In Exile

[This is a chapter from my unfinished memoirs. Enjoy.]

Growing up is such an odd sensation. As a kid, I remember thinking that the day I’d be an adult was so far off – incomprehensibly in the future. And I remember thinking that I would just magically be different – all of the sudden I was to become infinitely wise, strong, perceptive. The transformation from child to adult, boy to man – as if I were to go to bed one night and wake up the next morning forever and irrevocably different, improved.

Those of us who have grown up know that this is so very much not the case. It feels like I haven’t even grown up at all; merely gotten older. And yet, looking back, one can see the ways in which they have grown and changed. The arrogance of adolescence, the desire to rebel and all the angst and self-righteousness. Oh yes, how I’ve changed.

I remember thinking how oppressed I was in my youth. Not literally oppressed, but more…suffocated by my mother and her presence. She seemed to loom over me, choking out and stifling my ability to be motivated about anything. Any time I would start writing something new, any time I met a new friend, any time I met a girl I’d fancied, it seemed like I would have some particularly nasty fight with my mother, and like that I was sapped of all energy and willpower. I remember wanting to get out of her house as quickly as possible.

And at the age of seventeen, after several failed attempts and foiled plans, I finally did. It was around the time that I confirmed my departure that I began compiling this tome, and over the past three and a half years I have added to it periodically. In its inception, I viewed myself as moving away to Utah and living some great and fabulously successful life. I was to meet women, perhaps date them and settle down with one of them. I was to complete my long unfinished novel. I was to write about my terrible childhood and my wonderful adventures in Utah. It was to be unique – perhaps one of the first accounts of someone who grew up so intimately on and with the internet, so engrossed in professional video games, so nerdy.

Things, it would happen, did not pan out that way.

Upon arriving in Utah, I started volunteering at Nathan and Paul’s gaming center in downtown Salt Lake City. I wanted to find a job and a place of my own to live at as soon as possible – I was then staying with Nathan at his parent’s house as he too looked for a place to move his family – but Nathan insisted I be patient. He was in the midst of preparing for his magnum opus to the Unreal Torunament 2004 community, UTLAN, which would commence in August and was to be hosted at his gaming center. It was to attract some of the best players in the community from all over the country.

Initially, I was excited to be in Utah. I would often walk around the large and (relatively, in comparison to Bellingham’s downtown area) clean downtown area. I delighted in finding the local sights and attractions, getting to know the transit system, finding good restaurants to eat at. The managers at local restaurants came to know me by name and would give me discounts or free food. It was a good feeling to be known. I tried applying at a few places to work in the downtown area but never got a call back.

UTLAN 2006 came and went. Overall it was an extremely fun event, though stressful to prepare for. I met a lot some disparate and interesting people – the coolest of whom was probably a William Moyer, who has since become involved in politics. He was very intelligent and animated, and though a bit sarcastic, he was pretty friendly. All 40 or so people who showed up had a very good time, and online disputes were put aside as we all shared in having a good time. We went out to eat as a group and everyone seemed to bond. Of course, the old rivalries flared back up over the internet once everyone went home, but people were looking forward to UTLAN 2007.

It was about this time that Nathan’s parents popped some unexpected news on me – I was to leave their house within a week. Apparently, they had told Nathan I was to only stay for two weeks, while he gave me the impression that I was going to be able to stay for a month. Thankfully, Nathan’s brother Paul and his wife Melanie hosted my unemployed waif of a self while I looked for employment and an apartment, preventing me from a very unwanted return to Bellingham and high school.

Employment came quickly and in the beginning of August I started working part time at the mall, selling and repairing watches and clocks. I still volunteered at the gaming center, but would quickly stop as the brothers closed it down. I saved up enough money to get an apartment, and scored a centrally located one.

Salt Lake City is basically a giant grid (including its suburbs) and extends all the way down south into the suburb of Sandy. Road names generally follow a numbering scheme and are centered on the Mormon temple in downtown Salt Lake. The first road west of the Temple is West Temple, and the next one is 100 West, then 200 West and so on. It is like this in all directions. I believe it is State Street that runs straight into the Temple, with Main Street next to it. State Street is a north-south avenue that extends all the way down into Sandy. Sandy starts at about 9000 South, and the suburb I lived in, Murray, started at about 4000 South. My apartment was at about 4700 South and State Street – centrally located. I was about a ten minute walk from the train station and a three minute walk from the nearest bus stop.

I lived above a playhouse that featured a cabaret theater and a dinner theater, specializing mostly in musical comedies that were written and produced in house. It was an island of liberal thinking in a sea of conservative thinking and Mormonism, and was a pretty cool place aside. The apartments were owned by the same gentleman that owned the theater, and he quickly took a liking to me and offered me a secondary job working in the box office at the theater. I took it, less for the pay and more for the ability to see free shows and get a discount on the food (which was quite good). I quickly repaid Paul and Melanie a sum of money, something like $300 to $500 in thanks of their housing me. They were surprised, expecting nothing – but I couldn’t let their kindness go unpaid, especially on such short notice.

Another perk (and unseen curse) was the staff there. The cabaret side of the operation employed attractive young girls, ages generally from 16 to 19 (though some older college girls also worked part time, as they had been working there since they were in high school also) and provided me ample opportunity to flirt. My advances were unsuccessful, much to my frustration and confusion. Hindsight has elucidated my failures to me (I didn’t care about my appearance, I was intentionally awkward, I relied too much on humor and intellect and not enough on being personable) and I’ve discussed the particulars of my romantic foibles in detail elsewhere here.

When I first started working at my job at the mall, I looked like a mess. I wore the same shirt most days, didn’t know how to properly tie a tie, had a scruffy and unkempt haircut. My boss quickly took me under his wing, gave me some fashion sense and even took me shopping for some good dress clothes once. He was about ten years my senior, and we hit it off as friends. He was also recently relocated from out of state – having managed a kiosk in Boise for five years with oustanding results, the company felt he was just the man to run its number one store after the former manager there was promoted to a higher position.

The both of us weren’t exactly quick to warm up to the local populace – too conservative and Mormon for our Godless, liberal upbringings. As time worn on, we spent more time hanging out after work – I’d go to his apartment and we’d watch movies or recordings of concerts together. We’d go out to eat or go out to the movies. He started getting into the guitar (an old hobby of his) and began to play his favorite metal songs – a technically enviable feat. He even showed me how to play a bit, but I never really took it up. He even took me to my first concert – an all day metal festival.

And so it was like this I wasted away days, weeks, and months. Working 40 to 80 hours a week, getting better at hawking my wares and repairing timepieces new and old, buying things I didn’t need to fill voids I couldn’t heal. My life was going nowhere, fast. I had intended on going to college sometime in the future.

But that future never came, as I didn’t want to go into debt and did not have the time to really seek it out anyway. Transportation was an issue, as I never had a car and had to rely on public transit. I met women, it is true, but none of them seemed to fancy me, and I found that I couldn’t work up the courage to ask them on a date anyway. Where was I to take them? What was I to do with them? I wasted just a few days over a year mulling around in Utah until I woke up one day – shortly after having been promoted to assistant manager at my retail job – with an epiphany: I was going to wind up exactly like my dad.

There had been talk in the company of my abilities and my rather rapid rise to the assistant manager position – at the number one grossing location – and I was slated for the next promotion to manager in the area. At first, I was rather smug with this news, being the renegade and idealistic high-school drop out that I was. But when I realized that my father, in his youth, had foregone higher education in order to manage another retail operation…and when I recalled his life successes (or lack thereof) I immediately became discouraged.

What was I doing? Where was I going? I had wasted an entire year in an unfamiliar state. I had made few friends. All I had to show for my time was an increasingly large collection of media – books, music, video games, and a faster computer. My life felt very hollow. Where was the magnificent change that was supposed to occur? I was away from my mother, after all. Wasn’t that the source of all my weakness? Wasn’t that the reason why I hadn’t finished my novel, why I couldn’t get the money to go to St. John’s?

Apparently not.

The company I worked for continued to rot. The upper echelons of management continued to make rather unpopular decisions, blaming lower-than-expected profit margins and sales figures on its stores and the employees working in them. (This was ironic, as the Wall Street journal was running articles about how retail sales were at an all time low as the economy recessed.) Many, including myself and my manager, became fed up with the way we were treated. I couldn’t imagine trying to forge a career for myself with this company. College was out of the question. It seemed like the military was my only option.

