Today’s high was 94 degrees (34 in most of the world). My work is air conditioned but now that I’m home, I’m literally laying in front of a fan with chunks of ice tucked inside my clothing and my brain cells are still telling me to fuck off.

Might be an evening of very trashy video games (wheee Fallout Shelter) and laying still.

I saw two movies in the theater over the weekend.

The Spy Who Dumped Me – A fucking delight. Funny and the action was good.

Momma Mia: Here We Go Again – Even schmaltzier than the first one.  I cried a lot. Like the giant port-wine cheese appetizer that I am.

In home viewing I have watched a bunch of X-Men: The Animated Series, which I watched when it was airing back in the early nineties and which was the thing that turned me on to superhero comics in the first place.

It also made me fall in love with Beast. I still don’t know if I want to marry him or be him, to be honest. Since he’s fictional and I am aggressively not, it’s moot, of course.

I’ve also watched:

Room – I have no idea why I’ve gone in for crying things lately. I may have to watch a few eps of This Is Us before the mood passes. This film felt pretty true to a very ugly situation, to me.

Iliza Schlesinger: Elder Millennial – The roomie and I agreed that we’ve enjoyed her more recent specials less than her first two. There will still laughs though.

The Break With Michelle Wolf – I was a fan of Wolf on The Daily Show and Late Night With Seth Meyers and I’m jazzed she has her own show. I’m not sure it’s hit its stride, yet, but there have been plenty of very funny bits and I’m into continuing to watch.

It is, by the way, safe to assume that I’m constantly watching a stream of political comedy. I stan John Oliver pretty hardcore.

But yeah. In tumultuous times (and when are they not?) satire keeps me sane. More or less.

I’ve also re-watched some of the early Mission Impossible movies and the beginning of Chuck. Instead of, y’know, catching up on the latest seasons of anything I previously watched or starting something new.

I am PSYCHED also, because Netflix has Ex Machina, which means maybe I’ll finally follow through with my goal of watching it again now that buying it is no longer a hurdle.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. I’m off to let my brain continue its melting process and to have ice and cucumber for dinner.

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.


Happy Birthday to me

I wanted to write something profound and well thought-out today, but I got a headache before I left work that will not die.

So I say: Hurrah for another year. Hurrah for surviving a brain that’s trying to eat itself. Hurrah for weathering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Forty-one is a stupid, random age to be, but making it here is definitely preferable to the alternative.

Stay tuned for thoughts about Deadpool 2The Bay, trailers as art form, and some movies I love that you can’t get in any streaming places. Along with, of course, whatever the fuck else I come up with.

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.

Pop Culture in its Native Habitat

I find it very difficult to be bored when engaged in conversation with a knowledgeable person on the topic of their enthusiasm.

Just as the best way to see a country or region or neighborhood is to stay with someone who lives there and knows it intimately, one of the best ways to experience pop culture is through the eyes of someone who loves it. This is not so that you absorb their view of it – for people who love something may be blind to its flaws (though they may well have eyes wide open to the flaws and love it, anyway – which can make for some very interesting discussion), but so that their enthusiasm can be a prism through which you gain a greater understanding of the way the piece of culture is viewed.

Part of this can be getting a hint of the deep contextual nuance of what makes or made a piece of art feel relevant to people at its popular height.

I have a friend who, though she is similar in age to me, missed a lot of the pop culture I grew up with. She likes seeing it through my eyes or through the eyes of her other friends who show her things that they love. There is a lot of talk in my circle about ‘catching her up’ on movies or TV or music, though that’s really not what’s happening, of course.

She is a tourist in the pop culture realms I am a native to. In spite of the fact that we were born in the same country and grew up speaking the same language, she has a completely different contextual framework than I do.

Frankly, it’s a lot of fun to introduce her to things I love, be they music, comics, movies, TV or just strange, small pieces of ephemera. She gets to see them through my lens, and I get to see them through hers.

Watching something with her that she is seeing for the first time is an absolute blast. It can also be uncomfortably revealing. All the stuff that I didn’t really pay attention to because that’s what we all did, then or because I was just a kid come into sharp relief as I am forced to look at them with fresh eyes.

