Monthly Archives: January 2013

My words of wisdom

I periodically give myself these pep talks. I do it in writing. I’ll get on the computer, open up a new Word document, and I’ll start typing, like, “You can do it Rob, you’ve got what it takes,” type of nonsense. Most of the time it doesn’t do anything. Usually it’s more of a physical exercise, a warm up for my fingers. Once I really get going, well then I’m going. I just use the whole motivational approach to at least try and get myself to say something positive, even if I’m totally faking it.

But once in a while, amidst all of the cliché phrases and platitudes that I’ll be mechanically typing out to myself like a crazy person, something will click, like maybe I’ll look at one of those cliché phrases from a slightly different perspective, and while I didn’t really expect anything to come out of it, I’ll feel slightly motivated. I’ll also be really impressed, by my apparent ability to just come up with amateur philosophy out of nowhere.

But then there’s the opposite also. The other day I was trying to pump myself up, I was telling myself, “Rob, listen, the hardest part is just getting started. Once you get going, you’re good.” And I was going with it. It made me feel good. It made me think that, maybe I’m a lot better than I give myself credit for. Maybe it’s just a matter of getting off the Internet, getting away from any distractions, stop reading the newspaper, stop trying to play and sing The Darkness songs on my guitar. It’s not happening.

And so there was some motivational magic in there somewhere. Every time I found myself with four hours to write, four hours might turn into three hours without a word written, without having pried myself successfully away from the Internet. And I’d say to myself, “Rob, remember, just get started, just go for it.” And it would work. Instead of wasting another two hours before maniacally trying to get everything done during those last sixty seconds, I’d start typing.

But after a while the magic wears off. You say the same thing over and over again, you stop thinking about what the words actually mean, you stop finding those new perspectives that provided that change in attitude, and then you’re just wasting huge amounts of time on the Internet again.

Then the other day I was back at the motivational exercises again, I was trying unsuccessfully to get myself going, to inspire myself, something. But, and this is often the case too, if I’m not in the greatest mood, I might start out saying like, “You can do it!” but my bad attitude laced consciousness will hijack control of my fingers, and I’ll start writing everything negative, how this isn’t working out and how that isn’t coming together.

Luckily this only lasted for like a couple of paragraphs or so. I caught myself. I thought, what, I’m just going to sit here and complain about myself, to myself? And so I pushed the positive thinking again, I pushed some bullshit positive phrases out. And somehow my fingers started typing up something along the lines of, “Look Rob, it’s easy to start something. It’s really simple to just begin a project. The hard part is finishing them up. The difficult part is the successful execution of an entire plan before moving on to the next.”

And for some reason this really resonated with me. I thought, yeah, that’s it, I’ve just got to go back and tie up all the loose ends, finish up the last paragraphs on all of these blog posts that I always just start writing up without ever ending. And then from here on out, I’ll make sure that I go all the way with my ideas, try not to let myself get distracted with a new idea before an old idea is complete.

And it was the same way. This provided me with a couple weeks worth of inspiration, motivation, whatever you want to call it, positive energy. I was moving. And it was all thanks to me kind of dwelling on these words of the pseudo wisdom that I cooked up.

But as those words are starting to wear off, and I’m finding myself just back to the abscesses of my mind, thinking about where I’m going to turn next, I realized the inherent contradiction in all of this, about how I got so excited thinking that all I needed to do was to get started and then getting equally pumped up thinking about how all I needed to do was to finish everything up. So now I just feel kind of like, huh, all I need to remember is that the hard part is starting, and also, that the hard part is finishing. I have to start and I also have to finish. That doesn’t sound like advice at all. Definitely nothing close to philosophy. What kind of games am I playing with myself here? Should I really be writing to myself in the third person every day? Isn’t this all a little crazy?

Cheer up!

Cheer up! Things’ll get better. Life can’t be that bad. Money problems? Money’s only paper. Paper grows on trees. Don’t let yourself get too down because of a tree. Besides, it’s just numbers. When you look at the whole thing, it might seem unmanageable, but try breaking it up into chunks, and just concentrate on one chunk at a time. How much? Geez. Well, maybe try breaking up the chunks into smaller chunks and … but yeah, that is a lot of money.

Maybe try calling up one of those debt management companies? I think your credit gets wiped out, like you have to start over from scratch, but it might be better than trying to pay off that much … how much again? Yikes. Maybe like one of those structured bankruptcies? You just have to collect all your bills and get them all in one spot. Wow.

No, you’re right, I don’t think debt companies can do much to help you if you owe cash. Maybe … can you work something out with … what was his name again? Joey? You think Joey’s really going to break your thumbs? It just seems a little cliché is all. I’m not saying he’s not threatening you, and I’m not saying not to take those threats seriously, it’s just, thumbs? Isn’t that from Rocky? And how are you supposed to get any of the money together if your thumbs are broken? Yeah, it might not directly get in your way, but it’s not going to make anything any easier. Plus, all the added worry, and the hospital bills.

