Tuesday, May 6, 2014

the way out is broken

A few weeks ago, I was languishing in a pile of my own snot-ridden tissues while eagerly awaiting the disappearance of The World’s Most Annoying Cold. And though a hacking cough, sore throat, and sinus pressure certainly weren’t pleasant, I unfortunately developed the worst symptom of all about day into my illness: I couldn’t smell or taste. I’ve certainly battled my fair share of bothersome sicknesses, but I find the loss of these two senses to be an unforgivable assault on my general will to continue existing. Life just wasn’t worth living when I took that bite of breakfast and experienced nothing.

You, dear reader, are likely well aware of my tendency to be overly dramatic in certain situations…most of which involve a scenario where I have no control over the outcome. This instance was no different. Losing one’s taste when ill is always a waiting game, but I was convinced that something else was amiss and I was most likely never going to be able to taste again. In my desperate search for a solution, I did what anyone else would do: I turned to the all-knowing internet. My research uncovered several disconcerting articles telling of people who had lost their senses of taste and smell never to have them return. A brief moment of panic turned into a dejected attempt to rationalize my condition: I’d been unable to taste before and it had usually righted itself within a day. I just needed to give it some time.

It was around Day 4 that a real sense of urgency set in. My cough was worsening, my time away from the office hadn’t really alleviated my symptoms, and I was still unable to taste or smell. I’d more or less resigned myself to the fact that the rest of my life was destined to be spent in a flavorless wasteland, and I began to devote a serious amount of effort to recalling all of the food I’d rejected during my lifetime. Why had I been so restrictive??

On the advice of a coworker (who heard me hacking up a lung in the kitchen), I abandoned my post and headed for my doctor’s office. Lo and behold, I was afflicted with a nasty case of bronchitis. Doc sent me home armed with some codeine and a two-week prescription for antibiotics, assuring me that my senses would return to normal in due time. She rightfully rolled her eyes at me when I mentioned my concern, since I’d sat in her office not a year ago fully convinced that I had cancer because I could feel some bumps on the back of my neck.

At any rate, the drugs cured the infection, my ability to taste effectively returned, and in true “I-saw-the-light-and-then-forgot-about-it” fashion, I’ve already started snubbing foods again.

I’m not trying to draw attention to the fact that I deal with intense bouts of hypochondria or that I seem to forget life-altering lessons almost as quickly as I learn them. I’m instead ridiculing myself for jumping to the most negative conclusion possible whenever a challenging or inconvenient situation presents itself. My reason for doing so is both counterintuitive and self-destructive: if I expect the worst, I’ll probably end up pleasantly surprised. I’m not sure why I developed this overly protective defense mechanism, since nothing in my life has ever gone really wrong. But maybe that’s the problem: I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. Regardless, living one’s life in fear of some ultimate, unknown catastrophe is distracting and nonsensical. I’m sure I’ve shaved several years off my life with the undue stress and worry that I’ve imposed upon my psyche. See? Counterintuitive: I decrease my health by fretting over it.

While I would love to flip a switch in some remote corner of my brain and have this tendency of mine vanish, I know that will never happen. I suppose the only real solution is to put in a bit of elbow grease and somehow re-wire my brain. A Zen master would be really helpful in this regard. Or perhaps Yoda. Since I don’t have access to either, I’ll instead settle for a hodge-podge of poorly chosen self help books.

In the meantime, please stay tuned for Joselyn Freakout #37829875. It’s sure to entertain.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

human v2.0

A couple of months ago, I had this dream. [I know this is where most of you will probably tune me out, but I urge you to continue reading since we all know I’m infamous for weaving together profound insights on the human condition. This entry is no exception, despite this poorly constructed introductory paragraph.]

In this dream, I was an omniscient observer who was witnessing the destruction of Earth: think bombs and flames and apocalyptic warfare. At one point, a large airship descended from the heavens and hovered over one particular girl. A door on the ship opened and an alien emerged to address her, claiming that he and his cohorts were destroying the planet because we humans had royally fucked up our opportunity to be a productive species.

