Too Bad You're Beautiful

I dump short stories, long-form reviews, and random streams of consciousness here.

Journal #2 – Ruinous Nostalgia

I lost my job a couple of weeks ago, so I've had far more time on my hands than I'd like. Because of this, I've been binging quite a bit of Dark Souls 3 content, like unabridged game dialogue and useless data. Recently, I watched a dialogue video about Karla; the “hex” tutor that you can rescue halfway through the game. There was one quote in particular that resonated with me, more than anything else:

“There is one thing that you should know: there is a darkness within man, and I am afraid you will peer into it. Whether the fear will spark self-reflection or a ruinous nostalgia is up to you entirely.”

The phrase “ruinous nostalgia” stuck with me for a lot longer than it probably should have. With that in mind, I feel like it's the perfect description for this abstract feeling I've had ever since this pandemic began. Then again, I suppose it's not correct to refer to this as a single “abstract feeling” either. It's more like a culmination of smaller thoughts that coalesce into a bigger, more abstract whole.

I turned 24 shortly before the pandemic began. My birthdays aren't usually something I pay much attention to. However, this happened right at the turn of the decade. At that point, I realised that I was a high school freshman 10 years prior. A hazy and otherwise fractured past was then made vividly clear through all the social media algorithms reminding me of stuff I posted back in 2010.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't be hung up on such a thing because there are 10-year milestones that I've otherwise never cared about. I didn't shed a tear or get paralysed in my boots at the thought of entering middle school 10 years ago back in 2016. However, I think the big differentiator here is that I didn't get into social media until my freshman year of high school. Without an archive of my past from that point in time, I wouldn't necessarily have an attachment to it.

Obviously, digging through my posts from that point in time is useless. Before deleting my Facebook account, most of what I found were forgotten petty squabbles, complaints about homework, and the occasional meme. The posts that caught me off-guard reflected ideals or goals that I once held dear to my heart; things that I'd later abandon for one reason or another.

Shortly after deleting my Facebook account, I started having this nagging thought in the back of my mind. Just how far had I fallen from the vision I once had for myself? Being completely honest with myself, I know for a fact that my goals back then were coloured by my perception of what is and isn't possible. Getting older naturally meant that I'd have to abandon some of my loftier goals when logistics became an issue.

While that little rant explains why I abandoned my goals, it still doesn't explain why I abandoned those ideals I once held onto. Thus, the nagging thought continued to pester me. It wasn't something that I actively paid attention to; though, upon retrospect, I did notice that I lost the joy I once took in minor things, like video games or writing. It took so much effort to put my mind at ease that I lost the ability to take joy in the activities that I ordinarily took pleasure in. This mental struggle happened for months as this pandemic dragged on. Of course, every dam has its breaking point.

It all came to a head for me a few days ago. One of my friends hit me up at around 10:30 PM, asking if I wanted to smoke a blunt with him. We cashed his paycheque, went to our usual spot near the cheque-cashing place to pick up some weed, and drove back to his place to roll up. He had to leave shortly thereafter, but it was no problem for me (or so I thought). What I'd later experience would be one of the worst highs I've ever had in my life.

The last time I rolled up with that same friend was during the summer. If I were too high to drive, I'd relax in my car watching whatever I wanted on YouTube until I was sober. While I still opted to do that this time around, I did so in the dead of January, in the middle of the night, where the temperature was at 0-1 degree Celsius. It was fucking cold, and I was shivering the whole time. In fairness, this was a self-inflicted problem because I was paranoid about idling my engine for fear of attracting attention from cops and/or nosy neighbours.

The combined stress of the cold, the paranoia about cops/nosy neighbours, and the fact that I was too high to drive home meant that I couldn't enjoy anything I tried to watch on YouTube. So, I sat in silence, staring at the few stars I could make out that night. That's when I asked myself the following question out loud:

“Is this really what you aspired to be 10 years ago?”

That's when everything started flooding for me. I decided to record myself speaking so that I'd have a frame of reference if I ever decided to transcribe that stream of consciousness. It sounds weird when I say it like that, but I have a habit of recording my thoughts that I picked up from a fiction writing class I took a few years ago. But, I digress. Amid the stutters, awkward pauses, and unintelligible static caused by dropping my phone in my car, there were four underlying issues that I ranted about in the recording: my dissatisfaction with the way my life is right now, my inability to be a consistent person, how I'm a slave to my emotions and impulses, and this idea that my self-loathing is entirely justified.

