Myths of Today

Note: this will likely have nothing to do with my mental state, mental health, or anything along those lines. It’s just something I felt like writing about, and seeing as how this is my blog and writing’s what I do here, a detour from the standard path it travels along can’t be too bad, right?

So, as many of you know (or not, but if you didn’t, now’s a good time to start), I’m a pretty big fan of superheroes. I read a lot of Marvel comics, and it’s been noted that my apartment seems a bit like a shrine to Captain America. In fact, I have a Captain America cosplay outfit I’ve been working on for about a year and a half, and it’s what I wore for Halloween. The shelf space I set out for my comics in my apartment is overflowing, and I’m looking for new places to stash my collection and keep it readily available. I’m also waiting for an RPG I helped fund with Kickstarter, called Masks – which is about teenage superheroes discovering their place in a world where they are the third generation of heroes and their place int he world isn’t clear – to release new playtest rules so I can try it out. Right now, a good chunk of the time I spend playing video games is spent on Marvel Heroes 2015, which is a kind of Diablo-like Action RPG with MMO elements, where you can play 52 (and counting) different Marvel. I’m not so much a DC fan, since I disliked what they did with their universe reboot – they eliminated a bunch of characters I liked, and changed several more to the point of unrecognizability. So, have we established that I’m kind of a comics/superheroes nerd? Good, then let’s move on.

I know at least some people I’ve met find it weird that a 36-year-old guy is so enamored of comics and superheroes; they are often seen as kind of a childish pursuit, which I can see – not understand, or agree with, but see nonetheless. Oddly, I never really got into comics or anything until my teens, and even after that, after a few years of comic collecting, I dropped out of the scene for quite a few years – I don’t think I really picked it up for about ten years, in my mid-20s. Oddly, I think getting into grad school for English was what really kicked that interest into high gear. And if that seems weird to you, just wait, it keeps going.

See, I really like things like history and mythology. I love reading tales about the Greek, Norse, Egyptian, etc. gods and the things they did way back when, the various ways that different groups thought of the world being created, destroyed, and things in between. I find the epic stories of the Iliad and Odyssey captivating; I love the bizarre family dynamics of Thor, Loki, Odin, and their other assorted relatives; I love the hero myths and the end-of-the-world predictions. I think they say a lot of things about the cultures that created them, and I find that kind of insight into the lives of people who died hundreds or thousands of years ago amazing. And I think that, in a way, superheroes are one of the ways in which we are creating our own modern mythology.

No, really, think about it. Look at the most popular characters in comics and comic-related properties. They are larger-than-life people often with bizarre and stupendous powers, who have an enormous impact on the world around them. Superman? Invincible alien from another world. Batman? Arguably insane, vengeance-driven billionaire vigilante. Wonder Woman? Literally a creation of the ancient Greek gods. Iron Man? Billionaire alcoholic with unparalleled engineering genius, who makes intelligent armor. Captain America? Blond, blue-eyed super-soldier created to fight one of the greatest evils in history. Thor? Like Wonder Woman, a figure right out of mythology. These are characters who are all powerful, with amazing abilities and often facing things that we can’t even comprehend facing – alien invasions? Criminally insane cadres of villains? Evil deities from ancient cultures? The stories being told about them are about these amazing powers they have, and the amazing things they do, but they are also stories about the very human parts of each of them.

Superman might be alien, but he was raised on Earth, and has to reconcile the astounding power he has with the morality he was raised to believe in. He could easily conquer the world, and kill anyone he wanted, but instead he chooses to be a protector. Batman, in an ideal setting, would need mental care because he has essentially given up his identity as a person in society to become an almost mythic figure of vengeance. Iron Man has all this money and ability, but constantly, arrogantly, overestimates what he is capable of doing because he assumes his being smarter than others means he knows better. Captain America is a man who became something amazing selflessly, and gave up his life – only to find out it wasn’t given away, just delayed, and now has to adapt to a world far different than the one he left. And these are just some of the big names; there are some great stories going on in other comics.

