A few super useful things to help with mild depression

Yesterday, I posted about being depressed, and I had the very pleasant experience of having a bunch of friends and family reach out to me to either check in or commiserate.

A lot — a lot — of people seem to go through something very similar when they move to a new place where they don’t know anyone. The beauty of going to college or grad school is that, when you get there, you meet thousands of other people who are looking to make new friends, too. So loneliness isn’t as inevitable. Post-college, you don’t have that safety net. You have to make the friends yourself, which is exhausting and often awkward, and it can be really easy to sink into a depression.

It should go without saying that I’m not a shrink, and thus, I can’t offer any real medical advice, but seeing as people are reaching out to me, I feel like I should maybe share some of the stuff that has helped me navigate the Raptorfield1 of depression and start to pull out of this.

1. Therapy.

Duh. Before all of this, I thought of therapy as something you only did when you have an emotional break-down of some sort. I’m now starting to think that, if and when I pull out of this, I’m going to stick with therapy just as a way to kind of keep an eye on myself, and do occasional mental health upkeep.

In short: it’s not as big a deal or as terrifying as it feels when you’re first trying to book an appointment. If you need someone to talk to, therapists are often even better than friends, because they are often much better at calling you on bullshit. They are professionals, and while you may have to go to a couple to find a therapist that works for you, it’s worth the time.

A final note: I used the expense of therapy as a way to justify not going. It costs me a $15 copay every two weeks. I have good insurance, but even double or triple that would ultimately be manageable.

2. Exercise.

I’m terrible at this. I hate exercise. But I always, always, always get worse when I go a few days without it. There’s tons of evidence that exercise reduces the symptoms of mild to moderate depression.

This does not mean you should commit to running five miles a day, or running a marathon. That’s actually the opposite of what you should do, because depression is a pretty big energy sap, and big goals require a lot of energy. So you’re setting yourself up for failure by going too big too quick. Goals should stay in the realm of the doable.

I try to do one of two things each day: go for a walk. Or run a mile.

Walking is great — it doesn’t feel like too big of an ask, but it at least gets me outside and into the fresh air. I live near a beach, which makes walking especially nice, but even if I didn’t, it would still be pleasant. Aside from generally making me feel better, walking is an incredible creativity boost. Research has been done about this. I’m a writer, and if I hit a wall, I go for a walk. It does not ever fail me. Ever2. Also, walking near trees is good for your mental health.

Running is a new thing for me. I still hate it, but a mile is doable. I run for 8 to 10 minutes, and then I’m done for the day. I will probably try to scale up in the future, but the important thought is not, “I’m going to run a marathon someday,” but is rather, “I’m going to do something today, even if I totally suck at it.”

3. Not drinking.

I’m a young person without kids, and my drug of choice is booze. Drinking is suuuper dangerous when depression is an element — it’s kind of a momentary escape that, in the long run, actually contributes to the depression. You know, because it’s literally a depressant.

If I’m having a bad day, I try not to end it with a drink. It could really easily slip into alcoholism if I let drinking become tied to escape from depression, and I really don’t want that (not only because alcoholism is terrible, but because I actually quite like drinking, and want it to remain a healthy part of my life). Also, if I’m starting to feel shitty about myself, sometimes it’s after I’ve had drinks a few days in a row. If I skip a night, I often feel better the next morning.

4. Getting offline.

My job requires that I spend a lot of the day on the computer. This is also dangerous. The thing that makes me feel best, work-wise, is when I get totally absorbed and focused. This is hard to do with the internet as an element. The internet is designed to distract. I know this because I occasionally write click-bait headlines. We are really methodical about how we write these — the currency of the internet is attention, and we know how to get it3.

My solution — since I can’t just unplug, from a professional standpoint — is to use writing software called Scrivener that allows me to enter a composition mode which blocks out my browser and my desktop, among other things.

I also try to do non-electronic things — doodles, crossword puzzles, etc. I don’t know as much of the science behind this one, but I have felt better as a result of unplugging and forcing myself into the real world.

5. Musical theater.

I talked yesterday about flatlining. Sometimes, what I’ll do, if I’m feeling particularly emotionless, is I’ll try and do things that will provoke emotion out of me. I’ll read something that makes me angry (Donald Trump is excellent for this). I’ll remember old embarrassing moments. I’ll let the shitty voice in my head be especially shitty, to try and get me to cry. None of these are particularly healthy.

