“Replace the bad with good…”

Part IV: Catharsis and learning to thrive

By Ryan Hussey

Edited by Jenna Rutsky


You are in your early fifties now. Emotional scars don’t fade like physical scars do. You get a new job at a law firm — a fresh start.

The first day, you notice the harsh sound the door makes when it shuts. It jars old memories loose, when your stepfather used to come home and you’d sit in your bed, trembling.

Not too long after, you notice the sound your boss makes when he walks up the stairs. The door slamming, the heavy footsteps of a grown man heading toward you — together, these should be enough to break you down into pieces.

You realize you must face the reality head-on, much like when you were five years old and it confronted you without warning. But one thing has changed since then.

You’re bigger now. Older, wiser. You’re stronger in every sense of the word. You’re prepared.

One weekend, you allow your niece to paint your fingernails. She lets you choose the color.

You recall the way teal blue makes you feel — that awful color. The color that represents your cell, the one that imprisoned you for nearly a decade and that’s held you captive ever since. The color that’s tattooed your memories, making you wish you saw only black and white. That diseased color, that monstrous, oppressive color that never fails to make you sick to your stomach. Teal is ugly.

You insist that your niece paint your nails teal blue.

Teal blue — that beautiful color. The color that matches the new blouse you bought for work. The color that brightens up any outfit or party or painting. That vibrant color — a work of art in itself — that now puts a smile on your face just as fast as it used to wipe one off.

Holding your arms out straight, you finally see what’s in front of you. Your hands, teal blue fingernails, your future.


For the rest of this piece, please head over to the full article in The Bigger Picture on Medium. You will not regret it.

Rape4

(Illustration/Kayla Spataro)

The Meaning of Art, The Art of Meaning

art

noun \ˈärt\
something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings

Source: Merriam-Webster

Everybody is an artist. According to the word’s most basic definition, an artist is simply a person who creates art. Art is subjective — e.g. “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” — and therefore, cannot be measured by its significance or the level of skill with which it is created. Its subjective nature makes art’s only measurable quality the fact of whether or not it exists.

So how can we judge art, really? Save for a piece’s existence, there is almost nothing definitive about it. To me, good art is transcendent — of both time and absolute meaning. It is inherently controversial. Good art can mean something different to everyone, eliciting a Debate to the Death or merely an Agreement to Disagree. I not only believe good art can cause problems; I believe it can solve them.

Good art has the ability to inspire and provoke. Good art is contagious. It also has the ability to distract and envelop. Whether we are creating it or appreciatively immersed in it, good art is there for whatever reason we need it to be.

Now, since I’ve outlined my beliefs about good art, one might expect that I also believe in bad art. But that is not the case. Like I said before, art’s innate subjectivity doesn’t allow us to declare whether it is “good” or “bad.” However, I do believe — and I think many would agree — that there’s just a certain feeling we experience when we experience good art, when we know it’s good.

I’m talking about that feeling you get when you watch a movie, hear a song, read a book, see a painting, smell a perfume, taste a dish, touch a sculpture, or even witness a moment. That feeling that everything in your world is sinking, and while your normal reaction should be to try to swim up, your instinct is telling you to drown in whatever it is. That feeling when you know your whole life just changed, even if it’s a minor change, even if nobody else will ever know about it, even if it’s just for a second.

That’s good art.

Not only do I believe we are all capable of creating art — I believe we are all capable of creating good art. And that’s the beauty of art. Art can be anything. As lame as it sounds, beauty is everywhere; and although everybody bears a unique perspective, this is exactly what makes art so bountiful.

But art’s abundance may sometimes act as a road block. While it does inspire and provoke thought, there exists an extraordinary challenge to be original. Because of this, art and the pressure to create good art can overwhelm and distract.

Recently, I’ve adopted the motto:

If you can’t think of something new to say, then at least find a new way to say it.

