* The Raconteur *

Greetings. My name is Kenrick. This is a space to put my thoughts — regardless of polish, topic, or timing — out into the world. It's me, in digitized text. Expect animals and alliteration, comics and cultural commentary, ad infinitum.

GamerGate: A Plague Ship in Need of Scuttling

Let’s get a few things clear up front: I’m a gamer, I’m male but genderqueer, and I’m a feminist. I’m not writing this to change minds. I am not taking the high road. (Although given the bar set by GamerGate loyalists, anything short of out-and-out harassment of the most vile and craven nature is going to seem positively lofty.)

No, I’m here just to state loudly and clearly that I condemn GamerGate and anyone who continues to support it. Yes, anyone. Even you, supposedly noble gamer who will insist ad in-fucking-finitum, that your hashtag crusade is about ethics in journalism.

It isn’t. It is not. Period. Full stop.

It ceased to be about anything except misogyny, harassment, vitriol, ignorance, tribalism, and the sociopathic ability of some gamers to disregard, utterly, the human dignity of those they see as threats the first time someone carrying this banner decided it would be good to try to ruin a person’s personal and professional life via a sustained campaign of threats.

“But we’re being painted with the same brush!” Yes, of course you are, you’re standing on the same goddamn canvas and refuse to move.

Earlier tonight, Felicia Day broke her silence about her feelings on GamerGate. It took less than an hour – less than an hour – for someone to post her physical address in the comments.

If you’re reading this, and you associate with GamerGate, I won’t even bother asking you to reconsider. If you’re still drinking from that well you evidently enjoy the taste of excrement. I’d rather give you a swift kick to the head, frankly.

But – and this is important – I won’t. Nor will I try to find out where any of you live so that someone with less of a compunction about causing harm to another human being can do it for me. I won’t even sit by if someone does it in my name or the game of the current reigning counter-hashtag, as I understand (and sadly believe) some already have.

Why? It’s called integrity.

The physical and emotional safety of your fellow human beings is paramount. There is no justification for associating with a group that has shown, repeatedly, that it is perfectly willing to harm others as a matter of course. Read that again, please. There is no justification.

You have had almost two months to come to your senses and extricate yourself from a boat with an increasingly dangerous and toxic payload. It no longer even matters whether you wanted to let plague-infested rats into your metaphorical vessel; they’re breeding in your cargo hold and the rest of the world has noticed. It’s way past time this ship was scuttled.

***

Like I said, I’m not here to change minds. I’m just here to add my voice to the growing – and overdue – cultural backlash against GamerGate.

If there’s anything this saga can teach us it’s that “don’t feed the trolls” is not (and never was) good advice. It puts the onus on decent people to indirectly manage the behavior of the worst elements of online culture. In any other arena this would seem patently absurd.

When people say and do horrible things, the worst thing we can do is remain silent. Let’s at least show the trolls and the people who abet them that we have no intention of putting up with their shit.

Book Review: The Strain squanders an excellent hook

the strain coverThis. This is why I hate the word “epic”. Especially when used in advertising patter for genre fiction, where its positive connotation is presumed to be about as strong as “delicious” is for cookbooks.

I’m talking about the Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan novel The Strain and its sequel The Fall. (These are the first two books of a trilogy; whether or not I read the third is very much up in the air.)

You may have heard about it because you are more into horror than I am, or perhaps the recently debuted FX series has brought it to your attention.

The hook—which is undeniably excellent—is a vampire plague for the modern age of pandemics and bioterrorism. It all starts with a single flight landing stillborn in New York. The CDC brings in is crack team, consisting in this instance of genius epidemiologist Ephraim and his cardboard cutout of a partner, Nora.

For the first two-thirds of the first book, The Strain trilogy is compulsively readable. It’s a slow-burn thriller that feels more like The Andromeda Strain than anything else. Vampire mythology is toyed with, as it should be, and doled out with care; the veneer of biology is kept carefully intact.