But there is one (relatively healthy) thing that always, without fail, makes me feel big feelings: Musical theater. Singing and dancing. I am not joking. Les Miserables. The Book of Mormon. Phantom of the Opera. And sweet Jesus Christ, Hamilton. This shit is my jam.

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Anyway — the thing that makes you feel big feelings may be something else. Music, sports, certain movies, certain books. I don’t know how healthy it is to try and trick yourself into feeling something big, but for me, it’s always a relief to put on “One Day More!” from Les Mis and feel myself tearing up a bit at the final lines. It’s a good reminder that yes, the feelings are still there, even if the only person who can bring them out is Jean Valjean.

Here are some of the things I watch that make me feel good feelings. They might not be your things, but they help me.

Les Miserables, “One Day More”

Sia, “Cheap Thrills”

Old Timey “Uptown Funk”

Movie Dance Scenes, “Shut Up and Dance”

Featured photo: Garry Knight

5 fictional villains who are more like Donald Trump than Gollum

Rand Paul, in an attempt to connect with younger, hipper voters, has decided to mockingly compare Donald Trump to a character from a 62-year-old book. The character he chose was Gollum, and the reason he gave was this:

One candidate on this national stage wants you to give him power. He tells you he is rich, so he must be smart.

If you give him power he claims he will fix America, but there is another tradition in America. A tradition that believes that power corrupts, and that our goal should be not to gain power but to contain power or limit Presidential power…

This race should not be about who can grasp the ring. Electing Gollum should not be our objective. This race should be about which candidate will best protect you from an overbearing government.

I am the only one on this national stage who really doesn’t want power or dominion over you.

So, a few quick things. I hate Donald Trump as much as anyone else, but Gollum is not a great comparison. First off, Gollum didn’t want power or dominion over anyone, he just wanted the Ring. Also, Gollum hates himself. This alone disqualifies him from being compared to Trump. It would be more accurate, in this analogy, to compare Trump to Sauron, but even that feels forced. Sauron is, if nothing else, a competent dictator, and is also short on words. It would be nice if Donald Trump was more like Sauron.

I’m not knocking Rand Paul for not knowing more about Lord of the Rings, as I imagine the only book he reads is Atlas Shrugged, and even the best candidates take ham-fisted stabs at being cool from time-to-time, so I’d like to offer him some other fictional characters that might be better likened to Donald Trump:

Gilderoy Lockhart, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

About a month ago, Twitter blew up after Trump’s Islamophobic nonsense and started comparing him to Voldemort. J.K. Rowling was not pleased.

Rowling is right: that is not the correct comparison. First of all, Voldemort was a power-hungry psychopath, while Trump is merely a bloviating narcissist. In this sense, he is much closer to the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher in the second Harry Potter book, Gilderoy Lockhart. Lockhart is an incompetent and a buffoon who spends most of his time mugging for cameras and talking about how important he is. This is the most Trumpian trait any character shows in the seven books.

And if we must insist on our Harry Potter comparison being a Death Eater, I would say that Vincent Crabbe, the meatheaded crony who turns maniacally evil in the seventh book, is a better comparison than Voldemort, simply because Voldemort is always portrayed as smart.

Napoleon, War and Peace

I know Napoleon is not a fictional character, but in Tolstoy’s War and Peace, he is fictionalized and portrayed not as a genius, but rather as an egomaniac who is simply riding the wave of history. France, Tolstoy suggests, was bubbling over with revolution anyway, and it didn’t matter which Great Man took the helm.

Tom Buchanan, The Great Gatsby

Misogynist? Check. Racist? Check. Rich and entitled? Check. Callously indifferent to the destruction he leaves in his wake? Check. Just the worst? Check.

Zaphod Beeblebrox, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Beeblebrox, for those who haven’t read HHG2G, is a self-centered, charismatic tabloid celebrity who somehow manages to be elected Galactic President. He then uses his prestige and power to careen around the galaxy, make a mess, and ruin people’s lives. Also, he has terrible hair.

Satan, The Bible (and spin-offs like Paradise Lost)

Bear with me. I’m not just making half-baked comparisons between Trump and the Devil. In Paradise Lost, Satan — whose fatal flaw is his pride — rejects God, leads a revolution (“Make heaven great again!”), loses, and then spends the rest of his life eating sour grapes and trying to turn God’s favorite creations against him. He especially likes to target women and people wandering through deserts.

