I Don’t Usually Remember My Dreams And Today I’m Glad I Don’t.

I rarely remember my dreams. I’m not sure why, though I’d bet it has to do with my various sleep issues and how rarely I feel properly rested, but this has been my experience for my entire life. I can’t remember a time in my life that I recall waking up with the details of a dream in my mind more than once in a long while. Most of the time, the dreams I do recall are bad ones, full of negative emotions and unpleasant images perhaps only still present in my mind because the experience of these dreams was so awful that I shook myself awake from them. The rest are a general smattering of the sort of odd, disconnected ideas and sequences that seem to form most dreams and are utterly unremarkable in any way other than their rarity.

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The Modern Malaise of Mixed Emotions

It is a brand new month. Not a lot has changed since yesterday when I was upset about being in a tough financial spot (though I’ve crunched numbers so at least I know exactly how much wiggle room I have), but I did get my yearly Spotify stats today so now I’m wondering if I have a music/podcast addiction or if I’ve grown reliant on those forms of media to combat my constant solitude. I spent an average of 7.2 hours a day listening to Spotify, exactly 21% of which was a single podcast.

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Play Some Happy Music, Sad Man

I had an awakening yesterday (a week and a day before this goes up), while I was preparing to run a Dungeons and Dragons game. I’d spent the day in what I like to refer to as “low energy mode” since I’m struggling to find even keel after a few tumulutuous weeks (relatively to the past few tulmultuous years) and was looking for a way to get amped up for my D&D session. I was genuinely excited to run it, but most of the day had slipped by in a fugue as I went about my work tasks and final prep. So I turned to music to shake me from my stupor and get my brain moving.

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Swept Away Again

Due to my attention/anxiety issues, I almost always have music going in the background. It makes it easier to ignore errant or intrusive thoughts if I have music playing. As I’ve gotten into podcasts, I’ve found myself doing the opposite, finding something to play in the foreground so I can pay attention to my podcast since I’d almost always wind up browsing twitter or something on my phone if I don’t have something to do with my eyes and hands when I’m listening to a podcast. As a result of this habit, I’ve discovered a special moment I treasure whenever it happens.

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Love is…

Love is…
…Affirmation
The small words
Lost in a paragraph
As you’re told your feelings
Are as valid and real
As your experiences.
A theme repeated
From one mouth to the next
While all you can manage
Is a simple “thank you”
When you are lost in a sea
Of inescapable emotion
You can do nothing about
But endure
Until the waves pass.

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Saturday Afternoon Musing

I just took a five-day weekend and I already need another. One of the things I’ve been reflecting on recently is that it has been quite a summer. Two weddings because the relationship I was in, the end of the relationship I was in, throwing myself into my writing and my work in order to take attention away from the end of the relationship I was in, working more than ever so I could pay off my car loan, paying off my car loan, tons of flooding in my area, winning the Hamilton lottery, going to see Hamilton, trying to enjoy my long weekend and the game I took it for and being unable to because the internet has been going in and out without warning or pattern… A lot has been going on.

Sure, some of it has been good stuff, like the lottery and Hamilton, but that’s a still lot of emotional energy that gets spent. I can tell I’ve reached a new low because I’m always filled with the kind of existential exhaustion I associated with my depression but none of my other usual symptoms that go along with it. I also find myself spending an hour or more sitting on the couch, doing nothing or letting the TV just run because I know the internet is out again and, sure, I could write in a Microsoft document and just past it into WordPress when I’m finished or I could even just grab my phone and write my posts on it if I don’t want to bother with a bunch of temporary files but that’s a lot of effort and it’s taking all the energy I’ve got to just stay calm about how unreliable the internet has been and how that’s been negatively impacting my relaxation activities. Which isn’t at all a description of how I spent my early afternoon while waiting for the internet to come back so I could finish today’s post and get it online.

