28 February 2007

Did You Miss Me?

It has been a crazy couple of weeks. First there was the Move, which involved all sorts of packing and cleaning and loading and unloading and driving through multiple states. Thanks to all those involved in the various stages everything went according to plan and nothing broke, so Yay! Then came the unpacking, trying to find places for all my junk and then for all the junk I displaced by taking over my brother's former room, since my old room is a) too small for my current bed and b) now the office. And finally there was the Computer Crisis of 2007 in which my computer refused to boot up and had the Black Screen of Death, which suggested that I had contracted a virus that wiped my hard drive. However, when I tried to boot it up today, as an experiment, it worked. Fingers-crossed it keeps on working! And in honor of the move, here are the top 5 things about moving home:

1. Waffles for Breakfast -- It is excellent to wake up to freshly made waffles. That never happened when I lived on my own. Because I only woke up early enough to pour some cold cereal in a bowl and hope I had time to eat it.

2. $15 Haircuts -- There is a woman in my parents' ward who is a trained stylist, but works out of her home to be with her kids during the day. She only charges $15 for a hair cut and she made both my mother and I look fabulous. Excellent!

3. Being Universally Loved -- Apparently I am the most popular person in my parents' circle of friends and acquaintances. Everyone here has been so lovely and complimentary. It is doing wonders for my wounded ego.

4. Grocery Shopping -- My parents have a much larger budget than I did and therefore we can buy fun things like Vegetable Thins, gourmet bread, and avocados.

5. The Puppy Possibility -- Not only do my parents have a large yard, they don't charge a pet fee. My dad insists he doesn't want another dog, but my mom and I think adopting a puppy from a shelter would be the loveliest thing in the world. I'm sure we'll bring him around on the subject. Because seriously, I want a puppy!

15 February 2007

Survivor's Guilt

I originally planned to write about the oddity that is a blind date. I had one, the first in a long, long time, on Monday. And it was fine. Nice guy, good conversation, a fine evening all around. Then I got home to a couple of phone messages from family wanting to make sure I was no where near Trolley Square. After hearing about the shooting, I realized my roommate was not home. And not answering her cell phone. Thankfully there was a saved message on our voicemail that meant she had heard it at some point after 9pm. Finally she called and explained that she was with a friend and co-worker at the hospital as he waited for news about his father, who was in surgery, and his brother, who was still in the ER. Sadly, his dad didn't make it. This whole experience just highlights how surreal life is. One hour I'm watching and cheering for vastly overpaid athletes at the Delta Center (excuse me, the Energy Solutions Arena) and the next I'm praying for the loved ones of people I barely know. So now I'm re-evaluating my priorities. Again. I think that might be the biggest challenge of this life, realizing and remembering what is truly important and what is just filler.

08 February 2007

It's Official

I'm moving back home. My parents are driving down next Friday and by the following Monday I will officially be a resident of Washington state. I feel pretty good about this decision, even though it seems counter-intuitive. It also means just driving to the store to buy a couple more boxes or bins for packing is tinged with nostalgia. So here are the top 5 things I will miss about Salt Lake.

1. Miss Parker -- We have been roommates off and on for the last seven years and consistently for close to four. That is nearly four years of accumulated shared jokes, obsessions, adventures, disasters, and late night conversations. It will be weird not to see her everyday, to laugh or commiserate over the day's events. And I don't think instant messaging will be the same.

2. Friends -- With the exception of 3 individuals, all of my closest high school friends live between Logan and Spanish Fork. In addition, there are all the other friends I have made in my sojourn in Utah and I will miss all of them very, very much. Thank goodness for email, blogs, and cell phones to keep in touch!

3. The Salt Lake City Public Library -- I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but I love this place! It has 5 floors of books and two cafes that make the whole wonderfully-designed building smell of coffee and books. I can spend hours in there and often have. I will miss it dreadfully. My mother assures me that our regional library back home now has a website and you can order lots of different books, but it just won't be the same!

4. Shopping -- I'm moving to a rural town that doesn't even have a Target. The nearest Target is 70 miles away, as is the nearest shopping mall. After living in a state where I can walk to the nearest Banana Republic and Barnes & Noble, I think I will suffer major withdrawls. Not to mention I don't even know where the nearest Apple store is. I love drooling over the MacBook Pro at the Gateway, even if I don't have a clue as to when I'll be able to afford one.

5. Control Over the Remote -- I know I wrote about trying to cut back on TV watching, but now I have to give way to my parents' viewing choices. Luckily my mother and I enjoy much of the same programs, but I think I might have to give up House since my dad watches something else in that time slot. Also, everything comes on an hour later in the Pacific time zone. Which means Conan doesn't end till after 1am there. I'm too old to stay up that late!

