6 Occasionally Fun, Usually Interesting Months in China

Month 1

I succumb to the $14.99 in-flight Wi-Fi just in time to see the Cardinals lose Game 4 and the series to the Cubs, and while flying over the North Pole that is gorgeous but also makes for an extremely confusing route on the non-sphere-shaped in-flight map, I am in a six-minute existential crisis that goes away when the old Chinese woman next to me falls asleep on my shoulder.

I arrive in Beijing unable to see Beijing, sweating and standing in an extremely long customs “line” learning how Chinese queues work, pulling the protruding metal rod from an overstuffed yesterday-purchased Wal-Mart luggage bag which has already broken somewhere between CLT and PEK.

I am of course expecting movie-esque fanfare from my company upon airport arrival, when instead, an aloof old Chinese man holding a piece of paper with the company name scribbled on nods at me and wordlessly speedwalks ahead and I am apparently supposed to follow, and he is now a tiny speck in a closing elevator, and I get stuck entering. The expressionless stares from a crowd of Chinese people will become familiar soon enough.

After 30 minutes of intense small-bus driving, my closed-eye instincts tell me we are close to downtown. I open my eyes: we have gone from Terminal 2 to Terminal 3. We’re picking up another person, and my driver parks illegally in a muggy parking garage. I guess I’m supposed to wait inside the van. I’m drenched in sweat and almost deaf from reverberated honking when he returns with another employee from America one hour later. She is annoyingly overenthusiastic about the whole experience, but she’ll later be a friend. We get stuck in the Beijing rush hour on the way back, the kind where the drivers put it in park and get out and socialize on the road while smoking cigarettes in the dense pollution and run back when things get going and floor it three feet and park and do the whole thing again.

When our van finally arrives at the He Ping Li Hotel two hours later, we almost die by lightless electric scooter and then by wrong-way aluminum rickshaw as we cross the side road to get to the entrance. It’s been about a week since I actually slept, and that’s all I want to do now. I don’t want the Chinese gf to see me in this sub-human insomniatic jet-lagged state. No people tonight, just a nice bed and…oh, there she is standing in the lobby to surprise me, and we were supposed to meet later, and I’m upset that she will see the not-real version of me on our first-ever date together in my dramatic first night in a very distant country that I dreamed would go perfectly. I smile.

The next two weeks are spent attending intense training and listening to the exact same Norah Jones album while eating the exact same hotel breakfast every day. And I wake up at exactly 3:43 every morning because my body clock is confused I guess. Also, the hotel bed is a queen-sized rock.

I have to find an apartment in the next two days in the like eighth largest city in the world and I have had approximately ½ day so far to actually look for places, and I have zero idea what I’m supposed to be looking for, and I fully accept that I will probably settle. On the last day, I find a decent-looking place close to work. On the rental website, there is a picture of a robot man, a robot couple, and a question mark. I move in, and I am for some reason surprised when the place is not a third-world shanty. The other robots end up being Chinese, and one of them becomes a friend.

There is a confusing IKEA security incident where I bring an IKEA bag from home and I think they think I’m stealing it.

Observing, teaching.

All of my weekends are spent doing complicated bureaucratic visa-related things in all corners of this gigantic city.

Month 2

Lots of teaching and pollution. It’s getting cold and dry. Finally starting to have time on weekends, but it’s freezing out and the city’s so freaking big and I don’t have a car and I don’t know where to go so I go to these weird deserted mountain parks that are in the city but take a 1RMB 3-hour bus-ride to get to and only one or two end up being interesting. I do get to see a quiet part of the Great Wall while there are still leaves. Going out to eat for nearly every meal because it’s cheap and I work weird hours. Starting to learn basic Chinese words, but pointing and saying “this” or “that” works for perhaps too many things.

Month 3

Seeing the gf more. Christmas is a day by myself Western coffee shop-hopping in big malls reading Philip K. Dick for the first time while Chinglish Frank Sinatra performs quite well at an odd little gala. It’s smoggy, and there’s little on the fanfare front because it’s not a Chinese holiday. Christmas night is a 35RMB fake Taobao tree and later, an expensive English version of the Phantom of the Opera we’re still humming to this day.

