This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.
Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.
”—Gary Provost (100 Ways to Improve Your Writing, 1985)
I’ve been listening to a lot of Blood Orange recently. This song’s chorus in particular hits close to home… the “you” being me.
These past few weeks have been emotionally draining, but revealing. It has prompted some serious self-reflection. I feel like my finger is always hovering over a self-destruct button, and as long it’s there, and I feel that temptation, and continue to give into it, I will never be happy. And it’ll drag me down, along with those who are in my orbit.
I don’t want that. For me, or for anyone who cares about me. I need to erect a bulletproof glass case over that button, or somehow deactivate it by cutting all the wires connected to it. It’s a matter of always choosing what’s right over what’s easy. It’s a matter of deeply channeling compassion and empathy and respect, and fully fathoming how my actions will affect another person, which comes down to me stepping out of my shell. I can’t keep making amends for mistakes I shouldn’t be making. At my core, I am a selfish person who tries to be selfless, and maybe even a bad person, who tries to be good… but that’s just not good enough.
I discovered this song on the subway last night. These two guys took turns dancing to it, and their performance kind of just hypnotized me. Because it wasn’t your usual acrobatic subway dance spectacle with hat tricks and pole-spinning and high-energy hype-music blasting. Their movements were less like stunts or power moves, and felt more in sync with details and subtleties in the song — they were just feelin’ the music, and you couldn’t help but feel it with them. It was fucking great. I really wanted to give those guys a dollar or something, but I had zero cash on me, as per usual :[. I did ask them what the song was, though — yeah, honestly should’ve known it was Groove Theory as soon as I heard it. “Tell Me" is like one of my favorite R&B songs of all time. Kinda embarrassing, but so glad I asked.
It’s been more than 9 (NINE) months since my last post on this thing. 9 months ago, I was back home in Fort Myers. I had just finished my internship with the Disney Channel in LA, and was funemployed and vegetating in the great air-conditioned indoors of Southwest Florida, nostalgically rummaging through my closet for old mementos that have somehow survived all of our moves. One item that stood out was this tiny, weathered “travel” journal full of Titanic and Hey Arnold! doodles and various cryptic chicken-scratches from when I was in the 1st grade. Me, my mom, and my sister went to Bangladesh to attend my grandfather’s funeral, and I had this journal among other things to keep me occupied. I was really obsessed with drawing the Titanic sinking, for some reason — that imagery, as a spectacle divorced from its intrinsic horrors, fascinated me as a kid.
Anyways, as per usual, I’m digressing. I wanted to catch you up on my life — these past 9 months, the Lost Episodes. I moved to New York in late September to start a part-time temp job at a film company my friend from college was working at. I met some cool people and made some lasting connections there. I even reconnected with an old friend, outside of work, too. It was great, because I was in New York for a REASON, and I had finally got some real film biz experience under my belt, because I had made the decision after graduating to kind of just totally shift my career gears back to the path I wanted to pursue before even entering college — Film/TV/fuck-it-the-whole-damn-realm-of-moving-images-because-all-content-is-awesome. From that point on, the goal was to land myself on an assistant desk, at an agency or production company, because every anecdote ever told me it’s the classic, all-important first step of most entertainment careers…
And with that singular, narrow focus, the job hunt began, and there were some close calls… but no cigar. It’s a smaller world with less opportunities over here in NYC, unlike the vast wild west of LA, where assistant jobs grow on trees (as long as you know where those trees are, and how to water them). I kept applying, waiting, emailing, following up, LinkedIn-stalking, etc… I even strongly considered moving to LA, and always nervously felt on the verge of doing so, even I though I fucking hate LA. I don’t care if that’s where all the trees are, I’m gonna find a goddamn tree here (because a tree grows in Brooklyn, or whatever)! Because I <3 NY. I have family here. I know people. That’s kind of a big deal for me…
I’ve now been on the hunt for close to 6 months now — rinsing, repeating, giving up, getting lazy and unmotivated, stagnating, letting it do a number on my self-confidence and determination (especially recently). I started doubting myself: “Am I really passionate about this? Do I care about this shit? I don’t think I do. Where the fuck is my DRIVE? Where do people get that DRIVE from? I don’t know what I want, or what I’m doing! Why can’t I get a stupid admin job I’m over-qualified for?!”
