342. A Grateful Post

You’ve done it, you wonderful readers, you.

Some of my dear readers and I worked together over Christmas to raise money for Living Water International, an organization that provides clean water for people in impoverished areas. We also raised money for Child’s Play, a charity that gives toys and video games to kids in hospitals. All said, we donated $450 USD.

We did it, guys.

The clean water fundraiser has finally ended its longer-than-originally-planned run, and I have some readers to thank!

Charity logos Because of these awesome people, the world has become a better, wetter, brighter place.

  • First of all, there were a bunch of anonymous donors. If any of you are reading this: Thank you!
  • I would like give Ian Adams a shout out for his generosity. Thanks so much, Ian, for your support!
  • Amy Green took a break from blogging, baking cookies, and generally being awesome to support one of these fundraisers. Thanks, Amy! (The rest of you should go read her blog, The Monday Heretic, immediately. I aspire someday to be as good a blogger as Amy.)
  • I want to thank Logan and Kristi Drillien for their support. Thank you, Kristi and Logan! (By the way, the Drilliens’ friend Errol started a webcomic a few weeks ago, and I’m really enjoying it. If you have a sense of humor and/or a soul, you should check out My Neighbor Errol.)
  • Besides donating to one of its fundraisers, JK Riki has supported TMTF in about ten thousand other ways. I’m still amazed and touched by your kindness, JK. Thank you so much! (The rest of you should check out JK’s blog: Life, Art, and Monkeys. He’s also written a couple of guest posts for TMTF!)
I'm still not sure I trust JK's monkeys around any of mine, though.

I’m still not sure I trust JK’s monkeys around any of mine, though.

Finally, I want to thank the rest of my dear readers for sticking around this blog! I mean it when I say a writer has no greater joy than to be read, and I appreciate every one of you.

Is it just me, or did it get really sentimental in here? I’d better open a window.

A Wrecking Ball? Smashing!

I hate country music.

At work, country music is frequently played on the radio. I suffer in bitter silence, trying to block out the endlessly repeating songs about trucks, tractors, back roads, beer, intoxication, and promiscuous women. The music mostly sounds the same to me, and the lyrics are deplorable.

Pop music is nearly as bad. It’s no less shallow than country music, but at least it’s not as muddy. Pop’s obsessions with dysfunctional relationships, cheap sex, and glamorous appearances are depressing.

To be fair, I’ve heard pop and country songs that are pretty good. I can’t think of any, but I’m sure they’re out there.

Much to my astonishment, the Gregory Brothers have fused pop and country into something that sounds… actually pretty awesome. Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” makes a great country ballad.

I particularly like how the camera, near the end of the music video, pans slowly across an action figure of Ryu from Street Fighter, which later falls over inexplicably. It’s obviously a metaphor for something incomprehensibly profound, and I respect the Gregory Brothers’ artistic vision.

341. Mole End

If you ever happen to visit my apartment, you will be greeted by a wooden sign immediately upon stepping inside. It depicts a well-dressed mole drinking coffee and reading a book, along with two welcoming words: Mole End.

Mole End

I love the way the mole’s glasses are perched delicately on the end of his snout.

My dad, God bless him, crafted this sign for me many years ago. Although he’s known round these parts for his superb drawings of monkeys, my old man is perfectly capable of drawing other small mammals!

The sign is made of driftwood from an Ecuadorian beach. (The sign fell from the wall a few weeks ago, scattering sand from its deepest crevices all over my floor. I was oddly touched to find my small-town Indiana apartment suddenly dusted with sand from my faraway homeland.) My old man sketched the picture on an ordinary piece of paper, glued it to the driftwood, aged it with cold tea, and applied a layer of finish.

When I moved into my apartment two and a half years ago, I immediately christened it Mole End and put up the sign shortly thereafter. Now, you may wonder why I chose this name for an apartment in a quiet, out-of-the-way corner of Indiana. You wouldn’t be the first!

Some time ago, I was honored to receive a visit from Thomas Mark Zuniga. This wise, wandering blogger had written for my blog. I had written for his, and also reviewed his debut book. It was quite a privilege finally to meet the man (and his splendid beard) in person.

