Adulthood

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What does it mean to be an adult?

A discussion I had after my most recent blog post (the latest in my series of “Jeff has an existential crisis every so often but he’s OK after getting it all out” posts) spurred me to think on the topic of adulthood. This is something I’ve often thought about, and as a 37-year-old guy who’s never been married, owned his own property, or had a large amount of disposable income, and spends his free time with hobbies that came from his childhood (such as video games), I might be labeled by some as a manchild who still needs to grow up. On the other hand, I am 37 years old and self-reliant (current pandemic-related work situations notwithstanding), so what more would one need? Let’s look at this a bit more in-depth.

The knee-jerk “therapy” definition of adulthood would be something like, “Adulthood is whatever you do as an adult! You don’t have to comply with someone else’s rules, man! Be authentic and your true self!” and all that. While that’s probably true, I don’t think it’s the full truth; otherwise the term “manchild” wouldn’t exist, as being a man or woman would be the only qualification for not being a child. There are certainly people in their 30’s and 40’s (and probably beyond) that are “less adult” than their peers, and we can all think of examples, but what really defines that? Where’s the line?

The default societal view is that a person with a spouse, kids, a house, a car or two, a well-paying job, and adult hobbies (I mean things like sports or the stock market or, uh, carpentry? Lawn care? Power tools? Whatever.) is a better adult than a person lacking some or all of those things. Or at least that was the message I was bombarded with when I was younger, both through media portrayals and through other people’s expectations. Do you, by instinct, look at a father or mother as more adult than a childless couple or a single person, even if you have to mentally correct that? Or do you even bother to challenge that personal viewpoint, if you hold it?

I think the answer here must start by unraveling external vs. internal adulthood, i.e. if society perceives someone as a responsible and trustworthy adult vs. if a person views themselves as a trustworthy and responsible adult. And, as a case study, let’s take two cartoon dads created in wildly different shows for completely different audiences and time periods, who nonetheless share a surprising amount of traits: Kirk van Houten from The Simpsons, and Greg Universe from Steven Universe.

(Disclaimer: I have currently only watched through about three-fourths of season 1 of Steven Universe, as part of a deal I made with my nieces to get them to watch more Star Trek, so it’s possible that Greg’s character may change in the future and negate some of this discussion. If this is so, don’t tell me; I’m avoiding spoilers!)

(Disclaimer 2: I also haven’t seen the most recent few seasons of The Simpsons but who cares)

Both of these characters are single dads with only one son who doesn’t live with them. Both are balding, overweight, middle-aged men with mundane jobs (Kirk was a cracker factory middle manager until he got fired and has held a bunch of low-paying entry-level jobs, and Greg runs a car wash). Both have been portrayed and described in-universe as irresponsible losers, whose incapability to make more out of their own lives has placed them on the lower rungs of society, and both lack any real ambition. At a cursory glance, these two occupy the same space in society. In fact, if one were going by looks alone, Kirk would probably be recognized as the more “adult” of the two, seeing as he at least used to own a house, and he’s got a respectable, if stuffy, outfit on, while Greg’s cutoffs, tank top, and thigh-length mullet don’t exactly scream “investment firm and avid golfer” to me (also he lives in either his van or a car wash; I’m not 100% sure which). Externally, Kirk is the winner.

But things change if you explore their internal views. Kirk van Houten has kept up appearances (relatively), but is a giant mess. His marriage ended because he was more concerned that his marriage looked perfect rather than working to make it strong, needling his wife about not living up to his expectations (expectations that he fell far short of himself). He’s never happy with any of the jobs he holds (for the brief time he’s held them), he holds himself in a never-ending cycle of self-pity and false self-assurance, and nobody respects him because he doesn’t respect himself. He’s more concerned with what he’s lost (his marriage) than he is with what he has left (his son Milhouse, who ends up being treated by Kirk more as a bargaining chip between him and his ex-wife than as an actual son). He’s proud of his single-guy race car bed, until Homer deflates him by stating that he sleeps in a bed with his wife.

Greg Universe, on the other hand, is content where he is. His job is no better than Kirk’s random jobs, but his ambitions are satisfied. He engages with his son Steven on a personal level, raising him and playing with him, and treating him with respect even when he’s being silly. He doesn’t care what it looks like to outsiders like the judgmental mayor or the pizza guy and his family down the street. He’s certainly not perfect (he’s a bit of a mooch sometimes) but he’s certainly more likeable, and he’s happy with his own life situation, even if it’s not the typical version of success.

In other words, Kirk tries to fulfill society’s expectations and fails, while Greg pursues his own goals (that are contrary to society’s expectations) and succeeds.

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The thing Greg has that Kirk lacks. It’s dignity!

So which is more adult? Greg seems like he’d be the choice internally, even if Kirk looks more put-together on first glance.

But I picked Greg Universe for another reason. There is another type of character that often appears in stories: the fun-loving single dad who loves his kids but is a mess otherwise (think Mrs. Doubtfire, or P. L. Travers’ dad in Saving Mr. Banks, or Caracatus Potts from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, or probably dozens more). Most of these characters are great dads (to their kids) but terrible providers: too irresponsible to provide their kids with the basics. They don’t want to be deadbeat dads, but financial difficulties or substance abuse issues or whatnot force them to lose custody, either to an ex-wife or the state or whatever, even if they’re happy with their lifestyle and secure in their lack of ambition, and they love spending time with their kids (however limited that may be). But certainly they aren’t acting like adults, are they?

What makes Greg Universe more of an adult than Mrs. Doubtfire (or whatever the guy’s actual name is that Robin Williams plays)? Internal things, like self-confidence and contentment? External things, like financial stability and social standing? Where’s the line?

