Monday, August 27, 2012

On Fighting

Any time someone is having a hard time, people always tell you to keep on fighting. This is especially common in dealing with adversity with regards to depression. People try and tell you to buck up, soldier on, and keep on keeping on (whatever the hell that means). 

What they fail to recognize is that people with depression HAVE been soldiering on. They have been fighting themselves every second of every. single. damn. minute. Depending on the severity, every word the hammer out on a keyboard, email they respond to, or time they open their eyes in the morning is a small victory that merits nothing short of a parade. But they don't ask for that because they know it is their own personal demons that they fight, and that they hardly need to fight an outside world that has a hard time sympathizing with a stubbed toe, let alone mental anguish. 

It is a quiet war happening in your office, school, favorite restaurant, church, and anaerobic basket weaving society. Someone there is dealing with it. 

What should you do when dealing with someone else who is depressed? That depends on the person and their level of suffering. And yes, I mean SUFFERING. Agony. All those fun words we like to throw around every time we are a little gassy after a burrito, but actually have real meanings. 

Some guide lines: 
1. Remember that they ARE NOT SAD! 
   People who are depressed are tired, weary, in pain. Sadness is a symptom, not a cause. It is the difference between the weather and the climate. Local weather trends are symptomatic of over all climate patterns, but are not a freak storm does not a climate make. Which brings me to point number...

2. Sometimes, people who are depressed, can seem happy and normal most of the time. 
  That is why some people are surprised when they find out someone is depressed. Never tell them they  were so happy yesterday, today, earlier, all the time.' They know how happy they have been. Depression is an intimate and vulnerable state. Many people who suffer from it have very happy looking defense mechanisms. It is to keep people from saying a lot of the things on this list and brings us to..

3. When they ask for space, give it. 
  Like I said, depression is an intimate and vulnerable state to find yourself in. If someone is depressed and they ask you for space/time/distance/silence, give it. It can take a few minutes to clear out the fog that depression puts in your head and severely skews your emotional responses. This means that when you push people, they can feel trapped, cornered and respond very.. poorly. This can range from open hostility and rage, to an enforced silence that could be permanent (towards you) if you are not careful. 
IMPORTANT: If someone with depression asks you for space, DO NOT MAKE IT ABOUT YOU BY TAKING IT PERSONALLY. Of all the terrible things you can do, this can make things spiral out of control the fastest. 

I will have more on how to deal with depressed people later, but these three things can be damned hard on their own. Try them out and see what you think.

To The Living

It is hard, sometimes, to remember why we get up in the morning. Going to work, earning a paycheck, getting dinner, and then doing it again are enough for some people.

But it hasn't done much for me. It didn't do much when I had a job, and while the financial stability I miss, the  in and out I don't.

It gets so foggy, contentment. In good light it passes for happiness. In bad light it passes for fulfillment. In reality it is neither. It is comfort. A shell to wrap yourself in to stave off the insanity of every day living. A way to find something to point at and say "See, that's OK, right?"

But it isn't even close. It is complacency. It is the poison of good enough.

Car payments, loan settlements, bank trips... all in the pursuit of a future full of stuff. Of things that are nothings.Cars do not write stories and love. Nice toys glitter and dance, but they do not hold and they do not shed tears for our passing.

All of these things are dying without living. They take the place of what is really important so that we don't have to deal with them. We think that it makes things easier, because we do not want to do the hard work.

It is an illusion of safety in a world without any. A seat belt of wishes, crossed fingers, and whispered prayers.

But when the wreck comes, all that is left is The Dying. An empty thing without meaning.

So this is a toast to The Living. To filling one's cup with the things that will fulfill them. With stories and tastes and smells. With songs and loves. With strife and fear and joy and tears.

To those that build supports for the Living, instead of safety.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Piqued Curiosity

Yesterday was an amazing achievement for mankind. The landing of the Curiosity probe on Mars, without a hitch, is a testament for what we can achieve with science and as a people. It also has brought a bunch of folks out of the woodwork to complain about how much money was spent on the project. So in continuing what seems to be turning itself into a series of articles discussing waste, I want to talk about projects like this both as a writer and a scientist. 

First off, any money we spend gathering more knowledge about the universe is about as wasteful as using air to breathe or food to eat. While we could technically live our lives without understanding even our closest neighbors, the same could be said of antibiotics, air conditioning, and the Internet. But all of these things make life a whole hell of a lot better, and the technologies we garner from missions like this only improve life further. 

Now a word from my writer side. Speculative fiction, scifi, and hell even to a degree fantasy all rely on how much we know about the universe. All of these things draw on history at a minimum, and the more rich the history we can draw from, the more fuel that both the writer's imagination and the collective imaginations of your readership have at their disposal. Every mystery opened up by a probe like this, from the mundane instances of rock formation to paradigm shifting revelations about the origins of life are fair game for the writer to explore. 

