Take a breath

If I might quote the immortal words of Baymax in Disney’s Big Hero 6, “I am not fast.” To be clear, I am not saying that I am incapable of bursts of speed or consistency, but by nature, I like to take my time.

This has been made especially clear to me as I have been spending the summer with my girlfriend and her family. They are not slow. I don’t mean this in terms of just getting things done, a walk with my girlfriend ended up being less leisurely and more of a workout as our pace took us past people out for a jog. It is not that anyone is hurrying me or trying to get me to speed up, it is just that I have realized that I place much less value on getting things done quickly than either her family or maybe even the population as a whole.

So, let me get to the point, I don’t take much hurry with anything in my life. This isn’t by accident, there have certainly been plenty of points in my life of where I hurry from task to task to be the best worker bee I can, but that just doesn’t contribute to my current understanding of life.

American capitalism and the Protestant work ethic encourage work without complaint as not only a prime virtue but also the only way to avoid ruin and hell. Marx wrote about laborers estrangement from there work, I feel this obsession on work is the average human being estranged from something even more fundamental to our existence, time.

The modern American existence is often criticized at the ends, vapid values, the mindless pursuit of things, etc. but we don’t consider the problems in how it is achieved. I don’t think the way to solve these problems is to criticize the results, it is to change the process that brings this situation about.

It feels wherever I look in the world there are products, services, or ideas on how to be more productive. Because work and a job is assumed to be the only true way to happiness anything that can help get more work done is Good and anything that does not aid in the completion of tasks is Bad. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, work is very important to, well, everything. But is work it’s own inherent value?

Let me differentiate here between work of passion, and work of survival. For the lucky people that truly love their job so much they don’t want to do anything else, cool, keep being productive, but you probably shouldn’t be reading this. Because I don’t think you exist.

That isn’t to say that no one likes their job, I like to imagine we can all reach our dream job, but I don’t think anyone would like to do just one thing because that would be exceptionally boring. No matter how much someone enjoys their work, their is something else they also want to be doing more of.

The best reason to do work during leisure time is to either get more leisure down the road or improve the later leisure time. Most productivity that does not fall into the bounds of normal work could, as Mark Twain would put, can be put off til tomorrow. Maybe it’s bringing home extra work that doesn’t need to be done yet or checking your work email during an enjoyable event of any degree (from a dance recital to some simple TV time alone) but it is all just extra labor to maximize one’s perceived value within a capitalist society. It does not add value to life or experience, it just makes one a better producer/consumer for the market

But that is the affects of productivity worship just on how much time one might have. The problem goes deeper, and actually makes whatever time one is able to allot (whether willingly for my previously mentioned delayed gratification of compulsory from a demanding boss) worse.

If you are me, right now you want to watch the new season of Master of None, if you are my girlfriend you want to read more, or if you are my dad and want to coach softball, but you don’t want to have just one pursuit of work. Everyone has multiple desires, and the task of balancing everything is one of the oldest that mankind faces; because there are only so many hours in the day and most is taken by attaining necessities to satisfy the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the rest is of precious value and we try to get as much out of it as we can by the means allowed to us by our culture: consumption.

 

I just mentioned Master of None and how I haven’t finished it and some are probably surprised I haven’t watched it all yet. I am an avid binge watcher, and finished the first season in just over a day. But I’m taking this slow.

Hurrying through anything enjoyable, entertainment, food, or especially quality time with loved ones will only make the experience worse. In all fairness, I am often just as bad about this as anyone else.

As an avid podcast fanatic I have previously turned the speed of podcasts up to 2x normal so I could hear twice as much in the same amount of time. But I realized that didn’t make the experience any better. As for time with people I care about, hurrying through activities would seem to defeat the purpose of having it at all. So, I take things slow.

