Subscriber challenge

Hello hello and happy Monday!

I’m extremely proud and blessed to have a small but extremely loyal following. And this week I want to shout out to you guys to see if you’ll submit.

Don’t worry, I’m not gonna name names or follow up haha, but I’m just saying: if you like every post on this site, I bet you have something to add to it.

I can’t pay, it’s true. If trends persist, this site will be in the red for its entire lifespan. Love as I would to pay contributors, the site has zero revenue and lacks that kind of subscriber base.

Which is where the power of collaboration comes in. I am not in any way looking for personal glory with this site, and actually never thought I would…well, write this many posts in the first person. The site was always meant to be collaborative to just get good tips about staying alive to people who need them.

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It got too real. Just look at this thing.

Anyway…TLDR, please submit any tips, tricks, links, activities, recipes, undiscovered ancient epics, etc., you have that you find useful in the daily art of staying alive.

Peace be with you,

Schlomo

Vsyo budyet horosho

Hello hello and happy Friday!

I thought I’d end the week with an uplifting and decidedly weird blast from my past.

I am by training a Russianist, and in the course of my studies I became acquainted with the work of Verka Serduchka, Ukraine’s favorite drag queen (and Eurovision contestant!).

I give you now one of her biggest hits, “Vsyo budyet horosho” (Всё будет хорошо) – Russian for “Everything is going to be good.”

I did something I was supposed to do this week. I checked on someone, and it turns out they really needed it. If you’re thinking about reaching out to someone, please do it. You never know when you can save a life.


Schlomo

My brain’s favorite bad song

Hello hello and happy Thursday!

As you might expect from someone who started an anti-suicide website, I am personally affected by suicidal thoughts. Twenty years ago, five years ago, this week. I don’t have some kind of outsider mental-illness-shaming perspective on suicidal thoughts. I know exactly what they’re like.

You do learn some things when you survive depression and anxiety for this long. Today I want to talk about what I’ve come to think of as my mind storms – or my brain’s favorite shitty song.


If you’re anything like me, you know the words to hundreds, maybe thousands of songs you don’t even like. Sometimes you can’t help but absorb something, just from sheer repeated exposure.

I realized recently that this is what my suicidal thoughts felt like. It felt like a record I don’t like, skipping on the turntable of my mind.

You’re not thinking any new thoughts when that storm sweeps up. You’re thinking the same old ones, in a familiar cascade that repeats and repeats. One sad thought becomes two, and they multiply until every sad thought you’ve ever had is marching through your brain.

Realizing that depression can make you despair about things you’re not even sad about is a helpful step. That cognitive dissonance gave me something to grab onto.

So did noticing the patterns. This thought flowing into that one, like the chords of a song on the radio. The song keeps playing even if you stop paying attention, just like you don’t need to will a sad thought for it to follow the last.

My brain is just playing me a shitty song, I finally thought. This is just a repetition of everything I could be or ever have been sad about. My brain knows the words, and it knows the music, and sometimes it just picks this shitty tune.


So?

So you might not even be sad. Your brain’s shitty song defense mechanism might just have gotten activated.

I don’t want to launch into a list of triggers, because obvious reasons, but here is a helpful resource for identifying and managing your triggers.

In the same way that we are not our illness, we are not our thoughts. If you can stop for even a second and ask yourself where this cascade of thoughts came from, you can start to see that you are not it.

You are not the stream of your consciousness.  And you don’t have to go fishing.

Meditation can help cultivate an understanding of the difference between you and your thoughts. Try to observe your thoughts without engaging them. Don’t talk back. Don’t try to keep them from going down the stream. Observe your thoughts without reacting or judging. (Here is a good resource to help you stop identifying with your thoughts.)

Why is this important? It means that I am not my suicidal ideation; my suicidal ideation is just a pollutant in my stream. That does not that it’s not horrifying and unwelcome and sad, but it means that it is a thing that is happening to or in me, but not me.

I may have to experience it, but I don’t have to attach to it.

I do need to have a wide variety of plans at my disposal, though. The rest of what I have to say is what I find helpful when my brain puts on its favorite shitty song. I hope you find something, lots of things that can work for you. I’m serious, the more and more different plans you have, the better. And you can always add more.


