Anxiety is the New Black

About a year ago, I had a moment of clarity in which I realized that I have been suffering from anxiety since I was a child. What sparked this moment of personal insight? The fact that my son also suffers from anxiety and I began to think back on what life was like for me at his age. I’m sure that if you asked my friends and family, many of them would tell you that my childhood was good and they have many fond memories of me growing up. My memories aren’t always in line with theirs, and that’s okay as long as I’m allowed to remember things the way they happened for me through my perception of things.

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I was born in Central Pennsylvania in 1972. My mom is a white woman who grew up in a small rural community that wasn’t really thrilled about her dating choices and in many ways shunned her after she decided to marry my biological father. While living with my father’s family, a group of migrant workers living near Chambersburg, PA, my mother grew up fast. According to her, my father fancied himself a ladies man, which actually translates as pimp in the real world, and when she found out she was pregnant with me, two things occurred to her: 1) At least three other women were pregnant to my father at that time, and 2) Her unborn child deserved a better life. She told me that she sat in the dark waiting for him to come home and thought about killing him. Knowing she had to be around to take care of me changed her mind. So, she left him that night and filed for divorce soon after.

When I was born, we lived with my grandparents in the same small town where my mom grew up. To say that the town I grew up in lacked diversity is quite the understatement. Aside from my mom’s boyfriend, Gene, and his family, I don’t recall seeing other people of color, with the exception of people on TV, until I was about four or five and we moved to a larger town, Carlisle, PA.

Gene

Carlisle was and is segregated. People who have lived here their whole lives aren’t always conscious of that fact, but when you meet people who move here, it’s one of the first things they notice about the place. Have things changed since I was a child? Yes. But to be fair, one of the changes I would be happy to point to is the fact that when I was a child, people felt completely at ease driving by in their cars and shouting “nigger lover” at my mother while she walked with me downtown.  No one has called me a nigger to my face since I was in an undergraduate in college, but I know some people were thinking  it while they spoke to me. It’s like Spidey senses, but for racists.

So, while I was growing up I experienced a multi-layered effect of racism and bigotry from strangers, teachers, friends, and family. Apparently, this isn’t uncommon for mixed race kids. I haven’t interviewed people or sent out surveys, but I know I am not the only person in the world who had this experience.

What idiot called it a human skull instead of an anxiety cabin.

— Doth (@DothTheDoth) December 2, 2018

Thanks to a series of unfortunate events in my life, I recently spent a year (August 2017 – June 2018) employed but underpaid, and lacking health insurance. During that time, when my anxiety levels were astonishingly high, I couldn’t afford medication to help with my chronic depression and anxiety. I couldn’t afford to see a therapist. Hell, I could barely afford to pay my bills.

But, Michelle, why didn’t you apply for assistance?

I did. And, I was denied assistance even though I was making $15 an hour working for a temp agency after I left another job where the owners of the business couldn’t pay me. They still owe me money, but much like the child support I keep hoping for, I doubt if I’ll ever see it.

A few weeks ago, I tried to apply for assistance again, because even though I am working full-time and have health insurance, I’m only making $0.82 more than what I was making at the temp agency. I was also working part-time as an online writing tutor for $11 an hour. Because I had made an extra $60 during the month of February from my part-time job, my income was considered too high to receive any assistance.

Yep, America is definitely great again.

I was told by a very sympathetic caseworker that if I quit my part-time job, and got a psych evaluation for my autistic child, we might qualify for assistance. So, as long as I make less money and can prove that my child is mentally ill, I’m allowed to receive help.

No wonder my anxiety levels keep rising.

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The good news is that since I have health insurance again, I can take my medication. But, even though I have access to services like therapy, the co-pays are too high for me to afford even with insurance.

Where does that leave me? At the moment, I don’t have any good answers. I keep looking for higher-paying jobs, but I no longer have a reliable car. Transportation is an issue. Fortunately, I am able to share my mother’s car and have some mobility. But using her car to drive back and forth to work every week day isn’t an option. Especially since I would most likely have to drive to Harrisburg, Hershey, Lancaster, York, or elsewhere that would require anywhere from 30-60 minutes or more of travel time to and from work. So, I’m kind of stuck.

I try to appreciate what I do have while not focusing on what I don’t. Each day gets a little better, but I’m exhausted. Frustrated. Melancholy. Angry. I’m feeling a lot of feelings all the time.

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But, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. I’ll share my good news with you later this week and you can help me celebrate brighter days ahead.

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When Survival Mode Becomes a Way of Life

It’s easy to recognize when a period of transition begins, but how do you know when it ends? Are there concrete, measurable ways to know you’ve come out on the other side and accomplished what you set out to do? Or is there just a constant sense of unease over never truly recognizing you have simply stepped into a new phase of existence? If you began following a path with no real sense of what you expected to find on the other side, how would you know if you reached your destination?

