Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Chicken Dance at Denny's: The Lowest Point in My Life ... So Far.

This week, in an attempt to make a shit ton of money really fast, I took a job as a server at a new Denny's restaurant that opens in a couple of weeks. So far, it just might be the worst thing I've ever done. They're training all the servers in a giant group, and for the most part, it's a complete shit show. But all you really need to know right now is that if I were to arrive late to training, I would have to perform the Chicken Dance. Understandably, this has thoroughly terrified me enough to leave early all week. Today, however, was an exception.

Unfortunately, I left a couple minutes late this afternoon because I was desperately applying to jobs with the federal government in an attempt to escape from whatever circle of hell this is. On the drive in, I knew that if I were to arrive late, the Chicken Dance would of course be my punishment. I had some time for my imagination to take over and I imagined myself arriving late and the trainers would single me out in front of everyone to do the Chicken Dance. I imagined myself replying with, "yanno, I don't need this job that badly, so I'm just gonna head out. I hope your store does well and I wish you all the best of luck," and I would turn in my apron and walk out with my dignity partially in tact. Thankfully, I arrived with 5 minutes to spare, so all of my fretting and imaginative scenarios were for naught. Or so I believed.

After sitting down, the trainers gleefully awaited for people to arrive late like hungry vultures with name badges. After a few kids arrived late and were found to have had valid excuses, the trainers announced, "since no one was late we all get to do the Chicken Dance!" Because it is apparently "fun." They actually said this. Twice, maybe three times. "It's fun!" I suppose one person's idea of fun is another person's idea of a torturous hell. The Chicken Dance is my torturous hell.

Everyone began looking around in disbelief and horror. I thought to myself, "surely, woman, you jest!" except it was more like, "holy fuck, they've got to fucking be kidding, this isn't fucking fair, what the fuck can I do to get myself the fuck out of here right the fuck now?"

The trainers pulled up a video on youtube and began to play it. It was, in fact, the Chicken Dance. This was actually happening.

They then began to dance. Their fingers flapped, their arms waved, and their asses twisted to the floor in a paralyzing display of brazen shamelessness, which, remember, was supposed to be "fun!" I looked on in terror. For the first thirty seconds, which felt like hours, let me tell you, no one danced but the trainers. We all stood there with our arms at our sides, mouths agape at what was occurring before us. It was gruesome, a veritable blood bath. They noticed this and called us out on it. No one moved. We were all too terrified. All of us were thinking, and some of us were vocalizing, that this wasn't part of the fucking deal. We arrive on time, we avoid the Chicken Dance. We arrive late, we are punished. Severely. That was the agreement, yet the trainers continued to flap away.

In my mind, I had rehearsed arriving late like a douche and deserved to have to do the Chicken Dance. That I was prepared for. I was not prepared for this curve ball of awful, not to mention I had just gotten boxed in by the I'm-Too-Excited-About-Denny's trainer woman from Texas. She waved and flapped and twisted right next to me while threatening us with a four hour training on the Chicken Dance if we didn't join in. There was nothing I could do and nowhere else to go.

I begrudgingly began to dance.

At this point, we had successfully managed to kill a minute and a half of the video, but there was still a minute left to dance. So I waved and flapped and twisted while my heart broke and I died a little inside. Okay, maybe a lot. I watched the progress timer bar on the video inch its way across the screen in a slow march to death and ached for it to mercifully go faster. The girl next to me danced because it spread like a virus. There were, however, stragglers on the outside of the group who had more dignity than me and refused to dance at all. They were too-cool-for-school teenage girls. I envied their tenacity and ability to buck authority even in the most pressing of circumstances.

It was easily the most awkward two minutes and forty-three seconds of my life. A 28 year old world traveler with management experience who not only graduated with a master's degree, but is also a published academic author, was forced to perform the Chicken Dance at a Denny's in front of high school girls. I can't even begin to describe how I felt afterwards. The two most accurate words are "horrified" (I typed horrified, horror, horrible, and other variants at least eight times in this blog. Thank god for thesauruses) and "shamed," though they obviously don't do my experience yellow-feathered justice.