Things to do other than listening to your brain’s favorite shitty song:

  • Listen to actual, non-shitty music. It doesn’t matter if it’s happy or sad so long as it makes you think. Thinking something, pretty much anything other than “I want to die” is the most important step. Listen to something you admire the musicality of, or that has complex, engaging musical structures. Make a playlist and have it handy on your favorite device. 
  • Get your heart rate up. I personally don’t recommend taking a walk or meditating at the worst moments, because I personally find that being too still leaves me vulnerable. The last time I was feeling this low, I found I had to jog pretty fast across the street, and by the time I got across, I didn’t want to die anymore. Even a short burst of activity can provide both endorphins and a much-needed distraction. If anger or nervous tension is part of your sadness, I think a punching bag would also do handily in this situation. They’re readily available at sporting goods stores. (Here’s some tips on exercising with limited mobility.)
  • Memorize some words. I’ve been trying to memorize bible verses, but you do you. Find something that pumps you way the hell up and memorize it word for word. Also recommended: the kind of song lyrics you’d get a tattoo of, getting an actual tattoo of those song lyrics, motivational monologues from your favorite TV show or movie, and any line Cher has ever had in a movie. 
  • Get yourself a physical or digital copy of Hello, Cruel World by Kate Bornstein and keep it handy. I have both and I treasure them.
  • Pet an animal or spend time with a child. Oh, I promise it works.
  • Google what Donald Trump did today. Then get pissed off about it, because pissed off is an emotion so much more active and hopeful than the mean reds. Once you get pissed off, you can also donate time or money, or contact your representatives about issues that matter to you. Use your life to piss off the right people, and you won’t regret it.

<3,
Schlomo

On focus

Hello hello and happy Friday!

Do you still not know what you want to be ‘when you grow up’? Do you ever get the feeling that your focus is being pulled in a thousand directions – possibly by everyone but yourself? Are you worried that recording your new EP might interfere with your latest batch of Kombucha?

I’m not making fun. As usual on this site, I am pretty much describing myself and inferring I’m not the only one.

It struck me recently that our generation (millennials, or whatever garbage thing you want to call us) is characterized in large part by Jacks of all trades. Everybody is a slash and/or a multi-hyphenate.

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Miranda Sings is a modern quintuple threat.

Performance artists Colleen Ballinger (aka Miranda Sings) listing her 5-threat talents is my favorite absurd example, but there’s a real chance that virtually everyone you know has a similar list.

Here’s mine: I’m a Russianist/polyglot/writer/editor/visual artist/communications professional/drag queen/singer-songwriter/electronic musician/YouTuber/postmodern gender theorist, and, oh yeah, anti-suicide blogger (welcome!).

But am I?

Yes and no. And what I’m going to argue for today is the power of no (or no more).

I am or have been all of those things up there, but – well, since I’m talking about myself, I’ll be honest – I only actually do a few of those things well, or with any distinction.

Do you have to be good at something to do it? No. In fact, you shouldn’t be good when you start out.

But unless you are a rara avis indeed, you are not going to become a master of all those domains. And in fact, I would argue, the attempt makes it even less likely that you will succeed.

Why am I not a rich and famous Russianist/polyglot/writer/editor/visual artist/communications professional/drag queen/singer-songwriter/electronic musician/YouTuber/postmodern gender theorist, and, oh yeah, anti-suicide blogger?

Because that’s several lifetimes worth of passions, and I’m not even that passionate about all of them. Some of them are just things I saw other people being successful at, and reasoned I could, too.

My internet history is littered with the abandoned shells of Tumblrs, Twitters, podcasts and other attempts at riding the latest wave. I tried in earnest for a couple of years to take off on YouTube (which for me meant getting more than 300 views on a video lol), and yet, challenge video after challenge video and makeup haul after tutorial, my subscriber account always hovered around ‘meh,’ and I never even had to learn how to draw on my AdSense account.

Surely inadequate equipment and inconsistency played their parts, but I personally believe I failed because I was trying to squat in someone else’ corner of the internet several years too late.

Or put even more simply: I didn’t actually care about what I was talking about. I got the formula backwards: trendy challenge and tag videos were lazy things for existing popular personalities to do on a busy day, not an entrée into internet stardom. These people had been cultivating their audiences since the inception of YouTube, and I thought I could just slide in after the fact and do b.s. on camera for ad money.

I’m saying this because, in the meantime, the things I actually cared about atrophied. While I was busy trying to be YouTube-iest drag star that I could, I went years without publishing a story. Distracted by what was hot – and what seemed to offer easy fame – on the internet, I substituted by own interests for the ad-sponsored center constantly splashing across our vision.

