June 3rd, 2013

Not long ago (in fact, within the hour) I received an invitation to a teaching seminar. I won’t be teaching anything, not in the traditional way, for at least a year, but the invitation is there along with the workshops my department recommends and mandates I attend.

My department.

I belong to it. I am part of it. After two years floundering in a sea of purposelessness, I somehow found my way into a thing that wanted to keep me. I’ve spent less than a day with these people, in these buildings, and yet already the possessive pronoun emerges.

I continue to struggle with the notion that I am shortly going to be walking past young people who respect me for my status and take for granted that I did something Important to earn it. I imagine myself standing in front of a lecture hall with an uncomfortable tie and chuckle at the thought of “if you could only see me as I was on June 3rd, 2013, wearing yesterday’s dirty white t-shirt, hair sticking out like one electrocuted, drinking ice cold coffee and hitting send on an email to my adviser admitting that I had no concept of what being a graduate student was really going to look like.”

The truth is that even from the dark and drafty confines of my parents’ basement I have found ways to inspire people younger and older through my words and my voice and my explanations. It confounds me that that’s possible, but they have assured me of it, and the best I can do is stumble forward in the hopes that I keep doing that, and learn how to do it more frequently and efficiently. Perhaps that’s what feels so good about the path I’m on: not that I’ve found a place that makes me feel important, but that I’ve been given an opportunity through that place to make a lot of other people feel important; not that I get to learn, but that I get to play a part in the learning of others.

I sometimes get sheepish when I explain to people that I’m going to be studying video games. I don’t know why that is. In my gut I hate the sheepishness but it remains nonetheless. I’m not apologetic, per se, but at the same time I feel like I’m expected to be. Yet video games are a synthesis of play and narrative, and it’s hard to say which is more ancient in the history of humanity. It seems that we have forever been telling stories and using play to help us do so. It’s in our blood. Something has driven us, as a culture, to this new way of doing something very old. The chance to pursue answers to that question — why games? — thrills me.

Sometime this week I will be registering for my first barrage of graduate level coursework. It sounds like I’ll be undertaking an independent study as well…hitting the ground running, as it were. And then next week, I will do as I do every summer: watch E3 with bated breath. Except this time my anticipation will not simply be that of one who plays games, but of one whose life is to be irrevocably tied to them, for better or worse.

Here’s hoping for the best.

Marvel NO: Redux…Two?

I have to admit, I’ve been extremely encouraged over the last couple weeks by the responses I’ve received from people on a variety of the things I’ve written. I never really know for sure where the line between “sobering observation” and “eye-rolling emo pity party” is, and I know I’ve danced on and over it before. So whenever I post something negative, and receive feedback from people which says, in effect “thank you for putting into words the things I’ve been feeling for a while,” it serves as a sort of justification that I’m not just moping for the sake of it in my own subjectively awful haze. Sometimes things actually do suck, and sometimes I identify them accurately. That’s pretty nifty.

On the other hand, it does make attempting a change of heart or finding a middle ground rather difficult, because people who stand by you and cheer you on for taking a difficult stance may feel betrayed if you ever take a less extreme stance down the road. Words like backpedaling and compromise become loaded with a stigma, which is unfortunate because it should be praiseworthy for a person to admit they went a little too far. The alternative is being goaded into a corner and making indefensible statements that you don’t even personally believe in, maybe never did.

I wrote “Uncanny Marvel NO.” in a fit of passion, incensed at the notion that…well, I think it’s fairly blatant what had angered me to anyone who read it. It served a purpose. It spoke my mind and it said a lot of things I consider very true. And because it was a response to someone else, it was timely, and I can’t know for sure what waiting a few days would have done to my clarity or my arguments.

Still, I do wish I’d gone back and read the previous “Marvel No” entry first.

Because I would have discovered a shocking parallel between the events that led to yesterday’s blog and the events that led to the Redux one. In both I noted the cyclical, abusive nature of my relationship with Marvel. But whereas Uncanny Marvel NO encapsulated my resolve not to let myself remain a victim no matter how much I want to keep reading Marvel books, Marvel NO: Redux encapsulated the weakness that follows the declaration, and the very crawling back I called inevitable in Uncanny. It encapsulates precisely how I feel today, seeing people talk about how fantastic today’s new issue of All-New X-Men is, being reminded that that awesome all-female X-Men book comes out in a few weeks, and wanting almost desperately to just say “screw it” and go ahead and end my little “boycott” before I’ve even begun.

I’m actually a bit terrified at my own self-awareness. I wrote this the first week of January, but I may as well have written it this morning:

Here I am, having teetered on the edge of actual — that is, clinical (and I know the signs, because I’ve been there before) — depression because of what Marvel is doing. I’ve had, comparatively, the highest-profile split I could have. And yet rather than saying “good riddance” and moving along, I find myself actually wishing I’d said nothing, glancing through the proverbial store window at the latest Spider-Man or Deadpool stories, and knowing deep down that I’ve already given up. Everything I said last week was true, and that’s not enough to keep me caring.

