How Stephen King Pulled Me Out of the Deepest Depression of My Life

Well, it’s been a while. Oops. The fact of the matter is that no matter how well I think I have things going – and in general, I think I have things going pretty damned well – the slightest thing can bring me down. In this case it wasn’t particularly slight, if I’m being perfectly honest, but for the first time ever, I don’t want to talk about it in detail on this blog. At least not now.

To sum up the situation, as a much wiser person than myself said, the country seems to be at a cultural breaking point. In the weeks following the suicide of Robin Williams, awful thing after awful thing has struck this country, politically, philosophically, socially. It’s been a very dark time for the country – and the world – and of course, this affects us all. I’m not equipped to handle such stress, so I retreat into my own hobbies and interests in an attempt to avoid the politics and dramas of the real world. This time, they followed me in. I can’t stress enough that I care very very deeply about the issues at hand, or the things that are going on in my own culture and chosen circles, but the fact of the matter is that my only escape from politics is now swarming in them. Add to this the immensely negative event that I spoke of a moment ago, and I feel it’s fairly easy to see how I got knocked out of orbit just when I thought I had reached the perfect trajectory.

It’s slowly dawning on both my psychologist and I that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – with the key word being obsessive – is at the core of many of my major issues. I simply can’t let things go that I feel affect me, attack me, or make me feel strong emotions. Since I care very deeply about political and social things, being involved with them can do immense harm to my head. I just can’t stop obsessing. During the events of this summer and fall, I found myself unable to calm down or exert any level of control. I was in a state of constant near panic. My heart was pounding, and every single little stress signifier erupted all at once. I broke out in hives and acne, I had canker sores and mouth ulcers, I was barely able to sleep and my eyes were bloodshot. All of this exacerbated my big issues. I destabilized in a major way. I became paranoid and angry, lashing out at anyone and everyone, latching on to things more obsessively than ever.

This all culminated in me falling into an incredibly deep depression. It didn’t feel quite like the usual ones. I wasn’t down all the time, or bored by everything. I was, however, deeply, incredibly certain of doom. Utter and complete doom. When I’m feeling myself, I’m a very optimistic man. I believe the world will get better, and humanity will endure, and maybe even reach the stars. However, when things go off the rails, I can – and did – become utterly obsessed with death and doom.

I become obsessed with the facts and science of the situation, and to be frank, the current science says things aren’t looking good. Humanity has pretty well doomed itself through our actions and inactions, and we are not long for this world. I become obsessed with death, and the fact that the worst thing about life is that I will never know how things turn out. I’ll never know if we make it as a species, if we survive this time, the closest we have ever come, perhaps, to extinction.

It’s difficult to believe that that’s the case, when you look around. Humanity is prospering in so many ways. We’ve spread far beyond the numbers we should have been able to, technology is erupting into the realm of science fiction at breakneck pace. Despite the way the world is reported by the news, if you look at the numbers, we’re doing better than we ever have. The only official wars currently active anywhere are civil ones, or ones against groups, as opposed to other countries. Violent crime is dropping in many places, worldwide. Things are getting BETTER.

Yet the world IS in danger. The planet is drowning in our runoff and we’ve pushed the ecosystem just about as far as we can before it tips over and takes us with it. The fact is that the universe is not designed to support life. We are in a magic zone that shouldn’t exist, and it’s far more delicate than we expected. If the people who make the decisions can’t wrap their heads around that, we will be gone within centuries. Perhaps sooner.

Once these thoughts get into my head, if there is even the slightest crack, they seep in like so much oil, slipping deeply into my thoughts and feelings, and gum up the works, slowing the gears that turn my mind. Every thought I have, negative, positive, every feeling, every action, has to fight its way through this tarry sludge first, and nothing comes out the other side clean. At this time, there were not so much cracks as there were fissures, and the constant pressure and feel of attack only added to the damage. To put it simply, I was mired in the deepest pit of foul black sludge I have ever been, and I could find no way out. I felt doomed, and because I felt doomed, I was.

At this point, paragraphs in to this meandering, stream-of-consciousness post, you may be asking yourself, “What does all of this have to do with Stephen King? He’s in the title, he’d better do something.” I’ve spoken before about how fiction and horror are deeply important to my life, and I gave brief mention to King, promising to return to him at a later date for a more thorough discussion, and I suppose that there’s no time like the present.

Stephen King is, in my opinion, the greatest living American writer. Perhaps the greatest American writer, period. Perhaps even the greatest that the world has ever seen. As bizarre as it may sound, when I look at this man and the work he does, I see a man who simply doesn’t get enough credit. “But Kyle,” I hear you protest. “He’s one of the richest authors who has ever lived, and everything he publishes is met with a resounding cry of joy!” I know this, of course, and I’m not arguing that the man isn’t famous enough, or paid enough, or beloved enough. To do so would be absurd. No, I say this because I feel like he is more often than not relegated to the role of “pop fiction writer” or “horror author”, when he is so much more.

I argue that though King does write pop fiction and horror, he more than once delves far beyond such things into genuine literature. I feel that he is contributing to the world of art in ways that are not truly appreciated. He writes of philosophy, addiction, love, sacrifice, darkness and pain. He writes of madness, and the ugly things in the world, and the ugly things in people. Above all, however, he writes of the light.

Almost every one of his major works has some force for good, some force, pushing and prodding the heroes in the right direction. They don’t always realize it. The pushes are subtle and gentle, but there’s something pulling for them. He calls it by many names. The Turtle, the light, Gan. In all cases, it works through these people, compelling them to take the actions that will lead to their salvation. This isn’t anything special, of course. The important thing to note is that someone who is considered one of the darkest storytellers of all time writes so often of the good in people.