It’s such an education, even with things I’ve experienced so many times before that I can recite them.

I was there, for instance, the first time she watched The Thing. It’s an older movie — considered by some (me) to be a classic and considered by many others to be a bit too schlocky with too cheesy of special effects to be taken seriously in this day and age.

But imagine watching a horror film with someone who doesn’t know any of the tropes and likely twists of the genre. Imagine not knowing any of the meta-syntactic filmmaking cues that can give away the direction a story is headed. Imagine seeing a story truly for the first time and having no clue what was going to happen and living and dying with every breath.

I hope it doesn’t make me a sadist how much I enjoyed seeing her entwined helplessly in the film moment-to-moment.

It honestly put me in mind of when I was a middle schooler and read Pride and Prejudice the first time, knowing nothing about romance tropes (I was, predictably, a scifi/fantasy nerd). I was genuinely shocked when Mr. Darcy proposed. I was further shocked at what went on between Lydia and Wickham. I had no precedent for what went on in that well-worn story.

It’s a feeling I think we eventually assume is impossible to recapture. Generally when something shocks me that way at this point it’s either something extraordinarily rare and well-crafted, or (far more frequently) it’s something truly awful. The joyous storytelling river that swept me away is largely closed to me now.

It’s nice to feel I can take short rides on it, now and again, with a friend.

So she and I were talking, over the holidays, about this phenomenon she’d experienced multiple times, where she’d experience a song or a film or whatever and not like it much, but then if a friend showed it to her again, some of their enthusiasm may rub off. Or she would see its better qualities because the filter of a friend could show them to her.

This is not to say that she replaces her own opinions with those of other folks. She is a thoughtful and engaged consumer of art. She’ll mull it all over on her own terms, but she recognized how much easier it is to appreciate something when its in its home context, as it were.

She and I get together every few weeks to watch movies together and chat. It’s quite a rewarding exchange (for both of us, I hope). My knowledge and enthusiasm for her intelligence and fresh eyes.

I hope we get to keep doing it even if she gets as jaded as I am, though I honestly doubt that’s entirely possible. In the meantime, I hope she gets as much out of experiencing things with me as I get experiencing them with her!


In 2012 I fell into the depths of a really horrible depression.

It was part inhereted mood disorder, part circumstancial, but either way, I was sleepwalking through work, and just not getting out of bed on the weekends. I felt like there was nothing to look forward to. The year was a little up and down, but mostly down, and by January of 2013, it had crystalized into something so firm and heavy, I knew I’d be carrying it for quite a while.

Around the same time, I went to a movie alone for the first time since I was about 20. It used to be something I hated doing. I considered it an alienating experience. But there comes a point when one is alone and an adult that one does things alone or not at all.

By this time I was in a different city in a different state with a very different feel and culture. When I dragged myself to a few movies alone, I found it wasn’t so bad. I can walk to two different little indie theaters from where I’m living and when I got there, sitting alone in the warm dark, waiting for the screen to show me a story and not needing to be doing anything else was the most peace I was able to manage.

I started going to see at least a movie a week. Picking out what to see and when to see it gave me just enough of plan to pivot my days around without being demanding on me emotionally or physically. I couldn’t pause it and wander away or put it down like I could at home if my self-distracting entertainment got at all uncomfortable. I could do it year round, which isn’t true for everything in my area. And due to living in a college town where it’s as easy to find a lecture to go to as it is to find a concert, there are a lot of tiny theaters that show fun, strange or out-of-the-way things. There is a national arthouse chain, a nonprofit theater that shows foreign films and artistic stuff as well as revivals, the aforementioned two local indie theaters that sell the cheapest tickets around (when I started my project, it was $9 for a regular evening ticket or $6 for a matinee), some colleges screen things you can’t see anywehre else, as well as pretty easy access to two or three more traditional big-chain multiplex theaters.

Being in a place like that, with all these resources available will turn you into a movie buff before you know it.

I am lucky. I have gotten to see films from festivals, silent films with live music, classics on the big screen, documentaries I had never heard of, films with discussions with actors, writers and directors. It is an education. And, as T. H. White once said, there’s nothing quite as good for being sad as to learn something.