It’s hard to say when, exactly the scales finally tip. Probably as soon as The Master gets involved. The Master is exactly what he sounds like: a Big Bad vampire behind everything. (He is literally a giant, thanks to well-implemented riff on history and folklore.)

A disease is scary because it doesn’t have a plan. A virus is terrifying because it simply self-replicates. We’re collateral damage. It’s impassive. To wit: Werner Herzog should love viruses, they’re a perfect literary representative just how few fucks nature gives about humankind.

Unfortunately, Del Toro and Hogan apparently give just as few fucks about their science-sharpened hook and summarily drop it for an increasingly “epic” saga. The farther the infection spreads from that first plane, the more tenuous the connection to the novel’s best idea becomes, until it is completely subsumed by its own infection: epic bloat.

After some initial investigation, Ephraim doesn’t even get to begin looking for a cure. He doesn’t get to study the vampire pathogen. Van Helsing (basically) just shows up and Tells Them How It Is, and the ‘stubborn’ and ‘brilliant’ scientist says screw it and tosses aside his stethoscope for a silver sword. (His partner Nora, meanwhile, does essentially nothing.)

Much fighting and shedding of blood ensues.

By the end of the second book (SPOILERS!) the space station is falling out of the sky, the world is plunged into eternal night, and the original vampires are hinted at being somehow connected to nuclear explosions and an angel. There are vampires hunting vampires, psychic vampires, and Nazi vampires. Van Helsing makes his sacrifice, nuclear war erupts, and everything seems totally hopeless.

Of course.

At this point, the final novel can play out one of two ways for me: the authors  continues to their narrative over to the impulse to have Good Guys fighting Bad Guys and the Good Guys eventually pull out a win… Or the authors jump the tracks they’ve been laying for two books end whole thing on a downer just because. Neither would be particularly satisfying.

(Don’t get me wrong: I still enjoy watching Good win against Evil in Saturday Morning Cartoon fashion, but when I need a dose of tried-and-true wish-fulfillment fantasy I don’t need to slog through 1500 pages of apocalypse to get it.)

You’d think all of this insanity would make things interesting, but the stakes are so high now that they are exhausting not interesting. Why couldn’t we just have a novel about a vampire-virus outbreak in NYC?

This is to say nothing of prose that dips way too often into “How did this get past an editor?” territory. Ham-fisted attempts at literary metaphors abound. There are entire chapters wasted indulging an apparent need to reaffirm that these vampires are indeed scary by introducing us to someone we’ve never met just so they can die a terrible un-death.

All of this would be forgivable, I expect, if the books had at least kept their unique spark alive.

First rule of epidemiology: if a patient has been exposed to a pathogen and survives, their immune system will be primed to repel it. The authors choose an interesting strain—not entirely new but new enough—of vampire fiction but quickly abandon it for tropes most readers have encountered enough times to be immune to by now.

Bonus women-in-fiction rant: Nora, the protagonist’s partner and love interest, literally has nothing to do for the entire first book and in the second book is only given the job of Running Away With The Kid. This brings the total of female main characters with developed backstories and personalities to a whopping zero.

Just go read Richard Matheson’s I am Legend instead.
– K

Autumnal Musings

I love writing about nature, and I haven’t made a professional excuse to do so in some time. No more waiting. Below are two riffs (one silly, one passionate) on this, the season of change.

***

The Grey King

The Grey King, by Kenrick Vezina (that's me!)

The Grey King, by Kenrick Vezina (that’s me!)

He sits atop a plywood kingdom, shrouded on all sides but one by a tangle of branches and leaves. His throne is a pile of sunflower, safflower, and other seeds. Around him, slate-blue upstarts flutter, flashing tiny crests in agitation. They chirp to one another, a contingent of about half a dozen always in contact and always in motion, but he pays them no mind. (Why should he? They’re smaller than they look and they hardly look very big to begin with.) His only concern is in his tiny hands. One seed after another, plucked from the hoard and held to his mouth where it is systematically disassembled and devoured. The usurpers — newly banded together against the coming winter — stop to scold the king on occasion. But that is all they do, and even their scolds are weak. Surely he hears them, sees them, but he offer not so much as a twitch of his luxurious tail to the interlopers.

