Toys and Tools, Allies and Playmates

Nobody gets through this life on their own. That’s particularly true when it comes to therapy. At its core, therapy is a bootstrapping experience, because nobody but you can make you change the way your brain works in any positive way. You also can’t do it on your own, though. I’ve become a big believer in having a therapist and taking doctor-prescribed medication. But along with having a therapist and taking my meds, I’ve found some books and websites that are helping me a lot in terms of dealing with my depression and anxiety and becoming the person I want to be, living the life I want to lead.

In the hopes that at least one other person can benefit, I’ve decided to share the books and websites that have been helping me lately. Keep in mind that all therapy is intensely personal and every person is a special snowflake, so no one will get the same effects from these as I’m getting. But there’s still a hell of a lot of good in sharing our sources and inspirations, our tools and toys, our allies and playmates. Because even if it often feels like you’re alone in this world, you’re not. None of us are alone, and we need each other.

So, here we go…

Books:

The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (In Real Life) — This was the book that sparked this journey off, in many ways. I was on meds and thinking seriously about therapy, but reading this book and doing the “charactercizes” made me realize just how much I needed to see a therapist while also making me realize I really could live the life I want. It’s fun, it’s flippant, it’s down to earth, and it’s really profound. Plus, Chris Hardwick is something of a hero of mine, since he basically does what I want to do (making a living by being my own geeky and doing the things I would do even if I weren’t getting paid).

The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living — A few people, including my therapist, recommended this to me, and it’s proving to be invaluable. This is basically therapy for people who think therapy is bunk. It’s based on ACT, which is what my therapist practices, the general principle being, “Life can often suck, and trying to get rid of your bad thoughts and feelings won’t really work, so it’s best to just accept the bad things without focusing on them and giving them power.” It’s a practical therapy that reminds me a lot of Taoism and Zen Buddhism in outlook and practice. The author, Russ Harris, frequently says, “Don’t take my word for this. Try these methods out for yourself. If they work, great! If they don’t, find something else that does.” This book is exactly what I needed.

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles and Do the Work! — For a long, long time, my biggest obstacle in writing has been my own fear, which usually manifests as “I want to be a writer, but first I have to do this, that, and some other thing,” procrastinating by creating a huge to-do list of imagined steps that must be completed before embarking on the journey I say I want to take. Author Steven Pressfield’s two books are a powerful kick in the ass to tell you to stop procrastinating and start doing. The fear ain’t going away, so face it down, punch it in the nose, and do what you say you want to do while your fear continues to scream and shout.

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative — I’ve mentioned this book recently, and it’s similar to Pressfield’s in that it’s a short, sharp exhortation to stop fucking around and start doing what you really want to do. Austin Kleon rocks!

The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want — Like The Happiness Trap, Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book says you can’t reach this mythical “my life is all happiness, everything is great” place, but you can do specific things to improve your overall happiness. This book is full of practical things you can do, based on lab research, to improve your base level of happiness and orient yourself towards the life you really want to be leading.

Websites:

Lifehacker — I’ve been reading this site for years. Truthfully, I ignore at least half the posts, because they don’t have anything to do with things I’m interested in, but there’s such a nice assortment of posts on computers and other tech toys, DIY projects for the home, Getting Things Done ideas for work, yoga and meditation, writing, arts and crafts, and…well, there’s a assload of posts on a huge range of topics. It’s cliché to say, but it’s true, there’s something for everyone.

The Headologist — Ellie Di is a nerdy, punk rock psych major, inspired by the witches of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. So of course I think she’s fun and brilliant. She’s currently in the process of revamping her site and the way she practices her “headology,” but at the very least, going back and reading her older posts, as well as interacting with her online, has been very, very helpful to me.

Tiny Buddha — There’s a lot in Buddhism that appeals to me, and this site hits a lot of those on the head. I’ve read posts on this site that have both inspired me and given me some practical advice that I’ve worked on incorporating into my usual routine. Good stuff.

There you have it, the toys and tools, the allies and playmates that are primarily helping me these days. In general, I prefer specific exercises and practices over theory and philosophy. If any of these books and websites help you, I’d love to know about it. And if you have suggestions of books, websites, comics, movies, TV shows, or whatever that you think could also help, please drop me a line or leave a comment here.

Happy and Strange

I reblogged this comic on Tumblr this morning, adding my own comment at the bottom: “I love this! I usually refer to myself as straight and I’m mostly attracted to women, but…I’ve never really felt *straight*.”

Maybe it’s because I grew up with relatives who were out about their sexuality–and their sexuality wasn’t always static. Maybe it’s because I was often teased and bullied in high school and college for being seen as possibly or probably gay. Maybe it’s because throughout my life, going back as far as elementary school, I found myself having emotional crushes on boys but didn’t know how to handle or express that (especially since I wasn’t physically attracted to them, which obviously meant I wasn’t “gay,” right?). Maybe it’s because when I was in preschool, I played “Archie” with my brother and my best friend, and while my friend played Archie and my brother played Reggie and Jughead, I played Betty–and I never thought there was anything weird or “wrong” about it. Maybe it’s because I’ve had so many friends and family in my life who identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, hetero-flexible,  “undefined,” whatever. But  the real answer is certainly “all of the above” for why I’ve never really thought of myself as “straight.”

