On “Belonging”

I sit alone in my one-bedroom apartment. My phone is off. I painstakingly pull myself away from social media and the shallow fulfillment it provides. I settle into the lonely.

It’s easy to think of social needs in the context of a Sims bar. The more we communicate and interact, the more our needs are met and we are satisfied. If only humans were that simple.

There are, of course, evolutionary advantages to belonging and social acceptance. From small communities that offer protection and shared information that allows for societal advancement, the human condition appears to dictate the need for collaboration. In previous times and cultures, multiple generations might live in the same household. It was even seen as a responsibility to care for family members who were unable to care for themselves (see The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World). Familial belonging was fundamental to human existence.

On a larger scale, modern society is evolving rapidly. The American sense of individualism is pervasive throughout our culture. We even call ourselves “American,” which seems to ignore the fact that many other countries exist in the Americas. We insert ourselves to the forefront, though I suppose “United Statesean” doesn’t have the same ring to it. We are encouraged to rent one-bedroom apartments we can’t afford. We are encouraged to move out of our parents’ home at 18 and gain independence – whatever that means. We are told the only person we can rely on is ourselves, even though in our hearts, we know this is not true.

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My story is a bit different, I suppose. I was without choice. I was adopted when I was 11-years-old and the man who raised me passed away when I was 19. Independence and loneliness were thrust upon me as a child, and even today, I cling to them earnestly as though they are a lifeboat. Independent is a comfortable state of existence. In vague moments of self-awareness I realize the storm I find myself in is a product of my own nightmares; the lifeboat is merely an illusion.

I simultaneously insert myself into the center of this story, and why shouldn’t I? This is my blog, after all. It is meant to be personal? And yet, I feel guilty for doing so. I am insignificant, a single soul in a sea of consciousness.

Given my own disposition of non-belonging, I am drawn to those in society who exist on the periphery. As a sociologist, I study the interaction between people and institutions and how societal frameworks direct our existence. This is like psychology, but it emphasizes the influence of the external world on our psyche and behavior.

This type of study grows increasingly difficult. In the midst of another election season, I am once again reminded that my America is not your America. We have fundamentally different ways of understanding society. In fact, we live in different societies. My city in Florida is strikingly different than a small town Montana. America itself is a clusterfuck of ideas – we seem to worship individualism yet demand conformity. You should think for yourself, but you must adhere to two political parties. Love thy neighbor, but respect is optional. We can’t even agree on how to interpret the Constitution. No wonder there is so much confusion and division within society – we all have different understandings of our contract with society. The very foundation of our culture is one built on division.

I suppose this lack of belonging could be a factor as to why modern American culture places so much emphasis on the nuclear family. Our national identity is inherently fractured; our extended family is traded in for the ideal of expansion and individual ownership. The nuclear family is all that’s left.

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Yet, there are those who never plan to marry. Many young women do not feel the need to have children. What is left for us?

There appears to be a shift towards universalism. Identity is tied to the species; the collective conscious; collaboration to the highest degree. By tearing down the barriers of competition and aggression, dismantling these ideas of nationalism and loyalty by default, modern individuals are seeing themselves reflected in the eyes of strangers who live across the country or around the world. And as I sit here, settling into my own Lonely, the state of being that I revisit every now again like an echo from my childhood, I am reminded of the connection I share with humanity at large.

Perhaps it is a band-aid for psychological suffering. Those of us who are fortunate to live in a post-industrial society enjoy physical luxury to a degree that no previous human civilization has ever known; and yet, we suffer. We suffer greatly and deeply and we cling to our suffering like a lifeboat. And what happens if we abandon the lifeboat, and swim in the sea of consciousness instead? What awaits us in the deep waters of our emotions and human potential? Will we finally discover the deep sense of belonging we spend a lifetime chasing?

Leaves and Trees, Oh My!

Curvaceous, edged, tender and frail,
some deep emerald, others pale.
Long and slender,
jagged and pointed,
glossy coating, matte finish.
A rustle in the leaves,
nature’s perfection,
without blemish.

I spy with my little eye
a red bird that lets out a sigh.
The trees shake and shimmer
as he bounces aloft.
Another blissful morning
with leaves so soft.

