Further Confessions of a Distraction Addict

I posted a Q&A video last week and received the following question from a subscriber:

I just watched your Q&A video and loved your answer to your final question about getting out of your head and working on content. I have been having this issue for a year and a half or so trying to write and make videos, but then thinking too much about it and never writing, well anything, which sucks cause it’s what I want to do for a living and when I do write something I am proud of myself. I liked your advice about making a list and the idea of making something slowing things down. I guess my question is how do you make sure you do something on your list, and not just think…well, it’s not the END of the world if I don’t do this today.

First of all, I would make sure that you’re distinguishing between your wants and commitments. I want to write in that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, sitting on the back porch, smoking a pipe in my tweed jacket, intellectual pursuit-of-the-mind kind of way. But the world of my wants is THE weakest place for anything to live. I know the type of person I am, and my ‘wants,’ during an average day, get done in the order of which ones require the least amount of effort. It’s when I can elevate a ‘want’ to a commitment that it has any real chance of getting done. I have tried to commit to getting a video out weekly. I come up short regularly, but that commitment is far more powerful for me than just wanting to get a video a week done.

More concretely, if I’m resisting doing an item on my list, it’s because the item is too big. So, for instance, I never put, “Write next Buffy Guide script,” on my list because that is hours and hours of work. That isn’t ONE to-do item. It’s 15 or 20. Here is an actual example from Todoist (my to-do list software)

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Of course, however, you would choose to break down the piece of writing you’re working on is fine. The key is that the to-do list should be granular enough that the next item doesn’t require any extra project-management thought on my part.

However, even then there are days when I don’t grab the next to-do item. Those days are getting fewer, but they still occur. It’s the: “I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna,” problem. It took me a LONG time to realize that, most of the time, motivation FOLLOWS action, not the other way around. For example, if a person wants to start running, they don’t think, “I’ll run sometime tomorrow,” or, “I’ll run sometime this week.” Because, what happens is they sit around waiting until they FEEL like running, and until you’ve been doing it for a couple of months, no one ever FEELS like running. Running is miserable until you’re good at it. And if you make the mistake of asking yourself, “Do I WANT to run right now?” you’re kind of already screwed. Exertion is exerting. Work is work.

The key, when I’ve had success running, is to schedule the exact time of the run, put my running clothes out on the bed and, when the time comes, put them on, put my headphones on, and get out the door. Ten minutes into the run, I suddenly FEEL like running. But, almost every time, any excess of thought DOOMS my chances of getting out the door.

It may seem counter-intuitive given how much thought is involved, but I find success in writing very similar. First, I take my to-dos in the morning, and I block them out in my calendar. At this point, I have SOME raw sense of how long each step in the video creation process takes, so I go by those estimates. Here’s what an average day might look like:

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All told, it takes me 20–30 minutes every morning to get everything out of my head into the to-do list and blocked. And with everything in the calendar, I don’t have to think, “What’s the next thing I’m supposed to be doing right now?” Because just having to have that thought comes dangerously close to activating, “Do I WANT to organize the outline right now?” Because, of course, I don’t. Our commitments are SO much harder to fulfill than our wants. Instead, I look at the time, and I look at the current block on the calendar, and I grab the next item there is and dive in. My schedule is my tour guide throughout my day. It tells me what I’m doing next, so I don’t have to think about it.

Even then though, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. I am a distraction addict and a chronic procrastinator. So, I’ve found several tools to try and alleviate and manage that problem as well. I have an application installed on my computer called Cold Turkeyhttps://getcoldturkey.com/

It blocks distracting websites for a set time during the day. But BE CAREFUL. The program is tenacious. If you install it, make sure you’ve gone through the list of sites it blocks carefully before you fire it up for the first time.

Those same guys also make a program called Writer, which blocks EVERYTHING on my computer except the document I’m working on. When I activate it, I choose to either block things for a set time or until I’ve written a certain number of words. I’ve found that very helpful during particular script crunches: https://getcoldturkey.com/writer/

Then, of course, there is the problem of my mobile devices — Tablet, phone, TV remotes, etc. I found a time lock safe that I can stick them in when I need to. Set a timer and the safe locks up until the timer is complete: https://amzn.to/2L13HV2

Mostly though, I think I’ve made the most significant strides in making stuff, through coming to accept that I am my own worst enemy and that I can’t counter all my self-hatred and fear-of-failure with MORE thought. Arguing with my fear of failing empowers that fear with some validity. As in there must have been SOME truth to the fear to bother arguing with it. Anxiety is the heat given off by the friction between my fear of failing and my resistance to it. Instead of fighting it now, my best approach is always to let it go; however, I can do that. Whether through meditation, or focusing on the present, or aphorisms, or looking for work to inspire mine or ANYTHING that gets it done.

-In 100 years we’ll all be dead.
-Strong is fighting.
-If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do.
-It’s just life.

Eventually, you locate that muscle enough times you learn to un-tense it by choice alone. And then start writing.

Hope that helps.

Last week’s Q&A Video

Source: https://medium.com/@iannitram/further-confessions-of-a-distraction-addict-e3fcb75c2ecc

Firefly, The Try Guys, and Hot Dog Dreams

I had a very bizarre dream last night.

I got stuck in an office building with the Try Guys during a blizzard. The blizzard became so bad that snow started seeping in through cracks in the structure, piling up along the walls. And then the power went out. Somehow the inside of the building turned into Mad Max on ice. And at one point, I’m scavenging through the skyscraper looking for things to eat, and I find an old package of hot dogs, frozen solid. Suddenly, Keith from the Try Guys happens upon me. He is bare-chested and carrying a spear. His breath steams the cold space between us. I offer him the package of frozen hot dogs. He considers them for a chilly moment and then grabs them and hawks them into a snow drift.

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“Can’t heat hot dogs. Hot dogs is worthless. Hot dogs is now just everything.”

He storms off. Then I woke up.

I lay there for a while wondering what meal had disagreed with me in a way as to bring on such an odd dream. I tend to fall asleep listening to things playing on my tablet, and perhaps a Try Guys video came on right as I was passing into dreamland. A few days before, my Dad had been telling me about a morning he’d woken up in his RV and discovered that a horrible swirling blizzard found every nook and cranny of the structure and put a foot of snow on his floor — no doubt the source of my office building snowpocalypse.

In light of my upcoming video series on it, I have been spending a LOT of time thinking about Firefly. And I think the hot dogs were about that — my brain sorting some things out. In the Firefly episode, Objects in Space, there are two scenes I’ve always loved but never really wrapped my mind around.

In the first, River is walking through the ship and finds a branch on the ground which she investigates curiously before picking it up and holding it in her hand.

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“It’s just an object. It doesn’t mean what you think.”

The scene smash cuts to a roomful of crew members gathered around her in a panic, begging her to put down the actual item she’s picked up, one of Jayne’s guns. Later, Jubal Early has Simon captive, and they come to River’s room.

