Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Selfish Asshole

I’m a selfish asshole.

Hear me out.

In exactly two weeks I’m going be 29. And in 29 years of living (plus 9 months in the womb where I didn’t accomplish much) I have never really had to ask for much.

I grew up in a loving household full of people who (while they may not have always understood me, and frankly, who can blame them) always supported me.

I have written before about I have such an abundance of things in my life that I regularly have to purge my life of material possessions. It’s a position that so few people ever find them in, a position I try to remember whenever I feel myself wanting for something.

In the weeks leading up to my birthday I like to take stock of my life. I like to spend some time contemplating, thinking, and comparing where I am now to where I was a year ago. It can be challenging as I constantly find myself coming up short of the places I’d hoped, or expected, to be.

In addition to reflection my birthday usually involves celebration. Typically there are two types of gatherings.

I will do a birthday dinner with a small group of my close friends at a really nice restaurant. We make toasts, we laugh, and we eat incredible food. And then I will set up a get together for my larger circle of friends, something where people can come in and out of at their leisure, stop by, celebrate for as little or as long as they’d like.

And I won’t lie; at both affairs I usually don’t pay for a thing. And I’ve never had a problem with it. I mean on your birthday you should be able to get whatever you want. At least that’s been my mentality.

But for some time now I’ve been feeling a weird strange cloud drifting over my soul. I’d be lying if I had said it was a recent phenomenon, but it is only recently that I have started to pay more attention to it. It’s a feeling that I’m not doing enough.

For the past 4 years I’ve lived alone. For the past 6 I’m floated in and out of jobs that I thought would bring me the things I’ve wanted. I’ve received raises, title changes, and new responsibilities.

In that same time I’ve traveled. I’ve had incredible experiences in places around the country and around the world. I’ve taken up hobbies that have occupied so much space in my mind that others can attest I am sometimes less present than I should be.

More than anything, I have had opportunities.

When I’ve wanted something, the thing I have wanted is so far above the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy that he would probably be baffled that one person could possibly want for so much.

My highs have been higher than I could have possibly imagined, and my lows, while sad and challenging and life changing, have always been something I could eventually work my way through.

There has always been a road. And while that road may have been concealed, or bumpy, or long, there has always been a road. I have never been without a road. But for so many others, that has never been the case.

And I know this. I know it the way people know war and famine and poverty exists. They are the kinds of things we may try to remind ourselves, but never too often so as not to make ourselves feel sad. After all, there is only so much we can do.


Here’s the thing. I don’t do anything.

When disaster strikes a far away country in the form of a tornado or a tsunami I give money to the Red Cross. When my friends do a marathon to raise money to fight cancer I give money to their cause. I have situational generosity. But I never really give anything that requires anything.

A handful of years ago I went to work at a nonprofit thinking that would give me the feeling of generosity and altruism I had hoped would at some point infuse my life.

But for a myriad of reasons, those feelings never came. I wasn’t more generous or giving towards those in needs while I worked there, I was just more awareness. But awareness without action is like a kite without a string.

So I left that job to pursue something I loved. And I was a happier employee than I’d ever been and for many moons that feeling of wanting to give back remained held at bay.

I think we all kind of wait and hope for that moment when everything changes. We expect that moment of clarity, that single instant when our worlds come into focus, our worries fade away and the single most important clear and obvious needs of the universe come into focus.

Though for most people those moments never arrive. It seems silly to admit that I have been waiting for a moment like that when my life has been supersaturated with such moments.

So after two weeks spent on the west coast spent socializing, contemplating and interacting in different cities with different people over different issues, I’m done waiting.

And that is why on the eve of my 29th year I’m “giving up” my birthday to raise money for a cause that takes every single cent it raises and uses it to bring clean drinking water to those in need.

The facts of how clean water can change the world are truly overwhelming. And if you’re interested in reading about them you can find them at Charity: Water.

So what does this mean?

That means this year I will be passing up that small gathering at the fancy restaurant to celebrate me.

That means this I’m not having a party where people come and buy me drinks. Sure I'll still get people together, but the drinks will be cheap, and nobody is allowed to buy me a single one.

Even as I write this though, even as I tell you that I am proud to be committing to raising $1,000 dollars for this incredible cause, I am also aware what a copout it is.

