Saturday, December 31, 2011

This Time Last Year

In all actuality, this time last year is hard to remember.  Maybe it's the stress from everything that was going on, or just some kind of safety mechanism in my brain blocking out how bad I felt, or maybe I just was tired of feeling by then.  Either way, I only remember last December as fact more so than experience.  I remember sitting very still on the couch from my apartment after it had been moved into my parents basement.  I remember sending e-mails to my school and department heads informing them that I was not coming back.  I don't remember Christmas or New Year's, or what family, if any, was in town.

This time last year was the settling of dust after the abrupt collapse of a building four years in the making.  Later I would be forced to pick myself up and reassemble, but for these few weeks last year I was permitted to just lie down and think of nothing.  It was, in retrospect, quite necessary.

It's strange to think that a whole year has gone by since then.  In a way it feels like decades, but at the same time like just yesterday.  I feel like I have so little to show for this year.  All I've done, really, is work retail and write poetry.  Even so, this time last year was a whole human being ago.  Part of the reason I have such a hard time remembering that time is perhaps because the person who went through it doesn't really exist anymore.  There were arguments and explanations, acceptances and refusals, far too many misunderstandings, and encouragements from the least likely of places, all of which effectively killed off the shame of failure.

That's what sticks out the most from back then, trying to deal with the fact that I had, for the first time in my life really, truly failed.  It's still difficult to articulate, especially in the deadly arena of casual smalltalk.
"So, you've graduated, right?"
"Yeah, over a year ago."
"Is that so!  What have you been doing since then?"
"Oh, not much, just pissing my life away.  You see, I thought I was going to pursue an academic career studying religion, but found out that choosing one minute area of research to read about the rest of my life, with absolutely no time to do anything else that might make even remotely happy, made me want to ram my head through my crappy apartment's living room window.  So now I work at the mall."

I've always hated smalltalk.  But the point is, it doesn't bother me anymore.  What happened is what happened, I don't regret it or feel embarrassed by it, I can look back on it with the clarity of distance and "now-I-know-better."

As for the future, I'm not really any more certain about it this year than I was last.  There are some prospects, but I don't want to discuss them too much for fear that they won't pan out, and I'll end up looking like an idiot.  For now I'm content with having spent my holiday season with people I love and haven't seen in a very long time.  I got to talk about common things, like fudge recipes and my cousin's dating lives.  I got to watch the youngest members of my family do the robot and sing Adele.  I got to hear stories, about military life, deceased loved ones, Africa, and crazy neighbors who knock possums off their porch with a frying pan.

In short, it's been a good time, and right now I don't need anything more than that.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Evolution of Self Part Two: Hats

I am still in the process of cleaning out my room.  Obviously I'm not being too intense about it, I just pack up some things or rearrange a bit on my days off from work, and hopefully I'll eventually reach the day where there's no stuff lying on the floor.  Hopefully.

One thing I've realized from my last bought of cleaning is that, for a person that doesn't really wear hats that often, I have a hell of a lot of hats.  So of course, rather than finish up what I should have been doing, I decided to take pictures of myself wearing them, and use them as another excuse to ramble about my life.  If you're wondering why there is a shower head in the upper right corner of each picture, it's because my bathroom had better lighting than my bedroom.  And what matters most when you're taking dorky Myspace-style pictures of yourself is lighting.

What made me sad here was that this hat used to fit on my head.  I was twelve when my grandfather (my father's father) died, and I stole this hat from his house.  It was one of several that he wore out when he was running errands or driving me to school.  We've always lived close to their house so my parents used my grandparents as babysitters until I was old enough to stay at home by myself.  My childhood summers were spent running around their yard, playing with their dog, and learning about things like gospel music, moonshine, and The Price is Right.  Good times.

My uncle died when I was very young, but I didn't really know him very well and I only cried because that's what people do at funerals.  When my grandfather died, I was, for potentially the first time, truly affected by loss.  It was not a slow death.  It was years of gradual cancer growth and decay, a loss of mind and body, the latter years of which are burned into me at the deepest levels.  I wanted something tangible to remember him by, that didn't hold any painful connotations.  So I stole one of his hats.  It doesn't make me think of weight loss or hospital sheets, but of trips to the bakery and the post office, and how he used to tell me that horsepower meant the car was being powered by hundreds of tiny horses that disappeared when you opened the hood.

Through high school I kept the hat in my car and wore it while I was driving, but I didn't take my car to college with me, and I haven't actually worn the hat for years until now.  I really wish it fit.

I took quite a few pictures of this one, trying to find a way to look decent, only to conclude that I just can't pull this hat off.  It's my fathers from his time in the Army.  He was drafted at eighteen to be in the Vietnam War, graduated high school, met and got engaged to my mother within three months, went to Basic Training, got married, then after a short honeymoon spent saying goodbye to family out of state, went to receive his assignment and be deployed.  However, shortly before he was supposed to leave for Vietnam, he was chosen seemingly at random to be sent to Hawaii instead.  Seriously.  He was able to bring his new wife with him, and they spent about two years there living what I understand to have been a pretty great life.

