34

Still marching confidently toward my demise.

Today is my 34th birthday. It’s not much of a milestone. Last year was my Jesus Year. Next year I’m eligible to run for President. This year I’m just kinda here. Regardless of the arbitrary significance placed on any particular year, I wanted to make it sort of a tradition to write a list on my birthday. Something to remind me that in my years I’ve done good, or learned things, or whatever, and to share them. So, without further adieu, here are 34 random things I’ve learned about myself, about the world, and about people throughout my life:

  1. Nobody knows anything. As I’ve gotten older and interacted with more people, in a professional and personal capacity, I’ve noticed that (outside of rare occasions) no one really knows what they’re doing. It makes sense, considering that everything we do is made up. Our jobs are made up. Money is made up. Hell, language is made up. No wonder we’re all just improvising our way through life. In a way, I find comfort in this thought. Provides me perspective when I start to feel overwhelmed or frustrated with the world.
  2. Peregrine falcons can fly up to 200mph. I think that’s pretty fucking amazing.
  3. Cats are very affectionate animals. That is, if you’re their person. In my house, I’m Athena’s person and my wife is Belle’s person. If you’re not a cat’s person, then you can go fuck yourself.
  4. The system is rigged. Unless you’re rich and (preferably) white. We see it all the time in the justice system, in business, in education, and in daily interactions. Racism is something I’ve always felt strongly about, and while I don’t have anything particularly insightful to say here, I think it’s important to acknowledge that the deck is stacked against minorities of all types in our society. Always has been.
  5. Family is hard. Thanks to recent life changes I’ve done a lot of thinking about family. The only conclusion I’ve really come to is that family is hard. We don’t get to choose our family and we’re expected to give those members of our family a long leash solely due to the fact that they’re blood. Mostly, I think that’s bad. We shouldn’t set the expectation that just because someone is family means they can be a shitty person. I’m more fond of the idea of choosing your family through bond, not blood, but now that I’m a father, I also have a deep desire for Elijah to at least know his extended family in a way I was never able.
  6. Writing, and communication in general, is a valuable skill. As someone that communicates for a living, for a long time I thought that my job was bullshit. I thought that everyone should be able to communicate well enough that I was unnecessary. It’s a foundational, fundamental skill to just get along in society. But, as I’ve worked with people of all sorts of different skillsets, I realized that communicating properly and efficiently is a skill that needs to be nurtured. So maybe my place in society isn’t as worthless as I thought.
  7. Intelligence is misleading. We tend to have a narrow view of what makes someone “smart.” We see erudite, well-read intellectual-types as intelligent, when in reality everyone is smart in their own way. I’m a well-read (pseudo) intellectual and I feel like the dumbest person in the room when around blue collar workers that are discussing machine tolerances or engine blocks. Someone’s intelligence is a complex combination of factors, many of which are circumstance (were you born in the suburbs or inner-city? Because that’ll go a long way to determining the quality of your education…) and interest. I no longer believe I’m smarter than anyone, only that we’re all smart in different ways.
  8. The actor that played the Dean on COMMUNITY won an Oscar. Jim Rash, who played Dean Pelton on COMMUNITY, won Best Adapted Screenplay for THE DESCENDANTS. That’s quite the range.
  9. Indecisive? Flip a coin. If you’re stuck between two options, just flip a coin. Not because you should do what the coin says, but because the coin will reveal what you really want. For instance, if I can’t decide between pho or banh mi and when I flip the coin it comes up banh mi, but I feel a little disappointed, I’ll know that I truly want pho.
  10. Nothing can prepare you for parenthood. Now that I’m a parent, I feel wholly unprepared even though I was warned by everyone that it’s really, really hard. I think it’s one of those things you just can’t physically or emotionally prepare for, no matter how much you intellectually know about it. Like war.
  11. We are creatures of contradiction. Life is short, but also long. The pen is mightier than the sword, yet might makes right. Everything is chaos, but we live in structured societies. Lactose intolerant people love cheese. We live contradictions everyday, and we’re all hypocrites in our own ways. Does that mean we should lean into those things? No, of course not. But it’s useful to recognize the fact and strive to overcome it.
  12. French toast is best with cinnamon directly in the batter. I add it to the egg as I’m whisking it, before adding the milk, and that helps the cinnamon get all up in the bread instead of piling onto a single slice or something ridiculous.
  13. Honesty helps achieve forgiveness. When I was a strapping young lad, desired by women near and far (that’s sarcasm, by the way), I learned early on that being honest helped me avoid the bigger pitfalls in my relationships. If I wasn’t feeling someone or I made a mistake I told them, and lots of times we were able to weather it or, if the relationship ended, stay friendly. In all the different ways I’ve fucked up in my life, being honest about it has often (not always) led to forgiveness. For myself and of myself.
  14. Being useful is a good way to make friends. It’s difficult to make friends as an adult. One way to do that, though, is to be useful. Foster a skill that can be useful to like-minded people. I didn’t talk to anyone outside of my family and coworkers for the first three years I lived in DC. But when I started to play hockey and demonstrated some skill, I was constantly asked to join games, which led to friendships. I’ve used to same approach since moving to Philly.
  15. Everyone should go to jail once. I wrote about this a bit in last year’s birthday post, but I wholly believe that you need to do things that test your mettle. Going to jail for a night puts you in so far over your head you’ll learn things about yourself that you’d never have the opportunity otherwise.