My grandfather had been a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Marine Corps. The Marine Corps had always had a mythical presence in my childhood – any time the Discovery channel ran a program on them, I watched it in awe. The world’s finest fighting force, they seemed to routinely undergo the most intense training imaginable. They were heroes to me. The way kids dream about being President or an astronaut or a rock star – that was the way I felt about the Marine Corps. It was a flight of fancy, something I thought I would never be able to accomplish. I even remember confiding in Sara that it was something I envied, though never seriously considered doing.

But as my situation worsened, as my life wasted away in a maelstrom of apathy and discontent, I began to consider it. The Marine Corps. Me? On a whim on one of my off days, I caught the train down to Sandy, Utah and looked around for the recruiting office I heard was nearby. I had already done some research and read some books – it seemed like everyone who enlisted in the Marine Corps found it to be one of the best decisions of their life. All of the complaints about the military – getting screwed over by recruiters, the government not meeting its end of the bargain, getting screwed out of your job, getting your contract jerked around and on and on – seemed not to mention the Marines, but instead dealt with (chiefly) the Army (and following that, the Air Force and Navy). Perhaps it had something to do with the relative size of the forces – with the Marine Corps being a mere tenth the size of the Army, it was probably easier to manage incoming recruits and take care of its Marines.

The mall the recruiting office was attached to was under remodeling at the time, and I had a hard time finding the entrance to the office. I must have looked like a rather poor recruit – tall, lanky, I weighed maybe 160 pounds at the height of 6’5. The staff noncommissioned officer in charge (SNCOIC), a gunnery sergeant of eight years (a rather meteoric rise to that rank – on average, it takes a Marine some twelve years to become a gunnery sergeant, and often longer than that) looked every bit a Marine to me. The first thing he said to me that day (aside from asking me my name, or perhaps he overheard it as I talked to another sergeant) was “Well, Donner, if you join, you’ll never have to pay for sex again!” Ah, the Marines. So crass. Just what I was looking for, being so tired and fed up with political correctness and neonazi feminism.

The sergeant that I spent most of my time with, Sergeant Baker, had me pick four name-tag sized tabs from a group of tabs – reasons why I wanted to join the Marine Corps. I picked college, challenge, financial stability, and physical fitness. There were no tabs for “overcoming a debilitating amount of depression,” “rehabilitation from a year of customer service,” “an anger at mankind one wants to express with a rifle,” and so on. Upon seeing my tabs, Sergeant Baker said “College and money, huh? If those are your chief reasons, you’re probably better off serving in the Air Force.” And he spun his chair around, as if to say I should leave.

Marine recruiters are good at what they do. It is their job to find the best young men for the Corps, and despite popular opinion, the application process is rather stringent. Even for enlisted Marines, there are strict requirements, and while I was in the process of enlisting, I saw several potential recruits weeded out or turned away by the Marines working in the office. Even in a time of war, Marine recruiters have a keen sense of duty and want to make sure that they are sending only the best candidates into their beloved Corps. One way that they do this is by making sure a potential recruit truly understands and appreciates what he is doing.

Lots of people turn to the military for the benefits and the benefits alone, and the Marines are acutely aware of this. Of the service branches, the Marine Corps offers the fewest benefits to its recruits (saving them instead for those looking to re-enlist, and even then the other branches often offer better bonuses and incentives). The Marine Corps prefers its Marines enlist and reenlist based on a willingness to serve, on a willingness to be the best of the best, based on the intangible benefits of pride and confidence that being a Marine offers you.

It wasn’t just college that I was looking for. I wasn’t just looking for financial stability. I still remembered the fanciful dreams of my youth – the mystique and myth of the Corps, that group of superheroes. I told Sergeant Baker that if I was going to join the military, the Corps was the only branch for me. Hearing that, he turned around and we got down to business.

By the time I left that office several hours later, we had an appointment set for me to undergo my enlistment, undertaking all the necessary physical and academic exams. Sergeant Baker enrolled me in a local adult education school so that I could finish up my last year of high school and get the degree that was necessary for enlistment. I felt like a different person. I was anxious and scared at the same time. Within the week, I would be signing a contract stating that I was going to enlist as a Private in the United States Marine Corps.

Nobody I knew (and still talked to) could believe it. My manager in particular said I would never make it – he later apologized, explaining that he was just stressed out and worried about what my departure from the store would mean for him. We were pretty good friends outside of work, and he, like me, did not have many people he spent time with in Utah. He quit shortly after I went to boot camp.

Sergeant Baker helped me get in shape for boot camp. When I enlisted in August 2007, I was what was referred to as a “triple threat,” I could not meet any of the three requirements of the Marine Corps’ Initial Strength Test (the necessary requirements for a recruit to pass in order to proceed with training in boot camp). They require a recruit to perform two dead hang pull ups, perform forty-four crunches in two minutes, and to run one and a half miles in thirteen minutes and thirty seconds. The run and the crunches came quickly for me, as I was not particularly out of shape – I did a lot of walking and have never been very fat. My biggest problem was that since my freshman year of high school, I had not done anything particularly active with my life (like a sport or active hobby).

Even though I was not physically in the best shape, the Marines at the recruiting office were behind me every step of the way. Sergeant Baker took me to the gym whenever he could and helped get me on a training regiment. The gunnery sergeant in charge of the office expressed his confidence in me, and reminded me that nobody cares more about one’s career than oneself. “Even if you aren’t in the best of shape for boot camp, don’t let that get you down, Donner. Just work at it as hard as you can. One day you’ll get there. That’s what’s important. Four years from now, when you’re re-enlisting and looking at picking up Corporal or Sergeant or, hell, who knows, maybe Staff Sergeant, nobody will be asking what your PFT (physical fitness test) score at boot camp was.” (The Physical Fitness Test is the test Marines run semi-annually to assess fitness. It is used for promotions. A minimum of three dead-hang pull-ups, 55 crunches in two minutes, and three miles ran in 28 minutes is required to pass. For a maximum score, a Marine must perform 20 dead hang pull-ups, 100 crunches in two minutes, and clock in their three mile run at 18 minutes or below.)

The encouragement and support I received from the Marines and fellow poolees (those of us who enlisted into the Delayed Entry Program, and were going to boot camp within a year) was remarkable and refreshing. Never before had I felt like I had had so much support. And the things that I felt I was accomplishing at the time were remarkable also. I had never felt like I was achieving so many things so quickly. Within two months, I went from failing all three events of the IST and being a high school drop out to having my diploma and being above average in two of three events. The other event, pull-ups, would prove to be the bane of my existence for some time to come yet.

But Sergeant Baker wouldn’t see me discouraged. “Even if you can’t get your pull-ups before you go to boot camp, they’ll usually let you continue on in training anyway. Then you’ll have three months to get your three pull-ups down so you can graduate. The worst that can happen is you’ll get dropped back in training to the Physical Conditioning Platoon, where you’ll stay until you can meet the requirements.” This didn’t seem all that bad.

I’ll pause here in the narrative for a moment. I’ve always wanted this work to be a selfless examination of myself and my past, as my memory is extremely spotty and I want something to refer back to later. I tend to bottle up emotions and feelings and forget about them. Then I wonder about the decisions I’ve made, and have no emotional context to understand them in. It can be a difficult process recreating my life, sifting through all of the cracks and crevices I’ve hidden myself in. Because of this, I want to discuss a less flattering part of my enlistment process.

The entire time I was in Utah I was (as should be evidenced elsewhere in this work) extremely depressed. Depression is something I am and have been very familiar with. I have grown accustomed to it and do very well hiding it. It surprised me, sometimes, the depth of it. A random event or memory could trigger a huge emotional response in me. In Utah, I remember sifting through some old journals or maybe my yearbooks, and suddenly something clicked. I was rendered immobile for the rest of my weekend off from work – I didn’t leave my apartment, I slept 14 or 15 hours each day. It was somewhat frightening. I began to shy away from self-examination, self-reflection, or brooding of any sort, as it made it rather difficult to live life.

Another time, I was browsing Barnes and Noble, looking for something interesting to read (as I had taken to reading as a way to pass the time to and from work) and stumbled across the book “I Don’t Want To Talk About It – The Secret History of Male Depression” by Terrence Real. I spent one tearful evening reading the entire volume and was again rendered immobile by my emotional response. I wanted desperately to talk to someone about my response to the book, but no one returned my calls or seemed interested. I didn’t want to talk to a psychologist, as talking to someone who is paid to be your friend and make you feel better seems a rather silly thing to do. So my emotional response to that tome was another thing forgotten to the sands of time.