Sure I’m “giving up” my birthday this year but what am I actually giving up?

I’m not giving $1,000 out of my own pocket. I’m asking my friends to help me. I’m asking people instead of buying me drinks on my birthday, to take 29 bucks and put it towards something that actually matters.

While I have no idea if I’ll reach my goal, I do know that it already feels good to want something that will help somebody who deserves it, somebody to whom the words ‘want’ and ‘need’ are exactly the same.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

What I Shouldn't Have Not Done

Growing up, I often thought the role of adults was simply to confuse me.
It was about the same time I realized my parents didn't have the answer to everything, which I realized, adults in general didn't have answers to a lot of things.
But as an adult you can't just not have an answer, you have to say something. Hence why I think oftentimes adults just make some stuff up, or repeat something they heard somebody else say. Maybe they will bring something out of their "my parents used to say this" handbook.
I suppose it also comes down to the fact that at a certain point, you just run out of things to say. I know for a fact that as a child I was always talking… actually that hasn’t really changed. But I can’t imagine my parents had a response to everything I was saying, also I can’t imagine they listened to everything I said.
Whatever the reason, as a teenager I heard some very confusing things.
Like after I sneezed my parents would say gazzazablatz. To this day I have NO idea where the hell they got that term. And any time I tried to use it out of the house it was met with confusion.
It means bless you.
In what language?
Um… Boehmcke?
I still say it to this day but I’m much more aware of the face that it is in fact a very niche saying.
My sister and I were frequently accused of inactivity, which looking back seems a bit ridiculous considering I felt like for the first half of my life I was always in motion.
But when I stopped moving, or more specifically, when we weren’t doing what we were supposed to be doing my parents would bust out this gem:

You’re j sitting there, like a bump on a log!
A more vague and generic statement I have never heard. I understand what this means but I also feel like it was a bit unfair. Sometimes, even as a teenager, I was very tired. Had I accused my parents of being bumps on logs I most likely would have been sent to my room.
But the term itself is so devoid of any character. You look like… a thing on… another thing! Bump on a log, lump on a frog, chunk on a dog; none of it really makes any sense.
Sometimes though I think my parents would have preferred I be a bump on a log than the frenetic, 50 question, “can I, may I, would you mind if I,” type of kid that I was.
Whenever my mom was tired of answering my questions, or I didn’t really care specifically about what I was asking, she would say to me:
Knock yourself out.
I found this one to be particularly hilarious because as a child there was a very good possibility of this actually occurring. Whenever they said this I had this image in my head of wearing gigantic red boxing gloves and giving myself an uppercut to the chin, knocking myself unconscious.
And while that never literally happened, the similar equivalent almost did. Like that time I ran out onto an icy path but slipped and went nearly horizontal into midair before landing on the back of my head.
I didn’t knock myself out, but it’s really a miracle I didn’t.
I suppose the opposite of knocking myself out would have been being “bent out of shape.” This was another one of my parents’ favorites. I was a kind of oversensitive kid and even now, I still kind of am. But whenever I would get really upset or frustrated about something that my parents didn’t feel was justified I would be accused of being bent out of shape.
This, to me, always conjured up an image of some metal man all twisted and curved walking all crazy because of his literal imposition.
The other problem with being called bent out of shape is there is no real good come back.
I’m not bent out of shape! I’m… in shape! I’m bent into shape!
I didn’t have a lot of good comeback when trying to refute accusations from my parents.
But when it comes down to the ultimate opposition silencer, that honor must go to my high school band teacher.
He was a really nice guy one on one, always really friendly and personable, somebody you might like to have a dinner party… if you were prone to throwing dinner parties in the 10th grade.
But when he lost control of a room of 100 teenagers he would lose his cool and dish out what is still the most confusing statement I have ever heard:
He said this every day.
I guess we were a chatty group. It’s tough being a nice teacher, kids frequently mistake kindness for weakness. And anytime we stopped focusing and digressed into chatter he would come out swinging with that confusing statement.
And I would always stop talking immediately, mainly because I was trying to figure out what the hell he was saying.
I’d start making sentence trees on my sheet music.
Why am I the only one talking?
Why am I not talking?
Why am I (not) the only one talking?
It was like a math equation wrapped in words and put to music.
Every time he said it I would instantly become lost in a 15 minute haze of wonderment, trying to figure out why on earth he chose such a confusing statement.
Maybe he did it on purpose. Maybe that is the best way to deal with teenagers is just to confuse them until they shut up. It apparently worked for us.
Sometimes I think about that teacher and wonder how he came across that statement. Did his parents used to say it? Did his band teacher say it to him?
Who knows what he’d tell me, but whatever his reason, I’d probably say the same thing to him.
Hey if it works, knock yourself out.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sort of Borrowed Goods

Two or three times a year I leave the house without any deodorant on. I don’t do this on purpose; sometimes I just forget.