Same kinda thing for New Year. They’re on a different calendar here, so a good chunk of the Chinese population is sleeping while I’m in a French bar with English teachers standing in a dark corner with no TV or anything like that engaging in a very anticlimactic countdown that is confusing because the apparent bartender who is standing on a stool leading it does so at 11:56 on our iPhone clocks.

I’ve started to “grade my language” even when I’m not teaching English.

Feeling the old dramatic existential thoughts, why am I in China, I’m regressing, etc. etc.

Month 4

I don’t know how I’ve made it this far. Some of the other intake groupies are getting restless to the point of possibly breaking the one-year contract.

My gf’s bday is stressful because I still don’t know her that well and what do you get a foreign person when you are a clueless inhabitant of their foreign land and you know nothing about the culture and the norms and there are lots of weird things you are not supposed to give people here because of bad luck or whatever, but she likes elephants and I find something with an elephant on it at the last second. The following day is my birthday (we planned that nicely) and she gets me a heavy winter coat that will still barely save my life in the next two arctic months.

In February comes the absolute madness of Spring Festival, which is like a weeklong Christmas + New Year x 3 that will make you despise fireworks and hallucinate about long traveling lines leaving the city. We go to my gf’s small hometown, where I learn that I am a Russian movie star. I meet her ridiculously nice family: 25 Chinese people seated around a very large table, asking questions in Chinese and toasting toxic baijiu, gf translating, no clue how to answer, just smile and take the smallest possible sip.

We go to an island in Thailand. The water is pretty, and we snorkel and boat, but the last day ends in infamy because I flip the rented hotel scooter while not even doing anything dangerous (maybe it’s karma for walking away unscathed from Mexican MarioMoped with the bros), and when we check out (with still-fresh wounds), there is a large extra charge on our final bill and a much bigger one on my ego.

I miss San Francisco a lot.

Month 5

It’s getting warmer out after the long winter, yet I’ve realized Beijing is kind of boring to me, so I start to leave more. I get used to pre-awake taxi rides, speed trains, and exiting Chinese airplanes. I’m closer to maximizing my middle-of-the-week weekends. I remember that I like taking pictures. Get to see pretty things like Xiamen, Shanghai, cherry blossoms in parks. Maybe I’m becoming comfortable in China.

Month 6

Just when I think I get into a work-life balance groove, my body completely gives up for a few days after a weeklong smog, and I get what they first a “common cold” and then a “respiratory infection.” No idea what it is, but NBD, back to normal. I spend the night in a small village and get to drive through the mountains and am pleased that I have taken my spoken Chinese from level 0Aa to 0Ab. But then the sickness thing happens again on a bigger scale, and I start to question my future here. One foot is out the door. Maybe one and a half, but I somehow muster the energy to bring the one-half foot back in and persist, and I get better, and hopefully it doesn’t get bad again.

I watch Kobe’s dramatic last game and Golden State breaking the Bulls’ record on opposing screens while eating pulled pork in a Memphis-style BBQ place with my friend from Memphis who says it’s really Texas-style.

I hit Chinese Starbucks Gold, which is ridiculously harder than and annoyingly separate from the American version.

I do more traveling, spending some time in coastal cities like Dalian and Tianjin, and I make a few friends. I like all of the places I’ve visited more than Beijing, but it’s easy to like them when I only have short adventures there, ya know?

We finally throw away the Christmas tree.

 

In conclusion:

I constantly feel nauseous, and I’m not sure if it’s the pollution or the 7/11 Kung Pao chicken.

My English has improved since moving to China.

Chinese hospitals…

No tips seems to work better than tips.

I have met some really cool people here.

The VPN makes the Internet even more unbearably slow.

Cheap Western staples like Mexican and burgers and greasy spoon breakfasts are expensive here, and I miss taco salads and bacon and eggs with hash browns.

