Ever since I started to be self-analytical, I have realized that I use media as some kind of emotional anesthesia. A constant flow of *story* is one of the most reliable thing to keep my personal demons at a dull roar.

When I was younger, this meant I would sneak in reading pages of a book between school or work tasks. Then later, I’d listen to audio dramas and still later I’d sneak dvds in to work to have them playing in the background of my computer.

Modern technology has really opened up my ability to do this. I can just have a steady stream of podcasts, or netflix shows or youtube videos in my ear as I go about my daily business. Like some kind of a reverse Harrison Bergeron, the constant stream of distraction allows me to do more and live in greater peace.

I truly am more productive with it than without it. There are days when it’s all that keeps me from just falling into a giant pit of existentialism.

I have wondered if I could somehow break myself of this habit if it wouldn’t be better for me in the long-term, somehow, but it’s really difficult to value long-term growth over near-term functionality.

And maybe it wouldn’t be better after all. Who knows? It’s impossible to say, from here. And it’d certainly be a shame to do all the work to hollow myself out and build a different me if it turned out they were no better at achieving life goals than I am.

Narrative – especially character exploration and development – is my favorite drug. And probably it always will be.

Of course a given narrative, even a true one, is never the whole story. And I do worry, sometimes, if one of the main negative effects of feeding my addiction isn’t delusions of plot arc. Lives don’t go the way stories go. There’s no climax and denouement. There are no morals or lessons. There is character development, but it’s a strange, fungus-like outward creep rather than an arrow pointed at a particular goal.

It is difficult, maybe even impossible, to keep from looking at isolated sectional views of my life as narrative arcs. It doesn’t fit in well with the narrow, reactive day-to-day business of survival. It feels like…if life is to have meaning, it needs to have that arc. But life is bigger than that. It has all the details that get left out of a good story and lacks the interpretive thrust that gets put in to one.

Which isn’t to say that I will stop trying to spin stories out of my life – stories are how we teach and learn and understand. From ‘one train leaves St. Louis travelling at 40 miles and hour and another leaves Chicago travelling at 65’ to ‘What is Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba’ to even ‘in the beginning was the word’ or ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’ we use stories to give us new frameworks for our own lives, to interpret current and past events, to find the harmonic resonances in ourselves, to admonish, to grow, to learn and to teach.

A story doesn’t have to be true to contain Truth. And it doesn’t have to tell the whole truth and nothing but to elucidate important things.

After all, humanity is the storytelling animal. Our ability to draw sense out of chaotic events and bullshit our way into the truth is what separates us from other fauna.

If telling myself the story of my own life helps me to interpret it and understand myself better that isn’t a bad thing, nor a small one. It’s only when I bow under the weight of an old narrative and can’t create something newer that serves me that it becomes a problem.

A lifetime is a host of stories. They don’t all wrap up neatly and they don’t have a moral. They aren’t neat and pat and they intersect wildly. As long as I can hold onto the notion that I am not a story, but a rampaging herd of them, that framing is as useful as any to apply meaning to life.

I mean…probably, right?

I remember saying once to my therapist that trying to address my mental illness felt like living in a crumbling house while I was trying to fix it. And getting therapy felt like putting up scaffolding on the crumbling house – you feel safer on it than inside. It also makes it easier to work on the wreck of a house. It doesn’t mean it’s actually easy. Nor does it mean you won’t be envious of people whose houses already keep all the rain out.

It’s also a little like trying to read, write and market a novel at the same time as you’re constantly editing and polishing it. Nightmare. But feels better than getting no writing done at all….most days.

Anyhow. The metaphors are stories, too. So where do they end? They don’t. They’ll always be coming into me and going out till I cease to draw breath. And then they’ll still be happening everywhere else. Maybe even, if I’m lucky, about me…

In the meantime, if stories are what gets me through the day, I’m not going to avoid them out of some neo-Calvanist sense of self-denial equaling virtue. Whether they’re the ones I tell to myself or the ones I get other people to tell me, I’ll accept their smoothing of my road.


Ass Over Teakettle

There’s only one good thing about falling dramatically down onto a sidewalk and making a very undignified noise and having your glasses fly off and spilling your coffee after only getting one sip…and that is getting to use the phrase “ass over teakettle”.

I went ass over teakettle last week. Scraped and bruised the living fuck out of one knee and generally felt stupid and had several days of deep muscular soreness.


There’s something deeply humanizing about spraining your dignity. I don’t mean to go out of my way to sell any benefits of being human, mind you. It can be the worst. But a dose of humility every now and again is probably good for most of us.