I don’t have kids or a spouse, so I can’t speak to that part of it, but for my part I tend to ping-pong between Kirk van Houten and Greg Universe depending on the circumstance. I was raised in the LDS church, and was taught growing up some very specific things about how to be the ideal man, and until my early 30’s I internalized those specifics even though I wasn’t either capable of or happy with pursuing all of them. Even now, after I left the church, I still carry those teachings within me, and some days it’s difficult to reconcile my current lifestyle with who I was told I should be by now. Other days I look at what I’m doing with my life and I’m more optimistic: I have a decent job (let’s, uh, ignore the special pandemic circumstances and assume I’m talking about my life pre-March here) doing something I like; even though the hours are bad and the pay isn’t much, it’s something I enjoy and get value out of. I live in my own (rented) place and am able to cover all my living costs, even though I mostly live paycheck-to-paycheck. I spend my off-hours doing things I enjoy, and I spend time with friends and family when I can, even though I don’t have a family of my own.

So am I a successful adult? Is that an internal thing, where some days I feel like one and others I don’t? Would I be less of an adult if I actually had kids but kept up my current lifestyle? Is this some weird paradox where having kids normally makes you more of an adult, as long as you were already a good enough provider before taking on that responsibility; otherwise your non-adult tendencies have far more dire consequences and makes you less of an adult than a childless person in similar circumstances?

Here’s the final wrinkle: if I wanted to get married (and I still would like to get married if I find the right person), I was told growing up that I needed to be the best person/provider I could be so that I could support kids. So I go out with you, hypothetical date. Which would you rather date/marry/raise a family with: the person with no ambition but who is warm, loving, and kind; content with his lot in life, even though it consists of running a car wash and living out of a van? Or the person who’s trying his best to be a great middle manager at the cracker factory; even though he’s bad at it, he’s at least trying to move upward? Or me, someone who is both of these, depending on the day? Or is the only acceptable adult the one who’s already got everything together, who’s both financially well-off and completely well-adjusted, and everything and everyone else isn’t worth your attention and effort (which is often the answer I’ve gotten from people I’ve dated)?

You don’t have to actually answer that, but think about it for a while, and be honest with yourself. I realize that, in the end, it’s really semantics, and that “therapy” answer I gave earlier is the correct one in most situations. But in order to meet external expectations (such as with dating, or with self-promotion so as to advance in your career), you have to show external characteristics of adulthood. Put on that sweater over your tank top, and wear those Dockers instead of the cutoffs.

I’m not gunning for a particular answer here, but again, I wish to ask and start a discussion: what does it mean to be an adult?

Hiding in the crack under the railing, to not disturb your nap

I saved a spider today.

I was just about to lie out on a cot I have set up on my apartment balcony. Since I live on the third floor, I almost never get bugs or critters in my actual apartment, and I had swept out and washed the entire balcony near the beginning of summer. But as I prepared to lie down, headphones donned and podcast having already started, I noticed a huge collection of webs in the corner, mere inches from where my feet would’ve been. My first instinct was to abandon the balcony and never return, but, swallowing that fight-or-flight response, I instead calmly headed inside and filled a liquid measuring cup with some water to drown out the webs without hitting it with a broom and making stuff fly everywhere (including whatever spiders and/or prey might be trapped in it). Sure enough, eventually, a spider came scurrying out from the crack underneath my balcony railing where it had been hiding and got washed a few feet into the middle of the balcony, where it eventually came to rest.

I could’ve squashed it easily. I could’ve tagged it with some Raid that I have under the sink, or trapped it under a cup until it died. On the other end of the freakout scale, I could’ve just let it be. Not disturbed its web, or let it run to wherever it would run and build a new web (closing the door so the web wouldn’t be inside my apartment, obviously). But I didn’t want it dead. The poor thing was probably starving, as I didn’t see any bugs caught in its web (like I said, being on the third floor does have its perks when it comes to insect problems), and it wasn’t its fault that a huge creature hundreds of times its size just wanted to listen to a Midwestern sci-fi podcaster talk about the Jurassic Park novel for half an hour while enjoying the summer air. But my fight-or-flight response wouldn’t allow me to relax when a giant spider’s nest was mere inches away from my cot.

So I compromised with it. Using a process involving an overturned cup, several sheets of too-flimsy paper, a discarded frozen dinner box, a pair of dusty work gloves that were mostly for security theater purposes, and a nerve-wracking walk down three flights of stairs with a tight grip, I finally set it free out in the lawn of the apartment complex somewhere, free to do whatever it wanted. Sure, the process ended up taking like fifteen minutes and I had to restart the podcast, but I was finally able to lay down and relax, knowing that the problem had been solved, not only for me, but for the terrifying yet helpless creature I had relocated.


I was furloughed from my job (I work in audiovisual doing conventions and parties at a hotel) back in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the expectation that I would go back once the virus was under control (the first early estimates were for May, though that quickly got pushed back to September). Since I live alone, this meant losing my only regular means of social contact until then. As an introvert it wasn’t too bad; though the first week was rough because nobody knew what was going to happen and we were all adrift in a sea of uncertainty, due to a combination of timely Zoom meetings and twitch.tv streaming, I was able to connect with some friends and gain at least a measure of relief from the intense cabin fever. And with a combination of judiciously employed vacation time, unemployment insurance with the federal COVID stimulus, and simple financial saving, I was able to establish a plan that would let me ride out the spring and summer months until I was able to return to work in the fall.

However, with things still not under control, that scenario was looking less and less likely, and finally this past week I was contacted by my work to discuss the situation. Long story short: there aren’t enough meetings/conventions/parties/etc. happening at the hotel to sustain even one full-time A/V employee (let alone an entire department) so as of October 1st I will be moving from furloughed status to on-call status. This means they’ll call me if they need me (which, according to my boss, probably won’t be much: the most optimistic estimate he gave me was still a single-digit number of times before the end of the year). This also means that, after September, I will be losing my full-time employee status, which means, among other things, I will no longer qualify for my company’s health insurance (including therapy, which I was finally able to start contemplating financially) or retirement plans.