Ms. Marvel? A second-generation Muslim child in New York, who was already having difficulty bringing the world of her faith and culture into the world around her, when she was given powers she didn’t understand – and yet, given these powers, which she could have done anything with, she decided to emulate her idol – Carol Danvers, previous Ms. Marvel – and try to do good. As one of her creators notes, “As much as Islam is a part of Kamala’s identity, this book isn’t preaching about religion or the Islamic faith in particular. It’s about what happens when you struggle with the labels imposed on you, and how that forms your sense of self. It’s a struggle we’ve all faced in one form or another, and isn’t just particular to Kamala because she’s Muslim. Her religion is just one aspect of the many ways she defines herself.” The Runaways? The children of a group of supervillains, who, upon finding out who their parents are and what they do, decide that they don’t want to be like their parents. They run away – from their parents, from other adult heroes who come to try to get them and ‘fix’them – because they want to be able to define themselves, to decide on their own which direction their lives will go. Alias? A young woman gains superpowers, and has fun with them – and then is victimized in an absolutely terrible fashion, driving her away from everyone she knew, realizing that her powers can’t help her work through her pain and trauma (incidentally, this comic is the basis form the upcoming Netflix series Jessica Jones, which looks like it will be super-dark).

I know that, with comics, there isn’t a lot of change in the status quo – the world mostly stays the same, because publishers want to keep telling stories about the same characters, and to do that the world can’t change much. This is why, 50 years later, Tony Stark is still Iron Manning it up, fighting many of the same villains with many of the same allies, without ever seeming to age a day. And this can often be frustrating, because I think it would be cool to see how writers would have a world change if it did have groups like the Avenger, the Fantastic Four, the Sinister Six, or the Thunderbolts. But even without a lot of actual change int he world, the comics can pretty clearly lay out the personalities and problems each hero (or villain) faces. They put a human face and motivation to the fantastic, and they tell stories that often resonate with us, as readers, because of the place we are in the world or our lives. I think the movies help, because since the character must be played by actors, the characters by necessity change, grow older, and evolve or die – they have to, because (sadly) Robert Downey Jr. can’t be an ageless Tony Stark forever; in the movies, the character will either die, retire, or pass on the mantle of Iron Man. And we can see at least some of the effect they have on their world – the trailers for the upcoming Superman/Batman movie show Superman being brought before the government, and Batman seemingly trying to deal with the existence of someone so much more powerful than him that nothing he can do will help.

I obviously can’t see the future, but I’d like to think that, somewhere down the line – a hundred years, 200, more – people will look back on these characters that were created, see the types of stories that were told with them and what kinds of things they did, and see them as the kind of mythical figures we see in Greek and Norse (And other assorted) mythologies – not figures to be worshipped, but characters who help to explain who we were, what we did, and why we thought the way we thought.

First World Problems

I’ll admit it right out front – to a lot of people this entry will probably come off as whining.

For the most part, my life is pretty good. I rent a nice apartment. I get to shop for my food, and not always have to choose the cheapest, and thus probably bad for me, stuff. I can, through the assistance of my family, afford to work part-time and go to graduate school, and have a reasonable amount of free time. As a white, heterosexual male in the US, I am almost certainly a part of the least-discriminated-against group in the country; I don’t have to worry about getting stopped by police for made-up reasons, or have my sexuality mocked or made fun of or hated. I have friends I can talk to, and I have a supportive family, and they’re a group who has stood by me through a lot of stupid stuff I’ve done.

But for all this, I feel like there are pieces missing. For those of you who may know me personally, you probably know I’m not the most sociable person at first, and even after you get to know me I can be kind of awkward. I don’t go out socially on my own a lot, because going out to eat, or to movies, or to other social events alone feels really awkward to me, and if I’m going to be faced between a decision to stay at home and read a nice book or go out and feel really weird for doing so, I’m probably going to pick the book. This, naturally, tends to limit my exposure to other people, people who might help to expand my social circle; right now most of the time I’m really around other people physically is at work.

I love my friends, and they’re awesome people, but because of my general avoidance of social situations, I don’t get many opportunities to make more. I also don’t get a lot of chances to meet women. As noted above, I’m socially kind of awkward, but when it comes to meeting women, ‘awkward’ plummets to ‘nearing panic attack’. I’ve never really had a girlfriend, and I’ve been on a grand total of one date in 36 years. I have no idea where to go or what to do to met women who might be interested in a guy like me; most of the people I know who have stable relationships met their significant others through school (not an option for me, because my school is online), and while the women I work with are generally pretty awesome, that seems like an area best avoided – not because I’m not interested, but because the complications of having to go to work with a woman (or women) who have told me they’re not interested run from general awkwardness to the possibility of sexual harassment claims and getting fired.