Stephen King, more than anyone else I have ever known of, takes his inner demons and fears and tragedies, and somehow externalizes them, using them to weave tales that speak to the very deepest parts of humanity, the good and the evil. Perhaps the most obvious examples of this are DreamcatcherThe Dark Half, and of course, The Shining. I could write for pages on the books individually, but I think I’ll save that for a later date. Suffice it to say that each one of these books has a deep connection to the man and his life, as well as his own experiences and personal fears. Dreamcatcher was written after he was struck by a van, largely while he was in the hospital, on painkillers. The Dark Half reflects events from his own life, spurred by the discovery of his pseudonym, Richard Bachman. The Shining plunges deep into his fears about himself – he was an alcoholic struggling with a writing career at the time of its publication, just like Jack Torrance, the main character.

Again, it’s not that the idea of taking one’s issues and imbuing them with power by writing them into tales is new. Far from it. It’s simply that King explores his own depths in a way that few ever have, and finds ways to shine light on even the darkest parts of himself and even then, to show you the light that will overcome that darkness. It’s not what he does, per se. It’s the way in which he does it. His abilities speak to me, in particular, and always have.

Which brings me around to this fall. I make an attempt to read one of my very favorite King novels, It, every October. There’s no specific reason, of course. The first time I read it was in that month, largely in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, my favorite place in the world. This time, I was in the deepest, most virulent depression of my life. I was unstable, I was damaged, and I was on the verge of totally falling apart. Then I finished It.

I ask you now, have you ever read or heard something that struck you to the core? Something that hit you in just the right way at just the right time, and then suddenly, as if from nowhere, you found yourself looking at the world differently, or seeing a new path? I was in the dark, I was lost, and then a quote from It plowed through the sludge that was drowning my mind from the inside out like industrial cleaner.

“Best not to look back. Best to believe that there will be happily ever afters all the way around – and so it may be; who is there to say there will not be such endings? Not all boats which sail away into darkness never find the sun again, or the hand of another child; if life teaches anything at all, it teaches that there are so many happy endings that the man who believes there is no God needs his rationality called into serious question.”

These words… these words struck me. I’ve read them a half dozen times, if not more, but I feel as though I never really read them before. They coursed through me, clearing the sludge from my veins, and suddenly, the wheels were turning again.

This isn’t to say that I suddenly believe in God. The jury is still out on that one, and probably will be right up until the very moment of my death. I don’t think, however, that one needs to be truly religious to see the significance and power of these words. They reminded me of something important: hope is real, hope is powerful, and hope can drive us from our pasts no matter what they may be. It’s time to look forward and to find again the things that I’ve been learning about myself and the world over the past few years, as I turned against my own demons, ready to take them on.

Somehow, some way, though all of his horror, and blood, and inexplicable coincidence, and strange use of parenthesis, and repetition and light, of all the people in the world, it was a horror writer from Maine who reminded me that hope is the light that lets us put the darkness behind us, once and for all. “Best not to look back.” Words to live by.

P.S. Forgive the messiness of this one. I simply woke up with the need to write, and the entire thing sort of stream-of-consciousnessed right out of my head in exactly this way. I feel like I’ve missed a LOT about what King is, and what he means to me, as well as missing out on an opportunity to do his books real justice. I think that you can probably expect me to write more on Stephen King in the future, because I simply feel like I haven’t successfully conveyed my thoughts here. In any case, I hope you enjoyed this, and if you’ve never read any Stephen King, I obviously can’t recommend him enough. Do yourself a favor and go pick up It or The Shining. You won’t regret it.

P.P.S It occurred to me that this sort of glosses over the contributions that my friends and family had to helping me through this garbage. Rest assured, I never would have been functional enough or open enough to see the quote in the way I did had it not been for their support. Thank you all.

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Spontaneous DIA/Coheed and Cambria Adventure Liveblog

Okay! I wasn’t planning on doing a liveblog of this, but given the events of the day do far, I figured it was well worth stopping off to do a sort of half-assed liveblog of my day. Lillian, Louis, Fernando and I have come to Detroit to go to the Detroit Institute of Arts for the afternoon, followed by the Coheed and Cambria show at the Fillmore. The original plan was to talk about it tomorrow, but hooboy this day.

First of all, we came down early because Louis has a job interview in the city, so we figured that rather than taking multiple cars, we would go with him and spend the day at the DIA. Great idea, right?

However, Louis didn’t drop us off at the DIA. We wound up walking around two miles through Detroit to get to there, which would have been fine if we had been prepared.

A quick overview of the events that have transpired so far:

– We saw a guy who may or may not have been The Doctor.
– We saw Albert Einstein.
– Eventually, we got here. It’s very pleasant. However:
– Lillian somehow got locked in the bathroom.

I’ll post more about how I feel about the trip later. For now, I’ll just leave it at this: I’ll update when I can, and when interesting things happen. No promises that it’ll be lengthy, interesting, or comprehensive, especially once the concert starts, but hey, let’s give it a go!

2:34

Oh I almost forgot! Totally walked past part of a set for Batman v Superman! Didn’t see anything interesting, though.

3:23

I absolutely adore that as a species we have collectively decided – in multiple cultures at multiple times all throughout history – to make places where we can go just look at nice things. It’s just really freaking cool.

4:05

The DIA was incredibly lovely, as always. I must remember to come to it more often. Now, in a coffee shop to wait for Louis.

5:47

Had a great dinner. Oh hey look at that:

IMG_0454.JPG

6:03

Now finally in line to get in to Coheed and Cambria. Exciting!

8:34

Holy freaking crap, the opening band was AWESOME. Check out Thank You Scientist. SERIOUSLY DO IT.

11:25

Well, Coheed and Cambria were as good as ever. They did like four encores, and by the last, all my bad mood and nerves had melted away. I’ll talk more of the concert later. My phone is out of juice, so let me leave you for now with this:IMG_0458.JPG

12:06

Well, I just got home. I have blisters, I’m still tense, and I feel very gross. It was worth it all. When we got to the actual concert, I had to stand in a lot of lines, and in a lot of crowds. My reaction to them just goes to show how much difference there can be between two times of the same activity. I just saw the same band last year at the same venue, and it was a far more pleasant experience for me throughout. Today I was on edge basically from moment one, and the events of the day didn’t really help with that. I still don’t really feel safe or okay. However, I’m completely certain that I would feel that way even if I’d stayed home. It’s just one of those days. If anything, I think I can genuinely say that I might be worse if I hadn’t gone.

