Skyline

Before he goes, I hug F; he says, "Good luck to you." We laugh, because what else can you do?

From the Pine Box to Queen Anne, I reckon I have a forty minute walk to process what I'm seeing: a hateful, racist, sexist ideologue is on the verge of becoming the leader of the free world. The collateral around this, though, twenty minutes in, is what hits hardest: the nation's legislative body will bow to kiss the ring. The limbs of the judicial  corpus will be amputated; replaced with a twisted arm here, a gangrenous leg there. The rot will linger for a decade, and more. I give a cigarette to a man rapping on a skateboard; a Hamilton to a homeless woman sobbing on the sidewalk. I see a couple locked in an embrace. Five blocks away, I look back, and they're still there, shoulders shaking. I flick a dozen cigarette butts into the gutter, because what can you do? It's tempting to assign blame, but what this is, is ancient and hungry and jealous, and names fail it.

You can't see the stars in the city. If you don't know the streets, you navigate by landmarks. I walk by the Amazon biospheres; in year or two, it'll be filled with greens, and tended to with blissful ignorance. The rest of us can look from the outside, at least. I walk by the Tesla dealer, gleaming chrome. Men in suits leave a bar, somehow laughing: they could go to Canada, one says. They could. And then there's the rest. The ones we can quantify, and the ones we can't. The losses that we can never know. The Space Needle is to the west. I follow it to the center of the city, my home.

Even when your heart is breaking: On Sleater-Kinney

I want to remember the good things first. I might not look like it, but I’m an optimist. Not necessarily in the “it’s for the best!” way or the “it’ll turn out alright!” way, but the “something good is out there and will continue to exist, come hell or high water” way. I admit that how this manifests generally makes me look like a rube. When a tabler for a charity manages to flag me down and tell a story about a bright, intelligent, but profoundly economically challenged girl in the Philippines, I want to believe it. When a stranger tells me he needs my phone so he can let his family know he’s okay, I want to believe it. When a homeless person tells me that he needs bus fare to get to his AA meeting, I want to believe it. When I think about the year 2014, I want to believe that, contrary to all evidence, it was ultimately a good year. That I figured myself out, or at least started on it. I want to remember the good things. I went to XOXO with a broken heart and met dozens of talented people and came back feeling like I had not only done something brave but that I was capable and courageous. I took a project at my job that made me feel like I was productive, intelligent, solving the right problems. I started writing for the Arcade Review, an amazing publication filled with astounding, formidable work. I don’t know if happiness necessarily comes easily for anyone. But sadness, at least, comes easily to me. I know I’m not the only person who has to do what feels like a disproportionate amount of work just to feel not depressed: we wouldn’t have diagnoses and medication and counseling if I was. I want to remember the good things. And I know this: some good things happened, and they happened to happen to me. But knowing and believing are different, distant things.


I found Sleater-Kinney only a year or two after they went on indefinite hiatus. It was my second year of college, and I was curled on an stuffy school-owned sofa, feeling utterly terrible about everything ever. I was browsing Last.fm, which I guess is kind of like Spotify before we had Spotify, and I saw the photograph, among all the other recommendations: three women leaning into the street, bored, one with her hand raised to hail a taxi. The album was The Hot Rock. The song was “Get Up.” That was the start.

That album, I found, turned out to be not entirely representative of S-K’s oeuvre. True, the band seems to have a habit of reinventing themselves with every album; it’s fascinating to listen to their discography in a marathon session, from the barebones punk of their self-titled album to the near classic-rock production of The Woods to this year’s grungy, fuzzy No Cities To Love. And there’s a definite through-line to nearly all of it—if not sonically, then at least thematically: their songs often embody anger (one that as a cis male I honestly can’t speak to except in generalities—and really not even then—but here we go), anger at corrupt(ing) systems, systems that view them as “just women” (see, e.g.: “Modern Girl,” “Was It a Lie,”), and the power that arises from that anger (“I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone,” “Let’s Call It Love,” “Male Model,” “Prisstina”). I honestly don’t think there are many bands that have achieved that kind of coherence from their careers, that started so fully formed that the only path was to change their form entirely.

But The Hot Rock (1999) stands away from that. I’m not saying that this makes it better or worse than their other albums—simply different. Dig Me Out (the album prior) seethes and growls with Carrie Brownstein’s guitar, a nearly perfect rock album, the one that made Sleater-Kinney and Call the Doctor—tremendous records in their own right—feel like mere warm-up. Corin Tucker wields her voice like a whip. You can break your knuckles on Janet Weiss’s drums. And All Hands on the Bad One (2000, the one after Hot Rock) could easily be called the party album, politically charged and brimming with hooks and begging for sing-alongs. And from there, it’s a straight-shot to what Sleater-Kinney sounds like today.

