Caring

When I was sick two weekends ago, I decided to catch up on some movies I had really wanted to see but couldn’t interest anyone else in seeing with me. One of those movies was Nebraska, the 2013 much-lauded comedy/drama starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte. Overall, I thought the film was pretty good, and I was pleasantly surprised by Forte’s dramatic acting chops and Dern’s heartbreaking performance. I don’t know that I would have given it an Oscar nomination, but the fact that it did receive several gave me the opportunity to feel slightly more sophisticated for having watched it.

living roomWhile the film’s dramatic scenes carried considerable weight, a comedic moment was what resonated most with me. A family gathering is depicted, with Dern and Forte’s characters surrounded by male family members. Most of them are older (Dern’s character’s brothers), and they are all staring blankly at a television as some random sporting event is taking place. A totally inane, meaningless conversation begins about one of the men owning a Buick. Few words are spoken, even fewer are actually listened to, and the conversation ends just as it began, with awkward silence.

I have been in that living room before and sat through that conversation.

The area where I live received a significant amount of snowfall last night and today. I’m not exactly sure of the treesamount, and I’ve had to work extremely hard to not find out. There may be eight inches or 10 inches or a foot or who knows how much. I don’t do well when I dwell on such things. If I have to get out and go to work (which I didn’t today), then I have to get out and go. Every report of how awful everything is outside just fuels my anxiety and makes it even more difficult for me to concentrate on the task at hand. I would rather just meet the challenge and get it over with.

Being in radio, I understand the necessity of media outlets to report what the forecast is going to be; to warn the public of any potential hazards the weather might create; and to describe travel conditions for those who will have to be on the roadways. It’s a public service, and it’s just the nature of what they do. What I do not understand is why some people feel the need to inform me of every single happening they heard about from social media, other friends, random acquaintances, and anyone else with the ability to communicate with words. Sometimes what they say is true; sometimes it is not. Sometimes it is greatly beneficial; sometimes it is not. For some reason lately, though, it is almost always annoying to me, and I haven’t been able to figure out why.

I’ve run through several possible reasons for this in my mind. I could just be an uncaring jerk. As I mentioned earlier, it could be because second-hand information of this sort usually only serves to increase any anxiety I might have over a situation. It may have something to do with my background in newspapers, where you had to make absolutely certain you had your facts correct before you shared them with anyone else. Maybe I feel inundated with information sometimes and just want it to stop.

Perhaps the saddest part of the living room scene I mentioned earlier is how it seemed everyone in the room had run out of not only things to talk about, but also things to care about. Nothing was exciting anymore. Nothing was new to them anymore. There was nothing on the horizon for them to look forward to. All anyone could muster was a stilted discussion about an old car. Sometimes discussions about the weather or who’s sick in the hospital or who’s left what church or who’s getting married (or divorced) put me in that living room. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being there; it’s just not where I want to be.

Barring something unforeseen, I will go outside in the morning, warm up my vehicle, and attempt to drive it to work. I’m sure a thousand-and-one stories exist to encourage me not to do that, but I don’t really want to talk about them. There’s a certain sort of excitement and adventure that comes with just doing what needs to be done and ignoring everything else, even if it’s not the wisest thing to do. I don’t begrudge anyone their right to sit around their living room and talk about snow or cars or anything else. I just can’t do it anymore.

I just don’t care enough. Or maybe I actually care too much about other things.

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The Petulant Child

No man enjoys being treated like a child. Well, okay, maybe some men do, but that’s an entirely different issue. In fact, that’s probably something to be discussed on an entirely different blog.

At any rate, we men are a prideful lot, and as a general rule we don’t particularly like being told what to do, particularly if we feel we are being talked down to in some way. Of course, the irony is that we men can also be grossly immature and quite often place ourselves in positions where someone has to step in and keep us from completely wrecking ourselves and those around us. It’s no wonder a large majority of us have legendary stories of breaking things (Mine involves a pane of glass on a car port door.); we don’t know whether to be sorry or indignant, so we just wind up pissed off.

So what’s a guy to do when he gets cornered like this? I’ll tell you my first impulse: Start swinging. I don’t mean literally throwing punches (Again, another topic for an entirely different blog…), but rather getting up on my haunches and defending my right to do whatever the hell I feel like doing. I don’t like being nagged, pushed, or cajoled. Case in point: Two days ago, my wife sent me a video on how smartphones and social media are actually eroding society’s ability to connect with each other (I would like to point out, however, that this video was sent to me through Facebook.). I knew she had been concerned about how much time I spend on my phone, so when I received the video I felt harassed. “Well, I ain’t watchin’ that,” I thought.

The reality is, though, that I probably do spend too much time on my smart phone. I joked shortly after getting my first Android phone that gollumhaving it in my pocket was akin to carrying around the One Ring from The Lord of the Rings. Even if I wasn’t using it, I was kind of fiddling with it in my pocket. I did stop short of calling it “my precioussss,” but there weren’t many times of the day I was without it. I switched to an iPhone two weeks ago, and I seem to be even more obsessed with it than the first phone. I should be living in caves and eating raw fish any day now at this rate.