It definitely doesn’t help that work has been super stressful as well. We’ve got a big deadline coming up and I’ve had to assert my priorities to some senior coworkers a lot more than I’d like to. I’ve also had to deal with the prospect of getting put on a future project that continues a current project which has been a total nightmare of everything going wrong and one person domineering the design decisions. It’ll be a great product eventually, of course, but a lot of the time it feels like it’ll be good despite some people’s best efforts to turn it into an unholy abomination of things that sound good but are totally useless. I am extremely uncomfortable with conflict, but I keep finding myself gearing up for them at work because I don’t mind telling people they’re wrong or that they’re wasting my time. I’m one of the only people stubborn enough to sit through an hour of a meeting and stick to my (correct) line of reasoning rather than just agreeing so the meeting will end. I don’t blame my coworkers for not being willing to fight to the death like I am because they’ve been dealing with this guy for much longer. Most of them are much friendlier than I am with people who waste their time and none of them are as stubborn as I am. I’m a perfect storm of the right personality traits to confront people like this person and the sincere desire to never be in conflict ever. I’ll fight the battle because I recognize it needs to be fought and, if it turns out well for me, will save me stress and effort in the long run, but I’d also rather just keep my nose down and get through each day as it comes.

Some days, it feels like a lot of my life is like that. Lots of stress and effort now so things will hopefully be easier later. As I see this particular thought crop up in my life, I find myself wondering at what point I stop thinking “it feels like” and start thinking “my life is”? I think the main problem the later is that it’s easy to go from reflecting on how much effort I put into everything in my life these days to a whole slew of negative thoughts. Stuff like “is it worth working this hard” or “I have to work this hard because nothing good ever happens” or “I wish something nice and easy would happen because nice stuff never happens to me,” all of which are false. If anything, this past summer has taught me that this isn’t really a “good” versus “bad” scenario, this is a “work” versus no work” scenario. I did no work to get the Hamilton Tickets. Spent twenty dollars and clicked stuff on an app every day for so long I forgot I was doing it. That’s not any kind of definition of work in my book. That was a good thing that happened to me. It was an amazing thing that happened to me and I’ll be holding on to that happy giddiness for months.

I don’t sleep enough. I take care of myself last of all. I have depression that leaves me feeling listless and unable to do anything but focus on moving myself forward through the day. I get so caught up in my anxieties I can’t breathe. I have a hobby that fills my soul with meaning and helps me set direction for myself. I have good friends around me who care about me and the stuff I care about simply because I care about it. I have terrible luck, but it often turns good in surprising ways and at unexpected times. I can support myself and am only financially limited by my willingness to work extra hours. I make enough that I don’t actually need to work more than my required minimum number of hours to make ends meet. My life is pretty well-balanced, honestly. It’s not bad. It’s not great, either, but it’s on the positive side of neutral. I just have to work hard pretty frequently. Not because my life or lifestyle is in danger if I don’t, but because that’s the cost of making progress on my dreams. I wish it was easier, but then I probably wouldn’t value the time I get to work on my dreams as much as I do. I wouldn’t value a quiet weekend in the woods as much as I do.

Today, I don’t wish my life was different. Today, I just wish I had a few extra hours each day. There’s so much to do… It’d be easier if I suddenly got four extra hours every day so I could sleep more. I bet I’d get a lot more done if I was well-rested all the time. Maybe that’s what I should do with my next vacation. Just go to bed every day at ten at night instead of staying up super late because I know I don’t need to get up for anything in the morning. It’s worth trying, some day.

 

Doing New Things is Scary

I’m not very good at doing new things. By which I mean that I generally do not engage in activities or experiences that are new to me, not that I lack a certain basic competency when it comes to performing tasks or participating in experiences that I have never done before. I’m actually pretty good at picking things up and running with them. Quick learning is a skill I’ve spent my life developing and is part of why I like writing new and different things.