But, then, The Hot Rock is a sharp detour right in the middle of their career. It’s sedate (as sedate as a rock album can get, anyway) in comparison to Dig Me Out, introspective and spiritual next to All Hands on the Bad One. With “The Size of Our Love,” the trio tells a story about a couple dealing with cancer: “I fight for a heart, I fight for a strong heart / I fight to never know this sickness you know / But I know it’s my own, I gave it a home.” (More often than not, I skip it—I’m usually not steeled enough to listen to it.) With “Get Up,” they stare, hearts open wide, at the beautiful impossibility of how anything is anything at all:

And when the body finally starts to let go
Let it all go at once
Not piece by piece
But like a whole bucket of stars
Dumped into the universe

Or how about “A Quarter to Three”, where they look at the wrong side of a failed relationship: “And the photo booth strip, / and the letter you wrote / they feel like nothing I could hold.”

I could go on. It’s not like The Hot Rock was the first and last time they did any introspection, and it’s not like the album lacks for grand sociopolitical statements either—far from it—but it is their only album where internal conflict came to the fore. And it’s my favorite album for that reason. (Dig Me Out is probably the objectively best album, but, well, that’s another article.) I remember listening to it with a certain soul-ache that I couldn’t express and wouldn’t understand for another five years, but feeling like this band had somehow tapped into that hurt, rang it like a bell, could speak to it, could create music and art from it. I remember the complicated optimism of “Burn, Don’t Freeze,” the cosmic love in the aforementioned “Get Up,” the grit and resolve radiating off “Start Together.” I wondered what part of me had kept me from ever realizing that those things could be part of my life. I remember how badly I wanted those things for myself, despite myself.

Oh little light that shines for me in the dark of night
Oh little sigh, sometimes I follow you all the way home
I would almost have to ask you, I hate to be led
So give me a spark, I can look for instead
“Night Light”

When I learned that Sleater-Kinney was releasing another album, I really did flip a lid. I had given up on ever seeing them perform—one of the tragedies of making your favorite band an apparently disbanded one is that what you see is all you’ll ever get. So when their new single, “Bury Our Friends,” came out, I put it on repeat for a week. When No Cities to Love was released, I listened to it for hours and hours—I still do. When they went on tour again, I was resolved to see them no matter what. And I did.

And I can only barely tell you what it was like to be there. I was stunned. I couldn’t believe it. As they took the stage, that feeling of wanting better flooded back from wherever I’d pushed it down to protect myself. About halfway through their set, Carrie Brownstein took up her mic and said, “If you think you’re invisible out there, you’re not: we’re looking at you.” Which meant more than I can really express. If I’m being cynical, she probably said that at every show. But I heard her say it that evening, and I know she said it to us. I was thinking: I’m glad I’m alive right now. For once, believing came easy.

