Authenticity

Again, I’m sorry for the delay between entries; this time I have a much better excuse. I’ve actually been visiting my family in St. Louis for the past couple days, and while I meant to write a post while I was there, I kept getting distracted by things like food and sleep. But the trip went well; it was good to see my parents, and it gave me a chance to do some things I’ve been putting off for a while. I read two books between leaving Houston and coming back; one was a book on Captain America (because, let’s face it, he’s my favorite superhero and he’s awesome) called The Virtues of Captain America, which talks about Cap’s virtues in philosophical terms, and explains why he’s a good role model, even though he’s a fictional character. If you’re a fan of Captain America, I recommend reading it.

The other book was one I’ve read before – Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. I though it had some good stuff the first time I read through it, and my second read-through definitely confirmed that – and it helped me to work out some things I’ve been going over in my head recently. Recently, my work has been asking employees if they would voluntarily self-identify as having disabilities – which includes things like mental illness. There doesn’t seem to be a benefit to me self-identifying, but there’s a part of me that wants to – and a part that is scared to, as well. 

That’s where authenticity, as the title implies, comes in. I don’t tell anybody at work about my depression, mostly because I am afraid of how they will react to hearing it – will they reject me? Will they tell the managers? But at the same time, keeping that from people – when it is an important part of my identity – means that I constantly feel like I’m hiding something, that I am lying to people. I am showing them a face that isn’t really me – I’m not being authentic. And not feeling like I can act like myself is not a cool feeling. It’s good when there are times I feel I can joke around and discuss things with my co-workers; those are times when I feel like I’m being myself. It’s becoming clear to me that feeling like I can be myself – not just parts of myself, but all of myself – is important to feeling happy and comfortable. While keeping my mental illness secret might help to keep my job safe, it doesn’t help my own sense of well-being.

I also have been feeling that my weight is a problem. I’m not particularly fond of what I see when I look in the mirror in the morning – I don’t think it makes me any less worthy as a person, but it does kind of bother me. So that is something else I am going to get back to working on. I’m going to a consultation at a place called My Fit Foods on Thursday, to see what kind of diet they recommend; they sell a number of ready-made meals intended for helping people to lose weight, and I’m looking into a fitness program – inspired by the one Chris Evans used to get ready for the Captain America movies – to get some exercise in. It’ll be rough – I haven’t felt like I’ve had a lot of energy lately – but it is something I want to do, and I think it will help to make me feel better.

Summer Daze

Well, it’s been a busy week. Thus the not-writing-in-my-blog-ness. This week, I finally managed to find myself a volunteer position at a local NAMI office; I’ll be working in their SEA – Support, Education, and Advocacy – Center, calling people who have been referred to NAMI and trying to give them any information they have asked for. I’m hoping that will lead to other work, but it should be interesting to see how I can do with that; I’ve never been the greatest person at talking to people I don’t know on the phone, so it will be good practice, if nothing else.

I’m trying to figure out now how to find players for a Dungeon World game; I’ve got one friend who is interested, so I’ll at least have somebody I know at the table; I just need to find a few more. I don’t know how often I’ll be able to get together with people to do that, but just knowing that it is a possibility makes me feel a little better.

My workplace is going to be having a ‘dress as your favorite character’ day coming up, and being the comic book nerd that I am, I’m planning on going as Captain America. This means I have to find a couple things – most notably a shield, and the one I’ll probably get is plastic, because man, the metal replicas are really expensive. I’m not exactly super-buff, either, but I’m not going to worry about that right now; it’ll just be fun to d something a little unusual and whimsical at work, because there are honestly days when I feel like exploding. Not violently, in case you’re worried, but just yelling at people who treat the store really poorly.

One thing I’m worried about is my relationship with Calla. She’s away at a camp for most of the summer, and her communication times are pretty limited, and it sounds like she’s really stressed. I get that; having to deal with a lot of really young counselors who don’t seem to know how to do their jobs – so you end up doing parts of theirs along with yours – has got to be exhausting and frustrating. I just feel that every time we seem to get to a good place in our relationship, a place where we’re actually talking to each other about things that matter, something happens to mess that up. I wonder if it is me, if I’m not being as emotionally expressive or supportive as I should be, so that she feels like I’m not there in the way I should be; or if the hours she’s working and her limited communication chances mean that she just doesn’t get the chance to blow off steam. But there’s not much I can do right now besides be  a good friend, so that’s what I’ll do. It’s all very confusing, but it is something I am learning to deal with.

In any case, that’s what my week has been like, with the addition of a 32-hour work week (which is about as much as I am ever allowed to work as a part-time employee). So it’s been a busy week, and it doesn’t show signs of stopping soon, but I will try to be more aware of how often I am posting here and try to keep things a bit more current.

