A short crisis

When I lost my job on August 28, I expected it to be the start of a long, crippling crisis that tested my resolve and made me wonder about who I was. I expected it to force me into a long identity crisis that would force me to examine what I wanted my future to be. I expected a long period of crippling depression.

None of that happened. More days than not I had phone interviews before the president of Arkansas Flag and Banner saw my resume and set me up in their marketing department where I’m coming off a week of invigorating work. Everything took 5 weeks from job loss to job gain. So this is definitely a victory lap entry.

But it’s a meditation too. Because I’ll be blunt. I spent 12 years expecting to lose that job at the paper. Gloom has hung over that business for years. That’s not a judgment. It’s just how newspapers are. It’s a tough era. Many of my friends did get cut. I thought long and hard about life after. And I expected there not to be much after. I thought I was locked in because of my training.

Which is completely untrue. I’m actually doing great at my new job because I have immense skills to bring. I’m actually really excited about what my future looks like. I have ideas percolating to bring to future ventures already. That’s cool as hell.

So I’m left to look at something surreal. A brief period of crisis. Just a very tiny one. I only had a few days where I got low and maybe a day where I was at my pit. But that’s it. And I honestly don’t wonder much why I only had a brief moment of panic.

I’m not who I was in 2007. That’s an understatement. I’m older. I’m more worldly. I’m mature. Well more mature. I also have experience. I’ve gained skills over the last 12 years. I’m stronger for it.

The reason this last month went as brief as it did is two fold. One is luck. I’m lucky my new boss saw my resume and found where I fit. But that’s one reason. The other is will. I got my resume out. I applied at well over 150 jobs. Were some bad fits? Yes. But I was trying. And I landed where I belonged.

And yet… I’m aware I don’t think this is fully resolved. I think in a few years I’ll clearly know how I feel about the paper. I know there’s some anger there that I have yet to really process. I know there’s a lot of nostalgia. I think I’m struggling just to know what to think since for 12 years I knew nothing but it. That’s okay. It’s not something I have know or solve soon. Or ever really.

What I can’t and won’t do is lament that this was indeed short. No, that I raise a glass to. It was a short crisis because it turns out life can be good. It turns out there are amazing people in this world. There are amazing opportunities.

And so as I often do, my mind turns to the words of the great Richard Matheson in his classic The Incredible Shrinking Man. It’s a film about an unfathomable existential crisis, to shrink into seeming nothingness. And yet it ends on such intense hope. I didn’t go through anything like that, I lost my job and found what I truly believe will be a better one, But these lines give me hope so allow me a quote.

I was continuing to shrink, to become. . .what? The infinitesimal? What was I? Still a human being? Or was I the man of the future? If there were other bursts of radiation, other clouds drifting across seas and continents, would other beings follow me into this vast new world? So close – the infinitesimal and the infinite. But suddenly, I knew they were really the two ends of the same concept. The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet – like the closing of a gigantic circle. I looked up, as if somehow I would grasp the heavens. The universe, worlds beyond number, God’s silver tapestry spread across the night. And in that moment, I knew the answer to the riddle of the infinite. I had thought in terms of man’s own limited dimension. I had presumed upon nature. That existence begins and ends in man’s conception, not nature’s. And I felt my body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing. My fears melted away. And in their place came acceptance. All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something. And then I meant something, too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something, too. To God, there is no zero. I still exist!

No, I don’t think I will

What is there to say about now?

I’ve considered a few entries and ultimately I’m like Captain America. I could speak but “no, I don’t think I will.” I won’t say anything foolish. I won’t go into details. I won’t say anything I don’t have to.

But I am in flux. Greater flux than ever. My background is in one thing. And that’s gone. It’s not at all possible for me. That world is gone. And that’s okay. It happens.

What I know is this. I’m capable of so much. I’m autistic. I’ve made it to 36. I made it through college. I made it through high school even! (Ok that’s a stretch to care since I loved high school.) I am a father. I am a husband. I am Austin Shinn.

I will say I’ve tried to strike a balance. Self care has been key. A ton of Superman comics. Big Nate too. But I’ve fought. 10 applications a day. 3 interviews. And that’s in 10 days. More are scheduled.

What I know is this. This blog is meant as a resource for autistic people and allistic people. To not address what’s going on is to lie. I need to be honest and say my life is in conflict. But it won’t be. Because I have the tools to make it so. I am strong. This is a blip. I am the success story I believe in.

I could have a meltdown. I could break. I could give up. But no, I don’t think I will.

