“Shields up,” Misha snapped. Upon a stern look from Her Majesty, he smiled apologetically and said, “I’ve always wanted to say that.”

“Captain Collins.” Elizabeth’s voice was clipped with annoyance. “This is no joking matter. It’s of the utmost importance that this elopus arrives in the Gerban Nebula unharmed.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Misha replied as he guided the starcruiser between two enemy fighters. He smiled to himself, self-satisfied. Saving the Queen, the last elopus, and maybe the galaxy? No sweat.

The funniest thing anyone’s ever asked me about depression was, “When did it start?”

Like there’s a start date. Like I just woke up one morning, feeling sad, and that was it. I kinda wish it had happened like that, because at least then I could look back and think, “Man, those were the good old days. Back before the world was a huge, empty wasteland.” Or something else appropriately bleak, but more poetic.

The thing that surprises most people who don’t suffer from chronic depression is that we’re not actually sad all the time. Our emotions, like most people’s, are a sine wave. It’s just that our valleys are much lower and last longer than yours do.

And believe me, we know how goddamn ridiculous we are. We know we’re melodramatic. We know that stubbing your toe and spilling your coffee on the morning of a job interview should just be annoying, but for us, it’s a reason to hole up in the bathroom and cry. And it’s not like we don’t understand that we’re overreacting, but when you have as little to live for as we do, you’re always looking for an excuse to exit stage right.

That’s an allusion to suicide, in case you didn’t catch it.

We do that a lot, too, and it’s not because we’re looking for attention. What we’re really saying is, “I feel hopeless, and I want someone to help me.”

And then, when nothing and no one can help you, one of two things happens: 1) You sink lower, and deeper, to a place that’s much harder to find your way out of, where you find yourself crying into a can of root beer and researching suicide methods at 3AM, or 2) You figure life can’t get much shittier, and you’ve got nothing to lose, so you do something crazy as a last-ditch effort to make your life suck less: quit your job, sell your house, touch a spider. You’re literally invincible for awhile because there’s nothing that can make your life any shittier, and you wonder if that’s what real happiness is: feeling like you’re free to do anything.

Unfortunately, the feeling fades pretty quickly. It only lasts until the next conversation with your boss, or the next party you don’t get invited to, or the next time you’re alone and realize you’re going to die without having contributed anything of substance to the world.

Until you’re at a bar with a friend who’s trying so hard to be understanding, and you’re trying so hard to shut up about your feelings, because you know that everyone’s getting tired of you, and your issues, and your sadness, and wondering why you can’t just be fucking happy.

Until they ask, “When did it start?”

Until you force a laugh, and say, “When I realized I’m out of beer. You want another?”

Dan Brown

No one who cares about literature would accuse Dan Brown of being a great writer. The info-dump dialogue, the unnecessary inner monologues, the lol-tastic punctuation that makes characters sound like William Shatner (“Doing … some hiking, Mr. President?”). My eighth grade English teacher would have sent Dan out into the hall to think about what he’d done.

But after giving the audiobook of The Lost Symbol a fair shot, I’d like to suggest that maybe we should give Dan a break.

See, I’ve written a book, and it was hard. Like, really hard. It left me with a newfound respect for anyone who can even finish writing a novel, let alone get it published. But that’s not why I’m picking Dan out of the crowd. See, for all our huffing and puffing about his prose, like it or not, there’s a reason Dan’s books are so popular. Here’s what I’m learning from reading them:

1. Building tension
It’s hard to build tension with finesse, and I wouldn’t say that Dan succeeds entirely. But he can describe something important– a room, a painting, a completely unknown object– without actually telling you why it’s so important. You just know that it is. And it’s so important, in fact, that as the tension builds before the reveal, you’re cursing the characters out loud and saying, “For fuck’s sake, just tell me what’s behind the goddamn door!” Dan frustrates you and makes you love it.

2. How to use flashbacks
I’m going to argue, flat-out, that Dan Brown is a master of flashbacks. As I neared the end of The Lost Symbol, I was shocked to realize that all of the “present” events happened in the span of twenty-four hours, yet I know all the pertinent backstories. I’d been flash-backed seven ways from Sunday, and I didn’t even notice.

3. Leaving readers feeling smarter than they were
Look, a lot of the connections Dan draws between historical events are conjecture at best and bullshit at worst. That’s called fiction. The flip side is that most of his origin stories and obscure facts are accurate (example: the statue of Moses in the Library of Congress does, in fact, have horns due to a mistranslation of Biblical text). His books leave readers feeling smarter at the end than they did at the start, and that’s one of the key reasons people love him.

