Psychological Torture for Fun and Profit

slightly crazy



I just finished a serious of articles for a client on how parents can communicate effectively with their teenagers. It was fun and inspiring, the client was extremely pleased. And it was very satisfying to be able to bring so much of what I’ve learned in the last year about emotional intelligence and human interaction into a work of non-fiction that will go on to actually be used in the real world to achieve something. And to get paid for it (and tipped!).

But damn if I’m not as sick as hell about writing about nurturing and caring and building empathy. Yes, yes, I love and respect and espouse all of that, blah blah blah. But I feel like everyone neuron in my brain has been soaked in feel-juice to the point of supersaturation and bursting.

Right now, I really want to write an e-book called Psychological Torture for Fun and Profit, and thus hurl it out into the universe. That’s what I want to do.

On the plus side, apparently my solution to too much writing is that I immediately go and write about how I want to do more writing. Evil writing, but still writing.

Maybe…I’m moving in the right direction with this whole writing thing. Just maybe.


bright red hair_mirror

“It’s because he’s thorough.”

That’s what she says. The down-to-earth red haired nurse with the great sense of humor. We got to the appointment 20 minutes early, and they took us in for the x-ray right away. They always seem to do that. That’s why they are my favorites, even though their co-pay is three times as expensive as any other department.

It is 8:41 in the morning. That’s a good two hours before I usually open my eyes, let alone achieve higher brain function. We got here early, because we always do. Because I’m pathologically punctual. And I always assume that mamacat, with her old, injured body, will ambulate more slowly than she actually does. She’s like a turtle, that way.

They shunted us into the x-ray room two minutes after we checked in, 20 minutes before our appointment. They always do. I like to think it’s because every time we check in I make the receptionist laugh. A real laugh, not just the polite, laughter equivalent of talking about the weather. Even at 8:21, my brain several hours and 95 milligrams of caffeine away from advanced cognition, I made her laugh. That’s why she let us in early. I prefer to think that.

It is 8:41 in the morning. The x-ray was already done. It was much faster this time, now that mamacat isn’t in so much pain. Even though this break was new. The second break in a summer defined by fractured bone. Last time was worse. But last time is over. This one is still here. The x-ray is done and the nurse takes us into a room and sat us down. The red-haired nurse. She makes me laugh, even at 8:41 in the morning.

“You’re going to be waiting for awhile,” she says after taking mamacat’s blood pressure and going through the normal checklist. “Dr. Whatley usually runs behind, and he’s still with another patient.”

“That’s fine,” I say. “We’re happy to sit here.” I spoke for mamacat. I often do, because she tires easily and sometime she doesn’t make any sense. I’m never sure whether that should make me feel bad.

“It’s because he’s thorough,” the nurse adds, with the tiniest hint of urgency. “He takes a long time with each patient, because he’s thorough. But you’re going to be waiting for awhile.”

“She told us we’d be waiting,” I say after she leaves, half to a sleepy mamacat and half to myself. “They never do that.”

I find it refreshing. Just like the fact that she didn’t bother with the unnecessary task of ensuring that mamacat’s medicines hadn’t changed, because we had been to her GP just a few days previously. They always do that. I’m never sure if it’s a waste of time or a sign that they are thorough.

But I find it refreshing. And I don’t think it’s just because I like her attitude. And the sound her voice. And the fact that she probably has no idea that she’s beautiful.

Dr. Whatley shows up nearly forty minutes later. Almost a half an hour past the time of our initial appointment. He asks a lot of questions. He carefully prods along mamacat’s newly broken left arm. He dithers back and forth about whether the break need surgery, in a way that could be discouraging but is instead reassuring. Both options are valid. He admits he doesn’t know. Doctors who do that make me happy. He presents us with an array of options. He is there for a long time.

We’ve met so many orthopedists in the last few months. But I think he’s my favorite. Mamacat thinks he’s her favorite. We both agree that he’s thorough.

I believe that, because I saw it. I was there. I saw him methodically inspect the arm and squint with deliberation at the x-ray. I believe he’s thorough because I saw it for myself.

But is that why? Maybe it’s because she told me. The red-haired nurse who I imagine probably keeps her scrubs on when she gets home, because she has a newborn, and she’s going to get dirty anyway. For the same reason she doesn’t wear makeup. Or maybe she changes into new scrubs. Baby scrubs.

