The Third Option

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Usually this blog deals with my dealings with mental illness, but today it’s going to take a small thematic break to go to the movies.

First off, let me stress that, while this post deals with Star Wars, there are not any real spoilers in here, unless you’ve never watched any of the seven movies. In fact, The Force Awakens is irrelevant to this post entirely – though I have seen it, and enjoyed myself immensely. This post talks about something called Machete Order.

Traditionally, there are two ways of viewing the original and prequel trilogies. Both are logical. The first is Release Order, or IV-V-VI-I-II-III. The second is Episode Order, or I-II-III-IV-V-VI. But there’s an issue here in that many people are not fans of the prequel trilogy and some – including one friend I discussed this with yesterday – deny the prequels’ existence altogether. They just simply don’t tell a good story, and you’re stuck with either starting or ending your viewing experience on what many feel is a sour note. (Full disclosure: I thought each of the prequels had their strong points despite their weak points, and don’t mind watching them, although I don’t generally do so as often as I watch the original trilogy movies.) Machete Order is IV-V-II-III-VI. Episode I is omitted from Machete Order for a number of reasons, the biggest being that it adds nothing to the overarcing storyline of the other movies. It takes the focus of the story off of Anakin and puts it on Luke instead. In Episodes IV and V, you’re introduced to Luke’s story, culminating with the revelation that (UNNECESSARY SPOILER ALERT) Darth Vader is his father. Then in Episodes II and III, you get Anakin’s backstory in an extended, two-movie long flashback sequence. Finally, in Episode VI, the two stories come together for a neat conclusion to both.

A blogger named Rod Hilton introduced Machete Order in November 2011, and in the four years since it’s gone viral, to the point that it’s recommended by many fan circles and even got a mention on The Big Bang Theory. I’m not going to repeat his explanations for Machete Order (named after his blog, Absolutely No Machete Juggling) beyond what I’ve given and will instead link you to the original blog post for you to read when you have a spare few minutes, but I will tell you what Machete Order is, and what my impressions are from watching it in its entirety yesterday.

First, let me set the scene for you. On Thursday night – Friday morning, actually – my wife and I went to go see The Force Awakens. We were planning to brush up on the previous six movies beforehand, but ran out of time, and so we agreed that on Sunday, after watching Episode VII, we’d dedicate the day to an extended date night and watch them all. We had learned about Machete Order recently and so decided to try this viewing order and see what we thought of it. We woke up, ate breakfast, and then started in. We planned a special menu for the day that was reminiscent of what we’d get from a concession stand at a theater – popcorn and candy, hot dogs and hamburgers, along with soda, a rare treat in our house.

It wasn’t until we started our third movie that we began to see the wisdom of Machete Order. Gone are so many complicating, superfluous story elements. Obi-Wan is always a master; Vader is Sidious’ only apprentice. The uncomfortable age difference between Anakin and Padmé is no more, and the only mention of Anakin as a young boy is made by a girl that plausibly could have grown up with him. When we got to Episode VI, our last movie of the day, the similarities and parallels between Luke and Anakin are fresh in the mind of the viewer, and thus sharper and more easily discernible.

Viewing the Star Wars saga in Machete Order does something that neither Release Order nor Episode Order seem to be able to do – make the prequels relevant to the storyline. Release Order makes the prequels feel disjointed from the overall story; Episode Order puts an awkward generation-long gap in the middle and raises the question of what happened during that time, a gap that – while covered in the television series The Clone Wars – is not addressed in the movies. Machete Order makes the overall story feel fuller, more complex, and leaves open the option to view Episode I separately from the Machete storyline as a true, stand-alone prequel. (I like to include this option because the climactic duel pitting Darth Maul against Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan is one of the more impressive lightsaber battles in the entire saga, plus it has what I feel is the best song of the whole score – though that’s an extra bonus, as Duel of the Fates makes another appearance in Episode III.)

For a fuller explanation of the benefits of Machete Order, I would point you to Mr. Hilton’s original blog post, with the statement that I agree with every point he makes. Machete Order, in my opinion, is the way to view the movies to the greatest effect.

I am curious, however, how what will undoubtedly be called the sequel trilogy will fit into this creative retelling of the Star Wars saga. We can speculate as much as we wish, but until the saga is complete with the release of Episode IX in 2019 we won’t know for sure. I hope Mr. Hilton readdresses Machete Order once all nine movies are out and available for home viewing. It will be interesting to see what creative spins can be made with the full story.

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Saying Goodbye to a Friend

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Regular readers of this blog might have noticed that I haven’t written in almost two weeks. That’s been by design. Here’s what happened.

I finished my last post and realized that I needed a few days to process everything that had happened in therapy, so I took the rest of the week off. Then on Sunday, I made the conscious decision that I was going to take a week of from any obligations of any kind, save for meds and vitals. I thought it would be therapeutic to have nothing to do. I was wrong.

By Thursday I was going nuts with boredom. I would literally sit and stare off at the walls in an attempt to NOT do anything. I was expending more energy trying to accomplish nothing than I would have been trying to stick to my checklist. I promised myself that I would get back on track on Monday, and then I got the message.

A friend of mine passed away last week, and her husband asked me to be a pallbearer. There are some things that you just don’t say no to, and that’s one of them, so my wife and I started making plans for her to be out of work for the funeral on Monday (the funeral was three hours away).