Many people I’ve met in my adult life seem to have an irrational fear of creating something new and truly being original. I believe this is a result of that pressure, that overwhelming challenge of digging deep and producing something nobody’s ever seen, heard, smelled, touched, or tasted before. Because what if it sucks?

photo-18

The EMP Museum in Seattle features a “tree” of instruments, including guitars and keyboards previously used by famous musicians.

When I experience art I appreciate, I wonder what it is that makes it valuable. Where does that value originate from? What makes this specific article or song or film resonate with me or any other person for that matter?

I ponder these same questions when I create art, but with a little more inward focus (because everything’s about me and you should know that much by reading this far). What makes something I create valuable to me? — and — Does that value increase if my art affects other people in the same way? Or is my lone appreciation enough to make it significant?

I wonder this because, while there is plenty of art around us, there is a lot of art that remains private — or in this social and digital age, unshared.

I like to “judge” my own creations based on two criteria: a.) How does this help me? and b.) How does this help others?

Art is often an outward expression of our emotions, but it’s not limited to that. Creating art allows us to express our thoughts, fears, and desires — to almost literally throw our personalities onto a canvas or into a guitar riff. So, in the most basic sense of my first criterion, that is how it helps me (or whoever is the creator). Art provides us an outlet for our inflated sadness, our temporary anger, our wishful thinking, our newfound happiness.

But good art eclipses whatever it means to the artist. Good art does a service for others, and while it may not mean the same thing or carry the same value for everyone, it not only serves as an outlet for the creator’s expression but for the audience’s as well. Good art provides us an outlet for our feelings and our genius. Good art resonates.

So, when an artist creates something important to him/herself and keeps it private, does it devalue that piece of art? I’ve created a lot of things over the years that are valuable to me, but I’ve hesitated to share some of them for whatever reason. Maybe it’s time I reconsider.


Originally published on Medium, in a collection called The Bigger Picture.

#SingleBecause

One way or another, writing about relationships has become somewhat of a calling for me. From getting one of my posts “published” on Thought Catalog to actually getting paid to give relationship advice on Lifehack to receiving an extremely kind shout-out from a popular singles life coach, I guess you can say I’m qualified (maybe?). I mean, she did say this:

Even at 23 he gets women better than most.”

Nicer and truer words have never been posted on the interwebs. Now, when I sit down to write, I very rarely want to write about relationships. But I do know that if I write about the subject and spit the truth, people will actually read it because they know I’m being real. I don’t know what it is, but people enjoy reading about love and relationships, and they even care about what I have to say. Surely, becoming some sort of “relationship guru” was never something I intended, but sometimes you just have to go with it. (Like in that movie.)

I’ve been told I’m “quite the catch” (source unconfirmed), so why is it that I’m more single than an individually-wrapped slice of Kraft American cheese (terrible joke aside)? Let’s solve this mystery together, shall we? From what I can surmise after countless long, lonely nights of self analysis, here are some of the top reasons believe I am single:

10. I’m not a fan of Valentine’s Day…

The problem with this is that the single girls are the ones I should be going after. But because I find the people who complain about being single on Valentine’s Day so unbearable, it’s safe to say that every V-Day ends the same for me…

9. Online dating doesn’t work for me.

How about we... don't get arrested?

How about we… don’t get arrested?

I’ll just get this one out of the way now. Various people have told me, “Oh, you should try online dating! I have a buddy who met his wife that way. They have like 3 kids now.” Sure, while others might have success in the online dating world, I just don’t think I’m built for it. Part of me believes I’d be able to meet an amazing girl online, but the other part of me believes that first part is drunk and should go home.

8. Also, I’m just really bad at online dating.

This has happened on multiple occasions.

This has happened on multiple occasions.

I don’t know what it is, but I can’t seem to take online dating seriously. The concept of meeting somebody and communicating only through what is basically email until both parties deem each other in-person material because they’ve convinced each other they’re not murderers is just silly to me.

