Bipolar disorder, mania, depression, anxiety. I'm only just discovering what those words mean for my well-being and the shattered pieces of my life. The "work in progress," it turns out, is me. Expect an exploration of my thoughts, my feelings, and my journey. And hopefully some fun stuff like my opinions on comic books, movies, and books to name a few.

Old "archive" posts remain if you want to get to know me further.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Comic Review: Batman 41 - Oooooooh,it's Pretty

I’ve always fixated on the story and dialogue in comic books rather than the art. I appreciate the art, and I recognize what it’s doing to support (or detract from) the issue. But the art seldom captivates me, drives me to turn the page, and becomes the thing I most remember. Batman 41 proved a beautiful exception to my usual reading experience.

The issue starts with Bruce and Selina in bed. Bruce can hear Ivy in his head, so he makes a mad dash for the cave (punching out a batarang armed Alfred on the way). Selina tries to stop him from injecting himself (with something unknown), so Bruce injects her and then himself. The pair passes out and then wake up back in bed in costume. Ivy is speaking to them through Alfred. To make a long story short, Ivy has taken over everyone on Earth.

Writing-wise Batman 41 is basically talking heads talking at each other. That isn’t a criticism. Tom King sets up the stakes of the new story arc perfectly, injects a couple comedic moments—such as Batman going to punch out Ivy-washed Alfred only to punch Flash. King pens a story where Ivy liberally expounds on her goals (which are basically brainwashed world peace where everyone is happy and loves her) for almost half the issue while Bruce interjects only periodically. One thing I didn’t understand in the writing: the formula Bruce used to save himself and Selina is called out by Ivy as a purely defensive one—it can’t undo her control. But if that’s the case, how did it work on Selina who seemed to be under Ivy’s control while she was trying to wrench the hypodermic out of Bruce’s hands?

That King has written an issue virtually devoid of action is unimportant because what drives Batman 41 is Mikel Janin’s art and June Chung’s colors. The issue frequently cuts to Ivy’s location in a DC equivalent of Central Park. Compared with the spare design of Bruce’s bedroom (where most of the issue takes place) the outdoor scenes which have fewer straight lines and right angles have a more organic look to them; the use of many shades of green—perhaps every shade of green—adds a bright, lively feel that stately Wayne Manor lacks.

The contrasts don’t end at the backgrounds. Bruce and Selina appear briefly without clothes and then in costume. When undressed they’re in the dark—the colors muted. When in costume they themselves are dark. And regardless of how he’s dressed, Bruce is always drawn contemplative, stern, angry. Janin doesn’t given Bruce an ounce of softness throughout the issue. Meanwhle Ivy is drawn as a soft, understated, ordinary woman in a sun dress throughout much of the issue. Chung’s colors—especially the use of red in Ivy’s hair—elevate her to something out of a dream. The balance of understated dreaminess is maintained even as Ivy’s nature citadel grows and her sun dress is replaced by a skintight supervillain outfit. And all of these depictions of Ivy are contrasts to how Bruce and Selina appear.

It’s also noteworthy that Batman 41 sets Ivy up in a positive light. In addition to the way she’s drawn and colored, the issue’s layout and design reinforces this idea. She appears frequently in one page splashes—one of which focuses just on her face framed by the field of her flowing red hair. Late in the issue she gets a two page spread where she’s sitting on a throne amidst a field of plants she’s grown. So while Ivy is a villain, Batman 41 wants readers to know she’s a compassionate, beautiful, soft villain.

Art, colors, design—three things that push Batman 41 far above the average when it comes to comic books. And there happens to be great writing here as well. But as graphic literature Batman 41 is one of the best issues I’ve read in a long time.

Batman 41
"Everyone Loves Ivy" part 1
Tom King - Script / Mikel Janin - Art / June Chung - Color / Clayton Cowles - Letters

Monday, February 19, 2018

Star Wars Legends Review: Planet of Twilight - The Western that Wasn't

Disney’s editorial apocalypse of the Star Wars Expanded Universe seemed like the perfect time to begin reading the books from that lost history, now referred to as “Star Wars Legends.” Reviews are in chronological order beginning with Darksaber by Kevin J. Anderson.

Planet of Twilight / Barbara Hambly / Del Rey / 1997

Science fiction writers often fall into one of two categories: either good at large scale world-building and complicated plotting or at crafting intimate character stories with the science fiction component as backdrop. I’d learned while reading Children of the Jedi that Barbara Hambly likes to play in both sandboxes—not quite excelling in either.