iPad Air 2: This was supposed to be the future

  1. I think I’ve committed to something like a three-ish year cycle for buying these things, which is probably about the right length of time.
  2. Up until now, I’ve been using an iPad 3, which is not a bad device, though it should be telling of the iPad 3’s status as a stop-gap for Retina screens that it was phased out after only eight months—exceptionally short even by Apple standards. I suspect that I could have probably gotten away with using it for a year or two more; I generally used it for reading articles in Instapaper, flipping through comics, and doing some light text-editing. For these purposes, it certainly didn’t provide a bad experience; the jump to iOS 7 (and the myriad 3D animations and transparency effects therein) was not merciful to the A5X processor, and my favorite iPad text editor, Editorial, needed a patient hand while typing, lest the system start dropping keyboard taps. But the high resolution screen is still remarkable, and the vast majority of apps still support that system. For casual usage, it’s still a great device.
  3. Which is why I recommend that no one currently interested in an upgrade go for a test drive on an iPad Air 2.
  4. The number of improvements seems rather weak on a spec-sheet. Faster processor? Okay, sure. Better camera? My smartphone is better still (and less wacky-looking to use). It’s nice that it’s not as heavy. A laminated screen, whatever that means.
  5. And yet: I still had that same kind of sensation, using this new device, as I did when I first touched an iPad. Which is to say: this feeling that we’ve reached The Future, we’ve reached Peak Computer[1]; if it’s true that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, then this thing is total wizard.
  6. It’s hard to sell short how light this thing is; my phone feels heavier.[2] Reviewers have mentioned that the using the improved touchscreen feels like directly manipulating pixel, and this is true, though I’d add that the new processor is a big factor in this too, eliminating virtually all lag from any gesture. Using a five-finger swipe to change between apps, for example, is instantaneous; I’m no longer waiting for the gesture to register, then for the OS to load the preview screenshots of other apps, then finally render the animation, all of which took a full two or three seconds[3] on my iPad 3. With this Air 2, it lacks any of that ceremony; I’m pushing and pulling pixels around, like they’ve just been sitting just behind the bezel, waiting for me to yank them into view. Which makes me feel like a total wizard.
  7. The speakers on this thing are pretty loud, certainly louder than they were before. I listen to a lot of podcasts while puttering around the apartment, so this is a welcome change. But I’m not a fan of how the whole case vibrates when you’re listening to anything at even moderate volume—it’s not comfortable to hold (unless you like giving your fingertips a light massage), and just because of that, I’ve found it fatiguing to hold while watching a movie with someone. I’ve taken to reaching for headphones when I’m by my lonesome.
  8. It’s also got a fingerprint sensor, which makes unlocking the device convenient. I use a Smart Cover, though, so it unlocking the device remains a two-step process for me. That said, I’m still digging the cover. I was a bit skeptical of the three-panel design, but it seems to fold up into a stand well enough: the magnets on the far left and right edges, which lock the thing into a triangle shape, seem sturdy, and in the low-angle typing arrangement, the iPad seems to lie a bit flatter than with the previous Smart Cover. I prefer this.
  9. Yet. And yet. I kind of need to temper all of this. I feel like I’ve been pretty effusive about this thing—and don’t get me wrong, it’s a marvel of engineering, and it’s still challenging my conceptions of personal computing. But in a really narrow-minded, rabble-rabble-Apple-isn’t-innovating kind of way, I have to wonder if this really is it—if this really is Peak Computer.[4] Because the iPad Air 2 is, in the end, just (“just”) another iPad.
  10. An exceptionally fast, light, elegant iPad. Which is nearly indistinguishable from magic and makes me reconsider what computers are supposed to look like. That’s all it is.
  11. The future is weird.

  1. I know this is not true, and the best days of our computing lives are ahead of us, but it’s still a hard feeling to shake.  ↩

  2. This is also not true, I’m pretty sure. (I’m too lazy to look up exact numbers.) And mostly it’s a function of the iPad’s weight being distributed across a larger volume. But again: still hard to shake the feeling.  ↩

  3. Cue small violin.  ↩

  4. For a second time: I know it’s not, but the feeling is, yet again, hard to shake.  ↩

Dropping things in Alien: Isolation for fun and profit

When the player removes a door brace, the last bit of the (mostly non-interactive) animation is of Ripley dropping the contraption off to her right with a nice clunk. Great. Great!

But: that clunk sound comes from the left channel. Listen/watch carefully. Headphones might help. (The sound of the wrench turning also illustrates a similar issue.)

I think it's pretty clear that this is weird, but it isn't technically inaccurate. As Ripley drops the door brace, the player’s view pans right and rotates slightly counter-clockwise. Obviously, doing this would angle pretty much anyone’s left ear closer to the ground—so, yeah, the sound "should" be louder on the left.[1]

But that’s the problem; it’s accurate for Ripley, but it isn’t true to how I actually perceive/interact with the game space. This is maybe counterintuitive for first person games,[2] since ostensibly Ripley’s eyes are supposed to be my eyes and Ripley’s ears are supposed to be my ears; but creating that illusion isn’t simply a matter of mapping her senses directly onto mine. The sound should really just come from the right channel.


  1. Have I reached that point where the word “left” looks mega weird? Left left left left left left left left left.  ↩

  2. As a fun exercise, imagine playing a third-person game where sound directionality is based on the player avatar, not the camera. I think that would be a similar weirdness, writ large.  ↩

Summer catch-up

I suppose it is A Format Of Sorts to bind up all the little scraps I’ve written into a big post.

In which yt. makes questionable decisions wrt. his finances

I bought a PlayStation 4 so I could play Destiny. You can probably see where this is headed.

It’s actually really strange owning a gaming console and playing AAA games again, mostly because it doesn’t feel like much has changed in the two or three years since I last touched a console. It seems telling that all three games that I now own for this parallelogram exist and could be played on other pre-existing platforms.

