Saturday, September 2, 2017

When I Wish I Was Somebody Else



 

 

‘I wish I had your personality.’ This was the first time (at least that I can recall) saying that out loud. It was a thought that I had many times throughout my life in relation to myself and others.

 

My highly extroverted friend, who was sitting across from me in the Japanese restaurant, raised his eyes: ‘Don’t man. There’s nothing wrong with your personality.’

We talked a while after that. We caught up, discussed my recent breakup a little more and then went back to our homes. That part of our meal stuck with me though. It mirrored the internal debate I’ve had with myself off and on for most of my life.


Like many people, my confidence and self-assuredness has grown as I’ve gotten older. I’ve gotten better at managing my bouts of self-hatred, depression and checking my emotions in tough situations. I’ve come to better accept my sensitivity and my introversion for the gifts they provide as well as the handicaps.


Still, despite all the progress I’ve made, I’m not immune from deep self-doubt and insecurity. Nor will I ever be. I still struggle to accept myself. Yet I also have a hard time accepting the fact that the people I know (friends, colleagues and loved ones) are also battling their own inner demons. I struggle to see them as fallible people who can be just as unsure of themselves and their place in the world as I am. 

 

This is especially hard for me to accept when it comes to extroverts, people who I have envied and idolized in the past.

 

For a long time, I saw my introversion as something that made me inferior to the social colossi that I befriended or ran with. Sure, I had my own petty prejudices where extroverts were concerned. 

 

They were shallow, they were either afraid of or lacked they ability to have deeper emotions or thoughts, they never took the time to really know people etc.

Deep down though, in my awkward adolescent and college years, I felt deeply inferior to my extroverted friends. A large part of this was the (American) society I was exposed to for a good portion of my life. To quote Emma Watson: ‘If you’re anything other than an extrovert you’re made to think there’s something wrong with you.’


That was my belief for a very long time. It was one I still haven’t completely shed. Many a time I’ve thought: ‘If I was a social butterfly my life would be better.’


In short, the grass often seemed greener in extrovert land. No one who lived there dealt with or could have possibility dealt with the problems and insecurities I did. 

 

Of course, that’s not true. The open conversations I’ve had with those people I unfairly held up on a pedestal made that very clear. Hearing my extroverted friends’ stories, realizing the social butterflies could struggle with social anxiety and self-loathing, realizing that they could be just as unsure of their own abilities, discovering that sometimes those bright (and genuine) veneers I so admired covered deep wounds and insecurities that were just as real as mine, humbled me.


Who I am is not inherently worse than those who have mastered strengths that I find more difficult to learn. That’s something that I and everyone else should take time to appreciate.



 


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Why I Share the Dark Times






My blog has been dormant for a while. My most recent post was in August of last year. Ever since coming to Korea, I haven’t written much new.

I’ve had a lot going on for sure. Great things have been happening since I got on that Delta Flight from Little Rock last October.



The past nine months have been some of the best of my life. I’ve enjoyed a very good year teaching elementary students in Korea. I’ve gotten to travel around this new country I live in and have made great new relationships.



It’s sometimes hard for me to think of how life could get much better. Yet even in the midst of my great new year, my acid shadows have followed me. The depression and mental health issues I’ve always struggled with continue to walk beside me. They have been quieter these past couples of months than at any other time in my life. Still, they are there and I am very aware that their words could, at any random moment, puncture my mind and send me spiraling.



My life has been great. That doesn’t mean though that the past nine months have been struggle free. I’ve had plenty of moments where I was deeply unhappy with myself. Even with all the progress I’ve made with therapy and even with all I’ve been able to achieve here in Korea, I’m still just as vulnerable to my dark moods.



I’ve shared my darker and depressive episodes online (especially on Facebook). It’s not a secret anymore that I struggle with mental health. In the past I wrote freely on my blog about my depression. Those posts were and remain some of the most viewed. More recently though I’ve stuck to quick Facebook posts.



Recently, a friend asked me how I was so comfortable being open with sharing my depression online?



In truth, I’m not always comfortable. I still worry about how others perceive me sometimes. This fear was a big one when I was younger but it diminishes every year. Much of that has to do with those people (friends and strangers) who have reached out after a FB or blogpost and expressed their gratitude or sympathy. Some have shared their own struggles with mental health.



