Nuclear Power Chord

Guitar ISo this was my guitar.

I bought it second-hand on Craigslist a few years ago for $40 because I’ve always wanted to learn how to play one and figured now that I was on my own, there was no time like the present to learn.

Like most aspiring musicians, I brought it home with a great amount of hope that once I sat down and started practicing, it would come as easily as anything else I’ve managed to learn and within weeks, I’d be able to play some chords and songs and be on my way to doing something I’d always wanted to do…but had never really managed to find the time or the means to do when I was younger.

Well, that didn’t exactly happen.

Within the first few days of trying to play, I was finding myself beset by the standard-issue frustration of both my body and my brain not wanting to cooperate. Trying to learn chords was okay, so long as any song required just one and I didn’t have to move my left hand anywhere else on the neck.

My right hand, meanwhile, couldn’t make up its mind about which string it was supposed to pluck. No matter what I did, it was always a case of “E! No G! No B! No e!!” when what I was actually needing to hit was D.

Inevitably, my frustration would always reach a tipping point where I either was going to get very angry at myself for being so pathetic that I can’t make six strings and a piece of wood sound even halfway decent, or I was going to get angry at the guitar because it wasn’t willing to cooperate.

It didn’t matter which tutorials I’d watch or what lessons I’d attempt, nothing seemed to work. And when you’re trying everything you can think of to get your body to do something and it doesn’t respond, the sheer level of rage which can go through your mind is downright infernal.

But rather than smash my guitar into splinters, I put it back in the bag, stuck it in a corner and figured eventually, I’ll figure out some way to finally learn how to play the damn thing.

Last year, I went to my local game store and picked up Rocksmith 2014 for my Playstation, after seeing the ads which said “Learn how to play the guitar in 60 days…guaranteed!!” Admittedly I was skeptical and having never bothered to play Guitar Hero because it wasn’t playing an actual guitar, I figured why not?

I like video games and I want to learn how to play, so maybe this is what will get me there, I thought.

Unfortunately, I didn’t learn how to play in two months, nor did I learn to play in ten or twelve, because I ran into the same exact problem. My brain and my body did not want to cooperate with those six pesky little strings.

I started with the bare basics of learning a chord and how to work the strings to make particular notes. That was an exercise in trying my patience until it was thin as a guitar pick, and so I once again put the guitar back in the bag and hoped I’d somehow be able to figure it out later.

I got an email a few weeks ago letting me know that Rocksmith had updated its catalog to include a whole bunch of songs that I grew up listening to and to my ear, did not sound diabolically difficult to play. So I figured if I’m going to learn, instead of focusing on just lessons, I should try to incorporate some actual music into it and see if that makes any difference.

So I did, and that helped a little bit, but not for very long.

I sat down this morning to try and get a round of practice in. I put on Rocksmith, plugged in the guitar, got it tuned and tried to get through Stone Temple Pilots’ Creep, which is not a difficult track compared to a lot of the others you can play.

Runthrough one went okay. Two was a little more difficult and I found myself struggling to get the sequence down because my brain kept getting confused between the A and D strings, and my right hand decided that it didn’t want to really loosen up enough to allow me to use the pick on down and up strokes.

There’s a three-note sequence in the middle that I was especially stumbling over, and tried to focus on figuring it out, which is when my left hand decided it was going to not cooperate anymore too.

Despite that, I wasn’t going to let it keep me from figuring it out because by this point, the all-too-familiar voice in my head started piping up and giving me the same shit it always does when I’m struggling to learn something.

The hell’s your problem? Why can’t you do this? Everybody else can do this, so why can’t you?! Are you really that stupid that you can’t get your sausage fingers to play three little strings?! There are four-year-olds on YouTube who can play this song backwards blindfolded and you’re sitting here screwing up every two seconds?! Do you realize how fucking pathetic you are?! If your friends were sitting here watching this sorry-ass display, you know what they’d be doing, right? They’d be cringing about it, because you suck. You suck at this just like you suck at everything else, which is why nobody gives a shit about you or anything you do! Just accept the fact that you are a worthless waste of a human being because if you can’t even get this down then there is no point in even trying to convince anyone that you’re good enough at anything else, you unconscionable loser!!

Editorial Note: Comedian Christopher Titus has a name for such a voice who often exists in the heads of people who have Depression and other issues which tend to make them socially awkward. He calls it your Inner Retard. I would love to say mine fits that albeit discriminatory mold, but that wouldn’t be accurate. Mine is much more of an Inner Youth Sports Parent, which makes my internal dialogue really unpleasant a lot of the time because trying to block him out is often like putting a strip of duct tape across a freeway in the hope it’ll stop an oncoming runaway semi-truck.

