Breaking Old Holiday Habits

As this post goes up, I will be in the middle of my winter holiday vacation. My (currently in-progress) celebration of Candlenights will have ended, I will have observed Christmas, and I will be gearing up for a visit from the two biological family members I am still on speaking and visiting terms with. I will be eyeing the approach of New Year’s Eve with some skepticism, not sure if whatever I wind up doing to mark the end of 2021 will be celebrating a new year, celebrating the end of this year, fortifying myself against whatever is coming in 2022 (given, you know, that things have pretty much just gotten steadily worse since 2016), or maybe all three at the same time. Or maybe just the last two, since I’m not sure I can bring myself to hope that 2022 will be better.

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Managing Mental Health Over The Holidays

I need a t-shirt that says “I went outdoors to treat my depression and all I got was this mild tan.” One of the efforts I started last year to combat my feelings of isolation and worsening depression was to make sure that I take daily walks. I didn’t really expect it to solve all my problems, but I did hope that it would have a more marked improvement on my mood and general mental health. The daily walks sure help me make sure I can get my average of six hours of sleep per night, but the emotional benefits of getting daily sunlight or daily fresh air have largely vanished at this point.

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Holiday Reflections

I am at the beginning of a entire week (including two weekends) off of work. The first such week I’ve had since the winter holidays of 2020. I’ve taken the time off to work on some writing projects, rest, and grapple with the issues inherent with navigating the holiday season separate from a toxic family situation. Which, you know, is emotionally fraught enough on it’s own without throwing the holidays into the mix, which is an exponential increase rather than additive or even multiplicative. But I’ve planned some writing projects to keep me busy and engaged, some projects around the house to keep me moving and give me time outside my own head, and enough fun plans to keep me from feeling like I’m not using my time well.

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Writing For Myself

We’re approaching the halfway point in the month as this goes up, but it’s only the end of the first week when I’m writing it. I hope I’m still doing as well with my NaNoWriMo challenge when this posts as I am when I’m writing this. Right now, I’ve not only written every day, but I’ve also passed the daily average for National Novel Writing Month’s 50,000 word goal. I’m, you know, only five days in, so there’s plenty of time for that to change, but given that I was able to do last night’s words in about an hour, I think I’m in a good place to succeed.

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Some of these Toxic People Apologists Really Need a Mirror

There is a segment of the population that, for whatever reason, views severing ties with someone as always the fault of the person creating distance. I say “whatever reason,” because you can usually figure out why if you dig a bit, but the reasons tend to vary per person and most of them deny it if confronted (at least they do in my experience). Normally, I’d list exceptions here, things that even these people wouldn’t argue with, but I couldn’t type out a single one without thinking of a time someone faulted me for ending a relationship with someone for exactly that reason. It is staggering, sometimes, to think about the number of relationship and abuser apologists I’ve encountered in my life, and how many of them were otherwise good, friendly, sensible people.

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Still an Accomplishment

Luke placed the trophy on the shelf and took a moment to straighten it so the plaque faced outward. After a quick scan of shapes and words he’d long ago memorized, he sighed and turned to his wife. “One day.”

She nodded. “One day.”

Luke looked around the room at all of his trophies and led Mariah out of the trophy room, leaving the lights to her. Instead of checking on the kids, he moved into the living room and sat down on the couch.

A moment later, Mariah sat down next to him. “You’ll get one eventually. I know it.”

“I guess.” Luke raised and lowered a shoulder. “I’ve been playing sports for almost thirty years and I’ve never won. I’m getting a little tired of second and third place trophies.”

“Yeah, but you have more trophies than anyone I’ve met. That counts for something.”

“Tons of second and third place trophies aren’t an accomplishment.”

“Luke, you play a dozen sports a year. You’re an amazing coach to the kids and none of your teams would have come close to placing without you.”

Luke looked away from Mariah.“It doesn’t feel like anything worth celebrating.” Mariah pushed herself up to kiss him on the cheek and was settling back again when there was a crash from the den. Luke was in the room before she could get up.

