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.

BUT

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?

Ha

No

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.

 

Write On

Writing

 

Day 10(!!) of Shredded Comfort

Also Alternate Jesse realizes you should keep out of some things. Or rather, keep them on.

I have a thing about cliche or dumb titles for posts, so I’m sticking with that one even though my outer cerebellum is forming a serious of protest groups as we speak.

Today was probably my least interesting challenge, but also the most important. As I’ve said before, this is all an attempt to overcome personal barriers so I can try for this freelance writer thing. Today I did some damn writing.

Ah, iWriter. The milliest and schlockiest of the schlocky content mills. My article on air purifiers, if accepted, will net me an entire dollar and seventy two whole cents. But to be honest I’m not in it for that sizable payout. That’ll come later, once I’m writing for real markets. The fact is that I finally fucking did it. After months of paralysis whenever I attempted to write something professional, I just sat down and bloody did it. I don’t know if the article is going to be accepted. Honestly, I don’t care.

Actually, I do care. It’ll probably be disproportionately upsetting if I get rejected. For one thing, I think it was pretty damn good. I can’t know for sure if it’s what the client wanted, since they only gave about 100 words of description. But I’ll survive either way. My future as a writer is going to involve a lot of rejection. Rejection is an enormous step up for me, even if that step is taken by a baby. Rejection means I’m trying.

I’ve started, now. And I don’t plan on stopping any time soon.

Space Waffles

Soundgarden Pearl Jam poster, Nashville Hard Rock Cafe 1995

Day 9 of Shredded Comfort

Alternate Jesse goes to…the bank again! But for something different.

“You’ve never understood about bottoms, Jane. Having a bottom is living with the enemy. Not only do they spend their lives slowly inflating, they flirt with men while we’re looking the other way.” –Coupling

Before you get worried — or, dare I hope, excited? — let me assure that this post isn’t about bottoms.

It’s about music.

When I was in 8th grade I had an overnight musical transformation. In the span of just a few weeks I went from listening exclusively to Weird Al and the Aladdin soundtrack to Green Day and Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Hootie and the Blowfish. You know: all the really cool stuff. I was a late bloomer when it came to social trends and the like. I know I was because my mom said it.

In 8th grade I was losing my friends and everything was changing and I didn’t know what the hell was going on. I latched on to popular music like a male angler-fish onto a female. I thought I was mating, but I was actually being absorbed. I went into the whole thing with an un-self-aware intensity I was only able to muster back in the age when my neurotransmitters were so awash with indiscriminate hormones that getting 12 free CDs for the price of one through the mail from Colombia House felt like the deal of a lifetime.

Listening to music became my primary leisure activity, and which bands I liked became my entire identity. I wanted to go to concerts like the cool kids and come back to school Monday with still-mussed hair and wild eyes and crazy stories about singers licking dildos on stage. I asked for a guitar for Christmas, and got books on how to play.

And I wanted a band t-shirt. Desperately. Everyone was wearing them. They showed what bands you liked on the freaking shirt. There was and never would be a superior article of clothing. And they were expensive as hell. Plus, I didn’t even know how to go clothes shopping. This was a skill I just never acquired. So I kept my eye out for a cheap one, hoping to snag it and talk my mom into it before she knew what was happening. It was the perfect plan! And it came to fruition during a street festival held by our town. Among the Led Zeppelin and Rolling Stone and other dinosaur band shirts I found one for only 10 bucks for a band I actually liked. Soundgarden. I asked my mom if I could get it, and she said yes! Huzzah! I was in!

But I never wore the shirt once. It sat in my drawer for ages. Eventually it somehow made it into my dad’s wardrobe and he wore it until it was so faded it made a convincing case for  the existence of an abstract artist called “oun a den.”

Why didn’t I wear it? Well, how could I? Wearing that shirt was the equivalent of walking around shouting “I like Soundgarden! Soundgarden rock! Black hole suuuuuuuun!” And I would never do that. People got confrontation about what bands you liked. Someone might judge me. It’s a phobia I still have today.

Because this post isn’t really about music.

It’s about clothes.

I don’t mind being loud and crazy and noticeable in public. But I have a weird anxiety about being identified. I don’t mean identified as myself. I mean identified as part of a group. A geek, or a Soundgarden fan, or someone who makes jokes about other people being assholes. I don’t mind drawing attention to myself, but I hate having my clothes do it without my express permission. Where the hell do those fibrous bastards get off?

