Wear White

D.I.Y. is a joke. I think. No one does it by themselves. There is an immense, unquantifiable number of people who were able to give me roasted chicken bites at Bojangle’s this afternoon. There is a blatant lie if I tell others I really live on my own, that I wouldn’t be on the streets if it wasn’t for my parents. When all the stars are aligned and you feel like an important cog in a machine, it is easy to be taken over by feelings of communion and safety, and it’s easier to be consumed by it.

At the very same time I like adhering to the Emersonian ideal, the one of a free-thinker and a rebel by moderation. I am equal parts Southern gentleman and obnoxious punk, but I cannot commit to either side because I forget to call people “Sir” and “Ma’am” and the complete collection of Minor Threat I have is only okay. Every six months I walk into Great Clips and say “Uh, make it normal, like a men’s normal” as if there is a men’s normal, but they get what I mean. People tell me I’m a safe bet. I’m betting I’m not.

I used to get angry a lot easier than I do now. If some anonymous 4chan user didn’t like the same movie I liked, I’d fruitlessly argue about it. If my parents told me to do my homework and I refused, I’d take being locked in the guest room as a good reason to break out. If I saw someone smoking I’d “give up” on them, as if that was a tactile consequence. Because I thought I was smarter. Hell, I am smarter! What are you doing with a limited mind for film and destroying your body with cancer? Parents, you get a pass. But a lot of that has cooled as I’ve gotten older because I’ve seen more lasting change as my own peers have gotten older. Hey, I mean, I’m the one who ate Bojangle’s today, who am I to talk?

I’m the guy who gets the pats on the head by elderly women, I guess. What the hell does that mean? I was among the youngest people in my grade school graduating class, I was the youngest among school friends. At Summit Middle School they already began splitting the students between the “gifted” and the “regular.” I was regular, so I was with the Bears. The people in town said I was nice, not smart. Math made me cry and English’s open nature caused me to get experimental with my papers and fail. All I had was passion and love and the assumption that only those most rudimentary qualities would sustain me until I died. The neurotransmitters in my brain would fire all wrong (to no one’s knowledge but my own) and I couldn’t study for a test if my life depended on it, but I could hug the heck out of my cats. If being friendly to furry friends was what school graded on I’d be awarded a diploma in absentia.

So now I sit in a conference room with honors students, the ones who were recruited to the Gators. And if they weren’t recruited for the Gators, at least they did okay with the Bears. They still went and enjoyed subjects and came home and got their work done and still had enough time to watch Toonami. And when I’m told “You’re good at this,” it’s like I’m being lied to. What, I’m good at something because I held myself back long enough to suddenly be the smartest one of the bunch? The best writer of the bunch? Not even the best, the luckiest. Mature qualities. The ethereal qualities you can’t teach. Here is eight hundred dollars because you’re you, even though you are putting off an academic paper at this very moment. I have impostor syndrome, I think. My clout grows and my fingertips extend and at some point an op-ed will be written about every class I’ve failed. What a shock, we are all so shocked! The man so collected is bleeding from his forehead. He is a “writer” but not a writer, he is a child with a Xanga and an affinity for explosions and colors. He spent his youth reading Star Wars novels and playing video games, only “writing” when it was to vaguely complain about some girl he liked. It sounds nice but is not great. There is no prize, no adaptation. If you’re going to adapt stream-of-consciousness at all there has to be some sort of story, and his story is just him.

My story is just me. When I apply for The Anthology I don’t give a twenty-page fairy tale, I go “Hey, here’s a ramble of indeterminate meaning, have fun!” And that’s what I’ve been doing for a decade. When I was entering first grade, my teacher asked me to go to our books and find a word and read it aloud. She expected me to say “a” or “the,” but I said “mechanic.” So precious, so special. And when have I written about mechanics? The only time I’ve written about mechanics is when I share that story!

It was embarrassing. It is embarrassing, I don’t know. This is the heart-on-sleeve life. This is the giant bundle of nerves and the unexpected, because my only plans in life are to be myself! God knows what that means. I am infinitely more dangerous than I ever expected and the student publications board ever expected, because I’m not a contented partner in a stable relationship of half a decade, I’m not universally nice, I’m not the saint I’ve spent a quarter-century hoping I’d be. I sit in front of class breathing in and out as slowly as possible because I know that when the professor tells us we’re dismissed, I’m going to turn around to the girl sitting behind me to ask her out. And I think, you know, the worst that can happen is to be rejected and sigh and move on, but those fears from grade school are brought up all over again when with a shift of the eyes and a shift of the feet I’m suddenly labeled as the villain once more. Because I have the nerve, the gall, to reveal for a mere second that I’m not loveless and above it all. And I’m told all over again that all those pills I take, all that reading I’ve done, all that time huddled in the corner of my abandoned apartment contacting my eyes to the tile floor is for jack shit because I am not a Gator and I am a failure of a Bear. I’m not just unattractive (that’s okay!), I’m repulsive because I do not for a second fall into any appropriate camp. Who do you think I hang out with on the weekends? D.I.Y. Who do I tell secrets to? Look at this page, D.I.Y. Why am I not dead yet? D.I.Y.

I audibly sigh and silently laugh when those pictures of my aubergines show up online with the red cups and the busy hands because they think they’re different, that they’re punk by giving money to multibillion dollar conglomerations Pabst Brewing Company and Philip Morris International. Punk is always the opposite of something. The opposite of authority, of teachers, of parents. Well, ha ha ha, when every son is prodigal the actual punk is at home with his headphones on. The absence of sides. You think the opposite of left is right, the opposite of right is left, but the opposite is tearing down the fence and realizing that the universe is an ever expanding ball. This is my cake and it is delicious.

Table for one. Fettucini alfredo with Foucault and Kierkegaard. A walk around the park. One hundred and ninety items in the queue. The neighbors don’t exist. Economic control, social control. A friend thinks of a friend and wonders what he’s up to, but no reply. If that’s not rebellion, I don’t know what is.

