In my writing this morning, I found myself musing: I wonder if cavemen got depressed?
So… this happened.
(For some reason I imagined the cavemen with British accents. Probably all the Good Omens and Ricky Gervais comedy specials I’ve been watching.)
Int. a dingy, shallow cave. A few unwashed loincloths litter the floor. DAG sits staring into the ashes of a fire that burned out several hours ago at the very least. THOP enters, his shadow stretching long across DAG, who either fails to notice or fails to care.
Dag: Hmm? Oh. Thop. Morning.
Thop: I should say so, Dag. The sun’s been up for 15 minutes. What are you doing?
Dag: What do you mean?
Thop: Are you serious?
Dag: About what?
Thop: Dag. It’s Monday morning. Hunting day. The antelope are waiting.
Dag: Are they?
Dag: The antelope. Just standing around thinking, gee, it’d sure be great if we got chased, hunted, and eaten today, are they?
Thop: Don’t be ridiculous. It’s a figure of speech.
Thop: It’s time to go hunt, Dag.
Dag: I don’t know, Thop. I’m just not sure I’m feeling like it today.
Thop: Not feeling like it? What are you talking about? We’re hunter-gatherers. Hunting is one of two things we do in life. You don’t feel like it?
Dag: I just feel sort of lost. Kind of … I don’t know. Spiritually icky. You know?
Thop: No, I don’t. If you don’t come on the hunt, you won’t eat. That’s a promise, Dag. The others won’t stand for it and neither will I. So get your loincloth on and let’s go.
Dag: Oh. Well, all right then, I guess maybe I’ll just starve. Waste away. Wouldn’t take very long, we’re all half-dead just waling around here, aren’t we?
THOP sighs in exasperation and heads for the exit. DAG stops him.
Dag: Remember me, okay? Or don’t. It doesn’t matter anyway, in the scheme of things, does it? Nobody will remember any of us after we’re gone. Hunt the antelope, don’t hunt the antelope — what does it matter? This life is meaningless. The hunt is meaningless.
Thop: The hunt is meaningless? Fine, Dag. I’ll just go tell that to Erk and Pog and the rest, then, we’ll hang it up, shall we?
Dag: What’s the point? We bag an antelope, it delays our deaths by a few weeks. But that’s a few weeks more we’ll be suffering, isn’t it?
Thop: Bugger all this, mate.
THOP makes for the exit once more, but DAG isn’t done.
Dag: You remember Egg? Had a tooth rotted so badly he couldn’t eat. Moaned about it for days. Finally he got fed up with it and hurled himself off the cliffs by the river. Remember him?
Thop: Of course I remember Egg. He was our best hunter; we gave him a hero’s sendoff.
Dag: I envy him.
Thop: What, you want an effigy of twigs and antelope dung burned in your honor?
Dag: No, I envy him his end down there on the rocks. He had it right, you know. Took an instant of pain before his sun went down rather than weeks and weeks of the agony of slow starvation. The agony that the rest of us still have to endure, day after day after day. Not such a bad trade, when you think about it, is it?
Thop: (After a long pause.) Dag.
Dag: Yes, Thop?
Thop: Get your prehistoric ass up off that rock, get a loincloth on, and come hunt antelope with us. I’ve had it.
Dag stares morosely into what used to be the fire for a long moment.
Dag: Oh, all right.
Together, DAG and THOP and the rest of the clan would indeed go out to hunt antelope and bring back a feast.
But Dag’s heart wasn’t really in it.
And, just because it’s never really exited my consciousness, here’s a blast from the past that may or may not have had a subliminal influence, as well.
The fam and I just got back from our vacation to the sunny (actually not so sunny) beaches of South Carolina. Weather was cloudy and overcast with threats of rain each day which actually made the trip delightful — not too hot, no sunburns, and the occasional afternoon cloudburst. Batteries recharged; time to get back to work around here.
Here, then, are five things about vacationing with family.
Kids’ Energy Management. Being back and forth to beaches and pools and outdoor events and sights will wear the kids out. And I dunno about your kids, but when my kids (especially my adorable little girl) get tired, they get angry. You gotta keep their energy up. That means feeding them sugar in irregular large doses. Candy, ice cream, funnel cakes … just shovel it in. Eat meals at odd times. Routine is for the boring. And don’t even think about feeding them a vegetable — this is vacation, for science’s sake.