Adam and Tom

Someday, if I am very lucky, I will have a beard half as nice as Tom’s.

Upon entering Mole End, Tom asked about the sign. It took me a moment to stammer out a reply: “Have you ever read The Wind in the Willows?”

For those who haven’t read this enchanting book, The Wind in the Willows is the tale of several animals in the old-timey English countryside. One of these creatures, Mole, reminds me strongly of myself: neat, anxious, insecure, quick to blame himself, and a devoted homebody. In a few other ways, I’m rather like a mole: I’m an introvert, keeping away from social events and enjoying my safe, cozy, solitary burrow.

Mole loves his subterranean home, Mole End, yet leaves it early on in search of fresh experiences. It’s only later in the book, as he chats with a Badger, that Mole remembers how much he enjoys life underground.

“Once well underground,” he said, “you know exactly where you are. Nothing can happen to you, and nothing can get at you. You’re entirely your own master, and you don’t have to consult anybody or mind what they say. Things go on all the same overheard, and you let ’em, and don’t bother about ’em. When you want to, up you go, and there the things are, waiting for you.”

That, dear reader, is why I call my apartment Mole End.

Mole later returns to Mole End in a chapter aptly titled “Dulce Domum,” Latin for sweet home. He is overwhelmed to the point of tears. Mole End is all the sweeter because Mole abandoned it for a while, like the man in the book by G.K. Chesterton who left his house and walked around the world simply for the joy of coming home again.

I love my home—not my Indiana apartment, specifically, but the place I feel secure, comfortable, and relaxed. My home isn’t permanent. There’s a reason the Bible refers to our bodies as a “tent” instead of a house. Quoth the Apostle Paul, “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven.”

We are all foreigners and strangers on earth. Some of us are searching for a better country—a heavenly one. My apartment in Indiana may be the closest thing to home I shall ever find on earth. I don’t know how long I’ll stay. In the future, I may have many homes… but I will only ever have one Mole End.

Of course, Mole End’s size, appearance, and layout may change occasionally. Its location may vary. Mole End may be found, at various times, in different cities, countries, and continents.

As long as I have the promise of a heavenly home—and the sign, of course—I’ll carry Mole End with me.

340. TMTF’s Top Ten Things Learned in Ten Years of Animation

Today’s post was written by JK Riki: animator, blogger, and creator of Fred the Monkey, who is probably a bad influence on my typewriter monkeys. All the same, Typewriter Monkey Task Force is honored to share JK’s reflections on what he’s learned from ten years as an animator. For more great stuff from JK, check out his blog and Twitter. You may also want to swing by Animator Island, for which he writes.

After I sent my first guest post to Adam, he responded positively: “It’s good stuff.” Two sentences later came a spirit-crushing qualification: he was more interested in my creative process, particularly from the class of “animator” in which I dwell.

“Surely you can do better than this last, terrible post,” he noted in his email, though it may have actually been written, “I think your thoughts on the creative process may be even more valuable.” (I can read between the lines, you see. I know what he meant.)

[Editor’s note: What I, Adam, really meant was, “I think your thoughts on the creative process may be even more valuable, and I could really use a cup of coffee.” That last part is subtext to nearly everything I say or write, so I left it out.]

So fine, I’ll set aside my deeper thoughts on philosophy and the universe and give the audience what it wants. Plus I’ll do it in a time-honored tradition of TMTF: a top ten list!

That said, please consider…

The Top Ten Things I’ve Learned From Ten Years as an Animator!

10. Mediocre entertainment > unrealized genius

I can’t tell you the amount of time I’ve wasted waiting to get “good enough” to do certain projects. “This is a brilliant idea,” I’ve thought, “but I really need to up my skill level to pull it off properly. Back you go into the Sack of Potential Greatness!”

Poor Sack. It’s been bursting at the seams for years now.

The truth is, a brilliant idea unrealized is pointless. Isn’t an inferior version that exists better than a wasted concept that, let’s face it, will never be made? Honestly, it’s unlikely you’ll ever be “good enough.” You’ll never reach that standard. It’s not worth the wait; go do it now. Save perfection for the next life!

