Once upon a time (but not very long ago), Kroshka Roo, the quick-witted sidekick of the mighty goddess Shiny Crow, was making a protein potion for himself - to keep his strength and virility at the level tantamount to the demands of his arduous life. The brew, prepared in accordance with a recently unearthed ancient recipe, looked like a swamp in South-Eastern Asia after an especially long winter season of inexhaustible rains: It was muddy-green and thick, with a texture that gave an appearance of something heavy and hairy swimming right under the surface.
Kroshka Roo took a sip.
"Does it taste vile?" asked Shiny Crow, testing her partner's commitment to the noble cause of survival in the Crumbling World.
Kroshka Roo didn't skip a bit. "I looked at the liquid," he replied, "And just knew exactly what it would taste like. My expectations were completely met and I am at peace with the potion." He then proceeded to consume the brew in its entirety.
I was standing there at Terminal 5 yesterday, listening to Alt-J performing their 2012 Mercury Prize winning album An Awesome Wave live, cheering with the rest of the audience at the first notes of each song in recognition of their sublime quality. And once again a familiar notion formed inside my head. It happens to me every time I experience something that momentarily separates my being from all the negative garbage in my life. I think, "If I didn't keep on, I wouldn't have received this gift, I wouldn't have come to know these songs, I wouldn't be bobbing in rhythm right now."
I claw my way through the long stretches of hard life, full of frustration and disappointments, from one moment like this to another. This is what forces me to continue - the hope that there is another wonder ahead. And when they come, I use them as my self-therapy: I imprint the intimacy of the experience in my memory and let it carry me over the next hurdle.
It's like mantra: If I didn't endure I wouldn't have exited the Bullet train onto the platform of Shuzenji station and felt my rusty armor melting away; I wouldn't have seen that astonishing photo my daughter took a few months ago; I wouldn't have watched Radiohead, The Mars Volta, Tool do their on-stage magic; I wouldn't have heard Andrew Bird's heavenly sounds in the Guggenheim and in the Riverside Church; I wouldn't have read new Egan, Carson, Cunningham; I wouldn't have stood in the middle of the Red Forest breathing the ancient clarity... And I wouldn't have been at Terminal 5 yesterday.
So, here is my personal tip for everyone who, like me, is overwhelmed with frustration and prone to desperation: find something powerful that can make you forget about the dread, look for opportunities to experience it whenever you can, and hold on to the sensory memory of each occasion for as long as the shittiness of this life allows you. And let's hope that the gaps between the moments of joy will not get any longer then they already are.
I would like to thank my daughter for treating her mother as an equal and sharing all kinds of awesomeness. And thank you very much, the dude from Bumblefuck, IL.
The other day one young woman was telling me about her dinner with Mr. X. The man was not in a good place: he was being down on himself, feeling gloomy, dissatisfied, depressed.
I know a thing or two about Mr. X and even met him a few times. By conventional standards, he is, to put it mildly, a very accomplished and impressive guy. A self-made man, he has spent the last three decades propelling himself into a progressively narrower sector of the income-distribution pie. Forgoing leisure, he devoted most of his waking hours to his work: hundreds of companies successfully bought, restructured, guided to success, sold - efforts resulting in considerable wealth shared by him and his partners. Now, in his middle age, he is at the point, where the proverbial 1% seems to him like a large group of people with meager resources. Not only that he warranted the best opportunities for the future generations of his offspring, but he has the luxury to be generous to other individuals, and very charitable to organizations of important cultural value.
So, what could possibly make this strong, smart, and powerful person with a long list of achievements hate on himself? The destruction of the planet? The intellectual downfall of humanity? Maybe he feels inadequate as a parent? Those are universal equalizers that should make us all feel agitated. Should, but not necessarily do. As it turns out, it's his professional self-assessment: he feels that he could've done better for the partnership; that he didn't achieve his best results. He gives his performance a moderate grade of B+.
How curious... I constantly feel like a career failure as well. Only my reasons are sort of the opposite of Mr. X's. I know that I've given 110% to every job. From a purely academic standpoint, my professional efforts deserve nothing less than an A+. But, due to a huge entanglement of reasons, including my gender, I have never received matching rewards, was forced to accept comparatively inadequate compensation and insufficient recognition.
