On Origin Stories 

I love origin stories. It’s not going to seem that way in a few paragraphs, but I do.

An origin story takes an existing persona and gives them shape and depth. I say persona deliberately, because it’s not just any character who gets an origin story; it’s a larger-than-life character, a superhero, a mythic entity. It’s a protagonist whose impact is so big it doesn’t fit in a single shot, so bright you can’t always look at them head on.

Sometimes, the heroes in our stories seem a little far away, a little archetypal, and you find yourself trying to fill in the gaps.

So the origin story comes along, and it fills in the gaps – what gaps there are to be filled, anyway – and one of the things I always love about them is that, while they deepen the character, they also make them smaller. Closer. Touchable. The hero takes on some of our ordinariness, and for a little while we get to borrow some of their extraordinariness. After that exchange, anything is possible. Stories have a tendency to wake up our sense of wonder – origin stories remind us that it’s always there, awake or not.

Origin stories ask: how is the hero, and why is the hero, and what happened to the hero before they were a hero?

– is there some inherent quality – are these choices that we make – does greatness always involves sacrifice – is it only heroic if it occurs in the shadow of loss –

They’re good questions, the sort of questions we ask because we know, even if most of the time we try not to think about it, that our stories are our mirrors. They’re what we believe, or what we used to believe, or what we want to believe. Stories are basically tarot cards, which don’t tell us anything about the future but do tell us a lot about what’s in our own heads.

Origin stories tell us that maybe we can be heroes, if we all start from the same ordinary place. They have an incredible, potential power. Hell, potential is their power.

But origin stories – some origin stories – bother me, as well (I can love things that bother me. I’m multi-faceted), and they bother me because they seem to be intrinsically linked with loss. Some of that is just basic story structure, about pacing and plot – because what is a story without sacrifice, without challenge, without loss, right? A story has to go somewhere, and if it just went in a straight line it would be the most boring thing imaginable. It wouldn’t even be a story, really, so much as inefficient paperwork.

I can’t quite shake it. It feels a little bit like that “Everything happens for a reason” bullshit, although not as simple as that. The loss, then the heroism, right? Not necessarily meaning heroism because loss. Correlation doesn’t imply causation.

The fact is, there’s nothing heroic about suffering and loss; there’s really nothing particularly amazing or stupendous about grief or sacrifice. Sometimes the lows of emotional pain are so intense that they’re almost highs, but mostly it’s just banal. It’s a grind. You pull yourself through one shitty day after another, and not once do you think, This makes me special. I’m basically Spiderman.

Being human comes with a minimum sadness content. We’re all going to experience these feelings, if we haven’t already; and even if we already have, we’ll probably have to hit that again, because that content isn’t a quota. There’s no guarantee that once you get through this rough patch, you won’t slip right into another one.

It’s possible I’ve been having a rough time lately.

A really rough time.

That doesn’t make me special, though. That doesn’t make me a superstar, or a hero, or anything other than perfectly ordinary. That just makes me human, albeit a human who at this particular point in time isn’t doing so hot.

Because I don’t think everything happens for a reason. I don’t believe that there’s a purpose to feeling like this. I don’t believe that calluses make good metaphors. I don’t believe that it’s a good idea to toughen people up by treating them badly.

I do believe that whatever doesn’t kill me really hurts quite a lot, and also that it often does permanent damage.

I’m that person who winces whenever the hero is terribly wounded and just barely dragging their mangled flesh machine through the climax of the story, not because it seems painful, but because those kinds of wounds are probably going to require months of rehab to get past. There will be scarring. There may be nerve damage, even permanent chronic pain that won’t respond to anything but intense, over-regulated prescription painkillers. In some cases, I’d be expecting PTSD (to be honest, that’s one of the reasons I really got into Iron Man 3. That reaction made sense to me). But it doesn’t matter, does it? Because once the hero has survived that challenge, the story ends. And it’s happy. It’s okay. It’s the end.

“There are no happy endings,” said Shmendrick the Magician, “because nothing ends.”

(don’t anyone tell the poor man about entropy, he’s had a difficult day as it is)

I can’t help thinking about what comes after The End, and of course I understand what’s behind this. Of course I understand that we romanticise things to make them manageable, and that’s also why I love romances: you can go to a dark place with the comfort of a happy ending. You can explore, and investigate, and take terrifying risks – but you’ll be okay, in the end. Because that’s how romances work. They have rules.

All stories have rules, in a way that life doesn’t, and that’s why in the end they are flawed mirrors at best. Would I be who I was, without the frightening memories I get to keep forever? Maybe not – but maybe that person would be more emotionally robust than me. I wouldn’t be able to hold a crying friend and say, “I know how it feels, I’m so sorry,” if I didn’t know how it felt; but then again, I’d be able to listen, and it’s different for everyone, anyway.

Origin stories are wonderful, and I’ll always love them. I always find a fascinating, mind-bending glory in humanising the big heroes, in watching that path from ordinary to extraordinary, in learning that maybe ordinary and extraordinary are not so far apart – but I don’t like to think that there was a purpose, any purpose at all, in my having been hurt. I can learn not to touch the hot stove without burning my hands.