I’ve tried online matchmaking sites, but as those of you who have been reading my blog for a while may have noticed, I’m frankly a huge nerd, and the sites that tend to get the most traffic and have the most available women also tend to be not terribly friendly to guys like me who rank pretty highly on the nerd scale. I like being a nerd – I’ve never thought of it as a bad thing – but it can certainly make things like trying to figure out where on earth to go to meet women who are similarly-minded difficult. If there are nerd bars, I’ve never been to one, and even if there were, I don’t drink (not that I can’t, I just don’t), and as noted before, I don’t tend to like going places alone – it makes my general feelings of awkwardness very magnified. When I was in the step-down program after Menninger, a counselor encouraged me to try speed-dating as a way of getting used to the whole asking women out thing, but that idea literally gave me a panic attack – and I can’t imagine a guy hyperventilating and nervously twitching would have been terribly attractive at the actual event.

It’s weird – I can get dressed up as a fictional comic book character and go wander around a science fiction convention and not just feel like I belong there, but feel confident. But put me in a situation with women who might hypothetically be interested in me, and my heart starts going crazy. Not the crazy of being in love, either, no, it’s the crazy you’d get if you put me in a room full of spiders. I become kind of a blithering idiot, and while some women might find that attractive, I don’t think I’ve met one yet.

So, what does someone like me do when confronted by the desire to go out and find someone to date, and have a relationship with? I honestly don’t know. When even asking a woman out is basically the start of a panic attack, and a rejection feels like both a literal and metaphorical gutpunch, I honestly have no idea where to start. Joining some sort of group that shares my nerdy interests that is in the area has come up, but the ones I’ve tried have been almost exclusively male. My mother has suggested joining a church to meet people, which is a fine idea, but I don’t think (and I may be very wrong here) that I’m going to find a lot of nerdy or nerd-friendly ladies at church, and my faith has been something of a sticking point in the past. I’ve read books on this, and talked to various people, and nothing has really panned out.

See? Like I said, this entry probably came off as whiny. Honestly, though, I’m not trying to complain. Like I said, for the most part, my life is pretty good. I’m trying to explain one of the issues that keeps going through my head lately, and getting those types of ideas out in writing – which is what my blog is for – has been helpful in the past. And who knows? It may generate some responses that could be genuinely helpful. Guess I’ll see.

Superbetter Quests

As I’ve noted before, I’m playing the game Superbetter, as well as reading the new book that came out a couple weeks ago. Since I’ve been reading that, I thought it would be helpful to try to share some of the quests, to show people what I’ve been talking and writing about. Thankfully for my lazy typing fingers, someone else beat me to it. Three of the quests from the book are listed in an article by CBS News, and since I’d rather not tangle with a major TV network, I think I’ll just post the link to the quests here:

Become more resilient with these “SuperBetter” quests

I’ve tried the first quest – Plus-One Better – and it’s been an interesting experience, trying to reconnect or forge stronger connections with people through something using the bare bones social mechanics of a Facebook game. But it intrigues me. As for the other two quests, I thought I’d try to post at least a bit of my own results here.

For “Collect Your First Five”, my list is this:

What song makes you feel powerful?

  1. Protectors of the Earth

What food makes you feel energized?

2. If it counts, energy drinks; they can help keep me up even when I’m feeling absolutely listless, and kick me into next gear on a good day.

Is there a mantra that makes you feel more motivated?

3. Dum spiro, spero (While I breathe, I hope); also, “Hige° sceal þe heardra, heorte þe cenre, mod sceal þe mare, þe ure mægen° lytlað.” (Mind shall be harder, heart the keener, spirit shall be the greater, as our strength grows less).

What reliably inspires you when you read it or watch it?

4. Either Captain America movie, especially this speech by Captain America in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Is there something small you like to do to help others?

5. Just ask my friends if there is something I can do to help, because my good friends know that I’d do anything to help them.

As for the list from the third quest, “Assemble Your Hero Dream Team”, I’ll put the heroes – and the top thing that I admire about them – here. This is only the three that are noted for this quest; my real list would be much longer, and geekier, and would likely be disturbingly hard to identify in toto for most people. So, here goes:

1: Captain America (duh); Captain America’s greatest virtue, to me, is that he has a very strong moral compass, and he’s willing to follow it; he sees the right thing to do, and he does it, even if it’s difficult, painful, or dangerous for him.