On another day, he might face more suitable challengers: the blue knaves great crests and a greater vocabulary of screeches, screams, and other sonic weaponry with which to drive the king away; a mass of brown peasants so numerous as to convince him to move on with their incessant pestering; there is even a gentle, peach-colored fellow who occasionally startles the king into retreat (by accident or intent, I do not know).

Indeed, on most days, The Grey King does not get to wear his crown. There are many other grey beasts vying for the same kingdom and it’s nutrient-rich treasures. To say nothing of the dark-haired colossus in worn-out clogs that sometimes comes stomping up to the kingdom in a terrible huff, sometimes bringing a fresh bounty to replenish the kingdom’s coffers.

This morning, though, the usurpers eventually lose interest and fly away in search of an easier meal. The colossus is at work. He reigns in peace.

***

The Fires of Fall

“Oh, it’s peak foliage season!” says the family I just made up, “We’d better go to the mountains this weekend or we’ll miss it!”

A day trip is planned, sensible snacks are gathered, and the minivan rolls out right on schedule to enjoy the quintessentially American experience of nature: a long drive through pretty scenery. They think — have been told, really, by constant updates on foliage conditions from local weatherman Rainn Rivers — that this day, this weekend, this tiny slice of time is their one chance to capture the particular natural magic of this changing season. They’re missing a crucial dimension. Without it, their perception is rendered flat, a JPG to be be shared on Facebook in an album full of pumpkin spice lattes, decorative gourds, boots and scarves (so, so many scarves).

To appreciate fall, one half of the pair of unique extended transitional seasons we receive as a reward for our membership in the upper-middle latitudes of New England, one needs time. A raging fire glimpsed for a moment is nothing but a flare, a flash of light and heat soon forgotten. The fires of fall are all the more dramatic, all the more captivating, if one watches them kindle and spread, engulf the landscape, and dwindle as the final flash of vibrancy gives way to first brown, then white.

A sampling of fall colors, via Superior Hiking/Flickr.

A sampling of fall colors, via Superior Hiking/Flickr. [Click for source link]

Some of the first things to go — or the first things be noticed by me, anyway — are the vines snaking up the trunks of trees. Their leaves burn red, and suddenly a symbiotic relationship is laid bare. That towering oak is an unwilling host for some Virginia creeper’s quest to reach the same sunny heights as its host without spending the energy to build a trunk of its own.

The first noticeable clusters of fire burn, ironically, around water. In marshes and swamps and the wet soil surrounding ponds, water-tolerant red maples grow. Their name is not a mistake. They catch easily and are often ablaze before other trees have even felt a lick of the flames. Driving down the highway, or wandering the trails in a park, there’s a brief window in fall where sources of water are tagged with big red flags.

It’s not long before the rest of the trees begin to catch. My dendrology is rusty, and I don’t have the chops to note when each individual species turns once the fires really begin to spread, incorporating sun-bright burst of gold and eventually browns and oranges to round out the full palette of this creeping combustion. Soon thereafter, “peak foliage” hits and no tree is spared, save the conifers who have and ever shall be green. A trip to the mountains is not only breathtakingly beautiful, but reveals the varied patterns of the two competing tree types in our transitional latitudes. The battle lines between the two are laid bare, and you can see that the conifers have the high ground but the deciduous trees are making a good effort. In some spots the two are interleaved almost perfectly, in others there are isolated stands of verdant resistance amid the fires and pockets of smoldering flames hemmed in by green. There’s a story here, one you and I may not be able to read, but one with deep roots in nature and history.