Website of the Year, 1997

They tell you to write every day, to create some short piece of fiction scribbled down on a notepad during your lunch break, but you just won’t do it. Your writing must carry weight and value. It should be passed around circles of peers and professionals in hushed whispers; doors shut behind the friend who walked briskly into the office down the hall. You cannot compose a compendium of half-thought ideas to be released as the rarities, the B-sides, in paperback by the Penguin Group a hundred years after your death. You must write the thing. It cannot be shallow and it cannot be stress-free. It should inspire college courses that tell young women and men to sit in a circle and discuss literature and religion and sexuality and find every reference to obscure song lyrics that play into the piece in ways only known to the author. The problem is, you are twenty-four years old and have all of the time and none of the patience.

You do not want to be published in the Southern Literary Review or the Poets’ Journal of the Carolinas or the 30 Greatest Stories Written By Authors Under 30 because those imply barriers and limitations that do not speak well of you and your writing, because if you moved a few states north or sat and grew a few years older your writing would be reviewed under more legitimate scrutiny. You could start by going to the top and submitting to the New Yorker, but considering even you don’t read the New Yorker you wonder if their acceptance would mean or lead to anything. You want the work to simply exist, to have existed within the past ten years, to echo in the public consciousness like a German fairy tale but with all the proper copyrights that get you paid. The creation is enjoyable but it is not the point. The point is the body of work. The separate bibliography page on a well-maintained Wikipedia entry. The “Hey, I’m glad you liked it,” and the sense of accomplishment gained from hard work. You won’t start seriously, though, because if you want to make anything valuable it will require hundreds of hours in the library and at least hundreds of days without new material.

You’re starting to miss the sense of fulfillment you received for bad little Xanga ditties, though. When you remove ninety-five percent of your friends from Facebook and when you sit for hours in your apartment with no roommate, speaking to no one but yourself and the occasional drive-through attendant, and when you put all your eggs in one basket which snaps its bottom straws at the lightest touch you are in an isolation chamber. The desire to remove one’s self is nonexistent and the slightest reminder of the outside world (a package in the mail, a question from a stranger, a comment on a message board) feels intruding. You can play big for appearances, you can turn introversion into extroversion when leadership is needed, but what was your normal life is no longer your normal life. You are not the example any more.

Rather, you are the name in the year book, the one without a picture because you had the audacity to think you looked decent enough without digital touch-ups, the one students in the old city sit around repeating the name for over and over again, coming up with nothing and shrugging. Did you even go to the school with them? You are the formless idea of self, and when form is maintained you represent the unknown, the stranger, the other, the potential drug dealer and the potential murderer and the potential rapist because you are what they expect all others to be. You are the incongruity of peaceful meeting, and yet you were once the congruity of meetings themselves. You have eliminated want because of these supernatural theories and here you are, and you are in nature, and you should be alright with that.

The Max G. Creech Insurance Agency and ClaimsPages.com are successful enough to provide for families but they are not relevant to culture and they are not taught in college courses. They are means to ends. They are big enough to be bought out for six figures and little enough to be shuttered at the whim of seven figures. They exist as memorabilia hanging in the barn from a previous time when you did go out, you did see others, you did shake hands firmly and meant what you said. Both of them provided for those outside of the family, the patrons, but they did and will not survive the sands of time. They are the retail shoe salesmen of the higher class. All that is left is the memory of some thing that satisfied once, you’re sure of it, but there is no fame and fortune and well-maintained Wikipedia entry, and everyone who loved it is local and published in the Southern Literary Review. You are Southern, and then you go North and you are an East Coast-er, and then you go West and you are an American, and you hate the whole notion of it because you are the best in the world and only that sounds large enough to make you content.

You can’t for the life of you construct some overarching narrative of time and direct 2013 and 2014 into non-descriptive “good” and “bad” boxes because you know you are not the center of the universe and the protagonist of a story, but you also cannot excise free will and spend another weekend crumpled to the floor of the living room, whispering ugly nothings to yourself and stopping every once in a while, worried that the downstairs neighbors’ shuffling meant that they might have overheard. You will be writing something, not a story or a short story or a play or a poem but a noncommittal something, about the broadcast on WGN-TV in 1987 (a constructed narrative for an unconstructed time) and you can’t guarantee it will appear on your blog, but it will have to if the New Yorker and even the Southern Literary Review reject the piece. You are under the ridiculous impression that all will work out with sudden, rare explosions of unmitigated passion.

These Are the Riches of the Poor

I tell people that if they want to avoid drugs and alcohol, they make their abstinence a part of their selves.  You adopt the lack of substance as a part of your identity.  You weigh the pros and cons and go with what is an inherently better decision, not what makes you a better person.  You get D-R-U-G-F-R-E-E tattoos on your knuckles and force your inner-most character to adhere to the rules on your body.  You play tricks on yourself.  You’re honest, of course, but you still have to play mind games.  One of the greatest things my parents did for me was never keep alcohol around the house.  My parents aren’t teetotalers.  They never sat me down and said, “Son, we expect you to never drink alcohol or take drugs.”  They just didn’t have it there, so when the parties came into my life I did my own research and labeled them poisons.  My parents don’t care if I drink or not.  I won’t be disappointing them if I do.  They showed me that the absence of drink was just as viable a lifestyle as the one where kids take drinks from their fathers and claim moderation in high school but immediately transform into alcoholics in college and come back around to the realizations I was having at fifteen.  I’m proud of that.  I’m proud of me.

My parents used the same tactic for sexuality.  Our house was, again, pure in that regard.  I still haven’t seen The Matrix Reloaded because my dad heard there was clothed sex in it and didn’t let me go to the theater.  When I was eleven or twelve I sat in the backseat of the car and asked my mom why Bill Clinton was impeached.  She positioned her head as to not let the direction of her words hit my sister as she whispered “it had to do with sex.”  I blushed and looked away.  She thought sex embarrassed me, but she was wrong.  I was embarrassed that she thought she had to whisper.

A little baby isn’t destined to become a drug addict.  That baby, though, what parents see as that sweet infant, will probably be masturbating in its room by age fourteen.

