A Hazy Shade of Back When

There was one thing I could say about my time in high school, college, and my days in New York: I was pretty miserable through a lot of it. I was frequently anxious and frequently depressed, and I imagine that being my friend or lover was a major challenge. But here’s the thing about that. I can’t remember why. I mean, I know now that it was my bipolar disorder getting me on downswings, but the individual things that were depressing me or causing me anxiety are a mystery to me. I know that I constantly wanted to be in a relationship with a woman, and I was broke, but was that it?

I guess I’m wearing a thick pair of rose-colored glasses about the past, because I remember when it went well. I recall the parties and the hanging out and the getting to know people and the long walks and the joy of exploring the world. What keeps these glasses from becoming delusional, however, is that I am well aware of how unhappy I was at the time. I don’t want to go live in the past because the peace I feel in the present from being myself and being by myself is probably my greatest achievement.

It’s funny, though, the selective editing in my head. I may not have fully enjoyed my life at the time, but I fully enjoy my history now.

The Ghost of Anniversaries Past

I said I wasn’t going to spend any extra time thinking about this day, but I can’t seem to ignore it. I’m doing so well. I’m happy, and, while I’m not exactly eating healthily, I am mostly healthy. I’ve written five and almost finished with a sixth novel in the intervening year. I have a real, full-time job now that has promised me they’re not going to lay me off in the midst of the pandemic. I’m financially doing extremely well, and I’m making plans to take at least one vacation once the crisis has passed. The last year has been good to me.

It’s been fifteen years since April 30 has simply been the last day of the month. And what I’m feeling now is not nostalgia for the marriage. I do feel that sometimes, and it comes and goes like a song that gets stuck in your head. What I’m feeling is nostalgia for this day meaning something. It was a day when my wife and I would have a nice dinner together (usually steak because she’s a Nebraska girl), and I would compose a Facebook post that summed up where I was in the relationship. Sometimes she’d take the day off, but mostly she didn’t (she took all of the pagan holidays off, and I think she didn’t want to push it). I’d tease her about all the times she told people that our anniversary was April 31 (i.e. the last day of April). It was a low-key holiday, and I’m programmed to recognize it when it comes up.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it. My predictions last year that I would by now haven’t proven true. Maybe I’ll just defy what I’m supposed to do and recognize the day as a kind of trophy to the fact that I was married once, for a really long time, and I’m the man I am today because of it. That I can remember that part of my life without bitterness or longing, but as a part of me, as much a part of me as my six years in New York or my four years in college or my two years in Qatar or my ten years with an on-again-off-again drinking problem.

It’s who I was. It’s who I am.

The More They Stay the Same

We are at an unprecedented point in our history, and it’s got me seriously concerned about something. We are seeing clearly that capitalism as it we know it is toxic, that the CEOs are avaricious and cruel and are profiting off of this national disaster. We’re seeing clearly that the party that has been elected to run our federal and most of our state government is incompetent and vain and in the pockets of the aforementioned CEOs. We’re seeing a disaster made exponentially worse because the people who are supposed to look out for us are failing, and it’s the nurses and teachers and hourly workers—essentially second-class citizens—are holding it all together.

What I’m afraid of is that, when this is all over, nothing will change. That we will continue to reelect those people we have been complaining about for months. That the billionaires will give themselves bonuses, and the politicians who support them will give them more tax cuts. I’m afraid that the nurses and teachers will go back to being ignored and mistreated, and that there will be no minimum wage increase or sick time for the hourly employees who risked their lives to make society function. If nothing comes out of this nightmare we’ve been living with, then what was the point?

How bad will it have to get for things to change? I have a sick feeling in my stomach that it’s going to take a lot more than this.

Tea and Crumpets

From what I understand, I have a reputation for being intelligent. Some even consider me to be intellectual. I can’t think of anything about me that’s further from the truth.

I was a B student in high school, which is reasonably smart, but once I made it to college, I became a C student who barely graduated. I hardly did any of the reading and basically bullshat my way through all of my papers and exams.

I don’t read much, and when I do, it tends to be trashy urban fantasy. I don’t watch informative documentaries or complex movies on Netflix, but rather action and comic book movies—I’ve already shared my love of the Resident Evil franchise, and that’s a series where every movie is exponentially dumber than the last one. I don’t like intellectually challenging music like Tom Waits or Amanda Palmer, but rather the Wu-Tang Clan or catchy grunge. And while I am enamored with Sandman, most of my comic book collection leans toward the wham bam pow! (Also, I kind of hate Maus.) So, yeah, as far as pop culture is concerned, I lean heavily on the pop.

I’m always worried people get the wrong idea about my pursuits. When I did that kind of thing, I hated it when people called me an artist. An artist creates visual works that enrich the minds of people who gaze upon them. I just doodled pictures of cats and squirrels and characters in my short stories. And I’m a writer, but I’m not exploring the human condition through a mastery of the English language. My current novel is about a teenage girl in high school trying to outwit an invisible murder spirit.

