The Conclusion of a Habit

20170816_150524November was an exceedingly busy month for me. I had finished a very taxing Chemistry class and had moved right along to a double-feature of English and Biology for the next term of my lessons. English wasn’t going to be terribly difficult for me, but I was anticipating it to be very heavy on homework and assignments (of which it ended up being), which Biology would be a class I could do rather well at, but it also turned out to be very much saturated with assignments and homework (most predominantly of that is memorizing terms and orders of operations).

On its own, these two things should have been more than enough to keep my brain fully occupied; coupled with pressure to get a paying part-time job since my writing habits earn me no income (perhaps one day that’ll change), as well as the desire to not live my life in a basement at a computer screen typing away for the remainder of the autumn season. And, to top it all off, my Minecraft cycle kicked in again, forcing me to reboot my village and begin the project once again from the ground up. And that goes without mentioning that I had every desire to get back into my weekly blogging and vlogging pastimes.

Understandably, some of these things don’t much seem like reasonable distractions, but fight me: I am very proud of how my new village is coming along. Now if only I could turn up some diamonds…

All in all, very busy month ahead of me. Then a friend of mine, my literary rival (though she frequently assures me that it’s a one-sided contest) informed me of a little ditty called NaNoWriMo. Some might have no idea what that is; while some, like myself, had only a vauge inkling as to what it was. I had heard it being mentioned once or twice in a Vlogbrothers video, but that was some years ago and I had fully forgotten about it. For those not in the know, a brief summary:

Shield-Nano-Side-Blue-Brown-RGB-HiResNaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month in full, is a month where authors and writers world-wide are challenged to concoct, write and complete a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. This pans out to an ambitious almost seventeen-hundred words per day of writing. This is a very ambitious undertaking for pretty much anyone I know, but when you’ve been saddled with an academic workload like I had been, the smart thing to do it not take on such a maddening extra task.

I’ve never been accused of being smart, though; you can probably assume what I did.

Now, the real humour comes from my starting time for this. Instead of starting on November first, like a sane person might, I came into the game late on November 4. So instead of having to write seventeen hundred words like everyone else per-day, I instead got to look forward to two-thousand words per day. This would be very easily achievable, were it not for the aforementioned mountain of homework I had before me.

When it came down to choose what to write about, I had initially intended to work on my current novel in progress to actual get some make some head-way on that. However, I was jokingly teased that a good writer would start something new and do that instead: I caved and pulled a pet-project idea out of the back of my mind to work on.

Years and years ago, I had concocted a small novel-worth of plot for my Dungeons and Dragons character, but I wasn’t sure if it would be a worthwhile story to put into formal print. Besides, I was just finishing writing what would become my first published novel, and I felt guilty about working on something else while that one was what I was most passionate about. In the end, I put the idea aside as a fun project I might work on when I finished with my current writing series.

Figuring this would be a good time to just have fun with writing, something that I had been struggling with since the publication of my first book and the crippling anxiety and stress of writing a better sequel (a whole blog topic all of its own), I decided that I was going to bring this pet project to light and just prod my way through it. It had no great ambitions, it had no great morals, or anything to that extent.

At first.

The introduction very nearly wrote itself, I found; moreover, the story had taken on this riveting and exciting life of its own. The focus changed from the very basic roots of what the foundationary material had been into something that I was earnestly excited to work on. I genuinely looked forward to when classes would finish so I could keep working on it; and in a way, it almost became a little obsession of mine.

As with any obsession, however, it started to become all consuming. Initially, I wrote off working on any blog or vlog material until the end of the month; people had been willing to wait this long (or had just moved on, either or), so it wouldn’t be too much of an issue if they waited a month longer. Then came my decrease in seeing friends as often as I should. I needed time to write, after all; I was plenty behind as things were. Then came the crowning achievement: writing my project during class while trying to multi-task learning the material.

Academics: begin your frustrated temple-rubbing.

In the end, though: I do not regret this decision. In fact, this amusing little pet-project had awakened a genuine pride in writing that I had long since lost. Excitement to see where a story took me and to what fantastical adventures lay in the next, blank page (digital page, though). By the end of the month, I had achieved the 50,000 word destination. But now I was met with a new problem.

shrunken-manuscript-1024x574At final count, my story was 50,026 words long, the last hundred or so words being hastily slammed together to meet the deadline more than much else. However, the story wasn’t finished. Like with most of my plans: my ambition outweighed the practicality of the situation. I had started working on what could only be called an epic, and I was very nearly at the half-way point with it.

“Screw it,” I thought to myself, “I’m just going to keep going on this.” But first, I had to finish the term of classes I was in. My marks had dipped a bit in Biology, English was a non-issue though. I determined to resume working on it after the term had ended, and aim to finish the story.

About a week ago, though: I caved and spent an hour clacking away at my keyboard to keep going on the tale. Should have been working on homework, but this was still forefront on my mind. Just needed to hammer off another page or two…

In the end, I finally acknowledge something my literary rival had mentioned in a blog that she wrote about NaNoWriMo. Roughly quoted: “It’s not about writing something good so much as it’s about writing something. Anything. Building that habit to write, even when you don’t feel like it.”

I had built that habit, and something else. I had built my next project; this silly little pet-project has grown into something I am both unreasonably excited for, and very proud of. With every intention of publication of this, I will continue writing this silly little novel that had taken me by surprise.

