Keep in mind I’m only speaking for myself here. Yours might be completely different and that’s okay too!
I don’t remember the existence of comicons when I was younger. I grew up on Star Trek: The Next Generation which historically has had its own brand of fandom known affectionately as Trekkies.
I loved Star Trek: TNG, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not sure if my admiration for it was enough to call me a “trekkie.” I had wanted to go to a Star Trek Convention when I was younger, but my interest didn’t go much further than curiosity. I hadn’t the remotest interest in learning Klingon or becoming a member of the artificial hierarchy of Starfleet. I would not break the barrier between science fiction and reality to the point where I’d be a member of an inter-galactic organization still pathetically earth-bound.
My best friend in fifth grade had recently developed a bizarre obsession with Star Trek – most notably Gates McFadden, the red-headed actress who portrayed Dr. Beverly Crusher. She and I began collecting and exchanging Star Trek trading cards. There didn’t seem to be anyone else interested in joining us, but we didn’t care. We followed our singular passion regardless of whether or not our other friends joined in.
Then, in almost no time flat, my family and I moved from Texas to Arizona. There, aside from the occasional Star Trek novel, I began to feel my interest waning. I still caught the newest films from Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country to Star Trek: Generations, First Contact, and Insurrection. Catching the latest Star Trek film in theatres became a time-honored tradition.
In November of 1998, I’d been working part-time at B. Dalton’s bookstore in the mall when I began to develop a crush on my coworker. I sensed he felt something for me too. He loved books, particularly anything featuring a superhero or Tolkien-style fantasy. He was a gamer as well and could easily spend hours on end engaging in the quests and battles of the virtual realm.
In sum, I was falling for a bona fide geek and I knew it. Because I was well-aware of a chemistry between us, I began dropping not-so-subtle hints about how much I’d love to see Star Trek: Insurrection with him. He took the bait and in no time we were on our first date together.
This boy had “fanboy” written all over him. His bedroom was a tribute to every superhero from every comic book ever created, it seemed. He still played with his toys as well, willfully engaging in child-like fantasies. His imagination knew no bounds.
He was the one who introduced me to superhero comics. His favorite was Spiderman because Spidey was a tragic hero, morally driven to fight crime, yet perpetually misunderstood and hated by the very people he labored to protect.
Because of my fondness for this boy I’d been dating, I allowed him to guide me through his fantasy-world. Because he loved me, he allowed me to stand by his side despite my ignorance.
In the end, all our fantasies vanished and we were forced to see the reality of our incompatibility with one another. We broke up and never saw each other again. But I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge how grateful I am for the things he taught me.
So my interests in comic books and science fiction have been mere flirtations or, at most, on-and-off-again romances. But beneath the multi-faceted surface of fandom are the hearts of people – people from all walks of life trying to make connections with one another and find validation for their own uniqueness.
That’s where I connect: in a sea of misfits, outcasts, freaks, and geeks, I feel a peculiar sense of camaraderie. I don’t need to bond over video games and comic books. I bond over being an odd-ball in this world and knowing I’m not the only one.
Perhaps the perfect “con” for me would be something about book-musicals or simply the art of story-telling through music. But my interests really cannot be confined into a single convention. Nonetheless, I have come to enjoy Comicon and will do my best to make it back next year.
I’ve thought about writing something like this before – an essay detailing the positive aspects of my manic depression. It’s tough, though. You see, a huge chunk of my life has been spent apologizing for my gifts. I mean, I didn’t want to become too “stuck on myself.” So, in order to remain humble, I’d either refuse compliments, or take them but feel a tad guilty.
Keep in mind that, for me, the Bible has always been the foundation of my faith and I’ve found it to be particularly critical about pride. The way I see it, God gets the glory because he created the universe and he created us and every talent and gift we’ve been given comes from God. For example – Jesus said: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)
Later Paul writes, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
Humility and putting others first seems a blatant contradiction to society at large. I still remember how in third grade, learning to esteem ourselves had been integrated into our class curriculum. We were actually supposed to feel good about ourselves regardless of our achievements. For some people, it came naturally. I, on the other hand, couldn’t quite grasp why I should feel good about myself. Was it the depression? Maybe.