In their mercy, however, the aliens had also decided to repopulate a new planet with what they considered to be the human ideal. This girl had been hand-picked to serve as the blueprint for a new race. The aliens intended to manufacture a set number of beings with an identical behavioral/ethical makeup and then set them free to reproduce. These individuals would not have the same genetic code (in terms of appearance), but their predispositions, opinions, and general “ways of being” would all be hard-wired and then passed on to future generations. They did not explain why the girl had been chosen or what characteristics she possessed that made her “ideal.” She was very plain-looking and wore sweats and an oversized hoodie (we’re talking stereotypical WalMart clientele here, folks). She said nothing in response when these foreign beings informed her that she was effectively going to shape the future of the entire human race.

At this point, I of course woke up because my dreams are cruel and rarely allow me to see anything through to fruition. Upon waking, however, I immediately thought two things:
  1. I could totally pitch this story to Hollywood and make my first million as the writer for what will likely end up being a B movie starring Will Smith.
  2. How would things on that new planet actually pan out?
It is common knowledge that wars (and disputes in general) are caused by differences of opinion, be they religious, political or otherwise. But what if those differences were entirely eliminated? What if our beliefs were not a personal choice but were instead predetermined? Would we be able to peacefully coexist in a universal utopia?

I have my doubts. Dissention would find a way, if for no other reason than to propel society forward. Isn’t some kind of contention or discomfort necessary to obtain progress? Wouldn’t we just sit still otherwise? I have a hard time believing that the human race can actually maintain any kind of ethical or moral homeostasis. It seems too easy, which usually means that there is at least some room for error.

Regardless, I think it’s important to note that my proclivity for wearing sweats and oversized hoodies might actually make me a candidate for th Human Ideal, should our species receive a reboot designed by aliens. Sadly I think I’m in good company in that regard.

Friday, February 7, 2014

to hell in a handbasket we go

I wanted to hate Wrecking Ball. An anti-fan of most things that fall under the umbrella of American pop culture, I didn’t want to see the video, listen to anything about the scandal surrounding Miley, and above all else I flat out didn’t want to hear the song. My avoidance was mainly rooted in a general distaste for the way that many media icons are manufactured in this country. On the whole, I find most of these folks to be talentless puppets that are the result of agents and publicists and producers and not really the product of their own raw passion. That initial inspiration most likely existed at one point, but once the masses get a hold of you, you’re usually destined to become the output of a formula.

At any rate, I managed to avoid the aforementioned song until several weeks ago when a friend of mine (out of the blue) texted me the lyrics, “I CAME IN LIKE A WRECKING BALLLLLL.” Puzzled by this random outburst, I mentioned the text to my boyfriend who was sitting nearby.

“Oh yeah, that reminds me,” he said. “Did you see that Chat Roulette video on YouTube? It’s hilarious.” My dubious look caused him to pull it up on the computer. The clip consisted of a man in minimal to no clothing video-chatting with random strangers while lip-syncing to the song that was playing in the background. I rather quickly disregarded the humorous scenes in the video and instantly paid attention to the music. “Dammit,” I said. “I like this.” The beat was catchy. The chorus stuck in my head for the remainder of the day. I found myself listening to the song at work. I was hooked and consequently forced to acknowledge that I’m not above succumbing to the siren song of generic American pop music.

This, however, supports the point that I intend to make.
  
Given that daily life often feels difficult, it’s not surprising that the entertainment industry has, in some ways, dumbed itself down. [Pop] music is handed to us in a digestible form that requires no effort to like or understand. It’s the equivalent of junk food; it is processed and injected with fillers to the point where often the artist’s own voice isn’t even recognizable during live performances. Similar things can be said about reality TV. Most of these shows aren’t enriching our lives, but are instead providing entertainment in a simple format that can be passively absorbed. When we sit down and turn on that television, we turn off our brains.

I am of course guilty of the aforementioned offense. I love me a little trash TV and have been known to watch episodes of Teen Mom, Jersey Shore, and The Real Housewives because I just didn’t want to think about anything. However, my concern with this lies in the latent effects of engaging in this behavior. Much like Miley’s song stayed in my head for the remainder of the day, are these shows having some kind of influence? Don’t we inevitably become a product of the things that surround us? Am I doomed to start caring about the same things that the characters in these vapid shows focus on?