  16. Things rarely happen when you want them to, but they do happen. This may be cherry-picking anecdotal data, but a pattern I’ve noticed in my life is that I generally get what I want–it’s just rarely when I want it. Which isn’t to say I don’t work for those things. On the contrary, it’s because I work for what I want that I get it eventually.
  17. Stocks are dumb and awesome. For the past year and a half or so I’ve dabbled in the stock market and done pretty well. Lots of reasons for this (like a pandemic driving share prices down at just the right moment for me to invest), but I like to believe that part of my minor success is recognizing what bullshit the stock market is and playing to that. I mean, for as much as analysts want to quantify stock prices and forecasts at the end of the day the market is based on the emotions of investors. How stupid!
  18. Fun is important. Initially, I was going to say something here about sports and their pointlessness. But I love sports and I shouldn’t be negative on my birthday, so instead I’ll say that fun is important. Discordianism has an idea of “nonsense as salvation” that I find appealing. The Principia Discordia states: “To that end, (Discordianism) proposes… NONSENSE AS SALVATION. Salvation from an ugly and barbarous existence that is the result of taking order so seriously and so seriously fearing contrary orders and disorders; that GAMES are taken as more important than LIFE; rather than taking LIFE AS THE ART OF PLAYING GAMES.”
  19. You can plan for life, but you can’t predict it. When I look back at the last ten years or so, I’m shocked at the route my life has taken. If you’d have asked 24-year old Craig where he’d be, who he’d be with, what he’d be doing, and who he will become, his answer probably wouldn’t come close to the reality of it. I think that’s a good thing. 24-year old Craig was an idiot. Just like 44-year old Craig will think of 34-year old Craig, I hope.
  20. Keep improving. I consider myself a “lifelong learner” and believe in continuous improvement. There is so much to the world, to people in general, and our lives are short enough that we need to continually put the effort into bettering ourselves just to scratch the surface of our potentials.
  21. Keep trying. Whatever it is, don’t give up without good reason. Sometimes life forces us to defer our dreams, or to take a different route, and in that we may lose our passion. Fine. But I’ve found that giving up doesn’t make one feel better, otherwise. If you can, keep going. The result may never be what you want but that doesn’t mean the journey isn’t worthwhile.
  22. Money can buy happiness, but only so much. There are studies that show money can make you happier, especially when that money goes toward meeting some of the lower ends of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. After a certain point, though, it becomes less important.
  23. Time is happiness. Time, in my opinion, is much more valuable. If there is a Heaven and I make it there, the first question I’m going to ask is how much time I wasted doing things I didn’t find enjoyable. I will not like the answer. We’re bound by our responsibilities (and the system–see number 4) but should try to maximize the time we’re enjoying life.
  24. Money is important and should be treated as such. Despite what I said in 22 and 23, money does make the world go ’round and there’s no use in ignoring that fact. I generally dislike money but have tried to build a good relationship through budgeting and investments that has made me more comfortable living withia capitalist society.
  25. The human race has only been around ~100,000 years or so. That’s barely a blink in terms of the timeline of the Earth. It’s useful to keep that in perspective.
  26. Being nice is undervalued. Showing respect, being helpful, and generally treating people with kindness doesn’t get enough recognition for being the most important thing any of us can do.
  27. Aliens probably exist, but there is a good chance we wouldn’t even recognize them if we met. The Universe is a big, big place. Like, unfathomably huge. If life on Earth exists, it’s more than likely another star system has the right environment for life. That said, the chances of us finding it or recognizing it as alien life is pretty low. There is also the chance that, after nearly 14 billion years of existence, intelligent life has come and gone a trillion times already. I interviewed some experts about this years ago.
  28. The Carolina Hurricanes lucked into their 2006 Stanley Cup win. I mean, the Sabres were missing their top four defensemen in the Eastern Conference Final, and then Edmonton lost their starting goalie in the Stanley Cup Final? No wonder the Hurricanes didn’t even make the playoffs the next season.
  29. Babies are hard to fuck up–and thank God for it. As a new father, I’m grateful that newborns are on auto-mode. It’s difficult, but I also think it’s nature’s way of giving new parents a mulligan. There’s no way to be a good parent immediately and I can only hope that once he’s ready I can grow into being a good parent.
  30. It’s hard to be sustainable. Our society isn’t built to be sustainable, and because of that sustainability is expensive, which makes it difficult for people to take part. My wife and I have learned this over the past few years as we’ve tried to buy more sustainably.
  31. Sandwiches are the perfect meal. Think about it–every food group (and therefore, every nutritional need) is represented on a sandwich. I rest my case.
  32. Things are hard and that’s OK: Part One. Right now, in 2021, things are hard. The pandemic is still raging. One of the two major political parties in our country is doing its best to destroy democracy. The Buffalo Sabres continue to be a bad hockey team. However, it won’t be like this forever. Especially if we do our part to make things better. Except for the Sabres. They’ll likely continue to be bad for the foreseeable future.
  33. Things are hard and that’s OK: Part Two: The things we do day-to-day are hard. Work is hard. Writing is hard. Child rearing is hard. But they’re also worthwhile and give us purpose that’s hard to come by any other way. It also helps to believe that life is about the journey, not the destination, to end with something trite.
  34. We all need help. I think we all fall into the trap of trying to shoulder our burdens alone. We shouldn’t. As a new father, especially, I’ve come to recognize how impossible life can feel when we’re trying to do it alone. We’re a social species for a reason–our chances of success at any task improves when we seek and receive help. So don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask f or it, and don’t be stingy when offering it.

