Discover more from Fiction for the Cosmically Disturbed
Less Than Pulp, Issue 50
On Healing, or Is Life Just an A24 Movie?
Saturday night, in preparation for our Sunday trip to the lake, Jean asked what sort of sandwiches I wanted to pack.
“What are you thinking?” I asked.
“I was thinking turkey,” she said.
“Maybe I'll just make something from home.”
“What're you gonna make?”
“Uh, I dunno.”
“I'm trying to make it easy. Sandwiches are easy.”
“Okay. How about chicken salad?”
Jean raised her eyebrows. “You want me to make chicken salad?”
“Oh. No. I thought you were going to get premade sandwiches. I'll just have what you're having.”
“Turkey and Swiss.”
“Okay ... Oh, not turkey and cheddar?”
“I was gonna do turkey and Swiss, but if you want turkey and cheddar, I can make turkey and cheddar.”
“Oh, no. Turkey and Swiss is fine. I just typically see turkey and cheddar. That's all. I'll have what you're having.”
“Are you sure?”
She left the room, and I started cackling.
“Why are you laughing?”
“I don't know. That conversation. It was just funny.”
“You took an edible tonight, didn't you?”
I totally had.
Later, after weighing the pros and cons of getting a dumb phone instead of one with access to the internet, I went to watch this Backrooms video on my current phone and got hit with two ads. One was a smear ad against Texas House Bill 18, which deals somehow with internet security and data collection. The other was an ad for a sandwich shop.
The video saw a first-person protagonist wandering the now infamous backrooms and its various levels and hiding from entities. There were some cool spaces this time. One level was 90s arcade. The video kind of lost me when the character wakes up in a hospital bed, and it’s still in first-person. Like, why does this person still have a camera mounted on him? And holy shit, is he going to Heaven in the last shot? So weird.
But the video itself wasn't as weird as the rest of the ads.
Four minutes in, I got two more. One was for a company that helps you get rid of junk (we started cleaning our garage that day). Another was for Bumble because apparently Google thinks awkward exchanges with my partner about sandwiches means I'm now on the market.
Later, I got an ad for a mosquito killer designed by a supposed genius with a mosquito allergy. It's called the Electrozap. The voiceover sounded like it was read by an AI, and there was this dramatic music, like something you'd hear in a sports movie.
Oh, and I was complaining about mosquitoes earlier that day.
Next up, Walden University let me know it was time for a change. I have been reevaluating some things, specifically the format of this newsletter as we're at the 50th issue, writing career moves, and what the next dayjob should look like when I eventually start job hunting again.
It gets stranger.
Next up was a commercial for Yotta, an app that has weekly cash giveaways, sort of like a lottery, but centered around a savings account. The ad had a baffling moment where it mentioned that by getting the app, you're also entered to win a Tesla. This was followed by a dramatic cut to a photo of Elon Musk, surrounded by candles, and a voiceover said "All hail the techno king."
We dropped a lot of money on car repairs this past week, which stung. We're not in dire straits, but anytime we need to spend a lot, the anxiety creeps in. It's not unlikely that I would at least consider odd methods for making money when in such a mental state, but uh, yeah, no thanks.
The last ad was for a Doom game for mobile.
I want to reiterate that all this happened while I was weighing the pros and cons of getting a so-called dumb phone. Also, all those ads in a 17:43 video? YouTube has some great creators on there, but that platform’s best days are behind it.
For our trip to the lake, we went to our usual spot in Marble Falls. We didn't camp out this time, but we got to swim and lay about on the sand. My sister-in-law came out with my nephews. She and the kids mostly stayed in the water. I dug a hole in the sand that my oldest used to bury “treasure.” The treasure in question was a handful of rocks we found under the water. My youngest and I played a game where she’d drop a rock in the water, say “uh oh, rock,” and I’d try to find it. It took about twenty rounds before we lost the rock for good. Thankfully, she wasn’t too attached to it.
While sitting in the sand, I tried to stay present and observant. Leaving my phone in the car helped. The kids had fun. We had fun. Nothing the YouTube ads were peddling can compete with being out in nature.