But I still remember my morbidity during the time I was enlisting. For a long time, I had come to some conclusions about my own death. It was probably seventh grade when I’d decided that I would never kill myself – suicide was quitting, I’d reasoned, and I wasn’t going to quit. It was some time later that I justified my lack of healthy living on the notion that, while I wasn’t going to quit life, I wasn’t going to exactly do my best to prevent my own death, either. I became fixated on a sort of passive suicide, a sort of killing myself through unwise living – the apex of which was to be my enlistment in the Marine Corps. What better way to die without killing myself, than putting myself directly in harm’s way in a war zone? Brilliance. Sheer brilliance.

I have been a believer in the notion that there is beauty in everything, even death. There is a tragic beauty in the oblivion my brother drank himself into – a beauty he and I both understand. I understand his attraction to it; when I was conducting an “interview” with him for a school project in high school, I became alarmed when he stated that he was drawn in to drinking by his fascination with the beauty of oblivion. I had, at the time, been considering taking up the bottle myself – I was about the same age he had been when he had taken his first drink – and this deterred me. I had always assumed that my brother’s alcoholism had been a direct response to my mother’s emotional abuse, but to hear my brother tell it scared me.

There is beauty in everything, even death. I wanted a beautiful death. This life I was living was so completely unsatisfying. American living was so completely unsatisfying to me. Why bother going to college, when all one can hope to do is make more money and buy more things? Where was the virtue in that? Our ancestors fought and died for freedom, liberty, for a noble and beautiful idea, in order to change the world forever. We fought and died for the latest electronic gadget and the prettiest estate. What was the fucking point in life?

Success in American culture was based on a disgusting infatuation with value – value defined not by intrinsic quality, but by how much money something could generate. “Good” music was not necessarily well composed, performed, or emotionally stirring – “good” music generated a lot of sales. Good writing was not necessarily perceptive, striking, or emotionally stirring – good writing generated a lot of sales. Anything “good” was something which generated a lot of sales. Even in public debate, be it the lunch table or on the internet, followed this notion – disputes over whether or not something was “good” often boiled down to how successful that particular thing was commercially.

Military service seemed like the only place I could escape this ubiquitous lust for wealth. Here were the men and women who still believed in freedom and liberty, in giving up their lives for something greater than themselves. Here were the men and women of noble character and virtue, fighting to protect those who were too weak to protect themselves. Politicians be damned. Even if you were tossed into a war you didn’t agree with, you could still fight to make sure the Marine to the left and the right of you had a chance to go home to his or her family and his or her loved ones. Selflessness – a necessary trait for anyone in the military, perhaps THE necessary trait.

There seemed to be a purpose that resonated with me and aligned with my tastes, then, in military service. And the morbid side of myself was placated – what better death could I have, than one in which I died serving my country and fighting hand in hand with my brothers-in-arms? There is beauty in all things, even death.

I didn’t tell my mother I was enlisting until it start to come down to the wire. I needed a copy of my birth certificate, and she was the only one who had access to get me one. I didn’t even call her to tell her. I emailed her, stating rather curtly “Hey mom, I’m enlisting in the Marine Corps so I need a copy of my birth certificate. Please send to this address, thanks, John.” I did not reply when she required further inquiry; she stated she was sending it and that’s all I needed.

Initially, I was slated to fly to boot camp sometime in the middle of September, shortly after my 19th birthday, but I didn’t feel ready enough as the date drew near. I had procrastinated on my high school diploma (I didn’t end up getting it until two days before I flew out of Utah for California!) and I didn’t feel like I was in shape physically (still unable to perform even a single pull-up, a source of constant frustration and shame). Therefore, the intelligence job I had selected became unavailable, as I was going to be enlisting in a new fiscal year (as fiscal years apparently began in October); I temporarily selected a “Data Network Specialist” MOS and that was that.

I put in a lot of notice to my job – perhaps a month or more – as even though I was growing to dislike the decisions higher management was making, I felt like I owed the company quite a bit. They had taken me in without a high school diploma and when I was still 17, and had been quick to promote me and place me in a position of authority and responsibility. I started making eight dollars an hour, flat, and left making about $15 an hour (often more than that, thanks to overtime they let me have) after commission factored in. I helped a new manager get the store ready for his reign, as my manager went to a slower mall. I quit at the end of September and prepared to fly down on October 21st.

My last free month spent as a civilian was a strange time for me. I had absolutely no time – twenty days or so to enjoy my freedom – and all the time in the world, because I didn’t have to go to work. I worked on preparing myself physically and mentally for boot camp. I read as much as I could about what to expect – getting several books about the military and Marine Corps boot camp. In particular I read “The Few and the Proud,” a series of interviews with current and former Drill Instructors, and I read the (then) new Counterinsurgency Field-Manual. And I debated my choice of Military Occupational Specialty in the Corps. Data Network Specialist was something familiar and safe – dealing with computers. There was a future after my service in that. But it was boring and I didn’t want to be stuck doing something boring for four years.

I seriously considered going in to the infantry. I viewed it as a decision I would always regret and wonder about if I didn’t pick it. I didn’t want to always wonder “what might have been,” if I didn’t pick infantry. But I also worried about the toll it would take on my body, and I worried about not being in shape for it. Ultimately my recruiters talked me out of it, telling me that I would be doing myself, the Corps, and my nation a disservice by picking infantry. They get very few recruits with my intellectual capacity to fill the highly technical jobs in the Corps, as most academically inclined recruits either go to other services (Navy and Air Force mostly) or become officers.

It was in this way that I chose an option entitled “Ground Electronics Maintenance.” I thought I would be doing field repairs in combat on various electronic gear – which my recruiters said may be a possibility. It was a rather large option in which you could wind up in one of several different MOS fields. My specific MOS wouldn’t be chosen for me until just before completion of boot camp. I didn’t pick this field until a few days before I was slated to go, and it wasn’t until the day before I was due to have my final night in Utah in a hotel the military was paying for that my recruiter called to tell me he got me the job – and a $15000 bonus, with it. This was unexpected and good news. The bonus was due to the high academic requirements to qualify for the option – you had to have some pretty good scores on the Armed Services Vocational Assessment Battery.

My brother and I had a rather nasty fight a week or two before I was going to leave. I don’t remember much of the particulars anymore, but I do remember that he compared me and my conduct to my mother. Which was absolutely unfucking acceptable to me. I was the only person that believed in him in my family, stuck through the hard times with him, regularly called to see how he was doing. I felt like, at the time, he had burned the bridge. But our relationship was such that this fight didn’t really amount to much and we’d get back in touch while I was in boot camp.

On my final weekend in Utah, some buddies from Bellingham flew down so that we could participate in one last gaming tournament before I departed. Originally, they were going to play with Nathan or his brother Paul, but both bailed towards the last minute because of familial obligations. It worked out that I could have one last night of good times, and so I did. We each won $500, as we had by far the most experience at the game (being a part of the competitive community, we knew nobody of note was going to be at this tournament). I gave my money to Nathan, being as I wouldn’t need it at boot camp.

I remember my last night as a civilian somewhat vividly. I was stationed at the Ramada in downtown Salt Lake City, an area I was pretty familiar with, as I made frequent visits to the outdoor mall for its restaurants. (In particular, I was a recurring customer of the California Pizza Kitchen here, becoming quite familiar with two of its full-service bar waitresses and two of its managers. I often got free meals.) I was nervous and scared and restless. I tried calling people who were important to me at the time, to get some last minute soul searching done. Nobody answered.

I strolled along downtown SLC. We had been briefed that there was a curfew but my recruiter told me it didn’t matter as long as I was back at the hotel in time to leave in the morning. I went to the California Pizza Kitchen a final time, talking to either Kristy or Suzanna. I bought a book on taoism I intended to read during boot camp. And I waited. My boss and I were to see one last movie together before I was going to leave.

The movie was 30 Days of Night, or something like that. A horror movie about a group of vampires that attack some small town in Alaska as they go through their yearly phase without sun because of whatever planetary phenomenon affects that region of the world. It was a decent film but I was preoccupied – my boss hadn’t been there and I felt betrayed. Why was I so unimportant to people, that they jerked me around like that? Why couldn’t I build a lasting connection with anyone?