4. Tying up loose ends
There’s a lot going on in Dan’s books, a lot of cogs in the machine. You know all the storylines are interconnected, but you’re not sure how until the end. And when it does happen, you can look back through all the twists and turns and see how everything fell neatly into place, usually without the use of any deus ex machina. This might sound easy to do. It’s not. That’s not to say that he doesn’t leave some loose ends or employ the use of convenient timing, but by and large, Dan’s books tend to be neatly woven.

Like I said, I’ll never argue that Dan Brown is a great writer. He’ll never deserve a place on the top shelf with Milton and Nabokov. But I will concede that I’m learning about these four points by listening to his audiobooks. And if nothing else, they’re keeping me sane during rush hour traffic.

What about you guys? Have you ever changed your opinion about a writer you previously disliked? What kinds of things have you learned from “trash” fiction?

19th Century Letters

This might be one of the most personal, revealing, embarrassing entries I’ve ever posted.

Once upon a time, I wrote a letter to an actor. He’s not super famous, and a lot of you wouldn’t recognize him on the street. But he’s someone I admire, and although you can’t know what a person is like until you’ve actually spent time with them, he seems like a genuinely nice guy. He makes me smile.

So on this night in particular, I was sad, but instead of letting myself turn destructive, I sat down and wrote a letter. This is it.


Dear ____,

Christ, I don’t know why I’m writing this. I haven’t written a letter to a celebrity since I was 14 and realized my fan mail to Bill Nye never actually made it to his desk. I’m sure this will be no different, but the truth is, that’s something of a comfort. I’m not proud of writing to an actor I admire because I’m too ashamed to admit to most people in real life that I’m depressed.

What makes this situation even sadder is that it’s not like I don’t have friends. I’m an adult by every standard that matters, yet I’m too cowardly to admit to anyone who’d recognize me in passing that I’m not sure I’ll make it through the winter. But that’s why people love celebrities, isn’t it? You don’t know us, and we don’t know you. We can build these enormous, impossible characters on a handful of moments captured in interviews and Twitter, and let ourselves forget that in all probability, you run the same risk of letting us down as the people we actually know. We can turn you into superheroes, and because we’ve never met, you rarely disappoint.

God, what an awful burden. I can’t imagine you’re not aware of it, and for whatever it’s worth, I’m sorry. I know what it’s like to try and live up to the impossible.

I could go on for pages about why I’m depressed, but now that I’ve started writing, I realize that I don’t really want to talk about it. It’s happening, and I’m sad, and earlier tonight, I wrote a suicide note, but rather than signing it and nailing it to the door, I’m writing to you instead. I guess on a night like tonight, when there isn’t much else to celebrate, that’s enough.

I would rather tell you a story, since that’s what I do. I like to think that if you read this, you’d understand. Actors and writers have the same job, after all: we both spend our lives pretending to be other people. Writers are just shier about it.

I’ve never been the sort to do as I’m told. I don’t mean that I’m a bully or a thief; I just have a problem with unsatisfied curiosity. That’s why, when I was six, I dug a nine foot hole in the back yard, and when I was eleven, I burned my brother’s G.I. Joes. So eventually, when I decided common sense be damned and stared up at the sun, no one was surprised.

Now, the event itself isn’t as important as the long-term effects. Thankfully, I didn’t cause any permanent damage, but for a long time after, I saw an impression of the sun behind my eyelids whenever I closed my eyes. The darker the room, the brighter the light, and sometimes after the sunspot had faded, I’d close my eyes, tilt my head back, and face the sky. I’d watch sunlight creep in through my eyelids like shining, moth-eaten lace. I never opened my eyes again, but god, I wanted to.

Years later, one of my editors told me that the most important thing I could do as a writer was to figure out what I wanted to do as a writer. What message did I want to send? What feelings did I want to evoke? When people thought of me as an author, what was the lingering impression I wanted them to have?

I want to create something so beautiful and profound, it’s agony to stare straight into it, and when the curtain drops, and the audience closes their eyes, they can still see it shining in the darkness.

Shine on.

Love,
Rian


He never wrote back, but he didn’t need to. I felt better just having written and sent the letter.

Today is my last day at my old job.

This is also the first time in my life that I’ve voluntarily quit a job with two weeks notice. That’s given me two weeks to think about the choice I’ve made and worry that I’ve made a mistake. Two weeks to break the news to my co-workers and to undergo interrogation: Why am I quitting? Did something happen? Do I not like my boss? Did they counteroffer when I told them I was leaving? How much more does the new job pay?

Quitting this job has been like breaking up with someone.

