Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Waiting Game

Time is the ultimate equalizer. The wonders of nature and man will be ground to dust, and that dust will fade into the universal uniformity of heat death over trillions of years, according to the current eschatological theories. Time wipes everything clean.

The boughts of anxiety I have been experiencing for the past few weeks have largely subsided. Some of this is due to coping techniques I learned, but I think that most of it can be traced to confronting some of the social circumstances causing the anxiety and working through my feelings.

Left in the fading trail of anxiety is minor depression. The fact is, even once you accept a shitty situation, it still sucks. I am more hopeful than frightened, however. Depression is something familiar to me, and I can more accurately assess it. This seems to be more situational (like the anxiety), rather than the chronic variety that has plagued me in the past (and probably in the future).

What gives me hope? The passage of time.

If you sit back and do nothing, most problems will not solve themselves; however, when you actually put effort into working on yourself and dealing with the problems, time has a nice way of helping you out. It may be difficult to find anything beyond temporary relief from a single therapy session, but when you add up several weeks, the culmilative effect can be surprising.

Like all things, my current state will pass. For that, I am thankful, even if I sometimes look upon my works and despair.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

On Shitty First Drafts

Last night I shared the beginning of my current (and longest) piece at the university's writing club. The response was overwhelmingly positive and it was great ego boost. But in a way, it the experience highlighted my issue with the piece.

The first passage of the story flows very well and has imagery strong enough that people commented that they felt like they were really there, looking just over my protagonist's shoulder at the scene. I think it's one of the best things I have written. But there is a sharp decline in quality immediately following it.

Why? Because the first part has been meticulously edited and rewritten multiple times. Most of the remaining story has only had the initial pass of writing it, and as a result lacks any sort of rich details or particularities that establish a sense of the place and action.

It gets worse, though. The story suddenly hinges on a series of coincidences and characters become pawns for the plot rather than entities with the illusion of agency. It has become especially hard to continue to slog through writing it, knowing that not only does it suffer from the roughness of a typical first draft, but the story itself is rapidly unraveling as I reach parts I have planned out less.

One tactic that may help is to try detailed outlining. As it stands, my outline is vague, with events separated by undefined distances—I discovery write between the points. I think that if I treat the outline as discovery writing, with a beat-by-beat breakdown of the action, I might find more success.

So, that's the plan, I guess?

Saturday, September 6, 2014


It normally takes me a while to discuss my mental issues out in the open.

When I was younger, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease and immediately began telling everyone I knew about it in all the gory details (including showing people pictures of the inside of my small intestine). Part of me actually thought it was cool, but in retrospect it is clear that this oversharing was a defense mechanism that made me feel better about something that was very scary at the time.

The thing about mental illness is that there is a stigma attached to it. People tend to view depression as something you can “pull yourself out of,” despite the fact that if someone died from cancer, no one in their right mind would argue that “they just did not fight hard enough.” (Maria Bamford demonstrates this much better than I ever could.)

So, despite a part of me wanting to be open about my depression, I tend to hold back until I know someone better. There is something inappropriate about explaining the time I entered acute group therapy on a first date, for example. Additionally, most people on the street do not need to know about my late nights listening to Coldplay’s “The Scientist” on repeat.

But sometimes, not being open about struggles can cause problems. Keeping things bottled up and suppressing emotions is not healthy. And so, I find myself writing a far too revealing blog post.

When my mental illness was officially diagnosed at the end of high school, the prognosis was depression and anxiety; however, almost all of the symptoms I have been able to consciously notice have been depression related. While anxiety was a problem, it usually manifested itself as clenching my jaw, rather than my heart racing. The only time I have ever had a panic attack was when I tried to get on a (small) rollercoaster and collapsed in the queue. That probably deserves an entire post of its own, though.

Recently, however, I have been experiencing bouts of anxiousness that I only can only compare to how it felt to live away from home for the first time. Those went away eventually, and I came to view the college I was attending as a genuine second home that I miss to this day.

It is entirely possible that the main culprit this time around is the same as before; I recently enrolled in a four-year university for the first time in five years and there is a lot riding on my academic performance. To say that it is the only source of anxiety would be short-sighted, though.