From where (and when) I write, our two big backyard sugar maples haven’t even begun to turn. A few large maples less than a block away are just beginning to ignite, their tips of their uppermost are candles in the the twilight hours. A mystery tree hovering over the back corner of our home has begin to drop mottled yellow-and-brown, banana-shaped leaves into our yard. My father complains, sweeps, complains again, sweeps again. It’s fall for sure, even if our particular weather man says peak foliage hasn’t quite hit eastern Massachusetts yet.

Too soon — always too soon — the winter will come.With it, change will settle into constancy; what is now dynamic will settle into a death-like trance.

Until then, I’m going to warm my heart and mind with the fires of fall until the last leaf gutters and winks out.

Dance with Depression: Interlude (With Artwork!)

So, it’s been 8 days since I left the hospital and 16 days since I was admitted. Feels like barely a day has gone by.

It’s also been several days since my last post, and I keep promising you more. Well, I’m nothing if not a man of my word (and words).

Dance With Depression: You didn’t think it was going to be that easy, did you?

Thing is, when you’ve spent almost four years slowly losing the will to livemthen suddenly find yourself infused with a clarity and urgency you’ve only heard about on kitschy and emotionally exploitative near-death experience specials your mother watches … you get surprisingly busy. There’s a lot of time to make up for. I’m technically ‘supposed’ to be in an aftercare program, basically a day-job for continued recovery, but my contacts at the hospital have yet to nail that down for me. My psychiatrist (whom I saw earlier today) suspects I may not even need it — I’m doing great! Frankly, the thought of having to go do that for several hours a day instead of all the job-hunting, flirting, working on myself, strengthening social and professional bonds, and writing I’ve been doing in the last week is a bit frustrating. I don’t want to have to put my shiny new life on hold just when it’s gaining momentum. I’m doing well, I’m in good hands, and I’m making progress every day — but it is work and it does eat up an awful lot of time and energy.

That’s enough about that for now. You’ve all been such good sports, reading and sharing Dance with Depression: Part I, that I want to show off an unexpected result of my hospital stay.

Art as Social Strategy

Turns out, time spent in a behavioral health unit can be prove a very good excuse to do a few sketches when you’ve been largely neglecting your art for a while. Not to mention drawing in public is one of my oldest tricks for getting people to come over and say “Oh that’s really good! Did you do that freehand??” Then I get to say “Shucks, yeah!” and start talking about comic books or dragons or just artwork in general. (Though sometimes I do want to say, “No, I bought Jack Kirby’s frozen hand on eBay and use it for all my art.”)

So here’s what I drew during my week of voluntary un-solitary confinement:

Hello Zephyr My Old Friend by Rickken on deviantART

Higher, Further, Faster, More Carol-er by Rickken on deviantART

You’re A Star, Carol by Rickken on deviantART

And the best Spider-Man I’ve ever managed — and I’ve been drawing ol’ Pete since I could hold a pencil:crouching_spider_hidden_____spider_man_by_rickken-d80i41i

Crouching Spider Hidden … Spider-Man by Rickken on deviantART

That’s all for today, folks. I hope you enjoy some of my doodles (there’s always my DeviantART page should you ever want to see more). As ever, any an all signal boosting is welcome.

With piss, vinegar, and marker-stained fingers,
– K

My Dance with Suicidal Depression, Part I: The Hospitalization

In the last week and a half, I’ve actually been using the phone part of my smartphone for hours a day. (Unheard of for a Millennial, obviously.)

This is because, on Wednesday of last week, I was deemed actively suicidal by my therapist. And I agreed. It’s official, there are papers.

I’ve been calling as many people as possible, to tell them as intimately as possible, the story of what happened. I’m not sure, as I write this, how much of the story we’ll get through today. But the message is too important to be limited by Verizon’s allocation of anytime minutes. It’s time to start, so buckle in.

The story starts Tuesday evening, last week. I’d been down for a long time. I spent the day mostly in bed with increasingly intrusive thoughts of self-harm that ranged from the darkly comic (I wish there was an atomic bomb nearby that I could just throw myself on top of before it went off) to the horribly real (I sure do have a lot of pills, what would happen if I took all of ‘em?). My parents tried to help. We entered a too-familiar back-and-forth:

“What do you want?”
“I want to be dead for a while.”
“What can we do? Want to go for a ride?”
“I want to be dead.” (Not how quickly the “for a while” gets dropped.)
“Want to go to the bookstore?”
“I TOLD YOU, I WANT TO BE DEAD!!!”

