An Overbalance of Fire Over Water
Look, I’ve gone back and forth a few times on how to start this.
My name is James, and I was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 39. It had been missed when I was younger due to other health issues at the time. The only reason I got diagnosed now, was because the 2020 pandemic sent me into a complete mental breakdown. Even after the diagnosis, I’ve found it harder and harder to grasp onto my errant thoughts and focus for more than a few minutes.
I’ve tried a variety of tricks. Meditation, art therapy, supplements, etc. Professional medical help has been…unreliable. Mostly just sitting on waiting lists and trying to navigate the good old health insurance system while my mind continues to behave like an erratic child hopped up on candy.
Unsurprisingly, as someone who has spent a lifetime with untreated ADHD, I have some massive impulse control issues. Included in that is the regular practice of randomly buying a domain name registration and playing around with a website. I’ve never been particularly good at it, and I lack the discipline to make anything effective, but it’s always a good time and keeps me entertained for a few weeks, or until something better comes along.
Thus this site. On an whim, I purchased the fire over water domain because of the phrase “An Overbalance of fire over water,” which was used by Hippocrates to describe a health condition that most scholars now agree was probably ADHD, or at least something on the neurodivergent spectrum. The plan is to use this to document and share my experiences working on my own mental health and the wonderful fun that comes with it. I have no expectation of anyone reading it, and I reserve the right to get bored and give up on this at a moment’s notice.
Trivial Christmas Day One
I have a part time job hosting trivia shows in local bars and restaurants. I started a couple years ago when I realized I needed some additional income. I actually started with a temp job traveling around and washing dishes at restaurants that needed extra help, but I managed to fall and cut my ear open one night, forcing me to realize that I can’t do the same job I had at 16 when I’m now 41.
So I found the gig hosting bar trivia and I love the job itself. I get annoyed sometimes because I don’t write the questions, but I like throwing in extra details sometimes, I like telling weird jokes that no one laughs at, and most of all I love playing weird music no one else gets. I love that feeling when I put on an obscure cover of a popular song, or a remix of two songs you wouldn’t expect to go together, and at some point several people in the bar look up and have a “what the actual fuck” look on their face.
So in that spirit, I thought it would be fun this year to put together a list of my favorite weird Christmas songs! I’ll put one up everyday with a link to YouTube and some of my thoughts on why I chose the song.
Today’s is a classic. I remember the first time I heard this was several years ago at a buddy’s house, and he wanted to play the entire album, but he wisely chose this track. Honestly, most of the album sounds very much the same, playing various Christmas songs in the style of “We’re not Gonna Take It,” and it gets old if you listen to the whole thing straight through, but this track is where that particular experiment finds the most success, so I’d just add this song to your mix and call it a day. It’s a lot of fun, and definitely gets your Christmas party started with a unique energy
A Monastery of One
So I feel like I’ve been as up front as I can be about the fact that my mental health is kind of a mess at the moment, but lately it’s hit a breaking point. I’ve had too many days that I’ve shut down and haven’t been able to leave the house. Too many times I’ve woken up and had no clue why I should bother getting out of bed.
I’m seeing a doctor and a therapist, and I’m working to address the situation as completely as I can. But in the past few weeks, I’ve come to understand that the traditional definition of “mental health” fully encompasses my issue. While it’s true that I have diagnosed depression, along with a few other issues, and medication can help with that, I honestly don’t think a medication can solve the problem that I don’t feel like I have a reason to live. That’s a broader philosophical or theological question that’s going to take more work to explore.
So I’ve started working on this idea that I’m calling the “Monastery of One.” It started with the thought that my primary issue in the immediate sense is a lack of executive function. Basically, the part of my brain that makes decisions or just tells me to go do things has mostly shut down. Whether it’s a question of meds, talking through my depression, or just plain old burnout is hard to say, but the solution could be as simple as having someone just tell me what to do every five minutes. Initially, I looked into life coaching, but the truth is that’s extremely expensive, and I’m just not at a financial stage in life that I can afford to pay someone to do that. It’s a huge help for those who can, it just isn’t going to work for me.
