For Fear of Emo

It finally happened: I was truly offended by South Park. I must be getting old or something. This week’s episode about Goth and Emo kids hit me a bit hard because it reminded me of high school, and not in a good way. I guess the basic concepts are still prevalent today, but I’ll explain them for the uninitiated.

Goth subculture has been popular with teenagers since the 80s. It’s all about black and white, particularly when it comes to clothing, make-up, and attitudes. The culture is about despair and futility, coupled with a little bit of resentment for the system. Cynicism abounds. The whole movement is often associated with punk rock, but that part’s kind of optional at this point.

Emo subculture is a little more recent. It has been around for almost as long, but it never gained ground until the late 90s. The name is appropriate, because it’s all about embracing negative emotions, including depression and self-loathing. Much like Goth culture, it started with Emo music, another form of punk rock.

There’s a ton of subjectivity in the definitions, of course, and there isn’t much difference between the two groups. The fashion and attitudes are both quite similar. Of course, black has always been cool (and slimming!), so that explains part of it. Both groups greatly appeal to teenagers. The concept of teenage angst isn’t new, after all. It’s all a reaction to the establishment, which always includes adults. Whether you’re disillusioned with the world or yourself, it doesn’t matter. You wear the clothes and listen to the music and maybe even fit in a little bit.

I was a half-assed Goth/Punk kid in high school. Amongst the Goths, there were two insults: Poseur and Emo. Poseurs just pretended to be Goth but were really just trying to fit in. Emos were pathetic, weepy, and lame. Goths were supposed to stand tall in a shitty world without getting the least bit affected, so being called Emo was a horrible insult. It also meant that discussing negative emotions could get you labeled Emo. There was a fine line between contemplating futility and succumbing to it.

I remember when Good Charlotte’s song “Hold On” came out. It was an Emo (technically, Screamo) song about teenagers who committed suicide. I remember thinking that it was over the top and only appealed to Emos. I also remember thinking about how I had already attempted suicide at age 13. It struck a weird discord in my brain. The fear of being Emo got mixed in with the many misconceptions I had about depression, and I never talked about it once. Six years later, I attempted suicide in earnest, and the rest is history.

So where does South Park fit into all this? This week’s episode was supposed to show that Goths and Emos are the same: kids affecting sadness to fit in. In the end, it’s all just teenage angst. (Actually, the Goth kids in the show are supposed to be preteens.) Anyway, these Goth kids start becoming Emo for some reason, and their anger at the world turns inward. Now they engage in suicidal thinking and self-harm instead of lashing out at their parents.

I’m a huge fan of South Park. None of the previous 240 episodes have offended me. This one did.

First of all, it wasn’t funny. Where’s the humor in a room full of preteens cutting themselves? When did that become okay? Well, the show is satirical, after all. This is an exaggerated depiction of a subculture for humorous effect. But Molly Ivins said it best: “When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel — it’s vulgar.” Second, there was just no reason for it. What is the social ill being skewered here? What are Matt and Trey trying to tell the world? And who gives a fuck if Goth kids and Emo kids really are the same?

On the other hand, I do have a reason for being offended. This might seem hard to believe, but suicidal teenagers are still suicidal. They really do kill themselves. Furthermore, kids never cut themselves to fit in. They do it alone. In fact, all the cutters I knew kept it completely secret, because if other people found out, they’d have to stop. Those teenagers had so much trouble confronting their depression that they literally tore themselves open.

As for me, I remember one of the phrases that stung the worst at that age: “they only do it to get attention.” Whether it was repeated self-harm, a suicide attempt, or even just a suicidal threat, it was always “just for attention.” As for me, I never wanted the slightest bit of attention for my depression, and that’s exactly what I got. Here’s the reality: People who are contemplating suicide or committing acts of self-harm always need attention, but that’s never the real reason.

In short, teenage angst can kill. This is the very first time I’ve watched an episode of South Park and felt worse afterward. Forgive me if that sounds a little Emo.

A Veterinary Discourse or: Shoving Your Hand Up the Horse’s Ass

When I was but a lad of about 6, I had a meager dream: I was going to be a veterinarian. I came to the decision after very little thought. Basically, I liked animals, so why not be around them constantly? I guess I imagined that I would be swarmed by puppies and kittens with cute ailments that I could immediately fix. Either that or they would look sad and sweet in neck cones, doggy splints, or little casts with pawprint signatures for a few days. It would be awesome!

I shared this dream with my friends and family. (My auxiliary dream was to be a music teacher, because the one we had was a babe. Ah, Heather…) Oddly enough, my friends were quite enthusiastic. In fact, a great number of them shared my dream. As it turned out, other kids liked animals, and they also wanted to be around them constantly. My elementary school was going to produce a cadre of veterinarians in just a few short years.

My family was more realistic. My mother sort of smiled shook her head, refusing to take it seriously without being too discouraging. Dad took a more blunt position. “Veterinarians have a gross job. They have to do surgery on horses and deliver baby cows, things like that. That’s why a lot of them just have dog and cat clinics. You know, for house pets.”