Of course, it is good to explore new interests, and we cannot always dedicate large amounts of time to things. It also goes without saying that sometimes haste is a good thing. But the relentless pursuit of “more,” whether it is more possessions or more complete activities is dramatically overvalued

We need to stop thinking of using time with no particular purpose as “wasting time” and start thinking of it as relishing life and living in the moment. Sure, I could eat faster and then be able to read more books, but then I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the taste of things I enjoy. Because there is a hurry, both activities are lessened and my life is worse for it.

In that example, not only am I using an unhealthy ideology focused on things that don’t really matter, I did not allow myself to fully enjoy my time with the things that do. So, let us all commit to enjoying things more. Relaxation and free time are not signs of laziness, they are important to our health and well-being as well as our ability to live, experience and exist to our fullest extent as humans.

When we read, don’t skim the book or even just read it, absorb it. When listening to music don’t drift, analyze. When relaxing, don’t check your email, just find your inner peace. Use the limited time allowed by the clock not to accomplish the most activities or check the most boxes as complete, but to find the most joy and fulfillment. If you enjoy walking fast, as my girlfriend does, great. But if you’d rather just stroll by the river and look at the trees, do that too. Because the rest of the world can spare a few more minutes of your activity to really enjoy things.

Persona 5: Almost impossible to put down

As I probably made obvious in the title of this post, I am absolutely gaga for Atlus’s fifth entry into the Megami Tensei spin-off Persona series. Persona 4: Golden was undeniably a masterpiece, and I have been looking forward to P5 ever since it was confirmed to be coming to PS4 in addition to PS3. In fact, I faithfully awaited the launch through a series of multiple delays. Also, gotta say it was a bit mean to JRPG fans that they were going to launch on Valentine’s day.

Now that I’ve had it downloaded and loved for a reasonable amount of time I wanted to share some thoughts regarding thematics and overall structure of the game. While it should be noted that I am not quite through my first play through (what can I say, finals) I feel I am currently facing a confusing set of emotions that should be articulated at this moment.

I plan to write more once I am done with the game, and my feelings and impressions will likely change as a result. But really I must say that while this is undoubtedly one of the best video games I have ever played, mechanically, stylistically, and by story it still has some parts that make me feel a bit uncomfortable.

Let us be fair, there are a lot of issues with social representation throughout almost all media, and in video games particularly. By these admittedly low standards, the Persona series has always been a few steps ahead of the curve where social progress is concerned. I’d look at the open-minded view they take in exploring the dungeon themed around the undefined sexuality and sexual preferences of Persona 4‘s Kanji.

Persona 5 has some similarity deep themes in the very first dungeon of Kamoshida’s castle where his abuse of his students is displayed. Given that the physical and sexual abuse is with two members of your party, Yosuke and Ann respectively, this isn’t some issue presented in the abstract, but an actual act of defiance where the victims are pursuing justice. Maybe a lesser game wouldn’t nudge me towards criticism of minutia, but Personais downright hypocritical.

This first criticism I feel I am wading into dangerous territory, but I promise I have logic if you see the argument to the end. I am very bothered by the games continued hyper-sexualization of its young female subjects, and Ann in particular.

I understand that many feel the sexualization of people considered underage in America and other Western nations. I understand that the age of consent is lower in Japan. I really don’t want to be an imperialist who tries to impose my standards onto others, but this is a piece of media that was made for myself and my market and I feel my criticism is valid. That said, P5 seems to at least somewhat agree that this is a way of depicting young women that is wrong.

There is nothing wrong with having an attractive character of either gender, that is kind of at the heart of any visual storytelling. I’m not going to write anything about Black Widow’s appearance being sexual because that is kind of the point and power of the character. She uses her sexuality as an a person fully capable of making her own informed decisions to manipulate the more basic parts of humans and the male gender in particular.

The problem is that the of the game seems to agree that the way the girls are depicted and treated is fundamentally wrong. The first quest is centered around stopping the “pervy” teacher who is pressuring underage girls into sexual activity. In the final boss fight, King Kamoshida drinks from a cup of lust where he literally consumes the mostly-nude bodies of young girls.