There’s a few morals to this tale, as it goes. Many different conclusions that can be drawn, and I’ll not beat your brow with how important these morals might be. Though they are very important to me and helped me reconcile something that had been an issue for a long time, these might be of little to no consequence to you, reader-type person.

But if nothing else, I wish to iterate this one point: I now consider myself a writer. For months, I had been writing, but never considered it to be a key aspect of my life. Now, however, I do declare myself a writer.

4051009161_8f543d2d90My pen is mighty indeed; though I’d still default to a sword if my life depended on it…

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But Did it Make a Difference?

20170808_201604By now, everyone and their dog is aware of the particular little catchphrase that gets slapped across the title of a video or within the first sentence or two of an article. We call it out to each other during conversations and, lest we not forget that some online forums even have programs in place to protect their reader’s eyes from the unholy machinations of the careless or compassionless. It’s become iconic of our culture and, frankly, an odd component of our modern world.

By now, you’ve probably been able to put two and two together and arrive at a shortlist of such possible phrases. To my mind, based on my own descriptor above, I can think of only two examples: Trigger Warnings, and Spoiler Alerts. And while both relatively recent additions to our modern colloquialisms are the subject of some contentions, I’m choosing to focus my attention to the latter one.

Spoiler Alerts: we read about them in titles, they precede virtually every discussion on any work of fiction and, in ironic cases, any work of non-fiction. They’re found in professional reviews, editorial articles, and quite often even on our own tongues as we discuss things with our friends. In fact, the term gets so thrown around that is rivals even the number of times one Canadian might ask “Hey, how’s it going?” to a complete stranger (as a personal aside, I probably ask that question somewhere around a dozen times per day to people I have never talked to before or since).

headerThis of course raises the question of why? Why do we feel that such a disclaimer before we discuss any piece of fiction, new or otherwise, and feel terrible backlash or verbal abuse should we, writer speaker or otherwise, fail to mention it?

Understanding, of course, that the phrase “Spoiler Alert” to as early as 1982: it’s been circulating around internet-based vocabulary for over thirty years now. As a disclaimer: that’s older than I am. I am being outdone by a concept (yes, I may, perhaps, be a little salty). When a concept has been ingrained into a populace for any prolonged matter of time, it will invariably be an unshakable truth in how we view things and the world around us. For example: the idea that an average work-week is Monday to Friday, eight to five is a dated concept going back over centuries now. And I’d be willing to hazard that most people interviewed would explain that as typical business hours.

This is part of a larger issue at play, but not the focus of today’s dissection. Yes: I wrote dissection there. And then a second time; repetition is key, I’m lead to believe.

I’d read a few articles and listened to a few opinions over different channels over this whole Spoiler Alert issue; and generally I find there are two primary ideas behind the feeling in favour towards it:

  1. That is primes someone’s awareness towards avoiding reading/watching/hearing something if they wish to maintain a degree of ignorance on a topic
  2. That the spoiling of particular plot points or “big reveals” in many fiction pieces can eliminate the enjoyment of a particular story

It’s a little harder to argue against the first mentioned idea since it’s very subjectively minded and, frankly, pretty logical. After all, who am I to determine that someone would or would not enjoy something more if they didn’t know a key story detail? It is, however, closely tied in to the second point, which many might actually include as part of the first point and, by extension, omit all together.

The second point is where I start asking questions. What is the purpose of enjoying a story (regardless of media)? Is a story defined by its plot twists or surprise developments? Does the knowing of a surprise detail automatically reduce or eliminate the impact of a tale’s completion?

Things get muddled in that second idea, I find. Since so much of this seems tied to opinion and to the first idea, it is also very subjective. But I’d like to challenge a few of those points, see if I can’t bring some different light to your way of thinking about it.

For starters, we need to address why, specifically, we read/watch/listen to any sort of fiction. Depending on which particular school of philosophy you subscribe to will drastically change your views on things. The main reasons that I am aware of, however, are distraction, escapism, comprehension and/or enlightenment.

Listed in no particular order; probably should have prefaced with that…

However, these tend to be the primary reasons people partake in fiction in any of its form. Notably, half of those are for purposes of entertainment or stress reduction, the others might be to broaden your mind in either spiritual or mental endeavors. Maybe even physical if you consider it an eyeball workout.

Seeing as my primary experience is as a writer of fiction, it will skew my views on the matter slightly. After all, one thing I always strive towards is that impossible idea of creating the perfect story for people to read. And in doing so, I’ve read many different views and lessons on how to compose a story. What I’ve noticed, however, is that there seems to be a bit of a divide in mentality there.

You’re perhaps of the mind that there is no such thing as a new story and that everything has already been written; sometimes with different skins and to different degrees of quality, but otherwise it has already been done. Of that mindset, would that not negate the need to warn people of spoilers? If everything is already written, then the consumer would, either on a conscious or sub-conscious level, already know of the major plot developments as well as have a good comprehension of what the likely twists and turns will be.

Or, if not for that reason, perhaps then it’s for the simple enjoyment of the story as it’s written. For the pure satisfaction of the prose, of the dialogue or of the descriptions of peoples, places and things. In that regard, there is little to no reason for spoiler warnings considering that the only thing to be ruined for someone to discover is a particularly well-composed sentence (we’ve all read sentences that just hit that sweet spot in us when we read it), and even then the only thing to be ruined is that self-gratifying sense of discovery.