And because I couldn’t get him to shut up, and because he wouldn’t let me put the guitar down to go do something else to take the stress off, I finally reached the point where my emotions shifted from being angry out of frustration to being angry out of feeling so helpless that I lashed out in way that’s honestly left me even more frustrated and angry with myself.

I smashed my guitar…

…and not in a Pete Townshend-just finished another majestic Who concert in front of 60,000+ people-I am a Rock God-sort of way either.

It was that bitter, disgusting-tasting reminder that I probably won’t get to do and see and be everything I wanted to in this life, and that’s something I’ve never been good at having to swallow.

Thirty years I’ve been wanting to be able to pick up one of those beautiful instruments and make it play the things I hear in my head all the damn time.

The fact that I cannot get myself there, for whatever reason, upsets me in ways I can’t fully describe other than saying it’s like someone taking another one of my goals and dreams and crushing it with a sledgehammer.

Now to go figure out what I’m going to do with the rest of my day. Hopefully it will be something more productive.

Scaling the Wall

Wall 1I’d love to tell you this past weekend was as productive as the one previous, where I managed to crank out nearly 4,000 words in about eight hours of writing and finally concluded Chapter Four after what had been a prolonged creative standoff.

To be honest…I’d really love to be able to tell you that, actually.

After giving myself some time to rest up from what had been a rather grueling work week capped by back-to-back 12-hour shifts, I sat down on Sunday and hoped I could at least get the ball rolling on the Chapter Five.

About 600 words in, though, I did something I hadn’t done for quite a while. I highlighted about half of what I’d written, punched the DELETE key and stepped away from my computer for the rest of the night.  It wasn’t because what I thought I’d written wasn’t any good. To the contrary, I knew I was on to something which would be a key emotional point for my protagonist.

The issue was that getting there required me opening up a part of my own memory bank which I’ve kept bricked off for a very long time, and even the act of prying away one brick and taking a peek proved too difficult to bear at present.

All too often, I’ve come across something either in a magazine or especially on the internet, trying to differentiate what makes someone mentally strong or weak. For the most part, such pseudo-psychological drivel is crafter by someone who’s premise is predicated on even more pseudo-psychological drivel like the following:

Happiness is a matter of choice. Mentally strong people find ways to be happy all the time, whereas weak people do not.

What usually follows are the standard 10-30 boilerplate steps to theoretically transforming yourself into the ultimate happy person, with the majority pretty much plagiarized wholesale out of books like The Power of Positive Thinking, for example.

Then it’s the prescription of take these three times a day and you’ll be on your way to having everything you ever wanted!

Except there’s only one small problem in listening to the advice of these quasi-intellectual snake-oil salesmen…

…what they’re selling you, sorry to say, is a considerable batch of bullshit.

Now that is not to suggest there is nothing to be gained at all by trying to see the positive in things, especially when circumstances seem to be at their most dire. In those moments, finding a silver lining or a star to wish upon or the faintest glimmer of hope is not only necessary, it’s essential for any measure of survival. I know that better than most people, given the roads I’ve had to travel.

But here’s the kicker. Because each of our lives is unique on to themselves, there is no singular panacea which will magically transform the way we process the world around us or the experiences we have in that world.

I wish there was, believe me, but there simply isn’t. Not religion. Not pills or drugs. Not psychotherapy. Not gurus or new-age holistic living, or adrenaline-fueled acts of sheer lunacy. Not even love.

Depending on where you’re at in your life, what’s needed is a cocktail of multiple things, love, purpose, security, meaning, awareness, empathy, knowledge, etc. It’s never one thing, but we love to presume that human suffering and melancholy can be instantly eradicated by somehow choosing to be happy.

In the thirty-plus years I’ve lived with both my depression and PTSD, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up in the morning and before I got out of bed, had managed to convince myself that today’s going to be an absolute shit of a day.

Were I to guess, I think I could probably count those days on one hand and have at least four fingers left over.

Even during the times where I was in such a state that I wanted nothing more than to stay curled up in the warmth and security of my sheets and tell everything and everyone I needed to deal with that day to just come back when I felt up to it, say in 30 to 40 years, I still remember telling myself that it would do me a lot more good to get up and go do something, anything even marginally productive.

But there’s also been times where I’ve been in such a positive groove that everything is just working, even beyond my own expectations, and I find I’m having a really good day…and my subconscious can decide to do something which brings it all to a screeching halt with the ferocity of an 18-wheeler jackknifing on a packed freeway at rush hour.

That is how Depression and PTSD works for a lot of people. It’s not just a case of that person making the decision of not being happy. It’s what happens when a stimulus, either external or internal, that you either trigger or you have no control over whatsoever, can turn your state of being on a dime from good to bad.

