An Aesthetic / Anaesthetic

An Aesthetic / Anaesthetic

“So may your river never dry
And may your mouth never lie
And may you be satisfied to never know why
Sometimes someone just wants to die”

– Damien Rice, “Lonely Soldier

It’s a well-documented fact that cases of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses are on the rise – hardly surprising, given the very general, very all-encompassing clusterfuck of current affairs.  People – young people in particular – have been instilled with a very legitimate sense of anxiety and responsibility for the future of our planet, seemingly bombarded with new crises on the daily.  Environmental, political, economic, racial, virulent: you name it, we have it.  Taking this into consideration, it’s almost a good sign that people are feeling the effects: if everyone was still happy-go-lucky we’d probably have to move “blissfully ignorant and dangerously uncomprehending society” to the top of the list.

You could argue that the rise in statistics is also a reflection of the rise in awareness, a diminishing of the stigmata which have surrounded mental health issues for so long.  Society is less hesitant to acknowledge or label the reality of depression.  People are recognizing and addressing the signs and symptoms more readily, both in themselves and in others.  All of which has amounted to some profoundly positive changes, the fight against depression making leaps and bounds of progress all within the span of a decade.  Unfortunately, as has been proven time and time again, humankind has a tendency to take new things and run with them – and then keep running.

Dark humour is far from a new discovery, but it is one which has found new life and popularity among the mid-lower range of the Earth’s age spectrum (I keep trying to say ‘young people’ without sounding like a middle-aged man, and I’m profoundly aware that I’m failing miserably).  Partly as a coping mechanism, partly as an outlet through which to express feelings which might best-case result in extremely awkward conversations, worst-case have you locked up in a mental institution, and partly simply due to the fact that it’s downright hilarious.  Any comedian can testify not just to the power of shock value but the medium through which conversation on otherwise uncomfortable and taboo subjects can be broached.

In addition to the resurging popularity of dark humour, there have also been more complex, less quantifiable cultural shifts in how mental illness is viewed.  Cases of entertainment mediums being accused of trivializing, romanticizing, and even glorifying the struggle (one notable case being the controversy surrounding Netflix’s original series “TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY”).  Ongoing distortions of the defining lines of mental illness on social media, with conditions being simultaneously normalized and generalized.

A sudden and dramatic shift in how mental illness is viewed, combined with a sudden and dramatic rise in cases of mental illness.  Two storm fronts colliding.  The result is one which we are still only now mapping out.

Consider for a moment how much of an impact mental illnesses already have on an individual’s sense of self.  A condition whose very definition is centered around its influence of and on a person’s mental state, on their minds, on the neurological roadmap of their identity.  Twisting their thoughts, their views, their feelings, the way they perceive themselves and the world around them.  Now throw society’s opinions into the mix: the way people think mental illness should be treated, should be defined, should be handled.  It’s the equivalent of throwing a brick into a washing machine already spinning out-of-control, trying desperately to maintain its own equilibrium.

The upsurge in mental illness is, in a lot of ways, like a snowball tumbling down a hill.  The more it rolls the more it grows, and the more it grows the more momentum it picks up.  Look again to the aforementioned TH1RTEEN R3EASONS WHY.  A big part of the controversy surrounding this series was the fear that it would promote “suicide contagion”: a phenomenon that occurs when one case of suicide (primarily real-life, but in this case fictionalized) promotes and encourages a copycat cluster.  Human beings are social creatures who look to one another for cues on how to act and react (adolescents in particular are a highly suggestible group), and sadness has always been a highly contagious emotion (a profound tragedy rarely impacts just one person, and every person who’s been impacted inevitably ends up in their own depressive state, in turn making everyone they know feel the effects – even if they weren’t initially impacted.  It’s like one long, complicated game of depressive telephone that just keeps growing).

So with cases of mental illness rising all around the globe, it makes senses that cases would (again) continue to rise in response.  A snowball, continuously gaining momentum, continuously gaining mass.  One could argue that the rise is at least partly to thank for the fact that society has finally been forced to address the issue head-on, but the flip-side is that this has occurred at a time when what is needed is careful, precise response; not that of a first-time/simultaneously last-resort flurry of activity and noise.  Because that’s what we’ve seen: a whole lot of noise.  All the while people are seeing the rise and asking themselves if perhaps they might not have mental illnesses themselves, stepping into a world of confusion and chaos, of blurred lines and almost overeager acceptance and promotion of mental illness.  We’re so terrified of discrediting or denouncing anyone’s feelings, of coming off as insensitive or blind to their struggles, that EVERYONE gets a “Mentally Ill & Proud of It” badge and an “I have a mental illness and all I got was this stupid t-shirt” tee.  Because who are we to say different?  Who are we to say “no, you’re not suffering from a mental illness, you’re just the regular type of sad, the regular type of scared or anxious or confused, the regular amount of thrown-off by the current state of the world”?

And the snowball rolls on.

In today’s culture it’s almost a badge of pride to say that you’re suffering from one illness or another.  Everyone needs a cross to bear, it seems.  Everyone is struggling, and it’s not enough that it’s just the “regular” degree of struggling anymore.  There’s been a promotion of this idea that we’re all in this together, that we’re all depressed and anxious together.  It’s become an aesthetic, a cute little crutch, sometimes a scapegoat, sometimes a pass to feel included or to feel elevated.

For those afflicted, the desire to glorify the condition is a coping mechanism that numbs us to just how dangerous it really is.  For those simply masquerading (whether consciously or simply because they are misinformed and uncertain) it is a mirage that promotes a deadly lie, that promotes more confusion, more questions, more turmoil.

Being depressed doesn’t make you an interesting person.  It’s not a substitute for or an aspect of your personality.  It doesn’t make you seem cool, or mysterious, or complex, or mature.  It’s not an accessory to wear along with black clothing and piercings, and it sure as hell isn’t something to be proud of.  There should be no shame in it, and there should be no stigma around it, but that doesn’t mean it’s something to embrace.  This isn’t like the struggle against homophobia, for fuck’s sake.  This is a disease.

Not being ashamed of something is not the same as being proud of it, and no one should ever revel in having a mental illness – far less those who don’t actually have them.  It’s not something to glorify or trivialize.  It is a dire plight, and the magnitude of its dangers should not be diluted by those simply looking for a personality crutch, for a chance to fit in, or the age-old need for attention.

Depression isn’t a fad.  It’s not trendy to cut yourself to seem like you’re a profound or tortured individual, it’s not hip to feign suicidal for attention or the validation of your own feelings.  Mental illness is not something to be romanticized.  There is nothing romantic in lying in bed for days on end, starving yourself, unable to even sum up the energy to shower or go out.  There is nothing romantic in pushing away the ones who love and care about you, in punishing your friends until they finally give up trying.  There is nothing romantic in believing with all your heart the depth of your own worthlessness, in knowing the world would be better off without you if you could just sum up the courage to finally kill yourself you cowardly piece of shit you unlovable waste of human life–

There is nothing romantic in it.

