A Nice Guy?

Far more than once, people have referred to me as “a nice guy.” And I suppose I know what they mean. But there are specific reasons why I don’t consider it true.

What people consider nice, I consider normal. If I say please, thank you, and excuse me, if I donate time or money to charities, if I help people when asked or offer when someone is in need, I am not being nice. There’s no above and beyond here. It’s basic decency, and I’m not going beyond what used to be the norm. This is what normal people do. That people consider this some sort of virtue is more of the reflection of societal rudeness and apathy. The bar has become so low that when you act like a human, you jump that bar.

In other words, I’m not a nice guy, you’ve just been surrounded by assholes.

spaceballs-surounded-by-assholes

I specifically dislike the word “nice.” When I was in 4th grade, my teacher would circle the word “nice” in red pen on our papers. The reason she did this was because “nice” is a bland word that describes nothing. Don’t use “nice,” use “pleasant,” or “kind,” or “enjoyable.”

Nice is the oatmeal of adjectives: bland and flavorless, but acceptable and non-offensive. When you say that someone or something is “nice,” you are saying that it of they are a tan lump of inoffensiveness. Be specific or be silent.

Nice people finish last because there is nothing to them. People don’t mind oatmeal, but few crave it.

nice-one-sarcasmDon’t forget “bland and meaningless”

I decided to look up “nice” in the Online Etymology Dictionary, and it reinforced what I believed. Nice covers or covered a wide range of meanings, from foolish and stupid to precise and careful (which you still hear in terms like “nice and easy” or “nice shot” to dainty and delicate to it’s current meaning of vague agreeableness. Even it’s definition has nothing concrete to it. The OED uses this quote from Northanger Abbey:

“I am sure,” cried Catherine, “I did not mean to say anything wrong; but it is a nice book, and why should I not call it so?”
“Very true,” said Henry, “and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk; and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! It does for everything.” [Jane Austen, “Northanger Abbey,” 1803]

Not to say that these varied definitions are all wrong. At different times, I fit them all. I am foolish and stupid at least once a day. I am usually agreeable in a vague way, though as I said above, it’s just common decency. I am careful, my OCD takes care of that, but I am not precise, dainty, or delicate. I am ragged and dirty and completely insane. I am not a straight line. I am a pencil in a trembling hand (this is not a metaphor, my hands shake thanks to years of Lithium). My head is a toy box filled with mud, blood, and glitter.

So call me foolish. Call me stupid. Call me vaguely agreeable. Just don’t call me nice.

If you’ve made it this far, you probably like my writing. Check out my two fantasy novels Song of Simon, and The Watchmage of Old New York, or recommend them to friends. You can also check out this super secret “romance” project, “Welcome to Elmwood Park.” Writers don’t live by the “Like” button alone 😉
Cheesy ads are below…

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If Virtue Equals Success…

I have a few Facebook friends that work out and love to post inspiring stuff about working out. Yesterday, one said “Everything I learned I learned in the gym. Hard work and commitment are all you need in life to achieve your goals.”

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But it feeds into something I’ve been thinking about in society for a while now. I’ve seen it repeat in my history studies as well, and I think it bears acknowledgment.

What my friend (actually, he’s a bit of a dick) said the above is the echo of the American Dream. Success comes from virtue, being a good person, working hard, honesty, etc. You are rewarded for your Goodness. You can call it God’s Blessings, or Instant Karma, or whatever. They mean that if you are “good” you will have success.

But if that is true, then it would follow that if you don’t have success, you are a bad person. You’re not smart enough, or lazy, or violent, or drunk, etc. You have some flaw that is keeping you from millions of dollars and a yacht filled with women in bikinis and/or men in g strings.

Obviously that isn’t true. Bad things happen to good people, and good things to bad ones. But we cling to that belief like it’s a rope over a pit of lava. It influences the way we see and act toward other people, and not in a good way.

John Lennon was wrong. Instant Karma doesn’t get you. Dumb luck does.

two-face-i-make-my-own-luck

Wealth is Your Reward. Poverty is Your Punishment

“See that family in the trailer park? They must be drunks or meth addicts. That’s why they live there.”

“Don’t give that homeless guy change. He’ll probably just spend it on booze.”

“Those people on the welfare line?” They’re lazy. Get a job and quit sponging off my taxes!”