My 10 Favorite “Weird Al” Songs

“Weird Al” Yankovic is the greatest at what he does ever. He’s the funniest comedy musician ever and by far the most musically gifted. We all know this. There’s no need to explain it. It’s the mass held view and I see not one reason to disagree. He is the best of the best. So let’s not waste time. This is my top 10 list.

First though, a backup list of 5 great songs.
*Amish Paradise. The proto White and Nerdy. It works.
*Christmas at Ground Zero. The perfect dark Christmas song.
*Captain Underpants Theme. In the canon of Weird Al theme songs, usually the song is better than the film. In this case, it’s the perfect punctuation to a film that oozes his influence.
*Young, Dumb, and Ugly. Yankovic crushing it riffing on AC/DC and like AC/DC, it kicks hard ass.
*Do I Creep You Out? The very last cut and it was close.

10/Everything You Know is Wrong. Pure infinite wackiness. There’s just so much silliness that it must make the list. I put this over Dare to be Stupid because I connect more with the 90s vibe he taps here. It’s goofy. It’s silly. It makes no sense. And it’s therapy to blast.

9/Good Enough For Now. Country has a long tradition of tongue in cheek songs. Ray Stevens was immensely successful in that realm and no we will never cover his work. Country loves corniness. So getting a country riff isn’t shocking. And this honestly feels earnestly of that tradition. It’s not too weird next to Elvira. It’s just so toxic depicting someone proudly settling. At least for now.

8/Stop Forwarding That Crap. There are few songs where I cheer like I cheer here. With this, Yankovic gets angry. And it’s blissful. The song feels like a cry from a man frustrated at something we can relate to. Even his gentle tone that builds to rage feels right. An honest declaration of rage.

7/Foil. This is almost so short it shouldn’t fit. Epics like The Largest Ball of Twine in Minnesota are off here. But there isn’t a single missed second. The first half is vintage “Weird Al” food parody then with a single sip of tea he goes into his wildest rants ever. Wedded to a just perfect song to riff on, the song becomes a twisted rant just perfect for the rising conspiracy age. Every detail is precise.

6/White and Nerdy. I feel like the power of this parody is wholly an accident. Ridin’ is about police badgering innocent black men while White and Nerdy is about the people the cops don’t go near. There was no thought on the connection. It’s simply a funny song that happened because White and Nerdy and ridin’ dirty rhyme. But it does give it an undercurrent of strength. That said, this is why I like Yankovic touching rap. He never laughs at the form, doing extra work to match the flow of the performers. He doesn’t miss a single beat here. He uses it to play up his extreme whiteness but it’s so gentle and genuinely hysterical. And in a way this song is a nice moment, the last time this was our image or nerds and not reddit fueled bigots.

5/Nature Trail to Hell. Yes, I definitely gravitate towards the darker “Weird Al.” For all his image as a light, goofy guy, and I’ve never heard any evidence he’s not, his work often reflects the sense of humor of such men and it’s gleefully black. Or is it? Because no matter how dark or gory things get in a song like this love letter to slasher films, it’s really ultimately the innocent humor of 10 year olds trying to top each other. There’s no punching down when you describe a crazed killer murdering 2-3 cub scouts in every scene of a film. It’s just silly absurdist humor. And man do I get the impression Yankovic loves these films. He got to play such a killer in Batman vs Robin, playing it so straight he’s credited as Alfred Yankovic, and he was great in it.

4/Word Crimes. Yankovic mined two Pharrell Williams beats for Mandatory Fun and both are so good I put almost both here. I’m going with Word Crimes because I think it gets at the essence of his comedy. The man loves words. He loves the sound of them. He loves how they word. So much of his comedy is just word play. And on a track entirely devoted to grammar rules, he reigns. The song is nothing more than a long list of common grammar errors people make. It shouldn’t be hysterical. But there is such energy and such perfect word choice in laying everything out that it becomes that. Taking a song with a great beat but lyrics about coercing a woman into sex and letting us enjoy the good cleanly was a gift.

3/Skipper Dan. There has always been an edge of fatalism to Yankovic’s career. Most comedy musicians get a novelty song and vanish. Spinal Tap had one soundtrack worth of good music and the magic was never repeated. At any moment it could have gone away. Now of course we’re long past that. He’s a legend. But I think the what if haunts him and bleeds into this song. It’s actually a tremendous track musically, a Weezer pastiche that’s better than anything they’ve done past 2002. But the lyrics are where it shines, a dark study of a would be acting god reduced to working on the Jungle Cruise ride. It’s a profoundly sobering study of how chasing your dreams can yes be a mistake and if you are lucky, to celebrate that luck.