I mean. It’s complicated, right? Like – entitlement is often considered a bad thing. And it is in excess, absolutely. In my opinion an out-of-control sense of entitlement is at the root of a lot of societal problems. But there is such a thing as too little entitlement. You can fail to feel entitled to an opinion (even a knowledge-based one) or to feel entitled to the basic things you need to keep your body healthy, or even to the space that you take up in the world.

It’s a balance thing, right? Too much entitlement equals egotistical asshole. Too little equals low self-esteem or something worse – depression, lack of sense of self, possibly a buy in to any cultural narratives that tell you that you’re lesser, that humanity itself doesn’t establish your worth.

So: a balance thing. You can have too much, but you can also have too little. And I think it’s always difficult to understand or to believe that the amount of entitlement you have may be wrong. We pick up these ideas at a level below the conscious one and bringing them to light and unlearning them is a job of work.

So it’s humanizing to have moments of humility. It’s at least as human to have some sense of entitlement.

Humility visits itself upon me easily and frequently. Entitlement not so much. It’s difficult for me to believe that it’s okay for me to promulgate my opinions, even for stuff I think deep and long about.

I bring all this up mainly because this is the particular dog that has eaten my homework for the past week or so. I may always be thinking about culture but it can be difficult for me to believe there’s any particular value in adding my voice to the throng of folks who talk about this every day — that there is value in my perspective and in the way I express it.

This is a slice of how exhausting it is to have a brain that doesn’t feed you the right chemicals. That, too, is a very human thing, I know. Also (like many human things) a fucking frustrating or even enraging one.

Mentally, I went ass over teakettle before I did physically. And a bruised psyche is harder to allow to heal than a bruised knee. First, you need to accept that it is bruised. Because part of the way depression perpetuates itself is by convincing you that it is the only one who’s telling you the awful truth of your worthlessness. The bruise, it will tell you, is supposed to be there. You’re supposed to hurt. You’ve earned it. You deserve it. And you deserve to experience it in silence.

So how do you get past it? I do not know, dear reader. I’ll let you know if I ever figure out how to leave it behind for good. In the meantime, I must assume that I’ll be back this way again. I know it’s tedious to hear about (but not, as Douglas Adams once said, nearly as tedious as it is to undergo). Thanks for sticking with me. More stuff on actual culture is coming up.

How to talk to your barista about your depressive episode.

If one lives in one place for any length of time, one is likely to become a regular at some business or other. Being a regular is this weird, transactional, casual relationship. It can feel awkward to be noticed, but it’s also nice to have people be nice to you.

My goal in any retail or service-receiving situation is for the person on the other side of the counter to remember me either as one of their favorite customer for the day or as completely forgettable. I try to be nice and polite to all these folks to make it easy for them to be nice and polite to me, since they pretty much have to.

This means, though, when I fall off the grid for a month or so at a time, people notice. One never goes through life without impacting others and most of us impact lots more people than we think about when we consider the question of our own worth.

The upshot of this is, if one, say, spends the vast majority of January fighting off a depressive episode and wrestling with one’s inner demons to get out of bed every morning, instead of doing one’s usual errands, one is likely to get some questions when one re-emerges.

“I haven’t seen you in a while,” the guy at the sandwich shop might say. And what can I say back to that? Saying “I was locked in a Sisyphean cycle of my brain eating itself” is a bit much to lay on so casual a relationship, particularly one where the other person is supposed to show sympathy and kindness at the expense of their own energy and emotions.

I usually go with “I’ve been out of town for a while,” (true, for the week before my depressive episode began) or “I’ve been sick for a while” (true, for the week after it ended) or “It’s been really crazy at work” (true for several weeks in the middle).

To be open about one’s mental illness is all well and good, but my barista should not have to get into this shit with me just to sell me coffee, no matter how nice and friendly he appears to be.

Retail interactions aren’t where activism lives, is I guess what I’m saying. And while I sometimes do get into identity politics with service folks (like thanking someone whose nametag lists their preferred pronouns, for instance) I don’t usually go beyond a sort of queer secret-handshake-style interaction (when called for).

It’s one thing to be open and honest about this shit. We do need that. Mental illness needs to be de-stigmatized. (Hell, plenty of *physical* illnesses still need to be de-stigmatized, too. The culture of associating morality with illness and disability is a huge topic and one that is too big for this post.) But it’s okay to not tell all of the truth all of the time. It doesn’t undermine your truth. It’s not a failure of will.

So — all this is to say that stuff got to me in January. I always struggle in deep winter (the lack of light especially eats my brain). I’m behind on basically everything in my life and running to catch up. I know it’s late for me to say this, but I’m still hoping to get some good work done in 2018. I want to bend towards action and positive change.

It’s not a resolution, because I don’t make those. Just a goal or a hope. And as always, in perpetuity, it starts today, because that’s what I’ve got.