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Image via Unsplash by Kelly Sikkema

For the past six years, I have been in a seemingly never-ending period of transformation. I have celebrated successes, mourned losses, floated around aimlessly trying to figure out what happens next, and have continued to set personal and professional goals for myself in the face of adversity. I keep expecting things to settle down and become more manageable, but honestly, I think I’m kidding myself. I’m beginning to think this is just my life, and good, bad, or ugly, I’m living it.

2012 was a busy year. In February that year, I celebrated my 40th birthday with three good friends in New Orleans: my cousin Tara, my best friend’s sister, Katie, and my friend Christina, who flew all the way from Amsterdam to celebrate my birthday. The four of us met up in the Crescent City, a magical place I believe to be my birthplace in a past life, and quickly eased into a long weekend of drinking, eating, laughing and dancing. Highlights from that weekend include:

  • Shopping at Trashy Diva
  • Eating beignets past midnight at Café du Monde
  • Getting my photo taken with a demon on Bourbon Street
  • Laughing so hard at inappropriate jokes that my sides hurt
  • Watching a Mardi Gras parade in the Garden District with floats from a Krewe in Lake Pontchartrain who wore creepy old-fashioned Mardi Gras masks
  • Getting a birthday spanking by a stranger in a bar on Decatur Street
  • Watching a man in his 70’s perform kickass R&B for a solid hour straight in a Mardi Gras Indian costume down on Frenchman Street
  • Spending time with women I love and respect

I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun. That was a magical weekend I hope to recreate in the very near future.

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Café du Monde New Orleans

Soon after that trip, several life-changing events happened. Events I had speculated about while on that magical trip. First, I was accepted to the MFA in Writing Popular Fiction Program at Seton Hill University, and I began the three-year MFA in June that year. For years, I had struggled with the notion of taking myself seriously as a writer. I had been writing fiction fairly consistently since I turned 12, and then I completed a BA and MA in English in the hopes of finding a career in writing or teaching, but neither of those things happened. Why? Well, that’s a story for another day. The point is, reading, writing, and writing about writing were some of my favorite things to do and yet somehow I wasn’t making a living doing those things.

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Image via Unsplash by Ali Yahya

A few months before my 40th birthday, I decided it was time to take myself seriously and finally write a novel. And, hey, why not earn another college degree while I was at it? That was probably one of the best decisions I ever made. During my second residency, in January of 2013, I decided to end my marriage. I sat up late one night with my good friend and fellow writer, and she and I brainstormed an exit strategy. After that weekend, I applied for a job at my alma mater, and contacted a lawyer friend about the process of getting divorced. Shortly after telling my husband I was leaving, my brother-in-law died. The key to comedy, and apparently tragedy, is timing. One of these days, I’m going to write about that experience: the sadness, the guilt, and the inexplicably delightful black comedy of the whole thing that still fills me with a sense of awe over how bizarre life can be.

Anyway, by April of 2013 I had a new job and had moved back to my hometown. I left a job that was killing my spirit and a marriage that was making me unbearably unhappy, I started a new job, became a single parent, and faced the realities of my father’s rapidly declining health. My mother had recently put my dad in a nursing home because she couldn’t leave him alone at home while she worked. He had developed dementia after fighting several life-threatening illnesses that honestly, he probably shouldn’t have survived. For years, he had battled diabetes, pulmonary hypertension, and levels of stress I can only imagine. Well, to be fair, my own current levels of stress are probably slowly killing me. By some unbelievable twist of fate, my dad received a heart transplant. I’m not sure that was best thing that could have happened. He really wasn’t healthy enough for the surgery, and after the transplant he slowly went crazy, nearly taking my mother with him in the process.

Not only did he become difficult to talk to–because he developed a pathological need to be right about everything–but he forgot to pay bills and drained my parents’ bank account buying books and online services for an imaginary business he believed he had started. My father had spent his adult life working hard to keep people with mental illness tethered to reality, yet at the end of his own life, there was no one to help him keep madness at bay. One day, my mom got a call at work from the police. They had found my dad wandering around a few blocks from home and he had no idea where her was. His hallucinations, unpredictable mood swings, and strange changes in personality were difficult enough to deal with, but after the police brought him home, she put him in a nearby nursing home to keep him safe.

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Image via Unsplash by rawpixel

After moving back to my hometown in March 2013, my son and I lived with my mom for a few months. She had the space and wanted the company. I wanted to save money and needed a safe space to deal with all the changes I was making. We gave each other support in a challenging time. She helped me look after my son, and I helped her deal with the things she didn’t want to face about my dad. There was paperwork, visits to the nursing home, and just accepting the fact that dad was never coming home. She felt guilty for leaving him there, but neither of us could quit our jobs to look after him.