Even the best animations start as rough, quick sketches!

Even the best animations start as rough, quick sketches!

That said, 10b. Always strive to do better!

9. Enthusiasm fades

Animation is a brilliant form of art for one unique reason: It takes forever. Because it takes forever, you have millions of opportunities to tweak things or change directions or quit and become an accountant. When you work on a single piece of art that takes weeks, months, or years for what seems like very little return, at some point you question what you’re doing.

The thing that divides the people who have done great animation (or really, anything at all) from those who only wish they could is pushing past this doldrum and pressing on, enthusiasm or no enthusiasm. Those days happen, and it’s up to you to not let them string together day after day, week after week.

8. Animation is hard

It does not take much physical effort to drag a wooden stick affixed with graphite across compressed tree pulp. It doesn’t even take much physical effort to do that billions of times so you can photograph them in sequence and watch the lines dance across a screen.

Despite the lack of physical energy required, animation is so, so hard.

JK's inner animator expresses the difficulties of the craft in the most eloquent way possible: shaking a sharp, pointy object.

JK’s inner animator eloquently expresses the difficulties of his craft.

People are used to watching movement. When you’re attempting to mimic that movement they know so well with pencil or 3D model, your audience are all experts. If you make a mistake, they’ll know about it, because it doesn’t match the decades of real-world experience they have with movement.

At the same time…

7. People are forgiving

In animation, you cheat. A lot. One of my favorite descriptions of animation is from Pixar director Peter Docter, who said “Animation is life with the volume turned up.”

As animators, we’re called to go beyond reality and create things that “look right.” Sometimes, in order to get something to look right, you have to throw all the rules out the window and make things up. The wonderful thing about this process is that people will accept your made up nonsense if it looks right. They’ll forgive your strange motion blurs and broken joints just as long as it feels the way it should. It’s because of this that…

6. Mistakes aren’t as huge as you think

One of the greatest moments in animation is when you finish roughing out a shot and you hate it with every fiber of your being. You look at the individual drawings and think “This is garbage. I should quit and become an accountant!” Then you play it in real time and oh! The beauty! The majesty! The countless hours were worth it, and for reasons unknown it works. There is reason to live again!

Life is long, and it’s a process. The mistakes of a “single frame” that seem overwhelming at the time may just work in unison with the images around it and turn out beautifully. Then the key becomes remembering that even the close-up errors really aren’t as dooming as they seem.

5. Things change

Fred the Monkey sure has changed over the years!

Fred the Monkey affirms that yes, things sure change!

If you aren’t growing as a person, you’re doing life wrong. We’re here to grow, to learn, and to become better every day. Knowing this, one should expect to change over time. When we expect this change to happen, we can better deal with the feelings of “failure” when it arrives. I once kicked myself for failing to keep FredtheMonkey.com updated consistently. Wait, to be fair, I kicked myself for that dozens of times.

The longer I live, the more I see that the goals I set at twenty-two are not the goals I have today. As the Bible says in Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: A time to make Flash cartoons about monkeys, and a time to focus on family life and remodeling a house.” (Paraphrasing here a bit, so go look up the full non-cartoon-including list in Ecc. 3.)

Things change; it’s part of life. When we know this, we can…

4. Manage expectations to find happiness

Consider this scenario. You decide to go see a film this weekend. You’ve seen a trailer, and it looks absolutely terrible, but a friend/family/cute member of the opposite sex really wants to go, so you oblige. After two hours in the theater, the film turns out to be pretty average, but certainly not completely awful, and you realize, “Hey, that wasn’t as bad as I thought!”

Using the power of hypothetical situations, let’s go back in time. (Time travel is fun!) This time, a friend has told you about the film and how it’s the most incredible work of movie making ever crafted by human hands. Your heart beats quicker as the previews rush by and finally the film begins. Your hands grip the plastic theater chair arms in anticipation. Your knees tremble in spite of your feet being glued to the floor by soda and popcorn grease. This is it!

And… it’s decidedly average.

