What I Learned Since “My Faith Is Dead”

I wrote this a year ago. I’ve learned a few things since then, reminded of more, and changed a few ways as well.

I’m Not The Only One With Troubles

I got a lot of responses from this post. Some thanked me for being so honest. Others said they had felt similarly at one time or another. A small number simply encouraged me not to give up anyways. But then others actually shared their own struggles. Some quite similar to my own frustrations, others of a very different struggle.  These were things I never would have learned about otherwise. Many of these friends live time zones away. Learning that my friends suffer as well didn’t make me feel better, per se, but it helped give me a bit of perspective. Pain and disappointment are not things unique to any of us. I don’t know why sharing helps, but it does. Maybe because we’re not lying anymore.

There Are Only A Few Promises In Life

If your parents promised you Power Rangers action figures for Christmas, you’d be rightly disappointed with them when you instead got a pack of knock-off Chinese toys consisting of three Shreks, a Spider-Man, and an inexplicably orange Black Ranger. If however your parents made no such promise, then you have far less reason to be angry at them, save for the fact that you think you deserve Power Rangers (but you don’t because you’re a little brat). This is probably a very poor analogy for anything, but I enjoyed thinking of it so that’s what we’re going with. Prior to a year ago I had a lot of vague expectations about life, picked up from a variety of sources. Some of them from well-meaning books, others Midwestern friends with their seemingly perfect little married lives I simultaneously despised yet wanted for my own. I saw this sort of inevitable progression to life, that the things I desired were inevitable (“God will grant you the desires of your heart” and all) and would just sort of appear sooner rather than later. Really the only thing inevitable was my frustration with these broken “promises” boiling over into a big dramatic mess.

When you clear out the endless bombardment of platitudes and well-wishes, life looks far simpler. Benjamin Franklin was rarely more wise than when he wrote “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” The Bible is, for Christians at least, more optimistic in the more long term view of things, but for here and now the kinds of things we can expect include persecution, temptation, family strife, false teachers, being misunderstood and other such things. That said, God also promises his presence throughout it all, and that he will never forsake us, and that all the troubles we go through now will be as nothing compared to joy we will soon know.

I’ve Tried New Things

Though it took me longer than most, I eventually realized that part of the reason my life was boring and disappointing was because I just sort of waited for it to happen. I’ve done some things to remedy this. I ran a half-marathon, I’ve taken a drumming class, and I’m several weeks into a poetry writing class, to name a few things. While out intrinsic worth as human beings made in the image of God cannot be diminished or enhanced by our own efforts, it’s a simple fact that our lives are better when we do things with them and take full advantage of our capacities. Expecting things to happen on their own is a good way to ensure they never will.

I’ve Developed A Strong Interest In Theology

I wish I could say that last November was what caused this, and while there was certainly more reading in my life since then, the real cause was both stranger and more mundane. To put it simply, I developed a crush on a girl of different denominational leanings from my own. What started as an idle attempt to see if there was truth to her beliefs (and thus a legitimate future for a relationship) spiraled into a whole mess of research, Googling countless questions, delving into Catholic dogma, Orthodox tradition, Reformation teachings, you name it. And questions led to more questions, questions I couldn’t even find being asked, requiring me to read entire books just to see if I could gleam what I was really looking for. And I found I enjoyed it immensely. In a sense this was a rediscovery, as I’ve always enjoyed reading both fiction and nonfiction, but instead of indulging my curiosity about orcas or VY Canis Majoris this had the added benefit of having eternal implications. It got to the point where I even decided to go back to school (something I’ve put off for nearly a decade) in hopes of learning more. Only downside is it’s a rather touchy subject and not something you can casually discuss at most dinner tables (unlike orcas) but such is life.

I’ve Become Slightly More Okay With Being Single

Still a bit of a sore subject for me but I figured I’d touch on it anyways. Along with somehow becoming a writer of some sort of effect one of the other things I felt I was being denied was marriage. And the fact is I am still single (the crush did not turn out, though like every other time I eventually discovered that it was probably for the best). Dating, or even getting to the point of dating, remains rather difficult. It could be I’m just overly picky and/or cautious. And I have tried online dating, on multiple occasions, to no avail. And yet, despite edging ever closer to “old” I’ve found that the existential dread of being “forever alone” has abated, at least a little. To the question, “would being a lifelong bachelor really be the worst possible fate?” I am starting to be able to answer “well, perhaps not.”

I don’t have a clue what the future holds as far as relationships go, and the fact that it involves a second person, possibly with their own self-indulgent blog, makes it all significantly more complicated. But I guess I’m willing to wait and find out, and occupy myself with more immediate concerns in the meantime.