With this evidence, I think it is undeniable that the game considers Kamoshida’s view of high school girls as wrong as I would. Whether that is right or imperialistic is a discourse for another day. Now, accepting this condition, it stands to reason that Kamoshida’s distorted worldview includes a sexualized Ann in a bikini.

By cultural standards, especially those in the West, a young woman in a bikini is downright tame; however, it is hammered home that coach Kamoshida is doing something wrong by viewing Ann as a sex object. So, what does the game do? Repeatedly and heavily treat Ann as a sex object.

There is a pattern of making moments where the male characters of the Persona franchise awkwardly encounter their female counterparts in bathing suits. Personally, I find these moments at least charming, if a bit awkward. P5 is no exception to this trend. While these swimming scenes are low hanging fruits for examples, there are repeated instances where Ann is sexualized….. because.

Though I would say Ryuji is the worst explicit offender, there are multiple instances where they just stare at her or else make strange remarks. This would be fine in isolation, but it just keeps happening and I keep feeling weird. Take for instance the drive to Futaba’s pyramid. Obviously things are hot in the desert and they are trying to keep as cool as possible, but every guy in the back seat can’t help but stare down Ann’s shirt. Not subtly, they make a point of showing both Ann not being upset by this and the men not seeming to care.

Let’s give credit where credit is due. Ann is an attractive young blond who is a part-time model as the result of her rich parents being fashion designers. It would have been easy to treat Ann as just an object of attraction. Persona 5 does not do that.

Ann is a romance option, and while her specific story missions do involve some work to become a better and/or more successful model, that is far from the point. She is doing it for herself so she can feel accomplishment through work and ultimately finds greater self value by side-lining modeling again. I can say all of that because she was the romance option I pursued.

Persona 5 does an exceptional job of making well rounded female characters. They are intelligent, complex, and a great sign of progress in an unfortunately misogynistic medium. While I applaud Atlus’s two steps forward, we must also acknowledge there one step back.

He for she for me

What do we value in masculinity, and, more importantly, why do we traditionally hold it as being of such great value? I think it is largely evolutionary benefits that have led us to prioritizing strength, hyper-independence, and the ability to provide specifically in the male gender. If we go back to Unk the caveman, the man who was those things was more likely to survive to pass on his genes and provide for the people who depend on him as they either mature (in the case of his children) or care for the products of their mutual genes (in the case of the female partner).

I do not mean this as any sort of encouragement it was just a largely practical division of labor. An ability to suppress emotions in the pursuit of short term practical goals made sense for the member of the species that was out hunting a large, dangerous animal while attentiveness and nurturing were more sensible characteristics to the one left with child-rearing.

While all parties share largely similar brain chemistry and functions making the spectrums of emotion available, encouraging certain behaviors just yielded early survival and therefore reproductive values. The thing is, evolution (whether biological or social) is a slow thing, and even relatively progressive societies still largely hold to these patriarchal systems. This isn’t universally a bad thing.

I grew up with a mother who staid at home with the five kids of her own choice (she did have a college degree) and a father who was the exclusive breadwinner for most of my life. Both my mother and my father are strong people who made this decision of traditional gender rolls mutually and are (to the best of my knowledge) very happy with the lives they lead.

There’s actually quite a trend of women in my family who want to be housewives and teachers. No one should force a person into a traditional gender role, I’m just saying that we also shouldn’t look down on people who do choose to pursue an option that would conform to norms. But we have come a long way since man hunted mastodons and we need to start addressing the long term necessities of humanity. I believe feminism is a large part of the solution.

It is of course worth noting that I am writing this as a man. At the risk of mansplaining, feminism does have a focus on female empowerment; however, by empowering both women and the very concept of femininity (or else, blurring the boundaries between the genders) is also a good thing for men because it makes traits that would traditionally shame or emasculate men acceptable and/or empowering. This rising tide raises all boats.

