Friday, August 28, 2015

By the Pricking of My Thumbs....


First and foremost, I would ask that if you don't take the time to read this entire post, please consider going to the order page (link listed above) for my new fantasy novel: Ophelia, Doll. It's a story about a young lady becoming a woman, trying to find a place for the magic of her childhood in the seemingly mundane options presented to her as she chooses which road to follow as an adult. I'm launching this book through an Inkshares/The Nerdist contest, which will grant me a publishing deal with a promotional staff, national level bookstore placement and access to professional editors so that I can polish the draft that I have now into something even better. I'm proud of this story and I hope you'll give it a chance. It's $10 to preorder ($5 after you create an Inkshares account and receive your starter credits). To win, I need to be in the top 5 most preordered books by the end of September. I've been bouncing around the top 3 spots for a week now, but I am going to need help from strangers if I'm going to attain the kind of reach needed to keep up with those who are gaining momentum and surpassing my current order threshold. If you'd like to hear more about the story of Ophelia, Doll, visit the link to my book's store page and you can preview the first chapter (you get access to the current drafts of chapters one through five if you place an order). This blog post has more to do with my current struggles to achieve the kind of community outreach (both local community and internet) required to win this contest and launch my dreams into the orbit of reality. I beg you- if you think that this story is compelling, please share, comment or find some other way to let me know. If you visit the page for Ophelia, Doll and like what you read, I would ask that you do the same (with the inclusion of a preorder if you are able). Thank you all for giving me the time to convince you that my dreams are worthy of your support.

* * *

Everything I've written for the last week feels like a cheap commercial where I am, at the heart of the advertisement, the product that I wish to sell. I don't like this form of internet prostitution- that's not to say that I think it's wrong or that I don't believe it is absolutely required for my survival in this contest. I just don't like it... personally. It makes me feel more vulnerable than sharing anything I've ever written to be asking friends, family, and total strangers for the kind of support I need. It's even hard to handle the staggering degree to which so many people have helped already (but don't let that stop you from adding your own contributions!). It's hard for me to imagine that the support I've received already is not enough, because it is more than I ever expected, far more than I ever allowed myself to dream possible.
When I finished the first complete draft of my very first novel (Ophelia, Doll), after twenty one years of knowing that's what I wanted to do with my life, I had mixed feelings of elation and a deep, paralytic fearfulness. I knew that publishing was getting close and soon I would have to figure out how to go about doing that. It's hard to describe to others, because so many of my loved ones want me to believe that writing the book was the major accomplishment... and in its way, it certainly was. The best way I can describe the pit of despair that busied itself tying knots in my stomach is by using the old philosophical riddle: "If a tree falls in a forest and there's nobody around to hear it, does it make a noise?" In much the same sense that one might argue that sound is inextricably linked to hearing, so much so that it can't be called sound without ears to hear, my book doesn't feel like a book because it hasn't been put out there for others to read. It's not a noise, so much as vibrations in the air that could maybe be called a noise under the right conditions.

I've been battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for the last year. During the first six months after what I can only describe as the initial stages of "going bat shit crazy," I was involved in a LOT of therapy- approximately 4 days a week, 4 hours a day, for a total of 16 hours a week. That doesn't seem like a lot compared to the 45-60 hour working weeks that I was used to holding down, but that kind of intense therapy is rough if you are invested in the process of getting better and I most certainly am invested. In a lot of ways, dashing through that gauntlet of self reflection and improvement (as a lot of therapy tends to do) broke me down even more, wore me even further towards the nub. 

If you're unfamiliar with PTSD on a personal level, I've come to discover that many people don't know how it operates- I sure as Hell didn't. In fact, it took a couple months of multiple doctors telling me that I was so obviously afflicted and explaining to me how real life PTSD differs from the movies before I could identify with the disorder enough to admit to myself that I might be dealing with it. I never really got comfortable saying PTSD out loud or telling people that this is what's wrong with me, what altered my personality entirely. Almost universally, when someone does hear that I have PTSD (I'm including myself in this group) they want to know what the trauma was. That's one reason that I don't bring it up so often or use the PTSD title. It's like having a bullet wound, but instead of helping to keep the pressure on it, everyone's first instinct is to see how far they can jam their fingers into it. I'm still working to understand what's happened, and even though I'm no longer doing the grueling 16 hour weeks of therapy, I am working with a specialist weekly and a psychiatrist who is constantly updating my medication to help me cope with the physiological symptoms that tag along with PTSD.

That's the hardest part for me to swallow, is that after a year of hardcore therapy, I've mostly just been learning how to cope; how to coexist with the monkey on my back. It's taken me so long to learn how to live with having PTSD because it's like the Baskin Robins of psychological disorders- each of its many symptoms exists in the mental health community as a clinical diagnosis flavor of its own. I have anxiety issues, agoraphobia, depression, panic attacks... and SO MUCH insomnia! I used to SAY I had insomnia when I was describing a single isolated night of not being able to sleep... kind of like when I would interview people for a job and they would tell me they were OCD like it was a selling point, not that they had to wash their hands three times and touch a door knob with the backside of both hands before opening it or else they might unleash Satan on Earth. It turns out, real insomnia is way worse than I previously understood... let me try to describe the difference. 

I went to bed at five in the morning last night (this morning, I guess?) and jolted awake at eight thirty, startled and feeling like I must have certainly slept through the entire day. It's like that "Oh no! I think I forgot to set my alarm" kind of feeling, where you think you'll be late for work? Except my body thinks I'm acting all high and mighty, like I'm the freaking Queen of England if I dare to sleep for 5-6 hours in one stretch- and that's on Ambien, which I take every night! I thought that drug was guaranteed to knock people out. Sometimes it does, mostly it means I'm sleeping pretty hard once I do fall asleep and not waking up from nightmares every half hour or so. The insomnia aspect of my PTSD has gotten better through rigorous trials of different medication cocktails, but it is by no means disappeared. After a particularly grueling stretch of several days with little to no sleep, every other aspect of my condition is amplified. I am worn and weak and insecure as a general rule, but when sleepless nights are added to the mix, I turn into a wretched pile of parts that may have once been human, but somehow got put together all wrong.

Why have I spent so much time talking about PTSD when what I'm really trying to do is push my book? Well it isn't for the sympathy vote, that's for sure. Although if that pulled at your heart strings, I'm not turning away pity preorders- I need everything I can get. The thing is, PTSD and I have a symbiotic relationship now. As I mentioned before, I've been learning to live with this problem more than I've begun to unravel it. I'd like to think that I am more than PTSD, but sometimes PTSD is all that I am- like a puppet with a hand jammed up its backside, it works my mouth and body against the will of my skin. Before PTSD demanded this strange timeshare, I was a workaholic. I was pushing myself to be inhumanly great at my job, and without ego, I think I can say that I absolutely was... but I slowly lost my sense of self in the drive to push myself beyond the brink every day. I went crazy with a smile on my face... think Into the Mouth of Madness.

In a lot of ways, I finished my novel because of PTSD, not in spite of it. Before this puppet master slammed on the brakes and sent me flying through the windshield, crippled and left for dead on the side of an old abandoned freeway, I was racing down the road of a life for which I did not give two shits. Not even a single shit, really. I feel guilty admitting that, like I should be ashamed to have taken a gift back from all that PTSD has taken from me. If I'm really honest, I'm afraid to be seen having fun or enjoying life because I've been working 45+ hour weeks since I was old enough to do that- I feel like a terrible person for letting myself get to a place where I can no longer function as my part in society, even though logically I know that I didn't let anything happen. I've grown to be more comfortable with the constant, nagging anxiety that crawls just under my skin than I have with the idea of allowing myself to feel deserving of any time spent doing anything for myself.

What's strange is that I fully believe that PTSD is what afforded me the ability to finish Ophelia, Doll, but now that I'm at the promoting level, I feel crushed beneath the weight of how inept I am. Pre-PTSD this is exactly the kind of thing I would have excelled at doing. It's a paradox. I don't think I couldn't have written the book without PTSD and yet, I am unable to do what I feel I must in order to make its launching a success. I am so lucky that friends and family members are willing to aid me where I am failing personally, but the guilt I carry from that failure is making it harder every day and I feel like I'm losing ground.