Her death was unexpected. She spent the last two weeks of her life in the hospital battling a sudden illness that no one could have foreseen.

Normally we’re in bed around 1:00 or 1:30 am, but in order for us to make the service, we had to leave the house by 7:00 am, which meant waking at 6:00 am to get things packed and out the door. I was restless that night, and still awake at 2:30 am; my wife didn’t get much more sleep than I did.

Monday morning rolled around and off we went. As is typical, my wife did all the driving, and I only caught a few minutes of sleep on the road. The service started at 11:00 am and was lovely, and then we drove the hour to the cemetery for the gravesite service. We were back on the road by 2:30 pm.

When we got home, we put away our dress clothes, unpacked what we had packed for the trip, and laid down for a nap. That was at 5:30 pm Monday afternoon.

At 8:00 pm we woke up and ate a bowl of chili, then laid back down.

At 11:00 pm, I woke and took my evening medications and vitals, then laid back down.

At 9:00 am the next morning, I awoke again, long enough for meds, vitals, breakfast, and coffee, then laid back down.

At 11:30 am, my wife came to wake me up to see her off for work (she’s working four ten-hour shifts this week to make up for being out on Monday), then I laid back down again.

I finally rolled out of bed for good around 2:45 pm. I was out for about 19 of the previous 21 hours. This put rather a crimp in my plans to get back on track on Tuesday, and so today, Wednesday, is the first chance that I’ve had to try and get back to the usual and customary. It’s more likely that it’ll be tomorrow or Friday before I can really stick to it, but I’m making the effort today.

I’m going to miss my friend. She had a sharp wit and was a fierce protector of her son, as well as being a talented artisan. I didn’t see her a lot for the last ten years of our friendship, and now I never will again.

An Irrational Hatred of Self

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I went to see my therapist today.

She asked how I’ve been doing, and I was honest with her: the last few days have been filled with such deep seated self-hatred. I cannot shake the feeling that I’m always doing something wrong or not doing enough for the people in my life or somehow screwing something up, and that quickly builds into completely polar thinking. I get distracted and things are just fine for a while, and then something happens and I remember I’m supposed to be mad at myself, and the whole cycle starts over again.

This is nothing new for me; in fact, it could be said that this is my modus operandi. Start with a faulty thought, let it cascade into a stream of faulty thoughts, hate myself for thinking that way, hate myself for hating myself, continue until I get to the point that I want to end the cycle but don’t know how so rather than listening to anyone I simply continue the cycle into absolute irrationality. Up is down, black is white. Nothing is correct, nothing is the truth. It’s exhausting to go through this because it’s starting to happen in cycles rather than isolated incidents. Where I once worked my way through episodes like this in a couple hours, now I’m stretching them out over several days.

My therapist asked me to write down the expectations I have of myself, as a way of getting the irrationality down on paper and in a tangible, refutable form. Then she asked my wife, who attended the session with me, to write down the expectations that she has of me. There was a considerable difference in the two lists. Hers was simple and direct – take meds each day, take time for yourself, accept acknowledgments of tasks and accomplishments, accept supportive praise, don’t give up on yourself, be honest about what’s on your mind. Mine was full of intangibles – do more, earn more, be better, and all delivered as a “should” statement, which if you don’t know is often used as a type of cognitive distortion. (The idea is that a “should” statement goes beyond a simple statement of fact, like “I should have stopped at the dry cleaners on the way home,” to an intangible method of self-abuse, like “I should be doing better.” It’s a very slippery slope for “should” statements to go from constructive to destructive, and a lot of it is the intent behind the statement. If you are using the word “should” as a punishment, then it’s moved beyond statement of fact and into cognitive distortion.)

She also asked me to write a list of the things that I do accomplish, and the list was typically self-deprecating – I clean the kitchen, I sometimes cook, I sometimes help with laundry, I sometimes help with menu planning, I sometimes pay bills, I make the budget and maintain it. (That last one is a weirdness – I like spreadsheets and enjoy manipulating data to get a desired effect, in this case being how we can manage our money to where everything gets paid as close to on time as we can and above all avoid missing anything to be paid out.)

My therapist then asked me to address each one of my expectations realistically, and I came up with a second list to combat the first, irrational one. One a week I dust, a new thing that addresses the need for me to do more around the house. (I dust, just not weekly.) I am allowed some downtime. I get some guilt-free time during the week, either a few hours daily or a day weekly. I understand and accept that earning more money right now is currently out of my control. I would like to – not should – meet the guidelines my wife has written for me to be a better partner, remembering compromise, communication, and assertiveness. Text or call my daughter more often. I will try harder to understand and accept reason when faced with it. I will acknowledge that low periods or days are a part of life, and I will try to be easy on myself when they occur, remembering that “this too will pass.”

All in all, the session took a lot out of me. I came home and immediately went to bed and stayed there for a few hours, getting up to try – and ultimately fail – to do my radio show, at the behest of my wife. She reminded me that today was a low day, and that I need to be easy on myself and not try to put on a brave face for radio.

The self-hatred has passed, though there’s a certain fatigue that’s set in now that it’s gone. Being irrational and having my emotions and logic completely out of control for as long as I have been is an exhausting thing. Like I wrote in my session earlier today, it’s a part of life with mental illness – but this too will pass.