When she arrived, she found him standing next to a fallen trophy case, broken trophies scattered on the floor.

Luke looked up to her. “Well, shit.”

Mariah smirked. “You had enough trophies to pull your trophy case off the wall. You don’t think that’s an accomplishment?”

Luke look at her for a moment before busting out laughing. “I guess I’ve come in first when it comes to having too many trophies.”

NaNoWriMo 2018 Day 23 (11/23)

I know it might make me sound like Scrooge or the Grinch, but I really hate the holidays. You spend a bunch of time trying to participate in something bigger than yourself only to wind up wiping yourself out as you try to make sure everything goes well or that everyone has a good time. Then, once the food is done and everyone has finally settled down to eat, you spend your time trying to make polite conversation and not rip off someone’s head for making an incredibly shitty comment that you don’t appreciate but which really isn’t worth ruining everyone’s good time. Because there are people who enjoy this experience. I’m sure at least one of my siblings had a great time. I think my older relatives also had a great time. It’s not like they’d admit it if they didn’t, though. That’s not polite. An entire day was sacrificed on the altar of family and festivity and all I’ve got to show for it is a new degree of tiredness, a slow smoldering anger at someone for the ignorant shit they said, and a sort of tacky feeling to my mouth that is the result of too many sweet deserts.

I honestly get along with most of my family. I also can get along with almost anyone, so I don’t really know how much that’s saying about my relationship with them. Most of my family skews toward the conservative side of things, in politics and religion, and I’m about as liberal as they get without entire abandoning sensible democracy. I dislike mind games or being passive aggressive and one side of my family plays tons of mind games while the other side engages in constant passive aggressive warfare. It’s exhausting just to be around them, and that’s just on normal days. If there’s something going on or something in the subtext of the gathering that’s less than positive, it gets exhausting to even think about being around them because they’re all in on the games and I just want to be left alone. Which is apparently “a millennial thing” rather than a “properly manage my mental health and be the steward of my own well-being” thing. I’m still quite upset about that remark, to be honest. It was uncalled for and I would have thought it was out of character for the person who said it until I heard them say it. Now it is entirely in character for them and they have been made lesser by their more apparent small-mindedness.

I also left my light therapy lamp at home so I’ve been without its benefits for more than twenty-four hours now and I kind of miss it. Even if I don’t need daily exposure to enjoy its benefits, I really enjoyed having it as a part of my morning routine. In not even two weeks, it has already become an indispensable part of my morning routine. The warm glow of it on my face as it stirs my brain and mind to life while I slowly get myself in order to start the day… It has probably been the most beneficial thing I’ve done for myself outside of creating good writing habits. And deciding to end things with my ex. And playing the Hamilton lottery. Okay, maybe not the most beneficial thing, but it is definitely having a major positive impact on my life and I miss the little bump it gave me every morning.

Honestly, if it weren’t for my plans to visit my grandparents (the ones who are having health problems that resulted in me being entirely derailed for the first full week of the month), I’d have left to drive home yesterday after dinner. Mostly because I was frustrated by my relatives but also because I like sleeping in my own bed. I’m looking forward to getting back to the audio book I listened to on the way down and having some quiet solitude for a few hours. In fact, the only reason I’m not definitely driving home this evening is because of Shitty Music Neighbor and my desire to have a Friday night free of his shitty music. I slept right through it last week, but I don’t know if I’m tired enough to repeat that performance again. I probably would be if I drove home tonight.

I’d also lose out on a few hours of writing time and that’s precious today. I’ve got the usual two and a half thousand words to write, but I’m probably going to be busy all day. I’ve got a friend to visit, grandparents to visit, and both of those things are far away from where my parents live so I’ll probably have about three hours of driving just to get to and form these events. Even if I only spend a couple of hours on each of these visits and it takes half the time I expect to drive around, I’m still only left with the evening and filling that with a drive home would leave me with no time to write since I’ll probably be too tired to do much when I get home, especially if I don’t try to stay up incredibly late to just push the words out. That never actually works out for me.