And all you can do is just live with it the best you can.

Some days are easier than others, but what I’ve come to understand is the only way I could ever be rid of the things which fuel my own depression would be to literally take them out of my brain so I couldn’t access them anymore. Call me crazy…but I don’t find the idea of a lobotomy all that appealing.

What a lot of us end up doing instead is creating the coping mechanisms we need to just get by without making ourselves even crazier. We build our mental walls and try to partition off those parts of our minds which generate shame or guilt or fear or pain, even though they still manage to find ways over, around and through them.

It’s hard to rationalize why a person would do that, but to do so means possessing enough empathy to truly understand how those kinds of experiences shape someone’s life, and few people are able to do that. For all my inherent sensitivity and apparent predisposition to empathy, even I fall way short of it more often than I’d like.

The reason I stopped writing the other night was I cracked open a hole to a part of my life where, even more than half a lifetime later, I still felt an abundance of all of those difficult emotions. That’s hard for anyone to take, I would think, and I don’t blame myself for having the reflex of not wanting to open that hole up any further.

I know I’m inevitably going to have to, if for no other reason than it will hopefully help me get past it, but it’s a wall that I’m not yet confident enough in myself to be able to knock down and handle what’s on the other side.

That doesn’t make me a mentally weak person. If anything, I’d like to think that recognizing my own limitations and not rushing headlong into something I’m not fully prepared to handle makes me stronger than even I’m willing to admit, most of the time.

The question is, what am I going to do when I’m to the point where I don’t have a choice but to face what’s on the other side of that wall? Will I turn and run away from it again, or will I stand my ground and finally confront it?

 

Tossing in the Towel

Towel IAnd people wonder why I’ve come to hate people so much…

I made the mistake of getting into a debate in an online writing group I’m part of after this neanderthal of a guy made some half-assed attempt to prove that because you can now find Star Wars toys of Rey in most department stores, that it meant the whole backlash about it was the figment of the conspiratorial imagination of most feminists.

As someone who’d been following the issue since it started, both as a fan and a person who freely admits that for a long time both patriarchy and misogyny have had a rather slimy and underhanded role in making the world go ’round, I was more than happy to point out that the gentleman in question had come down with a dual case of intellectual constipation and verbal diarrhea.

Within a few minutes, a lot of other writers had joined in the fray and we’d mounted a fairly impressive counterargument to why his need to mansplain the situation was ill-timed and not needed. We’d also gotten a strong discourse going about how the backlash which had been created was a good sign that things were continuing to evolve, even if it was at a somewhat glacial pace.

And then a new voice came into the forum and she dropped this on it:

“Always love being told by men that women having an issue is ‘much ado about nothing.’ So typical. Sure a lot of WOMEN who have said they CANNOT find anything, but hey, one man’s opinion and comments totally outweigh 100s of women, because women should just shut up, amirite? Make you a sandwich, right?”

Now, had I been smart, I would have probably not given it much thought and ignored it, but based on her choice of words, I couldn’t shake the feeling I get when I’m dealing with a person who loves to paint others in the broadest strokes possible, using a full palette of sanctimoniousness.

So I offered this in response to let her know those who were speaking out against the neanderthal was not exclusive to just women:

“For the record, me and a few other guys have been on your side since this thread started, so it ain’t all of us who subscribe to that crap.”

I’d hoped she’d take it as a sign of being part of a unified front.

Instead, I apparently caused all hell to break loose because the response was received as me both thumping my He-Man chest in expectation of some acknowledgment and recognition, while also implying that it’s yet another case of #NotAllMen.

Therefore, from her perspective, I am actually a clandestine misogynist who has no real understanding of what true Feminism is about, because if I did, the last thing I’d be doing is putting myself in a position where I’d be expecting some sort of recognition for doing the right thing.

This leads to why I have developed such a disdain for people, regardless of gender and especially those who’ve become so entrenched in and identify themselves by the particular -isms which constitute the foundations of their respective echo chambers.

From the day I was born, I’ve been shaped into who I am through the things I’ve both learned and experienced.

Some of the worst years of my life were spent in the presence of man who thought he could dictate how my mother had to live her life, because it was what he wanted. When she refused, he took it out on her in both passive-aggressive and painfully direct ways.

I’ve also lost count of the number of times I was bullied and harassed by both boys and girls when I was in school because I had to travel outside the spheres of all their -isms, just to get through each day.

Combine that with the years of having psychotherapists with ulterior agendas drill into my head the notion that every constructive thought, feeling, instinct and idea I’ve had was actually a smokescreen for purely negative intentions and my ability to stand by and do nothing while someone thinks they can proclaim some form of superiority over another person has long been worn down to the nub.