But here’s the simple truth: I’m just not trying hard enough. I’ve been acting like an entitled, easily-distracted, soft-skinned brat, about this whole process. I need to make a more dogged, conscious effort at making finding a job MY JOB — that is some basic-ass career advice. I keep telling myself I’ll do things… and then I don’t. I give up. My energy fizzles out. I keep dwelling on the past, and fantasizing about the future, and other realities, and not focusing on the present, on my NEXT IMMEDIATE SHORT-TERM STEPS towards this vague-but-achievable goal of Happiness / A State That Is Better Than The Present, which are: 1) I need to get a job —> 2) I need to lock down a sublet so that I finally have a room and bed of my own. The basics, which should never be taken for granted. Baby steps, which can become aimless when you fixate too much on larger steps, or things that are beyond your control, or things that aren’t even real.
I know. I was gonna fill you in on the past 9 months, and you were probably expecting juicy details, and trust me — there’s a lot of narrative embedded within there. But, I guess that’s kind of antithetical to the whole message here, which is “WTF AM I DOING TUMBLING AND WATCHING THE WORLD CUP I NEED TO APPLY TO SHIT.” Hah, okay, obviously life is all about balance. But I need to step it up. I need to set goals for myself, and actually fucking accomplish them. Here’s what my Reminders app looks like right now (sort of; I excised some mundane stuff, which is saying a lot because this is already pretty mundane):
Keep emailing people, and don’t feel like you’re bothering them
Repeat to yourself: “I Will Get A Job.” Follow with Victory Pose / Screech
I’ll speak to the 2nd item: I ran into one of the founders (and Editor-At-Large) of Polygon, my favorite gaming website, on a street near Union Sq the other day. I nerded out, and he gave me his email, and then I emailed him the other day, saying how crossing paths with him that night really brightened up my shitty day, and he responded with a nice message. And now we follow each other on Twitter. Friends forever! Dreams do come true!
Jkjk — the dream is to get published on Polygon, silly, and maybe that serendipitous moment was a sign from the universe. Obviously, queuing up shit you need to do is not the same as doing it (I call this the Netflix Effect, because I’m literally always just adding movies and shows to my List without actually watching them — speaking of, I need to jump on S02 of Orange is the New Black soon o_O), so time to wrap up this longwinded post, because I am always verbose as fuck. I feel good: about life, and myself. I’m grateful for so many things… And I’m saying all this because there was recently a period where I really, really didn’t feel this way. There’s a person, who may or may not read this, who played a part in that dark period (and was going through her own dark period at the time), but is now the main reason for this new lease on life. She inspires me. She makes me want to be better. I hate it when I fuck up, but I can’t let the fuck-up’s define me as a Fuck-Up. I care about her a lot. I’m rooting for both of us.
Like I said, there’s a whole lot of narrative in these Lost Episodes that I haven’t even scratched the surface of… but the basic gist of it: I met someone. At age 22, I finally made direct, unguarded contact with another person. And I’m better for it. Take that however you like.
[Note: The following is a verbatim, copy-pasted facsimile of my first ever LiveJournal post from the summer before I started high school, which was also the summer I moved to Jacksonville. It was a long, lonely, “quixotic” summer for 14-year-old me…]
What does “quixotic” mean?]
[music| System of a Down- “Question!”]
Whoa, this is my first “blog-statement-thing” that I have ever…well, erm, “blogged(?)” Is the word “blog” like the new “smurf?” Like, are we now going to replace everyday words with “blog?” That would be confusing as shit if people started doing that. It’d be almost more confusing than the less-than-3 sign supposedly representing the fudgy emotion of love. What is love anyway? (Post a comment! I am a lonely individual.)
[For more profound/muddled musings from the mind of a bored and lonely 14-year-old boy obsessed with videogames, anime, System of a Down, Family Guy, and nonsensical free verse poetry, check out my old LiveJournal at http://zedi-nuo.livejournal.com/]
[Note: This is an account of my first ever game of Dungeons & Dungeons. It was written some time in January 2013, the night after said game. The plan was to chronicle our adventures day-by-day in prose/diary form, but that plan sort of fizzled out as I became inundated with other shit, so this is the only postmortem record I have of our epic campaign (in which I played as a lawful-neutral dwarf monk named Sepuku Syonara, or “Puku” for short). Keep in mind that this was mostly written for me, so hopefully it’s coherent to you. ENJOY.]
