around all of us at once. And the ultimate irony, before someone else points it out, is that I’ve written a rambling, self-indulgent, 1,200-word post on this that I expect people to read.

Seriously, though, why should you care what I have to say? I’m just another blogger trying to shout above the crowd.

Let it out

21 Feb

As a rule, I’m not good at vacations. There’s always too much to do, and I never get to it all—so I’m stressed and tired, and the eventual return home is kind of a relief. I figured a week in New York would do it: by my last night, I’d be eager to fly back to Los Angeles. But I’m not. I miss LA, and I’m happy to call it home, but I don’t want to go just yet. I feel a deep sense of longing to start back at the beginning and do it all over again. I want to stretch out my time here. I want, somehow, to go home without ever needing to leave.

I’m being maudlin. I can’t help it. I’m overwhelmed, and I feel silly even trying to articulate it, but writing is the only way I know how to deal.

It’s not that I’m happier in New York than I am in LA. If that were the case, I’d accept it (however begrudgingly) and do whatever it took to move my life here. I’m fairly confident LA is the right place for me, but this vacation was one that I desperately needed. There’s something about being able to present oneself in a different, unfamiliar context. New York is not new to me, but this trip gave me a chance to push my boundaries and embrace the unknown.

Most of that was internal, and when written out, it likely sounds unremarkable. I’m going to remark on it, anyway! Because I have a hard time with uncertainty, it was important to me that I let a lot of this trip go unplanned. I resolved to fill up my time but to not be overly structured, to accept that I couldn’t do everything (or even, you know, a tiny percentage of everything) because that’s absurd. There’s a way to make the best of your time without making the most of it, if that makes sense: once I grasped that, I felt the familiar panic slip away.

Just going on the trip was a feat. If you only knew how many times I’ve made rough plans to travel and then found reasons not to go. Because it’s easier to just stay at home. It is maybe the easiest thing I know how to do. Up until the night before I left, I kept thinking, what if I just don’t? It wouldn’t really matter either way—aside from pissing off some of the people to whom I had obligations and very likely my parents. Sometimes I’m gripped by such amorphous fear that I want to sink into my couch. Anything but breaking it into its disparate parts and confronting each individually.

Fear of flying. Fear of being away from home. Fear of being alone. Fear of public speaking (more on this in a bit). Maybe it sounds silly to you—it sounds a little silly to me—but going to New York, particularly after so many aborted trips in the past, was symbolically huge.

Public speaking was a big part of it, probably bigger than I was willing to acknowledge before I left LA. On Sunday night, I performed onstage for the first time since middle school. (Summer theater camp plays. That hardly counts.) I’ve resisted the urge to perform because few things terrify me more. One of the most exciting things about being asked to do this show was facing that dread head-on. And as the trip approached, it got stronger—less nervous excitement and more, “You’ve made a huge fucking mistake.”

I don’t want to make it sound as though every moment leading up to Sunday night was filled with anxiety. Because it wasn’t—at least, no more so than usual. This whole trip for me was about accepting a certain level of unease. I might suck. Failure is always an option. But that’s no reason to run, or to close your eyes and wait for it all to pass.

Anyway, I didn’t suck. I had an amazing time on Sunday: it was one of the best nights of my life. It was such an important step for me to take—to do something that terrified me and to realize that it didn’t kill me. It wasn’t just manageable; it was thrilling. The past week has been full of other moments like that, less significant if only because they mostly took place in my head, with a much smaller audience. But each step forward against the anxiety (what I sometimes misinterpret as “my better judgment”) was such a rush. I feel like I started the trip off holding my breath, and I’ve been slowly letting it out as the days passed.

And you know, I may always be a person who doesn’t love the idea of a vacation: nothing will ever be quite as comfortable as normalcy. Despite what I’ve taken away from this, I’m still a homebody. A week-long trip isn’t going to change anyone, least of all someone so stuck in his ways, but I’m writing this down because I need to remember. It’s not all turbulence and drawn-out goodbyes. It’s warm hugs and applause and a vague but overwhelming sense that it’s going to be OK. Deep breath. Let it out.

It stops at my skin

31 Jan

I hate compliments. I crave compliments. I fidget when you tell me I look nice, but I do like it: that’s not an affectation so much as an unconscious reaction. When you compliment me, I feel like I need to correct you. When you don’t compliment me, I wonder what I’m doing wrong. I swear I’m not trying to be difficult—this is just how my brain works. And there are some, uh, kinks in the system? Eh, I’m not mechanical-minded enough to continue this analogy.