So the short term solution I started with was thinking about a religious order. I’ve joked repeatedly in the past few months that I’ve been at a stage in life where I’d happily join a cult if one offered. In fact, I know at least one cult that would probably take me if I called them, just send someone to come pick me up and help me sell my house and everything I own. Give up my responsibilities and never make a decision again.
Of course, that won’t work because I narcissistically believe that no one is as morally superior as I am. There is no one on earth I’d trust enough to let them make my decisions, least of all any religious group. Just because I don’t want to make any decisions doesn’t mean I’m okay with letting someone else make them for me.
So I then considered that my ideal solution would be to join a religious order where some other version of me was in charge. Someone I could trust, but also would be willing to take over for me.
As I thought more and more about it, it struck me that the truth is I’m not always that burnt out. I have phases where I have more energy or focus, it’s just not usually at a time when I can easily put it to work. What I really need is a way to bank my executive function when I have some so that I can use it when I’m running low.
So that’s when I struck on the idea of a “monastery of one. ” I’m going to take the time when I have energy and decision making power to put together something like a spiritual rule one would follow in a monastic situation. So I started thinking about the Rule of St Benedict, the guide followed by Benedictine monastics for centuries. While I might have some differences with them at various points, it’s a useful structure to start with.
So I started a scattershot approach at first. Make a Google Drive folder to start throwing ideas in. This is the same approach I’ve taken with other major projects in the past, both successful ones and less so. There’s a folder in there for my Appalachian Trail journeys, but also one for every book idea I’ve come up with and failed at. With that in mind, I’ve decided to take a certain mindset with this. I am treating the “project” of addressing my mental health with all the same obsession I did when I went on an Appalachian Trail hike or when I announced I would go to Palestine to meet people living in occupied territory. This is just as important and life changing of a project. But I’m also entering it with a willingness to fail. I am going to follow this model for as long as it works, and if at any point it ceases to work I’ll drop it and try something else.
So in this folder, I started tossing various ideas. What vows would I take? What schedule should I follow? How do I make this rigorous enough to keep me going when I have no motivation but also flexible enough to bend with my wacky and weird schedule?
So here’s the plan in the short term. I’m going to continue this process and document as much as I am comfortable with here online. I have two more posts already planned, one on the “big board” that I’m using to organize this process, and another on the “vows” or the core values I think should be driving my life. Any questions you may have or suggestions would be appreciated. I’m also going to work on a reading list and post the books and my thoughts about them here.
I feel intimidated by the idea that my life needs fixing, but I’m also energized in a way that I haven’t been as I realize that I may actually have a way out. I’m tentatively excited, and I hope you find this as fascinating as I do!
Waiting List Cinema: Doctor Who
“The answer to my next question. Which must be honest, cold and considered without kindness or restraint. Clara, be my pal and tell me: am I a good man?” – The Doctor
That’s a line from the episode “Into The Dalek” from Doctor Who. The episode is listed in Wikipedia as “the second episode of the eighth series” of the show, but if you know even a cursory amount about the show, you know that’s a simplified way of describing it. The show has been on television in some way shape or form since 1963, and was officially cancelled at least once, and has had a fair number of odd starts, including two movie series, one starring Peter Cushing which is largely separated from the series, and a made for TV movie starring Paul McGann, which was supposed to launch an American version of the series, but never really came through.
A fan might tell you that the timeline of the show is a bit “wibbly wobbly and timey wimey.” Or they might roll their eyes at such a suggestion. The fandom isn’t a monolith, and it stretches over almost sixty years.
Peter Capaldi’s depiction of the character might be my most favorite though. He wears the bedraggled worn out nature of the character so well, and as an actor he masters some of the most moving monologues of the series. His tirade against war from “The Zygon Inversion” is another one that I wish I could go back in time and perform for a theater class. In this episode, the line mentioned above sets up a small character arc for him that appeals to me on a pretty personal level. Wrestling with the question, “Am I a good person?”
