East of West but North of Nothing

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After an intense binge reread a few weeks ago, I’m finally completely up to date on the epic East of West and more in love than ever before. There is something delightfully satisfying about any media that can be consumed multiple times, where each experience actually unveils more details and connections. After my disappointing Saga reread, this was just an amazing surprise.

When the books first dropped, I would have described them primarily as ‘overwhelming’ because the reader is dropped into the middle of a world and a story already in motion. I reread that first half dozen issues dozens of times each, pouring over the pages for any possible detail that could unlock the mystery of Death and the Apocalyptic Horsemen. I’m a smart person, but I will readily admit that a lot of it didn’t really make sense.

Going back now, I understand almost every single word, I know exactly what’s going on and I can see that there was foreshadowing in almost every word. Knowing what will happen doesn’t spoil the story, somehow, it makes entrapment in the web more enjoyable.

I would say that the part which hit me the hardest on this reread was the gruesome fate of the cleric. On the first read through, I don’t think I quite made the connection between the flashbacks and his treatment and sacrifice in the present day. Also, yikes, that is gross.

Right now, I’m most curious about the implied ten year gap between the incident with Death’s family and when the horseman came back. I want to know what killed the Horsemen and how Death avoided his rebirth.

Also more Wolf and Crow. Want to see Wolf face off with the Prince.

craigslist experiment

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It doesn’t make me unique or special, but I have a few unexpected interests. Meaning, I have a few hobbies that, on a superficial level, don’t seem consistent with me personality. A good example would be knitting, which seems surprisingly domestic for a woman who is working in male dominated fields. For the record, I enjoy the simple geometry of the task, I like working on a simple project where I can watch myself make progress, and I find that knitting is a good way to come to terms with perfectionism. When you drop a stitch or something, sometimes you can unravel everything to go back and fix it, but sometimes you can just leave the error and it’s not the end of the world. I need more of those examples in my life. Knitting is good.

Really, the personal confession I make that surprises people is the Craigslist one.

The “for sale” section of Craigslist is like a virtual garage sale. At some level I like browsing this section so I can rummage through the junk people believe is still worth money. Occasionally, I actually find something I want, for example that little black leather jacket I bought for $20.

I was surprised to observed that there are a disproportionate number of women trying to sell wedding dresses on Craigslist. Many of these women either ended up buying a different dress, inherited the dress from a relative, or gained/lost weight and can’t wear the dress anymore.

When I started this game though, it seemed like there were a lot of women trying to dump dresses from canceled weddings. Simultaneously, there were a lot of men in the jewelry section trying to ditch wedding rings. You can see where I’m going with this right? You try to use the details in the different ads, to match up the couples because in these cases, they always have to slip in at least one sentence about that ass hole who canceled the wedding at the last minute.

Really though, it’s all about the MISSED CONNECTIONS. When I confess to checking the missed connections, people always giggle and wonder if it ever works. I have to say that, yes, it does work. I once saw a missed connection for myself, I responded, and I ended up as friends with the guy for a few months while he got set up at law school.It was not remotely sketchy or weird.

We were in line at a Starbucks. I said I liked his sunglasses and he let me try them on. We chatted for a few minutes and then went on our ways. He posted a missed connection where he included a sentence describing himself, a sentence describing me, a sentence explaining the day/time/location, and a title that said ‘You were trying on my sunglasses in line at Starbucks.” He invited me to meet him there a week later. He used complete sentences, appropriate punctuation and case, like a literate adult. Seriously, it was easy. So that’s my story.

Checking the missed connections is a habit I enjoy on multiple levels, aside from always secretly looking for myself.

First, these ads are always hilarious. The content, the grammar errors, and the blind optimism are all usually ridiculous. I think that my case with the law student was sort of an exception because most people are terribly deluded about their relative importance in the world.

The person writing the ad frequently assumes that chance meeting was significant in the life of the person his is seeking out. “Our eyes met in the parking lot and it was magical.”

The person writing the ad sometimes just describes themselves in (flattering terms). I think that this is maybe just a fishing strategy. Somewhere their mind is plotting, “Well, I know I looked hot today, I bet someone checked me out somewhere. I’ll just be vague so that this ad could be for anyone.”

The person writing the ad usually expects the target to include some detail in the response. “Tell me what type of shoes you were wearing so I know it’s you.”

I also love when the ad includes a good reason why he never approached the target. “You had a wedding ring and you were cramming your 4 children into a minivan, but DAMN I need to see your butt in yoga pants again, so I thought I would try a stupid ad.”

On another level though, there is useful information to be extracted from the missed connections. In aggregate, missed connections tell you something about the area where you’re living. The ads frequently include the popular places for locals to spend time; the best restaurants, the Sheetz gas station with the lowest prices, the trendy coffee shop where the cute art students hang out. This is all crucial information for someone new to the area.

So I played a game on there recently. I posted a generic missed connection for no one and waited to see what types of responses I might get. The message was partly inspired by frustrations with an old friend of mine, but it was really just the most generic teenage drama soap opera-y thing I could think of.

I wish that I could have a simple conversation with you.

No matter how I preface my words, you will read into everything I say too much.

You will especially read into the words I don’t say, and you will see whatever you want in the infinite unspoken possibilities.

That is the real reason that we’re never going to speak again, because you never listen.

I got about three dozen responses (so far, it’s been about a month and I’m still getting emails). I wish that I had kept some of messages, but I deleted them all almost immediately so that I wouldn’t be tempted to respond to the worst of them.

There was a lot of anger. There was a lot of irony, in responses that ignored the content of the post. There were a few thoughtful challenges.

“How can someone read into your words without hearing them?” I really like that thought, because I’ve been spending a lot of time recently thinking about how to be a better listener. This question helped me come up the following theory.

Theory on Listening Listening to another human is a lot like being a scientist who ‘listens to the universe.’ In both cases, the point, the underlying purpose, is to uncover some truth that allows you make predictions about the future. When you listen to someone, the best way to prove that you have understood his words is to make a prediction, by saying or doing something, with the information that has been provided. If your prediction is correct, then he will be pleased with the outcome and your hypothesis will be confirmed.

So when I say that someone can read into words too deeply, what I really mean is that it’s possible to draw the wrong conclusion from the available information and to then ignore all feedback that the hypothesis was incorrect.

Stupid example. You tell a story about your DVD player breaking while you’re trying to watch your favorite movie. You complain about needing to buy a new DVD player. Your friend decides to buy you a new copy of your favorite movie. That’s really sweet and unexpected, and it proves that he heard part of the conversation, but what you really needed was a new DVD player. You explain this, but a few days later he asks if you have watched the movie yet. When you say “No I still need to get a new DVD player,” he says “I’m sorry, I thought for some reason, you really liked that movie.” Obviously, someone is hearing the words, but not listening.

Anyways, if I get anymore particularly thoughtful responses that don’t involve the c-word I might post them, but until then I’m considering my curiosity sated.

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.