A couple days ago I was shuffling through the (ridiculous amount of) music on my phone when I ran across what I had, on numerous occasions over the past several years, called a sort of theme song for my life. At once a declaration of exasperation and hope (towards present pitfalls and future triumphs, respectively), All Time Low’s “Weightless” encapsulated well the way I felt whenever I would fail to achieve the many goals I set for improving my life. The song’s optimistic chorus, which begins “Maybe it’s not my weekend, but it’s gonna be my year” resonated strongly; yet by year three, the optimism was empty; the certainty that the bad would turn around: anything but certain.

Life has been good lately, and so I came quite close to skipping past “Weightless” when it came on, thinking of it as a relic of some bygone and happily-forgotten era of my life, a thing to which I had once related, but (happily) would no longer. But I didn’t skip it. And as I listened, I began to realize my graduation celebration had come a bit prematurely; I wasn’t onto the next track. I had merely made it to the second verse.

All Time Low – “Weightless”
Verse 1:
Manage me, I’m a mess.
Turn a page, I’m a book half unread.
I wanna be laughed at, laughed with just because
I wanna feel weightless.
And that should be enough.
But I’m stuck in this fucking rut, 
Waiting on a secondhand pick-me-up
And I’m over getting older.
If I could just find the time,
Then I would never let another day go by.
I’m over getting old.
And maybe it’s not my weekend
But it’s gonna be my year
And I’m so sick of watching while the minutes pass and I go nowhere.
And this is my reaction to everything I fear
‘Cause I’ve been going crazy.
I don’t wanna waste another minute here.

Anyone familiar with my life for the last several years can appreciate the aptness of all that. My life was the perfect image of stagnation, and time and again I would make excuses for the failure to go anywhere. I really was in a rut. My rut’s name was “Pawling,” and frankly, the profanity fits the frustration I felt towards being in that rut. Even as I wasted time I lamented not having the time. I committed to changing my life tomorrow — and of course, tomorrow never comes. Which is why, of course, no weekend was my weekend, and the year that would have been mine never arrived.

Until this year. Or, more accurately, until last year, when I began to make proactive choices which led to where I am this year. And while there were some parts of the early 2013 I’m not proud of, I feel confident that this is, especially in a comparative sense, “my year.”

So flash forward, and I’m here, a graduate student. But in many ways the naive, immature person who preferred having a catchy pop song to relate to over worrying about the implications thereof, has lingered. He and I are in an outright fight to the death. And I don’t think I realized that until this week, and tonight in particular, as I listened again to the song while reflecting on the night’s class and subsequent bus ride, wherein I — or he — outright dominated the so-called discourse. He is the Adam who does NOT know how to shut. the hell. up.

I wrote, several years back, about the surreal effect I’ve experienced wherein I feel like I’ve lost agency over my own behavior, and I sit, mouth agape, watching myself say or do things that I want to stop, am almost screaming at myself to please stop, and yet despite this being me we’re talking about, who wants me to stop… I don’t. Times like this my eyes wander even as my mouth moves. I can see the rolled eyes. I can see the people whose looks communicate to one another “here he goes again.” I hear the person I just interrupted, again, and I hear the unspoken curses nested in the tight corners of the forced smile they feign to stop themselves from reaching across the table and slapping me.

It occurs to me that it would likely be better if I truly were just completely oblivious — if I had a degree of plausible deniability, and honestly didn’t know that I was behaving in unacceptable ways. Not only could this be used to excuse it — he’s socially inept — but it would save me the added frustration (added, that is, to my own self-criticism) of wondering just how many conversations have been had between peers about how obnoxious I tend to be. It’s one thing to be paranoid that people dislike you or speak ill of you. But this is something else; this is a full-fledged awareness that I do things for which I ought to be disliked or ostracized. That phantom me on the periphery wants to stick around after I leave so that when someone says “I thought he’d never stop talking” he can say “I know, tell me about it!”

Of course one of the issues, the one I have no doubt I subconsciously cling to and use to justify my impropriety, is that on occasion someone will compliment one of my diatribes or tell me I’d more or less spoken their mind. And so while I’m off in the corner of my mind discussing with half the class how much I wouldn’t mind if Adam suddenly lost his tongue, someone’s telling me they can’t get over “how smart you are.”

Verse 2:
Make believe that I impress,
That every word, by design, turns a head.

…yeah, make believe.

Make believe that I’m half as smart or put together as those folks seem to think. Because it’s simply not true. And if you need proof, you need look no further than the faces of the people in the room.

Perhaps it’s my social ineptitude — or my seeming inability (is it merely refusal?) to take the reins and make myself less impudent — that has led me to live such an introverted life. As much as I love being around and talking with people, I have tendencies which invariably drive people away. Once more with paranoia, it’d be unreasonable for most people to constantly wonder whether they’d said or done something to make someone avoid them. But me? I can point to specific, empirical evidence in the form of a dozen shattered friendships I broke by clinging to too tightly.

