Monday, March 17, 2014

A Manual for Living With Defeat: the End of my Seattle Experience

The picture above shows me puffing on my electronic cigarette, "enjoying" my last moments at my ridiculously cheap apartment in Columbus, Ohio. I have left that dwelling to begin a new chapter in my life.

I remember the last time I left an apartment behind. Each move is an unpleasant, mentally unhinging experience for me because it involves doing things that I am terribly deficient at doing: cleaning, organizing the piles of useless thing one has acquired over the time, driving to Goodwill with bags of clothes, renting trucks, calling utility companies to halt their services, negotiating with the landlord about the exist strategy and the accompanying financial dealings. All essential little things just as I am knee deep in debating the Russian annexation of Crimea.

The last time I did this Crimea was still under the shaky rule of the Ukrainian state - the year was 2010. That move was especially daunting for it marked the end of my early twenties and my first attempt at real independent living. The move was an admission that I failed as an adult and I failed in love.

I was reluctant to post this piece on here before but my blog got a little more popular... and by that I mean that it became apparent that real people are actually reading this just as I was deviating from my original plan of making this blog a place for social commentary and political polemics.

So fuck it, Ill share it now. Since a prospect of me becoming an elected officials does not appear likely in the next few months, I feel a certain reckless sense of personal liberty and exhibitionism. And there is a good chance I will eventually delete this from here, so snatch it up while you still can...

I wrote this in then end of 2012 and punched it up a little now. The title is taken from a Leonard Cohen song. I am good with words but not that good and didn't want to take undeserved credit.

Without further ado:

A Manual for Living With Defeat: the End of my Seattle Experience

Over the weekend, I flew over to the West coast to empty my storage unit, save the $110 I was paying to store my dumb shit, and cut my ties to Seattle.

The last time I left Seattle I was in the midst of a strange, personal calamity. At the beginning of 2011 my psychiatrist prescribed an anti-depressant to me that had the effect of making me manic. While in retrospect it is interesting to look back and remember yourself on full-on mania; at the time I was without the luxury of retrospective detachment. Mania fucked Ivan over pretty good.

I ended up leaving my job, putting thousands on my credit cards, made awkward Buddhist videos for a website that never came to be and -at the peak of my manic glory- pulled out a knife at some idiot outside of a bar in Ballard. The guy was a total asshole who deserved it (in fact, that same night I saw him call black guy a nigger. I mean, who does that?) but still...

By the time I left Seattle at the end of August, the mania was long gone, and what was left instead was an all consuming sense of failure. Much like human conquests of the outside world which frequently end in serious disasters, man's endeavors to conquer the electro-chemical soup between our ears can also lead to huge fuck ups.

Some anti-depressants make some people manic. Mania is a relatively common side-effect when you're messing with the wiring.

This anti-depressant found me and magic happened. Then the magic was gone, exhausted by mania, my Slavic neurons now sang a song of the deepest, darkest depression I ever had. After living on my own since I was 18, I had to move in with my mother in Ohio.

If an anthropologist would open my storage unit, its contents would reveal material remnants of an incoherent life. Dirty converse sneakers, Buddhist literature and ritual items, Dostoevsky novels printed in the mother tongue, a collection of tarot cards, pictures of Tibetan Lamas, expensive headphones, Woody Allen DVDs, my grandfather's Soviet stamp collection, a nasty IKEA mattress that was losing a battle with mold, political science books, old copies of the New Yorker, ICE Cube CDs, giant binoculars that I bought when I was manic and never used. For over a year, these abandoned artifacts of a solitary civilization waited for their master in a dark storage in Shoreline, Washington. And now I came back in a rented white Nissan minivan to claim them once more.

Most of these things would suggest a life quite compatible with Seattle.As a socially awkward, neurotic Russian immigrant in Ohio, I looked at Seattle as a cerebral, liberal refuge city where I could finally feel like I belong. And while the city is cerebral and liberal, its many other things too. The trite lesson that Seattle taught me is that my sense of alienation runs deeper than the geographical location I happen to inhabit. It doesn't make a difference where I am. (I mean it does but it doesn't.)

"Wherever you go, there you are," is the tired Zen saying that you might see on bumper stickers if you move to Seattle, but -like a lot of tired sayings- this one also happens to be true.

Ultimately, Seattle was a trap for me. Before I moved to that city, my life always had a sense of momentum. While I was in college in Ohio, Seattle was the dream. I was moving there. My life was going somewhere. The precious sense of continuous motion that my melancholy mind requires was animated by my Seattle dream. When I finally got there, the 2008 recession was in full swing, and the only job I could find was as a customer service serf, answering phoned-inn questions from people on unemployment benefits. No more momentum.

This was it. In the winter, it rains all the time, and it starts to get dark at 4 pm. By 5, it might as well be night. The city rests on a number of hills, hills surrounded by water and mountains. The whole city to me seemed like a mysterious mountain, detached from America.

A magic mountain where white people were fit, well-dressed and voted the right way. A mountain covered by a wet blanket of fog where -during winter months- people move through the landscape like lonely ghosts.

If you have a predisposition toward cerebral depression, it pays to have surroundings that are not a perfect physical representation of you're bleak inner life. This was not the case for me in Seattle. At the time, I would contest the idea that Seattle weather would contribute to my depression when my mother brought it up over the phone, reminding her that annual rainfall in Seattle roughly equals that of New York.