And I know that, because I’ve succumbed to the temptation before.  There’s been many a time when I’ve tried to convince myself that there was some hidden beauty in the way I was feeling, that there was something I could see that other people couldn’t, that there was something romantic about it all.  It’s a seductive notion, and it took me a long time to realize just how dangerous it is, to see wherein its origins lie.  It calls to us like a siren’s song, lulling us into a blissfully numb state of anesthesia with such tempting reassurances – it’s just the way I see the world, it’s a sign of intelligence, it’s a source of inspiration for my art – with ideas that we want to believe, that we have to believe, because otherwise we’re nothing more than sick and suffering individuals.  And by the time we dash against the jagged rocks and see the sirens for what they are, see ourselves for what we are, it’s often far too late.

“Don’t get me wrong, the rise in awareness
Is beating a stigma that no longer scares us
But for sake of discussion, in spirit of fairness
Could we give this some room for a new point of view?
And could it be true that some could be tempted
To use this mistake as a form of aggression?
A form of succession?
A form of a weapon?
Thinking “I’ll teach them”
Well, I’m refusing the lesson
It won’t resonate in our minds
I’m not disrespecting what was left behind
Just pleading that it does not get glorified
Maybe we swap out what it is that we hold so high
Find your grandparents or someone of age
Pay some respects for the path that they paved
To life, they were dedicated
Now that should be celebrated”

– TWENTY ØNE PILØTS, “Neon Gravestones

Promises

Promises

Doors open

Faces aglow

With anxious excitement.

The ceremony ends

And there are no tearless eyes.

The crowd shifts

As the end begins.

People say hello to goodbyes

Minds wander back, reminiscing on day one

The halls that once held anxious kids

Now burst with the free-to-think-they’re-free spirits of

graduates

as deals are opened and sealed with hugs

and signed in tears

the free-to-think-they’re-free graduates find themselves

Inexplicably

Surprisingly

And frustratingly

At a loss for words.

Joyous sadness gives way to awkward lingering

And they grope for means to assert their farewells.

It’s really not their fault,

You can hardly blame them

Much.

For the most part they actually believe themselves

And the promises they make.

Sure; deep down somewhere

Among the other cold

Hard

Ugly truths

They know that these promises are as worthless as their freedom

Yet it is human nature

To reassure oneself

And others

Regardless of the truth.

So the promises begin

Where the truth ends.

“We’ll keep in touch.”

And Every Day a Little Closer

And Every Day a Little Closer

The leaves spiral earthbound through the air, enveloping them in a warm shower of scarlet and auburn, lurid and crimson. It’s been a dry autumn, something that bears little significance to eight-year-old Gwen beyond the fact that it means the foliage still gives a satisfying crunch when trod upon. And of course the extra bit of warmth means she hasn’t been forced to throw a sweater on over her costume, something that always puts her in a foul mood.

Of all the seasons autumn is the most transient, forever having its toes stepped on by its successor. Its very essence is that of change, of progression, of decay. The passage of time is hardest to ignore when sitting in an hourglass.

A knock on the door, two steps back. Wait until it opens. Trick or treat! The bag is held out, candy is deposited. Sometimes you have to act cutesy, sometimes you have to endure small talk or unnecessary questions. The most common: And what are you supposed to be? She’s a witch; that much is obvious. They just want to hear her say it, to exclaim it proudly and adorably. At eight years old Gwen is already showing signs of the cynical, darkly intelligent young woman she will soon become. Her parents see it; they aren’t sure if this is something they should be worried about. She’s eight years old, her mother tells her father. Whether this is meant to be a consolation or a warning isn’t clear to either of them.

It’s an illusion, of course. Observation, even obsessive, has no effect on how slowly or quickly time passes – at least not beyond perspective. If winter began with one massive snowfall that gradually melted away until spring it would feel just as fleeting. Instead it comes and goes in waves, as if time were tangible, brought to a sluggish crawl by the cold and barren stillness.

There’s a house at the end of the road, a sad and deplorable mess of splintered wood, peeling paint and loose shingles. As they approach it Gwen’s father nudges her mother. Looks like someone went all-out on Halloween decorations, he says. She rolls her eyes, knows he’s been waiting all year to make that joke. The woman who owns it has been around longer than anyone in the area can remember. Keeps to herself, rarely seen out and about. But this is a nice neighborhood, a good neighborhood, and Gwen’s parents aren’t the type to turn their noses up. Go on honey, her mom says, nudging her forward. Go on.

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. And around again. A cycle, you’d be forgiven for thinking. But it’s not, is it? Only to the extent that water circling a drain is a cycle. Can a leaf falling through the air be considered flying? The term implies permanence, or even just temporary stability. A downward spiral may take its time, but it never detours from the final destination.

Gwen ascends the rickety wooden stairs. One, two, three, four. A porch, just as deteriorated. Time has not been kind to this house. Time has not been kind to you, says the newborn to the elder. How blissfully unaware we are of the limits of our perspectives. She knocks on the wooden door, steps away. A backwards glance at her parents on the sidewalk, who send her looks of encouragement. The door swings open and a woman stands before her. She has a kind yet morose face. Younger than Gwen was expecting, for whatever reason. The woman says nothing, only looks down at her with that small, sad smile. Feeling the need to break the silence, Gwen opens her mouth. I’m a witch! she proclaims as adorably as she can. The smile grows larger but not much happier. So you are, she replies, stooping to her level. Would you like to know a secret? The woman leans in close, putting her lips to Gwen’s ear. So am I.

A bug which spends its whole life in someone’s garden believes it to be the extent of the world – or it would, had it the capacity to conceptualize. Who are we to say it is wrong, if indeed it never sees beyond its borders? What difference does it make to the creature who cannot see its life from a distance?

Gwen eyes the woman dubiously. You don’t look like a witch. Where’s your costume? The woman titters. States of being should not be measured – not unless you’re willing to give equal weight to the negative. Gwen tilts her head, thoroughly perplexed, and the woman retrieves a small pouch from her pocket. Shall I demonstrate? Thumb and forefinger venture into the pouch, emerging with a pinch of fine, crystalline amber dust. She sprinkles the powder into her open palm as Gwen watches, transfixed. The woman takes a deep breath and exhales gently through pursed lips. The powder is lifted into the air, swirling like golden leaves caught in an autumn gust, enveloping Gwen’s face in an orange cloud.

She is nine, and her father isn’t coming trick-or-treating with them. He has to work, her mother tells her, but she knows better.

She is thirteen, and she doesn’t want to go out this year. The move was rough on her, and she has yet to make friends at her new school.

She is sixteen and she is going as a black cat. Her mother tells her that the costume is too sexy. A screaming match ends with Gwen slamming her door, burying her face in her pillow and sobbing.

She is eighteen and this is her first Halloween away from home. She hasn’t seen her father in over a year.

She is twenty-four and she realizes that she’s never been in love.

She is twenty-nine and she realizes that she is old.

