Saga #26 : ‘But Really’

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For my favorite comics that are ongoing, I usually read the last few floppies before indulging in the most recent issue. So a few nights ago, I finally rounded up the 6 most recent floppies of Saga and treated myself to a trade’s worth of reading before bed. Six monthly issues is normally a lot to read in a single sitting, but I felt like I was several issues behind. I don’t think I’ve read Saga at all this YEAR, I told my boyfriend.

I was wrong. I was completely up to date, but had forgotten which developments unfolded in each issue. My mind had compressed all of the plot from the previous year into one or two issues, assuming that there were new pieces of the story that I hadn’t seen yet. Wishful thinking.

There is some truth to the idea that you should keep an audience wanting more. BKV is doing this in Saga by giving very little at a time. I’d like to point out that East of West accomplishes the same thing with the opposite strategy. By moving very very quickly, Hickman creates longing for more information about the world. Unlike Saga, each issue of East of West includes a lot of plot so the readers might stay more satisfied. Story density also allows for a lot of re-readability in East of West.

What does comprise the plot of Saga now feels overwrought and soap opera-y with more and more characters being jammed in and little hints of new characters being blown out of proportion. I feel like this character bloat may be a symptom of the slow moving plot. Oh! People like the little seal shepherd? Yeah, let’s totally make him an ongoing character. If the series weren’t moving so slowly, I might believe that BKV was planning this out, but the slow pace of the series makes me feel like he could be adapting to feedback and losing control.

So for a lot of comics, it’s difficult to describe the premise without sounding like a lunatic. That’s generally a given law of the genre. It normally goes something like, oh well it starts out being like a crazy crime procedural thing with weird supernatural stuff happening and there’s like a government conspiracy. But really it’s about a complicated relationship between these incredibly compelling characters.

This is a crucial point though, no matter how crazy the story, there must be a ‘But Really’ moment in your explanation. Saga doesn’t have a ‘But Really’ yet. It’s still all feels like preface, it’s still all just running from different bad guys. It’s got the crazy premise down really well, but I’m not sure what it’s really about yet, and that’s partially because nothing ever happens.

Even worse than not knowing what the story is about, is that we already know some of the ending parts of Saga. Hazel keeps destroying whatever suspense we have, by chiming in with observations like ‘this is how my parents started to break up’ and ‘I’m not a savior or anything.’ Of course, I have no idea if we’re supposed to trust her as a narrator, but she’s turning into sort of a jerk about spoilers. ‘I didn’t see my Dad again for a few years.’ Great, now there’s no tension for the current storyline, maybe just a little curiosity about what happens instead. I mean, maybe this book is just a giant writing exercise by BKV, some kind of perverse dare.

I wonder which parts of a graphic novel are really important. If there is stellar artwork and character design, and the writer keeps jerking the readers around using every trick possible, how long will the audience keep reading before realizing that there is no story? Will it matter? Just keep using those cliffhanger splashes and the adulation will never stop, I guess.

FFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUU…..

This must be what it’s like to read a typical super hero ongoing. blahrgh.

 

 

 

Why I haven’t been reading comics very much…

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I’ve realized that there are certain environments where I prefer to read my comic books. One of the reasons that I’ve been reading fewer comics since moving last spring, is that many of these circumstances are no longer habitual, or they have been replaced by other activities.

I have a lot of bittersweet memories around reading comics in Baltimore:

  • While working at the comic book store on Saturdays
  • Immediately after visiting the comic book store for my pull, while eating Indian food or Mario’s pizza at the Rotunda
  • While riding the metro to and from work
  • During lunch at Cosi, across the street from the office
  • In the chair by the window, in the 17th floor cafeteria at the office
  • Binge reading trades in my bed while my cat hides in the open long box

Really what it comes down to is that I no longer commute via the metro. When I was riding the subway to and from work, I needed to have something to occupy my time, but I could not rely on a functioning cell phone of any kind. Therefore, I was in the habit of leaving the house with a small pile of comics and this habit extended into non-work days as well. Now that I think about it, I distinctly remember having comics with me for us to read during the 5-10 minute lead up to watching a movie in the theater. Now those minutes have become a quiet moment to cuddle while reading the best Askreddit response or to tweet about the lame advertisements.

