31 July 2008

With business cards that read K. Crow, Esq.

I like to think that in ten years time I will look back at this rocky patch with some sense of fondness. Somehow, my perspective will change and I will see this as a really productive period in my career as a mercenary procrastinator. A small stack of business cards might help to make the operation look more professional.

But it seems more likely that I will believe that my time was well spent on an extended vacation. It is as if I am spending this time on a guided tour of my own nervous breakdown.

Either way, I definitely know what it means to play imaginary computer games with your furniture.

Procrastination by John Kelly

28 July 2008

Criticizing the Critics

One of my college professors just caught up with me and learned that much of my year had been spent schlepping around lead buckets of misery stew around like a morose milk maid. He was sorry to hear I had been feeling so bad and wondered if my problems were rooted in too much worry and stress.

Too much worry and stress? I guess that could be part of it, I said in response. Certainly worry, stress, guilt, anger, fear, over-analysis, and this nasty little repression habit are some ingredients that accompany this black mood. It could also be cyclic; every four years I'm fraught with this most inky and bilious of humors.

What I did not say but certainly thought about considerably after our email exchange was the fact that I had probably been putting up with it for longer than I was willing to admit. Depression is a disease that does not allow for pinpoint accuracy in terms of cause and effect. In my many go arounds with depression, there has never been a defining moment of "Well shit. Now I am officially depressed. Ho-fucking-hum." The threshold is gossamer, and one can easily teeter on the brink indefinitely.

I was still pondering my professor's question of the origins of my disease and the subsequent spillage of my cart full of nuts when I read that Randy Pausch, the professor of The Last Lecture fame, had died. I haven't read the book, but I did flip through it while I was stranded at the Salt Lake City Airport. It appealed to me because of my own fond memories of the Last Lecture series at college in which professors told colorful stories of being born in an elevator, or read several of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales aloud in Middle English.

Even though I left Pausch's book on the shelf that day, it kept crossing my path. Eventually I decided that I would purchase La Ultima Leccion, the book's Spanish translation, when I was feeling flush. This way I could read the book that kept following me around and practicar español. Believe me, my español needs a good deal of practicar.

When I read of Pausch's death, I watched the video of the original lecture, Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams as recorded at Carnegie Mellon. Within the first few minutes of the hour plus speech, I got a heavy dose of "your reality makes my reality make more sense," and it was inspired by an anecdote about football of all things. I have zero tolerance when it comes to football.

In his lecture, Pausch told a story of a football practice with his childhood football coach. He's been given a hard time all practice long, and another coach points out the importance of this sort of criticism. He says:
"When you're screwing up and nobody's saying anything to you anymore, that means they gave up... When you see yourself doing something badly and nobody's bothering to tell you anymore, that's a very bad place to be. Your critics are the ones who tell you they still love you and care."
This hit a really raw nerve. I know that very bad place all too well.

When I was temping, I knew I was doing a bad job. The work was menial and I never had enough to do. When I bothered to show initiative, I was castigated. I was unchallenged, under-utilized and bored. I listened for my critics, but I couldn't hear them clearly. This was a very bad place to be.

On a personal level, I was really upset by this workplace situation. I was angry in a way that made me feel as if my blood were thick with little toxic beads of quicksilver. I didn't know how to deal with being this angry. So I made work into a sort of a farce. I misappropriated the privilege of free time. I let the quality of my work slip to embarrassing levels. And to my astonisment, my flagrant abuse of the system is what caused my co-workers to be nice to me. People would show up at my cublicle to hear me gripe about the system. When I listened for a critic, I heard laughter. This was a very bad place to be.

When I finally left my last temp job to take a dramaturgy post, I thought I would be able to heave a huge sigh of relief. Afterall, doing something I enjoy as much as dramaturgy should bring me great pleasure. I would do it in my sleep. I would do it for no pay (even though all dramaturgs should make a living wage). I would do it while jumping up and down on the bed with bells around my ankles. Right?

Wrong. The experience made me feel even more miserable, and I considered my work to be subpar. I listened, but I didn't hear any critics. I wasn't even sure I knew who my critics were anymore.

Healthier people might say that their work was acceptable if they do not hear criticism. Healthier people would not need this sort of approval cum thorn in side. But by this time, I knew I was not healthy. I also knew that my way of thinking would not make sense whatsoever to any sort of reasonably healthy person.

This time when I listened for the critics, they came in droves. And the critic said, "I am worthless. I have failed. I don't matter. I am disgusting. There is no one that loves me. I have fucked up. I don't deserve to be alive." And I said it until I believed myself.