7. I’m confident but, at the same time, a bit self-conscious.

I think very highly of myself; I hold myself to a standard that is sometimes impossible to meet. Because of this, I tend to get a bit down on myself sometimes…

I also tend to place too much emphasis on things that aren’t important, ie. appearance. And in this case, I’m talking about my own appearance — both physical and virtual. What do I mean by virtual? I mean that I spend too much time crafting this “online persona,” and although there may be parts of the genuine me shining through this screen of social media accounts I’ve constructed, the screen does exist. And its sole purpose is to make people think I’m cool–

…er…

…to show people I’m cool. Yeah.

6. I’m too picky.

I do place a lot of emphasis on certain qualities of other people as well. Perhaps too much emphasis sometimes.

I have this tendency to say “I want” this and “I want” that…

But the truth is simple: I don’t know what the hell I want. Nobody knows what they want until they have it.

5. I can’t seem to throw the scent off the gay trail.

No matter what I do…

It just follows me everywhere I go…

4. I’m a bit of a skeptic.

When it comes to relationships, when it comes to love, when it comes to basically anything in life — I treat it all the same. Call me a pessimist, call me a cynic. I like to call myself a realist. And it’s not that I’m a negative person — I just think depressing things are funny. Which brings me to my next point…

3. Most girls don’t understand me.

Jared Text

I also have a, uh… unique relationship with my brother.

I can basically get along with anyone for a limited period of time, but if I’m going to truly be myself, I guess I’m sort of an acquired taste. I think a lot of things are funny when others don’t seem to agree. I make jokes at — let’s call them — “inappropriate” times, usually to lighten the mood or at least get somebody to crack a smile during a tense moment. Since I joke around so much, it’s difficult for people to know when to take me seriously.

2. Maybe I want to be single?

Perhaps this is only true for me, but I don’t want to be in a relationship just for the sake of being in a relationship. I want it to mean something. I want it to be with somebody I actually care about. I know plenty of people who feel like they constantly need to be in some type of relationship because they are afraid of being alone. All that means is these people are afraid of being left alone with themselves. Their true fear is having the time to think introspectively and learning about their true selves. What if they don’t like the person they get to know?

1. Clearly, I think too much.

And that’s obvious.*

 

*Read like Chris D’Elia. If you don’t know who that is or don’t understand the joke, that’s fine. Please refer to point #3.

My Wet Dream

We all want something. Some of us know exactly what we want and exactly how to attain it, others know what but are iffy on the how, and some — myself included — are still trying to figure out how anybody can claim they know anything.

I asked myself a simple question: Why do we postpone pursuing our dreams?

I pondered this question for hours, developing a “brainstorm web” (recalling when middle school teachers used to tell me to create a web of ideas before writing an essay). My web included potential reasons for the postponement of dreams, as well as possible consequences for putting these dreams on hold. After reflecting on my own dreams, I decided to pose the same question to some family, friends, and acquaintances. Several people responded with the idea that maybe people don’t postpone their dreams. Maybe our dreams change based on life occurrences that are out of our control. But this notion didn’t sit well with me.

We all have dreams — that is to say, aspirations. I’ve read that goals are a way of making our dreams become reality. If we don’t set realistic, attainable goals, then dreams are just… dreams. For example, I could dream of changing the world someday, but that’s awfully vague, isn’t it? How could I possibly measure whether or not I’ve achieved it, let alone whether or not I’m even working towards it? Reshaping that dream into a goal of participating in a charity event and donating x amount of dollars to breast cancer research each year is much more perceptible. With less abstract versions of our dreams, in the form of goals, we can sort of figure out what we want out of life and ensure that every action we take moves us closer to achieving said goals.

I agree that dreams can change. But, like with basically everything else in this world, a fire burns inside me, asking: Why?

When I originally webbed out the potential reasons people postpone their dreams, I thought about why I, personally, would ever push my aspirations aside. (Now that I have written the previous sentence and read it aloud, I realize how depressing it is for me to have actually brainstorm-webbed the concept of “postponing dreams.” People are out there feeding the hungry, curing the sick, and getting laid — getting laid, man — and I’ve mapped out a web that can tell you why people give up on what they want in life.) Tying into the idea of life “happening” and changing our dreams in the meantime, one of the reasons I came up with was responsibility. Sometimes, we have to rearrange our priorities based on the well-being of others, ie. children and other loved ones. And that is completely understandable.

