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How You Expect it to Go

January 19, 2018

“This is just not our day” growled Titus to himself as he spurred his horse, making the beast leap forward. The man grit his teeth as wispy branches whipped his face, and the horse let out an indignant bellow when the ground became rough.

“They swore. They swore before Jupiter Elicius himself,” the Roman repeated to himself. Behind him was a sight of horror that had curdled his blood and chilled his bones. King Mettius, sworn servant of Rome, had ordered his men to retreat in the face of battle. Retreat, and allow the barbarians a straight path to the flanks of the Roman host.

Treason! Might as well have handed away the keys of Rome herself! Titus would have sworn vengeful oaths and called down curses on Mettius in the name of Jove himself had he the chance, but he was too angry for such complex thought. Besides, the enemy was fast advancing. He could hear them crashing behind him. If his horse did not hurry, he would only be racing to view the carnage of defeat.

The olive branches did not let up, even their smaller twigs struck fast and hard, and it was a miracle that the horse could maintain his footing through the thickets that grew at their roots!

Titus crashed through the chaparral and sighed a sigh of relief when brought his horse to a champing halt before the Roman ranks, and the retinue of Tullus Hostilius, King of Rome.

“What news?” asked the king hurriedly, calming his own horse from the surprise of Titus’ arrival.

“King Mettius retreats!” Titus gasped. He meant to say more, to rage and to roar, but those were the words that came.

The look on Tullus’ face was a thousand auguries. The stern face became lashed with concern, and the dark eyes that gazed impassively as he sentenced judgments and punishments became tinted with fear.

“Very good, very good,” said the king in a confident voice that auspiciously echoed into the olive groves and hills for miles around. “This is no cause for concern, for King Mettius is doing as I commanded. Soon,” and with this he turned his head directly towards the front, “Rome’s enemies will find themselves quite surrounded, by Tullus at the front, and Mettius at the rear!”

* * *

I read the story of Tullus Hostilius the other day. I just got over a week-long migraine; It was decidedly not fun, in fact it was the polar opposite. I was lost and directionless, momentarily of course, and I decided to grab a book off of my shelf, eat pizza, and read whatever that book may say. So I grabbed a book of Roman history, Livy’s first-cenury masterpiece The Early History of Rome, and headed off to my favorite pizza parlor.

My migraines usually last one to three days, and a week is almost unheard of for me. I emphasize the almost, because it has happened before. The last time was back in 2016 I think, around August. So I was rather in the mood to read of conquering heroes and daring adventures. They wrote history books differently back then, that is to be sure. Probably to compete with gladiator fights and chariot races.

The story of Tullus, who ruled Rome in the seventh century before Christ (about 100 years after its founding in 753 BC) struck a chord with me.

It is especially difficult when a migraine breaks the normal rules that migraines tend to follow. I have routines, procedures, and methods of controlling and dealing with migraines; music, certain food, mechanical meditation with Legos, and essentially living life on standby until the blessed day the migraine breaks. An unusual migraine throws all that out.

You see, Tullus had ordered Mettius to guard his flank, nothing fancy.

Mettius was king of Albans, Rome’s very first conquered city, and even that is debatable, because Rome owned Albans because Mettius had made a bad bet on a good fight. Mettius was king, but he was king under Rome, and his people were not happy with their king’s foolishness. So he intended to undermine Rome by letting King Tullus die in battle with a neighboring Italian tribe, Veii.

When Tullus made his declaration, he said it loud enough to comfort his men, but also loud enough for the men of Veii to hear. His off-the-cuff tactic worked. The men of Veii, not happy with the whole ‘being surrounded’ thing, fled and Tullus won the day.

Tullus dealt with a situation that went the opposite of how he expected it to go. And in desperation, he found a way that worked. Sometimes migraneurs will find themselves in similar situations. Not as drastic or decidedly Roman as Tullus, but times will come where they find themselves outside of their comfort zone (and I certainly love my comfort zone. In fact, I think that shall be my next post topic)

This time I accepted that I was going to be less productive, that I would have to accept lesser work from myself until my migraine subsided. That is how I dealt with it at least. Was it the best way? I don’t know. But it worked for me and got the job done. But I am reminded now that these things can happen, and that is of course a good reminder.