I have a very short attention span.

So short in fact, that I will walk from one room in my apartment to another room only 10 feet away to do something, do something else entirely, and not realize until hours later that I never did the thing I set out to do.

This has always been the case since I was a kid. My parents used to yell at me for not paying attention. But that’s not the case. I always paid attention. I paid attention to everything. That was the problem. I couldn’t pay attention for long because there was always something new I had to pay attention to.

It’s difficult being me.

So it is understandable that in the daily routine of getting ready in the morning, sometimes I leave out a crucial step like putting on deodorant.

If it is a normal workday it’s not a problem because I keep a stick of deodorant in my desk at work. I do this for my forgetful days or if I need to re-fortify the pits before leaving the office for what I anticipate being a particularly sweaty night.

However, if I am headed to any place but work, well then I have an issue. It’s at this point that I have to do some calculations.

How long I will be out + how much I like the people I will be around = Whether or not action must be taken

If that formula adds up to equal the fact that action must be taken, I head for the nearest drug store.

Now before you judge me, I will say no, I do not grab a brand new stick of deodorant from the shelf, open it, apply it to myself and then put it back on the shelf. That would be disgusting and also morally reprehensible. I’m not a savage after all. I understand that is completely unacceptable. I would never do that with a stick of deodorant.

That’s why I use the spray.

It’s not something I do a lot, I’ve probably only done it two or three times in my life. And it’s been necessary. Stinky times call for desperate measures.

The toughest part is doing it discreetly. It would almost definitely be easier to actually steal the entire bottle of deodorant spray than it is to use it without anybody noticing. I have to pretend to read the label of the bottle, discreetly look up and down the aisle and then… shove the bottle under my shirt so I can give a quick blast of chilly pressurized mountain fresh air into each pit.

You might not approve of this, but I can assure you the people I saw on those occasions certainly did.

And since I’m forgetful, it’s not only deodorant that’s gets left behind. Sometimes it’s something much more important like sun block.

Last year I was in Chicago for a conference.

I had a whole day to myself before the conference started. It was a brilliantly sunshiney day and I wanted to spend it outside eating and seeing the city.

I signed up for an Architecture boat cruise. And it wasn’t until about an hour before the cruise that I realize… I haven’t brought any sun block.

Again, predicament.

Now I could have easily have just purchased a bottle of sunscreen but they only had bottles over three ounces, which means that I was going to use it once, and then I would have to leave it behind since I wasn’t checking my luggage back to New York.

I didn’t want to waste all that sun block.

So I utilized my deodorant strategy and I located a drug store.

I walk into the drug store and locate the sun block aisle. There was no way I could effectively apply a cream to my body efficiently with enough time to actually protect myself and still not get caught at the same time. So I look around and I find the aerosol spray cans (which function very similarly to the spray deodorant I was familiar with pirating).

I take a look up and down the aisle… and then I panic.

This was going to require way more than two discreet sprays. I have a face and ears and neck and arms to cover. This drug store is far too crowded and there are too many people coming in and out of the aisles.

So instead I start a sort of walk-and-spray tour of the store. I walk down an aisle and when I think no one is looking I launch into what looks like an epileptic fit trying to cover as much of my body as I can in three seconds.

And I can’t do it for longer than that because sun block is fragrant. You always know when somebody is applying it.

So I’m walking up and down aisles, sporadically sun blocking myself, and the longer I do it, the faster my pulse races.

I finally think I have enough coverage and return the bottle to the shelf and walk out the door. But my hear was pounding so hard as I thought a security guard was going to full out tackle me before I got to the door.

But I made it out the door without any violence, and even better, I didn’t get burnt on the cruise.

I know it seems like I wasted a whole bunch of sun block, but don’t blame me.

Blame the TSA.