Basically, today was frustrating and difficult, but I made it through with the help of my friends, and it was an unforgettable experience at the end of it all. Go see Coheed and Cambria. Check out Thank You Scientist. I think this about wraps it up. Goodnight, folks.

The One With The Wedding

Contradictory to all of my issues, I’ve always loved to travel. I absolutely adore the simple act of going to a new place. I love nature, I love museums, I love natural beauty, and very little gives me as much of a simple thrill as to simply be somewhere I’ve never been, to smell the air, and to feel new ground beneath my feet. I don’t even care much to do things when I arrive at the destination. Sure, I’ll go to a historical site, or a museum. A tourist spot or two. If I’m near wilderness I’ll take a hike. Mostly, however, I’m content simply to be there, reading a book. I do the same basic things there as I do at home. For me, it’s enough simply to be somewhere else. As a child, I traveled rather extensively with my family. We went to Montana, to Disney World, to Maine and San Francisco, to South Carolina and to the many, many states between here and our various destinations. We went on yearly trips, to places all over the country. In addition, we went up north (That’s the upper peninsula of Michigan, for those who don’t know our terminology. Or as I call it, the mutated flipper hand that goes with our mitten-shaped state.) every fall, and it was consistently my favorite place. Though as an adult – and as my issues have progressed to the crippling point that they’re currently in – it has become nerve wracking and terrifying for me, travelling is still one of my favorite things to do. Hell, I even love just riding around at random in a car at night with my friends, just seeing places I haven’t seen.

Needless to say, these days, it can be incredibly difficult for me to do. It’s been a very, very long time since I’ve been on a plane, and the concept now horrifies me – not so much due to the inherent fear surrounding the concept of hurtling through the sky in a method of transportation invented during the lifetime of people I have met, or due to fear of terrorism, but because there are a whole lot of people in a very small space. I would have to sit next to a stranger. I hate crowds, hate hate hate hate hate crowds, more than almost anything in the world, and an airplane is essentially a mobile crowd in the sky. Similarly, I hate busses. Trains and subways, oddly enough, I enjoy. I suspect that the novelty of the situation overpowers my compulsions and fears, so I don’t know if that would keep up as time passed. Even now, I have to wear gloves and sit upon my gloved hands. This leaves me effectively limited to car travel. I can’t drive. So mostly, I just stay in.

So you can imagine my pleasure and concern when Jess asked me to go with her to her cousin’s wedding in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Of course I jumped at the chance, and of course I was paranoid beyond all reason that it would be an utter disaster. What followed was easily one of the better trips I’ve taken, thanks mostly to Jess. First, however, there was a small issue: finding some nice clothes to wear.

For those of you who don’t know me personally, let me explain. I tend to dress somewhere between “90s grunge kid” and “shabby homeless ex-professor”. A lot of ripped jeans, beaten up button down shirts, and so very much flannel. That isn’t to say that I don’t LIKE to dress nicely. Quite the opposite, in fact. I find that I’m very comfortable in a jacket and tie. The primary issue is monetary. I love suits and nice clothes, but don’t have the money for them.

Typically, I get around this by wearing a suit jacket I’ve had for a few years and just sort of matching as best I can. It tends to work just fine. However, I’ve recently lost a great deal of weight. The jacket now looks so large that it’s actively hilarious. This led to a scramble to find clothing to wear. I wound up settling on a grey sweater/shirt and tie combo. I just realized how odd it is that I spent two whole paragraphs going on about my clothes. This weird digression into my wardrobe has been funded by viewers like you.

Anyway, style chosen, I went about my usual business of making several mixes for the trip and packing far too much stuff for a three day journey that more than half of would be spent in a car. As prepared as I was ever going to be, I got in Jess’s car and got going. We immediately hit our first snag: Jess got hopelessly lost, and the GPS seemed to be conspiring against us. It took us over an hour to even get going outside my general area.I was in extremely high spirits though. This entire trip was honestly a wonderful proof that given the right circumstances and medication, I can push myself well beyond my limitations and enjoy a fairly functional life. Only two or three years ago, being even slightly behind schedule would have made me angry and paranoid, lashing out indiscriminately. Instead, I laughed it off and relaxed, listening to the music with a smile on my face.

Finally, we found our way through the wonderful area of Michigan where city turns to suburb turns to town turns to corn all in about the space of a minute and a half – which is quite an experience, I might add – and got going onto the highway. The trip would take us down through Indiana, across into Illinois, up through Chicago, and finally into Wisconsin itself. The only area in all of this trip that I have spent any length of time in is Chicago itself, a city that I am wholeheartedly in love with. I was absolutely relishing the concept of spending some time in Wisconsin. As we passed from Michigan to Indiana, I noticed something.

For those of you who live in Indiana, or are from Indiana, or even just LIKE Indiana, I am terribly sorry. Admittedly, I only saw a very small portion of it, all of which was next to a highway, but the difference between the two states was immediate, and to my eyes hilarious. The second we crossed state lines, the lush, beautiful trees of Michigan, only just beginning to change to their brilliant autumn orange, gave way to stark, white dead ones. The wonderfully green grass was replaced by dirt and rocks. To be frank, it was like the difference between the Pridelands in “The Lion King” before and after the reign of Scar.

We spent very little time in the wasteland, as we quickly crossed into Illinois. There, in the vicinity of Chicago, I saw something that I’ve never seen before. Littered around the interstate, there are a number of wonderful places called Oases. An Oasis is apparently a sort of rest stop built on a gigantic overpass that stretches across the highway. You can effectively get lunch and hang out for a bit on an overpass, watching cars go by beneath you. This is something I’ve never experienced before. I have vague memories of something similar when I was VERY young, but I can’t speak as to the authenticity of it, so I don’t count it. In any case, I was hit with a sense of delight and childlike wonder, and insisted that we stop at at least one of them. I took advantage of the situation to use the bathroom, where I couldn’t shake the distinct impression that I was doing so directly on the cars below, even though obviously that’s an absurdity.