The Gym Is A Waste Of Money

Yeah I’m never going to go regularly. I should just cancel the membership today.

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The Desires Of Your Heart

I had a lot of dreams growing up.

When I was five I wanted to be an astronaut, because I loved space and that just seemed to be the most obvious choice. By about six my love of dinosaurs won over my love of space and I decided to be a paleontologist. By around eight or nine I had developed enough of an ego to want to be a nuclear physicist: it sounded impressive and like something only a really smart person could do, you see.

I can’t recall what, if anything, I wanted to be in fifth or sixth grade, but by middle school I had decided I simply wanted to be absurdly rich. No idea how, mind you; that’s just what I wanted. As my adolescence went I delved more into vulgar power fantasies; destroying the school with psychic powers, forcing all of my “enemies” to beg for forgiveness. So on and so forth. At one point, I think around nineteen or so, my biggest “dream” was having a job that paid just enough for me to survive and play video games on.

In the nine years since I’ve become a Christian, and grown up into a largely functional adult, my hopes and dreams and desires for my life have changed substantially, both overall and within that period. I’ve found myself wanting things like a more impressive job, more financial stability, going on mission trips, going on vacations, getting married, becoming some kind of published writer, living in the woods, having kids, moving away from New York, dying, become a manly man, becoming famous for no particular reason, etcetera, etcetera. Some of these desires I still have, to one extent or another.

Somewhere along the way, I got the idea that trusting and obeying God was the best way to get these things. Quickly enough I realized most of these just weren’t going to happen,but maybe if I wanted more godly things they could. So I’d pray for some significant task to be set before me that I would be empowered to handle, I’d pray that I’d become a godly husband and father someday, that I could find some better way to live my life. That I could wake up in the morning and know that I was a better person than I was the day before. That I could feel some kind of satisfaction in my life, some understanding that I was doing the correct things, and that because of this my life would turn out in some satisfactory way.

Earlier tonight I was on a walk along a short greenway near my latest apartment, and thoughts along these lines entered my head. And I came to realize something very significant: all this time, I was looking to God to fulfill all of these wants and very deeply felt desires in my life, but I was never terribly interested in God himself. I wanted what I thought I could get from God, but I didn’t want God. At the same time, I was reminded that none of the things I wanted were ever going to satisfy me. At least not for very long. Pleasant sensations, material wealth, ego gratification, even things like a self of accomplishment, a sense of belonging or purpose. I’ve had all of these at one time or another, and without exception they’e all worn out, leaving me both disappointed and hungry for more.

I’ve learned all of these things before, many of them several times. I’m not sure I’ve ever really understood them quite like this, however. For so long I thought I was in pursuit of God, yet really I was no different than middle school me, wanting to just be a billionaire. Gratification that won’t last. And it is really only now that it as struck me that the gratification doesn’t last, and so the pursuit is ultimately futile. Oh I’ve known for well over a decade what a disappointment life is, but I think it is only now that I really know why.

So with all of this now laid bare, I’m left with two options. I can live what I now fully understand to be a pointless life of pursuing things and feelings that cannot last and will only grow more and more painful every time they fail me, or I can do the one thing different. I can long what I’ve perhaps never truly longed for before. I can desire God himself. Not for what he can give me, not just to heal my hurts and tell me I am loved. I can go after God simply because he is God, love him for who he is, and live for the very purpose I was created.

I guess the first step is figuring out how.

On Encouragement, Optimism, and Other Alien Things

If you haven’t noticed by now, I am not an optimist.

I figured this out pretty quickly in my childhood. Immediately after learning what optimists and pessimists were, I decided that optimists were a bunch of dummies. I found the very idea repulsive; at times it even made me angry. Positive thinking? WTFever. And while my understanding of a great many things has expanded dramatically in my adult years, my concept of optimism and pessimism had largely been settled.

Were this some Christian testimony, this is the point where I would say that becoming one opened up my eyes and let me see the beauty and possibility of reality. This is of course not one of those. While I could occasionally coax up enough faith to believe that something great would happen in my life, most of the time I felt the most I had to look forward to was the resurrection of the dead. This life had no real promise for me. My highest aspiration was to suffer through it as stoically as I could.

That hasn’t gone so well either.

All the while trying to keep my head barely above the surface of Absolute Despair Ocean, I found myself constantly bombarded by the most annoying things.

Compliments.

Encouragements.

Good ideas on how to make my life a little better.