The game starts with the “group,” who are strangers at this point, lounging alongside passenger NPCs on a boat going down a river to Gideon, a humble nothing-special town. We detect some rustling in the bushes on the bank, but are unable see the threat (because of some unfortunate spot-check die-rolls, a rather common phenomenon in this first game). As a dwarf monk with no interest in material wealth, I donate my 10 gold pieces to a family-of-three on the boat who appear to be poor and down on their luck. As soon as the father bends down to start kissing my feet in gratitude, an arrow suddenly whizzes through the air and penetrates his head, killing him upon impact, blood splattering all over my feet. A raid on the boat has been initiated and we enter turn-based, die-determined battle with this mysterious, lurking menace (whom we refer to as “barbarians” given their ostensible proclivity to violence and reckless abandon and greed/lust).
During the battle, the mischievous gnome wizard in our bunch uses a spell to animate some nearby rope to clamp onto the barbarians’ berserk leader, who dons a necklace of teeth as a trophy item, and sling him by the feet all the way over to the bank, slamming him into a tree and making him disoriented on his trek back to the boat.
Meanwhile, I look out for the now-widowed wife and her traumatized son, telling them to retreat into the inner cabin with this band of dwarfs who were also on the boat. I engage one of the barbarians in battle but miss every single one of my piercing, fist-to-fist blows, eventually retreating into the cabin and enlisting the help of my dwarf brethren (who I typically don’t see eye-to-eye with, but was moved so deeply by the death of the father that I was willing to overlook philosophical and moral differences in the name of impassioned vengeance and justice).
After some chaotic scuffling, our wizard companion eventually summons a giant humanoid medic ant, riding it around the deck and intimidating foes with the titanic ant’s slurpy, click-clacking insectoid sounds. He then sprays crippling acid directly at one of the goons, stunning him momentarily. Later in the battle, the vaguely Irish-sounding human druid in our group, Crazy Bear, enters his badger companion, affectionately named Hugs, into the fray, who quickly proves himself to be an effective weapon in combat as he “hugs” barbarian faces to death with his razor-sharp teeth — at one point, Hugs even protects the strong, female ranger in our group who has been doing the bulk of the blood-spilling.
Upon finally returning to the main deck with my army of dwarf allies, we attack the recovered berserker/leader, but miss most of our blows. The group ultimately knocks out this mighty barbarian, and a moral debate quickly ensues as we deliberate whether or not to spare the murderer’s life for interrogation and potential rehabilitation, or just kill him right now. I argue that an “eye for an eye makes the world blind,” because I’m a preachy, lawful-neutral little cunt-bag.
In the loot we pilfer from all the dead bodies, we also find a pouch of mysterious blue powder, which I find suspicious. Indeed, I want this man to at least have a fair trial, but — after much Pocohontas-esque interpersonal drama in which I dramatically intervene to stop people’s attempts to immediately capital-punish the fucker instead of finding out where’s he from and what’s motivating him — it turns out that this barbarian was under the enraging influence of this blue substance, a kind of drug derived from Farley Leaf. As much as my character loves shit grown from the Earth, this horrible side-effect was inexcusable. I then express my desire to the group to take this drug-addicted “barbarian” under my wing and detox him at the monastery in Gideon, purify his soul and lead him down the right path. However, as soon as we reach Gideon, the town guards immediately take him away while assuring us that he will be scrutinized and judged in a fair trial.
Honestly, it’s just amazing that I was able to rescue this wanted murderer given that everybody (especially the druid) wanted to kill him out of bloodlust. Our group, having bonded through this testing boat-attack experience, then head to the local tavern in Gideon to unwind, where the druid whips out and shares his “peace pipe” and the gnome wizard ties a drinking contest with a random drunk civilian (by the way, back at the boat, this same mischievous wizard also stole the life savings of the boat’s drunkard captain, who vomited quite a bit throughout the battle because the surreal, ant-riding gnome wizard terrified him).
The night ends with Crazy Bear and I praying / communicating with a tree outside the tavern. Also, hearing of our courageous feats on the river, the bartender gives us free drinks and lets us stay the night. Hooray!