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Jubal Early: This is her room.
Dr. Simon Tam: Yes.
Jubal Early: It’s empty.
Dr. Simon Tam: I know.
Jubal Early: So is it still a room when it’s empty? Does the room, the thing, have purpose? Or do we — what’s the word?
Dr. Simon Tam: I really can’t help you.
Jubal Early: The plan’s to take your sister; get the reward, which is substantial — “imbue”, that’s the word.

Whedon’s commentary track for the episode is terrific and worth a listen. As I have mentioned in numerous videos, in it he states that Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre is the most important book he’d ever read. Sartre’s story is about a man named Antoine, who is experiencing strange moments of intellectual uncoupling from his accepted daily reality. Moments in which he experiences the existence of commonplace items like a chair or a tree root, but loses his touch with their accepted purpose — their accepted definition. What that means is, a chair is only a “chair” because we as human beings have collectively decided what the definition of a chair is and carry that definition forward in our linguistical traditions.

Traditions that Sartre would say, we use to keep us safe from the nauseating truth: the fact that we name an object ‘chair,’ and say it has a purpose, does not mean that the object itself has been imbued with any meaningful essence. Which is why River saw the gun as the same as a fallen tree branch. We confer meaning. The object itself just…is. As the gun. As River’s room. As everything.

And I think Keith in my dream was trying to show me that our inability to heat the hot dogs revealed how truly arbitrary the meaning I’d given them was. They were not food. They were not anything. They just were.

At the end of the episode, after Mal has sent him spiraling into the black (now a true, object in space) unmoored from absolutely any physical thing or human being that can define him, Jubal calmly puts everything into perspective.

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“Whelp…here I am.”

Source: https://medium.com/@iannitram/firefly-the-try-guys-and-hot-dog-dreams-57fe8df1c20f

On Spike and Seeing Red

Cheddarmoonbeam: Hi Ian! I love all the Buffy videos you do, as watching the guide of the first season helped me get my brother to FINALLY watch the show with me!! Anyways, I was wondering what your thoughts were on TV shows and movies using sexual assault as a plot device, such as in Seeing Red. I found that themes like this are not super uncommon on Joss Whedon works. Is it possible to include a scene such as the one in Seeing Red without it feeling so wrong and out of place, or is that what we're supposed to feel? The disturbingness of the scene aside, it just never felt like it fit in the tone of the show either.

Passionofthenerd: Hello cheddarmoonbeam! Awareness is everything. Progressivism is a sliding scale and aspects of something that looked progressive a decade ago don't necessarily hold up now because our awareness has grown. I'd never heard of the Bury Your Gays or the Women in Refrigerators or the Mystical Pregnancy tropes until I started doing this but now that I'm aware of them they're IMPOSSIBLE to ignore.

What’s much more difficult is to then decide under what circumstances it isn't in horrible taste to tell stories that include those details again. I think it's a mistake to say that we can never have a gay character die in our story or a woman murdered or a Jesus pregnancy story. One of the purposes of fiction is to help us develop ways to process terrible events, so BANNING certain details from stories seems like a mistake to me. But, when are those details not in BAD TASTE?

I don't have a problem with Seeing Red's darkness. It is the most controversial episode in the series by far but I don't think the writer's jumped the shark. Dark Willow and Spike's willingness to do vile things were WELL setup in advance. In Lovers Walk Spike says, "I'll find [Drusilla,] wherever she is. Tie her up. Torture her. Until she likes me again." That's pretty indicative of someone who would do what Spike did in Seeing Red. We were all lulled to sleep by the chip and Spike's passion and charisma if we forgot about that. So it isn't the violence of the scene that is problematic for me but the fact that they used an attempted RAPE of BUFFY (our treasured main character) in order to develop SPIKE'S character. That scene has nothing to do with HER and that's what makes it gross to me. She sustains a very ham-handed injury the scene before simply to make her vulnerable to Spike's attack so that he is forced to develop and do some literal soul searching. Incorporating these kinds of horrifying details in service of the attacker feels disgusting. The story USED her, it didn't develop her.

Source: https://thepassionofthenerd.tumblr.com/post/173896240389/on-spike-and-seeing-red

In defense of passionate love

This little ditty came up because Jess and I are doing a rewatch of Buffy and Angel and have been talking a lot about Love. Adult love. Selfish love. Passionate love. In talking about Buffy and Angel in season 2, I told her I sometimes missed the experience of being a teenager. My experience of being an adult has been of regularly having to face down the existential void and to grasp for meaning. Of forcing myself to remember to go and get the rock. But I remember being a teenager positively drowning in meaning. I followed up with:

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Today:
I was thinking about our messages last night on the way to work. Thought I’d reply here so I didn’t blow your phone up.

I was wondering if maybe we’re using the same term to describe two different things. You were speaking very broadly about a type of love relationship and I was speaking very specifically about a type of love experience?

TOTALLY agree that the “you complete me” style of relationship is bullshit, codependent, unhealthy, and nonsense. As Mr. Platt says in an episode you’re coming up to, a lot of people lose themselves in love - but sooner or later you have to find your way back. Because if you don’t, “…love becomes your master and you’re just its dog.” (har har because it’s a werewolf episode.)

I think what I was talking about (that drunk-in-love Angel/Buffy passion thing that I said I have, at times, mourned the loss of as an adult) is more about a particular kind of EXPERIENCE in a loving relationship. Call it, moments of complete and total vulnerability, rewarded by an experience of safety and belonging. It’s that moment when you’re with a person where you kind of forget the outside world exists. When you’re moved by being loved or loving someone. Sometimes they happen during sex but not necessarily. Waking up in another person’s arms can bring it on.  Emotional nakedness. And it IS a moment of escape, one that we can go a couple of different ways with as people.

Those moments feel like an ending in and of themselves (the I Will Remember You problem) and that can mislead us. Life isn’t safe. Sooner or later you have to pee. Go to work. You can have those vulnerable moments with a partner and they then do something horrible to you and that makes you never want to trust those moments again.

Likewise, because life can truly suck at times, those moments can become addictive. We can look to those moments for escapism. Let’s run away together. Let’s die in each other’s arms. THATS the codependent manifestation. The relationship as addiction. “Angel when I look into the future, all I see is you.”

All of that said, I think if you’re open and willing to be vulnerable with another person then to some degree those moments are just going to happen. And why shouldn’t they? Is the safety felt in this SPECIFIC passionate moment in time, false, because tomorrow is eventually going to come? Do I choose not to trust the warmth of this evening’s fire because rain is probably inevitable? It’s like…a song I really love that makes me cry or gets me pumped up. To some degree, that is a ROMANTIC experience. But is that experience not worth anything because the song eventually ends? 

I hope not. A thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.

That’s all I was trying to say. Hopefully, that makes more sense.

