I am 15 years old and to me it seems like America is rapidly spiraling into depravity.
The government becomes increasingly authoritarian, culture continues degrading into a grey consumerist sludge, our society is worse than ever, the next generation is posed to be worse off than any generation since people who were 18 in the 1940s. Should I just abandon the country, get my college education and leave without looking back? Is it worth discarding everything to jump off a burning ship?
I think you’ve already answered your question simply by the way you’ve worded it.
Far be it from me to stop you when you’ve very astutely assessed the smoldering wreck that is this once-fine country.
Increasingly authoritarian? Check. Degrading culture? Double check. Addicted to consumerism? Triple check. Setting up our future progeny for the worst experience in the last hundred years? Game, set, and match.
You seem like a smart kid. And if you’ve downed this many red pills at the tender age of 15, there’s nothing that can stop you. Should you get out of America? Hell, yeah! And why wait until you’ve gotten a college education before you take off? I’m sure there are at least a dozen other countries that aren’t total shitholes where you can head right now and support yourself through a combination of English tutoring and online gambling. Some of those even offer free college to residents.*
I mean, you owe this country nothing. And likewise, the country owes you nothing in return. What the hell would you be discarding anyway? According to your eminently informed opinion, the engines are already on fire and the nose of the plane is pointed directly at the side of the mountain, so you should be bailing out waaaaay before college.
I wish I was in your shoes. I’d do it all differently. Fuck “normal”. Screw “standard” and “supposed to”.
I don’t know many details as he gets very tense and nervous talking about this, I can’t blame him. Firstly, he is a young adult and lives in a pretty rural area. He said this has been happening for months now. He is getting strange calls and a particular car is slowing down and looking at his house when it passes by. My friend knows a coder and somehow the coder was able to trace the number and the car together. Wait, it gets worse. He will leave his house and come back and the window in his bedroom is open. A lot of the time he will have a perfectly tidy room, come home and it is a mess. One time he cleaned the bathroom before he left to go somewhere, he came back home and the sink was dirty.
I should probably add that he lives with his younger sibling and parents. The parents work and the sibling goes to school. One time he came back home and saw that on the top of a stack of papers he had laying on his desk suddenly had a piece of paper with his girlfriends home address on top. Also, his curtains had a hole cut through them and his box cutter was missing. I’m very worried for him. What should my friend do? Has anyone had something similar happen to them? His parents won’t take him seriously.
— Concerned for My “Friend” in Cheyenne
Okay, first of all, you and your friend have nothing to be worried about. There’s no stalker.
Everything you’ve described has a perfectly logical explanation. And, as we often do when thinking about weird events, we invoke the Fermi Principle*, that the simplest explanation is often the right one. Nobody’s sneaking around, watching this friend of yours and breaking into his room to write cryptic addresses on scrap paper, cut holes in curtains, open windows, and leave excess pimple waste in the sink.
Do you realize how ridiculous that sounds? Your friend is a nobody. He lives with parents and a younger sibling in a rural area. From the way you write, you’re probably both still under twenty, which means your friends about as worthy of stalking as some Holstein’s half-digested cud she’s burped back up and chewed on for the last half-hour. Why would anyone take any interest at all in this person, much less enough so that they would go to the trouble, for months at a time, to cruise the house? That’s not how stalkers do it.
We figure out an actually important person in our lives, maybe that principal who held us back in the tenth grade for no good reason (replacing the jelly in doughnuts with poo isn’t a good reason, in my opinion). Or that one girl who promised to keep writing while we were in prison and never did, and we follow them to plot our revenge. (We don’t actually do anything, remember. That would destroy the fantasy.) A stalker has to have some reason to avoid living their life like a sane person, and, frankly, from the sounds of it, your friend isn’t appealing enough to bridge that gap.
So what’s happening? Again, very simple: Your friend is making this all up.
I’ve had a fear of cars/driving since my best friend died in a car accident.
I recently turned 24 and started my ‘big girl’ job. one of the first things i did was buy a car that made me feel safe. I drive 1-2 miles at most but have not been able to go beyond that. I feel like whenever i get confident in my driving i back track and shut off again. I already took my written portion and just waiting to make my appointment for road test. I’m so tired of depending on people for rides to my JOB and sometimes even to the store if they’re beyond 2 miles. I don’t know what to do to feel better about driving and just do it. I feel like i go back and forth. I’m thinking of buying accessories for my car? I’m someone who finds comfort in little things that spark joy. I don’t know. I think my fear is now getting caught driving without a license. So i avoid going further than i need to. Any advice?? tips?