I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad change. It certainly doesn’t make sense to bring comics to read during my commute because I’m driving these days. And I’m less likely to go out to lunch and need to sit down and entertain myself; these days I either eat at my desk, eat lunch out with others, or I go for a little photowalk. My life it just different now.

I guess that I have this idea in my head that reading novels and comics is very special to me. I expect myself to complete the experience by brewing some nice tea and relaxing in a nice chair for a solid block of time. Really, most of my comic book reading has always been in the stolen moments between other activities. My reluctance to read comics for just a few minutes at a time, at home, is another manifestation of my perfectionism or my all
or nothing style. This is something I can easily get over though, now that I’ve noticed.

A bad night

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So I’ve been spending a lot of time so far this year trying to improve my mornings. I would say that I’ve got a good handle on most of the dimensions of sleep hygiene that I can control, and I have reduced my issues to persistent nightmares about being back in high school and the living nightmare that is a calico cat waking you at 4 in the morning. The nightmares I can tolerate most of the time and honestly, they’ve been getting better since last year when I changed most of the pieces of my life. The cat is really non-negotiable. It doesn’t matter how loud the alarm clock is, or how far from bed I hide the off switch, when the cat wakes you up once every 15 minutes for 2 hours between 4 and 6 am, you’re not going to be feeling great about the morning.

Last night was a disaster for other reasons, embarrassing ones. This is a feeling I want to hang onto though, so I’ve devoted myself to dumping this out before I’m allowed to go to sleep tonight.

It starts with a few days in a row of heavy celebratory eating with more meat than I’m accustomed to eating. This is just to set the initial conditions, I haven’t been sleeping well for a few nights, my stomach mildly upset and barbeque inspiring weird dreams about a slumber party where my friend, Scott, keeps punching my teeth out.

Last night, I go to lay down. I’m already exhausted past the point of making sense. I’m pretty sure that I woke my boyfriend up to tell him about how I wanted to update the choreography for our dance to the Parks & Rec theme. It needs more spirit fingers. I’m not wrong about the spirit fingers, but the timing of this announcement was inappropriate at best.

I’m not remotely close to falling asleep though because my right tricep is twitching. I put my hand on my arm and feel it sort of pulsing and throbbing. “It’s like a headache in my shoulder,” I recall having that specific thought. I decided that obviously this could be treated like a headache or muscle-ache and conclude that there’s no harm in taking something. Aleve was sitting out on the vanity because I had taken it recently for something, maybe cramps, and it had worked incredibly well.

So in the middle of the night, on an empty slightly upset stomach, I swallow two Aleve tablets with about one tablespoon of water. I lay down immediately.

For the first time in my life, I get heartburn. At first I think it’s a panic attack, but the pain in my throat is unfamiliar. I know it’s not a heart attack, but I hurriedly think about if there is anything incriminating in my browser history for me to delete before I die. It’s too late though, my boyfriend already knows that I used to watch Digimon and that I like to troll the missed connections section of craigslist. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, I can die in peace.

So now, satisfied that it’s heartburn, I use my phone to look up the other side effects of Aleve. Vomit like coffee grounds? Nope, I’m not dying yet. I’m not really alive at this point anymore though. I’ve been awake 3 hours longer than intended and I’m starting to get slightly delusional. Instead of checking for quick heartburn remedies like drinking water or eating crackers, I am certain that something will go wrong if I try to help myself anymore. I mean, the first time I tried to fix a problem that night, it went wrong. Surely, if I ever try again, everything will go wrong forever and ever for the rest of life and the universe.

So I was up for another hour at least, browsing reddit until the pain subsided enough for me to sleep. After less than two hours of sleep, the cat started trying to wake me up to feed her. I was disoriented, confused, and unable to string a sentence together to ask my boyfriend to take care of her. I was just swatting at a really fat fluffy cat who insisted on touching my face with her paw over and over again. It was not fun.