They rewarded those prisoners who dutifully followed orders in what I felt was a lavish gesture of generosity, probably due to the sudden onset of Stockholm Syndrome. And what was my reward? A light up Denny's pen.

I sat down a defeated man. Any pride or self confidence I may have had prior to arriving at Denny's tonight has now been stampeded by dancing chickens in Denny's aprons. I will have nightmares of those three minutes for the rest of my life. As I sat down, my face was bright red and I was sweating from such unprecedented levels of embarrassment. When the dust settled, I thought, "that's it. That was the worst moment of my life. I've officially hit rock bottom."

Throughout the rest of the training, which involved terrible slideshow presentations, I kept thinking to myself, "life can't possibly get worse than this." But no, now I think it can. They could've forced me to do the Chicken Dance naked covered in Denny's whipped cream while singing a Nickelback song. So, while this was single-handedly the most embarrassing experience of my life, I at least have something to look forward to.

Addendum: I have decided that if I ever write any sort of autobiography or memoirs at some point in my life, this chapter will be known as Moons Over My Humiliation. Bam.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Spiritual Crisis

This is a four thousand word fairly focused mess of the current state of Ed. Being that it’s so long, I’ve broken it into four sections and I will outline it all a bit here in the first paragraph like a true former academic. In the introduction, I’ll give background to my current situation, chronologically, physically and spiritually. In the second section, I'll offer a critique of the Law of Attraction. It had served me well for years until about six months ago, but now my entire spiritual house of cards is in shambles, which leads me to the third section. There, I’ll discuss the elimination of attachment, seemingly the last resort to my current spiritual crisis. If the Universe isn’t playing by the rules I thought it had played by for so long, the only thing I have left to do is give up on being attached to any rules at all. Unfortunately, the final section on my current spiritual crisis isn’t particularly happy and it pokes holes in much of what I’ve thought was true for so long. I now find myself completely lost and without purpose and faith for the first time in my life. Fun! Feel free to skip the first three sections and read the last one, entitled "A Spiritual Crisis" if you're just looking for a summary. The rest of the stuff is just me being incredibly thorough.


Right now, I’m just trying to make sense of life and the Universe through philosophy and spirituality. I thought I had a really good grasp on things until my life went and shat all over itself and now, I’m standing back thinking, “hmm.. all of this stuff about positivity, desire and attraction is all just bullshit,” which turns my once rock-solid belief system into a transparent, gelatinous mess much like red jello, except considerably less tasty.

Here’s a quick summary of my twenties in case you’re new to Ed: I graduated with a semi-useless degree in photography at 21 and wasn’t sure what to do with myself, so I took a job teaching people with disabilities in college. Turns out, I loved the job and helping people, so I stayed with the company for 4 years. During that time, I tried multiple times to get into graduate school, each attempt failing more miserably then the last. Finally, my perseverance paid off and I got into a ridiculously amazing program that allowed me to study and live in London, Leiden (outside of Amsterdam), Vienna, Geneva and Beijing for two months each. It was the best year of my life and I thought my luck had finally turned around. When I got home from Beijing, I got stuck in Buffalo due to money problems, but moved to Washington DC in May last year in an attempt to find a job in international development. The six months I spent in DC were incredibly trying, and ultimately, the risk I took failed when the temp agency I was working through dropped the ball and only gave me 20 hours a week after three months of full time work. I couldn’t pay my bills and had to move back to Buffalo as I ran out of money. It’s now three months later and I’m still stuck in Buffalo, unemployed, miserable and with absolutely no clue what to do next. It’s...slightly strange to be able to summarize 8 years of my life in one paragraph.

Anyway, I was so convinced that if I just wanted something enough and that if I just worked hard enough, it would magically come true. The only thing standing between me and my dream of a job in international development was just how intense my desire was: either I could give up and say I lost, or keep trying like a stubborn son of a bitch, knowing that it was going to come true at some point. I did focus on my goals and took a bunch of risks while trying really fucking hard to make my dreams come true, and all that has happened in the past year and half has been constant struggle coupled with massive disappointment.