— Frightened in Flagstaff
Listen, you’ve got nothing to worry about. I mean, what are the odds that two people you know are going to die in a car accident? One is usually rare in itself, and the fact that your friend took one for the team like that so you don’t have to live with the irrational fear that you will die in a car wreck, for the rest of your life, well, that should be celebrated, not bemoaned!
Statistically speaking, there’s about a 5% probability that anyone will die before age 40. (You know I’m making this all up, right?) So to think that two people would, those two people being your friend and you, is, like, … carry the 7… really small. You’re not gonna die in a car accident. You can just live your life from now on without worrying your pretty little head.
We welcomed new neighbors and allowed them to use our garbage can until they got one, and gave them a bottle of wine and a housewarming card.
We also offered to let them use our downstairs bathroom until the contractor finished theirs. No one else on the block did anything for them. Nothing.
Then they invited a neighbor and his wife over for drinks and didn’t invite us. My husband says I shouldn’t be offended by this. What do you think?
— Snubbed in the South
What do I think? I think you’re a selfish old shrew who wouldn’t know neighborly behavior if it jumped up out of the sewer and bit you in your wrinkled ass.
And I’m not talking about those in your neighborhood who either did or didn’t do anything for your new next-doors, or that same new next-door who didn’t “pay you back” for your hospitality earlier.
I’m talking about you, you misguided misanthrope (it’s a real word) who thinks you’re only going to do something if you can profit from the situation. You want to be a good neighbor and offer to let the new guys use your garbage can and your bathroom? Great. Do it. Don’t expect anything in return. You want to offer a gift of a bottle of wine and a housewarming card? Great. Do it. Don’t expect anything in return. That’s what being a good neighbor is. Not reciprocating or expecting something in the future.
I have been blessed with a gorgeous 4-year-old daughter who is (even more importantly) smart, funny and kind, but I have an issue. Every time we go anywhere or meet someone new, the person feels the need to comment on her beauty. We receive comments like, “Just wait till she’s older. Boys will be all over her!” This happens not only with older distant relatives and my in-laws, but also random people at the grocery store.
I understand they are trying to pay a compliment, but I find it disturbing that they are thinking about my little girl in this way. I’m tired of it, but I’m not sure of the appropriate response when people make these comments.
— Protective Mom
Let me get this straight. People are complimenting your daughter, and you’re upset? What is it about this world do you not get? In case you haven’t noticed, pretty people have the most advantage of all. Forget white privilege, male privilege, Ivy-League privilege. Sexy privilege tops all those in terms of the opportunities it offers a person.
The world is very shallow. Pretty people get more job offers, bigger raises, more sex, and more free shit when they don’t actually need that free shit. I mean, have you ever seen an ugly newscaster? Or a 3 on the main stage at Madison Square Garden? No, no you haven’t. And you’re not likely to, either. “A face for radio” isn’t just a funny joke. Sex sells, and it will continue to dominate the minds and wallets (because it dominates the genitalia) of this world for a long time to come…
Hey friends! Your friendly resident ass back again. Just wanted you to know that I’ve launched a new blog on Patreon! This one will stay up for the SEO and for longer works, and act as a funnel to the Extremely Bad Advice blog itself.
I’ll still post here to drive additional traffic, so if you want to read and be entertained, by all means. Here’s one that is now live over there, and will be for at least a week after launch.
Dear SJ: I’ve been a fan of yours for a long time, this is my first time writing. I have to admit, I’ve been having major anxiety for the past few years and only recently found a therapist I like. Sometimes he is very helpful. He helps me through some rough patches, but, to be honest, he’s not that professional. Sometimes he’ll go off on tangents, talking about topics I’m not interested in or that don’t really affect me. It’s frustrating. We’re supposed to be there to talk about my issues, not his problems. When this happens, how can I get him back on track quickly? If something doesn’t change soon, I’m going to have to stop seeing him. I need help for my anxiety and he’s not doing that.
— Seeking Real Change in Raleigh
Dear Seeking, I’m so glad you wrote.
This is bound to be one of my best columns, if I do say so myself, because, believe it or not, I am uniquely qualified to give you advice in this area. You see, I happen to know, for a fact, that anxiety is not real, you’re just making it up. I know this because you state that this “therapist” sometimes helps, but you and I know that the only person who’s really doing anything for you is you.
First of all, if this guy really were getting you results, he would be consistently doing it, not only occasionally. “Sometimes”? That’s not enough. Teeter-totters don’t only sometimes go up on one end when you push down on the other. Gravity doesn’t only sometimes work. And by the same token, if a therapist actually worked to help with your anxiety, it wouldn’t only be sometimes. The fact that you sometimes feel better after talking with him, and sometimes not, is more likely just due to random fluctuation than any kind of cause-and-effect.
And second of all, let’s be honest, anxiety isn’t even real.