I’m sure my family would also appreciate it if I stuck around for a while longer. I don’t see them much, on account of living in a different state, and I know my youngest sister wants more of my time than she’s gotten so far. I don’t think she’ll get as much as she wants, even if I stayed until Sunday, but I don’t really want to just leave without giving her at least a little more of my time. I left for college several years ago, when she was just six, and I haven’t been back much since, so I think she kind of misses me without really understanding why, which is why it hits her so hard when I don’t have the time for her that she wants. I also don’t really know her as well as I know my other siblings, so I could be entirely off base. I would guess my absence has something to do with it since I’m the only one of her siblings who hasn’t moved back into our parents house at some point or another. For most of her life, I’ve always just been a little too far away to easily visit. I imagine it’s not a great feeling to have a brother who seems to like the same things you do who is never available for you to get to know better. Any attempt to bond is further complicated by our respective mental health issues that tend to clash if we ever spend more than a few minutes talking to each other.

Family is tough and I dislike the holidays because they’re stressful and often upsetting. For me, anyway. I hope your holidays are nothing like that but actually serve as a chance to rest up for the lat push of the month, this last week of writing before National Novel Writing Month draws to a close. If they don’t offer anything but more frustration and emotional drain, feel free to use National Novel Writing Month as a reason to pull away a bit and get some room to breathe. It may not be easy, but you’re worth it. Good luck with today!


Daily Prompt

Humans, as a whole, celebrate birthdays in a large variety of ways, usually dictated by cultural traditions. At the same time, there is a growing movement in modern Humanity to redefine how we all treat birthdays. My boss remembers when people are work would bring in treats for someone else’s birthday, or else the workplace would provide them, and now we’re all expected to bring something in ourselves unless we manage to avoid admitting it’s our birthday by conveniently taking vacation around it. How does your protagonist view their birthday or celebrations in general? Are they something to be avoided, or are they a ready-made good time? Write a scene showing us your protagonist’s inclination toward celebrations in general or birthdays specifically.


Sharing Inspiration

Currently, my favorite Science Fiction writer is doing a great job of putting out a book or two a year. He’s had a notable career in that he’s dependably produced books you’ll enjoy if you enjoyed any of his previous ones and, while he’s probably not a writer pushing the bleeding edge of wordsmithing to new heights, he’s probably one of the best Sci-Fi writers producing works right now. I’ll admit my collection is a little dominated by white dudes, so I’m also willing to admit I might be wrong. I think all of the authors he boosts for visibility, using his success to help minority writers succeed, are amazing as well and I can’t wait to keep digging through the writers he’s recommended. You should check out Scalzi’s books if you want some good Sci-Fi on a regular basis since he was the writer who inspired me to try writing my own Science Fiction. He’s got some really cool ideas out there that will hopefully inspire you to come up with your own.


Helpful Tips

I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to get uncomfortable if I’m sitting in one place for too long. My legs get restless, my knees start to feel weird, and my back demands the opportunity to bend and flex. I can counter this somewhat by using a standing desk, which is something I’d getting set up at work as we move from one office to another in the coming weeks, but I much prefer something even more free-form. I like to lounge on the floor, propped up on pillows or beanbag chairs while I work. I can roll around, twist into any comfortable shape, and never get stuck in one position for long enough that my knees start to hurt. I’d suggest you spend some time considering what barriers keep you from your writing desk or area. Are they barriers of comfort? If so, checking out different ways to sit or recline are your best bet. Even springing for a different chair can work wonders. I started using a padded folding chair instead of my computer chair because my computer chair is constantly sinking and I’m actually enjoying the simplicity of the folding chair. Maybe you’ll find out that you feel the same way if you start to explore ways to find comfort.