Yes, there have been a few times where I’ve got negative feedback on what I’ve put out into cyberspace. The first comment on my coming out with depression blogpost was an anonymous person who told me to kill myself. I can count those instances on one hand though. The overwhelming majority of feedback from my posts has been positive and empathetic.



Letting others know they are not alone and knowing that I myself am not alone despite what my shadows tell me. These are the reasons I share my struggles. Sharing inner turmoil can, I think be a positive thing.



The longer I walk with depression the more I believe Henry David Thoreau’s quote that most of us are living lives of quiet desperation. In this age, social media feeds our desperation.


In an age where there’s a ton of pressure on people to share their accomplishments online and broadcast a rosy image of themselves that ignores our darkest times, we all suffer unnecessarily.  



Whether we like it or not, we are influenced deeply by what we see in our newsfeeds. Whether we care to admit it or not, we all compare ourselves to our peers’ social media highlight reels. (Even though we know we shouldn’t).


What we see impacts us and what we share impacts others. Throwing a few hardships out among a sea of filtered selfies, out of context accomplishments and incomplete life stories, would, I think, go a long way to helping people feel much less like islands of desperation.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

What If Khal Drogo Had Lived?




For the first 'what if' scenario of August, I wanted to look at an alternate scenario for an essential character in the first book, Khal Drogo.


His marriage to Daenerys was a piece of a wider plan to restore House Targaryen to the Iron Throne. The brief time he and the 'Mother of Dragons' spent together helped mold her character and his death set her on a long and very difficult trek to power.


But what if Drogo had lived? How would this affect the efforts of the Targaryen Restoration? How would this change Daenery's return to Westeros? What kind of reception could she have expected from the people and nobility of the Seven Kingdoms if she had come as a Khaleesi?



Drogo wins his duel without receiving an injury.

Not a Scratch


So how could Drogo have lived? Like with so many of these theories, altering small decisions or tiny events has a huge impact. A character making a different choice or avoiding one particular event can drastically transform the entire course of their story and the wider plot of the books.


In 'A Game of Thrones' Drogo met his end because of a small flesh-wound he received in a fight with a rival Khal. Daenerys insists that a woman she rescued from the settlement her husband just sacked, Mirri Maz Duur, treat him. Unknown to Daenerys though, the maegi deliberately poisoned Drogo's injury resulting in his wound becoming infected. Daenerys saved her husband through blood magic but smothered Drogo in an act of mercy to stop him from living out his days as a human vegetable. Drogo's Khalasar (mostly) abandoned his Khaleesi who burned herself, Maz Duur and her dragon eggs on his funeral pyre. Daenerys emerged with her dragons and set off into the Red Waste to strart again.



In this scenario, Drogo avoids being cut by his opponent during this fateful duel and walks away from the fight without that scratch. The woman Dany rescues simply joins the rest of the Khalasar as they continue on their way. Swayed by the Khaleesi's kindness she takes no revenge and instead simply uses her magic for healing.

 


The quest for ships would continue.

Slaves for Ships


With Drogo alive and Daenerys still his queen, what happens next? Well, in the books prior to the pillaging of the Lhazareen, the assassination attempt on Dany's life in Vaes Dothrak makes Drogo fully committed to her cause. He becomes determined to take his Khaleesi and his unborn son across the Narrow Sea to invade Westeros and reclaim her throne. Alive and still in charge of his Khalasar, it's certain that Drogo and his Dothraki warriors would continue to raid and pillage towns and cities in Lhazar to gather slaves. In all likelihood, the captured Lhazareen would be sold to the Masters of Slaver's Bay (since the cities border Lhazar to the south) in exchange for ships.


Though Dany likely remains uncomfortable with the volume of people her husband enslaves, (perhaps continuing to claim some women and children as her personal property to save them) she continues to go along with this plan. Since the Dothraki warriors follow her husband, not her, it's unlikely that Daenerys would be in a position to fully abolish the practice of enslaving people.


So, Drogo's Khalasar acquires a large number of slaves by sacking the towns and cities of Lhazar. One or more of the cities of Slaver's Bay proves willing to trade ships for the slaves and Drogo and Daenerys are able to set sail for Westeros.


The fate of the Khalasar after setting sail for Westeros depends on two different factors.


First, the timing of the departure. Since Drogo's Khalasar numbers some 40,000 people and undoubtedly includes at least as many horses, acquiring enough food and other supplies to sustain this force for the voyage would take a few months.