I worked all day. It’s amazing how much I was able to get done. I think that exhaustion dulls the part of my brain that gets bored, or maybe it just lowers my standards from perfect to ‘good enough’ and that shift is all I need to actually get things finished.

BLAH.

Loops

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I have a personal theory about mental health issues, that many of them are borne out of patterns. I like this notion, because it’s difficult to say that a pattern is in-and-of-itself a bad thing and blame is certainly not something the we need more of in life.

Humans are pattern finding and making machines, it’s virtually our superpower, and it’s one of the foundations of all human intelligence. Then again, heuristic tendencies are also commonly called prejudices when they manifest as negative preconceptions. So patterns, formed too readily and applied too broadly become bad things.

Mental patterns are similar. Very few mental patterns are inherently bad, they become bad when they are formed with incomplete understanding and applied inappropriately.

This understanding of mental patterns highlights some methods for healthy self improvement. First, exposure to new ideas, to new experiences, and to new perspectives can give you more raw materials for your brain. Self reflection and honest feedback are important to understand the propriety of your thoughtful behavior. Neither of these aspects of self improvement are easy, in fact, most of daily life is so dull that we might actively fight this sort of mindfulness to hide from imminent depression.  I don’t think that part of life is meant to be easy though.

I do see some hope in the idea of anxiety and depression as mental patterns because a pattern can be changed or broken. It almost doesn’t matter how, just something – anything needs to be changed.

Here. I am currently obsessed with how little I am accomplishing from my to-do list. Without exaggerating, I still have to-do list items on my list from years ago.

Some of my to-do’s are small. Like I have a gorgeous red winter coat that has needed new buttons since 2009. I have moved four times since then, and each time I remind myself that I need to get buttons so I can wear the coat next winter and then I pack it up and carry it into a new apartment. It’s hilarious to let that bother me, but there you have it. At this point, I wonder if part of my brain wants to keep the coat with no buttons just to remind myself of how horrible I can be.

I just get so overwhelmed by not being able to do everything. I get concerned about not finishing the right things in the right order, but figuring out the right order is so hard. I get to stressed out that I can’t finish anything. So I do nothing, I especially don’t let myself have fun, because I’m supposed to finish the things I’m supposed to do first. “Supposed to” is a bad pattern.

So I break the pattern. Instead of waiting to reward myself by finishing the right task, I just need to get myself to finish anything. So here I am, stringing several paragraphs together, just to help myself feel like I can still speak English.

Quality Control

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February is really difficult. In fact, February is so difficult that anticipation of the month makes January suck pretty hard too.

I have actually been writing a lot, but without finishing anything. Sometimes I think it’s better to do nothing than to do less than my best. Doing nothing is a terrible way to get anything done though.

High School Metaphors

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I have a new ‘foreign’ coworker. At some point, I may write something about the most gratifying type of ‘I told you so’ I’ve ever experienced in my life, it’s related to European coworkers moving to the States. What particularly caught my interest this week was a comment I made while we were comparing Universities and High Schools in our countries.

“Everything I know about American High School sort of comes from these movies like, like,” he was glancing upwards at an imaginary list, trying to find the right name. I knew what he was going to say though. “Like Mean Girls,” he finally finished.

“Yeah, actually it’s a lot like that, maybe worse actually,” I said and his eyes widened politely. I knew that I needed to explain more, “I went to a school that was so homogenized, that the differences between people, I mean we had twins and there would be a popular twin and an unpopular twin. So where that movie makes it out that there’s some sort of meritocracy, but that it just has skewed values like being hot, in reality there is no rationale to anything at all. For me that was worse, I was sitting outside looking at all of this with no idea how to navigate it all.”

Obviously in this dramatic recreation I am more eloquent than I was in person, but I’m still surprised by how easy it was for me to articulate that point. I think that I spent a lot of junior and senior high school frustrated and angry, not because I was unpopular, but because the rules about being popular were grossly inconsistent. I hate when things don’t make sense. I mean, I also wanted to be popular, I believed that my system of values were superior. The confusion was just another layer of insanity that no one really ever consciously addressed.