Part of the reason I wanted to write about this is my coming to terms with the fact that a lot of my demons are traditionally associated with haunting women. Specifically, I am thinking about mental illness. While the Mayo clinic reports the big one, depression, is significantly more common in women than men, the link is not that simple. The World Health Organization found that women are more likely to report mental health issues meaning there is a disparity in cases known which hampers both research in the field as well as the health of those not reporting.

What I am arguing today is that this is because of the negative effects behind holding to traditional masculinity. Asking for help is considered feminine, and femininity is associated with weakness. Knowing when assistance is required is no vice, it is a great virtue. So perhaps it is not bad to associate requesting assistance with the fairer sex, but one of the great goals of feminism (in my understanding) is to remove the association of women with meekness. So even if asking for help were to be a feminine quality (which it neither is, nor should be), there is no problem with a man admitting a part of his feminine nature for his greater well being and health, and the health of society. Right now, masculinity is quite literally killing a lot of men.

The last sentence is based on my core argument that pure masculinity is outdated and bad for both men and women. One of the stark differences where this is made apparent is in suicide rates. Like I said, women are more likely to report mental health issues, a common symptom of which is suicidal thoughts. So, reports from Forbes suggest the same research problem is present with suicidal thoughts as with depression, but it looks like women do suffer suicidal thoughts more often. On the flip side, Forbes also reported men are dramatically more likely to successfully kill themselves in almost every culture around the world.

Significantly, this isn’t reported suicide, which would leave room for the same error from self-reporting, but actual deaths that leave no doubt about whether or not this symptom of mental health was present. This isn’t some minor difference of a couple percentage points. According to Americans for Suicide Prevention, a non-profit that sponsors scientific studies about suicide, men are three and a half times more likely to commit suicide than women, with similar numbers coming from the UK in a report from the Guardian.

This makes sense because most successful suicides are done with firearms, and (like it or not) studies show that the presence of guns can increase the likelihood of violence. Think about it, it is an immediate, dramatic, and very effective way to end life, and Pew Research shows than men are more likely to own or have access to firearms. This is another essential part of masculinity.

If a willingness to ask for help is essentially feminine, willingness for violence is essentially masculine. Men are the ones who start wars, fight them, and kill each other. Certainly women kill, but it is no great secret that men commit violent crimes at a higher rate. Boys will be boys, and masculinity dictates that boys will be violent. Still, masculinity is privileged above femininity as “stronger” and “better” meaning that any man who would go through any act of femininity to get needed help has declared himself less of a man and therefore worse.

Men need to learn from women. I believe it is our duty to support the empowerment of our sisters not only for their sake, but also for our own. Or else we choose our own poison and live worse in our own pride.

Dating myself

Want to know something that kind of sucks? Long distance relationships. Of course I love my girlfriend, but on days like Valentine’s it can be rough. I have a Valentine, and she is someone I really, really care about. She is doing amazing things and the pride I feel in her is so overwhelming I sometimes feel like it all has to be a dream. How does a scrub like me get someone so incredible? So I feel ungrateful to complain, but it can be agonizing to have her hand a thousand miles away when I am walking around campus seeing couples hold hands. Even just that little bit of human contact sounds divine.

In the absence of my cuddle buddy, I am learning how to take better care of myself. I mean, to be fair, I am not very good at the whole self care thing. I’m not necessarily self destructive, I’d never actively try to hurt myself. It’s more that I push myself without regard for my well-being. I know I have limits, and I mostly know where they are. It’s just that I ignore them. With this intent to treat myself better, and my Valentine closer to Trudeau than myself, I decided to treat myself to a nice dinner. Alone.

I went to Cafe Brule and had a wonderful meal, but then again most meals are wonderful on their own. While I do like eating alone, I’ve always felt a bit sheepish about going to a restaurant on my own. Of course this isn’t any major social issue, but people do give me a bit of sideways glances. I had to wait a while because the wait staff assumed I was either expecting someone or else was stood up. Not so, the only thing I was waiting on was my food. If I’m going to tell the truth, it was one of the nicest meals I’ve ever had.