On the other hand, maybe my marks are always A+ because my undertakings are a tad below my true capacity. What if there were no obstacles and I would have opportunities to embark on Herculean tasks - the business pursuits of much larger magnitude? How would I do then? Would I still be able to impress? How would I feel about myself and my results?
Maybe the real reason we both feel so shitty about ourselves lies in the betrayal of our true destinies (or, at least, what we think they should've been). As a student, Mr. X was deeply affected by the brilliance of Marcel Marceau and was a part of a street-performing innovative circus troupe. And all I wanted to do since I was 15 years old was to write cultural critique - absorb, decipher, and opine on various art forms. Instead, both of us made a choice of going the practical route: killed the dreams and embarked on money-making pursuits (different amounts, same principle) in order to support our families. In his new book Missing Out, psychoanalyst Adam Phillips argues that we care about the lives we failed to live more than the ones we actually endure. Adam Phillips, dude, I feel ya!
Then again, let's say both Mr. X and I did have a chance to realize our wildest creative fantasies... but the only grades we could achieve were C's and D's. Or what if we received A's from others for doing what we loved, but inside our neurotic heads still felt that we had not risen above F's? What then?
We don't know. It's unlikely we ever will. Meanwhile, here we are: two very different individuals with incomparable pasts, presents, and futures, but virtually in the same imaginary place - a dingy dinghy with a sad name Gloomy Fool.
I cannot really call myself a comics fan just because I am familiar with the names and overall stories of the most famous characters. That's just popular culture saturation. I know some real devotees, and those people can discuss different genres, know the names of artists, aware of obscure series, and dissect the aesthetics of comics with the same depth I apply to theater, cinema, or literature. Yet, I do appreciate the idea of a superhero, a human with extraordinary abilities and skills. In a sense, Ayn Rand's John Galt is a superhero. Some of the stories written by comics' authors are just as dark and prophetic. And, I've seen the original drawings of the best creators: there is no question in my mind - it's art.
On the other hand, cinematic interpretations of graphic novels, the money-making machines of Marvel and DC Comics, rarely measure up to the original sources. I don't even remember when was the last time that I saw a comic-based movie on a big screen... Until this summer's release of Joss Whedon's The Avengers.
I've always had a weak spot for Joss Whedon's creative powers. His visions, both phantasmagorical and futuristic, yet so human, are among my guilty pleasures. Amazingly, the man is capable of making all sorts of creatures sexy and soulful. After all, he brought vampires with various personality traits into our lives way before the recent wave of the blood-sucking hype. He is to current supernatural TV programming, what Nirvana is to contemporary Rock.
Stephenie Meyer may list Shakespeare and Jane Austin as influences for her deplorable writing all she wants; and the story how the idea of love between a human girl and a vampire came to her in a dream on June 2, 2003 is a great PR ploy. But isn't it uncanny that Joss Whedon aired the last episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer series on May 20, 2003. Maybe the young Mormon wife and mother was simply missing Buffy's heat.
So, because it's written and directed by Joss Whedon, I went to see The Avengers... And it was very entertaining, exhilarating, sufficiently layered for those who want to look beneath the surface, and accessible to those who just want to have fun - in other words, it was very Joss Whedon. I mean, who else would be able to take the Incredible Hulk and not only accentuate the character's original traits, but make him even more tragic, brilliant, powerful, soulful... and funny?
Yeah, the Incredible Hulk as interpreted by Joss Whedon - oh boy, do I relate to that character, or what? I mean, "That's my secret, captain. I'm always angry," - it's like he went into my head and read it on my cerebral cortex. Always angry, but in control most of the time. Well, in my case, practically all the time, trying to channel the frustration through writing, cursing at the toilet bowl, or stomping on a piece of paper; only wishing that I could unleash the anger for real.
When I just started this blog, I took time to explain in several posts my take on frustration and its management. In one of them, I nominated John McEnroe as the frustration release hero . And, he definitely is that, but if I were to expand my search pool beyond mere humans... Joss Whedon's Dr. Banner/Hulk definitely takes the first prize - reserved, humble, unstoppable when angered by bad guys, and with a sense of humor regardless of his physical/mental state.
Watching him handling Loki's arrogance was probably one of the most satisfying therapeutic experiences I've had in a long time. For a hot second I felt avenged. Oh, how I yearn for an ability to do that to some people! In fact, I think it would work for me even better than Darth Vader's management style.