Now what? Chances are you’re going to walk out of the theater this time grumbling, “That wasn’t amazing at all, what were they thinking? I counted a dozen plot holes and the main character was an idiot. What a waste of two hours….”

What’s the difference here? Spoiler alert: It’s not the film, it’s your expectations.

Hippo with a jet pack

It’s easy to be disappointed when your expectations aren’t realistic!

Over ten years of animating, I’ve had many expectations. Some cartoons I knew were great, and would do so well on Newgrounds.com. They flopped. Some animations were rushed and I almost didn’t release them because they weren’t ready (see point #10, though). Reviews were glowing, and they made front page. Lol, what?

I’ve learned (and continue to learn) to manage expectations. There’s nothing wrong with hope, or wanting things to be wonderful. There’s a big difference between hoping for good things and expecting them. If you manage the expectation part, life goes so, so much better.

3. Edit well

Cut out all things you don’t need in order to make your point or tell your story.

[Author’s note: I’m still learning this one, because Adam had to edit this post for clarity and to remove most of my ramblings. The original was 518 words longer in total. Clearly there’s still work for me to do regarding Lesson #3.]

2. There is nothing like doing what you love

I have held several jobs in my life, ranging from things I’ve enjoyed to “I’d really rather be having teeth pulled, thank you.” For me, animation is a passion. It goes beyond enjoyment to a very strange place that shares borders with the lands of “Obsession” and “Madness.”

Someone once asked me if animation was fun. I thought about it for a moment and then said “No, not at all.” At the time I was surprised by my response, but if I could go back in time, I’d add, “I can’t imagine not doing it, though.”

I love animation. It is one of the things I think I was put on this Earth to do. As a result, no matter how difficult it becomes (see #8), I am filled with joy when I’m engrossed in it. It’s not about “having fun” as much as it is “bathing in the joy of purpose and meaning.” Do what you love and life becomes awe-inspiring every dang day.

1. Understanding the why is the most important thing

We devalue the why in our world today. We’ve gotten so caught up in the who, what, when, and where that we’ve forgotten all about the final W of the Big 5. It’s rather ironic, actually, because when something big (often tragic) happens our first reaction is “Why is this happening?!”

In animation, you must understand the why. Why is this character doing what he’s doing? Why is this prop in the scene? Why didn’t I go to school to become an accountant?

Life is the same way.

When I started FredtheMonkey.com more than a decade ago, I had conflicting dreams for it. On the one hand, I wanted to make the world a better place by producing funny cartoons that brightened someone’s day.

At the same time, I wanted HomestarRunner-level success. If I could just reach that level of popularity, boy, I could sure make this planet a better place. I could change people, convince them of things, and have influence. No doubt the money I’d make could help millions as well. Yes, that would be the day it all came together!

The further I unconsciously veered towards the second why during those ten years of animating poor-quality Flash cartoons, the more miserable I was. The more it was work, instead of joy. The more I didn’t want to keep doing it. I had lost the purpose that drove my initial creative process. I burned out a lot.

Each time I remembered my mantra of “If I make one person’s life better with this cartoon, it will have been worth it,” the peace and love of what I was doing came rushing back. I had to constantly stave off the allure of fame and wealth so I could be content with whatever came from my efforts.

And that contentment was far better than anything I’ve ever gained materialistically. Know the why of what you do, and remind yourself of it always.

I hope that these lessons I’ve learned can be of some help to someone out there. If it gives hope or inspiration to a single person, the decade of struggles will be worth every effort.

Want to write a guest post for TMTF? Here’s how!

Lore in a Minute

Do you know what’s confusing? Video game stories. Seriously. Have you ever played a narrative-driven video game? Too many games set up complicated backstories or mythologies to rival Tolkien’s, which nearly always leave those games with one of two problems: explaining too much, or else not explaining enough.

I’ve played a lot of games with fantastic settings, brilliant characterization, and intricate plots—only to see those things obscured by poor storytelling. (I’m looking at you, Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, and Metal Gear Solid.) All the worldbuilding in the, um, world won’t matter if a game’s lore is too complicated for players to understand.

