I’m Not Really Mentally Ill. I’m Just A Drama Queen.

When I was nineteen and finally found myself some friends, I became a walking drama-bomb of a teenager. I remember being curled up in a ball while everyone else was standing in line at the movie, clutching my head and shrieking, “THE MEDICATIONS! THEY’RE STEALING! MY WORDS!”

Everyone else was just trying to see Coming To America. But me? I apparently needed to be the real show.

I look back at those moments with skin-crawling humiliation – the stupid things I did when I was a teenager that I would never do now.

But at the time, I believed that having big, scene-stealing panic attacks were how you found out who your real friends were. If they dropped everything to comfort you, no matter how embarrassing you were being, well… they were your friends. And all the other people you lost along the way were jerks for being mean to a depressive.

Victory either way, really.

Yet as I got older, I realized that the idea of acting out to get people’s sympathy was, fundamentally, a shitty blackmailish mechanism for making friends. You didn’t actually acquire buddies so much as you rallied the codependents to circle the wagons around you, and making friendships on the basis of “Who would drop everything to help someone else out?” meant that you spent a lot of your time embroiled in soothing your buddies, who – like you – had little interest in finding the right medications or the right therapists or the right self-soothing methods because dammit, the whole goal of this process was to find who could handle you at your worst.

And I evolved. I was still dramatic on occasion, of course – I don’t think you get to post consistently to a LiveJournal blog without splashing a little drama on ya – but I learned.

I learned that I had this whacko tendency to cry in public for attention, or to self-harm to get sympathy, or to fake-stutter when I was stressed, and thank God I was slowly stepping away from all that silly drama.

Yet I was distressingly weak at times. I’d be at a party and find myself hyperventilating in a bathroom, chiding myself – Ferrett, how dramatic, you don’t need to do this, just be happy.

I’d pick up the knife, ready to carve slow gashes into my arms because it was the only way to distract myself from the tsunami of negative thoughts, and part of me would snidely observe, You really want your friends to worry about you, don’t you? Imagine how they’ll react when they see your scabs.

I’d stagger around the house, completely alone, muttering distressed whimpers to myself as I wept so fiercely that my face hurt from dehydration, and I’d think, Oh, my, if you do this for just six more hours your wife will be home, what an act you’re willing to go to for drama.

It seems a little elaborate, doesn’t it? I mean, nobody knows why I’m in the bathroom. If I slip and do cut myself again, nobody knows how hard I work to wear long-sleeved shirts around my friends and family – even sleeping with a towel on – to conceal my stupid dramatic outbursts. And by the time my wife gets back from her trip, I’ll have sponged off my cheeks, I’ll have swallowed back those whimpers, I’ll have on a fake smile and I’ll tell her everything is fine.

I’m such a goddamned drama queen.

I’m glad I’m a goddamned drama queen.

Because if I wasn’t a drama queen, why, that would mean I was genuinely mentally ill. You can fix drama, that’s a stage you grow out of, but mental illness means you’re forever going to be breaking down at inconvenient moments, you’re condemned to an eternity of needing these pills and this workaround and this level of friendship – and even if you get everything you theoretically need, you’ll still have some days where you’re shivering against a cold wall, trying hard not to shout out the crazy things that come into your head, because if you do you’re dramatic and by suppressing all that crazy you are, in fact, a mature and good and sane person.

If I’m a drama queen, well, every time I suppress my craziness then I am, at heart, a sane person who’s fixing himself.

But if I’m not, well… then I’m bugfuck looney, doing his best to squash all evidence of his real and serious and unfixable problems down so that his friends don’t know how bad it gets sometimes, and…

I mean, wouldn’t you rather be a drama queen?

And I am dramatic. Always have been. It’s why I write fiction. But there’s days I look back at me having a complete goddamned breakdown in line to see Coming to America, thinking of all my friends wincing because Oh God there goes Steinmetz again, and I wonder.

Maybe that was a legitimate breakdown. Maybe that was me genuinely unable to fucking cope, so unable that I couldn’t consider the social consequences of going batshit in a public place with my buddies and I wasn’t just pretending to be a nutball, I was actually every bit the basket case.

But that?

Who wants to admit that?

