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Monthly Archives: June 2016

Letter to 12-Year-Old Me

Letter to 12-Year-Old Me

I’m sure a lot of us, when we were kids, had to do those cutesy little school assignments where we wrote letters to our future selves. After reading reading the popular blog Hyperbole and a Half, I decided to take a page from writer Allie Brosh’s book and offer a response to my young self who wrote a letter to my older self. However, I can never remember exactly when I wrote those letters and at what age, so I’m going to simplify this whole thing by writing a single response to myself at one of the most defining – and worst – ages of my life. My 12-year-old self is probably where I started to fall into a rocky road mentally because it was where the mental obstacles I faced probably hit their apex and where I could have used some real advice and guidance by someone who understood what was happening, and the fact that I was extremely impressionable and clueless.

Dear 12-year-old me,

You need to quit worrying about how to suddenly make yourself cool to your classmates. They’re assholes. Every last one. And at least half of your teachers aren’t any better. Hell, last year the teachers at Follow Through let one of your classmates get away with blatant physical assault. I know that part is finally over, but let’s look at the roster of people you are forced to interact with every day in school: There was the one kid, Tim, who was actually one of your good friends until sixth grade, when he decided he enjoyed making fun of you with a group he fell into and left you out of. There are those two who you think were decent friends once upon a time, but they sort of led you down the path. It’s not good-natured ribbing when they make fun of you – it’s them trying to make you jump through hoops for their own amusement.

Your best bet is to transfer to a different school. I know that’s a scary prospect, but you’re going to be doing that in a couple of years no matter what happens anyway, so why not? I know you’re worried about your social life, but that’s not exactly storming the beaches these days. So get the hell out. Make a fresh start. Considering what you’re going through, the evil you don’t know is a far better option than the evil you know. The deck is stacked against you there, and like I said, even the teachers don’t give a shit.

Speaking of terrible teachers, I can’t stress this enough: Quit listening to Pastor B in confirmation class. Nice man, well enough; but all he’s doing is selling you a bevy of half-truths and outright lies in an effort to scare you and warp you into his own way of thinking. Don’t worry about the prospect of more parent/minister chats. Fuck how much they annoy your parents. You don’t owe either of them jack shit for making you go through this. If anything, you should be doing MORE to piss off Pastor B and force more private conferences. The man is a walking boob who is selling snake oil, and what’s more, Mom and Dad both KNOW he’s a walking boob who’s selling snake oil. To this day I still haven’t the slightest idea of why they believed shoving me through confirmation class was so important. It was a waste of their time, an inexcusable waste of my time, and you ended up coming out all the worse because of it. In fact, a better thing to do is just refuse to keep going to confirmation class until they give you a satisfactory answer to the question of why you are being forced through it. “It’s traditional,” “It’s what young men do,” and “because I said so” don’t fucking count. Your parents were great, but sending me to confirmation class was a stupid thing to do back then, and considering what you’ve gone through since, in hindsight it’s a galactic fuckup. And they both know it.

Confirmation class will only have bad effects that will hurt your social development. It’s going to fill you with a sense of guilt and self-unworthiness which you’re STILL trying to get over; it’s going to make you feel a sense of shame whenever you realize you have romantic and sexual feelings toward a woman, which will take you years to expunge; it’s going to turn you into a homophobe, which will also take years to get over. It will act as a suppressor to your inquisitive personality and you’ll start trying to swallow your questions and ideas. You’re going to notice the rift between religion and basic science and let it tear you apart. You WILL eventually meet a new minister who is going to act as your guide through the tricky aspects of religion and take your questions seriously without offering the usual platitudes about reading more Bible or Just Believing, but that won’t be for another 12 years. Right now, you can spare yourself a lot of self-resentment by embracing your doubts and questions. Challenge Pastor B, stand up and demand answers to his propaganda statements, and don’t be afraid to walk out of class when the situation calls for it. Again, your parents royally fucked up by sending you there, and it’s vitally important that you drive that point home right now rather than in another 20 years.