[End of Day One. Seriously though, hope this made a lick of sense. I left out a lot of details, since a lot happened. Also keep in mind that this personal record is just my perspective, and that there were three other players in our group. I also kind of pooped this out in a frenzy because I was afraid of forgetting details, so WHATEVER.]
As someone who feels like he didn’t know what the hell he was doing over these past four years, or why he was doing it; as someone who actually wanted to transfer OUT of this school during his first year; and as someone who can barely speak to one person, let alone 20,000 people, I feel like I’m probably the LAST person who should be up here, at this podium, delivering a speech at his college diploma ceremony…
But, here I am, so instead of giving you the kind of speech that tries to inspire, or empower, or impart wisdom, I decided to write something a little less serious… a little more “UNCOMMON,” you could say. After all, this is the approach I used when writing the essay that got me into this university, so it’s only fitting that I leave it in a similar fashion. It’s a poem, that might sound a little familiar if you’re a fan of ’90s teen movies. It’s called “10 Things I Hate About UChicago.”
I hate the way your brochures convinced me that you were the perfect place
I hate how I learned so much, Yet feel like I’ve retained so little, barely a trace
I hate how I felt like you marooned me In a boring bubble in the South Side
I hate that all the hair-pulling all-nighters you had me spend at the Reg Have rendered my brain forever fried
I hate how your stimulating discussion seminars Forced me to learn through participation
I hate how almost every paper you had me painstakingly write Was basically just another opportunity for mental masturbation
I hate how stupid and average I felt In the company of all of my amazing peers
I hate how morbidly depressed your long, cold winters made me feel, So much so that I disposed most of my income on beers
I hate how four years just flew by, As if it wasn’t that long ago when we first arrived here in the fall
But mostly, I hate the way I don’t hate you, UChicago. Not even close. Not even a little bit. Not even at all…
Well, at this point I should be running off the stage crying, but honestly, I think I did enough of that during all my episodes of existential melodrama over these past four years—my sister, parents, and roommates can attest to this.
Honestly, when I sat down to reflect on my college experience, my dominant feeling … was that of regret.
I hate to say it, but I totally took this school, this rare place and moment in our lives that has inspired so much love and so much hate, for granted. Indeed, love and hate, on their own, are pretty boring, binary feelings. But together, in simultaneous tandem, they form bittersweetness, which is rich, complicated, and powerful.
Today, I encourage you all to let your guard down—because I know for a fact that I’ve kept mine up for far too long—and to really embrace and savor this feeling, the feeling of the day, this day we’ve been downplaying the significance of for so long.
[Frantically scribbled this down stream-of-consciousness-style on March 6, 2013 as a private draft. I’ve decided to publish a handful of (pretty embarrassingly sad/pathetic/horrible) #personal posts that I’ve just been saving as drafts over the past few years because they kinda fascinate me, and they might fascinate some of the people “connected” to me. Note: Fully aware I am not the voice of any generation. Also, I’m tentatively calling this “series” Secret Writing Pad, because things in this vast Internet should always be #categorized]
"Comfort can lull you into a dangerous tranquility.” -Andre
One of the many, many lines from My Dinner with Andre I desperately wish my mind could retain, internalize, and cling to, as if this permanent absorption might be transformative, like a tattooed mantra that rattles my cage or snaps me out of my habitual funk every time I look at it. Really, it’s the complacent coasting along the banal habitual motions of everyday life and tunnelvision-transit, that insensitivity to the hidden-but-there intensities of “reality” and the affective contours of a building or classroom or whatever your immediate surroundings may be, and the constant immersion in signs and interfaces, and the numbing fantasies of lust and aspiration, and the performances of roles, tasks, and goals that perpetuate this self-constructed dream-prison where we’re shizophrenically playing the guard and the prisoner, that freak me out and make waking up in the morning a herculean exercise in willpower. There’s something about the language of the conversation in that movie that really scratches at the surface of “affect” and “affective fields” (not to wax pretentiously poetic academia) and how the feeling of boredom is not as interesting or significant as the mechanism or process that created that feeling of boredom.
