When things get grim, or depressing, or just plain shitty, I take my mind off it by retreating into a comic book.
When things get appallingly bad and stressful, I seek refuge in a good long book or a small pile of strong comics. And there will always be arsehole who comes along and asks 'How can you read at a time like this?'
How can I read at a time like this?
How can I not?
Let's face it, it's a cold and cruel world out there, and even our greatest moments of joy are tempered by the certain knowledge that we'll all have to deal with some kind of tragedy some day, that something awful will happen to a loved one, and that there isn't anything you can do about it.
So seek some joy in reading up on some fact or fiction, because that's what they are there for. To take our minds off nihilism, and to get through the day, when it seems so hard.
Sometimes you just want to get the fuck out of this world, you know? Even Superman knows what that feels like.
Fortunately, we're hard-wired to create portals out of this crappy world we all live in, for a little while at least. Ever since we sat in caves, we've created stories and worlds of imagination, to entertain and enlighten, and get away from it all, without moving an inch.
And here, at the start of this bright new 21st century, there are so many options. It's not a technology thing – putting together words and pictures to create a story is the oldest and most efficient form of information download we have, and in comics alone, there are dozens and dozens of new stories to read every week.
Even the shittiest superhero comic has its fans, who use it to go somewhere strange and wonderful. It's the oldest and most efficient form of information download we have – the written word and the illustrations to enhance it, and it's always there, in good times and bad.
It's notable that you can't really get the same effect from a TV show - even the best of them. It's something about the way you can be distracted by other things, and can let your mind wander. The brain isn't locked down into the business of making sense out of words, turning them into metaphor and making the right connection.
You can get there by going to the movies, where there are no distractions and it's far easier to get immersed in the world on the big screen, especially if it's visually exciting, but it still doesn't quite make you work like an accumulation of words does.
And, for a little while, you can get away, and some areshole will wonder how you can read at a time like that. Sometimes that there is big, important stuff happening, and sometimes that arsehole is a member of my own family, and I love them all the same, but I need to get out of here for a while.
This is not necessarily a good thing. The same week my grandmother died, the last issue of Preacher came out, and my sister caught me reading it when I was supposed to be getting ready for the wake, and I felt terrible about it, even though I told myself I was paying tribute to my Nana Smith, because she was the one who got me hooked on comics in the first place, but that was a time to be with my family, and I felt terrible about upsetting my sister, and put off reading the rest of the comic for another day.
That was an inappropriate time and place – I had to be in the moment, for my family, at least, but there are certainly places where people are encouraged to read to take their mind off things, because they need to avoid falling into a pit of despair.
Places like hospitals with their weird mix of unesasy fear and crippling boredom, where any effort to get away from it all even when you're stuck in a bed is to be encouraged. Facing big, scary things like chronic illness is made a little easier when fly into the cosmos with an Arthur C Clarke book, or into the latest Fofty Shades of Grey rip-off, or whatever you fancy.
I've had a tough couple of weeks – not 'death in the family' tough – but tough enough. And I could've sat around all day feeling miserable and overthinking things, but that's no fucking use to anybody, so all I wanted to do was hit the books.
I finished off that Joe R Lansdale book I started the other month, burned through a great big thick volume of James Kolchalka's American Elf, read all of Garth Ennis' Hitman and Boys comics in three days, got through a dozen or so music magazines, read that big, slick 1980s book about The Prisoner, drowned in all that weird shit I got on the last trip to Sydney, and a whole heap more.
Things can get a bit emotional when you're reading in this state – I seriously lost my shit when I got to the part in Hitman where you see what is written on Sean Noonan's gravestone – but that's all part of the fun.
It's a pretty bloody stupid idea, that you can make everything right by ignoring it an burying yourself in books, but it did work. Stupid ideas sometimes do, and I did feel a little less miserable about it all.
And things are looking better now, and I can ease back on the crazy reading. I'm still reading a lot, but there is no real need to go too deep on it.
So when you're feeling shamed, angry, unwanted, embarrassed, fearful, belittled, ignored, insulted, lost, disillusioned, disenfranchised or disgraced, there is always something to read, always something to let you forget the bad shit.
There is always an escape hatch from this world, millions of them, all over this world. You can't stay there forever, but you can stay there a while.
In fact, you can't be moping around like that all the time, and yeah, it's a cold and harsh world, and everyone you know and love will die one day, but nobody is going to want to hang around with you if you keep banging on about it.
You have to work at it, but there is far more beauty than despair in this life, and more to celebrate than mourn. When we forget that, or when the world tries to prove it wrong, it's the stories we read that help bring us back to this truth.