Monday, September 1, 2008

My life, foibles, failures, pains, and anime (for some reason)

I’d like to take this opportunity to lend a little personal insight on a form of art and entertainment I’ve only recently been introduced to, anime. In order to fully do so I feel I must divulge a bit about myself along the way. I apologize if it rambles from one subject to another, but it’s a bit difficult to sum up the major experiences of one’s life in just a few short pages.

My younger brother came by my home several days ago and brought along a few DVDs of a series called Hellsing. I am a fan of Japanese and Eastern style art and music and have been for many years. My previous experiences with anime had been watered down television series like Pokemon and One Piece. These tend to be aimed at children from the age of 6 to 12 so it’s all pretty basic. I was thoroughly blown away by the intricate storylines and adult concepts that various anime portray and have become a bit of an addict over the last few weeks.

Netflix on Demand is a wonderful thing and I usually spend an hour in the evening watching a part of a series streaming on my computer after I’ve finished working for the day. It’s kind of a personal reward for getting up and writing for 8 or 10 hours straight. I realize that up to this point I’ve given away very little about myself on this blog. I will endeavor to change that. To that end let me start over.

I am a professional freelance writer working out of my house. Most of my work comes from contract positions writing up guides and reviews as well as small advertisements and various content for small business websites. Ever wonder where people found the time to write introductions to business websites or responses to just about any search engine term you could type in? That’s me and a legion of others. Mostly we are people who have a great love of the written word but for one reason or other are unable to find full time employment with larger writing firms or teams. Some people live in small towns too far away from any major centers of commerce to work in an office atmosphere; others do it as a part time supplement to their primary income, and yet more work in this fashion because they have no other option.

The third category is where I fit in. I began to show signs of some sort of gastrointestinal disorder at the age of 9. My parents took me from one doctor to another; some said it was in my head, a possibility given that I was emotionally volatile from a very young age; laughing one minutes and crying the next. Other physicians said I was faking it to avoid attending school. Again this was a possibility as I was the only Yankee attending school in a small, backwater, and very southern town. Consequently I was picked on and ridiculed just about every day. Its understandable that I wanted to limit my exposure to other people of my own age as much as possible.

After several years worth of pain and anguish on my part my parents finally conceded the fact that I might have been ill. To this day the most that can be said is that I have some sort of chronic gastrointestinal disorder that causes me crippling pain on a daily basis and prevents me from leaving the house most of the time. I won’t recount the war of attrition that school was. The pain, shame, embarrassment, and fear I experienced every school day. I could probably fill books with it if I hadn’t mentally repressed most of the memories.

I still think about it and wonder what those children were thinking when they picked on me and threatened me, sticking their chests out and strutting around like cockerels. I am a very big person, always have been. I’m currently standing at 6 feet and 6 inches; I was roughly a foot taller and 50 pounds heavier than any other boy I went to school with for most of my life. Admittedly I was overweight and had poor stamina, but at the age of 10 I was strong enough to pick up and carry my own father, who was well built himself. Yet they would pick on me as if I was some sort of weakling. It’s a good thing I was not at all aggressive as a child and sought to resolve disputes through words, rather than my fists.

I tend to kick myself over the whole thing now. If I had taken a few of them down a peg or two I would’ve been doing Darwin’s work in improving the gene pool. Ideally the dumb ones shouldn’t live long enough to breed. Funnily enough I look back on that time as a lost opportunity to get away with some serious damage while being underage and not subject to prosecution as an adult.

In any case what I’m trying to say is that I’m in a great deal of pain and can’t leave my home most days, negating any other line of employment.

While I do have a great love of the written word and have always written for my own enjoyment, I wanted most to be a psychologist. The human mind has been a great mystery to me for as long as I can remember. I don’t know why, but I’ve never understood human interaction and the thousand and one unspoken cues that it entails. Maybe I was brain damaged as a child, maybe I’m actually the spawn of an alien species, I don’t know.