Planet of Twilight begins with Leia having traveled to non-aligned Nam Chorios to meet with a man named Seti Ashgad about the possibility of the planet getting Republic military support. Callista, Luke’s reincarnated lover who left him at the end of Darksaber, had sent a note instructing Leia to stay outside the system at all costs. The note prompted Luke to travel with his sister, journeying to the planet alone in the hopes of finding his lost love.

The plot starts in earnest when everyone aboard Leia’s starship begins dying from a mysterious sickness. Before the sickness can claim Leia she’s kidnapped by Ashgad and his associate Dzym in a bid to paralyze the senate. Ashgad is engaged in a conspiracy with Loronar Corporation to lay claim to Nam Chorios. Dzym, essentially a living plague whose special abilities allow him to keep Ashgad young and vital despite his advanced age, is helping Ashgad as a means to his own end. Held captive, Leia ultimately finds herself embroiled in overlapping power struggles involving Ashgad, Dzym, a Hutt named Beldorian who can manipulate the force, and Ashgad’s top computer slicer and holo forger named Liegeus.

Meanwhile Luke’s search for Callista amounts to nothing, and he soon abandons it when he realizes Leia is in danger. His search for his sister ultimately takes him to Ashgad’s compound where he rescues Liegeus from Dzym.

Throughout the action on Nam Chorios, C-3PO and R2-D2, having been separated from Leia when the ship’s crew grew sick and died, find themselves embroiled in an adventure spanning multiple planets, all of which seem to be crawling with criminals and/or plague.

Hambly, as she did with Children of the Jedi, weaves intimate character details into a sweeping story of space intrigue. Also like Children of the Jedi, it is the smaller stories that particularly excel. Throughout much of Leia’s captivity and Luke’s initial time on Nam Chorios the book delivers an almost Western atmosphere, occasionally broken up by the layered conversations typical of a noir. Ashgad, Dyym, the slicer Liegeus, the Hutt Beldorin—these are all characters made interesting through rich dialogue. Even the supporting characters Luke runs into, including another force user named Taselda, prove fascinating despite brief appearances. This, unfortunately, is where we get to Hambly’s first half-realized strength: character development.  Hambly’s dialogue is masterful, but in most cases rich dialogue is all her characters have going for them. She creates these interesting ideas—a Hutt Jedi, for instance—but doesn’t quit shepherd them from idea to fully realized character.

The weakest story thread in the book is the droid adventure. Over dozens of pages the two droids lumber from one crisis to another, often following an identical pattern of C-3PO making naïve decisions that put the droids at risk only for R2-D2 to save them in some fashion. An inherent problem with making C-3PO a significant component of any plot is that even when written well, the limitations of who the droid is make him distinctly unlikeable. Droid foibles simply are not amusing despite the insistence of multiple writers across two different Star Wars universes.

The droid escapades play into Hambly’s second half-realized strength: the sweeping, contrived, over-large plot. In this instance the driving forces are: Seti Ashgad wanting to open up Nam Chorios to interstellar shipping; the Loronar Corporation wanting to exploit Nam Chorios’ only natural resources; and Dzym wanting to escape Nam Chorios to further spread his plague—the plague he already released in the immediate sector. The droids impact this plot by accidentally stumbling into Admiral Daala who apparently left the Empire altogether after her failures in Darksaber; she agrees to lend her ships to defeat Loronar’s and Ashgad’s forces (in a space battle that isn’t recounted).

Continuity-wise there are a few problems. The first is the description of the Empire’s politics and the ongoing warlord divisions despite the fact that Daala wiped out all of them in Darksaber. And speaking of Daala, complete abandonment of the Empire (as well as the description of her recklessness) likewise feels out of character following Darksaber.

One very odd moment stood out near the book’s end. Luke was watching a lightsaber battle and remembering Callista’s style and her admonition that women could only fight with a lightsaber in a particular way that relied on withdrawal and defense. The suggestion that a woman must be limited to a weaker, less aggressive style of combat felt like an odd misstep given the books’ slow inclusion of stronger female characters.

Planet of Twilight started off as a book I was certain would be superior to Darksaber what with the latter’s weird Hutt subplot that went nowhere. Hambly’s characters, while seldom fully developed, are where her strength lies and they remain the best part of her books. Unfortunately the intensity and atmosphere of those small character scenes is crushed beneath the weight of a large scale plot that, while not having holes, feels overly contrived—to the point of Admiral Daala’s eleventh hour appearance. The story’s size leaves the book tedious—even wearying—and the reader longs for the richer tapestry of the small scale.