To those people that would have called my previous actions and beliefs idealistic and naive, I suppose you were right, but I would have rather been an idealist than a realist anyway. Unfortunately, being an idealist and an optimist has gotten me nowhere, so I’m forced to become a realist because my life sucks right now. I have to confront the beliefs that got me here as I’ve spent eight years and a shit ton of effort chasing a dream. At this point, regardless of how many steps and risks I’ve taken and how much I wanted it to work out, I’m in a pretty sucktacular place.


So I’m questioning a lot of what I used to believe. A big part of this is the supposed spiritual Law of Attraction, which dictates that like attracts like, so if you’re an optimist and believe positives things, positive things will be attracted to you. This was me for a long time. Before, during and after my graduate school experience, I truly believed that I had drawn amazing experiences to myself because I had completely changed my belief structure to reflect this Law of Attraction. Logically, because I was manifesting amazing things for myself (I’d say living around the world for a year was pretty amazing) and because I so completely believed that more great things would be coming my way, my life should have been on a pleasant incline towards awesome.

This is the type of idea promoted by books like “The Secret,” which promote rampant and egoic materialism covered in safe, faux-spirituality that caters to those in the New Agey crowd more interested in materialism than true spiritual development. The premise is that if you want a new car and a pretty spouse hard enough, the Universe must obey your selfish requests and part like the Red Sea, as if we are all our own personal Moses. I always thought that this was crap since there are droves of people out there trying to be actors and rock stars, and it only happens for a very small percentage of them. So what about the others? I’m sure that for most of them, their desires and skill sets were strong enough, it’s just that our society doesn’t have enough room for tens of thousands of actors and rock stars. Still, I subconsciously agreed with the premise. Plus, I thought that because I had wanted to help people through a career in international development, my not-so-selfish desire would be granted by the Universe. I was optimistic, I wanted to give back and make the world a better place and I was determined to do so. I figured I was on the right track.

The pleasant incline towards awesome I had hoped to be on actually turned out to be a steep water slide filled with pee which led into a large pool filled with poo. Perception is key to life and experiences, and I could only pretend that my excrement-laden slide was fun for so long before I gradually began to understand the reality of my situation. Things in my life have gotten progressively worse over the past six months and my former positive attitude has been beaten into submission. If like attracts like and if I was so positive for so long, then why has my life turned out so freaking terribly?

I’ve come to realize that the fabled “Law of Attraction” really does work...if you’re already rich or born with a staggering amount of luck on your side. Neither of these things apply to me, and because I have terrible, awful, shit luck, I get pissed off, jealous and slightly bitter when I see people succeeding effortlessly lately. However, those people who are advocating for the Law of Attraction and other fluffy, pleasant and warm ideas are simply trying to help the world by explaining what has worked for them. They tried and succeeded and that’s their experience. That’s all they can understand and it’s not their fault for encouraging others to do the same. However, not everyone’s path is fluffy, pleasant and warm. I’m sure many of the people who believe in the Law of Attraction have faced stark adversity, but at some point, something clicked and the Universe or luck or whatever switched to their side and good things started coming their way.

For the past decade or three, I constantly busted my balls off to make something of myself by setting up goals and plans which all followed the rules of society: I did really well in grammar and high school, took out loans and put myself through college, worked and gained experience through different jobs, made a new life plan when I realized I wasn’t happy where I was, went back to school convinced that more education would beget a good job, and when I graduated, I took a huge risk and moved to the city where I would have had the best chance at a career and economic success. I’ve paid my bills on time, I’m consistently kind and treat everyone with respect. I valued and believed in the ideals of hard work and education. Meanwhile, large multinational corporations, huge banks and monied interests, in collusion with our politicians and government, have drained our economy through illegal means and have simultaneously destroyed our planet. They broke all the rules and have rewarded themselves handsomely. I followed the rules all my life and I’m 28 single, unemployed, overeducated, broke, living with my parents and with no light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