Behind the Vignette: CLICHÉD GOODBYE

The idea for this vignette is based on two things: 1) emotions I experienced moving away from my hometown nearly ten years ago and 2) a desire to write something inclusive, from a perspective other than my own.

I remember the days and weeks leading up to my leaving. It really felt like the end of something, and I wasn’t sure at the time if I was ready for it to end. My roommate moved out of our apartment and I stood in his room and cried. I had a pow-wow with my closest friends at my going-away party where we reminisced and ignored the other people celebrating. But what stayed with me was how quickly it felt like things moved on without me. I remember giving one of my best friends a hug goodbye as I packed up my truck to go and it felt like there was an attitude of, “Welp, bye.” That’s not to say he didn’t care or wasn’t feeling emotional, it’s just to say that sometimes in life there are goodbyes that feel underwhelming.

The second thing I wanted to attempt with this vignette was to write about romantic love from a perspective that isn’t well-represented. Love is love, and I want to write characters from all different walks of life that shows that. As a straight, middle-class white guy, my feelings on my place in portraying minority characters are complicated, but I also believe that people are people, and should be written as such. Yes, we all have nuances to our personalities, cultural differences that are difficult to capture without being fully immersed, but there are elements of the human experience that are universal. Like friends leaving to pursue the next chapter of their lives. And young, tentative love.

Fatherhood: Our Little Gremlin

Did you know they let anyone be a father? No test or anything!

Elijah was born on Tuesday, January 19th, at 8:20pm. The past week and a half have been a ride, man.

First, I have lots of thoughts about how fathers are viewed in our society. While in the hospital I noticed a lot of careful language around the role of fathers in the delivery room and at home that made me wonder how often nurses see situations where the father is absent or shitty. I think it’s a mixture of implicit bias on the nursing staffs’ part, and a self-fulfilling prophecy that lots of men aren’t well-prepared to be fathers and don’t have the same incentive that a woman does (you know, on account of not having to grow another person for nine months) to get prepared. I don’t know. I’ll need to write about that another time.