She is forty. Happy Halloween, her co-worker tells her on his way out, and she blinks in surprise. Is it the end of October already?

She is fifty-five. Her doctor has found a lump. We’ll need to run some more tests, he tells her. It’s nothing to be alarmed about yet.

She is seventy-two. She never had children, was too scared of having to see the passage of time reflected on their faces. Now she wishes she had, wishes she had someone who could endure it with her. Does that make her selfish?

She is eighty-six. She cannot remember what her mother looked like. Her father’s face she forgot long ago, but every now and then she thinks she can hear his voice.

She is ninety-two. The orderlies stand around her bed as she breathes her last. They hold her hand, caress her arm gently, whisper soothing nothings. It will be okay, they tell her. She doesn’t need to be comforted though. She has lived her whole life on her deathbed – this moment now is no different than the rest. A falling leaf might be an inch from the ground or a mile: it is still falling either way.

Governess of the Dead Sea Reign

Governess of the Dead Sea Reign

We scour the shoreline

hiding our secrets

in caverns and chests

meaningless to everyone

until no one remembers

Then we wade

into the brine

the setting sun

painting our bodies

in the golden hues

of dying ages

and dawning empires

Above us

stars seem to dance

about the heavens

but we are the ones spinning

in space

Staring into your eyes

keeps me grounded

even as we hurtle through the universe

life forms clinging to a rock

blips in the cosmos

negligible and insignificant

yet when I’m with you

it doesn’t feel that way at all

when I’m with you

I think perhaps the church had it closest

because I know where the center of the universe lies

and it’s not at the heart of some distant star

it’s right here with you

and everything leads to this moment

over and over again

preserved in the ambers of time

even as we drift through it

there will always be an imprint of us

floating in the waters

four-hundred and twenty-three meters

below sea level

blissfully unaware

of the ancient history

we soak in

Such a Small Thing

Such a Small Thing

Brett Harris polished off the last of his Big Mac, stuffing the wrapping back into the drive thru bag with one ketchup-stained hand while the other steadied the wheel.  He washed it down with a sip of coke, making no effort to stifle the greasy belch that followed.  Finished with the main course, Brett’s groping fingers found their way to what remained of the hors d’oeuvre.

Fries disappeared down his gullet in an impressive display of unabashed gluttony, the salty edge driving him to scrape every last bit of grit from the inner linings of the red box.  Their nurturing completed, the iconic golden teats of American consumerism were reluctantly returned to the folds of modesty provided by the drive thru bag.  Another sip of coke, another belch.  The dregs were drained, the cup joined the rest.  He rolled down the passenger-side window, taking a casual glance around before crumpling the paper bag at the neck and tossing it out.  He saw it sail clean into the ditch from the side mirror, after which it immediately faded from both sight and mind.

He was trying to decide if he ought to pick up another six pack before heading home (he couldn’t quite remember just how much he’d had the night before) when he realized the van which had been trailing casually behind him for the last three miles or so had suddenly and rather aggressively cut the distance between them by more than half – and was still coming.  Must’ve realized he’s running late for some city-slicker meeting, Brett mused, snorting.  The van was modern; looked like one of those electric ones they’d started coming out with a while back.  Nice enough, he supposed – if you were into that sort of thing.  Personally Brett would’ve taken his classic (affectionate synonym for “old”) pickup over one of those fancy-ass foreign-made hipster toys any day.  If some naïve Richie Rich tree hugger types wanted to throw their daddy’s money overseas that was their problem.

It was all country roads out here, choppy enough to warrant straddling the middle and deserted enough to permit it.  Brett knew dirt-road etiquette as well as anyone who’d grown up around these parts, so when it became clear the van wasn’t playing catch-up for the fun of it he shifted aside to make passing room.  But it didn’t.  Instead it began to honk its horn, swerving slightly behind him as if hesitant to make the pass and blaming him for it.

“What the fuck?” he muttered, eyeing them askance in his rear-view.  The occupants were obscured by the tinted windshield, nothing more than darkened silhouettes.  Are they drunk or something?  He rolled his window down, sticking his arm out and waving them on.  No dice.

It occurred to him that the van’s motions almost seemed to be conveying a message or command – like they were trying to get him to pull over.  He scoffed at this thought.  Yeah, right.  Like that’s gonna happen, you nutjob alkies.  Calling the police never even crossed his mind – running to the boys in blue every time you had a problem was a chickenshit move that practically screamed city-slicker.  Folks out here weren’t pansy-ass: they could take care of themselves, and a run-in with some hopped-up dumbasses hardly constituted an emergency.

As if to challenge this notion the van’s advances began to grow more frantic, more aggressive.  Brett watched the vehicle in his rear-view, telling himself to ignore them even as he failed to tear his eyes away.  Maybe I should just pull over and let them pass, he thought, hating how much that felt like admitting defeat.  He slowed down, deciding he would flip them off as they went by.  This brought him a margin of satisfaction as he inched closer to what little shoulder there was before it sloped into a poorly maintained ditch riddled with bushes and saplings.

And then it happened.  Seeing their opening, the van pushed forward with unexpected intensity.  They were head-to-head with Brett’s pickup in seconds.  He had just enough time to catch a glimpse of the grim-faced woman in the passenger seat – her jaw set, his jaw slack – before the van cut right and he was run off the road.

The truck collided with a tree, Brett’s forehead collided with the steering wheel, and everything went dark.

Consciousness came in fits and starts, like a car engine sputtering back to life only to die again just when it finally seemed to catch.  The blare of the pickup’s horn rang faintly in his ears as if from a distance.  Dimly he realized his face was pressing down on the mechanism, keeping it on.  He raised his head, the skin peeling away from the wheel begrudgingly, sticky with a warm coating of blood.  Trepid fingers found their way to his forehead, prompting a dull jolt of pain as soon as they made contact.

The windshield had been shattered on impact.  Broken glass littered the dashboard, flecks falling from his hair as he moved.  Through the gaping hole that had been left framed in jagged crystalline teeth he could see the minivan, stopped only a few feet ahead of where he’d ended up.  They ran me off the road, he thought numbly, and then, almost sardonic: probably calling the cops right now.

“Whassa matter?  Never been in a fender-bender before?” he slurred to the immobile van.  It idled indifferent, the exterior betraying nothing of what might be happening inside.  Still, unhurried, self-assured.  Almost like a predator lying in wait.  No doubt in stark contrast to its occupants, he told himself, trying to quash that uneasy feeling in his chest.  Those city-slickers must be shittin’ themselves, thinking they killed me or something.  He tried to scoff, but the sound dried up in his throat as all four doors opened in synch and four very non-panicked individuals stepped out into the road and made their way to his truck.

“What, d’you wanna exchange insurance info?” he called out as they approached, failing to break their unnervingly calm demeanors.  He’d intended to sound snide, bravely accusatory, but there was a quaver in his voice that told him more than he was willing to admit.  Something was wrong.  He reached for his cell, unsure exactly what he intended to use it for.  To call the cops?  That would have required admitting that he was incapable, that he needed help, that he was afraid.

