An Unusual Closet

I don’t mention it very often, but I am asexual and aromantic. The main reason it doesn’t come up in conversation is that I don’t think about it very much. Just like the other things I don’t do (hockey, quilting, billiards, bra shopping, squash, meditation, etc.), I rarely talk about sex or romance. When people ask me about asexuality, I explain what it means and answer a few questions. People are usually somewhat interested for a while, then we all talk about something else.

However, I haven’t been completely upfront about it. I’ve always told my family that I’m not going to get married and have kids, but I think they just assumed it was a phase. Instead of discussing it at length, I’ve mostly shrugged and moved on. Now that the phase has entered its 25th year, I’ve decided to provide some more details.

I recently answered some questions about my orientation for a freelance reporter, who incorporated three different perspectives (including mine) into one article (on Vice) to provide a general overview of aromanticism. Of course, my personal experience doesn’t perfectly match up with anyone else’s, so I decided to post my complete answers to the original interview questions in order to provide a better explanation.

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(Personal Background)
I never dated anyone when I was a teenager, but I always just assumed I didn’t pursue romantic relationships because I never really “clicked” with anyone. After a while, I decided that I wasn’t missing out on anything by staying single, and I was probably about 21 when I finally acknowledged that I had no interest in romance at all.

(Definition)
Aromanticism is the absence of romantic attraction to other people. As an aromantic person, I’m not interested in romantic relationships because I don’t derive any pleasure from intimacy. I understand why other people are romantically attracted to one another and I can appreciate what makes people attractive, but don’t experience that attraction myself. If you think of romance as a personal interest like golfing or bondage, you’ll understand that some people just aren’t interested.

(Societal Pressure)
I think there is a tremendous amount of pressure for people to get married, particularly women. The expectation that women should avoid becoming “old maids” has definitely lessened, but there’s still a vague implication that women who don’t get married have failed somehow. I think the best way to change those expectations is being more realistic about marriage and parenting. It’s important to remember that spouses and parents aren’t always happy, and not all single people want to marry and have kids. I don’t think anyone should feel bad about being single.

(Past Relationships)
I’ve never been in a romantic relationship, but I’ve gone on a couple of casual first dates with women. Nothing ever went beyond dinner and a movie, and I didn’t experience any romantic feelings. I can’t speak for the women, though. Maybe I’ve broken some hearts.

(Asexuality)
I’m asexual, which means I have no desire to have sex. I know there are people who are aromantic and have sex drives, but I’m not sure how they live. I imagine some maintain long-term relationships and some just have casual sex once in a while. I mostly just stay in my apartment and read.

(Other People’s Reactions)
No one has ever had a very strong reaction when I’ve told them, but there are a few customary responses. Disbelief is the most common reaction. Because people often don’t believe that someone could be aromantic, they assume there is something wrong with me, like I’ve been hurt or I’m afraid to pursue a relationship. Occasionally, people feel sorry for me. Romance is a wonderful part of their lives and they think my life would be better if I were like them. Very rarely, people are jealous. I guess they feel like romance is holding them back from doing something else they want to do. I think the best reaction is when people try and understand aromanticism from my point of view. There’s really no reason to be jealous or sympathetic.

(“Friendship Monogamy”)
I like having a circle of close friends for social interaction and support, but I don’t want an extremely close relationship with one person. Lots of asexuals and aromantics have relationships, though. One major concern with close relationships is reciprocity. Whenever just one partner is asexual or aromantic, there is going to be some conflict about sex and intimacy. One partner might just want a platonic relationship, or maybe they just want to have sex with no strings attached. There are conflicts in any relationship, but I think they can be more acute in those situations. Of course, I’m not speaking from personal experience.

(Nature vs. Nurture)
I think aromanticism is innate, but individuals choose whether or not they pursue intimate relationships. There are people who are aromantic and still get married, just like there are romantic people who never wind up in a relationship. I suspect everyone knows someone single who wants to get married and a married person who desperately wants to be single.

(Other Thoughts)
From the outside looking in, I’ve found that the positive aspects of romantic relationships are usually overhyped and the negative aspects are usually overlooked. Although there are plenty of drawbacks to being single, there are a lot of benefits, too. I think it’s much better to be single than to be in a relationship with the wrong person. Somewhat paradoxically, I’ve noticed that the people who are most comfortable being single tend to attract the most romantic interest, especially from other confident, attractive people.