I hated it all so much. At times I thought my friends were mocking me (and thus weren’t my friends at all). Then I decided they simply didn’t know what an awful hopeless person I was (and thus were too ignorant to be considered more than acquaintances). Sometimes I just sort of accepted it because I felt telling them off for daring to say such things about me, but not wanting to sound like some whiny guy fishing for yet more compliments.

In more recent years I got a little better at dealing with these foreign intrusions. I told myself “well, maybe they see something I don’t” or “well I guess I’m occasionally a pretty okay guy”. I was still resistant to it all, though.

Because if you are a hopeless loser and failure, then everything that happens in your life was just going to happen that way regardless; you can glide through life without ever trying, because trying won’t work. It’s very easy.

But if you aren’t hopeless, if you can succeed, then it is on you. You don’t have the excuse of “well it wouldn’t have worked anyways”, because it could have. You could strive harder, study the problem more thoroughly, and improve things.

That was not something I really wanted to deal with. Not in any big way. Sure, I could give a little extra at some smaller tasks and goals, but really applying myself? Acknowledging what I really wanted to do with my life and then going for it? That was just too scary. Drifting through life is sort of a dull ache, but failure hurts.

I think it is only in the last couple days that I’ve finally noticed what has been going on in my brain all this time. Well, maybe I’ve noticed it before, but now it is at the forefront, and impossible to ignore.

I saw this on Twitter earlier today.

The goofy little inspiring image wouldn’t have done much to me. I’ve seen thousands of those. They roll off my back like water or dodge balls. It’s what she said after. Because I am one of those cup half-empty goobers who likes to come up with an exception to every stupid little piece of encouragement and inspiration I come across.

And I couldn’t help but think about why this was. Why do little inspiring messages bother me so much? Why to compliments make me want to yell at my friends? How is it that I can be so unafraid of death yet so fearful of life?

I’m not quite sure I have an answer yet. Maybe it’s as simple as a weak faith, or my natural melancholy temperament and countless depressive episodes have just conditioned me against hoping for the best. This question and the answer to it aren’t really all that important, however, because there is a much better question that has a much more important answer.

What am I going to do about it?

And the answer is something. Lots of somethings. I’m going to write this blog post about it now instead of putting it off just because it’s late and I have to be up early in the morning. Whatever. I don’t sleep much anyways so what’s one more night? I’m going to sign up for a poetry class because for some reason I got it in my head that I want to be a poet and write good poetry because bad poetry is just the worst thing ever. I’m going to accept it as true when my friends say things like I’m witty and funny and personable and have grown a lot. I’m going to believe them so hard that I’m going to actually act like they are true. And I think in a sense that is the best way to react to a compliment: live up to it.

One of my friends said this to me today. “Don’t waste another day, Anthony. Your life and legacy are too precious and short.”

That’s a pretty hardcore thing to live up to. It actually left me for a loss of words for a minute or two (which is a problem when you’re supposed to be a writer).

So thanks, you weird people who said nice things about me and posted a bunch of dumb motivational messages. I will go live a better life! And if by some chance were lying, well, then I get to prove your smug jerk self wrong. So that’s fun too.

#amwriting

Stuff I Learned From 2014

If there is ever an appropriate time to sit down and over think the past, I figure the designated last day of the year is as close as it gets. And away we go!

In no particular order, I learned:

1. just how difficult it is to supervise and train an uncooperative employee.

2. you can deny Jesus 70-something times in a single day and still feel pretty okay about yourself.

3. that New York City hurricanes probably won’t be a regular thing.

4. how to pass a New York State Driving Exam. My ability to drive is up for debate.

5. that ignorance is not bliss. Having the wrong idea about things can mess you up hard.

6. horror movies are still awesome.

7. that roller coasters are still the best thing ever.

8. that sometimes you just have to force someone to pick up a crucifix.

9. like a single Tango move. Or maybe it was Salsa?

10. Twitter is a fun place to visit, but don’t live there.

11. that photography is easy. Good photography, however, is an actual skill.

12. a vacation in summer is really no more weather-proof than a vacation at any other time of the year.

13. what a wonderful thing coffee really is.

14. that soda is not actually my friend, and has been hurting me for a long time.

15. life is bonkers and there is very little we can do about it. No but seriously it is.

16. that isolation will destroy anyone.

17. that sometimes playing dolls just means holding a doll and talking.

18. Salvation Army will let you donate pretty much anything and give you a receipt for it.

19. I have some really amazing friends. More than I thought I did.

20. that I might just have a future worth looking forward to.

Here’s hoping I don’t need to relearn any of the non-fun lessons. Happy* New Years.

*Your mileage may vary.

