I’m not sure of the origin, but somewhere it’s written that you can take a demon’s power away by speaking its name. From my point of view, this single concept underpins what the past four years of life here in the United States has been about. Collectively we’ve started a process of identifying, naming, and expelling poison from our social culture, political institutions, and even from within ourselves.
For my whole life I’ve been tormented by things I couldn’t quite put into words. The bulk of these unnamed concepts felt so overwhelmingly large, that any attempt I made to articulate them would fall short. Lacking the ability to describe these complex ideas made it difficult to find others who also felt their presence, and so I experienced this awareness privately.
The Invisible Container
I remember signing off from my 20s steeped in a general feeling of helplessness and disgust. I was beginning to suspect that I was trapped in a cage, the bars of which I was incapable of perceiving. I could clearly sense there was something wrong about the-way-of-things, but again I couldn’t call it by name.
Then, shortly before my 30th birthday, Donald Trump got elected; the best worst thing that has ever happened to us. As a public figure, he was a locus for all the yet unaddressed toxicity within our culture. Slowly, the shape and form of our demons began to solidify before us like vapor crystalizing on string. It was horrifying to witness, but this meant we were able to better define and understand them, and thus begin the process of calling the names out loud.
We started talking about corporate greed, the effects of unchecked anthropocene, white privilege, male entitlement, systemic racism, the narrow sight of gender binary, and the general amount of shaming and intolerance that thrives unbridled within our social culture. These problems are so deeply imbedded within our way-of-things that overcoming them feels daunting, but the first step to making necessary change is admitting there is a problem, and at the very least, we had finally done that.
Over the past four years, the bars of my cage became visible to me. They had been a part of our dated social consciousness all along. Collectively we started speaking words that were previously unspoken, and they gave new meaning to the things I had struggled to define. The concept of boundaries, passive aggression, gas lighting, privilege, bullying, narcism, and toxicity became terms we’d use to describe the personality constructs and human behaviors that’ve created the vortex of abuse we find ourselves within as ‘Americans’.
As I connected the dots between this newly acquired awareness and the most painful experiences of my own life, I reeled in boiling resentment on behalf of what I’ve lived through. There was little I could do to change the world at large, or my past, but now that I saw everything for what it was, I could at least identify any of those attributes that I personally carried, remove the venom, and try to be a better human myself. That is the power I do have.
Soon I realized that I had a laundry list of trauma I needed to address. It was a taxing process. When the pandemic swept over us, I was a captive audience to my own thoughts plastered up against a backdrop of the very energy that had created them. For a marathon of days I woke every morning and felt angry. It seemed impossible to heal when the scab was constantly being abraded by what I witness in the media. But it became more clear with each passing day that if I ever hoped to grow and achieve vitality, I’d have to make it work… even within a swirling chaotic vortex.
Once it sunk in that healing myself was absolutely necessary, I did a lot of weird things. The monumental bits were private and undetectable on the outside; the equivalent of going on a walkabout in a barren dessert, but internally.
I let my mind go free range. I stopped looking in the mirror because I had stopped considering the fact that I had a physical form all together. Without the distractions of my life as usual™, I could float around the house like a ghost day in and day out while processing memories and thoughts as they cued in my mind. Some I could resolve with time and effort, but many I could not.
This isn’t to say that I’ve never done any of these things before, or that my thoughts were previously unknown to me. The difference is the concentrated awareness the past four years was a catalyst for. If concepts were mysterious to me because they were partially obscured, this period of time lifted all of the veils and connected all of the dots. My comprehension felt like a solid unit that I could walk you through step by step. This HD resolution of my demons was new to me. I wasn’t use to seeming them in this way. THAT is the difference.
In time, I came to realize that there were feelings I harbored and attributes about myself that were too close to my core to ever be pealed away. There would be some demons that would always be in my company, and for them I’d just have to pull out a chair and get acquainted.
Deep-Diving an MMO Saved my Soul
As I crunched my pain equation over and over again through a slurry of quarantine days, I was able to distill my demons into an over-arching concept which allowed me to set a singular goal: stop resenting the way of things. The world and its nature might be toxic, but I can still learn to skirt over its surface tension, like oil on water. Maybe even use some of that frustration as energy, who knows? I turned to an unconventional source in order to learn how to do this, but I didn’t realize it at first.
In the beginning of the maw of 2020, I ran back to a few of my old creature comforts to offset everything that was going on in the ‘real world’. I returned to World of Warcraft (a popular and established multiplayer online game) as my chosen form of escapism. At night I checked into a different world and functioned as someone else entirely.
Other than acting as a humble distraction from an actual pandemic and mass social unrest, some very good things were the result of my time spent back on Azeroth. I found that I would map certain aspects of my life to components and themes found within the game. It helped me recode the way I viewed limitations and struggles within my human life. Though I can’t change certain things about the world, I *can* change the way I perceive them. My perception became key to a manner of coping and over-coming.