Much like when I left Bellingham, I was looking to others to make the decision to enlist for me. If anybody expressed doubt or regret at my permanent departure from their life, I wouldn’t have enlisted. I wasn’t really making my own decisions in life, I was letting other people’s actions and reactions determine my fate. And because no one cared about me, I signed on the dotted line. I rationalized the decision to myself in terms of service to my country, defending freedom and liberty, getting into better shape, achieving something – but at the time, the primary motivation was the lack of a reason to not go.

Maybe boot camp would change me. Could it change me? I hoped to keep in touch with several people who expressed interest to do so as I left – keeping a list of addresses in my wallet. Sara was on the list. I fought myself day in and day out over her – part of me wanting to get over her, part of me drawing on her for warmth and support. Even though she wasn’t an active part of my life, I would find my thoughts resting with my memories of her and the support she offered me in my time of need.

And so it was with these disjointed hopes and dreams and feelings and confusion that I found myself a recruit on Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego from 22 October 2007 to 01 February 2008.

Room for Improvement

Framing an Objective

The men’s movement has come a long way in the past 8 years, when I was first introduced to it. Back then, the only site I could find that spoke to the inequalities I was living with was NiceGuy’s, which was far from perfect. It wasn’t always objective, it alienated people because it focused on criticizing women rather than solving problems, and so on. I’m not saying this is necessarily bad – catharsis and community are great – but it’s far from the website you’d want to use as an introduction for a skeptic: someone who may be persuaded that feminism is bad, but who isn’t sure just yet.

Further, after a few years, it seemingly dropped off the face of the earth and was hard to find. (It was recently resurrected, mind you, but my point was that even if there were sites that would crop up here and there about men’s rights or critical of feminism, they were just as apt to disappear or fall into disrepair, too.)
As many have noted, feminism has made it extremely hard to get to the truth of the matter. To quote another blogger:

Being of an intellectual bent, I started investigating to see if my impressions were supported by facts.

It took a lot of digging. Feminists try to present themselves as a beleaguered minority, surrounded on every side by Neanderthals who constantly preach the inferiority of women, but try to find male chauvinist books and see if you can keep believing that. But I persevered, ordering expensive out of print books, scouring the internet, hunting through long books about neurology and history and so on to find one or two pertinent facts that had been allowed to slip through.

This is a problem that I would argue is alienating many potential allies. Many reasonable people might be thoroughly convinced, if only they could be led to the facts presented in an unbiased, impersonal and objective manner. (Free of the sort of justifiable yet off-putting indignation on display when NiceGuy greets users to his website by asking “Ever thought women suck? Then welcome!”) Being that I am of a military bent these days, let me frame the problem using some military concepts.
Before enlisting in the Marine Corps, I decided it might be wise to familiarize myself with doctrine, and being that the Iraq War was the major conflict of the time, I thought it would behoove me to read the then brand-new Counterinsurgency Field Manual, produced in a joint effort between the Army and the Marine Corps. Perhaps it is a bit extreme to describe the situation with feminists as an insurgency, but the analogy does tickle me. In either case, paragraph 1-108 in the field manual states (emphasis my own):

In almost every case, counterinsurgents face a populace containing an active minority supporting the government and an equally small militant faction opposing it. Success requires the government to be accepted as legitimate by most of that uncommitted middle, which also includes passive supporters of both sides. (See figure 1-2) Because of the ease of sowing disorder, it is usually not enough for counterinsurgents to get 51 percent of popular support; a solid majority is often essential. However, a passive populace may be all that is necessary for a well-supported insurgency to seize political power.

Let’s do a word swapping exercise. Way back in 1995, Christina Hoff Sommers wrote a book called Who Stole Feminism? and demonstrated that a (I think “militant” is a fitting adjective here) minority of feminists had stolen the mantle of the larger movement for nefarious purposes. From page 22: “Sex/gender feminism (“gender feminism” for short) is the prevailing ideology among contemporary feminist philosophers and leaders. But it lacks a grass roots constituency.” This is the “equally small militant faction” opposing the “government” mentioned above. For our purposes, replace the word “government” with something more relevant – like, say, sanity, society, or whatever.
Meanwhile, the active minority that can be found supporting sanity/society/whatever would be places like The Spearhead and NiceGuy’s MGTOW Forums, among other sites. The vast majority of people, however, exist in that large undecided middle, and that’s where the true contest is. Being that feminism has all of the current political support, it isn’t necessary for this middle to actively believe in their philosophy, so long as they aren’t actively trying to destroy/inhibit it. Passive acquiescence is all feminism needs of the majority of people at this point; the men’s movement needs something more substantial from that, and would benefit most by having a targeted effort to get that large, undecided majority to do something about feminism. And an important point to consider is the “ease of sowing disorder,” which I think is pretty self-evident. Even reasonable people can be convinced of unreasonable things. I think many of us have had the experience of coming to the light from out of the darkness that is the feminist doctrine and all of its lies. They have proven themselves to be very good at sowing disorder indeed, but this could be combated by a reliable website with easy to navigate links to all the sources, facts, and figures that prove feminism isn’t what it claims to be.
Luckily, the situation isn’t an actual insurgency. We don’t have to worry about massive undertakings like providing a stable infrastructure to the undecided middle (electricity, plumbing, access to food and security, etc) and waging a literal war with bullets and IEDs and so forth. However, in keeping with the analogy, let’s talk about “infrastructure” for a bit.
Making Progress

If we liken the progress made by the disparate elements of the men’s movement to a military assault, we’re now in the phase where we need to consolidate. As far as I can tell, we have a whole bunch of great people working towards the same ends but in their own ways and with their own direction. Collectively, it’s apparent that headway has been made, but to truly capitalize on the progress that’s been made it is necessary to regroup before pushing forward. By regrouping, we can: assess where it is that we stand relative to our opposition, take a tally of our progress and figure out what battles we’ve won, and most importantly chart a course for the future.
Another part of consolidating our effort would be to potentially bring more people into the fold. To get back to the first quote I brought up, it is currently very hard to dig for information regarding the true state of affairs with the feminist movement. To that end, I propose someone design a single website to address this issue. While the sites I’ve mentioned before may be great for communities of like-minded individuals, what we really need is a website that addresses the undecided, middle-ground skeptic I’ve been talking about in this post.
The web-site should be a concise and articulate distillation of the very best essays and posts that the men’s movement has created so far. It must be designed with a purpose in mind, the purpose being to convince skeptics that feminism is not a healthy philosophy to adopt, support or even abide through passivity. There should be a clear introduction, then pages that expound a bit on various issues the introduction brings up, and then a conclusion that directs readers to where they can get more information or start doing something about the problem.
Something kind of like this, except for the men’s movement.
If there already is a site of this sort out there, I haven’t found it. That’s kind of telling, considering I’ve been looking for one like it for a long time (to include a pretty thorough search over the past few days). Whether or not a site is out there or we need to create one, we need to promote it. Realize that the undecided middle probably isn’t going to be able to devote every waking hour (or perhaps not even a full waking hour each day!) to this cause or to researching it. That is why it is important to distill the crux of the movement down to some concise and potent analyses. Once someone’s mind has been opened that way, they can then utilize the site to more fully explore the issues that concern them.
This website would be analogous to building infrastructure in a counterinsurgency operation to win the faith of the undecided majority. It would provide them with all the resources they would need to answer questions and criticisms that would arise from shrugging off feminist doctrine. It would point them to communities of like-minded individuals with a wealth of experience dealing with the problems that could arise from shirking off such a philosophy.
What do you think? Comments are welcome and encouraged.

Dead Men Tell No Tales: The Mirror I: Enlisting

What is Dead Men Tell No Tales? It is a selection of (hitherto) undisclosed, private ruminations and epiphanies. Most take the form of (slightly) edited letters to unnamed recipients, but some have been scavenged from the depths of private journals recently rediscovered. Over the next little while (however long it takes – days, weeks, months, years?) I’ll be posting them in episodic fashion for the reading pleasure of my nonexistent audience.