Job Type Stuff

*This blog post is Rated R for language*

So as people who know me in real life all know, about two months ago my job underwent a dramatic shift. Instead of working normal person daylight hours as a secretary, I suddenly started working overnight hours as a shop clerk. Incidentally, this is exactly how I originally started when I was first hired by Amtrak back in February 2007. So not only a demotion in all but name, but a complete negation of anything that could be considered progress in this “career” of mine.

This has of course been cause for some frustration for me. I’ve attempted to soldier on, be grateful I have a job (after all, so many millions of Americans don’t apparently), try to see the positive sides (I get my own office), all the usual things you’re supposed to do when less than ideal situations come one’s way.

Naturally, a question I often get is “how are you adjusting to the new schedule?” And in the interest of polite conversation, I am forced to answer with things like “it’s not as bad as I thought it would be” or “yeah I got used to the new sleep schedule pretty easily”. Which is of course exactly what people want to hear. Yes, I’m sure they legitimately care (or at least most do), but it’s a lot easier for everyone if I am doing just fine and don’t have any real complaints.

What I can’t say, what I’m not allowed to say under any circumstances, is how I actually feel about it. There is simply no way I can tell someone that I fucking hate this job and everything about it, that it’s humiliating to have fallen right back to square one, and that I feel absolutely nothing but bitterness and rage about everything related to it. No, I have to be grateful, grit my teeth, and put a fucking smile on my face, and say “oh it’s not so bad. I’m a bit disappointed, yeah, but I’m sure there’s a silver lining to all of this.” I see no fucking silver lining and I’m pretty sure there isn’t one.

Fuck Amtrak. Just, fuck it. Six years I’ve worked here, and for what? Another round of sleepless day after sleepless day until I finally snap at the worst possible time in the worst possible way, probably on someone who doesn’t even deserve it. If I weren’t such a coward I would have quit already.

Well, this got me to update the blog. So I guess THAT’S a good thing. Whoopity-doo.

I wish I knew how to quit you, soda

Wow, has it been four months? Yes, yes it has. It even feels like it’s been four months since my last blog update. I know exactly why I haven’t been updating as well. There is no part of this that is not a surprise to me. I was not “caught off guard”, and I haven’t been “extremely busy”. I’d apologize, but I’m not actually sorry, and not that many people read this thing anyways (most who do got dragged in from one of my movie reviews or unfunny rants about media stuff).

This is not a blog update about blog updating or the lack thereof, however. There is plenty of time for that. Today’s update is to put into words my constant struggle with wanting to consume copious amounts of carbonated sugary love.

Oh my GOD I love soda so much.  So very very much. It’s delicious and makes me feel better and I just want it pretty much all the time. And it’s everywhere and it’s so cheap.

But I have to give it up. The rush might be nice, but the net result is me being sluggish. It makes me feel bloated, and the visual evidence makes it very clear that it’s also making me actual fat. These are not things I want to have to deal with now that I’m re-entering the running world (let’s be honest I need all the help I can get in that department). This gut of mine is a soda gut, and I’m probably on the fast track to Type 2 Diabetes.

And let’s be perfectly clear: if my sugar habit gets to the point where my ability to process glucose is compromised, I will die very soon thereafter.

This is not the first time I’ve tried curbing this addiction. I’ve tried just drinking in moderation, but it is way too easy to justify more and more and more (especially with self-serving soda machines). I’ve given it up for Lent, but Lent doesn’t last forever (and the last time I gave it up I couldn’t even stick with it for the full 40 days). Cold turkey is really the only solution. It just so happens it is also the most painful one. Did I mention my fixation on the stuff earlier? Because DAMN I want some. Like literally right now I want to go downstairs and pay a full $1 for a can of Dr Pepper (that’s right, I am such a fan of the stuff that I know not to add a period after the Dr part).

I mean, I grew up on the stuff. Almost without exception, we drank root beer with pizza, I always got a Dr Pepper from the vending machine at the oyster farm, and back when Super Size was still a thing you could get at McDonald’s, guess what I always got when eating dinner with my cousins? I kind of miss that giant bucket of fries we used to get too.

One of my friends suggested seltzer water, maybe with some juice in it or something, but I don’t know. I’ve tried seltzer before, and it’s just a strange thing to drink soda without the sugar or flavor. I’m pretty sure I can actually taste the carbon dioxide, and it’s not pleasant.

So it’s just a weird and obnoxious thing I have to do now.  Or, rather, a wonderful thing I have to not do anymore. Just not drink soda anymore. I don’t know if I’ll stay strong, or if I’ll break down and drink some eventually. But, well, here it goes.

Please try not to drink any around me.