P.S.: I also just received the character art I paid for as part of the Werewolf: the Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Kickstarter, and so, without further ado, I present to you the picture of my 90s-era character, Jacob Greyfang, courtesy of my favorite RPG artist, Ron Spencer:

Jacob Greyfang

The Guide to Me

Most of my readers probably won’t find any use in this, but this is something that has been bouncing around in my head for a while, and so it kind of needs to get out. Maybe someone I know will find it useful, or it will just be useful to have it out of my head where I can see it. Basically, it is what it says in the subject line – a guide to (what I see as) the important parts of my personality.

1. I’m a geek, and proud of it. I like Star Wars, and Star Trek; I can quote the Jedi and Sith Codes. I love to read comics (Marvel over DC any day of the week). I have been to see every Marvel movie thus far in theaters, and I hope to continue to do so. I grew up reading D&D novels, be they Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, or Dark Sun. Many of my favorite books are science fiction and fantasy, and if prompted I could spend the better part of the day talking about them. I own the Extended Editions of all three Lord of the Rings movies, and the first Hobbit – and several editions of the books, as well. I love tabletop roleplaying games, video games, and going to Renaissance Faires – I even have a sword hanging on my wall.

2. Consequently, I can be, well, a bit of a nerd. I don’t bust my geekery out a lot, because I know many of my friends don’t share it, and it can get kind of annoying to have (or be) the guy going on and on about his favorite comic book characters and who would win in a fight (hint: it’s always Squirrel Girl). I went to see the second Thor movie and the second Hobbit movie alone, because I didn’t want to drag other people who might not enjoy them. I was terribly grateful to Calla for not only going to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier with me last weekend, but coming over to watch the first one, as well.

3. I’m kind of an academic. I’ve had critical thinking kind of beaten into me over the last 8-10 years, and so it is the way my mind works. I like to read books on literary criticism, or articles on medieval literature (particularly works like Beowulf). Lately, I read a lot of mental health books, trying to wrap my head around the way that other people’s minds work so that I can see where they might be coming from.

4. I spend a lot of time stuck in my head. This might be related to the academic point, but I spend a great deal of time thinking about what I’m going to say. if I feel I don’t have anything worthwhile to add, or that anything I add will just be seen as offensive, I don’t say anything. Sometimes, I overthink things, and don’t talk about my thoughts or feelings when I should because of this. Its a habit I am trying to break.

5. I am extremely loyal to my friends. It tends to take me a while to warm up to people, and it can be hard to get to know me, but once I consider you to be a friend, there is very little I won’t do for you. It tends to apply even to friends I haven’t seen or heard from in a while – if a friend from Menninger who I haven’t heard from since leaving asked me for help, I’d do what I could to assist. I trust my friends implicitly, though I don’t ask for or require the same in return; I know a lot of people don’t tend to trust to the same degree that I do.

6. I’m hard to get to know. Because I tend to be rather terse, and I tend to hold a lot of my thoughts and feelings inside around people I haven’t yet gotten to know, I can seem aloof, arrogant, or out-of-touch. Generally, I’m not any of those things, but I have a tough time getting to know people in most situations. It was a big surprise to me that I ended up making so many friends in Menninger, and that I have managed to stay close to so many of them outside.

7. I’m an introvert – which you may have guess from the last few things. I tend to keep to myself in social settings when I don’t know everyone, and my conversations can be awkward, because I can run out of things to say easily. I would imagine most people who have met me can agree about this, at least initially; without knowing people, I have a tough time interacting. Also, being too social with people I don’ know well tends to tire me out pretty quickly, so I need some time to myself after things like that. Living alone is thus both a blessing and a curse, because it means I don’t see people as often as I would if I had a roommate, but I also get time to recharge.

8. I’m pretty liberal, politically speaking, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I will always hold a strong liberal stance on everything. I realize that a lot of far-left positions are pretty crazy, much like the far-right stuff, but I think there needs to be more thought and conversation (and even compromise) put into modern US politics, and less bloviating, invective, and general hate between the Democrats and Republicans.

9. I’m an atheist (though I’m leaning towards agnostic, or maybe something else). This doesn’t mean I am anti-religion, though. I grew up Catholic, and at some point during my undergrad years I didn’t feel like I had faith in a greater power anymore, and haven’t much since (though a bit recently). But I understand religion, and I don’t think other people should give theirs up because I lost my faith. I’m not going to rail against religion unless it is something I see as blatantly stupid or crazy, and even that tends to be more religion getting into politics – or you try to tell me that because I don’t believe in a deity, that I can’t have morals. them’s fightin’ words.

10. As you might have noticed from my post about Captain America, and some older posts about my moral sense, I have a pretty strong sense of what is right and wrong, and I get a lot of those from strange sources – D&D has been a big contributor in that regard, as well as chivalric medieval fiction. Now, I don’t always live up to my own standards, but I do try to, and I have trouble even playing bad guys – I can’t even play a Dark Side character in a Star Wars video game.