Source: https://thepassionofthenerd.tumblr.com/post/172601942204/in-defense-of-passionate-love

The Last Jedi, money, and confirmation bias

There are some stories making the rounds talking about The Last Jedi’s historic money-making fall-off, dropping as much as 69 percent in gross from the previous week. These kinds of stories have always struck me as entertainment industry navel gazing. Inside baseball.

“He’s 3 and 2 pitching in July when there is a blimp flying over the stadium and a cat runs on the field. But 1 and 4 in July when there is rain and NO blimp.”

And yet, as limited the audience for a story about a movie’s take might seem, it has been showing up in my social media the past few days surprisingly often. Twitter shares, Facebook feed, online groups I frequent — typically flaunted by someone who didn’t like the film.

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“What do you mean we’re not doing well in China?”

First of all, some perspective on the numbers (quoting Forbes:)

  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the third-fastest movie to reach $400 million ever, behind The Force Awakens and Jurassic World.

  • Based on current numbers, the movie is predicted to have a cumulative domestic box-office of at least $600 million on the low end meaning the film’s final tally would place it in the top five or six highest-grossing movies in the domestic box-office of all time.

  • Yes, that’s still way below The Force Awakens ($936 million.) Every Star Wars trilogy has seen a drop at the box-office in the second film with a rebound in the third.

  • Fourth-highest grossing picture of all time, Jurassic World, also experienced a massive drop in its second weekend, falling from an opening weekend gross of just under $209 million to a second weekend gross of $106 million before going on to be the fourth biggest film ever. Likewise, both The Avengers and Age of Ultron saw massive dips in the second weekend (albeit not as massive) and currently sit in the #5 and #7 spots respectively.

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“If you let me on the damn door, I bet we do 2.5 billion instead of 2.1.”

Articles analyzing the numbers of insanely high grossing films are becoming more popular because they feed the nerd culture wars. Unless you’re in the industry you really only see them when they relate to nerd properties. Nobody gives a shit if Titanic didn’t do as well domestically between weeks 3 and 4 in the UK, or if Gone with the Wind (the highest grossing film of all time adjusted for inflation) didn’t do as well in the northern states on a Saturday. But the fact that Batman v Superman took a nose dive the second or third week in theaters is important because it validates my opinion that Marvel is better than DC.

In reality, even TOTAL gross is an almost irrelevant measure of a movie’s value, either personal or aesthetic. My favorite movie of the past few years, Blade Runner 2049, bombed. Edge of Tomorrow, now cult for being underrated, bombed. Children of Men, Fight Club, and Office Space all did terribly in theaters.

But the Fast and the Furious 7 is the sixth highest grossing movie of all time.

Based on purely anecdotal evidence, I believe there are two driving factors to the proliferation of this kind of entertainment news.

Full disclosure, I am a nerd. One of our defining traits is that we care passionately for certain media. Star Trek The Next Generation, Batman, Blade Runner, and Back to the Future were all defining properties in my life because they helped inspire and push the boundaries of my childhood imagination. And while I think there is some beauty to the idea that Marty is one of our new cultural myths or Fight Club our contemporary prodigal son, there is also a byproduct that creates a toxic aspect of nerd culture. Since, for many people, who tether their identity to these properties they don’t own and have no control over, when George Lucas pushes out the prequels, or when Abrams reduces the rich moral philosophy of Star Trek to ‘pretty people blowing stuff up,’ or when Snyder makes the goody-goody corn-fed Iowa superhero, emo and morose, it feels like a personal insult. “They’re destroying my childhood,” and by extension, my identity.

Nerdy properties also generally attract smart intellectual fans. And one of the ways that the insecure nerd validates itself (I am speaking from I-do-this-all-the-time experience) is by overuse of their intellect. The serial-pedantic-contrarian. They are the first to follow up on someone’s expression of love for a particular show with, “Yeah but season ‘X’ was really sub-par,” or, “Show ‘Y’ did it better.” This kind of mind thrives on criticizing because it is far easier to dissect something than it is to build something up and celebrate it. The tragedy of the contrarian nerd is in not realizing that their need to validate themselves prevents other people from having the experience that the nerd holds so dear, resonant personal joy in the light of a piece of media.

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“KID this movie’s mise-en-scène is a waste-a LIFE.”

In college, I started noticing a trend. I had many close friends who hated going to movies with me and wouldn’t let me near their favorite films. I couldn’t stop myself from picking the thing to pieces. Fixating on the minutia. I was someone looking for things to pick apart rather than someone trying to find ways to enjoy and celebrate. When my friends were defensive with me I would think to myself, well they just can’t handle debate or criticism.

In a lot of ways, I’m still that guy. Just with slightly more functional filters, a mortgage, and a bad back. I’m not advocating for the abandonment of taste, just for some self-awareness and perspective. Criticism and discussion are important and a cultural good, but the context and intent of criticism matter.

All of that is to say…I still haven’t seen The Last Jedi yet. Can’t wait?

Source: https://medium.com/@iannitram/the-last-jedi-money-and-confirmation-bias-15cfab769536

Anxiety

In the early 80s, Rod Serling sold his rights to the Twilight Zone back to CBS, and they revived it with the intention of making an inexpensive buck off the show’s legacy. I was around five at the time. Only one episode of the revival has remained clear in my memory — To See the Invisible Man, based on a short story by Robert Silverberg first published in 1963. In it, a man named Carter Smith is sentenced by a dystopian government to a year of invisibility. He is strapped to a chair, and a scarring implant fused to his forehead. His jailers walk calmly out of the room and set him free. The implant burns through anything Carter tries to cover it with, and everyone around him on seeing it pretends he doesn’t exist, lest floating government drones notice and sentence them to Carter’s fate. For a year, he is cut completely adrift in society, ignored by everyone including a nurse after two bullies who pick on invisible people hit Carter with their car.

The year done, his two jailers enter his apartment silently, and remove the implant from his head, ending his social invisibility. We see him four months later a complete man again, working and with friends. A woman who had ignored him during his sentence walks up and begs him to talk to her. She has an implant of her own now. He sees the drones and turns to walk away but, hearing her weeping, comes back to her and pulls her to him.

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“It’s okay,” he says, as the drones descend on them. “You are not invisible. I can see you.”

To see the invisible man, you must become one.

Nine years after that episode aired, I was riding the bus to school being relentlessly tormented by Trevor. Trevor had had it in for me now for months, seeing in me an easy target that wouldn’t fight back. He would sit behind me on the ride to school and smack me in the back of the head — take my glasses and feign throwing them out the window — flick my ear lobes as hard as he could. I had told several adults, but nothing changed. In fact, it’d gotten worse. One thing that parents don’t realize is that within the adolescent hierarchy, telling on your tormentor often brings worse ridicule if anyone finds out.

On this particular day, he was just patting me continually on my head and saying, “Good bitch. Good.” Over and over again. I waved his hand away and demanded he stop. He just laughed and continued. Rage and frustration had been building for the better part of a semester now, and finally, when he reached around my head to poke me in the eyes again, I spun on him, reared back, and smacked him open palm across his face. After a moment of mutual shock, Trevor recovered and lunged. I caught both his wrists and held him at bay. It didn’t matter. He could see my look of disbelief and fear that I’d struck him, and was emboldened by it.