Despite being confident that I can muddle through any new experience, I tend to avoid them these days. I started this unfortunate habit because I was so incredibly busy with work, writing, trying to live a more healthy life, and focusing on growing the relationships I was establishing in what still felt like a new city. Nowadays, I still use that excuse but I mostly avoid them because of fear. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of losing something important to me that is never clearly defined and never makes sense if I actually dig into it. I don’t do open mic poetry nights because I’m afraid of sharing often very emotion poetry in a setting where I actually have to look at the people hearing my poem. I can post a poem online and use the internet as a barrier to keep me insulated from any reactions to it, but I can’t do that in a setting that sometimes even encourages people to interact after hearing a poem. I dislike crying in public. Not because I think crying is bad, but as an artifact of my issues showing emotion. I don’t even like being frustrated, sad, or angry in front of other people.

I actually quite enjoy a good cry. Pop in Les Mis or something on the warmer side and I’ll watch it just for the bit that makes me cry. Feels nice, you know? Refreshing. But generally not in public and as a result of a poem of my own that I just read to a bunch of mostly strangers. I just bared my soul and am now displaying how emotional that was for me. Even though I know they’d be a bunch of people I’d probably never seen again, even the thought of possibly doing this is making me feel uncomfortable and self-conscious. Sure, you could argue that being open and emotionally vulnerable with a group of people makes them no longer strangers. You could also argue that being secure in my own emotions and experiences means there’s nothing a bunch of strangers could do to harm me or manipulate me using the emotions I just shared. I’d probably agree with you on both counts. That doesn’t make it any easier to do. And that’s just the emotional outcomes of sharing my work. What if someone hates it and starts heckling me or gives really terrible “feedback” because all they want to do is feel superior to other people? I don’t know if any of my poetry is good and I’ve never really tried to build my confidence in it the way I’ve built my confidence in my prose writing, so sticking my neck out feels especially fraught.

I used open mic poetry reading as an example (mostly because the one friend who read yesterday’s post and messaged me to let me know that it was, in fact, the one post she’s read since I started doing reflection pieces is the one who was always encouraging me to go to an open mic night), but I feel like it does a good job of illustrating just how complicated I’ll make anything new in order to avoid it. Which isn’t to say I’m wrong or that anything I brought up about going to an open mic night isn’t a legitimate consideration. Everything I’ve written about why I am disinclined to reading my poetry in front of people is true and a part of any decision I make. The big difference is I’m willing to just push past all of that consideration for things I’m more familiar with.

A D&D or Pathfinder encounters night at the local game shop? Not comfortable role-playing in a group because gamer communities at local game shops can be super tightly-knit and not the most-welcoming to new people. A book club focused around science fiction and fantasy books for people in their 20s and 30s? I don’t want to get into arguments with people about book analysis or have to defend myself if I dislike a book that everyone else liked. A local writers group to support each other as we work on our NaNoWriMo pieces? I don’t want the pressure of having strangers read my prose as I’m still working out the details of the story, nor do I want to get stuck with a group that isn’t interested in improving so much as just patting each other on the back for being a writer.

I can do it for literally anything. I actually DO it for pretty much everything. I supply my own reasons not to go or tell myself that I need to psyche myself up before I commit to doing anything like that. Then I never psyche myself up, make sure to keep the conversations with whatever friend suggested it to topics further away from “what should I do with my free time,” and eventually forget about it. At least, that’s what I did for a couple years.

Now, I’m trying to be open to doing more things. Trying new stuff. My girlfriend likes to go out and do things, like go to parties or attend performances by local artists at breweries. So I put the excuses aside, focus on the simple acts of getting there and getting back, and wind up having a good time. So far, I’ve been to more parties and local events since I started seeing her than in the almost four years I lived around Madison, WI before I met her. I even joined a Monday night D&D group with only two people I sorta knew from the foam fighting thing I do on Thursdays. I went to a performance by a small local musician she knows because one of her other friends was reading poetry from a poetry dissertation and had such a wonderful time that I’m actually considering workshopping some poetry with my beta readers to get some pieces together for an open mic night.