But what if I played devil’s advocate for a moment and argued that this responsibility and “prioritization” wasn’t the real reason people put their dreams on hold? Maybe — just maybe — this is a means for justification of their actions, or lack thereof. Some of us do postpone our dreams; it’s no secret. Some of us are hesitant to commit to goals because we fear everything from rejection to regret to failure. The reasoning behind this is tough for me to pinpoint — whether it is a confidence problem, a comfort zone issue, the crushing weight of expectations, or a combination of the three. But the truth is, this lack of commitment to our goals is failure.

Sometimes, postponing our dreams eventually leads to giving up on them, and that’s the worst part to think about. Because, when we give up on a dream (or when we allow it to “change”), maybe it means we never really wanted it in the first place — or maybe we never really believed it was possible.

To me, allowing a dream to change because of “circumstances” is inconceivable. A dream is a dream is a dream. Sure, some are outlandish and farfetched even, but if we really — and I mean really — want something, what’s stopping us?

Is it the aforementioned lack of commitment caused by our fear of failure and regret? Is it our hesitance to venture out of our comfort zones, or the fact that some of us feel anchored down by feelings and people and people’s feelings? Or is it our past experiences that seem to serve as warnings, cautioning us not to dive head first into anything without first dipping our toes in the water?

This experience that forewarns us of any potential danger usually protects us. After all, we are the sum of our life experience and without it, we wouldn’t know much of anything. But perhaps this experience — the same experience that reminds us not to stick our hands into a fire because hey, fire is hot and the same experience that advises us not to venture into relationships with people who are eerily similar to our exes because hey, there’s a reason we broke up — is actually holding us back.

This is why I believe children are so important and downright fascinating. They haven’t developed this umbrella of experience that unconsciously shields them from bad weather. Instead, they dare to dream and they don’t get bogged down with the details — they just play in the rain.

Maybe we can learn from them.

The Blame Game

I lost my salt shaker the other day, and I’ve got a funny feeling somebody took it. I’ve been looking for someone to blame this entire time, but then I got to thinking about the concept of blame

It’s silly, really. There’s no use in pointing fingers in a bad situation. Of course it’s frustrating when the situation is avoidable altogether, but placing the blame on a particular party never solves anything. We can’t go back in time and change what happened (yet), so the best we can do is deal with the circumstances in front of us and learn how to prevent a similar situation in the future. That’s why they teach us history, right?

Blaming other people makes us look weak. And while it might make us feel better temporarily, we will feel helpless not too long after. When we blame others for everything, we acknowledge a lack of control over what happens in our lives. Could it be true that we are powerless when it comes to the way everything plays out in front of us? Absolutely not.

We should accept some of the responsibility for everyday occurrences and remember that there exists a consequence for every action — no matter how insignificant the action may seem at the time. This is especially true when we find ourselves dealing with unfortunate circumstances.

But that doesn’t mean every bad situation is entirely our fault, either. We can’t blame ourselves for everything negative that happens in our lives. Sure, we can do more to prevent certain situations, but we deserve a little slack, too. Everybody’s human.

We live in a world in which it’s always somebody else’s fault. Most of the arguing that goes on around us isn’t about how to fix problems but rather who caused the problem in the first place. Many people believe that if we can find a specific person or thing to blame, then everything will be right with the world. But the truth is that we can point fingers and blame whomever we want — nothing can undo the past.

People make mistakes. And I can’t figure out for the life of me why it’s so hard for me to grasp that concept. If everybody makes mistakes, then why am I so afraid of making one? Why can’t I just accept the fact that I’m human and these things happen?

I recently watched a movie called The Sessions, starring John Hawkes as a writer suffering from polio. Diagnosed at the age of six, he uses an iron lung and a portable oxygen tank to survive, and he doesn’t have control of many of his muscles. Hawkes’ character is not entirely paralyzed; he can still get an erection, so that’s got to count for something. At the age of 38, he decides to hire a sexual surrogate to help him: a.) lose his virginity, and b.) write an article about the disabled and sexual intercourse.