Several months ago my therapist asked me to walk to a coffee shop around the corner from my house each morning as part of my exposure therapy, to make sure that I had a little bit of human interaction beyond the walls of my house every day. Once that was something I could do consistently, she asked me to start asking for the employee's names when they asked for mine (to put on the drink I ordered). That was tough, but it felt really good to know all of their names and connect with each of them beyond the merits of the standard transaction relationship. Now, each and every employee knows my name and what I order every day. They greet me warmly as soon as I enter and on most days, it's nowhere near the level of scary that it used to be. I've essentially expanded the safety bubble of my home to include the coffee shop around the corner, which may not seem like much, but to me it's a HUGE vitory. Of course, the half a block stretch between my house and the coffee shop is still no man's land, but it's a step. I've got all these posters, business cards and post cards I'm supposed to be handing out to help pimp out preorders of Ophelia, Doll through my local community. I thought that my "safety bubble" coffee shop would be a great place for me to push myself into that step and for the last three days I walked in there with business cards in my pocket, fully planning to talk to the owner or employees about what I'm trying to do, asking them for their help either personally or through letting me leave some of the cards on their counter. The business is a huge supporter of art, I should mention. They have a gallery that rotates monthly and this community art promotion is right in their wheelhouse. Still, every day I have frozen, unable to pull the cards out of my pocket, look someone in the eyes and ask for help. The last two days, I walked home crying because I was so disappointed and ashamed in myself. Pre-PTSD Robert would have kicked this part of the competition in the ass. Now I can't help but feel woefully unprepared for what's required of me in order to keep this dream going.

I feel like I'm throwing lit matches into the void of the internet, hoping for one of them to catch fire, watching each one suffocate and extinguish in the great vacuum that is social media. Each of my fellow competitors has a story, each one of them have their own personal struggles and all of them are as valid and important as mine. We're all fighting for space on the stage and I wouldn't dream of discounting any of them. I am not the guy that's going to put out someone else's match and expect it to make mine burn brighter. So how am I supposed to win this thing? How can I hope that my voice will pierce the veil? 

At the risk of sounding pretentious, I'm falling back on the one thing I feel confident that I'm good at doing. I'm taking a break from all of the standard publicity I've been trying to generate to spill my guts onto the page. All I can do is be real and hope that resonates with you. I want you to give my book a shot. I want you to know the hellish fires that forged Ophelia, Doll. I want you to know me and my story. I want to have a relationship with my audience that allows for us to share these things that haunt us. I want to pull them out of their hidey-holes, name them, give them definition and shape. That's something I used to be able to do easily and now, not so much. I hope that you'll understand what it means to risk this kind of openness, even if it's through the safe pseudo-anonymity of the internet.

Please take the time to check out Ophelia, Doll. With all of the shame I carry with me every day, this is the one thing I've done that I know I should be proud for having completed and I genuinely love the characters and story that I've constructed. I hope that you'll give me a chance to appeal to you with the story I've told, ideally I hope you'll preorder it for $10 (5 after creating an inkshares account) and I would be flattered if you thought enough of what I'm doing to give me some feedback, share your own story or tell a friend about what I'm trying to accomplish with the launching of my book.

Thank you, Internet. Her life is in your hands, Dude... Her life is in your hands.

Monday, June 29, 2015

A Recipe Blog: The Last Motherfuckin' PBJ on Earth!

So you've got opinions and I've got opinions and everybody wants to fucking fight about them this week, right? Well so do I (and I have, at great length. See also the previous blog post: Nobody Put a Dick in Your Mouth), but I'm burnt the Hell out. I'm in serious Mega Controversy Overload, so I wanted to write something with less bicker potential. Choosing not to engage the argument doesn't invalidate my stance (or so I keep telling myself when I need to resist reaching for my phone like a junkie looking to pump some deadly Facebook squabble into my blood pipes).

Problem is that arguing can be like a drug and when coming off a hardcore, three day, Facebook fighting binge, you can't just describe the sunset and wax poetic about the meaning of life. I've got some adrenaline riding through my veins like the contents of a roaring, sploosh-tastic water slide. As I discovered last time I tried to write a real story under these conditions, I can't help myself- I will inevitably deform the original intention and transmute the story into some allegorical expression of the argument that I wish I were having. So to combat that inclination I have tried to pick a subject matter devoid of controversy but super infused with the heavy metal intensity my bones are screaming for. And this is what I have come up with: a step by step guide to making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But not just any peanut butter and jelly sandwich, this is... 

The Last Motherfuckin' PBJ on Earth!

* * *

The world is coming to an end. All of the signs were there. Your religion or lack thereof turned out to be the wrong stance to take. Somewhere in the darkest corners of your mind you knew that this was a distinct possibility, but you convinced yourself that you were so fucking sure that you had it right all along and so many people seemed to agree with your opinions that it disarmed you into a false sense of security. 

Outside of your home there are fires raging, licking at the glass like non-denominational and totally uncontroversial hounds of a Hell you didn't believe in... or as the case may be, brimstone is scratching at your window pane like the Egyptian, jackal-headed overlord of the underworld, Anpu who you thought to be just another dead God of a dead civilization but is coming soon to carry your soul away for realsies... or by some chance you may find yourself approaching the Babylonian "Irkalla" where everyone (heroes and villains alike!) are forced to wear feathers and imbibe only ashes for the rest of eternity.

But, hark, I say unto thee! There is still time! The impending doom of the apocalypse will eventually shatter the walls of your home and fill your lungs with noxious fumes of death and decay, the unfortunate, vaporized remains of everyone you ever knew and loved... or hated... or didn't care much either way about except for that one time when they kind of snubbed you when you tried to say good morning but they seemed like they were in a total hurry? But still they probably could have said something! Even their putrid miasma will be present in the last dead coktail taste you will experience before your death steals even that sense from your mouth, before everything fades to black... unless you are sentenced to Hell as a non-believer, in which case that dreadful taste will more than likely last for an unbelievably long time... or you might wind up in the subarctic conditions of the Viking Niflhel, where even flames may freeze and that rancid taste is locked into your mouth by a tundra that lasts a thousand times a thousand years... or maybe you wound up in any one of the twenty five Hindu Hells, like the completely gross, self-explanatory one called Diarrhea for example, or the dreaded Forest of Sword Blades where you are made to climb up and down spiny trees made of ... sword blades... even as it rips your flesh asunder.

But that's later. Soon. But later.

For now, you have time... not much, but just enough to perform one last deed as the candlewick of your life burns into the puddle of liquid wax that it's been headed towards since first your flame was lit. It's time for you to have one final experience, a moment that will somehow ring out in defiance of the doom that awaits you in [don't forget to insert another pretty awful afterlife here]. The memory of this act will have to be enough to sustain you, and speaking of sustaining you, there is kind of a rumble in your stomach that doesn't seem to have originated from the cacophony of damnation at your doorstep. You are hungry. One might even be tempted to say this is a, dare I say, unholy hunger?

When all of these stars have aligned (and only these precise conditions- lest you would tempt the peril of all mankind by summoning whichever End Times await us prematurely), then and only then, there is but one thing left to do before you shuffle off your mortal coil. Not everyone will experience these conditions in a lifetime, but here they are, landed right at your feet and waiting for you to make your move. You never thought that you would live to see the day. It is time to prepare... The Last Motherfuckin' PBJ on Earth!

Grab a knife. You may already have a knife clutched firmly in your hand that you've been using to defend yourself against the infected zombie legions or the angels and demons warring on your front lawn who care nothing for those damnable souls who find themselves caught in their crossfire- after all, you were left behind for a reason... maybe you should have put your money on Kirk Cameron, but it's too late for regrets now. If you are already holding a knife, make sure that it's not covered in the blood of your enemies- you're not going to talk your way out of damnation at this point, but you probably don't want to go waltzing into judgment day with the blood of those you've slain wafting off your breath either.