In The Mirror, our author thinks he has found a female extremely similar to him. He provides her a shoulder to cry on, but when he attempts to use his shoulder, he is met with (you guessed it) rejection. Enlisting is the letter a letter detailing our author’s feelings just prior to enlistment, which largely goes ignored. It was not unprompted, mind – she had asked for such a story! Alas.
I have all sorts of crazy emotions floating around about it. Here’s what I can think to tell you before I head off (leaving to do something soon):
I am excited and anxious. It’ll be the toughest thing I’ve ever done in my life – a life defined by doing tough things. I remember thinking about, when I was leaving Bellingham, how if just one person sincerely cared for me and told me they didn’t want to see me go, I would have stayed. That’s what I thought about the Marine Corps, too… if just one person sincerely told me they didn’t want me to go, didn’t want to lose me, I might not have done it. I dunno if that’s true or not, but… The only person so far who was really vocal about not wanting me hurt was doing it for self-serving reasons. She wanted to be a good friend to feel good about herself, not to help me out. She didn’t listen to any of my feelings – she only dismissed, belittled, misinterpreted or was judgmental of them. She apologized but that’s about it. She hasn’t tried to be a real friend for me, she just stopped talking to me.
I’m glad that I have direction in my life. Before, every day, I would think about “why am I getting up? So I can go to work, collect a pay check, buy more food, pay more bills, so I can stay alive and keep doing the same things?” I had never ACTUALLY considered suicide, but I’ve always thought “what is it about myself that prevents me from killing myself? It sure would be nice to just be done with life.” Now, though, I feel like I have a purpose in life, and that is really invigorating and energizing and just good. Let the nay-sayers fuck themselves – there are simple facts they refuse to acknowledge, like the fact that this country wouldn’t be here were it not for martial force, like the fact that some enemies refuse to negotiate. I’m not saying the armed services are perfect right now, but not all of the blame belongs on them either. Generals decide how to fight wars – politicians choose them. If you don’t like the Iraq war, for instance, your beef belongs with the politicians (and your state congressmen) that endorsed it. Furthermore, a far more effective means of changing the system is to be a part of it – rather than some nay sayer on the outside that doesn’t know their left arm from their right, throwing stones that never hit their target.
I think differently than most people. I am very survivalist, very pragmatist. People think I think only about myself, which, it might seem that way… but often times I am thinking of other people. I don’t value myself much – don’t consider myself worth a whole lot. That doesn’t mean that I lack confidence in my abilities – quite the contrary, I know that I am fairly skilled and intelligent. I just don’t care to put those skills and that intelligence to work benefiting myself – such endeavors feel empty and hollow. I much prefer to help other people when I can, if I can, even if it is a thankless job. 
I grew up differently, too. Most people I’ve met take for granted the love that is present in their families, the physical contact they get on a daily basis. I grew up in a household that had very little love. The only love that existed stemmed from my brother, who loved me and loved my sister. I loved my brother back, but I don’t think my sister did. I think she THOUGHT she did, but that’s a different thing from actually loving someone. And I would go, literally, for years at a time without another person touching me – hugging me, that kind of thing. I still don’t really feel comfortable with that sort of thing, although I did once have a girlfriend and I did once become comfortable and it was indeed a positive experience – let me know what I was missing out on. Which just made me appreciate it all the more. But that’s a long story, and tangential at that, too.
I think I will hate Marine boot camp, but love the Corps. I think I will go career. I don’t know if I will ever settle down and get married and start a family. I would love to. I would love to be a father and raise my kids the way my parents should have raised me – a lot of people say that, give it a lot of lip service, but I plain just intend to do it, given the proper amount of luck – but I don’t see myself getting married. Most of the girls that I have been interested in are always very plainly not interested in me. I don’t even get a chance to get to know them and see if they’re worth being hung up on! But I get hung up all the same, imagining how great they must be. And the girls that like me? Well, I think they are too intimidated to say anything to me, or the ones that do, I unfortunately am not interested in. I can be a bit picky that way – hell, a bit shallow too (I’m not one of those types that thinks that looks don’t matter) – but I’m not complaining. If I really wanted a girlfriend just to say that I had one, I am fairly certain I could go and find one within a week. But that’s not what I am about. 
I hope that answered your question.

Dead Men Tell No Tales: The Debate III: On Deaf Ears

What is Dead Men Tell No Tales? It is a selection of (hitherto) undisclosed, private ruminations and epiphanies. Most take the form of (slightly) edited letters to unnamed recipients, but some have been scavenged from the depths of private journals recently rediscovered. Over the next little while (however long it takes – days, weeks, months, years?) I’ll be posting them in episodic fashion for the reading pleasure of my nonexistent audience.

