Sunday, January 28, 2007

Arrested Development: More than just a sit-com or early 90s rap group...

"The world's gone mad
And I have lost touch
I shouldn't admit it
But I have.
It slipped away while I was distracted
I haven't changed
I swear I haven't changed
How did this happen? I didn't feel myself
Evaporating... "

--"The Invisible Man" - Marillion

I have a bit of a confession: I'm an only child, so it was years before I realized it was, shall-we-say not that normal, but I talk to myself sometimes. It's normally while I'm driving somewhere, but sometimes the old inner monologue spills out, like on one of those His/Her Story eps on Scrubs where JD gets out of his head. But there's a problem: in all these self-Socratic dia-monologues I neglected a really important question:

“So, are you really happy with your life overall, and where it might be going?”

(It was easier for them, they all worked at a hospital. Plus JD got to date Tara Reid before she went downhill, Mandy Moore, and Sarah Chalke, whose hotness is oft-underrated.)

If I wanted to get into self-psychoanalysis (which I think is probably somewhere between practicing moderate invasive surgery on oneself without going to med school and giving oneself a haircut) I might say I didn’t ask because deep down, I knew the answer, and I wouldn’t like it.

But late this month, I finally did ask the question, after kicking it around in various forms since early December, and I realized I’d also started wondering it in less coherent (more felt than thought) back this summer. It was the root cause of the funk.

Someone incredible came into my life in the fall, and it was great. But also, it was probably too great. If she’d had more flaws, or acted more indifferent, or even done something little like mentioning that she loved The Simple Life and thought Paris Hilton was misunderstood, deep down (and even that last point might not have been enough…I did end up taping Project Runway for her, but thankfully never had to watch it. And on an additional TV-related note, one I’m probably near 100% alone in, but I can’t seem to find any likeable characters on Grey’s. Maybe I’m making excuses since it’s on opposite Scrubs and The OC, and my DVR can only handle recording two shows at a time, but the hotness of Katherine Heigl alone can’t make me tune in.)

(Sure, she's easy on the eyes, but that didn't help me enjoy Bride of Chucky either...)

But the point is, what really wound up killing things between us is I stopped questioning whether I was happy with a low-paying, nothing-to-do-with-my-major day job (which had rejected me for a promotion) and a dwindling number of local friends (it’s mildly ironic that I moved back to Athens because almost all my friends were there and almost none were in Atlanta—now the opposite’s true). As much as I just sang her praises above, after about a month I was doing far worse. Sure, I kept some of the crazier notions to myself (exception: I did propose a trip to someplace tropical if I were to win the lottery, but that was crazy for the logistical unlikelihood of my winning more than anything) but I pretty quickly began at least making the transition from “crazy about you” to “annoying you.”

I claimed I didn’t push for committed relationship, and that was technically true…but I also was that guy that tried some form of communication daily, and pouted when I didn’t get a response. In other words, I wound up doing the same things that really annoyed me in prospective girlfriends. I don’t want to say I was needy, because “need” I still like to think is a bit much, but saying I was “wanty” doesn’t sound right either (perhaps because, as made-up words go, “wanty” leaves me wanting.)

(Do this and say "but I don't want a girlfriend" at best is sending brobdingnagianly mixed messages.)

By the time my car was wrecked, and my two buddies at work quit and got “let go” (leaving me with no one to talk to at work), I was blind to being “that guy” because at that point, I didn’t have anything else to immediately look forward to in life.

(Yes, perhaps life would be different if I worked in a large office with an elevator where I could run into my boss's girlfriend's sister who looks similarly hot...)