Fortunately for video game aficionados everywhere, a YouTube group called Lore in a Minute has taken it upon themselves to explain the complex lore of various video games, each in one minute… ish.

The video above explains the (admittedly complicated) setup of Chrono Trigger, which I consider probably the greatest RPG ever made. It takes one heck of an explanation to make sense of the time-traveling adventures of a swordsman, an inventor, a princess, a steampunk robot, a prehistoric cavewoman, a demon king, and a medieval knight/talking frog.

Yeah, it’s kind of a weird game. You should totally play it.

339. I Talk Too Much

Besides death or divine intervention, nothing in the universe can stop me once I start rambling.

I was reminded of this a few days ago. At the time, I was explaining to coworkers how a gerund looks remarkably like a chicken when diagrammed in a sentence. (This fact was pointed out to me by a college professor.) The English language fascinates me, and I’m greatly amused by this quirk of sentence diagramming. I was enthusiastic in sharing my amusement with my coworkers.

My gerund-chicken was met with one or two blank faces, and I realized I was babbling. It probably wasn’t the first time that day. Ah, well. No harm, no fowl. (Pun intended. I’m so, so sorry.)

I ramble all the time, and most people aren’t blunt or brave enough to ask me to stop. A few politely change the subject. Many suffer in silence. If I may, for the sake of illustration, borrow and edit a couple of old comic panels from Gigi D.G. of Cucumber Quest fame: many of my conversations go something like this.

The greatest difference between this illustration and real life is that I hardly ever chat with one-eyed war veterans.

The greatest difference between this illustration and real life is that I hardly ever chat with one-eyed war veterans.

I’m exaggerating a bit for comedic effect, yet the truth is that I talk too much. As an introvert, I generally keep to myself around other people. However, the very second a conversation turns to something that interests me, I begin to talk… and eventually to babble.

One of the things that troubles me most about my lamentable loquacity is that it afflicts my nearest and dearest. Most of the people who meet me will never hear me ramble. It’s my family and friends (along with a few coworkers and acquaintances) who put up with my enthusiastic floods of words. It’s when I feel comfortable around someone that I let down my guard, and when my guard is down that I talk too much.

That said, you should take it as a compliment if I ramble at you… I guess?

Anyhowz, I have three points to make about my tendency to talk too much.

1. Writing is awesome because it allows me to moderate my own words.

Probably my favorite thing about writing is the freedom it gives me to find exactly the right words and phrase them precisely the way I want. Written words can be revised. If I begin to ramble in, say, a Facebook message, I can go back and cut out the fluff.

Speaking doesn’t give me that luxury. It represents immediate, irrevocable communication. There is no revising spoken words, except by speaking more. Once a word is spoken, it can’t be deleted. I wish I could revise and moderate my speaking the way I do my writing.

2. Rambling is selfish.

When I ramble about stuff that matters to me, I forget—or worse, ignore—that it might not matter to other people. I disrespect people by demanding their time and attention, airing my own views and opinions, when they’re not interested. Worse, I don’t spend enough time listening to them.

Talking too much is a way of saying, “I don’t care enough about you to listen.”

3. The Bible says some pretty harsh things about talking too much.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus Christ says, “I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Yikes.

The Proverbs add quite a few cautions against babbling. “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise,” quoth the author of Proverbs, and later adds, “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.”

I… suppose I’ll end here, actually. Heaven knows I don’t want to ramble.

338. Strange American Valentine Rituals

The United States of America has many strange customs and holidays, and I consider it my duty to research them. With St. Valentine’s Day taking place tomorrow, I set my studies of Halloween and Thanksgiving behind me in order to give this latest holiday the anthropological scrutiny it deserves.*

My findings were… dark. Despite its popular image as a time for giving gifts and expressing romantic love, St. Valentine’s Day represents bloodstained history and wanton consumerism.

Verily, of the various letters vividly visible above, the very first veers vaguely toward the visual vibe of a violent yet entertaining film I once viewed.

Verily, of the various letters vividly visible above, the very first veers vaguely toward the visual vibe of a viscerally vicious and violent film I once viewed: V for Valentine, or some variation.