My intent here is not to sound like a self-righteous hipster whose tastes are superior to those of the masses (I swear). I’m also not saying that everything that’s wildly popular is inevitably bad or worthless. However, I do worry that because certain types of media are so accessible and prevalent, people don’t bother to seek out anything else. It’s also a concern that this issue is self-perpetuating: as “x” of a particular type becomes more popular, it is mimicked and reproduced in various forms. The formula is created and the output spreads. And in the case of American media in particular, it all happens virally.

This would normally be the part of the post where I make a predictable call to action. I’m going to avoid that this time around since I’m not sure what words I would use to drum up an army. I merely wanted to comment that hearing Miley Cyrus’s song sent me down a depressing thought spiral regarding the insidious nature of America’s media culture …it’s like a motherfucking wrecking ball.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

on red roses and blue violets

Whenever I walk to work, I always pass a certain couple somewhere near the Capitol building. I can tell it’s them from two blocks away because they are latched on to one another, forming what appears to be a two-headed blob. As I draw closer, their individual shapes become clearer and I’m eventually able to discern the finer points of their characteristic pose. They are embracing and facing one another: she’s staring into his eyes and he’s smiling down at her, the two of them occasionally leaning in for a kiss. They act like two people who never see each other, a pair whose time together is precious and infrequent [clearly this is not the case because I see them on a very regular basis]. As I pass them, the cynic in me represses the urge to vomit. The hopeless romantic in me whispers, “Aww.”

The other day, they parted ways before our paths crossed. The woman began walking ahead of me, but the man made an about-face and began traveling in my direction. I noticed that a block after they separated, the woman turned to look back at the man. She did this on at least three occasions, each time with a smile on her face. This simple act elicited an uncharacteristically sentimental reaction on my part: “That’s what love does,” I thought. “It makes you want to look back and smile.”

I know what you’re all thinking: “Yeah, they’ve probably only been together for a couple of months. Wait until that oxytocin wears off, suckers.” I will also readily admit that there’s more to this powerful human emotion than mere displays of affection. But there was something about witnessing this interaction that got me thinking.

We all have different ideas of what “love” actually entails. For some, it’s financial security. For others, it is kind treatment or a stimulating conversation partner or someone who constantly challenges us to better ourselves. For some it is all of those things, and for others it involves the absence of many of them. It seems to boil down to how someone makes us feel and how that compares to the way we expect [and want] to feel. Sometimes we know what that is and sometimes we realize that what we thought would please us actually ends up making us miserable (and vice versa).

The other day, a friend relayed a story about his close buddy’s current relationship. This dude has been with his lady for the better part of a year, but was commenting that he wasn’t sure it was the be-all and end-all for him. He thought there was supposed to be more. My friend replied rather matter-of-factly that homeboy was going about it all wrong: this woman had stayed by his side, been pleasant to his friends, caused little to no trouble in his life, and was a genuinely nice person. She was a very good companion to this fellow. For all of the “other stuff,” he had people in his life to fill in the missing pieces.

Hearing this account made me realize how easy it is to ascribe supernatural powers to this whole love business. I used to think it was something all-encompassing; a partner was someone that you couldn’t breathe without, someone who one day strolled into your life and made it all make sense. Love was supposed to complete you because you alone were only half of an equation. And since the responsibility of completing another human being wasn’t enough, your mate was also supposed to have the same interests, temperament, palate, upbringing…you were essentially supposed to be each other. Such a situation makes it much easier for a person to read your mind, after all.

After stumbling through a good many years of failed relationships, I realized that my assumptions needed a bit of an overhaul. I was frequently finding myself disappointed and frustrated that others were not meeting this impractical and childish “ideal” that I was clinging so vehemently to. I was expecting it all to be perfect and when everything fell short, I tried to bend the situation or the person [and always myself] to make the relationship into what I thought it should be.  What I actually needed to do was either accept that version of love and be content or let go and move on. It wasn’t a matter of lowering my standards but rather one of tempering my expectations.