Now let’s concentrate on something your folks did get right: Man, you need to find something to do besides school and confirmation class that gets you out the door. Yes, I know video games and books are your escapes right now, but you need human contact. You also need something challenging to try so you’ll be more willing to develop the talents you have. You recently taught yourself to play the piano. By everyone’s accounts, you weren’t too bad at it, either. Maybe you could keep going along that route and become the master of an instrument it’s widely believed to take ten fingers to master. Django Reinhardt messed his fret hand up in an accident and still became arguably the greatest guitarist who ever lived. Rick Allen played drums after his goddamned ARM was ripped off in a car accident!

No, your hand is not an excuse. There are several things which may cause you trouble, but you won’t know what you can and can’t do until you actually try them. You’re creative, so act like it. If something requires fingers that you don’t have, find a way to improvise.

Lastly, don’t let yourself fall into a self-destructive mental state. I’ve been there; it’s not fun. You’re awesome. You aren’t some freak show – you deserve dignity, respect, and the right to a life. You deserve to be around people who like you for who you are and don’t care about some arbitrary birth defect which you can’t change. You’re going to realize all this someday; but that someday can come a lot sooner and make your life a bit easier if you start taking the advice I just gave you above.

Sincerely,
Yours Truly at 34

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A Letter to the Grim Reaper

A Letter to the Grim Reaper

Dear Mr. Grim Reaper,

It’s time you and I had a little chat. We need to settle something: Among the famed and influential people you’ve taken from the world this year are David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, and now Muhammad Ali. Ali is the only one among them whose time had been seen coming for awhile. He was 74 – early old age, and a longtime sufferer of Parkinson’s Disease. But Bowie and Rickman – whom you killed within a week of each other – were both in their 60’s. Prince didn’t even get that far. None of them deserved to head off into the Grey Havens early. In fact, they were all champions of good causes who showed the world that it was okay to be different and stand out.

How the hell are you coming up with the names on your list this year, Mr. Reaper? You can’t be pulling them out of a hat – the odds of all four of those names being pulled from a hat that large are astronomical. They have to be in the billions. You need to start picking off some worse people to balance this out. Here is a list of names I’m practically leading the cheers to see go down:

Gwyneth Paltrow
Okay, I can admit that it’s not her fault that she’s the daughter of actress Blythe Danner and movie producer Bruce Paltrow. But damn if she doesn’t know how to ride the Daddy’s rich little girl routine to its most extreme end. She earned my sympathy at one point by performing an experiment to see if she could eat healthy for a week with the kind of money that poor people make. Turned out the answer was no – no shit, tell us something we don’t know – but her behavior both before and after that makes me wonder if she wasn’t trying to whip up some exotic French three-course meal during that experiment. For god’s sake, she just made news for recommending a solid gold dildo which cost more than most peoples’ cars – and if they live in certain parts of the Rust Belt, possibly even their houses. She puts out a list of Christmas gifts every year which are beyond expensive. If you’re trying to live like her, you’re going to be torn every month between buying her favored jumper or keeping your roof over your head. I’m halfway convinced Paltrow is a distant relative of the Solomon family from Third Rock from the Sun.

Tom Brady
You know, I thought there was progress being made in the eternal war against the image of the All-American Golden Boy. We were beginning to realize that good looks come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. We were starting to appreciate the incredible athleticism that goes with other sports, including more cult ones like lacrosse. We were finally realizing that being a good person who does the right thing can have nuanced circumstances. But then here came Tom Cruise Sports Edition, pretty much embodying everything Grandmas want their granddaughters to marry. Tom Brady was cast in the same mold that also created all those evil movie jocks from the 1980’s that we hate so much. That would be bad enough, but there are a couple more details which make Brady the most insufferable version of the trope: The first is that we’ll never get to see him receive his satisfying comeuppance. Even with Rex Ryan having coached two of his divisional rivals, he always seems to survive an onslaught which should have killed other quarterbacks. The other is that he has given credence to Boston sports fans, who are the worst people on Earth.