As the holiday is named for a historical figure, my first task was to research St. Valentine himself. Little is known of this ancient Roman martyr, whose death is celebrated every year in America by the sale and distribution of gifts such as flowers, chocolates, cookies, cards, jewelry, and frilly undergarments. St. Valentine, who is known as Valentinus in some accounts, is surrounded by legends, but few facts remain.

Upon finding the study of this dead saint to be a dead end, I turned my researches toward the holiday itself, and discovered a sordid celebration of Valentine’s demise.

The name of the event, St. Valentine’s Day, is generally shortened to Valentine’s Day by the disgraceful omission of Valentine’s hagiographic title. Just as the Christmas season is marked by certain colors (viz. red and green), so Valentine’s Day is recognized by the colors red and pink.

The significance of these colors is open to speculation. Given what little is known of St. Valentine’s personal history, the color red may represent his violent death as a martyr. Pink generally represents love or sweetness; its association with the bloody red of Valentine’s death demonstrates a disturbing veneration of violence.

More than fifteen centuries after Valentine’s tragic end, why is it celebrated by the giving of gifts? Why is romantic love the legacy of Valentine’s martyrdom? What aspect of his brutal death inspired sappy cards, heart-shaped candies, and other mawkish gifts?

These are distressing questions, and my best researches have yielded no answer.

Do you know what else is distressing? These awful pills. I don't know what kind of medication they contain, but they taste awful.

Do you know what else is distressing? These awful tablets. I don’t know what kind of medication they contain, but they taste awful.

Perhaps it would be prudent for me to narrow the lens of my researches from the purpose of the holiday to its specific observances.

The greatest tradition of Valentine’s Day seems to be buying things, such as the aforementioned flowers, candy, cookies, cards, jewelry, and lingerie. This eclectic assortment of romantic items has no discernible connection to Valentine himself, leaving me to surmise that their popularity as Valentine’s Day gifts is prompted by the theme of romantic love that has left its indelible and inexplicable mark upon the remembrance of that saint’s death.

Never mind the occasion—coffee is always an appropriate gift.

Never mind the occasion—coffee is always an appropriate gift.

Although these gifts are generally exchanged by romantic partners, it is common for celebrants of Valentine’s Day to distribute cheaper and less intimate gifts among friends, classmates, and coworkers; candy and cards are among the most popular options. Other Valentine’s Day traditions observed in America include going on dates or to parties.

A romantic card or letter given on Valentine’s Day is known as a valentine. This eponymous designation is shared by any person to whom such a card or letter is given.

(If I may permit a personal view to interfere with my serious studies of American holidays: I strongly opine that video game valentines are the best valentines.)

If you recognize all of the games represented in these Valentine's Day cards, you deserve a cookie.

If you recognize all of the games represented in these valentines, a winner is you!

In conclusion, Valentine’s Day seems to celebrate the violent death of a good man, associating it (for dark, unknown reasons) with romantic sentimentality. I acknowledge, regardless, the importance of the virtues venerated by the holiday—to wit, love and friendship.

Thus, with sincerity and due caution, I wish you a happy St. Valentine’s Day.

*I should remind my dear readers that my studies of American holidays are silly, sarcastic, and absolutely not serious. This blog post is a joke. Please don’t take it seriously!

A Caffeinated Romance

St. Valentine’s Day is coming up. (Yes, I insist on referring to the holiday as St. Valentine’s Day, because I am a grouchy traditionalist.) It’s a time for people in relationships to express their affections, and for single people to feel awkward. St. Valentine’s Day is also a time for coffee, but let’s be honest—it’s always time for coffee.

“Taylor the Latte Boy” is my all-time favorite romantic song. (Well, the video above actually features two songs: “Taylor the Latte Boy” and its response, “Taylor’s Rebuttal.”) What could be more romantic than a guy and a girl falling in love over coffee? The girl’s passionate tale of love, longing, and lattes is only slightly marred by the guy being absolutely not interested.

Coffee, love poetry, and the possibility of a restraining order: “Taylor the Latte Boy” has it all. This two-part song is on the longish side, but if you have time, I absolutely recommend it. The parts of Taylor and his admirer are performed well, and the differences between their points of view are hilarious.