Repetition. Playlists at restaurants are the same like six songs literally for months. Video and audio billboards play one 20-second ad over and over and over again. Vendors say something like “please come buy my products, this one is on sale right now” in Chinese into a megaphone and hit the repeat button and sit in a chair for hours. No minds seem to be lost except mine.

So much lip-syncing where the amount of mouth- and eye-work to sell it is actually quite impressive, and this is crazily impossible with rhythmless Chinese opera, but they do it anyway.

Insane as the driving and traffic is, I have not seen a single major accident.

There is a choreographed dance by employees in front of some company or by old women in some park happening every single day.

What is a “paper towel”? “Napkin”? Cheap toilet paper is used for absolutely everything except restocking the communal bathroom roll.

There’s nothing like a refreshing glass of scalding hot water.

 

OK, gotta go buy more pollution masks. There are plenty of other things I’ll tell some of you later.

As they say here, “adiós.”

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Busy Come, Busy Go

Potential employers have collectively stopped counting to 1,000 in this game of hide-and-seek. Now that their eyes are open, they can finally see what is standing right in front of them. I got tired of hiding. Why not just count to 100?

The same thing happened last summer. I hadn’t been able to find anything at all for months, not even one return e-mail or acknowledgment of existence. Then I got a real estate finance internship.  A few days later, my temp agency contacted me for the first time in two months. They offered me a job doing busy work at Chase, and I quit the unpaid (yet full-time) internship for it. A day after that, I was contacted for a temp-to-hire position doing finance and criticism and writing, but due to my ridiculous 2nd / 3rd shift hours at Chase and the unknown duration of my assignment, I turned down an interview. Based on the interest I was drawing in the present, I wasn’t worried about being able to find something in the future.

When I found myself with no job a few weeks later, I went back to being invisible to the job market. Nothing at all changed. I was still the same Curtis applying for jobs, yet my Inbox and Voicemail stayed empty. I began scouring Craigslist for anything and everything. I sent hundreds of e-mails, e-mails that I put time and effort into, and I wrote up numerous great cover letters. Nothing. No response. On extreme occasions, I would get a “Thank you for applying, and we’re impressed by your credentials, but you’re not what we’re looking for at this time.” I applied to Target. On the application, I checked every box for the stores in the city I would be willing to work at, every box for the positions they needed help in (including overnight stocking), and every box for time availability. Weeks later, I got the usual e-mail. I couldn’t even get a freaking interview for minimum wage overnight work no one else wants to do. Same with Walgreens. Same with Barnes and Noble. A number of grocery stores. I couldn’t even get a call back to be a pizza delivery driver. Apparently I’m not as overqualified for those jobs as I thought.

I had my resume looked at by the Loyola Career Center, and besides a lack of relevant work experience, they thought it was very good. I had Bradley’s Career Center review it years back, and they thought it was fine. There isn’t a glaring weakness or a “Don’t Even Dream of Hiring Me, Don’t Think About Interviewing Me, Ignore My Qualifications and Extreme Flexibility, Don’t Bother Letting Me Know You Received My Job Inquiries or Have Made a Decision Either Way, and Pretend I Don’t Exist” stamp.

Lately, I’ve been applying for things in many different areas, but I’ve naturally been focusing on finance. The same resume and credentials that were ignored the last few months are somehow in the spotlight again. Last week, I had a phone interview with a tech start-up for a business development / finance internship. A day later, my (third) temp agency awoke from its slumber to inform me of a finance position at an accounting firm. The same day, two other finance-related companies not only responded to applications I had sent, but responded with invitations to set up interview times. Hours after that, the tech start-up let me know I was chosen for the internship; I start next week(!) I wouldn’t be surprised if I get the other jobs as well.

It’s ridiculous how my life works. I was looking for something to do to benefit myself besides learning French and writing, so I started the CFA thing. I just started my hardest quarter in school. Combine the academic workload with a job (or two or three), and I’m going to be absurdly busy. Where was everyone when I had nothing to do and no commitments? It’s like I’m that guy girls only want to date when I’m unavailable.