In The Debate, our young, idealistic but morbidly depressed author – less than a month away from going to Marine Corps boot camp – is responding to careless statements made about his favorite movie (Fight Club) and his decision to enlist. On Deaf Ears is a rare moment of introspection and reflection on the part of the author, which never garners a response from the recipient. Such things, our nonexistant audience will soon learn, happen often.
Understand that I’m not trying to be negative, just telling you how it’s been (most people don’t seem to realize that I do try to improve my situation, and instead just judge me…):
I’ve had ample opportunity to meet people in Utah. I’ve introduced myself, tried to focus on manifesting only the attractive parts of myself (humor, intelligence, etc), tried to remain in a good mood, been outgoing… but I have not made a single friend outside of my boss. I’ve gotten plenty of phone numbers (from cute girls, even!) and for various reasons, each endeavor has proven unsuccessful. Sometimes it’s because, try as I might, my inner demons bubble up to the surface and I admit too early on that I’m not as happy as I may seem… sometimes it’s because I come on too strong… sometimes it’s because I don’t come on strong enough… sometimes it’s because we just aren’t compatible… and other times, I really don’t know. There was this one girl, RF, that seemed like a great match for me, but… long story.
I didn’t leave school, per se. High school was boring – there wasn’t enough challenge for me. I would pretend to be sick just to let the homework build up and create enough stress to motivate me to get it done. And my home life was absolutely fucking terrible. And try as I might, I couldn’t make any fucking friends. So I applied to St. John’s and was accepted. But my parents did not finish their end of the financial aid application process, and I was unable to go (tuition is like $40,000/yr, which I can’t afford). I’d been dreaming and scheming of leaving home ever since I was in the 7th grade and I literally may have killed myself if I had to stay any longer (this is not a joke or exaggeration, I was suicidal). I’d been talking to my friend about the possibility of going to Utah, and it turned out that I could, so I did. 
When I got here I found that I didn’t have enough money to go to school. After wasting a year I realized I needed to get back on track. So, the military seemed to be the only way to get back to school – there you have it, one of the reasons I joined the Marines! All of the opportunities that they will give me to go to school.
But there’s more to the school story than that – I disagree that school is a great place to meet interesting and intelligent people. Especially if you paid attention to my Protest Project, you’d realize that the educational system is completely flawed. Even if it weren’t being retooled to be unfriendly to males (at current trends, the last male will receive his college degree sometime around 2050 or 2070 – can’t remember exactly, but it was within our lifetime) it is still massively flawed. For example, when I took this screening exam for the Marine Corps, I scored in the 91st percentile [edit: it was a practice test; on my actual test I scored in the 98th]. To be eligible you need to score in the 30th at least. The Marines have seen A LOT of kids, with diplomas, fail out. They’ve seen a kid with a diploma score in the 5th percentile! School doesn’t TEACH you anything anymore. 
Yes, I sometimes look at the world from [your] perspective – that today is the first day of the rest of my life – and it helps. But every time that the same thing happens – every time somebody fails to call me back, or is evasive about it, or just won’t tell me if they like me or not, it becomes harder to adopt that attitude. You have to realize that these patterns I am talking about – people abandoning me, being dishonest with me, not loving me, being untrustworthy, disloyal – have been occurring my ENTIRE life, not just recently. I do all that I can to combat it, but sometimes I just can’t maintain the illusion that it’ll get better. Trust me, I have tried my best, and sometimes I am surprised. I’ll be honest with you (when I was still in Bham) – I tried my best with you, and when I couldn’t reach you the first few months after being down here, I figured that what had always happened to me happened again and I’d written you off completely. As stated, I really like(d) you, and when I got down here I actually wrote a letter to you (that I still have!). I never sent it when I never received anything from you, and… well, I just had to cope with the fact that you were probably gone, like so many others. I added you on a whim on Facebook – trying, yet again, despite the voice in my head telling me it was futile – and it turned out to work. That same part of me wonders for how much longer, but, like I said – I am trying. [edit: turns out it wouldn’t last ANY longer]
I have also invested a lot of my time trying to help other people. Remember those late nights where, on top of all my homework, I’d edit your essays for you and give you feedback? I was once a peer mediator in school – students who helped other students resolve conflicts. I tutored people in debate, in math, in essay writing, in whatever they wanted to be tutored in… hell, being better at videogames, even! Heh. But people tend to be shallow, and ultimately they would just try to surpass me and turn it into a game of one-upsmanship (a game I didn’t want to play) and I grew tired of it. 
The Marines still help people, too, LW. This country would not exist, were it not for war, and even after being established in the furnace of war, it has been tested many more times in that same furnace. If WW2 had not played out the way it did, you would not be enjoying your status of living the easy life. America was the only industrialized country in the world that did not see an invasion by an enemy force – and that is a huge part of the reason why we are as “advanced” as we are today. Also, as the military learns that it can’t win counterinsurgency wars with bullets, they have looked at making soldiers better nation builders (because the civilian establishments that are skilled at it refuse to go to war zones to do it). So I actually will be helping out – not just myself, not just my country, but potentially other countries as well. We could get derailed on an endless political tangent here, but let me pre-empt that by also saying: I have no qualms with killing people right now, either. For whatever reason. But this is because morality is relative – not objective – and there is no true good or evil. I will fight to defend my country in whatever way is possible, and should I see that my country is heading down the wrong course, I will do what is in my power to right it – the military is a lot more intelligent than most liberals give it credit for.
I do not think I am too intelligent for the world. I think that, perhaps, I may be too intelligent for most people – you yourself admitted that you did not feel comfortable debating with me, that you ego was threatened, when that was not at all my intent. I was just trying to debate as well as I could – following the rules of logic I hold dear and defending the beliefs I’ve established for myself as best I could. I was not trying to make you feel uncomfortable, but I realize that that is what I do to people. I decided a long time ago that I feel much better remaining true to my beliefs and my ideals (honesty, integrity, logic) than I do conceding them to others just so that they may like me a little bit more. Furthermore, I tend to be able to handle the nastier parts of reality better than other people can, and this too alienates me. As stated, any time I try to talk about the life I’ve lived, people just try to shut me up and judge me as a pessimist or a negative person or overly cynical or what have you – completely dismissing my experiences and feelings.
I’m glad you’re sick of hearing atheists talk about their beliefs. That’s pretty much how I felt the entire time in Bellingham about most things – like I said before, Bellingham is full of some of the most intolerant people I’ve ever met in my whole life. The ends don’t matter to me – whether you are Christian or atheist or whatever in between, whether you are liberal or conservative, whether you are an abstract or pragmatic thinker – what matters to me is if you have rationale behind your reasoning. If you can stand your ground and logically defend your opinions or beliefs. If you acknowledge the fact that religious systems are often a matter of blind faith, and that you truly do have that faith, good for you! What matters to me is the rationale behind your stances, not the stance itself. Any point of view, any perspective, can have merit.
I want, so badly, LW, to start over. I ache to start over. It was my greatest dream for a long time. And the military can provide me with that. I could disappear, LW. All I have to do is not give people my contact info, not stay in touch, maybe change my name… tell my mother she is dead to me… but… that’s just running away.
I don’t laugh at morality and virtue. I find it sad that the majority of people don’t have any. Although, my morals are a bit different. I am somewhat amoral – I don’t color the world in good and evil – but I do believe in virtue. Really, the most important thing to me when it comes to virtues is honesty. So, I try always to be honest. And that is what turns people off to me.
I realize that people don’t like to hear about my experiences. I realize that they don’t like to hear about my amoral views, about my minor cynicism, about other things. But damn it, that’s what’s honest. That’s what I really think. And I’m not about to compromise my honesty just to curry favor with somebody I barely know. LW, I’m a smart guy. I know how to act should I want someone to like me. Hell, my brother is the master of getting people to like him (and have sex with him) but… I don’t find relationships built upon a bed of lies and a lack of trust to be emotionally satisfying. I would rather die alone than be surrounded by people I can’t trust with my feelings. Which is, right now, why I’m pretty alone. I seem to be able to trust you with my feelings – at least, you haven’t written them off or dismissed them… But everyone else, except Kai, judges me for them. What kind of twisted, cold, terrible person judges you for the way you’re feeling!? If you were to tell me that you were sad, my first response would not be to BERATE you for it! I would try to find out why, and if there is sufficient reason for your sadness, I would try to help you cope with it! (If, on the other hand, you were just overreacting, I might help you get some perspective on your feelings. But never would I simply dismiss your feelings and judge you for having them!) Why is empathy so hard to come by?
I am truly touched that you are concerned about my death. Again, I honestly thought that there was not a soul in this would that would be all that affected by my passing. I know that people would be sad, initially, you know what I mean? But I did not think that there was anyone who would be truly affected by my death. I figured I would be forgotten. It does not seem that way with you, and so it may seem selfish when I say this, but I am not really concerned with my own life. I care enough not to kill myself, for instance, but dangerous situations do not affect me. My death will come when it will come – I could die tomorrow crossing the street – and being a soldier doesn’t really scare me that way. To be honest with you… I think sometimes, why am I even alive right now? I have no goal in life. The goals I have tried to pursue seem to be outside my reach – nobody wants to read my novel, nobody wants to connect with me meaningfully – so what am I doing? When it comes to the Marines and the danger involved, it is not a question of why. For me, it is a question of why not.
I must not have painted my dying alone in a clear enough light. I did not reach this conclusion because of my girlfriend. I reached this conclusion long before my girlfriend, and was in fact surprised to meet someone who was interested in me – who would take the risk and tell me that they loved me (which, I would argue, turned out untrue, but then again… I have no frame of reference when it comes to love). If anything, she almost changed that conclusion for me. But after I got out of the relationship, I looked back on it, rationally and objectively, and I saw the ways that she had used me and lied to me, and it was just confirmation for what I had already known to be true.
I am an ironically dominant personality type. That is, when I am myself. The person you probably know the best, or the John you remember the best, wasn’t really me. I am not me when I sit in class and say nothing. I am not me when I reveal nothing about my experiences, my feelings, my passions. When I am animated – when I am talking about something that matters to me, when I am debating over something I believe in or am concerned about, I can be very dominant. I tend to be unyielding, as well, so it is not a charismatic dominance, but the kind of dominance that reflects inner insecurities and weaknesses in others – something unpleasant, as you may attest to. People don’t like being wrong, and it takes a very strong person to admit as much. And I don’t back down when I know I am right – a combination that leads me all too often into isolation. I can’t stand ignorance, for instance, and sometimes try to do everything in my power to give people a reality check… not a very attractive tactic.
What I’m getting at is this. In order to coexist peacefully with people, I must suppress myself. I can’t combat their ignorance, can’t expose their flawed reasoning, can’t be honest with them. But the most important thing to me is honesty! So in order to get along with people I have to give up that which I alue most about myself, which is of course painful. In order to be content with myself, I must accept solitude, it seems. I don’t like to be alone, LW – even after a solid 16 years of experience (or so) with it (in varying degrees), I don’t like it. But I like it better than I like to compromise myself.
Perhaps I will meet someone who can tolerate my quirks. And perhaps I will be lucky enough that I like them. And luckier still, they will be female. And even luckier, available. And luckier (how much luck is involved at this point) they will like me as much as I like them! Then perhaps, LW, I will get married and settle down. It is not as if I want to be alone. I would just rather be myself, which pretty much, in my experience, guarantees my solitude.
I could, of course, attempt to change myself, right? The thing is… I don’t see the flaws in my preferences. We could talk at length about this, but for now, suffice to say that I feel as though my position – remaining honest, looking to improve rationality and logic in others, combating ignorance – are genuinely GOOD things. I try to go about it as tactfully as possible (as I tried with you) but the fact of the matter is that most people are not ready to be confronted with their own flaws.
I realize that tenderness, joy, love and all of those things are reality, too. And should I be blessed enough to enjoy them – truly, and not just some sham of them attained by compromising my own morals and virtues – then rest assured I will enjoy them to the fullest extent. I do not willingly seep myself in hatred and violence, LW. Hatred is just something I have become used to. Violence is something I want to experience for myself before I pass judgment on it.
About killing… Yes, some people kill for the machine. Some people kill because they are told. Some people kill because they will be killed if they don’t. This is because they have not, in my opinion, considered the situation with enough depth to find another reason to kill. And I’m not just talking about “for your country,” though that is a valid reason. There is a lot of depth to the situation in Iraq, so much so that the average person misses a lot of it. I want to be there myself, sift through the layers and the “fog of war,” before I make any judgments. And ultimately, LW, I intend to become an officer, so that, should I determine our boys are killing for the wrong reasons, I can do my part to steer us back on course. 
People do a lot to discredit war and violence. But think of this LW… aside from ideas, can you think of a more important and long lasting catalyst of change in the history of mankind? Virtually every event, every circumstance, every person, can be traced back to the outcome of a war. I already talked about WW2 – but we would not have grown up the same way – or may not have been born! – had America not come out of WW2 the way it did. There’s obvious wars, too, like the Civil War, and the Revolutionary War… 
Often times, of course, ideas themselves are what lead to war. 
Conflict, I think, is the basic unifying experience of humanity. Conflict of ideas, conflict of goals, conflict of nations, conflict of self… everyone experiences conflict, and it provides the universal common framework for empathy… and it is through conflict that we better ourselves. Conflict allows the superior side to survive and the weak side to fade away. If your beliefs have never been tested – are never in conflict – how can you be sure that they are any good? Like I said, I must constantly defend my position and belief system from all sides all the time… and each time I do, I become more convinced of certain aspects of it. Or I become convinced that certain beliefs were wrong… 
I have few regrets, LW. I wish that I knew what love was, for instance. I have thought before that I have loved people, but have been too afraid and too scared to tell them. Sometimes, when I do, it ironically pushes them away from me, because they feel uncomfortable with my love. Heh… I am convinced that there is no worse feeling in the world than to feel that someone won’t associate with you because you love them. I am SURE of that, as sure as I am that I will be taxed and that I will eventually die. 😉
Thank you.
[Sent as a separate message some thirty minutes later:]
Haha… so many words, and as I read back, there is so much to add… I’ll drown you in a sea of my miseries, I am sure.
That’s the other thing, that keeps me alone. I carry around with me a significant amount of pain and unpleasant experience, that I often must keep to myself. Then somebody tries to be nice to me and look at what they get? Me dumping it out all over them.
Sorry 🙁