Because the death of Khal Drogo occurs in late 298 AC in the cannon timeline, we can assume that in this scenario the Khalasar would probably set sail some time in 299 AC. Since the fleet would need to likely dock at least a few times at different cities to resupply, the best guess is that Drogo, Dany and their infant son Rhaego (born in 298) would reach the shores of Westeros in late 299 or early 300 AC.


This means that they would land in the Seven Kingdoms at the tail end of the War of the Five Kings perhaps just before or just after the poisoning of King Joffrey at the Purple Wedding. 

 


Aegon (Young Griff) a rival or a partner?

The Aegon Factor


The second important factor, is her relationship with other members of the Targaryen Loyalist camp. The biggest members of this camp are Illyrio Mopatis, Varys, Jon Connington and her nephew, Aegon. While it might seem like Dany and her husband would have no problem joining forces with these other players, the relationship between Dany and her nephew could just as easily turn frosty.


In the books, Illyrio arranged Dany's marriage to Drogo in order for her brother Visery's to gain 10,000 warriors. It was Viserys, not Dany, who Ilyrio and his co-conspirators wanted to place on the Iron Throne. With Viserys' death, Ilyrio and Varys invest their hopes for a Targaryen Restoration with Rhaegar's surviving son, Aegon.


Since Aegon's claim to the throne is stronger than his aunt's, Daenerys plan of using her husband to capture the Iron Throne for her and her son becomes complicated. She can either accept her nephew's claim as more legitimate and try to add Drogo's forces to Aegon's or she can continue to Westeros and attempt to reclaim the throne for herself on her own.


So what would her decision be?


While she might have some sense of familial affection for her nephew, Daenerys is a much stronger and independent person. She is used to being a Khaleesi and would likely not want to bow to her nephew and forsake the thing which she has been driven to want for most of her life, the Iron Throne. Additionally, Drogo (who never respected Viserys) would dislike the idea of submitting himself to another man.


Taking all this into consideration, this timeline sees Drogo and Daenerys rejecting Aegon's offer and continuing to Westeros alone. Aegon gathers his own supporters which includes the Golden Company and hires other mercenary companies to fight for him.



The Martells- Dany's best hope for a Westerosi ally.

The Sun, the Dragon and the Stallion


When Drogo and Dany arrive in Westeros they find the Seven Kingdoms torn to pieces by a vicious civil war. The death of Joffrey Baratheon, the new reaving campaign of the Ironborn under King Euron Greyjoy, unrest in the Bolton controlled North and the Faith Militant rising in King's Landing makes the realm's future uncertain and provides a window for Daenerys to emerge as an alternative to the Lannister controlled throne.


Since Dorne has (secretly) remained loyal to House Targaryen in the hopes of avenging Elia Martell, Daenerys and Drogo land at Sunspear.


While in the cannon timeline, Doran Martell seeks to wed his son Quentyn to the widowed Daenerys in Mereen this scenario  becomes unrealistic if Drogo is still alive.


However, the 'Dornish Master Plan' continues. Dany makes another pact with the Martells, perhaps marrying Arrianne Martell to one of Drogo's blood-riders to seal it. While Aegon might try to court Dornish favor as well, the widely believed account of his death as an infant during the sack of King's Landing makes the claim of his survival dubious. In a 'Winds of Winter' chapter for instance, Arianne journeyed to Aegon to try and ascertain the legitimacy of his bloodline. Additionally, Dany's 40,000 strong Khalasar is a far more formidable force than the 10,000 strong Golden Company.


With the Martells willing to support her, Drogo and Dany march their combine Dothraki/Dornish force north to make for King's Landing. In a move reminiscent of her ancestor Aegon Targaryen, she sends messages to all the lords of Westeros declaring her Queenship.


While some lords would undoubtedly declare for her, this does not likely boost her numbers. The War of the Five Kings has exhausted the fighting strength of many houses, meaning that the Khalasar and the Dornish would make up the bulk of Dany's strength.


With the Reach controlled by House Tyrell, the Dothraki/Dornish host marches through the desolated Stormlands crushing its war weary lords.