(For those wondering, a sex surrogate is a glorified prostitute with not as many daddy issues.)

(No but in all seriousness, these people probably do great work and this movie actually moved me.)

At one point in the film, John Hawkes’ character is talking to a nurse about faith and religion, and she asks him if he believes in God. He replies: “I believe in a God with a sense of humor. I would find it absolutely intolerable not to be to able blame someone for all this.”

And that’s the way many of us feel. When forced to deal with unfortunate circumstances, we look for somebody to blame. Then when we can’t find a definitive person to blame, we attribute responsibility to something more abstract. The truth is, sometimes there isn’t anybody or anything to blame. (Basically what I’m saying is that God doesn’t exist.)

As for my lost shaker of salt, I’ll have to keep searching. Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame, but I know it’s nobody’s fault.

The Greatest Thing Ever to Happen in the History of Everything Ever

Okay, maybe not. But you clicked on the link, and that’s all that matters.

This is the mindset of a heavy majority of bloggers and writers. As long as they can get us to click on the link, everything else is inconsequential. Sites such as BuzzFeed, Flavorwire, and Cracked have mastered this manipulative art, coaxing millions of people to click on their usually worthless posts.

Most of these authors don’t care if we actually read their posts, as long as their number of clicks goes up. Now, this is not to generalize all bloggers; some truly care about their readers, and many prefer high quality readers to a high quantity. I would consider myself one of these writers (mostly because nobody reads my blog).

I would also like to explore how some bloggers and sites have the nerve to declare an article “the greatest thing ever.” I mean, that’s one hell of a proclamation. It is to assume that nothing in history has been better and nothing in the presumably infinite future will be better than this one thing right now. We can die happy after we’ve read whatever nonsense BuzzFeed has thrown together for us, whether it be a list of The 24 Greatest Things That Could Ever Possibly Happen To You* or The Most Epic _________ Ever.

Not everything that happens can be “the greatest thing ever.” Unless we live in a world in which everything is constantly improving, which we obviously don’t — journalism being the primary evidence for my argument, BuzzFeed being Exhibit A.

We don’t live in a world in which something that happens today is “the greatest thing ever” and then it is only surpassed tomorrow by something even better: a new “greatest thing ever.” Instead, we live in a world in which people fear uncertainty and want to be able to make affirmations based on what little proof they have.

As many know, I sort of specialize in making connections between concepts that are not usually related. While thinking about this topic, I ended up drawing an interesting parallel to the idea of marriage.

I am not for or against marriage, nor can I say with confidence that I will/won’t get married someday. I do plan on getting married and knocking up my wife and having a few kids and being a dope-ass dad. But I’ve always considered the concept of marriage a bit silly.

Or maybe “weird” is a better word to describe it.

Think about it. When we get married, we are proving our love and dedication to one another. We are showing our loyalty, and we are displaying our belief that we will be together until one of us dies. At the same time, we are committing to each other without knowing that we won’t find somebody later in life who is a more suitable match. We can’t know for sure who we are going to meet in the future and whether or not a stranger could be the love of our life.

So, does this devotion make marriage a beautiful thing? Does this dedication make it admirable? Or does the lack of understanding of why we believe in things like this make all who partake in it naive?

I’ve said before that love is “knowing that even though you haven’t experienced everything that’s out there, what you have (or had) still trumps anything life could throw at you.” But how could we know something like this? Perhaps this was me being naive.

I guess when it comes to marriage (and love, for that matter), it can either be a train wreck or it could actually be the greatest thing ever to happen in the history of everything ever. All that matters is that we click on the link.

*This is an actual BuzzFeed article, but I did not include a link because people might click on it and that would be counterproductive.

On Being Present

Why does my phone have to die for me to live? In a world in which we are more connected than ever through technology, it seems as if our advances are becoming counterproductive. True connection lies in the way we interact with each other – with people we know, people we just met, and people we’ll never see again.