With such a promising beginning I expected a strong story overall. Unfortunately it was largely sabotaged by C-3PO's whining which results in a score of three and a half Hutts that are too fat to move out of five.

Previous: Darksaber

Next: The Crystal Star

Saturday, February 17, 2018

A Week in the Rear View - The Movie was Worth It

For the last six weeks I’ve been writing a once-a-week post that’s kind of turned into a “Previously in Theron’s fucked up life.” That’s all well and good, but it occurs to me that everything in those entries is pre-rock bottom. And while those entries may eventually tackle post-rock bottom events I thought that for now I might try a weekly postmortem.

As I write this I am two weeks and four days into a lithium prescription. If you’ve never read about lithium or its potential side effects I very much recommend it; the information is either hilarious or terrifying depending on one’s point of view. Periodic blood work is required to make sure that the level of lithium in the blood is within the “treatment window”—essentially that there is neither too much nor too little. I’m having my first blood draw this coming week. Think good thoughts!

Lately the depression feels like it’s back to its usual “nothing good will happen today or ever” levels. I think the anxiety has improved. It’s still present when I’m at home, but it’s more of a white noise in the background. Outside the home, though…

Black Panther came out this past Thursday. I’m a huge comics fan (I know—you had no idea), and for years I’ve been going to the Marvel movies on opening night in IMAX. I wanted to go see Black Panther in IMAX. I bought an advance ticket and as the premiere date approached I was alternately enthusiastic and apprehensive. My anxiety level was pretty high when I saw The Last Jedi. It was very nearly a panic attack when I saw Thor: Ragnarock.

I had to spend the afternoon and early evening in the shopping center by the theater because I don’t have a car so had to get a ride in with my mother. I spent much of that time ahead of the movie writing in a café. I met my mom on her lunch break. The anxiety was tolerable but on a slow build. Ultimately I decided to take a Xanax about an hour before the movie started. I wanted to be able to watch the movie rather than focus on relaxation. Every time I take a Xanax I feel like I’ve failed in some way to keep things under control. And I almost always launch into an explanation about why I took the pill.

But Black Panther was a great movie. It was worth the anxiety Thursday. It was worth the anxiety and depression crash when I got home Friday.

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Week 7 - Success Through Drinking

There was a time when I believed myself to be an alcoholic. A functional alcoholic but an alcoholic nonetheless. I was living in Austin and drinking way, way too much. Sometimes with my best friend. Other times all alone. The unapologetic solitary drinking had started my senior year in college. I was spending 3-4 nights a week at one of the bars within walking distance of campus. My alcohol consumption dropped off after college. It flared up a little bit for the two years I was in Illinois. But Austin was when it shifted into high gear. Readers who’ve visited this blog before might recall that my time in Austin was when my self-destructive behavior in general switched into high gear.

My drinking habits changed in San Jose. For a little while I still drank to excess, but over time my desire to drink to inebriation—and especially my desire to drink alone—waned. I did still gravitate toward alcohol if I was out, but this was more a consequence of my general unease around people. In general I no longer received the same satisfaction from inebriation as I had in the past; alcohol was merely something that served a purpose when needed.

During my last couple months in San Jose I had started drinking at work. Not often. Just “when needed.” I was frequently pulling double shifts at the store—12-13 hour days. I was working six day weeks often in order to accommodate short staffing or the needs of business. My typical week was 50-60 hours long, and I was perpetually on call for problems that might arise while I was out of the stores. Many days saw me closing whichever store I was at by myself—working until 8pm after having often arrived at work before 7am. On days like this (or any day that I closed) typically I was alone after 4:00 or 5:00.

In past entries I’ve discussed anxiety and anger issues. Self-reflective Theron has lately determined that a life in retail was probably not the best vocational choice. I’m not particularly comfortable around people. And as if that weren’t bad enough, a retail sales position requires appearing positive and upbeat—not only about the products in particular but about being at the customer’s beck and call in general.

So there I was. Needing something to get through the shift. Not all shifts but some. Those night shifts where I’d been suffering from one of many chronic headaches. From chest tightness. From anger directed at my boss and coworkers and customers. The wine shop I worked in carried canned wine. The cans were 375ml, equivalent to half a bottle. On these nights I’d buy a can and drink just enough to be relaxed—just enough to not fly off the handle at a customer that wasted my time with questions about wine they had no intention of buying.