In the end, I think we can all agree that caffeinated romances are the best kind.

337. Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Do know what I hate?

Yes, I detest cockroaches. I despise butchered hymnsshady Internet ads, and the fact Black Friday happens one day after Thanksgiving. I dislike the Twilight books, and I loathe M. Night Shyamalan’s wretched film adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender. (I’m trying to forgive you, Shyamalan, but your abysmal Airbender movie tests even the Christian virtues of grace and mercy.) These are all awful things.

There is something I hate more than any of them.

I hate feeling bad and not knowing why.

Have you heard the (scientifically dubious) anecdote of the boiling frog? As the story goes, a frog placed in boiling water will jump out immediately, but a frog submerged in lukewarm water that is heated gradually will eventually be cooked to death.

Depression slowly boils me alive. It sneaks up on me so slowly and insidiously that I sometimes go days without realizing it. The world simply goes dark. I find it harder and harder to work, write, smile, relax, or do anything but slump in a chair and keep breathing. My descent into depression is so gradual that I don’t ask, “Why am I depressed?” My question is usually more like, “Has the universe always been this awful?”

Then, nearly always, there comes a moment—a blinding flash of hope and clarity when I realize, “Hold on a moment. I’m depressed. Huh, that explains a lot.” The moment I realize the universe isn’t really quite as dark and hopeless as it seems is generally the turning point in every bout with depression.

For my readers wondering how a person can be depressed without knowing it, I must ask a question. When you dream, do you realize you’re dreaming? Few people have the self-awareness to recognize a dream until they awaken. In the same way, I apparently lack the self-awareness to recognize depression right away.

Recognizing depression is generally my all-important first step in recovering from it. Depression makes it seem as though something is wrong with everything. When I realize I’m depressed, I understand there is merely something wrong with me. The problem no longer lies with the entire universe, but with one person in it. Believe me when I tell you that depression, however unpleasant, is a nicer problem than everything in existence being awful.

If I may put it so tritely: naming a fear is taming a fear. A problem is less scary when it’s a familiar one—especially when I know it’s one I’ve conquered before. When the world seems dark, I can smile grimly and echo the words of Paul Simon.

“Hello darkness, my old friend.”

I might add a few words to Mr. Simon’s and say, “I’m afraid you can’t stay long; I’ve got stuff to do.”

336. Four Quotes to Guide a Life

In the past few months, I’ve done some redecorating in my apartment. For example, on my desk—well, I suppose I should start by point out that I now use a desk. I had previously slumped in an armchair, balancing my laptop on my knees and probably causing gradual, irreparable damage to my spine.

Yes, I’m now using a desk, and I’ve added a few personal touches. For example, a plush llama stands near my laptop. Beside it, a wooden warrior stands guard and holds his sword high; my dad cobbled together the brave little fellow from acorns and bits of wood.

Llama warrior

“CHARGE ’EM AND THEY SCATTER!”

My desk is decorated by one last personal touch: four quotes scribbled on a piece of paper and framed. The frame is cheap; I picked it up from Walmart a while back. The quotes, unlike their little frame, are invaluable. In past months, as I did my best to tidy up my life, each of these quotes made an impression on me.

I’m sharing these quotes today for a few reasons.

  1. Each of these quotes represents an idea I consider extremely important.
  2. I hope my readers may find these quotes helpful, inspiring, or meaningful.
  3. I didn’t feel like writing a proper blog post.

When I wrote down these quotes, I emphasized a few words because I read some comics recently and liked the way comic-book dialogue puts words in bold for emphasis. Don’t judge me.

With that, I’ll quit babbling and yield this post to four wise people: a web cartoonist, a saint, a writer, and a Savior. Their words inspire me, and I hope they inspire you.

“It is not about you. It is about everyone else.” ~ Matthew Taranto


“Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” ~ Mother Teresa


“If you continue to love Jesus, nothing much can go wrong with you, and I hope you may always do so.” ~ C.S. Lewis


“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” ~ Jesus Christ