In part we have become multi-hyphenates because good careers in our chosen fields aren’t just falling out of the sky. Millions of people just like me graduated with the old-fashioned degrees we were always told we needed, only to find ourselves in the midst of the 2009 recession, and nearly a decade on, many of us are still in arrested career development. We are adapting to the (frankly shitty – sorry to editorialize haha) gig economy, and using every skill we can think of to help us get the next gig.

But we are also surrounded by a crushing din of oddball success, confronted every day by ads for the latest expensive DIY hobby, and our own friends’ (or, let’s be real, one-time fellow party-goers’) own ventures in Pinning/Etsying/indie touring/TED talking. Everyone on the internet is more interesting and accomplished than you, so the answer must be doing everything they’re doing.

Except that’s ludicrous. Almost everyone who finds real success in their field has done so at the expense of other interests.

I am never going to be a rich and famous Russianist/polyglot/writer/editor/visual artist/communications professional/drag queen/singer-songwriter/electronic musician/YouTuber/postmodern gender theorist, and, oh yeah, anti-suicide blogger, and realizing that means making some serious choices.

I am extremely lucky to already know the thing I love doing the most: writing short stories. Identifying that as the thing I could not live without was the first important step.

So what does that mean? It means I can’t learn every language I want to or master every makeup technique or get on the YouTube home page or hit number one (hundred and eighty-five) on the Billboard indie charts. I can’t make sourdough bread from scratch every day or remodel tiny houses or crowdfund my own charity backpacking trip.

But I can write.

I can’t tell you how to find what that thing is for you, but I can say it’s probably a common element among many of your interests. When I look at all the things between my own slashes, the common element of the majority of them is putting words in order to deliver some kind of message – i.e., writing.

I then further refined this to the kind of writing I value the most. Unfortunately, writing short stories might never pay my bills, but it is what I would do if I had my druthers – and really, no one stands between you and your druthers.

This has been one of my key realizations, and something that’s brought me more peace than a lot of other attempts: you can do what you really want to do, even if no one is paying you.

Don’t know what you should do? Think your passion won’t pay the bills? Following other people’s lucrative passions won’t do you one bit of good. Without whatever drives them to their own unique success, you probably won’t succeed in someone else’s field, and you’ll probably let your own skills and passion go to waste in the meantime.

So here’s the good news:

You can stop doing shit you don’t care about at literally any time.

Oh sure, you still have to pay taxes, and you might have to do your insufferable job until the next one comes along. But there’s a lot more to you than taxes and your shitty job, and any number of other things we do primarily for someone else.

You can quit that religion that makes you feel bad. You can kick the drug habit you and your friends share. You can get off the self-improvement treadmill and stand still long enough to see what really needs attention.

TLDR: You can fake it, but that doesn’t mean you’ll make it. You can’t cultivate every skill and interest, and you’ll get in your own way trying. Your time is your own, and it is finite, at least in the observable world. And you can save a lot of it by checking in with yourself to see what you actually value.

Peace be with you,

Schlomo Steel, founder and editor, I Won’t Commit

Cool thing spotlight: Kurzgesagt

Hello hello and happy Friday!

Today I wanted to share some videos from one of my favorite uplifting/mind-blowing timesucks, the excellent YouTube channel Kurzgesagt, offering a slightly off-kilter but very informative look at the universe.

I was particularly inspired by their newest video, offering a look at their philosophy of ‘optimistic nihilism.’ (It’s more uplifting than it sounds haha.)

Hope you’re having a great week!

Dump Trump’s trans ban

Hello hello,

Sorry to subscribers for double-posting today, but I could not have foreseen something as colossally fucked-up as Donald Trump taking to Twitter to ban trans people from the US military this morning.

If you are as angry as I am, please consider making a donation of your time or money to The National Center for Transgender Equality.

Thank you, and on behalf of queer people and our allies everywhere:

FUCK. DONALD. TRUMP.

YouTube and chill

Happy Friday!

Most every Friday I like to unwind after work with a nice playlist of what I missed this week on YouTube.

This Friday, I’ve crafted just for you a playlist of something the most interesting, ill-advised and/or hilarious things I’ve seen on the Tube lately. Videos range from astrophysics to a DIY Simpsons makeup gun.

Hope you enjoy!