When I stepped off the bus, Trevor had been hiding waiting for me. He lunged out, punched me in the stomach, and I grimaced and doubled over. When I looked up, he was standing over me leering, a delighted smug smile on his face. I would’ve breathed fire if my anger had let me breathe.

Trevor turned to walk away from me, but before he could, I slung my arm around his throat and threw him onto the concrete. He landed like a wet side of well-marbled beef, and I jumped on him and began wailing on his face with clenched fists — the big sweeping unguided blows of a young boy enraged. It didn’t take much to burn up the adrenaline, and when the rage had no fuel left I looked down at him and what I’d done. He was still, grinning at me, blood now pouring from his nose and split lip.

We were both, suspended.

“I am so, disappointed in you,” my Dad said that evening, shaking his head and struggling to look at me. He told me I had started on a path to becoming a violent human being. That if the school hadn’t done anything about Trevor, then I should have just let Trevor do what he wanted. Because violence is never the solution. And as I struggled angrily to understand, he stopped talking to me for four days.

For four days, while I followed him around my step mother’s home weeping, and begging him to explain, Dad pretended I didn’t exist. He would play the piano to drown me out. Or turn on the Cubs game as loud as he could. Or get in the car and drive away. This was how my Dad handled conflict at that time. And not long after that, we had our last falling out. He packed me on a plane to go and live with my mom. The last thing Dad said to me as I walked away was, “Have a nice life.” He wouldn’t see me again for four years.

Now, I’m not bringing up this story as a tale of woe and tragedy or to barter for sympathies. I love my Dad, and we are very close today. When I was in college, I went back to Illinois for the first time. Dad told me it was good to see me, but he wasn’t sorry for how things happened and because of that, he would understand if I didn’t want to stay. I thought about it for a night and said, no. I wanted to stay, provided he accepted I too wouldn’t have done anything differently. He agreed, and that was it. I don’t understand some of the things that happened when we were younger, but thanks to the view from atop the accumulating pile of my own lifetime’s mistakes, I have learned to let go. Forgiving and letting go is half the battle to surviving a complicated family. And as Norman McClane wrote in A River Runs Through It, we can love completely even without complete understanding.

No, I’m sharing this because I’ve finally figured out what this story means to me today.

At the age I was when we were at odds, my Dad was my only friend. I still hadn’t made any in Illinois. My step-mom and I were adversarial. One of my step sisters hated me. The other had a life of her own. I was the type of kid who got along best with his teachers but found kids his own age intimidating and impenetrable. And whenever Dad would shut down it was devastatingly, terrifyingly, panic-inducingly, lonely for me. Unknowingly, I began to train my mind to work in a very particular way.

First, I would assume I was always wrong. Until we reach the age where we humanize our parents, they are our Gods. And how could I possibly know more than He did? I MUST be wrong.

Second, having assumed that I was always at fault, but not understanding why, my mind began imagining all the ways I could be wrong.

And finally, I would then come up with the way to make amends for the wrong I’d just invented in my own head.

This is how my anxiety works, and it has followed me my entire life — infecting my relationships with women, friends, and family. A frustrating, panicky cycle of fearing imagined rejection and doing whatever was necessary to avoid it.

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Psychology

Solutions like positive thinking and mantras and all that never really make a dent. When my anxiety lays an egg, say: ‘You’re going to die alone,’ to resist it by trying to tell myself, ‘I’m a pretty neat guy. Someone will come along,” isn’t actually addressing the problem. In fact fighting the fear head on like that empowers its veracity. The issue is not the fear itself. The issue is the wiring that generated it — the flaw in the lens of perspective I look through to see the world.

I have only ever found two ways to combat the problem, a long term, and a short term. Long term, the more I’ve come to understand the way my mind works, the more freedom I’ve found to make empowering decisions that might’ve once seemed impossible to me. Understanding the way of surviving I created during those conflicts with my Dad has given me the power to not be run by it.

A few years ago, I went on my first date in a very long time. I was absolutely terrified. Twitching. Creating a list in my head of conversation starters and then abandoning them and starting over. The evening of, I road to the restaurant and nearly crashed my scooter twice. When I pulled up, she was already waiting inside, and I glanced in through the window of the restaurant and spotted her in the corner tapping out a message on her phone. An unexpected thought washed away the brain fog I’d been shrouded in all day. What if she is nervous? Who would I need to be in this moment to put this woman at ease? To make her feel listened to and seen? I walked into the restaurant and, for the evening, left all the self-obsessed anxiety on the corner.

Philosophy

The more I’ve spoken about Buffy and existentialism the more I find myself involuntarily using it as a compass for guiding my daily life. As the philosophy goes, meaning in life is derived from making ethical choices and the ensuing action you take after. If you allow yourself to be lead by impulse, whim, or fear alone, then you make yourself an automaton and deny your own authentic self. But for some reason, it wasn’t until recently that I realized just how very much this applies to relationships as well.

In the last 20 years, I have spent so much time avoiding rejection, the relationship equivalent of ‘fear of failure.’ Doing whatever was necessary to keep the two of us together, or not saying how I really felt about her, or acting fearfully manipulative. When all of your decisions are being made automatically by fear, you’re not actually living your life as YOU. That is the very definition of inauthentic. At my lowest, I had given up much of my own identity because I believed it was what was necessary to keep us together. And that staying together was the absolute good. It wasn’t. And then she left. Rightfully so.

My desire to be a better man now has me leaning into my own fears and accepting that love of anything or anyone involves risk. Rejection is an inevitable aspect of living. It hurts because it’s supposed to. Growth as a human being doesn’t occur in bed but at the boundaries of our normal.

To live freely and with authenticity as adults, it behooves us from time to time to open the bags we’re carrying and unpack some of the garbage we shoved in there before we knew better. We all carry mementos to remind us of who we are but never forget that you can choose to leave some of them behind.

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Source: https://medium.com/too-much-me/anxiety-1825def45eab

The Toolbox Fallacy

A quick rundown of one of my most pernicious creative traps.

I have lost count of the number of times I’ve come to understand something about myself through a piece of entertainment. Collateral is a surprisingly thoughtful and intimate action movie about a hitman, played by Tom Cruise, being driven from job to job in a single evening by a captive cab driver, played by Jamie Foxx. Before they meet we see that Foxx is clearly in the stream of life. His preparation for the day is methodical, familiar, and perpetual. When the job gets difficult, he folds down his visor to look at a postcard of an island paradise. Between rides, he fawns over a catalog for a Lincoln Town Car and dreams of starting his own limo business. Limos, he tells everyone, are what he’s really up to. This cab thing is just until he gets the money together. As the movie approaches its climax, and the two men strike at each other’s character, Tom Cruise hits Foxx with a hard truth.