2. Commander Shepard (hero of the Mass Effect video games); while there were many ways you could play Commander Shepard, the way I played him, he was an inspirational leader; he could unite people from all walks of life, from alien cultures and bizarre mindsets, who were almost total polar opposites, and bring them together as a cohesive force for good.

3.Miranda Zero (of the sadly short-lived Global Frequency comic); she took initiative when nobody else would and created an independent organization made up of unusual experts in order to help save the world; she pro-actively went out looking to do good, without trying to take over – she saw something that needed to be done, and she went out and did it.

Psychosocial, Qu’est-ce que c’est

Yes, a reference to a Talking Heads song. I’m just that good.

I figured that rather than blather on about the state of my life, I’d try to give more of an update on the kinds of things I’m reading about and learning, both in and out of my academic setting. In my human behavior class, we’ve been in a psychoanalytical set of topics for the past few weeks. We started out with the basics of Freud’s theory, talking about things like the id, ego, and superego, and their effects of the conscious and subconscious mind, and then moved on to ego psychology – a more in-depth theory studying the id/ego/superego division with Freud’s successors, including his daughter. And this past week we were talking about something called object relations theory – how we learn to distinguish other people from ourselves and create our own distinct identities separate from others.

I found the object relations theory interesting – well, I find them all interesting – but this one was basically new to me; I’ve had some minimal learning in the Freudian and ego psychology theories before, so I was familiar with the basics, but this one was new to me. One of the ideas I found most fascinating was the concept of the “good-enough mother”, an idea put forth by Donald Winnicott. Essentially, it is the concept of a mother who is attentive to her child’s needs, but has the occasional lapse – perhaps she doesn’t respond to her baby’s cries, or forgets to feed the child one or twice. The idea here is that these occasional lapses are not just good, but almost necessary for healthy mental development – it teaches, on a very basic level, that the child can trust a mother (or father), but that absolute, total reliance isn’t something they should be working towards – it essentially is a very basic way of teaching a child that however godlike a parents might seem to a baby, they are fallible, and can’t always be there. It’s the very beginning of teaching a child that the child and the parent(s) are distinct entities, that the parents aren’t just extensions of the child.

It goes on to other theorists who developed different parts of the theory, and the parts I found especially cool to think about were the stages of Separation-Individuation – 4 stages that occur between 5 months and 3 years. The first is Differentiation, which occurs from 5 months to around 1 year – during this time an infant learns to move around, first crawling, then walking, and this ability to move teaches the child, on a very instinctual level, that they can be separate from their parent, and go and do and explore things on their own. The parent should still supervise, ideally, but this stage is valuable in helping a child to develop their own identity. Next is Practicing, and this is the stage at which children start doing things beyond movement – and they start being able to acknowledge the praise they get from their parents, feeling like they are the best, the greatest, when every time they do something new they are told how amazing they are. This is apparently the stage at which something like narcissism can develop – the brain somehow doesn’t move past feeling like they are the best, the brightest, the center of the universe, and so continues to think this even after other children start entering their lives in school and other pursuits. The third stage is called Rapprochement (age 2-3), where the child’s mind struggles to deal with opposing needs – they want to be loved but given space, to cling to a parents but also move out and explore, and they fear both being totally engulfed but also being abandoned. This is the stage at which the first inklings of some personality disorders – like Borderline Personality Disorder, for example – can develop, with the brain having difficulty finding a middle ground between extremes, and thus defaulting towards wild swings of mood and thought. Finally, after age 3, we have object constancy, the stage which we hope to develop and constantly work towards in life – this is where we develop and stabilize our sense of self, distinct from others around us, and start to master the idea of self-soothing – being able to calm ourselves instead of relying on others, like parents, for responsibility of calming us.