After writing that last sentence, I had to go take a break from writing this post to breathe deeply and think about something else. I’m still coping with stress and anxiety by ignoring it and busying myself, but there are times when no amount of addressing the anxiety is going to help and all you can do is plunge ahead despite it. This is one of those times. I don’t know when I’ll do it because I’m still nervous to the point of almost puking at the thought of getting up in front of people to read some of the poems I’ve posted here, but I’m at least thinking about it. And distracting myself with thoughts of presentation and what kind of business cards I could make to refer people to this blog for more poetry and some fiction as well. I don’t do advertisements on my blog because this isn’t about making money, but it still feels really nice to get views.

The old cliche about bravery is that “being brave” means feeling scared but doing whatever it is anyway. I don’t know if I’d want to go so far as to claim I’m being brave, but I definitely don’t want to feel as stagnant as I did a year ago and I don’t want to let fear rule my life. Which means doing new things, growing as a person, and eventually getting up in front of an audience to say something I feel is important to me. That is, after all, the point of writing stuff on this blog.

 

Steven Universe is the Best

Where do I even begin.

I’ve watched the series all the way through four times since this summer. First time through was in “streaming” order, the default order available on Amazon’s video streaming service (you’ve gotta buy the “seasons,” but they’re worth it). The second time was in the correct order, based on continuity. The third time was with my roommates. The fourth time was because I was impatient, unable to calmly wait for new episodes to come out. Every time I watched it, I felt like there was more to unpack. After four times, I can definitely say there’s more to this show than I can comfortably cover in a blog post, so I’m going to apologize up front for what a mess this might be.

I love the music. I first became familiar with Rebecca Sugar (the show’s creator) through her work on Adventure Time and, when I found out she was the person behind the song from the “Stakes” mini-series, “Everything Stays,” I bought all of Steven Universe from amazon and started watching it as soon as I’d stopped crying. Music is such an integral part of this show, that I’m not sure any review or discussion of the show can even half-assedly cover the show without going into it. The theme song is catchy and the scenes appearing on the screen throughout it are heart-warming and colorful. In the very first episode, the protagonist, a young human child (Steven), unabashedly signs the commercial jingle for his favorite ice cream treat. The episode ends with a portion of a bright, yet rather sad song whose entirety we do not get until the second season (or until you went ahead and bought the soundtrack or looked it up on Spotify). The second episode begins and ends the same way, but we discover that Steven’s love of music came from his father who was in a band before he met Steven’s mother.

Throughout the entire series, music comes in at critical junctures, giving us a window into the interior lives of the characters or communicating something they’ve been struggling to verbalize. We see one of the Crystal Gems named Amethyst–an alien race that are nigh-immortal but came to Earth long ago–sing a song with Steven about leaving home because they don’t feel like they belong. We eventually see Garnet sing a song about the strength of working together. Pearl sings several songs, many of them focusing on relaying information or expressing an emotion she’s been hiding for a long time following the passing of Steven’s Mother (who gave up her corporeal form in order to give birth to Steven). Steven sings songs for every possible reason from communication to encouragement to the simple joy of singing with someone. Steven’s dad, Greg (my personal favorite character and someone I aspire to be), sings songs to his son whenever he tells him about the past. Music touches every part of this show and really captures the heart and soul of the characters. Everyone I know who has gotten into this show has subsequently looked up the music on their own. I am not joking when I say I got Spotify just to have access to the album everywhere I wanted to listen to it. I also literally just bought it right before writing this sentence because I realized I couldn’t listen to it in the car because I’m super frugal when it comes to using cellular data. There’s so much amazing music, but I can’t really go into specifics without risking spoilers because it is so tied to each episode. The music alone is reason enough to check the show out.