Photo: Gage Skidmore

The Black Gums of New York City

The moving pictures always portray New York as a place where one looks upwards: up at the skyscrapers, up at the trees, up at the bright lights, while saying something like this:

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This has not been my experience of New York. I’m not saying that there aren’t skyscrapers and lights to look at, I’m simply saying that I never look up when I’m in New York. This, in part, is because of the wind. The skyscrapers of Manhattan serve effectively as a wind tunnel, turning the mildest of garbage-scented Staten Island zephyrs into whirling garbage-scented tempests by the time they reach street level in Midtown.

To look upward in such a wind is to risk being hit in the face by an airborne rat or falafel cart. Also, people in Manhattan like to scream verbal abuse at people who look them in the eye. So I’ve always walked with my head down in Manhattan.

Your typical New York sidewalk gazer will eventually notice a phenomenon of New York sidewalks, particularly in the more heavily populated areas (okay, all the areas of New York are heavily populated, to the point where it seems that the only way they could fit more people is with a blender.).

The phenomenon is gum. Gum carpeting the sidewalks. Gum that was spat on the ground eons ago, and, in the intervening years, having lost it’s stickiness on the shoes of many an angry tourist, has slowly absorbed the rainbow of particulates that float through the Manhattan atmosphere, combining them all into a dazzling tie-dye of ash gray on grime black on excrement brown.

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Photo: Aoife

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This is on the Empire State Building, by the way. Photo: Nick Traveller

The sheer quantity of gum you’ll come across in a single-block walk is staggering. It is a single person’s lifetime of gum. It is the amount of gum that can be found in the stomachs of an entire school district-worth of elementary students. It is the gum of generations. There’s so much of it that one must imagine that there, underneath your feet, is the expectorant of the stars. Woody Allen’s gum. John J. Astor’s gum. Biggie’s gum. Dorothy Parker’s gum. Jerry Seinfeld’s gum.

What is it, one wonders while searching for rare open patches of cement, that makes New Yorkers such prolific big league chewers? Have Bloomberg’s anti-smoking laws pushed so many to quit smoking that the city’s foundation now consists of 92% Nicorette? Has the Big Gum lobby been particularly effective in indoctrinating the masses of our country’s largest cities? Or do they simply need something in their mouths to keep from constantly screaming in terror?

(One does not wonder why they spit on the ground, however, as New York is a town that runs on garbage. I don’t mean that garbage is big business, I just mean that people literally run — and drive — on garbage. New Yorkers just push their garbage onto the sidewalk and into the streets when they’re done with it, where it waits for 286 years until it is partially fossilized and can then be scraped off the asphalt with a forklift and unceremoniously dumped on the shores of Staten Island or New Jersey.)

More ominously, what is it that New Yorkers are planning on doing with all of this gum? Unless they want to be slowly buried under it’s rise, like some sort of horrible tar glacier, they will have to dispose of it at some point. And lest they be forced off their island, they’ll have to send it somewhere else. This can not possibly be a good thing. Because tar gum is only useful for one thing: filling in cracks. And we all know how much New York hates a pothole.

Featured photo by Nigel Munoz.

Cucumbers are to Cats as Wedding rings are to Me

I haven’t thought about analogies since taking the SATs over ten years ago. Back then, me and my classmates spent many an hour trying to fill in the blanks of these strange questions:

Cobblestone : Pebble :: _________ : Toothpick

a) A tree

b) A plank of wood

c) A splinter

d) Your dick

The formula is pronounced this way: “A cobblestone is to a pebble as a blank is to a toothpick.” It was basically a way of showing that you could identify the relationships between things. So in this particular question, you’re asking yourself, what’s the same degree of difference from a toothpick as a cobblestone is to a pebble? A splinter is smaller than a toothpick, so that’s out, and a tree is exponentially larger than a toothpick, so that’s out. And we were all taught in our SAT prep classes that the answer was never “Your dick.” The answer “Your dick” was a red herring: it was designed to make you waste valuable test time wondering whether answering “Your dick” would be an admission of a small penis or a large penis. Penile hubris is not something colleges look for in their applicants.