Saturday Morning Musing

It took a while, but I think I finally figured out the complex feelings I had about where I grew up when I helped my parents out last month (mentioned in this post). Since I left after my first winter break during college, I haven’t gone back to visit for more than a week or so at a time. I stayed at my college for almost every break after that, working and living in the dorms aside from the few holidays I went back, like Christmas or Thanksgiving. I lived in the dorms and got used to staying quietly by myself when the campus was almost completely deserted aside from the foreign exchange students during the holidays. My little college town became my home, even though I moved at least once a year, from one dorm to another. The campus became the place I belonged and I stopped calling my parents’ house “home.”

I realized during one of my recent meditations that I no longer even think of their house as home. My old neighborhood is no longer my home. It’s the place I grew up and haven’t done more than visit in several years. I don’t really recognize it anymore. I know where it is and I’ll always know how to get there, but it’s just as foreign as the neighborhoods I used to park in when I drove myself to high school. I can navigate through it and I’ve got a basic idea of what it looks like, but I don’t really feel any connection to the place. I’ve still got that for the actual house I grew up in, but it fades a little bit as my parents make changes or slowly replace parts of the house. When I was spending time with my sister, I realized I didn’t know where anything was kept anymore and that I was essentially a stranger in the kitchen where I’d learned to cook.

I’m sure that’s a feeling many adults have to cope with from time to time, and I’m sure there are people who have similar (but different) feelings about visiting their parents because their parents no longer live in the home they grew up in. I even sort of expected it as I grew in college and started to see what it meant to me to have a place I’d chosen to belong. I wasn’t surprised when I finally felt it, just uncertain as to what it meant and why I felt it.

I’ve spent most of my adult life with a lot of difficult emotions tied to the place I grew up. I even spent a lot of time seeing it as the same place with the same people I’d left behind. It was static in my eyes, unchanging and always representing what I’d endured. Since my last non-holiday visit, I’ve been working on letting go of the emotions and memories connected to all those past painful moments, so I can finally start to see my family as they’ve become since then. I think finally seeing the places I grew up, the streets I had walked down and the yards I had cut through, as someplace foreign to me is a sign that I’ve finally started to achieve that. Those places are no longer static, no longer a time capsule to a past I want to leave behind. I feel like I’m seeing them for the first time since I essentially am, now that I’m not seeing them as they were a decade ago.

I still have a long way to go, though. I’ve gotten better about letting my family be whoever they are now, but it can be difficult to avoid the old habits and to not see them as the same people when some of the old problems still crop up. For instance, I didn’t find out my parents had gotten rid of their landline until I called it and was told the number was no longer in service. Panicking, I called every member of my immediate family with a cell phone and no one answered. Eventually, one of my sisters called back and explained what had happened. This was the summer I’d officially moved out for good, so it created feelings of disconnection from my family. It was startling to realize I hadn’t called the landline in months and that we hadn’t even talked in that time. The same sort of thing happened with the trip my parents went this summer, which was the whole reason I was in Chicago to spend time with my sister. I hadn’t gotten the group text or emails they’d sent out to the rest of my siblings about their trip and the need for us to lend a hand with our youngest sister, so I had made plans during most of the time they were gone. It was rather frustrating to learn about it only a couple of weeks before they needed help, and a bit late too since I’d fallen asleep that afternoon and missed the conference call they’d set up the week before.

That being said, I’m the only one who hasn’t lived near or with them for at least part of the year. Two of my siblings permanently live in the same general area and one of my siblings stays with them between employment engagements. The youngest is still in high school. I’ve lived in a different state for several years and only visit on the major holidays for the most part. I’m not much of a phone caller and I’ve always been pretty independent, so we don’t talk. It’s pretty easy for me to miss out on a lot of big news as a result. It can be frustrating at times, but I could also make a point to call my mom or dad once a week and I do not. I’m sure they’d love to hear from me, so it’s not like it’s all their fault or anything. It’s just difficult to remind myself to view my family as they are now rather than as I remember them when we’re having the same problems I remember us having.