It’s been a little while since I was back here. A minute – two – ten – an hour. It’s been half a day, a whole day, three. It’s been a week – a fortnight – a cycle – a month. It’s been a season, a year, a decade. It’s been a generation, a century, an era, a millennium, an epoch. It’s been a while.
How have you been? Wait – don’t answer that. You know I ‘m not serious. I don’t really care how you have been, I’m only using that question to initiate your reciprocating action, in which you will ask me how I’ve been, which will allow me to unload on you, to brag about myself and my children and my spouse, to complain about my boss and my children and my spouse, to monopolize the conversation and to take it in the direction I want and to steer it towards your admiration of me for how strong I’ve been, for how amazing I am for how terrible all that has happened to me has been.
One thing I will definitely not do, rest assured, is take any blame for what has transpired. Oh, don’t you fret, none of this is my fault. It absolutely does not reflect poor judgment, rash decision-making, short-sightedness, willful naivete, or blind ambition at the price of my integrity. Perish the thought! What would ever give you such an idea? Forget it, that. Let’s continue to harp on the fact that nobody else really understand me, not the way you do, friend. Not the way you can make me feel better about myself, not the way that you have been a person to always support me, encourage me, never one to judge, never one to dissuade me from anything, never hard or harsh, cruel, or realistic, and to me that might have short-circuited some of the self-destruction.
No, it is not the only kind of rational thinking that I get from you, friend, but just the opposite. I come seeking solace – a balm for my emotional wounds. I know that you are good for it. I know you are not one to undermine this relationship with anything like truth, so I have once again, as past times, come back to you for my refreshment, my rejuvenation, my resetting of my emotional counter back to “fresh” and “happy” again, a resetting which I know you will be all too happy to provide, for I can see that you too find value in such codependency.
You feel needed, and that makes you feel valued, so regardless of the very one-way flow of energy that this vampiric bond survives on, me sucking from you, never giving, never sustaining, regardless of how little I can offer in terms of a [illegible] or even respect, I know you will continue to pursue your part just as I will continue to pursue mine.
So, friend, what do you say? Got any of the good stuff for me? Sure, it’s been a while, but I know you’re good for it. You can’t have forgotten how to make me feel better already, have you?
My short story “The Metamorphoses”, was published on Friday by Altered Reality Magazine. Give it a look and a read, and I would always appreciate a comment on how this story resonated with you.
I first saw her on a Tuesday, early November. It was starting to chill down outside. That’s how Bradley always said it — “chill down”. I liked him for small things like that, but small things weren’t enough to keep us together. Hell, even big things like a son weren’t enough to keep us together. Anyway.
She was moderate height, blonde, slim build, pretty. She came in to Jack’s All-U-Can-Eat alone, with a book. Stories, by Kafka. I read one before, I think, I couldn’t remember if it was him or Faust.
She helped herself to the buffet, ate quietly, read her book. After she was finished she got a second plate, and then a third. Each time I cleared her table she gave me a small nod and smile, said “Thanks” with a slight German accent, thonks.
“Marie!” Jack called me over to his manager stand, hands on hips. A scowl turned down the corners of his mouth, his thick, greying mustache poking out over thin lips. “She needs to leave.”
I found myself defending a stranger. “She hasn’t done anything wrong.”
Jack’s glare deepened. “You know what I mean. We got a policy here.”
I tossed my head. “No free meals doesn’t mean much when you call it ‘All-U-Can-Eat’,”
“Whatever,” he snarled. “Just get rid of her.” Rolling my eyes, I slowly made my way over to her table.
I didn’t want to do it, I said, but I was going to have to ask her to leave.
“Can’t I just stay here and read, for a while longer?” I loved her accent. “I’m in the middle of a very exciting story.” She sounded so intelligent, so refined.
I got an idea. “Actually, yes,” I said, looking over my shoulder. “That’s perfectly fine.”
Jack was even more disturbed than before. “What the hell’s going on?” His eyes were accusing slits. “Why is she still there?”
“She’ll just pay again for the dinner service,” I said. And even though I often complain that money is tight, I knew I would be able to cover one extra meal.
What keeps coming to my mind is that day – that one special, glorious, magical, mystical day in which you both took me to the heights of ecstasy and dashed my heart at the bottom of the highest cliffs imaginable.
Do you remember? Of course you do. No human still with a heart would have forgotten that day. The emotions were too strong, like a tidal wave washing over the both of us, a relentless force overwhelming and tumbling and covering over us, and there we were, helpless against the forces of love and lust and desire and peace and power.
I wished it could have been different. Do you? Who am I kidding, of course you do. I know you wished it could have been more like a gentle fade to black, a casual loss of feeling that subsided over months, years, as the perpetual erosion of the hours gradually wore down the blocks we both were putting up as shields to our hearts.
