Walking the Gauntlet

On Monday I received a “demand letter” from a lawyer representing Stephanie Cofell, threatening a civil defamation lawsuit and potential criminal investigation if I do not remove this blog post, and remove mentions of her, Cory Strode, and Joe Rider from my social media. She is alleging that the messages I posted from her are “fake,” including a private message she sent me directly herself, and screenshots from her phone that included her name in the EXIF data.

I KNOW what is real. I KNOW what she sent me. I STILL have it.

Nothing says, “I am definitely not an unhinged narcissistic person,” like hiring a lawyer to threaten financial losses to a desperately poor individual that you have been attacking and trash-talking for years, during the darkest part of a worldwide pandemic and the worst civil unrest since the 1960s. These are clearly the actions of a sane, rational person, and not the crazed woman with a personal vendetta against me that I described in the posts that she is demanding I remove.

The blog post in question is based on my first-hand experiences, details and information that I felt were trustworthy from third parties, and both direct and circumstantial evidence that I accumulated myself. I would not have published what I did if I were not confident in the conclusions that I reached.

The idea that I would knowingly fabricate something just to “defame” someone when, overall, publishing that post has brought me more drama and grief than any kind of “reward,” is ridiculous. I spoke out because I am tired of people hurting me, then trying to gaslight me and label me as crazy afterward.

I profoundly regret not filing criminal trespass (?) charges when Cory Strode chose to let himself in my home and touch my intimate items. At the time I only wanted to be left alone, but that decision to “let it go” has done nothing but indirectly cause me additional trauma over and over again.

The truth is not defamation. I am perfectly happy to take a polygraph test. I am happy to submit all my documents for computer forensic analysis. Let’s subpoena the Facebook and Messenger records for her account. I spoke out because I have been regularly talking to a therapist, in part, because I need someone to help me with the confusion, distress, and trauma these people have caused me.

I have endured people assigning malice and motives to me that I never had.

I have endured “armchair psychologists” attempting to diagnose/treat me.

I endured an almost two-year-long “anonymous” defamation campaign, and yet somehow I am the one being threatened with a defamation lawsuit for publishing the evidence I have of those involved, and speaking out about it. Unreal.

Haven’t I suffered enough?! I have nothing.

I live barely at, or below, the poverty line. I have nothing to sue for.

For the past several weeks, if not months by now, I have been openly wrestling with bouts of borderline-suicidal depression. I am highly suspicious of what appears to be an attempt to kick me while I am already down.

I have also had enough of being bullied, intimidated, and threatened. I am currently seeking legal resources for people in poverty, as well as inquiring what I may be covered for under my existing insurance policies. If any lawyer reading this wishes to donate time to assist me in this matter, please contact me.

I would also appreciate any journalist leads that might cover this story.

I am willing to attach my name to my statements, unlike those, including Stephanie, who spent almost two years trying to defame me and destroy my professional reputation under a thin veneer of “anonymity.”

I am an autobiographer and my life — warts and all — is an open book. When someone makes a conscious decision to interact with me, they do so with the knowledge that I draw and write in extreme detail about my experiences.

I will stand up for myself, even if it means defending myself in court.

In “health” news, in reference to my previous post, the therapist I have been working with since early 2019 is on board with an autism-spectrum diagnosis for me. It is an idea I had brought up a few times in the past, and she told me she has had similar thoughts about me over time. (She reads much of my writing in addition to our talks.) I will be going into her office later this month for further evaluations. I have been having increasing trouble again with behaviours like compulsively, repeatedly locking, checking, and re-locking doors, etc.

Autism and ADHD Overlap

An autism diagnosis does not change my current course of treatment (ADHD medication and therapy), however it does release me from the self-imposed idea that “normal” (neurotypical) is an attainable goal for me. Another way of putting it might be: giving myself permission to own my awkwardness and weirdness. I can learn to interact with others and the world more effectively, but I will never “bootstraps” my way to a Not Autistic Anymore trophy. Which is what I have, unknowingly, been trying to do for most of my self-aware life.

It also gives me a better framework for understanding my meltdowns and shutdowns, and an effective vocabulary for expressing my needs to others. I am exhausted almost all of the time. Maintaining an “average” American life requires a tremendous amount of focus and effort from me, and I am frequently confused, over-stimulated, and overwhelmed. For good and for ill, I possess many childlike traits: I tend to take statements very literally, trust people’s word, and assume “adults” have my best interest at heart. We learn not to take candy from the stranger in a van, but I cannot recognize subtle social signs of danger.