Collateral: Relevant bit begins at 3:18

After college, when people asked me “what I did” I would tell them I’m a video creator. A storyteller. But right now I’m working this job until she graduates — Until we get the money together to move to California — Until I can buy a camera — Until I can get a good editing suite — Until I live in a place with collaborators. I remember the moment when this illusion I’d been using to fend off reality finally collapsed. I was working in telephone tech support, the most soul-sucking job I’d ever had. I had just been called a worthless idiot because I couldn’t get a disembodied voice into his meeting. I put my head on my desk, and it occurred to me, I hadn’t made a video in six years. And the only story I’d told in all that time was the one I kept repeating to myself. And I thought, maybe this is all I really am.

A creation is a marker dropped in the stream of time, and the longer we go without dropping the next, the less meaningful that marker becomes. As the unyielding grip of each passing day dragged me farther from the things I’d made in college, am eventually became was. A writer writes. A painter paints. And at that moment, with my head on the desk, I understood for the first time that I was no longer a video creator. I had put off making anything new for long enough, using the same fallacy over and over and over again.

I can’t do X until I have Y. Once I have the (gym membership, tablet, camera, laptop, time), then I’ll be able to (workout, paint more, work on my photography, write, be happy.) That is the Toolbox Fallacy, and it has been one of the most persistent, tick-like, ever-present, lies to myself I’ve ever distinguished, infesting a wide variety of aspirations. Health. Love. Creativity. And the Toolbox Fallacy often hides in plain sight because, as with any good self-deception, it only works because there are certain circumstances when it’s actually true. It wouldn’t be so damn sticky if it were never valid.

Here are some helpful examples:

I can’t fly without a plane. — True.
I can’t cook without heat. — True.
I can’t drive without a license. — That’s not true, but it is good advice.

Worse, often I found once I had the tool I was coveting, things still didn’t change. The new camera languished on the shelf. The computer became an instrument for gaming only. The Fitbit became a measure of all the steps I wasn’t taking during the day.

The hard truth is that the lack of these things wasn’t actually what was wrong. Having a hammer is not what makes you a carpenter. USING a hammer is what does. A writer writes, be it with laptop, pen, crayon, or haiku carved in the sand with a branch. My Dad played the piano his whole life. When the family would take vacations, and there wasn’t an instrument in sight, I would sometimes catch him pounding a concerto out onto a table top, the notes echoing in his mind.

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“Having a hammer does not make you a carpenter.”

See, the fallacy’s reason for being is to distract from the real problem, which is in all cases some manifestation of failure fear. When you realize you haven’t been to the gym in a month and just ordered takeout for the third day in a row. When your characters have jumped the shark, and you don’t know how to write them back to where they should be. When you can’t stand the video you just made, feel like an utter and complete fraud, and don’t want to publish. When they leave. When they stop texting you back.

As kids we were fearless. We drew horses in our notebooks that looked to adults like fornicating, haunted trees all bent over and stuck together. We told stories that lacked an adequate climax, barely met the requirements to be classified as English, and our protagonist’s motivation was completely hazy but who cares because do you realize the story had a GIANT LASER in it? That thing was HUGE. We didn’t care. Expression was bursting from our hearts and fingertips. And then somewhere on the road to adulthood, we were taught to demonize our mistakes.

Maybe we never really change. In his Kenyon College commencement speech, David Foster Wallace suggested that the real value of an education is self-awareness. The ability to see our already-always-automatic ways of living our lives. Being the grump in traffic. The why-me at the DMV. And, for me, the Toolbox Fallacy. Wallace admitted that self-awareness doesn’t make those things go away, but it does give you the freedom to choose another way of being. And with every step in a different direction, you feel the gravity from those automatic ways of being, less and less.

This is the first video I made, seven years after college. I recorded it using my computer’s built-in microphone and edited it using software that came preinstalled. Most of the clips are not mine. But the composition, is. A writer writes. This is still one of the videos I am the proudest of.

I am a high-functioning neurotic. Much of my life has been dedicated to learning to manage my own fear of failing, and I have only ever found two things that work for me. First is to expect failure’s inevitable visitation, as opposed to fearing it. Second is to remind myself from time to time, that a lifetime spent failing would still be a life better lived than the one in which I never got started.

Thanks to Nigel Jordan and Toby Malina.

Source: https://medium.com/too-much-me/thetoolboxfallacy-883c4ff5f9b4

In which I ramble about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and pretend to know what I’m talking about

A subscriber sent me a list of interview questions and I got carried away. I acknowledge up front that my answers here are mostly unsourced. But since I’m not going to be able to make a video for awhile this may be my medium (see what I did there) for cathartic rambles.

1) Why do you think Buffy has maintained a high level of popularity and a level of dedication 20 years after it was first aired? Why do you think people who weren't even alive when the show first hit US television love it so much and make up much of your fan audience on youtube?

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer wrap party. Source

I think your question has a few parts that cover a decade plus worth of developments. Because of the way the show was written it was bound to create…not just fans but PASSIONATE fans. Whedon said that he and Mutant Enemy always prioritized writing about the human experience first. ‘Where is Buffy at THIS stage in her life and what challenges would she be facing at that age?’ Everything else took a backseat to that priority including occasional issues with lore and continuity. While that had some consequences, the result was that Buffy’s stories resonated deeply and personally with the viewers. It wasn’t manipulative drama or just action/comedy. It was about what it is to be human and it had a perspective about questions we all have to face in life. Couple that with writers who are also funny and know good drama and that BINDS people to your stories because they feel those stories are about THEM. People weren’t simply entertained. They related. In the book by Mark Field that inspired my channel, he quoted an interview with James Marsters where he spoke about this very thing. (I would argue the questions Marsters bring up here raise their head at various times again and again throughout our lives.)

“It’s a very potent metaphor. I don’t want to oversell this but it’s the same theme as Catcher in the Rye, it’s the same theme as Hamlet; how do you get through adolescence? How do you get through the period from childhood to adulthood when you realize the world is not a perfect place? How do you care about the world, how do you not give up on the world, how do you accept the fact that it is a corrupt environment and still engage it? I think that’s an important thing to talk about, I think that artists should go back there more often, and I’m really glad Joss was able to find a metaphor to talk about something that is a serious subject with so much humor.” Source

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Now it all makes sense…

The second part of the question is how is it the show is experiencing a sort of…second renaissance? I think that relates to a few things. Whedon went on to make Firefly which, despite Fox’s best efforts, became a pretty meme’d and iconic show in its afterlife. Then to the Avengers, arguably still the most magical of the MCU movies and definitely the most profitable worldwide. Those two things connected with a massive new audience (myself included) who were looking for more of his stuff to consume. And today the barriers to media are massively broken down compared to even a decade ago. Netflix, Hulu, iTunes and all the rest. Those new fans of his went home and had immediate access to a massive pile of content that was entirely new to them.