At the same time, I was dealing with financial struggles that followed me from my marriage, an undiagnosed mental health issue with my then 6-year-old, anxiety over starting a new job, anxiety about starting a new job at my alma mater that I vowed to burn to the ground and salt the earth when I had left it, anxiety about being a single parent, anxiety about being single in my 40s, anxiety about what the hell I was going to do with the rest of my life, anxiety about how to finish writing a novel so I could graduate from my MFA program…well, you get the idea. Most days, I was just amazed I got out of bed and made it to work without driving into oncoming traffic. Somehow, I was still functioning as an adult.

I dealt with my emotional and psychological discord by crying a lot. In fact, crying while driving to work was part of my daily routine for a while. I wrote. I went for walks. I talked to friends. I lost myself in social media. I watched Hannibal religiously. I took short trips on the weekends, sometimes alone and sometimes with my son. I went to work, built good working relationships with my co-workers, and began accomplishing career goals. Oh, and I finished writing a novel and earned my MFA.

I also tried online dating after being “off-the-market” for more than 10 years. Dating in my 40s while dealing with nearly crippling anxiety, and battling a lifetime of poor body image and excruciating self-doubt was no small task. I amazed my friends by going on date after date after date with a laundry list of strangers. Some of the strangers were interesting, some boring, some confusing, some I liked, some I didn’t understand, and one was so psychologically damaging that I had to seek out a therapist to leave him. After my second session with her, she told me I was suffering from a mild case of Stockholm Syndrome, and that I was participating in a very dangerous relationship with a narcissist with borderline personality disorder.

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Image via Unsplash by Nicolas Picard

When she told me that, I actually breathed a sigh of relief because I thought the reason why that relationship wasn’t working was my fault. I have a complete set of steamer trunks full of issues that stem from my inability to trust people. I am no stranger to betrayal, and because I think my earliest betrayals occurred at home at a very impressionable age, as an adult, I have simply come to expect betrayal as a given. In fact, sometimes I think I actually court it. Consciously or unconsciously, I seek out relationships with people I know will eventually disappointment me. I open myself up to people who see me for what I am: a safe, warm place to rest while they put their own pieces back together. Once they figure their own issues out, they move on or continue to abuse my kindness until I say enough is enough.

I’m tired of living like that. I’m tired of building walls to protect myself from the thing I want the most: love. But not just any kind of love. I want respectful, reliable, unconditional love. Love that takes work on the part of both people involved. Love that’s worth fighting for. Love that comforts me and puts my fears to rest, or at least makes them more manageable.

My anxiety has been very active lately. But to be fair, the reasons why are no mystery. I have been consistently underemployed for the past several years. I went from living paycheck to paycheck with the saving grace of health benefits, to living without paychecks and no health insurance, to living from considerably smaller paycheck to paycheck with no health insurance. That’s where I’m at right now. In the midst of a financial crisis, trying to figure out how to get a better job, better pay, dig myself out of debt, and rebuild my credit rating. Those are all valid concerns for a single parent with unpaid bills and a late rent payment hanging over her head.

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Image via Unsplash by John Baker

You would think that would be enough to worry about, right? But, thanks to the magical gift of anxiety, I’m also worried about being a good person. Or rather, being good enough. Am I attractive enough to be appealing to potential sexual partners? Will I ever meet someone I’d like to build a life with? Am I talented enough to keep writing? Will I ever have a job that pays me enough to not only get out of debt, but also buy a house and go on vacations? Will I ever trust myself enough to dismantle the walls I’ve built to keep myself safe?

These are the questions that keep my from falling asleep at night. The fears that drive me to binge eat, skip going to the gym, and stop writing for weeks at a time. My pattern of bad habits often leads me to fantasize about a self-fulfilling prophecy that ends with me dying alone surrounded by empty bourbon bottles, ice cream containers, and the pages of an unfinished novel or memoir.

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Image via Unsplash by David Zawila

I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know what happens next. What I do know is that I am in charge of creating my future. Or, at the very least, I am in charge of making better choices so that my future is a bit brighter. All I’m really hoping for is a better job, stable pay, and access to health insurance so that my mental health needs are met through medication and therapy. I’m not asking for a lot. And, I haven’t given up hope yet either. I believe things will get better. They usually do. I’ll be sure to let you know how things turn out, so stay tuned.

Fuckable Fictional Characters: Simon Bellamy

So, you know how yesterday I mentioned that whole feeling of pastiche I experienced while watching Misfits (or something to that effect), well, if you know me at all (or bothered to read my blog), you know I have a special place in my heart for the mentally disturbed, the outsiders, the creepy kids, weirdos, the unstable…well, you get the idea. Some of my favorite fictional characters are monsters who have a sad, or at the very least pitiable backstory. This didn’t happen by chance. I’m not going to delve too deeply into this personality quirk of mine, but I will say three things:

  1. My father was a mental health professional and I respected the work he did.
  2. As a child, I was led to believe that my differences would make me difficult to love.
  3. I fell in love with a schizophrenic punk rock music journalist and human rights activist while studying abroad in the UK as a college student (who, by the way, didn’t find me difficult to love).