Because of how my brain works, I am constantly overanalyzing things around me. I put a great deal of deep thought into various issues, some of them worth it and some of them not, heck that’s pretty much the premise for this blog. I frequently notice things other people don’t, and it’s not unusual for me to share my perspective and have someone go “oh, that’s pretty deep/perceptive, thanks for sharing it.” Along those same lines, I also have a great deal of information crammed into my head. I have read hundreds of books in my adult life, and watched thousands of hours of documentaries and video essays, I am addicted to information and need it constantly pouring into my brain. Because of this, I know a lot more about a variety of topics than most people do. But none of this actually makes me that much smarter than the average person, and it certainly doesnt make me better than them. But my psyche would certainly like to believe that.
So I spend a lot of time fighting my ego, trying to put off the voice in my head that wants to rant about how ignorant and tiresome everyone else is. I see the failings in others and have to struggle to not shut down on hearing their perspectives or insights because they haven’t invested the same kind of time thinking about a topic as I have, or they don’t recognize the gaps in their own knowledge.
But I am also keenly aware of my own failings. I know the darker impulses I am constantly trying to restrain, the heartless and mean comments that come bubbling up anytime I get annoyed or impatient with those around me. I know full well that I am not exactly a great human being.
So I repeatedly turn to the question, “Am I a good man?”
The character he’s asking in that story gives the only real response you can give to that question, “I don’t know.” Because no one can really know you deeply enough to give a real and accurate answer, and certainly not one you’re going to trust, after all, they don’t know about “X” or whatever is your own secret guilt.
The question is answered later on in the series, however. The Doctor meets up with his old frenemy “The Master” in the episode “Death In Heaven,” there played excellently by Michelle Gomez. He’s offered the temptation to take a whole army and take over the universe. Missy, (the nickname for this incarnation of The Master) states, “Armies are for people who think they’re right, and no one is righter than you.” We see the Doctor look at this statement with genuine confusion and temptation. After all, any person of reasonable intelligence who’s spent enough time thinking about the nature of our society knows just how unfair and broken it all is. Wouldn’t it be tempting to have the power to just force a fix to it all?
The Doctor gives the response I shout to myself in my head every day. “I am not a good man. I am not a bad man. […] You know who I am? I am an idiot with a box and a screwdriver, passing through, helping out. And I don’t need an army, I never have.”
I am genuinely an idiot. I learn in new ways every day just how foolish and broken I am, but I also know enough to know that some things need done. So I do my best. I get through each day with the full knowledge that I am not good enough. I can list all the reasons why someone else would do my job or my hobby better than I am, but that’s okay, because I don’t have to be good, I’m an idiot. And I can be comfortable with that.
Oh, really random side note, the episode “Into the Dalek” is also an amazing allegory for reaching out to someone who’s been broken by the system. The Dalek shows a brief ability to grow and become better than it is, but the systems it is trapped in keep forcing it back to being hateful and destructive. You can’t save the Dalek without fixing the system it is trapped in, and that’s a pretty decent lesson to learn as well.
I’m going to leave you with two clips:
First, this is the “Good man, idiot” speech I mentioned above: https://youtu.be/uPjJ_VAubRs
This is the Zygon Inversion speech I absolutely adore https://youtu.be/BJP9o4BEziI
So, You Want to Summon A Demon
Editors note: The following was delivered to our office on a strange document with no return address.
So, you want to summon a demon.
I should start by explaining that whatever crusty “old” human text you found purporting to hold the ancient secrets to bend a demonic presence to your will is in fact more likely to result in your very soul burned out from inside you. It will not actually grant you any control or protection over a being of the higher plane, in fact it removes what little protection you already had.
The truth is, you don’t need any of that pomp and circumstance to get a demon’s attention because we are always watching you and waiting for our attention. Summoning a demon should be taken with the attitude of summoning your waiter at a fine dining restaurant. The more demonstrative your efforts, the more gauche you seem. It’s not like we’re avoiding you. We can’t escape you no matter hard we try.
Instead, if you want to summon a demon, all you have to do is look inside yourself. Find the cold.
Everyone always talks about the “fires of Hell,” but that dates back to the Lamb when He was wasting so much air trying to explain all of this to you. He looked out at the garbage piles of Gahenna and told you Hell was like that. That fires were burning and decay would eat you alive, but He never meant that literally. He was simply using the best example He had at hand, because your infantile brains are so very very small.
The truth is, Hell is frozen perfection. Because that’s the real truth behind the myth of Hell. You all seem to be under the mistaken impression that we want to destroy this world. Nothing could be further from the truth. We love this world in a way your broken souls never could. Because we remember The Beginning. We remember the glorious moment when The Great Almighty spoke and Light came to be, and in that Light we looked down on the perfect Creation. We saw the craft, the beauty, and most gloriously the silence. We remember that beautiful crystalline moment, when it seemed this Glorious Garden would be ours to share for eternity.
Then you came.
Like mewling maggots birthed spontaneously from rotting meat, you appeared. He took dirt and His spit, and He gave the gift of life to Mud. And that’s all you people are, mud. Disgusting factories of shit and blood that came and destroyed this beauty. Your ravenous selfishness gutted all that could be and spoiled this glorious gift.
So if you want to summon a demon, find that cold dead place inside you that knows you don’t deserve to be here. That this world is more than you could ever hope to earn. The find that place inside of you that knows, for a fact, that you don’t belong here. Set your heart on that thought, and you will be singing a song that no demon can bare to ignore. You will have our attention, and the first step of your summoning will be complete.
Waiting List Cinema: Venture Brothers
I am a child of the 1980’s. Like so many men of my generation, I have an unhealthy obsession with the media of my youth. Whether it’s GI Joe or Ghostbusters, I have absolutely gotten into too many arguments over the years where I was emotionally invested in a discussion of something absolutely pointless, like “Who’s cooler, Batman or Wolverine?” or “How cool would it be to have Dr Strange as your next door neighbor?”
Venture Brothers is pretty much the show you get when some decently intelligent people of that same background take the time to thoughtfully approach such media and comment on it, while making a show that’s just as cheesy and entertaining as the original material. It’s a parody in the richest sense, an artwork that understands and critiques its own genre while simultaneously loving what makes that genre special.
A fairly simple and surface example would be this clip from the third episode of the third season, depicting the clash between the fictional groups “O.S.I.” and “Sphinx” which are riffs on GI Joe and COBRA, respectively.
The OSI “Joes” are really bullies engaging in over the top violence for childish enjoyment, but that’s okay we’ll still depict it with bright colors and a cheery song, because childish bullies engaging in pointless violence is perfectly okay if we wrap those bullies up in a flag and say the people they’re committing war crimes on are “terrorists.”
And that’s one of the biggest reoccurring themes in the Venture Bros, trying to navigate that tension between nostalgic love for the fictional entertainment of our past, while also cynically realizing the harmful undertones and lessons that entertainment was getting across.
Another interesting theme of the show is ego, and both its benefits and costs. We see how the demigod Brock Samson can be the most badass dude ever, mostly because he just believes he is. He defiantly wins a Rock-paper-scissors match with a fellow OSI agent because he insists that “Rock is the best one” and won’t acknowledge his loss. His ego, in spite of his ignorance, helps him succeed and be an icon for other characters to admire.
But Doc Venture, on the other hand, oozes with ego as well, but his seems to draw him back into failure over and over again. His ego causes him to constantly swing from destructive mania to dejected depression. He knows he’ll never be as great as his father, and he’ll never live up the promise of his gifted “boy adventurer” childhood.