See, this was my second go with this company. I worked here before, back in the aughts, with a group of people I still consider brothers. We were dysfunctional but tight-knit, and our department was something to be proud of. Our leaders were in the trenches with us, constantly pushing us to be better than we are. We were at the top of our game, and although you can never escape the derision that other departments direct at IT, we knew we were amazing. And we were proud of it.

But then the market crashed, and our department suffered the consequences. They cut our VP first, then followed with four more of us. After that, it was only a matter of time before the others trickled out the door. By the time I came back to the company and my old department, all the original members of the IT department were gone.

Being here a second time has been like living with an ex. You try really hard to make things work, but you know, deep down, that the glory days are over, and no matter how much you love them, things will never be the same. You spend most of your time trying to restore your relationship to its former splendor, hoping that maybe if you can put things back to the way they were, you’ll feel the way you used to, but every time you repair one thing, something else breaks. And no one’s heart is in it. Not really.

And just like any failing relationship, you eventually reach the point where one of you has to give up, and the other one is always caught off guard.

So the partner who’s leaving gets questioned… and then pleaded with, bargained with, and pleaded with some more. But their decision is made. They’re leaving.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t care. Even on my last day, I’m looking at project tickets and thinking, “God, I hate leaving things this way.” I’m trying to find time after lunch today to make sure Perl is updated on my web servers (and then I realize, of course, that they’re not my servers anymore). It’s almost enough to make me want to stay. I feel like my work here is incomplete, because it’s always been incomplete. There have never been enough hours in the day. But I can’t let that worry carry over. I can’t let myself keep caring too much, because that is the real reason I’m leaving: I care more than anyone else does about the success of my department.

If getting hired at my new job was a lesson in self-esteem, leaving this job has been a lesson in letting go.

I just hope I’ve made the right decision.

Raoul Duke

I love Vegas. There, I said it.

I know that’s not unusual, especially for someone who lives in L.A., but it’s unexpected for someone like me. I’ve always hated crowds and noise, but for whatever reason, Vegas and I just click.

Rabbit had never been before, so for her third trip out to L.A., we headed to Sin City. We were only there for two days, so we didn’t have time to see everything on this list, but in a perfect world, these would be the top 5 things you’d see in Vegas:

1) Downtown Las Vegas

There’s no part of Vegas more iconic than the downtown district. Go at night, when all the lights are on, park at Binion’s, and pretend you’re Raoul Duke.

2) The Bellagio Fountains

The fountain show is impressive no matter what time you see it, but the night version adds more elements of color and light.

3) The Atomic Testing Museum

Once upon a time, the Nevada desert was a popular site for nuclear bomb testing, and this museum showcases some of the artifacts from that period. (Bonus trivia: The testing schedules were sometimes made public, so people would host wild, bomb-viewing parties.)

4) Wynn Lake of Dreams

If Terry Gilliam dropped acid and climbed into bed with a schizophrenic light show director, this would be the result.

5) The Little White Chapel’s Tunnel of Love

‘Cause it ain’t Vegas unless someone’s married a total stranger in a drive-through wedding!

19. June 2013 · Write a comment · Categories: Dear Diary · Tags:

Taking a cue from this collaborative post about Roland Barthes’s J’aime, Je n’aime pas

Olga Kruglova

I like: warm croissants, good fountain pens, snails, cats, octopuses, the idea of spontaneity, driving too fast, Apothic Red, handwritten letters, the smell of leather, jasmine, chai, using candles to light my house, drumbeats, Yosemite in December, cheese, nectarines, rosaries, ghost stories, the bustle of Queen Vic Market, sweet cigars, desert sunsets, pineapple, paper cranes, and touching down at LAX.

I don’t like: parties with loud music, yellow squash, Monet, the reality of spontaneity, shellfish, hospitals, the parents of misbehaving children, carnations, chihuahuas, social conservatism, micromanagement, the ‘check engine’ light, snow, bruised bananas, and the feeling of wooden popsicle sticks on my tongue.

Fire season is here.

I don’t see colors the way I used to, lying on the couch in my bedroom in the desert and staring through the curtains at the wildfire sky. I remember that day specifically, although nothing out of the ordinary had happened; I just remember lying there and watching the curtain flow toward and away from the window with the wind, smelling the mountains burning and watching the sky blush red. It marks, I think, the beginning of my obsession with fire season because for those handful of minutes, I felt more alive than anything.

Leo-Great-Gatsby

The theme over the last few weeks has been that a lot of people in my life (myself included) are being hated on and disrespected at work. It’s a bizarrely specific trend, and what makes it so upsetting is that there’s no real reason for it. We’re hardworking and dependable. We show up on time and pull 60-70 hour weeks. We get along with almost everyone we work with. And yet here we are, commiserating over text messages and bottles of wine about the way we’re being treated.