My Favorite Family

One of the first webcomics I ever read was Brawl in the Family by Matthew Taranto. I honestly can’t tell you which comic number I started on, what year I started, or even how I found out about it, but I know it was one of my “original” webcomics. I got used to my daily routine of typing in website addresses to check for updates with this comic and I still automatically start typing the address for Brawl in the Family, or “BitF,” in some days. Unfortunately for me, the comic hasn’t updated in almost four years. Thankfully, that was a choice made by the creator as he moved on to other things and he was able to give it the ending he desired.

Brawl in the Family started about three months after Super Smash Bros. Brawl, or just “Brawl,” came out and was mostly about the characters from that game, though a lot of the comics featured Kirby initially and, ultimately, they were not restricted to only the characters in the game. They eventually adopted a sort of expanded “Nintendo-verse” to include a ton of Nintendo characters that never appeared in a Smash game and the occasional non-Nintendo character who showed up in something with a Nintendo character. While the comic tends to feature the characters on their own, doing gags or stories involving mostly their respective worlds, the fact that Brawl included characters from a huge variety of games and worlds allowed for a lot of hilarious single-strip crossover gags and huge, world-colliding story lines.

Brawl in the Family started a gag-a-day comic drawn by a man with a dream of telling funny stories about Kirby eating things. There wasn’t much plot to start, beyond the low-key animosity King Dedede, Kirby’s main villain in some of his games, feels toward the plucky pink ball of suction. Even that isn’t a constant as the one-off events of the webcomic eventually paint a picture of a growing friendship between the penguin-esque creature that is King Dedede and the small round master of destruction that is Kirby. There isn’t much plot beyond the individual stories, but there’s tons of continuity. Characters often depicted as shallow caricatures find elements of humanity and develop a surprising emotional depth under the guiding hand of Taranto (which, coincidentally, wound up actually being canon).

Honestly, if I had to pick one thing about this comic that I had to endorse above all else, it would be the alternate canon that Taranto creates in the comics. Kirby and King Dedede are enemies, but only sort of, in official Nintendo canon. Taranto takes that a step further by making them begrudging (at least on Dedede’s part) best friends who have more in common than you’d think at first glance. Samus and Captain Falcon are actually in a serious relationship that’s working out pretty well for them. Mario is still a plumber, Meta Knight used to look like Kirby, Waddle Dee (a copy/paste minion of King Dedede) would be an even more ruthless and awful king than Dedede ever pretended to be, and Waluigi is almost sympathetic. Hell, in stuff Taranto has done since the end of the comic, Waluigi actually is sympathetic.

I’ve always been a little leery of a lot of “fan canon” because of the level of ownership a lot of people display over their favorite characters and intellectual properties. You only need to look at the shit-show that is the vocal minority’s reaction to The Last Jedi to see how an excess of attachment can lead to some really disgusting behavior. Taranto, though, makes the characters his own but still manages to acknowledge that they belonged to someone else first and they belong to everyone who wants to share in the joy they bring to the world. He creates his own canon in the expanded Nintendo universe he’s pulled together but always acknowledges, mostly in little ways but sometimes in big ways, they the characters have a life outside of his comics.

When it comes to the topics of his comics, he covers everything from Kirby eating something weird and turning into something weirder to the delicate balance between hero and villain when molding young heroes. There are abusive men on power trips, women who save themselves, the unending question that is Birdo (seriously, look her up), and a healthy fascination with Solid Snake’s disturbingly well-depicted buttocks, all without ever going beyond a PG rating. That’s pretty impressive for a guy in his twenties (as Taranto was when he created this comic) given that I can’t seem to go a single blog post without swearing all over the damn place. There are comics about pushing kind people too far, the strength of friendship, the redemption of minor villains, and the power of song when it comes to depicting the troubles of the villainous. Because not only Does Taranto go from rough, blue lines and a basic depiction of the characters to a wonderfully shaded comic in high detail using mostly shades of blue, but he creates musical comics and songs for a lot of his major milestones. They’re hilarious, incredibly touching and, if you see the loneliness inside Waluigi that makes him lash out at everyone around him in an effort to garner some attention because no one cares about him even when he’s not being awful, tear-inducing. Yeah, I’ll admit I’m a little over-invested in Waluigi, but Taranto gives him a great deal of tragic depth despite there being almost no canon information about him beyond the fact that he shows up for sports, parties, and racing whenever the Mario crew gets together.

