The Shoe Parade and the World of Confusingness

shoes

As a grandparent-proclaimed “growing boy” during my younger years, I had a tough time staying in the same pair of sneakers. In addition to constant half-size elongation, I absolutely destroyed respective heels and balls and other parts I don’t know the name of on every make and model of footwear. I used to go through like three or four pairs a year. I have decided to call this collective glory period the “Shoe Parade.” I need to be careful because that might be the name of a shoe store.

During the Shoe Parade, I gained a glimpse into the world of confusingness. My shoes decayed (yes, I was very scientific back then) at a much quicker rate kids who seemed to live similar lives and who were going through similar, if not greater, bodily growth spurts (I was always short but my feet grew quickly; admittedly, while they grew taller, I did not measure their feet on a regular basis).

My best friends and I ran amongst golden cornfields, rambled through countless neighborhoods (actually just two or three), circled the bases of makeshift Wiffle ball fields, and protected the streets that held Abraham Lincoln’s legacy while pedaling away on our BMX bikes. And yet in spite of the fact that these friends were roughly one foot (12 inches, not shoe-related) away from me at all times doing the exact same things with their feet, they kept the same shoes for a year or two, and I didn’t.

I couldn’t wrap my ahead around this phenomenon. It made me question reality. I was “spoiled” with shoes, they would say. Then I displayed my soles, and after seeing more white sock than rubber, friends would politely hint that I was a “stomper.” I then walked really softly (to the point of tiptoeing), but nothing changed. Why was this only occurring on my feet? Was there something else going on?

I had no idea how crazy that world of confusingness would get, beyond the shoes I tied every morning. Young adulthood has been really weird. There’s been so many situations where things haven’t gone like I thought they should go, whereas for other people events always seems to unfold in a perfect logical order. I don’t have a name for this period, but it’s a few steps past (a footwear pun) the Shoe Parade.

Sometimes, I get kind of tired of it and want to find a simple place for my feet in the normal-person world. It can be tough living in a land where I expect outliers on a daily basis.

So a while back, I transitioned to the “regular” sort of life, or at least I tried, with occasional success. I told myself it was the right thing to do.

But then I looked down at my shoes, and I realized that they’re like a size too small and they’ll be a size and a half too small by next year. I might as well just shut up and get some new sneakers.

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Squeaking Into the Darkness

Here I am at 2:30 in the hot summer Sunday AM, the squeaks from my 300 RMB mini bicycle echoing through the empty polluted streets of Beijing, looking like an idiot, exposing my lean non-Chinese figure with tight work pants and a Banana Republic shirt raised above the belly button to limit further drenchings of sweat, Taobao fake 3M pollution mask aface, bike seat raised to the max and still not high enough. Sanlitun is buzzing as usual tonight, but within a matter of minutes I ride from bright club avenue to dark, desolate road. I’m slightly afraid, yet that feels 5x better than sitting in a noisy gay bar where I feel nothing but pop beats and awkwardness. The late night dramatics of a solo bike ride in a gigantic city kind of hit some special inner escapist note.

Here I am at 3:30 in the hot summer AM, the squeaks of the cheapest possible IKEA bed frame provided by the apartment agency resonating through my small room, capturing ridiculously subtle private movements such as taking an almond out of an almond bag, which I do one at a time, likely audible to my Chinese couple neighbors. Although I just showered, my room’s AC is not strong enough to prevent a further wave of sweat on my lower back and face and annoyingly my hammies, so now it feels like I’m getting a cold as I watch a Chinese soap opera to try to learn Chinese the way many Chinese people learn English, but I’m really just reading the English subtitles. I eventually switch to VPN’ed Netflix, whose original Star Trek episodes are loading excruciatingly slowly, and yet I guess the five whiskey sours I downed and the hookah I hit quite heavily have given me these bursts of energy and patience that are completely unwarranted for such a retrospectively lackluster American 60’s TV show.

Here I am at 4:30 in the hot summer AM, the squeaks of the desk I have switched to painfully audible as I enjoy crunchy Chinese Skippy with stolen hotel chopsticks, for some reason watching another episode of Star Trek with large headphones, which I think amplifies the chewing noise. In no way do I feel sleepy, but I decide it’s time to hit the sack now to avoid waking up in the PM. I watch recaps of American baseball games to get in the mood, and while there are 162 games, seeing the Cardinals’ loss instantly puts that mood into a depression, but more like a childish pout than a full-on adult depression, and I finally fall asleep with bad thoughts in my mind.

Here I am at 7:30 in the hot summer AM, and nothing, something something too tired think squeaks. Please coffee. Wake up. Wish more sleep.