Dead Men Tell No Tales: The Debate I: Elucidate

What is Dead Men Tell No Tales? It is a selection of (hitherto) undisclosed, private ruminations and epiphanies. Most take the form of (slightly) edited letters to unnamed recipients, but some have been scavenged from the depths of private journals recently rediscovered. Over the next little while (however long it takes – days, weeks, months, years?) I’ll be posting them in episodic fashion for the reading pleasure of my nonexistent audience.

In The Debate, our young, idealistic but morbidly depressed author – less than a month away from going to Marine Corps boot camp – is responding to careless statements made about his favorite movie (Fight Club) and his decision to enlist. Elucidate is an attempt to explain to the unfortunate opponent why our author’s venom was unleashed.
Disclaimer: this is going to be long. :shrug: It is no longer or shorter than it needs to be.

I tried to enter into the debate kindly, tried to warn you you didn’t want me to enter into it, in fact… then I feel attacked when you say things like “if the director had wanted to make a more thoughtful commentary” about a movie that has given me more food for thought than pretty much any other media I’ve ever experienced… or “i hate to be frank but I doubt you’ll change the system much” implying that I will lack efficacy in my goals… or “i don’t like tearing you down” implying that you think I look like a fool or a weak debater… or “as I’m sure you know, marines have a higher death toll than any other branch” implying that I must not have done my research or something… then of course I am going to respond in kind.

But I don’t debate for debating sake. This might come off arrogant, but I’m not kidding when I tell you I’ve only ever met one person who is able to hold their own in real debate with me (a real debate being one in which both debaters were well informed but had differing opinions) – and he is my friend Kai. The only other time I engage in debate is when I think the other person could have something to gain – if maybe I could teach them something. 

Otherwise, like I said, I don’t like to get involved… I am apathetic. And what did you have to say about that? Another dig: “and by the way, being apathetic and correct (assuming your correct) is worse than going out on a limb in persuit of a cause or the truth.” So what does that mean? If I enter into debate with you, I’m an asshole, and if I don’t, I’m worse than being misguided? Okay, cool. So how exactly do I win here? Fucked if I do, fucked if I don’t.

I’d love to just talk, too, but I feel that you need to take some accountability for the less-than-careful words you put out there. This all probably relates to our differences in the way we were raised – I imagine that you are used to support for the decisions you make (do correct me if I am wrong, baseless assumption is not a practice I like to engage in). Every single fucking decision I’ve ever made ALWAYS gets criticized BY EVERYONE. I never receive ANY god damn support from anyone, and must constantly defend myself from others. I get tired of it, I get tired of repeating myself, and I prefer to mostly just be silent. There was only ONE person out of the 30+ I’ve told at this point who didn’t flip me an hour of shit about joining the Marines and try to criticize every little thing about it. 

This is how it’s been for the entirety of my life. Another great example was my protest project [edit for blog: on feminism, presented in liberal Bellingham, WA], who even teachers that liked me and generally respected me derided as misguided. Well, I don’t care to do things the easy way. The system was fucked, I hoped to open some eyes, but people are so slow to throw off comfortable thoughts… eh. It’s all so futile. I couldn’t even talk to you about it – do you remember? – because before I’d even get to finish a thought, you or one of the three friends behind you would cut me off and spout off some bullshit. I’d try to answer that, and more interruption.

And yes, one can just “pick” things to argue about. I generally don’t do that. When we’re talking about an organization that I’ll be giving 8 years of my life to, it kind of matters to me. And when you try to find holes my position, you can bet I’m gonna defend myself and try to correct flawed thinking in your position.

Even here you say things that I would like do disagree with. Hatred is every bit as tangible and potent a force as love. I have thought about this for a very long time and I do not think that there is a single person who can truly and fully comprehend both love and hatred at the same time. 

You want to know what goes in inside this head? I grew up my entire life without love. My mother did not love me – she emotionally abused me my entire childhood and told me I was a worthless piece of shit embarrassment. As my weight approached 150 pounds (at height 6’6), she called me a greedy son of a bitch every time I asked for food. I had to work a part time job – on top of debate, on top of three AP classes – just to fucking eat. My dad was never around, my brother was an alcoholic. Do you understand how hard it is to love an alcoholic? The emotional roller coaster that results? 

I have no god damn idea what love is or was. All I ever saw was hatred – the hatred my mother inflicted on everyone around her, the hatred we all had for her. The only time she ever told me she loved me was when she was trying to get something from me – trying to appease her own guilt, trying to secure her future because she realized that despite her influence, I was the only child that would make it on my own. (Even though she once said “you’ll never be able to fucking make it out there in the real world, you whining sniveling spoiled piece of shit worthless fuck!”) 

And all the people I’ve ever thought I had feelings for – even just kind of liked – betray me. I have an easy time forgetting and moving on, because it has happened so often to me that it’s become like catching the cold. Before I left Bellingham, I had trusted you with the most personal writing I had ever done, and you said we would stay in touch. It takes an entire year to hear back from you? 

But I only have myself to blame. I ruined my one good shot at connecting with someone in a meaningful way via cowardice, via buying into my mom’s bullshit about being worthless and unlovable. But I’m done regretting that time.

And the one girlfriend I had was just enough of an experiment for me to verify my forgone conclusion that I will, in all likelihood, end up dying alone. Despite best efforts, despite intentions otherwise, I end up pushing away anyone that tries to draw close to me. I used to welcome this isolation; now I tolerate it while trying and failing to minimize or reverse it.

So when you tell me hatred isn’t a real emotion, when you tell me that it isn’t pure, isn’t somehow worthy of your concern, that’s like telling me my whole life isn’t worthy of your attention. You would not enjoy a movie about my life – it seems to me that you would call it somehow less than thoughtful.

You commentary on optimism and pessimism leaves out the only perspective worth talking about: realism. The thing about reality is, it tends to suck. The thing about our society is, most people build up illusions to shield themselves from the ugliness. For elaboration, see this article:

When I say that the average person in retail isn’t decent, I mean they lack decency. They are rude, selfish, and total assholes to the employees. If they are not these things, they are quite literally completely stupid. Like I said, work in retail for a year and see if you disagree. When you actually meet a decent person, you go out of your way to do any and EVERY thing for them, if only to spend less time with the scum of the earth.

