Saturday, April 6, 2013


As usual, I'm surrounded by drama.  In my family, at work, pretty much everywhere I go.  Generally, I can usually count on at least one fight going on between two people I know at any given time.  I used to be caught up in the midst of all this fighting.  God knows I was kicked out of two high schools for fighting.  Life is inherently stressful.  Shit happens, and people hurt us.  So if I may, I'd like to share with you my solution to this most intractable and difficult of problems.  Quite simply, when other people get you down, be amused.

In 2009 and early 2010 I was pretty much at rock bottom.  My life was in completely shambles.  I had absolutely nothing going for me besides my girlfriend, and even that was on the rocks.  Almost no reason to get up in the morning except to turn the TV on and numb myself to the pain of daily existence.  People sucked (they've always sucked, but when you're down and out and depressed they suck even more), minor irritations were major problems.  Up until this point in my life I'd never understood the draw of reality TV.  But when you feel like shit about yourself, and you think your life is shit, a four-hour block on TruTV every Thursday night watching people get pulled over for speeding, dumb criminals caught on camera, pregnant teenagers on MTV, and in general watching people who make very stupid decisions in life suffering for them becomes very attractive.  Though perhaps my favorite show was on the now-defunct Discovery Health channel, called Code Blue.  It followed the goings-on at a busy ER and trauma department in Savannah, Georgia, and all of the horrific, broken people, patients and doctors alike.

Just about the only remotely health and well-adjusted person featured on the show was the jolly and upbeat Dr. Tchotkis, the trauma director, a Jewish New Yorker who I liked because he had the same accent as me.  Day in and day out he could shrug off absolutely horrific suffering he came across in his work, and as someone with more than his fair share of shit in life, this was a trait I found quite admirable.  He was interviewed in one episode, in the midst of teaching a new resident physician, and he spoke the words that I've made into my life's motto: "It's hard at first, but as soon as you come to understand that everyone comes here to amuse you, you do fine."

Three and a half years later, no truer words have still ever been spoken.  Here's how it works.  I believe, deep down, that my primary purpose in life is to be amused.  That other people exist to entertain me, that the world exists for my amusement, and I am meant to have fun.  Fun does not have to mean drinking and partying, spending time at leisure.  But in whatever I do, whomever I'm with, the number one priority is entertainment.  Surprised?  It's an attitude with a sharp learning curve, admittedly, but if you can keep at it for a few weeks, it soon becomes second nature.  And then everything changes.  The annoying guy in line ahead of you becomes tolerable.  Passive-aggressive coworkers become funny.  Bratty siblings and overbearing relatives are merely cheap sources of a quick laugh.  You start to notice little things.  Discarded wrappers on the sidewalk become jokes.  Misplaced items funny stories.

Everyone and everything I ever come across is here to amuse me.

Some might find this unnerving.  I never understood that.  As if sweating the small stuff and being offended by inconsequential interpersonal conflict was a sign of psychopathy.  Some people were just born with sticks up their butts.  I've never been less stressed and bored so little.  It makes waiting in line at the DMV interesting.  Just listen to the conversations you overhear.  98% of everything is completely absurd if you let yourself see it for what it is.  The modern 21st century Western lifestyle is completely arbitrary.  If you're willing to see it that way, you see that it's quite ridiculous.  All of it.

There are downsides, of course.  Being constantly amused has nearly totally ruined television for me.  It plays with your suspension of disbelief.  It's like a long-term diet.  Your palate changes.  Reality shows, prime-time dramas and sitcoms, they're all junk food.  Take in real nourishment (seriously, just walk down the health food aisle at the grocery store and take it all in.  Read the copy on the labels.  Look at the graphics.  It's hilarious), and the Oreos and Chef Boyardee just seems so...bland and pedestrian.  Which I suppose brings me back to the beginning of this whole journey.  Ironic, isn't it, that television-watching presented me the seeds of its own destruction.

Ah, but it's so much more than that.  You just lighten up, mellow out, live in such a better way.  So when your passive-aggressive boss annoys you, be amused.  Aggravating in-laws?  Amused!  Stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic?  Take a look at the driver next to you.  Amusing!  Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to go stare at my aquarium for an hour and pretend to work.  Very, very amusing.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Asshole Principle

Last week I sat down with two serious movers and shakers in the mental health community to ask them for help in starting an advocacy group.  The meeting went well.  Not only were they enthused with my ideas, they actively supported my effort.  One of them offered me a speaking position (unpaid, of course) at an upcoming seminar on the mental health system.  I had come into the meeting nervous and shaking.  My expectation was being laughed out of the room.  I was genuinely shocked at the response I actually received.