2/Why Does This Always Happen To Me? I’m almost cheating to put this on here because it’s not really a style parody but more a collaboration on the level of Under Pressure. “Weird Al” doing the vocals and Ben Folds delivering his trademark piano riffs. The result is something that has the best of two legends. And the lyrics are the funniest Yankovic has ever pulled off. Sheer sociopathy.

1/ Hardware Store. What is it that makes this song Yankovic’s grand magnum opus? Is it the shamelessly silly subject matter or the epic breakdown where he rattles off an endless list seemingly in one breath? I think it comes down to what makes the man the American icon he is. He’s fascinated by American culture with not one trace of condescension. Like David Lynch or John Waters, he soaks it all up and sees what we see as bland as incredibly weird then points it out. This song is an ode to a very common experience we’ve all had, being excited by an ordinary business, and makes us notice it. It’s tight musically, wall to wall odd details, and impossible not to grin ear to ear at. His best song.

So there you have it. My list.

Life in COVID-19: July 2020

It’s been a strange year.

If you have an anxiety disorder, 2020 has been a year where the voice in your head that traditionally tells you that it’s just paranoia has gone mute. He’s instead given up and sighed “the other guy is right, sorry.” And you have to live with that. There really is something to fear. How odd.

It’s been almost impossible for me to write about my life as a result. I’m in the same purgatory as all of you. My life is on hold in a way it hasn’t been since 2007-2008. Oh I’m still working mind you. I’m working harder than ever. I think I’m honestly at the best I’ve ever been at my job. But I’m doing so from home and that’s a surreal experience.

In some ways I’m lucky. Arkansas never went as hard as other states on lockdown. I wear a mask in public but I’ve still hit up Barnes and Noble and Ollie’s. I even ran to Pine Bluff to buy a great book. My routine isn’t as disrupted as it could be.

I’m still struggling though. I had a breakdown last week. It was a fair one. I was overworked, my cat died, and I hadn’t had any release in months. I don’t get to go to the movies. There’s one theater in town and they don’t show anything I MUST see. I’m overdone mentally.

And there’s that idea. That pervasive idea this is real. It is real of course. I know people who’ve recovered. I know people who have it now. I know people online who’ve had family become victims. COVID-19 is real. And I don’t get the safety of saying it’s not. And god the things I keep hearing. It really takes a toll. Yeah things are bad. Have. Patience. I want to scream.

So now I come to an unlikely place. I’m taking a vacation. In the midst of a pandemic I’m leaving my house. I’m not going to a mass group setting. A few bookstores. A few liquor stores. Mostly going on a drive. But I need it. It’ll only be a day and end here in LR. but it’ll be nice.

And so I go on.

Review: Loki: Agent of Asgard

This was a ko-fi request. I could’ve done it on one of my review sites but chose to put it here for variety. 

When a character breaks out, it’s usually a blessing to a comic company. Marvel and DC have swam in cash thanks to Deadpool and Harley Quinn. Marvel in the 80s clearly loved watching The Punisher grow from villain to hero. There’s story after story of unexpected characters becoming fan favorites then icons.

But what do you do when a character breaks out that would require a massive overhaul to make work? Loki, the God of Lies, is one of Marvel’s unrepentant villains. He has never been good. He cannot be good. But he was played by the insanely charming and handsome Tom Hiddleston so he developed a fanbase. And he would inevitably get a comic where the perpetually ugly and evil Loki was a pretty hero.

What wasn’t inevitable was just how intensely metafictive Loki: Agent of Asgard would be. Here is a book that should feel like a shameless attempt at playing to a new group of fans but instead reads as a meditation on the character as a whole. Writer Al Ewing did some of his earliest Marvel work here and like his other book I’ve written on, The Immortal Hulk, he crafts s book as much about the past as the present.

The premise of the book is far from simple. The idea is that a younger Loki, though not the youngest we’ve seen, agrees to help Asgard in exchange for getting redemption in myth. The problem is the first mission of his sends him to fetch dark energy revealed to be his future self, who also looks like the more classic gnarled, creepy Loki. His future self knows Loki is fated to return to his ways. He may have even inspired this redemption attempt so he can turn his most evil. Frighteningly, the notion never ends that everyone may need Loki to be evil for security. And all throughout the book, the question looms: can you change your fate?

I’ll get this book’s big issue dealt with so I can just praise it to the sky. It’s convoluted. You do need to keep notes. Wikipedia is so helpful. Loki has a tangled history and Ewing never lets you forget it. I’m not going to lie and say I have the fullest understanding even with a thorough read.

