Grotto

wpid-20150921_155218.pngI imagine creatures live down there, inhabitants of an underworld that, instead of being ruled by the devil, is really a place where daydreams come true. It looks dark from up here, high above the world of unicorns and dancing caterpillars, as I peer into the grate, overgrown with weeds, leaves, and other detritus, a melange of autumn’s decay. I’ve done this a myriad of times across a span of years, afraid of falling in while at the same time anxious to prove that daydreams really do come true. But I never stood on the grate, because it is sacred ground, and the grotto beneath it is a mystery best left to its own devices.

Sam

Scandalized

Scandal-season-3-photo-kerry-washington-olivia-pope-Columbus-Short-Harrison-Wright1“We’re gladiators… in suits.”

Okay, I made it this far, I guess it’s okay to go all the way. My name is Sam. And I’m addicted to Scandal.

Now, before you judge me let me tell you the whole story. For years I declared the show too frivolous for me to pursue, while I watched other programs more geared to using my brain, shows like Fringe and Elementary. But somehow, written across the margins when I was watching other programs on Netflix, or on commercial teasers, I couldn’t help but still be inundated with the show I had sworn not to watch.

Then a friend of mine started watching it and dared me to give it a shot. If you don’t know me very well, let me tell you I’m a bit like Marty McFly. I’ve never met a dare I didn’t think was worth the effort to take on. So I signed into Netflix and I watched the first episode. From the outset I was hooked, like a junkie taking his first hit. That initial episode blended into the next, and before I knew it the first season was over, and I found myself arguing with the TV. “Are you serious?” I asked the oblivious characters when they made stupid mistake after stupid mistake.

6d51a5e86acb8bef9c30bcfe420dd744Yes, I know it’s all just smoke and mirrors, what passes for this decade’s nighttime soap opera, like Dynasty and Falcon’s Crest before it, but that doesn’t stop me getting invested. I marvel at the characters who look the other way when things are happening right in front of their faces, at the ones who continue their patterns of behavior that I know will lead them into trouble later in the season, and at the ones who need redemption more than anything else but who will probably never get it. I watch because I know these characters.

The characters on Scandal are people I’ve gone to school with. They’re co-workers and former bosses. They’re family members and acquaintances. They’re people I’ve been before, and people I have the possibility of being before all is said and done. They live and breathe just like people in my life. They have their own issues and problems like real people do. I can just follow the plotline better with them, and for that I’m grateful. Somehow these characters and this fictitious world has captured the zeitgeist of what the real world might truly be in the shadows, and that’s its appeal right there.

So yes, I watch in bunches, quite voraciously when I get the chance. But don’t judge me because we all have our guilty pleasures, don’t we? Well, don’t we?

Sam

YoVille

yoville-1
My first stop in YoVille.

Did you know I used to be a billionaire, amassing a massive fortune in a short amount of time, staying up until all hours of the night to do so, and at the same time forging a series of connections with other billionaires that helped us all get even richer? And I did it all from the comfort of my own desk chair.

I used to play YoVille all day every day. Back in 2009 that was my world more than this world was. Indeed, the first thing I did every morning was sign into Facebook so I could open my YoStore or go into a YoAuction House, even though my time was limited. Then it was off to real work, but I would be thinking all day about what was going on in YoVille without me. As soon as I got back home I would log back in and operate my YoVille avatar until deep into the night, way past the time I was supposed to be asleep.

I lived in a haze back then brought about by a massive addiction to a virtual world. And it started innocently enough when I saw a small ad on the side of my Facebook page. Then I began getting requests from friends to help them out in this place called YoVille. I had heard of people getting addicted to FarmVille, but YoVille seemed to hold more promise for me. So I clicked on the link and there was no looking back.

At first I just wandered around the random YoVille town, talking to other people’s avatars and working at the factory to make a little money to live on. After a while I amassed enough to buy some goods and furniture at the store to spruce up my place so I could invite others over. That’s when I should have realized it was only going to be an avalanche from there. Back then I only went on every few hours to work at the factory, to buy a couple of items, and then log off again. Before long, though, I got hooked on the conversations with others I would come across in the streets of the YoCity. Continue reading “YoVille”

Embracing the Sugar Coma

There it sits on the plate. It looks lonely, like it needs a friend to just be there, to appreciate it. And I so want to be that friend. I’ve been staring at it for a while now, my eyes locked in on it, wanting it for my own. Hoping that there has been enough time since the last one, and that no one else will want it, I send up a silent prayer before asking the all important question.

“Does anyone else want the last cookie?”

