The Value of Doing Small Things

“I’m not sick,” the old woman who had waved my car down said. 

This morning I got up early to take Brittany, my girlfriend, to City of Hope National Medical Center, not because of COVID-19 but because she had a regularly scheduled doctor visit for her cancer care. The facility was a ghost town, and the day before she had gotten an email saying she couldn’t bring a visitor with her. She would need to get screened for COVID-19 symptoms and I would have to wait outside. I was a little bummed, not only because I like being there with her but because I really wanted to get one of those infrared thermometer checks I’ve seen people get in TV news footage from Asia. 

We had been isolating for the past week and a half (it’s only been a week and a half?); her treatments suppress her immune system and my day job is at a coffee shop, which brings me into contact with hundreds of people. My coffee shop serves a kind of tea that people seem to believe has medicinal properties (it doesn’t. It has a lot of sugar in a hot liquid, that’s what’s making you feel better for 20 minutes), and so we were getting a lot of unwell customers through. I walked away from my shifts because I needed to be available for Brittany and I couldn’t risk getting infected by some rando looking for a Cold Buster.

The isolation hasn’t been hard for me – I’m an indoor kid – but what has been hard has been seeing this crisis happen and feeling sidelined. I don’t know how to be of service right now; I know that staying home is being of service, that giving up paychecks to remove myself from the chain of transmission is being of service, but it doesn’t feel like really being of service. It doesn’t feel like I’m doing anything when I fuck around in my house in sweats all day. 

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Healing the Dark Side in RISE OF SKYWALKER

“Wars not make one great.”

– Yoda

That a movie series called Star Wars should lean so heavily on violence as a problem-solving tool shouldn’t, on the surface, be that surprising. But ever since George Lucas established the black and white morality of his galaxy far away, he’s been trying to subvert it. He didn’t always succeed (or when he succeeded the movies weren’t all that good), but right from the first sequel, using the quote above, Lucas was pushing against the martial universe he had created. 

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Kylo Ren vs Cancel Culture

Ben Solo is going to get redeemed. You can count on it, at least if JJ Abrams understands even the smallest thing about the moral universe that George Lucas created in the first six Star Wars films. Redemption is as baked into the DNA of Star Wars as lightsabers and space battles, and to swerve away from that in the supposed final chapter of the Skywalker saga would be far more shocking than killing off all the characters at the end of Rogue One. Whether that redemption involves a love scene with Rey remains to be seen (don’t count on it), but by the end of the film Kylo Ren will have returned to being Ben Solo, and he will have found redemption. 

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Nobody Cares That DIE HARD Is A Christmas Movie

It’s the most wonderful time of year: the time when people show up on social media to fight for the idea that Die Hard is a Christmas movie. The thing is… there’s nobody to fight. Nobody really DISAGREES with that position; at most people like me respond to “Die Hard is a Christmas movie!” arguments with “Sure… okay. Whatever. I guess.”

This comes to mind because I saw this tweet from a friend of mine:


And I thought it was very funny, but also very true. And not just true about Die Hard As Christmas Movie, but about all things in our lives.

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Being Mean Jesus

As you proceed down the spiritual path some things become clearer to you. One of the great understandings you come to is that most of what people do or say to you is not personal; they’re not out to get you, they’re just acting on the conditioning and mind states in which they’re trapped. You can depersonalize a lot of the interactions you have, and suddenly things get less painful. The guy who is a jerk to you is acting out of his own pain, and you can bring compassion to the moment rather than feel bad or mad.

It’s so freeing, and it opens up the world in a whole new way. When you don’t have to take everything so damn personally a lot of negative moments can just pass by you like clouds passing by the sun. You don’t have to get hung up on them, and they only slightly darken your day for a second.

But the spiritual path ain’t that straight and narrow, and if you’re like me there’s nothing your fucked up conditioned mind can’t weaponize. And so this freeing understanding that everyone around you is wounded, is doing the best they can in that moment even if their best isn’t that good, that they are all just behaving in the ways that their genes and their parents and the world and their experiences taught them to behave, that they think they’re doing or saying what they need to do or say to protect themselves… it becomes a whole new way to be shitty to people.

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The Ultimate Vengeance Of Professor Death: A Novella

And now for something completely different.

When I was a kid I wanted to be a novelist; over the years my writing found other outlets, but recently those old fiction muscles have been twitching. I’ve answered their call by writing some fiction stuff, and I’ve not known what to do with it, so I’ve decided to just go ahead and publish it on my Patreon.

Here’s a sample of The Ultimate Vengeance of Professor Deatha post-superhero novella in twelve chapters. You can read the remaining chapters by becoming a $10 patron on my Patreon – If you’ve been thinking about supporting the site, this is a great time to do so!

And, full disclosure, I may put this up as a Kindle Single if there is enough of a response. Yes, that cuts into possible new subscribers, but I’m not trying to rip people off, just make a living.

Without further ado, the first two chapters of…

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The Universal Mass Shooter

There used to be a familiar refrain in the aftermath of a mass shooting: don’t name the killer. Don’t give him the fame he wanted. I never took to this – it always seemed like magical thinking to me, a connection to the old days when a name was a power object – but I understood the rationale well enough.