The characters are so incredibly real and Steven redeems every character from a show you watched growing up whose power was hokey sentimentalism. He is sentimental, kind, incredibly sweet, unbelievably caring, and one of the most emotionally mature characters I’ve ever seen in a TV show, at least at the end. He still messes up, of course, but watching him grow throughout the series is incredibly rewarding and good inspiration for learning to work through your own problems. I won’t share any of the other characters’ growth because watching them change over the course of the series is a huge part of the show. Just as they grow in strength, they develop emotionally. The plot is just as much about emotional growth and learning to deal with your emotional troubles as it is about Steven Universe learning to become a Crystal Gem and what happens between the Crystal Gems and their estranged homeworld.

The supporting characters don’t feel like supporting characters because they’re just as three-dimensional and vibrant as the main characters. They even manage to make a pink lion with no speaking lines a fully fledged character with a detailed emotional life. The world is full and unique to the story. There’s a wonderful number of references to things that match our world despite there being a huge number of things that also separate it from our world. The stories are touching and deal with real conflict, and not just the violent kind. Sure, there are monsters they beat down, but the more difficult conflicts for Steven to handle are people who refuse his help due to their own pride or the people he wants to rescue but cannot. The most heart-wrenching episodes include an episode where the conflict Steven faces is when he has to decide to not save someone in order to take care of himself. Every villain has their reasons and even the worst of them eventually earns a measure of sympathy. You eventually get a sense that there’s something bigger going on, something beyond the characters you’ve seen. That there’s someone else out there who made the decisions that eventually created the bitter hatred and sadness you see playing out in these episodes.

As much as I love the show, I feel I should caution you. Since the show hasn’t finished yet, and the recent episode releases have been rather inconsistent and random, don’t dive right into it if you’re struggling with some unresolved emotional burdens or something big and sad has gone on. While this show can be incredibly cathartic, there are a lot of emotional issues that haven’t been resolved yet and basically leave you feeling sad and somewhat mournful. The tone is melancholic and, despite the fact that many of the sad moments end happily, not all of them have been resolved yet. Still, though, I suggest watching it. Definitely cautiously, and definitely a bit more slowly, but the catharsis and the wonderful feelings you get from watching something amazingly well made are worth it.

There’s so much more I want to say, but I think I’ve said everything that’s important. Watch this show. Take the time to make sure you’re watching it in order (which has been much easier now that you can buy actual DVDs of Season 1 and it is Season 1 that is out of order on all streaming services) and don’t watch more than a few episodes in a sitting. Let the show digest a bit between sittings and you’ll enjoy it even more.

 

Falling

He twisted, trying to get his feet underneath him. The air felt thick as he struggled to control his decent. He knew was going to hit water soon, but he couldn’t see. Every time he opened his eyes, they filled with tears and might as well have been closed. If he wasn’t prepared soon, the shock would kill him.

Finally, he felt his hair whip up around him and away from his face. He turned a bit and stuck out his legs, feet angled so his heels would hit first. As he wrapped his arms around his head, he felt the impact on his legs and the pain nearly caused him to lose consciousness. The cold slap of the water on the his body was the only thing that kept him awake as he shot into the depths.

Once his movement slowed, he opened his eyes. He was lost in a murky blue-green world with nothing around him but the weight of the water about him. He exhaled and watched the bubbles rise. Using only his arms, he pulled himself back up to the surface and crawled onto dry land. He closed his eyes again and lay back, just grateful to have made it out.

“Did you hear me, Martin?”

Marten opened his eyes, his visualization gone. He was in the quiet corner of a coffee shop he and Alice liked. Alice was sitting across from him, expression neutral. “What?”

“Martin, I said I don’t want to be with you anymore. I’m moving out tomorrow and staying at my mother’s tonight.”

“Oh.” Martin looked down at his hands. “You don’t want to try to work this out?”

Alice shook her head and grabbed her purse and left, giving him last glance that Martin didn’t see. He was busy falling again.