A New Year’s Self-Reflection: Three Things About Myself That I’d Like To Change in 2018

I’m pretty sure it’s required by law that any article on self-reflection requires a picture of a mirror at this point.
Source: Her Campus

Now that we’re well into 2018, I, like many people, am taking the time to look back at myself and my actions and attempt to do some self-improvement.

Of course, most people focus on the purely physical – exercising more, eating well, quitting smoking, etc. I don’t hear a whole lot about people resolving to fix perceived emotional or personality flaws. Which is why I’m identifying three things about my personality that I want to improve or completely fix by this time next year. Let’s start with what I feel is my biggest problem…

I’m too nice for my own good

I admit that I have a habit of letting people push me around and use me as a tool to get their work done. Honestly, I don’t mind helping and I actually enjoy it most days.

But the key word there is HELP. As in, to render assistance and aid to another. NOT, as many seem to think, shoulder the responsibility by my lonesome.

Let me put this in context; When I’m not writing every week (a strenuous mental practice as is), I work a 40-hour-a-week overnight job as a custodian at a highway rest stop. I care for both sides of the highway, do a lot of heavy lifting and cover 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) on foot nightly (thanks for the info, Fitbit). What’s more, I often forgo breaks just so I have enough time to get everything done right and the third shift schedule that works me on weekends keeps me from being with the people I care about.

Long story short, I am a very tired, extremely stressed out man who doesn’t have the time or energy to do all of your bull**** for you.

The good news is that I am getting better in this regard and calling out lazy people that just want me to work for them with no recompense. Like I said, I WANT to help; You just need to meet me halfway.

I don’t trust people who smile a lot

I’d like to think I’m not some miserable guy who harbors resentment against happy people. But, when I think about the state of the world, I often find myself thinking, “you can’t be THAT happy in THIS state and be a healthy, functioning human.”

Obviously, that’s not true and on a practical level, I know that. But when I see someone who seems to have a permanent ear-to-ear, Chesire Cat grin on their face, my first instinct is to assume that they A) have some kind of ulterior motive or B) have never had a real problem in their lives and completely devoid of critical thought.

See, I’m one of those people who wears his emotions on his sleeve. I don’t like to smile or laugh unless it’s something REALLY worth being happy about because my mind to busy being flood by other, more important thoughts. Call it the “Daria Morgendorffer school” of thought.

Basically, I need to teach myself that there is stuff worth being happy about and force myself to see it and let myself enjoy it once in a while. In the meantime, I’ll be content with kicking Markiplier’s ass in those Try Not To Laugh challenges of his (Note to self: using sarcasm self-deprecating humor to mask my joyless nature probably isn’t healthy either).

I overwhelm myself far too easily

If I’m being honest with myself, I have a quite the knack for both taking on multiple large projects and not being happy until I’ve finely detailed them to nigh perfection.

Now, some would argue that over-ambitiousness and perfectionism are admirable problems to have. But that doesn’t change the fact that they ARE problems. I stress myself out until I need to quit because I work something until I break (If you’ve been following for a while, you’ve seen me take stress leave on this blog quite a few times). I also put off doing some things because they aren’t EXACTLY like I want them to be (THAT would be the main reason why I haven’t started doing videos like I wanted to).

I need to force myself to only take things one-at-a-time and accept that some of them won’t be perfect immediately.

What I’m trying to say is that I want to cut down on the downtime this year and really push to get part of my evergrowing to-do list off the ground.

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The Agent On ‘Toxic Fandoms’ and How to Keep a Community Positive

I can no longer stand idly by while everything I love is being destroyed!
Source: Amino

So, over the last month, I had to come to terms with a very sad truth – many of the things I love have terrible people that love them too.

It’s one of those facts that you know in your sub-conscious mind; the law of averages just ensures that at least a few undesirables make their way into the flock. But you really don’t think about it until a clutch of them jump out of the woodwork to make you and everyone else look bad.