To this day, I don’t know whether I was crying out for attention, or legitimately breaking down, or a combination of both. People are complex. It could be that I was integrating both thought models, which is why I do try to suppress my more outward-acting tendencies, because if I’m a good friend then I should try to minimize the number of times I ruin someone’s evening. If I can handle tonight’s panic attack by cloistering myself in the bathroom for ten minutes, well, then the panic attack is handled and my friends don’t have to spend their evening clustered around Old Breakdown, here.

But there are days where I’m absolutely alone, out of medication, curled up against a cold basement wall because I’m repeating madness mantras to myself, these endless flows of self-hatred, speaking them aloud because if I internalize them I might very well kill myself before anyone else gets home, and on those days I am so very glad I’m a drama queen.

If I wasn’t a drama queen, I’d be crazy. Seriously, incapacitatingly, crazy.

And if I’m a drama queen, then I can snap out of this funk. Any time now. It’s all under my control, you see? It’s not that I can’t stop muttering and stammering and shivering – it’s that I just don’t want to yet, oh Ferrett, you silly old attention-seeker.

Thank God.

Thank you, God, for making me a drama queen.

Thank you, God, for letting me believe I might be something other than this sad, broken thing that I am.

Why Fallout 76 Is A Terrible, Terrible Betrayal Of Its Past (And Also Okay)

So the reviews of Fallout 76 are in, and they’re confirming it’s the game I dreaded seeing: almost no story, no NPCs to interact with, just a big empty arena to grind levels by killing monsters, and tolerating playing with randos with names like “TurdFerguson.”

That’s not Fallout, as far as I’m concerned.

I’ve played Fallout since the first Fallout – and back then it was a dialogue-heavy, character-driven RPG that was astonishing because it rewarded flexibility. I put all my points into a Charisma-based scientist smooth-talker, and in fact at the end of the game I didn’t need to fight the final boss – I used my expertise to pluck apart his grandiose arguments for world domination and left him behind to self-destruct.

To me, Fallout is about the dialogue trees and strong storylines, backed by a marginal combat system that is alternately too punishing or too trivial once you get the right gear. That’s literally what it’s been since the mid-90s.

And now all that’s been stripped away, harvested to create a game that’s basically got zero storylines, no crafted missions, just doofing around with PVP and random encounters in a game that could be, well, any other game.

Yet that game is not necessarily a bad game.

It is merely a game that no longer appeals to me.

And I wish more people understood that goddamned distinction.

It’s what I consider to be The Batman problem. Everyone loves Batman, right? And when I went to see The Dark Knight in the movie theater, I came out pumped because that was Batman, that was the killer interpretation I’d been waiting for.

But my friend Dana was disappointed. Why? Well, she’d grown up on the 1970s comics, where Batman was not some jumped-up thug but in fact the World’s Greatest Detective, a man who valued brain over brawn…

And while The Dark Knight was a perfectly good movie for what it set out to do, it wasn’t her Batman.

At which point I realized that someone saying “I love Batman” means almost nothing. It certainly doesn’t tell us what Batman means to them. They could love the doofy cheerfulness of the Adam West 1960s Batman, or the bone-crunching take-no-prisoners 1980s Frank Miller Batman, or love the Batgadgets, or really enjoys the Batman rogue gallery of colorful criminals.

When you say “I love Batman,” you don’t. You love a specific Batman. And if the franchise continues long enough, you’ll find Batmen that you don’t love.

Because the reason Batman is a global sensation is precisely because Batman is a concept wide enough to stuff a thousand interpretations into. Whenever someone reads a Batman comic, each fan is enjoying a particular aspect of that comic – the way Batman fights, the art style, the Bruce Wayne playboy fantasy, the idea of Batman as a self-made hero…

No two people are seeing the same Batman.

And what’ll often happen when a new interpretation of the Bat hits the screen is that fans will claim “it sucks.” But what is actually happening, even though they don’t have a critic’s understanding to piece that logic out, is that this Batman isn’t ticking all the boxes that, for them, defines their Batman.

It doesn’t suck. From a critic’s viewpoint, “suck” would be ‘It failed to do what it set out to do.” Whereas what’s actually happening is, “It’s doing what it wants to do, and very effectively, but it’s not what you wanted them to do.”

Like The Dark Knight. It’s still a great movie from many perspectives. But if you’re judging it by the “Is Batman smarter than Sherlock Holmes?”, well, then, no.