I had two responses to this. First, I was going to have to have a dog and cat clinic, and second, I would never do anything horse-related. In fact, I’ve always hated horses, and I refuse to work with them to this day. They would only hold me back.

Anyway, my veterinary dream persisted. I would think about it on and off when I wasn’t reading books. When I was 8, we finally got a dog. Mazie was awesome most of the time, even if she had some rather annoying (and intelligent) behaviors. For instance, she knew how to steal the TV remote so we could only change the channel if we chased her to get it back. Whenever we played fetch, she would bring the ball back once, and when I threw it again, she’d give me a look that said, “hey, I got it last time.”

Besides intelligence, her other significant trait was sickliness. She had allergies, joint problems, hepatitis, and a thyroid condition. It got to be pretty gross and complicated. I was also the family member charged with scooping her poop, so I got to appreciate that aspect. Our current dog Jetta has several health problems, though not as many as Mazie did. Yet. Fortunately, I don’t have to scoop her poop.

In a roundabout way, I’m saying that animals are actually kind of gross. Dealing with grossness is a veterinarian’s bread and butter. At some point, you might have to reach deep within a horse’s ass and pull out a tumor or blockage or something. It’s all part of the job.

Looking back, I could have been a veterinarian. I would have needed a lot more biology and chemistry (so I could get all those awesome veterinary drugs), some animal anatomy (animanatomy?) and a practical experience or internship before I could open that dog and cat clinic I mentioned. But I’m not going to do that. No, no, no, I have claimed many times that I am going to be a writer. So what does veterinary science have to do with anything?

Well, being a writer is a common desire. In some ways, it’s the college student’s version of the veterinarian dream: easy to picture, simple in concept, far more difficult in reality. College students spend a ton of time writing, after all. They write essays, term papers, exams, and the occasional break-up text. It’s second nature to assume that they could do the exact same thing and make money doing it. And once you graduate, you can write whatever you want, instead those group presentations and apology emails.

A college graduate’s usual approach is THE NOVEL. There are a number of genres and a wild variety of ways to approach them. If you write one that’s really good (and why wouldn’t you?), then you just have to send it off somewhere and get MAD MONEY for it. Be the next Harry Potter! Or Twilight! Or Fifty Shades of Grey! Or Orange Is the New Black! If you aren’t able to write a novel, you can work your way up to it with short stories or novellas, send them off somewhere, and get slightly less MAD MONEY for them.

In fact, writing a successful novel is such a common aspiration that hundreds of thousands of people spend the month of November trying to do it. National Novel Writing Month is an incredibly popular affair in which a vast number of people try to finish a novel of at least 50,000 words. After all, that volume of text is easy for most people to produce if they just type a whole bunch. If you don’t have any original ideas, just jump on the current bandwagon. No problem.

And when you’re finished … your book isn’t very good. Hm. Well, that’s okay. At least you showed yourself that you could do it, right? I mean, you just typed out 50,000 words, and that counts for something. Worrying about the quality or editing as you went would have slowed you way down, and you’d never have finished by December. Hell, you might never have finished. It’s better that you just crossed your fingers and went for it.

Except you didn’t go for it at all. You typed up a ton of sucky words that you’re going to toss in a drawer and never examine. How is that better than crawling through something, thinking and improving it as you go? It isn’t. It’s just a fantasy, like playing with puppies and pretending you’re healing them.

The reality of writing is more akin to pulling the tumor out of that horse’s ass. It’s going to take some time and effort, and you’re going to get dirty. You might even get kicked. If you like, you can just marvel at the horse’s ass and contemplate its innards. Perhaps you poke a finger in to examine, but the tumor is much farther up there. You’re going to have to ask yourself, “Do I really want to do it? And just how much?” If you still want to get it, you’re going to have to have to grit your teeth and shove your arm in right up to the shoulder. You have to grab that tumor and yank as hard as you can.

Now that I’ve overextended that metaphor, I’ll start talking about myself again. I realized that I have to focus my attention and redirect it into a single project. Trying to do a multitude of exciting things at once is a bad idea. In short, I have decided that my first project (ahead of the graphic novel and the animated series and the animated short and the dozens of other ideas in my head) is going to be a novel. A novel? There are millions of them. And here I just talked about how everyone tries to be a novelist! My hypocrisy knows no bounds.

On the other hand, I don’t want to do it because it’s popular or seems like a neat idea. I have my own reasons, and chief among them is getting noticed. I am going to have something I can point to and say “Hey, I wrote this book. Help me draw the next one.” At least, that’s the plan. I am going to reach within the horse’s ass of my mind and pull out the shiniest damned tumor I can find, even if I have to really root around for it. Then I’m going to polish it to a mirror shine, and the glint of that tumor will attract agents and publishers from all around.

Put more literally, I’m not going to give up. I’m not going to stop until the novel is good, and it will be good. I’m going to keep typing and more importantly, I’m going to keep thinking. But I have to acknowledge the difficulty. No matter how much I hate horses, I have to do what’s necessary.