Over the last month though, I’ve seen a rise in discussions on so-called ‘Toxic Fandoms’ and I won’t lie – it’s actually a little frustrating. So, I just want to give a quick step-by-step guide to how to deal with unsavory elements in the world of entertainment media fans in hopes of quelling the outrage and (admittedly) leveling some criticism on fandoms I consider myself a part of.

Step one: Make sure YOU aren’t part of the problem

I feel a lot of issues could be resolved if more people took a critical eye to themselves. It seems most people aren’t even aware that they might be helping to perpetuate a lot of the negative stereotypes around a fanbase.

Take my beloved Steven Universe for example. You’d think I show that is LITERALLY about love, acceptance and friendship would spawn and attract large scores of similar people – people who believe in respecting the diverse nature of the world and recognizing the value in differing visions and opinions. And for the most part, you would be right…

… Until you get to the kind of  s***lords that go on witch hunts for people they feel aren’t being PC enough and bullied a fan artist until she nearly attempted suicide.

Now, you may not be THAT terrible; in fact, I’m willing to bet most of you probably aren’t. But, are you the sort of person with a knee-jerk reaction perceived bigotry without questioning the context first? Well then, you may be perpetuating the stereotype without even knowing it.

Take some time to reflect on the ‘toxic’ aspects of your fandom, see where you and they are similar and take steps to put distance between the two of you. Not only will this help you identify the problem, but you will better yourself in the process.

Step two: Recognize them as the minority

Let’s state the obvious here because it seems surprisingly easy to forget; these a-holes that are making it hard to enjoy nice things are the exception, not the standard.

If these fandoms – massive as they are – really were full-to-bursting with these kinds of anti-social numbnuts, there would be absolute chaos. In fact, these fanbases likely wouldn’t get as big as they are if people thought there was a legitimate threat.

It’s important to remember that the majority of fans aren’t insufferable douchebags, but normal folks like you and me. Painting the whole fandom with a wide brush like that throws a lot of decent people under the bus that could help you regain the peace.

So remember, they are the minority – a vocal minority just large enough to screw things up for the rest of us, but a minority none the less.

Step three: Ask yourself, “How bad are they, really?”

The old saying goes that, “You need to choose your battles.” So ask yourself honestly, how many ‘toxic fandoms’ are ACTUALLY a problem and not just super annoying?

Are just creepy and weird folks that can be easily ignored like the Cuphead fan artists that draw Rule 34 incest slash art? Or are they legitimately socially disruptive like the Rick and Morty fans that made life miserable for underpaid McDonald’s employees?

If you’re going to start policing fandoms, you need to understand that there’s a line and not all ‘toxic fans’ cross it. Focus your energy on actual problems instead of minor grievances.

Step four: Deny the problem people entry

When you get down to it, fandom is a club. It’s a place where like-minded people can gather to converse with one another and network in a civil manner.

And like any club, occasionally, the bouncer needs to tell a few slimy-looking creeps that they aren’t on the list.

The biggest insult you can lay on a ‘toxic fan’ is the shame of knowing that the rest of the fandom has rejected you – that you so obviously missed the point of your fandom, that they refuse to let you associate them. That’s why I’ve been using the sarcastic air quotes whenever I use the term ‘toxic fandom’ or toxic fan.’ There are no ‘toxic fans.’ There are just people that miss the point of the story or art and make a mockery of real fans through their inexcusable behavior.

If you bully people for not acquiescing to your worldview, you aren’t a ‘toxic Steven Universe fan’ – you’re a narrow-minded jackass so concerned with the cosmetic aspects of bigotry that you fail to see it within yourself.

If you think it’s cool to get belligerent with a clerk because they don’t have what you want, you aren’t a ‘toxic Rick and Morty fan’ – you’re a self-important, entitled brat that thinks the world owes you something just for existing.