ADHD and Autism Overlap

Though I understand, it is difficult to not feel a little failed by my parents and teachers while I was growing up. In the early 1980s there was simply less awareness — and to an extent there still is, in girls.

Parents: You cannot beat/berate/scream/punish these behaviours away.

Like I also mentioned in October, I have been in a great deal of physical pain recently. After multiple visits to the doctor, I was diagnosed with simple ovarian cyst(s) and a decent-sized uterine fibroid. The pain is low-to-high; some days it has felt like a knife being wriggled around in my abdomen. A few times it has been so severe I thought I had a burst appendix. I see a specialist soon.

Today I had a small benign cyst removed from my scalp. I have another scheduled in January. They cause a lot of pain and tenderness, and headaches localized to that area. I was impressed with the dermatologist; she was very fast and used a tiny incision. I had a slightly larger cyst removed years ago that left my bed pillow looking like a murder scene the next day, and a noticeable scar.

Lastly, I get my first mammogram in December. I have not noticed anything suspicious, but I do experience breast pain frequently. While I tested negative for BRCA1 and BRCA2, I am hoping that I may still be eligible for prophylactic double mastectomy. I have a strong family history of breast cancer, and my own mother developed and died of it before 60. I do not have any emotional attachment to my breasts as a display of “femininity,” and would be quite happy to be rid of them entirely before they try to kill me. I would be happy to be rid of them, generally. If I have to live in the Apocalypse, might as well look the part.

CATEGORY:

Cruelty Culture

Recently, I scrolled past a meme on Facebook that referred to ADHD as “diet autism.” While amusing at first glance, there is a nugget of truth in this. Those close to me know I have regularly mentioned suspecting I might be on the autism spectrum myself — especially since 2012, when I began working a part-time job again after years of limited human contact. I had to consciously and deliberately rebuild my socialization skills from scratch; the sort of systematic way I went about it is probably good example of how I approach myself, generally.

For years I have, only somewhat jokingly, referred to my struggles as learning how to be human. It has been the dominant theme explored over and over in my self-portraits. In aggregate, these images are obviously an attempt to relate my lived experience in ways I am unable to communicate with words. I don’t “love” or even “enjoy” drawing, but now theorize that I developed it as a part of my functional “vocabulary” adjacent to verbal and written language.

I have also illustrated the intense inner-conflict between my desire to be “good,” while believing for much of my life that I am “bad” or deficient. Apparently that is a documented phenomena. I tick off a lot of boxes, including some repetitive and ritualistic behaviours that I always assumed might be OCD, but are more likely a form of stimming. I do not know if a diagnosis at my age is easily possible.

When I dig deeply into my earliest memories, a clear pattern emerges of my struggles with social interaction and relating to others. Though I was never too bullied by classmates beyond the scope of isolated teasing, I did frequently feel “othered.” I saw myself as the “weird” one, and was definitely treated that way. I was often rejected without understanding why. Part of this was obviously due to the extreme restrictions placed upon me by my parents, but I believe that my neurodivergence played a role as well. They are irretrievably intertwined.

Throughout my life, I have encountered people that absolutely loathe me for reasons I did/do not know. I am speaking about elementary-aged school children to adults — going so far as to accuse me of, fabricate, and spread rumours about things I “did” that literally never happened. Even my parents! This could have been a source of bitterness for me, but it has mostly been bemusement.

“Confused” describes my immediate reaction to most interpersonal conflict.

It makes much more sense in the context of a brain/developmental disorder. Impulsivity, opaque and fast-moving thought processes, and an almost complete obliviousness to “tact” has generally led me to having virtually no verbal filter and expressing myself in the worst ways possible. People around me have also never hesitated to tell me what was “wrong” with me, which normalized that behaviour. I know this may come as a shock, but independent of good intentions, helpfully informing people what you feel they are doing wrong is rarely well-received.

These days I have learned to slow down and/or just keep my mouth shut.

For those that cannot or do not want to understand me — that is okay. I am doing my best, and constantly evolving. That is all I, or anyone, can do.

The Prisoner, 2016

Yet — in spite of the impairments I have had to overcome, and my personal shortcomings, and in spite of how I have often been treated over the course of my life — I have never relished being cruel. (Petty, sure, but in a harmless way.) Even at my most oblivious, I have never deliberately acted to deprive, destroy, hurt, or injure someone. Cruelty, and indifference to the pain and suffering of others, is something I find morally repulsive. I do not understand it.

The concept of deriving delight, or even joy, at the genuine misery of another person is also a concept I cannot wrap my mind around. I lost several Facebook friends, and a paying Patreon subscriber, after I repeatedly deleted ghoulish and gloating comments on a post I made when Donald Trump was diagnosed with Coronavirus. Readers ignored my numerous requests for them to stop, and eventually I became so distressed that I deleted the entire post.