Is this what I wanted? I do need a job for work experience and money, and I’m trying to benefit my future self. Yet I don’t have time to think anymore; there is no time to reflect on who and where I am. Am I moving forward, or am I just a hamster on a wheel? I’m going too quickly to know if this is right. I’m working very hard for the future with little regard for the present. In terms of the composition of my life, I’m increasing quantity, but am I increasing quality?

I am forced to ignore my inner awareness, to repress important questions and observations. I am sacrificing mental independence for positive future prospects. I am hesitantly taking the bus instead of driving my car. This can end up well, or it can end up in disaster.

There’s always been a wall between the real world and myself, and every time it starts crumbling, I run away. I don’t like feeling imprisoned by life. Subdued, inhibited, contained. I’m not going to give myself up for the sake of “necessity.” I will either come out of this unscathed and content or powerfully inspired by my discontent.

I’ll be on my guard.

Committed to Finance Always?

The Curtis of the daytime is studying hard for the CFA and finals and is fine with a career in finance. The Curtis of the nighttime wants to be free.

___________

I’m yearning for adventure. It’s been a while since I went on a trip or quit everything and made a huge change. Maybe that’s a good thing for most people, but I feel uneasy with this arrangement. It’s not just a yearning for travel. It’s not just a break. It’s not just wanderlust. My roots are somewhere out there, not cramped up in here. I am somewhat upset at myself for having so many reminders around me: pictures all throughout my apartment of beautiful places I have been, travel books, maps of my favorite cities, Facebook cover photos, et cetera.

I’m feeling a strong sense of urgency. This has been a productive year in terms of self-progress, but I want to make sure I’m progressing toward the right thing.

___________

I very spontaneously registered for the June Level I CFA exam. The pass rate keeps getting lower even though smarter people are taking it. It’s only offered twice a year and cost me $1,300 (non-refundable). As all my close friends know, I hate commitment. Thinking about something is one thing, doing it on my own terms is another thing, but doing it because I have to do it is a whole different beast. I feel imprisoned, chained to these study books, chained to financial analysis, chained to June 1st. If all I want is to be free, it’s hard to say why I would do something so confining.

Sure, it will vastly improve my career prospects, on top of the master’s degree I will have by that time, but only if I choose to go into that field. Otherwise, it’s an absurdly expensive hobby. I hate to say it, but that describes a good portion of my life.

One of my professors called me aside last week and told me I am really succeeding in this class and he (a multi-million dollar portfolio manager) would put in a great recommendation for me with a couple openings he knew of. It was a boost to my ego, but I didn’t get that feeling I’m supposed to. I’m spending the prime of my years choosing from a list of things I’m only slightly interested in handed to me by someone else. Sometimes I spend my time just stressing over what I should be doing. Sometimes I push it back.

Many of you might feel this same way, but I am in more of a position to control it. That’s a nice thought, but I don’t know the first thing about controlling my life.

I’ve been thinking of everything in terms of a “career” and making money, but none of it adds up. I was going wrong because I was looking at the world like other people look at it. I’m not other people. There are certain things in the world I can’t change, but I’m not going to accept the things I don’t have to accept. 

My “niche.” Freaking business term. My life is not a business. Of course I’ll have to find a way to make money on a regular basis. Careers don’t have to define who we are. I want mine to complement my personality and calling in life.

When I am on my death bed, I don’t think I will remember the time I “seized the day” by making an important decision in my lucrative finance job. I realize not all of life is seizing the day, but I just want to spend more of my life doing things that are my own art. If it helps others, so be it, but I am doing it for me. I want to capture my short time on earth in the best way possible, given my surroundings and circumstances. I might have a carpe diem moment in finance, but it would likely be a “local maximum.” I would only be having that moment because I was forced to have it in something; in a perfect world, I would not make a dramatic, life-altering positive decision in finance, a field I chose without much thought. That is what I am skeptical of. I’m going to continue working hard toward passing the CFA, but I refuse to let the thought of it bind me in any way. 

I know myself. I know I was destined for something very special. That might sound dramatic, but I don’t really care what anyone thinks. I’m meant for a life spent in a very unique way, and I need to stop thinking there is such a concrete and inflexible order to things that leaves little room for living differently. There are creative opportunities in finance that might work for me, or I might find something better. I’ll soon be able to tell.