I have trouble letting things go — not for good, but just in general. I like being sure. I like knowing what happened, what’s happening, what is supposed to happen next. I don’t jump from one rock to the next; I slowly shift my weight from one foot to the other, lifting only when I’m sure I’m on stable ground. I don’t do well with uncertainty. But my neediness in that regard means I rarely leave the ground.

Verse 2, continued:
I wanna feel reckless,
Wanna live it up just because.
I wanna feel weightless,
‘Cause that would be enough. 

I’ve said it to folks but I don’t think most people understand the extent to which the trip I took with some new friends a few weeks ago was extraordinarily beyond my typical comfort zone. I did not know where we were going. I didn’t even really know who was going. I didn’t know where we’d stay, or what we were going to do. Yet despite so many years of assuring myself that leaving the ground would most likely result in pain upon landing, I jumped anyway.

This could be all I’ve waited for.
This could be everything!
I don’t wanna dream anymore.

I’ll be honest. Blogs like this one? I’m not sure which Adam writes them. Is it the one who’s excited about making progress, overcoming shortcomings, pulling the zipper across my lips? Or is this in some convoluted way the utmost of narcissism, a meta-faux pas? Does it engender empathy, or merely exacerbate the problems?

All I can really do is be optimistic and take solace in whatever value sheer honesty may be said to have. If it turns out that someone I’ve been driving away is encouraged to know that I’m aware of my unsavory idiosyncrasies, cool. They might rightly point out that recognizing a problem and actually solving it are hardly the same thing. And to that I can simply say I’ve made a lot of progress recently — a lot more, in fact, than most of the previous three or four years combined can boast. I’m still making a lot of mistakes.

And hey.

Maybe it’s not my weekend.

But it’s gonna be my year. 

Another August 27th

I’m really happy.

I think there are other things I might have said, or tried to say, to obfuscate that point, but after twenty minutes of boring myself with some grandiose way of trying to make it something bigger, here we are: I’m smiling, and I’ve gotten to smile a lot today, and the rest is inconsequential; I had a happy birthday.

When I looked in the mirror this morning I saw a person whom I liked, and was looking forward to being.

And for me? That’s a big deal. That’s new. That’s exciting.

But it didn’t come from within. It was foisted on me by powers without. For two weeks I’ve been baptized in a sense of purpose and belonging, receiving two gifts which transcend anything I might have been consciously, intentionally given.

Gift One is acceptance into this program and, specifically, the fellowship supporting my first year. I know I’m supposed to be a master at articulation but words fail to encapsulate how it feels to walk into a room of brilliant people and to know that, in spite of the inferiority and uncertainty and anxiety, I am here because someone specifically decided that what I think and say will be a benefit to this community, and not simply because I wanted to be here. People who had never met me chose to invest, directly, financially, in the person I have the potential to be.

The second gift is a little less obvious, but in many ways more valuable: new friendship. I cannot overstate how incredible it feels to have people in your life who, after meeting you, could easily have avoided ever seeing you again, but have instead elected to make you a part of their lives and allowed you to make them a part of yours. And that’s not to slight any of the wonderful friends and family who reached out today to wish me well, whose continued participation in my life is its own ever-renewing reward. But to come into a place with no one by your side, and two weeks later have formed a group mutually comfortable enough to consider spending a weekend away together…

…did I mention I was smiling?

I was asked, today, if I was “doing anything for [my] birthday.” Some wild party. Some grand adventure. A little irresponsible spending. A special ritual. The implication, unspoken, that a birthday is made by something which can be pinpointed as exceptional, that it must (or, to avoid being pitiful, ought to) transcend the normal course of things.

Yet for my birthday, I did not transcend the normal.

I did homework for six hours. I went to a meeting. I went to class. I ate a homemade, brown-bagged dinner while rushing through a last-minute assignment. And I guess if I put it like that, it sounds like I didn’t “do anything.”

But in the spaces between, I did a job. I learned something new. I met new people. I deepened my relationships with others.

Whatever happens in the next days or weeks which may be justified on the basis of “it’s for my birthday,” the fact remains that my birthday is over.

I’m still feeling happy.

And of all the things I could “do” to embrace being twenty-four, I’m pretty comfortable with “doing” that.




Regarding July 24th, 2013

I am blessed.

I’ve been blessed all along, of course. But only today, sitting in the yellow glow of a corner lamp, holding a catalog of action figures and statues I’d never consider buying, and looking at the numerous boxes of books, games, music, and films which I’d packed over the course of the evening, did I truly understand just how incredibly well-off I am, and how happy the last few days have made me, and how earnestly I am looking forward to the coming days, weeks, and months.

There are huge, obvious blessings. Grad school acceptance. Funding. Not having to gamble on a new roommate. Not having to worry about furnishing the apartment. Getting to study what I love and being paid to do so. Having an adviser who is already more embracing of my research interests than I’d ever hoped.