The character I assume the role of is a warlock who summons and controls demons; a “demonologist”. Perfect! This already mapped to my life in a meaningful way. In regard to demons: if the dark parts of myself weren’t going anywhere, it certainly helped to view them as entities I was in control of and in some cases, could wield expertly as a source of power.
I should mention, the game identifies ‘demons’ as individual beings summoned from another hell-like plane of existence. I however, personally define ‘demons’ as the painful parts of our human experience that leave a permanent impression on who we are. If the year 2020 was a lesson in learning to accept and leverage the darker parts of myself so that they compliment, rather than sabotage who I am… then the class I was playing in WoW did in fact mirror my current life journey. I adore that.
By deep November I started turning the torment I had internalized all year into an art form. Doing so was like letting steam out from a vent. It wasn’t a perfect process, but it helped me transform the energy from negativity into silly, insightful, and ultimately positive.
The Power of Speaking Names
Learning to control my ‘demons’ involved a process of ritual. The most powerful and important aspect of which is the act of naming. It’s hard to solve a problem when you can’t define it, right? Once I label the thought, whether it be a regret, fear, frustration, or an unresolved memory that burdens me, I begin to comprehend its nature. I can start to trace where it came from or why it continues to bother me. The more I lay out in words, the more I understand, and soon enough a shape begins to take form. The demon is no longer a swirling mass of hurt, resentment, and pain. It’s a solid concept I can address directly. Even if I am unable to disarm its power to make me feel unhappy, I know what I’m up against. I’m not trapped it the invisible cage.
Knowing this, I came up with the simple ritual of writing down negative feelings while I was experiencing them; particularly the ones that seemed to derail me in the course of a day. Whatever the nature of the feeling, I’d summarize it in a sentence or two. And if I found myself dwelling in the same place the next day, I’d write it down again, and again, until the cause that triggered this feeling was no longer something I was reluctant to face. This quite literally felt like squeezing venom out of a wound. It hurt at first, but was a necessary pain.
In WoW, my avatar runs around with a lantern as their “off-hand” weapon. I use it because it’s a cool looking object, but I also like to think of it as the vessel that all my demons are subjugated within… like a cage. After so many months of running around in a virtual world proudly donning this symbol of conquest over my demons, I decided to build one in real life to serve the same purpose.
With that, I leveraged my arsenal of design and fabrication skills to create this thing; which I don’t see so much as a prop, but as a meaningful shape that brings me a sense of pride every time I look at it. It hangs next to my desk. I turn it on in the morning when I wake, and switch it off at night before I go to sleep with a certain consciousness.
THE PRAYOR SLIPS
Sure, I could create a word processing document to vomit thoughts into and then save it on a special hard disk located in the lantern (I very well might add this feature one day in the near future). However, initially I wanted the act of expelling my demons to be a bit more tangible… and visceral.
As a student in art academia, I once wrote lengthy notes and poems to my friends on rag paper using a crow-quill calligraphy pen. It was a messy way to write. The sharp metal nib of the pen would rip into the fibers of the thick paper and collect into an ink-soaked wad at the tip of the pen as I wrote. The drag of the nib would catch and launch spatter all over depending on the speed at which I was writing. Whether calm or impassioned, it was apparent by how neat or splotched the words appeared.
With this memory in mind, I decided it would be fitting to create my own form of prayer slip; a small sheet of paper adorned with a loop of rope to hang from the sharp corners of my lantern. At some point in November 2020, I prepare a large stack of such blank slips and kept them at the corner of my desk. Any time a feeling or thought prevented me from enjoying the day or being productive, I would stop to write it down.
The act of identifying the nature of the feeling, giving the words a physical form as an external object, allows me to literally and symbolically put the feeling in its place… a place that is separate from me.
The Process Continues
It’s a new year. Though 2021 doesn’t yet look much different from what we experienced through the long months of 2020, I can report that internally there has been significant change from last February to now. I can clearly remember thoughts I had last year, like markers or flags that indicate I’m in a better place. It might not be the place I want to be, but I’m learning to appreciate this part of the ride for what it is.
My head is less of an emotional trash fire (maybe). I’m not as enraged over the things I have no power to change. For that, I’m a different person. I think after collectively experiencing that marathon of events which 2020 wrought, everyone is a shiny new thing as a result. I believe that our innocence has been lost because our eyes have been held open, and now we can hold this collective experience as a reference point for our growth.
It will be fun to get to know myself again. Even more so, to get reacquainted with everyone else once we’re allowed to breathe on each other in public once more. There might very well be more pain on the way, but now I’m perhaps better equipped to not only cope with the-way-of-thingss, but thrive in spite of them.