Tag: The Black Hole

Now What? New Year's Goals, Predictions, and Semi-Resolutions

calvin hobbes new years resolutions

Congratulations. If you're reading this, you've survived the unwelcome boil and ambitious killing spree that was 2016. I know, I know, it wasn't all bad; it only seems like it thanks to the plethora of public-figure and closer-to-home death and the election of a narcissistic marshmallow turd. But there were moments of good here and there sprinkled among the nightmares.

But all that's over now and it's time to engage in that cultural ritual of promising to be better at X, Y, and Z—the "New Year's Resolution"—and to show off our awesome precognitive powers and predict events of the coming Solar orbit, knowing full well that we will most likely not succeed in either resolving or predicting.

I've already blown one semi-resolution, which was to avoid "lost days" in 2017. I know revise the goal to be "keep lost days to less than 5%." A "lost day" is a manifestation of the screwed-up brain chemistry that prompts me to be gloomy and lethargic and generally wallowy (better known as clinical depression and colloquially referred to in these parts as The Black Hole), one that results in literally staying in bed all day rather than get up and engage in some facet of actual life. I've had a number of these lost days in the weeks since the election, both for the macro reasons of the impending Trumpification of America and micro reasons of personal discontent (of course, ascribing reasons to them so casually is a gross oversimplification, but I think one has to be "one of us" to really get that). Once in a while I suppose they can be helpful in riding out a Black Hole episode, but they can also be self-feeding parasites if too frequent.

Other goals for the year may include:

  • Put more effort into strengthening/maintaining my social circle. It's taken some pretty big hits over the last several years and I prefer it doesn't take any more; the kind of efforts I'm thinking of wouldn't necessarily have made a lick of difference in those hits, but that's no reason not to try solidifying some other areas.
  • Spend more money. I don't mean spend recklessly or frivolously, I just mean override my well-honed instinct for thrift every now and again. It's (somewhat) less necessary than it used to be, and though it still pays to be smart about it, indulge in a dinner out and don't worry about making up for it later...occasionally.
  • Enjoy where I live more. I'm in this spectacular city/region and I don't get out in it often enough.(Related to "lost days.")
  • Blog more frequently — say, weekly on average. There's certainly enough going on in the world that warrants attention, and I consume tons of pop-culture to opine on. Like, this week I read the first volume of the Brian K. Vaughan/Cliff Chiang comic Paper Girls, which is fantastic. Also the first volume of They're Not Like Us, which I didn't really care for.
  • Keep up with the sketching. Fill, let's say, two sketchbooks this year.
  • Build the cabinets I spoke of last month. Four modular units of three drawers each, and if those go smoothly and relatively quickly and don't run into unforeseen expense, make two or four more for expansion.
  • Assuming the estate issues I've been dealing with for the last 15 months proceed at a reasonable pace and the means thus become available, upgrade my housing security. Market permitting, of course.
  • Go somewhere that isn't southern California. For fun. Vancouver, maybe, or DC if the stink of orange marshmallow turd is out of town. (I'd say Tokyo, but I'm not affording that this year.)

As for my powers of prognostication, let's see...

  • Fully half of the Trump cabinet will get confirmed even though they're completely unqualified, and before the end of the year Republican congressional leaders will be criticizing them for ineptitude and/or corruption without irony.
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming will be terrific. Justice League will suck. Wonder Woman and Star Wars will both be OK.
  • The Seattle Mariners will cruise to a division title on the strength of Rookie of the Year Mitch Haniger and slugging 1B Dan Vogelbach.
  • OR The Seattle Mariners will wallow in mediocrity for another season thanks to the inexperience and poor showing from their entire outfield.

I'm afraid to make more political prognostications except to say it's gonna be a shitstorm full of lawsuits, corruption charges, and diplomatic damage-control.

How about everyone else? Goals? Predictions?

Random Thoughts

At the risk of stating the obvious, I've not been good about maintaining this blog. Many topics have been worthy of jotting a few sentences about, and yet... Well, I'm here now. So, some flotsam and jetsam from my head as I wait for my car to be serviced in advance of my next rip to SoCal:

  • My mood hasn't been great lately. No particular reason, at least none on top of the stresses and bummerific context of my being a Trustee of my mom's estate. Last month there was an incident that triggered an eruption of buried/suppressed rage that was surprisingly powerful and not especially useful. Even when it seems justified, anger of that degree gets in the way of, you know, addressing the problem. But that was then; more recently I've just been in a foggy sort of stasis, for lack of a better term. I'm no stranger to dour moods, and this isn't a severe example by a long shot, but in some ways this sort is more frustrating. I always want to make sense of things, and when staying focused on anything is an elusive task it's impossible to feel like things make any sense. If that makes sense. Which it probably doesn't. Because I'm all over the place in my head right now.
  • So, let's talk about baseball, since that is something I can make sense of. Having the playoffs on during this time of foggy ennui is a good thing, it's helpful, but what isn't helpful is the Toronto Blue Jay offense. I really want to like the Jays. I have a great affinity for Canada, for one thing, and they're the only north-of-the-border team in the bigs; they also have a few individual players I like a lot, from ex-Mariner Michael Suanders to Troy Tulowitzki to J.A. Happ, and I have tended to enjoy the company of Blue Jay fans when they come to Seattle to see the Jays play the M's. Sadly, they are built around a one-dimensional offense dependent on the home run, which is so not my style. Also, not good enough to beat the Cleveland Native American Caricatures. Toronto's down 0-3 to the Clevelanders, and while there is Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor to appreciate I just can't find anything redeeming about Cleveland winning the American League championship. Bleh. Come on, Blue Jays, be the second team ever to rebound from 0-3! Meanwhile, the Cubs/Dodgers clash in the National League Championship Series has been outstanding -- Javier Baez even stole home! -- and I await the inevitable freak occurrence that prevents the Cubs from winning a pennant. They're clearly the better team, but if they are to maintain their essential Cubness, they must not win. With a pennant, they would cease to be the Cubs.
  • John Oliver has been the saving grace of this year's presidential campaign, and this week he tackled the problem of otherwise thoughtful people choosing to vote for protest candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson. I say problem because the people I've personally encountered that are supporting one of those two maintain that their choice is principled and Stein/Johnson is actually the best person running. I call bullshit on that, and so does John Oliver, who points out in glorious fashion that both Stein and Johnson are totally incompetent.

Non-Standard Oribt

orbit
Cosmically speaking, it was just a regular ol' 365.25-day circuit. Not so much down on the ground.

Labor Day weekend again. That was fast.

Also, man, what a long year it's been.

Today would have been my grandfather's 95th birthday. It's also two days shy of the first anniversary of my mom's death. Makes for a depressing occasion. I miss both of 'em, in different ways and for different reasons. And the same reasons. It's kind of muddled. But this is the closing hours of the year 1 After Mom, so that's where my head's at. I watched "The Visitor" entry of DS9 last night and found myself bawling my eyes out at the end. Because, hey, it's a touching episode on its own, but it takes on a different significance for me now than it did every other time I've seen it.

The past 12 months have been an education in the ways of bureaucracy, in cultural collisions, in frustration with society, and many other things, but mostly it's been a blur of grief. Both overtly expressed and buried under anger and frustration.

My mom died from completely preventable causes, and that makes me mad. It was her own fault, which makes me madder. At the same time, it kind of wasn't really her fault, which confuses me. And it's taken most of a year to get to a point where I can just feel sad without the rest of it.

Siskos
"The Visitor" has a different edge to it now

She also left me in charge of things, which I have had mixed feelings about. (My step-father was still around at that point, but he had Alzheimer's, so I got put in charge of him too, at least so far as money and practicalities were concerned; he died eight months later, which if I'm being honest is a mixed bag. It's sad and I'm sorry to not get to see him again, but it spared him living with the end stages of Alzheimer's, which would have been hell.) I had no idea a year ago what it meant to be left in charge, what I would be tasked with in any real way. Nor did I have a clue as to the logistical hurdles society had erected in place for people in my position, or the closer-to-home internecine warring that would occur with extended family. I learned a lot. Not all of it positive, but learning is learning. And it's not done with, either, some of those hurdles are elaborate and arbitrary and exist to make people in my position tear their hair out and scream at functionaries that have no power over the situation while they place more and more creative obstacles in their paths.

Meanwhile, the Earth turned and went about its merry way orbiting the sun, and more happened. I learned that another long-term association wasn't what I thought it was, my cat got sick again, and yet more dental trauma hit my jaw and my wallet, all of which was well in keeping with the mood of the orbit. On the other hand, my dad had heart surgery, which you might not think of as a plus, but the result has been exceptionally positive, so score one for the forces of good. And perhaps as important as anything else, I was able to reconnect with someone whom I'd been close to but had drifted away, and with luck and effort will keep her in my personal orbit better than before. So, not all bad, to be sure.

Still, it's not a year I'd care to repeat. If Al and Ziggy Quantum Leaped me back to September 2015 I would be very displeased. No, I prefer to turn that page. Move on to another turn 'round old Sol, and see what the next orbit brings my way. Hopefully things I'd like to revisit, should I someday find myself by an Atavachron.

New Lows

AbramsYell

Ever since my mom died last September, my life has been pretty much consumed by unpleasant things. Sure, with occasional bits of light among the dark here and there, but overall, the general state of things has been ... un-fun. It has been, I think, the most sustained period of negativity and anti-good-mood mojo from outside sources I’ve ever endured, and the sheer variety of emotions involved is quite remarkable. I have not been particularly good at managing these so-called negative emotions—my inner Vulcan has gone AWOL—and this past week I have found myself in a place I have never been before, not with all my mental health and depressive issues that go back at least 30+ years if not my whole life.

I have never been suicidal, and I am not now; I have always held onto enough optimism to keep on keeping on no matter how low my orbit around The Black Hole. But I had a stray thought as I pulled into my garage the other night: if I just left the car running, I wouldn’t have to deal with this shit anymore.