I also don’t think people should define themselves as half of something. Aspire to be more than just a romantic partner, and have your own interests even if your partner doesn’t share them. You should be your own person, because you will always have yourself, no matter what. It can even be comfortable to be alone.

Relationships seem like they will last forever, but many of them don’t. Even if you’re lucky enough to find a partner for life, one of you will outlive the other, which means half of all married people will be single again someday. It might be bleak, but it’s true. It’s important for people not to be afraid of being single, as long as they have friends and family to rely on.

Sisyphus and Tantalus

(I wrote these short stories as an assignment for a Classical Mythology course. We were supposed to write our own versions of two Greek myths.)

Sisyphus

I know. You want to ask the obvious question. “Why does that huge rock have to be at the top of the hill?” I understand it. It’s a significant question. I’m a bit tired of thinking about it. It doesn’t really matter. I want it up there. I don’t think about whys and wherefores.

It starts in my gut. Almost like a hook, pulling me forward. I have a primal desire to push it. I want the rock at the top of the hill more than anything else. You could offer me anything and I’d turn it down so I could push the rock. As a matter of experiment, I did try once to fight that urge. It goes from the stomach to the heart and the head. It even becomes sexual in a way. All of my being wants to work, to push the rock. There is nothing else in all of existence. I don’t look around anyway. Just at the rock. And the god damned hill.

So I start pushing. It should feel good, fulfilling that desire. The primal need to push. I always think it might just feel good. Just a bit. It never does. It starts to hurt almost immediately. Right in the gut, just like that urge. Strain. Stress. Difficulty. Push, push, push. It does start moving up the hill. Breaking the inertia is the most important step. Of course, it doesn’t get any easier, just more kinetic.

Once I’m on a roll, I can really get started. I can satisfy my fundamental need to work hard. I have to take pride in something, after all. I sweat the whole time, dripping. All over my arms, torso, legs, the ground. Everywhere. Push, push, push. I think the hill is set up just to keep me from gaining any momentum. I get it going, but I can never let up. If I do, it might end up at the bottom of the hill. Far from where I want it to be. I need it at the top.

It goes and goes, up the hill. I work and work, up the hill. I don’t really know how far it is. It takes a while, though. A long time. I keep pushing.

I do get close to the top. I mean, I work at it. I take it seriously. It gets close. Really close. I don’t know why it can’t go any farther. I mean, there’s some reason, I’m sure. Just like me being here. There’s a reason. I don’t really think about it, though.

I was a king once. I still have a crown. On my head, I mean. I had everything. Wealth, a beautiful wife, banquets, children. Occasionally I had famous, wealthy, powerful guests. I killed them. It was never out in the open. I made it look like an accident. I was very clever. The cleverest. Now I don’t think much. Just in bursts. It’s a push. Just like everything. Like the rock. The rock. The rock.

I’m getting close now. Pushing. It’s so close I can smell it. Imagine. A rock on top of a great hill. A pillar of strength. A testament to hard work. A rock. On a hill. It’s so close.

I remember killing my father. It was just a push, really. Off of a tall tower. Mine. I had many high places in my palace. This was the highest. He was very old. Useless, really. I talked him in to going up there. It was supposed to be a serious talk. A heart-to-heart. I didn’t say much before I killed him. I sat him down. Said whatever he needed to hear. Got close. Pushed. He went right over.

The rock starts to slip. My strength is failing. It always does at this point. Right at the top, I mean. Close. Not close enough. I fall over. Collapse on the hill, panting and gasping for air. The rock starts to roll. I know better than to try and stop it. It moves too fast. I can see it rolling. I’m crushed. My goal, gone. My satisfaction, gone. I never get it there. I want to so badly.

It hurts just like the first time. I see it rolling, rolling. I don’t get any rest, though. I try to relax, but I have to watch. I can’t look away. As soon as it gets to the bottom, it stops. On a dime. I look for just a second. Then I’m there. With the rock. I try to take a deep breath, if I can. I usually can’t. Then I feel something in my gut. And I look at the rock. And I start pushing.

Tantalus

I never really liked root beer. Now I think about it all the time. The glass mug in front of me is a perfect example of the root beer ideal. It has never stopped bubbling in all the years I have seen it. It has a perfect head of foam and looks perfectly chilled. The glass has white frost all over it.

Like I said, I really don’t care for root beer that much. I mean, I drank it from time to time, but I never made a big deal out of it. I don’t know who chose root beer for me. It sits on a table at eye level. I really don’t look at the table very often, though.