There is, of course, mention of the third component to this and that it is possible to write something in such a way that it truly shocks and surprises your audience with the big reveal or the sudden plot twist. This seems to, in actuality, the common belief of most consumers of fiction; and it’s not a viewpoint I particularly subscribe to. For myself, it has more to do with that previously mentioned point.

The specifics of the “what happens” is significantly less important to me than the way it happens. The inflection in the words of the actor, the particulars of the dialogue or descriptions within the text or even in still images. The enjoyment for me isn’t in the big surprise, so much as it is in the reveal of the surprise. Very seldom am I able to not predict what’s going to happen next, and because of that logic, I should have stopped enjoying fiction quite some time ago.

when-you-see-a-car-with-a-big-spoiler-snape-kills-dumbledoreAnd yet, I can still harken back to when Half-Blood Prince was published and the stories floating around that the “Dumbledore had been killed by Snape” spoiler had been belted out to crowds of people buying the book. There was genuine outrage from patrons. I had heard this story when I was only one chapter into the book, and yet, it did not kill for me the joy of reading the story. When the big scene came along, it was fairly apparent that the death of Dumbledore was eminent, regardless of spoilers.

Though I’m still not entirely convinced that Dumbledore is actually dead in that series; just comatose. But that’s a different article for a different day.

In essence, I can’t help but ask to what purpose do we, as people, need shielding from plot twists and sudden developments. In our exceedingly interconnected digital world, it’s become more and more difficult to “protect” ourselves from being exposed to story-ruining elements. Personally, I feel no inclination towards the inclusion of spoiler warnings and alerts in my works, but I also acknowledge that it is a personal decision that is, by no means, reflective of the mentality of the public on a whole. At the very least, I hope this has given you some different ways to look at the topic at hand.

Writing convention now dictates I should shoe-horn in some cheeky “spoiler warning” joke; but I’m better than that. Instead, I’ll just end it with an unexpected

In my World Without Heroes

20170913_110023_HDRIn simplest terms, Shonen style anime and I do not get along; but I’ve recently made an exception in the form of Boku no Hero Academia, one hell of a good ride that plays with the tropes and ideas of contemporary superhero genres and tropes. And while I have a couple of ideas for topics that have resulted from my watching this series, today I want to discuss something that was rather integral for the first couple of episodes: the concept of what it meant to be someone’s hero.

Now, I mean this in the less than spectacular sense. Not what it means to be a hero in tights and a cape, or a super high-tech battle suit or whatever the hell is going on with He-man. Rather, what it means to be someone’s role model. The person they look up to and someone who inspires you to do your best in every capacity you push yourself towards.

Young_Izuku's_faceIn the first couple of episodes, it is made abundantly clear that young Izuku “Deku” Midoriya’s hero is All Might: the physical embodiment of all that it means to be just, courageous and all around swell. This idolization is what pushes Midoriya to work his hardest to become a superhero himself and, regardless of how daunting or impossible the odds, to try his darndest!

Now, for someone like myself, I have a hard time understanding, or rather sympathize with the character. When I was growing up, I never really had anyone I considered to be my hero, my role model. This probably strikes you as a little odd; after all, in western culture, it’s pretty normal for young boys to idolize their fathers or even their father-like figures. As the years go on, it becomes normal to find role models in celebrities, teachers or elder peers in clubs or school.

This was, obviously, not the case for myself.

Instead, I viewed it very differently from even as young an age as I can recall (and I can recall some rather vivid memories from as far back as kindergarten, perhaps even earlier). I was very steadfast in my belief that I didn’t want a role-model, or someone I looked up to. After all, to do so was to deny the unique nature of who you were, instead to just aspire to be a copy of someone else.

In essence: yes, I was a hipster long before I even had any semblance of an idea of what societal norms were.

Now, while I’m not going to pretend that my philosophies were anything remotely close to well founded, I do still adhere to a semblance of this ideology to this day. Of course, it’s not to say that I think that having a role-model inherently makes you out to be their clone in the making. On the contrary, as I grew older, I began to understand the fundamentals behind role-models in ways that encourage positive growth in a developing mind.

Going back to young Midoriya momentarily to paint a clearer picture: he used the ideologies of what All Might represented to the world on a symbolic level as a measure of what he should strive to be like in his own personal life. Even when All Might himself confessed to having lost many of those ideologies in the bustle of celebrity life, Midoriya stayed true to those initial ideas; pushing those around him to greater heights as a result. Okay, maybe not everyone, but close enough…331ff58b020f6f01ac119a0d8ea71cc2

In many regards, this is a healthy idolization. To embrace the ideas of what a person represents or teaches to improve not only ourselves, but those around us and at large. A lesson that I feel I might have missed in my developmental years that will undoubtedly stunt my character to some extent or another. Though, this might also be a blessing in and of itself, as the opposite extreme can be exceedingly dangerous as well.

And this is where I introduce you to the unintended brilliance of my earlier philosophy: not striving to be a clone of someone else. Instead of idolization, worship or obsession of a person. To erase aspects of yourself in favour of being just like this character you hold in high regard. And in some cases that I am familiar with, it can often be just that: characters. Personalities as represented in film, imagination or literature. A character as represented in our real world as well: the facade of who a person is in the presence of the public.