Here I am at 8:30 in the hot summer AM, back at it again with the bike and the squeaks thing, coffee recently imbibed somewhat quickly. Severe lack of sleep and surprisingly only slight hangover aside, I am ready to get up and go on this Sunday, to accomplish meaningful things, to figure out my life before work tomorrow. I park the bike and head inside my first stop, caffeine and I walking in together with a determined smile.

Here I am at 1:30 in the hot summer PM, stumbling out of the bank trying to figure out why it’s so difficult to send $500 home, starving to the point where decision making is no longer possible, no actual meal-serving shops in sight, still many more things on the list, dinner plans being one of them, and what with transit times and the time it takes to digest food and not be in a trance, I realistically will have like 30 actual minutes to get something done, and I really miss living in a smaller city. At this point, I realize the squeaks have probably ended for the day.

Here I am at 10:30 in the hot summer Sunday PM, biking through the streets again, wondering where the weekend went, questioning my choice to live in this city, but as I stop thinking for a moment, I hear the squeaks of this silly bicycle, the ones I thought had disappeared for the day. I laugh, because the squeaks are the reason I’m here. I made the choice to be the person who gets into nonsensical adventures, the person who faces seemingly unnecessary adversity, and this place has definitely fulfilled those whims. For that reason, I will gracelessly, inelegantly, but eagerly continue squeaking into the dark night, wherever in the world that night might be.

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.”

 

 

 

 

Jump

Image

The sign reads:

HAZARDOUS CLIFFS

DO NOT ENTER

Of course, I enter. To be fair, judging by the way the metal fence is bent, plenty of other people have had the same idea.

I walk on what resembles a path through the ice plants and climb over rocks. At the end of the path is a narrow stony overhang that juts into the sea. I slowly approach the edge and observe the jagged rocks a hundred feet below. A small lighthouse can be seen in the distance.

I’m suddenly frightened, but of what? I used to be afraid of heights just like plenty of other people, but lately, I’ve been fearless, and I have sought out the adrenaline rush – being so much closer to death makes me feel that much more alive. On this occasion, however, the fear is taking over.

The wind roars. The giant waves crash against the rocks; some of the spray makes it all the way up to where I stand. Not a soul is in sight. It’s just me and the ocean and this cliff. I take a few pictures of the beauty, then I put the camera aside. I move a few steps closer to the edge. I’m one foot, one loose rock, one gust of wind, one startling noise, one slight push away from falling to my death. These are all cause for concern, but there is a much greater fear looming from somewhere else.

The things I mentioned are all external, and I have little control over them. What I’m really afraid of is within me. I’m afraid I will momentarily lose my senses; I’m afraid, for an instant, that I will not be able to understand what it means to be alive, that I will no longer know how to differentiate between right and wrong, that I will stop being human and abandon my ability to reason in the face of overwhelming curiosity.

At first I was standing still, but now I’m disoriented – dizziness starts to take over. The ocean turns into a vortex; the waves begin spiraling faster and faster, and my eyes follow the circle religiously. I’m hypnotized, I’m entranced, I’m under a spell that is increasingly hard to resist. A powerful concerto commences. I find myself swaying to the wave’s rhythm like the buoy in the distant surf. Earth’s gravitational pull increases. My body is twice as heavy, and the weight shifts to my head and torso, leaving me dangerously unbalanced. The vortex is now a magnetic field. The music speeds out of control, prestissimo. The spinning sea leaves me paralyzed and intoxicated, and I am drawn in without a fight. Darkness surrounds me. Consciousness evaporates into nothingness.

I open my eyes and gasp for air, dumbfounded and terrified.

I jump backwards and try to regroup, but I am too shaken up to move from the solid ground I am now on.

No, it’s not falling I am afraid of; it’s jumping.

I’m afraid not of a deliberate jump but rather an unconscious one. A fall caused by myself, a completely different version of me, an outsider unaware of the impending danger.

After a deep sigh, I walk up to the marked trail and take a quick glance back at the rock I was just standing on.

In the crashing waves of the ocean below, I saw my life. I am afraid to give up control and awareness of my surroundings. I am afraid I won’t be able to remain at a distance. I am afraid once I enter, I won’t be able to escape. The world is trying to guide me, but I keep resisting. I prefer to guide myself, even if it is random and chaotic. The lighthouse directly in front of me adds irony to the situation.

It’s like the feeling you get when your body is telling you to sleep, but you fight hard to stay awake, except my body is telling me to wake up, and I am fighting hard to stay asleep.

What scares me is unrelated to any literal oceans or cliffs. There are many things that frighten me in the world, but for some reason, the thing that scares me most is living my own life.

One of these days, that other version of me – the fearless, wild side not worried by the sheer height of the cliff or the sharp rocks below – will step in, and I will have the courage to wake up and take the plunge.

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.

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.