We traveled onward, and eventually came to our destination, and small motel in Kenosha. Now, under most circumstances, the idea of staying anywhere less than a high quality hotel is deeply disturbing to me. I don’t like sleeping places other than my own bed. I don’t feel safe or comfortable in them, especially if I have no way to take a bath. Doing so is greatly soothing for me, and part of my nightly ritual. When I can’t take a bath, I have a tendency to sleep very poorly. Motels are not known for their clean bathrooms or roomy tubs. In addition, horror stories from all around the world (As well as a few less than pleasant experiences of my own…) have made the concept of staying in a less than perfect place deeply unsettling to me. In this case, I was so happy simply to be traveling again – and almost entirely for free – that I didn’t object in the slightest. The worst case scenario would simply have been a couple of sleepless nights, and I’ve suffered far worse than that. Much to my surprise, however, the motel was for the most part quite pleasant. A free wifi connection and clean sheets made me feel fairly at home. I slept through the night just fine. The first major issue arose the next morning, when I had to use the shower before we left for the wedding.

I was unable to touch the shower curtain. It was made of the same sort of rubbery plastic that they make rain slickers out of, and the very concept of even brushing against it, especially once it became wet, was appalling. I used a washcloth to draw it closed, but unfortunately, the shower was so enclosed, that to pull the curtain inside would have ensured that I was inadvertently touching it at every turn. I imagined a scenario in which I would keep bumping the curtain, and then turning frantically to scrub the part of my body that had made the unfortunate connection, only to strike it with another part, in an endless cycle that would leave my flesh pruned and scrubbed painfully raw. In an attempt to avoid this, I simply showered with the curtain shut, but not in the tub.

Those of you with even a rudimentary understanding of how water works, which I apparently lack, have beaten me to the results. You see, the water from the shower struck the curtain, and where otherwise there may have been a fine mist that simply got the bathroom wet, there instead condensed a whole hell of a lot of water, which ran down the curtain, effectively flooding the place. It was a fairly easy fix, of course. Towels are incredibly useful. However, it put me on edge mere moments before I had to go to a Hispanic Catholic wedding for people I’d never met before. I took an Ativan (my emergency anti-anxiety drug), took a few deep breaths, and we went on our way.

The church was small and beautiful, and the ceremony was incredibly simple and equally beautiful. However, I was a little loopy from the Ativan. My anxiety was gone, but I was a little… out of sorts, shall we say? Here’s a brief list of thoughts that entered my head during the ceremony:

  • Is the priest wearing crocs?
  • Is… is that Robert Downey Jr?
  • Nahhh. There is no way he’s wearing crocs. Priests wear like… priest shoes, right?
  • Man, Jesus looks sad.
  • Did he fall asleep? I think the priest is asleep!
  • This is the WORST violinist I have ever heard.
  • Oh my god the priest IS wearing crocs!

Something that absolutely shocked me was that when the priest and the musicians asked everyone to sing along with the hymns there was an epic and resounding… nothing. Not one person did. I’ve never not heard anything like it. Rimshot.

In any case, the wedding was absolutely beautiful. The reception was where things got interesting. As I mentioned earlier, it was a Hispanic Catholic wedding. A large portion of the ceremony, some of the toasts and speeches, had been in Spanish. Other than that, there wasn’t really any nods to the fact. We arrived at the reception, grabbed a couple beers, and sat back, making ourselves comfortable. That’s when the Mariachi band suddenly appeared, playing exactly the song you think they were. Seriously. Whatever song pops into your head when you hear the word “Mariachi”, they were playing that song. It was incredible.

After I got past the automatic need to laugh, I actually greatly enjoyed them. They were very talented, and once they got the couple Mariachi songs that everyone knows out of the way, they played a lot of music I’d never heard before, and it was all quite good. We returned to the motel, and I slept just as well the second night as I had the first.

I woke fairly early the next day to get ready to head back. We popped by Mars’ Cheese Castle, where we spent quite a while perusing various cheeses. We popped by a restaurant, spent a few minutes with Jess’ parents, and got on the road by about 1 o’clock. It’s a five hour drive, but we made it back in about nine. We got lost, and wound up in Chicago itself, much to my joy, but traffic kept us there for at least an hour and a half. It was just one of those trips where a thousand little things conspire to make you run just a little bit late. This worked out in our favor, though. By the time we returned to Michigan, we were starving, so we stopped off in Kalamazoo, where we discovered Bilbo’s. Bilbo’s is a The Hobbit themed pizza place, and it was absolutely delicious.

A brief list of other highlights that I would love to talk about but don’t have the time:

  • I ate cake other than yellow cake with chocolate frosting for the first time in years, and I liked it!
  • I ordered my own food, alone, at McDonald’s TWICE. Regular readers will know why that’s a huge deal.
  • We had to stop and use the bathroom in Gary Indiana, and it was AWFUL. The interior of the urine-soaked bathroom I was using smelled better than the air outside. God, Indiana, when are you going to get your life together?
  • I drank the best freaking root beer I have ever had in my entire life.

At the end of it all, I got home with a smile on my face. It was wonderful to be able to take a bath and correctly complete my night-time ritual. Above all else, though, it was a wonderful weekend. I pushed myself. I went very far outside my wheelhouse and my usual limits, and it paid off. I broke through a lot of barriers. It’s not that I wasn’t afraid, or wasn’t anxious. It’s that for the first time in a very long time, I was ready to push.  All thanks to Jess, one of the best friends I have ever had. During the entirety of the weekend, she was supportive, understanding, and helped me keep my head on straight. Her excellent and surprisingly soothing ukulele playing didn’t hurt either. This wonderful weekend served as a very important reminder to me that sometimes, when you push your limits, it can pay off. It’s all a matter of finding that balance of stability that makes it feel worth it to take the risk, and I’m getting closer every day.