Living with Migraines

Regarding the Painlessness of Others

December 15, 2017

There is a book that I read in college called Regarding the Pain of Others. Written by American philosopher Susan Sontag, it explored the repercussions of viewing images of other people in pain, especially in the surreal real-but-not world of photographs. Sontag says that there can be no we when dealing with another’s pain, as one cannot experience another’s’ experience.

A question that I often ask myself, especially in seasons in which I find myself sick more often than not sick, is how to deal not with seeing others in pain (there is of course the old adage “misery loves company), but how to deal with seeing health in others. 

For someone with chronic pain seeing another individual living carefree and in good health with their four humors sloshing about in perfect harmony can easily become in itself a form of pain. That pain can even more easily slide into bitterness, coldness and hatred, which leads only to more pain as the only person that coldness, hated, and bitterness is guaranteed to harm is the person doing it, and those harms are doubled because the chronic pain that started the shenanigan is still there.  

Or, and I have found this to be most common, you sink into a deep sadness as the pipes drone the tune of Spancil Hill in the back of your mind and you watch your dreams and happy songs sail away.

But how can one with chronic pain avoid all these bad things? 

Apart from becoming a hermit, you will still have to encounter people in life. And since you are reading this online, you also get to encounter people’s peppy facades that they put up online.

So what is there to do, since the only person who stands to get hurt by your reaction is yourself?

One thing to do is to reverse roles. Put yourself in their shoes. Everyone has pains and problems in their life. Everyone. Those pains and problems will be different from person to person, but they are still in pain. I would argue that almost everything done by people is done out of pain or fear of pain. If not, why would anyone do anything? You ask out a girl because the pain of being without her is too great to bear. You get a job because of the pain of being able to afford food. You train your puppy not to bite because the pain of the bites are too much. 

Believe that last bit or not, my point is that everyone on earth has an acute sense of fear and pain. If we are all suffering, ought we to give some slack to those around us? That’s what I advocate at least. Not doing so just makes everything worse, and by everything I mean it makes you worse and the other people just keep on living.

I have never met a happy person who sits in the dark hating the world. And I would know; for many years I was that person. Of course I did not put my hand on a Bible and say “I Quaid, hold myself in contempt of the world”, but I still didn’t like it one bit.

The lights are too bright.

The music is too loud. 

Yes I can hear you through the earplugs.

No I will not take off my hat for your wedding. *

It definitely takes work when your own body is fundamentally unequipped to exist in the artificial world in which we live, and the people in that world seem to be working to force you out. It is very easy to retreat into yourself, cut yourself off, and contact filthy outsiders only when you need them to sell you food. 

But the problem with that is that it assumes that others are fundamentally against you. This is incorrect, as more often than not, they don’t care about you. 

And beyond that, how could they know that you are suffering? You don’t even know their name, they don’t know yours. How could they know what you are going through? And, what if they too are going through pain, or even more chillingly, the very same pain as you? Unless you talk to each other, you would never know. They will be like the soldiers who crucified Christ—they know not what they do. Or you both will know not what you do, and hurt each other. And in that case, who is in the wrong?

And sometimes, some people who do know about your pains will continue to hurt you, accidentally or otherwise. For those times, there is the classic solution. Take a sock, fill it with a generous handful of pebbles, and invite them down to the lake for a midnight stroll just the two of you. Then talk about your problems with them while skipping the stones across the calm nighttime water.

Sometimes so many problems can be solved by talking. 

Finally, there is the grease that helps all this run smoother, and that is forgiveness. Sometimes you will just have to forgive people, whether they apologize or not, whether they know what they do or not. Grudge-holding is of course a time honored tradition, but it is certainly not the best way to live a healthy life. Again, it will only hurt you. Or if its a special, rare, and magical kind of grudge that is mutual, it will hurt you and the other person. It won’t be good, is what I am saying.

And yes, I recognize that this is painting a picture of myself as a growling hater of the world, and I do not deny it. A dream of mine that recurs whenever the sound guy at church equates loudness with God’s presence is to acquire an island between Ireland and Scotland (please don’t tell the Republic of Ireland or the United Kingdom, thank you kindly) build a castle there, and vanish. But I hope that by writing this I have proven that I have vowed to repent.

So then, what of the original statement of Sontag’s, that there can be no we when dealing with pain in others? I agree with it, but with this caveat: since we do not know each others’ pain, we ought to recognize that we all are in different kinds of pain, and cut each other slack because of that. 

*If I do agree to take off my hat for your wedding, consider yourself loved.

Happiness

Pop!