I don't know why I keep expecting people to be unreasonable. I'm quick to anger and quick to resentment.  It's constantly gotten me into trouble throughout my life.  Ashamed as I am of it, I can admit I'm capable of hate.  But so much of that hate is really presumption, and so much of that is really fear.  Paranoia is an enormously destructive force.  For me to continue my recovery, I must understand it.

I come from a world where trust was impossible.  My mother had ulterior motives; my father broke nearly every promise he ever made to me.  The subject didn't matter.  School was as violent as it was humiliating.  Children fear embarrassment more than anything else.  I still do, in many ways.  I've written about this before.  I was so goddamn gullible.  It was never the fistfights that truly bothered me.  It was all the times someone led me on.  Girls and romance.  Boys befriending me just to take advantage.  In my heart is a little boy, naive and wide-eyed who just wants to believe.  I get hurt so many times I become in my worse moments a bitter cynic who just wants to lash out.  Hurt others as they've hurt me.  But I get angry at myself the most.  In my heart I know I'll be back for more the next opportunity I get.

Those are my two personalities: the boy and the angry man.  I don't know if they can be reconciled.  To live with one or the other is incomplete.  I need both.  The boy gets hurt by people like Suzy Cherry Blossom and the scars feed the man.  The man brings me to situations like I faced last week.  I can tell myself the two aren't mutually exclusive, but it feels almost impossible in practice.  I cling to the boy because I know what the man can be.  The man is the person who calls into talk shows with an axe to grind against the world.  The paranoid gun nut who readily believes President Obama is a communist Manchurian candidate sent on a mission of pure evil.  The teenager who kills his family and shoots up a mall.  But the boy is no good either.  He lets himself be hurt because he wants to believe deep down that everyone is as pure as he is.  Maybe that's true on some deep level, but never in practice.  The belief sells well short the complexity of human emotions, too.  So what do I do?

I've explored two solutions, neither one of them perfect.  I can tame the man and I can empower the boy.  The truth is, I need both.  Right now they oppose one another.  They need to come into balance.  We're neither as good or as bad as they claim.  Yet it's so easy to think in absolutes.  Maybe then it's absolutism that's the problem.  People always think I'm a joke.  People always lead me on.  People can always be trusted if they sound nice enough.  Like anyone else, I'm a lot of different things to a lot of different people.  Who I am is as much where I am as what I want to be.  How many people do I know that never learned this lesson?  Myself included.  I try.  It's neither easy or fun.  This belief that people are all assholes, waiting to mock, humiliate, and betray me is as deep-seated as it is commonplace.  The boy needs the man and the man needs the boy.  Otherwise, the world is a very frightening place indeed.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Old Piano

Yesterday I got up on a stage and read aloud a piece I'd furiously worked on for the previous three days, whereupon I was judged by a panel of judges and given a score.  It was a fairly middling performance; only my second, at least in this format.  There was praise, there was criticism, as far as the contest went I was in the middle of the pack.  I had no real expectations of glory or winning.  In fact, things went just about as I expected them to.  There were no hard feelings, no harsh words.  But these people were my friends, and I was surrounded by people I knew who were also creative, and even despite this everything was perfectly fine.

When I got home, I immediately went to a collection of old liquor bottles on the floor by the fireplace (not refuse, we were in the process of redecorating) and kicked them, hard.  I wanted something to break.  This was the reason I hadn't wanted to do perform; why my friend the host had to twist my arm to get me to enter.  I yelled.  I kicked.  I screamed.  Took more out on Kari than I had any right to.  This wasn't her fault.  She was simply convenient.  Deserved absolutely none of it.  This is what happens when I grow frustrated.

I've long wondered where this stifling perfectionism came from.  I remember the sound of my piano teacher's voice, never punishing me for mistakes, but in her encouragement always that disappointment just beyond the words.  You're better than this.  Or my parents, wondering where the extra points went.  They never said as much, of course.  I really don't believe that kind of pressure happens so directly (the whole "Tiger Mom" phenomenon notwithstanding).  I suppose in many ways the story of my writing is the story of my piano-playing, and both the cause and effect of always feeling like I had talent, but never the ability to turn it into something real.