And on and on. We assume that they are bad, because they have bad circumstances. We use the scant examples of virtue leading to success as proof that it’s all we need. Success is 1% virtue and 99% luck (not data-based stats. It’s probably much less).

To blame someone else for your troubles is cowardice. Bravery is accepting your lot and trying to make it better.

We look down upon the poor, because part of us believes that they deserve it. They are bad people.  We also look up to the rich, because they must’ve earned it. They’re so smart, hard-working, dedicated, etc. We should be like them. It doesn’t matter if their parents were millionaires, sent them to the best schools, found them a great job through their connections, etc.

We worship the rich because we believe that they are worth worshiping, even if they’re only rich from inheritance or a sex tape (or both). But they are no better or worse than us, just like the poor. We all have virtues and vices, and they are separate from fame and fortune.

The Blame Game

“So why aren’t I rich? I’m a good person. Someone’s keeping me down. It’s not my fault, it’s their’s. They took our jobs. They rape and murder. They blah blah blah it’s not me.”

Sound familiar? It’s because you hear it every day, thrown at every “other.” It’s the immigrants. It’s the Muslims or Jews or Hindus or Buddhists or Pagans. It’s the feminists. It’s the government. They’re the reason my life sucks, not me. I’m infallible.

superman-immigration

People need to find a reason, no matter how absurd it is. To blame luck is to accept the random futility of life. You are not suffering because of anyone else. You are not suffering because of yourself. You are suffering because people suffer without cause and effect. The sooner you accept this and stop blaming others, the better off you will be.

Remember, you can play the game perfectly and still lose.

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Praying to the Dollar

There’s a quote usually attributed to John Steinbeck, but I’m not so sure about that. It goes “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

I don’t think that it’s true, and I don’t think it has to do with Socialism (and I really don’t give a damn about Socialism) so much as how we see the rich and poor. It’s because according to the American Dream, the rich are virtuous and the poor are laden with vice. You reap what you sow. You get what’s comin’ to you, etc.

It’s bullshit. Stop worshiping the rich. Stop crapping on the poor. Start treating people like they’re people instead of a tax bracket.  Stop blaming others for our lack of joy. We’re all in the goddamn fights of our lives, and we’re all going to lose at the end.

Joy doesn’t come from winning, but from playing the game.

Stop complaining. Keep fighting.

cosmic-cat tripping balls redux

Guilt or the Void: Facing a Lover’s Death

craig-and-val-jan-14-2013

On Tuesday it was four years since Valerie died. I admit, it’s getting easier to accept, though I still had a good cry on the way home from the grave. Certain songs still trigger tears, and I dream about those days around her death several times a week. I live them over and over: a twisted Groundhog’s Day with no conceivable end. There is no end to Love when it’s snatched away.

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On Turning 40

(This is a bit introspective, but it’s my party and I’ll kvetch if I want to).

I keep telling myself that it’s just a day. I’m one day older than yesterday, no more, no less. But that’s not true. A birthday isn’t a day, it’s a milestone, a click in you lifetime that doesn’t mark time, but experience. It’s a scenic rest stop on the highway where you get out of the car, stretch your legs, and look at where you’ve been.

I have experienced 40 years on the highway, and I’m looking back. And the road behind me is not impressive. It’s gunk and potholes and endless, endless construction. It’s like driving through Northern Jersey.

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When you’re young, you love birthdays. They’re about excitement and joy and parties with friends. I’m not having a party. I have panic attacks when there are too many people around, and I don’t have many friends any more. I don’t really like bars. I don’t have room to have people over. When my dad turned 40, we threw him a big surprise party in our house…we had a house! I only know a few people my age that have houses.When my mom turned 50 we threw her a party at a hotel. I always thought that I’d have the same. I wanted what my parents had. Family, friends, and a place to celebrate with them.

Anyway, when you’re young, it’s about celebration. When you’re old, it’s about introspection. I think about my life: where I’m at, my successes, my failures, my flaws and things left undone. I think about the roads not taken, and whether they would have made a difference. I think about “what ifs” and whether I can back track with what I know now.

It’s why people have mid-life crisises. They’re not about “oh my god, I’m getting closer to death.” It’s about “oh my god, why didn’t I make the left turn at Albuquerque?”