This is very important. You may be tempted to use a butter knife, but DO NOT give in to that temptation. Butter knives are at least in part what got you into this mess in the first place. They are a useless, redundant utensil whose function could easily be done as well, if not better, by the spoon. Our hubris at creating such a ridiculous piece of cutlery and then promoting it as a "knife" despite its inefficient cutting capabilities would no doubt be mocked by future generations- that is, if there were going to be any future generations. But there won't be. Because this is the end. And you're going to die pretty soon.

So grab a knife- a sharp, real knife. Make sure it's a big one, like, one that actually feels almost too big and marginally unsafe to be wielding with just one hand? If you have a machete or even a hand ax, that's completely acceptable and serve you well in the task ahead. 

You're still thinking about using a fucking butter knife, aren't you? Well, you know what? Take all of the damned butter knives and throw them in the trash. I know it's a fruitless endeavor, as you and your trash and the drawer you took them out of to put them into the trash will all be disintegrated at any moment, but just fucking do it. Get them out of the way and let this be one of the last few good deeds you've done with your dirty, heathen life. I doubt it will be enough to garner any sort of real mercy in the hereafter, but maybe if you find yourself in one of the sixteen Tibetan Buddhism Hells, like the "Loud Screaming Hell" or the "Crushing Hell" (reserved for animal cruelty), just maybe you'll get a day off from your torturous existence once every hundred million years for not holding on to and perpetuating the irrationally absurd notion that a butter knife is a necessary and useful invention of mankind. Have you thrown them all out yet? I'll wait. What's that? Your trash is full? Well, for fuck's sake- throw them in the toilet or shove them into the garbage disposal for crying out loud, you're wasting valuable time.

With all of the butter knives finally disposed of (and they had better be), you can finally get some real sandwich work done. Crazy big knife in one hand (or Captain's saber if you happen to be a Civil War enthusiast with such an implement at your disposal), retrieve one jar of peanut butter from the cupboard. 

On the off chance that you keep your peanut butter in the refrigerator, I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it's already too late for you. You have been living in a Hell of your own making, but things are about to get much, much worse. It's quite possible that you'll end up in the Greek Tartarus (like a basement of Hell, or a Hell's Hell), where you'll be making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for eternity... but the peanut butter is so cold it thickens and refuses to be spread across the bread, tearing it and rendering each sandwich useless and completely fucking inedible.

Don't bother with the lid, you've been taking orders from lids your whole life. This is your final PBJ, not some pedestrian, remove the crust and stick it in your kid's lunchbox knock off. Stab your butcher's knife/ax/saber into the side of the jar and eviscerate one half of the plastic, peanut butter prison. It's going to feel good. Real good. It will almost seem like a foreign sensation against the harsh backdrop of your recently adopted Armageddon reality, but indulge in the release of the intoxicating chemicals with which your mind is being bathed in. Allow yourself the ecstasy that mingles with anticipation of your soon to be tasty triumph.

If you happen to have only glass jars of peanut butter, you're in luck. You may not even need whatever unwieldy instrument you've chosen as your weapon in this battle towards temporary PBJ salvation, though I wouldn't begrudge you for using it all the same. Those years spent living on the edge, encasing your peanut butter in a container that seemed to be taunting every hard surface with its own fragility, it's all been leading up to this moment. Spike the brittle peanut butter urn against a surface of your choosing, setting free its contents, allowing yourself the momentary exhilaration of destroying something completely, changing it forever, killing it while simultaneously birthing it into a new state of being as it becomes several childlike shards of its former self. Don't be alarmed if you release an orgasm at this moment, it's perfectly natural in this situation. Unless it isn't, but in that case, your road to the hereafter has already been paved. You chose the wrong side. So what's the harm in a little culinary ejaculation now? Still, your work here is not finished, so wipe yourself clean and gather your wits. Before you taste the flames of conflagration in the Islamic Hell where your only refreshment will be splashed into your face from time to time like hot, molten brass, you MUST. FINISH. THIS. SANDWICH.

Regardless of how you chose to liberate the peanut butter from its confinement (for a real treat, try biting into the plastic like a wild animal), you are going to need some bread. Grab a loaf from the pantry or cupboard or from on top of the refrigerator or whatever. 

If you keep your bread in the refrigerator, you have nobody to blame but yourself. You chose this lifestyle and it's catching up with you. I'm not going to say you should be ashamed of yourself, because that would just be rubbing it in. But you probably wouldn't be faced with the charred landscape that surrounds you if you had just let you bread live free like God/Odin/Nature intended. You have transmogrified the very nature of your bread and now you face the cataclysmic repercussions of your vanity. Not even the flames of whichever underworld you find yourself in will thaw your bread back into an edible texture. And if you even think of suggesting, aloud or to yourself, that if you microwave the bread for just a couple seconds it will be totally fine? I swear to whatever waits beyond the veil of life that you will be smoten. Well, I mean, you're already about to be smoted, but someone's gonna riddle you full of so much smite that you'll be just like, one big pile of smite'ry.

Right about now, some of you might be asking, "But what about gluten free bread? You have to keep that stuff refrigerated or it will spoil!" Well, I'm glad that you brought this up. Listen very carefully: You are not gluten intolerant. That's not even a real thing. I know you were told that by a doctor and you read about it in some science journals and ever since you gave up the gluten you've been feeling, like, sooooo much better- but you've allowed yourself to fall prey to the predatory ramblings of heretics. 

In fact, similarly, if you have a peanut butter allergy and you've managed to read this far into these instructions for whatever reason (I don't know, maybe you've just mainlined all your epi-pens and want to see what you've been missing your whole life), I've got news for you too: You'll be fine. Peanut allergy is a figment of a collective imagination- it's kind of like what happens when a mob mentality takes root except instead of literally kicking all of the shit out of someone so you can get them Black Friday deals, you had to eat your public school lunches in a decontaminated white room while nurses and ambulances stood at the ready. You know who has peanut allergies? Kids whose parents think peanut allergies are a real thing. Kids in Africa don't get peanut allergies- they'll eat whatever the fuck they can get their hands on! Some of them actually eat dirt, just to feel something in their stomachs. There is not a thing on the planet that would kill them if they ate it. But enough about the poor and hungry, obviously you don't care that much about them or we wouldn't be where we're at. The point being, we've got the burden of luxury on our side, and with so many options and choices at our disposal, peanuts somehow drew the short straw and became the pariah of the food pyramid community. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that peanuts are not going to kill you. If we ostracize gluten long enough, that'll probably gain corporeal form and become a real thing too. I just mean "you'll be fine" in the sense that the world is crashing down around you and you've got nothing left to lose anyways, so you might as well go out on a high note- master of your own fate and all that jazz.

I want you to forgo the twist tie or whatever other plastic latch device has been keeping your bread fresh. Where you're going, fresh bread is the least of your concerns anyways. try to remember that "The Last Motherfuckin' PBJ on Earth" is as much about the journey as it is the destination- not unlike the life you've filled with whatever countless crimes against humanity you committed that have landed you in this extreme predicament. The difference being that the end result of this recipe is a sandwich, instead of, you know, something like what the Aztecs called Mictlan, wherein you are forced to journey for four years past demons and icy winds that cut like knives in order to eventually make it to the demented lands of the ruler Mitlandtecuhtli, a blood spattered skeleton king adorned with necklaces made from real, live, human fucking eyeballs!

So, about that bread. I want you to tear a hole in its plastic sheath with your teeth and spit the tattered bits out like a grenade pin. Satisfying, eh? I would like to assume that you've already gotten rid of the "butt bread" before today, but seeing as you are approaching the hour when you will be brought in to account for a life full of bad choices, I suppose it's not outside the realm of reason that you still have those hateful pieces of half-bread on your loaf. You really should have fed them to ducks, because ducks are a creation of Satan/Molech/Erkil Khan and poisoning them with your passive aggressive bread rejections might have earned you  some benevolence in the tough road that lies ahead. 

Or better yet, if humans hadn't spent so much fucking time devoted to the creation of cockamamie inventions like butter knives, maybe we would have done something more productive as a species, like unlocking the mysteries required to forge butt-less bread! If all you have left in the bag is butt bread or one piece of non-heathen bread and one piece of butt bread, then I'm afraid this is where you get off. You do not have the elements required to continue this journey and you must find some other way to bide your fleeting time before you are met with, well, whatever ends up meeting you when it's all over. Maybe nothing? Man, that would totally suck too. Perhaps you'll be reincarnated as a shitty, asshole of a duck and someone in another universe will feed you the butt ends of their bread? With any luck, it's not laced with Alka-Seltzer, but you'll have a stupid, tiny duck brain so you wouldn't be able to tell until just before your stomach explodes anyways.

With two pieces of normal, non-butt, traditionally sliced bread removed from the wreckage of your loaf's bag, cast the unused portion aside and take a moment to lament the fate of the other slices. They were, each one of them, so close to transcending their boring bread-lives and becoming something meaningful. Instead, they are scattered on the floor like so much refuse, incapable of performing the singular function for which they were created. It is, however, some small mercy that when all of this is over and the cast aside bread dregs are obliterated into some kind of atomically disassembled, cosmic purgatory, they will not be confined in your guts, forcibly made to bear witness to the ceaseless torment that awaits you.

It's almost time to spread your peanut butter onto the bread. Don't be afraid to use wheat instead of white. It's not just about your health, though the sensationalist media would have you believe that wheat bread is for those who have given up on having any real fun, it's a well known fact that white bread does not occur in nature without the intervention of witches. Now, if you're reading this, you probably have nothing against witchcraft and the like- but be warned that the alchemical concoction required to manufacture a single loaf of white bread contains no less than three unwashed, post bathroom trip handfuls of previously digested, repurposed Play 'Doh and the tears of non-vaccinated Canadian babies (used primarily as a binding agent). But hey, if that's your thing, go for it. Who is going to stop you? Allah? You've spent a lifetime living a physically manifested mockery of his teachings, why stop now?

This next step is very important: if someone has placed chunks of anything in your peanut butter, you must leave immediately. The killer is in the house. The call is coming from upstairs. Someone has betrayed you in a truly profound manner and there is no time for you to consider the implications of this treasonous act. Someone in your own home hates you more than the most wrathful collection of Gods or conglomeration of evil Deities imaginable and you would be better off facing what awaits you beyond the flimsy walls of safety that have barely protected you thus far than wait around to discover what freshly concocted Hell awaits you within you own home.

Using your cleaver/katana/chainsaw, spread peanut butter generously on both pieces of bread. You are an adult (hopefully) and you will make your sandwich as such. Don't play around with a PBJ hull breach because you didn't create a protective barrier on your bread and then be surprised when you have to deal with sticky jelly fingers FOR ETERNITY. Imagine waffle hands times infinity. You do not want to go there.

Now, reach into your refrigerator and pull out the grape jelly. If somebody used the last of the grape jelly without placing a new one in the refrigerator so that it would be cold when you were ready to use it, rest assured that while the finished product will surely suffer, the perpetrator has certainly beaten you to the finish line... they are more than likely being forced to drink kind of hot tap water from dollar store paper cups that shed those little floaty wax pieces into the liquid and it's not like you can taste them but it still seems pretty damn gross, and it makes the water kind of chunky feeling? And it's really just borderline unsanitary. 

If you are about to substitute your grape jelly for the smashed remains of some other fruit, I would highly advise against it. Strawberry jelly, while absolutely more popular, contains an overpoweringly sinful amount of sugar. Now, it's really none of my business, but if you want to face certain obliteration with that much sin in your mouth I think you would have more fun felching a complete stranger. And don't even get me started on apricot or marmalade- just who in the fucking blazes do you think you are? The Queen of England? Maybe if you hadn't lived in such audacity and pretension, you wouldn't be here now. Think about what  you've done for a moment and then spit onto the floor to get the wretched taste out of your mouth. You don't want the ghosts of all your failings as a human being to mask the taste of your final epicurean excess. 

Don't overdo it with the jelly either, damn it. If you can't press the two pieces of bread together without purple goop spewing out of the edges, you're doing it wrong. You want enough jelly to lubricate the peanut butter so that it doesn't become a mess of lightly pissed in kitty litter that you can't swallow, but not so much that you finish your sandwich looking like you just gave Grimace a rough blow-banging.

Grab a glass of milk. And when I say glass of milk, I mean glass. You're not in elementary school and this isn't snack time. Besides, I suspect that plastic is capable of absorbing some small amount of its contents with every use, so unless you want a cornucopia of all the back-washed juices and mouths that have ever fondled the rim of your plastic ware, then use a fucking  glass like a grown up. You'll want the pallet cleanser so that you can re-experience every bite as if it were the first, fresh, virgin bite of this- your concluding act of nourishment.

Try not to reflect on whatever it is that landed you in this predicament. Unless it was really fun, then you might want to keep those memories handy as a mental escape for what lies ahead. 

Alternate bites of sandwich with mouthfuls of milk, close your eyes and let your mind wander until the end of your sandwich or the end of existence, whichever comes first.

Oh, and if you're lactose intolerant? Go fuck yourself. Someone clearly hated you before you were even born, so you'll probably end up as the ass end of a human centipede whose cowcatcher is force fed a steady diet of expired cheese and yogurt.

Bon appetit!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Nobody Put a Dick in Your Mouth

Man, what a day. I woke up yesterday to the news that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the right for gay couples to marry. There was a tremendous amount of support shown across the interwebs. I wish I could say that the celebration carried on all night, unimpeded, but there were also a handful of people who rightfully felt that their beliefs were being trampled and shat upon. 

I say rightfully, because their beliefs were trampled and shat upon. 

By the Supreme Court. 

Who ruled that it is unconstitutional to impose individual/religious ideals on a set of people who disagree in a way that would not effect those opposed in any way whatsoever- which would be the basis of a theocracy and not a democratic nation. So yes, if you believed that gay people should not be allowed those rights, SCOTUS took a steamer on that one. Rub some dirt on it and walk it off. You'll be amazed at how little your world was changed by this decision, I promise.

So in the spirit of all the Facebook fights I tried to but couldn't keep from getting into, buckle up. Here are the top excuses I heard for people lashing out against this monumental Supreme Court Ruling and why I don't believe they hold water.

1) The Supreme Court does not have the power to enact laws:

They didn't enact law. They ruled on a pre-existing piece of the constitution, clarifying interpretation as to the definition of marriage, officially proclaiming rights to same sex partners and opting against excluding them, protecting their rights which have been previously recognized only by hetero couples despite the constitution having failed to define marriage as a union of man and woman. 

Saying that the Supreme Court overstepped its boundaries of power is preposterous because before yesterday it was simply assumed by the majority that same sex marriage was unlawful. Those opposed to gay marriage have been trying to amend the constitution to redefine and limit marriage to man and woman. Things went the other way. They lost. 

Making this the basis of your defense is like the losing team of *insert sports thing here* trying to discredit the victory of the champions by calling foul on something that happened in the game that's already over while the quarterbackers are making sweet love to your cheerleaders (be they male or female leaders of cheer).

2) The sideways and super casual, "I think it's funny that most of the people who are changing their Facebook pic to rainbows or arguing in support of gay rights are not gay."

What you are really saying is, "Man, it would be so much easier to be a bigot on Facebook today if I didn't have all these straight people calling me out on some shit." 

Minorities whose rights are being violated, by definition, have the scales tipped against them because they are in the minority. If people within the majority who disagree with a minority's exclusion, persecution, or mistreatment don't speak up, then there is no chance whatsoever of issues against any minority ever being rectified.

If you are asking for people to only fight for the rights that apply to them directly, then we are all screwed because "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." A system that works only for the protection of itself and its majority would be impenetrable by any minority- so unless you are a white Christian dude in America, you'd be righteously hosed.

Rather than promoting that we should all stick up for only our own self interest, I would argue that instead we should each of us fight for the ideals that appeal to our core values... not to be confused with religious belief. 

That's not meant as a sleight against religion, I'd just ask that if you are religious, take your beliefs a step further and identify what core values they've instilled in you. I know a lot of religious folks whose core values are "Love thy neighbor" centric- or at least, "judge not lest ye be judged." Or at the very least, "How you choo-choo choose to pave your road to Hell is none of my damned business!" 

What I struggle with is recognizing which values motivate those who oppose gay rights, unless it's "Mine is an angry God who is prepared to smite all ye damnable sinners!" The single best defense against this rationale that I've heard was "I love everyone so much that I don't want them to go to Hell." That's a fine way of thinking (almost enviable). Lord knows my Mom is frightened for the future of my soul, though I would hope that in the grand scheme of things if I have to plead my case at the pearly gates, that I wouldn't be judged only on having made the right or wrong choices out of fear for going to Hell. Still though, the argument assumes that one religious group should be allowed to dictate morally and legally over the nation, but if we're being honest, that doesn't feel like the narrative that's being shouted the most. If it were, then we'd be having a different debate that asks, "Whose religious compass should everyone have to live by and why?" Instead, it sounds much more like, "Same-sex sex is icky." Well, nobody put a dick in your mouth (or vagina as the case may be), so suck it.

3) You'd call me a bigot for asking that gay people don't rub their gayness in my face?


4) Really?

Totes magotes. 

I've never heard anyone ask straight folks to "keep their straightness out of their face." If I did, I'd tell them to chomp on an ass, too. 

Asking gay people or those in support of gay rights not to "shove it down my throat" as one person put it (which is an awfully bi-curious way for it to be stated if you ask me) just for putting up a rainbow picture as their Facebook profile image? That is offensive and bigoted in the sense that you are expecting someone who is gay to behave differently than you would a straight person or another group in your "acceptable majority." I've had a picture of my finacee and me, face to face and cuddly in our Halloween costumes from a few years back as my profile picture for a crazy long time and if anyone was every offended by the obvious display of hetero love happening there, I've never heard whisper of it. 

If you were playing on even, non-hypocritical terms, hetero wedding pics, super cute couples photos and other celebrations of vanilla bean love would inspire the same vitriol as a rainbow pic and you would bitch about those as well... but because it's within the parameters of a popular belief structure, it's somehow not bigoted to ask that a group of people hide their love away? 

The reason that this "bigotry card" doesn't work both ways, which was a common defense for those opposed- claiming that if I call them a bigot, that makes me a bigot right back- is because I am not calling for any group to behave differently or imposing my will on others based on an intolerant set of beliefs different from my own. There are a lot of people with whom I frequently associate or consider close friends and/or family that have crosses in their Facebook profile, post inspirational Bible quotes or even wear crosses around their necks (in actual real life)! I can honestly say that I have never been offended by this behavior or asked them to keep all the Jesus loving hub-bub down to a minimum for those of us who are trying to catch a bus to Hell.

In short, it's not the having of an opinion that makes you a bigot, it's the opinion that you should have the freedom to enact your will on another group. Nobody is suggesting that those who don't believe in gay marriage go get gay married or even watch a same sex marriage. Having the right to free speech, which I wouldn't dream of taking from anyone, however, does not mean that you are free to speak with impunity or that your rights are being violated just because your beliefs are being challenged in open debate. 

Besides that- it's offensive to me that you would presume to know how many dicks I've sucked.  :O

5) The Religion Card.

This one's the hardest. I really do try not to trample other people's religion, regardless of how opposed to my own thoughts and feelings might be, but I get defensive when one group's set of beliefs is used as a tool for discrediting, condemning or imposing one group's will on another.

One of my Facebook friends was so affected by all of the rainbow pictures popping up on his friend's profiles that he took an inverted filter and created a profile image opposite of the rainbow equality movement to use as his profile picture and then he posted scripture about how homosexuality is a sin. It felt gross to me that the happenings of yesterday were so offensive to some that it drove them to the lengths of protest, either formal or informal.

The argument that followed was very circular and left a bad taste in my mouth. (That's what HE said- bada-ching!)

I don't feel like it comes from a good hearted place to put down the celebration of others who were awarded a freedom you don't think they should have that does not have any bearing on how you live your life. I could debate the merit of the religious or political beliefs that inspired the protest, but that isn't really the point. I could go on to quote seemingly appalling, literal Bible verses that we've moved beyond accepting as a society, even in religious circles. I could try to dissect someone else's religious beliefs- and I have done that at length, I'm sure- but when I assess my core values, something feels out of alignment with that approach. I've spent my whole life forging my thoughts, beliefs and feelings and so have you

It's offensive and conceited that anyone would expect to be able to waltz into a single conversation and revolutionize another person into your way of being (not that it doesn't happen as a matter of serendipitous happenstance from time to time, but it's the expecting to change someone else's core values that I find disturbing).

So in essence, by disagreeing with the tact and taste of such acts as protesting another's celebration, I felt like I was passing judgment on someone's judgment. I can try to justify that it's different because I preach inclusion rather than exclusion, love versus hate, but what it boils down to is that I disagree with that train of thought and it disagrees right back at me. 

It's a slippery slope that I'll try to wrap up with a neat little bow, recycling a little of what I stated above already: 

You have the right to free speech, but you do not have the right to free speech with impunity or lack of judgment from others. A lot of people seem to be making that mistake lately, waiving the flag of "I have the right to think and feel the way I do without being challenged whatsoever and how dare you question my beliefs?" At the heart of the argument, I realized that it isn't the questioning of others that I so vehemently disagree with- it's the expectation that one person or group's beliefs are so much more valid than another group or person's that they should have to comply, regardless of whether it would cause either party any degree of personal injury.

So, in closing: 

If you are going to start a Facebook War today, no matter which side of the argument you are on, I would ask that you follow in the suggestion of Walt Whitman (in a quote I know I've used before), "Be curious, not judgmental." If you approach an argument with the intent to disprove your opposition, you will most likely fail in being heard. Try first to disprove yourself.

If you disagree with everything that I said and yet you continued reading, there is even more value in that than if our beliefs were the same. If you read this and agreed with all or most of what I've said, it certainly feels nice to be validated, but I would encourage you to also read something you almost surely intend to disagree with from the start- it will probably make you a more interesting person in the long run and it will certainly stimulate a lot of brain activity.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Feeling like a Procrastitute

I intended to try to write something with less heft to it today... buuuuuut that's not what happened:

Lately, there's a tumor sprouting in my gut and the roots are drinking my patience like a thief, hose-sucking the gas from my tank, siphoning my fuel with a fucking crazy straw. 

I've been going for a walk every morning (well, nearly every morning) around my neighborhood as part of my getting reacquainted with the world, as prescribed to me by my doctor as one more step I am taking to expand my limits within this PTSD cage, with the added benefit of helping me lose some of the 50+ pounds I've amassed since being devoured by this demon whose stomach I can't help but feel I am being slowly digested and dissolved within, patiently awaiting evaporation within this sarlacc pit'esque tomb. Taking the walk has come easier in some regards because I've been waking up with my heart already beating strong, white knuckled fistfuls of blood into my veins and the sensation that if I don't do something physical, I run the risk of letting those tubes burst from the mounting pressure.

Like a crying baby, I know my mind and body are screaming for something specific, but I can't for the life of me figure out what that might be. I've taken it for a walk. I've bathed and changed my diaper. I've been writing- not the novel that I wish I working on, but better than the nothing I did last week and the week before. I've tried to distract myself with reading- I burned through an entire book earlier this week in just one day, which is impressive because I've lacked the attention span to read anything outside of the audio book format and comic books for a couple years now. 

I tried playing a video game yesterday after I had walked and written and showered. After a few moments, the controller hung limp in my hands and I stared vacantly at the blank space just above my television screen while my defenseless character was brutalized. 

I listened to music, usually a calming activity. I set my playlist to shuffle and kept hitting next halfway through the songs after realizing what I was listening to hadn't held my attention well enough to keep my thoughts from getting lost, hoping through a dozen songs that the next one would catch traction in my head. 

I tried taking a nap, not because I was tired but because I needed to kill time, of which there was too much left in the day for me to imagine trudging through. I needed to slaughter time, in fact. 

I tried combinations of these things and more, leafing through some of my PTSD literature on how to cope with these exact feelings. I know that the cycle is a natural occurrence. I assume it's common for people who are struggling with this disorder to go through periods of extreme motivation (which I can remember feeling about a month ago) and then eventually crash into what seems like a hopeless depression funk. As I approach the bottom of the cycle, it feels like I'm dragging and scraping my raw belly through asphalt covered in broken glass.

I've been out of work for almost a year. It doesn't feel good. Prior to losing my fucking shit, I had been workin forty hours a week or more since I was eighteen years old. I feel simultaneously useless without work and crestfallen that I let myself become a person who defines their worth through work. Work that I don't really care about, in the grand scheme of things, so what's that say about me?

I try to be compassionate towards myself and it feels patronizing, insincere. I would never dream of being as mean to someone else as I am capable of being to myself. My psychologist suggested that I might be filling the vacancy of the absent and scary voice of my childhood tormentor with a ventriloquist version in my psyche. I am reminded that the voices we think in, inside of our mind when having conversations with ourselves, they are not who we are. The voice we use to communicate with ourselves is more like an amalgam of all the people who have had an impact on our lives, both positive and negative, wearing the skin of our own voice like a puppet whose mouth they take turns working. My voice's body has been occupied by the same hand for too long. I try to imagine the kind words of a loved one taking the reigns, if only for a moment of respite, but the thin illusory tenderness echoes in my ears with a mocking timbre.

I'm torn between feeling like I need a break and knowing that I don't deserve a break. Anyone who sees what I'm going through would assume that my life has been on break for the past year. I am spending my life like coins thrown into a well, wishing for change like a child while throwing mine away.

I'm pulling away, crawling further inside myself and away from the skin which is where the discomfort lives.

I only hear every other word or so spoken by my fiancee, my son. These are people who are towing the line, living up to the expectation, going to work, going to school, deserve to be grumpy or depressed, earned the right to complain. I can't look them in the eye without choking on tears suppressed in my throat.

I scroll through Facebook so often that I'm re-reading the same posts from a few minutes before and acting like I'm engaged in the activity, pretending to the nobody in the room who can see me that I'm interested in what I've already read ten times in the last hour, even though I wasn't even engrossed the first time through. The only posts that illicit a real response from me are those that resonate at the same angry frequency at which my veins are already quivering like struck guitar strings. 

At least they are making contact with my mind, I think. 

I try not to get wrapped up in these things typically, but they seem to be the only subjects my mind can hold onto for more than a few seconds: I write a blog about Caitlyn Jenner. I write a blog about casual racism in video games. I don't like feeling angry. I hoped that expressing my disdain would exorcise the emotions from my body, let my muscles relax and stop my jaw from aching, but it's still there and I think it's getting bigger. I'm feeling angry at people I know I'm not angry at and I'm reminded of the story of the two wolves that live inside us all; one named Anger and its Gemini twin, Compassion. They are both fighting for the precious real estate of our souls and the wolf that wins is the one you choose to feed the most.

I write half of a goofy ass blog about famous sidekicks, trying to expel the negativity, but this is not the story my fingers are trying to tell today. Each digit strikes at the keys like angry vipers and their venom shows up as pixels on my screen. 

The monitor screeches at me like an infant vulture waiting to be fed, ignorant of the predators it attracts, hungry for something real... substantial, meaningful. I feel unprepared for a war that I know is coming, may be already here. 

When I can't substitute this persistent and unrelenting feeling and the roots of my gut's tumor have spread across my intestines like the silvery threads of a spider's web, I close my eyes and type until I'm out of breath and exhausted, bled dry of the nameless emotions that have left me feeling poisoned for days. There is nothing left to think. No more left to say. Everything I ever was has been left here on the page.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What's the Deal with Witcher 3?

I was playing a game, Witcher 3, over the last couple weeks. I only sort of liked it, but I was bored and it fit the bill in that regard. Aside from the less than crisp fighting mechanics, a leveling system that feels unnaturally unimportant for an RPG, and some heavy handed misogynistic handling (sometimes literal) of female prop characters, there was something even more disturbing about the game that I couldn't put my finger on... and so I kept playing. I think I logged somewhere between 40-60 hours before it struck me.

Before I reveal what I'm sure you're all waiting to read with baited breath, it should be noted that this title may likely end up with several Game of the Year awards and sits high on the hog with a 93 rating on Metacritic, which is highly impressive. I understand why people would like the game, and aside from my revelation, I already had a lot of complaints about the game that seem to be going unchecked, but this one really left a funky taste in my mouth.

When I started the game, I was only peripherally aware of the series, which is based on a collection of books by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. After playing, I was immediately drawn in by the rich history that comes with having your game set in a world that has been painstakingly created by a writer. Often times in games, story is shoehorned in to ascribe a narrative to a game mechanic that's enjoyable, and while I wouldn't go so far as to say that this is wrong of video game developers, it is refreshing to me (perhaps as a writer) when a game's story is obviously at the heart of the project. 

What kept me away from the series' previous iterations was the lack of a feature that has become almost synonymous with Role Playing Games. Because the game is based on a series of books, the lead character is chosen for you and you have little to no control over how you customize his appearance and limited control over the direction of the story- aside from the ability to bang your way from continent to continent leap frog style, leaving a trail of dejected elven hookers with only their magical vials of smack to keep them warm at night, dreaming and waiting patiently for the titular "Witcher" to return to their beds so that they might live again, if only for a few cut scene moments, in pixelated bliss. 

I mean, I assume that's what happens, surely I didn't visit one of the game's many brothels... okay, that's exactly what happens- with less liberty taken than you might think. In fact, no liberty at all, really, other than assuming what's going on behind the prostitute's dead eyes after taking a hit of Fisstech (the game's mystical cocaine replacement). It was all very disturbing, but at least that scene ended without fanfare, instead leaving in awkward silence that may have made some people pause and think about what the fuck just happened to their TV screen. Personally, I felt like I needed to give mine a Windex bath and hold it tight until the police could show up to take a statement.

And no, my beef with the Witcher wasn't in the fact that the name itself is a grammatical Pandora's Box. I mean, can you "witch" something? I suspect that you can BE witched, I know that you can be A witch and I've heard of hours being described as "witching," but one who witches? Let's just say, I have my doubts.

I knew the lead character was a white male going in, with almost no customization available. Like I said, that kept me from previous installments. Not that I have anything against white guys, some of my favorite people happen to be white guys (no seriously, I have white guy friends! I'll show you pictures if you don't believe me!), but several years back I made a choice as a writer when I realized that all of my leading characters were assumed first to be white males and deviating from that selection took a certain intentional mental shift. 

Like my hero Joss Whedon before me, I started asking myself what would happen if I switched the gender and/or race of my characters and I immediately loved what started to happen. They instantly became much more interesting to me. For as long as I can remember, when playing a video game where you get to create your own character, I would always create a female character because it felt like they stood out so much better. White dude is kind of the vanilla choice in games for me. In almost every single game I can think of that DOESN'T give you a choice of character, you play a white male. So when given the choice, I tend to want to shake it up and deviate as much as possible from the tropes that I am typically being force fed. When I realized I'd been limiting myself in the same capacity as a writer, it opened up some pretty fun  doors. 

I actually liked a lot of my characters more, some that I'd been developing for years even. It effectively put sprinkles on my doughnuts. The hard part now is that the only thing the public seems to want to lynch faster than someone who does a poor job of creating equality in their work is someone who tries to create a strong female character or a person of color in their work and makes a mistake in representing them as they'd like to be portrayed, but in the end I would rather defend my inclusion with imperfections than leave out flavors all together because I'm afraid of mishandling them.

The point being that I knew going into the game that you were playing a white dude and I even knew that the internet was buzzing with people demonizing their handling of female characters, but what I didn't realize, and did not pick up on until 40+ hours of game play is that there is not another human character of color in the entire game. Not one. That's weird, right?

Apparently, the guy who wrote the books based the culture of the world on the Viking Era, which seems to be the defense for leaving out all of the people of color. I have two major problems with that argument:

1) We're talking about a fantasy game "based" on a culture that is predominantly white... but also allows for dragons, imps, trolls, phantoms and wraiths to exist. To exclude all other races on the premise that you are trying to stay true to a time piece in a fantasy game is absurd. I don't think that the developers of the game, nor the author himself, executed the exclusion with malice. I think that it wasn't ever thought of or brought up, which is scarier. After all, I'm ashamed to say, but even though my spider senses were tingling, it took me a ridiculous amount of time to figure out what was off. If there were a race bending opposite version of the Witcher where everyone portrayed was of another color and white was the only hue missing, how quickly would I have noticed? After the realization struck me, I went back to the internet and did some searching to see if I was just late to the party. It turned out that at the time there was only one article on the entirety of the internet that dealt with the lack of diversity. A few days later and I can now find two (and three more articles opposing the original article, defending the game's right to be as white as it wants to be). To be clear, even though it kind of makes me feel like a stranger in a strange land, I'm not saying that we should string up anyone who makes a game that isn't racially diverse, but I get the feeling that the game wasn't even considering racial representation and the gigantic landscape is less interesting and poorer because of it. It isn't like the rest of the market is anywhere near equal in gender and racial equality, so as much as Witcher 3's absolute lack of color astonishes me, I'm not just talking about this one game either- more a symptom of neglect that spans all media, if we're being honest. 

2) My second issue with the argument that a game trying to represent the true "Viking Era Feel" in their fictional game is that all evidence suggests that there were actually people of color present during the Viking Era (even intermarriage on cordial terms between the Vikings and other friendly races was completely acceptable), and though people of color were the minority, to exclude them entirely is to stray from an accurate representation of the time that these works are trying to represent. The reason that people are drawn to the Viking Era (in my opinion) is that it happens to be a time steeped heavily in adventure. They were explorers and pioneers. They established cities and trade routes with China along the Silk Road and even had settlements in North America before Europeans arrived! By all accounts, and supported by the facts that they openly traded with other races, commingled in their territories and were opposed to the idea of slavery (racially motivated or otherwise), Vikings may have had some of the best interracial relations in history. I don't claim to know what the true picture of history is, I don't think anyone can possibly know beyond doubt how race played out back then, but certain evidence suggests that what we are commonly taught to believe about the period is inaccurate at best and intentionally misleading at worst. 

As with all media or history, there is a selection process to determine which information gets conveyed and what is deemed unimportant, and whether this is done consciously or unaware to the one presenting the facts, the attached narrative often says more about the time period the author lives in than the historical period being represented. The majority of the Viking's archaeological discoveries for example (and where the term "vikingatid" or Viking Period originated), were made in late nineteenth century Sweden where society was evolving rapidly and the people needed a strong sense of history and heritage to bind their people. Many myths of the Viking Era were born in this time and have been carried into the present because the stories were stronger than the evidence.

But I digress. What makes me the most uncomfortable about the exclusion of other races from this game (and others) has more to do with a gut feeling. I can't prove it, but I suspect that because playing as a white dude is the norm, women and people of color will play these games and concede to being underrepresented whereas if the tables were turned and white men were forced to play as another gender or race, many of them would lose their shit or just casually dismiss the title as "not for them." So from a marketing stand point, it is the wise financial move to continue catering to the group in which many if not a majority will only play if they have a white male option and to not consider the other side of the pool because they're so used to playing with whatever choices they are given anyways.

Of course, that's a gut feeling and I can't prove that white people would lose their shit if they were forced to play as anything but a white male... or can I?

While I was writing this, I remembered another racial powder keg that erupted in recent history. Rust is a game where you wake up naked in a forest as a person in a wide open world with lots of other people and your goal is, more or less, survival. It's an MMO, which means you are playing in a world populated with millions of other characters all being controlled by other real life players. When the game first released as an early access title, everyone started their in game experience as a bald white male in the middle of nowhere and then you just kind of had to make your way through finding food and shelter and supplies and what have you, and as in any real survival, post apocalyptic world, coming across other people is usually as dangerous and tense an experience as it gets. 

Because the game was considered "Early Access," people knew they were buying a work in progress with features being added and updated, the world being expanded and feedback being taken into consideration as the game approached finalized status. However, one such feature sent the previously supportive gaming community into a fucking nutball frenzy. The developers decided that when your character spawned, instead of the default white guy, your race and facial features would be randomly selected and then registered to your account as your in game race. The developers believed that, just like in life, you can't choose what skin and face you are born into and it fit with their idea of just popping into the world with no choices and figuring out how to survive from there. They were not prepared for the backlash. One such player remarked on the Rust message board, "I was going to buy Rust today, but I am a white guy and don't want to have to take the chance of playing a black character!" People scare me. The fact that someone is so afraid that there's a chance they might have to play as someone of a different skin color wrenches my gut. It should also be noted that this game is played in a first person view, which means that you normally don't even see your character- meaning that the only real significance that race provides is how you are seen to other characters in the game.

Others proclaimed, "It's about freedom of choice!" while neglecting to acknowledge that previous to the game's change in automated race, you were only ever spawned as a white male. Everyone who wanted to play the game who was either female or not white was being forced to play the game against their natural gender or race from the start, this only introduced a blind raffle system. 

Another popular argument is that by making this move, they are forcing political discussions about race, which may be a valid point, but not exactly an argument. Basically, the argument becomes that if you are white and forced to play outside of your race and gender, it's forced politics. If you are a minority, it's business as usual. The double standard is real and as best as I can tell, it's that sense of white entitlement to have your own race represented almost exclusively without a willingness to ride in the skin of another sex or race that is holding back the development of higher quality equality entertainment products.

The internet is lousy with chatter and debates about issues like this and while I don't expect that adding one more voice to the cavalcade of people shouting to be heard is likely to be the source of change, I think that what you're doing now is the greatest benefit to the equality movement that can be made: read. It's not so much the writing, but the reading that matters. You can find a thousand voices arguing both sides and more than anything, I encourage readers to seek out reputable sources that argue their points fairly and to read each side with an open mind. One of the most liberating and rewarding feelings in my life has been to have my mind changed. To know that I could be wrong (and likely am) about anything I believe makes life so much more interesting and opens the door to possibilities that I'd likely never consider if I was overly resolute in my opinions of how the world is or ought to be. Like Walt Whitman said before me, "Be curious, not judgmental."

Thursday, June 4, 2015

We Can Be Heroes

Earlier this week I saw an article announcing Caitlyn Jenner's transformation and to be honest, I didn't think that much of it. There was kind of a "hunh" moment where I said to myself, "So that's what Bruce Jenner looks like as a woman."

It took a couple days before I noticed any openly negative talk about the subject on social media. It started with a posting of a picture that someone had made with a disfigured American Soldier on one side and the title "Hero" plastered across the top... and on the other side was Caitlyn Jenner's Vanity Fair cover with the title "Not a Hero." Something twisted in my gut and I wanted to respond to the post immediately, but I bit my tongue.

I have PTSD and I have to choose my battles carefully. Taking a walk around my neighborhood can trigger an adrenaline soaked roller coaster that keeps me awake for days on end, starting fights on Facebook seemed like a losing battle with nothing to be gained. I filed it under, "Not worth the risk."

As the day went on, others posted similar and identical pictures, each one made me cringe, but I buried the feelings inside my gut and kept it there. After dinner I realized that I was entering a heightened state regardless, instigated at least in part by the friction of trying to dispose of feelings that needed expression. 

I found a posting of the "Hero/Not a Hero" picture and began to work through the knots in my gut, untying them and putting them down into an explanation that I hoped would not be construed as incendiary. 

I remembered reading an article that Amanda Palmer wrote a couple days ago about how any disagreement that continues on a long enough trajectory increases the odds of someone being compared to Hitler/Nazi's to almost 100%. It was a very interesting read, but there was an opposite effect being trotted out with these soldier pictures. The basic premise being that these soldiers are heroic and that nothing short of putting your life on the line for your country suffices the title. #'Merica. *mic drop* The old adage "Blowing out someone else's candle doesn't make yours burn brighter" kept repeating in my head.

In my response, I said something to the following effect:

"I find it strange that people are having such a problem applying the word hero to this person's situation. I don't think it makes soldiers any less heroic to admire something in someone else. When I was growing up, I had many heroes: Leonardo (the Ninja Turtle, not the artist), Hulk Hogan, a billion different musicians, etc. Nobody ever questioned my right to admire these people (or turtles, as the case may be).

I did't care for Bruce Jenner, so I doubt that altering her sex is going to change that, but if someone else finds courage in what she's done, why would anyone try to make them feel bad by qualifying their source of inspiration against another? I'd encourage people to celebrate their heroes for whatever the reason and leverage that which we admire in others into  making ourselves better people, more worthy of being called a hero by others. Take your inspiration from any source kind enough to give it."

I was pretty surprised when the person whose post I had replied to responded with an equally level head: "That's fair. I do find the use of the term hero kind of ridiculous here, largely because of who I deem to be heroes."

After being met with such an open mind (I don't think I moved mountains or anything, but it ended in someone considering another point of view at least) I responded to several other such posts. Most people just liked my statement and didn't respond, which is fine. The only response that got a little heated was when someone posted a question with no picture... it read, "If becoming a woman makes you courageous, does going to the garage make you a car?" Given the terrible fucking and offensive analogy, I know I shouldn't have expected for it to go any other way- but I was energized by the release of that which previously weighed me down.

I responded, "I think it has more to do with walking into a media arena where you know people are going to be demeaning you and tearing you down non-stop." You know, being compared to a garage? Or more broadly suggesting that simply "being a woman" is what qualified Caitlyn as courageous?

A friend of his responded, "It's impossible to change your sex. You can only change your clothes. Even if you get surgery and take drugs, you will always be the person that you were born as."

I wondered at some potentially deep meaning there... "You will always be the person that you were born as." 

Then the original poster says, "My cat used to be a dog until I cut its dick off."

I may never know if this guy was just having a laugh, I got the fuck out of there after that. I'm still getting notifications about the post being updated by other people (even as I write this), but I just can't engage. It's really screwed up and I can't even write about how fucking deplorable this guy is, but I guess the point I wanted to make in regards to the whole situation is this:

Yesterday, I started my morning not thinking about what makes heroes worthy of our adoration and today it was at the forefront of my mind... kind of important for a would be fiction writer. Yesterday I didn't feel strongly for Caitlyn Jenner, today I empathize with her enough to have found something worth admiring... finding compassion for another human being makes me feel good, finding traits worth appreciating in someone else makes me feel great. Yesterday I wanted to write something, anything, but I couldn't find my voice. In fact, I spent most of the day trying to bury the one thing I did want to say and going a little fucking nuts over it in the process. Today I was inspired to do something, say something and voice an opinion- it felt a lot better than the reciprocal approach and I have Caitlyn to thank for that. I see why many people would name her as a hero of theirs. Surely it is courageous to expose oneself to the litany of hatred and passive aggressive attacks that she's faced from media and the public since coming out with her transformative intentions. 

Whatever the reason, whoever the source of your inspiration and no matter what it is that you find to admire in them, don't let someone else drag you further away from being a better version of yourself by diminishing that which you choose to honor. However we go about it individually, the world needs more people that are trying to be better at being people.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Checking In

I don't feel like I have much to say right now, but that never stopped me before! The medication I'm on is starting to balance out though, so I wanted to take a minute and share how I'm doing. 

I spent a few days being so amped up that I only slept about three hours a night, my appetite is noticeably reduced, at first from waves of nausea and then just kind of gone, and I still feel jittery as all get out with lots of little uncomfortable twitches and tremors. My head seems fogged over, which is in part why I haven't been crawling out of bed early enough to workout or write for the last six days. Even when I was sick to my guts, not sleeping and felt like I was on hardcore drugs though, I felt guilty for not sticking to the things I vowed to do, largely my writing and workouts. 

All of these side effects have gotten a little better each day, as the doctor who prescribed them said they should, although there were a couple days when I really wanted to stop taking them because all of my fears about feeling drug addled were coming true- I'm not exactly a man who's lousy with faith in a lot of things, but I took a leap and stuck with it. Every day after the first three, the side effects seemed to get less severe. Once the haze started to become less overwhelming, I noticed that there was an emotional fragility that has been reinforced into something more structurally sound. I hadn't felt this grounded since before the panic attack that led to this course of action and even that was a false, temporary strength that I put on before work and was crushed by each night. The anxiety is still very present, but I'm better equipped to deal with it and I hope that things keep getting better day by day. It's still hard to feel comfortable in my own skin right now, especially with the shakes. I really don't want to be around people until I get a better grasp on this which has made group therapy session an interesting experience of forced vulnerability.

In fact, I felt at my worst the night before my sister's birthday gathering and I let her know that I didn't think I was going to make it. I felt lousy bowing out on her 30th. It was really hard not to just force myself into going. I was playing psychologist in my head, arguing either side of what I should do for most of the night leading up to her party. You see, for me, there is no right answer- that's where a good portion of my anxiety cycle starts. Whether I should put my needs before another, his needs before hers, the business before the staff I lead, my relationship needs with my fiancee, my son, my family. I let the ghosts of choices I didn't make haunt my conscience relentlessly, filling me with a guilt that erodes my self worth into nothing because I've convinced myself that I should be able to reach some version of being that is evolving closer towards perfection than my physical self is capable of catching.

I eventually told myself that I wasn't going to be up to meeting a bunch of new people when I didn't feel like myself. Then things got interesting. Instead of sitting at home miserable like I had been doing for the 24 hours prior, I recognized that I needed a distraction. I assessed my limits and concluded that even though I was ditching out on my sister's birthday, which I still feel awful for, even writing about it now, that I wouldn't hold myself prisoner to the guilt. I knew that I needed to get out and do something, I was going stir crazy. I asked my fiancee if she wanted to go see a movie. We went to see "Let's Be Cops" which was pretty hilarious and I actually engaged in the movie, laughing out loud. Considering that I had spent the last day before that moment jumping from one household distraction to another, awake for almost 48 hours straight save a three hour break, jumping from fidgeting with video games to TV to both, to shitty movies, to trying to write even though I knew I didn't feel up to it, just spinning on a hamster wheel not comfortable in my skin or knowing what to do with myself- considering all that, it was a shock to me how much enjoyment I got out of my little date night with my fiancee. 

I was still a wreck until the movie theater lights turned completely down, afraid that every person who walked into the theater would be somebody I knew, who would spread word that I was actually out doing something enjoyable when I should be at home wallowing in shame and flogging the guilt out of me or some such ridiculous thing like that. 

After the movie was over, I was feeling so released from my misery that I accepted my fiancee's offer to go to my favorite restaurant for dinner. I felt more present and engaged with her than I have for a while now. I'd been so trapped inside myself that it wasn't until we sat down and started talking that I recognized how much I missed her company in that setting, how much I was neglecting to lean into her for real emotional companionship. 

Another interesting side note, for the first time at that restaurant (or any others for that matter), I didn't take it as an opportunity to gorge myself. I ordered less and had leftovers- which may not seem like that big a deal to you, but I haven't left a plate uncleared out of principal since 1987, so it stood out to me as strange when I was okay with sliding it into a box for the next day. The evening left me completely sated, comfortable with what being alive provided me that day.

I've been trying to apply that to writing because I know a huge point of internal friction for me is how the other enjoyable or necessary parts of my life have been shadowed in the guilt of not being aligned with what I feel my calling is, but so far I still feel pretty terrible about that.

If all goes well, I will be posting less frequently here for a little while. I need to get to work on some of my bigger projects so that by  the end of this time away from work I have something lucrative to show for it and that may mean breaking my standing date with you guys, who have been another great emotional support for me- one that's been kind of hard to let go. Just knowing that you guys are out there, caring enough to check in with me, hearing the kind feedback you've provided, has been a great value towards regaining my balance and I thank you for it. You've given me a place to feel safe and responsible to the thing I want to do with the rest of my life, however long that is. That's an immeasurable courtesy. Thank you and I'll see you soon.