Not because it was overly fancy, just some nice comfort food for my belly, I just was able to sit and enjoy internal dialogue with myself. Depending on who you ask talking to yourself is either a sign of brilliance or insanity, but I chose to ask myself, so I got the chance to learn about myself better.

I’m still digesting and the more time I spend learning about myself the more I realize I still need a lot more time. But I think I liked that guy, and I’m eating with him again tonight.

Coffee coercion

Unlike the average American, I do not drink coffee. At least, I didn’t used to. The big thing for me is that as far as I’m concerned coffee tastes like wet gym socks. I really, really can’t stand the flavor or the smell of coffee. Unfortunately, there are quite a few benefits that I want to reap.

Let’s consider the word depression for a moment. A depression is an area that is pushed down. In the case of mental health, it is more than just a depressed mood, it is depression of a diverse range of features in life.

I personally feel a lot of depression as just being tired. It doesn’t matter how much I can sleep, I can’t go a day without feeling exhausted to a point of near collapse. So I really need to do something to stay awake all through class. I’m a good student, but sometimes my illness can almost drag me under during a lecture.

Medication exists, and I’ve been on some that tries to help, but i don’t like that way it feels. Lacking medically specific methods, I am turning to caffeine to get through my day.

Of course the titular coffee isn’t my only option for caffeine. But I want a source that balances health, convenience, and taste, in that order. Unfortunately, coffee seems to be the best balance of convenience and health.

Tea has caffeine. Tea is amazing. It tastes like happiness, and it is quite healthy. Most likely more healthy than coffee. Unfortunately, tea doesn’t have enough caffeine for my purposes, and it takes longer to steep good tea than it does to poor a cup of hot tea coffee, on top of which coffee is readily available pretty much anywhere you go.

Rivaling coffee in availability is caffeine rich sodas. There’s plenty of varieties wherever one goes. Thankfully USD is a Pepsi campus, and since that’s all garbage my situation is made it least a bit easier, but Coke (the Cola that is) can be more than a little troublesome.

Maybe it’s a family culture thing, but I really, really like the original cola. That little bit of acidity,  But I don’t think I need to go into how bad soda can be for a person. If you keep it simple, coffee is comparatively health.

Coffee is famous for having health evidence that can go either way for. Some studies show it’s good some say its bad, it really can go either way, but I don’t believe in alternative facts. I think there is one core truth, it might just be hard to determine, that’s why we have experts on the job.

For my money, or my health for that matter, the Mayo Clinic is a strong candidate, and they say that coffee is at worst a mild benefit, and could potentially be greatly helpful to the health of drinkers.

I still don’t like coffee. I’ve had at least three cups a week since the semester started and I’m still can’d stand that taste. But I stay awake as long as I want, so I’ll keep choking it down.

Before I go, here’s a quick fun story. Because of my schedule, I typically grab coffee right before my Russian class, and as a result, I drink coffee during Russian. I hate the taste, so I can’t help but make faces while I drink it, and often accidentally make my professor laugh as I gag to stay awake in class. That’s all, take it easy, and stay awake.

Time well wasted

I am a workaholic. I hate not having something to do, and I dread long school breaks because I feel so unproductive. I started learning a little bit of French over Christmas just to take up time. All I remember is je mange pomme de terre, and I’m not even sure if that is right. But I’ve found a problem, I overwork myself. I push too hard and then I’ll get dangerously close to having a minor breakdown, so I’ve had to teach myself a thing or two about self care in college. I’ve discovered that for myself some things work better for relaxation than others.

Strangely, I find I enjoy things more as they seem more like a waste of time, so there is a scale of things. I like listening to podcasts and books, but both of those feel at least a little like work, a little too much like I’m being productive and doing something to enrich my mind. Nightmarish I know, but only for situations when I don’t have too much stress, just a little unwinding.

One tier below that is TV and movies. It’s much more passive, and often a good deal more silly. Watching Rick and Morty can be more relaxing than reading a book about the history of NPR when I just want to sit back and relax.