Your Energy Management. All the problems your kids will have go double for you, because you’re old and tired. Luckily, the same advice also works. Lots of sugar, lots of huge meals at odd times (preferably fried food whenever you can get it, which is always). The golden ticket? You’re grown, so you get to add alcohol to the mix. Do so liberally. Bedtime is for suckers.
Putting the Kids to Bed. Odds are, the sleeping arrangement is gonna leave something to be desired. It is what it is. And if you’ve been doing it right so far, they’re hopped up on sugar anyway. Leave them to their own devices, and they’re gonna invent games to play, babble at each other for hours on end, and otherwise avoid falling asleep. You need help, and the TV is your friend. It’s full of all sorts of programming that will distract and then zonk your kids right out. We discovered that the Weather Channel is excellent for this — their programming is somehow fascinating and boring enough to make you wish you were watching paint dry all at the same time.
Mornings Are The Best Time. I know this never happens, but you might get lucky: since the kids are so wiped out, there’s a good chance they could sleep in an extra twenty or thirty minutes. You might feel compelled to seize the opportunity for a few extra Z’s yourself. Fight this impulse. Morning is a magical time — you just don’t appreciate it at home because you’ve seen it. Away from home, the magic is unmistakable. Have a tea. Meditate. Write. Run. Whatever. You can nap later.
If At All Possible, Get Your Mother Drunk On Margaritas. Man, oh man, the things that will come out of her mouth.
The post that I wrote the other day, about Morning Pages? That was not the post I set out to write.
The post I set out to write was this one, but to talk about what I want to talk about here, I first had to talk about my morning pages. What they are, how I use them, my process in writing them. All that is here, but that post turned into a 1500 word gallivant, and my unofficial limit for these things is 1200 words so … yeah. I’ll credit the fact that I was able to rattle off 1500 words on a thing I didn’t even intend to talk about to the fact that my creative wellspring has sprung anew (again, see the previous post).
Anyway. The thing I wanted to explore is this: in my writing, I swear at myself. Like, a lot.Tirelessly. And with great gusto.
The situation doesn’t much matter. It’s equally likely to happen when I’m talking about something I love as with something I hate. I use it to express positive and negative emotion. Basically, I just use it. I love swearing.
Part of it is because I’m of two minds about words that carry a taboo. On the one hand, my critical thinking brain reminds me that words mean only what we agree they mean, and therefore have only the power we give them. (For a lesson on this, I heartily recommend the short story “The Appropriation of Cultures”, by Percival Everett.) Being an atheist helps, here; there’s no higher power dictating that this word is bad and this word is good and this word if spoken earns you a one-way ticket to eternal torture. Words are just collections of letters and sounds that we as a culture agree mean certain things. On the other hand, our culture has certainly agreed that there are words you shouldn’t use in polite company. And since my job in large part entails cultivating future humans into actual productive humans, that’s a standard I’m more-or-less obliged to uphold.
That’s why I take pains not to swear (too much) in my online interactions; even though my online persona isn’t necessarily identical to my walking-around persona, they’re close enough that it behooves me to be cognizant of the things I say around here. I keep a lid on the things that would otherwise come out of my mouth.
But in my not-for-public-consumption writing? In my morning pages, my first drafts, my notes to myself in the margins of my writing projects? The lid comes off. If the use of certain words could condemn you to eternal torture, I would probably owe several infinities’ worth of torture to whatever loving deity were meting out the torture. I call myself rude names. I lambast the things I’ve written. I call myself out for the things I need to write in future drafts. It’s self-abuse of the most vile kind, except I don’t view it that way. It doesn’t make me feel bad when I read over it again — it makes me laugh. It’s just how I talk to myself. It’s the opposite of a Big Deal; my own private joke with myself on the public-facing me who can’t speak or write that way.
And it made me wonder how other people do the same thing. Not if — because I feel it’s a pretty safe assumption that anybody who does any sort of extended self-talk, via journal, notes to self, or otherwise, has their own style of idiosyncratic talking to themselves — but how.
I remember that I had to read The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin in a college course, which contained several excerpts from his journals, his lists of personal maxims, stories of his early writing jobs. And I remember thinking: personal journals? Bull Sharknado. Maybe some polished versions, sure. But it’s not like he went into whatever random entry he wrote to himself on Bleptember the blargteenth, schleppenteen schlippity bleven, said “yep, that’s the one” and dropped it into the book. You just know that the margins of his journal were full of comments like “Ben, you self-important, pompous, wig-wearing f***. How can you take yourself seriously writing this s***?”