So if you see someone claiming to be a fan of something – even if it’s something you don’t particularly care for – acting out in a disgusting manner, don’t be afraid to call them out on their poor behavior. Don’t bully them into submission, but make it clear that they aren’t welcome here and don’t deserve to associate with you until they shape up and start acting like an adult. Remember, there are no ‘toxic fandoms’ – only terrible, ill-tempered, and reprehensible human beings that the world can do without.

Three Legendary Monsters That Deserve Their Own Major Horror Movies

So, with Halloween nearly upon us, I find myself thinking about some of the great monsters of Horror cinema; from the all-destroying titans of Japanese Kaiju films to the mind-bending terror of Lovecraftian inspired shoggoths like in John Carpenter’s The Thing.

Still, I can’t help feeling that, with the wellspring of folklore and mythology we’ve built up around the world over the years, we have a lot of missed opportunities.

Now to be clear, I’m aware that there are some smaller horror movies (and non-horror movies) made about some these guys and I will try to touch on those that I’m familiar with where applicable, but that’s not what I’m talking about as a whole. I want to see these guys have big, successful, and legitimately AWESOME movies about the giant swaths of blood, death, devastation, and fear they tear through wherever they travel. Because let’s be honest, you kinda want to see a big budget, special effects gore-fest about…

The Manticore

It isn’t often you see a mythological creature you could buy as an apex predator.
Source: Villians Wiki

With a human face, a lion’s body, a tail of poisonous thorns, and a mouthful of dagger-like teeth, the Manticore – derived from early Persian meaning ‘man-eater’ – is exactly what one might think of when you think of a creature built only for the hunt; combining some of the deadliest natural weapons with a cruel intellect that surpasses most people.

Now, I’m aware that the Manticore was featured in Percy Jackson and The Olympians (A.K.A. discount Greek mythology Harry Potter) but there, he was more of a brutish pet than the cunning predator that legend built him up to be.

My personal take on the Manticore would be more of a Cheshire Cat-like villain (imagine the smile on that beast) who, like most cats, enjoys playing with and tormenting his prey. You could have him set up his victims in an elaborate hunting ground full of puzzles and riddles ending in death traps (alluding to his possible inspiration from the Egyptian Sphinx) in a mythological take on the Saw franchise.

Failing that, you could just make a campy Horror Comedy and get Ninja Sex Party to do the theme song for you.

The Wendigo

There’s something about crimson red on pale white that’s naturally unsettling.
Source: Ancient Origins

Probably among my favorite of North American folklore creatures, many native tribes of the northern U.S. and Canada speak of a violent spirit that would stalk and possess humans during the winter when the threat of starvation and famine loomed. Those possessed would become a Wendigo – an insatiable, cannibalistic monster overpowered by the need to feed on human flesh. Its endless state of starving pain leaves it with a gaunt, wiry frame that gives it a ghoulish appearance.

There have been attempts to make the Wendigo mainstream – most notably the Marvel comics interpretation and their appearance in the game Until Dawn. But I feel the best use of a creature such as this would be to place our heroes in an isolated area with no escape (easy to do given the Wendigo’s association to winter weather) and build tension among them by leaving them accusing each other of being a Wendigo while finding a way to fend of the spirit that continues to possess them one by one and flee back to civilization.

The Jersey Devil

How do you come up with something that can be described as ‘demonic horse-headed velociraptor?’
Source: Weird NJ

Up to now, the creatures I’ve described have been from ancient mythology and folklore. But this one may have been the first MODERN folk monster I’ve ever heard of.

The Jersey Devil, named for its native home of Pine Barrens in southern New Jersey, is one of the most unsettling creatures I could imagine. In addition to its unearthly appearance looking like a bipedal goat-like demon with large wings, horns, and a forked tail, it’s also known for it’s blinding speed and a “blood-curdling scream” that I can only imagine sounds like the Witch King from Lord of the Rings.

Ever since I saw this guy in The Wolf Among Us, I’ve wanted a proper horror interpretation for this generation of horror fans. I’ve said in the past that the secret of good Horror is to capture a basic human insecurity or fear common with the modern zeitgeist and make a monster based around it. And I think Jersey captures a fear we don’t often see – the anxiety of parenthood.