Even worse than logos is clothing with writing on it. That’s the equivalent of saying the same sentence over and over and over, to everyone you see, all day long. So for today’s challenge, I had my wife make me a t-shirt. Here it is,  stylishly modeled by the dining room chair.

Space Waffles

Then I wore that downtown for almost four hours as I walked around and did stuff.

Most people didn’t really notice. Plenty of people stared. Only two people asked about my space waffles. One of them was a barrista at a coffee shop.

“They’re delicious,” I said. “As long as you can process white dwarf star matter.

” “You don’t think I can process that?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I know I can’t. You can certainly find out.”

“Okay,” he said. “So where do I find these space waffles?” “Chandrasekhar. It’s 67,000 light years that way.”

He was disappointed he wasn’t getting any waffles.

The other person who asked was an old man at a street corner. I started to answer him, but was interrupted by another guy who had just handed me a gospel tract and told me, “That’s the most important thing, right there.”

“Okay,” I replied. “I’ll be sure to ask God about the space waffles.”

Overall the whole thing was really fun and super easy. I definitely think I’ve made some strides towards getting over this ludicrous phobia.  Honestly I wish a lot more people had asked me. Were strangers secretly judging me, as I was so terrified they would. The answer is as obvious as it is simple:

Who cares? I have space waffles!

Jack Out of the Box

jack in the box

Day 8 of Shredded Comfort
Also, see Alternate Jesse rob a bank.

One of the most confident people I’ve ever met was the dude from Texas who came up to me while I was manning the meat-carving station at the sandwich shop and asked me to cook his meat for him.

“I have a group of investors coming up here for a meeting from Texas, and they insisted brisket. So I picked it up and it’s already been smoked, but I need someone to heat it up. I’d be happy to give you some. Can you do it?”

He didn’t offer to pay, or anything. I had never seen this guy before. But I cooked the damn brisket. And I did, indeed, take some for myself and for my coworkers. I’d never had genuine Texas brisket before. It tasted great, but it was the smokiest thing I’ve ever eaten, and I once chugged a bottle of liquid smoke. The guy also said he would give me a good Yelp review. Which he did.

He came back several times over the next year to do the same thing. One day I told him I was too busy, and he said he’d pay $150. I told him my schedule had miraculously cleared up. I found out that he’d asked around the building (the sandwich shop was in an office building) for who to bring it to, and we were recommended. It made sense. We were a small, privately owned place, so we didn’t have corporate rules. And the fun thing about working there was that it was 80% regulars, from the building and nearby offices, and I got to be good friends with a lot of the lawyers and brokers and marketing managers for architecture firms. So I’m sure they told Mr. Texas — who sounded like he was born not in Texas but in actually inside a TV ad for athletics equipment — that we were the ones to come to.

Today, when I bought a piece of chicken breast and decided to ask someone at a restaurant to cook it, I took no such preparatory measures. After all, my goal wasn’t to actually get it cooked, but just to successfully ask under awkward circumstances. So I picked a fast food place.

I decided to go for Burger King, for reasons that are so obvious I won’t even explain them here. Nor are they arbitrary or out of my ass — you can count on that. I didn’t know where a Burger King was, but I was pretty sure there was one along the main drag near my house. I was a little nervous as I drove, but not too bad. Until I saw a Jack in the Box.

I knew I should go there. I didn’t have that much time before my wife got out of work, after all, and I had to go make dinner. Jack in the Box was just as good a choice, and it was right there. I think that’s what put that sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. It was right there. I actually had to do this.

“No,” I told myself. “No, it has to be a Burger King. Keep looking.”

Even inside of my head that sounded ridiculous. Two blocks later I turned around and drove back to the Jack in the Box.

There were two people ahead of me in line, and a few came in right behind me. The thought of doing it in front of an audience made me even more nervous. But that was the point, right? The cashier kept having to run off and do other things, and he spent several minutes trying to open a roll of quarters. I worried that my voice would shake and I would sound like a gibbering nervous idiot.

Finally, it was my turn.

“What can we get for you?” asked the cashier.

