Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Sensitive-Person Brain Disease

Recent events have caused me to think a lot about the nature of depression lately and the people I’ve encountered who have had their lives altered in some way by it.

Every once in a while, I too go through what I call a “Cobain phase” where I withdraw from social contact and simply reflect in a very unorganized and nihilistic fashion, alternating currents of anger and apathy, usually manifested in the kind of music I have playing at the moment. I’ve been on antidepressants since I was a teenager and I’ve since convinced myself that I need them in order to function. Name a brand; I’ve been on them all.

Yeah I know, boo hoo. Woe is me.

When I started this blog, I promised myself it wouldn’t be a self-indulgent public journal in which I gripe and moan on and on about past pains or whatever or whathaveyou. It’s not like I’ve had it particularly bad in my life—I’ve actually had it relatively good. Depression isn’t necessarily about feeling “sorry” for oneself, as many who have never experienced it tend to think. It’s evoked subtly over prolonged periods of slowly accumulating anxiety about the state of the world, leading to the possibly quite “sane” view that humanity is…well…screwed up. Like our overevolved frontal lobes are a thin biological barrier barely harnessing some simian brutishness. Like if an apocalypse were to occur, and food, sex, warmth and whatever else fuels the man-beast were scarce, an inner Dahmer might be unleashed on our loved ones for that last bit of squirrel meat. And I absolutely hate it and hate humanity for a while and hate myself for being a part of it.

Then, I get over it. The soundtrack of my mind turns from grungy screams to anthemy hope fests. The world is hunky dory again and I hear birds chirping and, though my mind may choose to gravitate in that direction, I choose not to hear the predatory, dinosaurish screech of their ancestors in their sounds. I filter out the negative, concentrate on the positive. I feel somehow dishonest in doing so, but I have to do what I have to do in order to function.

It’s like my brain is a thought battery, programmed to go through this purge every once in a while in order to recharge in a ritualistic fashion.

It seems like I’ve known quite a bit of people in my relatively short life that have committed suicide. One was a college friend. I wasn’t in the same state, or even in the same time zone, when it happened and hadn’t talked to him in months before it occurred; yet I do feel partially responsible—like I could’ve done something. Anything. Like I could have reminded him to appreciate simplicity, to drag him to the mountains and smell the foliage on the breeze or pet an animal or simply listen to what he had to say about his pain, which I love to do for others.

Recently I’ve been in one of those rare states where you suddenly have an epiphany and realize, in full raging, empathetic glory, that someone close to you may have experienced what you’re feeling and that you should learn from how they handled it. I’m no stranger to loneliness—one might even call it the academic’s affliction. Loneliness is simultaneously the burden an academic has to bear in order to thrive in this career, as well as one of its greatest joys. It’s bittersweet. Being alone with a book can be one of the greatest joys one can experience. The problem comes when you let ideas replace actual flesh-and-blood people to the point where they become your best friends.

I think this was my friend’s problem. And I’ve learned that the best way to cope is to seek out others and connect, and now I don’t have as much of these “Cobain phases” anymore. I realize that everyone on this earth has had periods of despondency and that the best way to overcome your own inner pains is to reach out. Cut out the bullshit small talk and really connect. Live bravely with your emotions. Stop waiting on the hinge of another person’s words in order to outdo their narrative and make yourself look “better.” Stop the conversational competition and just fucking listen.  And understand. And empathize.

The key, I guess is, to realize that the meaning of life is to help each other get through…well… life. And it’s awesome. Staggeringly awesome that we get to borrow elements of nature and experience consciousness and thoughts and feelings instead of being dead matter. And I don’t take it for granted. I think that’s what gets me through those rough spots.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lutes Avec le Francais

 "Uhhuhhuh! Mon écharpe ressemble à un morceau d'une table à manger! 
C'est magnifique!"

As is my usual fashion, my procrastination tendencies have brought me here. But I think I started this blog as a way to “productively procrastinate” because if I’m writing about my struggles, at least I’m thinking about a way to overcome them, right? Right?

Right. Glad you agree.

So, for my doctoral program I have to learn how to read two languages, ostensibly so I can translate valuable alien words I run into during my research into the mother tongue. This summer I’ve been (re)learning French. The “re” is in parentheses because I don’t know if my two semesters of French in high school really count, as most of the time we were learning cool ways to insult people. “Tu as un vache grasse” (you are a fat cow), for instance, still sticks clearly in my mind.

Anyway, if I hadn’t been so immature, maybe I would have learned the language by now and wouldn’t have to worry about such matters now. Of course, my juvenile mind would have never predicted that I would become a scholar of anything, except maybe heavy metal and comic books. This, of course, would have occurred naturally.

Alas, I did mature (I think). And now I’m faced with dividing the world in twain in verbal fashion, because of the damned confusing fact that French is a gendered language, and every person, place and thing in the world all of a sudden had fictional genitalia of some sort. This daunting task is also exacerbated by the fact that I have an overactive and possibly hypersexual imagination, and I keep having visions of a French grape (de raisin--male) doing the nasty to a banana (la banane—female). Which, on a symbolic level, doesn’t even make any damned sense. You have the most obvious phallic symbol mother nature ever devised, compounded by the fact that most men still associate a woman eating a banana with…you know, as the female and the grape—squishy, round, filled with, uh, juice--as the male? Lacan is rolling around in his grave. Just so ya know.

Anyway, my translating endeavors are going better than expected, but still slowly and painfully. I remember, enviously, that at one point in high school I had an entire Shakespeare play memorized, yet now I can’t remember 20 new French words in a day. Maybe if they made their language more intuitive, like having obvious genitalia-like fruit become masculine, I wouldn’t have such a hard time.

I guess I shouldn’t complain though—learning to read a language in a couple months is still pretty darned good (If I can do it, and I think I can). And I’m sure others are struggling much more with it than I am.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Valhalla Rising

I very rarely have a cinematic experience worth raving about to everyone, but I have seen one that everyone who appreciates gritty realism with dabs of the mystical should experience. It’s a Danish film called “Valhalla Rising” and it’s probably the most curious case of mismarketing I’ve come across.

The trailer, given below, would probably have you believe that it’s a blockbuster action film, filled with blood n’ guts n’ glory. Now it is that…but these furious snippets come in so short (albeit intense) bursts that it really can only be appreciated by those with greater attention spans and possibly under the (ahem) “influence” of certain herbs. Hey, it’s not called an acid film for nothing.

Since this is an art house film that was billed as an action blockbuster, it suffered some pretty unfair criticisms as a result. An audience expecting a Viking “300” but instead getting a brooding, unflinchingly realistic piece of stunning visual poetry (think David Fincher meets Stanley Kubrick meets Terrence Malick and you’ll get the idea) might be pretty disappointed.

It takes place primarily in an unnamed area of Denmark in 1000 A.D. The movie is slow in terms of action and plot, but fast in intellect and in craftsmanship. It meditates on foggy mountaintops bereft of signs of humanity and painstakingly detailed shots crammed with symbolism. The realism comes from everything to its authentic scenery to its grunting, sparse dialogue. Whereas most films would light every single perfect-looking expensive actor on its payroll, this works with natural lighting and with grimy, mud-caked actors in a way folks would’ve looked before hygiene and dental care.  Of course, insects buzz around the camera to give it a nice touch, and it gave me an impression of the level of care that went into making it. As one reviewer said, most medieval era films merely approximate the feeling of “being there,” but this film rips “you out of time and drops you there.”

Anyway, just go watch.