Likewise, Fallout 76 is the final step in a looooong series of subtle retoolings to the Fallout series that have, quietly, removed all the portions that I considered to be essential for a Fallout game. The RPG story-based mechanics were what defined a Fallout for me, and they’ve been reduced to almost a vestigial portion of the game. Now it’s gone.

So for me? Not a Fallout game.

But for many thousands of people over the last decade, “Fallout” could equally well be “Traipsing through an incredibly detailed wilderness, picking off monsters and leveling up.” And that’s not an invalid interpretation. If that’s what makes them happy, then that’s good.

This bullshit that “Every piece of media must be specifically designed to make me happy” is toxic, man. It’s okay that there’s stories not aimed in my direction. There can be beefy manpain gunfight movies and weepy LGBTQ romances, neither of which appeal to me much.

That’s good. The world is larger than me. Acknowledging that is a major step in becoming a functionally compassionate human being.

And it’s not wrong for me to mourn the loss of a franchise I loved. If Fallout 76 is successful, then what defines a Fallout game for the average person will be permanently rearranged, and I’ll never get to play the game the way I wanted ever again. (Which is why secretly, I’m hoping that Fallout 76 is a crap game in the sense that “It fails to appeal to the people it’s designed to appeal to,” and they have to start appealing to schmucks like me.)

But it is wrong for me to get furious because Bethesda screwed it up. Part of being a grownup is understanding that franchises evolve, take chances, and part of those chances involve potentially veering away from the things you love. That’s not a betrayal of you personally; that’s any art, honestly exploring itself in that eternal dance between “aesthetic goals” and “gotta pay the bills.”

Why is that distinction important?  Because in this day and age of Internet-fuelled fanboys, you can steamroll that outrage into a poisonous mass of hatred, and come to believe that the reason your show got cancelled or your movie didn’t pan out the way you wanted is because people were actively out to sabotage what you like.  And they’re not.  As someone who knows a hell of a lot of creators of videogames and RPGs and books and music and movies, they’re all doing their damndest to try to make a good product, and they feel sick when they fail to deliver.

So if your favorite series isn’t topping the charts or your beloved series hangs a sharp turn to nowhere, that’s not anyone working to suppress you.  You have to understand that, well, some of the things that are dearest and best to you don’t resonate with other people.  Which is a painful lesson to learn, but that makes it no less true.

Is Fallout 76 good? Based on the reviews, I can honestly say it’s lacking everything that draws me to a Fallout game. Does that mean it sucks?

If I’m being intellectually honest – which I should be – then I’ll say that it automatically sucks for me.

Let’s see whether it sucks at providing what other people define as “The Fallout Experience.”

Why I Will Block Your Dumb Ass (When I Wouldn’t Before)

The file still sits in my “Documents” folder, a hundred and fifty crowd-sourced pages detailing every humiliation of my teenaged years.

We called it “The Dictionary.”

Because this was before the Internet existed, my friends would write up long, cynical takes outlining the origin of every ugly nickname we’d crafted for each other, Lovecraftian descriptions of each other’s physical shortcomings, timelines of our most regrettable love affairs with snarky commentary.

Because I was the only one who had a computer with a printer, I was tasked with transcribing these massive narratives. I’d spend hours dutifully entering in these entries – even the ones raking me over the coals, especially so – and add a few of my own, then print them out in increasingly-large bundles, to be read aloud to raucous laughter at parties.

Nobody was immune. If you complained too loud about the Dictionary, we’d devise a funny name for you and then write an entry in the Dictionary about what a cry-baby you were.

See, what we did wasn’t too far beyond what other college-aged doofuses accomplished: a couple of drunken breakdowns, some lamentable hookups, a tendency towards drama.

But what set us apart was our ability to endure. We prided ourselves on being unflinchingly honest, able to look our shortcomings right in the eye. Standing tall in the face of friends who were out to degrade us was, in fact, the one thing that was never targeted for derision.

It was a very Howard Stern thing to do – which made sense, since we were in Howard Stern’s Ground Zero of broadcasting. And like Howard Stern, an ecosystem of constant insults encouraged a certain Darwinian survival technique: yes, you could tolerate being mocked for your fluttery stomach whenever you got too drunk again…

…or you could re-aim the spotlight by getting better at mocking someone else.