So, you know, there’s that.

Sure, I was hurt and angry. Sure, I had no idea how to proceed, since my plans had evaporated. I still don’t quite know what I’m going to eventually do to deal with all this. But that’s not what this blog post is about, ultimately.

I reached out to a few people privately to explain the situation before posting anything publicly about it (which I eventually did on Facebook a few days later). As someone whose needs often get misinterpreted, I attempted to also outline what type of attention I wasn’t seeking (money, advice, generic job suggestions) and what I did need (understanding and emotional support). I guess I worded it wrong, though? Because all I ended up getting was acknowledgements that they had received the message, a couple of generic job suggestions (and, to be fair, a specific one that applies to my skillset and was appreciated), and one who told me (paraphrased) that their reaction was “Whoa, Jeff, chill out!” but later apologized by way of telling me that they weren’t all that good at expressing verbal empathy, which, y’know, fair enough, I guess.

This particular situation was nothing new. I’ve found, in the past, that when I express a need for help and support, I often receive it in a way that doesn’t really help or support me in the way I need. When I try to be more specific, however, I end up getting none at all, and it usually amounts to awkward silence on the part of the people I reach out to. I don’t fully understand this, though maybe it’s because, since I rejected their first instincts to be “helpful”, I’m a hopeless case or a masochistic curmudgeon. Or they’ve got other things to worry about than figuring out what I need. Or, like what happened earlier, they’re simply not good at expressing empathy. (That, by the way, was not an insult. Someone who knows themselves well enough to make that statement is showing a remarkable sense of self-awareness, and if everyone were that forthright about what they could and could not do, emotionally and mentally, then we’d probably all be in better places with people who complement us instead of those that just compliment us. Or maybe I just thought of that wordplay halfway through that sentence and wanted to shoehorn it in. You decide!)

It’s probably far more likely, however, that I’m unable to express exactly what I want or need in a way that would make those who are willing to help understand what they can do. This is especially a problem when what I need isn’t the stereotypical solution, or the easiest, or the one that comes to mind immediately. And people get their hackles up really quickly when their intended charity isn’t immediately accepted with tears of gratitude, even when it’s only because they were offering a helping hand to someone who just needed a foot. (Don’t, uh…don’t pick that metaphor apart.)

For example, let’s say somebody lost their job because the economy was in a place where it was virtually obsolete. They’re hurting and they want support. So you have a few people who respond to this. The first expresses sympathy by sending them job offers, or money, or flyers for night classes so they can learn a different profession, or other types of tangible support. Sure, the job offers are for things they aren’t interested in or good at, the night classes are either expensive or also in fields they’re ill-suited for, and the money is temporary at best and possibly creates a power imbalance between the two, but hey, at least they tried. The second simply ignores the problem entirely. Sure, they privately sympathize with the person who is hurting, but they don’t know the exact right solution, so they don’t do much of anything except maybe sending an emoji of a smiley face hugging a heart. They might interact with the person, but they pretend nothing is wrong and that life is grand all around.

Do either of these help? Not really. Though they do assuage the conscience of the giver, happy in the knowledge that they either tried to help or at least did their best. That might be a bit cynical, as often people’s emotional wells are drained doing other things and you can only spread yourself so thin being a caretaker. (This is probably another reason people react poorly to rejected charity: someone offers something they believe is helpful for what they feel are selfless reasons, and when it doesn’t help or is rejected that’s mental and emotional effort down the drain that could’ve been used for somebody who would’ve appreciated it, thank you very much.)

So what does this person need? I don’t know, but if I were to guess, I’d say they need some self-esteem. They need somebody who will validate them, that just because they’re currently unemployed or otherwise underperforming in life, it doesn’t mean they spent their life pursuing something worthless, that their ability to bounce back from their current bad situation is something they’re ultimately capable of doing. And they need to truly believe this, to have it come from a person or source that has credence in their life. Somebody who isn’t just spouting platitudes because they hope it will somehow make the situation better (and make the giver feel like they’re a good person), but who knows the sufferer well enough to read them, to know what’s important to them and why they’re invested in it, and to use that knowledge to draw connections between who they are and who they are capable of becoming. And to do this with enough effort and persistence that it will eventually pay off. If the sufferer doesn’t believe in themselves, then no amount of sympathy, emojis, or job suggestions are going to do any good. But if they believe they can bounce back, and have that belief reinforced by their friends and loved ones in effective ways, then eventually they will.

In other words, they need the impossible.

This type of attention is needed most by the people who look like they deserve it the least. The ones who get mad when they have different ideas of help than you do. The ones who want support but can’t even articulate themselves what kind of support they need without sounding incredibly selfish. They’re just spiders on the balcony, trying to eke out a simple living where there are almost no bugs; certainly not worthy of the time and attention it would take to put on gloves, take terrifying stair-walks, and miss an entire Jurassic Park podcast just to help them into a better situation when it would be so much easier to squash or ignore them.

It also doesn’t have to be anything particularly spectacular or complicated. I went to dinner recently with a friend I hadn’t seen in years (don’t worry: we were outdoors and socially distanced and all that), and the topic of conversation turned briefly to Undertale (because of my necklace). I started talking about it at length but caught myself before going too far (if you want to know just how much I can talk about it, see the previous blog post and the 10-12 hours of Let’s Play videos it links to), even though she at least seemed interested. She remarked that she didn’t know much about Undertale but it was nice to hear me talk about it because my face “lit up” when I started talking about it, and seeing how much passion I had about it and how important it was to me made it interesting to her. That was a statement that was possibly a throwaway one for her, but it stuck with me. That kind of positive reinforcement was one I didn’t even know I was missing until suddenly I had it for a brief moment. And though that dinner was kind of a one-off thing due to circumstances, it was nice to exist there even for a second, and it’s a behavior I want to emulate.

