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.

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.

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.