I am not very skilled at making friends. I have always been introverted and shy and self-conscious (some of which was the result of mental illness rather than an inciting factor). Moving to a city for the first time, I naively expected things to be easier this time around. While there are more like-minded folks around Pittsburgh than in the wilds of Pennsyltucky, my social skills have not improved much in a half a decade. Yes, I am more confident in who I am, but I am still very much a loner at times and just plain do not mesh that well with most people.

I am completely okay with that, provided I can find a close-knit group of people to take the place of the dozens of friends a more social person would acquire. And you know what? I have found some of them, already.

So what is the problem? Not to play coy, but I am only comfortable divulging a certain amount publically. But the heart of the matter may be that I am afraid of easily losing that which I gained.

I used to always get the impression that people disliked me. To be fair, I can be very annoying, as so many people in elementary school explained by creating clubs at recess with the sole purpose of excluding me. As my sense of self has matured in the past decade, and as I received treatment for my mental health issues, this has been reduced greatly. But now, it seems that somewhere in the deep recesses of my heart, that fear is alive and well.

This past week, I have been feeling anxiety come over me at an unprecedented rate. At its worst, I was feeling it every few minutes. This has since subsided, thanks in large part to the help of the campus counseling center (those people are doing God’s work). But even as I write this, I wonder what the people I have come to know will think of this confession, and if it will lower their view of me. It is a silly concern, but at the moment, an unshakable one.

I feel guilty whining about it. I know people that struggle with anxiety issues far worse than this. To them, I fear, this rambling post may seem trivial. But it is all very unfamiliar to me and as a result, scary.

I will probably regret posting something this revealing for so many people to read, but I am a firm believer that you regret the things you do not do more than the things you do. Plus, this is super cathartic. And maybe it will make someone else going through something feel less alone.

Or maybe this is just me oversharing again to feel a little less scared.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


A while ago there was some buzz in ye olde gay blogosphere about a conservative politician who may have been involved romantically with another man in his past. These rumors are a dime a dozen, but it provoked discussion over the ethics of outing someone.

The consensus (among blog commenters, at least) seems to be that you should not out someone closeted. The big exception to this is if the person in question is actively harming lgbt people through their actions. There are also plenty of people who believe there is no harm in outing someone in the “transparent closet.” That is, people who are “obviously” queer in some way but have not acknowledged it publicly. I disagree with this vemiantly—the closet may not be a dignified thing, but for many people it is viewed as a necessity to maintain their life. “Transparent” or not, that person has their reasons.

As for those who harm people, like anti-gay conservative politicians, I am more open to the concept. In my mind, if I choose to view it as acceptable, it is a negative act that benefits the greater good. The thing is, I am very uncomfortable with this. A bigoted hypocrite may “deserve” to be outed, but there is something unsettling about weaponizing someone’s sexuality. In a way, it is reinforcing that to be openly lgbt is a negative thing that should avoided except when employed as punishment. By punishing people with something that most open minded people would claim is a positive thing (coming out), you are affirming that it is a bad thing to be feared.

On the other hand, some people may deserve it. I really am not sure how I feel about it, except that the only situation in which I am even open to outing someone is if they are a menace to the lgbt community.

"The State" of Alternative Comedy (See what I did there?)

Alternative Comedy is, in its simplest form, an intentional departure from the mainstream sensibilities and styles of comedy. It is known for a more casual demeanor and a general sort of weirdness that permeates it from the core outward. Displaying a grand level of self-awareness, it is meta, with performers at times commenting on their jokes as they are still telling them. Instead of appealing to the lowest common denominator, jokes are crafted to be a unique representation of the comedian’s personality.

The beginning of the Alt. comedy movement is difficult to pinpoint. The term itself was coined in the 80s, but it has been expanded to retroactively include older comedians like Mel Brooks and Steve Martin. Though it has existed for decades, only recently has it grown in popularity, infusing itself in the popular comedy culture.

Arguably the single biggest reason for this expansion is the advent of podcasting. In the last decade, podcasts have proven themselves to be popular forms of entertainment. They emerged as digital radio shows and have blossomed into a many-formed means of self-expression. There are many aspects of podcasting that make it ideal for the dissemination of comedy: most shows are prerecorded, allowing for carefully constructed set-ups and sketches; they are cheap to produce and distribute; they can reach any market with reliable internet; and most importantly, anyone can make one. Podcasts, with their laissez-faire attitude and ease of production, proved the perfect medium for comedians—especially those with lulls in their careers.