So I suppose my life and experiences prove to me that the Law of Attraction is mostly bullshit. However, one of the spiritual truths that I’m still questioning is that everything one wants will eventually manifest itself, it just might take time. So who knows, maybe all I wanted in this life will finally come true fourteen billion lifetimes from now, but if that’s the case, I’d rather just not want anything at all. I know patience is a virtue and whatnot, but I really don’t feel like coming back here for centuries just to fulfill some dumb desire from a long time ago. That is the general law of karma, isn’t it? Whatever one gives out will come back, and if one projects enough desire, said desire is bound to bring back results. It just might take some time. Will I have to be reincarnated again and again until I finally experience all that I desired in this and all my past lives due to karmic law? Possibly and if so, fuck that.

With all of this, I’m left asking what the hell should I do next? Truly, I have no idea. A very small part of me wants to try what I’ve always done: form a new plan, hunker down and stubbornly force myself forward to accomplish a new goal. This is all I’ve ever done and it’s the only thing I really know how to do. After trying it numerous fucking times, however, I’m starting to wonder if it’s ever going to work for me. This is all most people do and we’re all stuck in this endless cycle of trying to make our lives passable in an economy and society that seems to revel in the failure and misery of regular people.


What else is there to do besides try harder? Give up trying? I wouldn’t even know where to begin with that or what it would entail, but that’s what I’m drifting towards. Perhaps the whole reason why I’m back in Buffalo is to do two things that are inherently related: break down my ego and release myself from the endless loop of attachment and desire. Like I said, though, the problem is that I have absolutely no idea how to do this.

Part of my problem is that I’ve done all of this self-analyzation and partial ego destruction on my own and I’d say 95% of my spiritual journey has been solitary, so it’s hard for me to gauge where I am and what I’m doing. I hear of all these spiritual and religious communities where people can rely on each other, but I’m vehemently opposed to any organization when it comes to spirituality. Plus, I feel like my ideas are closest to various Pagan, New Age, Kabbalistic, and other similar schools and the people that are drawn to these kinds of groups are generally not my kind of people. I’m too grounded and pragmatic. I have a very dark sense of humor and I swear like a sailor, but I feel my style of language adds a splash of color and humanity to what would otherwise be a very boring topic. If something like this were written by a typical New Ager, I’d be furious over how many times they’d likely mention love, consciousness, being, spirit, and other similarly groundless and fluffy words. Frankly, I feel that most of these people would be shocked or turned off by me because I don’t speak in light-bringing platitudes.

A friend and I recently went to a medium in Lily Dale and she told me my energy is “sharp” and “very hard to read,” which I’ve heard from other friends who are into energy fields and auras. Obviously I’m different from the soft, plump and couch cushion-like old ladies who often frequent those spiritual streets. I’ve gone for two different readings by two different mediums and they both completely missed the ball, either because they suck at their jobs or because I’m too difficult to read. I joked with my friend that my energy broke the mediums we saw together because she always gets great readings when I don’t go with her, but when she follows me, the mediums give her subpar readings. Mine just all around suck. So what do I make of my difference and where do I fit in? I have no clue, but it’d be nice to find a place where people with similar thoughts are capable of keeping their heads out of the clouds and grounded in more tangible rhetoric and practices.

When it comes to ego destruction, I feel as if mine is especially tricky as I’m not emotional at all in most respects. Most things never get to me. Am I more in control of my ego because I’m not ruled by my feelings? At all? Whatsoever? Or has my left-brain succeeded in finally destroying my creative and emotional other half? I’ve spent the past 28 years of my life chasing career-based dreams, which is pretty ego-reinforcing, I suppose. I’ve remained “spiritual” on the side through lots of reading and thoughtful contemplation, but my spirituality and mind were always used as tools to get what my ego wanted out of life: an engaging, rewarding career in international development. Maybe the point of not getting the job I’ve wanted for so long was to force me to relinquish my ego because had I gotten a great job, the ego would have been constantly reinforced by the status of my career.