So the answer is b) A plank of wood.

Anyway. I haven’t thought about analogies since finishing that test. Until recently, when cats started freaking out about cucumbers. If you haven’t been following the more pressing world news of late, you haven’t heard about the new discovery that cucumbers freak the ever loving shit out of cats.

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The internet was abuzz with thinkpieces as to why this may be (snakes, probably?), subreddits, compilation videos, and pleas to cease the cat torture.

I, however, knew how the cats felt. Not that I have anything against cucumbers, but because a new element has recently been introduced into my life from out of nowhere that has turned me into a gibbering, non-functional mess:

My wedding ring.

I have now been married for two months. The marriage part I quite like. The ceremony was wonderful, the party was great, the honeymoon was a blast, and domestic, married life is pretty chill. But the ring has been a problem since day one. I actually lost sleep the night of the wedding, not because of the excitement or because of nerves about marriage, but because the ring felt impossibly heavy on my finger. I slept weird on my arm for a bit that night, and woke up with pins and needles, and I decided that it was because the ring was cutting off circulation to my entire left side. It was the only new element, it was the only thing that made sense.

The next day, as Steph and I hung out with all of the friends and family who were still in town, I fiddled with it. Every time I did jazz hands (and yes, I do jazz hands regularly), it jangled dangerously, as if it was about to shoot off across the room. One of my friends, who had gotten married five months earlier, said, “Oh yeah. That weirdness hasn’t gone away yet.” Other recently married friends told me that they still fiddle. They spin the ring like it’s a quarter. Others flip them into the air and try to catch them on their finger, a la Lord of the Rings. Others use them as percussion instruments against stone tabletops.

When we went on our honeymoon the next day, I met a man at the resort who said, “You two are newlyweds, right?”

We said yeah and asked how he knew. “Oh, you can always tell,” he said, “The guys are always fiddling with their rings.”

There are several reasons why women don’t do the same thing:

  1. They’ve had their engagement rings on for months now, and thus are used to it.
  2. Women (generally speaking) are more frequent ring-wearers than men, don’t find the feeling as alien.
  3. Their rings are generally lighter.
  4. Women are conditioned to be able to function in mild discomfort: think heels, tight pants, piercings, make-up, bras… men have no such conditioning, and, as such, are babies.

My ring is also a source of deep fear for me. This is because of the ring I bought. It’s a hefty silver thing, and it’s made of tungsten carbide. I got tungsten carbide instead of gold because a gold band costs a couple hundred dollars, while a tungsten carbide ring costs you about $10. Tungsten carbide rings are cheaper than a good craft beer. They’re also stronger than gold. They’re less likely to scratch, they don’t stain, they don’t rust, and they can last a lifetime.

I thought all of this was a good thing, until I started talking to my friends who do manual labor. Or, you know, who work out. “Oh yeah,” they said, “Just don’t break your finger while you’re wearing it.”

“Why not?”

“Well, if you get it caught on something while you’re mowing the lawn or lifting, and it breaks your finger, the doctors won’t be able to cut it off because it’s so strong. So they might have to take off your finger instead.”

Everytime I lift something with the ring, I imagine feeling sudden pressure, a snapping sound, a shooting pain, and then watching the doctors pulling my finger off my hand with a satisfying popping sound, like a cork out of a champagne bottle.

My friend says, “Matt, they’ll probably try to get the swelling down first. Or they’ll just grease your finger before chopping it off.”

“Oh. Right.”

It is this that haunts me. It is this, I assume, that has haunted many men, and has led to their early marriage freak-outs: not, as society assumes, a terror of monogamy or a fear of commitment, but rather the introduction of an ominous alien jewel onto their being. Like cats with cucumbers, we newly married men know that finding something where before there was nothing is a terrifying event indeed.

The Friday Shitpile: Comics edition!

I’ve been on a doodle kick this week, so for today’s Friday Shitpile, I will be posting some of my better joke comics.

Still waiting to hear back from Disney.

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A mantra for all the parents out there.

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There’s a pretty big plot hole on Bane’s face, guys.

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Garth Vader would also be a pretty solid Wayne’s World mashup.

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And finally, a “yay, 2016!” comic strip.