At this point I had gone from listless and distant to agitated. I was yelling at my mother, who was only trying to help but couldn’t hear what I was saying any more than I could say what — if anything — would help me. If you’re wondering, it’s not much more fun to say “I want to be dead” than it is to hear it. It hurts everyone involved. I was in the place of utter frustration that Allie Brosh captured so perfectly:

From “Depression Part Two” by Allie Brosh at Hyperbole and a Half. Go read it. Go read it now.

 

This wasn’t the first I’d felt this way. But it was always easy to tell that what I really wanted was an escape — from the waves of crippling anxiety, from the constant leeching of my life-force from depression, and most of all from a life I felt, at that point, had functionally ended. I was already dead, I was just waiting for my body to catch up. I certainly wasn’t Kenrick anymore, and I could hardly remember who he was.

(Hang in there, dear reader, it’s darkest before the dawn, I promise.)

***

That night, at some indeterminate point, sleep having abandoned me as surely as my self-worth and hope, I found myself in the kitchen in the dark. What hadn’t abandoned me was the pain. A heartbeat that, with each thump, signaled one more moment of pain stretched out across an infinity. I got scared. I got angry. Like a coyote with it’s leg in a trap, I was mad with the pain, ready to lash out at anyone or anything. But I’ve never been one to turn my anger outward, and sometimes coyotes will chew their own leg off to free themselves from the trap.

I don’t really have the dentition for that, so I took a paring knife and made some scratches along the outside and inside of my left arm. (Point of interest: I’m not a habitual cutter. It takes weeks of severe depression and anxiety and a really, really bad day to even give me the impulse, let alone override my impulse control. The first time I cut was in the last three years, and this was time four or five. It’s not something I was giving myself gold stars on the calendar for.)

What made this time different than the others though, was the same as what made those self-destructive thoughts earlier different so scary. There was a new, nasty edge. A not-so-little voice telling me if I’m going to sit here and just etch half-assed cat-scratches into my arm then why don’t you “man-up” and do some real damage.

It scared me, hearing that, feeling it. I didn’t listen, but I knew it was there now.

Let’s take a step back.

I’ve been afraid of suicide since I first got diagnosed with depression, about four years ago now. I know — how could you not? — that not everyone finds their way out the other side. Suicide is not nearly uncommon enough. Robin Williams’s death hit a deep chord in me; I was haunted by the resonance for days.

I was diagnosed while getting my master’s degree at MIT. Severe anxiety with a side of depression. I checked in with a therapist every week, a psychiatrist every few weeks, attacking my condition with medications and meditations on my experience alike. It helped, and I’ve never stopped getting consistent treatment since. So lest anyone think I was afraid to ask for help, or not taking advantage of the resources around me, know I ended up where I was despite almost 4 years of continuous treatment and an open, healthy relationship with my caretakers. Everything you’ve, they knew. (This is not to be read as “don’t bother with treatment” but as “sometimes even good treatment isn’t enough, and a more dramatic intervention is needed.)

So it was that once Wednesday rolled around, and I had a scheduled appointment with my therapist. I went in and unloaded. She said, very gently, that she thought the best next step would be hospitalization. I didn’t argue. If suicide or serious self-harm is a pit, I’d somehow stepped too close to the edge. I wasn’t planning a jump, I wasn’t standing with my toes over the edge … but the wrong breeze or a misplaced step might have been enough.

I no longer felt safe in my own skin.