December 2, 2017

I like to think of myself as a rather robust individual. Excepting my migraines, of course, but that is hardly sporting. Beyond my faulty brain, I like to imagine myself as a man who can take a punch, stumble, and get back up and give them what for.The kind of fish that eats a bowl of nails for breakfast without any milk. 

But then life happens and reminds me that I am not, in fact, a pinnacle of health.

It happened one day, yesterday in fact. I had come home from lunch, and as I do every time I leave the house, my puppy Little Sir Finn (he’ll cease being ‘little’ when he stops chewing on the furniture) was locked inside his kennel. So naturally I wanted to let him out, and I decided to do something that I had not done in an age.

Run.

I am not a runner, and have not been for a long time. I have not been a runner ever since a wayward migraine medication made me balloon up like a stuck pig (and there was wailing and gnashing of teeth). 

Well, I ran that day, not wanting to leave Finn waiting. I had my eyes fixed on the prize—my dog in his crate, and he was watching me too with eagerness in his tiny frame.

Pop!

I was on the ground, one leg forward, the other bent behind me. Then there was searing pain.

I had failed to see Finn’s mat on the ground before me, and I had paid the price. I had slipped and fallen, and done something heinous to my ankle.

I’d like to say I took it like a mountain man who had just clawed his way out of his own grave—silent, with a dour face and clenched fists.

But no. I was hysterical, nauseous, and crying. I think I was screaming God’s name and asking for strength. (As an aside, it is at the moment of pain that faith is most real, with the least amount of trumpets on corners and showiness) 

Finn was upset, he was crying too, and I composed myself and reassured him that I was all right, even though I wasn’t sure myself. I scooted across the floor, and with a sound that was almost a laugh I twisted my leg to see my ankle. With the amount of messages that the little theoretical men who run my ankle’s branch of the Office of Nervous System Telecommunications were sending to my brain, I figured it at least had to be broken. 

My ankle’s Office of Nervous System Telecommunications may need to fire a few key members down there, because it was decidedly not hanging limp, turned purple, or showing any of the other signs of a break. 

I still was not comforted, so I called my dad, who despite being an engineer has an extensive first aid knowledge. He assured me that it was not broken, but that it needed ice. 

Finn looked at me with concern as I grabbed a nearby walking stick—I fell merely a few feet from where I kept it leaned against the wall. I reassured him that I would be back, and he calmly laid down his head.

I am certain that he understands my words when I talk to him. 

Anyways I inched my way to the kitchen, and appraised myself of ice and a plastic baggie, and began the work of trying to fix my hurt ankle. I am certain that it was a sprain.

This hurting ankle has made me feel quite unlike myself. I cannot move as I wish, and I cannot play with my dog. I barely slept last night because I could not get comfortable. It was a new pain of a sort I am wholly unused to (except the last time Finn indirectly caused me to fall).

It is a great lesson in humility, and a reminder that migraines are not the only pain in the world, and that people the world over all have similar or different troubles and pains. In being forced, quite against my will, to taste of a new sort of pain, I have been reminded of the great value of empathy.

It is also a grand start to the Christmas season as I hobble about like Tiny Tim. 

Living with Migraines

Difficulty and Happiness

September 11, 2017

As much as I try to portray myself as an enigmatic individual from a place ten leagues beyond time, what with my obscure refences and sometimes archaic language and all, I am still quite strictly a child of the 1990s. As such, I have a certain proclivity towards a certain invention of recent years—the Video Game. They divided people the world over, as some say that they are a beneficial pastime or even a form of art, and some say at best that they are a waste of time or at worst the cause of all the violence seen in our society.

I am, of course, in favor of the first one. The conflict over video games directly reflects the conflict over comic books in the 1950s that resulted in the Comics Code Authority which banned the portrayal of both zombies and hugging in comics, among other things.

Anyhow, I hold that certain forms of video games are art. Or, in the very least, a new form of storytelling that belong on a shelf beside books, movies, television, and cartoons. If you have been following my blog, you would have noticed that I am pretty into the use of storytelling to cope with extreme pain. When my migraines first hit, I spent most of my sixth-grade school year at home playing video games in the dark.

Nowadays I cannot focus at a screen when I have a migraine, but still, it worked for young me. As I said before, I consider some video games to be a form of art on par with literature. Some games like Minesweeper are kind of hard to find a story in. But beyond that, I think that the concept of video games, in their modern form beyond story, can be just as powerful as a self-help book or a motivational talk.