Maybe it’s just me.
Anyway, I wrote this entire entry to tell you about that one weird little thought that crossed my mind: Ben Franklin scribbling insults at himself with a quill pen in between drafting the backbone of our nation.
I always see myself in movies. I can’t help it — I’m always comparing myself to the characters, having the internal monologues of “I’d never do that” or “if it were me I’d…” which is part of the fun of the movies, and literature generally, innit? We get to live vicariously through the figures on the screen.
Which is why instead of doing a full-on review of Avengers: Endgame, I instead want to look at two things I absolutely loved about the movie.
Here’s your obligatory *MILD SPOILERS AHEAD* warning, but y’know, the movie has been out for two weeks, so avoiding spoilers is your lookout at this point.
Let’s start with the big one (pun intended): Fat Thor.
For my money, Thor has been the best thing about the MCU since the first Avengers movie. The best thing, by like, a lot. And since Ragnarok, the gap is only getting wider. Chris Hemsworth’s take on the character is so charming, so goofy, and so heartfelt that it’s hard not to love him. Also, he’s, y’know, the freaking god of thunder, so there’s that.
And … actually, I need a detour here. Because what I really love about the Marvel universe — and what is giving its films such staying power, and what’s making its films resonate even with people (like me!) who not only aren’t comic book fans, but who might actually turn up their noses at the notion of being comic book fans — is that they really work hard at fleshing out their characters. Making sure that the movies are more than just beat-’em-up formulaic tripe of hero is the best at everything, hero gets his butt kicked by baddie, hero goes off to train and recruit buddies, hero kicks baddie’s butt, hero is the best at everything again but even better now. No, for a Marvel movie, if a hero wants to be successful in the end, they’re going to have to grow for it, learn for it, change for it.
The example springing to mind right now is in Spiderman: Homecoming where young Peter, just laid low by a failure to save the day, gets chastised by mentor-figure-doubling-as-surrogate-dad Tony Stark. Stark is taking his high-tech Spiderman kit back from Peter because he’s not ready for it. Peter protests that he’s nothing without the suit. Then, this from Tony: “If you’re nothing without the suit, you don’t deserve it.” Peter has to return to his un-souped-up heroing, takes a step back to work on his personal life, ends up saving the day by the skin of his teeth without the suit. He learns. He grows. And he becomes what we knew he was all along.
So — back to Thor. Thor has been laid low by the most recent slate of movies. Ragnarok saw the destruction of his home world and the loss of his hammer. Infinity War began with the death of his brother (and most of the rest of Asgard) and sent him on a quest to retrieve a weapon mighty enough to defeat Thanos — and he still fails. Loss after loss after loss. Thor, by the end of Infinity War, is way past due for a win.
Luckily, the Marvel gods know a good story arc when they see one, and in the opening of Endgame, Thor gets to make good on what he failed to do at the end of Infinity War: he lops Thanos’s head off with his fancy new thunderstick. (Mid-sentence, if I remember properly, for extra effect.)
But when the Marvel gods giveth, the Marvel gods also taketh away. Decapitating the biggest of bads feels good — damned good — for about five seconds, but it’s not actually a win. The stones are lost, Thanos’s evil 50% population downsizing can’t be reversed, everything is awful. Thor’s friends are still ashes, and Thanos wasn’t a threat to anybody anymore. The victory is entirely hollow. Still, it’s early in the film — lots of time for that character arc to swing upward. And that’s what we expect — the hero gets laid low, and he pops back up onto his feet and keeps fighting.
Except, no, that’s not what we get. Instead, our favorite thunder god goes into hiding like a spooked turtle retreating into its shell. Five years pass, and when we next see Thor, not only is he not bouncing back like a good superhero should (Cap is heading up support groups, Black Widow is running a global security system, Iron Man has embraced his family side and moved on), he’s wallowing in his despair. He’s put on weight, he’s stopped shaving, he’s wasting his days sucking down brewskis and playing video games with online trolls.
Now, here’s where the controversy comes in (because for goodness’s sake we can’t have a thing without spinning up a jolly good controversy about it) because apparently a lot of people are upset about Fat Thor. It’s fat-shaming, they cry, it’s an overweight character played for laughs, they moan, it’s cheap and hurtful, they warble.