The problem which comes from that, as I’ve found, is that when you run into someone who’s devoted themselves to an -ism, be it Feminism, Catholicism, Capitalism, Conservatism, Liberalism, Atheism, or whatever other -ism you can devise, if your perspective or ideology is even a toenail out of line with what they subscribe to, then you’re clearly not a true believer.

Worse yet, you’re actually part of the problem, but clearly you’re too incompetent to realize that because you obviously haven’t read the right books, subscribed to the right websites or consumed whatever other Kool-Aid flavored media you’re supposed to fill up with every day.

And when you have that happen enough times, the question which ultimately comes of it is, Why the hell do I even bother standing up for anyone or try to do the right thing anymore if all it does is somehow make me the bad guy?!

Editorial Note: For the record, I agree with and wholeheartedly support Feminism, based on its definition. I have since I was about ten years-old, to be honest, and I ain’t the least bit sorry or ashamed to admit that either.

I’ve read my share of books, checked out websites and enjoyed me some Kool-Aid a time or two and I regret nothing by expanding my own perspective and knowledge base to better understand why it’s something to be supportive of. That said, like all other -isms, Feminism has its share of factions with more militant, obstinate and at times, overzealous views of how the world should be.

This is nothing new and if that somewhat unpleasant fact is something which bothers you, with all apologies, that’s on you. One of the benefits of trying to stay out of the gravitational pull of all these -isms is it allows for a certain degree of impartial and critical thought the longer you can remain in open space.

Does that mean I’m always right? Of course not, nor do I pretend to think I am. I also don’t expect to be rewarded with a medal or other symbol of valor because I chose to do what I felt was right in a given situation. In those instances where people try to present me with some form of gratitude, my longstanding habit has been to decline it, sometimes rather adamantly.

It’s never been about doing something for the glory or recognition. I do those things because I’m a human being with morals and a code of ethics, and even though it may be considered rather antiquated or draconian in modern society, it doesn’t stop me from doing what I believe to be the right thing.

But what really gets my blood boiling is the paradoxical expectation of being a voice who supports a cause committed to changing things for the better for the widest amount of people possible, but if my voice or my motivation is not as fanatical as everyone else’s then clearly I’m just another part of the problem.

Just because you’re knee-deep in whatever struggle your particular -ism is in and I’m not, giving me shit about where I stand and why doesn’t make you a bigger or more learned advocate, okay? It just makes you a condescending asshole and I have no tolerance whatsoever for assholes anymore.

It’s one of the many reasons why I’ve given up on religion, politics, socioeconomic and gender issues and college athletics, among other things.

Frankly, I’m tired of being seen as the problem, so I think I’m going to put my sword and shield away for a bit and let the soldiers of the respective -isms duke it out amongst themselves for a while.

There’s no point in showing up to be part of a crusade only to have a fellow soldier with an itchy trigger finger shoot you in the back because they’re too caught up in rhetoric and ideology to not know the difference between their compatriots and the enemy.

Finding the Slipstream

Terminal Offender Cover III’ve been more than a little frustrated with myself over the past couple of months in terms of my productivity.

In my defense, it’s not like I’ve sat on my butt and done nothing. To the contrary, as the year came to an end, I realized it had actually been one of the more productive ones in my life.

I’d created more than a hundred video stories and considerably more written ones for my work. I’d been able to go out and take some photos throughout the year which I’m really rather proud of and even found time to exercise, read the occasional book and finish the odd video game which had been languishing on my shelf.

Add onto that the four months of serious therapy work I managed to get in, as well as keeping to my goal of writing a letter a day, and it’s hard to deny that I was anything but quite busy in a lot of ways.

And then…there’s the book.

When I sat down to start my second draft, it was with the determination of getting a chapter done each weekend, no matter what. I’d make certain I had the time to allow my creative batteries to be fully charged as I sat back down at my computer, opened up the manuscript and prepared to go back into the trenches of full-scale literary warfare.

True to form, that lasted about four hours before my brain disengaged and said, Screw it! We’re going to go play Mass Effect or binge-watch Top Gear for a while, saavy?!

Those times can be so disheartening in a lot of ways because it feels like my brain is acting like a spoiled brat in the throws of a conniption fit. All you want is for it to stop and see reason, but it either can’t or won’t, so you have to do something else to appease it anyway, even though you know you’re just feeding the beast and it will all come back around again.

Going to bed on those nights, knowing I’d only managed to crank out a few hundred words when I needed a few thousand was getting rather old, especially since it wasn’t like I hadn’t put any thought into what I needed to write about.

One of the things I’ve found in being a writer is creativity tends to work on a different clock than motivation. There’s been countless times where I’ve been in the shower or in the car going somewhere or sitting in an incredibly boring-ass government meeting and thought, if only I could be in front of my keyboard right now, I’d get this scene done in a nanosecond.