I couldn’t help but be drawn to the attractive, overtly-nerdy, somewhat off-putting, yet well-meaning young man with the creepy stare. Simon Bellamy, played by Welsh actor Iwan Rheon, is a first-class weirdo of the most endearing kind. Yes, he has the potential of becoming a psychopath, but instead he uses his knowledge of Science Fiction and Fantasy films and comics, his understanding of how to cover up a murder, and his geeky sex appeal to win the love of a girl. I mean, look at him, he is super-fucking-adorkable.

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ATTENTION: UNADULTERATED #FANGIRLING AHEAD

OH, AND SPOILERS

LOTS AND LOTS OF SPOILERS

SO MANY SPOILERS

At the beginning of the series, when we slowly get to know each character and why they have been assigned community service, the strange quiet boy appears to have the most depth. Nathan Young, the self-centered prick who has some of the best lines of dialog, has an almost psychopathic preoccupation with making fun of Simon. Nathan is so self-absorbed that he often forgets other people’s names, including the people he spends every day with doing community service.

I mean, honestly, nothing is sacred to Nathan, but he seems to zero in on Simon, which eventually, I believe, is one of the reasons he steps out of his comfort zone of shyness. He has no choice but to defend himself against the onslaught of name calling.

Name-Calling

We soon discover that Simon is very smart. To be fair, his nerdy tendencies lead us to assume that about him, and like most weird kids, his intellect has led him down some culturally-specific paths. He’s well versed in genre fiction (Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy) in the form of films and comic books. When weird things start happening, he usually has an answer that he pulls from one of these areas of interest.

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Simon is not only a great resource for fun facts about monsters and super heroes, but he also has an uncanny ability to figure out how to get away with murder. As if, he’s been planning quite a few. I mean, he did attempt arson which is why he’s doing community service, and you get the sense that he’s been picked on a lot. So much so, that he really has a hard time trusting people.

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He not only provides insight into how to dispose of the first probation worker and the kid with the cap, but he also ends up killing the second probation worker in order to protect himself and his fellow Misfits, who he considers his only friends in the world, from being connected to the first murders.

The second probation worker, Sally, was engaged to the first probation worker, Tony. She’s convinced that the weird kids doing community service have something to do with his disappearance. But, she has no proof. She observes them individually, and then focuses on Simon, whom she believes will rat out the others. She begins by stalking/befriending him online under an alias, and then seduces him in an attempt to learn more about Tony’s whereabouts.

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She manipulates an awkward lonely boy with promises of affection and then is surprised that he gets upset when he learns the truth.

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Not only does he end up killing her accidentally while fighting to get his cell phone with incriminating evidence from her, but he conceals the crime by hiding her body in a freezer at the community center.

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He visits the freezer almost daily to spend time with her dead body. You know, to touch her, and look at her, and eat pizza while hanging out alone with her corpse. Now we’re in potential necrophilia territory. I told you he was weird. Without his true calling, Simon could have easily become a serial killer.

Pizza

At this point in the series, Simon is still a virgin, so we know very little about his sexual preferences beyond very weird things that come up at inopportune moments. Like, when we discover Alisha’s power, which as I mentioned yesterday, is really more of a curse. When people touch her they have an uncontrollable desire to have sex with her, and most people say extremely disturbing things in reference to what they’d like to do to her.

Piss

Okay, he had me at “I tried to burn someone’s house down,” but he lost me at golden showers. Of course, he won me back when he was actually in the shower.

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But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Okay, we can stay right here for another moment or two.

A…N…D…moving on.

Before we can get back to that super sexy shower scene (and I promise you, we will), Simon has to go through some other harrowing adventures that would probably make a normal person lose their mind. But, since Simon is already at the questionable end of the sanity spectrum, he’s able to find humor in really dark situations and uses kindness and intellect more often than force to win out over terrible circumstances. And, he seems to have better control over his ability than anyone else. Which makes the superhero name Nathan assigns him really unfair.

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Aside from the fact that Simon’s destiny is leading him to become a hero, there are lots of reason to like him even if creepy cute guys aren’t your cup of tea. Here’s a short list:

He likes to dance, but especially after someone spikes his beer with MDMA.

His eyes are big and dreamy and somewhat reminiscent of Peter Lorre‘s.

Even Nathan thinks he has…something.

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He’s kind to the mentally ill. Even when they’re scary-as-fuck shape-shifting stalkers. (That sentence right there, that makes you want to watch the show. Right?)

