File Under

I didn’t realize the metaphor until days later, when my therapist pointed it out to me.

Instead, I thought I was being unusually practical. Since moving into where I’m staying now, there were boxes of paperwork and files and the like that I’d simply left untouched, for many reasons: It seemed too daunting to open them up, because there was quite so much in there. It seemed daunting because a lot of my old life, my pre-divorce life, was in there, and I wasn’t ready to look. Or, simply, I had something else to do with my time. Until the other day, when that wasn’t the case anymore.

Instead, I had both the free time and the free brain space to think about opening everything up and resorting it; going through everything and putting it all in an order that made sense to me, discarding what I didn’t need, and basically trying to put it all back together so that I knew where everything was if and when I needed it.

Admittedly, I had no idea quite how far the paperwork went. I genuinely didn’t remember that I had paperwork from my art school days (The program to my degree show, which is more than two decades old now! My diploma!) or that there were forms and duplicates of forms from when I was trying to move to the U.S. for the first time. I was unpacking these boxes and making all these (re-)discoveries, and it was more than a little overwhelming: There was so much of it all.

And so, at some point, I found myself sitting on the floor, surrounded by piles of… well, everything, really. Things to keep, things to get rid of, things that I was going to put into a box, tape up and leave in the basement because I’m not ready just yet to make a decision about where it would go.

Days after I did this, spending an entire afternoon and feeling mentally and emotionally washed out afterwards, I explained the whole thing to my therapist, as I said above. She looked at me incredulously. “What?” I asked, confused.

“You… literally went through your past and put it all in order while deciding what you could get rid of, including putting things in a box in the basement because they’re too emotional to think about right now, and you don’t think that’s a little too on the nose?” she asked.

Well, sure. When you put it like that, I do. But until then, it had just been a Saturday afternoon where I felt oddly productive.

We’ve Got To Try

I’m having a very surreal and emotionally scattered weekend. For one thing, as I write — although this will be in the past as you read this, because of scheduling and choices I’ve made that make sense in the moment but likely won’t when this appears — I’m in Chicago, because I’m working Star Wars Celebration for THR. It’s a strange show, because, well, it’s literally a strange show for someone used to covering comic book conventions: It’s five days all based around one property, as opposed to four or so for an entire medium and multiple other related media. It’s exhaustive, sure, but also exhausting and arguably too much.

There’s a thing that normally happens to me at a long-running convention, you see. By “long-running,” I really mean, “more than two days.” It’s traditionally been at its worst with San Diego every year, in large part because that runs Wednesday through Sunday and is entirely immersive; it takes over my life for those days and the outside world ceases to exist. Now, factor in the fact that Star Wars Celebration is that length, but only about one subject. It’s as if the rest of the world has ceased to exist.

And yet, at the same time, at the back of my head, I’m hyper vigilant in a background radiation-type way of the fact that this weekend has also been the weekend where Eisner Award judges are meeting and deciding the nominees for this year’s awards.

It’s not just that I was a judge last year and feel nostalgia for the surreal process of the entire thing — although that too, yes — but also, I submitted THR’s Heat Vision for the Comics Journalism category this year and ever since I did so, awkwardly and apologetically because I can’t get over my anti-ego that easily, I’ve been unable to wait patiently to find out if we’ve made it to the nominee list or not.

I’m fully prepared to not make it — not only because, hey, maybe we weren’t that good, but also because I’ve been a judge and I know how wacky the process is; not making it to the list isn’t necessarily a sign of anything other than the process itself. That said, I am unreasonably excited by the prospect of being able to call myself an Eisner nominee, if it happens. More even that potentially winning, I think, I just want to be nominated. I want that far more than I expected, before I submitted.

So this weekend, I’m feeling disconnected from the real world, running around surrounded by Stormtroopers to a constant soundtrack of John Williams music, and dealing with ambition and a desire to be recognized for my efforts, all at once.

It’s a disorienting experience.

All I Used To Be Will Pass Away And Then You’ll See

There was a time, not so long ago now, where I believed firmly that I didn’t get to be happy, per se. I could have moments of happiness, sure, and events or circumstances could make me happy, but long term, sustainable happiness as a baseline was an impossibility.