I’m writing this for a couple reasons: first, I like to navel gaze; and second, I find myself apologizing to people more and more often after they offer a compliment. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I wasn’t fishing for compliments.” And that’s true. If I disparage myself, it’s because that’s how I feel and sometimes I don’t know when to keep my mouth shut. But as soon as I hear the standard response, the obligatory (but often sincere!) “Hey, stop it, you’re great,” I know I’ve done it again. “You don’t have to say that. Ugh, I didn’t mean to make you feel like you had to.”

You’ll know when I’m fishing for compliments, because I’ll ask. I don’t play mind games, and I’m a terrible liar. So it goes something like this: “You’d make out with me, right?” And yeah, what a dick to put you on the spot, but I only really ask when I already know the answer. You’ve said as much before, but I need you to remind me. I haven’t suddenly turned repulsive, have I? Did my face fall off while I was talking? Are my insecurities seeping through my pores? That happens sometimes, like when you eat too much garlic.

I hate that I need validation almost as much as I hate the fact that it’s never enough. And I don’t say this to be an asshole. It’s not that compliments mean nothing to me—it’s that they mean less than insults. Even perceived slights, however minor, will worm their way into my thoughts. The compliments are nice to hear, but they feel perfunctory—and when I do ask for them, surely that’s my own fault. I know I’m not the only insecure, neurotic person who feels this way. I also know it’s frustrating as shit, for me and for the people who care about me.

This phenomenon applies to writing, too, of course. I’m more secure about my work than I am about my physical appearance: if you tell me you liked an article or a blog post, I’ll likely thank you without feeling like a fraud. But all it takes is one negative comment to dissolve all the compliments away. And that’s silly. It’s completely illogical. “I hate this” should not be worth 100 iterations of “I love this.” But it is! And very few people get 100 iterations of “I love this,” and very few people only get one “I hate this,” because the internet is a dark, judgmental place.

The title for this post comes from the movie Shortbus, which provided what for me is the most articulate explanation of how it feels to not be able to process the good, and to let the bad overwhelm everything else. “Jamie loves you,” Caleb tells James. “You have so much.” To which James replies, “I see it… all around me… but it stops at my skin. I can’t let it inside.”

The only other way I know how to explain it is as a subversion of the playground chant, “I am rubber, you are glue, everything you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.” Like that, but with compliments. And the insults, those stick. When I say it like that, it sounds so absurd—mostly because, you know, playground chant—but also because I can see how little sense it makes. My skin should be consistent when it comes to the rubber-glue dichotomy. If the good bounces back, why does the bad stick?

Because I hope for the best and expect the worst, and it’s a lot more of the latter than the former. I’m not as cynical as I sound—except when it comes to myself. And then, yeah, I’m a total defeatist, or at least a self-deprecating pain in the ass. I find humor in it, because it would be completely insufferable otherwise. When you expect the worst, you ignore the good things: it’s not intentional, but they don’t fit into your vision of how things work. The bad, though, that’s exactly what you knew was going to happen.

Let me put it in terms of compliments. If I feel ugly, and you tell me I look nice, that is good to hear. I thank you, sincerely. But the swell of pride is fleeting. If I look nice, why don’t I feel like I look nice? And then—oh, look! Someone on the internet is calling me ugly! I look like pathetic and greasy and fat. These are the things I think about myself, so those are the words that matter. It’s not about the insult: it’s about the confirmation.

And oh, this all sounds so much sadder than I wish it did. I think a lot of us are like this. I know I’m not the only who ignores compliments and dwells on insults. But how awful to crave compliments when you can never get enough. And what a terrible flaw to take each insult to heart when these things are an unavoidable part of life. I’m self-obsessed enough: why can’t I be a true narcissist? “You’re just jealous,” I’d tell the haters. And whenever someone praised me or “like”-d something on Facebook or tweeted a link to my article, I’d say, “Yes, yes, thank you, I’m wonderful, I know…”

My Twilight fanfic

19 Nov

I didn’t marry Edward Cullen until I was 32.

Married at 18? Are you fucking kidding me? Edward said we needed to be married to have sex, which was a crock of shit—not to mention a terrible reason for getting married young. We broke up when he proposed. It was hard on both of us, but instead of sitting in my room moping the year away, I decided to take some agency and find independence outside of my vampire ex-boyfriend. I told him that once I’d developed a stronger sense of self, I’d consider giving the whole dating thing another shot. (I wanted to play the field. Can you blame me?)

I hung out with Jacob for a while. We weren’t together in my mind, but he seemed to think so, and it was all way too intense. Yeah, the sex was awesome, but I’d had my fill of clingy, controlling men. Besides, he smelled like wet dog after a shower.