This disease took something I love to do, something I know I am good at doing, and it turned it into a source of misery. It made me spend more days that I can count on the floor of my apartment willing myself to die; unable to move even to use the toilet. Months later, even with medication and psychotherapy, I am incapacitated to the point where I am exhausted by an act as simple as brushing my teeth. Each and every effort is feels like swimming through cement.

So, with all due respect to the late Professor Pausch, I would like to say that he is only partially correct. Sometimes your critics are the ones who tell you they still love you and care. And, from time to time, your critics will need a little criticism. But there are some critics who need to be told to go fuck themselves. Gently. With a chainsaw.

23 July 2008

It is functional. Barely.

Lately, my mind is a lemon. Sour, puckery and inanimate. Also, it is akin to a lemon in the automotive sense. It's not working right, and I think there might have been something wrong with it from the get go because it's constantly giving me trouble.

Because my brain is not working right, I have wanted to go to bed for the evening since 3:30 this afternoon. I've had more than an adequate amount of sleep and I wasn't particularly tired. But my brain was telling me that it had had enough for the day and it was time for lights out. I made it a quesadilla and turned on the television, but it still wasn't enough. I strained to stay awake because the post it note that said, "Dad. Birthday. Choir practice. Call @ dinnertime," had been staring at me for almost a week, and I thought I could at least stay up for an obligatory phone call. After the call, I took a walk around the neighborhood. Instead of my usual walk adgenda* I went out for the sole purpose of staying up to a reasonable hour.

It's been an exhausting week. Not because I've done anything. I haven't. It just so happens that simple things, like brushing my teeth, render me useless for the rest of the day. To complicate matters, I have no attention span, problems concentrating and virtually no short-term memory. As one might imagine, this makes it hard to just about anything that requires more than about 15 seconds of my time.

My attempts at reading (usually one of my favorite pastimes) is a good example of my malfunctioning gray matter. I've read the first three sentences of the book Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart at least 30 times. It takes me more than 2 minutes to finish reading them because I get distracted by punctuation marks, or the way a letter looks on a page, or a nagging ache in my left pinky toe. Even though I've read this fragment dozens of times over, I cannot for the life of me tell you what it said. It just does not stick.

At least I can write off my brain troubles as melancholia. Too much black bile. And my brain candy is circulating at "sub-theraputic serum levels" until my doctor gets back from vacation. This is fine with me, because I secretly enjoy the look on peoples' faces when I tell them I am on a break from reality. I think this look is best described as a mixture of confusion and envy.

I cannot, however, justify the behavior of my four year old laptop. Sure, I've dropped my Shakespeare anthology on it a few times. But I thought that just jostled loose the y key and up/down arrows. Nothing major, right? Maybe not.

For months now I've been putting up with a computer that is having issues that seem to parallel my own brain issues in a disconcerting way. I asked one person who said, "Oh, it sounds like the power supply." I spoke to some Seattle-based friends who are tech savvy enough to have a homemade computer that they refer to as a "box" and they thought my woes were more likely to do with my hard drive. I have a sneaking suspision they are correct.

First, my battery would not charge. No big deal. I might not be as mobile, but I don't have to worry about running out of juice (just accidentally yanking the cord loose). But the real issue is that I have a fan that turns on and will not turn off. While this fan is running, everything moves at a snail's pace and I cannot do anything. I never know when the fan will go on. It could be a couple of hours, it could be a few seconds. (Speaking of the devil!) I do know that once it goes on, it will come back on in rapidly decreasing intervals.

I deal with this by putting the computer to sleep for a bit, then turning it back on and resuming what I was doing. This is because it always happens when I'm in the middle of something. Like writing a blog post. Or replying to the "Are you dead yet?" emails from my family. Or watching a video of my friend's trip to the park with her baby.

This problem means that that 5:15 video of friend and kiddo takes 17:34 to watch. And that's only counting the time when the computer is actually on and running properly. I am not sure whether this is a testament to my patience or to my lack of sanity.

In any case, the problem seems too close for comfort to my brain problems. And unlike the good book that I have to stop reading because it seems too close to my reality**, I can't just put it to rest until I feel better. I fear that this is a problem that can only be remedied by chucking the old an replacing it with a new model.

I just hope that's not the answer for my brain troubles.

*Typical walk agenda includes one or more of the following: admire houses, find a nice place to read, pet kitties, spend money.
** The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. Destined to be one of my favorites for all time, if I can ever finish the bloody thing.

22 July 2008

The Problem Haircut

I just got a haircut. As far as I can tell, it is a nice haircut. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the haircut itself. Still, it is a problem haircut.

I was working on dramaturgy stuff when I last had a trim. Being that about seven months has passed since that time, I was obviously overdue for a haircut. And my neglect showed. My hair was longer, scragglier, bushier and blonder than it had been in some time. It even looked crappy in the cure-all ponytail. I needed this haircut. I got a haircut. It is a nice haircut, but a problem haircut.

