Unlife’s interludes are great in that they allow Zack and me the chance to change focus a bit. They give us room for both reflection and experimentation, allowing us to see the rest of the forest beyond James’ tree. It also buys us time to work out any kinks in the next chapter before it starts. Chapter 7 alone had multiple rewrites through its one year run. And chapter 8, though finally finished, took almost 25 revisions to get “right”, with no guarantees it will be free from the same rewriting curse. So while we sit in between chapters, one has to think to themselves “where am I”, “how did I get here”, and “where am I going next”.

Unlife is about trying to find a way to live when you feel like you’re already dead. This encompasses a multitude of metaphors: letting someone else decide the course of your life, using bad habits as a form of escapism, being tempted by what’s easy because so much feels predetermined and inescapable. But, to get “meta” for a sec, why continue on this willfully dark course down a rabbit hole of depression, dependency, and death? Every chapter, I tell Zack and Jena, “This is the darkest point, but it’s all uphill from here”, only to realize once it’s done that I have danced closer to the edge of the abyss. I can take the easy way out and claim that it’s just what the story dictates. That when wading into the nature of life and death and their ultimate meaning, I choose to confront it, warts and all.

A major theme, both in this upcoming chapter and in the last, is the idea of negative coping mechanisms. When things are tough, and you’ve found a way to deal with it, but it’s unhealthy… what then? Do you resign yourself to the idea that this is all you are or can be? Or do you try to resist the urgings of your inner (and outer) demons? And if the latter, how? How do you resist the only thing that makes existence bearable? How can someone not want to escape, even just for a moment, when that impending doom feels inevitable?

I can only speak for myself personally here, but for me, where I am and how I got there is out of a desire for acknowledgment that these dark sides are not “me”. They are challenges I face, and they are part of me, but they are not all that I am. They are part of a connected and living internal ecosystem that goes beyond good and bad. They are pieces of a whole tapestry that’s given form in a comic that updates twice a week at a Dragon Ball Z-like pace. Because that’s the best way I know to make sense of it. Giving the maelstrom form somehow depowers it, maybe because when you’re face-to-face with it, it no longer feels unbeatable. You realize that it’s only as strong as you let it be. That it can be overcome, or at the very least, subdued.

I’m glad James had a moment to face that monster down, both metaphorically and literally, in the last chapter. It may have been damaging, and it didn’t eradicate the issue from existence. But being able to face it even for a moment helps you fight back later. It allows you to spit in that monster’s face and refuse to let it drag you into that good night. Personally, I like to give anything I do everything I’ve got, whether it’s my work, my love, or all my indulgences. It’s not just a little bit; It’s an everything. It’s an end all be all. And sometimes the monster can feel that way too. But when you take a long look at who you are, in total…

Do you want to be the guy who ate brains, or do you want to be the guy who rose above it?