If my childhood had a title, the word "potential" would figure prominently.  It was all I ever heard about.  I think it was one of the things that held my parents marriage together when little else would.  I suppose they had good reason.  I did well in school, I was both artistic and musical, and I've always had a natural curiosity and desire to learn.  If I wanted to try something, they let me take it to its natural conclusion.  Praise no matter what I did.  Encouragement.  But laced within it a sense of expectation.  I was going to succeed at whatever what I did.  So when I inevitably didn't (at least not all the time), there was always that moment of questioning.  Me, the anointed one, the superhuman genius who could do anything he put his mind to.  Why couldn't I be a superstar?  I'm better than this.

Praise used ineffectively is just as damaging as no praise at all.  Love used the wrong way is as harmful as no love at all.  Piano was one of those things where I really shined.  I practiced every day, even if I didn't always want to.  The instrument became second nature.  Give me sheet music of a Beethoven Sonata and I could play it flawlessly.  Make you feel what Beethoven felt.  Parents and teachers swooned.  Adults took me more and more seriously.  It wasn't all just about the piano, but that was the most out in the open, and so it stings the most.  Whatever strife I had with my peers was rendered irrelevant.  I had a world to retreat to.  A safe place where I was elevated to the status of Greek hero.  Hercules.  Achilles.

If you've read this blog before, it isn't hard to figure out what happened next.  As much as I've improved my life and as far as I've come, I still can't seem to make myself back into that superhuman at the Steinway.  Nevermind that the boy didn't really exist.  The praise, the adoration, it either feels so empty as to be rendered meaningless, or worse, it was warranted and look what I've become.  There's always the worst of both worlds as well: all praise is empty, I'm actually a pathetic loser with delusions of grandeur.  Some of us choose to call this phenomenon the self-fulfilling prophecy.  It just so happen this is exactly the trap my mother fell into and never did manage to escape.

Succeeding, I've come to understand, means not succeeding for a while.  It also means not succeeding more often than the once or twice a year you work up the nerve to try.  It's one of life's most vibrant contradictions.  One I'm still figuring out.  This is not to blame my parents or my piano teacher or anyone else for my internalizing it.  Not only is that unfair to them, it's also incorrect.  I have no doubt they meant every word they said.  Intentions matter far more to me than results.  This makes it harder, I suppose, but it also clarifies.  All I can do is try, and let myself be wounded.  There is literally no other way to learn.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Wiseman's House

About a year ago today, I got in my car from my crummy apartment in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and drove down one of the three or four roads out of town.  My destination was ten minutes to the southwest, a town called Greenland.  I was headed to the house of my new best friend: a man I'll simply call the Wiseman.  2012 was only two weeks old, and it had started rough.  We were resigned to finding a smaller apartment, and it was likely we were going to have to leave the city. In a hospital bed in Massachusetts, my estranged grandmother lay dying.  But for tonight, that didn't matter.  A week earlier, the Wiseman had sent me an email telling me a play I'd written had been accepted for an upcoming variety show.  I was heading to the initial read-through, where he (the director) and two actors were going to bring something I wrote to life. It was dark when I arrived, and the house appeared shapeless from the outside. 

The Wiseman greeted me at the door.  He was all warmth and love, and the house felt the same way.  It probably hadn't been renovated since the 60s, minus a solarium addition off the back.  The decor was equally antique, but it felt organic in a way so few houses did anymore.  Nothing manufactured but the appliances.  He herded me and the actors into the living room, where two black cats were waiting.  One, the larger, climbed into my lap and began purring as I sat and watched the actors do their work.  I liked this house.  I liked these cats.  I felt at once at home and deeply envious of this place.  My home was cramped and falling apart.  New and clean this place was not, but it was a home, not a filing cabinet for those who couldn't afford anything better.  I used to hate cats.  But I liked these cats a lot.  They were as warm and affectionate as the surroundings.  Had I known then that within a year both the house and the cats would be mine, maybe things would have been different.  But that was several months away.