I despise Donald Trump specifically because of his cruelty and I do not want to become the thing I despise. Is this truly that alien of a concept? I did not feel bad for him, and I do not wish him well, but throwing a party? is a whole other level. Trump’s discomfort and pain do not improve my life in any measurable way.

For those who believe in karma, how is the hypocrisy not apparent?

At times like these, I really do feel like some kind of alien being. Everyone is entitled to their emotions, and I am not lecturing anyone or trying to claim the moral high ground. I am attempting to convey my utter bewilderment.

Earlier this week, the Trump campaign finally pushed out a story that fucking broke me. Amid the fraudulent “scandal” about “Hunter Biden’s” alleged laptop, the New York Post published a series of private text messages between Hunter and his father. These are text messages from a hurting, vulnerable person, grappling with addiction and grief, laying bare his insecurities.

Joe Biden’s response was to be a compassionate, loving, and supportive father.

That’s it. That’s the “gotcha.” Joe Biden is a good dad. These malignant assholes’ sense of compassion and humanity has atrophied to the point that expressing love to your family is something to be looked upon with derision.

They intend me to read these messages and think less of Joe Biden.

I would have sawed an arm off to feel even half as supported by my father.

Right-wing Twitter began circulating a portrait of both Bidens together, as adults. It was a beautiful and warm photo, shared with a nudge-wink insinuation that there was either incest or pedophilia going on at some point between them.

A tender moment between a father and son, brandished to humiliate.

And I cannot handle any more. I do not understand these monsters. I do not understand this world where people are mocked for caring about others. I do not understand this world where kindness equals weakness. I do not understand this world that invokes the name of Jesus Christ constantly, while doing the opposite of everything he preached. I do not understand this world of greed, dishonesty, selfishness, and power at all costs. I do not understand this world where the Stock Market is worshipped as God, while people die in the streets.

The brain circuits tasked with processing this cruelty have over-loaded.

My heart is tired. My bones are tired. My spirit is tired.

I have had to temporarily withdraw into my projects for my own health. I am still posting my work-in-progress over on Patreon, but have dialed back my social media exposure until the belching firehose of cruelty has abated.

Tend Your Garden, 2018

Because of the election — no matter which way things go — the continuing increase in Coronavirus infections as people spend more time indoors, economic fallout from lack of action by the government, and the persistent threat of militia and white supremacist violence, we are in all likelihood about to confront one of the darkest and most grueling winters in living memory.

Here in the Midwest the daylight is dwindling, and the snow has started falling.

I recommend that you mentally and physically prepare yourself, in whatever forms that may take. Buy a few extra cans of food on each grocery trip (leave some for others though!), keep Gatorade/broth/soup and other such liquids on hand in addition to water, have a supply of general OTC cold medicines, make sure home and vehicle maintenance is up-to-date and winterized if needed.

Have plenty of your preferred entertainment and/or escapism stockpiled — books, movies, music, hobbies, creative activities. Hang Christmas decorations early if they help to keep your mood up. Try to limit the use of destructive coping mechanisms, like alcohol and opiates, that can fuel downward spirals.

Most importantly, reach out to and maintain virtual contact with your family, friends, and neighbours. It is only through coming together as a community, and acting non-selfishly, that we will successfully navigate the challenges ahead. It is going to get worse before it gets better, but I still believe things can get better.

Wash your hands. Wear your mask. Stay safe, my friends. ❤

CATEGORY:

Leave of Absence

My accounts have all been a little unusually quiet for the last few weeks, and though I touched on this in my last vlog, I wanted share in more detail about why. The TL;DR version is that I am completely and utterly exhausted.

At the beginning of last September, I accepted an aide position at a different facility than where I had been working for most of 2019. I took about a week and a half of “time-off” between leaving one job, and starting training for the second. This was time I used to physically recuperate, do some graphics and website projects for the comic convention, and finish correcting and filing my accounting and taxes. This break to catch my breath helped me immensely.

I left the previous facility because although I disclosed my scheduling needs, and they agreed to them when I was hired, once I had put in requests for my 2019 shows they continually denied my (and almost everyone else’s) time-off requests. I was also commuting about 40 minutes to work each way, wasting almost two hours of my time each work day plus fuel. For about three months I was in contact with HR trying to locate me a full-time position transfer closer to where I live, but they claimed to not have a single suitable opening, even though every such facility I have seen is constantly hiring. I finally gave up.