To explain this, I am going to talk about the most extreme, demoralizing and upsetting video game I own, the video game Dark Souls.

I recreated the iconic image of the game, a campfire made out of a flaming sword, in Lego to avoid copyright infringement.

Dark Souls is a medieval-gothic fantasy series created by Japanese video game creator Hidetaka Miyazaki. The series is most known for its excruciatingly high difficulty level as your character fights against a backdrop of a shattered medieval world in which a zombie apocalypse has occurred and cursed everyone with zombieness. Including you.

The difficulty of this game series is incredible; the game has fairly and squarely decided that you will lose, and it is up to you to try and try again until you win despite the game. Enemies hide behind corners, and there are traps hidden everywhere. The game even has fake traps just to mess with the player. This has given the game an aura in the gaming community as a “very hard game.” 

I was introduced to the game in college when the dorm directly above my head set up a TV and started playing Dark Souls above me. About every five minutes I would hear them roar with frustration and pound on their floor, which was my ceiling. So naturally I went up there and started playing myself. Then I bought it myself, and now I play it as a form of catharsis when I get too frustrated with life. Humans always need a scapegoat.

The true nature of Dark Souls is debatable and subject to many, many, many hours of YouTube videos. There is no direct story; the plot is Avant Garde and minimalistic. Instead of directly telling the player the story, there are clues hidden throughout the game. You will find a magic rock and the game will tell you:

“The shine of this stone is no ordinary polish, and can only be achieved over a long period. Some in this land are in search of such mystical stones”.

What does that really mean? I dunno. But the rock heals you. It should also be noted that Bandai Namco, the game’s producer, offered a $10,000 reward for anyone who could tell them the series’ story as a celebration of the release of the third game of the series.

That’s right, there are three of these games. It seems that games with an incredible difficulty level that fill the internet with videos of people destroying their controllers in frustration are rather popular. I’d post a link to a reaction video here, but in the full grip of frustration where you are screaming many people lose their filter and say those words that are inappropriate to say.

But this really begs a question: Why? Aren’t video games supposed to be fun? Well, I think this ties into the difference between happiness and having a good life. In our society, you must be happy, or your life is terrible. I have spent years perfecting a way to honestly answer the question “how are you today?” without lying. Because if I honestly answer, “I feel terrible,” people cannot handle it.

So, I nod and say, “I am having a good day”. But ours is also a society where sad movies are blockbusters and everyone has a sad song that they listen to on repeat more often than they would admit. Our cartoons have rough, dark undertones— the fish in SpongeBob are mutants from the radiation of the atom bombs detonated on Bikini Atoll Test Site in the ‘40s and ‘50s. The show even uses stock footage from the testsAnd there is also whatever statement this is.

There is a strange division between the media that entertains us, and the current cultural narrative that you always must be happy. You don’t have to be always happy, but you can still have a fulfilled life. In the case of Dark Souls, there is an immense sense of satisfaction when you win, precisely because the game is so hard. It is much like the Greek myth of Sisyphus, only Sisyphus gets to push his rock all the way to the top and enjoy a nice refreshing beverage while Zeus and Camus weep in the distance. 

How the game feels more often than not.


When you always have to be happy, life becomes a void where only one emotion is allowed, devaluing all experiences into how happy they make you feel. Eventually you are no more than a mindless individual vaguely pursuing happiness, which all too often translates to “what can I impress my social medias with today?”, leading to five seconds of joy and many hours of depression until you can figure out a new stunt to pull. Dark Souls and sad music and movies offer an outlet for the pent-up sadness that we are not allowed to express. Likewise, SpongeBob and other cartoons that feature happy environments with terrible backstories are fulfilling cartoons’ original role—social satire.
Obviously as a migraineer I am not very fond of always having to be happy. But that does not mean I cannot be content, or have a good life. I used Dark Souls as a video game example first because I have a strange fascination with the series for many reasons. (I may write a blog post just about the game itself, because I RUN THIS BLOG). Secondly, I used it because it is extreme and difficult and frustrating, but it is still enjoyable, to the point where it has inspired a multitude of YouTube content, fan theories, and of course the hours and hours of actual time playing. By its mere difficulty it has become unique, famous, and successful. Don’t devalue your life because it is difficult, or feel that you are lesser because of your inability to obtain freakish levels of constant happiness.