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Scary-as-fuck shape-shifting stalkers seems like a good place to jump back into Simon’s character arc. As to be expected with well-developed shows that slowly unveil their secrets to us, each episode we get to know Simon a little better and begin to understand where his darkness is coming from. For instance, in the first episode he blurts out why he’s been assigned community service. He tried to burn someone’s house down. Later, he confides to Sally the probation worker that it was his neighbor’s house. He was upset because the boy who lived in the house stopped being friends with Simon once they got to school. This boy not only denounced their friendship, but participated in the cruelty Simon experienced at school for being an outsider. Simon’s last straw was being humiliated after turning up at a club thinking he’d been invited by his neighbor, but soon learns he received the text message by mistake. With no apology from his ex-friend, Simon leaves the club, and apparently decided arson would solve his problems. A few episodes later, we learn that after committing arson, (which he didn’t actually succeed in doing), he was sent to a hospital for psychiatric observation. While at the hospital Simon acquires an admirer.

As it turns out, Lucy was also effected by the storm, and now she’s a shapeshifter. When she sees Simon at the community center she’s disappointed that he doesn’t wish to rekindle their friendship. She becomes jealous of his new friends and tries to sabotage his relationships, going so far as to threaten to turn him into the police for killing his probation worker(s). One of the first things Lucy does to disrupt the circle of friends is to transform into Alisha who is dating Curtis, and give Simon a surprise blowjob. Simon’s O-face is adorable.

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Of course, Simon doesn’t know it’s Lucy pretending to be Alisha, and he assumes Alisha is interested in him. Later, when he approaches the real Alisha and awkwardly asks her out on a date, she laughs in his face. Confused and hurt, he demands to know why she’s toying with his emotions.

Why

Soon, the group realizes something is wrong. Of course, Simon immediately guesses that Lucy is a shapeshifter, so they have to devise a way of knowing if they’re talking to her or each other.

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After Simon is violated and mislead to believe that Alisha finds him sexually attractive, she ends up meeting a future version of him and can’t help falling in love. Okay, at first she falls in lust.

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See? I promised we’d get back to that shower scene. It is here when things get confusing for Alisha. I mean, the Simon that she knows is hands down one hell of an adorable guy, but this Simon? Hot damn! This Simon is sexy, cool, and mysterious. He can travel through time, and he dresses and acts like a super hero. When you find out why he does all of this, it may just break your heart.

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Alisha isn’t immediately smitten, but she is intrigued by the fact that he can touch her without being effected by her power. No one has touched her since the storm without wanting to have sex with her. So, even though she’s been dating Curtis, it hasn’t been the most satisfying relationship. She begins to wonder if she’ll ever be able to have a normal relationship. I’m not gonna lie, I really wanted Alisha to get together with Future Simon. If only to live vicariously through her amazingly good stroke of luck.

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When she meets Future Simon, he makes her swear not to tell anyone his secret. And, he tells her that eventually they will fall in love with each other. But, she’ll have to be patient with Present Simon, because he’s not quite ready.

While she’s trying to figure out how to deal with the secret, she realizes that she does have feelings for Future Simon and since he already has feelings for her, things heat up pretty quickly.

It’s amazing what a little confidence and a slightly different hairstyle can do for a guy. Not to mention a little sexual experience.

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And, he knows the way to a girl’s heart.

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So, while Alisha is dating Future Simon, Present Simon meets a nice girl with an overly protective father. She’s immediately attracted to him and they decide to lose their virginity to each other.

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But, they don’t have any dates after that night, because it turns out Jessica’s dad has been killing everyone who shows an interest in his little girl. It’s a classic love story. Invisible boy meets pretty girl, and pretty girl’s homicidal maniac father tries to stab him to death. Oddly enough, Alisha is jealous of Jessica, especially when she realizes Present Simon has lost his virginity to her. But, she’s still seeing this guy.

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Who tells her to fall in love with this guy (who’s listening to The Killing Moon by Echo & the Bunnymen  in case you were wondering).

So that he can become this guy.

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Confused? Don’t be.

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All you need to know is that these two make a beautiful couple. Even when he has feelings of inadequacy compared to his future self who is apparently better in bed. But, as we all know, practice makes perfect.

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Lots and lots of practice.

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And, they have some pretty great dates as well, it doesn’t take long before they are in love. Sweet, sweet interracial love.

And, they continue to have some dangerous adventures along the way.

I’m not going to tell you how their story ends, but I will show you how their story begins.

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More than one girl (and a few older women) fell in love with Simon Bellamy after watching Misfits. I think you will too.

Save Me, Barry!: A Review of Misfits

Sometimes the stories we feel closest to and enjoy the most are the ones that create a feeling of pastiche in our hearts and minds. A cluster of false memories in which we long for an imagined past that reminds us of who we wished we’d become. Who we wished we had known, friends and lovers that well-developed fictional characters make us crave. Through them we revisit our own feelings — real or imagined — of the highs and lows in life. And, if those characters happen to have supernatural abilities they can inspire feelings of longing we can’t even explain. Alongside the lust, love, pity, fear, and loss we feel for them, there’s this added dimension of wishing we could become invisible, immortal, turn back time, or simply read other people’s thoughts. Any of us who have had the experience of being an outsider can relate to the overwhelming desire to be accepted, even if it’s by a group of misfits like you.