Being always online has bred a particularly insidious strain of dissociation. It's one that presents an illusion of engagement, while all around me, there's so much to notice and participate in. I fail at this most of the time, but perhaps knowing this shortcoming will eventually lead to some positive change.
I'm trying to be better overall, gang.
In therapy, we've been focused on healing past wounds. Namely, we're concerned with trauma that's still holding me back today, the kind that creates wedges between myself and others, and prevents me from experiencing happiness.
For example, a few sessions ago, my therapist and I uncovered deeply rooted feelings of brokenness and unworthiness. I won’t go into the reasons for those feelings here except to say that like most people's damage, it's tied to events that took place in my early adolescence. Realizing that what occurred wasn't because of anything to do with me was huge. It was also important while discussing this not to villainize the others involved because they were likely wrestling with their own unresolved shit. And getting trapped in an anger loop would only be exchanging one affliction for another.
The other big breakthrough came when I shared that I’d walked out on a psychiatrist appointment when the provider had me sitting in their sweltering waiting room for an hour with the news playing at an obscenely high volume. And no, I hadn’t shown up an hour early. After leaving, I got this ugly feeling where I was blaming myself, saying that I was out of line or acting emotionally, even though I knew on some level that I went to that appointment looking for help, and since they couldn’t help me, it was perfectly reasonable to leave. I also wasn’t giving myself enough credit for finding another psychiatrist almost immediately afterwards.
The big thing, though, was this: my therapist asked me to identify the part of me that felt unworthy or broken, the part that blamed myself but also strongly distrusted others to give me what I needed, the part that was afraid. She asked specifically where it was in my body. I decided I felt it most in my lower abdomen and visualized it living there, some twisted, paranoid creature that snapped at the fingers of people who tried to touch it. She told me to tell it that everything was okay, we were safe, and thank you for getting me through the past few decades, but that I didn’t need it anymore. I followed her instructions and felt a simultaneous loosening and lightening.
I guess life is just an A24 movie.
A few years ago, we were having some financial difficulties, so I temporarily parted ways with this therapist in favor of one of those psychotherapy apps I’d seen advertised on Instagram. I liked both the low cost and the convenience of essentially having a therapist in my pocket. The experience was less than satisfactory. I felt no connection to this person. She had no idea who I was and didn’t seem particularly interested in learning. I came crawling back to my therapist shortly after.
She’s one of my longest standing relationships. I found her shortly after Jean and I moved to Austin almost ten years ago. She knows my damage, my dreams, the more mundane aspects of my life, what I care most about, and what I loathe. I didn’t find her through an ad. A quick Google search for nearby therapists, a few years before every search showed us Sponsored content first, brought me to her company. I liked her profile, so I reached out. Our first meeting was awkward, as most first meetings can be, but I saw something in her. That element, whatever it was, carried us to where we are now. It wasn’t instant; it took work.
Everyone’s different, of course. You may find a therapist today and see results tomorrow. That’s not me. I need to see an initial promise, then build upon that promise, working through doubts and seeing around my blind spots to really make something of a relationship. And that takes time.
Maybe it will take less time in future relationships, now that I’ve healed some things from my past. But fully healed or not, I intend to spend less time online. This newsletter is enough for me in that regard. If Substack ever stops being ad- and algorithm-free, though, I’ll export all my contacts and just bcc all of you so I can at least keep doing these.
Speaking of you, my lovely subscribers, there are now over 200 of you. Holy shit! That is so shocking and wonderful. I can hardly believe you all came here just to hear me talk. Please continue to Like-Share-Subscribe so we can grow this newsletter. In the interest of making this space more community-friendly and less me pontificating, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a comment below or shoot me an email in response to this newsletter. Let me know what you think of these weekly entries or feel free to ask me anything you’d like to know.
For more on this online fatigue we’re all feeling, check out the latest newsletter from Max Booth III. For more on healing, I recommend this piece by Grant Wamack. If you want a more fun but still frightening book about living online, you may like my book Digital Darkness. It’s not quite a sequel to Gods of the Dark Web, but it’s definitely related, sort of how King’s Insomnia and It are literary cousins.
That’s it for now. Take care of you and your loved ones. And as always…