About (Jerk) Face

I really thought I was funny.

I hindsight I can say with confidence that it was not the case. In my last post I extolled the virtues of being genuine and kind, all while getting the sneaking suspicion the world at large wasn't such a kind place. Upon further reflection, I have concluded that while I may not have been one of the dudes, or bro if that suits you better, I definitely was a teenaged dick. At the time it may have been intentional, though not for the reasons I thought. Like many, if not all, teenaged males, I thought I could be the most hilarious person in the room. At least, I made an effort to be. While there was a fair amount of parroting SNL skits and quoting standup routines, there were a lot of times where I straight up bagged on people with little to no provocation.

That makes me cringe a bit. I don't really know where it stemmed from. I'm sure a fair amount of it sprang from adolescent insecurity and a desire to be accepted. There was also a subconscious desire to establish a personality and look cool to everyone. After all, doesn't everyone like the guy who makes everyone laugh? I thought so. The more I think about it as high school recedes farther in to the past, I get the sense I wasn't ever very funny, but just a dick.

On top of this, I probably was more popular than I realized. While that clearly smacks of Humblebrag, it only stands to further illustrate the disconnect between perception and reality. I think I had assumed, based on a couple rough years in junior high, that I was a social misfit. I'm sure I was as weird as anyone else could be, I just didn't hide it as well. What I convinced myself was shunning or social neglect was most likely my own low self esteem and self absorption manifesting in justification and ascribing intention to actions from others. In short, I probably made it all up. It's a clear cut case of Liz Lemon Syndrome.

So why all this? Why the post on trivialities of high school social burdens?


I don't like who I was or how I acted, and there are too many people to apologize to individually. The more I think about how much I teased other kids, for what I thought was innocuous ribbing, I curse myself at the thought of my behavior. I was engaging in what I thought would make me more popular with the right kids. Instead, I was hurting feelings and probably embarrassing people. I'm not saying I was mercilessly tormenting defenseless kids, but I was definitely responsible for making people feel bad about themselves on more than a handful of occasions. Not some grand orchestrated prank, but more the kind of thing where you look back and think "Why would I do that? I would never do that now..."

Maybe that's what growing up is - realizing you were a jerk when you thought you were the victim. On top of that is the understanding that you can't take things back. I haven't seen almost any of my classmates in about ten years, so I doubt there's been little to change their minds about me. But there I go again - I'm vainly assuming that anyone from that time still is thinking about me in the slightest.


Face Paint

I remember the first time I really saw through male posturing. 

I was a freshman in high school, firmly rooted in my awkward phase of coming all-too-early into my adult body. I was a tall, gangly kid with long hair who had little to no athletic skills of any note. At that age, such a lack of skills, when coupled with unconventional tastes, make for poor socializing in a small Midwestern town. I didn't fit in, obviously. I had a few friends, but this was still at the age where they sprang more from geographical proximity rather than shared interest. Sure, we all dug video games and adolescent movies, but I still stood firmly apart from the group of dude's dudes who loved football and baseball more than anything else. I was the weird one, the bookish one, the nerdy one. 

It was Halloween night, which fell on a Saturday. Being in that awkward time of too old to trick or treat and too young to drive, we had nothing better to do than go over to Beef's house and play video games and eat junk food. Yes, if you're wondering - Beef was his known name. It was a bit of unfortunate nick-naming from a baseball coach who assigned everyone of his favorite players food themed monikers (Fries, Shake, who knows what else). None of the other ones stuck, of course, but this kid was known as Beef by all, even teachers, well past his teens. So we're at Beef's house, being freshman with nothing better to do, when his older brother and his friends stop in on their rounds of mysterious and tantalizing mischief. They were smoking on the back deck, regaling us with tales of paintball related antics when one of the friends, a short, stout, run of the mill bro, decided to toilet paper a neighbor's house. They all slinked off together to do the deed while we waited in awe on the back deck, the lot of us jealous of their hijinx and attitudes. 

Shortly after they left, a few came sprinting back to the deck. The excitedly told us of how local law enforcement had spotted them in the act and had tried to track them down. Rolling my eyes at the bravado, I stepped inside to get a soda. That's when the other older kids opened fire with their paintball guns. Sounding like a series of popping balloons, my friends were pelted by a hail of shots that left bruises and the occasional blood blister. When the good natured assault ended and the upperclassmen emerged from the shrubs, everyone had a good laugh about it, to my surprise. It looked like it hurt. Having been paintballing years later, I can attest it would definitely hurt on a cold night much more than it would during the summer days I tried it. When the upper classmen saw me emerge from the house, unscathed, they were upset. 

"Aw man," they complained. "We were gunning for Toycen!" 

I have no idea what, if anything, I had done to incur their wrath. I probably just looked like a dork and a great big, goony target. I get it. You want to pelt the awkward kid. The Bill Haverchuck. It's the natural way of the world. Nothing bad happened after that, they just had really wanted to nail me in particular. 

That wasn't the moment, though. As much of a revelation that it was for the upper classmen to arbitrarily open fire on us, it was almost par for the course. I was an outsider and I had an older brother with whom I would scrap. Again, big fish eats the little one, I get it. The watershed moment for me was hearing the same dude who started the prank regale his buddies with his concocted anecdote about the police chasing after him. I forget the start of it, but the words that I locked onto centered around his description of what the cop did when he saw him. 

He said "...and the cop flicked on his blueberries and cherries and peeled off after me. That's when I ran back here to wait it out." 

It still stands out to me, over a decade later, as complete bullshit. 