Internet Exile

Well, it’s been a while. This is why I tried so hard to write something every week. Once I lose my momentum, it can be next to impossible to get it back. In the days after my last post, I had a moderately sized breakdown. I fell into one hell of a depression, and as a result, I fell out of posting for a lot longer than I meant to. The days stack up pretty quickly, and what’s meant to be a week off for the sake of my sanity becomes instead a month that damages it.

I have a very delicate self-esteem, and one that switches back and forth seemingly at random from absolute narcissism and self-adoration to a self-hatred so complete that I can’t see safely to the other side. I never know what’s going to set this change off, but I often find that it’s tied in to the internet. I wrote before about how important the internet is to me and my social life. In it, I touched on how it can be negative, but I don’t think I really adequately explained just how. I get agitated quickly, and fall into bouts of paranoia and depression. I can get driven into a frenzy by the constant assault of information – of any kind, good or bad – and start seeing everything anyone says as an attack.

A phrase I’ve heard tossed around but only just recently started understanding is “overstimulated”. I used to sort of dismiss it, but I’ve come around recently. The first time I think I really understood the concept – though certainly not the first time I felt it – was when I recently saw the film The Amazing Spider-Man 2. I had a literal panic attack in the theater. There was just too much going on at once, and it caught me on a bad day in the wrong way, and bam, there I went. The color, the sound, the flashy, fast movements. It overwhelmed me.

My constant connection to the internet has a similar effect. It’s a hell of a lot slower and a hell of a lot more pronounced, but the constant influx of information and news, though wonderful and much liked, builds until it pushes me out of my orbit, and I lash out. Explosive, mindless brawls result. Fights that take hours and drive my mood into the ground for days after the fact. I see friends as enemies, and the slightest comment from anyone as a sign that they secretly detest me and are plotting my downfall.

At the advice of a close friend, I pulled back from the internet. I’ve been in a sort of self-mandated internet exile for a while. I’ve stayed away from Twitter and Facebook unless something directly relating to me has come across my e-mail. On the one hand, I’ve been in a vastly better mood. No fights, far less confusion. However, I’ve also missed a lot. My friends tend to invite people to do social activities over social media, so I’ve missed more than one hang out. I’ve been far less able to keep up with gaming and entertainment news. Basically, being less connected to the world means being less connected to the world, and I find that to be just as unpleasant as I do rejuvenating.

In the end, I have to find some kind of line between the two. I feel like for the past week or so, I’ve kept it well in balance. It’s a difficult thing to manage at best, and it seems I have – unfortunately – fallen off the face of the earth again. On the other hand, I feel recharged. For the first time in a long time, I’m bursting with possible posts. A lot of interesting things have happened since the last entry, as so often seems to happen. In fact, I’m currently on a short road trip to a friend’s cousin’s wedding in Kenosha, Wisconsin. If this doesn’t make for a good post, what will? I wish I had been able to drum up the courage to live-blog it, but I couldn’t at the time. Instead, I think I’ll wait until it’s done and post a blog about it.

In any case, I have no intention to let this fall by the wayside again. I want to do this blog, and I intend to resume maintaining it as well as I can. Please, stay tuned, because within the next few days, there’ll be a brand new full-length post on the adventures and mishaps that comprise my adventure to Wisconsin with my dear friend Jess. This one is sure to be good.

Harry Potter and the Rejuvenated Life – Part 2

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” ~ Albus Dumbledore

After I finished reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I couldn’t have waited more than twenty minutes before starting the next one. In fact, the first three books came out so close together (and came into my hands even faster than that) that, for me, there may as well have been no gap between them at all.

As Harry enters his second year at Hogwarts, a number of new, very important things are established, and both the world and the scope of the story grow larger. Again, the series approaches some very serious subjects in a way that’s accessible and digestible to children. In the same way Sorcerer’s Stone is about life, death, and finding strength to face them, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is about acceptance of people different from ourselves, as well as taking care with who you choose to place your trust in, and how. Right now, however, I’m going to talk about racism.

Now, I’m not going to go off on some rant about racism, its dangers, and the fact that it is still very much alive in the world. Far better thinkers and writers than I have had their say on that subject. What I want to do instead is give credit to this book and the woman who wrote it for approaching it so well, and examining it so closely while still making the book deeply entertaining. The lessons it teaches are some of the most valuable that can be learned, and they’re presented naturally, without feeling forced or preachy.

It is detailed clearly in this volume of Harry Potter’s story that Muggle-born and half-blood witches and wizards are reviled by small, vicious sections of the magical population. This, it seems, was one of the largest motivations behind Voldemort’s grab for power. To put it quite simply, he detests those he finds impure. Pure-blood wizards often consider themselves to be superior. Draco Malfoy (Harry’s nemesis at Hogwarts, and I don’t feel that word is too strong in their case) and his parents are among the ones who consider themselves above the rest. His father, Lucius, was one of Voldemort’s greatest supporters during his rise to power, and only through a combination of trickery, bribery, and threats did he avoid a jail sentence. They would just as soon see all of the “mudbloods” – a nasty name for those who aren’t pure – wiped off the face of wizard society.

Interestingly, Rowling does not approach the subject from a stark “pure-bloods are the bad guys” angle. The temptation to do so for simplicity’s sake is there, but instead, she chooses to be more flexible. The introduction of Arthur Weasley, Ron’s father, is incredibly welcome. He provides the series with a much needed counterpoint to the menacing Lucius. Fun, funny, good-hearted, and absolutely adoring of all things Muggle-related, Arthur and his family are also pure-bloods. Their dismissal of this fact is an incredibly strong point. They simply don’t buy into the concept that anyone is better than anyone else due to the nature of their birth.