In addition to the stories he creates for these characters, Taranto also takes on a lot of the classic “video game webcomic” tropes and ideas in what feels like an exciting and fresh way. In one, Mario jumps on a Goomba and has to look on from the sidelines as that Goomba’s family appears to mourn him and hold a funeral for their dearly departed. The Thwomps are clever, Koopas throw their own shells, there are countless jokes about all of the weird power-ups Mario gets in some of his recent games, and Link never once speaks a line of dialogue aside from a few inarticulate shouts. Despite occasionally leaning on a lot of the common knowledge of most people who’d find his comic, Taranto does a great job avoiding relying on it to the point that less-versed people wouldn’t get his jokes. If he makes a particularly obscure reference, he usually has a helpful explanation in the text post below the comic and there you can see just how much he loves the games he draws and writes about. Reading this comic for any amount of time makes it incredibly clear just how passionate he is about these games and it is incredibly infectious.

If you’re looking for a completed Webcomic to look through, enjoy gag-a-day styles, and don’t mind wading through less-than-stellar artwork before you get to the really good stuff, I can’t recommend Brawl in the Family strongly enough. You may not enjoy every minute, but it’ll take you on an emotional journey beyond your expectations of a video game webcomic based around a bunch of character beating the tar out of each other.

Saturday Evening Musing

Some days, there are no words. All you can hope for is people who will rally around you without needing to know the details. Sometimes you just need people to help take your mind off of things, to fill the space between your few words with words of their own without expecting much in response. Sometimes you need a push into doing something that you want to do, but can’t muster up the effort to begin on your own. Some days, all you’ve got the energy to do is to let people know something is wrong and then hope that they offer to help.

Some days, you need your friends to help prop you up when all you feel like doing is collapsing.  When you feel like a deflated balloon, friends are usually the best people to inflate you again, or at least keep enough air circulating that you aren’t completely flat. They are some of the few people who know you well enough to know what you need to keep moving or to stay distracted. If they’re really good friends, they also know when to call you out on it when you try to take it to unhealthy levels.

They say friends are the family you pick, but I think that’s a dumb comparison. Families have constant problems or old wounds that occasionally tear open, but everyone sticks together because you all grew up together and know that you’re basically stuck with each other until you all die so you’d better figure out how to get along. Friends may have grown up together, but you’re never stuck with them. Friends are much easier to leave behind than family, on accident or on purpose, and friendships with constant problems or old wounds that never fully heal generally don’t last that long. Friendships require maintenance and fixing problems if you want them to last, but you do it so you can stick together rather than because you’re stuck together. You choose to do the work to keep your friendships alive and vibrant, but you often feel obligated to do the work to keep your relationship with your family positive. Maybe I’m projecting here, but I feel like I’ve heard similar things from enough people to say I’m probably not projecting.

You can always be friends with your family, of course. That’s still a choice you’re making, though. Your familial relationships just fall on the friend side of things. That’s another reason I dislike the comparison. It fails to account for all the people in the world who are friends with their family. To be entirely fair, most of the time I see people say friends are the family you pick, it is someone who isn’t very close or friendly with their family. Pretty sure that biases the evaluation.

Today, I am recovering from a hard decision. It wasn’t fun, it is making me unhappy, but it was the right one. Everyone agreed that it was the right one. For now, it sucks. Eventually, things will be better and I will hopefully be happier. Or at least less upset all the time. I’d take either one, really. But for now, this was all the words I have in me and I’m going to go back to my friends where I do not have to talk. A nice evening of quiet hanging out, that’ll turn into games of some kind, following on an excellent Pokemon Go Community Day outing in downtown Madison. It was not the day I had planned, but it was still a wonderful day.