I’m not writing this to fish for compliments or to feel sorry for myself. I’m just being honest. I’m not an extraordinary person, and I don’t need to be. I don’t have a responsibility to be more than I am. “What about bettering yourself?” you might ask. I answer, “What’s wrong with our society that we’re not allowed to accept ourselves for where we’re at?” Because I worked hard for years to get to the point where I’m this level of unexceptional, and I would like to enjoy it, thank you very much.

I’m only an okay writer. I’m a marginally decent cartoonist. I’m a poor example of an intellectual. And I’m not missing anything. I’m Jeremiah Murphy, and I like who I am.

A Little Perspective

I said to my psychiatrist during our appointment, “Nothing like this has ever happened before in the history of our country, so I’m not worried that I’m feeling depressed and anxious and a little hopeless right now because any rational, sane person would be feeling that way.”

He agreed with me 100 percent. And since he is, hands down, the best mental health professional I have ever met, maybe we should think about that and cut ourselves a little slack for being freaked out for being locked up during a deadly freaking pandemic.

The Cat Came Back

What many of you may not know about Henry the Cat, my roommate’s companion who shredded my arm yesterday, took full control of the couch last week, and rearranges the art on my wall when he thinks it’s time for breakfast, and basically rules this apartment with an iron paw, is that he used to be my cat.

One morning in the spring of 2014, I was living in Doha, Qatar, and, while making coffee, I heard someone crying. I ran to my front door, and there was a little black kitten, scared to death. I took him inside, gave him some food and a safe place to sleep, and he was a mellow kitty, and Kate and I decided we would quarantine him for a little bit and let him join the family. He was mellow because he was malnourished and underslept. Fed and rested, he turned out to be made of springs and destruction. Also, he was a really smart cat, and smart cats are the worst.

He was introduced to the house, and he got along pretty well with Newcastle, and Magik ignored him successfully, but Andrew was not okay with this. He started to lose weight and pee all over the house, and since Andrew had lived with Kate for fourteen years by that point, the new guy, who we had named Henry, had to go.

We took him to the vet to be fostered out, and they put him in a cage, and he screamed in the cage, nonstop, until they had to give him back to us. We tried fostering him at other houses in the neighborhood, but he was too much to handle. One place they locked him in the bathroom, and he just let himself out. We couldn’t take him back, but every other day someone would return him to us. He couldn’t live with us, not if Andrew was going to be okay. We had three options. We could let him back out on the streets of Doha, where life would be nasty, brutish, and short. We could put him to sleep, which hardly seemed fair. Or we could pay over two thousand dollars to ship him to the United States to live with some friends who fostered animals. It wasn’t even a choice.

When he arrived at our friends’ home, he proceeded to be the cataclysm he was for everybody else, but they were made of stronger stuff than the others in Doha. They really couldn’t wait to get rid of him, though. Enter Nicole, the cat whisper, who instantly bonded with him on a visit. She got a new apartment, specifically for him, and brought him home.

There has never been a better animal/human match in history. They are obsessed with each other. When Nicole has to spend the night elsewhere because she’s dogsitting, she FaceTimes with him. And when she was seeing a guy and brought him home overnight, he went into a fit of jealous rage. (Said the guy, “I think he likes me!” Said Henry, “I’m going to stab you in the face.”) We braced for the worst when Newcastle and I moved in, but the two little guys really love each other (they get jealous of Nicole’s affections, though), and Henry tolerates me.

And once again, he’s my problem. I say, “Remember me, Henry? I rescued you from the streets!” He replies, “Give me treats, or I’m going to smash your favorite coffee mug.” So I give him treats.

Wiping out the Supply

We’re running out of toilet paper, and every grocery store doesn’t have any, so my roommate turned to online sources. She found one deal that is awfully tempting, even though we live in an 800-square-foot apartment and have no space anywhere to put eighty rolls of toilet paper. 

Welcome to the apocalypse. Bet you didn’t anticipate these kinds of moral dilemmas.

The Hero We Need

Something I’ve been thinking about lately as I’ve been watching more TV and movies due to being trapped in the apartment. Star Trek, as a concept, will always be superior to Star Wars*, and that’s because of what it teaches you about heroism.

In Star Trek, Captain Kirk wasn’t there to save the day because of some prophesy, he was there to save the day because he chose to go through Starfleet Academy, and he performed well at his job, and he was promoted to captain. Picard wasn’t born to be captain, he earned it.

In Star Wars, you’re either born a Jedi, or you’re not. You can’t choose to become a Jedi. Also, being part of the Skywalker family absolves you of murder and genocide, so there’s that. I know, I know, Star Wars fans, there’s Han Solo and Poe Dameron and Finn and all these guys who are heroes despite not being born with the gift, but their stories take second billing to the battle between The Light and Dark side.