This past weekend, I attended the Firefly Music Festival in Delaware with a bunch of friends. To the narrow minded, the words “music” and “festival” together mean shitty music, shitty beer, drugs, filth, and a lot of sweaty people rubbing up against each other.

Now, while all of those things are certainly a part of Firefly, our beloved music festival represents many other things to us as a group. A weekend away, dreading my inevitable return to the “real world” made me realize that I was in the real world. What I lacked in hygiene, I made up for in consciousness.

Firefly is not just an excuse to get drunk and not shower for three days. It’s freedom. It’s a sense of community. It’s getting in touch with nature. Learning about the real you. And, perhaps most importantly, connecting with other people.

At festivals like Firefly, we learn so many things about others: what they like to drink, how they dance, what songs they enjoy, how many hot dogs they can eat in one sitting. We meet countless people we will probably never come across again in our lives, and they become our friends for the weekend, the day, or sometimes just the next few songs.

Last year, we befriended our neighbors staying at the campsite next to ours. Our grill wasn’t functioning properly the first day, so we asked if we could borrow theirs. This led to us cooking together, enjoying meals, playing beer pong, and starting a slip-n-slide party that truly got out of control.

This year, I met a girl from Texas and talked to her for about twenty minutes, learning about what she wants to do when she finishes college and how she wants to impact the world. I doubt I’ll ever see her again. I also danced and sang along with another girl for an entire set, only to be shot down when I was about to make a move. (She had a boyfriend. Nice girl, though.)

The beauty of camping without electricity for three days is that my phone remained dead for a majority of the weekend. So, instead of living behind a screen, I enjoyed the privilege of living in the moment. People should do that more often, huh?

A friend and I went to go see Cake perform last year at Firefly, and the band’s lead singer, John McCrea, addressed the crowd during the set. He urged that the crowd put away their cellphones and cameras and enjoy the moment. He said something to the effect of: “We will all never be here again in this moment, together. So, I encourage you to be present. Right here, right now.” Posting a video or tweeting or updating a status wasn’t as important as the show we were experiencing at that very point in time. Nothing was.

All experiences are like that, though. We will never be in the same exact location with the same exact people doing the same exact thing ever again. So, why do so many of us choose to live behind screens? Why can’t we appreciate experiences for what they are?

I understand that people want to have photographs and videos to capture certain moments. But if we are at a party and the only thing people are doing is taking pictures, what will these individuals say when they look at their phones and cameras in the morning? “Oh god, what did we do last night?” (HINT: The answer is “nothing” because all they were doing was posing for pictures.)

People always tell us to live for the moment (sort of like “Don’t think. Just do.“), but many fall into the trap of living for the memory of the moment. They fear that they won’t remember the important aspects of certain experiences, so they attempt to document every little detail, in turn missing out on the intrinsic value of the experience.

I mean, I would love to remember everything significant I experience, but if I need to worry about remembering it, maybe it’s not so significant to me in the first place. For example, I haven’t the slightest clue as to what the girl from Texas’ name was, nor her major, nor her aspirations. I just know that she told me those things, and I listened.

I wasn’t concerned with the future. I didn’t try to get her number or “Facebook” her or anything. I appreciated the encounter for what it was, and then moved on. (In other words, I went to urinate and she was gone when I got back to where we were standing. Nice girl, though.)

What makes an experience important is that we experience it. It is something so incredibly significant to our growth as people, and it happens to be something entirely intangible. No matter how many pictures or videos we take, we will never be able to capture the experience we gained from being in any specific situation. So, we shouldn’t be living for the moment. We should be living in it.

April Showers

I had an interesting conversation with a man who called to reject my employment today. After the initial “We’ve decided to go in another direction for this position,” he and I managed to have a refreshingly honest discussion. I respected the company’s decision not to hire me, and I understood that they felt somebody else was better suited for the job. And as frustrating as it is to know that I did everything in my power to get this job (including a second-round interview during which I was on fire), there was one thing he said during this exchange that made it bittersweet.