I get to be part of two weddings within less than ten days, of friends who’ve meant so much to me for years, and even more in just the last twelve months.

My auto insurance is going to be lower than I expected it to be…by almost 40%.

And those are just the big things. The tea in my mug, the comic on my bed, the gas in my car’s tank, the breakfast I can make in the morning…

I think at some point there will be an obligatory “goodbye, Pawling” blog and a “hello, Columbus” blog and a “Oh my goodness I’m not gonna be 23 anymore” blog. But right now I just feel obligated to let folks know I’m happy. After so many months of turning people off with my vitriol and and cynicism, I’m okay with taking one random blog to be cloying. One random blog to say I ran across my Hillary Duff Metamorphosis CD and laughed, and thought of how many others would have laughed too. One random blog to say I still have those gallstones in a jar beside the Anberlin music that carried me through my surgery and bonded me with someone who has since gotten married and had children, but never stopped being awesome. One random blog to say it’s been too long since I watched The Lion King or A Walk to Remember.

Today I finished a video game, wrote a rant, went for a drive with my brother, paid off a tux rental, read friends’ blogs, packed a portion of my life away, unpacked some memories, wrote a more positive rant, drank a lot of coffee and a little tea, joined a website, and read a few comics. It wasn’t necessarily an important day. But it was a good one. I could use more like it.

I think, though, that if I really stop and consider things, I’ll find that the exceptional thing about today wasn’t that I was more blessed than usual.

It’s that today, I noticed.

June 28, 2013

It has been a long time since I wrote something.

Well, something here, anyway. I tried once or twice, but those drafts remain unpublished. In the interim I’ve felt a great deal of Ecclesiastes 1:2.

You know. Meaningless.

A brief glance at the last several months shows me engaged primarily in fighting things I hate, ideas with which I disagree. It shows me arguing with enemies far more frequently than laughing and learning with friends. It shows me depressed and neglecting both responsibilities and pleasures which ought to have had my attention, which would have made those days fuller and more worthy of having been through.

I am moving from New York in exactly five weeks. Sure, I’m moving to somewhere — Columbus, Ohio, to be precise — but what hits me is that I’m leaving New York. I am, for the foreseeable future (if not forever), leaving the place which has always been my home. And while the change will be gradual, and while the official move will probably not happen until early next year, the fact remains that I’m about to not have an address in New York, a bedroom in New York, a bank account in New York, or any of the other things which might signify that one is a New Yorker.

And with that fundamental change in my identity come others. In five weeks I will no longer be unemployed. I will no longer be a basement-dweller. I will no longer be merely a student, but a researcher. I will no longer be just a gamer, but a games scholar. These are the changes I can’t help making. These are changes which occur whether I want them to or not. They are the new status quo.

But along with the inevitable changes I find myself wondering just how boldly I can reinvent myself in the coming months. If the recent past is filled with triviality, irresponsibility, lost productivity, and negativity, then what if those, too, are identities I can change? If I could be half as thoughtful as I am stubborn; half as compassionate as I am selfish; half as industrious as I’ve been lazy; half as…well, half as heavy as I’ve been. Would I be twice as happy? Make others that much happier?

Truth be told in the past several weeks I’ve had my eyes opened to just how much of a burden I am to other people. Moreover, how much of a burden my life has become to me. And I don’t say that in an emo or frightening way, but as a simple, accurate gauge of reality: I bring myself and others down far more frequently than not. I don’t really like me much and I give others few reasons to do so either. The ones who do often find themselves regretting it. I’ve seen it in their eyes: the wish that they hadn’t bothered to strike up a conversation with me because now they feel trapped in something that’s making them uncomfortable. If people are supposed to leave your presence happier than they were when they entered it, I’ve certainly been doing it wrong.

The funny thing is, when I sat down to write something today, it’s because I realized I really want to learn Japanese. And somehow, starting out by pointing out what I don’t want in my life, I was going to work my way around to what I do want. A sort of wishlist for the future. I don’t really know that I can just jump into that now. Seems the tone’s wrong. But there you have it: Japanese. And Russian. Why?

Well, I…

Their cultures have so many things in them which I find beautiful, which speak to me, often in ways I’ve never felt from English-speaking cultures. Their art, their stories, their way of life, all bound up in characters I can’t read, can’t penetrate, can’t fathom. I suppose that’s true of any culture but for me, those are the ones I lament being locked out of.

So I sit here and I consider what it means, to want to change, to improve, to learn, and the steps one actually has to take to make those changes, to achieve the improvement, to gain the knowledge lacked. And I think back on all the times I’ve wanted to change but have been found wanting in change, and I wonder whether this will be all that again, or whether this will truly be a watershed in the life I lead, and whether all those mandatory changes will facilitate the others, the ones which would make the changes matter.

Que sera, sera; mais, moi?
Je dois être le changement
Que je veux voir.