Holy shit. I never really thought about how difficult day-to-day life must be without use of your thumbs. Both thumbs. You know they always say that’s what separates us from the animals, right, the whole opposable thumbs business. So you can’t pick anything up? And going to the bathroom, that’s got to be a nightmare. Washing your hands. Unlocking the front door.

No, why would he do that to you? Yeah, yeah it is a lot of money, which only serves my argument, that if he really wants to see any of that money repaid, ever, he’s got to think of a more practical threat than a couple of broken thumbs. At that point it just seems personal, like I don’t really care about the money at all. Like I only lent you that money, and such a large sum of, hoping that you wouldn’t be able to repay it all, actually, knowing that you weren’t good for it, just so I can then start calling you up in the middle of the night, leaving you threatening messages about breaking your thumbs, and then finally, finally doing the deed, but really enjoying it, way too much. And there are two of them. Two thumbs to break. So you can enjoy the first one, the visceral act of breaking the thumb, and then really savor the second thumb, taking your time with it.

He really said that? Now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t know man, this seems pretty fucked up. What would make you think it would be a good idea to accept that big of a loan from a guy like this? How did you find him? Did the people that referred you to him mention anything about the broken thumbs?

I mean, still, I guess, cheer up? Can you go to the cops maybe? Maybe like a witness protection program? This is a little beyond my range of advice, you know. I’m usually the guy you turn to when you’ve got a big project due at work tomorrow, something you haven’t started yet, and you come to me all stressed out and I’ll be like, “Hey man, cheer up! You can do it! Just divide your task up into smaller tasks!” like all that stuff I was saying to you earlier. And then maybe I’d get you a cup of coffee or something.

But this? Geez. This sounds pretty serious. I don’t have any generic sounding advice for this. And no, I don’t even have close to the amount of money to give you to avoid this guy. Maybe you could break them first? So that way when this Joey guy comes looking for you, he won’t have anything to break? But then still, you’d have all of the difficulties of living life with, for all practical purposes here, no hands. Man. I guess “cheer up” is still the best I can do. It’s not great advice, but it’s not nothing. Would you rather have nothing? Because I can give you nothing. Cheer up or nothing. You choose.

I can’t keep ice cream in the house

How much is too much? How little is not enough? I’ve never been able to hit that sweet spot, right in the middle, not too much, but just enough. Anytime I’m doing anything, enjoying anything, it’s either lacking or it’s in excess.

The other day I bought a pint of coffee ice cream. I’ll be at the grocery store and I’ll think, yeah, I’ll keep some ice cream in the house. It’ll be a nice treat, something to snack on now and then. But I can never keep ice cream in the house, because all of my problems with excess, with craving, with self-control, they’re all brought to the surface as soon as the ice cream hits the freezer.

Ideally it would be great, to come home, put it in the freezer, and forget about it for a while. But as soon as it’s in there, it’s all I can think about. Is it a special moment yet? Is it time for a little treat? And before I can finish unpacking the rest of the groceries, I’m already opening up the container, peeling back that layer of plastic pressed on top of the perfectly packed ice cream.

And then it’s just one spoonful, just a taste. I’ll work the spoon around the surface, just shaving off a really thin little curl of ice cream. And then I’ll put it in my mouth. Ice cream has got to be one of the best things on the planet. And as I’m hit with the overwhelming satisfaction of what I’m eating, the flavor, the sweetness, the richness, I think about myself as an animal, and how our species, somewhere over the course of evolution, of development of societies and civilizations, somebody thought to themselves, let’s take the milk of another animal, let’s collect the richest, creamiest part of that milk, let’s mix it with sugar and eggs and other flavors, and let’s churn it and whip it at subfreezing temperatures, until it’s this unbelievable treat that I’m now holding in my hands, in a little cardboard pint container that I picked out of a giant freezer at the grocery store.

And I’ll work the pint like that for a while, just a sliver, I’ll put it in my mouth, let it melt on my tongue, I’m savoring every second. But then the savor starts to wear off. The little bites aren’t cutting it. So I’ll dip my spoon in a little deeper. And that kind of works for a few minutes more, but pretty soon I’m spending less and less time in between bites.

A minute later and the container is getting too warm around the sides, the ice cream melting a little faster where my hands are holding it. At this point I start to get conscious of the fact that I’m eating a little too much ice cream, that maybe I should put it away and save the rest for another special moment. But I can’t stop myself. I’m aware of the fact that I’m plowing through the whole pint, that I need to put it down, but I can’t.