I’m not claiming to have it all figured out, since I imagine that love is one of those enigmas that we humans struggle to understand throughout our existence. I will, however, admit that I caught myself looking in the rear view mirror and smiling after I dropped off my boyfriend the other night. So there’s that.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

nothing but numbers

When I was a teenager, I was pretty convinced that life would be over by thirty. I don’t mean to imply that I intended to keel over and croak at that point, but rather that I pictured myself being knee-deep in a stable, unchanging adult life. By thirty I’d have a career, a white picket fence, and a husband. I’d be well on my way to Kid #1 and would be reveling in my generally successful stab at being a productive and worthwhile human being. I’d be content and convinced that nothing needed to change, and could ride out my remaining years in bliss. Thirty seemed impossibly old and I was damn sure I’d have it all figured out by then.


Above is a photo taken on the night of my 30th birthday. At the time, I was single, living in a Swedish dorm room, and just so happened to be drunk at an on-campus party that was mainly populated by people ten years my junior. I was about to finish my Masters degree and had no idea where I was going to live or what I was going to do afterward. Let us also not overlook the fact that I was wearing a headband with plush mice on it.

I was not exactly the poster child of The “Successful” Adult Life that I’d intended to be when I was a teenager. In fact, it’s safe to say that my entire Life Timeline was pretty fucked off. When exactly did I veer off course?

I vividly recall a feeling that I had midway through my first year of college: I hated my major. I didn’t want to be a therapist or a teacher or a researcher or really have anything to do with the remaining credits I was obligated to complete for my BA in Psychology. At the time, I was entirely overwhelmed by new social situations and The Future felt like a daunting and intangible thing that I didn’t know how to plan for. I therefore opted for the safe choice: I stayed the course, even though I knew it wasn't what I wanted. It seemed that it was too late to change anything; I'd selected this area of study and had to stick with it to avoid wasting time and money.

As I chipped away at my requirements, I eventually found space in my schedule to take a series of writing courses. Turns out I wasn’t actually an uninspired, disenchanted, and otherwise entirely bitter twenty-year-old: there was something that I was passionate about. But rather than change my major and devote myself full-time to the written word, I instead thought that it was too late. I was less than a year away from graduating and there was no way that obtaining a writing degree would be feasible (or practical).

Noticing a theme here?

Time is an undeniably precious commodity and we humans spend a lot of energy fretting over it. There is a supposed order in which things happen and we feel pressure to check off boxes before the hourglass runs out. Oftentimes, we also feel like once we have chosen a path, we are obligated to stay on it come hell or high water because we don’t want to “waste” our few moments on this precious planet.

When I was twenty-one, twenty-five sounded ancient. I figured there was SO MUCH I needed to accomplish by then. But once I reached twenty-five, I realized it wasn’t actually that old and that I still had a decent chunk of time to fulfill my adult-y requirements. I’d have that taken care of by thirty. However, we all know this didn’t turn out to be the case (please refer to the above photo for evidence). So what then? When does the clock really run out on my one and only chance to get this “right”?

It doesn’t, not until I’m dead. The older I get, the more I realize I may never actually figure it all out. I’m coming to terms with the idea that numbers and years mean very little since I can theoretically change course at any point. We do what makes sense for us at the time and then when it doesn’t make sense anymore, we stop doing it*. We are only as stuck as we allow ourselves to be.

In this sense, I never really veered off course. Instead I just gave up on the idea that my course was going to be logical, conventional, or incredibly stable…or that I was even going to stick to one path in particular. Perhaps this would mortify Teenage Jos, but I’m pretty damn okay with it.

*Not implying fickleness here. Really.

Monday, July 15, 2013

i am he as you are he as you are me

I follow the Dalai Lama on Twitter. This probably comes as a surprise to many of you, since I am well-schooled in the arts of snarkiness and pessimism whereas His Holiness is a glowing beacon of hope and optimism. So before you go thinking that I’m actually a closeted Tibetan Buddhist, let me lay bare the complex reasoning behind my interest in his Tweets.

Admittedly I’m amused by the fantastical thought of a smiling Tibetan monk pecking away at the keyboard on his iPhone. Yeah, I know this doesn’t actually happen. I’d even be willing to wager that the messages are just Dalai-Lama inspired and are really composed by some hippie chick in San Francisco who lives off of alfalfa sprouts and rainbows*. That aside, I love seeing his messages pop up on my feed. They are like a breath of fresh air in an otherwise smoggy pit of despair [yes, that does sum up the gang I follow on Twitter]. Those sporadic 140-characters-or-less messages are tidbits that I do not skip: they never fail to incite a moment of pause and reflection. One warranted some additional attention the other day:
If we can cultivate a concern for others, keeping in mind the oneness of humanity, we can build a more compassionate world. 
It goes without saying that intolerance has been (and will most likely continue to be) a huge problem throughout history. We see those who are “different” as beings on the other side of a fence that we have no intention of crossing. They are not like us – hell, they aren’t us – and therefore we can’t be bothered to put forth the effort required to understand their motivations and intentions.