I’m tied up, of course. Chains. They’re pretty strong, but I don’t notice them most of the time. A small blessing. It’s just to keep me from moving. I gave up on that a long time ago, anyway. See, if the chains don’t loosen and the chair doesn’t even scrape along the ground, why should I even try except for my own amusement?

Root beer, mug, table, chains, a chair, and me. Everything else is just white. I mean, there’s nothing to look at. My head is pointed right at the mug and there’s really no moving it. Closing my eyes does nothing; I still see exactly the same thing. Just root beer. Still bubbling.

If anyone ever tells you there’s a limit to how thirsty you can get, he’s lying. I thought for years that I would plateau, that my need for some kind of food or drink would just taper off. How long can you go without, anyway?

My throat just gets worse and worse. I cough up blood every now and then, but it doesn’t really affect me much after I get it out. Between pain, thirst, hunger, and no sleep, I can see why they call this torment.

Of course, the best food I ever ate was from the king’s banquet. I only dined there a few times, but it was wonderful. I think. I really can’t remember anymore. I wanted to take something for my daughter. I knew she never got to eat anything special. I know it was a chocolate treat of some kind…I can’t remember what it looked like. I really can’t remember any of it.

But I wasn’t supposed to do that. The king was very upset with me. He knew exactly what to do, I suppose. He’s done a lot of things like this before. A lot. I can’t even remember if Sasha got the treat I stole for her. I really hope so. Otherwise, why am I here? Why did it matter so much? Who cares so much about food and drink? I don’t care at all about them anymore.

But I would love to drink some root beer.

The Button

Today marks the 5-year anniversary of my most serious suicide attempt. On February 1, 2009, I poisoned myself with hydrogen cyanide gas. I don’t have much to say about it that I haven’t already said, but I will mention a few things to commemorate the occasion.

First of all, I’m not depressed anymore. Many of the persistent problems I thought would never end have finally ended.

One benefit of not being depressed is my ability to handle day-to-day problems without getting overwhelmed.For me, it takes time to process anything emotional. It’s sort of like bailing water out of a canoe. After a certain amount of time, you can get it all out. If there’s a little water, it won’t take long. If there’s a lot of water, it can take a while.

Depression is like having a hole in the canoe. Until you fix the hole, bailing out water will never stop you from sinking, no matter how much time you spend on it. In other words, in the absence of depression, my emotional problems are surmountable.

Second, I no longer want to die. Oddly enough, this is distinct from depression. There are depressed people who want to live, and there are non-depressed people who want to die. One of the many things I said when I was first committed to a mental institution was this: “Not having a reason to die isn’t the same as having a reason to live.”

It’s hard to explain suicide to people who aren’t suicidal, but I usually start by describing “the button.” The button is instant, painless death. Furthermore, it guarantees that all the people who rely on you will be okay. When you push the button, all of your problems immediately die with you.

Some people would push the button no matter what. I was one of them. Some people would push the button on bad days and leave it alone on good days. Most people only have a few overwhelming moments when they might push the button. Some people would never push the button.

The hardest part of my recovery was getting past the point where I was just “okay” to a point where I wouldn’t push the button. I was rarely “suicidal enough” to develop and execute a true plan, but between ages 11 and 23, I would have pushed the button. I just didn’t have a reason to live.

Finally, I learned from the experience. When I was depressed, I thought improvement meant that I had to become a different person. Once I was no longer depressed, I realized that improvement meant becoming the person I had started out as. I wasn’t starting on a new road, but the same one I had been on before depression forced me to detour.

Having said that, a detour that lasted half my life (so far) definitely had an effect. I’m not afraid of death anymore. I’m more cynical than I used to be. I’m more aware of my bipolar disorder and attention deficit disorder. I learned the art of getting by and the true meaning of the word “subsist.” I lost a lot of memories from 2009 and 2010. Are those all negative things? Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. Depression is a part of my life I can never forget. I have to use it.

February 1, 2009 was Super Bowl Sunday. When I was at the hospital, everyone asked if there was a reason I chose that day. I told them it was a coincidence. It happened to be the weekend after I had gotten all my supplies together, but there was one other thing. Super Bowl Sunday is a meaningless, obligation-free holiday. There is no pressure to get organized or take things seriously. You just try to have fun.

Most of the people I knew didn’t have any fun that day. Now that five years have passed, I hope it will be better for everyone. There’s no need to worry about me.