So it became a meatgrinder of a social group, with everyone – boys, mostly, predictably – finding new ways to point the finger. We scoured each other for new faults we could blow up into tried-and-true insults, expanded the Dictionary, hoped for our buddies to screw up at parties, with girls, at life.

And if anyone said, “Hey, this is pretty mean,” well, the one thing we all held to was that there was no mean. There was strength.

You could either take it, or you weren’t worthy.

Worthy of what?

Well, we never got so far as to ask that.

And what I came to realize as I got older was, well, that this proto-4chan social group, where the whole point was to degrade everyone as quickly as possible, was actually a way of sapping people’s potential. By reducing the goal to “mock people effectively” and “endure the insults of the people you called friends,” you quietly obliterated any other positive qualities anyone else had – their compassion, their artistic abilities, their ambition, all that became an active threat, because if there were other ways to be strong, then why were we tolerating this?

We were bound in this bizarre social contract that none of us had made yet all of us were now invested in: this concept that the only skill worth developing was a cynicism so toxic that it became all you could see.

I left that group when I took another job in another state, and it took me a while to evolve away from it. (I can’t say that some portion of my ever-present social anxiety wasn’t honed from it.) And I see those old friends on Facebook from time to time, and they seem to mostly treat those days as though it was some bizarre madness we were all gripped by.

Nowadays, I realize that a lot of what I considered to be a strength – that tolerance – was actually something socially engineered to get me to put up with behavior that no reasonable person should ever have had to endure.

So how’s that relate to blocking people?

Well, as my relationship with social media has evolved over the past *cough* two decades or so, I realize that I had a Very Liberal attitude:

I could tolerate dissenting opinions.

And as a good, flexible liberal who tolerated dissenting opinions, I’d see people spouting out absolute goddamned drivel on my feed and I’d engage with them. Because as someone who tolerated dissenting opinions, as someone committed to finding common ground, I’d dig down for long comment threads with people who had zero interest in discussing an issue, they only wanted to spout their talking points and be furious.

And I… put up with that.

I told myself that even if I didn’t convince those people, I was potentially convincing the onlookers in a thread.

I told myself that even if I saw some toxic asshole tearing up someone else’s comments, I owed it to them – as a good, flexible liberal – to see whether they might say something else more reasonable to me if they showed up on my threads some day.

I told myself that even if they came off as callous and insulting, I had to dig beneath that layer to find the thoughtful insight that simmered beneath every thinking human being.

And if they were so stupid you couldn’t even make sense of their opinions, I broke out that old limp liberal saying: “Don’t feed the trolls.”

And what I’ve come to realize is that basically, the liberal hope to reach across the aisle is, in many ways, a modified version of the Dictionary – that concept that we’ll be brutalized by idiots, and enduring their ignominy is some kind of strength.

Look. There’s legitimate debates to be had these days about legitimate issues – how much immigration do we want, and what should the path to citizenship look like? How do we want to transition an immensely complex health care system into something that provides adequate care yet keeps our cutting-edge medical technology growing? How do you balance the needs of the economy against the needs of the dignity of the citizens?

But there’s also a lot of people poisoned by Fox News talking points, the assholes showing up convinced that Soros is paying every protestor personally, that being Muslim is proof they’re a terrorist, that trans people are out to fuck kids in the bathroom.

And you know what?

Fuck those people.

Fuck ’em right in the dictionary.

Part of what I’ve come to learn is that my tolerance merely gives people the impression there’s a debate to be had. And yes, you have to be careful about what sorts of debates you shut down, or you wind up with a traditional liberal circle-jerk where we all decide – once again – that the arc of justice will naturally bend towards our magnificent way of life, and nobody would vote for Proposition 8 in California and nobody would vote for Donald Trump and even if they did the Republicans can’t be that bad because hey, the world is slanted towards liberals, don’tcha know?

(Maybe you didn’t do that. But you damn well know liberals who decided to go with Jill Stein because hey, America had fixed its gay problems, they couldn’t just walk it back, right?)

My tolerance enables people to think they have made some valid point in engaging with me, and I only debate people who are willing to have their minds changed.

More importantly, I don’t have to debate with someone to see that their minds are closed. I don’t owe these motherfuckers a chance. I can see their profile, skim a couple of comments they made, and decide there’s zero benefit in having them show up anywhere in my life.