But that’s exactly the point. Ewing wants to examine the idea of mythical characters having multiple incarnations. We have what amounts to the Hiddleston Loki vs the Classic Loki and Ewing is pondering which version is valid, ultimately concluding every version is. Indeed, at the end it’s obvious Loki himself has made peace with that.

And that’s what makes the book sing. It’s a comment on the need for status quo. Loki is fighting a world that does not want him to redeem even if they’d be better off if he did just as comics would be better if they’d let characters grow but instead find comfort in the status quo. The book that marked Ewing’s first truly major work at Marvel pulls no punches in questioning how the company runs.

That’s not to say that the book is just a work of self analysis. It’s a ton of fun just as a read. Ewing and artist Lee Garbett know what makes a rollicking bold read. Loki is written as a clever, funny, bold hero who always has an angle. You’re always excited to see what he does next. I also loved his sidekick, the bitter cynic Verity who can tell who is lying at all times. They’re a fun platonic pair.

The book looks great too. It’s got a very classic look to it. Garbett gives detail to every scene. Action looks bold and clean. Characters has a life to their expressions. It’s a book to soak in.

Loki: Agent of Asgard is a fascinating book. A book caught between the past and future that ultimately shrugs and embraces not knowing what will come. Highly recommended.

The Moment You Hope You Never See

One of the most traumatic moments of my life was the day that my 4th Grade teacher decided to explain to us that one day a pandemic like Ebola would strike and threaten us all. She decided to tell children this was something we would face. Because of that lesson I had an outright panic attack that day. I became convinced I was going to die. There are elements of that trauma I’ve never confessed before like how for weeks afterwards I was certain I would not wake up after I went to sleep. I’ve obsessively washed my hands ever since.

That was 25 years ago.

So… here we are. Staring down that very thing my teacher discussed. It’s not ebola but it’s something. And I need to use this space I’ve got carved out here to talk.

How am I doing right now? I’m going with okay. I think I’m okay. I know that changes and it’s an average but I think for now I’m at a decent level. I can live with this basically for now.

But it’s going to get worse. I know it will. I know the quarantining will get more intense. I know the death rate will spike. Someone I know will get it. Someone I know may die. The economy may be irrevocably altered.

And all of these things scare me. Right now when everything is at least normal adjacent I can function. But what happens when it’s not? I don’t know. I don’t know who I’ll be. And I’m as scared of that as anything. I’m scared I’m weak for sure.

I wish I could be the pure moralist I’m seeing emerge online. The person who tells everyone what do do. But I can’t be that person. Was I at a Wingstop for pickup today? Guilty. Will I be at at least one liquor store or gas station or grocery store in the next few days? Guilty. I won’t be “the good person” I need to be all the time in the coming weeks. I’m going to at some point have a meltdown about something very petty and make someone very angry. I’m going to make my family annoyed with me.

And I’m scared about real things too. Maybe I’m scared of those the most. I’m scared of losing my job. I’m scared of losing a loved one. My dad is 72. I can’t put my head in the sand here. I’m scared of how things I love will be affected which might belong in the petty factor but not for me.

What I do believe is this. There’s going to be a moment after. And it lies between now and then. I have to trust I will get there.

But right now, I see the storm clouds in the sky. The rain is coming. And I can’t escape it.

A Love Letter to Bill Amend’s FoxTrot

Image result for foxtrot

FoxTrot by Bill Amend occupies an odd place in the canon. It’s not the profound artistic achievement of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. It’s not a longform dramatic saga like Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury or Lynn Johnston’s For Better or For Worse nor is it political satire like Trudeau’s genius work. It’s not the glorious weirdness of Gary Larson’s The Far Side. And it’s not the poignant nihlistic tragedy of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts.

And yet, I don’t think anyone will balk if I put it in the canon next to those strips. FoxTrot is one of those comics everyone I know within a certain segment of my generation knows by heart, at least for a few years. Like Calvin and Hobbes, it was a book fair staple and most of us definitely picked up at least or two volumes. (Or in my case all of them.) We read it in the newspaper. It matters to us.

It matters to us in a way other strips don’t too. FoxTrot felt to a great degree like a lightning bolt as a kid as the strip for us. Peanuts was funny but it took place in a nebulous time between the past and present. Calvin was too weird. By the time we were reading FBOFW, it was too serious to get.

FoxTrot though? It was for us. It was for us because it was wall to wall pop culture references that were day and date or even months in advance. The prerelease hype for Jurassic Park and Star Trek: Generations made it in as did comments on movie trailers around the time of release. It was current in a way strips never were.