The book’s examination of acceptance of other cultures and races goes far beyond that pair of characters and what they stand for. Nearly every aspect of the story touches on the concept that being different is not only okay, but a thing to be celebrated. Rowling introduces an entirely new magical race in house elves, a type of small magical being that has been enslaved by wizards for ages. Harry meets Dobby, an odd little elf who struggles against his orders (at great personal cost) to do whatever he can to protect Harry from harm at the school. Harry and his friends attend a “deathday party” for one of the ghosts that inhabits the castle, where they learn about the morbid culture of the disembodied spirits. They meet an intelligent, giant spider name Aragog, who was accepted and protected by Hagrid, despite his monstrous nature. Around every bend is a new lesson about accepting people for who they are and who they choose to be, rather than who we want them to be.

On a personal note, this book also introduces my favorite character in the entire series, one Gilderoy Lockhart, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Good looking, famous, and wildly successful, Lockhart holds the hearts and eyes of many in the palms of his well manicured hands. Known the world over for his great deeds and heroics, he takes to the job with a great gusto… where it is immediately clear that he’s a buffoon with no real skills whatsoever. The man is a smarmy braggart in the extreme, and I find him ENDLESSLY entertaining. I could read about his particular brand of idiocy for hours on end. He lends levity to a book that is a step forward in maturity from the previous entry.

The story itself is more sinister than the first. A new threat faces the school, like none that Harry has seen, and for the first time, his fellow students are in danger. Someone or something is prowling the halls, petrifying people, and all that the students and teachers have to go on is an old legend about a hidden chamber in the school, said to house a terrible creature that will cleanse the school of impure blood. For a number of reasons, the evidence points to Harry himself as the culprit.

The school quickly turns to mistrust and fear of their one-time savior. Danger, real or only perceived, in a place where one used to feel safe can quickly bring paranoia bubbling to the surface. This is something I know all too well. In my adult years, my mental illness has been triggered by many things, and it can be something as simple as an unexpected sound in a place where I usually feel perfectly at home. This story can and has served to remind me that those fears and suspicions I feel toward the people and places I feel most comfortable with need to be taken with a grain of salt, and considered carefully before taking action. This is tempered, however, with a valuable lesson about who you should place that trust in to begin with. Without spoiling the story too much, at the center of the tale is the fact that a main character trusts too quickly and with too little thought, pouring their heart into the hands of someone who wishes to do them harm. Once again, Rowling’s lesson isn’t black and white, but complex and careful.

The book builds swiftly to an absolutely stunning climax, one that throws all of these philosophies together in one incredible scene, reaffirming all of the lessons learned. In the aftermath, Professor Dumbledore again imparts his wisdom to Harry (and the reader), saying a single fantastic sentence that binds it all together. “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

It doesn’t matter what you are born with, or who you are born to. You choose how to treat other people. You choose who to trust. You choose who to defend. You, and no one else, choose who you are, and all of your successes and failures are due to that choice. Make the right choice, these pages urge. Be a person you can be proud to be. It is a lesson that all children need to learn. I can’t think of a better way to learn it.

 

P.S.: This entry in my series is a bit shorter than the first. I imagine that Part 3 will be as well. This is because there wasn’t much to add about my own life at the time of release, due to the speed with which I devoured the first three books. When I hit book four, I imagine that the entries will soar in length and content, both because the books are far longer and more complex and because my life began to change far more rapidly as I grew up. I hope you enjoyed this, and stay tuned for part 3!

 

Harry Potter and the Rejuvenated Life

In the earliest years of my life, I became an avid reader. As I’ve mentioned before, I started reading very early, and never stopped. I read comic books, children’s books, and a few adult novels. When I was in first grade, they put me in the third grade reading classes, and even that bored me to death. There wasn’t much I could find that really held my attention.

When I was in elementary school, I found the Borrowers novels, and I read them hastily in a single night, absolutely enraptured by their fascinating world. I also loved the rats of NIMH series, and read all three books with a great hunger. Though I still feel a deep affection for those novels, as they helped point my path in life, what they have done for me pales in comparison to one single series. If I’m being completely honest, I have a number of obsessions and display a rabid fanaticism over a great many fictions, but they all fall aside in comparison to a single series.

Harry Potter.

What I aim to do in this probably overly massive seven-part blog is describe the feelings that these novels have inspired in me, and how the series grew up with me, and gave me something to believe in and hold onto at the very worst of times, as well as the best. As a child who was just starting down the road into a life that would be marred by mental illness and anxiety, these books were a tether to hold me to myself when the world slipped too far away, as well as an escape for when it became too overwhelming. This is an explanation and a message of thanks to J.K. Rowling, who created a world that has done more for me than any.

Note: Some spoilers are inevitable, but even though this series is far past the expiration date of my personal spoiler policy, I shall do my very best not to ruin too much for prospective readers.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

“After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” ~ Albus Dumbledore

I blame it all on Brian Foster. I was a nervous, awkward child, who didn’t really know how to process my emotions. As I’ve mentioned before, I mostly went through my life trying to fake feelings, often at the cost of my own dignity. I didn’t do the best job in the universe of making friends. To put it simply, I was annoying and strange, and even those who I was closest to had long stretches of time where they could barely stand me. Compounded with the fact that I had recently switched to a new school, into a program for the gifted, it was a very unpleasant time in my life. I met Brian the first day in the new school, and although he got annoyed with me a lot, he was one of my first friends.

I would like to say that I saw Harry Potter coming, and that I picked up the first book on the very first day. I didn’t, though. I had heard the name tossed about for a few months here and there, but in the grand scheme of things, it never quite piqued my interest. The exact sequence of events that followed are a bit muddled. The first three books hit here in the United States over a period of about a year, give or take. Sometime between the release of the first book and the third, Brian was reading the books, and suggested that I catch up, and join in on the fun. I recall that I took a little bit of convincing, but before long, I was reading the first.

Of this, I am certain: I was transfixed from the very first sentence. I sat in the lunchroom at the school, reading it while Brian sat nearby. I bombarded him with questions, completely unable to wait to find out more (“So Hagrid is some kind of… magical biker giant?” “Just read the damned book, Kyle!”).