But then when I do sit down and try to do precisely that, that part of my brain is practically comatose, and trying to force it into action tends to leave me flustered and my work output severely lacking.

There are those rare moments, however, when you sit down in the chair and within five minutes, you’re completely locked in to what you need and it just keeps rolling out like an assembly line of fundamentally sound ideas, narrative, actions and dialogue.

I honestly cannot tell you the last time I found myself in such a creative slipstream, but I found it last night and by the time I finished up and collapsed into bed, even though it was past midnight and I was so not looking forward to going back to work today, I felt better than I had in a long time.

I just hope I can keep this up for the next thirty weekends or so.

 

Outkicking the Coverage

ecard IComedian Christopher Titus once observed that when you suddenly find yourself back in the dating pool after being married, however good or bad you were at the time you stopped dating often remains a constant.

In my case, I freely admit that I sucked at it.

The reason for this is I was never fully comfortable just being me with those whom I found myself attracted to.

After all, a date is essentially the same thing as an audition or a job interview.

You have a very limited time to convince someone to give you a chance for something you very much would like to develop further, but it also means having to present the absolute best version of you possible.

Biologically speaking, it’s what connects us to just about every other species of animal on the planet. The only difference is all a peacock has to worry about is whether or not his feathers are an adequate selling point.

They don’t think in any broader terms than that, so things like whether or not your financial standing is enticing enough, if you’re from a good family and have a decent moral compass, the ratio of shared interests is in a range to warrant long-term compatibility and all the other levels of convoluted subtext we use to determine is someone is worth continuing to see or not.

And because there is so much weight placed on initial expectations and making sure the first impression exceeds them, trying to maintain that pace is like try to sprint your way through a marathon.

If like me, you’re the sort of person who’s never been comfortable with who you are and how you think others perceive you, you’ll maintain that pace for as long as you can, but inevitably you run out of gas and the illusion you’ve crafted begins to dissipate, which can be utterly mortifying.

There is no end to the amount of internet clickbait you can find nowadays, advising us that the key to getting a potential relationship off the ground is being okay with who you are. What the great majority of them fail to recognize as well is that for a greater majority of both men and women, that is incredibly counterintuitive.

After all, if the point of being attracted to someone enough that we’d like to develop a relationship with them, the last thing we’re encouraged to do is put ourselves in a position where that someone may see things about us which could nix that possibility right out the gate.

When I found myself being single again, all I could see was everything I’d gone through which resulted in my ending up there, which was just the tip of a rather unattractive iceberg. That’s an awkward position to be in anyway, but then adding onto that an opportunity for something new with someone new, and the easier thing to do is dive feet first into the illusion that you want them to see, because reality feels much less attractive.

I know if I had it to do over again, I would’ve done my best not to try so damn hard. By that, I don’t mean in regards to who I was interested in, but rather not try to put up such a facade that I knew I couldn’t maintain long-term.

I’d like to think had I acknowledged my own short-comings and let myself relax enough to think they’d be accepted for what they are, rather than straining to maintain the fragile and rickety pretense I’d constructed, maybe things could’ve gone differently.

It’s something I wish I’d been smart enough to learn at the time, that’s for sure.

The Necessity of Hate

Trust IQuestion.

Why is it we consider the emotion of hate such a taboo, if it’s just as essential to the overall human experience as love is?

This is something I’ve been thinking about for months now, and for the sake of argument, I think some contextual clarification is in order.

Conventional wisdom dictates there is indeed a fine line between love and hate, and for all the social and cultural emphasis we put on the idea of love as the most fundamental and virtuous emotion we can feel, there is an often silent acknowledgment that it has a much seedier underbelly as well.

After all, ask just about anyone on this planet, man or woman, and you’ll get at least a billion stories of times where someone used their perceptions and belief of what love represents not as a virtue, but as a weapon. Something much more malicious and malevolent, and often cloaked in the guise of supposedly good and noble intentions and declarations.

Therefore, if a clear and defined dark side of love exists, it would stand to reason there can be a therapeutic benefit to the other side of the coin, yes?

I can safely say that in my lifetime, I’ve only allowed myself to truly hate one person and I will go to my grave knowing with every fiber of my being that they had legitimately earned that from me.

The problem was rather than allowing myself to go through the process of being hateful and angry with him for what he did to me both physically and emotionally, and then letting it go so I could move on with my life, I hung onto it for way too long.

Because of that, I lost sight of why it was I’d become so hateful in the first place, which is I’d been hurt on multiple levels. My trust had been betrayed and I had lost a certain amount of childish innocence that you cannot get back once it’s gone. As a result, I was left figuring out how to deal with that reality the best way I knew how.