At the risk of exposing myself to the readers' harsh judgement, I have to admit that there are moments when even my long-time experience of controlling emotions in the work environment is not enough to tame the feeling of... ENRAGEMENT some people manage to ignite inside my being. Hell, even the Page of Frustration doesn't help.
Some dense employees endlessly making the same errors, or chiefs of irrelevant operating sectors creating disasters behind your back, or (most likely) all of them causing damage simultaneously - these people can make you feel the urge to physically harm them in restitution for the emotional turmoil you experience: bite them, or kick them in the shins, or hit them with a monitor, whatever. Of course, you don't do any of that. You go and curse at the toilet bowl instead (one of my Personal Tools of Frustration Relief).
During such moments my mind frequently carries me to phantasmagorical events that took place "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away;" to the image of a person (can we call him a person?) with no tolerance for poor work performance, unlimited managerial authority, and extraordinary motivational tools - Darth Vader. This was an executive who gave no time for excuses and perfected the methodology of frustration release to the point when he didn't even have to touch the failing underlings. He destroyed them telepathically!
"You have failed me for the last time..." Ta da! And the offender of the high work standards is grabbing the invisible fingers at his throat. "I find your lack of faith disturbing..." - same result! This definitely puts the audience on alert: every time there is a discussion of the Galactic Empire's failures or setbacks, you start wondering, will Darth Vader have to choke a bitch again?
People's opinion of George Lucas's writing and directorial mastery varies, but we cannot deny the fact that his ideas are brilliant and his intuition about mass audience response patterns can be matched only by someone like Steven Spielberg. Notice, how he populated the "Good Side" with heroic, largely self-sufficient overachievers, who would sacrifice their lives before they allow themselves to fail. It makes perfect organizational sense: if they were as fallible as the Dark Side's middle management, who would reprimand them? Yoda? Obi-Wan Kenobi? It would never work - they are too soft.
Yoda spent so much time training Luke Skywalker for his intended position as a destroyer of the Empire. Yet, the boy wasn't quite grasping it. So, who did Lucas choose to show the young warrior what's what? Who else? Darth Vader: my son, my son, you still kinda suck at this. Let me raise the bar a bit. Whoosh! Luke's hand goes bye-bye. Now, try to overcome your weaknesses and harness the Force!
I sincerely apologize to the worldwide community of the "Star Wars" nerds, but, even though I admire it as a revolutionary breakthrough in filmmaking, I have to admit that the soap-operatic nature of the material always seemed silly to me. Yet, when the frustration rages in my head, remembering Darth Vader's chocking scenes is extremely satisfying. Try it!
People write about insecure bosses all the time. There are blog posts, articles, book chapters, cartoons, movies, and TV shows devoted to the subject of dealing with a superior who feels threatened by his subordinates. Hey, bosses are people and a vast majority of humanity is plagued by insecurities of various forms and degrees. The authors usually predict two possible outcomes of having such a boss: you will either find a way to overcome the problem and turn this person into your ally, or you get fired. Curiously, in these writings "the boss" in question is usually another hired employee perched on a higher step of the hierarchy ladder. (It has always surprised me, why these advisers never consider a possibility of you finding the way of getting the insecure boss fired.)
However, when your insecure boss owns the company that employs you, it's a completely different situation altogether. Here he (or she, or they) was, the big boss with a business that he's built, thinking that he is the shit, the sharpest tool not just in some lousy shed, but in a suburban Home Depot... Until you came along, with your diverse expertise, broad fundamental knowledge, etc.
Now, you start discovering all kind of stupid stuff. If you are indeed an experienced person, you are not running around like an idiotic show-off screaming that everything is wrong. No, you tread lightly. At the same time you must do your job and, therefore, correct the stupid stuff. So, you say careful things like, "Excuse me, I mean no disrespect, but this and that is not done properly and will result in long-term losses; and, by the way, your accounting doesn't comply with prescribed rules." You have no choice but to reveal painful observations such as, "You know, that operating system you bought just before your hired me (couldn't you wait?) on recommendation of someone you know, sucks! You were misled - it's not an ERP, it's a retarded cousin of a real ERP twice removed."
Moreover, from time to time, things come out of your boss's mouth that are not just silly, they are embarrassingly incorrect. Of course, you can ignore it, and yet you cannot, because if you don't clarify his confusions and educate him, he may say something stupid in front of your bankers, or investors, or auditors. So, you have no choice but to find an appropriate way to straighten him out, raise his sophistication.