What I read took me away from my hectic, confused, distressing life, and showed me something I had never thought of before: a hero I could relate to. I had of course read many books with great heroes, adventurers galore, everymen and women who climbed in the face of adversity, and became more than they were. The problem was that I didn’t feel like an everyman. I felt like an outsider.  Harry Potter was a skinny kid with glasses and a scar on his face, just like me (The scars covering the right side of my face are from a dog bite when I was a toddler. They’re barely noticeable, but to a 12 year old boy just becoming aware of the fact that looks meant something, I may as well have been the Phantom of the Opera.). This boy was unsure of himself, and though the school he had just entered was a magic school instead of one for the gifted, he shared my fish-not-only-out-of-water-but-straight-up-on-the-moon experience there. This boy could have been me.

Orphaned as a baby, Harry had been raised by his magic-detesting Aunt and Uncle in a cruel, abusive home, forced to live in a cupboard under the stairs while his cousin was doted on so much that he was given two bedrooms. My own home life was nothing so horrific, of course, but I didn’t really identify with my sports-loving, non-reader parents, and my foolish 12 year old mind latched on to this as a similarity anyway. Suddenly, unexpectedly, it is revealed to him that he is a wizard, and will be attending Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he will learn to harness his magical abilities. He is also, as it turns out, quite famous in the Wizarding world already. You see, far from dying in a car crash like his Aunt and Uncle told him, his parents were murdered by a foul and evil wizard so feared that none would even say his name out loud. Lord Voldemort, or He Who Must Not Be Named, as he was most often called, then turned his wand upon young Harry, casting a powerful killing curse. For reasons unknown, the curse didn’t kill baby Harry, but instead obliterated You-Know-Who, who hasn’t been seen since. The Boy Who Lived is looked at as a great hero in the wizarding world. Far from entitled, Harry’s painful upbringing had left the young boy humble and kind, with a firm sense of justice.

Harry Potter’s first year at Hogwarts was a fantastic, whimsical one. J.K. Rowling was quick with a joke, and brought a smile to my face on every page. The characters felt alive in a way that none ever had before, and I daresay that none ever have since. Don’t misunderstand. There are many, many novels which feel true to me, and which share that kind of power, but there’s something special about Rowling’s. Something I’ve never been able to put a finger on.

From the muggle (The wizard word for non-magical folk) loving, incredibly large Weasley family, to the full range of oddball and fascinating teachers, every single one had a life of their own. We followed Harry as he made friends and enemies, and found something that I had been looking for all my life as well – a mentor. As I mentioned in a blog a few weeks back, I adore my father, and am eternally grateful for the love and guidance he has shown me throughout my life. However, I was just starting to feel the real effects of my misfiring brain, and as I wouldn’t be diagnosed for nearly thirteen more years, I felt quite alone.

The headmaster of Hogwarts, Professor Albus Wulfric Percival Brian Dumbledore, stood out to me immediately. I found myself drawn to his bizarre appearance and wisdom, and his sense of humor mirrored my own. He’s called both a genius and a bit mad in the same breath. Throughout the challenges Harry faces in that first year, from homework, to Quidditch (a wizard sport played on broomstick that sounds far more complicated than it is), to facing off against the greatest evil that the wizarding world has ever known, Professor Dumbledore is there to guide Harry, and keep him safe.

The book showed me a way to find strength in myself, and that even a strange, scarred, skinny kid could face down his past, and become someone new. I call on this same strength today, as I face down my illness and my anxiety. Perhaps more than ever, I owe my resolve in the face of darkness to these pages.

Not only were the chapters within a source of strength, and deeply entertaining, but they faced me with a level of respect that I had never experienced before in my life. Presented in these pages, beautifully told, and without the slightest bit of condescension toward the children the books are meant for, was my very first lesson about death itself.

Lord Voldemort’s ultimate quest, aside from ruling the wizard world, cleansing the earth of non-pure-blood wizards, and subjugating the blissfully unaware muggles, is immortality. He has gone to great lengths to become undying over many decades, twisting himself into something barely human. He returns, not truly alive, sustained only by the evil actions of a servant who still remains loyal to him, and seeks not only to be restored to life, but to life everlasting.

Harry staves him off, with more than a bit of luck and the help of his best friends at the school. It is in the aftermath of this confrontation that Professor Dumbledore speaks words to Harry that I have never forgotten and never will. “To one as young as you, I’m sure it seems incredible, but… …it really is like going to bed after a very, very long day. After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”

Mortality haunts us all. The idea that it will all end some day is terrifying and painful. It’s also something we should never shy away from. One of the foremost themes of the Harry Potter series is mortality, and how we should not shy away, but confront it boldly, ready to face what comes next with dignity and hope.

The breaking down and dressing up of such necessary concepts as mortality, finding strength within yourself, turning your weaknesses into strengths, and not just tolerance of those who are different, but acceptance and celebration of them are nothing new. Never before or since have they been discussed so openly, and respectfully, or so beautifully presented to children. This book finds a way to reach deep inside, and plant these seeds in your mind.

That’s not the truly incredible part, though. What’s amazing is what follows. The books continue. More of the story is told. The themes get darker, the tales grow more serious. The books get longer, and deeper, and more elaborate. Characters grow and change. You start out reading children’s books… and end up reading adult novels. The series grows with you, and feeds and nurtures the seeds it planted.

Never has this been more true than with those lucky enough to read these books within my own generation. I picked up the first book a twelve year old boy, unsure of myself and just beginning to seek an identity, and I put down the final book a twenty-one year old man, just becoming sure for the first time of who I wanted to be. I’ll be damned if that wasn’t J.K. Rowling’s intention.

These books have been especially useful for me as I grow older and find myself becoming further and further hindered by my mental illness. I reach out for them in times of trouble, and call on the strength they give me to find my way. No matter how lost or broken I feel, I can always reach out for these truly magical tales, and find myself rejuvenated, stronger than when I picked them up.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be re-reading them again, and starting today, I’ll be posting a blog of this nature for every book, exploring why it’s so powerful and important, and connecting it with the time in my life that I first came upon it. I hope to take those of you who love the books already on my own personal journey, exploring how powerful they’ve been to me specifically. For those of you who haven’t read them, I hope to show you why these books have become a phenomenon, and why I recommend them to everyone, of all ages.