The first point is something I'm sure everyone has to deal with at some point or another. It's easy to pin the vast majority of the blame on the pandemic at large. However, there are some things that the pandemic can't be blamed for. Even before the entire world went on collective lockdown, I was dissatisfied with my life. I'm a college drop-out who worked minimum-wage jobs for the vast majority of his adulthood. Before that, I was an underachiever in high school whose habit of cutting class made it impossible to enter college without taking remedial courses.

I know that social media is fundamentally designed to make us feel psychologically inferior to our peers by creating a culture that glorifies small accomplishments. I'm sure some part (large or small) of that feeds why I'm dissatisfied with my life. However, that dissatisfaction with my life also extends into other parts that I'm not usually conscious of. My (current) inability to be an adult with consistent, healthy habits and healthy relationships with the people in his life was something I ranted about in painfully self-aware detail during that recording.

Here I am, well into my 20s: I'm fairly overweight, I'm lazy to a critical fault having missed deadlines and goals both at work, school, and home and feeling no real sense of urgency despite how dire my circumstances might be, I'm inconsistent with how I take my psychiatric medication, the list goes on and on. I can't even say “in fairness,” because these are problems I've been dealing with for much longer than I should be. That's not even getting into the utter trash fire that is my interpersonal relationships.

The pandemic at large has been a strain on everyone's relationships; I understand that I'm not the only one dealing with this. However, that still doesn't explain away how I shrugged off social gatherings before the pandemic began. Oh, I'm exhausted from another 9-hour shift at my dead-end retail job? So are all of my other friends, yet they wanted to put aside their collective exhaustion to enjoy one another's company, and they were gracious enough to invite me. The least I could do in that situation is stick around for an hour or two before going home to rest.

Of course, that would imply I have a modicum of self-discipline to put my own desires and emotions aside for the sake of others. Yes, I know for a fact that I'm hyperbolic here. I've gone out of my way countless times to be there for my friends, and I don't think anyone I know personally would contest that. However, the times where I decided to say “fuck this important thing I should probably be doing” and indulged my hedonism is still significant in quantity for it to be a problem. Do I really need to pass up a social gathering because I was planning on beating my meat to porn for the umpteenth time in a row? Do I really need to bail on a Discord call 10 minutes into the conversation because I just felt the urge to watch YouTube videos? Do I really need to lay about the house all day like a brick when I could go out for a short walk and get some fresh air?

I know it sounds like I'm harsh with myself here, and I'll concede that I'm probably not as bad of a state as I think I am. However, the question that made me start sobbing in the recording was when I asked the following:

“If you had the opportunity to go back in time to sit down and have a conversation with yourself from 10 years ago, do you think that teenage you would be happy with the way your life currently is? Can you seriously talk to that kid, knowing exactly what he'll go through in the coming decade and tell him that he'll grow up to become a goddamn loser? I didn't have any strong ambition growing up, but I never once thought my life would end up like this.”

I know self-love is an important aspect of becoming a well-adjusted adult. However, I can't love myself. Not as I currently am, anyway. I know I have a lot more going for myself than what I give myself credit for. However, there's a fine line between self-love and enabling your own worst habits. For so long, I've been enabling myself in all the worst ways. Maybe that abstract conglomerate of individual thoughts was some metaphor for me trying to sweep all of my problems under the rug.

To tie back into the Dark Souls 3 quote that I started with, I think that this darkness I'm currently peering into has sparked meaningful self-reflection. However, I'm hoping that this won't lead to me being stuck in the reflection phase. Reflecting is fine, but actions speak louder than complex thoughts.

Journal #1 – The Writer's Paradox

In my adult life, writing has become both a prison and an escape. It's an escape in that the only limit to what I can put on paper is my imagination. However, that was once a metaphor for boundless potential. Writing became a prison for me when I started thinking about the potential negative criticism, my limitations as both an author and an artist, potential implications that people can read from my works, and so much more.

Writing can be just as natural or as forced as breathing. There are days when I find myself able to write for hours on end. Maybe I've made good progress on a passion project that I was neglecting for far too long. It's also possible that I just finished watching something and wanted to get my thoughts out on pen and paper. The flow of ideas isn't impeded for whatever reason, so writing comes naturally. Sadly, these days have been coming fewer and further between with every passing year.

All too often, I find myself lost in a deep fog. There are times when I can make out a beacon of light, however faint. It guides me to my desk where I'm able to eke out a few sentences, maybe a paragraph or two. However, that's all I can muster. Perhaps I'm rewriting sentences over and over again, or perhaps I'm drawing a blank at what comes next in this story that I'm writing. What if I'm in the editing stages and I find myself deeply dissatisfied with what I wrote? Could the gut feeling I trusted back then be wrong now?