What I do know is that I was gifted with a greater than average intellect and a very analytical mindset. I bounced from one career path or another as a child, as most children do. But found I had a bit of a knack for interpreting people’s interactions and figuring out why they acted the way they did. I did so in a very straightforward and logical process rather than an empathic or emotional one, making my insights pretty accurate. Also I have a very dour and solemn demeanor, regardless of how I’m feeling. I’m actually a very sensitive and emotional person, I just don’t show it on my face or in my body language, never have. I guess people liken me to a priest. They’re always confiding in me. My schoolmates, my teachers, my co-workers. Everyone always opens up to me regardless of how well I know them, and whether or not I actually want to hear about their problems. It gave me a lot of practice over the years so I thought I would put it to good use.

I managed to get through high school and college, despite the fact that I had to home school and teach myself most of the time as my attendance was sketchy at best. I even graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Psychology. Too bad my guidance counselor was a senile old bat who hadn’t noticed the world had changed since the 50s. There were no job opportunities for someone who had no guarantees he would be able to get to work on any given day. I ended up working at my old job I had taken between college semesters working at a department store. My manager was an alcoholic so as long as I kept giving her a few bottles of the good stuff for every holiday and birthday she didn’t care if I was able to get to work each day. I am sad to say that, despite her personal problems, she was the best boss I’ve ever had.

After almost 2 years of taking abuse from the walking stiffs that we called customers (my town is largely a retirement community full of people from New York and New Jersey) I had had enough. (On a side note if you’ve ever seen the original Dawn of the Dead by George Romero, you’ll know exactly the sort of customers I’m talking about. The only difference between them and the zombies is that nobody will arrest you for shooting a zombie) I was making less than 300 bucks a week, wasting money on gas and dry cleaning for my suits at work, and had nothing to show for it except sore feet from standing 12 hour shifts. I was still living with my parents and just barely getting by. I quit the next day and starting writing for a living.

Don’t get me wrong. The job is not easy as you have to be very cut throat, meet tough deadlines, fight to get work, fight to get paid, and drum up your own business. But I’ll take it over the old rat race any day.

Having brought you up to speed with what I do and basically who I am I will continue with my initial statements. I was addicted to anime and watching them before bed each night. I was watching a new one called Utawarerumono. The exact translation of the name was beyond me, but the art, the storyline, I was in love with the entire thing…Until the second to last episode. The crowning glory of this series was the characters. They were funny, quirky, human, and lovable. After the first few episodes it felt like you knew them personally. (At this point you might want to stop reading for fear of story spoilers)

In any case, in the second to last episode before the final showdown between the mysterious amnesiac hero and the shadowy villain, the hero regains his memory. There is a flashback, in which the hero remembers a time long ago, in a post apocalyptic future. Mankind is forced to live beneath the surface of the earth because of its poisonous atmosphere, despite the fact that other flora and fauna lived in a naturist paradise.

The main character was a test subject who’d been discovered wandering the surface world. He was imprisoned in a research facility populated with human/animal hybrids that the facility overseers had engineered in an attempt to create human genome possessing life forms that could live on the surface. These hybrids were essentially human, with human feelings, emotions, and tendencies. Despite this they were treated more poorly than animals, their humanity was denied, they weren’t even given names.

One of the hybrids, a beautiful young girl befriended and eventually fell in love with the main character. They staged a breakout and fled to the surface world, where they lived for well over a year and had a child. One day they were caught. The hero was shot with a tranquilizer dart while the atmosphere-suit clad humans descended upon the woman and baby in her arms. The look of fear and shrieks of the mother as the child was ripped from her arms still haunts my dreams.

The husband awoke to find himself in the research facility again, strapped to a table. The head scientist of the facility came in to check on him. The hero immediately cried out to his wife. The scientist calmly replied that since she was the first of her kind to successfully bear a child, she had to be studied… She was dissected.

