Wednesday, May 30, 2012

On Daytripper, Death And The Choices We Make

Having recently acquired an iPad, I realized quickly the value of the device as a means of reading digital comic books, and seeing as I do enjoy them and have been hankering for a way to read them more efficiently (and with enhanced mobility), it turned out to be a lifesaver. I dove right in, picking up necessary reads such as Fables and Neil Gaiman's stellar Sandman. A close friend of mine, Marwan (a multi-talented artist, musician and comedian whom you should follow right now), told me to drop everything I was reading and pick up Daytripper instead.

I listened to him, and I'm very glad I did.

(Note: This might include spoilers for the comic.)

Daytripper Vol. 1

I really had no idea what to expect when I started reading it. The cover seemed imaginative and interesting, and the artwork and writing were stellar, to say the least. The main character, Bras, is introduced as an aspiring writer who's stuck writing obituaries for a newspaper. You learn a bit about him, his close friend, his wife, and his father...

...and then Bras dies.

Okay, so maybe now we're going to look back at his life or something. See how he got there. Right?

Those were my thoughts when I started the second volume, which I consumed dutifully, and again, Bras died. This time at a younger age.

What's going on here, exactly?

You see, Daytripper is a very interesting comic series; Bras's death comes at the end of every issue, at a different age, and by a different method. Each issue is usually concluded by a small obituary, a gentle send-off. But then, if you take a moment to think about it, you realize that you're looking at various snapshots of Bras's life, snapshots that shaped him into the person he became in the end; family visits, traveling around the world with his closest friend, recovering from a break-up, working on his book, his wife giving birth, and so on.

And, as you go through the books, you become infinitely curious; what's going to happen to him this time? So, if he hadn't done X, where would his life be right now? How is he going to die THIS time? They're all very legitimate questions, but in the end, you realize that you're looking at the choices he made through his life, and how each choice lead somewhere different and new, even if that different thing is a new death.

So, is life a game of possibilities? Are we just going through discrete points in time, where a simple action (or inaction) might lead to wildly varying outcomes? It's somewhat terrifying to think about; to see where your life was and where it is now, and to think that it could've been an entirely different thing. You could've become a lawyer! Or a dentist! Or you could've even died young! Maybe you could've married that nice girl across the street whom you never got the nerve to talk to! Or maybe you could've been run down by a car while you crossed that same exact street!

The possibilities are endless and dizzying, to say the least. But, then, you get to the 9th issue, and you come to a realization.

When you read these words, you're then left to ponder what you've been reading so far. Every issue cast a spotlight on a certain part of Bras's life, but it is the death in the end that makes it poignant, like dying right before confessing his love to a girl, or dying after having found the friend he'd been looking for for years. It is the biting edge of loss that makes you look back at what he's done, and wonder, and think.

This is then cemented in the very last chapter, in which - for a change - Bras knows that he's going to die. Bras refuses to seek to prolong his life, since he knows that he's lived a good life, and that he's enjoyed every little bit of it, and he's more than ready to go now. 

It is simple; the realization that sooner or later, life ends. You don't know how or when it will happen, so seek to live in whichever way you find favorable. So that at no point in time would you regret seeing it go. 

A good lesson. Thank you, Daytripper. Thanks, Marwan.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

On The Fickle Nature Of Happiness and...A Great Many Things, Really

Okay, so..

I've been debating writing this for a almost a week now, because I wasn't entirely sure whether I wanted to do so in the first place. At times, I thought that I needed to do so or risk my head exploding. Other times, I felt that it was completely unnecessary and a waste of time. I would be lying if I said that right now, I leaned towards one opinion or the other, but since I'm trying to regret as few things as possible, I decided to get this out there instead of wondering whether I should or not.

Last week has been a particularly stressful one; I'd been hurt pretty badly by a person quite close to me, and in the ensuing void created by that person's absence, I've been driven to wonder about a lot of things. Primarily, about the peculiarities of being happy. I am not afraid to admit that being around that person made me happy, and that for the first time in ages, that happiness seemed to be a dynamo that was urging me forward in other fields of life, fields that I did not seem so interested in before.

It was all going so incredibly well, until it ended.

Strangely (or perhaps not so strangely), when that encounter ended, I discovered that I had no desire whatsoever to pursue the things that only a few days before seemed quite approachable and exciting. I did not even have the desire to do the most basic of tasks at work, but realizing that work (quite truly) doesn't give a damn whether you feel like shit or not, I endeavored to undertake and finish those tasks. When the workday ended, all I could think of is how much I needed to be at home, to just lie down and sleep, and wake up to face another monotonous day at work.

I still do not have complete recollection of the entire week, and perhaps that's for the best.