Coming home was exciting and terrifying. We no longer had the support of a full nursing staff, no one to take Elijah when we needed rest, and no easy answers if something felt wrong. The first night was hell. Newborns don’t have any concept of night and day (or of anything else), and it is common for a newborn to be nocturnal. In all the excitement of getting home and settled in we did not prepare for that. Over the past week I’ve probably averaged less than 5 hours of sleep per day, with that number going up bit by bit as each day has passed. But that first night isn’t something you can prepare for. Not only are you sleep-deprived and dealing with all the fun effects of that (for me, exhaustion also comes with nausea and irritability), but you’re learning your baby’s tendencies on the fly. Elijah spent a lot of that first night crying hysterically and we had no idea why.

This hasn’t changed. My wife and I joke that between the hours of 12am and 6am Elijah turns into a gremlin. He’s most alert during these hours, and also most prone to crying fits when he isn’t getting what he immediately needs. It’s honestly terrifying seeing him scrunch up his face, open his mouth, and thrash his head side to side when he’s hungry or wants attention and isn’t getting it quickly enough. I’ve had to remind myself that he’s fully automatic right now–his manual overrides don’t come built in–and that his instincts are guiding his emotions. And those instincts are to feed, shit, and sleep, sometimes all at once.

But we have learned his tendencies and made adjustments as the week has gone on that have made handling him easier. We learned that he needs to be fed more often than the recommended 2-3 hours (he’s 2 hours or less, usually–by 3 hours he loses his mind). With my sister’s help we’ve settled into a routine where we can get some sleep and even do things like write this blog.

Now, I’m prepared to stay up with him at his worst hours and weather those storms. On Tuesday, his one-week birthday, I even managed to stay with him alone from 1am-5am while my wife slept with nary a tantrum thrown. I can read him now and that’s pretty cool.

I’m told it gets easier after two weeks or so, but we’ll see. I think it’ll be just as hard, but in different ways. I am hoping for more sleep soon, though.

Why Do We Tell Stories?: A Hastily Developed Sequel

SLEEPWALK by Sara Driver

VIDEODROME by David Cronenberg

A few weeks ago, I wrote about some reasons I think people are strongly drawn to stories. But I didn’t really get to the heart of the matter (a joke that’ll make sense momentarily–trust me, you’ll be literally ROFLing, just stick with me).

Lately I’ve been watching a lot of the Criterion Channel. Criterion streams a combination of classic Hollywood films, newer indie and foreign films, and everything in between. In bouncing around between them, particularly the Hollywood films and the smaller, weirder, indie films, I’ve noticed that the movies that affect me most, the ones that stick with me best, are the ones with which I have a strong emotional reaction.

Fresh in my mind is the comparison between two strange films: Sara Driver’s SLEEPWALK and David Cronenberg’s VIDEODROME. They were released only a few years apart (1986 and 1983, respectively), and have similar dreamlike tones. The major difference that I walked away with is how much structure and explanation accompanies each. Because SLEEPWALK is an indie film, there is a sense of unpredictability throughout, for better or worse. VIDEODROME, on the other hand, adheres to expected storytelling elements that made the film less impactful for me.

In SLEEPWALK things happen seemingly at random. A child walks a pigeon. A woman calls her boyfriend’s empty apartment, where a strange, large machine sits next to the ringing phone, and it’s never spoken of again. The film ends with Nicole, the protagonist, falling asleep near a river while searching for her missing child, who is blindfolded and sits just a few feet away, out of reach for both of them. None of it is explained, much of it doesn’t even seem related to the main plot, but all of it is emotionally impactful.

VIDEODROME, on the other hand, dives deep into its weirdness and explains it to make a larger point about its themes. All fine, but in explaining the television signals and how they lead to hallucinations the weirdness of the film, and thereby its emotional impact, is blunted. By allowing us to see behind the curtain I found myself engaging with it on a less emotional level. While much of VIDEODROME has stuck with me, I don’t find myself returning to its images like I do SLEEPWALK.

By any objective measure, VIDEODROME is a better film. It’s well-made, with spectacular effects and strong performances throughout, inventive cinematography, and a strong story with resonant themes. SLEEPWALK, on the other hand, is like a tone poem. But in focusing solely on the emotional impact of each scene without trying to tie it all together, I found myself drawn into the movie and still thinking about it weeks after watching.

All of this is to say that storytelling is, first and foremost, and emotional experience. Emotions literally rewrite our brains. Building from that foundation, hitting the audience in the heart and them aiming for their head, I think is the most effective way to tell a story that will stick with someone.

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