My current facility went from submission of my resumé to literally hiring me on the spot within the course of about three days. Now there are things I prefer about my current facility; the nurses are more supportive of aides and willing to share their knowledge. The facility is cleaner and more modern. The food is better! What I do not like is that since mid-September I have been assisting exclusively in memory care. My previous facility rotated aides throughout the building and groups in assisted living and memory care to help avoid burnout. I was offered the opportunity to assist outside the memory care unit, to have a break, when I was “ready,” then brushed off when I brought it up later.

The memory care unit I work in is nearly a nursing home in all but name.

I am essentially responsible for the “Activities of Daily Living” and medication administration for seven to eight adults per night, with second-person assist for a few more beyond that. Almost all of which have little to no control over their bowels, resulting in frequent messes, regardless of how often they are toileted. For those who are still ambulatory, if not caught quickly enough, this usually ends in the resident, their clothing, hands, body, bathroom, carpets, and/or bedding covered in bowel movement. If you are lucky, it has not yet dried onto the surfaces. Almost all memory care residents require extensive hands-on assistance with their ADLs. For example, they might be unable to distinguish a toothbrush from a comb. They will stare at a plate of food until you prompt them to eat, and they may have to be reminded multiple times throughout the meal. They may have to be hand-fed. They frequently refuse meals and must be coaxed or cajoled to eat. Many can barely use language, or have lost the capacity to use and understand spoken language entirely. Many cannot follow a basic instruction such as “sit” or “stand up,” doing the opposite, or something else entirely random and unpredictable. No one can be restrained, obviously, and most of those that still walk are also “high fall risks” that must be watched with vigilance, unless you want be the aide on duty when they break something and make that last trip to the hospital they never return from. Most require assistance sitting and standing, repeated so often that even the best attempts to mitigate my back pain and strain fail. A change of clothes or shower often results in crying and begging on their end; spine-destroying contortions on mine. Some are emotionally disturbed. Some have severe anxiety, and regularly become aggressive, verbally, or physically abusive of staff — screaming insults, hitting, punching, scratching, biting. The period after dinner is often a race to get sundowning residents safely in bed. In their more lucid moments, many often beg to leave the facility or die.

This is on top of the more well-known symptoms of more moderate dementia, such as asking the same questions ad infinitum, or needing reassurance to the point of exhaustion of their name, location, safety, etc. My memory care unit is currently BAD. Few regular staff will pick up shifts, which means I often work with agency employees — resulting in even more work for me, when I already cannot physically complete the tasks I am given in the time allocated. The mind is willing, but the flesh is weak — for the last several weeks, I have needed at least ten hours of sleep a night to feel truly rested. To accomplish all the things I am trying to do in a day, I would have to sleep only about six hours. I am in good shape, but still, I turn 40 years-old in about a month. My body has reached the limits of how hard I can physically push myself.

I love being an aide. I especially enjoy caring for those with dementia. There are fantastically rewarding moments of joy and warmth to be found, like little gems, in this misery. I have been complimented and praised by both families and staff for my approach and patience. But my body cannot do it full-time.

Many have said to me, “Don’t kill yourself for someone already dying.”

And I ruminate on deeper meanings of that, in quiet times.

I think many people, myself included until I began this work, are intellectually aware of the concept of dementia, but it is one of those things that you never fully understand or appreciate until you are faced with it intimately. It is one thing to understand that memory and sense of self disintegrates — it is quite another to watch a woman whose language is nonsense, and sense of self-awareness has significantly diminished, have unintelligible conversations with her own reflection in the bathroom mirror. Questions about who and what we are, our identity, the idea of eternal life — if you believe in it — are brought to the forefront. Extremely advanced dementia renders the individual into a sort of shadow-person; no one is home, yet they live. I witness this psychological and existential horror on a daily basis — not with terror, but with fascination. Then again, I have spent a lot of time gazing into the abyss myself.

The mind is willing, but the flesh is weak. Don’t kill yourself.

For all of this, I am paid less than I made as a retail department manager — a job with better medical benefits, which did not leave me with a sore back and joints daily, and which left me with enough energy to make progress on my personal projects at the end of the night. I left that job at the close of 2018 because of a group of slapnuts harassing and attempting to intimidate me. I was legitimately afraid for my personal safety for about a month. Since they knew where I worked, out of an abundance of caution for myself and for my coworkers, I made a quick career change. I had locks replaced, and I started carrying an emergency whistle and pepper spray. Eventually, I managed to gather evidence confirming some identities, filed informational police reports, distributed all of my documentation to select trusted individuals in the event that I am assaulted at a convention or worse, and went about business.

I will not allow myself to be manipulated by fear or threats ever again.