Look at it - 'blueberries and cherries'. That's how he referred to the lights. The unspoken assumption that he, and all of his friends, had dealt so much with the police that there was not only a short hand phrase for the lights on top of the car, but one that was actually five syllables longer than the word 'lights'. To give better context and more fully explain why this bothers me, here is the full scene: a bunch of middle class white kids in a small town in Wisconsin, none of whom had ever been accosted by the police. Two of whom were the sons of an actual officer. No girls were present. No prize was on the line. Just dudes being dudes. Despite all of this, there was still the subconscious desire for a few of them to put on airs and act tough. 

It drove me crazy then and it still does now. 

I remember throwing a sideways glance at the phrase, seeing if anyone else took note of the high bullshit quotient. No one skipped a beat. Others nodded along, because of course they spent all of their free time running from the police. They were bad ass, man. Hardcore. Not sheltered and posturing at all. That's when it clicked in my head - I didn't have to feel nerdy and nebbish. They were just as unsure about life as I was, they just made a big show of why they were big men. That's why I stood out - I wasn't pretending. I was just being nice, because I thought other people were trying to be nice too. "Oh," I realized, "even though they're all friends, these dudes are still insecure."

To this day, this memory stands out as a clear example of why I don't fit in with dudes and bros. I always thought you could just be nice to people and they would, by nature, be nice back. It hadn't occurred to me that people would just make stuff up and pretend to be something they weren't. I still try to be nice. I still don't see the harm in being genuine. 


Still Alive

Hey kids!

I remember when I would do this every single day. Man, those were good times.

So it's been a few weeks since I posted anything here, and I've noticed a couple things. One - people still visit. That is amazing. Thank you. Things will pick back up, I promise. 

Two - I've been hearing from people, not just online, but actual people, that they read this site and enjoy it. That is even more amazing. To hear from flesh and blood folk, not just text on a page, is so validating.

Three - I've enjoyed my life a little more without the constant deadline hanging over my head. While it's a sheepish admission, that is also amazing. 

So how do these things tie together? Easy. I'm going to get back into the groove. It's going to be a little less frequent, just so I can refill the mental well from which I spew. It's also going to shift in focus. There's only so much fantastic material with which I'm familiar that I can write about. I would either start writing about things I knew too little or cared to little to justify the words. That would have felt false. 

So nuts to that! Let's get back to it! I'm gonna start getting weird with it, take this place to strange new places. Maybe write about some personal, embarrassing things. I'm cool with it. It's easier for me to write about embarrassing things than it is to tell people face to face. That doesn't mean I won't make emphatic recommendations, anymore, though. I've still got things I want to tell the world about. 

I've made my way through a couple books, saw a handful of movies, worked through a shamefully out of date backlog of videogames. I've been sleeping better and even running in the winter. I've been cookning crazy meals with my better half, including a mega-meal with the very friends who inspired me to do this in the first place. It was a blast to do so, especially to compare and contrast where I was a year ago versus our shared impressions of how it turned out. 


Stay tuned.

Stuff's coming.



This has nothing to do with resolutions.

A year ago, today, this all started.

My better half and I were entertaining another couple, having spent the day skating and then drinking. Now, due to poor ice conditions, we would have to just drink. Anyway, as the evening wound down someone asked about a book I had been in the process of writing. I began to talk about how I had been growing frustrated by the times in which I wanted to write but found myself unable to advance the plot sufficiently. I had the desire and wherewithal to write, just not the architecture in my head. I had no platform, I whined. I needed to kick myself in the butt. 

This patient soul shrugged and looked at me, simply stating "So start a blog."

"About what?" I asked. "What could I have to contribute to the world at large, that hasn't already been said?" 

"I dunno, write about what you like," he offered.

So I did. 

It was tentative, at first, a series of cautious recommendations of things I wanted to expound upon during happy hours and over dinner. The benefit of the writing, in this case, was that I would no longer divert dinner conversations. I could ramble on and extol the virtues of any thing I pleased. So I kept writing and slowly an audience grew. It was really fun and it provided a way to exercise my mental muscle when I couldn't push my plot forward and make the story evolve. I had an outlet. It became an everyday thing after I realized I hadn't missed a daily update after the first two months. So many blogs and sites start with high hopes, only to peter out after interest wanes. I wanted to defy the stereotype of the start-and-stop newb. 

So I kept at it, posting consistently and without fail. Some posts were better than others, but traffic kept increasing. There was a short reprieve when I got married and went on the honeymoon, but every day I had a fresh post on fantastic things that I felt didn't get the recognition they deserved. After a year of that kind of regular writing, I'm calling an audible.

It's not the end, I promise. 

All I'm saying is that I need to step back for a moment. To reflect. To reevaluate. I know it may not seem like a lot from the other side, but posting fresh content every day does take time and energy, and I want to make sure what I'm offering you is only the best. There have been times where I'm just shambling to the finish line. I don't want that. I want to be able to have time to edit and refine - doing this all while starting a new job, getting married and moving has been hard, but fun. I just need to take a moment to assess where I am and what's happening. 

So here's what's going to happen. I'm not going to post for a bit. Maybe just a week. Maybe longer. Maybe I find myself chomping at the bit to get back to it. I'm going to take time to figure out how to proceed from here and how to refocus my efforts. Maybe it's more personal in the future, and less review-centric. I'm hoping my fiction endeavors resurface. Hopefully I can start to share with you what I've been working on. 

Maybe you're bummed about this. Don't be. I'll be back, soon enough. Probably to edit this post. BUT! Know that things will change for the better. I promise. Thanks for reading. If you want updates, follow me on Twitter @jdtoycen. I'll let you know what's up. Thanks for your patience. See you on the other side.