Bollocks, I say. Yes, Fat Thor is played for laughs, but everything in the MCU is up for becoming a punchline — why should one of the most beloved butts of the brickiest brick jokes suddenly be immune? Just because he put on some pounds? Nonsense. Fat Thor is funny because Chris Hemsworth is a funny guy, and because we expect Thor to be chiseled and slinging lightning and hammers around, not pudgy and parked in a Barcalounger shouting at noobs on Call of Duty.
In my not-so-humble opinion as a somewhat overweight guy myself, I’m going to say that Fat Thor’s portrayal is absolutely not fat-shaming — in fact it’s just the opposite. For one thing, there’s no training montage, no blast of lightning that burns the fat away and gives us Chiseled Thor anew. No, Fat Thor goes through the entire movie as Fat Thor, squeezes into the jumpsuit as Fat Thor, saves the world as Fat Thor. Sure, we laugh at him along the way, but we also love him for who he is, as we always have.
Also — I’m gonna go ahead and say the controversial thing — when people get upset, sad, depressed even — sometimes? They let themselves go. It happens. And again, I’m saying this to you as a guy who has packed on a solid twenty-five pounds over the past several months myself. For some people, that’s a natural response to stress. It’s not shaming to point that out — it’s also not shaming, I’d argue, for that guy’s buddies to rib him a little bit about it. But (and here’s the heroic thing) Thor lets himself be talked out of his funk … sort of. He suits up and goes to work even though he’s not really feeling it, because he knows his buddies need him.
And that brings me to the second thing I love about the movie — really an offshoot of the first. Which is that Thor — Fat Thor, by this point, but still God-of-Thunder-Thor — struggles not against a foe, but against doubt. Because of his recent spate of failures, Thor — literally capable of almost anything Thor — falls into inaction, packs on the pounds and hides from the world, because of his own feelings of inadequacy.
Thor suffers from Impostor Syndrome. And a healthy dose of anxiety and probably depression to boot.
He has a panic attack, for goodness’s sake. The God of Thunder is literally struck helpless by the imagined gremlins running amok inside his brain.
So while I absolutely adored Thor before, I double-dang-diggity-love him now, because, like I was saying way back at the beginning of this post that’s quickly getting away from me (WordPress for some reason removed the word count from the editor and it leaves me absolutely rudderless), in Endgame, Thor’s suffering is my suffering. And — as I always tell my students — the world is large. If you’re feeling it (or thinking it or wondering it), other people are feeling it, too.
Luckily Marvel has an answer for us — for the problem of one of the most powerful beings in the universe struck helpless by the feeling that he isn’t as much of a superhero as he thought. (And, by extension, for that existential doubt worrying away in all our hearts that we aren’t gonna be able to do the things we want to do, or that we need to do. Cuz, y’know. Thor is us.) And the answer is delivered by, who else, but his mother.
Frigga (Norse mythology has the best friggin’ names, I don’t care what anybody says): Everyone fails at who they’re supposed to be, Thor. The measure of a person — of a hero — is how well they succeed at being what they are.
And I can’t get over that. I’ve been hearing it in my head ever since. It’s the perfectest advice you could give to somebody suffering the way Thor is suffering.
Thor goes on from there to help save the universe. He’s still fat, of course. He saves the universe as he is, not as the idealized version of what he’s supposed to be.
This is why I am loving Marvel movies, still, so many years down the line, and even though there are, admittedly, way too many of them. Because their heroes are us — just, y’know, with better abs and magic hammers and stuff.
Until now. Now they’re just us.
All images are obviously the property of Marvel, except for the fact that Thor belongs to all of us.
Somebody searched “Everything’s not awesome I finally get Radiohead” and landed on my site.
What a rude awakening for that poor soul. Probably just looking for lyrics or something and falls into my pit of drivel and despair. Still — that’s okay, buddy. Plenty of room in the pit of despair for everybody.
I couldn’t quite remember where “the pit of despair” came from in the depths of the ol’ brainpan, so I googled it. Of course — it was The Princess Bride!
And if you don’t know The Princess Bride, what are you even doing with your life?
Interestingly enough, though, when I googled “the pit of despair”, The Princess Bride was only the second thing to come up on the search results. The first was this:
This Pit of Despair was designed and named by Harry Harlow, a man whose name you don’t need to remember except that it actually sounds like a billionaire villain, who studied things like the effects of maternal separation using this device, whose purpose, per Wikipedia, was “to produce an animal model of clinical depression.”
So, thanks Google! I certainly needed the images of monkeys suffering in cages first thing this morning — but I guess that’s what I get for googling the pit of despair.