Outside of class, I’ve been getting back into reading supplemental things, especially since the last month or so has seen not just a new book by Brene Brown, but also one by Jane McGonigal. That’s what I’m working through now, and it’s called Superbetter – not to be confused with the game and/or app of the same name. The book is about the research behind what makes the game an effective tool for assisting in recovery, and helping to form your own paths towards recovery. I’m only a couple chapters in – it’s dense material to digest, especially while also reading through a lot of material for class – but it’s really good stuff. The introduction is basically covered in one of Jane McGonigal’s TED Talks, which I’ll post here:

Not only can Superbetter, the game she developed for her own recovery, be helpful with the recovery from things like depression – I know, because I have found it helpful in my own work towards recovery – but it can also be helpful for just improving general quality of life. And the book goes into a lot of detail about research on other things games can help with – like the idea that games like Tetris or Candy Crush can help to prevent, or at least mitigate, some of the painful symptoms and flashback of PTSD. Apparently, research (covered in the book) proves that when painful or disturbing memories start to resurface, that playing a game like Tetris for as little as 3-5 minutes – something that is visually stimulating and requires near-total attention to the way the game works – can divert the mind from being stuck in a painful flashback or re-living. The study she notes covers only people dealing with the initial response to traumatic memories, so it’s not clear that something like playing Tetris or Candy Crush can be as useful to people who have been dealing with PTSD for years or decades, but just the idea that something as simple as playing a video game can help with something as serious as PTSD is encouraging. And that’s just one of a number of, frankly, amazing things I’ve learned from reading the part of the book I’ve gotten through  – like, did you know that holding your hands out, palms-up, for as little as 15 seconds can help you to be more open-minded, because of how we subconsciously interpret the gesture?

So there’s a lot going through my head that isn’t my own personal stuff, and I’m hopeful that it will be useful in both my personal life and in my academic endeavors.

So, what’s on your mind? Let me know if there’s some fun research (for certain values of fun) that you think I might find interesting to read through or discuss.I’m always looking to expand my knowledge base.

Social Contract(ion)

Lately, my social world has felt like it’s been contracting, and becoming much smaller than it used to be. I know there are reasons, and good ones, and they aren’t, for the most part, things that are my fault or over which I have any control. But it feels like my world has become much smaller and lonelier than it used to be, and I’m not really sure how to go about changing that. I should note now that I’m really just writing to get some things off my chest here, and out of my head; while I feel kinda low, I don’t think that it’s to such a degree that it should be concerning.

For those of you who don’t know me personally, I am not the most socially adventurous of people. I’m quiet, and shy, and it takes me a while (sometimes a long while) before I feel ready to have whole conversations with people. I’m also introverted, which means that I don’t really have any interest in the empty pleasantries that fill up a lot of conversational space, so talking with me can be kind of weird. I have areas where I feel comfortable and knowledgeable, but outside of those, I will typically just shut up and listen until I feel like I have something substantive to say – which, on some topics, can take quite a while. I’m also very aware of the generally liberal views I hold, and the polarization bringing those into a discussion can cause, so I feel very cautious advancing my views on anything that might start a fight.

I also don’t go out a whole lot. While travel is nice, and can be fun, and I know that it can broaden your horizons and open up your mind to new things, I don’t generally feel the need to go out and do things alone. I feel awkward going to movies, or out to eat, by myself, and I feel travel – like a lot of activities, is best enjoyed (for me) when with other people whose company I enjoy. When I’m alone, most of the places I prefer to go can be easily reached in my own mind, whether just daydreaming, reading, watching TV, or playing video games. While I like playing games that can be social, like MMORPGs, after a while even that can be awkward for me, because unless I get to know people, or even feel that I can get to know people, I lose interest.

And over the last year or so, a lot of people have left my life. Last June, Alice died (if you want to know how that affected me, feel free to go into my older posts and check – around June 19 of last year). Over the next several month, my relationship with someone I had felt extremely close to, who I’ve noted before here as Calla, deteriorated to the point that this past April, she decided that being my friend was not in her best interests – a state of being that I certainly had a hand in, so please don’t assume I am claiming blamelessness. Around the same time, another close friend who had been here in Houston left the state for greener pastures, and while we still keep in touch, our friendship is far more long-distance than it was.

Also, while I had been a member of two separate gaming groups – one that I was running a game for, and one in which I was a player – both of those now seem to be, for most purposes, defunct. Neither has met for several months, and my efforts to try and cobble together a third from the people in both that still speak to me have not been very successful. I’m looking into finding another right now, but given my difficulties getting to know new people, that is likely a process that could take a while.