If you just want to talk to me, that’s fine. Talk to me. But don’t tell me the things I’ve lived are somehow not worthwhile – are worth less than the things you’ve lived. Don’t treat me like I haven’t thought about my decisions. Don’t trap me in a double bind of being an asshole if I engage in your debate or worse than misguided if I do not. If you want to know how I am feeling, ask how I’m doing. If you want to know what I think, ask me what I think. If you want to know why I joined the Marine Corps… oh, you did 😉 (I was just waiting til the end to get to this stuff.)

The reasons I joined the Corps are many. Maybe that’s better left for another time – the more I tell people about myself the more they shy away from me. While I have accepted that I will die alone, it’s not something I particularly look forward to. I am so tired of being alone, LW. This entire year I have spent living alone in my apartment with virtually zero friends. I have not really told anyone how I’ve FELT for two full years. This is the closest I’ve ever come to that, in these past two years. And I like you. I even had a crush on you for a little bit! The last thing I’d want to have happen is to completely lose contact with you, but that happens to me all the time. It is something I am sure I will need to endure eventually.

To be honest with you, I’ve never been much of an appreciator of art. I’ve not understood it – same goes for poetry. I’m more of a music, novel, and movie kinda guy. But some art does resonate with me. I’ve always liked that painting of the frail old man playing guitar – rendered in drab colors. To be honest, that’s the only picture that stands out for me on your profile.

Dead Men Tell No Tales: Epic Catastrophe II: Metaphor

What is Dead Men Tell No Tales? It is a selection of (hitherto) undisclosed, private ruminations and epiphanies. Most take the form of (slightly) edited letters to unnamed recipients, but some have been scavenged from the depths of private journals recently rediscovered. Over the next little while (however long it takes – days, weeks, months, years?) I’ll be posting them in episodic fashion for the reading pleasure of my nonexistent audience.

In Epic Catastrophe, our young author makes a series of unfortunate miscalculations and mistakes with one KL. Metaphor seeks to provide context to the previous letter, as it was largely misunderstood by its recipient.
[My opening is a response to her quip about providing me with some unedited honesty.]
You want some unedited honesty? Try this (the only edit made was this disclaimer being added to the top):
As previously stated, nothing will make sense without the proper context. And each new piece of the puzzle requires yet more context to understand…I would need to relate to you the entirety of my life, but I tire of that sort of thing.
I am analogous to a character with whom I assume you have zero familiarity – Fei Fong Wong from a little thing called Xenogears. I also assume you will never experience Xenogears for yourself, so I’ll clue you in on the important details.
Fei is revealed, after much plot progression, to be suffering from a kind of multiple personality disorder. When he was a young boy, he experienced severe trauma (at the hands of his mother, no less!) that caused his true self to recede inside his mind. Another personality manifested – a personality that would later become known as “Id” in the world of Xenogears, and whom you are led to believe is a separate character until you learn the truth. In any case, the original Fei is referred to as the “coward” by Id, because the coward forced all of Fei’s negative experiences onto Id. Id becomes a reckless, homicidal killing machine of unparalleled power, until finally Fei’s father splits Id’s personality and creates a third persona (that you are first introduced to when you meet Fei).
This is analogous to what I’ve become. As a boy, I suffered trauma at the hands of my mother (emotional, however – not physical, like Fei’s). This trauma instilled in me a lack of confidence and a propensity for failure in meaningfully connecting with people I liked. I began to learn how to live apart – live alone – and even adopted the hypothesis that my dying alone was a foregone conclusion. As such, I did as much as I could to insure that scenario – sabotaging the only good relationships I had in my life and further entrenching my isolation. I became consumed by my hatred and loathing. I was similar to Id in a sense (minus, you know, killing everyone).
Then I met Haley. She, as a person, did not affect me. But the relationship further entrenched my belief that human beings, are, by their very nature, deplorable. It takes a lot to rise above our baser selves, and few do. Yet at the same time I realized that living as I had – destroying relationships, sabotaging friendships, and generally just being an asshole – wasn’t solving anything either. So a third personality emerged, a sort of apathetic answer to my base hatred. Like, yeah, the world is terrible – so what? I don’t care. Just let me go about my business, mkay.
That’s about where you met me. Like the theme song says, “No one but me can save myself but it’s too late / I can’t think, think why I should even try.” I see no purpose in rescuing the child inside of me that was lost, and my apathetic answer to hatred proved to be equally destructive, and less enjoyable to boot. It is no longer an active, seething hatred, but something different. A kind of acknowledgment that humanity is flawed, over-arrogant… The kind of attitude that leads to relativism, the idea that my life is worth no more than any other life is worth no more than any other life. That extends to everything – your viewpoint is no less convincing than my viewpoint than any other viewpoint. There is justification for anything in this world. And right and wrong are moral judgments, and morals are a strictly human construct – there is no physical law that correlates to “good” and “evil” in the universe, or to “right” and “wrong.” “Right” is what an organism must do to survive, and “wrong” are actions that doom that organism to death.
And with these kinds of attitudes, I can join the military with no qualms. Send me to Iraq, give me a gun, tell me to shoot whoever, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care.
More song lyrics for you: “You don’t understand me and you probably never will (probably never will) / Got a tendency to self-destruct, and a soft spot for the filth / A hair trigger temperament / A switchblade for a tongue / I’m a walking one man genocide / With a black belt in corrupt / Everything I touch turns to ashes”
What do I want out of life? The same thing most people want. Love, a family, kids. To satisfactorily complete my life’s work (in this case, my novel). Simple things, honest things – things always inexplicably outside my reach. So in the meantime, I squander time.
The stubbornness of people – the insistence that their view is the one and only correct view, coupled with the unwillingness to admit when one is wrong – is what primarily disgusts me.
I realize there are huge logical flaws in my conceptions of the world and the conclusions I’ve reached. Gaps exist because I fail to let anyone fully enter in my head space. And ultimately, I just need time to heal. One might compare this to a renovation – you must DESTROY the old before you can build the new, and thus my self-destructive tendencies. 
The Fei analogy does not hold to how I actually view myself, but it was something I had thought of that was interesting (and it was a reference to something I’d wager you’ll never experience for yourself) and as such I threw it in there. Because why not? And how’s this:
[01:00 AM] John: I think I will probably live the entirety of my life alone. Every experience I have seems to lend credence to that notion.
[01:02 AM] John: Maybe related to a bit of philosophy I attached to from the better part of the Ender’s Game series (i.e., the part most people hated)
[01:02 AM] John: True understanding between people is impossible. 
[01:02 AM] John: Too many barriers. Language itself is a barrier.
[01:03 AM] Soltis: You have to already understand them.
[01:03 AM] Soltis: If you don’t, language won’t help you to.
[01:03 AM] John: I think “understanding” is a hoax.
[01:03 AM] John: An illusion.
[01:04 AM] John: As relates to other people.
[01:04 AM] Soltis: Not always.
[01:04 AM] Soltis: But mostly, yes.
[01:04 AM] John: You might be able to predict them, or have some empathy for their situations, and be pretty damn accurate.
[01:04 AM] John: But to completely understand someone? I don’t think so.
[01:04 AM] Soltis: You wouldn’t be able to, yourself, at the moment.
[01:06 AM] John: Say I did something completely shocking. Something which you never thought I’d do.
[01:06 AM] John: Died in the process of doing it. You might guess at why I did it, and (knowing you) may even be convinced you would know my motivations. But how could you be assured of your understanding?
[01:07 AM] Soltis: That would depend on the deed, really, but you’re so conflicted, right now, and shut off, that I don’t pretend to understand you.
[01:08 AM] Soltis: I have a working understanding *with* you, that is, we have some agreement of philosophical convention.
[01:08 AM] Soltis: But do I really understand *you*? Hell no.
[01:08 AM] Soltis: My understanding is limited to precisely what you described — prediction, familiarity, and sympathy.
[01:08 AM] Soltis: Not much more.
[01:08 AM] Soltis: You don’t let anyone in your head.
[01:09 AM] Soltis: I don’t blame you, but it makes understanding you impossible.
[The bulk of her response:]
“I’m going to have to think about this awhile before I respond. I feel like you, in trying to separate us, are almost trying to manipulate your own feelings, and be mad at me.”
I am not trying to separate us. It is all very complicated. And I am not mad at you. To be more accurate and honest, it would be truthful to say that you have disappointed me in the past, and because of that disappointment I am wary to give you trust again. However, realize that I trust no one, and do not take my distance from you personally, and we should be just gravy.
[It takes her some time to muster a response.]