To this day I'm not really sure why the Wiseman liked me so much.  He never seemed to really like anyone.  There was what he thought and what other people thought.  What he thought was all that mattered.  Other people were only in the way.  Yet I understood this mindset well.  We shared a contempt for others, even for each other.  Nonetheless, I trusted him and the trusted me.  Maybe this play was his way of breaking the ice.  I know few people for whom our respective idiosyncrasies can go completely unspoken.  I got him and he got me.  As I learned, his youth was even more turbulent than my own.  While mental illness has been my demon, his was drugs.  We had similarly difficult relationships with our parents and we'd dealt with them in similar ways.  I had much to learn from him, I realized.  So he'd talk and I'd listen.  Or I'd talk and he'd listen.  He was in his mid-70s and I'm in my late 20s, but it was if the intervening years were meaningless.  We went for weekly walks in the woods.  He invited me to the theater.  And always, I learned.  Some of what he said was difficult; a lot of it was bullshit.  But over the next few months we became inseparable. So it was, one day in May, when we were walking in the woods, that he told me how he was going to lose his house.  He was mired deep in money problems.  He was moving to North Carolina, to be with an old flame who'd agreed to take him back.  He'd only be here for a few more months.

My life, when I get down to it, pivots on a dime.  Just shy of five years earlier, I'd met Kari and nothing was ever the same.  The right person appears at the right time.  I'll never forget what happened next.  He paused, dramatically, as only an accomplished actor could.  And then he uttered the words "Matt, how would you like my house?"

The arrangement was simple: he had a lien taken out on the house, and he needed it paid back.  This thing with his old flame was serious.  He had no use for the property anymore.  Rather than default, he had a better idea.  I'd pay off the lien for him, and in exchange I'd keep the house.  It needed some repair.  Okay, a lot of repair.  Heating oil in the winter was a concern.  But a risk worth taking.  Oh, and the cats weren't coming with him.  We'd have to take them in.  All problems that were not insoluble.  In October, we moved in.

Try as I may, I'm not sure I fully understand how this happened.  I'm not prepared to simply call it lucky, or objectify it as the power of kindness.  Not only does that feel like an oversimplification, I don't think it does the dynamic justice.  Without these connections I'd have nothing.  Without taking a risk and putting myself out there, I wouldn't have these connections.  We talk all day long without ever really interacting.  If the Wiseman's House is a lesson, this is it.  For too long I held the world in contempt, like I was too good for it.  I know I'm not the only one.  Was it really that, though?  Or was my contempt a reaction to the alienation I felt, which in turn came from not taking the risk.  A catch-22 of sorts.  A feedback loop.  Once trapped within, almost impossible to escape from.

My world reflects my mind.  The smaller my mind, the smaller it becomes.  The more I grow, the more it grows.  Had I not written that play (to date my first and only attempt), would I be here now as I write these words?  Had I not overcome my contempt, would I have this house?  Perhaps, but I think not.  In our darkest days we close ourselves off to the world to protect ourselves from it.  But nothing lasts forever, even our pain.  Only if we're brave enough to reach out do we escape.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

New Old Eyes

Hello Blog.  It's been a while.  I'm not ignoring you, I swear.  I've just needed some time to think.  I made a post back in March, but apart from that I haven't really talked to you since November.  A lot's changed since there.  I've changed.

We need to talk.

Don't worry.  I'm not abandoning you.  Far from it.  But if this relationship is to continue, some things need to be settled.  I need to be honest with you, and I need to be direct.  I look back at some of these posts, and as earnest as they were, they weren't entirely truthful.  At least not to myself.

I've never believed that all opinions were created equal, and all should have equal weight.  Call me an elitist, snob, authoritarian commie fascist whatever.  An informed opinion has more weight to me than an uninformed or a misinformed one.  There are beliefs, and there are facts.  The two are distinct.  It's as the caption at the top of the blog says.  You can believe anything.  I want the truth, or as close to the truth as I can get.  The truth is by its nature oppressive.

But the thing is, I am human.  And as such, I'm frequently wrong.  Few personality traits irritate me more than self-righteousness.  Few things frighten me more than self-deception, and with good reason.  If this blog has demonstrated anything to me, it's demonstrated the consequences of self-deception.  The two traits are inextricably linked.

What I'm trying to say, I suppose, dear blog, is that much of this boils down to trust.  And if I can't trust myself, who can I trust?  Much has happened to me to suggest that that the reality I inhabit isn't really all that real.  How can I have an informed opinion if I can't even trust my senses or my judgement?