See, the oldest tale of the Jersey Devil cites him as the thirteenth child of a woman named Deborah Leeds in 1735. She cursed him in her frustration after birthing so many children. When he was born, he butchered the midwife immediately before racing up the chimney and – according to some stories – began slaughtering the children in the area.

Rework that myth a bit so that the unborn child could sense his mother’s aggression towards him and, fearing for his life, made a Faustian bargain to gain the beastly strength to defend himself and take vengeance on all unloving parents by murdering their children and you have the makings of some great nightmares on screen.

The Agent on Diets and Calorie Counting (or “A Case For Body Positivity”)

It’s not a good sign when you identify with the people in photos of a study on starvation.
Source: BBC News

I’ve made it no secret that I am deeply in favor of the notion body positivity. I believe that a person has the right to be happy in the flesh they’re in without feeling like they have to remold themselves to appease others. And if they DO remold themselves, it should be of their own volition – because they want to see themselves become their own ideal; not the ideal of others.

Unfortunately, there’s always been one aspect of body positivity that I’ve always failed at and struggled with – namely, applying it to myself.

You know the old saying by now; “You are your own worst critic.” And quite frankly, I’ve always been guilty of harshly judging myself; sometimes to the point of self-hate. I could talk at length about the various flaws I see in my personality, but this is about hating my body and I have plenty to talk about in that regard alone.

I hate how flat my butt looks in a mirror. I think that my pudgy, Scottish chin is disgusting. Seeing the thick, masculine carpet of hair on my arms and chest makes me feel unclean. I’ve always felt physically weak and pathetic compared to other people; especially when compared to my father – a former U.S. Army Sergeant and body building enthusiast with access to training and conditioning I could never hope to get and I doubt I could even live through.

So, last week, I lost that positivity and self-love. I caved in and started a strict calorie counting regiment.

I didn’t even make through Sunday before I remembered why I needed that positivity.

This diet was VERY tight. I was barely eating over 2,000 calories a day and burning more than TWICE that much through my day job and regular exercise which consists of a daily 3-mile (just under 5-kilometer) power walk through a heavily forested park. I knew that this was a stupid idea, but I stuck with it because I hated myself so much that I was going to see myself change or destroy myself in the process.

Combine this forced malnutrition with a sudden heat wave in the area, stress from work, a lack of a consistent sleep schedule and guilt at taking my frustrations at ALL OF THIS out on others, and it’s no surprise that my moment of realization at what I was doing to myself came to me in the form of a bout of sleep paralysis and vivid hallucinations involving nauseating fractal patterns, faces contorted in agony and (inexplicably) a leopard-faced man that I’m still trying to figure out whether he was supposed to be the demon Flauros or King from Tekken.

The most absurd thing about all of this though is that I should have known better. This is a similar scenario to what I went through back in middle school when I would skip lunch because of people taunting me. It left me pale, sickly, thinly drawn and so weak that I couldn’t even leave the house some days. I had forgotten that my self-hate had nearly killed me over 20 years ago and I almost let it try to do me in again.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, in terms of health improvement goals, you really need to pay attention to your body instead of the criticisms of yourself and others. The numbers that your Fitbit churns out might give you some insight as to the whys and hows, but they can’t tell you what you ACTUALLY need. Push your body to new levels, but not to the point of self-destruction. Know your limits and steadily condition yourself over time.

Remember, it’s YOU and no one else that needs to want the change and change requires time. Clarity, patience, and effort; those are the keys to self-improvement and self-love.

Why I Simultaneously Love And Hate Fidget Spinners

So… This is a thing now, I guess…
Source: Learning Express Toys

Part of my duty as a social and cultural commentator is to follow trends and fads so that I may analyze their significance and greater meaning in society.

Of course, this often means that I find myself taking an unnecessarily fine lens to some of the seemingly smallest pieces of fluff. Case it point: fidget spinners.