At that point I lost the capacity for reason and roared like a wounded beast. I tore through my room and ran to the garage where I have a heavy punching bag. I wailed on that bag for well over an hour, stopping only when my vision was too blurred with sweat and tears to see the bag. The knuckles of my fists were bereft of skin, blood smeared the bags, but I couldn’t have cared less. All I saw was red.

The anime did not show the dissection thankfully, but my imagination generated images which I don’t doubt were worse than any visual artist could’ve rendered. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a very emotional person at times, but the last time I reacted in this fashion was when I was working as a bouncer in a club when I was attending college. On my first night a drunken idiot tried to grab one of the dancers on stage. She stayed calm and waited for help while I was waved in to take care of the problem. I gave him a verbal warning as was required, repeating it in Spanish as his friends were speaking Spanish to him. When he did not respond I grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him down. As he came down he spun around to face me, triggering the switchblade knife that he had concealed in his other hand. He drove it right for my heart.

I managed to get an arm in the way to deflect the knife, though the blade cut deeply into my forearm. The only thing after that which I remember was another bouncer tackling me.

After the man was taken away by police for assault with a deadly weapon and one of the bouncers bandaged my arm, the head bouncer explained what had happened. I had a “red out” as he called it. Basically when some people are hurt or wounded they lose their minds with their anger, responding with maximum violence. I had broken the man’s wrist, which was holding the knife, then dislocated his shoulder, shattered his nose, clothes lined him to the ground, and then proceeded to jump up and down on his chest, shattering his ribs. It was at that point that another bouncer tackled me to stop me from killing that man.

Obviously I was not cut out to be a bouncer as I “Did more damage than I prevented” in the words of my boss.

This time I was not hurt, but it felt as though someone I knew and cared about had been violated in the most heinous and terrible way possible. That woman had not even been treated as a human being when she was killed.

I have a very strong and overdeveloped protective instinct toward women. I know it’s not politically correct to say so given that women are considered equal to men, but it’s just how I am. Perhaps it’s the result of trying to keep an abusive father from harming an emotionally vulnerable mother. She’s called me a big guard dog on more than one occasion. It’s just that violence against women sets me off like nothing else.

A day later and I still tremble with rage at the memory of what I saw; the mental image won’t leave me. I slept for only a few hours that night, waking up to bandage my hands before trying to get on with my day. The more and more I thought about it, the more I had to get it out. Writing has always been my chosen method of expressing myself and I thank anybody for their time whose read this far as there is a point to this ramble aside from telling you about myself.

After much rumination I realized that the purpose of art is to evoke a response, to generate emotion in the viewer. Not all art is beautiful, not all life is beautiful, and nevertheless it should be recognized for its value in portraying the full spectrum of human existence, emotion, and life. While my response was indeed extreme and unpleasant, it is representative of part of the human experience. Were this art form portrayed in a less skillful fashion I probably would not have identified with the characters and responded as I did. Feelings of loss, rage, and a sense of helplessness and being unable to do anything to stop it. These are common, though regrettable, emotions resulting from life experiences.

In this I must applaud anime as an able and powerful art form which I shall continue to patronize and would suggest you do the same. It is important to be aware that anime is not something intended solely for children. Not every story has a happy ending and indeed you may experience something akin to what I have described as you watch one series or other. While at times it may be painful, one would not be whole without experiencing and taking in the negative as well as the positive aspects of life, the same as with any true art form.

Now if I can only come to terms with the look of fear on that woman’s face that has burned itself into my mind’s eye.


Joilene said...

I once had a similar response to a section of "The Godfather"...I burned with rage for two weeks, and swore I'd never watch it again, though that was the only part I saw.

Joilene said...

[This is to You…not your blog. I’m using this method of contacting you, because I can’t tell how often you check your e-mail…you’ve never replied but once. Therefore, given its length, I don’t really expect you to approve it as a comment; if you want to, that’s your business. Also, take your time about this, if it’s a burden on your eyes…I can’t figure out how to say what I want in a short way.]

Well. I’ve been reading your posts for the last two hours, exploring your thoughts, trying to get a handle on you.