What I needed was to get out of Forks. As much as I liked dating, I knew that focusing on my education and career would be more beneficial in the long run. Wasn’t that what I’d told Edward? Aside from a few flings, I kept my hormones in check (read: masturbated A LOT) while attending Sarah Lawrence. After graduating, I decided to pursue my MA in psychology. I did so much personal growth away from Edward I was finally able to see how unhealthy our union had been. Maybe that’s why so many of my patients now are women who have been in abusive relationships.

But sometimes we make mistakes. When Edward and I reconnected, I was 30, very much a changed woman. And he seemed like a changed—er, vampire. He was mellower to be around, more able to control his instincts. Oh, and he was down to fuck. Yeah, we still had to do some serious talking about traditional values and all that, but he eventually came to see it my way. The sex was—well, OK, it wasn’t Jacob-level great, but it was close. And I really did love the Edward he had become. He respected all of my rules, including the “no watching me sleep” thing.

When he asked me to marry him, I said yes. Things had been great for so long: I truly believed we could make it work. But then came the wedding night, when all the intense cries of “I want to be with you forever” suddenly felt a lot more threatening. Yeah, I’d wanted to be a vampire back when I was an idiot teenager, but by this point, I knew there was more to life than eternal youth. And I hadn’t even hit my sexual peak!

The sex was where things really took a turn. Whatever self-control Edward had managed to teach himself went out the window. He was an animal: without the “sin” of premarital sex, he could really let go, and it wasn’t passionate or sexy. It was violent and awful. He broke the bed, tore pillows into feathers. All the trust he’d earned from me vanished, and when I woke up the next morning covered in bruises, I knew it was over. No matter how much he apologized, I couldn’t let it go. Violence was in his nature as a vampire, but that didn’t mean I had to stick around and see how it played out.

When I found out I was pregnant, I freaked, naturally. Who knew that was even a possibility? I wanted a kid—still do, in fact—but it was clear early on that this was no normal pregnancy. I gave it a couple weeks, waited to see how my body would react, and even in that short period of time I became weaker than I’d ever been. I could feel the fetus inside me, and as much as I wanted to bring it into the world, I couldn’t do it at the risk of my life. I told Edward about my decision—over the phone, because I couldn’t gauge what his reaction would be. He was surprisingly understanding, but I knew it was still wise to keep my distance.

I had Carlisle perform the abortion. It felt a little weird going to him—OK, a lot weird—but I couldn’t chance seeing a non-vampire doctor. I had no idea how the fetus was going to look, and I didn’t want to raise a lot of uncomfortable questions. Luckily, Carlisle was a total professional. He respected me in a way Edward never had, and he knew I was making the right choice for my future. I would have a kid when the time was right.

That’s why I’m writing this, actually. I guess that time is now. I’m living with someone now. Max. He’s not a vampire or a werewolf—turns out both of those are dealbreakers. He’s never treated me like his property or made decisions on my behalf. He’s never left me sore or broken. My vampire abortion left my uterus a little worse for wear, so we’re adopting just to be safe. And we’re naming our daughter Renée, after my mother. Max suggested “Rendrea,” a combination of Renée and Andrea, his mother’s name. I told him that was fucking stupid, and once he said it again out loud, he was inclined to agree. We had a good laugh.

And I’m tripping over my joy

13 Nov

And I say there’s trouble when everything is fine
The need to destroy things creeps up on me every time
— Rilo Kiley, “The Absence of God”

You are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, so you go ahead and drop it yourself. This is a stupid way of saying it, maybe, but it’s true. When you feel like things are bound to go from bad to worse, you push them in that direction. It’s not that you like feeling shitty—though maybe you do, a little—but more that you like being in control. And the best way to ensure the universe isn’t conspiring against you is to go ahead and conspire against yourself.

That’s absurd. That’s ass-backwards thinking. That’s telling yourself you’re never really happy because you don’t ever let yourself be really happy.

One of the things you do in therapy is break down your irrational thoughts with evidence to support the thought and evidence that doesn’t support the thought. Ideally, you realize that what you’ve accepted as fact is actually a major distortion, and probably everyone doesn’t hate you a lot, or even a little! But the problem with being a little self-destructive is that you create a lot of self-fulfilling prophecies. You worry people are going to leave you so you push them away. You’re certain something is wrong, so you make sure that something is.