This is a little thing, but it can solve big problems that would fester otherwise into uncontrolled disasters. At the risk of alienating some people, let’s offer one more different solution to the “guy who’s out of a job and down about it scenario.” Sick of hearing about what he needs to do to be better from others not in his situation, receiving no help from those who ignore the problem, and unable to find anyone willing or able to put in the time or effort needed to help him cope and adapt, a fourth voice comes along. A voice that promises that he doesn’t need to worry about adapting or finding a new job. A voice that doesn’t say “I believe in you” but instead says “If you believe in me, I will fix everything for you. I will make the world bend back to where you can go back to the job you love and everything will be perfect again. I know things aren’t great, but it’s not your fault, and you can’t do anything about it, so give me the power and control I need to…let’s say…make it great again?”

Even when this voice offers no evidence that their (OK, “his”, it’s obvious who I’m talking about here*) promises are even possible, let alone that he is able to keep them personally, the prospect is so tantalizing to someone who doesn’t see another way out of their situation that they pledge their loyalty to him and refuse to budge. Belief is such a powerful motivator that it often overrides everything else, whether that’s a belief that an orange man can fix all of their problems, or just a belief that nobody thinks they’re worth the effort to listen to and/or work with so they can get better; that they’re just a weird-looking spider who just wants to eat some bugs and who would apologize profusely for inconveniencing any afternoon naps if they could, but they need to eat still, y’all; sorry if that’s selfish, sorry I’m not cute and cuddly, just don’t squash me and I’ll go back under this crack and starve to death in peace oh crap now I’ve implied that you’re not as generous as I need you to be and you’re frustrated don’t hurt me or leave me.

I don’t know if this whole metaphor makes 100% sense, but the point is still valid. I cannot expect anyone to help me. I have been burned too often in the past hoping that someone will magically appear who has the time and capability to help me with what I actually need emotionally (as opposed to what they think I need, or what they would need in my situation, or what they can spare given that everyone’s life is hard right now), especially since I don’t even know what that is until I suddenly get it (like with that dinner). Maybe therapy would help, but if you wanted that to be an option for me, well, you shoulda voted for Bernie.

And, honestly, maybe the solution would be for me to look outside myself and be the person to others that I want in my life. I do try to do this, with friends or family members that I know well enough to feel like I can make a difference, even if I don’t hear it from them. But I don’t know you, hypothetical reader who needs my help, so you’ll have to tell me what you want or don’t want; otherwise, we’re just looping back to the initial problem with with the roles reversed. And if you don’t know what you need either…then, well, maybe we can just commiserate together. That does help sometimes.

Thanks for making it this far. This was possibly an emotionally exhausting post to read; I know it was to write. These can get pretty raw sometimes. I can’t hope it will change anything, but I hope it will at least help you understand a little better the mind of a socially anxious yet fiercely independent and overanalytical man who spent the last four or five months in near-solitary confinement before basically losing his job. I don’t want to alienate or insult anyone at not doing what I need (not everyone has a cup and paper, after all), so I apologize if I’ve come across as passive-aggressive; I don’t mean to. I don’t know how to be honest without coming across that way. And I know these posts often vacillate between “somebody saaaaaaaaaave meeeeee” like I was the theme song to Smallville, and “I don’t want to make you feel bad for not saaaaaaaaaaaaving me” like how most people feel about Smallville, but that’s the struggle I always have going on in my head.

I’ll be fine. I always am.

Speaking of Smallville, in closing, to lighten the mood slightly, here’s a picture I’ve randomly had on my hard drive for like thirteen years:

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*it’s Trump. I was talking about Trump. I say this because apparently there was some confusion among some readers.

Let’s Play Undertale to Redeem Chara (and talk about mental health)

A lot of posts I’ve made recently have made references to the game Undertale, and specifically the character of Chara. I keep harping on this subject because it is something important to me, obviously, but I know that there are many readers who don’t know Undertale, or just don’t care. So a few weeks ago I livestreamed the whole game with the express purpose of giving people context for why I’m so interested in this character, and also to talk about the host of mental health issues the game brings up and discusses (in a relatable, non-obvious way with goofy characters). I’m hoping that this will bring greater understanding to anyone who’s not going to get around to playing it themselves. But even more importantly for me: now that this has been posted and isn’t just rolling around in my head, I can probably move on instead of obsessing about it. If anyone asks, I now have something to point them to instead of feeling like I need to explain context for two hours.

So enjoy! If you don’t want to watch all of the many hours this takes, speed it up to 1.25x or 1.5x and listen to it in the background. There’s some important stuff here and I’d like to start discussions about it if at all possible. Let me know what you think!

Connecting (a response to responses)

So I got some…unexpected responses to my last post, which I felt I needed to address before too much time had passed (also I’m on a bit of a roll when it comes to blogging, so while I’m in the zone I want to keep it up before going silent for three years again or something).

The most common response I got was “So…have you considered therapy?” I understand the sentiment behind this (“I have no idea how to be helpful, but maybe a professional does”), but it’s not exactly good form to suggest this to someone in a public space. That’s akin to seeing someone who’s a little out of shape breathing hard and saying, “Whew! There sure are a lot of stairs up to this building!” and responding, “Well, have you considered changing your diet and exercising?” loudly in a crowded room. If you have suggestions for me to help me out, let me know; just be aware of where you are giving that advice. Private messaging is preferable when talking about such subjects. I post personal stuff on this blog, sure, but I try to do my best to keep it anonymous when talking about others, and it doesn’t give anyone else leave to discuss my personal matters publicly too.