BTW, please try not to be offended if I come across like a crowbar to the chest…it’s been hinted to me that I often do in plain writing, without tone of voice, etc., to clarify and expound upon the meaning. I hope my heart comes across to you, open and simple.

I’ve been counting on you remembering, but, in case you don’t, I’m the same girl who contacted you through, after reading your bio. I feel like I’ve done an indescribably poor job of holding up the offer I made to you then, about learning to kick some serious demon butt. But then…it’s been more of a monologue, since that first e-mail and your response.

I only recently remembered that you had listed a blog on your bio, and feel like a dummy for not taking advantage of it sooner, to get to know you. You remind me, quite honestly, of where I know I’d be without God. Actually, I’d probably be one step worse, and be dead without Him, because I wouldn’t have had the willpower to keep going…like you somehow have.

I’ve taken a few bits and pieces of your posts, and used them as a framework on which to lay out some of my thoughts.

My overall aim tonight, absurd as it may seem, is to offer up my friendship to you, which I have a feeling you will have a hard time truly accepting. By friendship, I mean an informal relationship that has the potential to last a lifetime, and can be counted on and leaned against, in good times and bad…over the internet or face-to-face, even if I do something stupid, even if you do something stupid. I’ll be the first to say I’m weird, I can be cranky, I wish sometimes that I could lose hope (it seems like it’d be a less painful way to live), and I regret having nothing more meaningful to call myself than a “Christian”…but I’m also incredibly loyal. You’d have to lie your ass off to me multiple times, over truly evil things, before I’d revoke friendship right number one.

Alright, then, with that said, here’s why:

Quote #1 - “I would dearly like to be able to trust someone again.”

Me, too, John. Me, too. I don’t even trust God as much as I want to…and He can’t even lie. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how Christ threw His heart out in the street to get trampled again and again, and asking, How? How could He do that, knowing what was coming? It would be a long tale indeed if I were to tell you about getting trampled by the ones I wanted to trust the most…so I’ll let that wait for now. Fortunately, I see a little bit of God every day in my husband, and am therefore slightly more resilient than I would be without him.

Quote #2 - “They actively encourage such contribution as well, which is why I'm working on a standalone novel taking place in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Coincidentally, it should be complete by the year 40,000 as well. So far it's only for my own enjoyment, though a very real possibility that it will published upon completion exists.”

I hope you meant to be funny, because this was. I understand all too well, though. I planted the first seed for one novel when I was twelve…I’m still working on it, almost 15 years later. It’s much grander in scope than it was then, of course, and I’ve learned more about life because of working on it, than I would have in three lifetimes without it. I used to encourage myself by remembering that Tolkien, while a grown man and a professor, still took 12 years to complete The Lord of the Rings, and that was after having the Elven languages and so forth largely worked out, and getting a head start in that by knowing how to use Old Icelandic, etc., to his advantage. Nowadays, working on this novel is more like a magic carpet ride than anything, getting whisked here and there, seeing strange sights, and being totally surprised by where the book is going. It’s an inter-world Dark Fantasy layout, with the MC being a Wyoming cowboy turned king. It’s not light reading.

Quote #3 - “Until then [the book being published] I still need to make a living. It's hard to work writing all day long and then sit down and make myself write on my off time for my own enjoyment. It's really easy to burn out that way.”

Agreed. I took a writing course from Long Ridge Writers Group (a great group, I must say), and did quite well. So I thought, maybe I can make a few bucks writing articles. I took a few I had lying around, threw them out on Helium, just to see what they’d do, and found out almost immediately that I have an unintelligible mindset. Many of them bombed horribly. Some of them could stand some technical improvement, and some of them could stand to be re-written…some have been. A few have done well. Still, the mindset thing…that’s the clincher. Since the experiments with Helium, I’ve gotten into a copywriting course from AWAI, and found out I have even less of what it takes – namely, an ability to predict human responses accurately, and, in fact, direct emotions to my own ends. I’m good at this manipulation in an actual extended story setting…I can make people laugh, cry, get angry, whatever, by using the characters to dig into their spirits. But in this other format, it’s working out horribly. I’m muddling my way through, absolutely convinced it’s something I need to see through to its end, but it’s one of the more frustrating things I’ve ever done. Here’s where the finances confession comes in. You see, in the words of Daffy Duck, “It’s not the principle of the thing, it’s the money!”