I still talk to several people from work, so there is hope there, but trying to arrange some way to interact outside of work is – for want of a better term – generally super awkward for me. Also, given our retail schedules, a lot of things that resemble plans for getting together have a high probability of falling through, which can leave whoever does show up sitting around just wondering what on earth is going on, which makes things awkward for everyone. Again, not a blaming situation – I know my schedule and situation has changed a number of times, leading me to have to cancel at the last minute, and I assume that’s happened with other people from work, as well. But given my general state of mind regarding social situations, when things like that happen my default assumption is that somehow I did something wrong to alienate others or cause them to not want to be around me. Yep, the shame monster rears its ugly head in those situations.

And some of this is undoubtedly just the kind of down-in-the-dumps feeling I get after another birthday (I turned 36 yesterday). Historically, birthdays have not been great times for me; some part of my head gets all hyped up and excited about any potential birthday activities, and no matter what I do or how much fun I have, somehow that part of my brain is always left feeling disappointed and let down the day after. There’s probably a specific term for that kind of feeling, but I haven’t gotten far enough in my MSW program to know what it is.

What this all means is that I need to figure out how to expand my social circle again, and I’m not really sure how to go about doing that. I did pretty well with the people I got to know at Menninger, and then again at the aftercare program I Was a part of; I made some good friends there. And somehow I managed to become a part of not one, but two separate gaming groups. For a minute or two there, I even thought I had real hope at a romantic relationship. So now that things have contracted, I need to figure out how to push that circle out again. If you live in the Houston area and have some ideas for how I might be able, as the uber-geek I am, to branch out somehow, then by all means let me know. Or if you just feel like chatting about how crappy feeling lonely can feel at times, drop me a line. But don’t freak out; things aren’t that bad. I just had some stuff in my head I wanted to get out.

It’s Been Awhile

Like the title implies, it’s been a bit since my last post here. Largely that has been because I’m pretty busy reading, doing class work, writing papers for class, cooking, going to my job at the bookstore, or relaxing watching The Walking Dead or playing some kind of video game (or planning an RPG campaign, which I’m still trying to drum up support for). It’s been a pretty busy time, but despite being busy, I don’t know that there’s really been a lot to keep folks up on.

If you were among the few people who found the stuff I was cooking interesting, then you should check out the primary source of my cooking inspiration, All Day I Dream About Food. It’s got a lot of recipes, for a lot of different meals, parts of meals, snacks, or otherwise, and they’re all relatively- to very-low carb. All the recipes I have tried have been very tasty, and with the exception of the cauliflower fritters, very successful. If you are like me and addicted (well, not literally, but figuratively) to pizza, here’s a recipe I’ve had some success with: Crustless Pizza, from the website MyFridgeFood. Very tasty, just make sure that, unlike me, you grease the pan before you cook.

As for classes, they are going pretty smoothly so far. I’m enrolled in two classes at the moment – Policy & Practice in Social Work Organizations (Social Work 534), and then Human Behavior and the Social Environment (Social Work 503). The former is focused on the big-picture, large-scale issues of social work – why is it needed, what communities need it the most, what big-picture, long-term changes can or should be made to try to improve the lives of those who need it, things like that. The latter is focused on figuring out what motivates people, how to look at a person’s entire situation – not just what they tell you, but also their family, their living arrangements, their social networks, etc. – and use that entire picture to try and determine how best to help them. These are both very introductory courses, so much of what we’re doing thus far is simply figuring out the basics of theories and history, but they’re both interesting courses thus far. I’ve had one paper due – called a Community Immersion paper, where we (the students) have to go into a nearby neighborhood, talk to people, do research, find out as much as we can, and then apply one of the theories we’ve learned about so far – and I did pretty well on that, so I’m feeling pretty good on that front.

I’m waiting to grab a couple books I’m interested in – Brene Brown, a social worker here at the University of Houston, just published another book, called Rising Strong, and I’ve liked all her previous books; one of them helped lead me towards social work, so I’m eager to see how the new one is. Another, in a few weeks, is called SuperBetter, by Jane McGonigal. I’ve written about her previous book, called Reality is Broken, before, way back in 2013 on July 26. It combines feeling better with video games, so what’s not to like?

Socially, things are a little weird – neither of the groups I have gamed with in the past around here have been able to meet recently, so I am trying to cobble together a new one, possible made up of people from each of the previous two, to sate my gaming urge. We’ll see how that goes. I don’t have a ridiculous amount of time to devote to it right now anyway, since I’m pretty busy with work, school, and generally keeping myself healthy.