Buh-locked, asshole.

So, you know, so much for the tolerant left. Because that version of “tolerance” keeps getting papers and major news programs to debate fucking stupid things, because every time you have fifteen professors debating some dipshit Holocaust denier it gives credence to the concept that “The Nazis mass-murdered Jews” is somehow up for debate. Every time you put a legitimate scientist up against some random hack saying climate change isn’t man-made, you leave people with the impression that it’s 50/50 instead of 98/2.

My new tolerance is this: If the argument (or person) is sufficiently stupid that I don’t want to have them siphon off my credibility by having my audience see me engaging with them, then I’ll just block those idiots.

And if you think that’s not how the right wing does it, well, watch fucking Fox News. Did they spend significant time bogged down debating credible experts who questioned the legitimacy of holding endless Benghazi hearings? Did they hold special shows asking, “Okay, Hillary’s emails were bad, but let’s look at the other politicians, many of them conservative, that also broke these laws, and here’s how we’re devoting equal time to their sins?”

No. They did what I’m doing now: they’re just not bothering to have the conversation.

And do I want to be more like Fox News? Not particularly. But I’ve come to realize the tolerant left is essentially a one-way propagation for propaganda: Fox news gins up some controversy to say “Hey, do you believe what these liberals are doing?” and the liberal papers fall all over themselves to report it because they are fair. And then the liberals say, “Hey, do you believe what the conservatives are doing?” and it does not appear on Fox news because only one side is interested in having that discussion.

You can, of course, lament the death of honest debate in our country. But for one thing, I’m not killing off honest debate – I’m killing off ill-informed talking points I don’t feel like giving airtime to. And second, before you bitch at me about how I shouldn’t do that, maaaaaaybe aim your complaints to the massive, worldwide network that carries infinitely more weight than one single blogger with less than five thousand active readers.

Think about who you’re rewarding.

Because me? I’ll just block freely these days. I don’t need to endure idiots to prove some illusory strength – particularly since the end goal of both methods, intended or not, is to tear me down.

Oh, The Conversations We’ll Have!

Me, to my wife: “You got a minute? Good. Because I need you to help me with this problem I’m having.”

Her: “Okay. What is it?”

Me: “This is the second stupid thing I’ve bought this month, and you have to stop me. From now on, tell me that I can’t buy stupid things without consulting you first.”

Her: “Wait. What did you buy?”

Me: “There’s no sense discussing that now – it’s on it’s way, it’s done, it’s over. You’ll see come Wednesday.”

Her: “No, I sort of feel I should know what you – ”

Me: “Don’t get sidetracked. The point is, from now on, I check with you. Right? Good. You’re with me. Now, it should be here Wednesday, so I’ll probably install it then.”

*Ferrett vanishes*

Not Just Grudging, Not Just Tolerant, But Supportive

I got 1,300 likes on Facebook that I didn’t deserve. And it wasn’t even my own post that went mildly viral among the sewing community – it was my wife’s, talking about what a nice husband I am.

But I don’t think what I did was nice – I think that what she and so many others lauded me for was the baseline for any healthy relationship.

Hang on. Lemme back up and explain what I did.

So my wife likes to quilt, and ever since she got her new sewing machine she’s spent her every spare moment in the basement, making quilts for people she loves. And as she’s devoted more and more of her life to this reignited passion, she’s needed more equipment – I built her a new table for her sewing machine, a shelf for her fabric dyes, and Amazon packages are forever flying in through the door.

Yet she’s been complaining for months about her sewing space in the basement. She’s wanted to rearrange the entire basement to give her a better workflow, and a little more space – which, given that we have nine heavy bookshelves laden with reading material that I refuse to give up, would be no small task. She kept calling me downstairs, sweeping her hands majestically across the basement as she explained how much nicer things would be if this table were here, and these chairs were here…

I did not care. I liked the basement the way it was. I had my writing space, the books were organized the way I wanted them, and about once every three weeks Gini would pull me aside breathlessly to say, “Oh! I thought of a new way to rearrange the basement!”

Inexplicably, every new basement configuration somehow involved even more work to get it done.

This remained in the planning stages, as many major pain-in-the-ass projects do, for months.

