On Why so Many of ‘Us’ Suffer

Recently, a friend posted ‘Why do so many of ‘US’ suffer?’ Which was a question I found interesting and personally relevant, so I ended up writing a 4000 word response which I broke into several comments; both in terms of ‘US’ in the smallest and grandest sense I could manage. And now I’ve collected it all as a note.

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night.” From Howl by Allen Ginsberg

I think about this quote sometimes, think about how it was true -for Ginsberg- then, and how it certainly feels true now.

I know a great many people I love who suffer, terribly. The causes and particular species of suffering are legion: anxiety, depression, loneliness, and all manner of ill of mind, body, and spirit. The fact that these people are so often brilliant, loving, kind, hard working, beautiful, and -depending on how you calculate such things- some of the most materially wealthy, successful, and powerful homo sapiens who have ever lived would be consistently shocking if it didn’t appear with such regularity.

We suffer for reasons that are (at least) as Continue reading

My Birthday & Other Updates

Happy Birthday to me! Today, I’m 34 years old. This last year has seen me experience some of my highest highs, incredible adventure, and unfortunate suffering due almost entirely due to my anxieties. But I’ve learned a lot, grown tremendously, and I’m looking for the coming year to be my best one yet.

Still working on it, like I’ve been working on it and will be working on it for the conceivable future. Hired the incredible Neal Powell as my project manager (of DMNastics, Whelmed, and much more besides) to help me herd cats and get this thing done. I’ll be releasing supplements (bi)monthly until the project is complete, and you can now pre-order via Backerkit. I’ll also be appearing on a podcast interview about the project which should be released soon. More updates as they come.

Inspired by the 200 Word RPG challenge, I created & released a (micro)RPG called ‘There is Only IKEA: Forever & Eternal’ about becoming lost in an infinite IKEA. It’s available as a name your own price title (even free) and you can learn more and check a preview here.

I released a first look at my horror story Salt Lick as an exclusive Patron only update. If you’d like to check it out (along with all the other Patreon exclusives) you’re welcome to support my creative life by becoming a patron.

San Diego Comic-Con

 
Thursday Night’s Outfit

I had a great time at San Diego Comic Con this last month, and am submitting my professional credentials (which if approved) means I’ll be going for years to come. That said, I’m realizing more and more that my favorite moments don’t involve the convention proper: they’re getting drinks with friends at the hotel bar, wandering around in costume (my Pac-Man suit is always a big hit), and generally taking part in the expansive carnival atmosphere rather than trying to optimize my schedule with booths to see and panels to attend. Moving forward, I think I’ll work the convention more, spend more time outside it, and just generally avoid the convention proper.

And that’s pretty much it for now. I’m moving away from social media, and moving back towards blogging/longer posts. Expect to see more here beyond a quarterly update.

On the Stories I Tell Myself

Note: If Google Docs is to be believed I Initially Wrote this post in March 2016. I posted it to facebook but it somehow never got posted here. In light of my *last* post, I thought I should post it, again; for the first time. Because it it newly true.

I’ve been thinking recently about the stories I tell myself about the world and my friends and also, most importantly, the stories I tell myself about myself. I’m constantly weaving these narratives. “Well, this happened so he must think I’m incompetent,” or “That didn’t work hence trying this was a terrible idea.” I don’t think it’s possible (ultimately) to wholly avoid telling myself stories; and even if it were possible I’m not sure if it would be *useful.*

As a human being, I connect dots\points of data in order to make predictions & inform my behavior. One of the great problems with this incredible ability however is that every story is ‘sticky;’ they can so readily encourage me to overlook or misinterpret experience that doesn’t fit the narrative. It is of the highest importance to really evaluate the stories I tell myself; to avoid, replace, or otherwise transform the stories which don’t serve me. And I have a choice in all this: for instance, when facing failure or setback I get to choose to see it as indicative of a fundamental flaw in myself or I can choose to see it as part of the price I pay to learn & grow. Either ‘could’ be true (although I suspect the the latter is *more* true, most of the time); so it comes down to which story gets me closer to the life I want. Continue reading

On Quietly Losing My Mind

For a few months now, I’ve been quietly losing my mind.

In talking about what has happened, I think the easiest personal reaction for this is for me to collapse into apologies about it all because I *shouldn’t* be having these problems, I *should* have know, done better (or at least, that’s what that crappy internal voice claims… but then again he’s an asshole). I recently had a dream where a gifted impressionist was going to do his ‘John’ impersonation, which amounted to laying down on the floor and repeating ‘I’m sorry’ for some minutes. Dream me found this hilarious, while waking me winces at the recognition.