It was also for us because it was written in our language. Peter, Paige, and Jason were frankly awful to each other in a way that never felt cartoonish. They acted like us. They talked like us. Even the parents felt real despite us never knowing how true they were because they were sarcastic, talked to each other like real people.

It was also on our level of comedy. It was sarcastic, sure. It was pop culture humor heavy definitely. But it also had impeccable physical comedy. Amend was proudly a cartoonist. He leaned into the beauty of a great expression, a great reaction shot, a bit of exaggeration. So it was damned funny.

It was also one of our first encounters with a satirical voice. Amend wasn’t afraid to skewer the media he loved. He mocked overhype when Jason and Marcus dared to ask if they were setting themselves up for a letdown before walking into Jurassic Park. (No.) There were blows at computer culture and how silly it was. He went after (and continues to go after) Disney with glee. We felt for the first time in on something.

All of that speaks to why FoxTrot felt great as a kid. But that doesn’t explain why it endured. Full House had an exceptionally funny cast and played to kids yet I doubt many of us feel the same now about it. Having recently binged this strip, I’m moved to ponder this. Why does FoxTrot last?

All the things I just listed remain completely true. It depicts real pop culture, not some imagined view. The characters are true to life. It’s still backbreaking funny. But there’s more.

Let’s start with the pop culture point as it’s the one that’s the most fascinating to perceive now. To read FoxTrot is to read a cultural history of the last 30+ years. And it doesn’t feel dated because none of the references ring false. Most are filtered through Jason and he’s a great everygeek. Jason’s reactions to these things either match how we felt or how we would feel. Jason also fixated on the things we absolutely did and still do. And again, the references are at times genius bonus level good. Amend clearly is one of us and thus the strip reads as record.

That geekery reflects how oddly personal the strip is. Amend is a World of Warcraft playing Springsteen fan who clearly loves sports. I don’t need sources for these. The writing on them–and we forget that the strip particularly in the 80s was the rare estuary of geek content and jock content–says it all. That said, his twitter feed gives away exactly how true this is. Maybe it’s not tremendous autobiography but it’s not anonymous.

And that winds up giving the strip a POV that sets it apart. Amend crafts a universal but very distinct world. Like all worlds, every choice is specific. And a lot of those small choices matter. Because this isn’t just a pop culture/family strip. It’s one that reflects a lot of realities that in 2005 we sure as hell weren’t really discussing and are still struggling with now.

So before I go any further, I’m giving you an out. I’ve spent over 800 words and I’ve got more to go. If you want to walk away on these and not dig into some thorny issues that are largely a matter of interpretation, walk away knowing I love the strip and that’s that. But part of why I love it gets tricky to discuss. So…here you go.

One of the things that as to be discussed regarding FoxTrot is the indisputable shift to Jason as the POV character. Beginning with the big summer long storyline in 1997, Jason’s stories dominated. Peter’s lovelife, Andy and Roger’s worklives, and Paige’s romantic dreams featured a lot less until the strip ceased in dailies in 2006. They were still there–and I think Jason’s dominance is a shade overstated–but less.  Jason is a geek. And geek communities haven’t been anything too positive to discuss in recent years. It would be so easy to find Jason an unbearable, cringeworthy figure in this light.

But Bill Amend created a character that I think has a lot to do with why FoxTrot is less a nostalgia fix for me and an almost shockingly fresh one that happens to mostly run 14-32 years ago. Eileen Jacobson rules. She just rules so hard. Eileen is the ultimate girl geek in comic strip form and her conflict turned playfully combative friendship with Jason made the strip’s last decade in daily form pop.

Eileen is the absolutely critical check Jason needed and the voice of the fangirl. She’s the girl gamer who pushes back on Jason’s immature behavior. At one point she pretends to be a stranger in WoW just to prove to Jason they’d be friends if he’d get over himself. She calls him out on his ludicrous LOTR vs Harry Potter beliefs (wow have we heard THAT before.) And she doesn’t put up with how poorly he treats her though she has some level more patience than in real life because she’s a comic strip character and needs to stay around.

Eileen honestly feels like a character who, if she were created for a long running series like she was in the mid 90s, would be despised by a certain segment of the fans. But that’s exactly why her thread feels important. Because Amend was on representing girl geeks early. Hell he even got an Asian girl geek in in 1997 in the form of Phoebe Wu. This feels modern, not dated in its mindset.