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Why new and improved tampons are all that is wrong with society

A few weeks ago, while writing an article that I assumed no one would ever read and that I was not particularly enjoying writing, I thought to myself, “fuck this shit.” This article was adding no particular benefit to the world, it wasn’t going to change anyone’s mind about anything or make them think. It would be read by a few hundred people tops and then it would be forgotten in the sea of forgotten horseshit that is the internet.

It was kind of a dark day for me. But the thought has stuck with me every time I’ve had to do anything that I’ve thought is stupid or a waste of my time. Drudgery holds no purpose for anyone if there’s no meaningful end to the work. And when I say drudgery, I don’t mean “boring shit.” I once spent an entire day washing beets with a scrub brush and putting them on display. It was mindless work, and it was relatively dull, but there was a purpose: the beets needed to be washed and then people would buy them and eat them. Boom. Done.

On the other hand, I’ve spent days at a time writing bullshit articles, like for the now-defunct site HomesForSaleInPortland.com, HomesForSaleInSantaBarbara.com, and, my masterpiece, HomesForSaleInLubbock.com, in which I just repeated the word “Lubbock” three hundred times and called it “Dada” when my boss asked me what the fuck I was doing. But those sites weren’t actually there to sell any homes. They were squatter sites that we were populating with content in order to sell them to actual realtors in Lubbock, Texas, later on at jacked up prices. I was providing no benefit to the world. I was simply making myself (and my bosses) money.

Take, for example, your average tampon commercial. Now, I don’t use tampons, but I’d imagine at some point, they’ve reached a level of adequate absorbency for all but the most Elevator-at-the-Overlook-Hotel of flows. But there’s a constant tendency in commercials for tampons or Maxipads to show off the “new” technology.

Think about that for a second: if those people aren’t lying about the fact that they’ve innovated the absorbency of their tampons, then some scientist, some engineer, actually designed that extra-absorbent tampon. A scientist. Someone who could be working on the next spacecraft. Instead they’re making tampons that can absorb swimming pools or maxipads that can support bowling balls.

Work that is useless is work that is not worth doing. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t enough work to go around. There’s a pothole near my house that nearly took off a tire. People are constantly littering in our town, and someone needs to pick that up. While we’re hiring litter picker-uppers, we could also be hiring an advertiser who, rather than finding ways to visually demonstrate tampon absorbency, could run a public awareness campaign about the harmfulness of littering, especially in a Shore town.

This hustle for money and benefits and homes and cars that everyone in their late 20s (and, you know, in every other age group) seems to be trapped in is what’s contributing to the problem. We’re so panicky about the state of our finances that we jump at the first job to offer us money rather than taking some time to figure out how we can use our skills to their greatest personal and communal benefit.

I’ve heard the arguments against anti-jobism. “If we didn’t make everyone work, people would goof off and exploit the system. It’s human nature.”

Okay, first off, “It’s human nature,” is not a real argument for anything in the 21st century. Do you think humans were built to sit on sofas and recliners? That their “nature” involves staring at a television or a computer screen all day long? That their nature involves driving goddamn flying machines and automobiles? No, it doesn’t. Human nature originally involved living in trees, flinging poo, and never leaving Africa. None of those three things are part of human nature anymore, except maybe the second one on the occasional Saturday evening.

And second, so what if some people don’t choose to work? Who are we to say that the only way we value another human is if they’re working adequately hard enough? Why is our human dignity predicated on labor?

We’re entering an era where work isn’t going to be necessary — or even available — to everyone anymore. This isn’t a bad thing. Let go of drudgery and meaningless toil. Embrace work that actually matters.

Disclaimer: To my female readers, I’m sorry if you feel that tampon innovations have felt worthwhile over the past few years, and that I, a non-user, am being too glib about them. I probably could’ve used the example of men’s razor innovations just as easily (“Hey guys! What if we added ANOTHER blade?”) but then I wouldn’t have been able to make my awesome Overlook Hotel joke. My integrity only goes as far as the easiest crass joke I can make, and for that, I offer you my sincerest apologies.

Featured photo by Erika Gilraen Loss

Mister Clam vs. the Poisonous Internet

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I’ve been struggling recently with the fact that, as part of this newest crop of writers, I am likely to spend much of the rest of my life on the internet. It’s good, no doubt that I can help transmit ideas from person to person without destroying any trees, and it’s also good that anyone who likes can read whatever I’ve written without paying a thing. As hard as this makes it for me to ever become an alcoholic with an expensive taste in Scotch, I think what’s good for the reader is probably good for the writer as well.