The past few months have been a whirlwind of change.  I'm no longer sick.  I mean really no longer sick.  Going off medication healthy.  And it requires me to define myself by different traits.  My coworkers at the advocacy group I now work at chastise me for calling myself "crazy."  But the truth of the matter is, that's how it felt. For the past sixteen years, I was crazy.  Locked away, frozen since the age of about eleven or twelve in place in the grips of my illness.  Dreaming.  Plugged into the Matrix.  The world it helped me to create.  My prison.

I don't know when or how exactly, but I've woken up now.  And I am not who I thought I was.

But that's okay.

So I suppose, blog, I was avoiding you because I didn't want to face the truth.  Maybe I just wasn't ready.  But what I've come to understand is this.  Silence isn't modesty.  Silence is silence.  It is the absence of expression.  And, you know, I've got a lot to say.  So maybe I need to stop being so self-conscious about the whole thing and just say what's on my mind from now on.  Can we work with that?

Lest this post become even more meta than it already is, I will explain what made the difference.  I don't know when exactly, but sometime between last July and November, I made a decision.  I started taking risks.  Not chances, mind you.  Calculated risks.  I'm asked to query a script for an apocalypse-themed show at a local theater.  I do it.  It was actually chosen to be performed.  And now it's the title of an anthology.  I want to get politically involved, so I ask an organizer what I can do.  Now I have a job I love advocating for the disabled and mentally ill.  Someone offers me a sales job, I take it.  Now being off public assistance inside of a year is a real possibility.  Even today, I showed up at a meeting of local creative types, someone likes the sound of my voice and offers me a voice acting gig.  In which I get to learn how to use puppets.  Someone wants me to write a graphic novel for a movie?  Why not.  Now I get paid and I have two legitimate publications to my credit.

Oh poor me, no one respects me?  I'm helpless? Success takes the courage to risk failing and to continue undaunted if you do fail.  Like here, dear blog.
So who really gives a shit if I look stupid?  That's the worst reason I ever heard of not to post here.

So welcome back into my life.  Let's be friends, yeah?  Okay.  I thought so.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Cleaning House

I don't know if it was the armed robbery, the drug bust, or the escaped boa constrictor that did it for me. The apartment complex I live in had been going downhill for a while. Crime has been spiking all across New Hampshire (thank you very much, Bill O'Brien), and it finally hit close to home a couple of weeks ago. Nothing happened in my building, of course. My building is mostly Asian immigrants. But I walk through the same parking lot that the guy in the newspaper was jumped in a lot of nights, and management decided to raise our rent to a level I consider unreasonable given what we put up with here, so Kari and I had had enough. We're moving. It's too bad. I like my apartment a lot. It's been very good to me. Plenty of space to move around, plenty of light, and a place to really call my own. After each of my parents moved one too many times, my entire life is contained within these walls. Every memento, every artifact of every childhood memory. Close to a thousand books. Over 10000 individual songs, whether in MP3 format or (in most cases) on a physical legitimately-bought CD. DVDs. School projects. Pictures. Gifts. Greeting cards. An entire house worth of junk.

I'm not sure when I first realized I was being overwhelmed by all my stuff. I like to think of myself as a good Buddhist, but there is a certain materialist streak to me that takes a certain pleasure from having stuff. When it comes entertainment, I can be quite like a dragon and his hoard sometimes. Over the years I'd come to regard my stuff as kind of a physical record of my life. Songs, or pictures, or movies became representations of memories. It was as if everything I saved was some sort of magic talisman that could take me back to some moment in the past. I still don't see anything wrong with it, but a problem soon emerged.

See, I have this new job. Well, it's not really a job yet, but it's the closest thing to work I've found in about eight years, it's fulfilling, it's useful, and it will eventually pay very well. What it is exactly probably deserves another post, so for the sake of argument, please take my word for it for now. This job comes with a boss who is dedicated and invested in me, and developing me into something resembling a professional, and this is where the problem has emerged. The thing is, I'm incredibly disorganized. What's more, my own personal disorganization is reflected in the profound disorganization of my stuff. This was bound to happen sooner or later, I suppose. It was time to organize my life, and that meant starting by cleaning up all of my stuff.