And once you look at FoxTrot as a strip ahead of the curve, you realize it didn’t start with Eileen. This forward thinking mentality pervades the strip from day one.

For one thing, Amend always wrote Andy and Paige pretty great. They’re give ample time with stories that let them be just as well fleshed out as others. Paige in particular is painted as an insecure, emotional teenage girl but Amend feels so hard for her. When she’s at her lowest the strip paints her feelings as understandable and normal, not funny. He even does a subtle touch of giving them their girl geeking. Andy gets to be fixated on Titanic and it’s just the same as Jason’s obsessions with the same relatable energy.

He also gives us a nice treatment of toxic men. When Peter shamelessly hits on girls (during his shockingly brief time as a single), he’s painted as an asshole. Paige encounters guys who act gross towards her and she gets to be extremely aggressive fending them off. Leering over the swimsuit issue even leads to Peter getting chewed out by Andy and it feels a hell of a lot like current discussions on Twitter. Trust me, this has not always been true in mass media. See the pornography addiction shared by Chandler & Joey on Friends.

But then there’s his handling of Peter’s girlfriend Denise. Honestly, reading her early strips prompted this entry to exist and it’s why it’s housed on my blog. Denise is a blind girl in a love interest role, the definition of a character unlikely to have agency. But she does. She’s depicted as angry that nobody lets her be independent and looks down on her at the same time she’s given a potent sex drive, at one point having Peter over to “tutor” her in a subject she’s an expert on as a pretext to making out. That’s a hell of a lot to give a supporting character in a comic strip when mainstream media can’t do that much.

FoxTrot has always been and in Sunday form remains a progressive strip. Yes, that’s definitely an interpretation of the text and not a direct reading but the evidence is there. It’s not perfect, as would be expected in a strip where everyone is a caricature to some degree, but it explains why the strip needs to be seen as a cut above.

FoxTrot isn’t the surreal Sgt. Pepper’s of its peers but it’s definitely the comics version of the early Beatles albums. You know when it was made but when you study it, it still feels like it’s fresh. It hasn’t stopped being funny. I doubt it ever will. It remains the brash, funny, relatable voice of its generation.

To Bill Amend, I raise my glass. Thank you.

The Profoundly Crushing Futility of Nostalgia

I have a story to tell.

When I was in my sophomore year of high school, so 19 years ago, on a rainy Sunday afternoon my mom and I drove an hour to go to the movies in Russellville, Arkansas with her sister. I remember everything about walking into that theater. I remember the Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 poster outside. I remember the giant banner for Dungeons and Dragons. I remember the 102 Dalmatians poster. I remember the cool interior of that theater and by cool I mean oddly cold and off with marble and dark lighting. I remember the stadium seating. What we saw was almost immaterial. That experience marked me so hard, even factoring in that three years later I would start weekly visits the the theater when I went to college in that town. That’s the trip I remember.

And nobody gives a damn about hearing that story. It’s the most meaningless story on earth. I went to see Meet the Parents at a theater I hadn’t been to before. Who cares? It shouldn’t be some halcyon story!

But it is because that’s the hell of nostalgia. Yes, I’m taking a moment to interrogate one of the most normal and even healthy impulses that humans live with. Have I written on this before? Probably. But I’m struggling with it this morning and I want to examine why exactly.

You have to understand that nostalgia is inevitable. We have times in our lives we’re glad we lived through. Particularly in stressful times, nostalgia is like a sheath letting us bask in that feeling. We relive those feelings and they nourish us when we can’t be nourished by the outside world. It’s a lovely feeling.

It’s useless though. It’s one of those experiences that should be a plus but it winds up becoming profoundly frustrating. Because it lives inside us and that does nothing to make us feel better eventually.

See part of the human experience is the desperate flailing to connect with others. And when we want to discuss our memories, we’re met with something disturbing. We encounter silence. Because is anyone truly that interested in hearing the happy times of others? And when we hit that silence, intended or not, our memories lose value.

It shouldn’t be this way. Not in any way. We shouldn’t rely on others for our lives to feel important. Our lives matter because they made us us. And we should be able to accept that our history isn’t going to impact others the way that it impacts us because it happened to us.

However there’s a concept I read about that put me in the mind to write this. My generation doesn’t have hobbies anymore. We’ve turned our hobbies into work such as earning revenue for making videos on youtube or the rise of Etsy. It’s particularly difficult when your hobby is writing, one which has been outright scorned if not done for money.

I don’t write fiction well. I tried a screenplay this season. I’m so unhappy with it I don’t want to look at it. I write nonfiction pretty great though. So I could theoretically write all of these things out. And I did. There’s a book on Amazon. But I didn’t do the happy times justice in the book because I knew nobody cared. I hit the high points and moved on.