My big “life lesson” from the year of 2019 was crystallizing and strengthening my sense of self-worth, and learning to assert and stand up for myself.

I also learned how to understand when someone is literally or figuratively full of… bowel movement. And I am fucking pro-tier at dealing with shit now.

December was a rough month — I got pummelled with the standard seasonal blues as the days grew darker, the Sisyphean nature of my job, and I ran out of my ADHD medication due to pharmacy and insurance shenanigans. Which had awful side-effects, in addition to making everyday tasks more difficult. All sorted now, thankfully. About half-way through December, while off my meds, I came upon one of those watershed moments I occasionally have — where I make a big decision relatively quickly. My body desperately needs respite and I am ready to go all-in and get some new books under my belt. So it was that I created a Facebook fundraiser, and raised a little over $5000 in about two weeks. The fundraiser is open until January 31st, and any extra funds raised will help me extend the time that I am able to focus on my art and comics.

During my “leave of absence” I will also be obtaining my CNA license — which will increase my average hourly wage, and create more opportunities for me. Most immediately, I need a CNA to work for staffing agencies, temps, or float pools, where I will be able to choose which weekends I work to accomodate my show schedule. It will also allow me to work in facilities beyond assisted living and memory care, such as care centers, hospitals, and hospice. Hospice care is my end goal, at least part-time, eventually. I am very comfortable with death and feel a strong calling to care for the dying. I had the opportunity to care for my first actively-dying resident earlier this past fall, and it felt a great honour to attend to the body, sing hymns, and help ease their transition.

But for now, my friends, it is time to shine my “asshole” crown.

CATEGORY:

MSP Fallcon 2019

The leaves on the trees around my home are all turning crimson, orange, and gold in their most jarring and short-lived transition of the year — summer into fall. Unlike the gradual, sleepy-slow unfurling of spring after the winter’s melt, fall explodes into colours which are gone almost as suddenly as they appear. We have already had our first light dusting of snow. The radiators bubble and whistle, as the daylight hours grow ever-shorter. Winter is coming.

Stephen and I made an appearance together for LionCon in Saint Cloud, MN. It suffered from unfortunately dismal attendance, due to location and multiple venue changes, but as a result I got some forced rest. The drive up and hotel were comfortable, and it was great to see my new booth layout with the pipe and drape. The evening weather was perfect for walking downtown.

Jin Wicked at LionCon

The headaches I was frequently suffering over the summer have mostly gone away since getting my new glasses. (The frames I am wearing in the picture below were purchased when I lived in Minnesota back in 2000 — I had them re-lensed.) My vision had indeed become a bit worse, which is a real problem with the volumes of drawing, reading small texts and screens, and otherwise over-working my eyes that I do relentlessly. I am probably actively worsening my vision by doing these things, but it is an inevitable hazard of the job(s).

Jin Wicked at MSP Fallcon 2019

All of my accounting and book-keeping is finally, completely, totally up-to-date and fixed. All necessary documents have been amended and filed. Everything possible that can be automated is now automated. Such a shadow was lifted by finally overcoming that task. I will have 2019’s filings ready in January!

Earlier this summer, I was also starting to suffer persistent back pain from my day job, a very common occurrence in care-giving. It took about two or three weeks of conscious and deliberate effort to retrain myself to squat instead of bending at the waist or twisting, but I have seen dramatic results. I basically get paid to do dozens of body-weight squats per day! My core and legs have noticeably strengthened, as transfers have become easier. Especially-so for bodies my size or slightly larger. Perhaps some day I shall achieve my dreams of comforting the sick and dying, while being strong enough to crush a man’s skull between my thighs. I mean… a watermelon. Crush a watermelon.

Jin Wicked at MSP Fallcon 2019

We had a wonderful MSP Fallcon this year! The convention started with a cold and rainy morning, but traffic rallied around noon, and stayed strong right up until close. The energy was good, and I made enough money to take some of the sting out my large LionCon loss. Special thanks to my friend Michael, who helped with photography! I was able to get the photos uploaded and tagged (for as many as I could!) on Facebook by the following Monday night.

I have been privileged this year to assist with the promotional materials and T-shirt layouts for the convention. Alongside the other contributing designers, I would like to bring a more unified appearance and voice to the convention. I was able to assist with the website for this fall show as well, and am looking forward to making further improvements over the winter for spring. I hope to expand the convention’s footprint across the Internet and social media. Over the course of setup and during the show, I spent a few hours collecting cards and getting to know my fellow creators a little better. I LOVED the eagerness from everyone, excited to share with me what they enjoy most about tabling at the show! Their communication and feedback is essential to promoting the individual creators and the show as a whole. A rising tide lifts all boats.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to give back to this show which has given so much to me, and which has become like my family and adoptive home.