Mask

We all adopt a mask… though maybe not this one…

Let’s look at that in a little greater depth, shall we? Indeed, there are many people out there who don a particular persona when they are in the presence of others. It should come as no surprise that many celebrities are nothing like who they portray on the stage or before the camera; or if they are, are at least notably different than who they initially appear. But it’s not just celebrities who do this, but us as well.

When we go out into public, we all adopt some form of a personality to present to the world we meet. To the degree of this facade will depend on where we are, or our own personal limitations. Speaking from experience, I can say with confidence that who I appear to people as when I’m at conventions doing vlogging work (a great example of this is in this video) is greatly different than who I am around my closest circle of friends, which is again quite different from who I truly identify myself as in real life.

This is a part deliberate, part sub-conscious decision that people make on a large scale basis. If you really want to see a significant difference: talk to anyone working in the service industry. I would gamble not insignificant money on the fact that, with very rare exception, every one of them adopts a sort of “alternative identity” in their line of work.

Note: talk to them when they’re not at work. Obviously, they will deny it on the clock, as doing so will likely result in greater difficulty for themselves at work. Further discussion on the constraints on the individual in the face of the “professional” world is a very complicated and long topic that I shall not dive into here. Because this is a blog. Not a thesis.

Returning to the point prior: the degree of idolization and obsession that can stem from it. While I certainly lack any sort of empirical data to back this up, I have a hypothesis that the generations of my own and the one following it are most prone to having large issues with identity and sense of self. From what little observation I’ve made, these generations are the ones more prone to an unhealthy degree of idolization of particular personas, even more so in those who are socially ostracized.  I tend to see this mostly in environments where the “nerdy” tend to thrive; the more fringe members of that circle tend to not only hold particular fictitious characters in high esteem, rather they go so far as to emulate or mimic their actions and mannerisms in their entirety.

Disclaimer: I don’t pretend that this is an issue that is limited to nerd culture, rather it’s the circle I’m most exposed to and most inclined to see these trends. I am quite confident that someone who buys every poster and jersey of a particular sports figure could potentially take such a fascination too far, though I’ve personally yet to see it. Again, not for lack of there being people, so much as for my lack of exposure.

This does raise the question, however, as to what is a healthy degree of idolization? At what point does it stop being a positive influence and become a corrupting source? I can’t say for certain. I imagine there are social psychologists who have worked, or are working, on exploring this particular topic, but I’ve yet to see a study that I can accept as a good model.

In the meantime, I will leave this topic off with a couple of final thoughts on this. To what extent is having heroes and role-models beneficial? Greatly! Can the idolization be taken too far and into the realm of obsession? Absolutely! Is it good to not have role-models? Well, it’s not bad, I suppose.

And, at the end of the day: is All Might a good hero?screen-shot-2016-05-08-at-7-18-01-am

Yeah, he’s pretty okay.

Once More, with Feeling

20170910_210451As the saying goes, “some things never change”. It’s an adage that I’m familiar with, being something of a history jockey and currently trapped in a never ending cycle in Darkest Dungeon (it’s the second least possessed achievement in the game that I seek; which means my sanity is about as ragged as my heroes), but the idea that there are simply some things in life that, no matter how you approach them, the method, or mayhaps even the result, will remain the same. In many regards, this can be a good thing. In others, a practice in tedium.

For myself, however, it actually bears more of a resemblance to the latter. Wednesday last week marked the beginning of my school year, in an exercise that I hope does not prove to be fruitless. I have significant doubts it will, though, as this first term will already be testing my mental mettle in a “winner takes all” sort of struggle.

To really understand this, you need to drift with me way back in my personal annals of history to the tailing ends of my primary school education. Back at the turn of the millennia, mental health awareness was starting to become more prevalent in societal understanding and common school faculty education. I know this less from fact and more from practical experience: quite recently diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, most of my teachers will ill equipped with the tools necessary to assist someone of my peculiar quirks and essentially non-existent focus. As such, my report card scores were, to put it frankly, not great.

This isn’t to say my teachers had it out for me, on the contrary: many helped in what capacity they could to spur (or, in some cases: drag) me through to my graduation from elementary to secondary schooling. I was able to drudge up the marks I needed to get into the Academic line of courses, and amongst my peers, the only real consideration for getting anything resembling a real chance for the future.

3450910519_0739fe4c95_bIn essence: if you were in the academic stream, you were smart. If you were in applied, you were dumb. In essential, you were basically a useless lump of flesh that wouldn’t amount to much in your future. This isn’t to say I agree with these prejudices, rather this was the common perception of the course options for those sagely early-teen minds. Sufficed to say, I didn’t want to be dumb, so I pushed my way into the academic courses.

Fast forward a few years to the end of high school. My marks were abysmal, classmates were making everything look sincerely easy and I was frustrated with being trapped in an environment that was practically written to work against what few talents I possessed. I’m not going to pretend I was “so smart the work was too easy so I got bored and didn’t try” line, because that is a blatant lie. Fact of the matter is that my mind is less than conventional, so typical methods of teaching and memory retention don’t jive well with me.