School told me that condoms break more than companies like to admit.  That my penis would mold into a crusty husk and I’d die within a year.  True Life Choices.  They used the same acronym as Tender, Loving Care on purpose.  David Coffelt asked why it wasn’t possible to put two condoms on top of each other.  He shot me a mean glance when I bust out laughing.  Hannah Corral told me the point of dating others was to get to know them when I remarked that the whole endeavor was pointless if it wasn’t going to end in marriage and sex.  My seventh grade yearbook doesn’t have any girls’ signatures in it.  I was nervous.  Girls were around for marriage and then for sex and I was too young to want the first and too indoctrinated to want the other.  Girls weren’t my friends and I didn’t know how to talk to them.  True Life Choices told me women were vehicles to drive to the destination of doin’ it.  Smithfield, North Carolina has graveyards where the husband gets to be “Town Mayor” and the wife gets to be “His Wife.”  I expected too much.  I wanted the ending to the story when I hadn’t picked up the book yet.

Greg, an adult from youth group, told us guys that he still remembers the first picture of a naked woman he saw.  He said it wrapped itself up in his mind and he can still recall it perfectly.  That he feels guilty for looking, that it’s a disease.  That it makes his dick as crusty as a STD does.  We joked about it being a mummy.  I’ve seen a lot of mummies in the past month alone.

You don’t want to have sex this early because it’s not true happiness.  It’s not joy.  Joy only comes from a relationship with Christ.  Joy is something deeper, something more substantial and lasting, what sticks with you in the dark times and ultimately proves more beneficial than sex or drugs or getting a material object.  You have to believe in God and do your best to follow the most up-to-date ruleset.  The world is fleeting, the next world isn’t.  I wanted joy.  Hell, I still want joy.  I still won’t do something to make me happy now if it hurts me later.  I can not go to church for three years but I can not get away from Jesus.  And I like it like that.  Church told me to look for deeper meaning, to look at what makes a good life, not just a life.  I was their baby.  I still am their baby.  Christ’s Community Church brought me friendship and love and gave me experiences I’d never exchange for anything.  They taught me how to take up responsibilities and how to talk to girls and how to be interested in them and friendly with them while showing enough grace to not want too much all up front.  They served me and they served others and they also hated the shit out of homosexuals for no good reason.  Sex was fine.  It was for marriage.  I was above sex.  I spent my time thinking about deeper things.  I sure don’t do well in school but I spend free time learning about psychology and history and kindness and that all makes up for sex, which will come at some point but I shouldn’t worry myself too much with it.  And then I look at mummies and I feel awful.  Naked women are a teenage male’s weakness and I am not a teenage male I am above all of that I am a child of God and I have better things to do and maybe I’ll just abstain for good and decide to be celibate and maybe that’s best because I should be following in Jesus’ footsteps exactly and he was celibate wasn’t he well people say he was but it wasn’t explicitly stated and why am I back at this hardcore pornography site

Nick and my sister and her friend sit on my basement couch and my friend remarks “She’s hot” when an attractive lady shows up on a shampoo commercial.  I say “HELL YEAH BRO WHAT A FUCKIN HOTTIE CAN’T CONTAIN MYSELF GOTTA RAPE THAT” and go back into my bedroom to play video games.  I couldn’t say someone was attractive.  I just had to lust in my room, in secret.  My room was actually a big closet.  I’m not being metaphorical, it actually was a closet, and I’m laughing now that I think about it.

My mom wanted me to meet girls.  She was excited to see me grow up.  She would pray for me that I meet someone special.  She was praying for me that I’d get a girlfriend in high school, someone who could make me joyful.  She never prayed for me to be happy.  It was about joy.  Even now she wants me to find someone to be my partner for good.  Forever.  Wife material.  Not a nice girl, not a cute girl, not a funny girl or a smart girl.  Patrick Kay, beloved author and ______, his wife.  Only lately have I noticed the pressure.  My words must be authoritative and strong because true life is set in stone.  My darling is the kindest extrovert in youth group and then my darling is the cute and quiet girl I could talk to in study hall but not in math class and then my darling is the friend with similar taste in media.  The third was the only one I ever kissed.  Here we are.  It’s certainty, it’s got to be, it’s all been leading to here.  Her clothes came off easily and I never thought she was easy, I just thought and rejoiced in the not-going-back.

She made me chase her for five years.  When we weren’t together she was vindictive and when we were together she was confrontational.  When we first kissed I dropped the notion that I needed to wait for marriage to have sex.  I knew enough stories and enough people who were able to maintain something healthy, something not diseased physically or spiritually, and still enjoy corporeal pleasures.  They had joy and they had happiness.  And some of them still do have both of those.  And I never wanted to drink.  I wanted to have sex and I suppressed it.  For school and for church and for my parents and for me.  Because I am a good boy.  Because I want joy.  Because I don’t want to screw things up for myself.  Because I am something special and I am above it all.  I am more than the rush of blood.

I kissed her in 2008 and it’s 2014 now.  We never went all the way.  She wanted to wait, not because of any True Life Choices that affected my life but because she was nervous and because she was inexperienced and because she wanted to make sure things were right with me and because in a lot of ways she simply didn’t care about sex.  And I didn’t blame her, because for someone just as inexperienced there is plenty of trepidation.  I waited and when she didn’t want to go further I’d try to cover my selfish feeling of disappointment with a look of understanding and grace.  Because there are always other things to do.  Because we can just talk or go play something or just lay here and cuddle and that’s okay because I care about you as more than just sexuality.  And it was and is true!  I wouldn’t shower someone in such affection if I wasn’t looking for something more substantial.  I wouldn’t give advice and I wouldn’t open up and I wouldn’t take her around both states and daydream about taking her around more and I wouldn’t sit in her uncomfortable apartment feeding her soup when she’s sick and I wouldn’t wrap her dead dog in a blanket if I wasn’t looking for something more than sex.  I wouldn’t get as mad, either.  I wouldn’t have high hopes.