Is that why I think that? I read the pauses between words — crawling along in a slow southern drawl — as careful contemplation and analysis. Maybe I would have thought he was dim. Maybe I would have thought his indecision about the surgery was wishy washy. That he lack conviction. Maybe I would have thought he was a time waster, and resented him for making us wait so he could take such long pauses between words.

As I wheeled mamacat out we make a followup appointment. He wants us back in seven to fourteen days. They have an appointment next week, but we don’t take it. We wait the whole two weeks, because that’s the next time Whatley is available. I’m willing to wait. Mamacat is willing to wait. Some things are worth waiting for.

After all, he’s very thorough.




Spring Cleaning is for those allied with the blinding,
intolerant sun
Who believe in angels and pixie dust
and that greeting cards can cure depression

We, who are Autumnborn,
with burnt orange blood sneaking through our craggy veins,
we succumb to the the Autumnal Purge
in that moment when the trees start to choke
and the winds start to shiver
then we begin,
and kill off clutter,
and murder waste as it slumbers,
in a somber frenzy of bloodless sacrifice,
not in defiance of Death
or as affront to Entropy

But in praise of Them.

Temporal Toxicity

Penny retrieved from stomach of a dog

I stopped doing 30 Uncomfortable Days because the universe played a joke on me and put me back into the role of caretaker for an overweight old lady.

It’s funny that if I was mad at her, or in psychological splinters the way I was last time this happened, I wouldn’t have made the overweight comment. Because if I said it maliciously, or as anything other than just a fact, I would have felt bad about it.

Anyway, I’m not doing uncomfortable challenges because they’re too difficult right now. Th word “difficult” there has a different meaning than it did when mamacat had her second accident that caused me to stop my challenges in the first place. I thought I couldn’t handle them psychological and also take care of her. It was true then. But now they are too difficult because I just don’t have time. I’m too busy hauling around an old lady, and too busy writing.

And getting paid for it.

Because that’s actually happening. Weird but true.

Will I go back to uncomfortable challenges? I certainly intended to, as soon as I could. But now I’m not so sure. Not because they were stressful, which they were. And not because they are difficult, which they also were. But because the whole thing worked.

I’ve conquered fear, and now neither vicious conqueror nor plague of demons can stop me.

That last might have been a tiny bit of a gigantic lie. I’m still plenty afraid of too many things. And it’s certainly going to make it difficult to move forward with what I want to do. But I got started. I jumped over the “it’s too scary to do any of this” and out into the jungle full of ravenous, jagged-toothed plants.

I just live there now. Or rather, I live in the badly tended garden full of slightly prickly plants that’s next to the tooth-plant jungle. I’m working on entering the jungle; I just have to practice my machete skills. But at least I finally took the machete of it its packaging.

But the main reason I probably won’t go back to uncomfortable challenges is that now I have a different problem. I’ve started writing professionally and I’m on that path, and I am confident I can keep walking it. For a few hours a day. Between episodes of Friday Night Lights. And all the time on Facebook. And playing Fallen London. And cleaning the house.

Distractions! Much like “fear” it’s a hilariously common and vague problem that’s difficult for a creativity-obsessed guy like me to admit that he has. And just like fear, it’s bloody poisonous. Distractions is a deliberately cute way of talking about this powerful toxin in my psychic bloodstream that is infecting my dreams and making my ambitions fester and rot.

Time management is not something I’m good at. Nor is avoiding distraction. Nor is impulse control, or motivation. Yes, I am much better at these than I used to be. I am also taller, but that does not mean I could pluck an apple off the roof of the Burj Khalifa from the ground without first getting zapped with cosmic rays and getting stretch powers. And I don’t give that any more than a 28% chance of happening in the next few months.

So my next goal is to do that thing I just talked about. What was it? Right, purge myself of the toxin of not-doing-the-stuff-I-should-be-doing. I wish I had some kind of fun little game about it that I could post and use social pressure to force me to stick to it. But everything I’ve thought of would make terribly boring blog posts.

Time management just isn’t a sexy problem, even with a cool supervillainy name like Temporal Toxicity.

I’m open to suggestion.

The Entitlement to Happiness

Happiness in Isolation

I’ve long said that I find it pretty easy to be happy as long as there’s nothing actively stressing me out. I used to just say “I find it pretty easy to be happy,” and then I became an adult and found out there’s usually something stressing me out. Still, tucking those moments of joy into my life comes fairly naturally to me. I got lucky in that way, with regards to my brain chemistry and whatnot.