My parents are, in a way, the antithesis of everything the outside world has taught me about relationships.  They met on Christmas Eve (my father was already drafted), got engaged in February, at which point my father went off to training, and they only communicated through letters for the next six months.  As soon as he came back they got married, and my mother honestly had no idea if she'd ever see him again.  Then they randomly went to Hawaii.  Every outside resource I had access to growing up told me that you can't rush into relationships.  You have to make sure you have the "right one" and all that.  Almost every couple I've ever seen get together ends up separated or divorced, no matter how long they've known each other beforehand.  But the two people who raised me threw their lives together on a total crap shoot of a bet, and they're still making it after over forty years.  How does that even happen?

In spite of the overwhelming evidence I've found that most relationships are doomed for failure, I have this ever-present proof that there are at least a few that aren't.

I don't know why I still have this, but American Girl was totally my thing back in the day.  The only books I read were the ones about Samantha.  She was my favorite because, of all the American Girl characters, she looked the most like me.  I had the doll and everything.  This hat came with a computer game my aunt bought me where you could make your own plays with all the franchise girls, set up the staging and move the people around, record their lines, and end up with essentially a short film of your own making.  It was really cool, but I could never get the timing quite right.  People would end up moving while they were still talking and things like that.

When I got to be around Jr. High, I think, is when American Girl really took off as this whole multifaceted beast worming its way into all aspects of young female culture, but by then I was real heavy into anime and had pretty much moved on.  But this was the first stuff that I was really into, that held my imagination and got me thinking and writing.

Don't act like you aren't jealous.  I love Rob Dyrdek and all the stupid crap he puts on TV, the Fantasy Factory in particular, as it involves some fellow Akronites, The Pfaff brothers.  However, that show didn't exist when I got this hat, which is from Rob & Big.  This hat has been worn a grand total of twice, including the time you're looking at right now.  It was something that made me laugh, so I got it during winter break of my freshman year of college, and the only other time I wore it was the day I was moving back into my dorm for the next term.

My freshman year of college was stupid.  I was worried, not so much of being alone, but of people feeling bad for me because they knew I was alone.  Everyone else seemed to be so much more socially active than I was and I didn't want anyone to think there was something wrong with me.  By the middle of the year I was on anti-depressant/anxiety medication.  I depended on stupid, funny things to distract me from my awkward, malfunctioning life.  I still do.

This is the latest installation in a series of attempts to replace The Greatest Hat of All Time.  I don't know if it will work yet, since it not cold enough to test it in real life conditions, but it's been a long search and I really think this might be the one.  Allow me to explain:

This is The Greatest Hat of All Time, and I lost it not too long after this picture was taken.  It was devastating.  I can't even explain what made this hat so great, I just found it in a Kohls one day (it was the only one!), and that was that.  It was warm, soft without being flimsy, plus I think we can all agree that it looked downright awesome.  I was doing a service project my sophomore year during one of the breaks, and it was never seen again.  Ever since, I've been trying to replace it.  Nothing to date even compares.

 This is one of many I tried using in its place.  I bought it from my college's bookstore, though what I really wanted was the matching scarf.  My roommate bought one, but I didn't want to come across as a copycat, plus she said she got it because it looked "Hogwartsy."  This annoyed me because I'm one of the very few who hasn't read all the Harry Potter books.  People are sometimes horrified when they discover this.  It's not that I think there's anything wrong with the series, from what I've read it seems like it's pretty great, actually, I just never connected with the characters for some reason.  I can't explain it.  Believe me, I've been forced so many times to try, and I just can't do it.

Anyway, I ended up with the hat instead of the scarf.  It is not comfortable.

Last picture:

Another hat I only wore twice.  The first time is when it was given to me, by a guy I knew my freshman year of college.  It was his hat, and I found it in his car when he was giving me a ride somewhere or other and put it on.  He said that I looked better in it than he did and told me to keep it.  I did.  This guy was the first guy to be really nice to me.  Like really, really nice.  Unfortunately he had a huge thing for my roommate.  The same one who bought the scarf first.  She never actively did anything to hurt me, in fact she really tried to make me see the good things about myself, but I always felt like I was in second place around her.  Not that she was prettier or smarter, but people always liked her more.

There was a time, I guess, where I was very concerned with whether or not people thought I was "okay."  I've always been a bit of a sociophobe (which Firefox has seen fit to try and correct to "sociopaths"), but when I got to college I really noticed how much time I spent alone and how everyone else seemed to be with other people constantly.  There were probably lots of other people out by themselves all the time, but I never noticed them.  Instead I felt like everyone was looking at me, feeling bad for me, assuming I was freak without any friends.  I did a lot of unnecessary damage to myself during this period of time.

I've managed to get more used to myself since then.  Making friends is a long, slow process for me, and that's just fine, since those few people end up being extremely important.  Also, so long as you aren't out on the streets shouting about how much better your god is than everyone else's, no one really cares what you're up to or gives you a passing thought.  So this bizarre little fear has largely fallen to the wayside.

Don't worry, it's been replaced with a number of other, equally foolish worries.  Work in progress.