05 February 2007

Breaking the Cycle

Those readers who know me outside of this blog (which is the majority of you, I suspect) know that the past several months have been a pretty miserable time in my life. In fact, the five months (and counting) of unemployment is the least of it. My mother faced and is facing some major health issues (which were diagnosed with spectacular timing in the week before my birthday and the week of Thanksgiving) and my grandmother passed away six days before Christmas. It hasn’t been a pleasant fall or winter and there were times when I just couldn’t deal with it. And when I couldn’t deal with it, I turned on the television. I was watching a lot of it, pretty much starting with the 3 pm re-runs of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, followed by Ellen at 4, through the syndicated (and edited) Sex and the City re-runs at 6 and on to whatever primetime had to offer until Conan O’Brian bid his audience adieu sometime after 12:30 am. That is A LOT of TV. Almost ten hours worth. I didn’t always just sit there on the couch, mouth gaping wide in some sort of stupor. I did things around the house, dishes, laundry, cooking, checking email, talking on the phone; I even painted my bedroom and bathroom. But always in the back was the TV, the noise, the distraction, the unreality of it all. It was like a security blanket. And I wasn’t any less miserable when I went to bed at night than I had been the previous night. After another sleepless and mournful night and an equally mournful and aimless morning, I decided I needed a change. I watched a little less television, read a little more. And one of the things I read was a collection of essays by David Foster Wallace entitled A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. One of the essays was about American TV consumption and its impact on the quality and content of the fiction being generated. This passage seemed written directly to me:
“An activity is addictive if one’s relationship to it lies on that downward-sloping continuum between liking it a little too much and really needing it. . . . But something is malignantly addictive if (1) it causes real problems for the addict, and (2) it offers itself as a relief from the very problems it causes. A malignant addiction is also distinguished for spreading the problems of the addiction out and in in interference patterns, creating difficulties for relationships, communities, and the addicts very sense of self and spirit. In the abstract, some of this hyperbole might strain the analogy for you, but concrete illustrations of malignantly addictive TV-watching cycles aren’t hard to come by. If it’s true that many Americans are lonely, and if it’s true that many lonely people are prodigious TV-watchers, and it’s true that lonely people find in television’s 2-D images relief from their stressful reluctance to be around real human beings, then it’s also obvious that the more time spent at home alone watching TV, the less time spent in the world of real human beings, and that the less time spent in the real human world, the harder it becomes not to feel inadequate to the tasks involved in being part of the world, thus fundamentally apart from it, alienated from it, solipsistic, lonely. It’s also true that to the extent one begins to view pseudo-relationships with Bud Bundy or Jane Pauley as acceptable alternatives to relationships with real people, one will have commensurately less conscious incentive even to try to connect with real 3-D persons, connections that seem pretty important to basic mental health. For Joe Briefcase, as for many addicts, the Special Treat begins to substitute for something nourishing and needed, and the original, genuine hunger – less satisfied than bludgeoned – subsides to a strange objectless unease.”
Wallace, David Foster. “E Unibus Pluram: television and U.S. fiction.” In A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: essays and arguments. (New York: Back Bay Books,1998), 38-39.
Sitting there in bed, reading under the small light of my bedside lamp, I realized I was terribly addicted to television, to the pseudo comforting fact that it is always there to be accessed and to the fantasy and escape it provides. I needed to stop feeding my mind with a constant stream of fantasy because, as Mr. Wallace points out:
“Of course, the downside of TV’s big fantasy is that it’s just a fantasy. As a Treat, my escape from the limits of genuine experience is neato. As a steady diet, though, it can’t help but render my own reality less attractive (because in it I’m just one Dave, with limits and restrictions all over the place), render me less fit to make the most of it (because I spend all my time pretending I’m not in it), and render me ever more dependent on the device that affords escape from just what my escapism makes unpleasant.”
Wallace, David Foster. “E Unibus Pluram: television and U.S. fiction.” In A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: essays and arguments. (New York: Back Bay Books,1998), 75.
I was intensifying my misery by spending so many hours trying to escape it. Reality will never compare favorably with fantasy, no matter how great your reality is. And when your reality is not so great, it is going to seem pale and insipid compared to the perfection on the screen. And the subtle message of television is that whatever your reality is, it isn’t perfect enough. You aren’t good-looking enough, smart enough, witty enough or exciting enough to merit attention. Otherwise you would be on TV. Or at least have friends to do stuff with, rather than sitting on your couch watching other people do things. Or other people pretending to be someone else doing fictional things in fake settings. Either way, it mostly just reminds you of all the things you don’t have personally, professionally, emotionally, financially and/or physically. After days and weeks of this constant stream of false hopes, I had lost momentum. My blog writing dropped off, I hadn’t touched my novel-in-embryo in ages, I hadn’t even thought about it in almost as long. I had lost touch with myself. A few days after reading the previous, I was reading Barack Obama’s memoir Dreams from My Father and read this, about his experience visiting family in Kenya for the first time, but thought it applied to my situation.
“I thought about what Sayid had said as we continued to walk. Perhaps he was right; perhaps the idea of poverty had been imported to this place, a new standard of need and want that was carried like measles, by me, by Auma, by Yusuf’s archaic radio. To say that poverty was just an idea wasn’t to say that it wasn’t real; the people we’d just met couldn’t ignore the fact that some people had indoor toilets or ate meat every day, any more than the children of Altgeld could ignore the fast cars and lavish homes that flashed across their television sets.
But perhaps they could fight off the notion of their own helplessness. Sayid was telling us about his own life now; his disappointment at having never gone to the university, like his older brothers, for lack of funds; his work in the National Youth Corps, assigned to development projects around the country, a three-year stint that was now coming to an end. He had spent his last two holidays knocking on the doors of various businesses in Nairobi, so far without any success. Still, he seemed undaunted by his circumstances, certain that persistence would eventually pay off.”
Obama, Barack, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, 2d ed. (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004), 381.
My relentless television watching had created a “new standard of need and want” in my life, one that compared even less well with my current reality than my previous standard had. In short, I needed to trim the television watching. I couldn’t go cold turkey, simply because I have a lot of hours to fill each day, and a little television, a little escape isn’t so bad. I kept a few primetime favorites around, like The Office, House, Supernatural, and American Chopper but I cut out all primetime on Mondays and Wednesdays (hence this extraordinarily long blog). I still watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, as that is where I get my news. And Ellen makes me laugh, so she stays. On paper, it may not look like a change, but it is and in the past week it has made a huge difference. I’m happier than I have been in a while. Hopefully I can keep the momentum going.