On bad days he would lament never getting the chance.  On worse days he would tell himself that he had gotten the chance, that if he’d only acted faster things would have been different.  He would curse himself for being so proud, so stubborn.

On the worst days of all he knew it wouldn’t have made a difference either way.

They forced his door open, grabbing him roughly by the wrists, the legs, the shoulders and pulling him from the truck.  He struggled feebly, still weak from the crash and too confused, too disoriented to put up a real fight.  One more thing to regret, to fixate on, to beat himself up over.  If only, if only, if only.

Before he knew it they had half-carried, half-dragged him into their minivan, faces stoic and unflinching.  Someone produced a roll of duct tape which was promptly used to bind his arms at the wrists and legs just above the ankles.  Another strip went over his mouth, followed by a cloth sack which was pulled over his head and then secured with more duct tape around his neck.

“All set,” one of his captors said, and the minivan immediately took off, jostling his unsecured body.  He tried to struggle, tried to push himself up off the floor of the vehicle, but every time he made even the slightest amount of progress someone would shove him back down again.  Deep down he knew it was purely reactionary and entirely pointless: he was blind, severely weakened, more than likely concussed, bound at the arms and legs, outnumbered three-to-one (not counting the driver), and stuck in a moving vehicle going at what felt like sixty miles per hour.  In short, he was well and truly fucked.

And still he struggled, because to do anything else would have meant conceding, relenting.  It would have meant accepting the futility of his situation, would have meant giving up and giving in.  But Brett wasn’t ready to give up.

That would come later.

Time plays tricks on us all, but it is especially fond of incapacitated minds.  Unable to watch the scenery zip by and unsure of the consistency of his own consciousness, Brett had no way of saying just how far they’d travelled before he felt the minivan coming to a stop.  The engine slid smoothly into silence, unmarked by any of the coughing and sputtering that would invariably accompany his pickup’s shutoffs.  An ominous voice in his head wondered if he would ever hear that familiar sound again, but Brett quickly snuffed this train of thought before it could take hold.  He knew that this moment – the moment of transition between the moving vehicle and whatever they had in store for him next – was his best (he refused to think ‘only’) chance for escape.  Now was not the time for defeatism.

He heard the doors being opened, felt them grab at his ankles and wrists.  When they lifted him he made no effort to resist.  He waited, waited until they’d carried him out of the van, waited until he felt the warmth of the sun on his body.  Only then did he make his move.  He kicked out, twisting and writhing in the air as he tried to wrench himself free.  Fuck running, he thought, gritting his teeth in exertion.  I’ll fucking hop if I have to.  Hell, I’ll fucking roll away if that’s what it takes.  Just please, Jesus, please let me get away.  The person at his ankles lost their grip, and if not for the tape Brett might have let out a triumphant yell.  As his lower body hit the ground he tried to use the momentum to yank his arms away as well, but their hold was too strong.  Someone swore and Brett felt a sharp jap of pain as he was kicked him in the ribs.  He curled in on himself, trying to protect his vitals.  The hands around his wrists let go, but before he could question the release the full assault began.

Feet rained down on his body from all sides.  He raised his taped-up arms to shield his head, but all this seemed to do was damage two body parts in one.  He tried to cry out, tried to beg for mercy, but he was voiceless.  His ears rang, his already sore and damaged body screamed in protest.

After what seemed like an eternity someone finally called for the attack to stop, but Brett had long since lost any awareness of what was happening.  Vaguely he registered being lifted up again and carried off, his hope left behind somewhere in the dirt and gravel.  It would be the first of a long cycle of separations and reunions, each making him warier than the last, until one day he would greet hope not as a trusted and uplifting friend, but a dark and deceitful stranger.

They forced him into a kneeling position, lifting the sack from his head and removing the tape from his mouth, arms and finally legs.  He was too far gone to even get excited at the opportunity this presented.  The fight had been beaten out of him, so much so that he couldn’t have made a move even if he’d wanted to.  It might have been for the best: as one of his captors cut the tape from his body two others stood off to the side, armed with sinister-looking cattle prods.

They were in a bare concrete room, nothing more than four walls and a ceiling.  A narrow indent lined the floor on the far side, the gutterlike space carrying on from left to right.  He had no idea what purpose the room had been designed to serve, but there was no question what it was now: a cell.  Brett moaned in protest, trying and failing to get to his feet.  He landed on his side, too weak to try again.  Behind him he heard his captors filing out of the room, heard them closing and locking the door behind them.

He was alone.

He stayed that way for a long time, curled up in the fetal position, sobbing quietly to himself.  Sleep came and went unbidden, never deep and never for more than a few minutes at a time.  People who were abducted in books and movies would always wake up in shock, not remembering where they were or how they’d gotten there, but it wasn’t like that for Brett.  He would open his eyes each time knowing exactly where he was.  He would have been glad for that brief moment of confusion and disorientation, for that split second of expecting to wake up in his own bed.  But it never came.  His mind never left that place.

When all his tears were spent and his body would accept no more rest, Brett wavered to his feet and had a proper look around his prison.  He started with the gutter, seeing that it was no more than a few inches deep and wide.  The space ran under both side walls, and when he put his head to the ground to peer down its length he saw that it carried on for quite some distance, presumably through dozens of identical iterations of his own cell.  There were no signs of life that he could make out.

A long, thin gap in the outside wall above his head let in daylight.  It was far too small to imagine fitting through, but he jumped for it all the same, if only to see his surroundings.  No luck; it remained frustratingly out of reach.

There was a slot in the metal door, but it was covered with a lid and couldn’t be opened from the inside.  He shook the door knowing it wouldn’t budge, and was still disappointed when it didn’t.  Some things you just have to do.

He called for help until his voice was hoarse, to no avail.  At one point he thought he heard someone cough, and later on what might have been the shuffling of feet, but when he called out again he was met only with silence.

The first meal they brought him sent him into a panic attack.  Not because of the food itself, which he devoured graciously after being starved for what he felt must have been at least a day, but because of the unspoken message that came with it, the underlying implication written in its delivery.

It told him that they were in no hurry.  It told him that they were going to take their time, that he was in this for the long run.  Whatever they were going to do to him, it wouldn’t be quick.

He threw the bowl of oatmeal against the wall, somewhere between crying and screaming.  He body-slammed the door until his shoulder hurt, and then he headbutted the wall until the pain overloaded his system and he careened towards the ground.

When he came to he crawled over to where the bowl had fallen, licking it clean before ravenously shifting his attention to the floor, scooping chunks of oatmeal directly into his mouth.  Once this supply had been exhausted he moved to the wall, eating it directly off the concrete.  The bowl was paper, the cup of water that followed Styrofoam.  The significance of this would only occur to him later on, when he’d wish desperately for something he could break, for sharp edges and sturdy structure.  You can’t cut yourself with paper; not enough to make a difference.  Not enough to get it done.