Also known as hand spinners – my preferred nomenclature (more into that later), these little plastic doo-dads have become a runaway sensation lately. They’ve already spawned collectors, customizers, and – you guessed it – dedicated YouTube channels. So, why so much buzz of such a simple toy.

Well, that simplicity may be at its core. Fidget spinners are essentially just three or four small wheel bearings from a skateboard placed together in such a way as to make a tiny toy that can be spun in a number of different ways. It’s so simple, you can actually build one yourself from home. In fact, a light search reveals that almost everyone has a different method of constructing them that gives them a unique flair.

That uniqueness lends itself quite nicely to their collectability. When every single one has a different feel and look to it, you naturally want to try them all.

Then there’s the ‘fidget’ part of the name. In defiance of everything we were told by frustrated parents and teachers, fidgeting is actually good for you. Small, frequent movements help keep your blood flowing smoothly and often provide a release for stress and anxiety that improves focus.

Unfortunately, the fact that people are starting to realize that leads into my problems with them. Now that certain people are aware that this little trinket can have some mild benefit, their first instinct is to do anything they can to make a quick buck from it. They churn out these cheap, mass-produced bits of plastic and charge way too much for them. No joke, I’ve seen these things that can be built for free at home sold in gas stations for $10 a pop!

And how do they convince people to pay a ridiculous amount for something they used to get for free? By preying on their insecurities and making them feel bad for fidgeting. Little things like twitching, foot tapping and the like aren’t seen as socially acceptable. So, they push overpriced plastic on people to give them a way to do something that’s perfectly normal that they won’t be judged for… you know, sort of like how the Health & Beauty industry sells make-up and fad diets.

Of course, when you denormalize something like fidgeting, you end up making people self-conscious which only contributes to stress. This is why I prefer the name “hand spinner.” It takes the fidgeting element out of it and makes it normal for everyone to enjoy.

So, yeah – I don’t mind that people are getting into hand spinners. What I mind are the people trying to use them to make cash through predatory manipulation. So, if you must keep them spinning, learn to make them yourself and join the global community of artists (yes, I’m pretentious enough to call hand spinners an artform).

And to send us out on a happy note, an appropriate musical interlude. Play us out, Three 6 Mafia.

Why You Should Care About Journalism (And How To Not Get Bamboozled By Bad Stories)

It can all be a little overwhelming at times, can’t it.
Source: CaptureYourInfo.com

So, there’s been a lot of crappy news coming down the pipelines lately and 2017 looks set to go down in history books as, “The Age of Excrement: The Year Everything Went To S***.” It’s become so bad that I had to take last week off from writing to recover from sensory overload and was giving real consideration to giving up entirely.

That is to say, I was until I went to work that night and explained my plight to a co-worker. To wit, she responded with, “I don’t ever bother listening to news ever.”

It was then that I learned something about myself that I never knew about myself; I am legitimately disgusted when people say they don’t listen to the news.

I mean, REALLY? How do you function in society if you don’t have a clue what’s going on in the world? How do you contribute to improving your city, your state, your country, and your planet if you don’t know where and what the problems are?

Look, I get it; the constant stream of news media is overwhelming. You occasionally need to remove yourself from the chaos and politics so you can just be you and live your life. That’s LITERALLY the definition of a ‘Safe Space.’ But, if you actually want any of those problems to improve, you have to step out of the safe space and engage with news and politics to fight for a better world.

And if your issue is that, “so many media outlets lie, I can’t trust any of them,” then, sad to say, the problem isn’t just the media; it’s you.

The amount of information available to us in an Information Age society requires each of us to do a little legwork to filter out misinformation and fluff stories. And while I like to believe were getting better about it, the simple fact is that some of us could stand to be more critical of what we read, hear, and watch.

It’s actually surprisingly easy to fact check news stories; so much so that it’s kind of insulting when independent comedy news sources like Nash Bozard at Radio Dead Air are better at it than the big budget ones playing it straight. Here, I’ll speed through some of the easiest ways to smell bulls*** from a mile away.