As for the actual matter of therapy, to be frank, it’s not something I feel comfortable talking about publicly at this point. Just know that whether or not I’m seeking help should not reflect on what I’ve posted and what you take away from it.
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Crazy Bachelor

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Upon re-reading the decade-in-review post I made a short time ago, there was one sentence that stuck out to me as something I’d like to elaborate a bit on. I was writing about my current dating life (or lack thereof), and I said this:

Getting into a serious relationship with anyone would require some vast changes in how I currently approach life, and while I know there are people out there worth changing for, I have no idea how to find them or recognize that, and I don’t know if they’d have the patience to help me become the person who’s right for them instead of this dude who’s been living by himself for half a decade and has started going a little “crazy bachelor” as a result.

It’s that last phrase I want to especially focus on. Living alone for several years (as I have since late 2015), especially when you spend large amounts of your professional life alone as well, begins to alter your perception of things a bit, to a point that there are some things I do/think/believe/etc. that I’m not sure if they’re normal, or quirky but harmless, or worrisome. So I though I’d outline a few random things and let you, the vast Internet audience, draw your own conclusions, or at the very least get some insight into what life is for people like me. Please allow me to indulge in some intense navel-gazing, as we start with…

1. Indulging in intense navel-gazing

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Spending the teens in my 30’s: a Decade-in-Review

As the 2010’s comes to a close, I’ve been mulling around in my head a “decade-in-review” post for a while now, like I did in 2010. I’ve been putting it off for a bit, even posting some mostly unrelated stuff in the meantime. This is largely due to the fact that there are certain dominating events in my life, especially in the latter half of this past decade, that I’m still not super comfortable discussing on a public blog, though any true review of my life in the 2010’s would be incomplete without at least mentioning some of them. Still, I’m going to give it my best shot, and hopefully won’t step on any toes in the process. So with no further ado, let’s turn the ol’ clock back to the mythical, mystical year that began this decade:

2010

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My final year of college was far overdue. I had been attending university classes in some form or another for the entirety of the 2000’s (barring two years off for my LDS mission) and, with an internship at a marketing co-op company in the winter and my final class in the spring (a Persuasive Writing class where I wrote this), I was finally done! I may have still been a bachelor, but I was also…a Bachelor!

2010 also saw Poison Ivy Mysteries begin to find its footing. Annelise had started the murder mystery company in 2009, and 2010 saw the writing and production of several new shows, including a sci-fi show, a saucy film noir show, and a medieval wizard show, though for her the year was defined by her pregnancy and delivery of her son Ian, who, sadly, was born premature and only lived for a few days.

After graduating from BYU in August 2010, I moved back home with my parents to prepare to seek a full-time career in the music industry. I was still working at the marketing co-op under Nate Drew, writing bits of commercial music for advertisements, trade show videos, and so on, in addition to working on my first album: a complement to my friend Johnathan’s ABC Monsters book he was working on. In early December I posted on my blog a bunch of the music I had written that year, which was quite fortuitous, because it turns out that those were the only surviving pieces of nearly everything I’d worked on that year. Over Christmas weekend, my workplace was broken into and somebody stole a bunch of music-related equipment in the building. All of Nate’s and my computers, keyboards, microphones, interfaces — all gone. The equipment could eventually be replaced, but all of the dozens of projects I had worked so hard on the entire year, including the ABC Monsters stuff, was irreplaceable. All I had left were the demo MP3 tracks of the ABC Monsters that I had sent to Johnathan and the stuff I had posted online in that post I linked to earlier.

It was devastating, and even now, ten years later, I don’t think I’ve still fully recovered from that blow. But we’ll get into the aftermath soon enough.

Oh, also I crashed my grandmother’s car into a wall and totaled it. She wasn’t in it, though, so it’s all good.

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Pop Culture Ephemera

ugandan knuckles

This has relevance, I swear.

I’ve been thinking of doing a “decade-in-review” blog post for a while now, now that the 2010’s are ending and it seems like a good time to take stock in both my life and the world before beginning the roaring ’20’s that are on the horizon. I first considered doing a year-by-year breakdown, much like I had already done for the 2000’s, but had a more difficult time coming up specific year-related milestones. Turning 30 and getting a steady job meant that I had reached the point in my life where individual years didn’t matter as much as specific events, which is related to something I want to expound on a bit.

I recently came across an interesting video. What I found interesting was not necessarily the content (a dive into popular bad memes of the 2010’s), but how, for the guy who made the video, these memes represented the general tenor of the years in which they came out (2011 was the “Nyan Cat” year, 2012 was all about “Gangam Style” and figuring out what the fox says, 2016 is when Pepe the Frog was stolen by the alt-right, and so on). Thing is, I recognize and remember most of these memes, but I couldn’t, with a gun to my head, tell you what year they came out, or even make an educated guess. Internet culture stopped being delineated by calendar years for me around the same time that Homestarrunner.com stopped updating regularly, and it was a little bizarre seeing someone treat stuff from 2015 with deep nostalgia glasses, when for me, I have to really think hard to place what separated 2015 from 2014 or 2016 in my life (and actually, 2015 was probably the last year I had before I settled into the “living alone in an apartment and working” routine I’m still in today, and even then that’s mostly because before that I was in a “living in a small house with a roommate and working” routine).

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Afraid

So I started a “new” blog, with the intent to start writing more. That was nearly three months ago now, and I still haven’t actually posted anything new.

Fear.

I’m afraid of putting myself out there again.

I’m afraid of unnecessarily repeating myself in these posts.

I’m afraid that people will give me well-meaning advice that I will either have to find an excuse not to follow, or ignore and then feel guilty about yet another thing I’m not doing.