Suggestions have trickled in here and there. “Maybe you shouldn’t keep the phone in the bathroom.” “Maybe you could find a different place to charge the phone.” “Do you have to use the phone right now?” Okay, so that last one wasn’t a suggestion, but to my ears there wasn’t much of a difference tonally from the first two. “You are out of control, and I need to tell you what to do.” That’s what my man ears were hearing, and I was ready to fight. “I can carry my phone wherever I please.” And so on and so forth…

One of my arguments against all this was that every suggestion seemed to paint me as some type of petulant child who couldn’t be trusted without proper supervision. Again, though, irony being what it is, I’ve actually proven several times lately that I can’t be trusted in certain situations. When someone steps in to tell me that, however, my independent streak kicks in. “I can handle this. It’s not that bad. Just back off.”

I think the worst part of all this, though, is the embarrassment for the man. He’s supposed to have it all together, be the family leader, be the rock that doesn’t falter. He’s supposed to be able to conquer addictions and problems and whatever else that comes along. He’s not supposed to have to be told he’s out of control or needs help or isn’t doing the best job. It’s humiliating to have someone sit you down to correct you or tell you you need help, so we lash out, blindly defending ourselves. We want to hang on to our dignity, even though we have this sneaking suspicion we may actually be in the wrong.

This is a ready-made, perfect recipe for depression because everything at its base screams failure. People with depression generally feel as if they’re failing at everything anyway, so instances like these often come as a double-blow. You get really mad at the accusing person, but you’re also pretty ticked at yourself as well. And when you’re angry with everyone, well, what recourse or relief do you have? You just fester, until one day you either move past it or you explode in some kind of ugly way.

To be honest, I can’t say I’m any more thrilled with my wife’s suggestions than when I started writing this. Not necessarily because I think she’s wrong, but because I’m embarrassed she even has to worry about my stupid phone in the first place. Plus, I like checking my email and Facebook in the bathroom, so I may not go down without a fight in this debate. I’m not even sure if I’m right or not, but we males often don’t consider our chances of victory to be that crucial an element in determining whether we fight. We just don’t like being told what to do.

What The Shirt Says

0829140705I’m wearing a Batman T-shirt today … and I’m very nervous about that.

I don’t like stuff on my shirts. I just want a shirt that is plain – no logos, no slogans, no jokes, no band names, no television shows, no tags, no nothin’. I own the shirt I’m wearing today and a Captain America T-shirt only because I bought them to fit in with friends who bought comic book T-shirts to wear to comic book movie premieres. Ask me what my favorite shirt is and I’m likely to respond, “The blue one.”

As with most things in my life, though, this goes beyond just personal fashion sense. Fact is, I put way too much thought into what I’m going to wear each day. You wouldn’t know that by looking at me, since my daily wardrobe generally consists of a polo shirt or T-shirt with jeans or a pair of shorts, but you’d be amazed at how much thought I put into just picking out the color of the shirt I’m going to wear each day.

A poor choice of color, however, isn’t going to cause me that much stress. There’s just something about having something on my clothes that attracts people’s attention that bothers me, which is odd because one of my big frustrations in life is that I don’t feel like people pay much attention to me. No, my problem has to do with perceptions. People are going to make fun of a comic book shirt on a 40-year-old guy. People will think I’m poor because the brand name is cheap. People won’t like the band I’m a fan of. People will think the event I went to is silly.

In other words, whatever negative connotation that could be attached to what I’m wearing, that’s what I’m thinking of, so I assume that must be the first thing everyone else is thinking of.

The more self-confident readers are probably saying “Who cares what someone else thinks about your shirt?”, and I understand that. I’m a pessimist, though, whose view is often filtered through the lens of depression, so I almost instinctively find the silliness in things. Here’s an example of how I’ve been on the other end of this…

I noticed someone on Facebook the other day mentioned how much they loved the sports teams at the high school I graduated from. I’ve written here before about how youth and high school sports basically chewed me up and spit me out, so I stopped caring about how my school fared while I was still a student there. In fact, I don’t think I attended another sporting event at my high school after my sophomore year. Anyway, my first thought when I saw this on Facebook was, “Who the heck cares? I can’t believe someone would care that much about something so stupid.”

As soon as I thought this, I felt immediate conviction. This person actually did love the local high school sports teams. They would wear their T-shirts out in public and root for them on social media. Just because I didn’t think it was worth my time didn’t mean they should think it wasn’t worth theirs. Did that mean I had to share their enthusiasm? I don’t think so (Or, at least, I hope not.). I should at least be respectful of their passion, though.

In the end, though, it didn’t matter what I thought. They loved their high school sports, and who cares what I think about it? In the same vein, shouldn’t I be able to love comic books, video games, social media, ’80s rock, etc., etc.?

So I’m wearing a Batman shirt today … and it’s still bugging me.