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I have a lot of regrets. I wish that I could’ve been there when my mom died. I wish that I was able to save Valerie’s life. I wish that I didn’t waste so much time. I wish…I wish the world would slow down so I can catch up. But I don’t wish for a sports car or anything cliche like that. I wish that I could’ve done more Good. I wish that I made more of a difference. I wish that people didn’t suffer because I didn’t act. I wish I had the power to make a difference.

I don’t. I can’t even help myself.

I can’t say whether I’ve had a good or bad life. There are hundreds of millions of people who have it far worse than I do, and just as many who have it better. I wasn’t dealt the best hand, what with all of my medical problems that keep me from living a “normal” life (whatever that is). But I haven’t been homeless in a few years, and I don’t have to beg doctors for medicine anymore. Whether that changes in the future, whether the bottom drops out and I live out my life in a group home or a cardboard box, I don’t know. Whether I’m dead in five years, I don’t know. But right now I’m alive and in a good place. 40 is not an age that I ever expected to reach, so I’m ahead of the game.

I hope that on the road ahead, I can do more than the road I’ve left behind. But the car is getting old and rusty. The shocks are going, the radio doesn’t work, and a dog peed in the back seat. And that road goes on forever, with or without me.

But I’ll have some cake. Cake will make it better.

cake-is-a-lie

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Embracing the Dark Side

(A kinda funny, but mostly serious post…because they can’t all be doggos.)

doge-borken-inside

Ok, one doggo.

It’s very hard to admit this. I try to deny it, to rise above it or work around it, but I’m done lying to myself. I’m done lying to you.

I have succumbed to the Dark Side.

I am only productive when I am angry at something. I need something to focus my loathing, or some other negative trait, on something in order to get anything done. I wrote my first novel because I was pissed at the crap that was getting published by the major companies. I lost 140 pounds because someone said that I couldn’t. I succeed to prove others wrong.

I can’t write out of joy. I have to write out of hate. Only when my heart is full of grit and worms and hot garbage that smells like Manhattan in the middle of a mid-80’s summer can I create anything worthwhile. Otherwise I sit around and do nothing, or worse, have writer’s block.

writers-block-soap

And I hate it.

And ironically (or fortunately) that hate of my process, or just regular self-loathing, is what keeps me going. I am never be calm, because writing makes me calm, but I have to be pissed to write. It’s a cycle or hate, satisfaction, and more hate.

But maybe if I embrace it instead of fighting it, maybe that will give me the control to turn it on and off. Instead of falling into the Dark Side, I can control it (oh, and if that isn’t a recipe for disaster cake). Maybe it’s like a football player putting on their game face. I can focus all of my rage into a hat, or maybe a jaunty scarf, and put it on when I need to.

Craig at MNF

(Yes, that is actually me. I’m a Jets fan. No wonder I’m so full of rage.)

A jaunty scarf would be nice.

So I find things and people to be mad at and about. I harp on my own weaknesses and frailties (of which I have many, though I’m apparently very good at hiding them because no one believes me when I say that I’m awful) to fire myself up. I bleed all over the keyboard.

writing-hemingway-bleed

And I’m sure that I’m not the only one. No wonder so many artists are miserable.

There’s a quote that’s often attributed to Hemingway, Dylan Thomas, Mark Twain, or whoever made the meme feels like giving it to. It goes “write drunk, edit sober.”

I don’t write drunk, I write angry. As for editing, I’m usually calm when I start editing and ready to shoot myself afterwards. Or Force Choke myself.

Ah, the power of the Dark Side.

Wanna see the results of my self-loathing and rage? Check out The Watchmage of Old New York or Song of Simon, not to mention one of the many short stories anthologies or journals you’ll find me in (or old articles from back when I used to write non-fiction). But mostly, the books. Read the damn books. Or don’t, it’s okay. I know that you’re busy, and there’s a lot of great stuff on Netflix.

Look! I even made cute little ads:

The Watchmage Is Coming

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Chanukah

menorah

This menorah has been in my family since before I was born. It was the one my father and mother lit, and now I keep that tradition alive.

I remember staring into the tiny flames, my head barely above the kitchen counter. I’m staring at them again, but from above.

And I wonder: who will light them when I am gone? Who will keep the tradition alive? Or does it end with me?

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