At the same time, though, being in such an emotional hole made me leery of ever finding myself back there. That apprehension was furthered by being bombarded with opinions of supposedly wiser people, telling me that hate is somehow an outlawed emotion. That there’s no intrinsic value in it and you have to instead rely on more constructive things, like love, in order to find the path of least resistance to where you want to be.

And yet, if the separation between the two is indeed that razor-thin line, then why are we so afraid to acknowledge the necessity of one for the sake of the other?

It makes logical sense why we are so quick to be willfully ignorant to hate, because of what often comes from it, namely war, subjugation, inhumanity, cruelty, barbarism, intolerance and death, to name a few. However, human history and culture is marked with several times where the catalyst for such things was actually not hatebut love.

In the past few months of working with my therapist, I started to come an understanding that perhaps the primary reason I’ve remained so emotionally static, odd as this is going to sound, is because I haven’t allowed myself to embrace a certain degree of hate.

I know that sounds weird. If I’m honest, it sounds damn weird to me too. It doesn’t change the fact, however, that for a number of years now, I’ve had every right to step over that line because I got emotionally beat down…but I can’t bring myself to do it, because I’m afraid to.

I’m afraid to because we’re a culture that puts a premium on the high road and being strong and defiant in the face of adversity, even though we know inherently what we really want to do is let ourselves rage at those who hurt us so deeply that even after the bleeding has stopped, the scar is going to remain indefinitely.

Even so, we keep refusing to feel the pain connected to it, because we’ve somehow equated all the hostility which comes with embracing pain, be it physical or psychological, with being something less than human.

The usual byproduct of that is to redirect that hostility inwards and hate yourself instead under the rational that you’re the one to blame for getting hurt so it’s your fault.

And I’m really good at that. Seriously, there are few people I know who excel at hating themselves, I’ve found, more than me.

The paradox, however, is this. In order to stop hating myself, I have to be willing to let myself feel a measure of hate for people I don’t want to feel that way about, but if I’m ever going to get past it all and move on with my life…it has to happen.

Now it’s not like I’m going to wake up tomorrow and be so overwhelmed with emotions that I’m going to want to do something drastic or hurtful. It’s not a matter of vocalizing it at maximum volume or being passive-aggressive or making some ridiculous spectacle out of it.

That’s not what this is about.

It’s about letting myself feel the things I need to get it all out of my system, which means it may come tomorrow or two weeks from now. The moments could last five minutes, five hours or five days. I also may have a day or two where I don’t feel it, or even better, feel the exact opposite.

It doesn’t mean I’m not going to care any less, either.

A long time ago, I came to the realization that loving someone isn’t just about what you feel when the passion is at it’s highest apex. If you really love someone, then it’s more three-dimensional than that, and no matter what they could do to you, it never really goes away.

And sometimes, even though you know they could say or do something to make you fall in love with them all over again, you have to let yourself hate them too. Not because you want to hurt them, but because you need to heal from being hurt by them and once you can get it out, then you can truly move on.

Maybe then, if you’re really lucky, you can get another chance to show them how much they mean to you and it won’t be a wasted opportunity.

Spin Cycle

Neil IIt’s weird how easy it can be to marginalize your own ability to do something by seeing someone else do the same thing a little differently, and perhaps even only slightly better, than you do.

Being the first week of the 2016, I decided I needed to get off mein duff and back on the ol’ hoss which is the revisions of my book.

As is sometimes the case in how my lil’ creative brain works, sometimes it likes to cooperate. Most of the time, it doesn’t come out of its trailer until it’s good and ready. By 10:30, I was about to begrudgingly call it an evening when it finally emerged and declared it was time to go to work.

So work we did, and after about two hours, I stumbled into bed slightly perturbed I wasn’t going to get any reading done, but at least I got chapter three finally done…dammit.

Now, I told you that story to tell you this story.

During the course of my day, whilst waiting for the diva which is my creativity to pull its creative head from its creative rectum, I was chatting with a friend who was struggling with their own drive to create things, and I learned that in a slightly roundabout way…I had a hand in that.

To be both transparent and fair, it wasn’t like I had been called out for being detrimental or dismissive to my friend’s creativity. I’d like to think I’m the sort of person who respects people enough to not do that, though I’m sure like anyone else, I’ve done precisely that at least once in my life.

But it had been recommended that she get back into blogging as a way of expressing herself and working things out in a constructive manner. Certainly nothing wrong with that, except for the tiny issue that she reads this little patch of dirt I call my blog…and apparently…I somehow manage to do it better.

Editorial Note: Like a great many people, I’ve been writing down this equivalent of intellectual chicken scratchings down on pages, be they digital or analog, for a long time. At no time have I ever considered myself better than anyone else when it comes to it…which I suppose could further illustrate the problem.

