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.

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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.

The Importance of Fiction

My life is ruled by fear. I sat here for twenty minutes trying to come up with a less dramatic phrase than that, but I couldn’t. From the minute I wake up to the minute I manage to fall asleep – usually far later than I intend to – I’m terrified. I have no doubt that this remains the driving force behind my absolute adoration of fiction. My entire life has been wrapped in stories, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It began early on, I can tell you that much. When I was a kid, I devoured storybooks like there was no tomorrow, and it wasn’t long before I was reading adult novels. I think that even then, I knew that someday I would love horror, though if you can believe it, I never really saw horror films or read horror novels until I was 16. When I was a little boy, however, a combination of two things put a lock on that door for quite a while. Firstly, I saw part of Child’s Play 2 on TV at a Halloween party a friend was having. Secondly, I couldn’t stop reading scary story collections for kids. Bruce Coville’s wonderfully creative little collections come to mind, and to this day I can retell some of the stories point for point, though I read them nearly twenty years ago. The one about the little kids who wish it would never stop snowing and get their wish, as the world was slowly buried in ice. The story about the boy who literally fell to pieces when his parents got divorced. One stuck with me more than anything else, though. I don’t remember the title, and I think to look for it now would be to ruin the magic, but it was a tale of a young boy, who, while asleep, had an out of body experience, floating above his bed. As he floated, amazed, a plane collided with his house, sweeping his body away, leaving him a disembodied spirit. He roamed the world, seeking a body of his own. The tale was haunting and beautiful, and I had never read anything else like it. To this day, as I think of that story, I hear the beautiful tones of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, which played in my head during the entirety of the tale.

There were many, many others as well. A story about a grave digger with room for one more. An irish folktale about a creature who wanted his tail back. Murderers and thieves and monsters and things that defied description, I couldn’t stop reading about them if I tried. I had my mother take the books away and put them on top of the fridge, to keep them out of my hands until I was old enough, but it didn’t work. I would climb on a chair to get them back. Finally, I found the willpower to put these things away, by sliding from “More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” to science fiction.

When the film of Jurassic Park came out, I was seven years old, and I couldn’t go see it. My solution was to read the book instead, which was, of course, far more violent. I loved it, and it marked a transition point for me. I devoured Crichton’s entire works, and rapidly moved on to Asimov and Wells. From science fiction, the transition to fantasy was natural enough. Tolkien, Pratchett, Pullman, Lewis, I read them all. The incomparable Chrestomanci novels by the late, great Diana Wynne Jones have been a guiding force in my imagination since the day I picked up the Lives of Christopher Chant on a whim. These, of course, lead me to Harry Potter, sparking an obsession that lasts until today. I would pick a genre, author, or story series, almost at random, and I would read voraciously, and with great speed. I read the entire Borrowers series in a single 24 hour period, not daring to shut my eyes for fear of losing the magic. I can honestly say that these were the best moments of my life.

Movies fascinated me as well. As my teenage years approached, I would ride my bike to libraries and rental places, pockets jingling with quarters, collecting cans and looking on the ground everywhere I went for lost money and change, and every single solitary dime was spent renting movies, games, and paying library fines. Ah yes, video games too! As technology advanced, it became possible for a medium that had once been reserved for Pong and Super Mario Brothers to tell stories of genuine depth and interest. The Legend of Zelda, with its bare bones technique, spoke to me of  a larger story I could only dream of. The Final Fantasy franchise gave me rich, fascinating characters and deep, sympathetic villains the likes of which had never been in any films. I soon learned that video game stories had far more in common with books than movies, especially since at the time, they had to tell most of the tales in text. It was around this age that I discovered comic books, as well, the so-called modern myths.