I started with the music. I used to be obsessively into metal. I've written about this before. Something about the intensity of it, the loudness, the way it conveyed emotions in such a blunt, penetrating way. There was a time in my life when I found what most others regarded as noise truly beautiful. Back when I was mostly using Windows, I used a twelve-year-old version of Winamp in which you had to manually create and tag playlists and files yourself. There was no search function. Don't ask me why. I came to realize very quickly in this endeavor that I was doing a lot of things out of habit that were profoundly inconvenient or profoundly stupid or both. Rhythmbox for Ubuntu couldn't even find half of my files (and bear in mind half of 10,000 is 5,000, so that's quite a lot of music). Most of them didn't even have tags. Multiple genres and wildly different bands were lumped in together in a very crude alphabetical system, most of which wasn't even really in any semblance of order beyond the file with the band's name on it. I knew I was going to have to get rid of a lot of this stuff. And to each song was something from my past. To delete the file, to pack up and sell the CD would be to delete a part of my past as well. Maybe not literally, but emotionally, this collection was a complete record of the past twelve to thirteen years of my life.

There were songs here I hadn't touched since 2001. Albums I didn't even know I owned. Some, like the black metal from the 90s (Emperor, Mayhem, Dimmu Borgir, and the like) were surprisingly pleasant. Others (melodic death metal from 2002 onward) were extremely painful. In short order I became acutely aware of how connected my memory was to sound. Some albums, even though they could be downright melodic and smooth were physically painful to listen to. Music to me is everything visceral about life that can't be put into words. To listen to something, I mean truly listen to it and then choose whether to keep it or delete it was truly to choose which parts of my past to hold on to or let go of. IT was strange at first, but as I pushed forward, the sensation became easier and easier to handle. Towards the end, I was selling/deleting/getting rid of entire volumes wholesale. Ditto for my books and my DVDs. When all was said and done, a third of my music, more than half my DVDs, and a good fourth of my books were gone. I'd thrown out entire boxes of junk. My life was on its way to becoming ordered, after so much clutter and chaos of both the physical and mental sort.

If I've learned anything over the past two years, it's that it's best to travel light through life. Baggage comes in many forms, and sometimes to let go of your past is to literally let go of something. I get a strange satisfaction from that. It's one I never even knew I could have. All those awkward, lonely years where I was filled with rage and desperation--I don't need them anymore. Why keep them around? Not having them around only serves to make the memories I do keep (browsing the metal section at Newbury Comics for obscure titles, those brief moments when I was seventeen when I could actually be true and honest with myself) all the more precious.

Monday, October 10, 2011


I'll never escape!
Try as I may, I just can't seem to escape some things.  Death, taxes, and episodes of NCIS anytime a television with a cable hookup is playing anywhere near me are but a few examples.  This post is, I suppose, about me how I relate to myself, but I'm going to tell it in the most convoluted and roundabout way I can think of, which has to do with celebrities.  First, though, my inescapable curse.

I have a story which has roots deep within my psyche from long, long ago which I have never satisfactorily completed.  It involves my Jennifer persona, and it was the root for both The Academy and a number of other stories.  It's had a lot of names over the years--so many I can't even keep track of them.  As far as my writing goes, this is like that one drunken abusive ex you keep breaking up with only to make up again a few months later.  Our latest make-up cycle started last week.  Why do I mention this?  It's not that it poses a particular problem.  If the story is that important to me that I keep coming back to it again and again. then I should write it and see what I can learn from it.  It is, however, by this roundabout route that I am now going to talk about my on-again/off-again perverse fascination with Avril Lavigne, whose album The Best Damn Thing features prominently in several incarnations of the story.

Oh yes, we're back to Ms. Lavigne again.  With a vengeance.  But here's why, and it's not the reason you might think.

In the course of rewriting this story, wanting a reference point for what I was writing and not actually possessing any photos of Ms. Lavigne on my hard drive other than the one I used on my previous post about her, I decided to be a creep and see what was out there, and stumbled upon a rather perverse fan site that shall remain nameless.  In a literal sense, it had what I want, but the entire experience left me feeling rather disturbed, and so I made it the subject of my meditation that night.  The more I thought about it, the more the entire concept of a celebrity seemed, well, very strange to me.