Most of us have been talking about how mad we are, but the most heartbreaking moment for me was this afternoon, when one of my friends had the courage to describe what we’re feeling as devastation.

“And it’s such an impotent sadness, too,” I said. “Once people have made up their minds about you and/or how they’re going to treat you, there’s almost nothing you can do about it.”

It’s hard for me to even type that, because I still haven’t fully accepted it. There’s a Jay Gatsby in all of us: the voice in your head that tells you that if you just try harder– if you smile a little more, if you ask for a little less, if you could just be better— then eventually, you’ll win ‘them’ over. You’ll get the promotion, the raise, the girl. You’ll change their minds.

But you won’t. It’s an unpleasant reality, but once someone has made up their mind to dislike you, there is almost nothing you can do to change it.

I’m not saying you should just sit back and accept being treated poorly– for fuck’s sake, if someone is being an asshole to you and/or compromising your health and safety, you goddamn better speak up and defend yourself– but you can’t control how they feel about you.

And more importantly, it’s not worth your time to try.

Look, we’re all vain. We’re the heroes of our own stories, and most of us consider ourselves to be worthwhile human beings. So it’s always something of a shock to find out someone you know doesn’t like you. The closer you are to a friend, the more it hurts to discover they’ve betrayed you. The more dedicated you are to your company, the more devastating it is to be treated as disposable. The more you love your partner, the more gut-wrenching it is when they announce that they want to break up. For the most part, unless given evidence to the contrary, we tend to assume that other people feel about us the way we feel about them. And the longer we go on believing that, the more it hurts to find out we were wrong.

But listen, it’s probably not you. If you can look at yourself in the mirror and, without nitpicking every interaction you’ve had with your hater, confidently say that you’ve done nothing wrong, then their animosity is officially not your problem. Quit worrying about changing their minds, because you won’t. And yeah, it’s going to hurt, and yes, you’re going to have moments where you think that maybe if you’d just tried harder… But stop it. That’s not serving you, that’s serving them, and that’s not worth your time. The only standards that matter are the ones you set for yourself.

Just do your thing, and let the haters hate.

(This post brought to you by Jay Gatsby: equal parts naïve optimist and poster child for handling your business.)

Once upon a time, I had a LiveJournal. Not the journal where all of my fanfiction lives, but a much older one from when I was in college. I had it locked down so only a few people could read it, and I used it the way LiveJournal intended: I wrote entries about my daydreams, and about how nervous I was to speak in front of my French class. I chronicled all of my adventures as an English tutor in the stuffy library on campus, and I wrote sentimental poetry about my boyfriends. I tossed out little tidbits of insight the way only someone in their early twenties can do without feeling satirical.

By contrast, if you look at my “social media” profiles now (a term that didn’t even exist back in the heyday of LJ), you might think I don’t actually exist. To a certain extent, that’s true– I have a day job that I have to keep separate from the rest of my life– but it’s also sad. There are geniuses on Twitter and Facebook who can write stories in the space of 140 characters, but I’m not one of them. Being longwinded is one of my many faults. Just ask my editor.

And lately I’ve started to realize that there’s no heart to my “online presence” anymore (that’s another term I hate). I don’t talk to my fellow readers, and writers, and mayhem-makers. I retweet their tweets, and I plug their sites, and I compliment their work, but we don’t have conversations like we used to: all those late night comment threads that went on until they were nested on the righthand side of the page.

I spend more time thinking about where to post a blog entry (Tumblr? LiveJournal? Which one will get more hits?) than I do about the entry itself. And when I do get around to writing it, I’ve got all these terms in my head that were never there before: terms like “SEO” and “page ranking” that I don’t even fully understand, but that “social media experts” have told me I should care about.

Did you know I was offered a free movie poster by Zazzle because Klout says I’m influential about pasta? True story.

It’s too much, and I’m done.

I realize that doesn’t mean much for you guys. It’s not like I’m headed into a media blackout or planning to disappear from Twitter (my god, Ireland would fall). But I’m cutting the self-knotted puppet strings that make me lie in bed at 1AM, wondering if I should post more content to my Facebook fan page. Because that’s what I’m doing instead of writing.

So I guess I’ve given myself a new resolution: to worry less about when and where to say things, and to worry more about what I’m saying. To spend more time sharing myself instead of regurgitated quotes from other people, and to encourage others to do the same. To engage more, listen more, and have conversations that bring all of us closer, because that’s what made me fall in love with the internet in the first place.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll crosspost this to LiveJournal.