What’s difficult is that moving from my bed to my chair and onto the internet is like moving from the clean air of a forest to the interior of a 19th century smokestack. It’s poisonous. I’ve been trying to curate a good Facebook feed — one where the thoughts of thoughtful friends appear and the thoughts of myopic ones don’t, where news from the margins can make its way past the meaningless talking points of the center, and where the humor isn’t too cynical or mean — and now, 10 years into my time on this social media site, I think I’ve realized that it just can’t be done. This is not a tool for thoughtfulness. This is not a tool that will keep me centered and calm.

It became particularly painful over this last week, as I watched from my easy chair, as my entire society slipped back into an easy rage over a common tragedy. What’s more common in America than the shooting of innocent (black) people? What’s more common than racism? And is there anything more preventable? We know how to limit gun violence. And we know how to move forward on race.

But nah. We’ll focus on the flag. Let’s make this about the ugly symbol of racism rather than the racism itself. Let’s make it about the easiest, most polarizing aspect of the debate instead of about the pain and of living in a society where you must see your neighbors murdered and know that it’s because of a culture and a system that you yourself are a part of. It will allow everyone to feel justified, indignant, and better about themselves, if no different. Political change in America is most appreciated when it’s cosmetic.

I don’t much like the fact that this is what I’ll be writing on for the remainder of my life. I don’t much like that I’ll undoubtedly be tasked with contributing to the internet’s cyclical outrage and it’s nihilistic clickbait if I want to feed myself and my family for the next several decades. I’d like to hope that it will change, I’d like to hope that I’ll get better at blocking out everything that’s toxic about the online environment, but I don’t want to count on that. Unlike gun violence and racism, I don’t have any ideas on how a toxic media environment can be fixed.

My hope is that I can be a part of the antidote rather than a part of the poison, but I’m not sure how I’m supposed to do that. The other day, feeling fried and tired of the internet, I got out of my chair and walked to the beach. As I approached the boardwalk, I passed a mother and daughter who were leaving for the day. The daughter, no older than 6, ran up to me holding a clamshell and, while moving the sides of the clamshell like a puppet, shouted, “HEY THERE, I’M MISTER CLAM! NOM NOM NOM!” and then ran off giggling.

I can’t think of a deeper meaning or a metaphor for Mister Clam, and I don’t know how this relates to racial politics in America, but I do know that when I left my darkened, toxic workplace and walked to the beach to meet Mister Clam, I felt a little better. So I’m bringing Mister Clam back onto the internet with me. He has plenty of opinions on the Confederate flag, climate change, and the GOP pool for 2016, but whenever he starts talking, it just sounds like “NOM NOM NOM” to me.

Featured photo by Lew Holzman

The world doesn’t need any more American heroes

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If you ever need to start a morning like a fucking champ, start it by listening to Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out For a Hero.”

“Mm,” you’ll softly moan, “Yeah. I’m gonna wreck those spreadsheets today.”

There’s something about the concept of heroes that gets people amped up. Calling someone a hero is basically the best compliment you can give them before calling them a “god” or telling them they have a “cool dick.”

Which is why I got so pissed off while reading the book American Sniper and hearing that people thought of Chris Kyle as a “hero”: in the book, he calls Iraqis “savages” whom he “could give a flying fuck about,” he jokes about desecrating a corpse, and he jokes about looting video games from a young kid’s apartment, even though in separate interviews he bragged about going to Hurricane Katrina and murdering 30 looters (which, it turns out, was probably a lie). “This guy is a hero?” I thought, “He sounds like a violent psychopath.” But America generally disagrees: Chris Kyle is an American Hero.

A guy who knew a ton about heroes was mythologist Joseph Campbell, who wrote the book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Campbell explained how most “heroes” followed the same basic path, and were actually just different manifestations of the human experience. All humans can connect with them because they go through exaggerated versions of the trials we go through every single day.

Of course, different societies will ask different attributes of their heroes. A modern hero like Harry Potter will be kind and forgiving and opposed to racism, while a slightly older hero, like Frodo Baggins, will be fighting on behalf of the natural world against an anti-nature, industrialized enemy (seriously: watch those movies again with that frame in mind. Mordor basically just looks like Detroit, while the Shire is a lush English countryside). They can also belong to specific nationalities. Here’s an exchange from Campbell’s interview with Bill Moyers from the book The Power of Myth.