So an effort that started a way to give myself something to pivot my day around so that I’d get out of bed before noon on Saturdays and actually eat something became a larger quest.

I made rules for myself: movies only count for my once weekly film if they’re new to me and I see them in the theater. I get two weeks off a year for behavior, so the goal is fifty films each year (I’ve always gone past that total, to be honest with you). I will not wait till a friend is available to see something I want to see, because that’s a recipie for missing it. Instead I will go again with a friend unless I really, really hated it.

I don’t go out of my way to see erudite films or educational films, but I don’t avoid them either. I have seen high art a few times, but have also seen plenty of big summer action films that are like friendly huge dogs with more explosions and pectoral muscles.

What this has led me to is a broad and incomplete understanding of the craft of movies and the field of movies as art and entertainment. There is a lot I don’t know. I’ve never studied film per se, and I may never do so. But each and every film I’ve seen, even if I have thoroughly hated it, has taught me something about the way films work or fail to work. There are classics I never particularly want to see, and I adore movies that other folks think are trash. (Never let me corner you to talk about how much I loved “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters”.)

Like any medium, it’s full of ideas and traditions and gestalts that many of us absorb without examining them. And each generation thinks they’re inventing it anew, even though they are, as as we are all, standing on the shoulders of giants.

As for me, During the five years I’ve been seeing a movie a week, I’ve been getting better. Not because of the movies, at least not directly. I’ve spent time in therapy and time on meds and time with friends and with soul-searching and journaling and meditation…I’ve brought every tool to bear that I can think of and I’m now way more okay and functional than I was in 2012 or 2013. Which some days is still not very, but I’ll take it.

And, at some point my fifty-movie project became something beyond a tool for me. I love the form. I love going to the theater. I love being able to recommend films that suit each friend’s preferences and avoids the things they don’t like or make them uncomfortable. Mostly, I adore the ability to escape into someone else’s world, whether it’s a real one or fictional. And it’s always going to be part of what carries me forwards, regardless of how I’m doing.

I was born into the age of the geek.

I know many other nerds of my generation will happily tell how they grew up oppressed and marginalized, bullied at school, isolated with few friends. I have some stories like that, too. How I didn’t have many friends in my year and wound up playing Magic: The Gathering and Warcraft with my little brother’s friends. How I ate lunch in teacher’s rooms, or the school library, just to avoid exposure to other students in the cafeteria…

Those experiences may have helped shape my personality, but no one can call us marginalized now. And, even though science fiction and nerdy games have both been around much longer than I have, arguably the turning point between “science fiction is this weird, niche thing for people who read pulps and see b-movies” to “this is now a huge portion of the common cultural currency” is the release of Star Wars in May of 1977. One day after I was born.

Alec Hardison from Leverage saying 'Age of the geek, baby. Stay strong.'

Now I am so spoiled for choice of scifi and fantasy television, movies and books, that I can be truly selective about what I take in.

I mean, I am not selective, by and large. I still like me some b-movie cheese, for sure. But gone are the days of reading everything in the science fiction section of the library just because they only had so many choices (whyyyy did I read all those Xanth books?). Gone are the days where everyone has the same science fiction knowledge as each other. And gone are the days where knowledge about specific things (Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, They Might Be Giants, Gary Gygax) were the cultural shibboleths we used to determine who was in our exclusive club.

I’d like to think that gone are the days when these things are considered exclusive at all. As my youth has passed away (#pretentiousold), I have become less and less interested in shaming people for what they’re into or for what they haven’t been exposed to for whatever reason, and more interested in sharing things that bring me joy and listening to other folks about what brings them joy.

My housemate and I like to joke that all media safewords are repsected in our house. Everybody has corners they don’t want to poke into and that is fine with me. God knows, I have plenty of my own. And I don’t appreciate it when people try to push on my boundaries or mock me for what they are.

So no mocking, here. No expectations. If this is the age of the geek, then I believe there are rooms for all kinds of geeks in it. I just want to share some of the things that I’m enthusiastic about. And I hope you enjoy.