Now that’s over.  And that’s okay.  I’m okay, I think things are okay.  But in the dead of night and the early morning and the middle of the afternoon I remember all that I did and all the time that has passed and that we never went all the way and that it shouldn’t bother me but it kind of does.  I don’t regret being a good boyfriend.  I don’t regret being patient and understanding.  Because even if it doesn’t end in sex, was it ever supposed to?  Was I ever deserving of it, was it ever required?  No!  Of course not.  I wrapped her dead dog in a blanket because I found some joy in it, some greater reward in being a decent person.  It wasn’t for the hope of future physical pleasure.  But I am here and it is 2014 and more people are dying and I have not been laid.  I made much of time with the spiritual and it is fulfilling.  It is not the same thing as what teenage boys think about.  It’s better, it’s best, but it doesn’t take away from my biology.

Virginity is still a ridiculous concept.  We place so much emphasis on having sex for the first time that it usurps more important moments in our lives.  Virginity may as well be “until the first death of a grandparent” or “until the first trip overseas” or something that signifies a clear break from the old us into the new us.  When I first kissed, I remarked that it felt nice but didn’t feel like my world had completely changed.  Even if I loved this girl, even if it led to greater things, it didn’t break my entire worldview.  But that’s what I thought it would do.  That’s what movies and music told me it would do and that’s what a true love is supposed to do and that’s what I set myself up for thanks to school and church and my mom and all that praying.  And if you are asking if I’ve been inside of a vagina I haven’t, and if you are asking if I feel whole I do.  And if you are asking if I still want the girl of my dreams, whomever that may be, I do, and if you are asking me if I want to have fun with someone and get my rocks off regardless that person be significant to me or not, fuck, goddammit, I do.  And that is a massive change and that might be the first time I’ve said something so sexually vulgar with such sincerity in such a public place.  And I’m not saying I will and I’m not saying I know whom with and I’m not sure how to approach such a situation aside from friendly banter and I know I’m not betraying my mom or God when I say that.  I’m just a boy.  I’m just a stupid boy.  My hair is thinning and my beard is growing and the bottoms of my trousers have been rolled, but I am a boy and I am afraid.

I’m not supposed to be a boy, I’m not supposed to have a gender.  I could be an ethereal being floating in peoples’ lives to do good deeds and ask for nothing in return.  And maybe I am that and it’s in me but there’s still this damned exterior that I shouldn’t be so damned ashamed of.

I’m looking to stay away from hedonism.  I don’t need to worship physical pleasure and I don’t need to make it my primary motivator in life.  There’s already plenty.  But it took me 2300 words to write “I have sexual desires” and I knew it would.  It shouldn’t have to.  I shouldn’t be worrying now that any woman who reads this would be disgusted with my vulgarity and keep their distance, for I am a slippery slope.  But when kids were making out on my basement couch and when college partiers looked for hookups and when perfectly happy couples progressed to having sex without fear or shame I thought there was something natural within me that put me above it all.  And I’m not above it.  I’m in the gutter, too, and there are a lot healthier reasons to accept that and possibly embrace it than deluding myself into such a sense of superiority that I can’t function.  My seventh grade yearbook doesn’t have any girls’ signatures in it.

Compiling my thoughts on The Muppets (2011)

Here’s a little bit I wrote on the 2011 Muppets film immediately after watching it upon its Thanksgiving weekend release.  I think I’ve improved as a writer since then, but I find the topic close to my heart and worth sharing.  Just ignore the mistakes that have since been corrected by taking ENGL 303.

Continue reading

Anything but country and rap

Heart is an indescribable term when taken out of the medical context.  I say I like my products with “heart.”  My family knows that I appreciate products with “heart,” and they say “heart” because they don’t know what else to say.  My tastes are eclectic.  I do not like all the same television shows that the average Comic-Con attendee likes.  Scrubs is garbage, and just because I like some typically nerdy things does not mean I also settle for garbage.  I need “heart” in my things, and not bland, vapid emptiness.  Also, I abhor that false “heart” with an emphasis on being too twee and too quirky for its own good.  Sincerity is my bag.  Do you understand how much harder it is to explain my interests than “anything but country and rap?”

Chikara, you know, the professional wrestling company, has the heart I look for.  Past this point lie spoilers for the company’s most recent show, Aniversario: Never Compromise.  The event ended with a no-contest finish for the great main event and the established director of the company, Wink Vavasseur, ordered Condor Security to both forcibly escort wrestlers and referees from the building and also to tear down the set.  Despite the finish being essentially the same noncommittal crap that WWE will pull when Vince McMahon can’t make up his mind, this was anything but noncommittal.  Chikara loves to stick the landing.  It, perhaps, relishes in it.  It extends the joke further than it needs to be extended.  Good wrestling isn’t all they trade in.  They establish underlying storylines filled with homages to comic books, film, and real-world events.  They generally don’t announce these homages directly, but opt to let the most hardcore of Chikara fans piece stories together from hints scattered throughout the canon, including blog posts and Twitter feeds.  The first half of Chikara’s 2013 events were named after lines from Watchmen, but they weren’t “RORSCHACH” or “GIANT ALIEN SQUID,” they were “The Shoulder of Pallas” and “While the Dawn is Breaking.”  As the consumer, you are respected.

Of course, professional wrestling also peddles in fiction and, depending on deeply you take the fiction, downright lies.  As part of the shocking conclusion to Never Compromise, Chikara has cancelled all of its shows for the rest of the year.  There are still the Wrestling Is… shows (which may play into a greater storyline), but there is no place to purchase tickets for the listed Chikara shows.  Social media is still buzzing over twenty-four hours later, which means Chikara has (or had) a bigger reach than even I thought.  A lot of people are shocked and overjoyed by the twists and turns that the underlying story of time travel and alternate realities has been on, but another lot of people genuinely cannot fathom what’s happening.  There are at least hundreds of tweets that establish the tweet-er never watched Chikara, but is still respectful enough of the business to give his condolences.  Possible customers are confused, if not totally turned away.