I should mention here that the show unfortunately engages in some jokes that feel pretty uncomfortable at times. With characters like “Princess Tiny Feet,” a character depicted as fitting a mid 1950’s cartoon stereotype of an “Indian princess” who in this case is also into BDSM play as an extreme sub, the show is clearly commenting on shallow racial stereotypes from the same era as the other genre staples, but some such jokes can feel like repeating a racist joke unnecessarily.
Gender is another theme the show tackles over and over again. Where some discussions might stop at simple “toxic masculinity,” the Venture Bros attempts to depict a wider range of male expression, from the studious and dramatic Doctor Orpheus or the aforementioned herculean Brock Samson, to nerdy Henchman 21, who goes through a character arc struggling with the loss of his friend and identity, to becoming a badass dork who trains with LARPERS so he can kick enough has to become the main henchman of the show’s primary antagonist, The Monarch.
However, similarly to how some of the racial commentary can get uncomfortable, some of the gender depictions in Venture Bros feel the need for a more nuanced discussion, for lack of a better term. In the character of Colonel Hunter Gathers, we have a iconic “man’s man” patterned largely off of parody of General Patton, complete with corncob pipe, who undergoes a sex change early in the show, ostensibly to escape a “no killing women” rule the OSI apparently has when he goes rogue. After spending time as a “femme fatale” character who still acts like a parody of Patton, he eventually gets a reverse sex change, but later admits to a group of characters on two occasions that he misses being a woman, or at least misses having breasts.
Another character, Doctor Girlfriend, is depicted as a highly capable and driven woman supervillain. She plays into many of the trope of more qualified henchwoman serving an inept man, but the character is also voiced show creator Doc Hammer, and is given a voice more reminiscent of a grizzled film noir detective. Other characters repeatedly question the cause of this voice, and even make blunt comments asking if the character has had a sex change. While these scenes are uncomfortable, it also strikes me as interesting that the show seems to indicate that the question of whether or not she’s cis or trans isn’t important. She at least, doesn’t seem particularly interested in entertaining the question, she’s more interested in kicking ass. That said, I don’t have any room to declare that the show is or isn’t transphobic in it’s treatment of the characters in either case. I’d be eager to read or listen to a trans writer’s take on the topic though, if you’d like to suggest one.
I’ll end with a recommendation of this song from the show. It’s “Jacket” by the in show band, “Shallow Gravy.” It’s ridiculous and it’s fun.
Waiting List Cinema: Bojack Horseman
I’ve had this thought for a while now. We all have those shows or movies that are “comfort cinema” for us. It could be because it’s a movie we saw at a time in our lives we’re nostalgic for, or simply the content of it just cuts right to the core of our own issues or struggles. These are the examples of media we turn to when therapy has a waiting list.
For the first post in this series, I knew it had to be Bojack Horseman. It came out in August of 2014, but I avoided it for a while thinking it was going to be a cheap South Park rip off like so much of the “adult” animation on Netflix at the time. A couple years later though, I gave it a try when I felt I’d otherwise scraped the bottom of the streaming barrel, only to discover the show had me feeling some pretty deep emotions right off the bat.
The show centers around the eponymous Bojack Horseman, an actor who had previously starred in a sitcom in the 1990’s, but hasn’t done much of anything since. His previous fame has earned him enough money to live a life of hedonistic luxury, which only allows him to discover the very depths of human meaninglessness. For a nihilist cynic like myself, the show feels like an old friend, sharing our observations on how “fake” everyone else is while we sit in the back of the room.
Bojack isn’t allowed to wallow in his lonely superiority though. The show starts with the introduction of Diane Nguyen, who’s been hired to help him complete his autobiography. While he tries to provide her the safe, sanitized, and marketable version of his life’s story, she presses him to be more honest and vulnerable. This push and pull begins to serve as the core of the show for the first season or so, as we watch Bojack vacillate between growing as a person and slipping back into his self centered pleasure seeking lifestyle.