I’m afraid because I have nobody to talk to. I have plenty of people who will offer to talk, but I have nobody to talk to. Not anyone that I can trust with my whole self.

I’m afraid that when people do try to break through to me, I deflect and obfuscate because I wasn’t ready to open up, but when I finally am, they’ve given up or moved on.

I’m afraid that nobody trusts me with their whole self, because I don’t know the proper things to do or say if they did.

I’m afraid that people who do care will care for a minute, before their other priorities reassert themselves, and unless I keep putting all of myself on display, day after day, I become forgotten, less and less of a thought.

I’m afraid because some of the people I care most about care less about me than I had thought.

I’m afraid because recently I had to sever a long-term (non-romantic) toxic relationship, and, while it was necessary for both parties involved, it still hurts.

I’m afraid because I’ve never been diagnosed with any mental anything, but obviously something’s going on here, but I literally can’t afford to seek professional help, at least not without being unable to live on my own. Do I need it? Can’t I just live? Some days I can. All days I can.

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New blog!

Welcome to my new blog! I’ve decided to start a whole new personal blog (with the same URL as my old one so that anyone following me won’t have to change bookmarks/subscriptions). This will be hopefully similar to my old one (now housed at jefferykritarchive.wordpress.com), being a place where I can do some freeform writing, usually about some sort of philosophical or lifestyle observations I’ve made, or insights I have on topics that I feel are important. I still haven’t come up with a good name for it (“Jeff’s New Blog” is very much a placeholder, though I want something different from my previous blog names “Boom Chicka Wiggy Wagga” and “¿Le Gusta Leer?”), so if you have a suggestion lay it on me in a comment or something! I’m still working on the layout and design as well, so it may be changing quite a bit in the next little while until I find something I like.

The main question you may have, however, is why am I starting a new blog instead of just reviving my old one (which has been virtually silent for more than three years)? I go into it a little bit on my last significant post that’s hosted on the old site, but basically I feel like my life in the past few years has undergone a rather dramatic paradigm shift. A large part of that has been my departure from the LDS religion I was raised in and considered myself a member of until around 2015, along with the shifts in viewpoint that that has engendered. Part of it has been my dating/romantic life, which has also dramatically changed (I may or may not go into this in more detail in a future post, but suffice it to say that dating is different when you don’t have the rules defined for you by an organization), though, true to form, I still don’t do it that much. Part of it has been my living situation: my old blog went silent around the time that I started living in an apartment by myself, which affects a lot of how I operate. Part of it was due to the Player and Doodler Youtube channel I was running for a large chunk of that time: though it was more specifically about gaming than about general life stuff, it was still a lot of content that I was putting online there instead of on a blog. And part of it has simply been getting older: I’m now 36 years old, and a large chunk of my worldview has simply shifted due to that.

I tried several times on the old blog to make a post. I probably had about ten or so in the “draft” phase. But for some reason I was never able to really finish one in all that time. It felt like I was adding onto the story of somebody else, somebody who was quite different (at least in terms of the personal picture the blog painted). I’m now somebody who doesn’t look at Mormonism with either adoration or contempt, but just as part of my cultural and philosophical past. Somebody who is no longer pining away or obsessing over why I’m still single. Somebody who, quite frankly, feels a lot more secure and stable about where I am in life. And I would like to start writing about things from the perspective of who I am now without the baggage of who I’ve been featured on the same site.

For there is a lot on the old blog that shows where I came from, but not a whole lot that shows where I am or who I am now. This has actually come back to bite me: not too long ago I was dating a woman who read all of that blog and consequently thought she knew me really well. The problem was that she assumed I was mostly the same person now (or at least she could plot a course from who I was and figure out who I am), and that simply wasn’t the case. It…did not end well. So one reason I’ve started over here is to hopefully avoid that kind of situation in the future.

In any case, I’m hoping that making a clean break like this will inspire me to start writing more, with the knowledge that readers will understand that I may be coming from a different perspective than the guy who wrote most of that other blog. Hopefully it’ll work and I won’t get into any trouble.

There are a few posts, however, that I left here when I moved everything else to that archive. One of them I left mostly because for some reason most of my views come from that one post, for reasons I’ve never quite understood, but hey, traffic is traffic. One I left here because I have links to it elsewhere I can’t easily change (in some videos) and it’s a good post anyway. Another one I left here because it was it was really the beginning of that paradigm shift I mentioned (and also I think there are links to it in places I can’t change and I don’t want them to be broken). The most recent one, however, I have here as officially part of the new blog, to the point that I actually didn’t include it as part of the archive (despite the fact that I first posted it on the old blog). It’s only about two months old instead of three years or more, and better represents who I am now, so I wanted to include it here as really the first substantial post that wasn’t simply a holdover.

So there you have it. New blog, new ideas, new posts! Here’s to the future!

 

Necklaces, Fallen Children, and Forgiveness.

 

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So let’s start at the end. Recently, at the April 2019 Salt Lake FanX Comic Convention, as I am legally required to call it without being sued by the San Diego Comic Con, I went dressed up as Chara from the video game Undertale(If you don’t know who that is, or haven’t played Undertale, I may do some spoiling, so only keep reading if you have played it and/or will probably never play it and don’t care about being spoiled. Anyway, while I was there, I was looking for additional costume pieces, and I came across a necklace that seemed perfect, as it almost looked like the Undertale heart logo, and Chara is supposed to have a heart locket, so I picked it up and wore it as part of the costume.

jeffchara

It was a pretty cool part of the costume, to be sure, but for some reason there was a little more to it. I liked wearing it. For some reason it felt good to wear it, safe, friendly. I didn’t know exactly why; after all, it’s just an 8-bit heart necklace, just metal and paint, but for some reason it felt like there was a deeper meaning to me wearing it, something that I couldn’t articulate very well at the time, but strong enough that I’ve actually worn it every day since then, often under my shirt. I’ve tried coming up with a few different articulated reasons as to why I feel such a strong connection with a piece of jewelry (other than the possibility that, like, Sauron made it, but that seems unlikely), but when people have asked me, “Hey, that’s a neat necklace; why are you wearing it?” (because, you know, a guy can’t just wear a necklace without having a reason, that’s just the society we live in) I’ve had a hard time coming up with a good, short answer beyond “I want to wear it.” For you see, the true reason is far more complicated than I can explain to some clerk at a gas station, and far more personal than I feel like blurting out to Stranger #14 at Wal*Mart or wherever.