I have little doubt that Chikara will be back and bigger than ever.

This is committal to the bit.  This is a joke that was funny, stopped being funny, and starts being funny again when the joke seemed like it would never end.  I speak to myself at length about how other wrestling companies like WWE or Ring of Honor are oddly self-alienating, but that’s for sexism and “mature” immaturity, not the most elaborate time travel hoax in the medium.  This is the “heart” that I’ve always wanted out of my material.  I want dedication.  I want sincerity.  I want depth and patience and a concern for the most hardcore of fans.  I want to be able to immerse myself in the product itself.  A lot of wrestling companies put on good wrestling, but few go to these lengths to grab people.  Few even go to so many lengths to turn away those who don’t get it.

I’ve been a fan of Giant Bomb since the website launched in 2008, but I’ve followed its staff for a decade.  They’ve been on their own travels, once being a part of a corporation, then becoming independent, then reselling to their own previous corporation, but along the way they’ve remained (mostly) intact.  Ten years of watching hundreds of hours of these same people, eight years of falling asleep to their yammerings on a podcast, has inadvertently created an insular fanbase.  Jokes will survive for years.  Names for fake t-shirts are made up on their shows, and then, months later, those t-shirts are made and I buy one.  I say some things the same way the Giant Bomb staff says them.  It’s not that I aspired to copy, but I did aspire to be the best.  And I think they’re the best.  For their commitment.  For their longevity.  For their willingness to look completely foolish when compared to some more self-serious, higher-budgeted peers.  For how funny that foolishness is.

The same things can be said for my favorite band, mewithoutYou.  Last year, at the release of their fifth album, Ten Stories, I remarked that I am fully bought in to them at a personal level.  They have written music (again for ten years) that may not always sound the same, especially as the members grow older and form families, but has an internal structure.  Aaron Weiss’ life has an arc to it, and his emotional struggle, one he has seemingly always been open and frank about, can be witnessed through five albums.  That’s not to say that the lyrics are products of concept albums, as there’s no story to the…story (no “I went to the store today” jingle).  But as a young man growing up, what he has written about is very raw and real feeling.  He has accidentally constructed a narrative that I am hooked on.  As solipsistic as it may sound, when I meet him after the show and he talks to me about God and gives me a hug, it contributes to my own perspective of whom he is and what it means in relation to lyrics.  In a way, I don’t know anything about anybody, but with mewithoutYou I am made to feel like I do.

Watching the end of Aniversario: Never Compromise not only made me realize that Chikara is right in that territory with my most favorite of products, but its fallout has made me understand what it is I love in the first place.  It’s “heart,” but I can’t keep saying “heart” and expect others to understand what I mean.  I need to be more descriptive, and I have found enough beautiful things with similarities to form descriptions.  I need to tell others that what I really enjoy is depth and commitment and self-awareness and a sense of humor and the care for me, Patrick Kay, the individual, a unique consumer, rather than an across-the-board universal appeal.  I’ll like a lot, but most of that lot won’t give me pages to write about.

Fictional Non-Fictional Fiction Writing

“They were all written by me,” he says.  “I made them up for this exercise.”

I chose the high fantasy over the twee indie story.  I went for the one that sounded like a He-Man episode, the one where apostrophes are in the middle of first names.  Khuz’har.  X’onitic.  Rek’falz.  What’ever.  I am lacking context, and I appreciate it.  I do not know the villain or his backstory and I do not know the princess or her backstory, but I do know that all writing should be different from my own.  My own is boring.  It is confessional in the overwrought Dashboard Confessional sense and in the frightening Sylvia-Plath-sticking-her-head-in-the-oven sense.  What do I have to write about?  If I rack my brain for stories, what can I come up with?  What can I relate?  What would fascinate listeners when they accidentally slap the dial in their car and end up on NPR?

Okay.

So there was this one time when I had my last day of high school.  The day ended early so my friends and I headed to Taco Bell for lunch.  No one probably remembers it but me.  Just a little feel-good celebration, nothing major or anything.  I liked that last full year in Indiana of just driving around with nothing specific to do.  Later on that night I had a party, and at that party I freaked out over irksome little details, nothing really worthy of my reaction.  It made me feel bad later.

Whoops, that sucked and went nowhere.  Better try again!

So there was this one time when I attended college but didn’t really go to any classes and had to drop out and ended up in the hospital for a bit and then later on I would attend college but not really go to classes and had to drop out and ended up in the hospital for a bit a-

Dammit, that’s not funny either.  That’s not what you people came to read!  That’s the Livejournal, not the novel.  Not the heartwarming tale.  I cannot write conclusions to my own confessions.  I do not know the endings to my own stories.  I have felt in flux since self-awareness kicked in.  My youth leader told me and tells me that I lead while being in the pack.  My brain works in quantum mechanics.  I am an adult and at the beginning of my adulthood.  I am making the right choices while determining which choices to make.  I see myself cathartically printing out this blog post and tearing it up eight years from right now.  I am aware of my sexual impulses, aware of the expectations I place on others, aware of Blackmon Road, and aware of Nicosia.  Awareness of my greater story means I cannot wrap up my tales with neat little bows.  When I am eighty I will be thinking of myself at eighty-one.

When does my heptalogy become bound in a neat box and sold on store shelves for a low price of seventy dollars?  No, when does my heptalogy become available in PDF format for seven dollars?  When can I stop writing about THIS?  When can I beat my head against the edge of my desk to make heroes fall out?  What can I secrete that inspires?  When will all young adults stop calling themselves “young adults” and simply write for adults?  When will I stop being told that it’s good to write about black and white nude photographs, hookah, acoustic guitars, incense, and that time Travis put his foot through the drywall?  When will my colleagues look at The Graduate as courageous honesty and not life’s template?

“My Khuz’har,” the father said, “When you meet the gongorad of Mount Tyr, what shall you do?”

“Father,” replied the young Khuz’har, “I shall stab it in its tar-black eye with my gilded rockedge.”