You talk back to yourself a lot, not in a schizo way. (Sometimes you even write blog posts in the second person, because that’s not totally played out or anything.) The more you remind yourself that you’re mucking shit up for the sake of mucking it up, the less you’ll do it, hopefully. It doesn’t always work that way, but hey, there’s no harm in trying. You are too self-aware, too adept at navel-gazing, which just makes it more frustrating when you can’t change your own habits. You think, “Here is a thing that I shouldn’t do!” while you are doing it.

You treat everything like a scab you can’t stop picking. (There’s a visual for you!) You pick at it: “Are we OK?” And you pick at it: “Are you sure we’re OK?” And you pick at it: “I’m sorry for asking if we’re OK.” If you bug them about it enough, even those people who validate you will eventually get sick of it. Not because you’re awful, but because any reasonable person would. Maybe stop picking, then? Maybe just let it be? People will probably like you more if you stop asking them if they like you.

When you watch A&E’s Obsessed, you realize that you could have things way worse. But you also take comfort in the therapists saying, “Thinking something doesn’t make it true.” You have the power to control yourself, even when you can’t control your thoughts. You might not be able to turn off the feelings, but you can stop yourself from acting on them. And most importantly, you can live with life’s uncertainties, fully aware that just because things can get worse, doesn’t mean that they will.

Besides, shit hits the fan often enough without you having to throw it in there yourself. (There’s an even better visual. You’re welcome.)

With fans like these

12 Nov

Hi, I’m a fan! I’m a writer and a critic, sure, but I’m always a fan. I have a good sense of humor about it, because yes, fandom is often ridiculous. But I try not to poke fun of it too much, because I’ve always been more on the fringes of fandom than an active participant.

That’s why I always feel a little awkward when TV series break the fourth wall and acknowledge the fans: it’s one thing to knowingly wink at your audience, and another to mock them ruthlessly. These people might be eccentric, but they’re the ones keeping your show alive. And while it’s easy to look down on them from your position as that awesome thing they admire, it’s more than a little bit shitty. Supernatural has done a great job at meta-humor, but the character of Becky Rosen (of course she’s Jewish) has always rubbed me the wrong way. And that was before the November 11 episode “Season 7, Time for a Wedding,” in which she drugged Sam, forced him to marry her, then held him captive once the spell wore of.

Now, bear with me, people who don’t watch Supernatural: I’m hoping to keep this general enough to interest those who aren’t under the Winchester brothers’ thrall. But to give a little background, Becky is Supernatural‘s fan-within-Supernatural. Long story short—the prophet Chuck chronicled Sam and Dean’s adventures in a series of books, creating a vocal online community of fans who argued over the better Winchester (Dean, obvs) and wrote fanfic, much of it Sam/Dean. (“They know we’re brothers, right?”) Fans of the Supernatural book series are basically fans of the TV show Supernatural, except they don’t know who Jared Padalecki is, and that’s a pity for them.

While I give the series credit for embracing its fans with such an unconventional story, Supernatural sure does love crapping all over them. The fans on the show reflect some fans of the show: they’re intense, deluded, often unable to distinguish fiction from reality. I’ve been to Comic-Con a few times, so yeah, I know these people exist. I also know that there are far more grounded fans, those who can appreciate (and yes, sometimes obsess) over the series without being completely fucking deranged. They don’t write love letters to the characters. They don’t spend 18 hours a day glued to fan forums. They don’t go weeks without showering. (If you’ve been to Comic-Con, you’ll note that some fans definitely do. These people are giving the rest of us a bad name.)

It’s easy to lump the unwashed masses together with the rest of the diehard fans, but it’s unfair. More importantly, it’s really mean. Who cares if socially awkward people find solace in a TV show about angels and demons and homoerotic subtext? If anything, Supernatural should be thanking its cult following for keeping it alive. This is a series that is neither critically adored nor popular in the ratings department. I enjoy it, but I watch more out of fannish dedication than out of any obligation as a critic. I’m pretty sure I could give up on The CW entirely and still be able to comment fairly on television by most critics’ standards. (Don’t worry, America’s Next Top Model. I would never do you like that.) By which I mean, screw the pretension that labels Mad Men and Breaking Bad the only shows worth watching, but know that it exists, and that the fans are what keep most genre shows going.

Back to Friday night’s episode of Supernatural. Becky, easily the most devoted of Supernatural fans, makes a deal with a demon for a love spell that will force Sam into marrying her. Never mind the awful implications (there is no actual rape, she mentions offhand, but it’s still pretty horrifying)—the suggestion is that there are fans like Becky who would kill (perhaps quite literally) to get their hands on the Winchester boys.