MOYERS: It has been said that a leader is someone who discerned the inevitable and got in front of it. Napoleon was a leader, but he wasn’t a hero in the sense that what he accomplished was grand for humanity’s sake. It was for France, the glory of France.

CAMPBELL: Then he is a French hero, is he not? This is the problem for today. Is the hero of a given state or people what we need today, when the whole planet should be our field of concern? Napoleon is the nineteenth-century counterpart of Hitler in the twentieth. Napoleon’s ravaging of Europe was horrific.

MOYERS: So you could be a local god and fail the test on a larger cosmic level?

CAMPBELL: Yes. Or you could be a local god, but for the people whom that local god conquered, you could be the enemy. Whether you call someone a hero or a monster is all relative to where the focus of your consciousness may be.

In this way, Seth Rogen was totally right about American Sniper:

The concept of hero is not culture-specific: any culture can proclaim anyone a hero. Some people think of terrorists as heroes. Some think of Hitler as a hero. Some think of Donald Trump as a hero.

Chris Kyle is a hero. But he’s an American hero. And in a global age, American heroes are no longer sufficient. Petty nationalism is no longer useful to us: nation states are merely the best form of political organization we have right now. But our problems are global: the climate, extreme global poverty, religious extremism, growing global inequality, public health, cyberwarfare, state-on-state violence, human rights abuses. None of these problems can be dealt with within the borders of a single country. So a valid global hero should be someone that doesn’t just fight for a single nation, but who fights for humanity and the planet as a whole.

Otherwise, they’re just another member of the pantheon of irrelevant heroes. Otherwise, they’re not fighting for anything important.

Featured Photo by Jeepers Media

Guys: Don’t take your wife’s name. Invent a new one.

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Zoe Saldana’s husband, Marco né Perego Saldana, is catching shit for taking her last name. It’s cool that the guy is taking this step, especially when he’s this prominent of a dude, as it’s kind of a ridiculous tradition that only women must give up their family name upon marriage.

But while it’s a cool feminist gesture for men to take their wife’s name, why should either partner take their partner’s familial name? Isn’t the point of marriage to create a new family? Shouldn’t you create a new name? Don’t you know that all names are made up?

Look: My last name, Hershberger, is not the most sonorous-sounding name on the planet. It’s the sound that would come out of the Swedish Chef’s mouth if he was trying to say say “hurdy-gurdy” while gargling marbles. And its meaning is even less exciting: it means “deer mountain” in German. I fucking hate deer, and the only nice thing I can say about mountains is that they’re a place you can get drunk sometimes. And I’m not worried about being “the last of the Hershberger’s,” because if you’ve ever been to Amish country, you can’t shake a butter churn and not hit a Hershberger.

Steph’s last name is a little nicer sounding: Albanese. But it means “Albanian,” which I’m not.

We’ve toyed briefly with the celebrity moniker Hershbanese (which I actually love), after having thoroughly rejected the Applebee’s special Albaberger, but now, we’re kind of at an impasse. It just seems too silly. We don’t want our kids to have the six-syllable and billion-letter hyphen “Hershberger-Albanese,” but we’re just going to not worry about that for now.

The answer, though, is simple: we should invent something new.

The name “Smith” is an occupational surname for Blacksmiths. They chose to take on that last name, that’s the only reason they’re called that. And the only reason there’s a Smith everywhere is because there had to be a Blacksmith in every town, and apparently a long day of pounding metal makes you DTF.

So why do we cling to these names? They don’t mean that much anymore: I’m German by descent, but I’ve never actually been to Germany and I’ve never danced around a maypole or whatever it Germans do in their spare time, so there’s no reason my last name should be German. It should clearly be American. Rather than trying to absorb my subservient wife into some broad, barely-connected clan of people who like deer and mountains, I should start my own clan. And my clan should be reflective of my family’s character.

Matt BeerKing. Matty Nosocks. Matty Nopants. Matt Naplord. Matt Chucklesworth.

This is just a preliminary brainstorm. Steph probably won’t be on board with the socks one. But the point remains: there’s no reason we shouldn’t be inventing our own names.

Featured photo by Gwen.