The Final Confession of Ryan Joe

By Ryan Joe

I have a confession.

I have been watching NFL football since the playoffs. That, as well as other writing projects, have kept me from updating with any degree of regularity. If you weren’t watching, the playoffs were immensely entertaining, filled with on-field heroism (Larry Fitzgerald, Aaron Rodgers), villainy (Vontaze Burfect, Adam Jones), and incompetence (Brian Hoyer, the Bengals).

It’s what makes the NFL so successful. Keep people entertained, and they’ll forget your bullshit.

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I do think the head trauma issue will eventually catch up with the NFL. More high profile players will be diagnosed with CTE (former Raiders star QB Ken Stabler was the most recent). Already, we see more players in their prime opting for early retirement. Last year, it was Anthony Davis, Chris Borland, and Patrick Willis — all of the 49ers. This year, Lions star wideout Calvin Johnson is poised to retire at the age of 30.

And I believe this oft-repeated talking point: Parents will start pulling their kids from youth football. With a reduced pool of quality players, the game’s entertainment value — and by extension the NFL itself — will suffer. It won’t happen with the next generation or one following, but I think we’ll start to see the effect start to creep in after about 25 years. All speculation, of course.

coverThe image at the top was from How To Be Happy by Eleanor Davis — a varied and exciting collection of comic strips, some of which are simply cryptic little moments, others feel like fables (“In Our Eden,” “Stick and String,” “Seven Sacks”), and still others, with a greater focus on narrative, feel like literary short stories (“Nita Goes Home,” “Summer Snakes,” “Thomas the Leader”). Davis deploys a different illustration technique with each story — ink, pencil, watercolor — and different palettes.

Despite this diversity, nearly every character in the book seems to be asking, well, How to be happy? Or if not How to be happy? then How to feel differently? or even How to feel at all?

Taking in the book as a whole, that seems to be the fundamental conflict. Our attempt to find emotion and love and meaning (Adam’s words) can be difficult and sometimes devastating. There are times when our feelings are toxins.

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There’s an element of wishful thinking here — the ability to get rid of all that sticky internal poison — which becomes one of the strongest themes at the end of How To Be Happy.

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In “No Tears, No Sorrow,” a woman goes to a class to learn how to cry. When the lesson finally takes hold, she breaks down uncontrollably in a grocery store. And Davis’s final strip ends with these captions:

“The mind is a shitty place to live…Wouldn’t it be good to be free of it?…Like taking off a bad pair of glasses that hurt your head and make everything ugly…So nothing stands between you and this beautiful world.”

Davis isn’t advocating going through life with a complete lack of feeling — that’s the sort of deadening Allie Brosh articulates so well when she describes her depression in Hyperbole and a Half.

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Of course, How To Be Happy doesn’t have the answers, but it’s a little comforting — to me at least — that so many others out there are also looking for them.

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