I know how over-the-top fandom can be. Don’t even get me started on those fans who reject Jared Padalecki’s and Jensen Ackles’ marriages to other people, because oh my God, they’re so in love with each other. But when you give the fans a point of identification in Becky, you’re implying that they are all like this—that we are all like this. Because fuck, I have never written a single page of Supernatural fanfic, but Becky is still the character I relate most to. Whether or not her actions were redeemed by episode’s end, “Season 7, Time for a Wedding!” was an overwhelmingly ugly portrayal of fandom. Becky is called “pathetic” and ugly. Despite being an adult woman, she’s reduced to the role of a little girl playing dress-up. And all because she had the audacity to connect with a piece of pop culture!

Maybe you don’t watch Supernatural, but there’s a good chance you’re a fan of something. And if you’re a fan of anything offbeat or under-the-radar or even remotely geeky, you know it’s not always easy. Sure, in this day and age, outing yourself as a Trekkie isn’t going to cost you much social clout, but you’re still going to have to deal with a lot of ignorant assholes and damaging stereotypes. I’m not saying Supernatural and series like it should stop having fun with fan culture, because there’s a lot of material there. But seriously guys, show your audience a little respect. I’m not trying to be a sourpuss. I love laughing at this show—I just hate feeling like I’m being laughed at.

Don’t overthink it

23 Oct

I haven’t been blogging as much as I’d like to, in part because I’m busy and in part because I’m kind of depressed and in part because I’ve been working on my super important new Tumblr (Kevin Arnold Is a Dick) and in part—all right, you get the idea. But I’ve been sitting here for half an hour trying to figure out what to write, and this phrase popped into my head: “Don’t overthink it.” So I made that the title of my post, and I started typing, and here we are. Color you fascinated.

“Don’t overthink it” is one of my favorite phrases, because it’s almost always the right advice. It’s also one of my least favorite phrases, because it’s completely useless. I spend a lot of my life thinking and talking back to my thoughts (a therapy technique that’s not nearly as schizo as it sounds), and I’ve never once been able to shut off the thinking entirely. I can distract myself to various degrees of success. I can sleep and dream about things only tangentially related to what I’m obsessing over. I can smoke a bowl and let my mind wander in a notably more pleasant way. But there’s still a lot of thinking going on.

Probably too much. It’s funny—I’m not really sure what “overthinking” entails, and I’d be delighted if anyone could explain it to me. I mean that seriously: how do you define thinking too much? I know when I’m doing it, because I feel anxious and crappy, but I’m unclear on when the line is crossed between the standard amount of thinking and the “oh, God, why doesn’t my brain have an off switch?” It’s frustrating, because I like to think through my problems, or at least make an attempt to do so, but more often than not, the thinking just makes it worse. I’m not seeing solutions: I’m seeing ways in which the situation could get worse.

Or on a smaller scale, when it’s something as simple as a blog post or, hell, a tweet, the consequences of overthinking aren’t as severe. But I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent staring at the screen, trying to force the writing out of me, all while questioning every idea that pops into my head. It’s hard to be productive when you can’t reign in your thoughts. And for someone who considers the act of writing to be therapeutic, I guess, yeah, the inability to write is a pretty big deal. (I’ll admit that I started to feel better about halfway through writing this post, then felt predictably antsy as soon as I got stuck.)

I wish there were some sort of warning—a sign that popped up before my thoughts went careening over the edge. But it all happens so fast. I’m having a perfectly rational time thinking (like you do), and suddenly I’m mired in a thought spiral that’s as illogical as it is upsetting. Where was the blinking red light, or the helpful brain siren? Because once you start overthinking, it’s nearly impossible to stop. The only thing I feel like doing when I’m thinking a lot of thoughts is to think even more.

And as I said, knowing I was about to slip into dangerous thought territory wouldn’t stop me from doing it. I don’t know if most people’s brains come with an internal set of brakes, but mine definitely didn’t, and the more I try to stop thinking about one thing, the more I stop thinking about everything else. All my energy gets focused on the problem or the question or the blinking cursor, and it’s paralyzing. That’s a tremendous amount of mental effort put into nothing. It would be one thing if I were thinking in a positive way, but I am not MacGyver: I cannot figure out how to turn three paperclips and a can of Diet Coke into a cure for ennui.

At this point, I’ve thoroughly overthought the process of overthinking. Give yourself a pat on the back, me. And as expected, I’m still right back where I started, sure to dive back into my fixations and neuroses the moment I close the browser. But on some level, writing makes it OK: I have something (rambly, unfocused, redundant) to show for my thoughts. Thanks for bearing with me while I sorted that out.