As I write this, the authorities are still pursuing the perpetrators of the April 15 bombing of the Boston Marathon, although it looks like we might not have to wait much longer to see them make an arrest (update: we didn’t). There’s a lot that I would like to say about the attack, which killed 3 and wounded more than 170, and a lot that I feel I shouldn’t say. After all, this is where people go to talk about superheroes, right?
At the same time, a lot of my columns are about how comics relate to society. I like to analyze what the stories contained in these little four-color paper pamphlets are trying to say about us as a culture or as a species, or what we might be able to learn from them. Not because super-hero comics really need to be taken that seriously, but because I need something to write about and I’m an adult male that is aware of the world but still reads comics, so it just makes sense. Plus, I enjoy it.
The way I feel about the Boston Marathon attacks, now that it’s been a couple of days and I’ve had time to process what all went down and what we all saw in those awful photographs that were taken in the moments after the blasts, is that this was a huge failure for us as a species. That’s the only way I know how to describe my reaction. We messed up this time. We had a terrible lapse in judgement. We need to do better next time. This cannot happen again.
It was a gorgeous day in a gorgeous city and people were enjoying themselves and each other, and then one or two people acted on a bad idea they had, an idea they should’ve disregarded, and all the harmony of that day was suddenly interrupted by chaos and carnage and things that people will have nightmares about for the rest of their lives. Things that can’t be undone.
Unfortunately, these kinds of events are a daily reality for people in other parts of the world, and if we want to make sure that it doesn’t happen again to us, we have to make sure it doesn’t happen again to them either. Because they are us. We’re all in this together, guys. And it’s time to raise the bar and learn from these mistakes.
On the other hand, one thing that absolutely did hearten me, and still does, was the response from the people on the ground directly after the attacks. Videos of the bombing show hundreds of people immediately, without thinking twice, reacting instinctively by running toward the sites of the explosions to help retrieve victims and bring them to safety. It was astounding.
And the reports of the runners who finished the marathon and kept on running to the hospital in order to donate blood? Mindblowing. I run about 6 or 7 miles a week (if I’m lucky) and I used to donate blood every month or so, so I understand the fatigue that comes from both. If you’d asked me to run 28 miles and then have a pint of blood removed from my body, I’d probably throw up and die right there on the spot. These people are superhuman, no doubt about it.
Anyway, the column that I wanted to write this week, and one that might actually be a touch apropos in light of the tragedies that have occurred, is actually one that I’d been wanting to write ever since I began this column a year and a half ago. Now I think I’m finally at the point where I can write it and it won’t come out sounding completely awful. Hopefully.
So I’ve been watching a lot of Henry Rollins’ spoken word videos lately, which I am finding to be very motivational and inspirational in addition to being funny and fascinating. And in watching these videos I came across a song of his called Shine, in which he sings the lyrics
When you start to doubt yourself/The real world will eat you alive/It’s time to align your body with your mind/It’s hero time… I’m talking to you/Hero time starts right now!”
How freaking cool is that? Did you listen to the song? Didn’t it just make you want to do a thousand push-ups, tear off your clothes and climb up the Empire State Building with your bare hands like freaking King Kong? Not only is it a fun song with a great message, it essentially echoes what I think is the overall theme of superhero fiction and the reason behind why I, for one, am so captivated by that sort of storytelling.
At the very foundation of superhero fiction is the idea that we have great potential inside of us as human beings, untapped potential, that we can choose to harness for the betterment of society. This isn’t some kind of meta-ability or mutation, it’s a decision to be better than what we give ourselves credit for. To rise above adversity, to follow our own path, and to act with compassion in our hearts. It’s a classic call to action, a mythological truism (wow, I’m a terrible writer) that has existed for thousands of years as a sort of roadmap for how we can reach our full potential, how we can become supermen. And so here’s my idea on how we can do it in real life. This is my checklist for how to be a super-hero.
Now to be sure, the following few paragraphs are not meant to be a lecture or a sermon or anything, more of just a diary of my own experiences. I’m certainly not an expert on any of this stuff, just another amateur trying to figure it all out, but if you happen to be on the same path I am, I’m happy to share my notes. And I’m not condoning dressing up as a costumed crimefighter and stalking the streets of your hometown, either. That stuff is ridiculous and totally misses the point.
Ok, so first of all, maintain a strong, healthy body. You don’t have to get super ripped or anything, but you have to stay active. Eat right. Avoid pollutants. All this seems pretty obvious, and to be honest it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, but it’s important. We’d all like to drink milkshakes and eat chilli cheese fries for every meal and sit around all day during our time off and get hammered on Saturday night after a long shitty week at work, me especially, but that’s just not sustainable. You’re hurting yourself when you do that. And when you drink, you act stupid and it’s likely you say some things or do some things that you wish you could take back later, and you don’t want to be that guy. Trust me.