The man basically told me that I was better than this job – that he knew I wouldn’t be happy there long-term. I took the first part as a compliment, and I understand that not getting this job could be a blessing in disguise. But I didn’t know how to take the second part of what he said.

Sure, I was fine with him telling me that I would be happier doing something else long-term, and that I would be better suited in a position in which I can utilize my expertise. But through his choice of words, he showed me that even he knew one thing about me that I may not have realized until he finished saying it. If this man could already see that I wouldn’t be happy after only meeting me twice, then perhaps it’s painfully obvious that I’m not happy now.

I feel like what is happening to me is happening to the world, except on a much larger scale. It’s just a humongous identity crisis. When something negative happens, we try to spin it with positive language. We are even told “You’re better than this,” but we feel as though we haven’t seen enough proof to consider that thought valid. Am I better than this? Are we better than this?

In her article in today’s Star Ledger, Kathleen O’Brien poses the question: “What is it about April?” She goes on to illustrate April’s long history of violence, highlighting various historical events dating all the way back to the start of the Civil War.

Think about it. There have been a number of brutal occurrences that have happened during the fourth month of the year…

April 19, 1775: The American Revolutionary War begins with the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

April 14, 1865: John Wilkes Booth shoots President Abraham Lincoln in the back of the head at point-blank range. Lincoln dies the next morning.

April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr. is shot and killed a day after delivering his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech in Memphis, Tennessee.

April 20, 1999: Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shoot and kill thirteen people (twelve students, one teacher) and then turn the guns on themselves at Columbine High School in Colorado.

April 16, 2007: Seung-Hui Cho shoots and kills thirty-two people, wounding seventeen at Virginia Tech before committing suicide.

April 15, 2013: Two bombs go off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three individuals and injuring at least 144 others. At least two other explosive devices are found and dismantled at other locations in Boston.

[Source: The Star Ledger]

Take all of these events, and combine them with the ricin-poisoned letters sent to President Obama, Senator Wicker, and Judge Holland, along with the (pseudo-)threats North Korea has been throwing our way – and we have ourselves quite the month. (Don’t even get me started on the background check expansions bill that the Senate shot down.)

Is this some sort of sick, drawn-out April Fools’ joke? What begins as such a fun and pleasant month always seems to turn into an endless shitstorm of negativity. And with April’s track record, we are forced to ponder whether or not history will repeat itself. If these are the “April showers,” will we be able to appreciate the flowers that bloom in May? Will we even have flowers that bloom?

Will we have the time to admire anything good that happens in the next month? Or will we be too busy – too preoccupied with debating the semantics of church and state, faith and religion, terror and “terrorism”? We are spending all of this time trying to figure out who we are as individuals, as a community, as a nation, and as a planet. If there are two kinds of people in the world, which are we? Are we the good ones people write about in books, the heroes parents describe in stories to their children, the people that are inspirational and decide to inspire? Or are we the other kind?

Actor and comedian Patton Oswalt seems to believe we are the former. In a Facebook post that went viral the afternoon of the Boston Marathon incident, Oswalt wrote:

“…the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago…”

 

I don’t have the answers to these questions. I’m just a 22-year old kid trying to inspire people, trying to make people think every once in awhile – and maybe even prompt some self-reflection. If somebody learns something they didn’t already know, great. If I learn something about myself, even better. I’m a kid who writes about the things that are bothering him so he doesn’t end up another face on the news. It’s called “catharsis.”

I’m Counting Down the Days

I’m counting down the days until that one day comes. When everything I want is mine. When time stops. When I’m me, and my toes move free like flip-flops.

I’m counting down the days until I find what I’m looking for. I’m counting down until I know what that is – when doubts are loud like pimples, and I can simply silence a room of kids like a pop quiz.

I’m counting down the days until I’m no longer starving. When thoughts are food and I’m always full. When there’s push and pull, and give and take. When I make things that give people motivation and push them to pull themselves out of their caves and take what’s rightfully theirs.