That first bite, the flavor was so intense. I could taste the flavor of coffee, I felt like I could distinguish the subtle texture of eggs. The sugar was just the right amount of sweet. But at this point, somehow I’m halfway through the pint, I barely taste anything at all. My tongue is really cold, almost completely desensitized. The only thing coming through is the bite of sugar. And it’s no longer a delicate sweet; now it’s too sweet. It’s a sweet that’s accumulating at the sides of my tongue, almost uncomfortably, and the cream, the milk, it’s having this drying affect in my mouth, it feels like I’m forcing down spoonfuls of Elmer’s glue.

If somewhere past this point I somehow manage to put away the rest of the container, it’s almost always more than halfway consumed. And that’s if I don’t finish it in one sitting, a very real possibility. And then I’ll just stand there for a second, really trying to contemplate what I’ve just accomplished. I’ll go for a tall glass of water. And then another. The taste is stuck in my mouth. I can’t get the gluey sticky feeling out either. And I’m full. Way too full. Maybe a little nauseous.

So yeah, it’s better just to not have ice cream in the house. If it’s not there, I won’t think about it. It won’t call out to me in the middle of the night, interrupt my thoughts when I’m trying to write or read, get stuck at the forefront of my consciousness when I’m out of the house, telling me to stop whatever it is I’m doing, to go home, to think about all of the fun I could be having by myself standing in front of the refrigerator.

But there has to be a sweet spot, right? If I could only catch myself at the height of the ice cream induced euphoria, somewhere after I’ve stopped shaving off tiny slivers of ice cream but before I’m digging up golf ball sized chunks. I guess I’m not one for moderation.

Go ahead, punk

Make my day. Ow! What the hell? You shot me! You didn’t really have to shoot me. I was just saying that line, from the movie, the one with Clint Eastwood. I’ve never even seen it. Jesus Christ. Do I have to go to the hospital now? Am I going to bleed out? This is insane. Why would you shoot me in the forearm?

It hurts so bad. Call me an ambulance. I don’t know, I won’t tell them anything. I won’t. Whatever, was it an accident? Well I guess you should have thought about that before you pulled the trigger. Did you know it was loaded? Holy shit you could have shot me in the stomach, or the head. Seriously, just put it down.

Ow! Again? In the same arm? I think I’m going to bleed out. Quick, give me your shirt. Give me something. Well I don’t understand how safeties work either. Your dad really should have hidden the lockbox, or you shouldn’t have gone for it. When you asked me if I wanted to see your dad’s gun, I said no. Seriously, I meant it. You know why? Because I was afraid you might do something stupid, like shoot me in the arm, twice.

OK, the ambulance is taking forever, are you sure you called? Can you just drive me to the hospital? I’m losing feeling in my arm. You did call the ambulance, right? Come on man, we’ve got to do something. I won’t say a word. Please. Look, your dad’s going to figure this out eventually. Won’t he see the two bullets missing?

I’ve got it, I’ll take the blame. I’ll tell your dad I found his gun box, that I ransacked his room and found the keys to his gun box, that I … I don’t know, I’ll tell him that I started spinning it around on my finger, around the trigger, and that I shot myself in the arm.

OK, call him up, I’ll tell him right now. Yes, hello Mr. Daniels. Yeah, it’s Rob. Look, I was over here hanging out with Bill and, well, I’m really, really sorry, but I found your gun box and I found the keys and I started playing with your gun and I wound up shooting myself in the arm, twice, and Bill won’t take me to the emergency room because he’s worried you guys might get in trouble.

You know, spinning it around, on my finger. No, I guess I don’t know much about safeties. Uh, in your dresser? No, I don’t remember where I found it? Hold on. Bill, your dad asked me where I found the key and now he doesn’t believe me that I shot myself.

Ow! No, Mr. Daniels, that wasn’t a gun, we were just watching a movie on TV, a gun movie. Yeah. No, I’m fine. I mean. Well, can you call an ambulance? I really do think I’m starting to lose a lot of blood. No, you know what? CLICK.

Hello, operator? Yeah, I’ve been shot, twice. In the arm. Bill, stay away man, the call’s already been made. Ow! OK, OK! Operator, what I meant to say is that I found a gun. Ow! OK, I mean, I found these two bullets. Ow! I mean these bullets found me. Ow! Come on, OK, never mind operator, sorry to bother you. CLICK. Jesus Bill, come one, why every time in the same spot? What do you want me to say? Can you just drive me somewhere? I won’t say a word. Come on man, please.

My indestructible left foot

My left foot was totally indestructible. I didn’t find this out overnight. When I was in high school I broke my ankle competing in a slam-dunk contest. (I still won, but that’s a different story.) The doctors did what the doctors always do: they took a bunch of x-rays, wrapped it up in a bunch of casts, and gave me a bunch of painkillers.