When I was younger, I had no sense of shame when it came down to my creativity. Even if I cringe at the thought of it now, I was able to write down whole high-concept scenarios that were likely cobbled together from the TV, movies, video games, music, and books/manga that I read. I never thought about the implications of what I wrote at the time because I never felt the need to.

As I got older and began consuming more works across various genres, platforms, and mediums, I began to think more about the finer details surrounding the media that I consumed. That in turn, bled into my writing where now, I'm worried about coming across a certain way. Certainly, there were times in the past where I was told that my work comes across one way despite my intent being the exact opposite.

The beauty surrounding art is that everyone's able to experience it while coming to their own interpretations. However, that puts me in a weird place as an artist. I have my own vision that I want to make clear, but others might not necessarily share the same opinion. I get so tripped up in the minor details about something to the point where I lose track of the big picture. I suppose there is also the fear of failure, but that ties in with my fear of potential implications.

Despite all of the headache surrounding the writing process, I wouldn't trade it for the world. Even during my worst days where all I can do is rewrite the same 3 paragraphs over and over again, there's something oddly meditative about the process that I can't quite describe. There's also the pride I take in being able to create something rather than the usual loop of consuming and criticising. I might not necessarily create often, but the immense sense of gratification I get from creating and eventually finishing a project.

Crossroads

Son of a bitch, why’d this downpour have to start when I got out of work? I turn off my car and get the umbrella. As I reach for the door, I feel my phone buzzing in my pocket. Oh, it’s Laila.

“Hey jaanu, what’s up?”

“Hey Kaiz, just wanted to give you a heads-up: I’m giving Fatima a ride home, and we’re probably gonna get something to eat along the way.”

“Oh… okay. Wait out the rain if it’s bad, I don’t want you hydroplaning on the way back.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be careful. Anyway, bye.”

“Bye.”

I let out a deep sigh as I unlocked the door and made my way inside. Wait, what’s that on the floor? Oh, the photo must’ve fallen over. I pick it up and put it back on the table with the ornaments; the photo being one of Laila and I on our first date at the church carnival. Fuck man… it’s been ten years since we first met and got together. I can remember the day I first met her with such vivid clarity to the point where it honestly feels like just yesterday: I was standing by the parking lot after school, and she asked me who I was waiting for. At that point in time, we were both freshmen in a school completely distant from all the people we knew in middle school. I was the introverted nerd who was deep into his metal phase, and she was the social butterfly who had a hard-on for electronic music. It was at that moment we became friends and then from that point forward, we were almost inseparable.

We would immediately seek each other out the moment our classes ended just to talk shit on our boring teachers, sit together during lunch while sharing music with only one pair of headphones between the two of us, gush about all the shit that we had in common, or even smoke some hash after school while munching on some White Castle shortly thereafter. Anyone who saw us, from passing students to the teachers who we talked shit on would often quip about how close we were. Eventually, we both decided to just say “fuck it,” and we officially became a couple. From that point forward, the rest of high school was effectively one giant, euphoric blur. We watched movies together, snuck out at midnight to smoke some hash and fuck, cut last period so that we’d have that extra hour to be around one another before her dad came around to ruin the fun by picking her up.

When we graduated high school and started college, we both got married and started renting this flat as we lived out the fantasy: we’d get home from classes, or sometimes work and make dinner. She’d cut ass on me for not knowing how to sauté properly and I’d cut ass on her for not knowing how to mince an onion properly, laugh at all the stupidity that aired on MTV or cheer on the senseless violence that shit like Thursday Night SmackDown! or Monday Night Raw entailed. I’d get jealous when she started commenting on Edge’s body and she’d get jealous if I was talking about Tori Wilson’s ass. Ultimately though, it was all part of our shtick and we’d both go to bed happy. Great life, right? If I was looking from the outside in, I would say so too. At the same time though, that’s not the reality by any stretch of the imagination.

As I’m microwaving some leftover chicken soup, I hear the door unlocking followed by the sound of stiletto heels hitting the hardwood floors. Laila’s home. She briskly walks into our room and shuts the door, leaving behind the faint smell of her rose-scented perfume that’s almost completely overpowered by the smell of chicken broth. I let out yet another deep sigh and take out the bowl before the microwave starts beeping. I grab a seat and just start staring at my own reflection in the bowl.