It was just a stray thought, not at all something to be actually considered, but I did find it interesting to note the thought. This experience has driven me somewhere having my heart wrenched out, shredded, chewed up, spat out, and thrown back at me never did; that being unjustly fired from a job by incompetents who failed upward never did; that grief over losses of people and pets never did; that fear of poverty and destitution never did; that betrayal from dearly-important-ex-friends never did.

One way or another, the situation will change. Whether it will change soon or down the line, in my favor or against, I’ve no way of knowing. But the status quo is untenable and will eat me alive. Enough is enough.

Orbital Mechanics

black-hole.jpg
Fight the power

So, blog, we meet again. Been a while (as evidenced by all the maintenance this site still needs). Not a lot to write about, I suppose, at least not much positive. It's been a shit year, really.

And I don't really want to go into the various whys it's been a shit year, at least not at the moment. No, this exercise is more for therapeutic purposes than informative ones. Though I guess you could say those overlap. Anyway.

A few years ago I did a series of comic strips about my depression. I like them, I consider that sequence to be among the best ones I've done. OK, small sample size. Still. One reason I'm pleased with them is that they go some distance in communicating what it feels like to people that, thankfully, have never experienced it. It's one of those things that requires a common frame of reference to really get, which makes it very difficult to talk about.

This morning, as I continued to fight my way through this latest depressive episode, I had an imaginary “seminar,” I guess, trying to explain what it's like to normals. (Normal in this respect, anyway.) I used visual aids. Trying to articulate the experience seems to help withstand it; I'm explaining it to myself as much as anyone else. Better understanding trough self-psychoanalysis. Or something.

My preferred metaphor for my particular depression is a black hole. Imagine you are in the gravitational pull of a black hole. It follows you around and, though you can pull away from it, you can never fully escape its gravity. Your relative health, depression-wise, can be gauged by the altitude of your orbit around the black hole. The deeper you are in the gravity well of the black hole, the more it robs you of not only your energy, not only your metaphorical life-light, but your coherence, judgment, your basic ability to perceive the world. The farther down in it you are, the more distorted your view.

The higher your altitude, the clearer your perceptions are and the less energy is required to keep you in a stable orbit. But some energy is always required to maintain it — apply too little and you start spiraling down closer to the center of the black hole. If you've got a little extra, maybe you can move to a higher apogee, but you've used up some of your reserve to do it. Your energy “budget,” if you will, depends on how much you need to maintain position at any given time.

If you're doing well, you might be at a high orbital distance and can afford to devote maybe 10% of your budget to fighting gravity. If you get tired, slip a little, you can climb back up with only a smallish extra effort. You appear relatively stable, with only minor fluctuations. But that stability depends on you not getting tired, and on the black hole not gaining any mass. You could spiral down into a lower orbit if you put in too little energy, and since the gravitational force is stronger the lower you go, it takes more to climb up again. Or something from outside can add to the black hole's mass and strengthen its gravitational pull; suddenly 10% doesn't cut it any more. You need a lot more energy, maybe 30 or 40%, to stay where you've been, and it's got to come from somewhere. Conservation of energy and all that. Physics.

Spiraling down can happen suddenly, sharply, steeply. Or, it can happen so slowly as you gradually tire that you don't notice it until you look up one day and realize that the black hole is larger in your field of view than you thought it was.

Climbing out is a lot harder than falling in. Falling takes no effort at all. Meds can help. They're very effective at certain altitudes. Like booster rockets. Useful for moving from a middle altitude to a higher one, or for maintaining stability once you reach a manageable distance. At lower orbits, they just help slow the descent. The real power has to come from internal reserves you build up through conservation or from outside assistance.

Asking for outside assistance is dangerous. It means placing part of your burden on someone else, and that someone else may not want it. Or may not know what to do with it. A successful request for aid can give you a burst of needed energy and an extra helping from someone else, but a failed one adds mass to the black hole. Knowing who to ask and under what circumstances is tough enough when your perceptions aren't compromised by low altitude; when you are so compromised it amplifies the risk considerably. You might pick up the phone, for example, and between starting to dial a number and engaging the call go through an hour or more of debating the risk-reward ratio involved. Usually, you don't finish making the call. Too dangerous. If you don't handle it well, you gain no altitude, and if it goes badly — and you know it can — the black hole gets more massive.

I've had a lot of outside events adding extra mass to the black hole of late. I've done OK rebalancing my energy budget to maintain a middle orbit, but I've been tired. There hasn't been anything left for anything else. The black hole is bigger than it used to be. The booster rockets have been doing their thing to keep the spiraling down from getting much faster, but I've been conserving what I can for another go at gaining altitude.

I'm almost ready to hit the thrusters and climb. The reserves seem a bit restored. I'm just not sure how high they'll take me before they're depleted again. (This post cries out for illustrations. Maybe I'll spend some time doing that soon.)