Weeks later the doctors sawed off the cast and I was good to go. But I’d find out over the course of the next few years that I was better than just good to go. I was better than ever. When the cast came off and there wasn’t any sort of noticeable difference between my right foot, which had taken over one hundred percent of all leg duties, that should have been my first clue that something was different. My left foot had basically been given a month’s vacation, just swinging there limply while my right foot did all of the walking, the hopping, the kicking, the braking and the going. Wouldn’t there have been at least a little atrophy? At least a tiny difference in skin color? It didn’t even smell bad, like I would’ve expected it to after having been totally sealed in the cast for that long. It smelled cleaner than ever, like right out of the shower clean, even though I had to cover the whole thing up in a garbage bag every time I wanted to bathe.

But I didn’t think anything of it. Really, I was just glad to be back on my feet. Did I mention that I’m a righty? No, I guess that doesn’t matter all that much. But it is weird being a righty and having a significantly stronger left foot. Indestructible. I didn’t get to noticing how powerful my left foot had become until I started running, years later. I began accumulating a lot of distance on my feet, and after several months of training, I ran my first marathon. After completing the twenty-six miles, my whole body was screaming in agony. My quads were on fire. My back felt like it had taken a ride through an industrial compressor. Everything hurt. Everything except for my left foot.

It felt relaxed, strong, like if the rest of my body were willing, it could probably have done another twenty-six, easily, just hopping up and down by itself. The next day my whole body was sore. I couldn’t walk down the stairs without wincing in pain. So I found that if I just hopped on my left foot, I could get around fine, give the rest of my body the time it needed to recover.

That summer I went to the beach with my friends. We had a great time, playing volleyball, drinking beer. We quickly lost track of the hours, which was unfortunate, because I had meant to put on some sunblock. After a few hours I realized that it was too late. I was totally burnt. Every inch of my body, red, blistering, skin peeling. Every inch except for my left foot. Even weirder, the next time we went to the beach, I made sure to use sunscreen religiously, every twenty minutes. I basically hid under a giant umbrella. My body remained chalky white as usual. But not my left foot. It was bronzed, a perfectly golden tan. That’s when I became curious as to the extent of my powers.

One night after a heavy drinking session, I made the unfortunate mistake of getting behind the wheel. Of course I got pulled over and the cop made me do a field sobriety test. I could barely see straight, but my left foot somehow led my body to walk that line precisely. And then it started doing tricks. I wound up blacking out, but my friends told me that my left foot grabbed the wheel and got everyone home safe and sound. After that, whenever we went out drinking, my foot made me hand over the keys before I took even a sip. It was unbelievable.

I did say indestructible right? It’s like, if I tripped, normally I’d at least stub a toe. But now I’d actually do damage to whatever got in the way of my left foot. Its powers were so great that it took over the majority of responsibilities in my life. A short while back it got this big promotion at work while the rest of my body was still stuck as a junior assistant.

Life seemed to be moving at much different speed, at least it did on the left side of body, below my ankle. Shopping for shoes started to become this ridiculous chore. My whole body would be dragged to the shoe store more and more, I’d have to stay there forever trying out shoe after shoe. And of course I’d only be allowed to wear the left shoe. My right foot was consigned to the same old pair of New Balances that I’ve been rocking for years now.

Eventually we had to split up. As much as I would have wanted for it to stay, my left foot had a whole new world opened up to it, and I was just holding it back. It found a surgeon willing to perform the amputation. I objected, I begged it stay. “What about me? What about the right one? What am I supposed to do without two feet?” But it wouldn’t have any of it.

I woke up from the operation groggy from the anesthesia, my left foot nowhere in sight. I asked the doctor where it had hopped off to. “Unfortunately,” the doctor told me, “within minutes of being separated from the rest of your body, your left foot found itself without the means necessary to refresh itself with a constant supply of oxygenated blood. It didn’t have a brain, no central nervous system, no means of eating or going to the bathroom. What I’m trying to tell you is, it died almost instantly. There really haven’t been many, any cases of human feet surviving after being separated from the rest of the body.”

I feel bad, for me, for my foot. Mostly for me. That stupid foot didn’t know how good it had it. And here I am. No foot. My right foot is starting to get used to the new responsibilities, the walking, the driving. But it’s getting pretty independent lately, stronger every day. The other night I woke up to my foot searching the Internet, some online cashmere sock web site.

I’ll always think back to the surgery, after the doctor told me what had happened. I asked him, “Did it at least enjoy its few minutes of independence? Did it seem happy? Was it worth it?” to which he replied, “I … I really don’t know what you’re asking me here. It was a foot. You’re paying in cash, right?”