All in all, achievements like this really show a positive and hopeful side of humanity that has is missing, especially in an election year. We hear all about how horrible our lives are and how X, Y, and Z are destroying life as we know it. But this, this is reality. This is a reminder that there are people out there who put this garbage in its place and accomplish something amazing.

It is difficult to see how anyone can think that such a thing is a waste without also ignoring everything such achievements have given us in the past. Remember that next time someone tries to sell you on how horrible and broken our species is. 

Make Better Choices

While watching a lot of movies and television shows that have come out over the last few years I have noticed a trend that often baffles me. A lot of characters, the ones often described as quirky, obtain the ability to be a rambling, slow motion train wreck of a human being. Every time these characters are on screen we, the viewer, are subjected to an onslaught of awkward rambling that go nowhere and do nothing to develop the character or the story any further.

This sort of short hand happens a lot in television and film due to the constraints (usually on time) that the format demands. But that seems hardly an excuse to stagnate a character in a mire of word salad. This wouldn't be such a problem if it wasn't so damned prolific. I am not a large consumer of television in general, so either I am attracted to shows that tend to have these characters in them or (as seems more likely since I have had this discussion with people who live in front of their televisions) there is a major problem with the state of television writing. I would encourage you to take that with a grain of salt since there is usually a reason for these things becoming popular, namely that it worked spectacularly at least once.

But there is little point in discussing a problem without offering a solution. In a format that relies on trying to cram 5+ characters into a story that lasts at most 45 mins, how do you get across a character that is an utter failure at social grace and has all the charm of an egg rolling off a counter top? Actually, that might be it right there. The feeling they want is that same reaction we all have when we see something horrible about to happen, but are powerless to stop it. Thus the slow motion train wreck illustration above. But the problem still remains that a lot of shows carry that feeling to excess and thus are to awkwardness what J.J. Abrams is to intensity: A perfect note early on that puts you on the edge of your seat, but that goes on so long that your butt falls asleep.

Character traits like this fascinate me a great deal, and I think I may explore more of them in the future.

Monday, July 30, 2012

What does a scanner see?

Continuing my thoughts on strong feelings, today I would like to address pain. Specifically how it alters the way you look at the world. Pain is, it seems, the one thing that your brain can't get used to. This colors the world around you in that, if you have an injury like me, everything you see is a rating of how much pain it will cause you. Each step becomes an exercise in damage control instead of the thoughtless exercise most people enjoy. It is hard to make that clear to people, and can make for some very frustrating conversations. You get tired of explaining yourself, especially to people who are close to you and have dealt with you on a regular basis.

It also darkens your world view quite a bit. As an introvert who suffers from social fatigue, I have spent most  of my life in self-reflection. I have also spent my entire life battling the fugue of depression that is always lurking in the periphery of my mind. Thus my world view was darkened from the outset, but the pain compounded it more than I thought possible. In depression, you can stave it off occasionally. Through fun, distraction, success, or relaxation the depression could be kept at bay for sometimes months at a time. The same cannot be said of the pain. It never goes away entirely. Medicines give temporary easing, ice can reduce swelling, and exercise can help strengthen the muscles. But it is still there. The best thing I can hope for when I go to bed is that the next morning might hurt slightly less.

I think you can see where this is all going.

When I, or someone like me, looks out at the world it is not a pretty picture. Some would call the situation 'hopeless'. But that would disregard my next point, which is that pain can put things into perspective. It fundamentally changes the world you live in. You begin to forget small things, to be able to communicate certain needs and wants, and it can utterly consume your life if you are not paying attention.

The world becomes murky, and you begin to despair. Everything dims, and hope becomes a poisoned trap that feeds into the dark fog that gathers at the edges of your perception. As the shadows close in, the mind gets lost when it tries to look inside yourself, and no one can even tell what is happening to you. This is compounded by the opiates which disassociate you from reality and can distance you from situations that need your utmost attention and feeds the apathy that accompanies depression.

So when you are talking to someone who suffers from pain or depression, remember this: There is a darkness inside the person you care about that is deep and terrible. It cannot be forgotten about lest you find yourself blindsided by the tumultuous hell brewing just below the surface of the person you are trying to talk to. It can hurt both sides and the last thing the person feeling the pain or depression is to inflict those feelings on the people they love.