You could argue that being a bear of rather diminutive ego, I’m not accustomed to having someone say I do something better than they do. In fact, in order to convince myself that I even have the gall to do that particular something, I’ve had to go into it with the understanding of surpassing someone else’s attempt out of the equation.

Because if I don’t do that, then more than likely, I will inevitably self-marginalize my attempt and thereby provide a reason to back out and quit.

That is the exact reason why I quit vlogging six months ago, if I’m honest.

All I had to do is go onto YouTube and see how much genuinely amazing content was being churned out by people who are clearly younger, smarter, more intuitive, more comfortable and more natural as either a minor or major internet celebrity than I could ever be.

So why would anyone stop to think I could possibly manage to be on the same level as those people?!

In that regard, I am no different than my friend, because we’ve both bought into our own self-generated negative press before we even really taken the first big step.

It’s the same reason why I’ve never given myself the time to learn to play my guitar. I desperately want to be able to play like David Gilmour or Alex Lifeson…but they already exist and play a hell of a lot better than I do.

So what’s the point in taking all the time to try and learn chords and get frustrated with myself when I mess up when I can just put on a Pink Floyd or Rush album and live vicariously through them?

One of the great life cliches is experience is the best teacher, and while we as a culture love to buck those cliches whenever possible, this is one of those times where we really can’t.

The reason why I feel most comfortable doing this is the same reason why I feel comfortable with a camera in my hands. I’ve been doing it for a long damn time.

It may not mean I do it well. Hell, half the time, I fully expect everyone who comes across this to think exactly what I think it is, which is pseudo-pretentious psychobabble.

But even if it is, writing out what’s on my mind is still the easiest way I have to communicate with the rest of the human race at this point.

When it comes down to it, that’s all art is really. Music, film, books, photography, painting, drawing…and I suppose, on some weird, esoteric Freudian level…even porn.

It’s all about taking how we see an aspect of life and presenting it in a way where it can interact with others who may or may not be able to connect with the message you’re trying to transmit.

Ultimately, the only thing that makes our message seem lesser than the next person is our belief that no one wants to hear what we have to say, and in the cacophony of the Social Media/Crowd-Sourcing/Patreon Age, being caught up in the current of everyone else trying to make sure their voice is heard above the din is even harder.

It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least try.

Lessons of a Villain

Like most geek-boys, I grew up reading comic books and I read quite a few of them.

When they started getting turned into blockbuster movies and big-time TV shows, I checked out pretty much all of them with varying degrees of enjoyment.

Editorial Note: Being the unabashed movie junkie that I am, if you can convince me that sitting through two hours of a good popcorn-gnoshing, action-adventure yarn featuring The Avengers or Batman is worth my time and a $10 ticket, usually no further arm-twisting is necessary.

When Marvel started putting out comic-based shows on Netflix, I approached with both an interest and a looming sense of finally reaching the point of too much of a good thing.

That said, I got through the first season of Daredevil, and was pleasantly surprised. It’s not perfect, sure, but compared to what it easily could’ve been, my conclusion was the people putting it together got a lot more right than wrong.

Which brings us to Jessica Jones.

I hadn’t read any of Alias, and quite frankly, I wasn’t much interested in it whenever I went to my local shop. That’s not to suggest I think the premise of a former-female-superhero-turned-private-eye is a bad idea. On the contrary, the idea of a potentially hard-boiled noir story is right up my alley.

Having read and seen so many bad attempts over the years at trying to create that kind of story, both in books and visual media, though, has made me really leery of when someone comes along and thinks they’ve got it right.

To me, Jessica Jones got it right on a lot of levels. It also did something, however, I was not prepared for in any way, shape or form.

It scared the hell out of me…but not for the reasons you might think.

Editorial Note: Considering it’s been out for over a month now, I’m expecting most people who may come across this have seen at least part of the show, or have the gist of what it’s about. For the sake of propriety, I’m not going to delve into spoilers, but seriously, if you’re curious about it and you haven’t found the time to sit down and actually watch it yet…that’s on you. Not me.

I know it’s a cliche of most people who go through some form of identity crisis in their lives to look at a fictional character and conclude that on some level, that character is an avatar of them. We do it all the time, either consciously or subconsciously, and there were a lot of times growing up where I found myself in the same spot.

The thing about fiction is that when it’s done right and well, it takes on what Shakespeare eluded to in Hamlet, of characters and the players who play them having the responsibility of holding as’twere a mirror up to nature. To show virtue her own features, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time, his form and pressure.

And when a character holds up that mirror and what you see in return is even a partial reflection, regardless of how amplified or hyperbolic it may appear, that can be a very sobering and disturbing realization.