As such, I had basically given up on anything resembling an education and was determined to prove a point that, with a little hard work and determination, I could get to great places in my life.

Idealistic, if not horribly inaccurate.

Half a century ago this was the case; but in the society I was finding myself in, not having a $150,000 piece of fancy paper was proving to be a significant stoppage in getting anywhere in life outside of menial labour or factory work. As such, I bounced from dead-end to dead-end, still trying to scratch out a means to make a living for myself.

There are other factors involved in the reasons this didn’t work, but those aren’t my focus today, so let’s move along.

  1. I’m working a night shift stocking shelves at a grocery store. It’s winter, I haven’t seen the sun in a week and a half and had no social life. I was in a hell of a depressive slump and there was no real way out of it. I was stocking cans of pasta sauce to a shelf, listening to the cranky wining of a middle aged lifer behind me when it struck me: if I don’t do something now, this will be the rest of my life.

getty_rf_photo_of_merry_go_round_spinning_rapidlyScrews to that.

If the only way to make it anywhere in life was to get a fancy big-boy education, then so I shall. But first, I had a horrifying high school transcript to make up for. I enrolled into a certified adult learning centre and, after having research university options and discussing with a guidance councillor, I was decked out with a (while not impossible) workload and began my academic blitz.

I had a whole school year to make up for in four and a half months. The first term went well, the second: rather disastrous.

In all my years of education, math was never a strong suit. On the contrary, math had been the scourge of my existence, and physics (which is a great deal of maths) was not much better. Well, one of the courses I needed for the university programs I planned on taking was Chemistry. What I hadn’t known was how much physics are in chemistry. Or maybe there aren’t, I don’t really know for reasons that should become abundant rather shortly.

Last year, 2016, I was completely devastated when all my hard efforts and attempts at understanding chemistry was, basically, for nothing. The demoralization came not from the material itself, rather the frequent surprises that was “oh shit; I thought I knew this material, but now I see I have the brain of a spoon”. One of the things that had caused me the most anxiety and distress in high school had come back full tilt: I was completely confident I knew the material, but my test scores were averaging out to 35%.

Out of 100%.

And a lower score is not the goal here.

183393613001202

Artwork by Ahmed Ali

All my courses unravelled very quickly after that term and my plans for an education pretty much dissipated from there. I buried myself in work in an effort to try to find something I could take pride in.

 

Again, time skip to a couple months ago. My interest in just working basic, dead-end jobs had completely waned again. It was time to re-approach university. I still very much wanted to pursue my interests in psychology and similar, but I wasn’t going to be able to working in the service industry. I reapplied for course upgrading, which leads me to today.

In a cruel twist of fate, I find myself back in the exact same classroom I took chemistry in, with the same teacher, and the same course breakdown that had so stupendously defeated me the year past.

This is it. Do or die. I largely consider this course to be the one that destroyed me last year, and so I will return and conquer this now. This is less a test of my mind, so much a test of my willpower. My brain is not well tuned to the abstract numerology and scientific notations that I’ll be taught. Not to mention that my memory retention is awful, and all my marks will be reflected upon that one trait.

If I want to pursue a career in conquering depression world-wide, I need to conquer grade 12 university-level chemistry.

4395513-0198806481-stoic

Rock-bashing makes for great leadership, I am to understand.

Granted, should I fail this course again, I can re-take it. But that’s kind of the point here: how many times can one person bash their head against a task in the hopes of surpassing it? Much like Stoic the Vast told his son Hiccup, he bashed his head against a rock until it broke. Much like Michael Palin told Terry Jones in The Holy Grail, he kept building Swamp Castle until it stopped sinking (and once, burning) and remained upright.

Divines above and below I will get this right eventually. And this will be the year for certain. I understand that this will not be the greatest test of my abilities I face in my future, but it will mark a milestone in my journey that I can look back upon in times of hardship and say “I beat stoichiometry, I can beat this”.

As Chumbawumba said, “I get knocked down, but I get up again; you’re never gonna keep me down!”

I’m Not the Captain of my own Ship

20170826_211100We’re rapidly coasting up on the two week mark since my last blog (or anything, for that matter) post, and for anyone whose followed my spotty career on YouTube will know, these sudden and unannounced absences from these writing and filming obligations is far from uncommon. The reasons for these abrupt disappearances can be simply summarized as “lol depression”, but this fails to capture the full impact of what’s going on in that dusty brain of mine. And, contrary to every good sense I posses, I plan to capture a summary of what’s been going on in my own head for the past month and some that has lead to this point.

And I wish to point out that the relaying of these feelings and ideas are by no means new nor brave in any regard; I’m quite certain that there are writers, poets, vloggers, cartoonists or what have you who can better and more succinctly capture the true essence of what a chronic sense of lack of self worth and inability to be motivated can lead to a complete and encapsulating sense of apathy.

And I’d also like to apologize in advance: it is not my intent to incite a pity-fest with my woes. Nor do I anticipate that posting this particular thesis of sorts will alleviate my depressive moods to any degree. Monday is tomorrow (as time of writing this article), I needed a topic, and this is a topic that has been floating around in the old grey matter for quite some time now.