Friday Recs (kind of)

So I’m in the middle of a freaking depressive episode. Started sometime yesterday. Spent last night laying in the dark in my bed trying to convince myself that eating was a thing that should happen (I did eventually succeed). Spending this morning listening to the entire Panic! At The Disco catalog on spotify in chronological order.

I know what started the train down, but it doesn’t really matter after a certain point. Avoiding triggers may help one avoid these things, but demystifying them does fuck-all.

This too shall pass, and I do have plans to go see some stuff this weekend. Tops on my list are Proud Mary and The Post. Other possibilities include Coco and Phantom Thread, though honestly, I am probably more likely to go see The Shape of Water or Call Me By Your Name again.

It is a three-day weekend for me (yay working in academia) so I hold out hope.

I don’t actually feel like hunting up what’s streaming where, today, that I’ve seen already. I thought I’d highlight some of the things that are streaming that are on my list (and in some cases have been for ages) that I still haven’t watched.

Less Than Zero

A young Robert Downey, jr. plays an out-of-control drug addict. This will be a hard watch but I suspect a good one. It’s on netflix.


This film made waves when it came out almost a decade ago. I wasn’t nearly as big a horror buff then as I am now, though, and even though I was pretty delighted by the concept of the vagina dentata making its way into modern pop culture, I haven’t watched it yet, even though netflix has made it super easy.


Being involved in pop culture spaces means I already know half the freaking songs from this movie. Just never got around to watching it. Also on netflix.


I have heard the legend of this movie from a lot of Theater Kids of a Certain Age (aka younger than I am). I have only seen snippets of the incredible music performances in it. It’s streaming on hulu.


As a former theater kid, myself, I feel like I SHOULD HAVE FOR SURE seen this movie. Not to mention it’s rated pretty highly by plenty of critics and my mom (a retired literature teacher) liked it. It’s also on hulu.


This was just one of those movies I wanted to see when it came out and never got around to. It’s streaming on amazon.


From the director and writer of one of my favorite comedies, Obvious Child, this film also stars Jenny Slate, who is fantastic. I wanted to see it when it came out and didn’t get to. It’s on amazon.

* * *

Honestly, I probably will just keep watching episodes of The Addams Family and stupid youtube videos, instead.

I hope y’all have a great weekend! And next week, may my brain be less annoying.

[This post contains one spoiler for Thor: Ragnarok.]

I saw Thor: Ragnarok this weekend and really enjoyed it. I’m not going to review it cause you already know whether you’re going to see it or not.

It did introduce one of my favorite concepts from the comics, though it did it more or less in passing and failed (as the movies often do) to explore or address the implications of it.

In Thor: Ragnarok, Bruce Banner finds he has been under and living as the Hulk for multiple years and he has this moment of deep fear. While he used to feel both he and Hulk each had a hand on the wheel, he said, he feels like this time “Hulk was in the driver’s seat and I was in the trunk.” The tension between Hulk and Banner having to share one body and having totally contrary needs, goals and pleasures is one of the things I find most fascinating about the character(s).

Bruce Banner from the movies saying 'I'm not even sure.'

Bruce Banner in Marvel comics is a bitter, bitter man (when he’s alive, which is a whole other discussion which we’ll sigh and file under “because comics”). He resents the Hulk for taking huge swaths of his life. He fears the return of the Hulk as this force in himself he can’t control or make decisions about.

comic panel from Indestructible Hulk
Bruce Banner speaking to Maria Hill in issue one of “Indestructible Hulk”

It’s a really excellent metaphor for living with a mental illness. Mark Waid, the writer of some of my favorite Hulk stories explicitely compares it to managing a chronic health condition. If you can’t kill it, you have to find a way to live with it as best as possible.

Panel from issue one of Indestructible Hulk

One of the things I hate the most about my depression is the time and energy it steals from me. I think about where I could have been and what I could have achieved if I wasn’t constantly battling with this force inside of me that tries to make my decisions.

It’s a chronic thing I have to manage and figure out how to live with. There have been times it takes up so many resources I feel like the only thing I’m getting done is staying alive. It’s demoralizing.

Bruce Banner spent decades in the comics universe trying to figure out how to get rid of the Hulk. He evenutally realizes it’s not possible and starts to try to figure out how to manage it. And to manage his condition, he seeks help. He knows he can’t do it alone. The Hulk, by definition, is out of his control.

That doesn’t mean he has to be outside all control.

I mean, the metaphor does break down. I only wish my depression gave me near-invincibility and near-infinite strength as powers instead of “has to berate myself for 45 minutes to get out of bed” or “doesn’t think I deserve to eat” powers.

But even one of the ten smartest people in the Marvel universe knows you can’t go it alone.