Rich Mullins, my all-time favorite songwriter, once said this in a radio interview:
“ ….in a day when so much emphasis and so much pressure is put on us to esteem ourselves I kind of go, wow, I don’t know how anyone can wake up with morning breath and pillow head and feel any self esteem. (laughing) That is not the sort of thing I want to put my faith in. And in the church it is unbelievable to me that this whole foolishness about esteeming yourself has leaked into the church. I kind of go, ‘Christ didn’t ask us to esteem ourselves.’ I think if Christ were asked, I think He would probably say, ‘Look buddy, you would be lucky if you could forget yourself. If you could lose yourself, you would be luckier than if you found yourself.’ It would be wonderful if you knew the names of the trees between your house and where you work, between your house and your church. If you knew that that was a tulip tree and you knew that that was a red bud. It would be great if you knew the names of the constellations. It would be great if you knew something about your neighbor. It would be a lucky thing for you if you forgot yourself, if you lost yourself…what a wonderful thing when you are so caught up in a moment when you are so lost in an experience that you forget to straighten your tie or to comb your hair. Why esteem yourself? Forget yourself. You’ll have a lot more fun.”
Thus since my adolescence, I’ve resisted feelings of self-worth. But the battle between my desire to be noticed and my desire to be forgotten became increasingly fatiguing. I knew I was gifted with a pleasant singing voice, for example. But I also knew I wouldn’t stand a chance competing with the “American Idols” of the day. I’ve felt gifted in writing, too, but then I look at the folks who’ve actually published and my heart drops because I don’t see myself as their equal.
I know too much pride can be dangerous, but the ancient Hebrew and Greek texts do not seem to have advice for those suffering from not-enough-pride. There is one well-known piece of wisdom, though, that baffled me for a long time.
“Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)”
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s the “Golden Rule,” my friends. But the message here backfires if you are unable to love yourself. If you wish God would strike you down dead at this moment to rid the world of someone like you, then you hate yourself. If you hate yourself, how can you love your neighbor?
Still, before diagnostic labels were stamped on me, back when my depression was viewed as nothing more than a heightened sensitivity, I felt a strong, sometimes overwhelming, compassion toward the weak and downtrodden. I felt compelled to feed the poor or talk with the lonely outcasts. It was a double-standard, I knew, but it was also a reflection of the love I longed for someone would give me.
I was lonely. I ditched high school for one day my senior year and drove to a nearby hiking trail leading to a crevice in the rock with a tremendous view of the valley below. Up there, I pulled a notebook and pencil from backpack and let my sadness poor into written words. Then I sat silently, read my Bible a little, and prayed.
After descending the trail, I stopped again at a park with a view of the river. A homeless man had just woken up after spending the night at a picnic table there. He was a drug-addict like so many others. I was barely 19 and I sat with him, read the entire gospel of John, and then struggled with the pain of having nothing else to offer.
Stories of this kind accumulated from that point forward. Most of them I kept secret (between myself and God). But when the emotions became unmanageable while I was living far away in France, I carried this concept of compassionate love to a level only God could maintain. And, since I’m not God, I crashed all the harder and required uncountable hours to recover.
To cope with the illness I’d been labeled with, I found comfort in identifying with “crazy” artists like Vincent van Gogh, Hector Berlioz, Virginia Woolf, and Sylvia Plath. The world-renowned expert on manic depression, Kay Redfield Jamison, even wrote a book for people like me entitle: Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament. But when I allowed myself to rejoice in the idea that my manic-depression could be a enormous gift, my more sane, artistic friends immediately protested.
They argued that it was cruel to greedily claim a higher level of creativity (known as the “creative edge”) because it implied that those who didn’t have the creative edge could never create anything great. This, of course, drove me down again into a desperate darkness in which, like political correctness forcing me to be hyperconscious about how I speak of race, religion, and gender, I felt I could not boast of a “creative edge” because it might offend the creative community.
However, after careful contemplation and years of therapy, I’ve now come to the conclusion that I need to own my manic depression and NOT let it own me. Not everyone can sing. Does that mean those of us who can should keep it to ourselves so as not to offend those who can’t sing? No!
Secondly, I am a huge fan of psychotropic medicine. The other argument against any sort of mental illness being exalted as “the creative edge” revolves around psyche patients stopping their meds so they might recapture a bout of mania and create something so original and unique it will be honored and revered until the end of the world. This is a legitimate concern I think Kay Redfield Jamison addresses quite nicely in her aforementioned book.
Here’s what I think: medicine doesn’t destroy the creative edge. It just softens the emotions to a workable level. Besides, without meds, you still can’t summon a manic episode whenever you want. When mania does arrive, it doesn’t always give you the results you want. I mean, if you walk into a busy intersection, thinking you’re invincible, and then suddenly you’re hit by a car, you could lose a lot more than the creative edge. Skipping medicine is a high risk choice.
So what I’d like to do for a few weeks is take my manic-depression and own it. If I can see my manic depression as a gift more so than a burden, I may be able to convince a few of you to do the same.
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