That’s my update for now. We’ll see if there’s more to add later, and if so, I’ll do so. If not, then I’ll catch everyone with my next update, whenever that shall be!

The Beaches, They Are Stormed

So, week 1 of my MSW program is over, and boy, are my arms tired. Wait, no, that’s a different joke.

This week has been a pretty weird one for me, because it has involved a lot of activity, often in ways that I am (if you know me) not generally interested in doing. Part of my plan for going back to school, for example, was to make sure I got regular and increasing amounts of exercise. Now, anyone who has ever been around me while doing any kind of exercise knows that, in general, I hate it. It tends to be boring, painful, and generally feels like it isn’t actually accomplishing anything. So me starting up my own little exercise program – even if it is relatively low-scale so far, with the intent to ramp it up as I go – should be enough to give you pause. Especially since a key component of this has been cardiovascular activity – as I hate treadmills, I’d prefer to just walk around, which I can do easily enough in my apartment complex; it feels more like I am actually accomplishing something, even if I am just walking around in circles. This is especially impressive (for me) when you consider that every day this week has been over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (heat index often pushing it up to 110 or higher), because walking a couple miles in that kind of heat makes you wish for death. So I figure if I can do that, I can certainly do that and more when it starts to cool down.

I’ve also started on a more rigorous diet program, which is intended to be more low-carb, high-protein. To my chagrin, I found that such a diet is not easy to accomplish with pre-made foods, because preservatives often add more carbohydrates than I want to eat. So, I’ve had to venture into the cooking arena again. While my ventures so far have met with some limited success – my fake (or crustless) quiche was quite good, my cauliflower ham and cheese fritters not so much – it helps me out in two separate areas, because I do enjoy cooking, but I often feel that I am left with too many leftovers, so haven’t done much cooking lately, and it also helps me to make sure I know exactly what is going into my food. Coming up on my cooking schedule are a bacon and Brie frittata, low carb-pizza with cauliflower crust, and possibly low-carb Andes mint fudge. I’ll try to keep that updated somewhere.

Finally, school. It was weird getting back into classes, especially since my classes are, well, online. And there were some hiccups in the technology, as well as some timing issues. But overall, it seems like a pretty easy way of doing class, though I still find myself trying to look semi-professional for my webcam (yes, mom and dad, this means I shower, shave, and wear pants and a collared shirt). While the work load was not a surprise – I’m used to doing a lot of reading for class, having gotten one Masters (and most of a PhD) in English literature – the subject matter was a shock to my system. I’ve done a lot of reading by social workers or psychologists in the last year or so, but none of it rises to the nose-bleed-inducingly dry levels for social work textbooks. That’s the part that feels overwhelming to me; all these theories, models, and practices, dozens of them, thrown at students in their first week of class, and somehow we’re supposed to learn and internalize them so that we can use them as the basis for further classes. That’s going to take some work. As well, our first major assignment involves going out into a nearby community and asking a great deal of interrogative questions to find out information about demographics, community leaders, culture clashes, levels of social, economic, and health-related inequality, and how content people are within a community, as well as several strengths and challenges each particular community faces. As an introvert, this is hard for me, too, because asking strangers these kinds of questions makes me very uncomfortable, but I’ve already gotten my work started, and just have to make sure it gets finished, collated, and written in a coherent manner by this coming Saturday.

Oddly, despite the stress all of this has caused – a new diet, new exercise program, new school, and going back to work this week – I think I’m doing pretty well, mentally speaking. I think a lot of that may be because these things are all things I am choosing to do, rather than things I feel pressured to do, which instinctively makes me push back passive-aggressively. Since I’m initiating them myself, that would be kind of weird – can you be passive-aggressive towards yourself? – so things are going pretty smoothly, all things considered.

Anyway, that’s about it for this particular entry. My stomach is unhappy with the lack of pizza or burgers in my diet, so anybody who has any good low-carb recipes, I’d love to hear (or read) them, and if you have any experience in social work, I’d love to find something that either simplifies the theories that come up in basic introductory stuff, or puts them in a manner that is more easy to digest mentally – some of these sentences and paragraphs in my textbooks, while I am certain they are very informative, feel like they are sucking the water out of my brain they are so dry. Have you ever seen a dehydrated brain? It’s not a pretty sight. So take pity on my brain, and drop me a line if you have any tips or tricks to get this stuff in my head more easily.