“Well, that’s not entirely necessary,” the father said.  “You may as well wait until its set is done, has made all the autographs required of it, and personally sit down with it to ask for advice concerning relationship issues.  Perhaps in twenty-five seasons you will consider attacking it.”

Visual Thinking

I use my right arm, the arm draped across her shoulder and down her own right arm, to pull her close and ask if she’s enjoying it.  We are watching The Great Muppet Caper.  That is not The Muppet Movie or The Muppet Show and it is not the same thing as subscribing to the Sesame Street YouTube channel because Elmo is cute.  This is a level below that.  This is placing feet on the next rung and climbing down into the next basement crypt.

The Muppet Movie was a runaway success and it walked away with a box office of seventy-six million dollars.  The Great Muppet Caper walked away with thirty-one million dollars.  We are climbing down into obscurity.  You are going to see the t-shirts on my shelf that my mother purchased for me at Christmastime.  They are of Kermit and Animal and the Sesame Street roster.  I appreciate them and I wear them to bed occasionally, but she confused stylish interest with interest itself.  That’s alright.  But at some point she will walk into my apartment and I will be wearing nothing and I will be watching Sam and Friends, and I do not know what she will think.

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Do you like her?  Did you kiss him?  What were you saying about me?  I am a nosy person.  I bothered my friends.  Childhood trauma, suicidal ideation, eating disorders.  I was told about them so that I would quit asking, so I could go back to saying something funny.  Come up with new material.  Exploit it, exploit it, come up with new material.  I am twenty-three and I have to find balance.  I am not bipolar nor mentally ill.  I just care about what I care about, and the things I care about I care too much about.  I care about video game reviews, I care about the pretty girl in front of me in study hall.  I can care without saying “I love you” in the first week.  I love her, still, but that might not be endearing to everybody.

My father may be an introvert.  He has friends, but his friends are rarely seen.  His friends are not used as a support system.  He does not value time out of the house or time away from work if he is gone for more than a few hours.  But to label my father a hermit would be wrong.  I could take a picture of him, upload it online, and he would be fine with that.  His information is available, his address is possible to find.  If you look at the Raleigh Craigslist long enough you’ll surely find a bundle of chopped wood that can be picked up for free.  No one in my family is a recluse, they are just homespun.

Even as an introvert, I cannot understand the recluse.  The recluse avoids cameras and abhors interviews.  The well-known ones are those that have contributed some kind of great work and left the public world.  Some recluses may be mentally ill and some may be perfectly capable.  I understand the introvert.  I take the introversion from parts of my family.  But I would not avoid a camera or turn down an interview.  I want to be successful when all is said and done.  Not celebrity, but successful.  If anyone wants to break into my home and murder me in the dead of night, they may feel free to do so.  My address is

——————————————————————————————————————–

My mother keeps asking me for an updated photograph of myself.  The problem is that I don’t know who will take it.  Do I go to a professional?  Do I ask a friend to stand there awkwardly with a camera while I stand there awkwardly with a pose?  The last photograph she has of me is from August 2006, when I was inadvertently at my trimmest and most boyishly handsome.  I worry that picture will be the last, or the last of any importance.  I can simply disappear into the ether and be an idea instead of a tangible person.  Perhaps someone could go ahead and cut out my brain to place in a vat.  That way I won’t have to deal with taking pictures any longer.

I have long hair and I need a haircut, and I have a beard and I need to shave.  Maybe there is no specific “early 20s” variation of myself, but an altered shape based on mood.  Maybe all of my extremities will swing in the other direction after a nice hot shower, and then all my appearances would be rendered useless.

I am available for interviews.  Feel free to contact me, Oprah or The Daily Show or C-SPAN.  But even though I tried before, I am really just not the type to take selfies in the bathroom.

BioShock Infinite and why it’s BioShock Infinite and not something else

There will probably be spoilers.

BioShock Infinite released two weeks ago to rave reviews.  Very few game criticism websites awarded the game anything below a 90% or equivalent.  So by now, given that Infinite is only a ten hour experience, pretty much every review that will be written for the game has been written.  We know that the graphics are pretty and the sound design is top-notch and the shooting feels good in the hand.  Now comes the barrage of in-depth analysis.  Especially with the ending, though honestly throughout, we will be seeing the fruits of deep reading.

On the whole, I have really enjoyed the musings on Infinite in the two weeks post-release.  Much of the content serves to make sense of the End of Evangelion-like finish or to elaborate on the historical references that are most present in the game’s first half.  I think Wired’s “Letters From Columbia: Breaking Down BioShock Infinite” is especially good at considering the implicit, rather than explicit, notions of history and race.  Chris Kohler and Company seem to end up believing that Infinite is a study of the characters.  Choices, like what to do when waiting for tickets or whether to throw a ball at an interracial couple, speak more for Booker DeWitt than they reflect any idea of right and wrong.  Hell, the Vox Populi, the oppressed rebel faction, become the brutal dictators of Columbia when given the chance.  I don’t believe Irrational Games set out to tell the gaming audience whether racism was good or bad.  They created a game about choice in all its forms.

So I became very disheartened when I read Daniel Golding’s “BioShock Infinite: an intelligent, violent videogame?,” though especially so when I saw respected game industry developers retweeting it.  The article is very critical of Infinite’s use of race and history.  Golding, at one point, writes, “Worse, it uses racism and real events in an incredibly superficial way—BioShock Infinite seeks not to make any meaningful statement about history or racism or America, but instead seeks to use an aesthetics of ‘racism’ and ‘history’ as a barrier to point to and claim importance.”  The sentence is mostly correct.  BioShock Infinite is not a story about racism.  It does not deem it worthy to tell the player, “Racism is bad.  Manifest destiny is bad.  The White Man’s Burden is bad.”  As a player living in 2013, that should already be apparent.  Instead, Infinite uses the aesthetics of ‘racism’ and ‘history’, though not in a superficial way, to create characters.  Booker DeWitt either rejects baptism and sinks into a dark depression full of regret over his actions at Wounded Knee, or he accepts baptism and converts into Zachary Hale Comstock, who takes pride in his sins of the past since he can get by with no longer believing they were sins.  Racism shapes characters, and BioShock Infinite is about characters.

