What I’m up to Now for Summer 2021

I’m spending the summer trying out the Zettelkasten method How To Take Smart Notes: 10 Principles to Revolutionize Your Note-Taking and Writing indexing my notes. I’m not so interested in randomizing messages through a serial number—that just sounds like too much of a headache. Still, Tag Conventions, search, and Sedaris-y seasonality will probably do it for me. That way, I can compare notes. Really it’s so that I can create an index of my notebooks and my reading notes and marginalia to sort through and warm up.

Other than that, I’ll be submitting my memoir to agents and an excerpt to magazines and journals.

We’ll all be back to school in the fall, which means short posts perhaps daily and something new to the podcasting world, I believe. Still, you’ll have to subscribe to my newsletter to get a sneak preview of that.

Adventureman by Matt Fraction, Terry and Rachel Dodson, and Clayton Cowles.

I knew Matt Fraction had been working on this for a while with the Dodsons, but since he’s largely left the public internet and I completely missed this even came out. So when I saw the hardcover at my local comic book store, I was like: Wow, this came out?

It was, of course, a pleasant surprise. What I liked most about this was the size of the book. The hardcover, which you can’t tell here, is the size of a coffee table. It’s a coffee table book with widescreen pages that force you to look at all the fantastic Terry Dodson art.

Just look at the size of the pages. My favorite part of the series is the family dinners. The description of those pages recalls my family. We’re loud, constantly talking over each other, interrupting, and we’re all characters.

The other thing I kept gravitating to while thinking about the comics writers is how they’re like film directors. Morrison is kind of the modern equivalent of Stanley Kubrick; Fraction is like Tarantino because he loves to reference things from the past, Vaughan is like Spielberg because of his diverse interests and storytelling sensibilities are rooted in character. Paper Girls is very much an ETish story without budgetary constraints.

Adventureman is a fun callback to pulp adventure films and stories like Doc Savage, Flash Gordon, the Shadow, and Green Hornet mixed with a little bit of Lovecraft. It’s big and bombastic, and the pages reflect as such. Also, it’s not technically about a “man” it’s about a woman.

Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Matt Wilson and Jared K. Fletcher.

I started reading this book to my four-year-old because he saw that one of the trades featured dinosaurs, so of course, he wanted to read it. After reading the whole thing, I couldn’t help but try to figure out why Vaughan is my favorite comic book writer.

It’s simplicity. BKV never tries to do something that is structurally from left-field. It’s also character: these girls are tough, and fall in love, just like adults. He makes these five 12-year-old girls like adults. They swear every page, and they stand up to boys. Just check out these pages—you know that these girls are badasses.

From Paper Girls #1
Inside cover from Paper Girls volume 4

He’s a master of the page turn and cliffhanger. I don’t think there’s anyone better at a cliffhanger than him—that is his actual selling point—he forces you to get the next issue in a way that no other writer in comics does nearly as well. How does he do it? He roots the cliffhanger in character, not the shock factor of something happening off-panel. He always teases that shocking thing in the panel that forces you to turn the page or get to the next issue. Here’s one of my favorites:

That comes down to two things: he’s great with working with the artists he collaborates with (Cliff Chiang—in this case), and he’s excellent with character, revealed in emotion and dialogue. He is proving that what makes Brian K. Vaughan great is simplicity. Less is more in comics, and Vaughan is the best at it. He’s not trying to wow you with crazy ideas (though they are pretty out there, just look at some of the characters in SAGA), or complete panel, plot structure like Fraction and Morrison that can sometimes alienate readers. Here are some of my favorite pages from the series. Including an example of interaction at the end of the series that doubles as a character difference showing growth for Mac. She is a little more careful with her attitude, which frequently gets her into trouble throughout the series.

From Paper Girls #30

BKV also has a keen eye for what works in comics as a cousin to film, and Chiang just nails it. Also from the last issue:

Go read the whole series.