What I once thought was alcoholism was a manifestation of two things. The first is absolutely an addiction issue—though not an addiction to alcohol (more on that next week). The second is a self-medication issue. I get uncomfortable around large groups of people and don’t know how to behave so I drink when I go out. I experience severe anxiety at home so I drink to settle down (as I did the Sunday before my first counseling appointment when I drank three-quarters a bottle of vodka by myself). I needed to reign in aggressive emotions at work so I drank.

As self-medication goes, there’s far more effective than alcohol. And far harder to walk away from.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Week 6 - Fake it 'Til, Well, Forever

It occurs to me that I haven’t written much about the depression side of things. Depression was the one thing I thought I might actually have suffered from before I hit bottom four months ago. Not all the time, mind you. Just selectively—episodically. I was the lobster in the water that’s slowly brought to boil—inured to what I was experiencing because I’d been experiencing it for so long.

I’ve always wanted to write. It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do with my life. Past that, though, I have no plans for my future. I can’t remember ever having had plans for my future. I make decisions when I have to—often because I’m pushed into them by either random circumstance or fallout from my behavior. I haven’t thought of where I’d want to live or the kind of house I’d want. Do I want to be married or not? Do I want kids or not? What do I want to do with myself as I chase the writing goal (especially in light of the possibility that writing may never support me)?

There are no answers to these questions. My boyfriend looks toward the future. He likes talking about the future—where he wants to live, things he wants to do. I’ve smiled, and nodded, and gone along with what he’s said. But I’m not sure I’ve ever really believed any of it—or that it would actually involve me. I believe his priorities will stay his priorities whether I’m in the picture or not.

I was feeling particularly down Saturday. I’m not entirely sure why. It was the first day in perhaps a week to ten days that I didn’t have anything I had to finish writing wise so maybe it was the lack of anything to occupy my time. I wasn’t at home so I couldn’t spend the day parked in front of my X Box or Playstation, my mind caught up in whatever game I chose as a time filler. I did finish the last 40 pages of the book I was reading. It took a long time, and I got distracted easily. My impulsivity flared up a little. I didn’t do anything about it—though whether because I had restraint or lack of ability to follow through I couldn’t say.

Depression for me is perpetual. It’s not my low; it’s my life. I wake up every day knowing the day ahead of me will be miserable and that nothing I do can change that. I go to bed every night knowing the next day will be no different. It’s not a feeling. It’s not really even a belief. It’s a certainty that has never been contradicted.

Bipolar disorder commonly gets described as peaks and valleys in terms of mood. In my case the valley—the low—is my default condition. It’s such an ever-present condition that I take it for granted. For 17 years I poured effort into covering up my misery. It was such an ongoing necessity that I’d altered my habits and behavior in front of people unconsciously; I thought nothing of the lies I was living in service of maintaining relationships the way I thought they had to be maintained. I pretended that I was content in life. I pretended that my job was tolerable, even enjoyable. I pretended that I enjoyed going out. I pretended that my few writing successes mattered to me. I pretended that every day was not an unending living misery. Now, in treatment and being honest about how I feel, I don’t bother to pretend. I hate my life. I’ve hated my life for longer than I can remember. If one could have a banner headline for each day that would be mine.

There’s no “snapping out” of depression. Once that perpetual cloud cover has settled in there’s no cheering up or being positive. There’s pretending. There’s a lot of pretending. So much and so often that it becomes second nature. It’s like creating a whole other person with your name and face—a shell that’s carried around every moment when other people are present—it’s exhausting. If someone opens up and reveals their depression, understand that it’s an expression of trust and vulnerability—just listen to what they have to say and offer to help.

I got pushed into admitting how I truly felt about my life. It was what I needed, but everyone’s journey is different. Confronting my depression didn’t change the depression, but it did end the need to carry my shell around. It led me to realize I needed help. It turned out that I had a support system in my family. I didn’t think I would get the support that I have; I was certain I’d be seen a failure and get blamed for how I felt and everything I’ve done. I think a lot of people have support systems in their immediate orbits that they don’t believe exist. And I know there are countless people online who will listen, answer questions, and share stories.

Today sucks. Tomorrow will suck. And the day after. And the day after that. But I’m in treatment because I want to believe that eventually I will wake up and not know how the day will go; I’ll wake up open to the possibility that it won’t suck—maybe even that something good could happen.