And I fervently hope no one does because I’ve already imagined how it’s going to taste on my tongue. And I don’t discriminate either, you know, unless it has peanut butter in it, because peanut butter is not a favorite of mine. Otherwise, I am all over it in a heartbeat. Then I feel ashamed because I just had one ten minutes ago, and I had a couple more ten minutes before that. Hell, I probably ate about half the box today.

That’s when I know I’m stressed, when I’m polishing off the last of the cookie crumbs, licking them off my fingers and turning the box over to see if a lost one will find its way back home. Then I’m looking in the cabinet, hoping there is another box somewhere in there so the ride doesn’t have to end. But nothing is there and I can feel the tears start to well up in my eyes, knowing I shouldn’t feel this way about cookies but not being able to help myself regardless. I feel so hopeless, and I let the tears come.

That’s when cookies aren’t just cookies. They become the epitome of comfort food, something I use to try and fill the empty place inside, to refocus my thoughts instead of wallowing in my stressors. When I just can’t take the overwhelming mountain of negative feelings inside of me, the crushing sense of self-defeat, I turn to the one thing that has always been there for me.

Back when I was a teenager with a metabolism that just wouldn’t quit, there didn’t seem go be any drawbacks to this type of therapy. It was an easy fix, as long as there were cookies around, and as long as I didn’t have to pay for them. But as I’ve gotten older and my metabolism has shifted in the other direction, I go through “heavy” phases when I eat too many of those delicious treats, which adds to the cycle of stress and even more eating. At times like those, I just want to curl up in a bowl and let the world go on without me.

I don’t know why it’s cookies, either. I mean, some people go to ice cream, others to chips, and still more to candy. But me, I’m a cookie man, and I always have been. From chocolate chip, to sugar, to oatmeal raisin, and beyond, I stockpile cookies like there’s going to be an apocalypse and they will save me from it. I need help.

And I hear that’s the first step, acknowledging that I have a problem. Now, if I could only afford a shrink.

Sam

Sam’s Weekly Water Cooler Musings: On Smoking

Well, we’ve talked about dieting at the water cooler before (and don’t worry, we’ve talked more about that since, and I’ve got an update for you), but we hadn’t quite gotten into other habits before. Until now. The other day at the water cooler the topic of smoking just came up out of the blue, but we all had something to say about it. I guess I hadn’t realized before how many people I come in close contact with who are smokers or used to be smokers. And I think the others never realized that I too used to be a smoker. It’s funny how you really can’t tell unless you see people actually smoking. So, here’s what we had to say about it (names are changed to protect identities).

Sandy (37, former smoker): I smoked for several years, but I didn’t realize I had a problem until I saw how many cigarettes I went through each day. At first it was just a social thing, when I was out with other people, I would bum cigarettes off them, and I did it so much that I started feeling bad and bought a pack just so I could reciprocate. Before I knew it I was buying a carton a week and smoking almost constantly. That’s when I finally realized I had a problem, and I needed to figure out a way to stop. Eventually I was able to stop, but only after I tried everything possible to quit. But I’ve been clean for six years now and I’m never going back.

“I can barely breathe the air I need to justify why I sink so low to get so high. I can’t kick the habit.”

Jennifer (25, smoker): I never thought smoking was an addiction, not all through high school. I just thought it was cool, and I hung with people who all smoked, so I started doing it. And I was hooked, even though I didn’t know it then. And yeah, I started smoking with them, but when I found myself smoking when I was alone, I knew I had become a real smoker. And while I know it’s a bad habit, I can’t seem to stop. Actually, I don’t even want to stop because it feels good when I do it. Maybe someday I’ll try to stop, but for now it’s just a part of who I am. I smoke about two packs a week, so it’s not as bad as some people anyway.

“One foot in heaven, one in the hole. I’m out of focus in a poison picture show. I can’t kick the habit.”

Bjork (40, non-smoker): Smoking was never really an issue for me. My friends didn’t smoke, and we had fun doing so much other stuff that it was never really an issue. And in college there were a lot of people smoking, but again it was none of my friends. Plus, I just always thought it was a nasty habit, so I wouldn’t have done it anyway. And even when I was around people who were smokers, they knew I wasn’t, and they never tried to pressure me. That’s one thing I really appreciated. People always talk about peer pressure but I never really had that when it came to doing things like smoking (cigarettes or otherwise), so I’m glad I was around people who accepted my decisions and didn’t try to pressure me.

Me (36, former smoker): I smoked for about a year in the early ’90s, but it was entirely social smoking, and second-hand smoking. Did you know that there is a second-hand smoking movement? It’s a real thing. People who hang out with smokers, but they don’t smoke themselves, that was me after I stopped social smoking. I honestly don’t think I was ever addicted because when those friends moved along I didn’t even have the urge to continue second-hand smoking. And I think that was a blessing, because after hearing all these people talk about how hard it was for them to quit, or about how hooked they are on the stuff, I know it could have been a much different story.