Any houses that do not declare for her are sacked and pillaged by the Dothraki. The token force of Tyrell soldiers, left to continue the siege of Baratheon loyalists in Storm's End, are easily overwhelmed. Though the Khaleesi succeeds in keeping her husband and his riders restrained in some instances, she's unable to stop the large Khalasar from periodically raiding and pillaging the small-folk of the Stormlands as they approach King's Landing.



Varys, a Targaryen Loyalist, sabatoges the Lannisters and Tyrells.





With Daenerys Drogo and the Martells at the gates, the Lannister/Tyrell alliance tries to mount a defense. Matters are complicated by Varys sabotaging the defenders efforts in the Red Keep. The death of Tywin at Tyrion's hands as well as the assassination of Kevan Lannister occur as in the books, orchestrated by the Master of Whispers to assist Daenerys. Assuming that these events ultimately result in the Lion and the Rose parting ways, the Tyrell's opt to join forces with Daenerys and King's Landing falls quickly.


However, what if the Tyrells and the Lannisters simply see the Dothraki/Dornish as a much more pressing threat and unite against them? With around 30,000 Tyrell men, a few hundred Lannister soldiers, and five thousand Goldcloaks of the City Watch the Tyrells/Lannisters can field only about half of numbers of the combined Dothraki/Dornish force (40,000 Dothraki/20,000 Dornish). If they march out to face Drogo and Dany in the field, this force is quickly slaughtered. While the more sound option is to hide behind the city walls and await reinforcements, its unlikely the siege would last long. Varys would to sabotage events in King's Landing for the defenders. Cersei and Mace Tyrell are likely unable to coordinate their forces well and the city falls in an assault.


The Dothraki, in all likelihood, would be let themselves loose on the realm.

Dothraki On the Loose


During the taking of King's Landing, Daenerys restrains her husband perhaps by sending the Dorthraki to go into the Riverlands to chase Jaime and the Lannister forces assisting with the Frey's siege of Riverrun. The assault and occupation of the city is left to the Dornish (in the hopes of preventing a whole-sale slaughter) who take the Red Keep. Since Dany is likely to remain merciful and tactful she refrains from killing Cersei, Tommen or any Tyrell hostages she manages to take. She instead uses them as leverage to try and secure the loyalty of the realm.


So, Daenerys has the throne and perhaps now receives the fealty of many great houses. Does she get a happily ever after?


No, not really. Even if she secures the Iron Throne she would still have to worry about securing her new kingdom. Dorne, the Stormlands, and the Vale would back her, while the Reach and the Westerlands would fall in line if presented with Lannister and Tyrell hostages. However, the Iron Islands under King Euron would continue to remain in rebellion while instability in the Riverlands and the North could lead to hostile forces emerging there.


The Dothraki, under her husband Drogo, would also continue to be a lethal force but one which would prove to eventually be an Achilles heel for her. 

 

With Dothraki society entirely centered around raiding and pillaging, it would be unrealistic to expect her husband's Khalasar to remain passive for very long even if Drogo tried to reign them in. If the Khalasar continued to pillage large parts of Westeros, even those areas that did declare for Daenerys, it could alienate from the Westerosi. It would be increasingly hard for Dany to be both queen and Khaleesi since her subjects in the Seven Kingdoms would view her Dothraki Khalasar as an occupying foreign force and the Khalasar would be itching to return to its nomadic, rampaging way of life.


It's probable that the Dothraki would split from Daenerys and her husband, with Drogo's strength being called into question as he restrained his people too often and denied them their 'right' to plunder and enslave as they wished. In a best case scenario, the Khalasar splits with some Dothraki following Drogo and others breaking off into one or more smaller Khalasars. In the worst case scenario (the more likely one) Drogo is challenged and killed by a rival who then turns the Dothraki loose on the Seven Kingdoms.


While this Khalasar would eventually be defeated by a combined force of Westerosi lords, Daenerys would perhaps lose her strongest backer and her throne all together.


With her Khalasar turned loose, Daenerys also comes into conflict with her greatest rival for the throne; her nephew Aegon. If Young Griff decides to return from exile and press his claim, especially in the aftermath of Drogo's death, it would present the lords of Westeros with another alternative to Daenerys.


While it's possible that Aegon could simply join forces with his aunt (perhaps marrying her in the case of Drogo's death). It's also just as plausible to see a Targaryen civil war developing between the two family members with Daenerys being increasingly isolated as lords defected to Aegon.



Sorry people, it's ASOIAF. No one really gets a happy ending.