The edge. And not of glory. (Via epSos .de/Flickr)

The edge. And not of glory. (Via epSos .de/Flickr)

***

Soon enough, the nice people in the ambulance came, and I didn’t fight. I chatted, even made jokes with them, as I began my first of many narratives about how, yes, I am in legitimate peril. I was a model patient, thanks to my … wait for it … patience. Though that was due as much to emotional shock as anything. I had to prove to what now seems an absurd number of people that, yup, I’m serious. You’d think that a signed piece of paper from a mental health professional would get you the express route into the psych ward, but nope. I told the EMTS, any number of nurses, the psychiatric gate-keeper for the floor I was trying to get admitted to — hell, even a guy from my health care provider had to drive over and sit down with me to put one more stamp of approval on my official “You Are A Danger to Yourself” card. I like to think if I just got one more they’d have given me my next admission free.

I left my therapist’s office sometime around 2:00 p.m., and by the time I was able to see a clock on the behavioral health unit it was well past 8:00 p.m. I immediately felt caged, nervous, alarmed. As soon as those doors closed — and LOCKED — everything became real.

After doing my best impression of a rabbit frozen in front of a fox for a few minutes, a nurse checked on me. Someone explained that everything was done for the day. This was my room number. I could take this to help me sleep. I took it. I laid down. And against all odds I did sleep, at least a little.

The next morning, I woke up. And I mean I woke up. I got up, got out of bed, and took some timid steps into the cafeteria for breakfast. I ate. I had some water. It was all very … normal, if a bit reminiscent of grade school with the abundance of juice cups and graham crackers. And those eggs. You know the eggs. They don’t exist anywhere except schools, hospitals, and maybe chef’s nightmares. I digress.

The thing is, I wasn’t in the trap anymore. I wasn’t in immediate pain. I didn’t — couldn’t — realize this right away. My coyote brain was still stumbling around and marveling at the fact that its leg worked, not quite able to conceive of a world that wasn’t comprised entirely agony and strife. Yet the fact remains: my world had changed dramatically.

As I continue to write posts on this topic, you’ll begin to understand, as I have, just how significant — if scary — the dramatic change of hospitalization can be for someone who has become a prisoner in their own mind.

***

P.S. As I said with my last post, please share this around as best you can. I’m not writing these just to process my own feelings, or to try to make friends and family cry. (Though I do get a kickback from Kleenex for every box you use.)

I’m writing this because I intend to succeed. And I want my struggles to be as visible as my eventual successes. Perhaps I can make other people feel a little safer, a little more willing to seek help. Perhaps I can make my own dent in the stigma surrounding mental illness.

The best way to head off the shadows of guilt and shame is to drown them in the light of honesty.

Coming at you with 13,650,000 lumens,
– Kenrick

Gender and The Heterogeneity of Human Experience (With Slam Poetry)

Created using Purple Sherbet Photography/Flickr. Click photo for original.

Created using Purple Sherbet Photography/Flickr. Click photo for original.

I’m bringing my blog back to life and kicking the tires a bit. No more preamble, let’s get to it:

I don’t line up perfectly with our society’s definition of “man” (understatement) — and it has caused me a great deal of turmoil throughout my life. Even now I contemplate changing my gender label on Facebook as a statement of rebellion against the toxic and repressive way our society defines maleness AND as a way of better reflecting who I really am.

To make a superhero analogy that might require you to look up some names: I’d be as excited, if not more so, to wake up one morning as Carol Danvers or Jennifer Walters as I would Peter Parker or Kurt Wagner.

So, in solidarity with bisexual visibility day, and as a complement on the gender-identity side of the gender/sexuality divide, I post this. And I share this guy’s moving and dead-on response to the tyranny of “man up” — tyranny not just against women but against everyone who doesn’t fit an absurdly narrow conception that mutes the incredible heterogeneity of human experience.

Now watch this. Listen. And imagine a life taking all that anger and frustration and turning it inward.

 

A final request: please, spread this around. Just being visible as ourselves and not the simplified constructs of our cultures is possibly the best way we can change that culture. And it would mean more to me than you know.

Oh, and you know what, I did change that label.

Sincerely and genderqueerly,
– Kenrick

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