One incident stands out; on the very next day to having ended the short-lived 'affair', so to speak, I woke up feeling not so bad. I was willing to face the day with a brighter disposition and it seemed like everything was going to be just fine. Why did that happen? While on the way to work, I came across a small family; just a father, a mother and their young daughter, taking the little girl to school. The father had a bicycle, upon which he had propped up the little girl, while the mother trailed behind them, carrying the (unquestionably overburdened) schoolbag. What drew my attention is that all three wore the brightest of smiles; it was a carefree expression, one that I hadn't seen in quite some time. It was at that point that I thought "Well, regardless of what their lives might be like, or what it might throw at them, these guys will pull through, they're going to be all right. I don't know them, but I know that they're going to be just fine."

(Sure, I succumbed back to depression a few hours later, but that's besides the point. Carry on.)

That got me thinking about the nature of one's happiness. You see, happiness is a very, very fickle thing. Maybe you base your happiness on being around people, or on possessing money or prestige, and that's not entirely wrong (well, at least with regards to friends, but who am I to judge?), but then when you lose such people (as is people's wont; no one sticks around forever. Another pricey lesson), or money or whatever, you're left with yourself, and most likely you won't be happy about it.

But, so what?

I do not want to turn this post into something along the lines of self-help or any of that crap, but the fact remains that greedy attachment is not the right way to approach happiness. Take me for example; I'm not happy at the moment, because of a great many things, but I do not pay much attention to that fact, because - again - happiness is a fickle, finicky thing. Perhaps the family I saw later had the worst day of their lives, but owing to that genuine smile on their face, I know that they'll spring right back up, because they won't dwell on the happiness lost. I think the lesson I've learned is that you take happiness whenever it comes around; you cherish it, enjoy it, and share it with others, but you do not take it for granted, and you do not think that it would last forever.

Because, at one point, you'll be left by your lonesome again, and you'll wonder where it all went wrong, and what you could've done to make it right. Sure, think about those things, and learn from them, but do not let them deprive you from appreciating the fact that you managed to feel truly happy..

..even if it was for just the few scant hours of a Tuesday morning.

Monday, May 7, 2012

On Scumbag Brains & Why The Mind Is The Worst Cage There Is

Wow, it's been some time since I posted anything, hasn't it? But why, one must wonder. Was it because I was too busy with many things? Nope. Was it because I had suddenly and spontaneously grown a life? Nope. Was it because my mind was empty and I didn't have anything to talk about? Hah, far from it! It was simple, run-of-the-mill 'I'm so lazy that I don't even feel like letting what percolates in my mind find its way into the ether.'. It is somewhat pathetic to think about now, so perhaps I should keep the pace up instead of finding myself addressing this again. I mean, one can only deal with so much embarrassment. (Though your mileage might vary with regards to that. I seem to be reminded daily that some people have no shame.)

So, why are we here today? Well, some of you might have heard of the infamous "Scumbag Brain" meme, which makes fun of the fact that the human brain can be quite the asshole at times; forgetting the important things you try to remember, remembering the useless stuff, keeping you up at night for no apparent reason, making you think that the monsters in the dark corner of your room do exist (they totally do, by the way. I had a stellar discussion with the young man with the slit throat. You'd think the fact that he had no vocal cords would be problematic, but...yeah, maybe I shouldn't get into that.) ..but yeah, generally, the brain does quite a few things that it should be ashamed of.

But then again, the brain does a bevy of other things that we are primarily responsible for. We tend to build the perfect cages in our minds, then step into them out of our volition, throw away the key, and then wonder why we can't stop thinking. It might be a shocker to some, but the brain's task is to think. Sure, you could argue that there's a bajillion (totally a number) different tasks that the brain does involuntarily, but when it comes to our own utilization, it really is all about thinking; important thoughts, mathematical thoughts, thoughts that should not be there in the first place, and many others. My point here is, the brain will not mind you using it to think, because there's no threshold on the sort of thoughts you should be entertaining. You won't attempt a thought and find a disembodied voice in your head saying 'No, thou shalt not think of this, because it will probably lead you nowhere and there is no point or reason for you to entertain it. Access denied.' (at least not yet, but I'm holding out for the future).

So, the brain allows you to think these thoughts, and with them you mold that beautiful cage that seems so appealing; the idea that entertaining such thoughts will lead you somewhere. You don't even know if it should lead you somewhere, but you think that the promise of clarity is preferable to the stark lack of knowledge. Perhaps we humans should've had precognition; it would have saved humanity a countless amount of thoughtful hours that really lead nowhere (and, you know, it would've been cool if we did have it.)

And thus, you end up in a vicious cycle; you want to think, your brain relishes being used, but the thoughts lead nowhere, and thus you think more, and more, etc. It's quite funny when you, okay, perhaps you shouldn't think about it. But, you see how hilarious it is, no?

You should break the cycle. The brain, a remarkable organ to be sure, has a finite number of thought threads that it can maintained without them becoming entangled and lost. So, distract it with other things, other threads to would keep it occupied and unable to pursue the vicious - and quite honestly obnoxious - endless strand of thought.

Because, really, believe me, it does nothing. Nothing at all.