So I’ll wear some gloves.

The Hardest Words to Write

Embarking on a creative career is risky for several reasons. The barriers to success are many and the advantages are few. For instance, you get to set your own schedule, but there is no guarantee that you aren’t wasting your time. Even if you do create something good, you have to draw attention to it. If it gets attention, you still have to turn that into further opportunities and (hopefully) money. Just attempting to be a creative writer requires a great deal of creativity. Ostensibly, being a writer is simple; you become one as soon as you write. What makes a good writer different from every other literate person with a keyboard?

Success as a writer is completely based on one thing: People have to read your work. It’s entirely possible that the most talented writers in the world have never had their work read by another soul. If that’s true, they certainly aren’t successful, and not just because they aren’t making money at it. A good writer has to involve other people, because improvement requires feedback. Every reader and every bit of honest feedback is helpful. In other words, the proof of the writing is in the reading.

So what are the hardest words to write? They always start the same way: “Will you read … ?”

I can almost hear you groaning from here. After all, I just asked you to do something potentially boring and you might have to admit it. I get roughly the same response from everyone: “Yes, but not right now.” It’s nice and diplomatic, but deceptively negative. Much like getting “Ask Again Later” on a Magic 8-Ball, it doesn’t help very much.

Am I imposing? Absolutely. I know you’re busy, and when I ask you to read something, I’m requesting your undivided attention. Ew. Reading is a homework assignment! It’s horrible! You’ll procrastinate, I’ll pester you, and we’ll both have to figure out how to share it online. How can a friendship survive a sudden, obnoxious jolt into a teacher/student relationship?

Then, after you read it (or just skim it), I’ll want feedback. Chances are good my work was unpolished or stupid. I may have completely wasted your time. But time is ticking, and you have to say something! A positive response is the safest approach. It’s a compliment, right? After all, what could be worse than negative feedback? Easy. Dishonest feedback, or worse, no feedback at all.

And that’s the problem. What I’m really asking is for you to be my friend by being a total asshole. You aren’t criticizing ME, you aren’t dismissing ME. You are reacting to my writing, and as long as you’re doing that, I’ll be just fine. Only hold back if your suggestion is that I stop writing altogether and cut off my hands for the good of humanity. At that point, it stops being constructive.

Once you’re done, I will put your feedback in my brain for thoughtful consideration. Most of the time, I will change something. Sometimes I won’t, and sometimes I will consider what you suggested and deliberately not do it. Who’s the asshole now, right? However, my reaction to criticism is never “Screw you! I like it!” or “You just didn’t get it!” I know better. When someone criticizes your beliefs, it doesn’t usually change them, but it almost always reminds you why you have them. Sometimes it will reinforce them. Other times, it will nudge you ever so slightly toward a new viewpoint.

Now that I’ve said all that, I will say this: It really is okay if you don’t want to read my writing. There are plenty of reasons to say no. I won’t hold it against you, but be honest about it. Don’t try to shut me up by saying you’ll read it eventually, because I’m persistent enough to ask again and again.

I have been on both ends of this exchange, so this is as much an admission as an admonishment. I have this dilemma any time I’m asked to proofread something. If you want me to read your work, I will. I’m a copy editor; I don’t pull punches and I don’t guarantee niceness. On the other hand, I know there are two kinds of writers: the ones who want honest feedback, and the ones who only want to hear nice things. It’s the difference between improvement and encouragement, but why encourage someone who doesn’t want to improve? Art is risk. I can’t tell you what will happen if you share your work with the world, but I can tell you what will happen if you don’t: absolutely nothing.

When someone asks you to read something, take a second and think about all of the things you read today, at home, at work, on your phone, on the internet, on TV. You probably spent a lot of time reading. Was any of it important? Did you always know what to expect? Did you enjoy it? If not, you might as well try reading something completely new.

And what else did you read today? You read this, and that was nice of you. If you have nice things to say, I’ll appreciate them. I’ll appreciate the mean things just as much.

Jumping Off of the Face of the Earth

I did a strange thing this week. I dropped out of graduate school before I even stepped in. I washed out before I even got dirty.

Ever since 2006, when I began attending the University of Nebraska, I have been studying math in some fashion or another. In 2011, I finally completed a bachelor’s degree. Since then, I have been taking online classes from Coursera. In 2013, I applied and got into a Ph.D. program in computer science and mathematics. The progression was perfectly natural.

Here’s the problem: I never knew what I wanted to do. I had a lot of talent, and I put a significant amount of work into my degree, but I never had more than a few passing interests. Some were particularly compelling, like steganography, but I didn’t want to do all the extra work in other areas before I could work on what really interested me. Basically, I was going to spend the next two years doing a lot of nothing on the off chance I would get to do something later.

There was a lot involved here, and I was perfectly willing to do what I needed to. I was going to commute from Lawrence to Kansas City, paying for gasoline, tolls, parking, and (naturally) tuition. I would spend 4 nights a week in class, and a significant amount of time doing homework during the day.

