Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Inevitability of Thought Catalog Dating, or Why I Am A Modern Day Job

"Then Job answered the Lord, and said, Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth." --Job 40.3-4

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; 
and wisdom to know the difference." 
--Alcoholics Anonymous


Today, I promised my therapist that I would stop seeking out and dwelling on trivial things that annoy me. Like many people, I am frequently enraged, not only because I spend most of my leisure time reading the blogs of people I disagree with politically but also because I have an insatiable need to fix things. When something is stupid or bad or unethical, I become obsessed with it. I (incorrectly) believe that if people would only listen to reason, life would be better and the things that annoy me would go away.

But, of course, people never listen to reason. And that's not really the story here. The story is that I promised my therapist I would stop focusing on things that annoy me, but, today, when I logged onto Facebook, I saw that my friend Brendan posted this:

Unless my eyes deceive me, that is an advertisement for a Thought Catalog dating website. My only hope is that one of these people has a deadly venereal disease that wipes out the whole population, like a millennial Typhoid Mary.

The thing is, I can't tell if the ad is real, or merely a phantom sent to torment me. All that the search engine is turning up is the usual TC drivel like, "You'll Never Understand What It Means To Be A 90s Kid Until You Get Your Heart Broken." But, on some level, I know that Thought Catalog dating is inevitable. If it doesn't exist today, it will tomorrow. There's no better brand-tie in for a generation of narcissists obsessed with their own nominal "sexual freedom" who are also unable to look away from a computer screen. The feigned affect of the internet memoir meets the feigned intimacy of internet porn and spawns its own hideous, hell-beast monster: Thought Catalog Dating.

Long story short: this banner ad is conclusive proof that I am a modern day Job. Welcome to the the culmination of my trials. God is not great.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

"Not to be born is best"

"Not to be born is best
when all is reckoned in, but once a man has seen the light
the next best thing, by far, is to go back
back where he came from, quickly as he can."
-Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus

Last night as I was falling asleep, I remembered how my pediatrician, Dr. Friedman, used to always tell me how he convinced my parents to have a second child (by which he meant me: I am my parents' second child). I saw Dr. Friedman until I was 18 years old. I was afraid of him because his arms were hairy and he never told me what he was doing: one minute, he was feeling for lumps in my stomach and the next minute he was looking in my ears. Every time I went for a checkup, he told me the same story: "Your mother wasn't sure she wanted another child, but I told her--I told her--having another child is the best thing you could possibly do for this family."

For some reason, it always got under my skin. Maybe it was the implicit reference to my parents' having sex (objectively, the most disgusting thing in the world), but maybe it was a reminder of other people's power over me: both my parent's and Dr. Friedman's. They chose to have a baby; ergo, I exist. It's the one thing I can never claim responsibility for: my own existence. Of course there is contingency invovled (who could have predicted that my parents would meet, or that their genes would combine in such a way at such a time?) but there is human agency as well. Not only my parents', but Dr. Friedman's as well. I'm everyone's fault but my own.

Sunday, March 30, 2014


The thing I hate about the Internet is the same thing I hate about work: the social aspect. Work--even menial, wage-slave work--requires you to put on a face, to professionalize, to pretend. You don't just do a task, you play a role. You present yourself a certain way; you proclaim your investment in a project, goal, or career path. Ostensibly, your investments in these projects are real and your self-presentation, while not exactly real, isn't fake either. It's a different version of yourself: your professional self. Your work persona.

I don't mind it so much when I'm actually at work (or, at least, I recognize why it is appropriate or desirable in the same way that those fucking charcoal-colored "work trousers" are), but being asked to play that role outside of the office is going too far. "Networking and "professionalization" are the watchwords of my discipline and they've always struck me as particularly repellant ones. I especially hate "professionalize," which makes it seem like you become a professional in the same way that people in Greek myths turn into trees: I was mortal but then...I professionalized.


You get what you pay for. Likewise, if someone pays you, you have to give, even in ways you aren't prepared for. To work is to be a worker, to be a worker is to carry that burden into every aspect of your life. There is no self but the face you present, and the face you present is the one prescribed and approved by your boss. There it is: the crisis of permanent professionalization.


The Internet is where people self-promote: where they beg for money, where they "network," where they pretend to be ethically and politically engaged citizens by sharing articles about Miley Cyrus doing something that was Bad and Offensive. It's true that the Internet's role in our lives is a capacious one and includes private aspects (emails to loved ones, Google searches for "UTI after sex") as well as public ones, but the Internet is a space where performance and self-presentation are prioritized over interpretation. In real life, I "read" people as I perceive them (Who is this person? Are they a threat to me? What is their status in relation to mine?) instead of reading through their self-presentation. That doesn't mean that we are "natural" or completely unaffected when we're not online, only that I don't have to confront the people on the bus with interpretative skepticism. They exist, I exist. The fact that we have to look at each other is proof positive of that.

When we use the Internet to curate and present our best selves, what we're really doing is furthering a self-narrative of domination, in which I can command the attention of the person reading this because I am better and prettier and more famous. That is the flow of social media: the constant pulse of self-assertion which is always an assertion and never a request.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Last week, I had a meeting with someone I admire--"admire" in a partial, restricted sense, but admire nonetheless. Because I have so few opportunities to speak to people I don't hate, I found myself rehearsing what I would say in my head as I walked to meet him: They're wrong and they don't see why; they don't understand their own position, they don't see the logical end of it all and of course no one will ever stop them because people believe them; people will believe anything as long as it's stupid.