The one thing that it seemed we all agreed on was that smoking is definitely an addiction, and a pretty big one at that. It can usually start as the result of peer pressure, or wanting to appear “cool,” and it is generally hard to stop. Everyone seemed amazed that I didn’t have that addiction since I was smoking pretty much steadily for that year or so I was a smoker. I guess I was lucky, but I’m not going to play with fire and see if it won’t happen again. Those days are behind me, and I’m glad of that. Very glad.

Sam

Sam’s Weekly Water Cooler Musings Archive

From the Vault: The Facebook Phenomenon

I first found out about facebook when I was leading a group of students on an educational tour of England, Ireland and Wales in 2008. The youngsters kept taking pictures and telling each other to “tag me in it,” and I could only imagine a classic game of tag. Yet, no one was hitting anyone else, so I had to ask the question that made them all laugh at me. “What are you talking about?” That’s how I found out about facebook, and how I found out that I wasn’t as cool as I thought I was. So, in the interest of setting out to be cool (and so I could see their amazingly awesome pictures as well) I immediately set up a facebook page from an internet cafe right there outside of Dublin. I haven’t looked back since.

I “like” it.

From that day on, I admit that I have gotten addicted to the social networking site for all the wrong reasons. Well, maybe the word “wrong” isn’t exactly what I mean. What I mean is that I love the site because it has given me a forum to share my views with a vast number of people. Facebook showed me just how vain I am, and I know I’m not alone in that realization. Of course I also enjoy reconnecting with people I thought were gone from my life forever. The best example of that one is my best friend from elementary school finding me in the ether, we caught up, and he invited me to be in his wedding. The worst example is a fellow I thought I knew from church who kept sending me pornographic links. Eek. He was “unfriended” rather quickly.

There are five different ways I accumulated the “friends” I have on the site. 1) People who know me from school. There are the random folks from elementary school who interested me by remembering who I was. Funnily enough, they all “friended” me even though we weren’t all exactly friends back then. Then there’s the most interesting bunch, the acquaintances I had in high school. I am still constantly shocked at how many of those folk actually remember who I am. My memory of high school didn’t include anyone I would have considered a friend back then, so that makes me feel the best. Not only do they remember me, but they remember me fondly. Who knew? The college “friends” are few, though, because I honestly didn’t put down any roots in college. 2) Work colleagues. At first I said no to everyone from work who “friend” requested me because I felt like it was kind of weird. I mean, we work together. But then someone from one of my previous jobs friended me and I accepted. That started a landslide and I weeded them out or accepted them based on whether or not I wanted to find out more about them. Inversely, I realize that they’ve found out a lot more about me than they wanted to know. Ha ha. 3) Family members. This group is definitely an interesting one. I have so many long-lost relatives (brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins) and they are all over the place, so facebook became a way to get in touch and to keep in touch. 4) Former students. One of the biggest questions I get from the seniors as they’re about to graduate is, “Now that we’re not your students anymore, would you finally accept my friend request?” Generally I accept about half of those requests, depending on whether or not I had an actual rapport with the student in school. I guess if I were paying attention to my “number” of friends and cared about getting it as high as possible, I would accept all of them. But I don’t care, so some of their requests go unaccepted. 5) Last, but not least, I have accumulated a lot of “friends” through YoVille. I can’t stand FarmVille because I’m a city boy and I’m not going to sit there and watch crops grow like a lunatic, but I definitely needed neighbors on YoVille and those original strangers are now mostly new friends. Strange how that happens.

Even stranger still are the connections between these people. First, of course, there are connections that pre-date me that I know nothing about until a later time. Those are always fascinating. But then there are the connections that happen just because of me and those are just surreal. One time a work colleague of mine and a former elementary school classmate of mine got into this huge argument over one of my status updates. It was so weird to see those two ladies get into this fiery debate when they would never have even known each other existed if it weren’t for them “sharing” my friendship at different times in my life.

The facebook phenomenon exists because we feed it with our words, with our photographs, with our need to see and be seen by others. It feeds us with its acceptance of our faults, with its soap-box platform that it is more than willing to let us use, and with its vast storage warehouse for our vacuous witticisms and birthday wishes. I admit that I love it for some things and I hate it for others. Now I feel like I’m being mean when I don’t accept a friend request, and yet I know I shouldn’t. If they aren’t real friends, why should I listen when facebook tells me I should be their “friend”? Oh, and I don’t play YoVille anymore. Too many freaks on there.

Sam

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