Dear Aiden,

The Guide is a collection of books, movies, music, ideas, and notes that I find life-giving, meaningful, or interesting. In 2020 I found myself suddenly without a job in the middle of the pandemic and felt depressed, angry, and lost.

For several months I experienced an existential reckoning filled with uncertainty, trauma, and change, made even more challenging by the fact that I already live with clinical depression, anxiety, and PTSD. “The Guide” might not be the most accurate name for what I’m collecting here, because I often don’t have any idea what something means or if it’s helpful until after the fact, and I certainly don’t pretend to have achieved any kind of special enlightenment.

What I do have is experience. I’ve made colossal mistakes, acted foolish and unkind. I’ve hurt people, including you and your mom, and am thankful for the grace you both showed when I went insane and ended up in a hospital for people who do that kind of thing. I also have a good education, and am a dedicated learner. The study of philosophy in general and Stoicism in-particular has helped me make sense of things, so don’t let anyone ever tell you the study of these fields is for white tower academics. Never let stupid people suggest you are stupid for trying not to be stupid. Anti-intellectualism has sunk deep roots into American society and is one of the many things that has me looking for jobs in places like New Zealand or Shetland on an almost daily basis.

Perhaps some wisdom or insight has come of it, on some days it doesn’t seem that way. The Dark Wood is a reflection about finding yourself lost. It happens to all men and it is ok.

The Dark Wood

I still manage to ignore the cautionary tales embedded in my own experiences. I’m not perfect, but I’m better. I still can’t play the guitar very well, and I eat too much sugar. Projects are still left undone, but I’m ok with that now. The thoughtless, ignorant, and hateful people we have to share the planet with still bother me more than they should, but I’m able to extinguish the fuming before the whole field bursts into flame.

I’ve included some ideas here as a start, and will add more material over time. For me, the items collected here all share the overarching theme of what it is like to arrive at a point in life where we feel lost, confused, scared, and are unable to rely on previous experience, skills, or knowledge as guides. Beyond that, it didn’t make a lot of sense to me to impose some kind of formal structure on how I share ideas or recommendations, principally because the forces at work during these types of transitions grant no quarter to things like schedules or step-by-step instructions. I thought the blog format would work well because it provides a flexible framework for me to share content in an unstructured way that is easy for you to access in small doses. I may cite themes, questions, or insights the material surfaced for me, but have no expectation that what resonates with me will always make sense to someone else or carry any meaning at all.

If you haven’t seen Thor: Ragnarok, do so immediately.

THEMES: Identity | Worthiness | Family Relationships | Self-Doubt | Fun

Take Shelter

Take Shelter is an outstanding thriller that portrays what it’s like for a man when reality starts to fray around the edges. The writing is superb and Michael Shannon delivers an authentic portrait of a man struggling with what may or may not be mental illness.

Movies seldom do a good job of creating characters who struggle with mood disorders, usually opting to portray them as cliched caricatures that offer either comic relief or the most extreme versions of what living with mental illness is like. Take Shelter deftly handles a character who is struggling through an existential reckoning, but does so without playing to the normal stereotypes.


Starfish

When it comes to science fiction or mystery stories, it takes A LOT to surprise me. Starfish not only surprised me, it’s become one of the few movies I will actually re-watch.

Starfish is a moving piece of science fiction that flips from introspective drama to Lovecraftian creature feature to a meditation on regret and loneliness without ever losing coherence. It’s about being lost, confused, and alone, while the world around you has become empty, strange, and dangerous. While watching it, I accepted even the most odd choices in terms of storytelling because the movie affirmed my sense that I am not always at home in the world. Reality can unravel and it is ok. Something wonderful can happen even if spacetime comes apart.

THEMES: Trauma | Existential Grief | Loss | Uncertainty | Fear