But I shall attempt to do so here.

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Chasing the Light

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Note: this post has been edited to protect some identities. It has also been formatted to fit your screen.

A few weeks ago I shared an article on Facebook titled “Sexuality and Singledom — Navigating with Clarity and Integrity” that dealt with the frustrations of single people in the LDS Church, especially relating to sexual matters (defined by the article as not just sex, but maturity and expressing romantic affection properly in general). A bunch of people commented on it with some great discussions, and I noted that I had a blog post percolating in my head about it about how much I related to various matters contained within, especially about how LDS singles were treated and how they, in turn, treat each other.

This is not that blog post.

At least, not the post I had originally intended when I shared the article.

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Chrono Trigger: Why A Redheaded 17-Year-Old Katana Wielder Is Actually You, and the Important Lesson That You’re Not The Center of the World, But You Can Change It Anyway.

Crono

(Note: the following post contains spoilers for Chrono Trigger: a Super Nintendo JRPG from 1995. If you haven’t played it, stop reading and go play it. No, seriously, go play it. Why are you still reading this? I can wait. It’s on Wii Virtual Console or, like, Android, for $10 or something, though apparently the Android version is based on the DS version, which is a good port though it adds some bonus dungeons that suck and makes Frog lose his King James accent, sadly. From this point on I’ll assume you’ve played it, as Chrono Trigger deserves to be in the general consciousness at least as much as, say, Star Wars does, if not more so.)

I’ve never made it a secret that Chrono Trigger is my favorite game of all-time. In fact, it is so good that for a long time it fooled me into thinking that JRPG’s were one of my favorite genres (that’s “Japanese Role-Playing Games” like the Final Fantasy or Kingdom Hearts series, as opposed to “Western Role-Playing Games” like Skyrim or Mass Effect which I actually do like a lot more in general). To this day I can count on one hand how many JRPG’s I actually enjoy, but Chrono Trigger stands head, shoulders, knees, and toes above all of them, maybe even on one of those pedestals on a hydraulic lift that can raise it even higher. And while there are about fifty kajillion reasons why (intriguing plots, time travel, cavewomen, a frog that speaks with an inexplicable Shakespearean accent, etc.), today I’d like to focus mostly on the razor-thin balancing act that is the protagonist of our story: a 17-year-old redheaded katana-wielding teenager with a single parent (and at least one cat) named Crono (so named because “Chrono” is six letters and the game only let you use five letters for names).

First, let’s provide come background information on RPG’s in general. Role-Playing Games are so named because you, in at least some small way, control how a certain character or characters develop. The level of control you have depends on the game, as does the amount of immersion into the role. For example, many modern-era JRPG’s have fully fleshed-out protagonists who have their own personalities and make their own decisions; you just basically tell them where to move outside of cutscenes and what attack moves to use in battles. This first type of RPG protagonist is barely immersive at all: you’re not supposed to identify with the character, you’re supposed to witness their story and maybe have a hand in some parts. Even in some stories where you have at least some control over their personality (such as Mass Effect where your choices boil down to choosing between “be a righteous hero” and “be a hero who’s kind of a jerk sometimes”), it’s still not your story. You just, as the player, have some influence on how it all plays out, and usually you have a lot more say in what skills/abilities you want the protagonist to develop than what kind of person you want them to be.

The second type of RPG protagonist is the one where the character you play is supposed to be your own surrogate. Games such as Skyrim, or most MMORPG’s, or pretty much any game where you craft a character at the beginning, fall into this category. Many of these games are based on a Dungeons and Dragons model, where you make up all your character’s attributes and personality traits, and while they can be immersive, it’s much more difficult to tell a wonderfully plotted, coherent story with good pacing and side characters, etc. More often these type of games end up being open-world sandbox games, where you can go around and do whatever quests you think your character would do (or whatever quests will get you the best rewards, if you care more about the gaming system than the role-playing aspect). Characters may react to your decisions, but usually only on a superficial level at best, so that all types of people can throw themselves into the protagonist role and not feel alienated by it.

There is a third type of RPG protagonist, however, that for lack of a better term is normally called the “silent protagonist.” This type of character is an attempt to blend the other two: the character still has a backstory and personality, but doesn’t actually say anything in order for the player to more closely identify with the character. A good example of this type of hero would be Link from the Zelda series (though whether or not that makes Zelda an RPG series is debatable, considering that you have no control over what kind of a person Link is or what he can do outside of “how many items/heart pieces/whatever you’ve picked up so far”), or Serge from Chrono Trigger‘s sequel Chrono Cross. This is a hard type of character to pull off, however; too much personality or backstory and it’s just the first type of protagonist that just happens to be inexplicably mute (and therefore the player doesn’t identify with them), but too little backstory or plot influence and the protagonist could virtually be played by a wet napkin with a sword and some magic spells, for all the importance they have on the story (and therefore the player doesn’t particularly want to identify with them, or if they do they’ve got to fill in all the gaps themselves). But the best example of this type of protagonist, and the one that most people hold up as the most triumphant representation of how to pull off this character, is, of course, Crono.