MISFITS Titles from MOMOCO Film Titles on Vimeo.

I’ve been dying to talk about the BBC television show, Misfits, which is currently streaming on Hulu. My desire to talk about the show is two-fold: First, the show itself is a wonderful SFF dark comedy about young adults facing unexpected complications in an already complicated time of their lives. And second, I’m going to discuss a very fuckable fictional character, Simon Bellamy (stay tuned, post coming tomorrow).

If you haven’t watched the show, I highly recommend it, because it has a lot going for it. It’s darkly funny and chock full of dick jokes, and oddly enough commentary on the spectrum of sexuality and gender politics. It’s necessarily violent, and people die. Violently. It has a wonderfully diverse cast of young actors you will grow to love. At the heart of this SFF show about young adults gaining superpowers from a freak storm, there’s a love story. Several love stories. And most importantly, an interracial love story.

ATTENTION: SPOILERS AHEAD

The show opens with a group of young people showing up for their first day of community service. They don’t know each other, and at first glance, you can tell that they all lead very different lives. Obviously, none of them want to be there, but each of them has committed some offense and now must work off their sentences by picking up trash, scrubbing graffiti off the walls of the community center that acts as their home base, painting benches, and participating in other community events like dances for the elderly, and art therapy for the mentally ill, while wearing orange jumpsuits.

Jumpsuits

We begin to get a picture of their personalities as they complain about being forced to do community service, show disrespect for their parole worker and each other. Curtis, an athletic dark-skinned guy complains about having to work with the other people, saying over and over that he shouldn’t even be there. He thinks he’s better than the rest of them. Kelly is a Class-A Chav with an attitude and a taste for violence. Initially, she doesn’t seem especially smart, but turns out to be an excellent problem solver and survivor. And, aside from Simon, she ended up being my favorite character.

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Alisha is a pretty light-skinned black girl who uses her good looks to manipulate people and get what she wants. However, she was unable to talk her way out of a drink driving stop when she fails the breathalyzer. She is desperate for attention and uses sexuality in place of personality until people start treating her with kindness and respect. Nathan is a hysterically funny and morally corrupt prick who ends up making us feel a lot of sympathy and pity. He’s a wanker with a heart of gold. And then there’s Simon. A painfully shy, comic book reading nerdy boy with his shirts buttoned all the way up to the neck. He’s cute and delightfully creepy in his social awkwardness that borders of psychopathic behavior. Initially, we don’t know why any of them is there, but slowly, their stories unfold.

Complaints

On their first day, a freak storm comes out of nowhere, dropping hailstones the size of soccer balls that are heavy enough to cave in a car roof and break through pavement. Their probation worker, Tony, yells for them to take cover and they run toward the community center for shelter. Before he can unlock the door, each of them is hit by lightning and knocked silly. At least, five of the young people and Tony are hit. Another young offender misses the storm, because he’s hiding out in the men’s room smoking a joint. He stomped off after getting paint on his cap, and never came back to finish his assigned task.

Kelly is the first to notice that she’s developed a power. A few weird things happened the night before, but now she’s certain something is different. She can overhear what people are thinking. And, like Sookie Stackhouse, she realizes that people are twisted and disgusting, and you really don’t want to know what most of them are thinking. Especially their thoughts about you.

The next day they show up at the community center and the kid with the cap isn’t there. Their all a bit too self-absorbed and freaked out by the storm to even really notice that he’s missing. While getting ready for the day, Simon discovers his ability in the locker room. Ironically, the one that everyone tends to ignore is able to turn invisible. No one notices him disappear and we get our first peek at the anger and frustration bubbling beneath Simon’s quiet surface.

Tony gives them their assignment for the day. No one notices that Simon is missing, but he eventually becomes visible again and joins the others outside. While cleaning graffiti off a wall, Kelly asks if anyone else is experiencing anything weird since the storm. Nathan makes fun of her, but Simon speaks up and says that he was able to turn invisible. No one believes him either.

At some point, someone thinks the wrong thing about Kelly and she storms off, overwhelmed by her feelings and her fears about this new ability. Whiles she’s off having a smoke and a good cry, we soon realize that the parole worker has also been affected by the storm. He developed an uncontrollable need for violence that looks a lot more like the Rage Virus in 28 Days Later rather than the Hulk wanting to smash. Running for her life, Kelly seeks the safety of the community center and tries to warn the others. She’s terrified and locks the door behind her, but none of them believe her. Nathan is a smart ass know-it-all, and opens the door just as Tony approaches and he kills Kelly by hitting her over the head with a sharp-edged piece of metal.