This isn’t my fucking origin story, is what I guess I’m trying to say. I’m probably not going to become a beautiful butterfly when all’s said and done. I’m just a grub, like all the other grubs.

Honestly, I’m okay with that. Grubs get a bad rap.

 

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This Keto Life: On taking breaks, and the urge to explain

(note: if you follow me on Twitter/FB, you may have seen me complain about a blog post I’ve been trying to write for three weeks that is doing my head in. Heads-up: this is not that post! This is something a bit cruisier, although it does touch on some mental health issues)

I think I’ve probably spent a lot of time and energy justifying keto, and a lot of that feels necessary because of the vast swamp of wild misinformation surrounding this particularly controversial approach to feeding oneself. Even self-proclaimed experts who start out with good, scientifically-backed approaches can end up departing from the well-groomed path of evidence and wading out into the quicksand pits of “Wishful Thinking”, “Over-generalisation”, and “It sounds cool and my friend said it was true.”

Thanks to the internet keto-meisters peddling righteous rage and over-hyped woo, there’s some real pushback on keto/low carb from the skeptic community. Thanks to the deafening, overwhelming focus on the (potential) weight loss associated with keto/low carb, there’s severe pushback from the body positivity and health-at-every-size communities. And thanks to people just flat-out doing it wrong, there’s pushback from some dietitians who have had patients with various deficiencies and problems.

This basically means that I feel a near-irresistible compulsion to justify my diet, which causes some anxiety.

Here’s the low-down, by the way, as simply as I can make it. Continue Reading

ADHD and other letters: on forgiveness

I think one of the hardest things about having ADHD – especially prior to diagnosis – is that you lose faith in yourself. This applies to any condition that includes “executive dysfunction” as a symptom, but throw in the ADHD brain’s inability to perceive or estimate time, and it’s a real doozy.

Because you know what you need to do to change.

You just don’t do it. Continue Reading

ADHD and other letters: “Hyperactive” or “Inattentive” or “Combined” or “oh god just stop”

When it comes to medical situations, we like labels. Clear labels can shortcut explanations, save time, validate challenges that we face, allow us to access the help that we need, provide information to professionals, comfort us, describe parts of us, and ultimately provide all the blessings of naming the beast. There are downsides to labels, for sure, particularly when they are misused, poorly understood, incorrectly applied, or stigmatised; but when you’re searching for answers, sometimes you get hungry for labels.

Sometimes you want more labels, because more detail is better, right? Except sometimes labels are erected for shitty reasons and in half-arsed ways, and they can lead you down the garden path.

The disclaimer on this post is that:

  • I am not a doctor
  • I am definitely not a psychiatrist
  • And whoa, howdy, I am not a psychiatrist specialising in ADHD.

My one appeal to authority is that I did run these ideas past my specialist, because I wanted to know if I was on the right track, or just doing that thing that I do, i.e. “Yes, Kate, you did read a lot but you know a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, right?” and I figured a professional and a specialist was the right person to bounce these ideas off.

She agreed with enthusiasm (frustrated enthusiasm, for reasons that will become clear).

Let’s tell a story about labels. It starts with gender. Continue Reading

Small Good Things

I’m not a huge fan of Raymond Carver, in the sense that I would never read his work for fun or enjoyment. I feel it would be a little bit like stabbing myself in the kidneys for fun or enjoyment. I’m not good with horror, tragedy, or the grotesque. All the same, I have an enormous admiration for what he can achieve with a minimum of words.

Sometimes, when there are less words, the reader has to do more work, interpreting and figuring things out – and there’s value to that sort of writing as well, but it’s not what Carver did. Carver used just enough language to poke at something deep down in a shared cultural awareness. Just enough visual, enough imagery, enough dialogue to arouse suspicion, to stir up the dark things lurking in the depths, rising up into a slow realisation of the horror or tragedy taking place, often without stating it outright – or, if he did state it outright, it was in the most blunt and stark fashion.

I read Short Cuts, an anthology of short stories, in year 12, which was ohdeargod 20 years ago now, and there are images and feelings that will always stay with me, after only a single reading that I have never repeated. Continue Reading

On Penelope

Sometimes, I think nothing is real until I write about it.

I’ve been avoiding this, as though if I don’t write about it – if I don’t let the feelings and thoughts come out the way they need to – then it didn’t happen.

If I don’t write about it, I can still believe that nothing has changed. If I go to that little townhouse in Newmarket, and lean heavily on the doorknob (because it got stuck, and even though her dad fixed it, we’d all been shoving it so hard for so many years that it was muscle memory), I’ll see Penelope sitting on the couch with an enormous tapestry frame resting across her lap, copper-brown hair fuzzing around her head. Behind the ever-present glasses, her eyes are quiet and focused, and her face is almost stern, an expression of an unflinching rationality that has been mistaken for coldness, for aloofness.

Continue Reading