2) How much of a debt do you think other shows owe to Buffy from a creative viewpoint: such as the Big Bad over season arcs, and standalone episodes with a specific spin like “Once More With Feeling” and “Hush?”

I will almost certainly get this question wrong, but I’ll give it a go anyway. I’m not much of a historian on either media or feminism, but I think that Buffy was a part of a significant shift on TV that was going on at the time. Genre shows were really the first to consistently make the change from episodic format to serial story arcs, beginning as hybrids at the time with shows like Buffy, Xena, and the X-Files. Previous to that (other than Soaps) you had a smattering of shows that had done it, but not consistently and then usually they didn’t last very long. Twin Peaks comes to mind. And right in the midst of Buffy’s run, DVR sprang up, helping to eliminate the greatest impediment for serial television: people’s inability to schedule their lives around the broadcast time. It seems like today, serial shows are, by and large, the standard.

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Buffy, Scully, and Xena

Buffy, Scully, and Xena were also complete, feminist leading characters. Strong women, not significantly defined by their relationships with men. There is an extensive list of significant feminist shows that came previously (for some reason it seems like they were typically sitcoms?) Some obvious examples being I Love Lucy, Mary Tyler Moore, Murphy Brown, Cagney and Lacey. But it seems to me that these three shows were part of a transition from them being remarkable feminist one-offs, to being the expectation. Since Buffy we’ve received a greater abundance of strong female characters to watch. The women of GOT, Veronica Mars, Gilmore Girls, Homeland, Scandal, The Killing, The Fall, Orphan Black, Jessica Jones. And sure, today there are some aspects to Buffy and the X-Files that don’t appear progressive. But progressivism is a sliding scale and weighing a show within the context it was MADE is important.

Within genre TV it’s kind of hard to measure Buffy’s impact given it is SO broad. Buffy sort of created the quippy teenage genre show and revitalized the TV superhero show, defining the format for things like Smallville and later Green Arrow, the Flash, and Whedon’s Agents of Shield. Many significant creators have cited Buffy as a direct influence including Lindelof with Lost, Davies with Dr Who, and Rob Thomas with Veronica Mars and iZombi.

3) Do you think there have been enough strong female lead characters on TV since Buffy? Did she change television at all in that respect or is she an outlier?

I answered this a bit in the previous question. Buffy was definitely a major part of a landmark shift in feminist leads. Has there been “enough?” The question reminds me of Whedon’s speech from Equality Now. He said something he gets asked quite often is, “Why do you write such strong female leads?” And his answer was, “Because you’re still asking me that question.” Source

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photo by Gage Skidmore

What does “enough” equality look like in entertainment? Maybe that everyone can look to TV and movies and easily discover stories that reflect themselves and their experience? That everyone can find some piece of fiction they relate to? I don’t think we’re there yet. But things have gotten better.

4) Do you think Buffy was responsible for the interest in the Gothic and genre films/TV, and how do you find the community of fans you talk to on YouTube, do you find the conversations rewarding?

(First part — Buffy responsible for the interest in…etc.)

Genre yes (as talked about above) Gothic? No. Buffy probably isn’t a great example of Gothic genre television. It’s too much of a hybrid. I don’t think Mutant Enemy set out to make a great vampire show or a great superhero show. I believe they set out specifically to tell strong relatable stories and used genre tropes to build them. And after season 3 a lot of Buffy’s Gothic aesthetic falls away. Through the first season and a half, they clung pretty tightly to Gothic horror tropes, especially in self-contained episodes. But Angel’s turn in Season 2 and the emotional devastation of the finale was a paradigm shift for the series. Season 3 is a little brighter and more high school than horror (though still of the supernatural, obviously.)

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Buffy clearing a nest in ‘The Freshman’

By Season 4 the color palette of the show makes a vast departure, possibly to distinguish itself from its noir cousin Angel. The Freshman is bright and vivid and colorful by comparison to anything in Season 1 or 2. And the stories (with a couple of specific exceptions like Hush) are driven almost entirely by the characters rather than any ties to genre tropes. Maybe then what Buffy did was free genre shows from being pigeon-holed by their tropes? I’ll have to think about it.

(How do you find the community of fans you talk to? Is it rewarding?)

I am a fan first. By and large, we’re all passionate. Most other fans I know feel a sense of connection to one season or another because they went through experiences like that and took strength from the characters’ journeys. It isn’t just hilarious dialogue and kick-ass action. It’s a mirror of ourselves. When I talk about the show, I often come at it from the perspective of what the show has meant to me personally. How I found it revealing or how it acted as a prism to consider my life from a different angle. That requires a certain amount of vulnerability and can be terrifying when you put that out into the internet ether — not usually a place known for a being warm and hopeful. But somehow, the little community that visits my channel has always been kind. Always open. People have shared with me intimate details of their lives, and how the show helped them find strength. I am humbled by the people who watch the channel and honored by their time. Our conversations are a constant hopeful reminder to me that I am not alone. We are all human. We are all Buffy.

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Source: https://medium.com/@iannitram/in-which-i-ramble-about-buffy-the-vampire-slayer-and-pretend-to-know-what-im-talking-about-b038b666a176

On Angel Season 4 vs Buffy Season 6

On Twitter I was asked by Snow Bird: In “All right” you dissed Angel S4 a lot (validly) but you love Buffy S6 which I feel has basically the same problems. How come?

Me
You’d first have to tell me which AS4 and BS6 problems are the same. To me, they seem mostly very different.


Snowy Birdy

I’ll try. Much of this is based on your last top 10. Bleak feeling (fun=dirty word). Characters (Cordy, Willow from power to drug addict.) Weak villains and focus. You mentioned, “your inner fanboy"really liking the season which also surprises me. It seems just relentlessly depressing to me. And you criticized the harsh "team breakdown” in Angel which was in full force in B6. It wallowed in misery for forever. As for Buffy in Season 6, I buy her being really depressed but I couldn’t buy her getting with Spike like that. Seemed forced. I’m not a huge fan of AS4 either but there are interesting parallels and quite a few shared problems I think.

Me
So the usual disclaimers apply here. I’m going to try and justify something which ultimately comes back to straight up personal preference. Nothing I say has any basis in real fact. This is simply why one works for me and the other doesn’t. This might get long.

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Originally posted by thedoriandays

The Similarities



Both seasons are very bleak. In fact, I think B6 is far darker than A4. Even Buffy’s comic relief episodes in that season end with what feels like the hard return of thundering agony. Once More With Feeling has Buffy’s ‘I was in heaven’ refrain with Willow weeping and the instant the magic wears off in Tabula Rasa every character feels as though they’re executing a hungover walk of shame.


In contrast, Spin the Bottle feels like purer relief, and not only that but once Cordelia is mercifully put into a coma the Jasmine storyline comes along and balances some scary hive mind shenanigans (UNITY!!!1) with ACTUAL situational humor that doesn’t have the stink of the cheap laughs we got from the Trio (I despise the Trio - more on that soon.)