Because of all this, I find myself drifting closer to the basic tenets of Buddhism and Taoism. However, I’m not sure if this is me agreeing with the ideas of these thought-systems or if it’s because I’m just turning into a cranky, spiritual cynic. I desired a great job for so long, and really, when I get down to it, the actual problem isn’t that I didn’t land a job, the problem is that I was so attached to the idea of getting this great job that my entire self feels lost now that I don’t have it. I forewent everything because I figured if I could just get a career in international development, everything would come up Milhouse.. I mean Ed. But now the previous 8 years feel like a frustrating mess of chasing spirits and shadows.

I have a problem with eliminating desire, however. I can not desire all I want but at the end of the day, I’m simply desiring to not desire, and what the balls am I supposed to do with that? I remember first learning about Buddhism and nirvana when I was in middle and high school and I was completely dumbfounded by it. All of these Buddhist people are running around seeking their ultimate goal of nirvana, which is a state in which desire and the ego no longer exist. But how are you supposed to achieve nirvana if it means you can’t want it? How is one supposed to achieve a goal if you can’t desire to achieve it? Is one supposed to randomly trip over a nirvana stone one day and happily land face first on the cold hard ground of selflessness? I’ve never found an answer to this basic and kinda-really-fucking-important question besides the “follow these eight simple Buddhist rules” bullshit. If it were truly that simple, then I’m pretty sure more of the millions of Buddhists out there would be achieving this storied state, but instead, people are stuck wanting to not want and making no progress towards the destruction of the ego.

After thinking on this whole desire thing for a couple of days, I realized that desire isn’t the problem. We all have desires that manifest themselves every day, such as the desire to eat, make friends and have kids. Hopefully those three desires don’t manifest themselves as one single desire for you. That would be bad. The real problem and danger is attachment. Our attachment to the outcome of our desires is what gets us into trouble. The distinction is subtle and in the end, it doesn’t make a huge difference, but it allows us to desire all we want, which is logical. We just can’t get attached to the outcomes, but then this is where shit gets tricky. I have absolutely no clue how to engage in desiring a goal without getting attached to a certain outcome. Let’s take what I’m currently going through as an example. I desire a great career with a great husband in a wonderful city with financial security. However, at the same time, I should be perfectly okay with the possibility of being 30 and in the same situation I’m in now? Living at home, unemployed, broke and stuck in Buffalo? Fuck that, that’s ridiculous. It was my attachment to the first outcome that made me work so hard to avoid the second and current outcome. Without working so hard, how in the hell will my goals come to fruition?


Taoism teaches one to live in harmony with the Tao, nature, the Middle Way, or the path with the least resistance. Be like water. Surrender and flow to where you’re needed. Release your attachment to your situation and you’ll find peace. Fine. I did that. That’s why I came back to Buffalo. I surrendered, gave up and followed what I thought were signs from the Universe and moved back home because I figured I’d give up on struggling so hard in DC, except I’m more miserable than I’ve ever been. And now, not only am I miserable, but I’m completely lost. At least in DC, I had direction and purpose.

I guess all I can do right now is sit back and wait for what’s next in my life as opposed to struggling to force it to happen as usual. I’ve heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. At least I can say I’m not insane. Here’s the thing, though. I really fucking want and need a job. Soon. I’m broke and I’m nearly thirty with nothing to show for it, and the Universe seems content with throwing me broken bits of bone. I’m not even getting full bones lately! Just the shitty ones already torn to bits by other people.

So at the lowest point in my life in a long time, I’m supposed to shrug my shoulders, say it’s okay and have faith that it’ll all work out in the end? I don’t see that happening. I used to think that everything happened for a reason and it was all well and good when I had that one last thing to try, whether it was grad school or moving to a new city, but now that I’m all out of options, I’m also inconveniently all out of faith, hope and optimism. Previously, if I started to feel bad about my life or any aspect of it, I could just have faith that things would improve but things have only gotten massively shittier. Without faith, life feels pointless. So is it better to realize that reality is a bitter cold asshole who really doesn’t have my back or pretend that a Flying Spaghetti Monster is secretly watching over me and has my best interest at heart? I’m not so sure anymore.