Instead, it was a bomb that went off between us, one that disintegrate those walls and sent shrapnel flying into our hearts, our souls, and tore them to shreds too.
It would have been better if you hadn’t said it, too. If it had just been a thing that I was too scared of, or too weak to face, or too inexperienced to understand.
But when you did, when you said “I love you too,” it destroyed me. IT took me from the place of confidence and assurance that I couldn’t do right by you, couldn’t do enough for you, couldn’t be what you wanted and needed, and that I was fooling myself to think that I could, and It squished that idea through a wormhole the size of the galaxy and shot my thoughts and expectations halfway across the universe.
When I arrived I thought that I knew what I wanted. When I said what had to happen, I thought it was the right thing. When you knew what I wanted to say but wouldn’t let me say it, it confirmed my suspicion of imbalance, of an out of alignment relationship, of the distance not only between our beds but our hearts too.
And yet –
Why? Why did you say it?
Why did you tell me that? Why couldn’t it have just been my foolish, vulnerable mistake?
And that’s all it would have been, had you not said what you said.
And now I sit here, years having gone by, and the wound occasionally opens once again. A short memory of that day, or the weeks before, or the first date, or how you first smiled at me.
There hasn’t been a day where I haven’t thought of you. I hate that fact and love it at the same time.
This afternoon I visited the St. Louis Art Museum (SLAM). As I am sometimes inclined to do, I took along my notebook, in case anything inspired me to write while there. As the art is often inclined to do, it inspired me at various times and from various pieces. Here’s what came out.
We perch most of the way up the Soul Mountain, a respite during our climb, and as we do I turn a head to look back at the wy we’ve come. Tens of thousands of steps upwards, upwards, ever upwards, this pilgrimage has been harder with each passing day, and yet, a moment like this – a brief respite, a chance to Preview the past and how far we’ve come – is welcome, not just for the termination (if only for a moment) of the incessant pounding of the hike, but for a glimpse of the earth’s natural beauty, arrayed out before us like a divine display of pride in the god’s own creation.
Behind, and below us, we see the craggy, snaggle-toothed lesser peaks poking their irregular peak tops out of the smooth, otherwise unbroken layer of clouds. The pure white dazzles int he shimmering morning sunshine, a radiance which would hurt the eyes, were it not also so beautiful that the body sacrifices itself to the risk of permanent damage just to behold the beauty of the moment.
I wonder if this is the feeling of schizophrenia – a mass, a seeming jumbled disorder of conflicting thoughts, emotions, logical or illogical connections between elements that would see (to the outsider) to be nothing more than randomness.
I imagine that, to the jumbled mind, this perhaps makes sense – perhaps the lenses inside the brain so refract and refocus and prioritize the overhwhelm that, instead, it looks like this:
Smooth lines, patterns emerging, a sense of peace and cleanness at the outset and continuing into the whole of the experience.
There is no challenge here except what I make for myself. What I see as disorder, I know is less a problem of the other being “abnormal” and simply my own failure to apply the right kind of equipment.
What state could I put myself in should I wish to be able to see as the other does, the patterns which emerge from the chaos? How can I simplify my own experience, my own observations, the pre-ordained and rigid mechanics I have learned which are insufficient to make meaning out of something which, to another, clearly has a value beyond ink on canvas?
Now, I can see a beauty, a symbolism, a regularity, a meaning behind apiece of art. But for the artist, before it is formed, to have not only the skill to achieve a piece, but a vision of what could exist, were she to apply that skill, is extraordinary.
I know not where that vision comes from. Perhaps it is an inherent tendency in us all, the creative instinct deep inside, that only some choose to listen to, only some choose to obey in the call to make something out of something else.
This was a single piece of wood, 28 feet long, and straight. The Artist, instead of imagining it as cut into smaller pieces and fashioned into a chair – or a picture frame – or an oar; instead of those useful, practical items, he choose to see art – this spiral, this sweeping interlocking interconnecting divergence from reality into imagination. Why? Why not? Because it’s there. Because all could do the same thing, given enough practice; and the greatest practice of all is to listen to the Muse as she whispers. She is always whispering. She is always inspiring.
Do you hear her? Do you obey? Or do you listen to the other whispers, in the other ear, of inadequacy, of limited time, of irrelevance once you have created, of insubstantialism, of ignorance by the rest of them out there once you have finished?
She is persistent, that Muse. but she is not overpowering. So be careful that you do not ignore her. Persistent, yes. Perpetually waiting for you to acknowledge her presence? To obey her directive? To do as you have been inspired? Perhaps not.
Therefore, take heed whenever the call is given. Ignore it at your own creative peril. Obey, and make, and make the world better for having done so.