In short, the nearer I get to a specific life path, the more I want complete freedom. I believe it is possible to break free from the chains and live this life on my own terms.

 

A Self-Esteem Breakdown Using Simple Math and History

I am turning 25 in two days. Cool. No drama or fanfare. I’m not as depressed as I thought I would be; I’m not even depressed at all. This is a positive year and I’m keeping it that way. At the dawn of a new period in my life, I am trying to develop a realistic, positive frame of mind on a regular basis. I need to grow up, and much of the problem lies in my self-esteem. A large part of me has an extremely irrational inferiority complex, yet another part has a massive ego. Some small part of me sees things realistically and positively. It goes like this:

  • 48% Inferiority Complex
  • 34% Superiority Complex
  • 18% Realistic View of Myself

 

But let’s rewind a bit.

 

Ages 1-8

When I was a child, I was very intelligent and gifted in many ways. I was extremely critical of others and made it known to them I was the best. However, I had to deal with issues at home that skipped the point of humbling me, but rather sometimes made me feel like an idiot. It was hard to find a normal middle ground. So here is me then:

  • 21% Inferiority
  • 77% Superiority
  •   2% Reality

 

Ages 9-13

By the time I had been in school a few years, religion, K-8 Christian school, and social struggles finally started having a humbling effect on my personality. I tried to be a good person, I did my best to positively deal with negative family situations, and I enjoyed life. I won the school spelling bee a million times. I played so many sports and was good or decent in all of them. I kept myself busy and finally started making good friends. I had fun becoming a very slightly rebellious teenager and thinking I was so cool. In spite of my optimistic outlook, I did have a slowly building feeling that I was losing the advantage against others that I had as a younger child:

  • 30% Inferiority
  •   8% Superiority
  • 62% Reality

 

Ages 14-18

This lasted until high school. The public school real world was not exactly welcoming to a shy, insecure Curtis who had only ever operated in a bubble at tiny Christian Elementary School, and I never really adjusted. I had trouble focusing; I felt way behind others all of a sudden. I didn’t do that many extracurriculars, my grades weren’t as good as they could have been, I developed an abnormal social anxiety, and I had no luck with the ladies:

  • 82% Inferiority
  •   2% Superiority
  • 16% Reality

 

Ages 19-22

Hello, college, I’m not expecting much. Yet freshman year, a year I consider one of the best of my life, I met a group of awesome, ridiculous, hilarious friends (that I still hang out with to this day). I quickly was brought of my social shell. I found it easy to be myself because of the proximity to other people with open doors and because everyone was so eager to meet new people and enjoy themselves. I was somehow able to talk to and attract girls. People liked my quirky side, and I found a social contentedness I hadn’t felt in a long time; being awkward started becoming cool(er). I got pretty much straight A’s, but in my mind, that meant nothing. I told myself my classes were not that hard, or my school wasn’t prestigious, or I was lucky, or I was just a good test taker. So although I felt much better about myself socially, I didn’t expect to amount to that much because I was still behind where I should have been:

  • 42% Inferiority
  • 13% Superiority
  • 45% Reality

 

Age 23

I finally reach the point I have been dreading much of my life: the entrance point to the “real world.” I retreated, refusing to enter quite yet. I occupied myself with: things I don’t want to be doing, depression and malaise, boredom, spending money, graduate school, traveling, moving far from home, and a growing sense that something was amiss. I was able to quell the inferiority while in college because I was in the same boat as everyone else, but now many others were in a better spot in life. I developed a greater skepticism / cynicism of the world I found myself in. I knew I was just as capable as others at finding a job and a life path, but I felt there was a window that was getting smaller and smaller. I started losing much of my optimism, and I stopped really believing I was as fit for the world as others. Maybe they truly did have something I lacked:

  • 71% Inferiority
  • 20% Superiority
  •   9% Reality

 