Ivy hangs down,
dew made of froth.
The whisper of the trees,
a delicate sound.
Grooves and crevices
like canyons, so deep,
and I wonder
if these leaves ever sleep.

Others are veiny,
brown fingers spreading out
like a spiders’ web
emerging from a sprout.
Deep hues are pleasant
as the eye beholds,
the forest comes to life
with stories untold.

The Big World

The world is too big.

Fraught with opportunity and displays

of power, of lust, and of greed,

the world is too big.

Too many options, too may paths,

Too many stories to be told and books to be learned.

An oyster or a canyon? The vast expanse of our consciousness echoes out through the ages,

a verse inside a verse,

planets drifting through the cosmos.

Lonely, but never alone,

Try as we might, the world peeks inside.

The world is too big for my heart to love fully – to feel deeply enough and reach each corner gently.

We set about to create something smaller,

A small crevice to call our own, lest we forsake the rest, lost in our own thoughts.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Uhtred, Son of Uhtred

SPOILER WARNING: The following post discusses The Last Kingdom plot points through Series/Season 3.

There is something special about a well-crafted protagonist. They carry the weight of an entire story on their shoulders, breathing life into the world they represent, tugging at the heart strings of the audience. They are the epitome of wish fulfillment, whether it’s a desire to be them or be with them.

Then, there was Uhtred of Bebbanburg. I hated Uhtred so strongly in episode one that I refused to watch episode two for over a year. Recently, I had a chance to chat with Mark Rowley (Finan) about this aversion. He laughed, and asked me, Why? I believe my exact words were, “He was annoying, and immature, and I thought the only thing he had going for him were his looks.” Mark laughed again and said he would relay the message to Alex and tell him to tone down the “ladies’ man” thing in the future.

Oh, shit. Oh, no. Oh gods, please don’t tell him I said that!

I didn’t say that out loud, of course. I just laughed nervously and moved on. I said what I said, dammit. I stand by it.

But what if I’m mistaken? What if Uhtred wasn’t actually as annoying as I thought? I pondered that for a couple days.

Nope, still hate Young Uhtred. In fact, his face annoyed me all through series 1 and 2, and it wasn’t until the end of series 3 that I accepted Uhtred as a protagonist worthy of anything but an eye roll. I can imagine what that conversation might be like:

Me: Young Uhtred’s face was annoying.
Alexander Dreymon: What? But, I’m a very handsome man. I have a beautiful face!
Me: Yes your face is beautiful, but Uhtred’s face was annoying.
Alex: But my face is Uhtred’s face.
Me: Indubitably.

At first, I chalked it up to a sort of Stockholm syndrome. I marathoned episode two through the end of series 4 within a week. After staring at someone’s face for so long, it stops being annoying, right? Wrong. I mean, young Uhtred is handsome, and yet, young Uhtred still annoys me. It was an older, more mature Uhtred that I started to love.

Surely I’m not the only one who didn’t like Uhtred at first. Statistically speaking, I can’t be alone in this. But my aversion was so strong, I was willing to drop the entire series, and it took three years’ worth of material to awaken a feeling of respect and admiration. This is worth exploring further.

Uhtred hits all the right protagonist characteristics: he’s internally driven even when reacting to outside stimuli, has a strong compass both morally and in action, playful and passionate, gentle but strong. He has flaws, too, with an impulsive nature being both his greatest strength and perhaps his greatest weakness. It’s easy to see why characters are drawn to him and follow him. He goes through trials, has loads of character development throughout the first two series, and is an all-around badass. And with all of that working in his favor, Young Uhtred is still annoying to me.

What characters did I actually like in series one?

Guthrum.

“KILL HIM!” Yep, most underrated character in the whole show. Every character is larger than life, but Guthrum was special to me.

I also had a soft spot for Hild and Beocca. In series two, we got Finan and I finally had a warrior to root for! I like other characters, of course, but I’m focusing on first impressions right now. And the truth is, I found Hild, Beocca, and Finan to be superior in personality and likability even despite Uhtred’s clear character development.

Enter: Skade.