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That’s when Curtis discovers his power. The emotional overload of seeing Kelly murdered triggers his power, and he is able to turn back time and warn them about Tony. He still gets in the building, but Kelly has enough time to hit him over the head with a paint bucket. Repeatedly. Tony’s murder was admittedly self-defense, but Kelly knows that no one will believe them based on their records. In the process of figuring out what to do, they find the kid with the cap stuffed into one of the lockers. Now they have two dead bodies to deal with, and while everyone is freaking out, Simon calmly says, “No body, no crime.”

Bound together by a freak supernatural event and murder, they hide the bodies and prepare for whatever happens next. Amazingly enough, they deal with the unusual circumstances pretty well, and even manage to laugh at themselves and each other. Of course, we soon discover that their problems are only just beginning. Alisha’s power is more of a curse than an ability, and we don’t discover Nathan’s until we’re well into the first season.

After burying Tony, their new probation worker, Sally, arrives and suspects them of killing her co-worker and fiance. It is through this character’s interactions with Simon that we begin to see the darker sides of him, but also develop an emotional connection with him that makes him one of the most interesting characters. Despite his creepy good looks and spooky intelligence, he has the best character arc in the series. He goes through a personality transformation that made me want to pay closer attention to the beautiful Welsh actor who plays Simon Bellamy, Iwan Rheon. Apparently, I need to start watching Game of Thrones again.

As the series progresses, we get to see how these supernatural abilities change each character and the society around them. The characters experience a variety of outcomes at the extreme end of the consequences spectrum based on the choices they make out of selfishness, for the sake of love, or the belief that they’re helping others. The show is a lot of fun to watch, but the it also gives you some tasty food for thought. I dare you to watch only one episode. I bet you can’t.

Fuckable Fictional Characters: Will Graham

I’ve mentioned several times before in this series that I have a special place in my heart for the insane – or, at least, the people society deems insane. Some people I have cared deeply about throughout my life suffered or continue to suffer with mental illness and the stigma that comes along with these often-misunderstood medical conditions.

My father made a living as a mental health professional. He cared a lot about his clients, and sometimes developed strong attachments to them. I’m aware that there are ethical issues associated with client/therapist relationships that cross the boundaries established by the profession. Despite his role as therapist and healer, he was only human and felt deep sorrow when one of his clients relapsed and hurt themselves or someone else. More than once, my dad received phone calls about the death of a client at his/her own hands. I remember one client’s suicide very well, because my dad cried when he hung up the phone and slipped into a deep depression that lasted months. He felt responsible for that man’s death. He believed that he had somehow failed. My dad was really good at what he did, but he felt too much to be able to distance himself from the very real struggles his clients faced. He cared too much.

Caring too much sounds absurd to people who don’t understand what that can be like. When you feel things so strongly that you can’t seem to separate yourself from the grief experienced by others around you, people you’ve never met, people who died long before you were born, any form of suffering that you can empathize with creates a sense of the suffering inside you. When therapists who have a strong sense of empathy cross boundaries with their clients, sometimes inappropriate or even dangerous things happen, placing both client and therapist in jeopardy.

An excellent fictional example of this kind of situation is the relationship between Will Graham and Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Bryan Fuller’s television adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel, Red Dragon, “Hannibal”. Dr. Lecter is a psychiatrist and Will is a profiler for the FBI. Both work under Jack Crawford, the director of the BAU, who investigates serial murders. Will has a unique set of mental quirks (illness) that gives him a nearly supernatural level of empathy, which enables him to place himself in the minds of serial killers and recreate their actions and thoughts while examining grisly crime scenes. Will solves serial murders and puts serial killers behind bars…unless they end up dead. Which happens quite a bit on “Hannibal”. If Will doesn’t kill them, Dr. Lecter will, or they end up killing themselves. Although Jack has asked Dr. Lecter to observe Will to keep track of his fragile mental state as he investigates one horrific murder after another, he never officially becomes Will’s psychiatrist. In fact, they become friends. Well, they become connected by a series of unfortunate events that blur the boundaries and behaviors between them, and a bond of sorts is formed. Friends? Colleagues? Murder husbands? You decide.

Crazy Is As Crazy Does: Will Graham

unstable

However you choose to define the relationship between Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter, it is a cluster fuck of lies, deceit, manipulation, murder-spree fantasies, and some occasional inappropriate touching. From where I’m sitting, I see a lot of sexual tension between two men who are intellectually turned on by each other in a submissive/dominant dance of morally questionable professional encounters that ultimately lead to serious injury – mentally and physically.

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I think I made it abundantly clear how I feel about Dr. Lecter in an earlier post, but now it’s Will’s turn. Thomas Harris wrote him as an exceptionally strong character that rivals the serial-killing monsters in Red Dragon, and Hugh Dancy has taken this character to whole new level of psychosis.