I’m not sure when I began to feel this way, but now… I’m not even sure if I can say that I love her anymore. I mean, it’s not like I’m not attracted to her; we wouldn’t be fucking at all if I needed a pill to get it up. We’re still largely compatible and I honestly do care about her. At the same time though, there’s something that’s been off for the last few months, probably years if I think back far enough. We operate on two speeds: either we’re insufferably in love with one another and won’t leave each other alone except when we’re at work OR we’re just frigid – the only conversation between us being simple formalities, like letting one know the other is okay. One of us would get a hair up our ass about something, and the next thing we know, there’s a rift that forms between us. We’d stick to our own sides of the bed, one of us makes dinner, the other eats out, that kind of thing.

Sure, one of us would reach out and bridge the gap after some time passes but the rift is still there waiting for the next collapse which will take longer to fix than the last. When we fight, we both get ugly. She reaches straight for the stones and brings up shit from the past, the opportunities she passed up because of me, etc. and I follow suit. If either of our families gets involved in the matter, forget about it. We both hate our families and our in-laws, but they hate the people their children married even more. Venom from all sides and the damage is still there even after they leave.

I finished my soup and ran the bowl under some water before leaving it in the sink. I walk over to our room, and I see her trying to sleep; she’s on the far side of the bed with her back turned away from me. It’s gonna be another one of THOSE nights… I close the door and slide under the covers, lying down on the opposite side with my back facing hers.

“Goodnight, jaanu...”

There’s no response; she’s either knocked out or just purposely ignoring me. I let out yet another deep sigh, and try to fall asleep

We’re mutually paranoid about the other going astray. We’ve been married for years and neither of us have ever cheated, but that doesn’t stop her from getting defensive and protective of me when we go out to a party and I give one of my platonic friends a hug. What’s more, I can’t even say that I don’t do the same because I’m the exact same way. Doesn’t matter if it’s someone I’m also friends with, you’ll bet that we won’t get our arms off of each other if we’re both hanging around one of our friends of the opposite sex. Maybe it’s a good thing that we don’t have any kids.

She likes the idea of having children but she doesn’t like the idea of either of our parents trying to get involved in their lives. I, on the other hand, don’t want to have children, period. Yeah, I like being the cool uncle who plays video games and pulls pranks on my nieces and nephews or take them out on the town but I don’t even know if I have the mental acuity to put up with all the shit, the vomit, the noise, the teenage angst, the paranoia of not knowing whether or not I’m doing the same shit to my kid that our parents did to us, etc.

All things considered, there’s been more than enough dysfunction to match the affection we have for one another. Even if we leave this flat, move somewhere far away from our families and other such problematic relations, what’s left of our own daemons? What if we end up an old, dysfunctional married couple stuck together only because we’re in too deep to separate now? What will happen if I just straight-up tell her this? I want shit to get better between us, but at this point in time… I don’t even know if it can. As we’re both going through the motions of our morning routines, I turn on the TV to get the weather report. Fuck, I must’ve missed it. Wait, what’s this commercial? It’s an ad for…marriage counselling? An idea just popped into my head.

“Laila, look!” I exclaim.

“What is it?! I’m trying to find my purse.”

“An advertisement for marriage counselling, maybe we should go?”

“Pay $100-something an hour for some shrink to talk to us because our HMO won’t cover it? Fuck that.”

“Come on, aren’t you tired of all this bullshit? If we both wanted to leave, we could’ve left a long time ago.”

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?!”

“I mean that I’m tired of us sleeping on opposite sides of the fucking bed after we argue. I’m sick of us ignoring one another after a long day of work. I wanna go back to the days when we were newlyweds still madly in love with one another.”

At that moment, she drops her car keys to the floor and just stares out the window. There’s a pit forming in my stomach, and I don’t like it one bit whatsoever.

“Kaiz… do you really mean that?” Her voice is soft and it’s quivering, like she’s about to cry. That pit in my stomach is just getting bigger at this point.

“Yes, a thousand times over. I want us to stay together, but only if we’re both happy. Otherwise, why are we still doing this?”

“You bastard, I fucking hate you for making me ruin my makeup after I just got out of the shower…” She has her head turned away from me, but I can see her tears mixed with mascara hitting the window sill.

“Is that a yes?”

“I… I don’t know, I have to think. I’ll let you know when I get back from work. In any case, get out of the way. I gotta wash my face… go warm up the car otherwise we’ll both be late!”

She runs to the bathroom and pushes me aside but as she’s going to wash her make-up off, I could’ve sworn she was starting to smile. But what if she wasn’t and I’m just reading her wrong? That pit in my stomach is still there, but there’s another feeling that’s matching the dread… something hopeful. Hopeful of what, though? Hoping that we’ll get better or some subconscious hope of becoming single again? Either way, this is gonna be one awkward drive to work.