Both seasons also have an insufferable child character in Dawn and Conner, and I’ve said I hated Conner so much that an episode with him getting beat up made one of my Top 10s. There are a few distinctions I would make here. First, while Dawn is a drawback to Season 5 for me, she almost becomes toomuch of a background character in Season 6. Conner is a centerpiece to A4. They both suck the life off the screen but Conner is given much more free reign to do it. 


I think also I end up giving Dawn more latitude because her shortcomings make sense to me. Whenever she acts out and does something particularly frustrating (Get out, GET out, GET OUT) I tend to think to myself, “Meh, she’s 14.” And typically she supplies SOME kind of mea culpa. Conner is regularly provided with EVIDENCE that he is in the wrong and doggedly maintains his idiotic courses of action.  


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Originally posted by danascullys

There is also what their characters represent. Dawn is a part of Buffy. She is a loved one, family, and Buffy’s ties to innocence and idealism (at least in 5.) The two of them share one of the best moments in the series on the top of the tower, and the moment Dawn realizes what Buffy is thinking (Buffy…no) my heart splits in two. We SHARE that moment with her. It’s probably Trachtenberg’s finest bit of acting in the series and it earns Dawn some future indulgence with me. 

On the other hand, Conner very VERY rarely earns love. He is shown as pitiable but not identifiable for so regularly making terrible (and in some cases, vile) decisions, and never attempting amends. There is never a moment of reckoning or catharsis for Angel and him. I’ve heard some people point to Season 5 when his memories have been restored and he and Angel fight side by side. But that isn’t Season 4 Conner restored. That is the Conner that has the placid magical memories of childhood AND Season 4 Conner’s memories. It isn’t the same character.

Buffy Season 6

Season 6 is my favorite season of the show but I think it easily has the most issues, especially when compared to the VERY clean Season 3. The first and most obvious is the Trio. Whedon stated in the DVD commentary for Innocence that at all times he wanted to juxtapose the drama in the series with humor, which helped keep it all afloat. Buffy is in a fight with the newly released Angelus beneath a dramatic storm of falling water, and we cut to a shot of Oz: “Uhm…arm.”

Thing is, the Trio’s humor doesn’t work in tandem with the rest of the season, it works AGAINST it. Most of the humor in the previous seasons was a manifestation of the character’s personalities. They’re all smart, quippy, and sharp individuals who fall back on gallows humor whenever things are at their worst. But in Season 6 they all are suffering and this time, can’t find something to sing about. So the Trio is brought in as a counterbalance.

But the Trio…well…suck. Really. With the exception of Jonathan, none of them have any sort of interesting backstory. In fact that’s the joke with Andrew (Tucker’s brother.) Not only that but what is supposed to make them funny is for me offensive: Haha, nerds. They don’t present us nerdy humor, they present us humor because they’re nerds. I despise that chintzy ‘Big Bang Theory’ approach to people who are passionate about media (HAHA, He speaks Klingon. What a dummy.)

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Originally posted by thegeekyteacher1

Willow’s arc is well-traveled territory at this point. I’m in the camp that believes the magic=drugs idea isn’t well set up (Giles actively encourages her magical pursuits early on…was he pushing heroin on her?) and then was just a sledgehammer when they execute it. People say she behaves as a different character in Season 6 (don’t piss me off Giles) but I’m not certain that true. I’ve done my best to highlight her issues with consent in preparation for this season, notably her casting the de-lusting spell on Xander without his knowledge. Also, the one thing that “she is not herself in 6” doesn’t account for is that these characters DEVELOP. They change over time and, like us, not always for the better. I didn’t experience my worst period of depression until I was in my 30s. For me, the signs were always there.

And as much as I cherish the underpinnings of the Dark Willow story and tried to distil it’s best parts in my last Top 10, the bulk of her dialogue is mildly cringe-inducing. Once she saps Rack for his last bit of power she becomes a bad guy from Roadhouse, “You really need to have every square inch of your ass kicked.”  Dark Willow shouldn’t play like a Bond villain.

I’m not even going to get into Seeing Red. Too polarizing. An article unto its own.

Angel Season 4

It is common for these shows to have turning points in their seasons but Angel Season 4 feels like two entirely different seasons taped together.  One of them I like very much. The other I can’t stand. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to decouple them, as the one I like only represents 5 episodes in total.

The Beast half of the season is utterly humorless, drab, and depressing. It opens with the team shattered and remains unrelenting. The beating heart of Angel investigations is absent because she for no adquate reason became an angel. Angel is at the bottom of the ocean famished and going mad. And his attacker, his own son, is working with his friends. We get Cordelia back but not really because without her memory she is the antithesis of the fiery passionate character we’ve always known. We get Angel back, relegating Conner to a, “What the hell do we do with this guy?” position. Then Gunn kills a man, an act from which he never really recovers. He and Fred break up. Cordy leaves Angel and takes shelter with Conner. And then Cordy and Conner sleep together.

And THEN, things get worse.

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Originally posted by sirjohnsmythe

The stretch from there to Jasmine could have been great and includes MANY fun details. But there is a constant shadow over it all because of what happened to Cordelia. We might’ve been able to recover from the amnesia storyline but from the moment she and Conner slept together, the whole plot line became, for me, vile. The self-evidently disgusting aspects of incest aside, what made it so much worse is watching a character I had learned to love and admire being dragged into this cesspool. I spoke at length about it in the top 10. Here is a link to, “The Assassination of Cordelia Chase.

It isn’t until nearly the halfway point of that season that Cordy is revealed to be “possessed” but dear god was that far too late. After they’d dragged her through the mud and dropped no hints as to what MIGHT be going on, the reveal of her as the bad guy felt cheap and not worth the bath in slop we’d endured to get to it. This was the moment I was just waiting for the season to be over. But then, the demon baby is born (Angel is definitely not a feminist show) and things turned around. Leading to one of my favorite Seasons of both Buffy and Angel, Season 5.

So what’s the difference?

Here we come to the purely subjective aspect of it. The difference for me is in the meaning. The ‘why’ of it. Yes, both seasons are oppressive. But Buffy Season 6 has something to SAY about it all. The gang suffers mightily but their suffering is a model for aspects of the human experience. I’ve known many people who watch that season and find comfort because they’re watching characters going through something they’ve PERSONALLY experienced in their own lives. The existential void. As I said in the first Top 10, profound depression isn’t necessarily measured by how bad you feel but by how little you feel, as Buffy expresses throughout that season. Give me something to sing about. Using Spike to hurt herself, because she’d rather hurt than feel nothing. And then finding the courage to pull HERSELF out of that darkness.