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There is beauty and pain in his gift of empathy, he is gloriously crazy, and his insight and intellect, as well as his extreme awkwardness make him very appealing to this long-time nerd fetishist.

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I often make passes at men who wear glasses.

I don’t know about you, but the smarter a man is, the hotter he becomes in my opinion. Will is a successful criminal profiler, but due to his delicate psychological make-up, it is safer for him to share his wisdom and experience in a classroom rather than in the field.

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Intellectual hotness.

But, Jack Crawford convinces him (against Will’s better judgement and Alana Bloom’s recommendations) to leave the safety of the classroom and return to the field where his expertise can have a positive outcome in solving crimes and catching serial murderers.

antlers

I have a collection of bloody antlers just like this at home.

Will Graham is an incredibly fuckable fictional character, despite the fact that his friend and colleague, Alana Bloom, thinks a relationship with him is too risky. Initially, when Will shows an interest in becoming more than friends with Alana and she turns him down, I was angry. I mean, if I worked with someone as intellectually creepy and hot as Will Graham, I’d probably be making not-so-subtle hints about my interest in him.

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Seriously. What the hell is she waiting for?

But, in retrospect, I realize that I have more in common with Alana than I’d readily like to admit. Alana spends a lot of time inside her own head. I do too. She tends to overthink things. Ditto. In fact, she thinks herself right out of potentially pleasurable and possibly ideal situations, like entering a romantic relationship with Will Graham. Sure, he’s cute and sweet, but he’s also kind of unstable and may require a lot of care giving in the long run. So, she rejects him. He doesn’t take it well, but respects her decision and doesn’t continue to push the issue. He occasionally makes snide comments, but then acts like an adult and treats their relationship as strictly professional.

too-unstable

We’ve all made the mistake of choosing the wrong guy before.

Seeking refuge from the pain of unrequited love, Will dives back into his work. Because Will enters the minds of the killers he profiles, the field work begins to take its toll. With each episode, Will gets a little stranger, his bond with Dr. Lecter grows tighter, and heads in a weird direction.

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In Thomas Harris’ novel, Red Dragon, Lecter is behind bars and the relationship between him and Will is mostly speculative. We know that Will worked with Lecter to solve a crime, and later discovered that Lecter himself was a serial killer. Will nearly loses his life at the hands of Lecter, but ultimately is the one who puts him behind bars. In “Hannibal,” we see Bryan Fuller’s vision of their relationship prior to Lecter getting caught. Fuller’s artistic vision creates not only some of the most beautiful murder tableau, food porn, and uncomfortable interpersonal interactions, but also adds a level of competition between Will and Hannibal that slowly becomes a homoerotic murder fantasy man crush. (It’s totally a thing.)

colleagues

Before.

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After.

And don’t get me started about the visual references to David Lynch’s body of work (that’s a different conversation for another day).

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Yep. That’s a human ear alright.

While watching the first season, I questioned not only my theories about Fuller’s references to David Lynch’s work, but also the homoerotic nature of Will and Hannibal’s relationship.

smell-me

Yeah, I’m just imaging…wait.

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I soon discovered I wasn’t the only one in the Hannibal fandom (Fannibals) who saw what I was seeing. The sexual nature of their relationship became clearer with each episode. Social media (Tumblr, Deviant Art, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook) provided an outlet for fans who wanted to explore the possibilities of that relationship even further, and coined the term Hannigram. “Hannibal” has some of the most creative, twisted and hilarious fans. If you ever find yourself bored and want to entertain yourself, just Google Hannigram and let the good times roll.

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I know, right?

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Disturbing, yet somehow hilarious.

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This is the humorous side, but there is a darker and more sexually-charged side of the fandom as well.

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As far as fan art goes, the Hannigram inspired work found on social media may cause you to blush or shift in your seat a bit. Given the nature of the fiction it is drawing its inspiration from, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Neither should it surprise you just how closely violence, eating, and sex are related. But, what might disturb you about that connection is how titillating it can be when presented to us in a gloriously perverse artistic expression through such mediums as film or literature.

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But it is. And so is this.

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And, especially this.

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I mean, that’s like a total effing Romeo & Juliet ending! I know I’m not imaging that. But ironically, it takes Will the longest to catch on to that aspect of his relationship with Hannibal.

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I mean, even the tabloids alluded to the weird and kinky nature of their relationship.

murder-husbands

Any way you look at it, Will Graham is clearly Hannibal’s object of desire. The lines between his murder fantasies and his contracted work with the FBI to observe Will’s behavior blur while the empathetic profiler spirals deeper into mental illness. And while we feel sympathy for Will, the bizarre elements of the fiction lend themselves to even more disturbing humor. Let’s face it, Fannibals are sick, twisted, clever perverts. And I love them dearly.

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