A mantra of “it could be worse” can only go so far, so here I am now with a few realizations:

  1. Moving back to Athens was a nice idea at the time, but I really do feel too old for this place. Sure it’s nice to know I could easily date attractive ladies who aren’t old enough to legally drink, but there’s not too much potential fun in that now. Instead there’s jealousy on my part that she gets to sleep in, anger when she complains about class, lectures on how horrible the real world is and how she should never, ever graduate from me, and it ends badly.
  2. I stuck around after graduation partly for the wrong reasons, but mainly because I figured the extra year would help with grad school…some poor money management and employment choices ruined the whole application process though. I moved back with the same plan, but things kept coming up. I decided I wasn’t ready for grad school until I actually finished a book, which was a good move (I’m convinced they can spot the MFA candidates applying just so they don’t have to go to a day job any more.)
  3. I neglected address the issue of how I’d support myself until I finished a book and either became famous, or went to get my Master’s. Oh I could look towards the future, but it was more issues of “I don’t have a date for New Year’s” or “oh no, my dateless Valentine’s Day streak will continue”, not “ok, can I stay at this job and be happy for another year or more?”
  4. A good one, finally: perhaps, as I was initially wrong that there was nothing more than the dial and waiting tables/bartending in the spectrum of Athens jobs, I was likewise wrong about how an aspiring musician or writer must work a job unrelated at all to his dream field, or that it must be low-paying. Sure, William Gaddis probably wasn’t as happy doing fact-checking for the New Yorker as he was while writing, but it might not have been all bad either. My original rationales of: it’s only for a short time, and since it’s not taxing, my brain will be refreshed are both flawed. The “short time” argument probably ceased being accurate at least a year ago, maybe sooner, and far too often, my “non-taxing” day jobs have left me exhausted.
  5. I’m quite picky in relationships, not picky at all with jobs. Part of this is because of the obvious point that if I’m single, no one will kick me out of my apartment or take my stuff away, but if I’m unemployed, those things could happen. But the fact that since graduating I’ve only worked one job that required a college degree (and it was temporary and part-time to boot) has caught up with me. Maybe it was some twisted, rebellious and overly-romanticized notion of the struggling artist, not committing to some money-grubbing “career.” Or maybe it was lazyness, and a stubborn insistence on not networking. Either way, it’s gotta change.
  6. Last, but damn sure not least: I’m uncomfortable about the (small) amount of money I make currently. Part of this is related to #5 above, but it’s one that’s been lurking beneath the surface for years. I often would fall into the Wealth Envy Paradox: stating that anyone making substantially more than me couldn’t possibly be happy, to justify to myself having so little disposable income that I haven’t had a vacation since 2002. And for dating, it was easier to brand any women that had ever dated an older man as a gold-digger than say to myself “you know, if you had an actual salaried job, you could afford to get her more than mix CDs regularly, if she liked that sort of thing.”
  7. The big one: I really, really, can’t keep going the way things are currently. I can’t be 28, living in Athens, clinging to hopes of winning the lottery, going to grad school “next year”, or a near-perfect potential girlfriend somehow magically making all my troubles go away. I’m going after the previously dreaded capital-letter Real Jobs, and they’re likely going to be in Atlanta. I’m not going to quit writing my book, and I’m not giving up on the band. But I have to give up settling for unfulfilling, low-paying day jobs, and weekends where I don’t go out if there’s not a concert I want to see (which I invariably go to alone), or a party where there’s occasionally a good chance I’ll either feel too old, or too single. Pretty much from 1998 until 2007 I’ve lived in Athens, but it’s time to move on and grow up.

(Joining the Blue Man Group however: not an option I'm considering.)

And yes, it’s scary as hell, and also means I have to admit that all my friends that gave me skeptical glances when I said I was moving back to Athens were right, and it means risking finding out whether it really is worse to try and fail than to not try at all yet again…but it also seems saner than convincing myself I’m John Cusack and she’ll make it all better, or that every Tuesday might be my last day at work because this is the day my number comes up.

Wish me luck.

1 comment:

Jamie said...

Will, this post really touched me. You admit your flaws and show some vulnerability and consequently also some real growth. It's excellent writing. Well done.

I identify a lot with how you feel. I loved Athens. Athens is my home. I stayed a couple of years because I swore that anything I needed, I could get it in Athens. But I was also perpetually broke and the singles scene just got tougher and tougher because everyone there is so transitional.

My first couple of months in Atlanta, I cried a lot. As in every day I would cry while I drove home from work because I missed Athens so much. But I don't regret my decision for one minute. It just had to be done. It was time to grow up and move on. And Atlanta turned out to be a kick ass place to do it.

(Karaoke again this Friday :)