I’m still carrying around this impulse to talk. But I’ve been led to believe by society that if I can’t make it of some value to others I should shut the hell up. I’m wasting my time. I need to not waste it for others.

There’s no denying the other factor. I want to know my life experiences mattered. I’m wrestling hard with violent depression and self doubt. I feel like I don’t add anything to the world. And I only seem to get personal validation by sharing stories about either my severe mental health issues or my traumatic childhood. (My review writing is justly seen but is highly impersonal.) Anything I write celebrating my past like my Huntsville piece might as well not exist.

So I’m living with this need to be heard and a message I’m getting from society that frighteningly reinforces that my pain gives me value. The things that actually give me strength are discarded.

And I don’t think I’m alone in wrestling with this. I think this is something we cope with as a society. We’re ignored when we’re happy and that doubles when it comes to our pasts. We require our histories to be filled with graphic pain. And I wish that wasn’t so. I wonder how much of depression is drawn from this overwhelming need as a society to ache to be heard.

This entry can’t by its nature reach a conclusion. Only a statement of truth. The year 2000 becoming 20 years ago has to inspire a giant wave of nostalgia. It was such a hyped year followed by a startlingly unimportant reality. I’m forever fixated on that disconnect just as I’m fixated on the slowly building depression I fought that year which hit an apex in the spring of 2001.

I want to talk. I probably will talk. And nobody will give a good god damn. And that has to be ok, like it or not. Because these memories aren’t going away.

Confessions From The Pit of a Depression Episode

Time to get as raw as I can.

I’ve been extremely prolific in my other ventures but largely negligent of this one lately and I finally realized I needed to change that. It’s been a long couple of months. I’ve been deep, deep in a depressive episode. I’ve not been okay mentally. This has been a period marked by lack of sleep and severe emotional disturbance. I can admit to all of this.

And I’ve tried to recover. I really have. It’s crazy how people always suggest the very things I’m doing to fix this. I’ve tried every piece of self care I know to do. I’ve taken family time. I’ve reached out to friends. I’ve watched movies. I’ve read comics. I’ve tried to rest. I’ve meditated. I’ve even tapped retail therapy. I’ve. Tried. So why am I not better?

The very brutal truth is you can’t fix your pain simply. Everything you can try might not be enough. Not if you’re wrestling with very deep pain. I’ve been doing so.

I think a lot of my depression is actually fairly simple. I have severe PTSD from a childhood that built some sick patterns into me. I am desperate to please people and that means being perfect. But I’ve not been perfect lately due to exhaustion. So I’ve not pleased people. Which means I’ve been exhausted. The cycle has repeated enough to send me into depression.

So I have to confront this. And I’m trying. Because the core of this is that bitterness I feel towards myself. I do hate myself. Whatever everyone else hates about me I hate worse. Except they get to walk away. I have to live in this mind.

But I try to escape. I do. But I’m starting to see a sick pattern in my escaping too.

Let me explain. Since I was a kid, I’ve lost myself in old movie listings from old newspapers. I’ve never really stopped that. Not even after my job became designing newspapers. And inevitably doing that has stepped up during this period.

However, I made the decision to try and turn that into a column. I thought that maybe I could get attention for the odd ads I found. And I’ve found a few things that have interested people but I’ll be honest. I haven’t found the response I hoped. I wanted a bit more attention.

What happens next is to be expected. I find myself feeling isolated in the work I do. The research stops being fun because I’m trying to get approval I’ll never get.

Why does it matter? Well I also decided permanently to abandon book 2 this month. I realized nobody cares. The period after my job started won’t be written about. There’s no interest.

I’m nobody. That’s what I’m seeing. And yes, I know people care about me. I value that. But I’m seeing a pattern repeat that I saw in my childhood. Terrible people, the Grace Randolphs and Doug Walkers? They get the attention. Even people who hate them give them their energy. They are someone. (The less said about politics the better.)

Me? I’m nobody. And growing up there was a strong implication I had to be somebody to justify the condition I had. I had to have the best grades, place the highest, be the single best. I had to be exceptional.

I’m 36 in three months. I’m not going to be someone. That day has passed. And as silly as it is, as wrong as it is, it hurts. I wanted to be a writer people respected and while I’ve entertained people, I will never get much of a reach.