This sparked a fascination not only with Spider-Man and Batman that have pursued me far into adulthood, but with the true myths of ages long passed. I began rapidly reading books detailing different versions of every myth imaginable, from the tales of trickster gods, to the monster slaying, half-divine heroes of the Greek and Roman tales. The location of these books in the library lead me inexorably to books on cryptozoology, psychics, and other strange and spiritual tales of the modern world. All of this coming together got me through to the day when I saw the movie Aliens, the first horror film I had seen since I was a child. At the time, I was adamant that I would never read or see horror again. I knew that my fascination with the subject bordered on addiction, and that once I began, I couldn’t stop, even when I terrified myself into being unable to sleep for days. My best friend at the time talked me into it, and I watched it in his basement, white-knuckled. Even then, at 16, I was beginning to exhibit signs of the anxiety that would eventually dominate me, but it was far milder, and I was able to overcome it more regularly. I took a deep breath, steadied my shaking hands, and proceeded to watch the most awesome two hours of film I had ever seen. It turned out that I had been right to be concerned. From that moment, I was addicted. Within a week, I had seen every Alien and Predator movie, and I rapidly branched out, renting every horror movie I could lay my hands on.

That entire summer was spent in the basement, huddled around VHS tapes of the Friday the 13th series, Freddy Krueger, Michael Meyers, Candyman, the list is endless. That was also when I picked up the single book that would affect my life the most deeply. Stephen King’s The Shining. The moment I read it, I was a different person. I attacked the King catalogue with an attitude akin to defeating an enemy. I HAD to read everything he had ever touched, and I tore into them, going for the kill. He lead me to Dean Koontz, who is another, admittedly smaller obsession of mine.

I’ll probably do blog entries on what individual series of all these things mean to me at some point in the future, but this is going to be more about the overall feelings I have toward fiction than any specific obsession. The purpose of that long, meandering, semi-stream of consciousness rant about how I found all of these things was simply to demonstrate one important fact. Fiction is and always has been the foundation of my life. The interesting question, and what I’m trying to answer even to myself by writing this, is WHY?

It’s easy enough at the start. As a kid, I was fairly awkward and strange. I didn’t make friends easily, so I resorted to fiction for entertainment and pleasure, as well as companionship. Stories couldn’t hurt me or betray me, and they were always right there waiting when I was ready to return to them. It remained that simple throughout all of high school. In the years that followed, however, I sank deeper into anxiety, delusions, and a lack of control, all brought on by the advancement of schizoaffective disorder and bipolar.

I reached a point, one I’m still basically at, though medication and therapy have provided some improvement, where all of my energy was spent in forcing my mind not to constantly worry about the future and the inevitability of endings in the real world. I’ve sought more and more fiction over the years, using it to recede from reality when it becomes too much to handle. The older I’ve gotten, and the worse my anxiety has become, the more I’ve become connected to two specific areas of fiction. Video games and horror.

Video games give me control that I feel I can never have of this life. They give me strength, and power, and allow me to relax a little bit, something I’ve never been able to do. People tell gamers to get a life fairly often. To this, the best response I’ve ever heard is “I have many lives.” Video games allow me to experience the impossible, and I can think of nothing more beautiful than every form of art we have coming together to allow someone to live a story, to BE the hero, to BE the villain. It’s a miracle in my eyes.

Horror, too, is all about control. I live in a constant state of fear. When suddenly seeing an unexpected bottle of sauce can send you into an irrational sense of dread, that fear can easily spread into the fear of BEING scared. I’m not just afraid. I’m afraid to do anything because I just know that there will be moments of fear within every action. It’s crippling. Horror lets me choose the exact time, nature, and location of my fear. It gives me control where otherwise I’d have none. I think I’ve instinctively understood this since I was a child, and that’s why it’s so addictive to me.

When I bury myself in fiction, I’m able to go on. Coupled with a powerful imagination, it gives me the ability to experience things that many people can’t even conceive of. It allows me to fight my way through the fog of anxiety and loneliness and feel truly alive in a way that nothing else ever has. When I read, I cease to see the page or the words. I’m there, in the head of every character, living what they lived, feeling what they feel. I catch myself acting moments of these tales out, exploring the words and motions, diagramming moments of action to see just how things worked. I’ve always had a huge difficulty accessing my own feelings, even though I know that they’re there and understand them quite well. Equally, I have difficulty connecting with the feelings of others. Even though I’ve always been able to sense and understand them, connecting to them, caring about them, has often eluded me. Books change that. I don’t know why, but for some reason I find that I’m able to access emotions that are otherwise lost to me when I read, and that gives me what I need to act and to feel. When someone I know is in crisis, I don’t necessarily feel for them. I feel for a similar character in a similar situation, even if I have to create that myself. Looking at the world through the lens of fiction is what allows me to interact with it.