Age 24

The world sucks. I hate where I find myself. I was meant for so much, and now look where I am. I don’t want to be doing any of the things I am doing. Maybe I can do something different. Something unique. Time is running out. I know I’m young, but I have wasted too many years drifting. A fire begins burning inside of my mind. Part of me is still depressed and cynical, yet part of me is developing a new personality, is optimistically preparing for something big in a pessimistic way, is hoping for a sign to figure out my calling in life. I find comfort in existentialism, spontaneity, and the pursuit of love. I make a ridiculous amount of changes and start doing some serious introspection. I pose deeper philosophical questions. I move far away from my new faraway home, closer to my old home. I start to believe I’m smarter and better than many others who might be at a better point in life right now in career terms. I’ve slowly accepted the fact that I am taking a different road, and part of me believes I am destined for something beyond the typical middle-class American life, or the typical college graduate life, or the typical finance graduate student life, or any typical life. But most of me lacks drive and hope. It’s getting too late in life to not have a clue:

  • 61% Inferiority
  • 27% Superiority
  • 12% Reality

 

Age 25 / Right Now

Now we’re back to the present. I’m more hopeful and much less negative, and the fire is growing because of this. As a reminder, here is my current assessment:

  • 48% Inferiority
  • 34% Superiority
  • 18% Reality

If you put things into perspective, I have made positive strides over the last year or two. I have a greater sense of who I am, and my overriding feeling of inferiority has decreased. Nonetheless, I still don’t even come close to having enough belief in my own abilities; I’m so hard on myself to be better that I forget to lay off when I do succeed – I avoid reality. I get mentioned in class for doing exceptional work. ‘So what, this class is not that hard, and I’m not at Harvard.’ Cute girls tell me I’m funny and handsome. ‘They apparently have bad taste.’ People tell me they like how I write. ‘They must not read good writing much.’ My friends are interested in hearing me talk. ‘They clearly think I am someone else. They have no clue how to judge character. What I say is unimportant.’ Only part of my mind thinks this stuff, but that part frequently overwhelms more realistic thoughts.

It’s okay to be hard on myself for the sake of motivation to achieve greater things, but I should not assume others are that hard on me. I need to draw a line between having a positive, realistic view of myself and having a tough, self-disciplinarian side that is never satisfied. I can push myself to be better while being positive.

A re-calibration has slowly been in effect, but there is much more to be done. I don’t know if the side of me who thinks I am better than everyone will ever go away, but as long as I remain humble on the outside and keep my pride in my head, I think it’s a good thing. After all, a little overconfidence is better than massive underconfidence. I am smart. I am intuitive. I am good looking. I am funny and clever. I am great at athletics and competition. I have a lot of positive things going for me that I absurdly take for granted. I shouldn’t have to write all this down just to prove it to myself. Here is the mix I would like to work toward in the near future:

  •   0% Inferiority
  • 30% Superiority
  • 70% Reality

 

I am actually starting to believe I have a calling. I am driving on a different highway than I expected, and I’m finally ready to face the challenges this road brings. Maybe the years of “wasting away” were added motivation to achieve something immense. I can only be held back by my mind for so long before I revolt; there’s a mutiny aboard the HMS Curtis and the authority figure being overthrown is Lieutenant Inferiority.

Yes, a New Year’s Post

While much of the world is out partying, or at least celebrating with friends or family, I am sitting in my room alone reading Pincher Martin and waiting for the time to pass. I like to pretend it’s just another day, because, in reality, it is. I hate New Year’s. I have had too many forgettable experiences on or around the changing of the year, plus I despise the excessive fanfare and overblown hype and noise. And it’s part of my Big Three after Thanksgiving and Christmas, so the last of my holiday uncheer still looms.

In all my years, I’ve never seen one as enigmatic as 2012. Should I call it positive? Negative? I usually consider myself a realist, but I honestly have no clue how to assess this year as a whole.

I moved across the country. I left a lot behind – close friends, a great city and climate, and everything I started. Bad because I felt like a failure for giving up on what I originally moved to SF for.  Good because I was doing the right thing and trying to make a positive change where I felt at home.