That conversation also points to something that is so relatable to any human being that it hurts: How afraid we are to reveal ourselves, to let our guard of jokes and irony down and to cut ourselves off from the noise and lobotomizing drip-feed of media, and just “be” … you know, maybe it’s that pregnant-yet-comfortable silence in a conversation between two people, like the one romanticized by Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. That sustained moment of “forgetting” when we drop our roles and stop performing, whatever that means. I don’t think Andre or Wally really know either — there’s something to be said about the simple pleasures of Time magazines on the table and the warmth of electric blankets in the face of an abrasive and sometimes-hostile world, but then you have the unmediated fantastically utopian liminal spaces of the Polish forest in Andre’s anecdote and places like the top of Everest that can inspire a perceived clarity about the undercurrents of human behavior and the world and the potentialities emanating outward in every moment that’s somewhat frightening and unsettling. I realize most of this thought-vomit isn’t novel in the grand scheme of musings about the artificiality of our existence as performers masquerading around the stage of life (this theater metaphor kept popping up in Dinner with Andre), but that’s okay. There’s an ineffability to much of what I’m trying to get at — it calls for a “language of the heart” that captures intensities that I don’t think most of our human languages are able to articulate effectively without sounding abstract. Speaking of language, are ants vomiting chemicals into each other’s mouths and behaving instinctively more “real” than human interactions? What’s so great about “real”? I like the warmth of my bedroom, and inventions like the radiator and electric blanket and socks, because it’s so damn cold outside — sure, as Andre asserts, there’s a danger to comfort because we can overdose from excess. There’s perhaps a Fight Club mentality of animal viscerality in what Andre thinks, and it is disturbing to think how we’re erecting these barriers and obstructions that separate or distance us from huge cosmic forces like the seasons and the stars.
I posted this a FB status a few hours ago, but I’ll reiterate: The saddest part about that movie is that the feelings of heightened clarity and inspiration I’m experiencing right now will fade away and evaporate when I wake up in my calcified comforter cocoon of regret and apathy tomorrow morning, like splashes of cold water that, while profoundly shocking my system for a few seconds, ultimately dry up. My brain doesn’t retain things. It’s a barely legible palimpsest of information and experiences. In my nervous and careless scanning of the world, I am oblivious to the details, to people’s faces. There’s also a wiring problem in the circuitry that connects my brain to my mouth. I’m haunted by all kinds of specters, especially that of carnal lust. I can’t help but think there’s a deep truth in that cathartic and affirming moment of “forgetting” that Andre describes in the act of making love with another human being — forgetting there’s a world governed by forces beyond your control. At the same time (and this is where you can stop reading), I feel like maybe I’m performing the role of a “21-year-old college student” by constantly feeling the burden of this virginal lust, this thirst for pleasure and connection that may never be satisfied, as if sex is something I should have experienced by now because I’m a “21-year-old college student.” Once you’re out of here, it only gets harder to meet people, right? I’m in this rare social sandbox populated by amazing people and I’m only drawing fleeting images in the sand with a stick, instead of building castles or burying people and sculpting comical breasts or whatever… yeah, that was a lame metaphor and a lame detour, but whatever.
This is a self-diagnosis that I’m sure we’ve all performed, perhaps six inches from a mirror or while lying in bed. I’ve been having conversations with myself ever since I was a kid, or rather with an implicit imaginary friend that likes hanging out with me or an imaginary girlfriend that lays next to me in bed. Part of me LIKES to think I’m depressed, so that I can shirk the blame away from myself for being a lazy lifeless brat, as if there was some identifiable and pinpointable neural/biological reason that explains why I can’t focus on anything or can’t wake up in the morning. I also kind of revel in the sympathy of others, which makes the stigmatic label of “clinically depressed” not so problematic for me.
But I sorta know I’m perhaps just being melodramatic as usual. I can’t be depressed — I’m only fucking 21. This ain’t no age for a REAL crisis, because it’s true — I’m not tied to anything, but I certainly feel like I am which is, simply put, a horrible feeling… my mind always turns back to the Econ major thing (which could signify how fucking simple and narrow my world is), which was essentially me lying to myself. It’s one of those regrets I feel like I have to live with, but really I don’t. The problem is, I’m Wally. I mean, most of us are Wally’s striving, in the end, to be Andre’s.