When I’m really feeling the ole grindstone grate against my last nerve, nothing will do in the place of some stupid video games.

Of course there are plenty of intellectual video games with strong points to make (my personal favorite of these is Papers, Please) but I’m talking about games that are serious wastes of time. Maybe there’s a story, but that’s not the lure of a game like XCOM, Hearthstone, or Ultimate Chicken Horse.

Those are all great, but my personal favorite when I need a pick me up is Stardew Valley. There’s the incredible music, the simple gameplay, and a whole other list of things I can rattle off, but the whole experience together blends into a place I can just get lost, be happy, and grow some corn.

I’ve always liked games, but for most of my life, I could never allow myself to value them. With rare exceptions, they were basically complicated toys, not anything I could have an intelligent conversation about. Then I had a really great class last year called Humans and Technology where I really got to value a wide range of artistic mediums. And from there, I realized I don’t particularly care if they’re of any great value.

Stardew Valley is a truly wonderful game that helps make me happier when I am going through some hard times. It is an experience that helps me find happiness. If other people don’t value it, who cares. I want to do things that make me happy in my life.  If that means some good old fashioned play time with some pixelated cows, then so be it.

Post traumatic love

It’s hard to deal with mental problems. It’s harder to learn to live in a way that I can heal. Hardest of all is seeing how it affects the people I love.

There is more than one way in which I can feel guilty for this, I think the best people who can best exemplify this are my parents and my girlfriend.

As I’ve previously written, I’ve become increasingly independent recently but that’s not our of nowhere. I’ve always been painfully aware that I am the oldest child of 5. My parents never did anything to pressure or shame me in any way, but was always reminded that I had to set a strong example for my siblings.

No one ever told me I was at risk of being actively shamed, and like most young men I wanted nothing more than to make my dad proud, but I’ve had to find a somewhat unconventional way about it.

My dad is the kind of man America has long taken pride in. As a hard-working man in the construction industry, my personality as an anxious book worm was never wonderfully compatible. Meanwhile, my mom was the apple pie dream as the impossibly supportive woman every young person deserves to have. With a strong foundation, it wouldn’t make sense to have a son that is virtually. But I’m not.

I’m human. I make mistakes. I do the best I can. But everything that happens to me negatively, no matter how large or small, feels like I’m bringing shame to the family. As long as I do my best, they don’t care, but sometimes my best doesn’t feel like enough. I know what my best can be. My best wouldn’t cause me pain, and bring my parents stress. So, even if it is not my fault, I can’t tell them anything, even if they could help. And I know that hurts the people who love me. To find out that someone you love wouldn’t let you help them is almost worse than having something wrong with you. So I want to tell the people who care about me, but I don’t want to make anyone embarrassed to be associated with me, or else cause them pain.

That leads to my girlfriend. I love her. I lover her and I am so lucky to be in a committed relationship with here. I don’t actually like calling her my girlfriend because I feel like that doesn’t adequately express the strength of my feelings for her. I’m grateful for her love and support, but I need it from her for the worst reasons.

With my history, I can’t help but have some rough moments triggered. Trusting is hard. Vulnerability is scary. It isn’t easy to open up, but I really can’t help myself with her. She’s the reason I understand the term “falling in love.” It’s scary and fast and sudden and you can’t stop it, but I really don’t want to anyway.

There is so much for me to share with her, and sometimes I can’t control when it comes out. A simple text, a touch of the hand, or just a bit of post traumatic stress can break me to tears, or go off about the horrible things that have happened to me as an explanation of why I’m so messed up and hard to love.

But she sticks around. I may not be a smart man, but I know I’m lucky to be loved. Maybe that’s what’s really so wonderful about love. Deep down, we’re all scared and a feeling little bit unworthy. Regardless, we choose to love. We choose to care for each other. That’s kind of the most amazing thing I can think of.

So maybe I have some problems, and maybe I will make things hard or sad for the people I love and who love me. But that’s why we’re all stuck on this big mud ball.