This, I suspect, would shock a lot of people who know me. I am, after all, a mostly upbeat, optimistic person who seems happy almost all the time. People have commented on that to me, more than once; that I appeared to be happy and upbeat no matter what was going on around (and to) me. So, if that’s how I presented to the world, the idea that I didn’t think that I “got” to be happy feels like a significant disconnect.

And yet.

The trick was that I just didn’t believe in optimism for me. The rest of the world deserved the best, I wholeheartedly and fervently thought, but not me. It was this strange, inexplicable (Well, almost) idea that I was special because I alone was a failure, a bad person, someone who didn’t amount to anything worthwhile deep down. I know some reasons why I thought this, and they’re no longer present in my day-to-day life, but where this attitude came from originally remains a mystery. That part’s important; because I couldn’t explain it entirely, I decided on some level that it just had to be true on a cosmic level.

My therapist, whom I adore for numerous reasons not least of which being her bluntness, repeatedly talks about the session where I told her that perhaps I “deserved” to be happy as the breakthrough session, the one where everything changed. And that might be true; it definitely happened during a time where a lot of my assumptions were being questioned for a number of reasons, changing how I thought about myself and how I fit into the world.

What followed my saying that was a reassessment of my life and who I was and who I wanted to be. A reassessment of priorities and a rediscovery of the importance of kindness and vulnerability and actually feeling things — that part, I’m still working on — and all the messiness surrounding it. At one point, I asked my therapist, “Is this just a midlife crisis? Am I just being a cliche?” and she said, basically, it’s not and even if it was, midlife crises aren’t automatically invalid in and of themselves.

Now, I feel like I… am happy…? It’s not permanent or complete because, well, shit happens and moods change as a result. But I’m happier, and that feels like something, considering that felt completely impossible just months ago. My therapist describes me as being “more buoyant,” and then laughs at how ridiculous the phrase sounds. Another reason why I appreciate her.

Could Be Wrong, I Could Be Right

I don’t really get angry. Not historically, at least; bad things would happen to me, and I would simply suck it up, accept it as my lot and continue onwards a little bit more hurt, a little bit more grudgeful.

I’m not sure how that attitude got started, and I’ve spent countless therapy sessions trying, believe me. Was I trying not to be a bother to anyone as a kid? Maybe; I don’t remember being a particularly angry child, though, just one eager to be noticed and adored for being helpful and funny. (Not joking about the helpful thing, though — my childhood love of Power Man And Iron Fist comics inspired me to declare that I had started a business called “Helpers For Hire,” based on that series’ Heroes For Hire conceit.)

I wasn’t an especially angry teen, either. Teenage angst reared its head, of course, because I was a teenager and, worse, one beset with acne bad enough to place me on a drug trial for something that never made it to market. But that didn’t make me angry, just sad and lonely and withdrawn, retreating to comics and a small group of close friends despite whatever crushes and curiosities made me want to reach out further to the world at large.

As an adult, anger remained absent. Again, I’d get frustrated and sad and all these alternate emotions, but everything would turn inwards and become self-blame and self-shame. Why get mad at other people (things, events) when I could just get upset at myself and think that I probably deserved it, after all? Not that that was healthy or helpful, because it wasn’t, but such things were never in my head; I just assumed things were my fault on some cosmic level for mysterious reasons that might be the same as those that kept me from feeling anger. Like I said, there’s been a lot of therapy time spent investigating the roots of all of this, with no real conclusions yet.

(That I was sharing my life with someone who was equally happy to blame me when things went wrong or undermine my self-worth didn’t help, of course. But I didn’t realize that for a long time, either.)

I mention all of this because, as I write, I’ve had a particularly stressful week, and very little of it — if any — was my fault. In dealing with it, I’ve found myself getting angry for once and, even more shockingly, expressing that anger to both those responsible and loved ones (not directed towards the latter, thankfully). It’s been a freeing experience in some ways, an educational one in others. But, more than anything, it’s been exhausting. Anger may be, as John Lydon once swore, an en-err-gee, but it’s also something that saps energy, too.

Anger, perhaps, is a young person’s game. No wonder the children are the future.