But in September, we had our nineteenth wedding anniversary – which we didn’t get to celebrate thanks to the presence of not one, but two unexpected guests from different cities. We sighed, knowing that “seeing people we love” is a part of who we are as a married couple, and cleared out a weekend in October to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

Now, I wanted to go to Philadelphia to burn off a $300 gift certificate we’d gotten last Christmas. But I knew what would make Gini happy. So I shuffled my feet downstairs and asked, shyly:

“So, for our wedding anniversary weekend… how would you feel about spending it rearranging the basement?”

She all but tackled me in a hug.

And she wrote about that for her sewing chat group, and next thing you know there were over a thousand people raving about what a good husband I am – which, you know, is praise I’m never going to turn down. But a lot of the comments were from wives who wished they had husbands like that, or joking quasi-bitterly that she’d better chain me in the basement before I came back to sanity, or other indications that this behavior was viewed as exceptional for a husband.

And man, it shouldn’t be.

For me, one of the fundamental tenets of any romantic relationship I’ve had is, “Be supportive, even for stuff you don’t care about.” Gini has hobbies that I’m not personally into – but part of why we work is that I’m actively enthusiastic in helping her enthusiasm.

I don’t know much about sewing, nor am I going to take up a class on quilting. But when Gini squeals, “LOOK AT THIS GORGEOUS SECTION I MADE!”, you bet your ass I’m headed downstairs to ooh and ahh at it. Maybe I won’t understand all the fine details, but I can get that it’s pretty – and if it’s not pretty, I can always ask what made this so difficult to create, because often what Gini is celebrating is not the end result but mastering a new technique.

Likewise, my wife will haul her butt out to the garage whenever I figure out some new way to join wood together. I have, in the past, patiently explained to her that yes, this looks like an ordinary plank, but this plank has a perfect 90 degree angle, as opposed to that awful one, which only had like 89.3 degrees.

And she has applauded.

And I know a lot of people who actively fight their partners on hobbies they deem insufficiently interesting – the wife who yells at her husband for wasting his weekends fishing, the husband who’s grumpy because his wife is spending his money on these dumb scrapbooks. And there are other partners who treat their partners’ hobbies like a black box – they’ll authorize a budget for their spouse to buy whatever the heck it is they want, but really they don’t want to be bothered with this.

Whereas if my sweetie has something that brings them joy, I want them to hook me in as much as possible. No, I don’t always get the fine details of a perfect stitch, and thank God Gini doesn’t try to show me everything. No, I don’t think Gini should drain our bank accounts dry for this hobby, and so I’ll occasionally ask, “You sure you need to buy that?” No, I don’t spend hours watching sewing videos with her.

But I know quilting makes Gini happy, and so I try to connect with it.

Furthermore: I want to enable her joys, even when they are not directly benefiting me. Which is why, even though I was perfectly content with the basement the way it was, I’ll happily head downstairs and spend six sweaty hours with my wife kicking up dust and old spiders.

And I want to tell all these other people: It’s not enough just to endure your partner’s other affections. You have to enable them whenever you can.

Because not only does this help train myself in that vital skill of “riding somebody else’s high” – which is super-useful in so many other areas of life -but it helps bond us. I’ve seen too many relationships crumble because the partners refused to venture outside their comfort zone, and both of them built these secret lives where they worked in isolation from their partner, and eventually those secret lives became more compelling than the actual marriage.

They don’t always lead to affairs, of course. But there’s a lot of baffled people in the throes of a divorce, wondering why their lover’s leaving them. And the answer is, all too often, “I realized I wasn’t having any of my good times with you.”

Whereas Gini and I both try to find good times in whatever we’ve got, even in the foreign stuff. This pair of scissors makes her happy, so I’m happy – and her being able to share her joy with me means that I am with her in the basement even when I’m out in my woodshop. We are woven throughout the fabrics of each other’s lives.

(Right up until I use those quilting scissors to cut open a piece of mail. Holy crap, do not touch a quilter’s good scissors. THIS I HAVE LEARNED.)

So yeah. Last weekend, we spent six hours rearranging the basement. It looks nice to me – but it’s everything to Gini. She danced around, clasping her hands to her chest, squeeing about how beautiful it all looked now.

But you know what was beautiful to me?

Her. Just being happy.

And that’s the way it should be, dammit.