So, to begin with, we need to establish a few things about the natures of my depression and how it manifests. While science has yet to find any sort of reliable method to perfectly diagnose/identify depression-based issues, my doctor’s best guess is that my case is caused by a chemical imbalance in my brain. Something somewhere is not doing what it’s supposed to be doing and, as a result, there’s a component missing in the “typical” patterns that a brain is to exhibit (which in and of itself makes a fascinating, if slightly philosophic debate, on the topic of what is a normal brain pattern), and as a result, I am more prone to these sudden low moods and persuasions.

18342011_1529088040444169_6636624381584876906_nNow, if it were that simple, depression would be largely a result of biology and be much easier to treat. However, the brain is something that, much like putty, is shaped and moulded by interactions and events. It’s all very complicated and I don’t pretend to fully understand it myself, but due to the nature of how neurons reacts and communicate with other functions within the brain, the very nature of how information is processed will drastically change the inner workings of the brain and how it develops.

In essence, life happenings and events change how the brain reacts to things and reinforces those behaviours and such. How we perceive ourselves on a very basic and subconscious level can be largely influenced by our environments and interactions; incidentally saying any more than that will spark a series of ethical and social arguments of which are not the point of today’s topic. So let’s cap it there.

As I’m sure it’ll shock you to read, I’ve always been something of an eccentric personality. My mind has always processed information in highly irregular methods and my interests are, until the past couple of years, exceedingly unorthodox in communities and by no means “mainstream”. This lead to a certain degree of ostricization by my peers at school and in the few social activities I participated in; this lead to a delightful cycle of I was weird, so people didn’t want to interact with me, which reinforced my own peculiar interests, which weirded people out, and so on.

On the plus-side, these strange behavioural quirks and personality perks are starting to serve me well in my adult life, but it took a good long time for those rewards to manifest.

Now, any social psychologist or biologist can tell you that humans are, by their very basic nature, social creatures. With the exception of biological outliers, all humans crave interaction with like creatures who share in their interests and passions. Historically, this was in survival and procreation. In some regards, this hasn’t changed much; with the exception of social survival and… well… recreational procreation, I suppose?

But, my experiences had shaped a very real belief in my mind that, due to how weird I am perceived to be, my presence is largely not wanted by the populace and so I should just keep to myself. These ideas manifest in very different ways depending on circumstance, but in regards to my recent experiences, it manifest into a social withdrawal.

Depression stairsIn a move that largely defies logic, I stopped communicating with my friends but not being the first to reach out via online or text-based communication. This is nothing new, this sort of thing happens frequently whether due to fatigue from circumstance or just the need for some personal isolation. However, this time, it was to prove a point to myself (a point that I have needlessly proved and doesn’t do anything beneficial), and that point was that, were I to vanish from social circles, nobody would really notice. This is a common move for people suffering with depression or incredibly low self-esteems, and in some regards can be a good indicator that someone who has a history of suicide is re-contemplating taking their own life.

Side note: this is not the case for myself and is quite often not the case for others in my situation. Many introverts will vanish for days at a time to recharge from particularly taxing social events. Like I’ve said, if this was easy to understand and work with, it wouldn’t be as huge an issue.

In my case, it’s my inferiority complex at work: if I didn’t reach out to people, nobody would care about my absence. And so, I stopped texting or messaging people first. As I was not surprised to discover, my cell phone fell silent, aside from the occasional text from immediate family to coordinate household plans and to find out what my work schedule is.

It’s actually been going on 35 days now with my phone being in such a state, and my social media feeds are much the same. Now, this is not to say that these forms of communication truly satisfy the human desire for interpersonal contact (Vsauce made an excellent series of points on this), but it does do more than complete isolation does.

Of course, when you feel completely cut off from social circles, it can become much harder to find value in yourself as a person, or value in what you do. This latter point is what greatly affects my work on this blog and (as mentioned previously) other platforms: if no one wants to talk to me as a person, why would they waste time reading something I’ve written? Initially, this will manifest as a legitimate question that I seek to answer, and I’ll do research and reading to see what sort of things other people have written or produced to try and learn. But, in due time, this research will devolve into overly-critical self-evaluation, where I’ll begin to degrade the quality of my own ideas and concepts long before I have a chance to start working on them as a waste of time or too poorly constructed to matter.

In fact, this particular topic was the blog I was last planning on writing before I had spiralled down into a general state of apathy.

Once all these wheels start falling off, it can be very hard to put them back on. Fortunately for myself, this is a fairly cyclical series for me. I know that, if I ride it out long enough, I’ll eventually bounce out of it and back into productiveness and overall happiness. But it is still an overall issue that I must contend with and can be very detrimental to my ability to succeed in my life pursuits as well as get the most out of my limited time on this planet.

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Comics like this actually really irk me

Now, the logical thing to assume with this occurrence is to remind myself that these thoughts are (literally and metaphorically) just in my head. And I’ve seen no shortage of comics that try to lend credence to this idea by downplaying how intrusive and all-absorbing these thoughts of self-doubt and worthlessness can be. Actually, on that note, perhaps we need to re-evaluate that statement there.

It’s not a thought; not in the conventional sense at least. It’s more like a feeling, or a sensation. Something that you can feel in your gut that’s telling you that something is exceedingly wrong with what you’re doing. It’s not one exact idea rolling around so much as it is an unrelenting series or streams of concepts or scenarios that play out in your mind the entire time you work on something, or are at rest, or play or otherwise.