So what, right? This is no great moral victory or loss. I think we can all roll our eyes a bit and say, “well, that just happened,” and then a month from now I’ll be talking about this great thing Chris Yost is doing in Scarlet Spider, and none of us will think twice about it.

Yes. This is precisely how I feel. “Everything I said…was true, and that’s not enough to keep me caring.”

No one was watching when I wrote those words in January. A lot more people were watching yesterday. Many of them voiced their support and solidarity.

And as I sat there today, wanting to renege, I started to ask myself some questions. “No great moral victory or loss,” I said in January. As I mull it over, I ask myself: so if, after all this ranting and discussion, I were to just give up right now and continue reading Marvel comics as if nothing had happened, what exactly would that mean? Would it make me a hypocrite? Or is there a line between hypocrisy and a changed mind? Or has my mind not changed at all, just my resolve — and if that’s the case, is weakness the same as hypocrisy if it entails not being able to follow through with what you planned to?

Furthermore, whom would I be letting down? Myself? The people who stood up for me and agreed with me? Both? Neither? And if I’m hurting myself, why is it that I don’t care nearly as much about that as I do about looking like a liar? If people supported me because they wanted to see me do what made me happy, then wouldn’t they support me regardless of my decision? Or was my abuse parallel so shockingly accurate that I only think reneging will make me happy, but in fact I really am setting myself up to be abused for years to come?

This seems so ridiculously unimportant because it is, at the end of the day, a matter of whether some random guy living in a suburb decides to buy a couple comic books or not. This isn’t the same as domestic abuse. But from a psychological perspective I can’t help but wonder how different it actually is. Confronted with the reality of my situation and the duplicity of my desires, it’s still taken everything in me today not to give in. I’ve even spent some time trying to reinforce my decision by making it clear in various contexts that Marvel is no longer in the picture for me. But tonight, sitting here, I wonder if that was all just a hideous case of denial, and before I knew it I was looking through Facebook pictures of my ex through rose-tinted glasses. Maybe it’s because of that tint that I can’t see the bruises that are still on my arms from yesterday’s fight.

I’m at the point where I legitimately don’t know if I want resolve to go through with my boycott or an okay to surrender and run backwards on my own word. The only thing scarier than that reality is the fact that my acute awareness of it doesn’t make it any less of a reality. And suddenly I realize that an abuse victim isn’t a victim because they don’t know they’re being abused, but because they don’t have the strength to get out of the situation. Recognizing that kind of weakness is hard, and it’s a vulnerability — particularly because it involves the tractability of my word — which is honestly very difficult to own up to.

The excuses I made for myself a few months ago still sound incredibly attractive, maybe even flat-out true. Acknowledging the ultimate futility of one person boycotting a company as large as Marvel, I suggested pursuing creators whom I respected regardless of the books they were writing or the companies they were working for. One easily produces a ridiculous hypothetical situation for making that sound easy: if my best friend were to start writing X-Men, would I really refuse to read it because it was a Marvel property?

That’s not going to happen, but the principle remains intact: supporting the person who’s producing the work and trying to remain blind to the entity which ultimately has the power to make them stop or change what they’re working on with impunity.

So I return to the spirit of the protest. With Arena it was to try to pressure Marvel into changing its course. But this is more like an addict trying to wean himself off of a life-controlling substance. The thing itself may not be innately harmful, but overexposure or dependence definitely is. So if my boycott isn’t a moral one so much as an endeavor to protect myself from harm I could have avoided by not growing too attached, then it would not be unreasonable to permit myself “safe” stories — contained arcs, for example, or maybe even stories with characters who are already dead and thus I don’t have to worry about them being ruined just after I’ve come to love them.

Or if I could simply cauterize my emotional connection a bit — get myself to the point where I, like the many who have either ridiculed or simply been disappointed by me, could appreciate a story without caring so much when things went badly. In the abusive relationship analogy, it’s a matter of either walking out, or (if I am capable) refusing to let myself be a victim — asserting myself, becoming stronger, and not letting Marvel have all the power over how I feel at any given time. If I can stay happy in spite of the bad, or stay angry (when it’s useful) in spite of the good, then a life-long cold turkey diet is hardly necessary. I don’t know. I really don’t.

I know most people don’t care but out in deference to those who did speak up on my behalf I feel compelled to let people in on my (long-winded and scattered) thought processes and at least acknowledge that I feel more conflicted about it than my original words might have let on. And I guess to some extent it’s also a cry for help, a petition for advice. I have no way of knowing just how much stock anyone out there put in what I said. Maybe no one really cares. But I’d hate to look like a turncoat to someone who just got really excited to finally have someone fighting on their side. And I’d hate to make a decision which ultimately allows me to get more hurt down the road, and look back, and know that I could have prevented it.

I said yesterday that this was probably my last chance, and that if I got over it “Marvel would own me for life.” So I guess the question is, was I right? Is it possible for me to assert myself here and maintain some form of relationship? Or will I doom myself to submission by lessening the hardline nature of my originally-proposed stance?

I’m serious. I honestly do not know.