Now I’m not going to do any of it, and I’m tremendously relieved. Instead, I am going to abandon the world of academia to pursue a career as a writer. I know that sounds like the life plan of someone who really wants to fail.

The truly wise say you can never become a writer if you don’t write anything, so my goal from here on out is to continue writing. I will also continue tutoring math to pay the bills and such.

I have a bunch of ideas to work on, but I am going to be bold and work on the ones I care most about, even though they might be difficult to carry through. I am confident, and somewhat optimistic. If I can get other people interested, I can make things work. Unfortunately, things won’t work unless I make them work. That’s the cynical part.

Anyway, I will continue to post random updates, but now they’ll be less about graduate school and more about figuring stuff out. And maybe I’ll be a little more excited about it.

True Tales of Human Childhood

Recently, I have been indulging in the many joys of maturity. I have been buying my own K’nex sets and eating Toaster Strudel, Snack Packs, and Drumsticks. I drink a Mello Yello every day. Purchasing and consuming these things at my age almost makes up for never getting them as a child. In particular, the boxes of Toaster Strudel help compensate for one of the most common Nickelodeon ads:

“Maria’s parents give her delicious, flaky, sweet Toaster Strudel for breakfast. Jimmy’s cheapass parents only buy him Pop-Tarts. They must not love him as much.”

At least, that’s how I remember it. On the other hand, they did let us watch Nickelodeon.

It might seem strange to people who know me, but as I kid, I hated soda. I would drink Sprite or 7-Up when I was sick (or better yet, cola syrup), and I occasionally had an A&W at my grandpa’s house. Later, I went from being a known soda-hater to listing “soda” as one of my favorite things when I was expected to write a list of my favorite things.

My history of soda has two major turning points. The first followed a routine trip to McDonald’s. When I was 11, my brother and his friend Tim came home from parts unknown with a greasy sack of McDonald’s and 2 extremely large drinks. They had not offered to bring my anything, but for charity’s sake, Tim offered me some of his soda. Despite my prejudice, I said yes. I must have been compelled by the coolness of an older dude and disappointment with their lack of consideration.

So I took a sip. I was amazed by a flavor I had never encountered before, and I incredulously asked, “What is that?” Tim thought I was just trying to clear up what kind of soda he had, so he simply said “Dr. Pepper.” I doubt he realized that I had never tasted it before. Either way, I was a soda drinker from that day forth. Within the next few months, I nearly tripled my body weight. My health has suffered immensely ever since.

The other event was a competition during a New Year’s Eve lock-in at the church. My friend Markos and I had to chug (slang for “quickly drink”) a 2-liter bottle of unlabeled soda together. We met the challenge head-on, and began drinking immediately. After about 20% of the bottle was gone, we finally tasted it. When you’re in the zone, flavor takes a back seat. However, I never forgave the youth pastor for choosing peach-flavored soda.

I’ll say this, though: we won. Also, I didn’t barf. I probably should have. To this day, I can’t eat peaches without nausea, because they are just too damned sweet. Soda, on the other hand, is just sweet enough.

In lieu of vacations, my parents would take us to my grandparents’ house in a tiny town near St. Louis. (My dad once said, “I loved going to Disney World as a kid, but it’s really not the same as an adult.” At the time, I was 19.)

We did get to enjoy doing “several” things in Elsberry. I got to swim in 3 different pools (only one was above ground), play Nintendo (and I do mean the Nintendo Entertainment System), watch TV (before Grandpa woke up), and play 2 games after dinner (yes, the same two). I always took a lot of books. Elsberry is also where I bought most of my Beanie Babies, but I’ve written about that before.

After my grandma was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, she lost a lot of mobility. She had to stop being constantly active and needed help getting around, which meant she couldn’t tend to her visitors. None of this stopped her from trying, however, and we were forbidden from getting up early because she would try to get up and help anyway. It didn’t always go well when she tried, but I’ve written about that before. My parents slept in until 8 or so, and I was forbidden from going downstairs until 7:30.

Like most 10-year-olds, I usually woke up around 6 in the morning. I had to get in my TV watching before grandpa got up and checked his stocks. (The stock market, that is. There were very few cattle allowed within city limits.) At my bedside, I had a vintage alarm clock with an actual radium dial. At least, the dark moles on my neck assume it was radium. The hour hand (that’s the smaller one) was about half an inch long, which meant it was roughly 3 feet from the numbers on the outside. My estimation skills were somewhat off at that age, so when I looked at the tiny hand and large numbers, I read 7:30. I went downstairs immediately, let out the dog, and fed her. Then I looked at the microwave. It had a digital clock, like the rest of civilization, and it read 6:30.

At this point, I was in trouble. My grandmother was asleep in a room about 20 feet away, and boy and dog were loose. The only option I could see was lying down on the ground and petting the dog so she wouldn’t move. I implemented the plan immediately, and the dog and I got bored quite quickly. Neither one of us could go back to sleep at this point, having just gotten up, and I was too worried to move. I’m not sure if I was more worried about waking Grandma or upsetting my parents, but they both seemed like bad ideas. After a long hour of waiting, I got up “officially” and started watching TV. The dog probably went back to sleep.

Grandmothers do a lot for their grandkids, but we make sacrifices, too. Once in a while.

Losing with Dignity

I have mentioned a few times in recent history that I am excited about an online competition to interview Mark Z. Danielewski, the author of my favorite book, House of Leaves. I have been cautiously optimistic about winning, for various reasons that I convinced myself make sense. I believed that there would be relatively few entries, even fewer of which would stand a significant chance. I believed that I might have produced a sufficiently eloquent contest entry, and that I stood a good chance against most competitors, provided that the judges were not looking for professional interviewing experience.

If you truly believe in something, you are called an adherent, or perhaps a sucker, I forget which. Either way, I have been reminded of the one truism of my life: hope is bullshit. I have a lot of uncharacteristic hope right now, about many things, but knowing that all of my hope is bullshit helps me sleep at night.

The secret that depressed people hide so well is that they are extremely hopeful. It might be more accurate to say that they WERE extremely hopeful. Naturally, The Dark Knight Rises put it best: “… there can be no true despair without hope.” Why is that? It’s because you get used to despair. If depression were just despair, it would become routine, and you would adapt. The occasional injection of real hope is what makes it unbearable.

In the interest of fairness, I will point out that hope makes beautiful promises. On the other hand, hope never accomplishes anything by itself, and it is certainly never held accountable for its false promises. For depressed people, hope is a new medication, a new job, a new friend, a new girlfriend, a new apartment, a new city, a new hobby, a new day.

As for my life, I have shifted to yet another hope. I got a new program for writing in screenplay format, in the interest of approaching my ideas from a new angle. The screenplay format is fairly simple. It makes dialogue a lot easier and lets you paint visuals without lingering too much on every little detail. Because I am still mostly interested in animation, I know a lot of the work is done by the artists, who have real control over how things look. I’d like to have the chance to work with artists to create a better visual representation of my writing.

So I’m writing spec scripts for a cartoon series scheduled to start airing next year. I have ideas that I like and I intend to make at least a few good scripts. Once I finish those, I have to figure out what to do with them and try to make progress in a vicious industry in which thousands of writers fail. Here’s hoping.

Anyway, I didn’t win the competition. Somebody named Trevor will be interviewing Mark Z. Danielewski tomorrow morning. I may decide to watch, but I have no doubt that it will be a terrible interview. I could have done much better. I’m already sure of it.

Deficit Reduction

There’s something wrong with my brain … again. I’m starting to suspect that none of my neurotransmitters are doing what they are supposed to. This time, it’s a little more subtle. When you try to poison yourself, people always assume you have depression. When you steal tiny objects, the call you a kleptomaniac. When you vigorously rub up against people, you get arrested for frotteurism. But when you just float around like a turd in the ether, it could be something even worse. No, I don’t have a brain cloud. I have attention deficit disorder.

ADD is one of those diagnoses that annoys just about everyone. It’s overdiagnosed and oversimplified, which means it’s discredited. In kids, ADD is bad parenting, too much sugar, and a lack of direction. In teens, ADD is rebelliousness, too much caffeine, and a lack of direction. In adults, ADD is irresponsibility, too much alcohol, and a lack of direction. All it takes to fix ADD is a good spanking and plenty of criticism.

If you ever read a list of ADD symptoms, you’ll find that a lot of them apply to almost everyone. Who can say that they are always organized, pay attention to absolutely everything, and never get impatient? Lots of people lose things. Everyone fidgets in boring situations. Daydreaming is perfectly normal.

Like lots of other people, I think most of those statements make sense. I had the common misconception that ADD occurs in hyperactive boys who are have no interest in learning and lack discipline. It’s an easy stereotype, because those are often the times when ADD is diagnosed, right? Actually, even though ADD is often diagnosed in hyperactive kids (usually boys), it is just as common in kids who are not hyperactive, and most sufferers are fairly intelligent. And yes, it occurs in adults, too.

ADD is actually called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, predominantly inattentive. There is also ADHD, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, and ADHD combined. Historically, the disorder was known as hyperactivity (of course), and minimal brain dysfunction (seriously). Now, I never would have thought I suffered from any of those, but I’ve started to believe otherwise.

It’s hard to think of myself as having ADD for a few reasons. First of all, I never struggled in school. By that, I mean I never struggled with my studies. I was able to pass most classes without too much trouble, especially math classes. I never acted out, although I was known for not showing my work in math (it was always obvious). Second, I never had trouble reading. I spent a large portion of my childhood reading books. Many people with ADD can’t focus on one thing for that amount of time, although there are exceptions. Finally, I have a bunch of other mental issues. Attention deficit disorder is yet another log on the burning pile in my brain, which so far includes social anxiety and bipolar depression. I also have a facial tic.

Earlier this year, a friend mentioned that I might suffer from ADD. I thought briefly about it, but decided not to look into it, because I was so busy. I thought that my problems with focus and completing things were just part of that. Once I reached the end of the summer, I was no longer teaching or traveling to weddings, and I had the same problems. When I ran out of practical things to blame, I looked back into ADD. I bought a book (“Driven to Distraction”), I went over the list of symptoms with my therapist, and I came to the conclusion that this was worth looking into.

In retrospect, I can see several signs that I have ADD. I always enjoyed puzzles, but I also had to be doing something else at the same time. I would watch movies while playing computer or video games. In class, I would do puzzles or read, although I would take notes occasionally. I often said that doing puzzles in class helped me pay attention, despite the fact that it would seem to do the opposite. I have learned a lot about coping, but that can only take me so far.

After discussing the matter with my psychiatrist, I began taking Ritalin. I hoped that medication would improve my ability to focus when I study or write, among other things. Because I am already on 3 psychiatric medications, I had to start at a low dose and see how things went before making any increases. I started at 5mg daily, which is the lowest dose, and moved up to 5mg twice a day, which is still a fairly low dose. In addition to prescribing the medication, my psychiatrist instructed me to get my blood pressure checked every week.

I have been on Ritalin for about 5 weeks. I haven’t noticed much of a change, although I suppose there might be a little improvement. Anyway, I have gotten my blood pressure checked regularly. This week, there was a marked increase, from 122/82 to 138/84. I’m seeing my psychiatrist tomorrow to discuss whether or not I will continue the Ritalin at an increased dose, but I doubt that I will. I will probably have to start a new medication at a very low dose. Although it feels weird to be tired of symptoms I hadn’t exactly identified two months ago, I’m eager to see some improvement.

Fortunately, my ADD diagnosis has done one thing for me: it has given me hope. Funnily enough, the thing I want to pursue most right now is creativity, by working with writing and eventually, visual media (I hope). Unlike depression, medication for ADD is more effective and usually works much more quickly. Even if I have to start a new medication from square effin’ one, I will still be able to monitor my ability to focus, and things could improve in no time. I’ll report back on my progress … unless I get distracted.

My Trillion-Dollar Idea

I have spent some time lately thinking about the world of comic books, and it has stuck me with a nagging thought: the real world is kind of boring. Now, I know that there are many fascinating things in this world, but none of them has that comic-book level awesomeness.

So I thought a bit more about comics. Most of them are about superheroes, because that’s how the medium got started. The superhero genre began with both Marvel and DC, and it has changed throughout the years. Both companies have taken different approaches to the same core ideas, and those ideas have continued to be successful. Each company has inspired a billion-dollar movie, specifically The Dark Knight and The Avengers. People like superheroes, but I just don’t understand why.

Don’t get me wrong, I think She-Hulk is hot just like everyone else. I’m just trying to figure out why she and the rest of her ilk are so damned popular. It’s a weird idea, really. If a person really had exceptional superpowered abilities, why would she use it to fight crime in a big city? Why would that eventually cause world-ending cataclysmic events every other year? No one knows.

There are a few constants, though. The superhero is always, on some level, a normal person. The superpowers almost always come from a random event or an hereditary source (or both). No one really works to become a superhero, it always just happens. Spiderman was bit, Batman was traumatized, Hulk was irradiated, and Superman was launched across the cosmos.

Because they are allegedly normal people, superheroes also have normal people problems. Many are angsty and brooding, most have innumerable romantic entanglements, and some are downright stupid. And why not? All characters have to have some kind of distinct characteristics, no matter how trivial.

So superheroes abound. There are hundreds of them, all with varying degrees of success. There are some serious problems with the comic book industry, though and several have to do with the shallowness of the superhero premise. First of all, comic books have to sell. Since you can’t tell a whole story in one (36-page) issue, the story stretches out between issues. Writers and artists come and go, and with them the story changes radically. If a story, writer, or artist doesn’t work out, he (or she, but usually he) is replaced. They have to sell the next issue, after all. But how does the story stay interesting? There are plenty of options, including long story arcs, crossovers, the end of the world, another end of the world, and sometimes an artsy one-shot story.

Besides all the story issues, another big problem is the decay of the monthly comic structure. Each issue will usually cost about 4 dollars, unless you subscribe. Of course, all of us have countless magazine subscriptions, right? Well, maybe not countless. Okay, maybe not any. Even if they were released on the internet, comic book issues would be a flop. No matter how fantastic the writing and art, both of which can actually be quite good, it’s too expensive.

Last, there are the fans. Comic book fans are some of the worst people in the world. I don’t mean people who read comics (I do that, and I’m terrific), but true comic book FANS. They are despicable people who are never satisfied. Here’s something you will never hear a comic book fan say: “Wow, the new <character, idea, story, writer, artist, series, company, etc> is really neat. I am impressed by the change and am sure things will continue to improve.” No. Comic book fans are never satisfied. They are always convinced that things are getting worse. Here is the timeline of comic books: the Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, and the Modern Age. See a pattern.