Before I forget, I had this dream a few nights ago that made me feel, for the duration of the dream and for lack of a better adjective, extremely happy. Pure joy. In the dream, which was a two-parter / double-feature, my parents and sister visited my house in Chicago (only it looked like some frankenstein-amalgamation of living spaces I’ve encountered throughout life, decorated with residues of the everyday), cleaned it up, and prepared a lovely meal for all to enjoy. This dream then cut to another, in which I’m back at home with my parents, and they have just received this complimentary swag bag chock full of nice things from their cable/satellite provider for signing up for a new premium package that had all kinds of channels. In this smorgasbord of gifts was an oddly shaped yet attractive bottle of this pink fluid called Loot, a tasty energy drink or “gamer fuel.” When I saw this on the table, i immediately thought, “Omg I’m totally bringing this to our next D&D session!” That thought, that I’d share this drink with my D&D friends and we’d be so energized and full of guanine that we’d role-play and dungeon-crawl together until dawn or some absurd hour, made me so ridiculously happy… and then I woke up, and felt so fucking sad and pathetic for feeling so happy about something so simple and banal and materially-triggered, that this is what my unconscious mind, the unfiltered source of my wildest dreams and imaginations, preoccupied itself with. And like almost every other morning this quarter, waking up became a futile effort to suppress this feeling of moroseness…
Also, for the record, I discovered UChicago Compliments last night, and then proceeded to write a compliment about myself, which the moderator then posted on the official, public timeline, as if some random secret admirer thinks I’m awesome. I did it to see how people would react, and maybe to “raise the value of my stock,” if you will… it was stupid and masturbatory and pointless and doesn’t matter. Move along. You have a fucking paper you don’t care about to write.
At the end of the day, right now, my battle-cry is “fuck school,” but it’s a battle-cry I’m screaming into a pillow, since that’s all I can do. The toughest thing to swallow about all of this school bullshit getting in the way is that it’s my reality right now. But I could be way worse off…
The movie was fucking great, btw. Worth seeing at least once. Go Doc Films.
The year was 1997. I was a short, mustached Italian plumber, lost in a huge, hellish castle. It was a labyrinthine inferno decorated with white brick walls, rotating pillars of flame, and pits filled half-empty with lava. In here, somewhere, I would find my princess, and reach my happy ending.
After much treacherous traversing, I had finally reached a bridge, a dauntingly long path overlooking a sea of volcanic blaze. At the end of this bridge, standing in my way, was the fire-spitting, reptilian ruler of this domain, the most terrifying turtle in the Mushroom Kingdom- the one and only King Koopa. Our eyes clashed as I stood there, powerless and shell-shocked, knowing that a mere brush against the behemoth’s spiny back would mean the end of me. But I couldn’t just run away, not without the delicate weight of the princess on my shoulders- cowardice wasn’t programmed into a hero’s code.
The creature suddenly began bombarding me with its flaming projectile vomit. I knew now that I had to jump for my life, so I could rescue hers.
I evasively leaped across the bridge as King Koopa’s molten bullets whizzed beneath me. Thanks to my brief height advantages, I noticed a sharp axe resting behind the infuriated beast, glowing as if the Gods had conveniently placed it there for my use; and so I soared over King Koopa, and landed adjacent to the divine axe. I raised it triumphantly, and unleashed it upon the bridge, casting the monster into the scorching maelstrom below. It was surely victory at last. The quest was finally over, and the princess could be saved. Game over…
But as I proceeded into the dungeon, I noticed a small mushroom-person joyously welcoming my arrival. I looked around, but found no princess…just this dwarfish talking toadstool. And it said to me:
“THANK YOU, MARIO!
BUT OUR PRINCESS IS IN ANOTHER CASTLE!”
These words, with their heavy capitalized letters and sharp exclamation points, destroyed my soul. I threw the controller down, and stared blankly at the screen. I had braved through testing obstacles, and felt the euphoric relief of victory, only to have my success degenerated into failure. I felt defeated, tempted to just turn off the console, and give up.
But that day, a video game had shown me what reality was all about…
Success is like an elusive princess: The quest to attain it is consistently interrupted by failure. It always seems to be in another castle, perpetuating the quest, one that gets increasingly harder as you get closer to your goal. In order to proceed forward in Super Mario Brothers, Mario constantly has to jump, and the player must make every single jump count. Every risk, every action, is a leap-of-faith towards success. Such courage, energy, and determination are necessary if one is to eventually reach the last level- the elusive castle.