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.

Something Intelligent from 2006

This is my essay submission for Scholar’s Recognition Day. The topic is “contemplate a point in your life when you experienced or expect to experience complete fulfillment and describe that point.”

The phrase “complete fulfillment” strikes me as a contradiction in terms. I think that, as humans, we should continually reach farther and try harder for goals in the near and distant future. There is no point at which any person can honestly say that he has no problems or that he has reached the pinnacle of success. Life simply does not provide such opportunities.

There should be no limit to what someone can learn or accomplish. Whenever humans have reached goals in the past, they served only as stepping stones to something greater. Just as mankind does not cease to learn as much as possible, I try to learn all that I can in as many fields as possible. My main interests are mathematics and computers, but I learn things from social science to fine arts to cooking. I think that a broad range of abilities will help more often in life than an extremely specialized one.

However, there is no shame in a sense of satisfaction about short term goals. An occasional sigh of relief or pat on the back is often important in continuing good work. In spite of this, though, no one should stop learning because he has achieved a goal. The next step should be a more difficult goal, beyond his grasp, and then he can work to exceed his limitations. As one of my teachers said, “if you’re getting straight A’s, you’re in the wrong classes.” I think this philosophy applies in many aspects of life. If I’m not challenged in a class, I am less likely to achieve any sense of satisfaction in completing it. If I were in a more difficult class, I would work to get the best grade I could, which might be an A. However, the difficult A would be more important to me than one received in a simpler class, because I will have gained more from the experience. Then, after a sigh of relief, it would be time to move on to another, more difficult goal.

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.

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.

Lofty Ideas Destined to Fail

As a young man, I must necessarily make the many follies of youth. I have only so much time to make those mistakes before I’m old enough to know better. Furthermore, I have to share my talents with the world before I realize I don’t have any. So, what are those talents and how can I use them to make mistakes?

I have spent a lot of time thinking about the things I’m good at, and eating tops the list. I can eat more food more quickly than just about anyone I know. There are two ways I could use that skill: eating competitively or becoming the fattest man in the world. On the one hand, I don’t like hot dogs that much and the Japanese have cornered the market anyway. I might be able to set records for speed eating or consuming something I do enjoy, like raw cookie dough or salami sandwiches. On the other hand, I can’t afford to become the fattest man in the world, despite being perfectly capable. Logistically, I suppose my reach exceeds my grasp.

When I was 8, I started learning to play the piano. I have essentially been playing for 15 years. In that time, I think I have learned about 9 songs. Despite my ability to read music, I don’t have a thorough grasp of musical theory and I am at a loss when it comes to understanding or composing melodies. Many pianists play by ear; I play by eye. I have discovered a lot of what one can discover by constant playing, but none of the abilities to show off or be creative. I fear I will never be the next Liberace.

So what about mathematics? When I first went to the University of Nebraska, I intended to eventually complete a PhD in math. I wanted to do research and teach or something. Once I had a bit of experience with both, the reality sunk in: it’s not my thing. I don’t have a passion for math in the same way that most math professors do. I can do a lot of work in math and computer science, but if I don’t have the passion, I definitely won’t be able to finish a doctorate.

In summary, those things are all side projects. I’ve spent a lot of time on them but I can’t say with certainty that my future lies with any of them. I’ll continue doing all of those things, eating, piano, math, etc, but I don’t know where it will go. Hopefully a place where I’m able to keep going

But the thing I really want to do, barring ability and opportunity, is writing. I love writing, but I hate that I want to be a writer. I hate it because it’s common and stereotypical. Wanting to be a writer has nothing to do with talent, understanding the writing process, or even being able to communicate ideas. I think it’s an ego trip for people who have a little bit of knowledge and want to exploit it, for whatever reasons they might have.

I’ve written a few things. You’re reading one right now. I liked writing them and I liked reading them, but unfortunately I’m a little bit biased. I have to think about 2 things: why I want to write and how to do it. Ultimately, I write things that I want people to read. If people read my dumb blog posts or whatever, I’m a happy guy. I like to know that I can do something that other people appreciate and say things that make them feel or think. I want to get something out of my head and into theirs. No, not like spit. Gross.

My real problem with depression is that I never have the energy or concentration to do any of the above. I wish I could sit and write and get all of these things out of my head, or eat enough to get really fat. I have these dreams. I want to write a stupid cartoon series. Maybe I could be the next Liberace. I just have to have to get started.