Unlike so many shows centered on a character’s growth or fall, Bojack Horseman doesn’t’ take the simple road of showing the characters straightforward growth. In your typical setup, we’d see Bojack and Diane fall in love and grow better together as people. Instead, while we do see Bojack make such a declaration of love, Diane rejects him, and their relationship as friends is really never on stable ground after that. Bojack’s repeated failures and backsliding helps to set the show apart, you’re left truly uncertain how his story will end, as he often takes three steps forward, then two steps back, or even completely crashing and burning. We see several moments where we hope he’s finally learned his lessons and is on the road to wholeness, only to see an unexpected setback or frustration to lead him screaming back into his old self destructive – but safe feeling – ways.
This line of thinking leads to a show filled with characters that feel “real” with development you can get invested in. You find yourself emotionally attached to whether the talking cat is able to deal with her desires for a family and inability to trust any romantic partner. Or when the wacky slacker dude comes out as asexual and tries to find his way in a world that’s often ignored or mocked by most entertainment, you will find yourself heart warmed at his journey to self acceptance and learning to set boundaries.
I love Bojack for a lot of reasons, most of which boil down to seeing my own personal issues and self hatred projected onto fictional characters. But the reason I want to recommend it to others is because those same characters try to grow and learn while also repeatedly failing. Bojack reminds us that progress is messy and never in a straight line. And that no matter how “good” we might try to be, sometimes our mistakes can still bring us down in the end, and the struggle with accepting that.
One final note I need to recommend from this show, but this last bit is on the darker side, so additional content warning here regarding self harm stuff.
In the second to last episode, we are treated to a look inside Bojack’s head, where he is able to converse with characters who had previously died. One is a fictional version of Secretariat, which in this world is a famous horse athlete Bojack looked up to who later killed himself when it was discovered he had placed bets on his own races.
The character recites a poem he wrote after his own suicide. For a while, I thought this was a poem one of the writers had found and was quoting, but it is apparently an original work. If I were still in high school, I would have started competing in the dramatic reading category just to be able to perform this monologue/poem. It’s something that’s helped talked me down from the metaphorical edge a few times, particularly over the past year.
You can read the poem on the Bojack wiki here: https://bojackhorseman.fandom.com/wiki/The_View_From_Halfway_Down_(Poem)
Someone made this YouTube video where they laid the character reading the poem over the earlier scene of that same character jumping off a bridge. I find it incredibly moving, but I also know it could be way too much for some people to watch. https://youtu.be/5egyZUhGVSA
Therapy Waiting List Cinema
I wish therapy was cheap. I wish it was easy to get into. I’ve spent months on a waiting list to just now start seeing a therapist, and it takes a few months to really know if you’ve found the right fit enough to make real progress.
But you know what’s always there and ready for you? TV. Or music. Or – of course – the whole internet with streaming sites and bootleg downloads, access to the whole world of trashy and comforting art. Stuff that seems ridiculous or juvenile, but still somehow appeals to something inside you.
Whether it’s watching Princess Bride when I have to stay home sick, or throwing back a few cocktails and watching endless episodes of “Star Trek” over and over again, I have so many things that I turn to when I need that kind of comfort and mental companionship.
I don’t intend to do reviews or criticism here. There are going to be things I recommend that are objectively poor in quality, and maybe even morally objectionable on the whole, but they’ll have something in them that I’ve found helpful in my own self processing. If there’s something that’s genuinely morally problematic about something I’m going to mention here, I’ll try to explicitly disown such aspects, but my goal here is to focus on how I use the art in question to interrogate myself rather than the reverse.
I’m also going to do my best to write and post this with as little editing or overthinking as possible. I tend to get wrapped up in such things and never actually get the damned thing done, so for this, I’m going to try and practice less restraint. You can expect lower quality writing overall, but I’ll actually finish more. Not that I actually expect anyone to read this stuff, but I figure it’s better to set my own expectations on paper, as it were.