Look at the URL: Most credible news sources have a .com or .org address to their names. Anyone else is likely not a professional news source and should be questioned. It’s also worth noting that us WordPress bloggers can be equally dubious. Hence why I make it clear that this is an Opinion/Editorial blog dedicated to my personal reflections on the world and not proper news.

Judge the Headline: How much do you learn from the headline alone? Is it more interested in trying to shock you than inform you? If so, best to overlook it. They just want your attention because it gives them money. Don’t even share it with your friends as that will just spread the plague.

Know your satire from your news: The Onion, Buzzfeed, Cracked and similar sources are good for laughs; that’s what they specialize in. But, They aren’t actual news. They can occasionally lead to better information, but should never be your primary source.

Follow their sources: News sites will often link to or cite other news sources for their information. If they trace back to a questionable source like shown above or all cite the exact same article, they may just be the victim of a viral meme that damages their credibility.

Compare and contrast multiple sources: Most sources have a political leaning that skews facts in their favor. By putting them up against each other, you can identify the ‘he said/she said’ garbage easier.

Do your own research: My parents freaked out then they saw a video of soda supposedly reacting to the same kind of hydrochloric acid found in our stomachs. That is until I pointed them in the right direction and explained that a reaction that generates enough heat to create smoke would kill you if the volatile nature of the acid didn’t off you from birth. It was obviously a classic Sulfuric Acid/Sugar reaction made goopy by the water in the Cola. The hell of it is that I found this out via a light Google search for ‘Cola Stomach Acid.’

Stop the spread of false information: In addition to not sharing bogus stories, some social media networks have the option to report fake claims trying to pass themselves off as legitimate news.

So I beseech you, don’t just switch off the news. Be more critical and call bulls*** on bad journalism while learning from the real reporters. That way, we can be properly informed enough to make this place a comfortable place to live.

Embracing Darkness and Why The Agent Hates to Self-Silence

“No, me; I will NOT shut up. This is some important s***.”
Source: Thinking Healthy

Just a quick stream-of-consciousness style rant today to discuss how I apparently have a ‘bad habit’ among my more private circle of friends.

I keep a private Facebook page exclusively for friends and family where I allow myself to get much darker in my speech and tackle weightier topics that I don’t discuss here simply because I treat this corner of my part of the internet like a business and I don’t want to drive people off.

But, if I’m being honest, that kind of pisses me off. I hate having to do that.

However, I got reminded of why I do that recently. You see, I share those dark stories and thoughts because it’s my way of letting others who may be struggling with depressing crap that I’m somebody that can relate, is listening, cares about what you have to say, and wants to see the world change for the better. I legitimately want people to turn to me for emotional support.

The problem is that when people see a long string of sad posts saying how I relate to people with depression, praising artists for speaking out against bullying, or sharing stories commending parents for being aware of the danger their kid may be involved in, they think that I’m about to go off my nut.

And while I may get annoyed with the ever-echoing mantra of, “are you okay,” don’t begrudge those people for wanting to check up on me. After all, they’re just as worried about me as I am about them. And I’d like to think ALL of us are worried about the state of the world. It’s only natural to want to be concerned with the each other.

But the fact of the matter is this; I talk about dark, depressing things because I feel that denying them is to deny serious look into the human condition. I want people to see just what’s happening in the world and understand how people are feeling until they have no choice but to do something about it as a collective whole.

Of course, I realize that part of the fault is my own. Nobody likes being told how much of a crap-sack the world is when there’s obviously plenty of good in it that keeps getting ignored (why do you think I post #GoodNewsFriday on Twitter every week?), but it seems just as easy these days to just ignore the horrible stuff and act like it never happens.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that we all have a duty to speak up and act when we see injustice and inequality in the world and remind those that are suffering that we want to help them. Go and enjoy the good things in life that keep you going; that’s your right and what we all need every day. But don’t forget to step into the shadows every once and a while so you can remind yourself and others when and where there’s a candle that needs lighting.