A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine

There’s a lot to unpack here about this book, but it’s been an absolute best thing about 2021 so far is William Irvine’s work on Stoicism, from his meditation series on Sam Harris’s Waking Up application to this book. It’s allowed me to construct a frame—or a comic book panel on every page of the last two years since my diagnosis and everything that has happened from the pandemic to my house that features three other people who need me to be well. It’s safe to say that I don’t know where I would be physically or mentally if it weren’t for Irvine’s work.

There are far too many lessons from this book that I cannot enumerate here and make it a reasonably sized blog post, but here are a few:

Negative Visualization

It is where you imagine something you like about your present circumstances and imagine if that something is gone. Specifically, this means your job, your house, your children, or your partner.

  1.  At PSC, I realized that was my dream job, and I let it go without a second thought: Irvine defines this as a hedonic adaptation, where we work hard to get something in college, get on the proper career path, then spend years making slow but steady progress toward our goal. So when I landed the dream job (PSC as a full-time instructor), I felt in control even though I was not. Grumbling about pay, coworkers, the institution, and the failure to recognize talents. I threw all of that away because I was overconfident (66-67).
  2. On hedonic adaptation, where we find ourselves living the life of our dreams, we start taking that life for granted. Then I spend time enjoying my good fortune and forming new, grander visions for myself. .. (72)
  3. It is not a rich person’s philosophy. People who have a pretty good life (me) can benefit from this philosophy and the poor. Those who are poor will prevent them from doing many things. It will not preclude them from negative visualization, like his Dream Life meditation in the Stoic Path app. (72)
  4. By helping my parents pack up the LP house as the last time, I would step in that house (84)

One of the biggest things that I took away from this book is the Dichotomy of Control, which is something that initially attracted me to Stoicism in the first place. After reading this book, though, I figured out that I have a saying that I’ve heard throughout my life growing up in the Adirondacks: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear, and bad attitudes.” This phrase encapsulates all of Stoicism for me, but especially the Dichotomy of Control. Irvine asserts that it is a trichotomy of control:

  • Things over which we have no control at all: whether it will rain tomorrow or “No such thing as bad weather….” Epictetus’s Advice: we should not concern ourselves with these things
  • We have some but not complete control: whether we win the job, get the publishing deal, etc. Advice: we should concern ourselves with these things, but we should be careful to internalize the goals we form regarding these things or “bad gear,” there is just “gear” and how you use it. You can prepare by getting in the right headspace, blocking social media, reading deeply, and revising the piece you’re working on–that’s all you have some control over.
  • Things over which you have complete control: your attitude, always. We should concern ourselves with these things.   

This helped me form my primary writing goal:

My primary writing duty is to take time every day to write 3 pages of personal essays, journaling, comics, or prose fiction and get it good enough to be submitted. No matter how many times you have to revise the piece but at minimum five times.

The rest is out of my control and not worth overly concerning myself.

Current Status for summer.

a cover job sketch of a pencil portrait of Whiteface Mountain

This time last year was, again, a moment of transition, and this year not so much. Employment has been suitable. It works with our schedule and our kids’ needs, and our personal needs.

Last week we were on vacation, like last year, but this time we decided to do a staycation which was maybe not our best idea with two young kids. Last year also had me reflecting quite a lot about what I was writing the memoir; since then, I’ve written a 40 + page proposal for the book—which was the worst. When I complained about it on Twitter, Brett Lewis tweeted at me about baking bread a year before you make the bread.

But at the same time, it was a period of mourning last year. I am glad that those days are behind me now, but they came roaring back last week in the form of dreams to a certain extent. I’ve been dreaming about Warren Ellis. This time last year also saw all the allegations come out about his grooming, harassment, and assault. At the time, none of the accusations were surprising—he’d always been playing a character that seemed to be okay with this sort of thing even though I didn’t think it was true. Like it was an inside joke, and due to not being great with social cues as a part of my Asperger’s Syndrome, I did not perceive that character as well as I should have been. I’m not trying to use my symptoms as an excuse, just that I have to work harder than most to not be so socially gullible.