Indeed, the game is persistently trying to make you fail, to pull Mario down mid-jump, and incite frustration within the player, flattening his spirit as he loses a life in the process. In my case, the game always succeeded in doing this. But one must endure the agony of failure if one is to eventually appreciate the beauty of success.
The year is 2008. I have yet to rescue the princess. She is still locked away in another castle, waiting for me. But like Mario, I will make every jump count in my collegiate quest to find her. The game is never over.
Here’s the thing: Usually when I get stuck on some level or boss fight in a platformer or action-adventure game or FPS because of my own lack of skill or “twitch-reflex” hand-eye coordination or what have you, it’s OK. I get it — I suck. I can live with that.
But when I get stuck in a puzzle game like Portal or Braid because I’m somehow overlooking a simple, obvious solution, despite my careful and repetitive scanning of the game’s visual information, I can NOT live with that. That’s why these methodical puzzle games are so goddamn compelling, and why I’ve spent the last hour or so trying to complete this stage in Hanten Puzzle(pictured above), a brilliant freeware indie game developed by Rei Nijimaki (not somebody you should know, like an auteur, just some person).
If you’re curious, just follow that hyperlink for a vague description of how the game’s Y-axis, 180-degree inversion mechanic works. If you feel like having nightmares about cubes floating in purgatorial ether and having awesome looped music stuck in your head, then download HERE.
P.S. WOW. First Tumblr post in like 3 months… THREE MONTHS. That’s how long I’ve been in Bangladesh / India (currently in Delhi). I miss you so much, Tropicana “Some Pulp,” “Never From Concentrate” orange juice / America…
"Boy, after today, you’ll finally understand why birds sing."
Normally I would just dismiss these words as cheesy, romantic bullshit, but when they’re uttered by a heavyset man from Wisconsin who you’re ass-to-ankles with in the cramped, barrel-sized passenger compartment of a tiny private plane ascending to an altitude of two miles above the flat patchwork of rural midwest terrain moments before jumping out of said plane, they become transcendently poetic, and have an oddly calming effect…
The man’s name escapes me. He and his fellow fat friend were on the plane with me and my tandem skydive partner/instructor, Cornelius, a young Namibian dude who has travelled all over the world, skydiving in exotic places like Brazil, South Africa, and most recently New Zealand, the sky his only permanent address — I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if he reached these various destinations by jumping out of commercial airplanes and paragliding the rest of the way. And did I mention that he was NAMIBIAN? And that he’s an Afrikaner? And that he’s currently living in Middle-of-Nowhere, Wisconsin? Seriously, Sub-Saharan Africa just won’t let go of me. Being assigned to Cornelius (“Corn,” for short) was so poetically serendipitous and appropriate, since I will always associate South Africa with extreme, outside-of-comfort-zone adventurousness. Also, with about 15,000 skydives under his belt, and a capricious, nomadic lifestyle that makes me reexamine the (terrestrial) mundanity of my own, he is officially my hero.
So at this point, I’ve had to explain my skydiving experience to at least 15 different people… and with every anecdote, I have a hard time genuinely articulating how calm I was prior to the dive, and how ever-so-slightly underwhelming it ultimately was without sounding nonchalantly disenchanted. The truth is, it actually was really fucking awesome. I mean, OF COURSE it was. You’re jumping out of a goddamn plane and FREE-FALLING. Indeed, after the plane had reached the proper altitude and the door swung open, there was undoubtedly an unsettling “OH SHIT” factor, especially when those two fat dudes I mentioned earlier just casually jumped out. After that initial shock, with our knees bent (it was a REALLY small plane), Cornelius doing all the work, and my arms crossed against my chest in a submissive, almost-mummified way, we fell into the sky…
Free-fall is a form of in-your-face sensory overload like nothing else — my mouth went dry from sucking in air because I forgot to close it in my state of awe, my ears popped from high altitude and went numb from the coldness of the air, and the g-force I’m sure contorted my face into something amusingly grotesque. It was all surreal and amazing and before I knew it, Cornelius deployed the parachute, and it was over. Just like that, after what felt like a few seconds, skydiving suddenly became paragliding, and the only vista in sight was plain, flat, boring midwest landscape. Sure, floating back down to Earth is very zen, serene, and basically serves as the “coming-down” stage of the overall adrenaline rush, and piloting the parachute by tugging at the handles is always a shocking moment of agency, but… it was all so ephemeral.