At first, Skade was also annoying. Her character was dramatized, well-played, but a complete throwaway character. She was far from the “grandest” antagonist in the show – she was never meant to be a Kjartan or Sigefrid. And while she may not be the grandest antagonist in the story, she is the greatest antagonist in Uhtred’s story. Ultimately, she’s the reason I grew to love, admire, and respect Uhtred as both a man and a leader.

It’s funny to think that being an orphan, surviving slavery and gaining true humility, growing as a person, and constantly proving himself as a warrior were not enough to win me over. What Skade offered was a different type of development for Uhtred.

First, Uhtred’s murder of Skade was special. I believe Uhtred enjoys battle. He enjoys the glory of the fight (he was adopted by a Dane for a reason, after all), and I think on some level he enjoys the game of Saxon politics (it’s in his blood) and he especially enjoys winning at both. But his battle with Skade was deeply personal. It was more than just revenge. His uncle and Kjartan took his family from him. Skade did more than that – she took the love of his life, and she played him like a fiddle. His uncle and Kjartan stripped him of the life he was given. Skade stripped him of the life he built. There was no glory in her death. There was no victory in revenge. He simply did what he had to do, and he did so quietly. There were no theatrics. He was not performing for anyone. He was simply getting the job done, perhaps for the first time in his life.

Secondly, he was alone in his fight with Skade. In truth, Uhtred has always had someone to rely on. Beocca was his rock since he was a child, always defending him and standing by his side. After his father’s death, he was adopted and cared for by a second father. Finan gave him the strength to persevere. He was saved in his time of need. He collected warriors and men willing to die for him, men who often died for him. He collected lovers to support him even when it meant their death. He was backed by one king or another. At all times, he had someone by side. But in dealing with Skade, Uhtred had to stand alone. Letting anyone in on his scheme would have meant failure. His ability to plan and execute that plan, even while his own men doubted him, is the mark a true leader. He was always an independent character, but there was a shift in him around this time. The warrior who emerged from that experience was sharper, more grounded. Capable of more. Uhtred never questioned himself and never wavered from the path.

Thirdly, Skade reinforced Uhtred’s identity by forcing him to make a choice. During series one, Young Uhtred turned his back on the Danes because they abandoned him, as he often reminds Brida. The Saxons rejected him as well, so Uhtred exists in this strange, in-between state. What’s especially great about this quality is the universality of it. I don’t know anyone who fits perfectly into one box or one community. As part of the human experience, we all feel like the outsider at some point. It makes Uhtred relatable from the beginning. While Brida was eager to find another Dane to serve, Uhtred knew he didn’t belong there and he didn’t belong in Wessex. He had a mission to reclaim Bebbanburg, but in the meantime, he was fearless in embracing the “outsider” branding that was given to him so gleefully by Alfred. In fact, being the outsider was the easiest path for him to follow because circumstances (see: “destiny”) pushed him in that direction.

When Skade came along, she had a vision for him: reclaim the Dane glory you deserve. Uhtred could have given in and accepted that mantle, and in turn, the power that came with it. He could have raised an army of Danes and used them to reclaim Bebbanburg. He could have kept Skade around long enough to use her for his own means and just killed her when he was done. It may have been due to a desire for revenge and independence, but Uhtred chose to turn his back on that life and forge his own path. This time, it was not because the Danes rejected him – in fact, they would have embraced him with Skade by his side. Uhtred chose to be his own man even when it meant choosing the more difficult path this time.

Lastly, and I think this one sums it all up, is that Skade taught him discipline and patience. Young Uhtred was wild and impulsive. Dealing with Skade properly meant waiting until the moment was right and striking efficiently and without hesitation. Uhtred did not act on impulse – he thought about this death. No, he really thought about this death. He thought about it constantly, and this particular death required a level of forethought, patience, and discipline that was never really required of Young Uhtred.

Yet, it was more than just the circumstances that transformed Uhtred into a leader for me, it was the action itself. To put it frankly, Skade’s death scene is a masterpiece. It is unassuming and unremarkable, and that’s precisely what makes it so profoundly remarkable. Uhtred got the job done. Emerging from the water, it was clear that Uhtred was not the young, impulsive boy he was before. He was also not a warrior. He was a man. Just a man.