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The Third Date Dump

We interrupt your previously scheduled philosophical musings about religion and its place in the universe and life to bring you…another post about being single. Yay.

So I have probably done a lot more dating in the past year than I’ve done in any year previous. And while that doesn’t mean I’ve actually done a ton of dating, I have dated quite a few different people, and different types of people. I’ve dated people near my age, and people a lot younger than me. I’ve dated people I’ve known for years, people I’ve only recently met, and people I met online through dating services. I’ve dated fat girls, skinny girls, girls who climb on rocks. Tough girls, sissy girls, but no girls with chicken pox. And even though I’ve gone through a rather large range, there have been some striking similarities with every single one of these “relationships”, and one common trait in particular, which I shall dub the “Third Date Dump.”

What is the Third Date Dump? Well, contrary to what it sounds like, it’s not where I consistently got dumped on the third date. At least, not exactly. Rather, it refers to the moment, usually during the third date, where I know that the relationship wasn’t going to go anywhere. And on almost every occasion (save maybe one), it was due to the girl making it clear that she was just kind of being polite, usually something like sitting stiff as a board with her arms crossed while we’re watching the movie/watching the DVD/taking a walk/whatever, coupled with That Look. This normally coincides with a complete lack of contact after the date other than replying to me asking what their schedule is so we can go on the inevitable next date (which is especially telling with the girls I meet online, where we normally have several long and meaningful conversations in text before we even meet each other). Sometimes (OK, once) we do end up talking about it, where the girl confirms my suspicions that yes, she’s not interested and was just interested in putting me in the friend zone. Other times she just gracefully disappears from the radar (this works great with the dates found through online services). Often we go on a fourth or even fifth date, but it’s apparent to both of us that the relationship is over and we’re just humoring each other, and things just peter out after that. This, I have found, is the way that most girls will dump you: not by sitting down and saying, “I think we should see other people” or whatever, but by the little signs until you get the hint. Therefore, the “Third Date Dump.”

This has happened with every single relationship I’ve been in over the past year. Heck, I shouldn’t even call them relationships, since three dates doesn’t really constitute any sort of meaningful relationship. This is similar to something I’ve complained about several times in this blog (see that “That Look” post I linked to earlier), but with one important distinction: the first date is almost always great. We normally hit it off pretty well, have a lot to talk about, and we enjoy each other’s company, with both of us eager for a second date. And the second date normally goes pretty well, too; sure, some of the excitement of the first date may have worn off, but we still normally have a good time and get to know each other better. But always by the third date we hit that wall of “sudden disinterest”, and I just don’t understand it. A few times this wall had been hit prior to the third date, but all of those were cases where the person had known me for a while, which makes me think, “At what percentage of knowing about me does the typical girl get turned off?” or “What precise trait do I possess that always comes out at the same point in dating someone that is such a deal-breaker?”

It’s really starting to get repetitive. And that’s what caught my attention. Normally I’d be prone to think, “Well, this particular girl isn’t interested, and that’s fine,” if this had happened once or twice. But every single one? What are the odds? In fact, if we extend this back to all the relationships I’ve had/dates I’ve been on, only once has something like this not happened. And of all the times it did happen, only once did it not take place until past the third date, that I can recall. It’s seriously sapping my will to date at all. Why put so much effort into getting to know a person if we’re just going to break it off two weeks down the line?

I’m turning 30 in a little over two weeks. And the problem with being single for so long is that you get set in your ways. Your life is so self-focused that, even though you want a relationship, you really have no idea how to get one to work, or even start. I know I have this problem, and all of the girls I’ve dated around my age have the exact same problem (and anyone who doesn’t…is probably already married). They have constructed their life already, and adding a partner to that doesn’t jive with everything else that’s already been set up. And while that carries with it a certain amount of loneliness, it also carries with it a certain amount of control and comfort. While I was searching for an image to put at the top of this blog post, I came across this article (yeah, I just linked to the Oprah magazine; make of it what you will) that describes this phenomenon much better than I can. And while the analysis is spot-on, the conclusion (that people who feel this way should learn to accept and embrace being single instead of chasing unobtainable dreams) is something that I can’t accept. Is there another option to break out of this? Is this the thing that breaks up every relationship I’ve attempted? I don’t know! How come everyone who has a successful relationship is always like, “Well, I met the right person, and the rest is history?” How is that supposed to help? I didn’t make it this far alone because that “special someone” is still out there, gazing at the stars outside her tower window. I don’t believe in the “one true soulmate” story. So it’s gotta be something else! Angry rant! Frustration at everything! Inability to figure out what to do differently! Resignation that nothing’s gonna change unless I change it, coupled with the ignorance of what to change! Awareness that I keep using the word “couple” as a verb, because I guess it’s on my mind! Exclamation points!!!!

Here’s the thing. My most recent relationship is currently right at this phase. It’s a girl I met online. We’ve had the third date. The 3DD (you know what this stands for) signs were there, coming from her. At the same time, she wants to go see the current Poison Ivy Mysteries show with me. There’s always the chance that she’s just not sure how she feels and maybe this relationship will work with some effort. Or there’s the chance that she’s done with me but wants to go see the show anyway because it sounds fun and hey, free dinner. I want to actually discuss the topic with her, but I don’t know how to bring it up without the dreaded “DTR” talk somehow pushing things too fast and killing off an otherwise salvageable relationship (which has also happened in my past).  I like her. I want to like her more. Everything that implies. But I feel like a fourth date at this point will be the same as the previous fourth dates I’ve had recently: we’re just kind of humoring each other, and it will peter out after that. So there’s the impasse.

Thanks for reading this rant. I promise next time we’ll go back to questioning the foundations of my faith, which garners a much larger response from people.