I am also grateful for the opportunity to grow my leadership skills.

Jin Wicked at MSP Fallcon 2019

Mark, Root, and I have also been working more regularly on the COMIC BROS Podcast we record together, including a newly-revamped logo and illustrative episode teasers. I am especially proud of Mark and Root’s efforts in Houston, where they have organized a “Drink and Draw” meetup, become regulars at local shows, and engaged in other community activities. Root has been doing a remarkable job with the COMIC BROS Instagram feed, Facebook page, and blog. Mark has done great interview work! Also on Twitter and Youtube.

I talk some about my evolving personal goals in this month’s episode.

For the next three weeks, I will be working on sketch cards in preparation for Grand Rapids Comic-Con, my final show of the season. After I return, I will be taking a break from conventions until MSP Springcon 2020 next May, to focus on producing my next two books, certification for HHA/CNA, and my volunteer work. This was a year that has been about outwardly-facing energies for me, and personal battles, which I will write more about over time. Now that I feel like I have reached a situation of authenticity and stability, I am ready to turn my attention inward and move on to the next phase in my development.

Please consider supporting my Patreon if you are not already.

CATEGORY:

On Fear, Vol 2

“The cynics may be the loudest voices – but I promise you, they will accomplish the least.” – Barack Obama

This was originally written in my reflective early-morning hours as a Facebook post, but I wanted to preserve it here as an addendum to my previous post about fear. One of the fears I have struggled most with is feeling silenced — by intimidation and fear of criticism. This is not limited strictly to politics, but to negative experiences and traumas I have had as well. The inability to discuss many things I have been going through has been psychologically devastating for me, as a person whose main avenue of expression and understanding my world is through my artwork and comics. Victim-blaming is still pervasive even among “enlightened” and “woke” people. In several cases my traumas, and efforts to mentally reconcile doing “the right thing” while understanding what happened to me, have not only been minimized and invalidated, but actually turned into a running joke and/or used an as excuse to abuse me further.

Until recently, I have been flailing around in this no-man’s-land of denial, self-blame, being told how I feel and how I remember things is not correct, being told who I am, being told what is wrong with me — you get the idea.

I have also surpressed a lot of anger out of a desire to be “nice” and “good” and “liked” when I had real, legitimate reasons to be upset. Unfortunately for those who have attempted to gaslight me (and for me gaslighting myself), in the process of learning healthy conflict and building a loving relationship with Steve, I now have a much better-calibrated gauge for recognizing abuse.

I don’t like thinking of myself as a victim. This has been a process.

The irony is realizing the things you thought you wanted, were never worth it in the first place, and only looked appealing through the warped perspectives of the past. Authenticity sets you free. Onward and upward…

“There are a lot of politics in the Lunch Break archive.

It was something I used to be very passionate about. I grew up in a right-wing household. I listened to Rush Limbaugh until the early 2000s. It wasn’t until I left Texas, and started spending time in Canada and with people from other countries, that I started to question the things I had always believed.

I got a lot of angry and hateful feedback for my criticisms of the Bush administration and evangelical Christianity. But most of the things I was ‘over-reacting’ about back then have become noticeably, undeniably worse and/or more extreme. I do feel a little bit, just a little bit, vindicated here.

I don’t hate religion. I’m an atheist that somewhat regularly goes to Catholic Mass. I try to live by certain values I admire — love your neighbour, turning the other cheek, helping those less fortunate. Things Christians give a lot of really vocal lip service to — but precious few actually walk the walk.

I was a delegate for President Obama’s campaign in the 2008 primary fight against Hillary Clinton. I don’t really have strong feelings about Hillary, but I am not much a fan of political dynasties, either. That was a bitter fight.

Obama turned out to be not much better than Bush, if at least better-spoken and more Presidential. I suppose I am a disillusioned Millennial.

I’ve stayed away from politics for a long time — mainly because I was going through too much of my own shit, and just too tired to argue anymore.

Sometimes it is so tempting to give in to nihilism and hedonism.

But the ‘right’ path is rarely the ‘easy path.’ And the ‘status quo’ is also rarely the right path, being easy — it’s much easier, and less scary, to fight change rather than embrace it. It is much easier to lie to ourselves about the dangers of greenhouse gases and environmental pollution, than to endure the inconvenience and disruption of systemic change.

It much easier to lie to ourselves that the poor and downtrodden did something to deserve their bad fortune, even though the whole game is rigged to funnel ever-more wealth to the top. You literally cannot win.