“I have this chicken breast,” I said, pulling its bag out of a larger bag. “I’d like you guys to cook it for me.” My voice sounded even and confident. Good to know.

He smiled and said, “No, we don’t do that. Sorry.”

I thanked him and left.

That was it!

Just like the $30 for snacks, I got all worked up and then it turned out to be disappointingly easy. In fact, it seems like all of these challenges turn out easy, like it wasn’t even worth getting so worked up about them in the first place. I think there might be some hidden lesson there. And by “hidden,” I mean “the exact lesson I was trying to teach myself from these challenges in the first place.”

This morning I felt nervous, and even thought about ditching this whole thing. But after today I am totally invigorated. Tomorrow, Space Waffles await!

Port Commissioner

119/365 Vote for me...

There will be cold calling in my future. It’s nearly inevitable. Cold calling is, of course, terrifying. Everyone knows that. So today’s challenge was to call people and try to get them to vote for me for Seattle Port Commissioner.

Let it be noted in advance that although we do have a municipal election coming up, Port Commissioner is not on the ballot. None of the current Port Commissioners are up for re-election until 2017. I wasn’t going to even verify this in advance, but as I sat nervously at the dining room table trying to put this off, I saw my ballot sitting next to me on the floor. So I opened it.

I should be running for Prosecuting Attorney.

I called 15 people at random out of the phone book. I only got two actual responses. I wanted to get to 5 for the challenge, but after the second one I stopped for reasons I’ll reveal shortly.

The first woman sounded very skeptical when I asked if she was Mrs. Gilbert (name changed on the off chance this could lead to me being hacked apart by machete). She said yes, and I started in on my schpiel.

“I would like to know if you’ve considered who you’ll be voting for in the upcoming election for Port Commissioner.”

“Yes, I have, thank you,” she said, and hung up.

I sighed with relief and dialed the next number. Someone picked up.

“This is Randy,” he said.

“Hello,” I said. “Is this Mr. Newman?” (Real name changed so I can pretend I’ve met a famous songwriter.)

“Yes.”

“I am calling to find out if you’ve considered who you’ll be voting for in the upcoming election for Port Commissioner,” I said, with a steadier voice than I managed with Mrs. Gilbert.

“No,” he said. “I haven’t. Who are you calling about.”

“Um…I’d like to recommenced that you vote for Jesse LaJeunesse for this position.”

“Oh really,” he said, rather than hanging up like a decent person would have done. “And why is that?”

I had an answer for this. “Do you know as much as 75% of crime in Seattle is linked to it’s docks?”

“No,” he said. “I was unaware of this. And what would Jesse do about it?”

Yeah, the dock percentage was as much material as I had prepared. He went on to ask a bunch of questions I didn’t have answers to:

Q Who are the current candidates? A: There are five candidates.

Q: What are their names? A: I do not have access to that data at this time.

Q: Who, specifically, is Jesse running against? A: Her name is Maria Caldwell, which I pulled out of my ass based on our current Senator, Maria Cantwell.

Q: What is she doing wrong that means Jesse should be elected instead? A: She has gone on the record to say that crime is not her concern and not in the purview of the position of Port Commissioner, and she is more interested in trade and tariffs.

Q: What is Jesse’s background? A: He has 10 years of experience in crime journalism. He has been published in a variety of newspapers on the east coast. He has no background in politics but is running now because he has seen an issue no one is addressing.

Q: Yeah, but what is his current occupation. A: He’s in retail.

Q: What does that mean? A: He sells books. He works at Barnes and Noble.

Finally, after what my lying phone assures me was less than 6 minutes, he thanked me for the information and told me he’d consider it. He actually sounded somewhat convinced. I’m sure he wasn’t convinced, but he didn’t sound like he thought my bullshit was just bullshit. It’s too early in this challenges to say for sure, but I’m coming to the tentative conclusion that people will nearly always take things at face value.

The sound of his hanging up was beautiful. Even though it wasn’t really a sound at all.

I decided not to call anyone else. I will admit that nervousness and the desire no to go through that again was a factor, and I lose points for that. But mostly I’ve realized that if I’m going to cold call people, I shouldn’t actually lie to them. That’s probably illegal and it’s pretty messed up in any case.

I’ll have to plan more carefully about my next cold-calling challenge. And do it very, very soon.