Like a lot of people, I’ve always placed skydiving on a pedestal as this profoundly transformative, life-changing, bucket-list experience. Because I romanticized it and fantasized about it so much, I never thought I would actually end up doing it, at least not NOW. Maybe later. Like, one day, eventually. But NOW? This weekend? Wait, really?… Okay. Fuck it. “Let’s jump out of a plane!” I told my friends. And then I bought the LivingSocial deal. And then some friends and I drove to Wisconsin.
I think a large part of my sober attitude towards skydiving is due to the fact that (motherfucking) bungee-jumping was my gateway drug. When I approached the edge of the Bloukrans Bridge in South Africa, overlooking the most gorgeous gorge I had ever seen (and then contemplated jumping into), every molecule in my body was shaking with fear, telling me not to jump… but I committed to doing it because of that deep-seated fear. Because I was obsessed with the idea of overcoming that fear. Making that jump was an intensely surreal and religious moment, made all the more surreal by the surrounding mist-shrouded scenery — I fell faster than the water particles could precipitate. It was goddamn beautiful. I wish I could recount every second of the jump, but so much of it was an ineffable whirlwind of exhilaration and terror. I do remember accepting death at one point (bungee-jumping is essentially the physical performance of suicide, without the dying part), and every time I watch the video of that jump, I’m emotionally transported back to that moment, my stomach churning as I’m scared shitless all over again. Chemically, it was a torrent of endorphins followed by a release of dopamine, the magic one-two punch that turns people into adrenaline-seeking extreme sport junkies.
I guess because this experience was still so legibly etched into my mind, skydiving just stopped feeling like a big deal. The existential task of conquering a paralyzing fear wasn’t a factor. I mean, after all, the reassuring logic of anything tandem is that you’re attached to someone who does this every day and would rather not die either. I felt totally safe and calm right up until the door of that flimsy little plane swung open and this percolating dream I had been sitting on for years suddenly became real. Even if it was all inevitably a little disappointing, it was totally worth it just to make the unknown known.
That was my drive initially: to know what the sensation of skydiving was like, so I could check it off the bucket list. Now, I’m not content with just crossing it off and being done with it. Although it’s an expensive hobby, I really want to skydive multiple times, in different locations, and maybe one day do it solo. I CRAVE MORE, GODDAMMIT. I NEED TO THOROUGHLY GRASP WHY BIRDS SING.
Oh godz. I’ve become an adrenaline junkie. It’s amazing what people do to not be bored.
This is the grid used for Morabaraba, an easy-to-learn but difficult-to-master strategy board game popular amongst rural South African youth that can be played on dirt or sand using colored stones. It’s like Tic-tac-toe meets Go (or Tic-tac-toe on drugs) and it’s goddamn brilliant.
Basically, each player has twelve stones and takes turns placing them on the board’s intersection points. The immediate goal is to create a row of three (like Tic-tac-toe), at which point you can remove one of your opponent’s stones from the board… unless it’s in a row of three (or a “Holy Trinity,” as I like to call it, but apparently South Africans call it a “mill”). Once all stones have been played, players then take turns moving their stones along the grid, from intersection to intersection, with the same three-in-a-row objective in mind (this includes stones already in a row of three). When a player is reduced to three stones, he/she is then allowed to deploy the desperate measure of moving these remaining stones by jumping around the board and placing them on any point of intersection (as opposed to adjacent ones). When a player is reduced to just two pieces, the game is over, since you need three stones to do anything.
And that’s it. Shoutout to the kids at Mukomawabani (sp?) and my Venda-to-English-and-vice-versa translator, Fanie, for teaching me this game! Now I won’t die of boredom if I’m ever stranded on an island with one other person… but I’ll still probably die.
This, “The Fall” and the “Dirty Diana” cover are my faves, but the mixtape as a whole is a fucking masterpiece. Seriously, I thought I was done with The Weeknd after Thursday, but then Take Care and THIS happened…
Also, 3 FREE mixtapes in one year, without a label, along with basically inventing this whole drugged-up, nocturnal R&B aesthetic? Genius.
P.S. If you’re new to The Weeknd, listen to his mixtapes IN ORDER to get a sense of his artistic trajectory. It’s a trilogy, after all…