11. There are certain things which can evoke strong emotions from me. Some of them are obvious – losing a dear family member, friend, or pet; saying goodbye to someone I won’t see again for a long time; the end of a relationship. Others, however, can be kind of odd. There are certain portions of several books that cause me to tear up when I read them, and for whatever reason, musicals (Les Miserables, for example) can bring me to tears, as well. Pictures don’t really seem to do it, but I could be proven wrong. It’s hard for me to admit that, because I spent so long trying to avoid crying in front of other people that I just held it in until I could fall apart alone, but I’m getting more used to expressing that.

12. I am a happy omnivore. I like eating meat products. Hell, I like to eat a lot of things that are bad for me. I’ve never tried being vegetarian or vegan, and I don’t plan to – with the amount of vegetables and fruits I like,my diet would get boring really fast. I do like cooking, though, which is something I never thought I would say a year ago. It’s a fun exercise, and it is really good for helping to keep myself in the moment – plus it means I can cook all sorts of fun stuff. And I haven’t given myself food poisoning yet!

13. I communicate much more clearly through the written word than the spoken. Now, given that I write a blog, this is probably a good thing; if I did a podcast, it would be full of awkward silence and ‘um, uh…’. This can be a bit difficult when trying to communicate difficult or emotional (or both) topics. Telling people who are important to me how I feel is really, really hard for me in person, but I know that in text it seems impersonal, so it’s another thing I am working on. There’s at least one person who could judge how well that work is going, but it’s up to her to tell me that.

14. I tend to be pretty easygoing with most things. If a friend wants to do something I’ve never done before, I’m up for it. If I get asked to do something I’ve never done before at work,. all I need to know is what to do differently and I’ll do it. I’ll watch romance, action, comedy, or documentary,, and I am open to new things.

15. Connected to the loyalty to friends above, I also can get attached to other people, and that can become awkward. Like I blogged a few days ago, I can be really insecure with people I am close to, and the closer, the more insecure. This can make for some very awkward relationships, because I can get a bit clingy if I feel like I’m drifting away. I am trying to work on that, though. Man, I seem to be working on a lot of things.

16. I’m a smartass. I am constantly trying to avoid saying something too offensive, because I almost always have a smartass remark or response to things. It’s amusing, but can also be annoying. I’m not working on it, though, because I kind of enjoy it.

Well, that’s what I have right now. I may have more to add later. Or others might have things of their own to add, because as was pointed out to me at both Menninger and the stepdown, we don’t see ourselves the same way others do

Heroes

So, I saw Captain America: Winter Soldier last night with Calla. As some of you who have been reading for a while might know, Captain America is my favorite superhero, for a lot of reasons. I’ll be mentioning spoilers from the movie, so if you haven’t sen it, you’d best come back later until you have.

Captain America, when you get down to it, is a soldier. He was trained to fight in a war, albeit one that ended a long time ago. He was chosen for the super-soldier program – in the movie universe, anyway – because he didn’t want to let others make sacrifices for him, and because he had an unshakable moral center. He believed in right and wrong, and doing the right thing, regardless of the personal cost. And despite being a soldier, he isn’t fond of taking life. He does it, certainly, when he has to; it happens in both Captain America movies, as well as the Avengers movie. But there is a reason that his primary ‘weapon’ is a defensive item – a shield. He is a protector above all else; he didn’t want to go to war to punish other people, but the protect those he could. Because he knew what it was like to be the little guy, the weak guy, the one who was always picked on. 

Yet, in The Winter Soldier, he is stuck in the modern world, where the only war is one fought largely by spies and covert forces. It’s a war he isn’t familiar with, because the fighters don’t usually wear uniforms, and they don’t just attack other soldiers – they target civilians. It’s a world where truth is a luxury, and lies are the rule. For a forthright kind of guy, who is used to being able to trust the people he fights alongside, this really bothers Captain America. The way he does things is, like him, generally pretty straightforward, and his nature engenders trust – the man who becomes Falcon defers to Cap almost by instinct, and near the end, when Cap gives a speech about how HYDRA has co-opted SHIELD, and asks for those who haven’t been turned to side with him, they do – even after he has been chased by their agents for days. His integrity and trustworthiness is such that people who haven’t even met him are willing to take his word over that of their superiors.