Kanye West
Kanye West gets all the credit in the world as a creative genius. Of course, that’s only because he IS a creative genius. Just ask him – he’ll be the first to tell you so. Yeah, Kanye West plays the role of one of the world’s biggest divas. He’s one of those kinds of people who gets pouty is everything doesn’t go exactly right. Furthermore, can you think of any other celebrity who would try to peddle an undershirt for $120? That’s not even getting into his well-known award show rants, where he waltzes up to the stage, takes the microphone from an award winner like he owns it, and spends ten minutes rambling on about who the real winner should have been. As you can guess, most of the time, it should have been Kanye West.

Jenny McCarthy
So, given the choice between having your kid autistic or dead, what do you do? According to the anti-vaxxers, you let them die. Jenny McCarthy was apparently once a very smart student, but I think it’s probably time she asked the University of Google for a refund. McCarthy is the face of the anti-vaxxer movement, a farce started with bad research by a doctor who was disbarred 20 years ago, has no evidence to back it up, and is arguably a belief that goes with privilege. But McCarthy’s brand of lunacy predates her involvement with the anti-vaxxers: Before latching onto that, she was an outspoken proponent of the Indigo Child movement, even running a blog that served as a meeting site for Indigo people and even more special Crystal people. In other words, she’s a person who might be better off joining Scientology.

Mel Gibson
Oh Mel, what happened? He was one of the greatest and highest-paid action heroes in the world, but I can count on my deformed hand the number of other stars who fell so hard so quickly and ruined themselves. First of all, you can’t decline to call out your Holocaust denier pop. You also have to keep your id in check by at least trying to say when if you decide to drink. Bitching about the Jews is not only going to alienate a significant chunk of your audience, it’s probably going to piss off a lot of executives in Hollywood; after all, there ARE a good number of Jews in those positions. And being a devout Catholic while cheating on your wife makes you a hypocrite. Even when trying to pull himself out of his downward spiral, Gibson just couldn’t stop his foot from leaping into his mouth. This is really more of a mercy killing plea – Mel Gibson used to be one of my favorite movie stars before all this happened. Lethal Weapon, Mad Max, Braveheart, the man made some quality pictures. It’s one thing to screw up, but Gibson has made it impossible to take his side.

Those aren’t even the only ones I can think of. They’re only the ones I feel like listing off the top of my head. We know about ubiquitous reality stars, people who are famous for being famous, and loudmouthed pundits and bigoted politicians. They’re legion, and they all deserve to be escorted from this planet too. I don’t even have to mention any of their names. See, Mr. Reaper, the planet sucks to live on enough as it is. The people you’re knocking off this year are some of the types of people who make living here more bearable.

What’s stunning is that there are so many more of the worse people – and the indifferent ones – than the good ones. Some are stupid, some are evil, right wingers are usually both. Hell, there are famous right wing pundits in the United States right now who are openly championing slavery. (Who was it that defended it by saying it was “a full-employment system?” Yeah, please go kill HIM.) Isn’t Charles Manson still alive?

I know you’re just trying to get your own job done, but your hit list this year makes you look like you’ve been taking bribes from the Angel Mafia. And I don’t want to believe you’ve been doing that. You’ve had a sterling track record over the past few years. Yes, you’ve taken the good. We all miss Nelson Mandela, but Mandela was well into his 90’s and had led a long, full, and very productive life. But you also knocked off Osama bin Laden, Fred Phelps, and Kim Jong Il.

We need to see the bad people die too. I know you’re smart enough to understand balance. If we’re not getting enough balance, certain types of people will start to see your hit list as evidence that the bad people are the ones who are right.

See you around,
Nicholas

Branding UB

Branding UB

About the time I was starting out at the University of Buffalo, the university itself decided to undergo a rebranding. Understand that the name of the University of Buffalo is nicknamed among absolutely EVERYONE because its proper name is so long it’s obscene: The State University of New York at Buffalo. It’s the flagship campus of the State University of New York system – or SUNY – a large state-funded education blanket which is comprised of 64 different colleges. And The State University of New York at Buffalo was always shortened to match its original name, the University of Buffalo, to make it easier to fit into a headline banner. Well, the university wanted more publicity, so instead of highlighting the University of Buffalo part of the name, some new guy in charge of marketing – someone who wasn’t from Buffalo, wouldn’t you know it – decided it was time to highlight the NEW YORK in the name.