I couldn’t find or keep a job. I worked a number of temporary jobs for less than two weeks. I participated in focus groups and market research studies. I moved boxes, entered data, parked cars, analyzed the Chicago real estate market, and acted as an online merchant. I was with four temp agencies and had little luck with any of them. Bad because I need income and work experience and something to keep me busy. Good because I had free time to figure out myself and fix up my apartment and read good books and hang out with my girlfriend and travel and exercise and explore the city.

I started at a new school in Chicago, to finish the master’s degree I initially began in San Francisco. Bad because I still don’t know if I want finance (or anything) to tie me down. Good because, obviously, I am finishing something that will benefit me in the future and provide me with a sense of accomplishment.

I began and ended a relationship.  The craziest relationship of my life. A lot happened in a short time. (The relationship was) bad because I’ve never hurt or been hurt by someone else as much in my life. Good because I got to know an awesome girl and had great memories and so much fun while experiencing new feelings of happiness and sharing part of myself with someone I adored.

I started taking Adderall after being diagnosed with ADD. Bad because I don’t like taking drugs. Good because my mind badly needs help focusing, and thinking more clearly has lessened my depression.

I started to become more aware and critical of the actual Curtis. I had deeper conversations with close friends and companions. I used a number of means to express myself more effectively. Bad because it’s so freaking challenging and because what one finds upon introspection is not always pretty. Good because I am on the road to figuring out my interests, my goals, and my optimal path.

Maybe I’m not smart enough to determine whether 2012 was positive, negative, or a wash, but it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is this: I made strides in the right direction, strides I have never thought about taking before. Becoming an adult has more appeal to me than it did at the beginning of the year. Characteristics I started seeing in myself: responsibility, assertiveness, self-confidence, and hope. I have made baby steps in the right direction. I have become increasingly conscious of my inner being, and there are so many bright possibilities that have arisen from the thinking I have forced myself to do. As long as I build on the things I experienced this year, I can consider it a success.

A sad goodbye to the many things and people no longer in my life, and a happy hello to any new things that will stand in their place.

My resolutions for the year to come? Don’t be with someone who doesn’t really get me. Play an instrument. Don’t over-overanalyze. Consume very little gluten. Get a dang job. Figure out what makes me happy, and do everything in my creative power to go for it. Skydive.

Now that 2013 is here, the lights have dimmed, and the dust has settled, I’m ready to put the Curtis train into motion. I fully intend on making progress this year in numerous ways. My feelings aren’t going to wear off after a couple days, trust me. I hope you see how hard I am trying as we go along.

A Non-Fictitious Fiction Connection

I think I’ve found my favorite novel of all time: Steppenwolf. Hermann Hesse’s writing hits me harder than anything ever has before. Another of his famous works, Siddhartha, is in my top five favorites. Though “fiction,” these are extremely representative of the true human experience. His characters are usually very intelligent and exceptionally aware of their surroundings, but confused about their place in the world and struggling at a climactic turning point in their lives.  In different ways, I feel the same strong connection with the writing in Crime and Punishment, Tropic of Cancer, and Thus Spoke Zarathustra, among others. I finally started the behemoth of a novel, Infinite Jest, and it is already subconsciously appealing. In all of these books, I find myself highlighting or underlining nearly every other sentence and bookmarking pages frequently. I can’t get enough.

Besides the label of fiction, these works have one thing in common: they speak to me impeccably. My thoughts, which have been struck with even more confusion and fragmentation lately, are ambiguous and vague. I get bits and pieces of clarity and do my best to create a picture but it is never complete. I have been dealing with some pretty deep issues that are hard for me to think about other than in a roundabout, perplexed way. I have talked to family and friends and doctors and have perused relevant writings in self-help / psychology / philosophy. This definitely helps, but it’s hard for anyone to truly understand the way I view things internally; instead, it is easier to simulate my problems in an alternate world with characters much like me yet who are more developed and better express their inner ideas. Hence I see my thoughts and actions played out more completely in fiction. I understand things much better when they are indirect; indirect is my direct.