They do have a point, though. (Hypocrisy, anyone?) Modern comic books are not very good (on average), but the decline is mostly due to the age of the concepts. Superheroes are old, the ideas are old, monthly comics are old, and comic book fans are old. Modern comics tend to rely way too much on continuity with past issues, self reference, and escalation. Here’s a fun challenge: pick up an issue of a modern comic book (if you can find one) and see if you can figure out what the hell is going on. Here’s a bigger challenge: see if you give a shit.

You may have gathered that I am unhappy with the state of the comic book industry. I don’t read them and I tend to avoid the movies, although there are exceptions. So why am I so upset? I’m upset because the comic book industry draws an incredible amount of writing and artistic talent and wastes them. You will almost never be disappointed by the artistic quality of a modern comic book, unless you’re one of those people I mentioned. Comic books are truly a visual medium, and with a better tier of writing, some new ideas, and a modern distribution mechanism, it would be an incredible industry.

Comic books are all about potential. If you sit and read a really good graphic novel, like Watchmen, or a great series, like Sandman, you will see that potential. Contrast it with most of what you see and you probably will be very disappointed. You can see the same thing in the motion picture industry. The Dark Knight is one of the best movies in recent years, and it is based on a 70-year-old character, but try sitting through Green Lantern or Spiderman 3 and you’ll see how comic book concepts can go wrong.

The potential is there, and if I’m being honest, it actually does come out from time to time. I haven’t mentioned the manga industry, which is huge, and the independent/artistic side, which is also quite good.

It all comes down to disappointment. My cynicism about comic books extends to the real world, which also disappoints me in many ways. I was stuck with this question: Why isn’t She-Hulk real? It’s an important question despite the fact that she wouldn’t go out with me if she did exist. If I followed the wisdom of Dr. Seuss’s “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?”, I would not complain about my lot in this life, where there are no superpowers or green women. Given that excellent advice, I think I will have to be satisfied with the human ability to imagine those fantastic worlds.

At that point, the idea hit me. I will take my life and make it fantastic … as a comic book. Before you mention Harvey Pekar or any of the thousands of autobiographical webcomics out there, let me explain further. I want to take my dumb boring life as the inspiration for a fictional story, and make it not dumb and not boring. The idea is perfect. Many of the things that we encounter in the real world actually are amazing, but just don’t LOOK like it. Technology in real life is amazing, but it is fairly ordinary when compared with comic book technology.

I want to show how amazing the real world is by making it truly visual. The central concept in my story is working through my own depression. I want to take what is a fairly common story and make it extraordinary. Something like 10% of the US population deals with depression (or similar illnesses) every year. Those people all have families and friends, and I’m told that depression takes a toll on those folks as well. (Heh.) I want people to see that it is anything but ordinary. I want to demonstrate what it does by visualizing it. One of the biggest complaints of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals is that there are so few diagnostic tools for depression. There are no satisfactory biological tests, so diagnosis relies on the patient realizing the problem and describing it effectively. In other words, depression is nearly impossible to see. That’s why I want to show it.

It still has a hint of the superpower concept because the main character is chosen at random to have this shitty illness, but in most other ways he will not be a superhero. I can also focus on writing a story that is internally complete without having to worry about continuing it indefinitely, and I can look at distributing it online, thus avoiding all the comic industry issues. (Heh).

Assuming you know me, you will also know that I am no artist. (Feel free to look at my Halloween costume photos, by the way). My next step is going to be writing up some of my ideas, and then I need to find an illustrator. I have no idea how to do that, so I want some advice. If I can work this out well enough in my head, I will be willing to pay (money!) in order to try to get a basic prospectus together. Again, I have no clue where to start, but I need to find someone who is willing to do the work and also work with me. I imagine there are places to do that on the internet.

Anyway, I wanted to write up my complaints and ideas, and that’s what this is. I think this could be a good concept, so I really want to make an effort.

What a Disappointing World

I see trees of brown, dead roses too,

I see them fade, thanks to me and you.

And I think to myself,

What a disappointing world.

I see skies of gray, and clouds of black,

The rain falls down; the lightning cracks.

And I think to myself,

What a disappointing world.

The colors of the pavement, so ugly on the ground,

are also in the hearts of the people all around.

I see them brush shoulders, saying “out of my way”

They’re really saying, “get the fuck out of my way.”

I hear little kids whine and I watch them eat

They’ll never study, but they know how to tweet.

And I think to myself

What a disappointing world.

Yes, I think to myself

What a disappointing world.

Ew.

Collection Confessions

I bought a Beanie Baby the other day. Really.

For those of you who are too young, Beanie Babies were a fad that emerged in the 1990s. Each Beanie Baby is designed to look like an real animal, but filled with polyethylene pellets. Most are extremely cutified versions of those animals, which include everything from hedgehogs to ladybugs. Several of the significant, “limited-edition” Beanie Babies are shaped to look like teddy bears.

I started buying Beanie Babies around 1997. You could only buy them at independent gift-type stores, and they cost like 8 bucks. When I was in my mom’s hometown, I could usually buy one, because there weren’t enough people around to buy the few Beanie Babies that arrived there. I probably own about 50 of them. Really. I think Mark has several too, but not as many as I do. I was more dedicated.