Above all else, I want these blogs to say one thing: Thank you, J.K. Rowling. These books have changed my life for the better in so many ways that I can barely find the words. Thank you.

 

P.S.: Hooboy, this one got away from me. The idea was to do a fairly quick overview of the books, and why they mean so much to me. When I started writing, though… well… it just kinda kept going. The plan from here on out is to make this a kind of a recurring series. I won’t post them all in a row, and I’m not sure how long there will be between parts. I’m just going to keep working on them, and I’ll post them whenever the time feels right. I hope you all enjoyed this.

The Figurative Voice in My Head Didn’t Want This Blog to Exist

This is a pretty consistent problem with me. I get all geared up, I start actually working on something regularly, be it this blog, or working on writing fiction, or poetry, or exercising. Things chug along for a while there, and I’m pretty happy with what I’m turning out. Slowly though, ever so slowly, stuff starts to creep in at the edges. My obsessive, worrying nature latches on to my enthusiasm and productivity like a cat on curtains and rides them all the way down, shredding them as it goes.

It’s a pretty consistent, discouraging blast of self-discouragement. The thoughts range from legitimate self-criticism like Why did you yak on about Space Camp for like ten paragraphs, what is this, middle school English class? to complete absurdities like What would Hugh Jackman think if he read this? I bet he would be embarrassed, Kyle. He would be ashamed. You would disappoint Wolverine, how does THAT sit with you? Not very well, figurative voice in my head. Not very well at all.

This causes me to quickly lose interest out of self-defense. It’s far easier to happily live my life if I’m not too busy worrying about whether or not famous actors approve of my choices. However, in doing so, I give up a pretty good opportunity to seek more and push farther than I usually do. This time around, I’m not going to let it happen. There’s absolutely no way.

Tonight, I suddenly remembered that it had been Wednesday, and that I hadn’t yet written a blog. Ah well. You can just write one tomorrow. It’s not like anyone is waiting with baited breath to read your inane rantings on, like, vampires or whatever. No one’ll care. It started out sort of friendly. Like the figurative voice in my head was trying to be supportive by saying I was allowed to take a break. That’s how figurative voices in your head get you, though! They’re tricky.

It soon moved on to another tactic. Okay, fine. You really want to feel bad about not writing today, huh? Fine, why not read some of your more recent ones! Oh, yeah, remember that Zelda one? Boy, I bet you feel dumb about that now. All cryin’ and shit. My figurative head-voice is kind of a bully. I pushed past the attitude, trying to find a reason to write, a focus, something to spark some vague interest in writing tonight’s blog.

I told my friend Jess, she of acting and japanese steakhouse fame, that I had forgotten. She encouraged me to write like the wind. I opened the site, and sat there staring. What to write? What could I possibly write with no planning? I turned again to Jess. “Minecraft!” It’s not a bad suggestion, actually. I went so far as to type the word Minecraft in the title line before FHV popped up again. Minecraft? Seriously? MINECRAFT? You’re going to slap out a blog about a literally plotless video game where you move blocks around? I considered this. Though I believe that there’s a blog in that game, I didn’t think I could possibly write it in one sitting with no thought. Though the game is simple, the feelings it inspires are complex.

So what to write? I was deeply discouraged. FHV had almost won. We both knew that I hadn’t forgotten so much as I had pushed it under some stuff in the corner of my mind to give myself an excuse to fail. Suddenly, I noticed something. The stat bar on my page had moved. Someone actually read my blog today. I took a look, and lo and behold, several people have read it this week. Suddenly, I felt invigorated. I felt energized.

I dove deep into the recesses of my mind, and I found FHV in the old moors. We stared at each other across a dark, foggy field. He was tall and broad of build, with dark hair and eyes. His face was fairly handsome beneath the beard, and somehow… familiar. I smiled. Why are you smiling? he asked, his eyes full of malice. His voice was powerful and melodic, with an Australian accent. My eyes widened in shock. Of course! How had I not seen it before!? My lips moved to form the name I dared not speak aloud. Hugh Jackman.

Seriously, he destroys sinks in a weridly high number of his movies, keep an eye out for it.

The sink-hating bastard in the flesh.

He gave a subtle nod, indicating that he knew I’d recognized him. I was confident in my own power this time, though. I stood my ground. “I have what I need to defeat you,” I said, softly, with a smirk. You can’t beat me! You’ve never beaten me, and you don’t even have a topic! I didn’t look away for a moment. The fog swirled around us as I spoke. “Don’t be so sure, you bastard of a literary device/triple threat! I have you right where I want you!” FHV/Hugh Jackman looked at me, his dark eyes wide with fear for the first time. What? No! “Oh yes,” came my reply. Suddenly, I raised my voice, calling into the mists, “I’M GOING TO WRITE A BLOG ABOUT NOT BEING ABLE TO WRITE A BLOG!” It can’t be done! NO ONE can escape that level of pretentious meta! You’ll never survive! The fear in FHV’s voice was as thick as maple syrup and even sweeter. My face split wide into a laugh as I showed him the computer monitor. “I already have.” FHV/Hugh Jackman screamed in agony. A brilliant white light poured forth, tearing him to shreds. He melted away like a candle, leaving only a greasy black residue in the moors of my mind.

He’ll be back. He always comes back. He doesn’t always look like Hugh Jackman, though. That got weird fast. For now, I can kick back and take pleasure in the fact that I just wrote an entire blog about defeating a figurative voice in my head that looked like Hugh Jackman so that I could write an entire blog about defeating a figurative voice in my head that looked like Hugh Jackman. I sat down with the goal of finishing something to post tonight, to keep my momentum and make sure that I didn’t lose this blog too, and I have done that. I may only be able to get away with something this absurd once, so at least I can say I did it in style.

Suck on that, Hugh Jackman.