It’s Better to Feel Pleasure Than Nothing at All

I have been in such a frustrating place the last few months that I have taken for granted the good that can come from pain. I can be somewhat masochistic (non-sexual) in my pursuits: I tend to gravitate toward whatever will hurt me. Because of this mental abuse I inflict upon myself, I am able to juxtapose the brief but stunning moments of lucidity that arise as a result. I have not been able to feel pleasure for years, so I think I need to feel the poignancy of feeling that pain has to offer. It’s a common song lyric: “It’s better to feel pain than nothing at all,” or something along those lines. I’m obviously not alone in this regard, yet I am starting to realize it’s not the sensation of pain I want, and it’s not just my antibody to the virus of boredom I keep catching. No, it is rising up from the depths of nothingness to a new high, breaking through to creative realms of self-fulfillment, that I am looking for. Because I know what sadness and depression and isolation feel like, I allow myself to experience new things more openly. I am able to reflect and articulate with insight and clarity regardless of how confused I might be on the whole.

I have been busy with school. One of my classes is boring and of little use, and the professor has commendable industry experience but can’t teach. The other class, however, is extremely fun, and for the first time in a long time, I enjoy doing something school-related (investment portfolio management). My recent focus on this has led to fewer sleepless nights and less rock bottoms. This state has me confused, though; I can’t seem to find even a simple job, but I am busy being a nearly full-time student. I am closer to graduating, closer to being more marketable, and I am starting to see a possible career path from classes like this. Having an income and a daily job is more of a reality in my mind. My apprehension has lessened. Is that a good thing? It’s almost annoying. If I am going to have some anxiety, I want to experience it full force instead of feeling its slight tickle in the nerves of my mind.

I am anxious because I am not anxious enough. It is good I am focusing on something productive, but I presuppose it is limiting my ability to make mental progress. I’m not in an extremely low place anymore; now I’m just slightly below the threshold of normalcy. Without a powerful opposing force, how is my inner fight for self-actualization going to play out? I’m not used to this. I’m not used to dealing with less adversity.

Curtis, are you complaining about not having enough problems? Yes, I am.

Maybe I am spoiled because I have been so frustrated, so bored, and so hurt that it is easy to go headfirst into any and every positive thing I can. Maybe I am lazy and know that it is easier to do things I don’t want to be doing (and get hurt) than to actually find what I want to be doing. And I know with that hurt comes change, so it is a shock therapy that will somehow turn me around while also providing an excuse if things don’t change.

During periods of deep despair, my senses are strengthened, my awareness is heightened, and my hope is spirited. But now, I am in limbo instead of in a good or bad place. I am closer to becoming a bourgeois denizen of society, yet I don’t feel ready to accept settling on mediocrity as a solution. I don’t know if I am ready to ignore some of my perceptions and step into the real world while fooling myself with the predominant notions of prosperity and success. The basic tenets, beliefs, and norms the common person accepts are hard for me to justify quite yet. Throughout this entire process, I have had the idea in my head that this reality is underwhelming. I can’t help but believe there is more to people, to life, to the universe, than this. No matter how many existential books I read or philosophical ideas I contemplate, I still feel like there is a definite point to this thing I find myself in.

Suspended in the air around us like a faint ocean mist are hope, love, courage, goodness, faith, dreams, wisdom, and progress. No one is immune from the occasional extraordinary encounter with these superhuman aspects of humanity. Life isn’t always fooling oneself – it does have moments that make the daily grind well worth it. I sometimes think, if I already know how the road ends, why would I want to take the same path as everyone else? The key for me is to understand that I must follow the same road map as every other person in the history of the world. With this in mind, there are endless combinations of side streets I can take. There are many people in this world who have taken / are taking creative routes and turns. I might be a unique individual, but the problems I am facing are not that unusual. I need to finally map this thing out. There is no reason to be underwhelmed with so many positive directions to choose from and so many astounding moments to stumble upon.

Part of me believes it is necessary to have moments of clarity and brilliance in order to triumph over the insipid existence I am destined for. Although these moments are enjoyable and productive, they don’t last because I choose to get hurt shortly thereafter. If only I could see that my life could be filled with more radiance and illumination all the time, while doing something with my actual life instead of just in theory, I would quit the foolishness. I need to embrace the path I am on right now and not presume every single thing is contradictory to what I should be doing. I need to stop trying to feel pain just because it is easy; I have not really put the work in that is required to feel happy. The same old nonsensical routine is wearing off, so I hope to finally move in a different direction. It is compulsory to surround myself with people, activities, and ideas that will lead to personal growth. If only I can focus on the satisfaction that can come from fighting for the good rather than fighting against the bad, and stop assuming the world I will be stepping into is not for me, I will be prepared for the next quarter of my life.