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Originally posted by toriasimmons

And whatever you think of the magic=drugs scenario or the monologuing Dark Willow, the arc itself is understandable and grounded in Willow’s previous actions in other seasons. Who wouldn’t be tempted to use magic selfishly? Especially someone who had at times in previous seasons, acted demonstrably selfish, even potentially capable of wrath (Wild at Heart.) As for her driving grief, I feel that on a profound level. Tara’s death was painful, and present for me at all times during the Dark Willow arc. When Xander’s love finally opens the door for her to let her grief in, I crumble. With the exception of Warren’s gun in Seeing Red, most of the season is driven by strengths and the weakness of characters I love and cherish, and feel like I UNDERSTAND.

Angel’s fourth season feels driven completely by the motivations of its own plot rather than the motivations of its characters. Plot driven shows are not necessarily a bad thing, but I never felt the WHY of it until Jasmine. WHY am I being dragged through this experience? What is the redemption? The meaning? The purpose? These characters are being violated or abused. To what end? Mostly they DON’T overcome their circumstances. Angelus does. Angelus kills the beast and then Faith (not an Angel character) captures Angelus. Evil Cordy is enabled by a frustrating painful-to-watch character in Conner. And I never really found a lifeline to grab onto.

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Originally posted by puppet-angel

Now there are two exceptions to this. The first is Jasmine. Jasmine’s ‘peace versus free will’ philosophical questions are delectable and the whole plot line finally brought some levity. The other exception is Wesley and his descent. But neither feature adequate enough screen time to provide a counterbalance to everything else I’ve talked about here.

On close examination of either season, you can see major frustrating issues. I guess the difference for me is, when I pull back from Buffy Season 6, those issues fade into the tapestry of something I find very beautiful and moving. When I pull back from Angel Season 4 I see a dryer on spin cycle.

Source: https://thepassionofthenerd.tumblr.com/post/154046773894/on-angel-season-4-vs-buffy-season-6

On Sonder and Choice

This is an edited conversation that occurred on ‘Top 10 Buffy or Angel Episodes (that remind us everything is going to be okay.) I appreciated the commenter’s honesty and thought the points deserved to be highlighted. I’ve tried to edit us both down a bit for readability.

LS
Regarding your discussion of “sonder,” what is it about the concept that is relieving? I am a huge believer in empathy, yet I struggle with the idea that everyone around me is living a life just as complex as my own. Perhaps it’s that I’ve grown up with people who don’t communicate their problems well and thus I struggle to see their problems because, not only did they never explain their problems, but they blamed their problems on me…It’s a wonderful concept, sonder, but I find little relief in the idea that other people are living equally complex or challenging lives as my own. I realize this sounds conceited and bitter in the context of trying to remember that “everything is going to be alright,” but there are some serious barriers to that concept which need addressing. Perhaps we are not main characters in a long and convoluted plot with ancillary figures around us but the world also isn’t fair or equal to everyone so does that mean that those of us who are unlucky shouldn’t suggest that our problems deserve more attention than the problems of lucky people?


Ian
I can only answer with my own anecdotal experience. I am not a philosopher nor a psychologist. Just a guy with too much time on his hands who runs a Youtube channel. For me, these concepts mostly come back to the value of managing my own perspective. For reference, I am a high anxiety neurotic. The wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep because something embarrassing I said when I was 11 just popped back into my head and I’m reliving it all over again at 3am type. Insecurity. A lot of worry. To the point where it can become paralyzing. The idea then of Sonder allows me to neuter the power of those fears. To remove myself from that anxious bubble and reach a state of just being present, as I come to understand my fears are just a tiny blip in the white noise of humanity. It’s helpful LESS because 'well a lot of people have it worse’ and more from the idea that suffering is an intrinsic aspect of being human. It’s purely a tool.

Now you can’t LIVE in that space. Selfishness is probably a biological form of self-preservation, and a useful one. I come back to my life, my desires, my wants and continue to move forward. But I get to do so on my own terms. It may not be a particularly useful idea for you in place in life you are at right now. But what I’m trying to get at in this video and ultimately on the channel itself is to live 100 percent through CHOICE, stripping away my automatic ways of being that don’t serve my aspirations for a life of passion and expression. My resentments. My hatreds. My fears. They may be valid and justified but who would CHOOSE to live like that? Boiling in what is undone? Life is what it is, mostly out of our control, but we do have the freedom to experience it how we choose.

As an example when I was a teenager my Dad told me to “have a nice life” and stopped speaking to me for several years. When we eventually came back into each others orbit, he expressed zero remorse or regret. I could have stayed angry at him. It would have been completely and utterly justified. But that would have poisoned my OWN well. And I don’t choose to live like that. I’ve had to learn that you can’t suppress an emotion, be it fear anxiety or whatever. But emotions are generated by my own perspective and THAT I do have control over. If something is making me sick I have the ability to turn the prism of my own perspective a few times and find freedom again. It is not as easy as it sounds and it has taken a lot of practice. But it DOES work. And it freed me up to forgive my Dad and find new ground with him.

I am shaken today due to some things going on so this is relevant. There’s a quote from the movie 'Her’ that I always come back to. Amy Adams is sitting on the couch with Joaquin Phoenix and he’s feeling guilty over this bizarre relationship he’s formed with an AI. And she says: “You know what, I can overthink everything and find a million ways to doubt myself…and I’ve just come to realize that, we’re only here briefly. And while I’m here I wanna allow myself joy. So fuck it.”


LS
That was really insightful. Thank you. Your anecdotes really do help. Your example of waking up in the middle of the night with intense fears of something you did as an 11 year old (I get a similar form of this sometimes too) is very on point. I just would never want someone to say, as my parents did to me, “well everyone’s got problems so your problems don’t matter.” That scares me a lot, not because I fear it personally but because it opens up the doors for excusing all sorts of bad actions. Ultimately, though, you’re right. Choice should dictate how we see the world and how we respond to bad situations. We should not act in “bad faith” as you’ve brought up on the episode guide a few times, and which I know you’ll bring up again ;-) Oh and for the record, you’re not just some guy on YouTube with too much time on his hands. You’re a converser who provides a space and helps us all confront our inner demons by talking about a show, a piece of art, with which we all find deep emotional meaning. Not many people are willing to do that kind of thing. Thank you again for taking the time to make these videos and to speak with me. I really appreciate it.

Ian
I’m honored. And 'everyone has problems’ is a nonsensical way of handling suffering. It’s bleach for the human experience. My sister had an accident once and sliced off her index finger. I remember a LOT of people telling her, “Well at least you didn’t lose the hand.” Which made me angry because it was like telling her she didn’t deserve to feel bad because it could’ve been worse. But you know what STILL sucks? LOSING a damn FINGER.

The most succinct explanation of suffering I’ve ever heard was from Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search For Meaning: “To draw an analogy: a man’s suffering is similar to the behavior of a gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the “size” of human suffering is absolutely relative.” It must always be dealt with on its own terms which means comparisons between individuals are essentially irrelevant. The concept of Sonder shouldn’t be employed through GUILT. It has no power then. It’s something that, should you decide to use it, you do through choice.

Source: https://thepassionofthenerd.tumblr.com/post/152984768549/on-sonder-and-choice