I’m taking a Major American Authors class at my university right now and so we read about Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel was an important work in American history, and its blatant depiction of the horror of a slave’s life was specifically used to inspire abolitionists.  Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin in order to preach to the choir, albeit a choir in desperate need of some riling up.  Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, though written thirty years after the end of slavery, used slavery as a characteristic of the world on the Mississippi river.  Slavery affected characters, but it was not a character in and of itself.  In fact, Huckleberry Finn’s ending was left ambiguous and occasionally deemed “racist” by detractors, partly because Twain did not step in front of the world to say “Racism is bad.”  I don’t believe that Mark Twain was racist.  I think he simply presented a racist situation and let the reader decide how they felt about it.  Huck and Jim were byproducts of slavery just as Booker, Elizabeth, and Comstock are byproducts of the racism and American exceptionalism prevalent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  That is realism.

My best guess is that Daniel Golding wanted an Uncle Tom’s Cabin instead of an Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  He wanted Irrational to take an easy stance on easy subject matter.  It seems far easier, at least to me, to say “racism is bad” than to fluidly incorporate racism into a grander tale with no obvious and ham-fisted moral message at the end.  Which of those two books is still being talked about more often in the classroom today?  The one with the obvious(ly correct) message, or the one that paints a beautiful and haunting picture of the world where the message truly needed to be heard?

In an interview with Giant Bomb, Ken Levine, the lead Creative Director and Writer on BioShock Infinite, says that his previous game, BioShock, was not “about” Objectivism.  Andrew Ryan’s Objectivist philosophy in that game was a thoughtful backdrop to a shooter with a mystery and some twists.  We can read into BioShock’s takedown of Objectivism all we want, and I wouldn’t even deny that it’s there, but it does not serve Jack’s, the player character’s, story arc.  Objectivism is the environment, not the character.  Likewise, Infinite sets a racist backdrop but does not make racism the protagonist nor the antagonist.  And, if video games do represent a mature or maturing medium, they do not need to make explicit stances on every controversial issue.  I cannot imagine a single person seeing the divide between ‘white’ and ‘colored’ bathrooms and thinking it was cool.  Asking if Infinite would take a hard stance on whether racism is bad would make you very disappointed, because that’s not the question the developers had in mind in the first place.

A particularly choice quote in Golding’s article describes the run through the propaganda museum with a particularly inept reading of the text.  “BioShock Infinite, in its attempt to set up an antagonist, portrays the Lakota as cartoonish, vicious opponents and likely aggressors.”  The racist and cartoonish depictions of the Lakota killed at the Wounded Knee Massacre are not the developers’ honest feelings and it would be absolutely wrong to assume as much.  Infinite, like its predecessor, does not hold hands.  It does not ever truly tell the player what the Wounded Knee Massacre was, nor why it should matter.  This is not because Irrational Games considers the event unimportant or trivial, but because, in order to create the proper setting, the event cannot be viewed, in-game, from a detached viewpoint.  Does Golding realize why the terribly murdered Lakota tribe was depicted as likely aggressors?  Why, because that’s what Comstock, the incredibly racist primary antagonist, believes!

Ken Levine and Irrational Games are not substitutes for BBC documentaries and educational film reels.  They are storytellers, and the story they told was about Booker DeWitt, a man surrounded by and developed by the racism around him.  Any idea of pompousness on behalf of the games’ creators is internalized by the player.  Like BioShock did not seek to “end Objectivism,” BioShock Infinite never claimed to “end racism.”  Racism is seen as a blight on life that has existed and shaped for thousands of years.  The player is respected enough to be allowed to witness such monstrosities without being told every step of the way that they are, indeed, monstrosities.

Oh, Look at That. Another Twist.

Here is critical endgame information for series you (my girlfriend) may not have yet completed!  Avert your eyes!

BioShock is played.  I mean, it has been played, I just finished it for the second time, and that nearly everything in it has been repeated ad nauseam, Portal style.  I wanted to start off this little monologue with the phrase “Would You Kindly,” but that phrase is so clutch to the BioShock experience that it has surely been the title of a thousand other musings written just in 2007.  What should I start with, then?  That line where they mention Piggly Wiggly and I get really excited because I’ve totally been to a Piggly Wiggly that used to exist in Smithfield, North Carolina?  No.  Let’s just continue.

“Would You Kindly,” is revealed, about two-thirds through the game, to be a form of mind-control used on Jack, the protagonist of the BioShock story.  When Atlas, your guide through Rapture who enjoys chiming in via radio, uses that phrase you are compelled to follow it.  Through those two-thirds the phrase really serves as nothing more than an arrow.  A quest marker.  A little exclamation point over the head of a blacksmith in World of Warcraft.  “Would You Kindly,” is the heads-up-display of your video game screen spoken aloud.  Of course, this comes as a terrible shock to the player.  An alarming amount of twists are given within a fifteen-minute span, and nearly everything you knew about Rapture turned out to be a lie.  That includes the player’s own autonomy.

Why are games so fascinated with directing your attention to the fact that they are, at the end of the day, controlled environments?  We all know that games are controlled by their developers, and, at the end of the creative process, by ourselves.  No one believes that Uncharted is a genuine experience wrought by the mashing of the X button.  And for as much as you can build in Minecraft, the pieces still run by a curator.  When they sit down with a game, players willingly suspend their disbelief.

Last year, Spec Ops: The Line made its own attempt to break the fourth wall.  The writing was tremendous and far, far denser than what the rest of the product would appear to offer.  When Captain Martin Walker blurts out “Oh, no, not this again,” during a helicopter turret sequence, the exact same one you had played at the beginning of the game that led a game-long flashback, you know Spec Ops has more than a few tricks up its sleeve.  You knew that when you “accidentally” dropped white phosphorus on innocent civilians while Walker’s face was reflected in the monitor of both his computer and yours.  Spec Ops desperately wanted to say…something, about mind control and training players to be killers and the lack of real choice even when choice seemed to be an option.

Perhaps the most famous case of player choice in modern gaming is evident in the Mass Effect series.  Developer BioWare, no stranger to choice in their previous games, set up the Mass Effect trilogy as a grand experiment for including choice that carries over from one game to the next.  So by the end of Mass Effect 2, one players’ experience may differ quite vastly from another players’.  But by the end of Mass Effect 3, their experiences came together in a frighteningly similar way.  Mass Effect’s choice system was perhaps too grand on paper to truly pull off in execution, because by the last game everyone’s choices had funneled into a single point.  The final option was an impersonal Red/Blue/Green option that left fans cold.  And it should have left fans cold!  BioWare had promised more than they could feasibly deliver.  So the whole time, throughout the hundred-or-more hours put into the three large RPGs, players were handed an illusion of choice.  It’s never the real choice, it’s always the illusion.  But that illusion was a brick wall when you were with that annoying, unnecessary StarChild.

The Metal Gear Solid series, specifically 2: Sons of Liberty, also went careening headfirst into insanity designed to affect Raiden as much as to affect the player.  So many games seem to desire pulling the rug from beneath the player.  Developers must get a sick satisfaction from letting you know “You were never really in control all alooooooooong!”  They aren’t wrong, and no game I’ve mentioned does it particularly poorly.  Much like the newly-christened All-Story (ancient aliens + chosen one), the trope of reminding players that they are, after all, merely players, is one that could quickly become overused.  If enough games decide they want to blow your effing miiiiiiiiiind by addressing the audience, even metaphorically, maybe that development itself will manifest in Newgrounds flash parodies.

BioShock is a fantastic game with a story that works and on so many more levels than the “Would You Kindly” example.  I am simply curious about the autonomous lie’s place in games, especially so many of such high profile.  As it is, I have never seen it be ineffectual.  But if developers of the future keep playing such mindbenders and let it influence their own writing, we could find ourselves with a field finely-tilled for growing illusion-of-choice brain twisters.  And if they were to be so prevalent, it would suddenly be the games which played it straight the most deserving of respect.

3/2slash3/13: Broken Ankles Edition

I’m reading Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for my Major American Authors class, and I sincerely enjoy the text.  Technically I had read Finn at some point in high school, but I couldn’t tell you what grade it was in nor what class it was for nor whom the professor was, and that’s because my grade school experience was truly a wash.  Back somewhere between 2003 and 2007, I even expressed displeasure with Finn’s vernacular.  I argued that just because the denizens of the Mississippi river valley had thick accents did not mean they were not speaking language in “proper form.”  My argument was based on a lazy decision to not even attempt to decipher the dialect.  Now I realize that Huck Finn is a success not just because it uses vernacular, but because so much of the work is about vernacular.  If the misplaced “that”s and extra “a”s were removed from the body of work, the story would be lopsided and lacking.  Reading Huck Finn is like reading a decidedly anti-grammar textbook.

Mark Twain’s life is like Nikola Tesla’s in that it appears to me in 2013 as stuff of myth and legend.  I find it difficult to believe that one man could do so much in such a short amount of time, and have so much output be of such high caliber.  The breadth of topics the 19th century thinkers discussed and had intimate familiarity with absolutely slays me, the 21st century man who knows primarily about the fictitious canons of The Muppets and Star Wars.  Huckleberry Finn has no overarching plot twenty-five chapters in, but I doubt it incessantly rambles.  A complete aside like the Grangerford vs. Shepherdson feud, which only lasts for a couple of chapters, may not lead to any story beat directly, but it surely has important context that I’m missing when reading for the sheer pleasure.  The book is full of minute detail that begs to be written about in a senior thesis.  I am reading the story and enjoying it, but I’m not rooting for the good guys to “win” as I would in other work.  I am reading to inhabit the world and to read more afterwards, which will consist of literary theories and Wikipedia pages.  Take it as a compliment.

On the gaming front I’ve failed at my one-at-a-time rule, and am now interested in completing the Halo 3: ODST campaign I restarted in December.  I’ve gone through the game once, fully, before, and it’s certainly my favorite of the franchise (if we exclude 4 and the remake of 1, which I’ve yet to play).  While the rest of the Halo games are exciting little romps, ODST is the only one that puts me in a mood.  The other entries in the series are background detail for LAN parties rife with Chex Mix and Mountain Dew.  I had goosebumps when the opening tune to Halo 2 began, and back in 2007 I left Richardson Hall to get 3 at midnight.  So those games were important cultural touchstones that I needed to play and could rally behind.  However, they were just means to an end, and that end would be hanging out with friends.  ODST’s candor soothes me.  Bungie’s B-team put in some real S-rank work.  Other shooters make very concerted efforts with reaching the widest bases possible, which means they’re either modern-military kill-the-brown-guys Linkin Park murderfests or they’re brightly-colored explosion tech demos that liberally borrow from Aliens.

ODST turns the lights off and plays jazz.  You shoot aliens a lot, but the impetus for a grand, very “video gamey” epic has been taken away.

I still can’t recommend Chikara enough.  I’m still hovering about half-way through 2012, and so far 2012 hasn’t been quite the banner year for them that 2011 was, but its quality is far, far ahead of anything else on television.  To me, right now, it plays second fiddle only to New Japan Pro Wrestling, which has experienced a renaissance in the past few years and is big enough to be name-dropped on Raw sometimes.  WWE is good, too, but its most consistently good programs are the ones hidden away, the least touched by McMahon hands.  They simply rest on their laurels with a lack of serious competition, and I wonder and fantasy book my favorite promotions joining forces to create a heated rivalry.  Surely if you put Hiroshi Tanahashi and Eddie Kingston on the same program, that would have to equal one Randy Orton backstage promo, right?

By contrast, Ring of Honor, the company who put independent wrestling on the map in a post-WCW world, had their 11th anniversary show tonight.  At some point they fumbled the ball, and I had forgot the event even happened.