If I could go back in time, I would tell myself this. I would say that most people are stupid, so stupid that they can’t follow their own rules. I would say that I’m that not perfect either. I would say that changing your mind isn’t a weakness and that needlessly searching for meaning where there is none isn’t science.

More easy writing prompts

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More writing prompts for elementary school students.

I like to make… slightly creative things to share, but only slightly creative. I like to color pictures more than drawing them. I like to knit. I like to bake or cook, where I’m following instructions that allow for limited doses of creativity.

What is toys could talk? That would be really creepy. Honestly, toys would know all of the most embarrassing secrets about our lives from before we knew better. I suspect that we wouldn’t ever be able to give away our toys or share them with others.

My shopping list: Based on my neurotic personality, I probably seem like the type to make detailed lists. Honestly, I would enjoy the exercise of making a detailed list, putting the list in order to make my shopping trip most time efficient, and then putting relevant coupons in an envelope. I don’t have time to do this though. If I’m lucky, I will have a chance to check the kitchen to see what I’m missing, and then I can try to figure out what I need for the next week while I’m in the car riding to the store. I work through the store systematically, going through each aisle. If I don’t believe I need something from that row, I just walk faster, but I still go through all of them if I can, because that’s how you find new things and get new ideas. I prime myself at the beginning of each aisle, by remembering what’s down that row so that I can be on the lookout for anything I need. I can do a full week’s grocery run in about 20 minutes, plus another 5-10 for check out.

Don’t Litter: Uhh, yeah, obviously. For environmental issues in general, there is an interesting conflict between wanting to do the right thing, having the ability to do this efficiently, and knowing that the positive impact a single family can make through conservation and recycling is nothing compared to industrial and commercial sources of environmental damage. People should still do what they can, when they can, but I tend to be more understanding when someone drops a wrapper without noticing. As with most ethical issues, I will draw the universal line of minimum effort right below what I am capable of doing.

Big pets and small pets: All pets are awesome. I’ve recently gained new appreciation for pets that you observe only, like fish or snakes, in addition to pets that obviously return affection like dogs, cats, and birds. My heart belongs to big dogs though. I am crazy about Newfies or Leonbergers. We’ve recently been throwing around the idea of an Irish Wolfhound. There are a lot of lifestyle changes that would be required before a dog would be a reasonable investment. Getting a dog is like having a kid, knowing that they will never grow out of the potty-training toddler phase. Until I can string a few good years together, I’m going to force a dog to deal with my crap.

Insects, insects everywhere: The only time my boyfriend lived alone was his first year at graduate school. He applied for and rented an apartment in a complex, sight unseen and without any recommendations from locals. It was an okay place, but there were issues, one of his first surprises was a notice that his apartment would be inspected and treated for bedbugs despite the fact that he never made any complaints and hadn’t seen any bed bugs. On my next visit after that, I remember noticing weird dark blotches underneath the windowsill next to his bed. I thought that they were like mildew or dirt or something. I have a sick fascination with this stuff so I touched it with a tissue and oh my god, it was a bed bug and some of the splotches were blood and no no no there were bed bugs everywhere. A day later I started to get itchy bites on my hands and feet, in little ‘breakfast, lunch, and dinner’ lines. It was horrible. My boyfriend was fighting the bed bugs for the rest of the school year. When he finally moved out, he left the u-haul filled with his belongings in the summer sun for an extra day because we heard the heat could kill the last lingering bed bugs.

I’m happy when I feel like I have enough time. Maybe it’s better to say when I have enough energy so I feel like I have more time? It’s really difficult to describe that in more detail, but I have a few indicators. When we go to bed at night and there are no dirty dishes left in the sink, that generally means I’m having a good week. When I have enough energy to make coffee and breakfast for myself in the morning that probably means I will have a good day. I sometimes wonder if these things are causes or effects. Sometimes I don’t care, and I try to make change my fortunes by focusing on these types of simple tasks.