It didn’t go over well.

The idea was meant to try to draw attention to UB, so while it worked, it only worked in the most perverse of ways. While there were a handful of bloggers and online writers and UB alumni who backed it because the title screamed “NEW YORK,” the populace hated it. Hated, hated, hated, Hated, HATED it. And why not? It was an idea that counted on potential UB students being failures in geography and being recruited on the belief that they were going to be spending their nights in bars down in the OTHER New York. How dumb did they think people were? Didn’t they get the impression – any at all – that some student who took the bait would eventually make his way to downtown Buffalo and wonder where the Empire State Building was?

But here’s the thing: Buffalo looks at universities and colleges in a rather obtuse way. Less than half the population there holds any sort of college degree, and the city in general is a place where intellectualism gets snuffed out. Buffalo is a traditionalist stronghold, which keeps it trapped in a bubble of its own making. As I’ve grown accustomed to pointing out, the city graduated less than half its population from high school until recently, and even now the high school graduation rate is still pretty pathetic. Those who do graduate high school aren’t always in a hurry to run screaming off to college to earn their doctorates, either. They’ll learn just enough to know the different between tomato and tomahto, walk into the first call center with a Now Hiring sign in the window, and that’s it. The rest of life is marry the high school sweetheart, drink, raise kids, and hope the Bills bring home that elusive Lombardi Trophy. My joke that ambition in Buffalo means earning a high school degree isn’t too far off the mark.

So yeah, it felt like the city’s many institutions of higher education needed to cause a shakeup. UB went about it in the most extreme way it could think of, which was to latch on to the city that no self-respecting Buffalonian can stand.

Although the people in Buffalo are always keen to jump in support of their own civic institutions, UB can come off like a slap in the face. The people in the area who haven’t attended UB are in the habit of forgetting it’s there. Its location – the South Campus is right on the city’s northern border, while the North Campus is plopped in a distant no-man’s land in Amherst – certainly plays a role there. And the university’s athletic programs aren’t exactly the University of Michigan Wolverines. Hell, they’re not even the Huskies of the University of Washington or the Northwestern University Wildcats. Although they’ve been steadily improving and getting more attention as of late, the Bulls are still a mediocre team stuck in maybe the worst conference in college sports. And even with winning records, they don’t exactly have the world going for them. What be the problem? Let’s count the ways: Their campus might as well be stuck in the middle of the desert; the stadium has a football field surrounded by a running track, which doesn’t exactly lend itself well to intimacy; the bleacher section at Wrigley Field can hold more people; their primary rivals don’t realize they’re supposed to be our rivals; they don’t have any local media coverage – the fact that they’ve been aired on national TV several ties in the last few years is a miracle that Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad all gave up trying to perform; and their nickname is one letter away from infringing on the copyright of Buffalo’s NFL team.

It’s funny how it took an advertising campaign like this to remind the people of Buffalo just how much they love the University of Buffalo after all. It didn’t seem like the people of Buffalo were giving a whole lot of mind to UB until this came along. When they did, it was sort of an offhanded bone. Maybe the kids went there, or maybe one of the football players made big news while playing in the NFL, but it all went the same way: With someone claiming they love and support this institution, but not really thinking about it until the NEW YORK was given lettering bigger than the BUFFALO. So this whole project leaves me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I want to tell the University of Buffalo, “Well done!” On the other hand, I’m hoping the person who thought of it is shipped back to wherever he came from, where naming something after New York might work better.

To think, if the people of Buffalo had been paying attention to UB in the first place, this whole charade never would have been necessary. But I guess this is the sort of thing that happens when a city ignores its potential as a higher learning destination – even the stupidest and most degrading rebranding becomes a necessity, just so it isn’t left out of the peoples’ minds.