By objective measures, I’ve been doing ok… or even Continue reading

Gatekeepers

I recently ran across the fascinating ‘Gatekeeping’ subreddit https://www.reddit.com/r/gatekeeping/ . Gatekeepers are individuals (in this case, ones usually creating image macros or commenting on the internet) who are wedded to the notion that -if you fail to meet such and such criteria- you can not claim an identity, a problem, hardship, or so on. Even if you’re not familiar with the term, you’re familiar with the trope. Here’s some telling examples:

Real men can change their own car tires.

If you were actually a Prince fan, you could name songs beyond Purple Rain.

Real americans oppose Obamacare.

You don’t know what tired truly is until you have children.

Some choice words that typify this behavior is ‘real’ ‘actual’ ‘can’t claim’ or ‘don’t know.’

Once pointed out, I can only assume that this is an incredibly basic human behavior (at least in our culture but it feels more universal than that) because now I’ve started seeing it everywhere. I relate this phenomenon back to some of my thoughts about ‘identity maintenance’ – at best, it seems like a lot of this is based on people wanting to ensure the parts of their identity ‘mean’ something and will be recognized (and possibly rewarded) as having worth derived from a price paid or other special qualities. At worst, this sort of behavior is yet another way humans are cruel to one another; a way we resist recognizing someone else’s humanity.

The first problem is in setting standards is that for most things there is a complicated, contradictory tangle of ‘standards’ for any aspect of our identity that will -inevitably- change drastically over time (both in a personal and social level). But there are other issues.

People in closed groups are welcome to establish terms that denote something with specific standards attached. For instance, if a martial arts school wants to set a standard that ‘to be a black belt means you can break a brick with a punch’ then they are welcome to set that standard and enforce it (ie, it would be a lie to claim to be black belt in that school if you hadn’t reached that benchmark). Likewise, if your church conceives of marriage as a ceremonial rite between a man and a woman, you’re welcome to claim that the marriages of those outside your congregation aren’t recognized by your church. But most of us do not spend much time in closed groups like these; we’re mostly part of big, fluid, evolving groups (many of which we never opted into but were lumped into as an accident of the particularities of our birth). These groups (our city, our state, our country, our families, all the designations we’re given, etc.) can and should work to make themselves more inclusive and accommodating. The hassle comes in where closed groups don’t realize that they are idiosyncratic, when they try to claim semantic privileges that are bigger than them; like a group of weight lifters deciding what it means to be a ‘real man’ based on how much you bench or a small group of video game players deciding what being a ‘true gamer’ or a clade of geeks setting a standard of what being a ‘true fan’ means and so on. This is both due to the fact that people confuse their ingroup with society as well as the fact that they often don’t see the outgroup as truly ‘real’… not truly people.

If we start a club we get to set standards for what club membership means and craft endless subdivisions of identity therefrom with all manner of ranks, titles, and forfeits. For issues like our gender, our government, our society writ large; for these terms and claims multiple individuals and groups can and do claim; none of us wholly ‘own’ the concepts and identities herein and the instinct to lay claim to such terms – to play ‘gatekeeper’ always leads to ill ends. Definitions of words matter, but definitions always stretch, always change, and -ultimately- I think so much posturing, so much frustration and argument comes from people not understanding a definition or concept nearly as much as they think they do and papering over this gulf of understanding with bluster.

On a personal level, I think I deal with issues of gatekeeping most strenuously around the concept of manhood. I so despise the concept of ‘real man.’ It’s hard; sometimes people I care about try to compliment me on my strength, or my facial hair, or my fathering by talking about how I’m a real man and I need to do a better job refuting that. On a societal level, the best working definition I have, is to be a man simply means that you see yourself as a man. On a personal level, I have a set of standards, expectations, and responsibilities I set for myself related to considering myself a man; though this is a personal definition which I don’t expect or even want others to abide by… hell, I’m not even sure I could or would want to communicate these, as most of the personal conceits I have around manhood were inherited notions fraught with problematic threads that I’m working to disentangle so I can keep what’s worthy and discard everything that doesn’t serve me.

To understand that identity is not this pristine, platonic form descending down from on high but rather something that you can, that you must co-create (or suffer from someone using the framing of identity to serve their ends rather than yours) is disorienting, difficult, but oh so worth pursuing.

For myself, when I feel that gatekeeper instinct rising in my gut I try to temper it with the knowledge that for most things, I’m not the arbiter, I’m not the decider. If people claim to feel something, I believe them. When people claim an identity, I accept that. And -when in doubt or all things being equal- I’ll try to work a little harder to enlarge my groups, invite more people to participate/play inside my walled garden rather than use my faculty with language to express why they don’t, can’t possibly belong.