The other reason not to forgot what these feelings are doing to your loved ones is that it can be hard to see through the gloom that sits over their minds. I cannot emphasize enough how hard it can be to see through those clouds. How easy it can be to lose yourself in the haze is as hard to make other people understand as the pain and depression themselves. So I will close with a quote that helps put it in perspective

"What does a scanner see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does it see into me, into us? Clearly or darkly? I hope it sees clearly, because I can't any longer see into myself. I see only murk. I hope for everyone's sake the scanners do better. Because if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I do, then I'm cursed and cursed again. I'll only wind up dead this way, knowing very little, and getting that little fragment wrong too." -Bob Arctor A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Stars

Writing, as it has been seen by me for a long time, is therapy. Far better therapy at times than even medications because words weave their emotimancy in both directions, the receiver on the other end and, more importantly, the writer. Words, when used properly, can be crammed full of everything we are feeling. Each one becomes an evocative scent, a nascent dream, or a landmine. That is the writer's job as far as I am concerned. To tell a story, and all the levels that entails. Characters are only people so long as they are made up of all the elements that people need.

But writers have to be careful. Sometimes emotions, when we try to express them, aren't under our full control. This applies to most people. Snapped comments said in frustration. Thoughtless jokes. Painful remarks made in anger. These are all traps we are familiar with. But the writer sits, word after word, mired in a soup of emotions that, if left unchecked, will consume them. That is the trouble when dealing with pain and sadness. It eats at you even when you try and work around it, so it becomes dangerously easy to drown when you decide to dive headlong into it.

That is where my rut came from. It wasn't that I had that infamous catchall of 'writer's block', it was that I had burned out all of the feelings that I had dealing with personal crises and then trying to write personal stories dealing with the same feelings.

The same can be said of depression. It is so generally misunderstood that the very word has become synonymous with 'sad'. But it is so much deeper than that, and is another mental mire to get stuck in. To want to flail wildly at the word but not feel the energy to move your arms. You sit and see the water coming in through the holes of your world but instead of plugging it you sit down and let the water rush over you.

It isn't a sad feeling, depression. It is a hopeless one. An all consuming apathy. It is being tired, but not in the 'hard days work' or 'I'm sleepy' way. It is a fatigue akin to metal parts tearing and giving way after years of over use. Of a tire going flat as the last tread is torn from its bald surface. The shirt that finally tears along its threadbare seam.

It is a powerful force, and one that is easy to get lost in. I would like say that depression is not the opposite of happiness, but of passion. Passion is that beautiful burning flame that we all try to tame lest it consume us and depression is the near absolute snuff of that flame. It is the cavernous brazier where once our lives were filled with heat, light, and power. It moved us to greatness and filled our lives with illumination. But it cannot be relit like a campfire no more than one can relight the sun with a torch. It takes the right conditions and the compression of hydrogen and helium to ignite a star, to bend space and time around its core and project light, the fastest thing in the known universe. Without it there is no life as we understand it. There is no sight. It is one of the single most powerful things that our minds can understand.

The same is true in writing. Every syllable you type finds you dealing with the powerful forces of the human heart. Each phrase and paragraph, every page and punctuation talks to the deepest parts of us. It reaches all the way down to where the star that birthed us still resides. But like all things deep and beautiful, it is easy to get lost in.

So write your words. Let them guide and help you, and if your readers follow along then all the better. Use them to help you find that star and then let it light your path home.

It is like Sagan said: "We are made of star stuff."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Count Down to NaNoWriMo

I have been in a writing funk recently. No blogging, no short stories, novels, vignettes, not even Facebook updates. But here I am blogging again and it is all Anne's fault. Camp NaNo is looming on the horizon, ready to eat various faces come August and damned if I am ready for it. For all of the haters out there who think NaNo is a waste of time, I applaud you on finding the right way to spend time and then would invite you to kindly piss off.

This isn't for you.

This is for the people who like writing, like events, and like doing things and not feel like they are doing it alone.

NaNo rarely allows someone to spit out a new novel, shiny and fresh and ready for print. As a matter of fact, I would hazard a conservative guess that it almost never allows for it. But that is hardly the point. The point is words on the page. Whether they are electrons or hand ground ink, they are words that you are stringing together into a narrative.

That 50k mark seems like a big monolith for a lot of new writers. Hell, 50k in a month can look like a lot to even a seasoned writer. But what it does for the new writer is it tells them whether they have what it takes to get over that first hump of writing out the first paragraph of a story. It is a chance, a reason, or an excuse to try to write. It is easier for a lot of people to make time to do something if they say "I am doing it because of X."

There are some people who say 'Well if they really loved writing then people would make time for it. They wouldn't need an excuse.'

To that I say bollocks. There are innumerable things that people love doing that they put off in order to do things that are deemed more important. Like work, or raise children, or just the million tiny things that Life, in its infinite fuckery, likes to throw at you in order to sap away your energy.

NaNo is for those people. It is a chance to get the other judgmental tsk-tskers in their lives, who normally frown on what are deemed 'frivolous pursuits', off their backs by giving them something to point to. What is not needed are new people to come in and replace one group of finger waggers for another.

So this year, put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, and write. Write long and hard. NaNo is for everyone, so play the game and you might just have some fun.