This he would come to know.

Food came twice a day, only enough to keep him alive, to keep him hungry, keep him weak.  They would bang on the door to signal for him to stand against the far wall, peer in through the slot in the door (never close enough for him to reach), and wait until he did as they commanded before opening it, sliding the food in, and locking it back.  If he refused to comply they would simply leave, and he would receive no food.  If he tried anything while the door was open they were always at the ready with their cattle-prods, after which he wouldn’t be fed for two days.

In the first few weeks he was strategic with his attempts, careful and stingy.  Later on he would act out of desperation, frenzied and frantic with no concern for his well-being.  Eventually he would do it only to feel something.  He wouldn’t even actively try to escape; he would simply be uncooperative and it was enough.  Perhaps he only wanted to prove to himself that he was still able to make his own decisions, that no matter what they did he would never truly be tame, never truly broken.  Perhaps he was simply bored.

It had been (by his shaky count) seven days when they came for him for the first time.  There was a banging on the metal door, and the familiar bark for him to stand against the wall with his back to them and his arms raised.  When he’d done as they asked he heard the door being opened, but instead of quickly being shut again he heard their footsteps entering.

“Stay where you are,” the man warned, and he did.  They’re releasing me, a tiny voice whispered inside his head, and though he was well past believing it, he wasn’t quite able to dismiss the possibility entirely.  He was still ready to believe that this was all some big mistake, or that it was finally over.

They grabbed his arms and forced them behind his back, securing them with a zip tie.  When this was done a sack was placed over his head and he was hoisted off the wall.  In his mind he imagined being led outside, being forced to his knees before a shallow grave, being shot in the back of the head.  The thought made him cold, but he made no attempt to resist.  By this point he’d been shocked twice, and the memory of the pain still sent jolts down his spine.  Besides, why would they feed him for a week only to shoot him now?  Something told him their plans for him were far more elaborate.

He was taken to another room in the same building (he never felt the flooring change, never felt the warmth of the sun on his body) where they sat him down in a chair and tied him to the frame.  Then the sack was removed, and he found himself squinting up at three of his captors, a sharp amber bulb hanging low from the ceiling.

“What is this?” he pleaded, on the verge of another breakdown.  “What do you want?”  He’d asked these questions and many more during the first dozen food deliveries, never receiving an answer, never receiving acknowledgment, but being face-to-face for the first time seemed to encourage the possibility of dialogue – even if he was tied to a chair.

They watched him silently.  His eyes darted from one to the next, looking for any sign of openness, of emotion, some hint as to what they were thinking.  Nothing.

“Why are you doing this?  Why am I here?”

“You answer the latter, and we’ll answer the former.”  The man’s voice was calm and gentle, yet Brett flinched – actually flinched – at the sound.  If his father could have seen the weak, snivelling creature he’d become he would have been disgusted.  Hell, the Brett from a week ago would have been disgusted.

“What?”  Brett blinked up at the speaker, the one in the middle.

“Tell us why you’re here – why you think you’re here.”

Brett sputtered, confused.  “P-please, I have a family.  M-my wife…”

“Your wife?  You think she’s the reason you’re here?”

“What?  N-no!  I don’t know why I’m here!  You kidnapped me, you sick fucks!”

The shock came out of nowhere, coursing through his system and wreaking havoc on his pain receptors.  His entire body tensed, the muscles aching with exertion.  An eternity, and then finally, blissfully, he collapsed into himself.  Dimly he saw the cattle-prod retreating, held by the woman on the right, the same one he’d made eye contact with in the passenger seat of the van.  At first he couldn’t even place her; the whole incident on the road felt like a lifetime ago.

“If you get agitated we’ll be forced to subdue you.  It’s best if you try to stay calm.”

Saliva dribbled down from his numb and open lips, pooling on the front of his shirt.  He lolled his head in an attempt at righting it.

“The sooner you tell us why you’re here the easier it’ll be on all of us.”

“I… don’t… know…”

“Then guess.”

Brett took in a breath, trying to sum up the strength to do as the man asked.  He didn’t understand what was happening or what they wanted from him, but what he did understand was pain.  He would do whatever it took to avoid it.

“You… you’re terrorists.”  They didn’t look like terrorists – they looked like college kids, exactly like the city-slicker hipsters he’d initially pegged them for – but who else kidnapped good, honest, hard-working American citizens for no reason?  Besides, Fox News had warned that the towelheads were recruiting more and more American youth, brainwashing them and using them as puppets from overseas.  It didn’t matter what they looked like.  Anyone could be a terrorist.

The man in the middle smiled sadly.  “No.  We’re not terrorists- at least not in the sense that you’re thinking.  And even if we were, it still wouldn’t have been the answer we’re looking for.  We want to know why you’re here – not us.”

I’m not here by choice!” he yelled in frustration, realizing his mistake too late.  The prod was jabbed into his neck and held there for six agonizing seconds. When it was over his teeth ached and his jaw was locked in place.  It took several attempts before he was able to loosen it again.

“Why are you here?” the man repeated, after giving him a moment to recover.

“Jesus.  Did… did Otis send you?  Is this because I owe him that money?”

“No.  Guess again.”

Brett racked his mind, but it was blank.  He didn’t deserve this.  He hadn’t done anything to deserve this.  “I- I’m sorry, I just-”  The end of the cattle-prod came to life, crackling with malevolent energy.  Brett panicked, inching away from the tool.  “I cheated on my wife!” he cried out, saying the first thing that came to his mind.  It had been years ago, a one-time thing that she had never found out about – and even if she had, Sheila would never have gone to such lengths to punish him for it.  This was just too sadistic, too extreme.  But it had come to mind and so he’d said it.  “I cheated on my wife,” he repeated, encouraged by the sight of the prod shutting off.

But the man in the middle shook his head.  “No.  Guess again.”

In this way they made him list every bad thing he’d ever done, every person he’d ever hurt, every promise he’d ever broken.  Logic and reasoning were gone; each answer was blurted on the spur of the moment, unconsidered and unquestioned.  They came to mind in panic and he would shout them immediately, never quite believing that any of them might be the answer they were looking for yet desperate to buy time.  He told them about the time he drank too much and knocked his ex-girlfriend about, about the kid he used to bully in high school, about the dog he’d hit with his car and then left to die on the side of the road.  He told them things he’d never told anyone, things he’d long forgotten and things he wished he could forget.  Nothing was private, nothing was exempt.

He stripped his conscience bare and all it bought him was three minutes and fourteen seconds.

After the first shock he began making things up, saying whatever came to mind, but they seemed to know he was lying because the answers no longer spared him from being shocked.  Finally, when he could no longer keep his head upright or even sum up the energy to mumble excuses, they untied him from the chair and dragged him back to the room.

Seven days later they did it all over again.

On the third week, after telling them about the time he’d dine-and-dashed, once more left grasping for another delay, Brett told them that he used to litter.  Everything was ‘used to’ now; it was all past-tense, all from another life.  He would never litter again, not because he’d ever really stopped, but because he’d never get another chance.