A reasonably intelligent person doesn’t have to look far to see that the traditional dynamics of gender roles and how both relationships and the emotions which they can be predicated upon have been torn apart in the last few years with all the subtlety of removing someone’s appendix with a grapefruit spoon.

For the record, I don’t find this to be an overall bad thing as that sort of cultural and societal revolution can often be a very necessary and healthy thing in terms of clearing out antiquated and draconian practices which older generations cling to and indoctrinate into the younger generations who come along in their wake.

In Jessica Jones, the primary conflict pairing is, of course, the title character of Jessica and her antagonist, Kilgrave. Unlike the comics I read as a kid which featured him in his somewhat buffoonish guise as The Purple Man, this version of him is much more sinister and in my view…much more frightening.

Kilgrave’s supernatural ability is in his power of suggestion and influence, which of course he uses to get what he wants, but because it comes so easily to him, there is no real satisfaction in it for him. He’s bored and dismissive of humanity, especially women, because he is able to manipulate, control and get what he wants from them, and then he discards them without another thought, often with painful, if not gruesome, consequences.

Combating him is the one person who was ever able to break free of him in Jessica, and that only makes him more determined to possess her again, because Kilgrave has finally found someone he cannot bend to his desires.

Therefore, his only option as he sees it, is to break her and then take what he sees as his well-earned ownership over her again.

I’ve talked to a lot of my female friends about the show since it came out, wanting to get their opinions of how that dynamic is presented. Now like most comic book stories or other forms of melodrama, the level of exaggeration is turned up to create both the maximum amount of tension and show the extremes which can envelope such extreme personalities.

I don’t think any of them came back to me, though, and said it wasn’t unlike at least one relationship they’ve found themselves in over the course of their lives so far. That’s not to suggest any of them ever dated an uber-egomaniacal and superhuman apex predator, but if you look at Kilgrave on a macro-level, what he does is not much different than what a lot of men do all the time.

And I know this, because as I’ve learned over the past few years, I’ve been one of those guys. Someone who over the course of building my ways of interacting with people, not just women, but people, learned the most effective ways to get the emotional reactions I wanted was to be manipulative and passive-aggressive.

Pretty much every woman I know sees a part of themselves in Jessica Jones. Not the excessive drinking and other less-effective coping skills, but the trying to get through the reality of being the object of a person’s interest, romantic or otherwise, instead of being seen as the person they are.

I look at Kilgrave’s behavior, minus the superpowers, of course, and I see myself as both a teenager and a young adult, and even how I fell back into similar patterns when I was suddenly back on my own.

And I’ll be honest with you. It disgusts me to admit that as much as it scares me.

Over the holidays, I got to hang out with a college friend for an evening and she’s been in a solid relationship for a couple of years now. But she explained to me how much watching the show brought back memories of the times when she was having to deal with predatory guys, who weren’t even aware of how much they were expressing themselves that way, when she was younger.

I know it doesn’t make much sense to think how can such behavior be casually ignored or overlooked by the person doing it, but that’s thing about human behavior and the need for emotional connectivity, and we see it in everyone from children to old people each and every day.

Once you’ve discovered a methodology to create a scenario in which you receive the sort of emotional stimulus you want, be it love, lust, acceptance, understanding, etc., it becomes so ingrained into your personality that it truly can become second-nature, at which point you can ignore and overlook it because in a truly Machiavellian way, the ends indeed justify the means.

The fundamental flaw, though, is we don’t live in a world built entirely along Machiavellian principles, especially when it comes to how we treat the people whom we are fortunate enough to establish any sort of strong emotional bonds with. Yet, we still do it all the time to each other, both men and women.

It’s a big reason why I’ve stayed out of the fray for as long as I have. It’s as much for my own perceived protection as it is for everyone else’s, because I still haven’t entirely figured out how to rid myself of those old patterns of behavior.

That’s not to say I’m not working on it. I guess I’m just not sure of myself enough yet that I can say without any fear or worry that I won’t find myself slipping back into them. And I can’t go on that kind of what-if possibility just yet.

When I sat down to watch Jessica Jones, I thought I knew what I was getting into with it. By the time I was halfway through it, I realized I was in for something which by the time I was done, had a much greater emotional impact on me than I ever really could’ve anticipated.

So much so that I ended up watching it again from start to finish as soon as I got through it the first time, just so I could be sure I wasn’t giving myself the wrong impressions or assimilating the wrong sort of feedback.

I walked away from it with the same stark reflection staring back at me, and yet, I’m glad it did.

Sometimes you have to stare a villain in the eye and understand that you don’t have to be them, if you’re willing to do what is necessary to make sure you’re not.