Quote #4 – “I don’t know why, but I’ve never understood human interaction and the thousand and one unspoken cues that it entails.”

As an extension of my paragraph above: I don’t know that I understand exactly what you’re going through, but I do know that I am fundamentally different from 99.9% of people I’ve ever met, or hope to meet.
Let me see if I have this right: You watch two people, or a group of friends, talking. Say, before a meeting of some kind. They babble, and they nod, and they smile, and they may even giggle, and cut each other off, and – in the end, they may as well have been talking about banana peels, for as much wisdom or actual value as the conversation added to their lives...because, they weren’t really listening to each other, or themselves, either. If you asked either of them about the conversation an hour from its end, would they even know they had it? Maybe, but most likely, on approximately the same level that they know whether or not they brushed their teeth or fed the cat. Yet, they both appear to have enjoyed it immensely, and you know, if you watch them again next week, they’ll do the same thing, perhaps with the same topics, and seem just as excited to hear their lips flap.
And you walk away going, Why? What are they thinking? Are they thinking? What do they suppose they’re sharing with each other?
I was reprimanded six months ago by a pastor for saying, in response to his question why coming to Wednesday Night Bible study wasn’t important to me, that cake and cookies and chatter with old women just didn’t cut it, for “fellowship”. (And never mind that fill-in-the-blank workbook crap afterwards, known as “studying the Scriptures”.)

Shallow – there’s a nice word for it.

A-a-r-h-g! Just thinking about those days leaves me feeling bored to tears, and completely unacknowledged, as I had nothing to add to conversations about…almost anything normal, with anybody normal. Still, after all that was over, and I kicked myself out of the church (where I’d taught Sunday School for six years), I felt free to admit that I’m not put together “right”, and that’s all there is to it. Still, it’s kind of lonely.

Quote #5 - “…solemn demeanor, regardless of how I’m feeling. I’m actually a very sensitive and emotional person, I just don’t show it on my face or in my body language, never have. I guess people liken me to a priest. They’re always confiding in me. My schoolmates, my teachers, my co-workers. Everyone always opens up to me regardless of how well I know them, and whether or not I actually want to hear about their problems. It gave me a lot of practice over the years so I thought I would put it to good use.”

I’m probably a little more physically expressive than you are…at times I can be downright melodramatic, but I thought it was worth mentioning that I also, for some unknown reason, get this “confide” response quite often. It’s baffling.

Quote #6 – “I have a very strong and overdeveloped protective instinct toward women. I know it’s not politically correct to say so given that women are considered equal to men, but it’s just how I am. Perhaps it’s the result of trying to keep an abusive father from harming an emotionally vulnerable mother. She’s called me a big guard dog on more than one occasion. It’s just that violence against women sets me off like nothing else.”

God bless you. Keep it up. If a girl doesn’t want you to guard her, then she doesn’t deserve a man. I wish more people understood this.

Quote #7 - “Writing has always been my chosen method of expressing myself.”

Forever and amen, brother.

So, there you have it. If you like, I’ll keep coming by your blog and proving my interest in you, and occasionally hitting a PPC ad to further your interests. I’ll be coming by anyway, because I find you interesting, and your posts, for the most part, worth reading. But if you need me to prove I’m “real,” that’s okay – I understand.

I also wrote something about how you’ve inspired me, on my own blog, at I thought you might be encouraged. Actually, had I not felt compelled to write that today and publish it immediately (this is not one of my regular posting days), I wouldn’t have found out about your surgery and all, in a timely manner. I went to your blog this morning to get the URL, and wound up finding prayer needs.