“I used to litter.  I used- I used to just toss my garbage anywhere,” he rambled, squeezing it for as many seconds as he could.  He was worried it sounded too pathetic, too much like he was grasping at straws (which, to be fair, was exactly what he was doing).  They’d recently taken to shocking him anytime he said anything overtly meager, or anything that was obviously an attempt at stalling.  Instead the trio exchanged looks, and the cattle prod retreated.  It was the first time he’d seen them react.  His eyes jumped from one to the next, settling finally on the man in the middle.

“That… that can’t be it.”  His voice was that of a stranger, hoarse from screaming and practically trembling with fear.  “Littering?”  Dumbly he recalled the moments before his abduction, when he’d tossed the McDonald’s bag out of his window.  Hadn’t the van sped up to meet him almost immediately after that?  “It can’t be,” he whispered.

“A deal’s a deal,” the man in the middle said, as the other two turned to leave.  “You tell us why you’re here, and we’ll tell you why we’re doing this.”

“I’m here… because I threw that bag out my window?” he asked slowly, in bewildered disbelief.

“That’s correct.  Well- to be precise, you’re here because we saw you throw that bag out.”  He grinned.  “We’re not omnipotent or anything: if we hadn’t seen you do it I’m afraid you would have gotten away with it, just as you did every other time.”

Brett shook his head.  “I don’t understand.”

The man went over to the corner, grabbing a stool and carrying it back over.  He sat down directly before Brett, facing him eye-to-eye.  They studied one another’s faces for a long time, neither quite knowing what the other was searching for.  Finally he began.

“There was a stray dog that used to hang around our neighborhood when I was a boy.  Knackers, we called him.  A little Russell-Terrier mix.  He was friendly with all the kids, and we used to feed him scraps and stuff whenever we could.  But it wasn’t enough; you could see his ribs poking out of his side, and we worried about how he would do once the cold settled in.  So one day I took him home with me, thinking I’d adopt him as my own.”  He shifted atop his stool.  “Only thing was, my old man hated animals.  Hated them.  Thought they were all disease-infested vermin.  I was worried he wouldn’t let me keep him, was worried that he would yell and shout and put up a big fuss.

“Instead he sat me down, and he told me that it wasn’t for him to tell me what to do with my life.  He told me that I wasn’t responsible for his happiness, anymore than he was for mine.  He said it was up to each man to take their happiness, their well-being, their lives into their own hands.  I didn’t quite understand what he meant, but it didn’t matter.  I was ecstatic.  My blissful incomprehension lasted right up until the next morning, when I found he’d beaten Knackers to death with his baseball bat.  Only then did I understand.”

Brett shuddered.  “Why are you telling me this?”

“So that you understand.  I don’t blame you for being a selfish, conceited asshole.  I’m sure if we went over your life with a fine-toothed comb we’d find some tragic reason for your lack of concern, something pitiful and sad and human.  This isn’t about that.  It’s not about you, understand?  Just like your littering wasn’t a malicious act.  It was just you being you.  Just living your own life, completely devoid of any responsibility for anyone else’s.  That’s what this is.  It’s us living our own lives, completely devoid of any responsibility for you or yours.  It’s not personal.”

“For littering?” Brett sobbed, the sheer absurdity of the situation finally hitting him full-force.  It wasn’t fair.  “You’re doing all this because I littered?

“Well, yes.  It’s such a disgusting, pointless, selfish thing to do.  That kind of blatant disregard and disrespect for Mother Nature is unforgivable in our books.”

“But it was such a small thing!” he cried.  “I don’t understand!

“Neither do I,” the man replied stiffly.  “If it was such a small thing, why didn’t you just wait to throw it out once you got to your destination?  Where was the urgency?  Why couldn’t you just have waited?”

In that moment Brett was too overwhelmed with incomprehension and disbelief to consider anything the man said, but in the weeks, months and years that followed they would give him plenty of time to think about it over and over and over again.  It all boiled down to one word: why?

The question would resound in his head for the rest of his days, but he would never manage to give it an answer.

And in every room a narcissus, seeing only their own reflections, seeing only the features, fears and flaws they look for, blind to everything else.

Exercises in Futility

Exercises in Futility

There are stories in this world that will never be told, tales which will never be realized, never be concluded, never be shared.

There is the story of a family on vacation in the Honduras, who stop by a food stand in the middle of the night and purchase some kebabs to stave off the hunger of a long drive.  The meat is greasy and moist, practically falling off the stick as they consume it, still steaming.  They nod to one another, praising the decision.  They will never know the truth of what they eat, will never suspect.  They will live on for many years, this meal a happy albeit insignificant blip in their lives, just as it is for every other person who happens to drive down that rural strip of road while the owner’s stock is still ample.  The food stand will continue to operate for fifteen more years until the owner passes away in his sleep, peaceful and painless, by which point all evidence of his operation will have been destroyed in knowing preparation.  No one will ever know, and his secret will die with him.

Nothing will ever come of it.

There is the story of a man on a hike, who sees something in the woods from a distance.  It is too far to make out details, but he sees enough and is smart enough to know that nothing its size lives in this region, and nothing its shape lives in this reality.  He might not be able to place it (not quite, although there is an itch at the back of his head, a primal sense that knows what he is looking at even if it won’t share that information), but what he does recognize is the scream of a fellow human.  He also recognizes what comes next: the sound of flesh tearing from flesh, cutting off the person’s voice mid-cry.  His face pallid and limbs shaking, he walks, not runs, back to his car and drives home, where he locks the door behind him and crawls under his covers.  He will call in sick to work the next day, and the next, and the next.  It will be a week before he is able to step foot outside his house again, and even then he never speaks a word of what he saw, and he never steps foot into the wilderness again.

Nothing ever comes of it.

There is the story of a tomb which lies beneath the Sahara Desert and has remained untouched for millennia.  There is no surviving legend about it, no secret set of clues to be followed halfway around the globe before finally leading to its location, no clandestine society entrusted with keeping its existence hidden from the world.  It simply sits there beneath the shifting sands of time, and whether this is for the best or worst will never be determined.  When the end comes and the Earth is swallowed up by the Sun, it will occur without the contents of this chamber ever having seen the open sky since the day they were so carefully sealed away all those years ago.

Nothing will ever come of it.