Captain America is basically a great, virtuous, trustworthy guy, who is willing to make sacrifices so that others won’t have to. The ends don’t justify the means for him; right is right, and wrong is wrong. He’s not an alien, and didn’t start out as a genius. He wasn’t born with special powers – just a strong moral compass. He was given improvements to his natural physical abilities, but only because of that very moral compass. There’s a reason why almost every iteration of the Avengers – movie or comic versions – either have Captain America as a leader or defer to him in the field, and it’s because he is just that good. They can trust that he won’t lead them astray. It’s why you have heroes like Hercules (in Captain America #444) saying “On Olympus, we measure Wisdom against Athena, Speed against Hermes, Power against Zeus. But we measure Courage … against Captain America.” And it’s why Captain America himself says things like “Captain America is not here to lead the country. I’m here to serve it. If I’m a captain, then I’m a soldier. Not of any military branch, but of the American people. Years ago, in simpler times, this suit and this shield were created as a symbol to help make America the land it’s supposed to be… to help it realize its destiny. Ricocheting from super-villain duel to super-villain duel doesn’t always serve that purpose. There’s a difference between fighting against evil and fighting for the common good. I’m not always able to choose my battles… but effective immediately, I’m going to make an effort to choose the battles that matter. Battles against injustice, against cynicism, against intolerance. I will still serve with the Avengers. I will continue to defend this nation from any and all threats it may face. But as of today, I am not a “super hero.” Now and forevermore, I am a man of the people. Together, you and I will identify and confront America’s problems. Together, we will figure out what we are and what we can be. Together, we will define the American Dream and make it an American reality.” (Captain America, Vol. 4, #7)

So is it any wonder that I like Captain America? He’s an impossibly high standard to shoot for, and I know that, even discounting the super-soldier program, there’s no way I’ll be that kind of person. But It’s still something to aim for. I know he’s not real, but he’s an idea, much like the American Dream he fights for. I want to be that honest, that trustworthy, that good of a person. And so Cap is my hero. It is immensely nerdy, but then, so am I.

 

Pessimism vs. Idealism

I have mentioned here before that I have a generally pessimistic worldview. I don’t place much trust in politicians, and I don’t assume that the government is out to do good (I don’t assume it’s conspiring against us, either, I just don’t assume that the whole is necessarily better than the sum of its parts). I think organized religion tends to be a bad idea, because whoever is at the top of the organization usually tries to take advantage of it. 

Actually, most large groups and organizations tend to turn out that way, at least so far as I’ve seen – they may go well for a while, but eventually someone comes into power who doesn’t have the same goals as the previous person in charge, and things go wrong. And yes, I tend to be suspicious of people I don’t know – it’s nothing personal, but i don’t trust people I don’t know. I don’t even trust all the people I do know. Yeah, I have issues.

It isn’t all supervillains and evil corporations, though. Despite the way I tend to interact with much of the world, I do have hopes for something better. There’s a reason my favorite superhero is Captain America, after all – a man who even without his abilities, isn’t willing to let the ends justify the means, or compromise his principles just to win. If you’ve ever seen a video game where the player chooses whether their character is good or evil, I can’t ever bring myself to play an evil character – even being evil in a virtual world is distasteful for me. My favorite book is Legend, where the main character – and most of the people on his side – face off against an enemy they know they can’t possibly beat because it is the right thing to do.

Hell, even my music choices tend to reflect how I see the world. Don’t believe me? Well, here are a few of my favorite pieces – I’ll try to provide both video and lyric links where possible, because they lyrics, for the pieces that have them are an important part of why I like them.

I Will Not Bow – Breaking Benjamin (lyrics)

Who Wants To Live Forever – Queen (lyrics)

Forfeit – Chevelle (lyrics)

Unbreakable – Fireflight (lyrics)

Hero & Monster – Skillet (lyrics & lyrics)

Firework – Katy Perry (lyrics)

Stronger – Kelly Clarkson (lyrics)

Never Gonna Be Alone – Nickelback (lyrics) (Yeah, yeah, bite me)

Innocent – Our Lady Peace (lyrics)

Fireproof – Pillar (lyrics)

Stand My Ground – Within Temptation (lyrics)

Citizen Soldier – Three Doors Down (lyrics)

Fly – We As Human (lyrics)

Black Blade & Protectors of the Earth – Two Steps from Hell

The End Run – Mass Effect 2 Soundtrack

So, yes, in the main, I do tend to think pessimistically. I can’t make the world change. But I can also control how I act inside it. And so, as corny as it may sound, I do not give up on friends or the people I care about. If there is something I can do for someone I care about, materially or emotionally, by living or dying, I will do it. I give my trust to my friends and loved ones without reservation or condition, and I do not ask or require the same in return. I am not the most talkative person – in fact, my social worker repeatedly has to get me to expand on what I say because I tend towards being laconic – but I have no secrets from those who are important to me. If there is something that you want to know about me, all you have to do is ask; I won’t be offended. 

So I can’t make the world a better place by myself. I’m idealistic, but realistic, too. But I can change the way I interact with the world and the people in it. Maybe that’s idealism enough.