Anyway, I was disappointed, and I’m still disappointed. I was so disappointed that I threw out all of Ellis’s work that was in my library. My reason? I have a daughter, and I could just not have him anywhere near her, even tangentially with his books. When he resurfaced last week, it was coincidental. I had been having dreams about him where I reasoned with him. We were at my favorite bar in my hometown—the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery, another place I’m mourning. About why I couldn’t let him in my house anymore, but that I wanted to not be disappointed by him. I want to give him another chance, forgive him, but only if justice had was served.

This doesn’t mean that I will repurchase his work because that’s unlikely. I haven’t bought Cameron Stewart, Brian Wood, Scott Allie, or countless others’ works anymore in years. Even if they are with artists like Grant Morrison, and Mike Mignola. Because men like Ellis and the above have had minimal professional repercussions due to this movement, look at Kevin Spacey, or Bryan Singer, or Joss Whedon. All of them I won’t support even though I previously respected and liked their work a lot.

Finally, I stand with So Many of Us. I’ll be watching because I hope Ellis will be the kind of man I thought he was—that many people thought he was—and not actually playing a character. That’s why I’m disappointed and hurt, especially for the women he hurt. I won’t let Ellis’s work in my house because I thought he was not actually playing a fictional character. Still, it turns out he wasn’t playing pretend. He was that character.

So that’s where I am at. Looking back in prospective retrospection and being grateful that period is behind me. This week, I’ll discuss the books I’ve replaced Ellis’s work with this past spring.

How to Think Like a Roman Emperor by Donald Robertson.

Reading hikes will be a new thing in the spring.

I came to this book, and Robertson’s work through Ryan Holiday’s The Daily Stoic and his many books on Stoic Philosophy. Both The Daily Stoic, this book, and the work of William B. Irvine (A Guide to the Good Life, Stoic Challenge) were essential in understanding my reasoned choice and what that looks like for my mind as an Aspergerian and ADDer, because Robertson is a cognitive behavioral therapist his book broke down the Stoic practices and how it links to the therapy I was receiving throughout the pandemic in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It’s what helped me make the reasoned choice that ultimately sacrificing my day job and my work for my family led to a deeper life of being at peace with my choices.

At the end of the chapters, I write down some of the key points to revisit later when I’m reviewing what I read for the week.

Look Me In The Eye by John Elder Robison

The brother of Augusten Burroughs (Running with Scissors), Robison’s book gives a detailed account of what it means to be “mild-mannered” in the sense that he blurts out non-sequitors, (I back track to comments in a conversation made five minutes ago when the conversation has moved on); avoid eye contact (all of my wedding photos show me not looking at the camera and up and off to the left or right); and a deep desire to go wonder off in the woods and read books alone or hold my breath underwater for more than a minute. My mother used to say to me when she picked me up from school that “They’re going to think you’re weird,” because I was talking to myself. I would respond with: “I’m rehearsing dialogue, and good.” I wanted to be left alone by the kids at Weston. To them, I was a nerd and a hick. Robison was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when he was 40, I was 38, so in many ways my book fits in between The Journal of Best Practices and this book in terms of timeline and emotional development.

Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin

I’ve been spending a lot of time working on the proposal for my memoir–about how comic books helped me through life with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome, ADD, anxiety, and depression. I thought talking about some of the comparable titles that have already been published would be a good way to introduce the topic.

This popular book and the subsequent movie adaptation is the autobiography of Temple Grandin, an animal scientist whose original thesis is that Autistic people are visual thinkers. This was an incredibly important work to me, as I had seen the movie starring Claire Danes before reading the book, and even before I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, I realized that visual thinkers—like the students I encountered at Paul Smith’s College—were not confident writers because they did not “think in words.” In the 2006 update, featured here, Grandin amends this, and my memoir is a natural extension of this book because it describes how I used comic books—a visual medium—to learn to write and help others do the same.

Here’s some marginalia: