Episode 18

Published on:

23rd Dec 2022

A Gloriously Bizarre Dive Into the Meaning of Holidays with Bestselling Author Jason Pargin

How do we describe this episode? We don't really know where to begin, to be honest. Does "going deep about the meaning of Christmas with a beloved sci-fi/horror writer whose latest book involves inter-dimensional parasites feeding on human hosts" make any sense to you? We promise it will, after you listen.

For years, Dr. Andrea has thought back to a piece that bestselling author Jason Pargin wrote about the deeper human truths underlying the holiday season. So, she invited him for a conversation about it-- and what we get is a funny, poignant and thought-provoking discussion about everything from gratitude, loss, fame, loneliness, and technology, to what the idea of "church" can mean to atheists.

Join us.

Read Jason's piece in Cracked.com here.

Follow Baggage Check on Instagram @baggagecheckpodcast and get sneak peeks of upcoming episodes, give your take on guests and show topics, gawk at the very good boy Buster the Dog, and send us your questions!

Here's more on Dr. Andrea Bonior and her book Detox Your Thoughts.

Here's more on this podcast, which somehow you already found (thank you!)

Credits: Beautiful cover art by Danielle Merity, exquisitely lounge-y original music by Jordan Cooper


Dr. Andrea Bonior: I enjoy doing these little intros. A succinct summary, a little teaser of the subject to come. So here I sit. Wondering how in the ever-loving name of Freud’s ghost I am going to tease today’s show, even though it’s one of my absolute favorites so far.

Today we’ve got bestselling author Jason Pargin. Is he a self-help author? Nope, not in the least, he writes gory sci-fi and horror, in fact. And with some incredibly foul language (not on this episode, don’t worry.) So what’s he doing here, on a decidedly non-gory, non-explicit mental health podcast, talking about…. the meaning of Christmas? Whaaaaa? Well, it will all make sense if you stick around, we promise. Do join us for today’s Baggage Check.

Welcome. I’m Dr. Andrea Bonior, and this is Baggage Check: Mental Health Talk and Advice, with new episodes every Tuesday and Friday. Baggage Check is not a show about luggage or travel. Incidentally, it’s also not a show about the sociocultural history of the mullet.

Okay, on to today’s show. Years ago, in the throes of the chaos of the holiday season, I read a piece that shifted how I think about celebrations during that time. It was funny, it was dark at points, it touched on despair and death and debauchery but ultimately hope and light and connection-- I thought it was really beautiful. I hadn’t known at the time who the author of it was—well, it didn’t help that he was writing under a pseudonym. But I found myself returning to that piece year after year, as a little reminder for me to keep the bigger picture in mind. I always meant to contact the author and say what an effect it had had on me, but, you know, procrastination and—fear of awkwardness, of course. Well imagine my surprise when I dug up the piece this latest time, and noticed that the name of the author—since the pseudonym had been dropped—was Jason Pargin-- one I recognized and had in my head as someone who did a waaaaaay different kind of writing. As in the kind of writing that someone like me did not naturally gravitate to, because it involved sci-fi (um, astrophysics not my forte) and horror (um, I love The Twilight Zone, but my threshold for violence pretty much ends with someone slapping their own knee because someone said something funny.)

So I thought, this just got gloriously weirder. I wonder if this guy would be willing to talk about how it all fits together and somehow, I don’t know, might that give us the meaning of life itself? I reached out to Jason and he said “Alright!” And so here we are. And we got to have a discussion about everything from existential crises to holiday parties to despair to fame to technology to Covid to loneliness to the Black plague to Tiktok to conspiracy theories—well it was even greater than I hoped for, and I’m still thinking about it. And by the way, his brand new book—which he warns you about, it’s not for the kids that might be listening in the car—is “If This Book Exists, You’re In the Wrong Universe.” So here we go.

Welcome to the show. I'm so glad to have you here at Baggage Check, Jason.

Jason Pargin: It's good to be here. Thank you.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: So I would love to hear about your beginnings as a writer, because from what I understand, your past really was one of absolute toil, right. You were working full time in a non-related field, and you started writing on the side, and and gradually your writing got some attention. Is that right?

ime later, a decade later, in:

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah, well, certainly I think it's always wonderful when people recognize the role that some luck played in terms of being in the right place at the right time. But certainly your career since has really shown just how much you had to offer and how well that would resonate with audiences. And listeners, you should know that even though he's saying that he's not good on camera, his TikTok does pretty well, actually. I don't even know, do I say your TikTok? What's the proper terminology for one's TikTok presence? Your TikTok persona, your TikTok output, whatever it is. But certainly you are making a huge splash there, too. So I think you obviously have a knack for showing up where people are and knowing how to use the platform. Giving away your novel for free. Lots of people might try that. But yours obviously resonated so much that it was able to turn into something that reached a lot of people. And speaking of that, actually so you used to write under a pseudonym, is that right?

Jason Pargin: Yeah. In the early internet days, everybody had like, hacker names they wrote under. So I wrote under a pseudonym because I had no interest in people knowing who I was or connecting my work with me and my face and my personality. If it was up to me, I would just write under a variety of pseudonyms because it's like, no, I want the work to be its own thing. I do not want a thing where people are buying the book because it's like a personality cult where it's like, oh, he's the cool dude from YouTube or whatever. Um, it's like, no, the book is the book. It shouldn't matter who wrote it. Now, that was obviously very, you know, completely naive on my part. But remember, I got started before social media existed and before the idea of social media being a desirable thing that people would want existed. Because when I started on the Internet in the late 90s, you didn't tell anybody. You didn't tell them your name, you didn't tell them where you were from, and everybody they were posting behind a pseudonym, but would also, in many cases, make up like a fake persona for themselves because they could. One, it's very liberating to just make up a fake person. But two, it was like, well, I don't want these people finding me, and I don't want the people at my day job seeing the filthy, filthy jokes that I'm writing and think that this joke is about them or that this is so. The idea of separating myself from the work was like a key to being able to write early on because it didn't have the consequences of my family didn’t know I was writing this. I had a huge following before a lot of my friends and any of my coworkers knew, like, I was famous on some corners of the Internet before the people in my real life knew because it's like, well, this isn't about them. This is something I'm doing it anonymously on purpose. So that's the ultimate irony of me now in my late 40s now doing this full time as a career in an industry where it is entirely tied to your face, your voice. Like, if you're not on TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, you cannot sell books. I don't care what type of book you're selling. I'm a novelist. Uh, I write very gory and somewhat ridiculous Sci-Fi horror. But these days, again, uh, unless you're already extremely famous, if you're like 99% of the authors where you're out there hustling to get people to hear about your book, it is you putting your face, your home, your family, your pets, your preferences, your meals. The audience wants your whole being. I'm not used to that. I was not raised in an environment where a million people needed to see what you had for lunch. So I again am blessed by the fact that I was in my 30s before social media came along, because at least I was already a fully formed person. And I'm not fooled by a bunch of people on the internet telling me I'm wonderful. Because it's like, okay, I can turn off this device, walk outside, and none of my neighbors care who I am or what I'm doing. It's like, guy, he's got the bright Christmas lights on his house. Who is that jerk? They don't care about any books I've written. I could walk down the block and go to the grocery store. Nobody there cares who I am, so I'm able to stay grounded. Whereas I think if I come up and immediately had, like, social media fame as a teen, I would not be a normal person today. I, uh, would not be well adjusted whatsoever.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah, it's a whole conversation about how when it is embedded into your formative identity, how you're starting to think of yourself at 12, 14, 16, even 20, it's got to be fundamentally different than for it to come a little bit later on because you would already have your neighbor on social media with you. They already would have known you in that way. It's like kids. It's like, okay, we switched schools and we moved to escape a bad situation. But guess what? These people are still with me online, so I didn't really escape at all. And I think it's so fascinating and somewhat concerning to me how different those things are. But I'm thinking in your case, you must have had quite the moments sometimes when people sort of did discover, oh, my neighbor does do this, or even my family member has been writing online, and so many people love him, and I had no idea. Did you have any strange situations where you did kind of have to come out or, uh, you were discovered by people who hadn't known you online, but knew you in real life? Because your fan base is incredibly passionate. They're very rabid. And so I'm imagining that for some of your loved ones, or even just your real life, whatever that means, your in-person life, acquaintances to discover that-- was kind of strange for them.

ght. And then once in the mid:

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yes. And that's why I think this is so sort of humorous, this idea that part of what took me to your work back in 2014 for the first time was an essay that you wrote for Cracked that really had an incredibly profound point of view in terms of the meaning of the holidays. And I think to have you on today, and we'll talk about this, knowing some of your other work that gets so much attention in terms of Sci-Fi, in terms of horror, and then to think, well, wow, the piece that you wrote that really resonated with me was something that, in a way, people probably wouldn't expect. It was about the meaning of the holidays and so for listeners who don't know, it's called We've Survived Another Year, Make It Count, you can still read it on Cracked. And that's part of the reason that I invited you today. And I just think it's kind of glorious. And in a way, your books do the same thing. There's a bigger idea, there's a deeper idea, there's a more profound, meaningful idea. And yet your writing is so accessible and it's irreverent and it's compelling. And I think the same was true with that first piece in Cracked. So I don't know what copyright laws say in terms of if I can read a couple of sentences from it to give people the gist. I don't know, is that going to get you in trouble? How does that work?

Jason Pargin: I think you could literally read the entire thing and nobody would notice or care.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Is that a commentary on my listeners of my podcast?

Jason Pargin: I cannot fathom that anybody-- I have a lot of friends still at Cracked. I can't fathom that anybody out there is patrolling like, if nothing else, you're just bringing people to the site.

ly how I first saw it back in:

Jason Pargin: It's interesting, because you mentioned the year 2014. That's actually an important year, but I bet no one listening knows why. If you Google the phrase “2014 worst year ever,” it was a huge meme toward the end of the year. It's like, thank God 2014 is over. This was clearly the worst year, and I had to go back and search news to even because I was listening to an old podcast episode where they had done like a Christmas 2014 episode and it was full of this meme of, well, finally the year from Hell was at an end. And they never explained why it was the year from Hell because they didn't have to in 2014. Everybody knew it was just a running joke on the Internet.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Isn't that wild?

Jason Pargin: This is as bad as it can get.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Little did we know.

Matter movement. That was in:

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Mmm, that's good for me to know.

Jason Pargin: Yeah. If you see somebody who's written a book about how to organize your life, that's somebody who has struggled their whole life with organization. So they've written it as like they're lecturing themselves and then they now have it to share with the world. Um, but if you ever find out that somebody who lectures people about organization, that their own home is a mess, it's not hypocrisy. It's because they're obsessed with that idea. Because they see that in themselves. And so for me, you can do the math. I don't have children, so I'm at an age where Christmas, most people Christmas is special when you're a kid, but then at some point in adulthood, you have your own children and it's special because of them. You're trying to create special Christmas moments for them and memories for them. Well, if you're in your 30s and you don't have children, there's a point where Christmas becomes just a giant pain in the [bleeped]. The stores are crowded, the weather is miserable, traffic is crazy, people are mad all the time. People are so stressed at Christmas. I see road rage incidents at Christmas because they're so stressed because it's now just this economic deadline. And if you have people to buy for and if you're buying for other adults, it's not as special as when you're buying for kids because it's like this perfunctory thing and you don't know their taste. And you have the office Christmas party, you've got all this stuff that's just the most lifeless and you can get to where you hate this time of year. And this year, this essay was me realizing what I was losing if I got to where I dreaded Christmas and didn't try to create something else for myself to look forward to.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah. And so I have to ask, did it feel like it helped? Did it feel like it was able to resonate with you in the way that it certainly resonated with readers like me?

e thing kind of fell apart in:

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah, well, you're psychic, because we're recording this just a few days before my episode on what we get wrong about gratitude is going to come out. So those listening, you've already had that out. But it's absolutely true. And I think that's a whole there's a whole issue there because we tend to give thanks or think of gratitude in kind of a dysfunctional way, so it doesn't help us or we think of it as a chore. We don't bother to do it because it feels so rote, because it feels like it's not that meaningful, because it feels like it's not really connected to a deeper understanding of people in our lives. It's more, okay, say thank you for this, or “Do a gratitude meditation”-- oh, I don't want to because I'm annoyed at something right now, and there's so much there. But I think you're absolutely right in terms of marking occasions that there's been this element of drifting away from that. Because typically when we're talking about holidays, for instance, it's a very stressful time because of the expectation. So it's that irony you talk about, with people raging against each other on the roads, “Oh, my goodness, I've got to go find my joy by buying these gifts for people, and you're in my way. And so now I'm honking at you.” And I think this paradox exists because the holidays have gotten so filled with overly commercialized expectations. And like you said, it's a matter of being able to find your own traditions. It's a matter of being able to find meaning in the ways that's right for you. I just did an episode of NPR's Life Kit about this, that traditions can be built anew. Uh, traditions don't have to be formal. They don't have to check every box of whatever the cultural expectation is about that particular holiday. The idea is connection. The idea is meaning. The idea is gratitude. And honestly, when you tell me that your own essay doesn't automatically make every holiday season for you feel magical and not without pain, I say that actually makes it more meaningful. The fact that it is a struggle, the fact that joy and pain can certainly coexist, and I think for the holidays, that's what a lot of people's distress is tied to as well. It's not just, oh, uh, there's so much traffic, and this is annoying, but it's also, I really miss this person, or, I'm really mourning this person, or I really don't feel like doing this holiday when my dad's not there or going to this party when my friend's no longer with us, or whatever it might be. It's really painful for a lot of people. So honestly, I think the struggle being right in there, that this isn't like, oh, you will have Christmas magic forevermore if you just listen to these five tips. I think that actually makes it more real because a lot of people are really struggling with the fact that there's going to be pain. And we can also find a way to let joy in and not have either cancel each other out. The joy doesn't have to cancel the pain. The pain doesn't have to cancel the joy, because honestly, both of them are very meaningful emotions to have.

Jason Pargin: And the thing is, uh, so much advice on subjects like this sounds just like a bumper sticker or like one of those live, laugh, love things you put in your kitchen. This is like a three word slogan that there's so much of that stuff in the world that it doesn't nobody actually stops and looks at it's like, you know what, I should live, laugh and love in this room. I'm going to do that right now. It's just a decoration. And I feel like, uh, if I tell somebody, if I tell a kid, I tell a teenager, like, hey, you need to treasure the final years of your childhood because you're going to miss this when it's gone. What teenager in history has ever actually heeded those words? And I, uh, don't know how to tell people that. No matter how many times grown-ups told you throughout your life that people don't live forever and the things don't last forever, everything is temporary, it does not hit you until it's gone. I'm telling you, it doesn't hit you until it's gone. And when you're a kid, for example, and I realize I'm being very normative in talking about Christmas as if everybody in the world has experienced the same Christian white, middle-class Christmas. I'm saying the way the culture thinks of Christmas and the way a lot of people think of Christmas, where every year we go to whatever. We go to Graham's house on Christmas Eve. On, uh, Christmas Day, uh, mom bakes cookies every Christmas and we smell the cookies in the oven and we ice the cookies. Whatever your family's unique thing is, we decorate the tree on Christmas Eve or whatever. They always did that on TV. We always decorated ours like three months in advance, but whatever, right?

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Procrastinators, yeah, on television shows, for sure.

Jason Pargin: Do you just turn around and take it down again the next day? There's so much effort. Anyway, I'm getting off the point. Whatever those traditions are as a kid, you secretly think they're going to last forever.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Mhm.

Jason Pargin: This is what Christmas is. You wake up in the morning, you smell the cookies baking, you open your gifts and one day, whether in your teenage years or maybe you move away to college or maybe you lose a parent, one day you're going to wake up on Christmas and you're not going to be doing that thing. I talk about loss in this column like that you've lost things you had the previous Christmas and you feel like you didn't take the time to treasure them. That's what I'm talking about. It's not just people dying, but that will be a part of it as you get older. We don't go to grandma's house anymore because because she's not around anymore. So now we do it somebody else's house. But it's not the same.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah.

Jason Pargin: And all of those things that you think of, well, this is what we do. Every year, uh, we get up, we have the cookies, we open the presents, we do. Someday you're going to wake up, and that's not going to be what you do and then what you do instead, someday you're going to wake up and you're not even going to do that. And then one year, you may not have Christmas at all because a bunch of stuff got in the way or you're parents are gone, or maybe you had to move to, uh, India for a job and you couldn't fly back. And only then will you realize what it meant to you.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Mhm.

is hard that especially since:

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah. And I've certainly written and done a lot of segments on boundary-setting and how to keep yourself sane, and how in some families there is estrangement that makes sense and how we don't have to put up with, for instance, toxic behavior or be seen as cosigning on a racist grandfather's rants or anything like that. But I think what you're speaking to is something deeper than that, which is there is nuance and there's a way to not throw everything away. And there's a way to still have meaning in relationships and honor those relationships even when they're imperfect and even when the ritual feels hokey or inconvenient. Because one thing that strikes me as we're talking is that for a lot of these last times, as, ah, she said, we don't know at the time that it's the last. I think that's true with a lot of different types of losses. Not just, oh my goodness, I had no idea this dear friend would die before I saw them again, but also the other types of subtle losses of childhood and kids growing up or friendships fading. You don't realize, I know this is talked about in parenting sometimes, but not enough. Nobody ever says, well, this is the last time that I actually picked up my child. Lord knows I'm not picking up my 17 year old son anymore. There was a point at which he was just too heavy, but I don't know, I couldn't tell you, hey, this is the last time I held my kid as we walked through a grocery store or something. I don't know when that was. And I think this is very similar, what we're talking about. People assume things will just always be, and you might not necessarily know until way after the fact with longing and regret, this was the last time we spent New Years together as a family, or this was the last Thanksgiving that both sides of this family actually broke bread together and ate. And I think that knowledge that we don't know, that knowledge of embracing the fact that life is uncertain, is such a key theme here, because that empowers us to actually say, let me try my best to get out of this something that I won't regret later, something that does tie me to a connection, to meaning. Because I hear so many regrets from folks. And I think just thinking of all of this and it's so interesting, the whole 2014 being the worst year ever at the time, as people perceives. Because I feel like now, at the end of each year, the joke has become for the past seven, eight years, obviously, like, uh oh, well, thank goodness that's over, because it truly has gotten worse in a lot of people's minds. Year to year, of course, probably peaking somewhat in 2020. But what strikes me is that you wrote this piece, the idea of ebola, uh, being sort of a threat, but that didn't come to be as disruptive and certainly didn't come to kill nearly as many people by any stretch of the imagination as what we've dealt with the past couple of years in terms of COVID. And so rereading your piece this year, it strikes me, oh my goodness, this is even more relevant than ever because so many people really have lost people that they would not have necessarily expected, or that older folks are more vulnerable than ever before. And so to me, this is how we should all be thinking, even more so than ever, in terms of how do I want to mark this time in a way that values my relationships and doesn't take anything for granted. Because if the past few years have taught us anything, it's that life as we know it, even if we're not even just talking about the loss of someone we love, but life as we know it in terms of the ability to just go to the movies and not think about it and just get together with our friends and not worry about our health. That can change in an instant.

Jason Pargin: And knowing the way Internet discourse works, saying what I said about not, uh, taking your family for granted, immediately somebody will, in a comment, say, oh, so you're saying the uncle that abused me for ten years, I should be friends? No, you don't have to go to the most extreme, possible, horrific example. Mhm lots of us as teenagers disconnected from the elders just because we found them annoying to talk to or to spend time with or because, I don't know, we don't have anything in common. They don't watch the same shows we do, so it's like, hard to know what to talk about. The vast majority of people that kind of feel like they're having to grit their teeth and tolerate their weird family, it's not because of some “Actual my uncle is a literal neoNazi, you want to befriend him?” It's usually not that. It's that people fall into rabbit holes and they get radicalized into things or they believe conspiracy theories. There are people that will go to Christmas and they're going to hear their family start arguing about vaccines or something, and they're going to want to just leave the room. But here again, I feel like in a perfect world, you would be able to listen to that ranting and raving old person and say, there is almost a 100% chance they've lost somebody in the last two years. Mhm a friend, a parent, a brother. Statistically, over a million people are dead in the United States from this disease over the last couple of years that got counted as this. There were many other deaths that also were exacerbated by the lockdowns. Everything else deaths of despair, the overdose, car accidents went up for some inexplicable reason. Everybody, especially everybody above a certain age, knows someone who died, and may very well have died in a situation where they were not allowed to go in and visit them because the protocols didn't allow it. My mother went into a nursing home right before the COVID lockdowns. And the nursing homes, if you didn't have family there, they had to be locked down very tight, because if COVID got loose in a nursing home, that would spread like wildfire and a lot of people would not survive it. So in between visits, when I was able to talk to her face to face, she went from someone I could talk to mostly to someone who did not recognize me. Yeah, my story is among the less horrible stories of all the people you're running into. That person doing the road rage thing or honking at you in traffic because they're frantically trying to get their Christmas shopping done. They've got a mother in law who has passed, or a father in law or an uncle or a grandpa. They've lost somebody or they have had an ordeal of some kind. I promise you, nobody got out of this without some level of trauma. I am using trauma in the conversational sense, not as a clinical diagnosis. They've not gotten out of this without something that they loved in their life being dead forever. For example, maybe they were raising teenagers and had to watch their kid miss out on they didn't have a problem. They didn't have a homecoming, they didn't have because they worked, because school was closed for a year and a half and they had to do it remotely. So all of these keystone moments in your formative years, they had to watch their kid not have those or they've lost their job or they've seen their entire industry collapse, on and on and on. You are surrounded by people who have been through the ringer and some of their ways of dealing with it are very maladaptive and obnoxious and hateful and harmful. There is a degree of charity you can have for people, mhm, where if this person is being this big of a jerk, if they're in Target and they're throwing a fit, yelling at a manager, where you can stop and say maybe they're not just an entitled monster. Maybe this is someone who has just been pushed to their limit over the last two years and they finally popped, they finally lost it. That this is supposed to be a time of year when we talk about generosity and charity, things like that, where we think entirely about money and giving stuff to the poor, when the most important form of charity that exists, in my opinion, is that is in not assuming the absolute worst about people. That the old person who tunes into whatever weird YouTuber and they've gotten into flat earth or they gotten into whatever thing and they've fallen down to conspiracy rabbit hole. Those people are lonely and they found a community of like minded people. That's usually all it is. And they found a people that they're like, I've joined, uh, an army, and they've got my back. And we're all united. And the cause may be the dumbest thing you've ever heard before, but if you cannot look at them and see the lonely old person at the center of that, whose kids have moved away, whose grandkids don't talk to them and their spouse has passed, it's like this is all they've got in their life. You got to be able to feel some generosity of spirit to those people, not to the very, very worst and not at the expense of your own safety, but for your own good, it will do you a world of good to look at people and say, they're all fighting a hard battle that I know nothing about.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: I, uh, love that. And the research actually really backs that up. That when we can have a moment of compassion, it makes us less fearful, it makes us less reactive. Wow, this person cutting me off in traffic. What a monster. Let me road rage. But instead, if we can pause and say, I wonder if they're going to the hospital, they're speeding to the hospital because they just got a terrible call, it actually really benefits our mental health in the moment. And of course, it benefits the universe, right? I mean, I think this extra empathy, extra compassion, extra willingness to suspend the reactionary judgment is so needed in our society. But of course, reactionary judgment is reinforced all the time because it's quick, because it's interesting, you know, and that's, I think, part of the problem with polarization that's happening is that we're more stimulated by the reactionary judgment that somebody posted, oh, look at this hot take. This is something interesting that gets my dopamine going. Whereas having a nuanced and insightful conversation about, hey, let's talk about the fact that the reason that a lot of conspiracy theories are taking hold is because they provide a sense of community for folks who are incredibly lonely. That takes more words, right. That doesn't get our dopamine going as much, because that's not something that we can then go, yeah. And so I think you're making such profound points here, and I just love the fact that I've gotten to have this conversation with a, uh, horror Sci-Fi author. You just read some of the titles of your books, “Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits.” “Zoe Punches the Future in the—Blank”. That this is one of the most profound conversations about the meaning of holidays that I've had, and I'm just so grateful for it. So, in the spirit of showing gratitude, I want to show my gratitude to you because this has been incredibly helpful, not only for me to think through, but also probably for so many of our listeners when they get to hear it.

Jason Pargin: I hope so. This is my coping mechanism as I try to put the thoughts together that helped me through it and see if that helps somebody else. And maybe it does. The books that I write are intended to be extremely entertaining, even if you do not want to give a second thought to them. It's like, if it made you happy for like twelve straight hours or however long it took you to read through the book, you've done a service to the world. Um, but they all are breaking down some bigger idea in the most ridiculous way I could make it, uh, because that's my whole life. I've been kind of, uh, depressed, even as a kid. And then also was kind of the class clown that it was clear from very early on that that was how I made up for being sad. It was like, if I can make these people laugh or distract them from their problems for a moment, then that's probably all I have to offer to the world, because I don't have any other skills. I would not have been able to become a doctor. I'm not able to understand medical terminology.

of Jason Pargin from the late:

Jason Pargin: No, not at all. And in fact, I don't know that I was great at any of my previous jobs, but again, I'm grateful for that too, because if I had been successful right out of high school, I would have thought, oh, okay, this is what the world is. You graduate from high school, you instantly become famous, you make a bunch of money. I don't know why everybody else wasn't doing this. They must be lazy. Like, no, I had to go out in the world and fail for my first pain writing job is at age 32, which I consider wonderful, because I think of 32 as being very young. But I go on TikTok right now and see kids who are 19, 20, 22, 23 depressed because they've not become influencers yet, or they've not like, look, when I was 19, they had not invented the Internet yet. The thing that would make my career didn't exist. And yeah, this is a corny that I sit around sometimes, and I'm thankful that the Internet exists. It's like, oh, so you're thankful to AT&T for charging billions of dollars to run these connections? You're thankful to Verizon for keeping your smartphone working and all these addictive apps—Kind of? I don't know. It's how you're hearing my voice right now. I guess that would be if I were to make one final point. You being miserable and cynical about things doesn't help the world at all. If you want to advocate against the addictive nature of smartphones or whatever you think the big problem with the world is exploitative economic conditions, things like that, then go out and advocate for it. But if you yourself, if you want to take a moment to express gratitude for what you have, for the privileges you have in your life, and that you were born in the richest time and the richest civilization in the history of the species, then it's like, well, how can I be happy when all these people are suffering? You being unhappy and ruining your own physical health or filling yourself with so much anxiety that you can't leave the house or get a job or whatever, that's not helping a starving child in sub-saharan Africa. That's not helping anybody in India get clean running water or sanitation. It's not doing anything for anybody. So among good people, especially among socially conscious types, there's almost this superstition of me being miserable somehow helps the world. I can't sit down and say, oh, thank goodness. I'm so happy that I have a warm house. It's like, oh, so I'm supposed to be thankful for fossil fuel corporations who provided the natural gas and they probably overcharged me for it's. Like, you should have room in your mind to appreciate that you live a very comfortable life compared to any previous generation and that you have access probably in your phone. You have a little device that gives you access to all the human knowledge in history. That's not a minor thing. It's okay to appreciate what you have. And it doesn't mean giving up on improving the world or helping people or helping the less fortunate or feeling sympathy or empathy, either one. That's actually the point is that I am very lucky. I didn't earn this. Being born in this era, I didn't earn that. I could have been born during the smallpox or during the black plague or whatever in medieval Europe. I wasn't. I was born now with these problems instead of those, and I would rather have these. You would not switch if you had a chance. Anybody who thinks they would prefer to live in 1922 than 2022 doesn't know what 1922 was like.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Oh, but those flapper dresses were so cool.

Jason Pargin: Life was so much simpler back then!!

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Um, but what you're speaking to, I think so much, is that there's always a need for nuance, right? Gratitude and fighting injustice very much go together. And that's why nuance is so important that these things can coexist, that we can be angry about the state of the world and also recognize so much privilege within it just to be able to be in this world and all of the wonderful things. And I think it's so hard sometimes to be able to get across that nuance because that's not the way our society has been working so much the past few years.

hen I was born. I was born in:

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Well, it was only three years before that that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders stopped including it. I mean, even the medical field. Yeah.

Jason Pargin: Yeah. And then from there, for it to percolate into society, academia and everywhere else, that if this is not an illness, that took a long time and it is very recent. So our understanding of what social media does to us being inundated with a message that among people who are way too online, which is a lot of my fans, that every waking moment of every waking day needs to be a war you are fighting. And the way you fight this war is by like, staring at your phone extra hard and retweeting the right posts and boosting the right signals and it's like, well, I'm helping, I'm fighting an information war. I think the effects that has on your mental health versus the good it actually does in the world, I, uh, think in your later years, you may look back on a lot of this is wasted time, because it's like, I could have been out volunteering at a soup kitchen. I could have helped more people tangibly in that day than what I did, spending hours and hours and hours on Twitter, which, looking back, all I did was I made a giant corporation a whole bunch of money by giving them content for free. So I don't want to make any proclamations like smartphones are ruining your brain. I don't have the science to back that up because guess what? We have no idea what 30 years of smartphone use does to a brain because they've not existed that long. We have no idea what using tech tok in youth and through your formative years, what that does to development because we've never done it before. This generation of kids are part of an experiment that nobody agreed to with no control group and with no parameters. We just thrust them into us, said hey, now you are being judged, you're on camera, you're on camera through your whole childhood, informative years and adolescence. Show us what happens when we do that to you. It is my belief that in the future we will look back on this as the way we look back on when doctors used to be in smoking ads. It's like menthols are the best for your lungs and seems so I think we will look back and say that we threw our children into this, to where this occupies so much of your brain space and we will have regrets because I don't think it's good for you. And I think that the combination of this technology with how little we still understand about how mental health works is a very dangerous combination. So stuff like what we're talking about today, we're saying that there are ancient methods that people used to use to renew themselves. That as we kind of throw off religion and, like, church attendance goes down and the belief in religion goes down, I would urge people that there are elements of that that even if you strip out all of the supernatural that people used to do for their mental health. Even though the term mental health didn't exist, they would say, it renews the spirit, or something like that. That this is not superstition. That the superstition about we need to offer these sacrifices to this statue. Yeah, that's a superstition but this ceremony helped sustain you through the dark times. Is not superstition that's deeply human. And the church thing that a bunch of us will gather in person and talk about morality and our lives and what's troubling us in our lives and what is tempting us because we do like temptation. You don't have to believe in God to believe that temptation is a thing. If you're on a diet, you know what temptation is that exists outside of religious context. Like the idea of sitting in a room in person with a bunch of people and talking about, yeah, I I've got this, I get it. I got this rage disorder. I explode into anger at the smallest things and then somebody else room says, yeah, I've got that too. Yeah, yeah. And that you can have somebody leading you through that discussion like that is extremely helpful, even if you don't call it a church. And when people stop going to church and you say, well, I don't believe in all that stuff, that's fine, I get it. But I would ask you to stop and ask, what was that doing for people outside of the supernatural context?