That last phrase ("people will believe anything as long as it's stupid") stopped me in my tracks. What could I have meant by that? The best way I can describe it is to say that it was a sort of mental slip-of-the-tongue: I hadn't actually meant to say (or think) it, although I'm not sure what I meant to say instead. It was an error with no possible correction, an originary mistake. People will believe anything as long as it's stupid. Once I said it, I believed it. Instantly and completely, I believed it.

But I didn't understand it. I could understand (and believe) variants of it: that people believe things which are stupid, that the dominant ideology is one of stupidity, or that the stupidity of an idea will not necessarily affect its reception. But the rule I had stumbled across was different: it posited that stupidity was the condition (or at least, a condition) for the acceptance of a given belief. It was right there in the phrase: people will believe x, provided that x is stupid.


When I encounter other people, I generally feel that that they are either frightening (because they hold power over me) or wretched (because they don't). My response to my fellow man is affective, driven by emotions: specifically, pity and fear. But my response to people's ideas--what they believe, what they espouse--is usually one of trepidation. When someone starts talking, what I fear I'll confront is stupidity.

Part of the problem is my own alienation, a growing sense that I don't identify with the categories used to describe me. I often feel that I won't be able to find common ground with other people about either politics or ethics unless we stick to the most generic observations possible: making children work is a factory is bad. I like feeling free and happy. It's terrible when people are sick.

But people will, inevitably, disagree, even about uncontroversial truisms like this. In fact, people will often justify blatant gaps in logic or incredible violence as long as it's a gap in their ideology or violence against someone they don't like. At the end of the day, that seems to be the purpose of ideology: a tool to avoid confronting your own failures.


Fundamentally, I want to avoid discord. That might surprise some people, given that I seem like a contrarian, but the ideas of compromise, respect, and multiculturalism formed the basis of my education and my moral vocabulary. I was taught that the thing humans are supposed to avoid at all costs is shouting at each other: that the barbarism of the Nazis burning books and slaughtering ethnic minorities is the barbarism of the children who don't walk in a single-file line. Everyone, everywhere, needs to behave, but behaving might mean anything from writing in neat cursive to loving your neighbor to keeping silent about police raids. Be good. Behave. They're intertwined: to do one, I have to do the other.


Why? It doesn't make any sense. I know that. I recognize: it's stupid.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


"I have not shown the faintest firmness of resolve in the conduct of my life. It was as if I, like everyone else, had been given a point from which to prolong the radius of a circle, and had then, like everyone else, to describe my perfect circle round this point. Instead, I was forever starting my radius only constantly to be forced at once to break it off. (Examples: piano, violin, languages, Germanics, anti-Zionism, Zionism, Hebrew, gardening, carpentering, writing, marriage attempts, an apartment of my own.)" -Kafka, from his diaries
I have tried to write in public before, but I always give it up. Like Kafka, I break it off when I run into problems, but, unlike Kafka, my problems are always the same.

The first is that I don't have "an angle." I have no "perspective," no "unique or compelling voice," no "fresh take" on any subject. I am not the "voice of my generation" except in the sense that my absolute conviction that I am "different" or "more self-aware" is exactly what typifies me as part of that generation. I'm also physically unattractive and don't own any nice clothes. 

The second problem is that I don't have any ideas, not even for movie scripts or sitcoms. Nor do I have a cohesive set of personal ethics or politics, although I will dogmatically espouse either Marxism or post-modernism depending on what suits me at the moment. My primary way of engaging with the world is to be overwhelmed by it. Recently, I was flipping through my notebook and came across some notes I had scribbled down while listening to a lecture about Schopenhauer. I didn't recognize the  notes at first and thought they were a record of my own ideas. This experience (mistaking another person's words for my own) genuinely scared me.
Like Kafka, I can count "an apartment of my own" among my failures. I live in the upper floor of an old house: four bedrooms, one bath, a small living room and kitchen. There are three other girls and a mouse, although I haven't seen him in a few weeks.
It is agreed upon but not stated that my bedroom is the worst. It is certainly the smallest. The upstairs windows are bigger and have wall-to-wall carpeting, but it is also agreed upon that I would not be able keep them tidy. Wherever I go, I create clutter: mostly books and old tubes of makeup. 
My landlord is a firefighter. His girlfriend is an accountant who always looks surprised. They have a German Shepherd named Rocco who was trained in Austria as a guard dog. He barks incessantly and only responds to commands in German, which I find unnerving. My landlord regrets buying the house and is always trying to unload it. Periodically, he brings people for showing, but, after seeing it, none of them express further interest. He is weirdly destructive, even of his own property. Once I asked if he would trim an overgrown rosebush and came home to find that he had ripped it out by the roots. When I asked why, he said, "I don't want to have to come back here next summer and trim it again."
Last spring he came over unexpectedly to fix a window. I thought it would be rude to shut myself up in my room so I sat on the couch, working and trying politely to ignore him. Suddenly, a spider dropped down from its web and he pointed it out.
"Look," he said. "A spider."
I looked up. I could faintly see a back dot suspended in midair.
"Yes," I said.
"You want me to kill it for you?" he asked.
"No, you don't have to," I said. "People say it's good to have a spider. They keep away other bugs."
But, as I was saying it, he lifted his hand and crushed the spider in his fist. Immediately, I changed tack.
"Or you could kill it," I said. "Great. Thank you."
My old landlord in Boston was always coming over without telling us first. He was an asshole. One afternoon I was sleeping naked on top of my blankets (it was August, during a heat wave) and I heard someone open my door. When I looked up, I saw a man's face in the doorway. I was frightened at first, but then I recognized who it was and felt ashamed instead. There was no ambiguity. I was so obviously exposed that I didn't bother covering myself.
"Get out," I said without raising my voice. "Get out."
He shut the door. I can't remember if I ever saw him after that or if we only talked on the phone.