The downside of this is that I don’t know how to handle being miserable. It’s a little like Superman when exposed to excessive red-sun radiation. A papercut can take him out. At least, that’s how it is when it’s portrayed like that. For example, my wife does not have this terrible burden of default-happiness. But it means that sometime when things go wrong she can handle it better than I can. She knows what it’s like to live with anxiety and work straight through a panic attack. A Rogue-style powerset that it’s easy to respect but hard to envy.

Which brings us to today. About 3 months ago, my mother in law broke her right arm. She is 74, diabetic, very overweight, and has tendonitis and back pain. She was barely mobile before this, but the stress and pain of the injury coupled with the loss of her dominant hand left her nearly helpless. Since I didn’t have a job, and since my wife had supported me for months while I wrote a novel and attempted to find myself, I took on the brunt of taking care of my mother in law.

It turns out taking care of an infirm elderly person is absolutely brutal. Especially when she can’t get out of bed without being hoisted, and her size means that is very, very difficult. She was not an easy patient, either. Finicky and sometimes demanding, frequently either giving up too soon or thinking she could  do things she couldn’t do and getting herself into trouble. I was constantly sleep deprived and achy, covered in bodily fluids, and unable to focus on anything, control my schedule, or live my life.

The worst of it lasted about 8 weeks, and it was one of the most difficult and unpleasant periods of my life. It also turned me into someone I didn’t really like. I was impatient and snappy; I got angry at my mother in law for things that weren’t really her fault, but which made our lives miserable. At one point I took all of her blankets and pillows away I was so angry, and went back up to bed. I quickly felt bad about it, and came down ten minutes later. She looked at me, and very contritely said, “If I’m a good kitty, can I maybe have one pillow back?”

And now I have to live with the fact that I did that. And my wife didn’t even think I did anything wrong, because that’s how bad it all got. But I also had a weird guilt complex about the fact that this was my responsibility, and I tried to let my wife do as little as possible. At one point she confronted me about it, and said that what I was doing was killing me and wasn’t fair, and that she wanted her husband back. That night and the next day I relinquished, and she took over all the duties so I could finally get more than 3 hours in a row of sleep.

Things got better after that. The mother in law started to recover enough to take care of some of her own stuff, and life slowly improved. She still needed a bit of help, showering and dealing with her insulin and whatnot, but it was all very survivable. That started about 3 weeks ago, and things have pretty much gotten okay.

About three hours before this writing she fell and broke her other arm.

After they came and took her away to the hospital I did some screaming. I smashed some thing. I made a comment on Facebook implying that I wanted to kill myself, and it turns out there are a lot of people in my life who don’t want me to do that. So that’s good to know.

The mother in law is back, now, and it looks like this break might not be quite as bad as the last one. But the first one hasn’t fully recovered, so the overall situation could be pretty terrible. I’m looking at a period ahead that could be as hellish as the last.

And I’m wondering about it. I know that plenty of people deal with much worse situations all the time, but as we all know that helps a little but not very much. But it’s more thinking about my reaction. I think many people in the modern world feel that we are entitled to happiness. That it’s a basic human right. That it’s something we deserve. And it makes situations that violate the possibility of that happiness, either in the short-term or for longer, feel somehow offensive. They feel personal. Like a violation.

On one level having my mother in law break her previously unbroken arm just as her broken one was almost heals has the characteristics of a bad joke. It’s like something about of a Ben Stiller movie. So because it’s so narrative it’s easy to be angry at whoever wrote the screenplay.

But on the other hand, bad things happen. The kind of happiness we think of when we think of happiness is very modern, and it’s neither a necessary feature of human psychology nor of the natural universe. I was just starting to get some momentum on my actual life goals, and now I feel like all that has been kicked out from under me. But maybe it hasn’t. Maybe this is an opportunity. Maybe I should have actually done something last time I was in the middle of this crisis, rather than just spending the entire time bemoaning my rotten luck. Maybe this is my chance to try again. And maybe happiness isn’t something you deserve, but something you have to build, like a life-sized chupacabra made out of legos originally intended to built a model Death Star but screw you they’re legos I’ll build what I want to dammit.

I figure I’ll have a lot of time to think about all this over the next few weeks. After all, it’s not like I’ll be getting much sleep.


Day X

Mysterious Visitation


I didn’t do a challenge today. Nor, even though it’s only 9:50 PM and there are 5 hours left in my ludicrously scheduled day, do I plan to.


Since I build up expectations with friends and readers that I will be doing this everyday, it makes me uncomfortable. So that still counts! Right? RIGHT?