As Osferth comforts Uhtred following Skade’s death, we get a rare glimpse at the duality of leadership. There is performative leadership, the type built on the shoulders of strong men, leadership woven into grand speeches before bloody battles, the leadership Alfred writes about in his many pages. But what transpires between Osferth and Uhtred is the weight of true leadership – of doing what must be done even when the feat feels dirty. It is enduring leadership, the type that emerges from the core and informs every action we take. We do not stop being leaders when people stop watching. Rather, Uhtred becomes the embodiment of leadership in a way that Young Uhtred simply emulated. In a moment, and before I had time to realize it, I watched potential become truth. It was such a seamless and natural growth for the character, I was almost unaware of it.

At the end of the episode, Uhtred sees Alfred’s pages. He is unbothered by them and the fact that he is excluded from Alfred’s recount of history because he now knows the weight of true leadership. He has settled into his strength, and no amount of affirmation, or denial, would change who he is. Although Skade’s death and Uhtred’s reaction to the pages seem unrelated, I think they are intricately intertwined. They reveal a level of understanding and internal growth that marks the end of series 3 as the moment I found a deep respect for a character I once considered a throwaway protagonist.

This transformation – both in Uhtred and myself – is indicative of masterful storytelling, professional dedication, and a profound understanding of the human experience on the part of all those involved with bringing this story to life. In fact, it’s probably the dislike I have for Young Uhtred that makes my love of him now so satisfying. It’s like ordering a pie and finding it has endless filling.

on Paths and Tribulations

Before there was a path, there were shrubs. Stinging nettles and thorns to scratch at the ankles, snakes and scorpions hiding under foliage. Solid ground turned to soft, branches protruding from the earth to catch you off guard.

Before there was a path, there was danger. We walked barefoot and cursed the unknown. We traveled and wandered and learned. As feet traversed the same roads over and over, vines were cut away and a trail began to form.

We walk the path without a thought of the tribulations of our forefathers. To us, the path has always been there, easing our travels through life. Those who paved a way for us are long forgotten – their sacrifices, taken for granted as we get lost in the mundane of daily existence. Their contributions are lost to time.

And yet, to understand where the path leads, we must first understand where we came from. We cannot get lost in trees; we must commit to a trajectory first. We must see the forest if we are to navigate it, lest we stray from the path and get lost among the flora.

Tribulations and suffering will face us. We must persevere, for generations to come will rely on the roads we pave today.

Solitude

To the outsider.

To the stranger.

To the misfit and the misunderstood.

To those without community, the outlier with no home and no pride. Solitary – the lone wolf, passing by unnoticed.

To those who walk a path of silence.

The footsteps you hear are only your own.

You speak, yet no one is around to listen.

You are lonely, but not alone.

Ruminations and Loss

I am no stranger to loss. Neither are you.

Grief lies somewhere between the hollowness in our chest and the weight of the world, bearing down on us in our most vulnerable moments. Grief finds us in the in quiet hours of the night when shadows mask our heartache and loneliness, or in the shower when scalding water envelopes you in a shroud of warmth as you finally let the tears flow freely.

Grief finds us in the bittersweet moment when a new friend makes you laugh, but you’re caught off guard. What if I lose them, too? What’s the point? I’ve felt this way before.

We stand at a crossroads.

The grief tugs at our waist, beckoning us to return to the comfortable shell we emerged from just moments ago.

The future stands at our feet, inviting us to let hope back in.

On The Void

I’ve been thinking a lot lately. I’m always thinking. Once upon a time, I was obsessed with learning, absorbing information and gaining a higher perspective on the world. And then, I was obsessed with creating, with breathing life into my dreams and crawling inside of the characters that filled my mind every waking moment.

These days, I’m obsessed with making it to tomorrow. I want to learn and I want to create, but the underlying passion that used to keep me up through the twilight hours–typing furiously into the night–is gone. On a good day, I can read just over 10 pages of a book or write in my journal. On bad days, I sleep. I’m torn between feeling exhausted/fatigued, and feeling as though I’m not doing enough to reach my goals. Am I doing too much or not enough?? I can’t tell. 

And what are goals, really? Finish lines that lead you to more finish lines, never satisfied, never happy with what you’ve done. I need a vacation. I need a new computer. I need a camera to film with. I need a day where this existential fog dissipates and leaves me with a clear vision of my life and future once again.