When I met my parents in Seattle for a weekend, one of the first things Mike said to me was, "You need a haircut."

"Yeah, I do." I said matter-of-factly, not wanting to stir up one of those push-me-pull-you charades the two of us are practically famous for. Mike said little more on the subject, (a rare occurrence) but I knew he had visions me of a closely cropped coif for the rest of the visit. When he asked if I'd lug the luggage down the the car so he could speak privately with Mama Crow, I knew their conversation would be about haircuts.

So, after we dropped Mike off at the airport, Mama Crow and I headed down to Portland. "Your father thinks you might feel a little better if you got your haircut, so we are willing to pay for you to get one." Sweet! I figure that I can walk in to Great Clips or the beauty school around the corner without an appointment, and save them a bunch of money. But somehow they are feeling generous, and they want me to get my hair cut at the place I would normally go. Uh oh. I try not to let my anxious "but I just decided that I was too broke to ever get my haircut there ever again" stare show. I find the salon's number on a business card in my wallet and I make an appointment for today.

Before Mama Crow heads back home, she gives me a check to cover the haircut and a small tip. I thank her and I put her on a plane home to California. I look at the perfect penmanship on the check and I sigh. I know that this will be a problem haircut.

I'm not sure when the haircut crossed the line from generous gift to real problem, but I have a feeling that the merger occurred early on. A laundry list of problems seemed headed my way, all because of a single haircut.

Problem one: Maybe a haircut will make me feel better. It won't. This notion is only slightly less ridiculous than my friend's suggestion that I should hire a prostitute because I would feel better if I got laid.

Problem two: I would rather use the money for something else. Like my electric bill. Or my electric bill and a cheaper haircut. Or my electric bill, a cheaper haircut, a refill of my brain candy prescription, a new alarm clock and an extra $5 for getting a taco or seeing a second-run movie with my friends.

Problem three: I am worried that my stylist has raised her rates. Two things happen when you do not get your haircut for over six months. Your stylist gives you a lecture and your stylist raises her rates without telling you. Notice how I said before that I was given money for a haircut and a small tip. Let's call it a very small tip, and let's jump to a few conclusions based on the fact that problem two suggests that I am fretting over a $15 electric bill. Obviously, my down-to-the-dime monthly budget does not allow for any sort of leeway.

Problem four: I am dreading the appointment. This is because problems 1-3 have left me feeling guilty and anxious. Plus, I need a new alarm clock and I'm dubious of any outings which require me to be at a certain place at a certain time.

So, obviously I made it to the appointment. And, after chatting with my stylist about how much we'd like to see Gary Oldman and Daniel Day Lewis in a film together, I ended up with a much improved hair do. See?

(Please ignore my pissed off expression. I will not cut you.)

But the haircut is in fact problematic, because as I went to the reception area to pay, I realized that problem three was not assuaged. She had indeed raised her rates, which made me feel worse than when I went in there. It made me regret not canceling the appointment in order to quell problem two, which I would have done had it not been for that nagging and oppressive compulsion to please my parents.

Anyway. Fuck this guilt. Who wants to buy me a taco?

07 July 2008

"The kitchen is where we collect kitsch."

The eau de vie that quenched my thirst for acting evaporated some time while I was in college. Or, maybe I just lost my taste for it when I discovered that my talents were better focused elsewhere. Either way, I think it's important to establish: I am not an actor, nor do I want to be an actor.

Still, I somehow managed to garner a reputation as the Reigning Durang Queen of my beloved alma mater. This is because I was cast as the title character in a student production of Naomi in the Living Room (probably performed sans permissions, oops). I doubt I'll be able to live this down as long as my college cronies live dementia-free.

For those unfamiliar with this play, Naomi is absolutely batshit crazy. The scene is nightmarish and bizarre. Naomi flip flops between extreme emotions. She is cruel, vulnerable, and makes sense only to herself. Naomi is a problem, but a really, really fun problem for an actor.

After Naomi, I had obviously found my niche as an actor: larger than life, highly unstable women. I have director friends that sometimes threaten to make me reprise my short-lived acting career. They taunt me with another Durang creation, Sister Mary Ignatius because I would be "perfect for that role in 20 years." I used to work with someone that thought the world would be a better place if I could recreate the role of Joan Crawford from Mommie Dearest.

If I was at all driven to act, my knack for instability might prompt a serious "what does this say about me?" exploration. Instead, I am happy enough to say that my experience playing Naomi has given me a choice line that I have used (repeatedly) to describe myself and other colorful folks in the theater.

"I need a big couch to sit on a because I'M A BIG PERSONALITY!!!!"