I don’t feel straight, I feel queer. Yes, I’m male and I’ve only ever had romantic and sexual relationships with women. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t snog some men if I had the chance. (As I’ve said to friends, “I wouldn’t go gay for John Barrowman, but I’d definitely go bi.”) People are attracted (physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc.) to all kinds of other people. I think people are generally happier when they accept this about themselves and others, and as long as everyone is a consenting adult, it doesn’t matter who you have relationships with and how those relationships play out.

While “straight” implies “normal” and “queer” basically means “weird” or “unusual,” I find straight to be much weirder and rarer than queer. But I love living in a world that’s happy and strange, gay and queer, so…if we’re going to have labels and definitions, I’ll take queer, thank you very much.

The Great Play

Even before I started seeing a therapist, I thought of therapy and dealing with my issues as “the Great Work.” In part because I’m a grandiose motherfucker, but also because the idea of getting over my mental issues seemed like a huge amount of work.

This past weekend, I tore through Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist (which is one of those books that kicked me in the eye and demanded I reread it a few hundred more times, taking it all to heart). I read the book with the idea it would help me kick my own ass to write more prose, but I started thinking about all of the ways I could apply the book to my life, all the ways in which I am and can be creative. I realized therapy is one of those creative outlets for me. It’s not something I put up with, it’s not a chore, it’s something I want to do.

Since then, I’ve started thinking of therapy as creative play, no different from playing guitar or sketching or writing. My overall mood has lightened and my attitude towards my anxiety and depression has changed. I’m not seeing myself as “broken” or “sick,” but as “a work in progress.” I’m finding myself eager to practice what I’m learning in therapy, just as I’m finding myself more eager to write and exercise my creativity in other ways.

I don’t know that this is a profound change of perspective, but it’s very important to me and is having a very positive effect on my outlook and, um, inlook (as in looking in at myself, you dig?). I need more play in my life, anyway. Doesn’t everyone?

Why I’m Here

I’ve been blogging for about 11 years. I’ve been on Twitter for 5 years. I joined Facebook pretty much as soon as it opened to everyone (besides university and high school students) and joined Google+ as soon as it went live in beta. Why?

As I’ve said, I’m an extrovert. I love making new friends and meeting like-minded people. As shy as I can be in person, I’m pretty bold and outgoing online. I’ll charge in like gangbusters and throw myself to people I think are smart, funny, kind, geeky and frighteningly interesting. If I like you, I let you know it in as clear a way as I can and I’ll happily share my fears and anxieties, my passions and inspirations, and my hopes and dreams with you. Maybe it’s obnoxious, but…fuck it, I’d rather wear my heart on my sleeve and honestly show my interest and enthusiasm for people I like.

In that spirit, I ask of you all this: please share this blog, my Twitter account, my Google+ account–hell, even my Facebook account, even though I’m not a huge fan of Facebook–with people you think might dig what I write about. Not because I’m looking for fame or fortune or glory, but simply because I like meeting new people and making new friends with people I have things in common with. I’m not looking to be indiscriminately promoted, but if you think someone might like what I write about, please send me their way. And please feel free to leave comments on this blog or start conversations with me elsewhere on the interwebs, and if you’d like, please drop me a line and start up a conversation with me. I don’t think it’s possible to have too many friends, so please do what you can to connect me to people you think I’d like (and who would like me).

And if you’re already one of those people who leaves comments here or who talks with me on Twitter, Google+, Facebook or other social sites: thank you. I sincerely appreciate the feedback and engagement, the support and encouragement. I’ve made some amazing friends online over the years, and I’m always thrilled to make more friends. Let’s dance on!

Avengers Assembled

I saw The Avengers this afternoon. While I knew I wouldn’t like it as much as the comics, I figured I’d like it. I just didn’t realize how much I’d like it. The Avengers is…really, really fucking great. Every actor does a terrific job, it’s got fantastic special effects out the wazoo, but what I really loved about it is the writing.

No, I’m not talking about the trademark Joss Whedon dialogue, although there’s a lot of it in the movie and it’s great. Zak Penn and Joss Whedon have written a movie that combines the best of Silver Age Marvel Comics with contemporary big-budget action movies and Whedon’s best existentialist thoughts on heroism.

The Avengers have always been a team of quarrelsome, peevish heroes who step on each other’s toes as much as they beat on the bad guys. They argue and brawl amongst themselves, they get moody and question if what they’re doing is right, but in the end, they come together and back each other up. That’s exactly what we get in the movie, and for old school comics fans, it’s wonderful to see. There’s a lot of big budget, special effects explodey, but there’s also a lot of well-written, character-driven emotey stuff. There’s great interplay between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton, Thor and Loki, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, and Nick Fury and Maria Hill.

Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff stood out to me in particular. She gets the kind of treatment that, sadly, few people besides Joss Whedon would give her. She gets a lot to do in the movie, including a number of scenes that set her up to look like a typical Hollywood female character, only to have it turned on its ear. She’s strong, smart, caring, and not prioritized with attracting men. She plays a major role in ways that I wasn’t expecting. I was happily surprised.

Similar to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and Serenity, and Dollhouse, The Avengers features protagonists who take on the role of hero because somebody has to do it and they want to make a difference. There’s no higher power, no moral absolute to appeal to. In a chaotic, uncaring universe, full of people who don’t give a damn, the protagonists choose to help and protect people, to fight against tyranny and destruction, to sacrifice themselves to save others. These are the kinds of heroes I like to see.

The Avengers is a hell of a lot of fun. It’s also stirring and inspiring. From start to finish, it’s a fantastic ride. I kind of love it a lot.

The Best Canvas

Thanks to a multimedia onslaught, I doubt there’s anyone reading this who doesn’t know that The Avengers movie opens this weekend. Although I was torn at first, I’ve changed my mind, and I’m really excited to see The Avengers as soon as I can. I think it’s going to be a hell of a lot of fun.

That being said, if superhero movies are on the wane (and with the money The Avengers is looking to pull in, it doesn’t look like they are), I wouldn’t care. In fact, I don’t really care if any more superhero movies are made. I mean, I’ve liked the Iron Man movies a lot. Thor and Captain America were a hell of a lot of fun. And I’m apparently one of the few people who didn’t think Green Lantern sucked. But as much as I’ve liked them, all of these movies have made something very clear to me: live-action superhero movies will never be as good as comics.

Yeah, I know, people always say, “The book was better than the movie.” That’s not what I’m talking about. Books aren’t a visual medium. Comics are. Film is, too. Adapting superhero comics into movies is adapting one visual medium to another. And there are things you can do in comics that you simply can’t do in movies.

For one thing, as anyone who has watched the 1960s Batman TV show knows, people generally look really stupid in superhero tights. It’s why Batman’s costume in the movies has gotten to be more and more like armor, less and less like tights. It’s why the X-Men in the movies where black leather instead of colorful spandex. It’s why the Hawkeye of the Avengers movie doesn’t wear the purple costume he wears in the comics. Even Captain America’s traditional costume only shows up in the movie as a joke about showbiz glitz. I love colorful, goofy superhero costumes, but what looks cool in comics can look really lame in live-action.

Superhero stories in the comics frequently go from street-level gritty and slice-of-life comical to monumentally, cosmically epic. But with a few exceptions (the Thor and Green Lantern movies come to mind–and the Avengers movie looks to be pretty damn epic), filmmakers and studios shy away from the really big stuff. The first Fantastic Four movie has the team save Manhattan–but mostly themselves–from a snarky, small-minded Doctor Doom. Where was Doom’s time machine? His gadgets that shrunk the Four into a microscopic universe? His claim to be the rightful ruler of Latveria? Why is Superman always saving Metropolis or the U.S. from Lex Luthor when he could be saving the world from Brainiac? Why don’t the X-Men fight Magneto on Asteroid M, his rocky base that orbits the Earth, or battle the Sentinels aboard a vast space station? I like my superhero stories to be full of high-level imagination, crazy science, weird mysticism, and cosmic drama, and there are too few examples of this in superhero movies.

The nature of comics also allows for storytelling that has become a mainstay of superhero stories, things that don’t translate to film, like lots of smart ass quips and long bouts of dialogue in the middle of action-packed slugfests. Narration and thought balloons also don’t translate into film without being intrusive to the experience. The biggest way in which Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies fell down for me was in Spider-Man’s utter lack of smartass quipping during fights, something that is an essential part of his character in the comics.

I clearly like a good superhero movie. But even the best superhero movie is a poor substitute for superhero comics. For some stories, live-action film is the best canvas. But for superheroes, nothing beats the comics.

United We Stand

Today is International Workers’ Day, a public holiday in many countries that aren’t the United States. In honor of this day, I took the day off work. I realize this is something of a luxury. One hundred years ago, workers wouldn’t have been able to take “vacation time” off. They also wouldn’t have had a work-free weekend like I just had. I have these things because labor unions fought to get them. Even today, some U.S. workers can’t take vacation time whenever they need it. In order to make ends meet, some people have to work two or three jobs, working far more than 40 hours a week. Some people can only get part-time work that doesn’t offer “benefits” like health insurance or paid time off. The time of unions and fighting for workers’ rights isn’t over. Workers are still exploited. Employers will still try to get away with as much as they can and give as little as possible. And many of the job benefits people in the U.S. enjoy and take for granted are a result of unions. So let’s all be thankful. And let’s all keep fighting for better wages, more time off, safer working conditions, health care for all, and other things we deserve and don’t get.

(If you think people don’t deserve these things…I really don’t have anything to say to you, so don’t bother leaving a comment.)