This isn’t just Star Wars. Hardly a property exists anymore where the hero isn’t made, they’re born. Harry Potter (all the characters), Neo, the aforementioned Luke Skywalker, Thor, both Buffy and Angel, the new Sabrina, Doctor Who now, and so on. It’s this damned hero’s journey that Hollywood is so obsessed by, where heroism is this external force that is bestowed on someone, as opposed to them actually deciding to be a hero on their own. And, yes, I know that many of these characters resist being a hero, but destiny is destiny, and they are heroes anyway.

Who out there do I consider to be a self-made hero? Captain Malcolm Reynolds is my first choice—even when he resists doing the right thing, he does the right thing because it’s the right thing. Spider-Man—a spider didn’t choose to bite him as his birthright, it bit him at random, and he eventually took responsibility and did the right thing. Steve Rogers—he signed up to be experimented on because it was the one way he could help sock Hitler in the jaw (if he didn’t die from said experiment). What makes these my top three choices is that they’re not exceptional: anybody could be bitten by a bug or volunteer to help your country. And, of course, there’s the blue-collar smuggler. It’s what they chose to do with what they got that made them special.

I think we need more media telling us that we don’t need to inherit fantastical powers or have had long dead men written about our lives to be the hero. That we need to stop letting those who are born with gifts (i.e. exceptional wealth) tell us that only they know how to save the day, because that is decidedly not true.

(On a similar note, is there an IP out there where magic isn’t genetic? This is everywhere, from Harry Potter and The Magicians to the Discworld to Sabrina and Star Wars. It’s in innumerable fantasy and urban fantasies I’ve read over the years. In my experience with magic, it’s a skill anybody can learn if they put the time and effort into it. Is there a movie/TV/book series where this is the case?)

* Put away the lightsabers and blasters, I’m exaggerating. They both have their positives and negatives, and they’re hardly the same thing, so how can you compare them?

Soothing the Savage Beast

Music was once one of the things that mattered to me most in the world. I listened to it full blast, I interpreted it with the pretention of an English professor, I waited breathlessly for album releases that were going to change my life, man, I judged people based on what they listened to, I shared it with anybody who would listen, and, as I got older, I went to innumerable shows in crowded, stinky bars. I, without exaggeration, credit music with saving my life on more than one occasion when I was a teenager.

But now, I really couldn’t care all that much about it. The last new music I bought was two years ago, and it was an album that was fifteen years old at the time. What I predominantly listen to now is the same stuff I listened to when I was in my teens and twenties. I appreciate it, I adore it, but I don’t build as much around it as much as I used to. 

I was thinking of this as I was watching that Hulu show, High Fidelity. Some of the conversations they had made as much sense as me listening to someone talk about computer components or Magic the Gathering cards. It’s the way I’d talk about Doctor Who if people would let me. And I think it’s great. Not the judgment that characters were passing on other characters for what they listened to, but the intensity, the fire. 

I think I lost mine after countless hours in the car with Kate, who was always driving and got to pick the music, most of which I didn’t like. (She did have one song that started an avalanche that greatly expanded my collection, though, and a couple of one-hit wonders I stole from her.) I had to put my hostility away to survive the trips. She was never particularly interested in what I listened to, so I had no one to share my own discoveries with. 

And then there was the spirit-breaking I have gotten working retail. Holy crap, is that some bad music. 

Somewhere along the line, I lost the passion for it. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you have been nodding along, saying, “Yup, that’s what getting older does.” I never lost my passion for comic books or action movies (I have lost it for cartoons, though), so I wonder, why music? Why did that have to shrivel up? It’s not because I’m an adult because I am a terrible adult. 

I’ll never understand it, so I guess I’ll just listen to some more nineties-era grunge, go to work, and tend to my teenager (who has four legs and is covered in fur). 

Cooped up and Crazy

Day 15 of quarantine, and I’ve snapped. I thought that, as a rabid introvert, this would be great, but I’m barely keeping it together.

Part of it is physical. It’s a seven-minute walk at top speed to get to the office from the Metro in the morning, and Order Processing is an active, demanding job, and over the course of two days, all of that is gone. Walks around the cemetery aren’t filling in the gap.

Mostly it’s time. What am I supposed to do with all of it? I thought I’d write more with tons of it, but I’m actually writing less. When I worked, I wrote for an hour first thing in the mornings, on the trains when I found a seat, and in the hour between jobs. I still write for an hour in the morning, but that’s it. The rest of my time I spend trying unsuccessfully to think of things to write and watching TV. When time isn’t precious, I tend to waste more of it.

This is going to go on for a while, so what I need is some way to apply the pressure that I’m used to, or just to use the time productively, or to accept and forgive myself if I’m not productive. These are strange times.