And even though you openly express due respect for his entrepreneurial abilities and acute commercial intuition, he cannot avoid feeling inadequate, insecure. It's unpleasant and he doesn't like it at all. Yet, unless you become rude and inappropriate, your job is secure. The idea of firing you wouldn't even come to his logical conscious mind. First of all, he knows that the company (i.e. his wallet) needs you and your improvements. Secondly, you took over quite few tasks, freeing him for business development. Finally, he doesn't have time or desire to go through the search process again.
Still, from time to time the subconsciousness feels pangs of wounded ego. When that happens, he'll do anything to make himself feel better. He will find one or another way to get back at you. If you have an accent (Irish, Italian, Slavic, French), he will interrupt you in the middle of a meeting and ask the outsiders if they understand at least 30% of what you were saying, even though your English is fluent. Your writing skills are likely to be far more superior than his, but he will make you run drafts of emails to important people by him, claiming their "political importance." He may get into habit of reminding you that, considering your compensation, he expects a lot from you, even though you have exceeded all his expectations already. And so on, and so forth...
This behavior is childish. The mere knowledge that it's rooted in his insecurity should help you to brush it off. Don't let yourself to be hurt by it. Don't think, "This is not fair, I am helping his business." Don't take it as an insult. Accept it as a testimony to your superiority.
No matter how eager unemployed people are to find a job and get back into wage-earning trenches, when the fortune smiles at them and after months (sometimes years) of looking they finally secure a position, they cannot avoid feeling nervous, anxious, and frequently depressed. The same unpleasantly uneasy state of mind comes over people who return to the full-time employment or undertake a long-term engagement after the semi-freedom of short-project consulting. Even if you went on hiatus to write a book and put your entire life on hold to do so, now that it's over, you fear of returning to the regular job.
Moreover, much smaller gaps in working schedule have exactly the same effect on us. It's difficult to come back from vacations and even weekends. It is an established fact that the number of heart attacks peaks on Mondays in comparison to other days of the week. And it has nothing to do with Monday per se - if we moved the beginning of the week to Wednesday, the statistic would shift as well.
This is true not only for the hired schmucks like us, subordinate to their bosses' rule. One of my former multi-millionaire owners/CEOs confessed to me that he passionately hated Sunday nights (me too!), because Monday mornings loom over them. There was nobody over him. He had an attitude of a royalty, did what he wanted, and his scope of responsibilities was considerably smaller than mine. Who would've thought that he felt about the end of the weekend exactly the way I did. I am sure all my readers who worked in private companies have owners who take long weekends and hide in their vacation houses for the entire summers. Why do they avoid being in the office?
What does it say about our relationship with the activity that we let to occupy the largest chunk of our lives? Do we experience these sensations because we resent our jobs and are unhappy with our existence? Does it happen only with those who made sensible choices in their lives in order to support themselves and their families? I know it's not possible for the majority of people, but would we be more relaxed if we pursued our dreams?
Apparently not. All real writers are terrified of the empty page. Stanley Kubrick, of course, pushed the issue to its scariest interpretation by showing in "The Shining" how the fear of the typewriter with a clean sheet of paper in it can turn a writer into a psychopath. Famous movie directors, including Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni, Woody Allen, and Martin Scorcese, consider being on the set a pure torture. Pro-athletes are ridden with OCDs (endlessly bouncing the tennis balls, or tagging their jerseys in a particular way, or counting the number of times they knock on their locker) and many of them puke their guts out before every game or match. Speaking of puking, after 48 years on stage and screen, Cher still vomits before every performance.
The list of examples is endless. I believe, it's not about the work itself or the workplace. I think our psyche, taught by the previous experiences, tries to protects itself from frustrations and stresses associated with every job. The anxiety and the nervousness are manifestations of the defensive instinct: "Don't go. There will be pain again. You will be judged unfairly. You will care too much for your own good."
I honestly think that the workaholics among us work through their weekends and vacations out of self-preservation. They know that if you slip up, stop for a second and relax, it becomes incredibly difficult to go back. The human beings are addicted to doing-nothing and avoiding pain, but resolve to stay on the occupational wagon in order to provide for themselves, realize their self-worth, or satisfy their urge for creative expression.