I've always found peoples' relationships with celebrities a little weird, but I find relationships with pop stars to be especially bizarre.  Let me see if I can break it down.  So here you have somebody famous (Whether Ms. Lavigne or Justin Bieber, or some hypothetical pop star X), who produces a product that excites your emotions (and probably some other things) by creating a vicarious experience that you then submit yourself to as a way of escaping the dreariness and monotony of your life.  Middle school pretty much sucks balls, I get it.  I was once in middle school too.  So you have this famous person, who supposedly lives a much more interesting, glamorous, and above all else much less painful life than you do, and by religiously following this person as if they were the prophet of your own personal religion, you vicariously experience their supposedly hunky-dory life in place of your own and you feel better.  Before I'm accused of making this up, I know this because I have at various points in my life felt this before.  In her own way, that's what Jennifer was to me, and since Jennifer and Ms. Lavigne were strongly-paired stimuli, it's only natural that I would feel some of that too.

How can you say no to that?  The smile, the arms.
She wants you to live vicariously through her.
I suppose on the face of it, it may not seem that strange.  But I've always found mental escape mechanisms to be a little odd, and this is a relationship I have unwittingly found myself on both ends of in my own small way.  I should make myself clear: while I may have wanted to be famous for a while, fame and fortune aren't really my goal anymore in life, especially as it pertains to my writing.  Fame is a tricky thing.  Over the years, as I've put more and more of myself online as I treated myself for all my various problems, I've found myself with less and less privacy.  What remains private in my life has grown tremendously in intensity, and I'm not sure how comfortable I am with that.  This is exactly the paradox that I imagine being someone like Ms. Lavigne produces.  Every once in a while I'll be on Jezebel and I'll see some photograph (the one I'm thinking of was of Leighton Meester a couple of years ago when Gossip Girl was at its peak) with some comment or caption about her clothes.  Meester was looking quite stylish in the photograph, but on the same day I checked out at the grocery store and saw a "Fashion bloopers" edition of Star or one of the other tabloids, and I had to remind myself that being stylish only ever really seems fun when it's voluntary.  Imagine having to be turned on like that all the time, lit up and self-conscious, your every move scrutinized.  Unless you're a born attention whore like Lady GaGa, who already possessed the confidence and poise to wield her fame properly when she got her break, it will destroy you.  You need only look to Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan to see how that goes wrong.  And then your consolation prize is to be used and abused as a masturbatory means of letting others feel better about themselves through your failure.  Which only makes the image I have of Ms. Lavigne even more bizarre, because not only does she seem confident and poised, she seems utterly nonchalant about the whole thing.  Make no mistake, either, Avril is actively exploiting this paradox.  As soon as the whole Abbey Dawn label came into the picture, this was nothing more than a business, if it hadn't been already from the start.  She sells a lifestyle that young girls want to buy.  It's a form of subservience packaged and sold as empowerment.

I suppose empowerment is what this all comes down to.  I dislike the idea of buying an image.  I think if someone is truly empowered, they'll be able to take whatever they want and make it their own.  A vicarious celebrity experience (or even a religious one, to take the argument a step further) is the opposite of empowerment.  You are literally saying "I would rather be someone else."  If you can't accept and appreciate who you are, how are you supposed to have any power at all?  Where's the happiness in wishing to be someone other than yourself?

This experience comes about, I believe, from a misconception of both power and happiness.  Either Avril Lavigne is extremely unhappy, or she's so desensitized to her fame that she's essentially a sociopath.  Neither is who I'd like to be.  Look, my life isn't all that great.  I'm poor, and I have almost no savings, and I'm several tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt.  I get by by the skin of my teeth.  I wrote a book that a few people read and liked, and my blog gets a few tens of hits every post.  I'm not rich; I'm not famous.  But neither is a prerequisite to happiness.  I find happiness in being content with the way things are.  This doesn't mean that I give up on improving my condition.  That's resignation.  Acceptance is a beginning, not an end.  With acceptance comes nearly unlimited power to get what you want.  That's true power, not a million Twitter followers.  Twitter, MTV, Fox News--that's only a megaphone.  You still have to say something worthwhile.  I don't need this blog to say something meaningful.  This is why living vicariously, whether through celebrities, a religious figure, or your children is so dangerous.  It does nothing but push you down and step all over you.

I have a lot more to say on this subject.  If my life has become about empowerment over the past few years, then I have no choice but to answer the call and respond.  We build prisons for ourselves--every last one of us--and we lock ourselves away, because we think it's right and proper and we deserve it.  But we don't like it.  Not at all.  So we invent ways of feeling like we've escaped it.  They can grow quite elaborate.  But in the end, all we've ever had to do was walk right out the door.

Don't want to be someone else.  All you'll ever be is who you are, and that's better than all the fame and fortune in the world.