Almost like a background track from a video game or movie; you’re never truly aware of it most of the time until it either builds to a crescendo, or is completely absent. And that absence of that sensation can be all the more unnerving when you’ve lived with it the breadth of your life like I have. When it’s not present, you feel an overall unease and tenseness that something will undoubtedly go wrong soon, because an uncanny sensation like this is far from normal, right?

It’s a very abstract concept to try to rationalize into a broad enough series of statements or descriptions for people to try to understand, if at the very least because how personal it is and can be. And for people who aren’t afflicted with depression or chronic anxiety, it can be extremely difficult to understand how your brain can rebel against you to such a degree that it not only impacts, but dictates, every aspect of your life.

b50c143ea5fcc0508627a50866616590--fighting-depression-suicidalquotes-depression-sadI’m slowly dragging myself out of my slump and should be in good health for another month and a half before it begins again and I resume my downward spiral into apathy. Make no mistake, however: speaking for myself, I’ve taken steps to mitigate the damage to my life these depressions cause. It’s a point of fortune in my life I never underestimate, though significantly less-so for many people out there. Either their lifestyle does not permit these comparatively rapid changes to their mental state, or they consider themselves so far gone that they are beyond saving.

Again, exceptionally personal.

If nothing else, at least I can finally tally this specific topic off my to-do list. Ideally I should be hitting every deadline for the near future going forward, but my brain is a surprising creature and never leaves my sense of shock left wanting.

I mean, you should see half the dreams I have at night. It does me a bamboozle every time.

Project Red Band: the Proposal

20170816_150524I can’t speak for anyone else on this subject, but it seems to be very big news in North America at the very least. Over the previous weekend, National Socalists (as they preferred to be called) descended on Charlottesville to protest the removal of a Confederate statue in memorial to a person of significance or some such that I don’t really understand at present. And of course, as with all such things: bad went to worse.

Anti-White Supremacist Rally attendees were accosted by a member of the White Power organization via vehicular homicide, killing one and injuring very nearly twenty others (a slight inflation on my part, but it worked well for the sentence). Then, in the face of such events, the organization that is supposed to be a point of clarity for the people to turn to, or at the very least the symbol of unity and belief in the Less-than-United States performed a series of shocking political blunders that rivals anything B-rate Hollywood script writers could concoct.

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This is the statue “of  significance or some such” that I was mentioning.

Sufficed to say, the whole story is something of a catastrophic mess. Seriously; the world-ending events of World of Warcraft Cataclysm isn’t nearly as disastrous as what’s going on south of our Canuck borders. But while things seem to only be going from bad to worse, the reactions and opinions of everyone seems exceedingly divided.

 

In my own personal friend groups, I’ve seen opinions ranging from “this is a travesty” to “yeah, I don’t give a crap” to “we need to kill more people”. Declarations of “history repeating itself” have been thrown around online, and everyone who used to have faith in human capacity is finding that belief seriously tried or strained.

I, myself, find this whole series of events shocking and exceedingly stressful. It’s why there was no blog post on Monday, as a matter of fact: I had to retreat into my own head and rationalize what precisely was going on. It all seemed so surreal; it couldn’t actually be happening, could it? After all, US media has romanticized anti-Nazi sentiments to such a degree that I had assumed it was very nearly a trait born into all “pure-blooded Americans”, as the concept goes.

And no matter where I looked or what I listened to, the messages being spun around are either less-than-helpful or dubiously vague. There seems to be one hundred and one ideas on what to do about this, and one thousand and one excuses for what’s transpiring. It is, for a mere mortal like me, all too much to process.

This doesn’t mean I plan on burying my head in the sand and hoping it’ll all blow over, a strategy that was suggested to me by someone who cares about my mental health (my mental sanity is shaky at best, and at worst: basically the condition of the Titanic immediately after it hit the iceberg. On the surface it looks alright, but an hour later it’d fracture in twain). And it is true, part of what makes modern media so appealing is that no matter how un-bad something is, News outlets are pretty good at inflating the issues to sensationalize things to a greater profitable degree.

Fake NewsI realize that sounds like an accusation of “Fake News”, a term I generally lament using, but that’s a different issue for a different day.

Today, I want to focus on what some of the primary issues and questions that have been raised as a result of the Charlottesville riots. I’ll cover them in very broad points as follows:

  • If, historically speaking, US ideologies are greatly against the concept of Nazi-ism and centralized governmental control, why are we seeing a great insurgence of people who are declaring themselves as National Socialists
  • Is this a result of recent electoral and governmental flaws in the US Presidental system of national, or an inevitable result of a culture that defines itself by violent uprising
  • What are the environmental conditions that give way to a system of prejudice and hatred; is it limited to certain socio-economic classes, or is it less discriminating

And, most importantly:

  • What is the best way to manage these recent events in a way that ensures growth and security for peoples in general in a developed country with a great deal of ancestral or modernized pride

Charlottesville EmblemMuch like all issues I find myself in the middle of, there might initially appear to be simple solutions to these issues. But I do believe that if it were so simple we wouldn’t have the issues we have to this day. On the contrary: each of these points are incredibly complicated issues that affect every aspect of modern western culture on the whole, and the societies that stem from them.