I’m counting down the days until I reach my goals. When time is money and money flows free, when life is funny and laughs are my currency. When I’m rich, bitch. When everybody knows me, or knows of me. When everybody wants to slap or hug me, whether they hate me or love me.

I’m counting down the days until the storm passes. When “whether” isn’t conditional, when my skies are clear of fear like glasses. When I realize I’m hiding more here above the mattress. When my ideas are solid rock, and I skip stones like college classes.

I’m counting down the days until I learn from my mistakes. When failure flows through my body like water, provides no nutrition yet quenches my thirst away. When knowing my worst keeps me showing my best. When hurdles keep me alive. When I strive for more, even when I have enough. When success is buried, and I dig holes like Shia LaBeouf.

I’m counting down the days until I get what I deserve. I’m counting them down until I don’t have to anymore.

Dammit

It’s alright to tell me what you think about me. I won’t try to argue or hold it against you. I know that I’m tough to understand sometimes, but just bear with me here.

I can deal with criticism. I might not change based on it, but I’ll listen to it and decide whether or not it’s justified. I’m fine with being analyzed or judged by my close friends, my family, and even complete strangers. There is just one person whose criticism seems much too harsh – one person whose criticism I can’t even fully comprehend most of the time.

My own.

We are always our own toughest critics, and in my case, I’ve given almost everything I’ve done in the past few years two thumbs way down. But this isn’t because I have self esteem issues or anything like that; it’s exactly the opposite. I hold myself to standards that are extremely high, and I tend to compare myself to the “me” of the past.

The recent comparisons I’ve been making have been in the realm of humanity – trying to figure out how “good” of a person I am. As I judge myself, my gavel comes down with gravity. My criticism is that I am not as good of a person as I used to be.

The thing about this observation that troubles me the most is that there’s a good chance it is completely true. Dammit.

Maybe I’m in some sort of “rut,” but I don’t feel like I’m connecting with anything anymore. Not people I know, not strangers, not the world itself. Everything around me has just turned gray. (Kind of like Fifty Shades of Grey, but with a lot less BDSM.) Feelings of anger, sadness, and despair outnumber those of love, excitement, and joy. But even those feelings are few and far between.

Now, I would be lying if I said I don’t enjoy anything. But these feelings, or lack thereof, have led to a shortage of fear, sympathy, and remorse on my part. Usually, being free of fear is a good thing; however, in this case, it is more of an indifference towards outcomes and consequences. Apathy.

The last two times I legitimately cared about the way a situation turned out – in fact, the last two times I legitimately felt anything – were the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and when I found out my grandfather had brain cancer.

Since then, nothing outside of my internal evaluations have bothered me. Lying, cheating, stealing – it seems like none of it matters anymore. I used to judge others when they participated in activities like this, but I now find myself engaging in them or at least thinking about it. The things that used to make me uncomfortable now don’t faze me one bit.

I still refuse to believe any of this makes me a “bad” person, but I choose to believe I’ve taken a step backwards in that category. I’ve become callous, and I fear I’ve become incapable of love. (Perhaps this is the only fear I do have.) As ridiculous as this sounds, it’s something I am actually afraid of.

It’s tough to love somebody when I almost literally like nobody. This goes back to my failure to connect with people. Most of the time, it’s either because we don’t have anything in common, or we do and I just don’t give a shit about anything he/she has to say.

But don’t mistake the previous few sentences as me yearning for a girlfriend. And don’t mistake the previous few paragraphs as a cry for help. I know I don’t need a girlfriend, and I honestly don’t even want one right now. Outside criticism is always welcome, but don’t bother if you are going to try to tell me what I need.

I believe that the things you need are what help you survive, and that the things you want are what make your survival a priority.

I’m alive right now, so I’m obviously getting what I need. Now, it’s just a matter of getting what I want. And for that to happen, I have to figure out exactly what that is. I’ve heard that, sometimes, you don’t know what you want until you have it.

Well, I guess this is growing up.