Decades of trickle-down economics; the gas-lighting of the working class.

Centuries of racism, sexism, xenophobia, social wedge issues, and union-busting to keep the working class busy fighting each other.

But the ability to be apathetic towards politics is, itself, a privilege.

So this teenager, this young woman, Greta, comes — and she speaks before the world with a great deal of passion about something she believes in. She wants all of the things that I have been told, since childhood, are unquestioningly good — a clean, healthy planet for future generations. Unpolluted water to drink. Clear air to breathe. Sustainability.

And I would be lying if, when I watched her speak, I didn’t see some of myself — a young, idealistic person full of life, before the darkness and depression dragged me under. She has not yet cracked. She is stronger than I was. She has endured far more nastiness than I ever have.

And I also see something I have long been unwilling to acknowledge — the depths to which people will go to preserve their comfortable lies and inertia. The ugliness. The level of hatred, of venom, of dismissiveness, of mockery — for someone who, whether you like it or not, whether you agree with her or not — is trying to make a positive difference in the world.

And then I saw all of the adults who told me to sit down, shut up, stay in my place — a little differently. I saw all of the people who have tried to silence me through the same methods used on her — a little differently.

I saw through the loathing. I saw the fear.

When you realize the people you were afraid of — were actually afraid of you all along — of change, of something inside you, of something they avoid in themselves, of something you represent. I think that’s when you really discover your internal seat of power. The enemy is always fear.

Fear of failure. Fear of exposure. Fear of the other. Fear of judgement. Fear of vulnerability. Fear of pain. Fear of loss. Fear of change.

I don’t have a good answer, beyond encouraging everyone to leave their comfort zone, and do the inner work to sit with and confront their fears.

It has taken me almost forty years to finally stand up for myself.

It has taken me almost forty years to stand up to fear.

2008-02-19 Barack Obama

2008-03-03 Barack Obama

On Fear

“Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live.” – Dorothy Thompson

Since returning from San Diego Comic-Con, I have been deeply into one of my more inward-looking phases. I am working on a much longer written piece, to accompany an illustraton I have been slowly inking. I also have been focused on cleaning up the minor accumulation of “mess” in my office since earlier this year, and picked up where I left off last fall correcting my book-keeping.

My book-keeping is/was the last major obstacle standing in my way — while I am not really afraid of it, it had snowballed into quite an intimidating problem. The difference after being on ADHD medication for half of a year is incredible. This overwhelming task that has been dogging me for years, which I had put off time and time again due to honestly being unable to handle it — Sunday, I said, “It’s time!” sat down, and bulldozed most of it within a few hours.

I really do not think it is possible to adequately explain to someone, who has not experienced it — how life-changing it is to do what you want to do, when you want to do it. To not be slave to your own thoughts and distractions like a puppet on a string, or constantly at battle with your own impulses.

In the spring of 2018, on one of my regular trips to the Goodwill, I found this jacket printed with butterflies. “This is important,” I thought, like the mashed-potato-guy in Close Encounters. I have had a mild phobia of butterflies since I was a child, which is obviously ridiculous — what better reason then, to place myself into an uncomfortable predicament for your amusement? So, my friend Jon Heller and I set out to the Minnesota State Fair butterfly house, where I spent about half an hour among mostly Blue morpho butterflies.

I was chuffed at the number of compliments about my video-editing.

I love to sing. I have always loved to sing. When I was in grade school, I was considered “gifted” — breezed through classes, could draw, studied multiple musical instruments. When you say someone has a “thing” — so-and-so likes basketball, so-and-so loves to ride horses, so-and-so excels at math — I had a lot of “things.” My younger siblings had many fewer “things” than I did, one of them being singing. This entitled my family to belittle my efforts at singing, openly and frequently enough, that eventually I developed a paralyzing fear of doing it at all. Singing became relegated to the safety of my vehicle, and a few suspect audio recordings on cassettes or shared from behind a computer screen. Thus it was something of a Big Deal when I managed to first record a video of myself singing in 2016. It would take two more years, in late 2018, before I became daring enough to belt it out. And it would take another year after that, and one aborted attempt, before I participated in karaoke.

And it took me more than an hour before I finally stepped up.

I share this not because I believe it is good, but because it does not have to be. This is not about the simple act of singing, but about having the courage to follow your heart’s joy and be true to yourself, even in the face of fear and potential judgement. I believe that embracing one’s faults and imperfections is essential to the growth process. It is a core component of happiness, and of human wholeness. If you are “never wrong,” you will never be right.

Some people make fun of me for my videos, but that is okay.