I read recently that sitting around doing nothing for five hours is tantamount to smoking a pack of cigarettes. That sucks! You’re body likes activity. It needs to be active. Water is at its most pure when it is in motion, and a great deal of your physical makeup is water. Keeping yourself physically clean internally (well, I mean, shower too, obviously) also goes a long way for keeping your mind clean. When you exercise it puts you in a good mood, or at least it works off some of the pent up energy you’d need to sustain a bad mood, and that’s incredibly useful for becoming a better person.
Secondly, I would recommend meditating at least once a day. The meditation that I do, which is called Zazen meditation and comes from Zen Buddhism, constitutes sitting in an uncomfortable position in front of a wall and staying like that and not thinking about anything for 30 minutes. That’s probably not the best way to sell it to the general public, but it’s the truth. And I find that it helps a lot.
Humans are creatures of habit. A lot of what we do throughout the day is based on habit, right down to our thoughts and emotions. We habitually seek out things that give us pleasure and avoid things that don’t, and because of that we fill every second of our day with distractions instead of focusing on the time we have. Which is a shame because that’s all the time we get. In Zazen meditation, you have no choice but to face that empty, silent time head on. And it can be difficult, because it isn’t “fun.”
But after a while you start to become familiar with that time, it becomes your frame of reference for your true nature, for when your mind and body are doing the same thing at the same time without any desire or attachment to distract it. And that becomes extremely handy the next time someone says something nasty to you in traffic or you get dumped by your girlfriend or any of 1,000 other distracting, harmony-disrupting events occur throughout your day.
Now to be sure, I’m not trying to shill for any specific religion here. Although, to be honest, I tend to tell people that Buddhism is not a religion, it’s something you do every day. It’s an active philosophy, if you want to get intellectual about it. I personally have never had much use for religion in my life, but whether you do or not is up to you. I’m just saying that having that time everyday where you can find your still point is immensely important. I’m not sure what else out there can do that for you, but I heartily recommend zazen. It’s free, it’s totally healthy, and it will get you laid. Ok, it probably won’t, but it’s definitely free and healthy. (And if you are interested in Zen Buddhism, pick up Hardcore Zen by Brad Warner, it’s a lot of fun to read and it’ll tell you all you need to know.)
For my last little tenet of superherodom, I’m going to suggest finding what it is that you love and doing it everyday. Now this sounds a bit obvious and even a bit trite, but I’ve seen it pop up as advice in a bunch of different places and I really think there’s something to it. In the film Stardust Memories, Woody Allen said (as a disembodied alien voice, speaking to himself), “You want to do mankind a real service? Tell funnier jokes.” Joseph Campbell often said to “follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.” In his book, Magick Without Tears, Aleister Crowley said, “Every man and every woman has a course, depending partly on the self, and partly on the environment which is natural and necessary for each. Anyone who is forced from his own course, either through not understanding himself, or through external opposition, comes into conflict with the order of the Universe, and suffers accordingly.”
Find out what you love to do and do it as much as you can. Carve out some time for yourself to do that thing every day, no excuses. If it’s something that requires you to achieve a certain status or position before you can do it, find out what is required of you to get to that point and attack that goal with everything you’ve got. It’s like Rollins says in the song, “No such thing as down time/All you got is life time.” Life is a one-shot deal, and the clock is ticking. You might as well leave it all out on the field. Of course, the initial act of finding what it is that you love to do, of finding your bliss, may take some soul searching. But that can’t stop you from looking for it.
If you have a chance to follow your bliss, to do whatever it is that fulfills you, you will be fulfilling your rightful place in the world, and therefore contributing to a more harmonious society. You’d be saving the world by just being yourself.
In my opinion, it’s no coincidence that the very first superhero appeared in a comic book called Action. Superheroes are metaphors for humans at their best. Metaphors for people who act, in the here and now, for the good of humanity. And humanity is all we got. The lines we used to draw, the sides we used to take, those no longer matter. The only team we got is the human race. We’re all connected. And if you want to see a better world, just do like Henry says and align your body with your mind. Bring yourself into harmony and then upload that harmony back into the system and watch it spread to the people around you. Stop the bickering, stop the bile, stop the in-fighting. Win the war within yourself and war between people will disappear. And then we can move on to the really good stuff.
Get ready. Hero time starts right now.