You’ve felt like this before, haven’t you? All of us feel the fog of uncertainty at some point. We allow ourselves to be swallowed whole by the candy store of Social Media, scroll, scroll, scroll, click, click click, always searching for another distraction. I have one last piece of business to wrap up on Facebook, and then I’m disappearing for a while. Unplugging from the Void and plugging into my own mind for a while. 

It’s strange to think about how energy flows. Three short months ago, I was full of passion and potential on the cusp of a new, exciting chapter. These days, I find solace in small victories like…. getting out of bed and having vegetables for dinner. I feel as though all my energy and passion has been sucked dry by the void and the emptiness of daily life. I have spent months seeking distractions and excitement, only to be left unsatisfied by these fruitless adventures. No more distractions. No more void. Time to straighten out all the knots in my mind and mend the torn fabric of my soul. 

Welcome to 21st Century Dating

Oh, how the sweetness has turned sour. How my words have twisted under misguided intentions and strings drawn tight, the tiniest fiddle playing for my honor. Ha ha ha.

Poor soul. Poor me. Poor every sad creature that finds complexity appealing. It is not appealing, you know. Complexity breeds contradiction breeds indecisiveness breeds heartache. And over what? The fear of being alone? We are all alone, you fool.

Give me the heartache. Give me the pain. We can be human leeches together–be my punching bag, I give great head.

The darkness is comforting, after all. The human condition, this tearing at the seams of the heart and the blood dripping between soft fingertips, trying to hold it together as it breaks and bends and falls apart in your hands. Human folly at its best. Platitudes that have no place in the real world, where nightmares walk the streets and fear is your leash.

It will break. Nothing you do will stop this inevitable betrayal of humanity, and the act of ripping your soul from the pristine beauty you call perfection and displacing it into a distorted dreamspace where you convince yourself that you are good enough, that you don’t use the people around you for your own benefit, and your self-absorbed nature is minuscule enough to cancel out the bad things you do when no one is watching.

First date.

“I’m trying to figure out how to tell you that I’m a terrible person.”

My response cuts swiftly through the open air between us.  

“We’re all terrible people.”

And yet surprise still finds us. Surprise finds us late at night when the terribleness that I held back on date one finally cranes its neck to look him squarely in the eyes, and reveal the truth. The truth that I am not ready for a relationship. The truth that I am bad at feeling, worse at expressing those feelings, and find it nearly impossible to accept those feelings. Impossible to do, with those feelings, what lovers are meant to do.

Surprise finds us the next morning when my own nihilism and pessimism, that felt like home so many months ago, settles into the shadowed edges of my soul. The creases and folds that hide the truth are peeled back with bloodied hands, begging for him to see me, demanding that he walk away, and yet hoping that he’ll stay.

But not for his benefit, no. For my benefit, for my sanity. Because at the end of the day we are all selfish and terrible and the beautiful moments when we accept the bad parts of ourselves and release them into the night, give them wings to fly far away, in those moments when we acknowledge the darkness itself, we are able to sit in a pool of self-pity and turn that piss into wine.

So we drink that wine and move on with our lives. Another date, another hour, another heartbreak. Welcome to 21st Century Dating.

Visceral

When we first met, I was mending a broken heart. The flame inside of me was dowsed by the incessant flood of nihilism and pessimism I was drawn to. And my most recent lover, he promised freedom and wings to soar to new heights–but he neglected to inform me I would need such wings to escape the raging wildfire of his temperament. His wildfire was suffocating, using up the oxygen I thrived on, stifling the flame I worked relentlessly to nurse back to health.

Here I stand. The pendulum swings the other way, as it always swings, never with a moment of rest. Pretty things and insightful words fall short of their mark; they weave lies and instill deceitful hope of a better tomorrow. I would cast off such veiling, in search of a more efficient mechanism of self-love and inspiration.

The truth rests easier upon my tongue. It has a healthy weight these days, no longer crushed under the pedestal of perfection. No longer twisting in search of sugar coating, the crystalline gentility that drips from my words. I would see such sweetness turned sour if it offered but a moment of reprieve from the conscience that afflicts me.