There is the story of a woman born in Little Rock, Arkansas who has the ability to read minds.  It is faint and indistinct, but it is there.  She catches glimpses into the heads of others, overhearing such snippets as I wonder what we ought to have for dinner tonight, or I wish I loved her half as much as I used to, or The Beatles are so fucking overrated it’s an injustice.  In this way she grows up, and having no other point of reference for how the human mind works but her own, she thinks little of the intrusive thoughts which seem to pop up out of nowhere on the daily.  Eventually she will chalk them up to an overactive imagination, and then, later, a fear of mental illness, but will never guess at the truth.  Coincidence dictates that she will never overhear something specific or detailed enough to place it as belonging to someone else.  As her power grows and she moves to the city, the barrage becomes too much.  I’m-cheating-on-him-and-he-doesn’t-even-know-I-hate-myself-I-hate-myself-I-hate-myself-I-deserve-that-promotion-I’ve-earned-that-fucking-promotion-I-should-really-look-into-buying-a-new-God-I-wish-I-knew-what-it-was-like-to-kill-someone-maybe-head-down-to-the-playground-later-try-to-convince-them-I’m-clean-  The endless torrent of voices will drive her to the brink, and believing she has gone mad, she will hang herself in her closet.

Nothing ever comes of it.

Every day, every minute around the world things happen that will bear no witness.  People go missing and are never found.  Lives are led that amount to nothing.  Secrets are kept and stories go untold.  If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it even make a sound?  Or does it go quietly into the nothing, the only testaments to its existence a hollow carcass that will soon decompose and the atoms it happened to displace while it stood?

There is the story of a boy, a boy who loves a girl.  She might love him back, if only he could sum up the courage to tell her so.  He comes close, too.  They sit in a café, the summer sun shining down on their table by the window wall, people on the sidewalk outside passing by on their respective ways to and from engagements, or maybe just wandering aimlessly on their way to and from nowhere at all, without destination or purpose.  Who is to say?  Will you get up from your seat, follow one of them on their walk to see where they end up, to see if they don’t just evaporate into thin air as soon as they are out of sight?  No.  There are other things, things that feel bigger than anything else, on your mind today.  She sits across from you, smiling, radiant in the golden glow.  Her hand rests on the table, and you think; I could reach across right now, slide my hand over the table to hers, and take itI could tell her how I feel; I could tell her everything.  You love her.  You love her, and she might love you too.  Your hand shifts, starts to move…

…and takes up your cup of coffee.  You raise it to your lips, averting your eyes as you drink.  The light is too bright.

There is a boy who loves a girl, and a girl who might love him too.

Nothing will ever come of it.

An Exercise in Imagination

An Exercise in Imagination

Let us try something.

Imagine, if you will, that you feel like a failure all the time.  Imagine feeling like you are constantly treading water, struggling to break the surface and avoid sinking down to the murky depths beneath while all about you people are sailing by on boats or casually backstroking in the pleasant summer sun.  Imagine working a production line without the slightest clue as to exactly what you’re supposed to be doing, constantly sneaking glances at the people beside you, trying to copy them, trying to figure out how they do it, knowing that you are a fake and a fraud and that before too long the farce will be discovered.

Now imagine you have something – one thing, really – that takes you away from all that.  Imagine you have one thing in this entire wretched existence that gives you a genuine and legitimate feeling of well-being instead of just distracting from that void, from that hollow part inside your chest.  Imagine this thing gives you a sense of fulfillment and of belonging, like you might have a part to play in this life, might actually have meaning, have purpose, have value.

Now imagine you can’t do it.  Imagine this thing, this one and only thing, can be whisked away from you on a whim.  Imagine you set about it one day and find you simply can’t.  Imagine it comes and goes without logic or reason, erratic and spontaneous.  Imagine wondering each time it goes away if this is it: if today is the day it finally leaves you for good, the day that tiny spark of magic inside you is snuffed out once and for all and you are left with nothing, nothing but the empty, hollow, husk of a person you’ve always been.

Imagine being a painter who suddenly forgets how to paint, or a mathematician who forgets how to count.  Imagine how you would feel, knowing the one thing that gives you any sense of self-worth was as fleeting and unpredictable as a feather in a tempest.  Imagine knowing the joy of discovering your purpose after years spent going numbly through the motions of life, a pantomime of a person – and not even a good one at that, but a half-assed pantomime, one who acts and exists out of habit alone – and then imagine being unable to fulfill that purpose.  Imagine failing at the one thing that doesn’t make you feel like a failure.

Now imagine if this was all just in your imagination.

You open your eyes,

hoping to escape a terrible reverie,

only to find yourself in the world you’ve created.

Is it a failure of the imagination

or an excess?

Does it matter any less

if it’s all in your head?

Nice While it Lasted

Nice While it Lasted

“I know that you’re tired
Know that you’re sore and sick and sad for some reason
So I’ll leave you with a smile
Kiss you on the cheek
And you will call it treason”

– Catherine Feeny, “Mr. Blue

*Note: I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but obviously this post works best if you’ve actually seen the thing it’s talking about.  So: if you haven’t seen the final season of BoJack Horseman (or any of it, for that matter) feel free to read on (I can’t very well stop you) but know that the best-case scenario is you feeling slightly lost, and worst-case is you encountering spoilers for the series finale.*

Well, the greatest show to ever grace this earth has finally come to a close, and we are all the worse for it.  Or better, depending on how you choose to see it.

Right from the start BoJack Horseman has weighed in on many important issues, contributed to dozens of difficult conversations, criticized seemingly untouchable people and powers, and made attempts at puzzling out many of the universe’s unanswerable questions.  Its final season was no different, and though opinions will invariably vary I personally believe it did an incredible job of sending its characters and world off in a manner that remained true to the series’ core.

To boil such a broad and all-encompassing piece down to an ending, let alone one single takeaway or moral, seemed and continues to seem impossible.  Long before the finale was even mentioned the internet was riddled with discussions and debates on how the show would end, and now that it’s finally arrived countless of articles analysing and critiquing the close are being published on a daily basis.  The ending part has (again, in my opinion) been successfully pulled off, but what are we to take away from it?  In the end, what was the show’s final message?

Rather than close things on a high note with the assurance that redemption had been found and change accomplished, or leave things on a low note with a cautionary tale about a character who couldn’t overcome his own demons, BoJack Horseman instead chooses a different kind of ending: the kind with no ending at all.  As the camera pans out to a scene of BoJack and Diane sitting against a backdrop of the night sky and Catherine Feeny’s beautiful voice washes over the audience, we’re left with a distinct feeling of uncertainty.  The unease is almost palpable, but as we wade through it we find a shred of hope, a wavering determination.

Deep down both these characters know (as do we) that their friendship is over.  This is the last time they will see each other, and it’s the last time we will see them too.  The scene lingers as Mr. Blue plays on, but it’s not just for this beautiful song that we stay, and considering BoJack and Diane presumably can’t hear the song it’s not the reason they stay either.

Their futures are unknown, their fates undecided, their friendship no more.  And yet they stay.  They stay there for a while longer, never making eye contact with one another, neither ready to face the truth just yet.  They know this is the end, but they are unwilling to say goodbye.

Unwilling to say goodbye, or willing to hold on – if just for a while longer.

Unwilling or willing, determined or stubborn, persistent or foolish.  Good or bad – it all depends on how you look at it.