“I am one of the only people I know,” I told my therapist, “who regularly puts themselves into situations where I know I will have to confront my fears and weaknesses.” “I think there is an admirable quality to that,” she replied.

There are, of course, people I have feared at times in my life, beginning with my parents. I think, on reflection, that an unconscious desire to confront and resolve those fears was part of what drove me to revisit the relationships of my past starting in 2014. I needed answers from the people who have hurt me. I needed to understand why. But once you have stepped through this Matrix and can see the fear and insecurity at the root of hurtful behaviours, it becomes almost impossible to not have compassion, even when compassion is probably undeserved. Perhaps especially when it is undeserved.

The world is changing and we need now, more than ever, to become greater than fear; to rise above fear, and make a conscious effort to understand each other. If we cannot work together, then there is no hope for the future.

I encourage you to step a little outside your comfort zone today.

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On Empathy

People that get to know me usually learn quickly that I loathe most television and movies. A strong component of this, until recently, has been the ADHD. I struggle to sit through a movie in the theatre when I cannot get up and walk around, pause it, or do something else simultaneously. It might also explain why I generally have an easier time watching cartoons and movies designed for children, with their shorter runtimes and faster-paced editing. Shows with repetitive music and laugh tracks also make me feel overstimulated.

Some recent experiences have caused me to take a deeper look at this.

When I emerged from my zombie-like depression in 2014, one of the issues I was consciously working on was empathy. I felt at that time I suffered from a lack of empathy; however, thanks to my therapist and the MMPI test, I better understand that I am/was burdened by egocentrism. Egocentrism, plainly put, means that it is difficult to distinguish the self from others and to view things from another person’s perspective. I think most people are egocentric to one degree or another. It becomes an issue when it interferes with your ability to function, or to maintain healthy boundaries within relationships.

I have lived a very isolated life, having few meaningful friendships or people I could trust to be myself with or honestly confide in, especially in my formative years. My parents violated my trust irreparably. Friendships with women have suffered due to lack of common interests, often, and male friendships tend to eventually deteriorate due to sexual attraction or romantic feelings. So other than my limited exposure to fiction, I spend a lot of time in my own head.

Now, I have been sort-of passively watching the series Mad Men on Netflix for the past few weeks, on one of my monitors behind my drawing tablet while I work. I am not going to spoiler a show that ended in 2015, so bail now if you must. There is a scene near the beginning of the show where Joan, the office manager, is pushed onto Don Draper’s office floor and raped by her fiancé. In a later scene, she is coerced into having sex with a potential client for the ad agency in exchange for his car company’s business. Though neither scene is filmed in graphic detail, there is enough footage book-ending both acts that your mind is able to imagine the rest. Both of these scenes left me crying and nearly shaking with rage. It was after that I began to notice how emotionally-drained and exhausted these dramas made me, and I realized that the other part of not enjoying them was too much empathy with the characters.

For similar reasons, I cannot tolerate cringe-shows like The Office, where I am supposed to laugh at someone embarrassing or humiliating themselves.

My current job requires compassion and empathy daily, and has even offered me a unique window to compare my interactions with those of my coworkers. It is easy to distinguish those for whom care is “just a job” versus those who actually care about the residents. And through my observations I have seen that, other than sometimes missing social cues, I am relatively normal.

It has been painful to observe people I have known be repeatedly abused by their partner, or engage in self-destructive and self-defeating behaviour. Here I have had to learn to maintain better boundaries, or simply walk away.

And in other instances, because I cared more about not upsetting someone, or put someone else’s happiness before my own, I have endured behaviours that made me profoundly uncomfortable, or left me feeling used and violated. I have allowed other (equally, or more dysfunctional) people to tell me what is “wrong” with me when I reacted poorly, or even reasonably, to abusive or unhealthy behaviours. The further distance I am from these relationships, the more clearly I can see their toxicity; not just my own, but from the other side. I have been burdened and weighed down by a mind-breaking amount of guilt and shame that was never really mine to begin with. And for the most part, I have bitten my tongue, due to fears of retaliation or retribution. I have been fighting this dissonance between my reality as I perceive it, and what I have been told or manipulated into believing my reality “is” or “should” be.

I am wise to this trickery, and it will not work on me anymore.

I have made significant progress in recognizing and eliminating my own toxic behaviours. The quality of my close relationships has improved immensely.

Through building professional relationships with colleagues I respect, positive feedback, and constructive criticism from unbiased sources, I have gradually repaired the damage dealt to my self-confidence. I am good and have value. My work is good and has value. No one can take that away from me.

I am getting better and doing better every day.

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