I have every intention of trying to understand this issue in greater detail. I want to find a solution that’ll bring about a positive change to what is transpiring at present: one that does not defer to violence as a means to the end. Maybe it’s because, in the traditional sense of the word, I am a coward (I spent 8 years studying martial arts, and the one aspect of it I could never perform well because of personal beliefs was sparring), and by extension that I do not place much faith nor emphasis in using violence as a method to enforce will.

Of course, this will discredit me to many of my friends. As I’ve seen multiple times, I know no shortage of people who seem almost giddy to default to violence or murder to “quell” the hate-based groups that have given rise to these present and pressing issues. They endorse such ideologies which share, in their own perverse ways, similarities to the hateful methods of these self-titled National Socialists.

Violence is not the solution; not to me anyway. Being a student of history, I understand how violence will cause an initial disruption of organizations, but will just as efficiently and effectively give greater cause and fervor to those same groups. In fact, many of today’s most powerful organizations and religions were tampered and strengthened by acts of violence perpetrated against them by once-great forces.

To understand this will be our best weapon against these movements. I strongly believe this, and so, I will be endeavoring to understand all the smaller nuances and ideologies that are held by all the various organizations under the heading of National Socialist. This will mean I’ll be burying myself in research; online, literature and even personal. This last point will very likely earn me the ire of many people who I hold in high esteem, as I will, without doubt, be talking with these supremacists on an individual or group basis to understand what their motivations are.

And this terrifies me on many levels and causes me no shortage of stress. As I mentioned earlier, my mental health is not the greatest and will very likely never will be. But I have the tools and resources to try to make a difference in this, regardless of how small or insignificant it will end up being at the conclusion of it all. I’m doing this because, despite all the horrors of the past, distant and recent, I still have faith in the human race. Perhaps misplace, perhaps idealistic, but I don’t really care.

Image-7I know where I stand on these issues and I will try to find solutions using methods that I agree with. This is the concept behind what I am titling Project Red Band, an ongoing research and investigation task that was not given to me, but one I will take up all the same.

Results of my investigation will be posted here as I find and learn things, and the title will always include PRB: _ in the heading. If this research or my methods make you uncomfortable, I completely understand and will think no less of you for disregarding what I have to say. As I’ve said in many past topics: not every fight is for everyone. This also does not mean that Station 85 will be exclusively about Project Red Band; I will still post my other works as the schedule demands.

Thank you in advance for your patience with the patchy uploads on this site and for those who keep coming back. And good luck to all of us in these trying times. Seems there’s something of a shortage of it these days.

Imperfect Recollection: the Proof

20170802_013032I’m sure you’re familiar with that age old saying: “Some things you’ll never forget”. Truly, some occurrences and instances are so fantastical, extraordinary or downright moving that an exact series of frames, or even complete video footage, very well might have been imprinted into your brain. And these memories are exceedingly personal, each one forming a small component of who you are and identify as.

This past Saturday, I experienced something that I had assumed would be just that: an event that would be so vivid in my mind I’d be able to draw upon it without much effort. I was involved in a fairly intense car collision, which (as you can see from the attached photo) did very little to improve the condition of my truck. My blog post today isn’t so much about that occurrence, rather a series of observations I have made recently about my own cognisance and memory.

As I had said, I entirely suspected that I’d remember every detail leading up to as well as the crash itself. I even remember remarking to my dad shortly afterwards that the crash was useful to me: now I could write about the force of impact, the sounds, the smells and all other sensory stimulants in much greater detail. And it is true, even now, certain events I can easily call upon.

It hadn’t even been an hour, however, and the memories were beginning to muddle in my mind. For starters, I had it in my head that the other vehicle in the crash was white. Spoiler alert: not even close. This was surprising to me at the time, as the other vehicle was just around the corner from where I sat. Then came the realization that I was misremembering what my dad had said mere seconds before the crash.

For those curious: “Fuck, this is going to hurt.”

These inconsistencies were mounting rapidly as minutes passed by, and in the days following, I can’t say for certain if I misremember particular details, or if I’ve outright fabricated them myself. A day later, an off-hand comment had revealed that the back-end of the truck had lifted off the ground upon impact. I had no memory of that at the time, but now, I can visualize the sensation of the back end lifting. Did that actually happen, and was I actually remembering it? Did my mind just fill in a blank with the information presented?

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Surprisingly, the only damage sustained was a somewhat nasty bruise on my nose

It’s been a long standing reality of most psychological fields that memory is less than perfect. I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if Socrates himself even said “Damn, I don’t remember last night happening THAT way.” Disclaimer: I know Socrates wasn’t a psychologist, but I hope you get what I’m getting at with this analogy. This is, as far as we understand, a result of the fragmented way our brains store what we refer to as memories.

I’ll not delve much further into the specifics of how the concept we rationalize as memory is compartmentalized and stored within our brains, if for no other reason than I’m still not entirely sure I understand it myself. After all, I am not a psychologist (yet). But what I can speak of with confidence is the newfound understanding of how I can understand my own memory processes. And while it’s not indicative of how the average person (whatever those are) remembers things, it may serve as a launching point for further inquiries and discussions.

For the time being, however, I can confidently say I’ve thoroughly shaken my own appreciation for how unreliable my memory is. I used to think it was prone to deception after 24 hours, and I’ve now been served a clarification.

It’ll lie to me after fifteen minutes.