So, like most useless toys, my Beanie Babies sit in my room without moving. All 50 of them are hanging in a canvas Beanie Baby bag on the back of my bedroom door. Their lifeless eyes stare at me while I sleep.

On a delivery the other day, we were taking a recliner into someone’s family room, and I noticed a glass case of stale Beanie Babies. I had several of the same ones, but there was another one that caught my eye. It was a white bear with several large confetti-like blocks all over it. I was intrigued and decided that I was not yet done wasting money on Beanie Babies.

I went online and looked up the Beanie Baby. After a bit of searching, I found the bear, which is called “Ty2K.” It came out in 1999, and I was able to buy it on amazon.com for only $4.97, with free shipping. I guess that’s a bargain when you’re buying Beanie Babies. Soon it will lurk in my room with the other inert bears full of beans. Well, pellets.

I started thinking about the philosophy of collecting. Of course, the main thing I collect is dust (BA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA). I used to collect Beanie Babies, but really I just keep them now because I can’t admit I wasted that much money on useless stuffed animals. But that’s what collecting is, the accrual of useless stuff. Once you use something, it no longer counts as “collected.” You can read comics or collect them. You can mail stamps or collect them. You can play with action figures or collect them. And so on.

Don’t get me wrong, I own plenty of useless stuff. I can’t say I’m better than a guy who owns thousands of stamps, or PEZ dispensers, or Pokemon cards, or used panties. Those people just have one category of things they love, but there doesn’t seem to be any reasoning behind it. I think collection is a primal process that human beings have reinterpreted. In other words, there is some kind of innate need fulfilled by ownership. How else can you explain it?

I’m trying to imagine having a shed full of 5000 Cabbage Patch Kids or a climate-controlled basement stocked with hermetically sealed GI Joes. Do the owners just wander through every week and fondle them one by one? Probably not, because those fingerprints impart the damaging natural oils found in human skin. Better to just look around and feel safe and secure, surrounded by those blank, soulless toys.

I think that hoarding (er, collecting) is more than a simple hobby. It is an unbelievable attachment to things. Where does it come from? I don’t know.

Of course, hoarding runs in my family. Everyone on my father’s side has that powerful attachment. My dad owns 35 coats. He has 14 camping chairs and 7 tents, although he only camps about 5 times per year. He hates throwing things out, so our entire house is full of items that are not exactly useless, but are definitely never used. There are many things I have tried to throw out or donate that have mysteriously reappeared. In order to properly throw away something he might want to keep, I have been forced to throw it away somewhere else, because he goes through every trash bag that even tries to leave our house. My parents also collect Christmas ornaments. Sigh.

Our home is a museum of things that are never used, yet it is impossible to do anything about it. My father is attached to those things. I wish I could break down that attachment and just fucking destroy it. But I want to bring this back to me. I am not exempt from my family’s congenital materialism. In fact, I am actually worse than my father in some ways. I am … a kleptomaniac. Now, before you start calling me a shoplifter, let me explain myself.

Kleptomania is mostly an obsession with items of “trivial” value. In some cases, kleptomaniacs will steal those things, but they are usually small and useless. Sound familiar? For me, it rarely takes the form of shoplifting, but is more of a random attachment to those things. I feel like I have to own them, although I can suppress it. In other words, I’m not going to rob your house. Really.

For some reason, I randomly develop an attachment to small items made of glass, metal, or stone. I have a couple dozen little things like tiny metal puzzles, marbles, metal hearts, a couple of crosses and rosaries, a napkin ring, a brass piece from a desk, and a tuning fork. I don’t know why, but I do like to have them. I often play around with them, because I like the way they look and feel, etc. I sometimes buy these things when I come across them, but I always have enough conscious control to not steal them. Almost always.

One thing that intrigues me is that although I started out materialistic (I blame Dad), I do think it has gotten a bit worse in the past few years. I was reading Wikipedia, and it cited an article which said that kleptomania can be caused or exacerbated by carbon monoxide poisoning and cyanide poisoning. Now I have an excuse! The Wikipedia article linked to a paper which basically says that carbon monoxide and cyanide seem to do damage to the part of your brain that makes you not a kleptomaniac.

Anyway, I decided to clean my room today. It was looking kind of gross, mostly due to dust and general disorganization. I want to take a stand, so I’m trying to throw out several crappy things I don’t need (or want). I also piled up a bunch of shirts I want to give away, because I don’t need them and they don’t even fit my fat ass anymore.

So beside the possessions normal people hang onto, like diplomas and lava lamps, I kept my trinkets. I now have a shelf covered with glass and metal junk, with the occasional rock to mix things up. I also have a shelf of sentimental stuff that I should hang onto, just in case my ancestral spirits check up on their mortal possessions from time to time.

The line between collecting, hoarding, and kleptomania is pretty thin, but I try to be careful. Of course, the rest of the shelves in my room are covered with books, but I read those. Really.