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Right. The social connection part was huge. And it is still for people who still go, it's a real mental health benefit that it provides that community and those social interactions.

Jason Pargin: Because today I can again go on TikTok and see people talking about how they have no friends and the number of friends has declined. And you will find an entire community of males being very angry that they can't find girlfriends. Hey, do you know where boys used to find their first girlfriend? At church. They met her at church. They met her at Sunday school and they did church activities and they did church camp. That's where you met your friends. And I get it if you're saying, well, I don't want to hang out with a bunch of church people. I know I'm saying that that's what that used to be. It's where you met people. It's where business people made connections. It's where you met clients like, uh, yeah, I sold a car to this guy. How do I know him? We go to the same church. When you lose that and if you replace it with something that doesn't serve the same function, for example, if you become an online fandom for like a streamer or something, there's nothing wrong with that. It's harmless. Unless it has replaced something that used to be the mechanism by which the things that we still need, which are in real life, friends, romantic partners, hobbies, fulfilling hobbies. Something to think about that's not work. Something to think about that's not politics. That's not where every conversation we have is a war over something that we're mad about this week. There's people right now still talking about, like, the war on Christmas and they're not talking about it in the terms that we are talking about it. They're talking about it as well, specifically should be, uh, this religion's holiday. A lot of the things that have replaced the old traditions don't serve the same function, and you should be able to call attention to that without doing the thing where it's like, no, we should go back. We should go back to the 50s, uh, and be nostalgic and bring back the homophobia and all that. It's like, no, it's understanding what the secular purposes a lot of these things served. And I realized that even me saying this is sacrilegious to some people, because it's like, no, if you don't believe in the spirit and the soul and God, then it's all meaningless. I disagree. That's where we differ.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah. Oh, Jason, I have to stop. I wish I didn't. I am so sorry. I have another meeting that I have to go to. Um, but this has been so great. I would love to have you back on some time. I'm just so thankful for our conversation. It's been a real pleasure. Thank you so much again.

Jason Pargin: Thanks for having me on. Uh, the new book is called “If this Book Exists, You're In the Wrong Universe.” Has a lime green cover. But my older books, you can get it used bookstores or libraries for much, much cheaper. But if you want to read the newest and most expensive one, that's what it's called. It is a book for adults. It is very silly, but as you read it, you'll realize, oh, it's very silly, but there's something else going on. Hopefully, if I've done my job well.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Wonderful. Thank you so, so much.

Thank you for joining me today. Once again, I’m Andrea Bonior, and this has been Baggage Check, with new episodes every Tuesday and Friday. Join us on Instagram at Baggage Check podcast to give your take on upcoming topics and guests. And why not tell your chatty coworker where to find us? Our original music is by Jordan Cooper, cover art by Danielle Merity, and my studio security is provided by Buster the dog. Until next time, take good care.

Show artwork for Baggage Check: Mental Health Talk and Advice

About the Podcast

Baggage Check: Mental Health Talk and Advice
with Dr. Andrea Bonior
We've all got baggage. But what do we choose to do with it?
Every other Friday, licensed clinical psychologist, best-selling author and popular psychology professor Dr. Andrea Bonior takes your mental health questions, and makes you part of the conversation. Join her and other voices as they translate research into real life, and talk about relationships, emotions, health, psychological disorders, stress, finding meaning, work, and occasionally-- just occasionally-- the most obscure dance crazes of 1997.
All are welcome, and nothing is off limits. With science, compassion, and humor, she's here to help.

About your host

Profile picture for Andrea Bonior

Andrea Bonior

Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, speaker, and the best-selling author of “Detox Your Thoughts." She was the longtime mental health advice columnist for The Washington Post, and appears regularly in national media, including CNN and NPR, with several popular courses on the LinkedIn Learning platform. Dr. Bonior’s blog for Psychology Today has been read more than 25 million times. She serves on the faculty of Georgetown University, where she recently won the national Excellence in Teaching award, given by the American Psychological Association.