Before my anxiety became too great, I used to couple this approach with my natural detachment and imagination to act. To me, it was the ultimate form of losing myself in fiction. I would be shaking, nervous, pale, deeply in terror, right up until the moment my foot hit the stage, and then I would be the other person. Kyle would become a gentle voice in the back of my head, and whoever I was playing would take over. I never for a moment felt like I was acting. It felt like tapping into some other world, and finding a new person waiting for me. I could be powerful, I could be popular. Using a fictional character as a bridge, I could feel. I still manage this often in my day to day life, but it’s simply not the same. The loss of acting is what I would consider one of, if not the greatest loss to my mental state.

Looking at it now, written down, my mind seems even more contradictory than it feels. I understand emotions, and can portray them better than most. I know this, because I fake almost all of my external emotions in day to day life, only able to connect to people through a lens of fiction. This is only possible, though, because of my lack of control over the ones I actually feel, and the detachment that results.

When I write, I exert that level of control on an entire world, which is intimidating to me. I reach blocks because I become concerned about the world I’m creating. I genuinely worry about the consequences for my characters. I find that this persists in other areas of my life as well. When playing an RPG, a type of game in which one traditionally controls a party of many characters, as opposed to a single one, I begin to feel bad that I’m underutilizing any given character. I want them to feel needed. It’s absurd, but it’s something I’ve never been able to shake. I feel like the worlds we create are every bit as real to the people within them as ours is to us. I feel like we may be background players in a story being told to someone else. From this, my friend Fernando and I have latched onto the concept of the Metashow.

The Metashow is the idea that we are characters in a sitcom or drama that some other universe somewhere is watching. Many people would argue that our lives aren’t particularly interesting or funny, but to them, I point out that all you need is 22 funny minutes a week. If enough interesting and funny things happen in your life and your friends’ lives to add up to 22 minutes a week (48 or so for an hour drama) then certainly you have enough for a show. After all, we never see the characters in Friends, or How I Met Your Mother, or Community on a commute, or doing their jobs without incident. It makes sense to me. After all, it’s mostly agreed now that there are multiple universes, and if they’re truly infinite, sure there must exist somewhere in the spectrum a world where I’m a character in a show. With this in mind, I often catch myself making decisions based on dramatic themes, or acting for laughs like I’m being watched when no one is around. It can be awkward and strange, and I often feel embarrassed for doing it, but mostly I just find myself thankful that we don’t live in one of the post-apocalyptic shows, or a musical comedy universe. Our world seems to be made up mostly of sitcoms and thrillers.

This concept is very similar to the one that drives me to believe in the supernatural and spiritual side of existence. Intellectually,  I know that ghosts, the afterlife, magic, fairies, leprechauns, and all things of the sort are likely total bunk. However, I find that choosing to believe in them, wanting to believe, to paraphrase a certain fictional hero of mine, makes life far more interesting and tolerable. If you go through life believing that at any given moment, a leprechaun may leap out from behind a bush, things just feel more interesting and magical. Of course, this can play into my paranoia and delusions, and make things far worse, as well. Which is why I keep a bottle of holy water in my room. It’s not because I believe in vampires. It’s in case I’m wrong about them.

This leads me to the most important thing about fiction, and why I’m so enamored with it that for all the negatives it can cause, all the downsides that have always come with it, I’d never change the fact that it’s so deeply ingrained in me even if I could. The world is beautiful BECAUSE we can so easily enter many more worlds. I don’t know if I believe in god or not, but I believe this: when it is said that he created us in his image, I am certain that it’s meant that we were granted the ability to create. To tell stories. We can take nothing and create whole worlds, and that makes each and every one of us divine. We can use incredible, absurd situations to tell human stories, and people like me can use them to connect to others when we may never have otherwise been able to. Fiction is both an escape from reality and a celebration of it, and that makes it the most sacred thing in this world.

 

Note: A truly, deeply heartfelt thanks to every author I mentioned here by name, and to all the ones I didn’t. I wouldn’t be who I am today without every single one of you.