I read an article recently where the author mentioned that the fastest-growing occupations all require one to possess a decent amount of empathy. He goes on to mention that the rapid advancement of technology automates many manual tasks but that there is still no adequate substitute for face-to-face interaction with another human being. An ability to connect with others is consequently a valuable skill – one that seemingly few people take the time to nurture.

It can be a laborious task indeed to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and imagine dealing with their issues. Oftentimes we can’t even fathom what it might feel like to have a different set of “problems.” Many reading this will never know hunger, homelessness, poverty, or the strains associated with being a single parent in a third world country. This ultimately creates a sort of unconscious barrier between us and others because we simply cannot understand (and therefore have a hard time empathizing with) their choices and actions. So – often out of fear and ignorance - we reject, ignore, and even fight these “different” individuals.

But His Holiness is trying to remind us of an important fact here: everyone has bones. They must eat, breathe, sleep, love and survive just like us. We are no better or worse than they just because our circumstances are different and we should at least approach everyone with the same respect and courtesy that we expect to be treated with in return. It’s overly-idealistic of me to assume that people can be benevolent 100% of the time, but I do believe that if we at least try to relate to others, we often find that we’re greeted with warmth.

So the next time you encounter someone whose general ways of life seem to be completely contradictory to your own, try to take a moment and think of everyone's favorite smiling monk and his message of compassion. Because, after all, we are all together.

*Pure speculation on my part. I have actually done no research on who posts to the official Dalai Lama account. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

pulling the plug

While walking home the other day, I nearly ate shit. Admittedly I’ve never been a very coordinated or graceful person, but this mishap would have been particularly embarrassing: I almost walked into a pole while texting. Luckily I glanced up at an opportune moment and was able to avoid the soul-crushing humiliation that is walking into a ginormous metal object. 

When I looked up from my phone screen, I actually took stock of my surroundings. Every pedestrian was either listening to music or talking/texting on their respective phones. Not one person in my immediate line of sight was free from the prison of some electronic device. I myself had an iPod in my purse, headphones in my ears, and a phone in my hand. I was texting a friend who was not seven blocks away from where I was standing. I paused in the middle of the sidewalk at that point, finished composing my message, and then pocketed my phone after coming to a somewhat saddening realization: we are all disgustingly plugged in.

It seems mine has become a generation that doesn’t sleep: we are constantly reachable, constantly engaged, and (consequently) constantly awake. We are tethered to our phones and various devices like they are the only lifelines that exist, their ceaseless notifications never failing to incite an instant urge to CHECK SOMETHING. It’s nearly impossible to concentrate on any given task since our energy is always splintering off in various directions. Our minds have learned to exist in a state of hyper-arousal, ever vigilant and prepared to divert focus as required. It is therefore no wonder that, when we lay our heads down at night, our brains don't shut off. [I believe this article in Newsweek conveys the sentiment I’m going for a little more effectively]

I can’t help but wonder what kind of damage this does to us in the long run. Isn’t it dangerous when one is deprived of moments where they are entirely removed from the world? Whatever happened to the concept of Alone Time? As we are bombarded with more stimuli, we become wired for constant engagement - so much so that when we do stumble upon rare moments of quiet, our immediate feeling is almost one of discomfort. We simply don’t know what to do with ourselves. Suddenly the General Life Thoughts that we have pushed to the wayside feel overwhelming and we immediately seek out our next distraction. We watch TV, we play video games, we text, we work. We don’t sleep. Instead, we plug ourselves in so that we can turn our thoughts off.

I’ve since made an effort to avoid texting while walking. Though I still stroll home with music blaring in my ears, I’m trying to make more of an effort to engage with my surroundings and my own thoughts. For those twenty minutes a day, I allow the Life Stuff to wash over me while I acknowledge that it’s actually okay to be just a little unplugged every now and then.