I don’t see how it’s possible to put my trust in the Universe and yet somehow remain unattached to the idea of improving my current situation. Right now, all I see in my future are crap jobs that pay nothing because once again, I have shit for luck and I graduated at the wrong time in history. Because all I will be able to land are crap jobs, my financial future is looking pretty shaky. Thankfully, I’ve already eliminated my consumerist urges, but that was due to necessity, not a haughty sense of purpose. Since I’ve never made more than $24,000 in a year and I’m $90,000 in debt, it has gotten pretty easy to say, “I don’t need that insanely fun looking new piece of technology.” But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want my own place and have a future in a decent career that doesn’t make me want to kill myself when I wake up in the morning. You’d think that such a desire would be pretty basic and obtainable, but the Universe can’t even seem to send that my way. Meanwhile, douchebags who have wrecked lives and destroyed the planet get their every want and need met. And they’re the ones who are dictating how the rest of us are living! Their selfish desires and the economic and spiritual lies they’ve fed us are the reason we’re all screwed while they succeed. Seems pretty backwards to me.

So here we are again. I’ve written thousands of words about where I currently am spiritually and now more than ever, I’m really not sure what comes next. My answer before was always, “I just need to do this,” or “that certain type of break just needs to happen for me and I’ll be okay.” Everyone I know always tells me similar stuff, “just hang in there, something will turn around for you,” and whatnot, but it’s been a year and a half of constant struggle and disappointment. And even if something great were to come up, it wouldn’t last because that’s just the nature of reality. Not only that, if something were to change for me, what about all the other people who face similar or worse economic situations? Are they supposed to simply sit back and patiently wait their turn while the Universe figures out how to provide basic necessities and a slightly-better-than-awful quality of life for seven billion people? It doesn’t seem fair and so many of the New Agey, Law of Attraction folks seem to ignore this with rose-colored glasses. Apparently if the starving kids in Africa only wanted food a little bit more, they’d get it. BAM, I pretty much destroyed that whole argument in one sentence. So the New Agers and those that spout constant love and positivity can talk about “abundance” all they want, but until our society completely restructures itself, they will forever remain dangerously naive. Actually, I’d go one more step further and say that the continued encouragement of the Law of Attraction promotes materialism and thus reinforces our current capitalist economic model, which only ensures further exploitation of the world’s poor. So, this dangerous belief is not only naive, but implicit in keeping others from being able to create decent lives for themselves. Here’s to using my grad school vocabulary, language structure and critical thinking skills to deconstruct phony spiritual beliefs while simultaneously offering economic criticisms! Shit, I’m far too aware of the current state of things for my own damned good, and it’s making me cynical. It sucks being so brilliant sometimes. And sadly, coupling economic cynicism with my new-found spiritual cynicism leaves me feeling pretty hollow.

All I have left to try is the elimination of my ego, which is still just another desire in a long list of physical and spiritual desires that all leave me feeling more and more empty the more I chase them. I feel that I needed to write all this down, though. Otherwise, my hikes would have been plagued by the same ideas until I turned it into a blog of ginormous proportion. Maybe now, my hikes will be filled with my next pointless spiritual pursuit involving how the Universe likes to abandon those that want to serve it while rewarding those that wish to destroy it. Perhaps these four thousand words were written to lead me to the realization that our planet and the Universe are simply psychotic and suicidal. Maybe all they want is to be destroyed but they're not capable of doing it unless their little microbits kill themselves off first. I’ve aways been interested in the bigger picture, so maybe the reason why vulture capitalists and evildoers thrive while the rest of us suffer is so that this plane of existence can be put out of its misery even faster.

I started this blog off only slightly cynical and was hoping to find solace through writing it. When I thought I was 95% of the way finished, I wrote an ending few sentences that were supposed to close it all out, but wound up turning into this huge and depressing last section. Now I feel more cynical than ever! Wonderful. Stupid fingers and brain, that’s the exact opposite of what I wanted. Oh wait, maybe if I were less attached to trying to feel better about the Universe and my purpose in it, I’d feel better about myself. Because that’s totally logical. Damned sarcasm! Wait, no. Damned Universe! Yes, damned Universe, indeed.