In retrospect, I see that every drop of water, whether it was falling from the sky as rain, or drifting in the dark air as fog was like a drop of acid, slowly eating away at my subdued will to live.

At the center of my murky mind-stream in Seattle was a cute native of the pacific-Northwest. During the time she liked me, she would call me Rask in her text messages. Rask was her shorthand for Raskolnikov, the depressed protagonist of a Dostoevsky novel, who ended up killing an old lady for her money... I was in love.

She would drift in and out of my life. I would write her sentimental emails and give her ultimatums to either stop talking with me or make the decision to unite as a couple. Ultimately, I would come back for more. It was a halting relationship, in perpetual trance, there were a few times when we moved close to each other and more times when I would snap at her for stringing me along. For turning me on and off like a virtual pet on her phone.

There was a vulnerability to her that is hard for me define but that draws me to her. Her childlike, gentle psyche resonates with me. She was my kryptonite, she would strip away my defenses of cynical detachment and get through and make me soft and vulnerable and sentimental. I would write her self-involved romantic emails- professing my feelings, sounding like an emotional bitch who couldn't stop typing as if the quantity of my needy words would create a gravitational field that would make her mine.  It would be too intense for her. It would turn her off and make her distant.

And I wouldn't hear from her until I saw a new text message envelope pop up on my cheap Nokia phone. And then I was happy and nervous. I would type another message and wait for a reply.


I met her again a few days ago. She said many things. One thing she said was that the love of her young life is a charismatic, drug addicted guy who lives off of social security disability benefits.

Maybe I can't compete. Can't make her love me. Can't make her switch from his charismatic exuberant mental mind fuck to mine, which is quiet and subdued. I don't know. I can't write "no" because it would be painful to do so. I have to have hope. I don't want to see the girl I love be disintegrated by the fog.

On my last night in Seattle, the storage was empty. Some of my belonging were lining up the shelves of a Goodwill store, others were making their way to Ohio in USPS packages. A ten dollar, shiny statue of a Buddha I brought at a discount store traveling in a paper box, wrapped in a plaid shirt waiting to offer his blessing to my Ohio existence.

On my last night, my Peruvian friend and I went to a Capital Hill neighborhood. We ended up at a gay bar with his female friend, listening to drag queens sing Spanish songs. As a new drag queen in a red dress entered the stage, he asked, "Who is this girl, she is pretty hot." I exploded in laughter. I couldn't believe how drunk we were. This was a guy who was supposed to give me ride home in a few minutes.  

I went to the restroom. A guy in there said he had a big dick. I'll show you mine if you show me yours, he said. I politely declined.

There has to be some mystery to life, I thought.

The next morning I was on a flight back to Cincinnati, Ohio.


  1. Bah-rill-iant! Dude, your command of the English language is supreme. This reads like the intro chapter of a book. A good book. I want to know more. Have you considered writing? Perhaps not even fiction, but an autobiography.

    I know trite is one of your favorite words. I suppose it's trite to say all of the brilliant writers have mental health issues. But since these writers are celebrities, I never get to converse with them. So I have questions/comments, as a fan or interested party:

    1. Just on a practical note, can you not adjust your meds to something else that doesn't trigger mania?
    2. Seattle didn't work out, so why not NYC or LA? Why can't you make another run at it? Or you can write this stuff from Ohio. All does not appear to be lost after all.
    3. The girl. It's trite to say (once again), but there are so many out there, and she's made it clear she wants the junkie. Time to move on. One day you'll be famous and have women seeking you out left and right, and you'll think back on this time and laugh... hard. But then you'll have other problems.
    4. Favorite part: "There has to be some mystery to life, I thought."

    More posts like these, please.

  2. Thanks Dave, I'm happy you enjoyed the work.

    1) I probably could but I am not interested in meds. The risks are high and as a reward your depression is alleviated by numbness. Most of the time my depression isn't that bad. My major problem is social isolation. When you are around other people they check and balance your emotions. If you are sad and your wife is happy then your mood may shift to at least somewhat in a positive direction. When you are alone you are at the mercy of the totality of your emotions. Instead of living the everyday life you are consumed by some huge questions and emotions, and it leads nowhere. If I was more interconnected with people and had a job I enjoyed, my depression wouldn't be all that bad.
    2) LA definitely, that where I want to end up. I love the westcoast. The question is $$$ not lack of will to part with Ohio. As this essay makes clear, to return to OH was not exactly a planned event.
    3) I still love the girl and she is no longer with him. We reconnected recently and talk regularly. For some reason I connect with her better than with anyone else. I don't know. Love is supposed to hurt but we'll see... its complicated.

  3. 1. I agree, isolation is the enemy. But perhaps the meds would stabilize you long enough to de-isolate. Then you can get off them. Certainly if you can resolve the social isolation without meds, that would be ideal.
    2. Have you applied for writing jobs on the coasts? I imagine lots in NYC, possibly LA as well.
    3. She may no longer be with him, but she still chose him over you. So long term it doesn't look good. Maybe write a post describing this situation some more?

  4. Yep... I'm applying for jobs in NY right now. Ill also be sending out my hedge fund essay... when I finally get done with the last part. Russian imperialism keeps getting in the way.

    Ha, maybe I'll write a post if she stops talking to me, I even edited out some personal details about her here. I don't want to burn bridges or violate her privacy. I have my hopes, I don't know... I only felt real love once in my 28 years. Maybe there are more fish in the sea but I don't see them. The other fish may brush up against my arousal mechanism but not my heart.

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