Sometimes the human experience cannot be illustrated or captured concretely. Instead of trying to qualify or quantify people scientifically, the books that appeal to me are not straightforward, their characters are nowhere near perfect or predictable, the answers to their profound spiritual questions are not known clearly, and their themes are not always apparent. Who knows if the characters are making the right decisions given the circumstances? Such is the nature of life. My favorite novels are essentially psychological and philosophical studies that artistically suggest deeper life meaning, a meaning words alone cannot describe.

When I (along with many others) read these works of fiction, I am able to associate with different characters and their thoughts. A well-written soliloquy or monologue or just a moving thought makes my eyes light up. When reading a book like the ones I enjoy, I focus on: the way characters deal with abstract ideas (and the way in which the author writes this), the individual deliberation process, flashes of clarity and confusion, the human responses to pain, anguish, or happiness, and the decisions and conclusions rational yet flawed characters come up with. And I don’t relate to just one character. The human personality is comprised of a number of opposing characters, and good works of fiction can sometimes be understood as representations of the different personalities and thoughts at work inside an individual mind.

In addition to relating to certain characters, I am able to see one step past that into the mind of the author. Generally, the author (loosely) expresses his or her ideas and views of the world through the way in which he/she writes and through the narrator’s or different characters’ voices. No one would be able to write something they haven’t thought about before, naturally, so these authors are showing me what they have thought out thoroughly, and it is the same stuff I have dealt with. Although I have never met Hesse, Kafka, Dostoevsky, Hemingway, Camus, or Henry Miller, I nevertheless feel like they are close friends who know exactly what is going on inside of my head and who think the exact same way as me. They can usually offer me more insightful solutions to deal with problems than I can come up with myself.

I never really knew what it was like to connect with an author or character before. I guess you could say I just wasn’t reading the right books. Also, I never knew as much as I do now about myself; it’s hard to connect with someone else when you don’t know yourself. I can now relate to those of you who find passion in connecting with books, and I know how much of a positive it is. I hope all of you can find your literary doppelgänger or connect with an author’s unique ideas and thoughts on handling problems in a fictitious yet very realistic world. Sometimes, fiction novels can be crude but effective textbooks for (Insert Name Here)’s Life 101.

I plan on reading Hesse and D.F. Wallace and Nietzsche (fiction writings) as much as possible over my upcoming break from school. I am addicted to the association I feel with different characters and the connection I have with certain authors – intelligent, logical people with many problems and questions – who are challenging themselves and their readers to closely examine their lives and make something of this bizarre world.

Thanksgiving with Xanax

This is the first time I have even been able to do anything at all with my mind in the last week.

I’m never taking Xanax again. My new psychiatrist started me on it to deal with obsessive anxiety, mainly of the social form. I wasn’t having a major problem but he thought it couldn’t hurt to try out anyway. Well, after just one week, it seemed to have the reverse effect. It is often used to treat panic disorder, but I was panicky and psychotic. I could not deal with anything in my mind at all. I have so much work to do for school this quarter, but keeping myself busy did not have the same effect as it usually does. Bad thoughts were racing through my head no matter what I did; I can’t even put into words how I was feeling because it was a completely different frame of mind than I have ever experienced. 

This happened to all occur on a holiday week, and it culminated in spending my Thanksgiving in my apartment sick or in bed. It was miserable not only because I felt miserable, but also because I was letting my family (both of them) down. It’s not like I didn’t have the opportunity to have a decent Thanksgiving, and there are plenty of people who were worrying about me.

I stopped the drug the night before Thanksgiving, so it was probably a mix of the adverse reaction and withdrawal symptoms the next day.

I treated myself to a Double Cheeseburger meal from McDonald’s as my technical Thanksgiving dinner. That was dumb, because the gluten made my stomach even worse. But it tasted delicious. I’ve been lucky enough to partake in some tasty leftovers, though. You can’t beat green bean casserole.

Anyway, I’m back from that fiasco. I’m still getting my mind back, so I need to figure out how to write an actual blog entry again. I hope my friends had more normal Thanksgivings, and a happy official holiday season to everyone.