Diane has already begun to change for the better, drawing strength from her bad experiences, learning from them, and channeling them into good.  Were the lessons ever inherent, unavoidable and clearly defined?  Not at all.  Instead Diane chooses to find these lessons on her own, to learn from not only her mistakes but those of others, and to make the most of the worst points in her life.  Few of these lessons come easy of course, least of all the one that the series chooses to end on – the one that teaches her the importance of drawing boundaries and cutting ties.

But she makes the most of it.  Even in the face of great uncertainty and in the resounding echoes of such terrible emotional pain, she chooses not only to endure, but to improve.

Nothing lasts forever.  Whether it’s an ending or The Ending, both are natural and unavoidable parts of life.  Choosing to let them hang over you, refusing to let them go, refusing to find meaning in them, these are all just ways of drawing them out.  Refusing change and clinging to the past does not delay the inevitable: it simply ensures that you carry it with you at all times, forever stuck in that moment.

BoJack has come a long way since his first season, but in many ways he’s still the same horse that he’s always been.  He’s reluctant to change; he’s so scared of uncertainty and failure that he has a hard time seeing the value in them.  A series finale that showed him becoming his best self would have been unrealistic and unbelievable, because for him improvement is a long and gradual road with many setbacks.  To wrap it up so nicely would have been a betrayal of the show’s unflinching look at the hard reality of self-improvement.

“Closure is a made-up thing by Steven Spielberg to sell movie tickets. It, like true love and the Munich Olympics, doesn’t exist in the real world. The only thing to do now is just to keep living forward.”

Instead we’re greeted with a familiar, hopeful, and altogether believable sight: a BoJack who might not be there yet, but who is still on his way.  He might not be where Diane is, but before you can improve you must first endure.

In BoJack’s case the ending is only an ending; sure, this is the last we will get to see of him, but his life will carry on.  Just like that final scene on the roof his future is filled with uncertainty, but just like that scene it is also filled with tentative hope and an unwillingness to give up.  He will continue to try, he will occasionally fall, and he will hopefully get back up again.  If he’s smart he’ll learn to let things go, but more importantly, he’ll learn.

If I had to boil this series down to two words, it would be Uncertainty and Perseverance.  Perseverance in the face of uncertainty, and uncertainty despite your perseverance.  As Diane aptly puts it, “Sometimes life’s a bitch, and then you keep living.”

The show has come to a close, but for better or worse is entirely up to you.  You can mourn its loss and pine for more, or you can try to learn something from all its given, to glean some kernel of knowledge from its many mines of wisdom, to be inspired by its refusal to accept rock bottom.  All things come to an end, but the end isn’t what matters: it’s what you make of it.

bojack-horseman-season-6-poster-v2-2880x1800.jpg

Thank you for an amazing, inspiring, emotional, hilarious, poignant, heart-wrenchingly beautiful and beautifully heart-wrenching six years.  You’ve both saved and changed my life, and I daresay it’s been for the better.

– The Modern Leper

BoJack Horseman is My Spirit Animal

BoJack Horseman is My Spirit Animal

“I don’t understand how people live. It’s amazing to me that people wake up every morning and say ‘Yeah, another day, let’s do it!’ How do people do it? I don’t know how.”

– BoJack Horseman

The final season of my favourite show in the world has just been released, so I figured it warranted a repost of this old gem.

If you have yet to acquaint yourself with Netflix’s first original animated series for adults, then what the hell are you still doing sitting here reading this?  But seriously, if you haven’t seen the show, it comes highly recommended from this stranger on the internet, and if for some unthinkable reason that doesn’t immediately convince you to watch it, I suppose I could offer a quick summary.

BoJack Horseman is a dark comedy/drama set in a world with anthropomorphic animals- but that doesn’t really have anything to do with the show’s plot… like at all (so just accept it & move on).  The star (and source of the show’s name) is none other than BoJack Horseman, a (yep, you guessed it) horse/man actor and washed up star of the old-but-gold ’90s sitcom Horsin’ Around.

But that plot summary doesn’t even begin to do the show justice.  The series encompasses so much (a satirical analysis of celebrity culture and the film industry,  social commentary on key issues in today’s society, and a powerful analysis into the darkest recesses of the human – or animal – soul, just to name a few) that you’d be hard-pressed not to find something you like.  The show brings together a slew of colourful and diverse characters, each dealing with their own struggles to cope with and understand the chaotic nature of life in their own way, each finding support and opposition as they cross paths.

Fair warning: season 1 starts off more fartsy than artsy, so if you find yourself thinking back to this high praise and wondering why you keep letting yourself get talked into doing things by strangers on the internet, just remember that it does get better.  People on the internet are never wrong.

Image result for bojack horseman season 3 posterThe series finds BoJack struggling with a lack of purpose, a dangerous amount of self-loathing, and a seemingly unquenchable desire to launch himself back into the spotlight.  Despite his apparent enthusiasm for said task, somehow BoJack always ends up second-guessing himself – will this accomplishment actually make him happy?  Is he just grasping at straws?  Does he even deserve happiness? – and be it intentional or otherwise, more often than not his efforts fall victim to self-sabotage.  His existential crises escalate as the series progresses, and before long he’s an absolute fucking mess.

Just like me, in other words.

While BoJack and I aren’t perfect matches – in matters of money, fame and sexual partners BoJack seems to have me beat by quite a bit – I still can’t help but feel a certain connection to the severely flawed protagonist.

The fact that the television character I relate to most is a bitterly cynical anthropomorphic horse with self-destructive tendencies, a highly addictive personality and a severe case of depression probably says a lot about my current state of affairs- none of it good.

But that’s what makes the show so fantastic.  For all its eccentric animal characters, BoJack Horseman is a series that perfectly exemplifies what it is to be human.

We are flawed.  We’re vulnerable, selfish, insecure, self-destructive, and weak.  But we still try.  We fuck things up and we make a huge mess and we wonder if there’s even a way back- and then we try again.  We hurt the ones we love, and we hurt the ones who love us, but there’s something to be said for having been loved in the first place, and maybe the world’s not so bad after all, if even after all the things you’ve said and done people still root for you to come out on top.

And it’s not just you.  It’s all of us.  BoJack Horseman shows us that no one is safe from the dreaded existential crisis, and no one is alone in it, either.  Everyone has those days, when they can’t seem to find a reason to keep going, a purpose to define their existence, a key to unlock the door to happiness.  We’re all struggling to figure it out.

But the most important aspect of this beautiful show is also its arguably most subtle message: that you need to forgive yourself.

If I can still hope that BoJack makes it out okay even after all the shitty things he’s done, then maybe redemption isn’t out of the question for me.  That’s the show’s message: yeah, people fuck up all the time, but if you can find it in yourself to forgive this horse, then maybe you can learn to forgive yourself too.

Sure, the way back is long and hard, and sometimes -hell, a lot of the time- we slip and we lose our footing and we fall back to the bottom of the pit again, but we get back up, we dust ourselves off and we get back to it.

After all, as a wise baboon once said: “It gets easier. Every day it gets a little easier. But you gotta do it every day. That’s the hard part. But it does get easier.”