Today we don’t really know the names of mass shooters, and I don’t think it’s because this campaign for an attitudinal shift worked. I think it’s because no one can keep up with them. Of all the statistics about shootings in this country, this is maybe the one that shakes me the most: these events are so common we don’t even have the time or the energy to care about who did it.

I come from the world of true crime and serial killer fascination; reading about and learning about the worst offenders in history are hobbies of mine. I do not turn away from these people – if anything I’m fascinated by these deadly outliers. But the mass shooter is no longer an outlier; he’s an increasingly banal figure stepping out of the shadows, unsurprisingly legal weapon in his hand. He’s angry, disaffected, almost always white. 99% of the time a he. We are fascinated by novelty – there was a time when mass shootings were so novel that they warranted songs about them, not in protest but in kind of stunned amazement (“I Don’t Like Mondays” by the Boomtown Rats, about one of the few mass shootings carried out by a woman) – and the reality is that mass shooters are no longer novel.

At the same time mass shootings are not quite banal. We are in a place where the same horrifying thing happens with almost clockwork regularity; we endure scheduled public traumas. The horror is real but everything else is kind of a blur. It’s the equivalent of being jumped by six guys – each fist and foot is a new and terrible pain, but the people beyond the limbs are out of cognitive range. The fists and the feet are almost independent agents of hurt.

There’s another song I think about, Phil Ochs’ “Universal Soldier.” It paints a picture of one soldier throughout history, fighting and dying in all wars:

He’s five foot-two and he’s six feet-four
He fights with missiles and with spears
He’s all of thirty-one and he’s only seventeen
He’s been a soldier for a thousand years
He’s a Catholic a Hindu an Atheist a Jain
A Buddhist and a Baptist and a Jew
And he knows he shouldn’t kill
And he knows he always will
Kill you for me my friend and me for you
And he’s fighting for Canada
He’s fighting for France
He’s fighting for the USA
And he’s fighting for the Russians
And he’s fighting for Japan
And he thinks we’ll put an end to war this way
And he’s fighting for Democracy
He’s fighting for the Reds
He says it’s for the peace of all
He’s the one who must decide
Who’s to live and who’s to die
And he never sees the writing on the wall
We now have a Universal Mass Shooter. The details may be different, but they’re just masks worn by the same horror. And if we can’t keep up with the shooters, how can we possibly keep up with the victims?

The Gravitational Pull Of Negativity

This week I wrote about my second sober birthday, and the response I got was phenomenal. So many people contacted me to express not only their well-wishes and congratulations, but also to tell me how what I wrote impacted them. As a writer this is the dream – to talk about your own experiences and life and have other people say “This resonates with me. You’re saying something that means something to me.” Some of the kind words came from friends, some from longtime readers, some from people with whom I had never interacted with before. It was wonderful.

But two guys left less than complimentary comments on the piece. One guy says he knew me sixteen years ago, and wanted to make sure I knew I was an asshole. The other guy I don’t think knew me, but wanted to make sure I knew I was a bad person.

There were a dozen kind, affirming, positive replies (and hundreds of positive interactions on my Instagram post about my sober birthday) and two less kind ones. Guess which reactions I internalized?

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Two Years Sober: How I Drank

In recovery we celebrate the worst day of our lives. After all, you don’t get sober with the help of a 12 step group if you’re doing just fine – you usually have to come in the door beaten and battered. Some people come in on their own two feet, but most of us come in on our knees. More than a few come in on their backs, wheeled into a hospital or jail.

But it’s like the Smashing Pumpkins song Today, which is all about how the worst day of Billy Corgan’s life was also the best – because he knew it couldn’t get worse. Hitting bottom doesn’t just imply that you have no further to fall, it implies that you’ve landed, and now you can start standing up.

Originally on this, the second anniversary of my sobriety, I wanted to write about my bottom and how it wasn’t just one event but rather a long skid of alcohol-fueled disaster that stretched throughout 2016. People sometimes think that a bottom means you decided one day that you had a problem, when the reality is that you knew for a while. The bottom is just the moment when you can no longer ignore that problem.

Writing about my bottom seemed self-indulgent, though, and maybe a little too “look at how I suffered!” Perhaps I’ll tell the full story of my annus horribilis at some point in the future, but I don’t think that story will be helpful to anyone except me today. What I do think might be of some help is if I tell you how I drank.

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I Was A Blackout Drinker

I was a blackout drinker.

Perhaps you think you know what that means – drinking until I became a drooling mess, falling asleep in some bar booth or on a subway platform. If only it was that lame. No, drinking until you blackout doesn’t mean passing out, although later you may well wish you had. A blackout drinker is someone who, when a certain amount of alcohol enters their system, has a part of their mind shut off. I have heard the blackout drinker’s brain during an episode described as a VCR without a tape in it, but I think it’s even heavier than that. The blackout drinker is walking and talking, may seem absolutely together and not even obviously super intoxicated, but essential parts of their brain have been shut off. The blackout drinker is a danger to themselves and others.

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