Chris Hardwick started his Nerdist podcast by recording himself and his friends having freeform discussions about comedy and their lives. What began as a small way to kill some time constructively grew into one of the major podcast empires of the internet. The Nerdist podcast is consistently one of the most popular podcasts on iTunes and is now the flagship show of a network of dozens of podcasts. The network has been so successful, that in 2012 it became a property of film studio Legendary Entertainment.

Another success story is Marc Maron’s WTF. Shortly after his terrestrial radio show was cancelled, Maron began recording interviews with other comedians. Due to his openness about personal issues and his occasionally confrontational nature, the show found a broad, loyal fan base and is one of the most respected podcasts on the scene.

Comedy Central has also contributed to the rise of Alt. Comedy. In the past few years, they have green lit several shows that cater to the Alternative crowd. Broad City, which has its roots in a web series is produced by Amy Poehler and swims in the kind of weirdness Alt. comedy has become known for. Episodes feature seemingly innocuous events like waiting for a package and spin plots that involve treks across New York and encounters with strange characters. @midnight uses a game show format as an excuse to feature Alternative comics. Through internet-inspired games, contestants get to show their comedic chops.

When a genre of something becomes labeled “alternative,” it is because it offers some sort of other option to the mainstream. The ironic thing is that alternative genres, as is the case with music, grow and develop into popular categories in their own rights. Coldplay is hardly an unknown band, but they are one of the key acts of the alternative music genre. In a similar way, alt. comedy is becoming increasingly what people think of when they hear the term “comedy.”

Arguably, the increased popularity is a good thing. More exposure means more album and ticket sales for previously unknown performers. There is always the risk of “selling out,” but as the corporate forces supporting comedy become increasingly open to alternative acts and sensibilities, is that really that bad of a thing?

If you are looking to get into alt. comedy, the best advice I can offer is to find someone whose voice speaks to you by listening to various podcasts. Pandora is also a great way to sample many comedians in one sitting and Spotify is the simplest way to listen to an entire album.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Relic

Comedian Patton Oswalt tweeted this a while ago to draw attention to the Texas GOP’s educational policies. That is certainly something to ponder, but what caught my eye while scrolling through the pdf was this gem:

Homosexuality ― We affirm that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society and contributes to the breakdown of the family unit. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable “alternative” lifestyle, in public policy, nor should “family” be redefined to include homosexual “couples.”

I am astounded by the sheer level of animus present in a statement; if written by any other anti-gay group, they would at least try to hide the hate. Normally they portray themselves as satisfied with simply denying marriage equality to gay people—the Republican Party of Texas actually professes umbrage with the homosexual “lifestyle.” They take offense to gay people being gay.

In this day and age, it is difficult to find people with such brashly archaic opinions. It is—to put it mildly—not a future-proof statement; it will come back to bite them in their asses. There may still be a (shrinking) portion of people who oppose gay marriage, but you would have a harder time finding people who openly dislike homosexuality itself. It is puzzling that they chose to take such a position in such a time of change.

I would say I can only hope that people will look back on this in the future the same way we look back on statements condemning racial equality, but it is a very likely possibility and will probably happen in the near future.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

On Why I Have Not Been Writing Blog Posts Very Often

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reason(s) why. This will be a short, muse-y post wherein I prattle on about the topic in an attempt to coax some understanding from myself.

I have gone through creatively stagnant periods before—that is nothing new. While suffering from a bout of depression, I not only found it difficult to write, but I even stopped doodling (which I normally do compulsively while in a class). I got over it, thanks in large part to therapy, and am actually being somewhat productive now when it comes to writing. But somehow I lost interest in my blog for a while.

I periodically come across things that I could blog about, but never get around to actually writing about them. I suspect laziness combined with procrastination (caused by perfectionism?).

Maybe I will tackle some of those topics in the near future.

Something about blog posts this short makes me feel bad(ly?).

Oh, and in good news, I have been published online by the fine people at Apparent Mag!