It doesn’t.

So I’m not going to count this towards my total days. This is not day 12 of Shredded Comfort, it’s Day X. The hidden day! The black hole of days! The mysterious day, where anything can happen!

But, you know, nothing actually does. God didn’t even throw me a bone and lead me into a bathroom or anything. I did briefly consider walking into a sketchy motel I walked by and ask them if I could have a free room for 20 minutes to take a nap. But it was really sketchy. As far as I could tell by peaking through the window it was actually run by drug-dealing mob-connected cockroaches. I was worried they might sell me off to Eli Roth or something.

I admit it’s tremendously liberating to be able to take a day off. I do hate the idea of being bound to my own rules, even if I also love the way those rules motivate me. And it’s acceptable, I think, as long as I don’t use it as an excuse to blow the whole thing off or sink back into inactivity.

If I try, I urge all of you who care about me, for the love of all that’s holy, not to let me get away with it.

Do I Know You?

Supermarket Interior Decor | Produce Area | Hanging Trellis | Greenfresh Market

Day 11 of Shredded Comfort

Special relativity tells us that as the speed of an objective with mass increase, it needs more and more energy to continue accelerating. As it approaches the speed of light, the energy required becomes infinite, and it reaches a point where no matter how hard it tries, it just can’t go any faster.

This is an apt metaphor for awkward social situations. The closer you get to actually performing the dreaded act, the more and more willpower needed to go on. It feels like the will needed to transition from a state of standing next to a stranger to one where you ask that stranger to borrow his shoes is infinite, and it can’t be achieved no matter what you do. Of course, this is where the metaphor falls apart. Not arbitrarily, but beautifully.  Because unlike energy, willpower isn’t real. The obstacles aren’t real. Once you take that leap, you aren’t any more depleted than you were the moment before.

Jeesy creezy, I sound like a new-agey self-help book. But new agey self-help materials never make physics metaphors, right? Right?

Today’s challenge almost stymied me. And it didn’t have anything to do with shoes.

I had a lot to do today (because I gave myself ridiculously sized goals list for some reason), so it had to be someone I could stuff into my other chores, such as grocery shopping. I decided I would go up to a stranger in the produce section and pretend that I knew them, and just see how far it went.

I had no idea it would be so difficult to make myself do this. As I wandered around picking out mushrooms and zucchini and looking at all of the grumpy people choosing which type of apple to buy, the invisible pressure not to do this wrapped around my throat. What got me to just go ahead and take the plunge was the thought of writing a blog post about failure. What a lame thing to fail at! Honestly, if it wasn’t for public socially pressure I would never get anything done.

I tried first with a tall, large man standing at the deli counter who looked like he could squish my head with any two of digits, including his toes if they were prehensile. Which I’m not willing to rule out. I walked up to him and said, in a friendly and familiar voice, “hey!” At that precise moment the person behind the deli counter was ready and started to take his order. How awkward! The tall man looked back at me as I scurried away and disappeared into the crowd. Probably he heard my voice and saw the back of my head for just a moment and thought I was his long-missing cousin who was his closest childhood friend and still had his Greatest Steel Drum Hits of the 80s collection and now that’s all he’ll think about for weeks and his life will miserable.

But we’re talking about me, here.

I felt a bit weird, but I was committed, now. So I walked up to a middle-aged woman scoping out the sliced bread selection and started to talk.

“Hey!” I said jovially. “How are you doing?”

“Good,” she said.

“I didn’t know you lived around here,” I said.

She stared at me. “Do I know you?”

“Jesse!” I said, and I’ll admit I was disappointed that there are people out there who haven’t heard of me. “I cut my hair off recently.”

“Um…” she stammered.  At that point I decided enough was enough, and that I’d cut the poor woman loose.

“You know what,” I said. “You just look exactly like one of my coworkers. I am so sorry.

She laughed. “It’s okay.”

“Wow. This is awkward.”

“It’s fine!” she said, still laughing. “I was wondering, have I met this guy before?”

“No, it’s cool,” I said. “My mistake.”

And we departed friends. I mean, not really friends, but we were probably on friendlier terms than nearly any two strangers in that entire supermarket. I kept hoping I’d run into her during the rest of my trip so we could exchange smiles and laughter. My goal was to make myself uncomfortable, but I really think I put her in a slightly better mood than she was before.

Also, my article from yesterday was accepted, and got a 5 star review. It’s been a pretty good day.