What’s getting my depression to this pit? It’s wrestling with the knowledge I have to be a mote in God’s eye while people who are functionally bullies are stars. And that’s triggering my PTSD. Every wretched bad take, every time one of their faces crosses my feed, it reminds me I fail yet the people that hurt me won.

I should write in private. I should sever any hope of it reaching people. Because people care but not that much. I should make peace that I work in the dark. Maybe eventually I will. But I’m going to keep trying to share.

Right now, I’m just saying all of this aloud. The hurt, the pain, the feeling of failure. I’m going to link to my patreon. I’m going to hope someone hears me. And maybe one day these feelings will leave me.

What I Remember About Huntsville

I’ll be honest. Right now I’m in one of the blackest places my soul has been all year. My depression is quite high. And it’s tempting for me to write on that. To wallow in that. I might get some sympathy if I did. But would it be healthy for me? We all know it wouldn’t be.

So I choose the opposite. I choose a piece that is nothing more than my memory. I don’t know if anybody cares about my memory. I doubt y’all do. This is pure self indulgence. But I write this for my soul. I’m aching. Let me escape as I write.

Huntsville, Arkansas I remember as a fantasy place. I remember it as an idyll. I think of it as a place that existed outside time and space. It’s not. It’s a normal small town in Arkansas. But I remember my trips there, especially my trips between 1994-2002, as if I’d stepped into another world.

Part of why I remember that is how hard it is to get to. It’s not an interstate exit town. It’s isolated. Or at least it was until the highway between Huntsville and Springdale was completed and now it’s a quick drive between Huntsville and a massive metropolis that houses two of the biggest companies in the nation if not world. What I remember is the isolation, the winding curves of the Pig Trail to get there.

I remember the topography of the town. The Escheresque series of hills that form the landscape. Straight streets exist not here. And it’s so green. Pure forest. In the fall it sits ablaze.

I remember the Wal-Mart. My granddad was always baffled as to why I cared so much about going. Growing up in, well, anywhere I had better shopping options. But there was something so magical about that store to me. It sold interesting, neat things to me. Buying a Star Wars paperback to read curled up on a couch at my grandparents’ home is a ritual I still chase. It was never about the store. It was the ritual.

The grocery store next door was different. I remember it as almost a barn before they rebuilt. It was clean with again a normal allotment of things. Noything special but when I bought a bag of candy, it felt unique.

The video store within? That was different. Sure I always rented “A” movies from it but I remember those glorious b-movies it rented out. It was as if I was in an alternate universe from the safe, boring choices of the chains. The family films were really strange, and have shown up on Rifftrax. But the horror? That has to capture my memory. Such strange films as fairy tale characters as monsters.

Honestly I remember the video stores a lot. The grocery store was the only one I spent much time in but I remember them all. The posters. You rarely saw A-titles sold there. Perhaps that’s what gave the town this AU feel to me. If even the movies were another world, then it had to be another world.

There was a theater. I went in that building twice. Two times as it was abandoned. One time as it was a flea market. I wish I’d gone when it was open but it closed before I was two. As the cinema is my cathedral, I long to worship once there.

The theater sat on that perfect town square. I know that square as the epitome of Heaven. Lots of flea markets popped up over time. There was a used bookstore a few months there. It was a nice place.

But if any from Huntsville are reading this, you know I must honor Coger Drug. What a cool, unique place Coger Drug was. It sold everything. I remember it for two things: Candy and comics. I’d go in, buy a Heath and get a kids comic. Only in 2001 would an Amazing Spider-Man leave the grocery store with me. But lots of Disney comics left for the drive home. They sold books. I wish I’d bought one to say I did.

I remember how few chains entered the town. It was world destroying news when Pizza Hut came in though That Little Pizza Place crushes it with incredible food. The Wal-Mart was front page news. Sonic was thrilling, the first chain fast food. Dollar General was exciting too, especially when I found a Marvel/Boulevard novel there! But they were it.

I could go on. I knew every gas station there. I dropped in Ozark Foods. I remember the drive-in with killer fried chicken. So many details.

But the last detail I remember is the quiet. Late at night I could stand in the front yard, look up at an array of stars, and bask in the silence. No noise. Nothing to disturb the perfect isolation.

Now is where I deconstruct everything. All the video stores are gone, following the trend of the death of video rental and eventually physical media. The Walmart moved to a bigger location on the edge of town, lost the hyphen in the move. Coger Drug is long closed. McDonalds came in. So did alcohol. Huntsville is no longer the place it is in my mind. I have not been there in 6 years, mostly due to time and ability.

But I remember it. I carry it in my soul. I go there when I close my eyes and seek an escape. And I love it forever.