As for Destiny itself, well, it’s just a bucket of nonsense, isn’t it? It’s a lot of plot without a story, I think. It’s never clear why you’re going someplace and shooting any particular alien, though it certainly tries hard to tell you that something is at stake and that you must be motivated. The “Speaker,” ostensibly the leader of the free world, spends maybe thirty seconds telling you to stop the end of the world, then turns into a shopkeeper forevermore.[1] There’s a mysterious ~stranger~ whose only purpose is to tell you, in the guise of foreshadowing, that there will be a Destiny 2. I can’t remember, really, why it was so important to locate the “Black Garden,”[2] or why I needed to visit Venus at all. And I definitely don’t understand what was going on with this computer called “Rasputin” who kind of mumbled in Russian (I think), but the bored voice of Peter Dinklage (BVPD) made it clear that it (Rasputin) was obviously important because It Says So Right Here In The Video Game Lore. The BVPD (he plays a robot called Ghost) is just about the only human connection that the game offers—probably because his character is the only one that appears more than three times—and he sounds terribly uninterested in the whole affair.[3]

Cameron Kunzelman argues that Destiny’s storytelling tries to accomplish both an “evocation effect” and detailed exposition but handles neither side well. I suspect that this is at least partially a function of the mechanics of the game, viz. that balance it tries to strike between moment-to-moment-action-alien-shoot (which lends itself to a BVPD-type character) and MMO-style exploration (e.g. falling into a giant green pit on the Moon referred to only as the Hellmouth, a landmark which suggests a lot and confirms very little)—that mechanical balance, too, remains unresolved.

In which yt. reports on owning a Jawbone Up24

I’ve been wearing this thing around for the last three or four weeks, and I guess I like it. I guess. It’s comfortable. I don’t need to charge it constantly. It’s a bit big, but it looks kind of like a thing a person would wear. Plus, I mean, I like numbers. Numbers! Quantify everything! Set goals! Mindfulness whether you want it or not!

I didn’t buy it for the sleep tracking feature, but that’s what’s been most illuminating, actually. Apparently, I don’t sleep well. I stay up late, then I get into bed and stay awake even longer, then I get up in the middle of the night and stay awake a bit, just for kicks.

Granted, this should have been patently obvious. Yet it did not, somehow, occur to me that the thirty to sixty minutes that I spend tossing and turning before I actually get to sleep do not count as sleep. And here I thought I was getting a healthy seven to eight hours. (It’s more like five.)

But the thing is that I’m not totally sure what to do with this information. Walking around more is easy; if, at the end of the day, you need to feel a bit more active, you can get up and walk around awhile. You can’t quite do anything analogous for sleep, and I feel terrible about it. Not for want of trying. I’ve been getting into bed earlier, bit by bit; but then I toss and turn for an extra half hour instead. I skip evening coffee (which breaks my heart, but needs must), but I’m still super, super groggy in the morning. I get that it’s kind of part of the programmer ethos to want to, like, figure out the solution to a problem based on data, and I think that’s what I’ve been trying to do, but a few more weeks of this and I’m going to start worrying for reals. Is there such a thing as a nutritionist but for sleep?

There is not

Yt. truly regrets[4] all this not-writing he’s been doing. I might be able to claim illness and pre-/post-XOXO anxiety as the cause, although this is totally untrue.

But anyhow, it has been a touch slow at ~*~my day job~*~. I had a chance to blow out my Instapaper queue,[5] and there are some things on the Internet that perhaps you all as an amorphous (but charming, of course) Internet blob will enjoy.

  1. I’m honestly still coming down from my XOXO high. I feel like I might have done a bad job describing what it was like, but luckily Glenn Fleishman has it covered. And it’s true what he says; there was a strange mix of joy and inclusion and cliquey-ness, as if to say, “This is my inspirational group! Mine!” To be a part of such a group is empowering and terrible. Fleishman mentions this as well, but Tim Maly’s essay on who was not at XOXO and who we (i.e. western-centric technologically literate people) consider “creators” is difficult but worthwhile.

  2. Zoyə Street does a close reading of “Tsukema Tsukuru,” a Japanese pop song about makeup. (Yes.) I like the distinction drawn between “fake” eyelashes and “attached” eyelashes; anyway, authenticity is just a social (as in collaborative) construct, right? I think there’s a lot of power in consciously separating “the feeling of wearing makeup from the sense that makeup makes you look [a] particular way to other people.” Feels kind of like the first step in owning the conversation wrt. yr. own authenticity. (Which, again, is probably unimportant because it’s a social construct.)

  3. The latest trailer for Final Fantasy XV is out and it’s—it’s certainly something. Every time a Final Fantasy game is announced, I poo-poo it, and then I watch a trailer and I’m in love again. Frankly, if the game really is just four boyband members taking a dramedy roadtrip with swords, I’d be mostly okay with that. It’s disappointing that this appears to be the first Final Fantasy in many years not to feature a woman as a party member—esp. since the best (read: most interesting mechanically/thematically) games in the series are the ones to feature women in lead roles. Okay, granted, I’m thinking mostly of X–2 and XIII–3[6], and the conceit for both of those is wearing different clothes to get different powers. I can’t tell if this is perpetuating a stereotype (girls, clothes, etc.) or (as per the makeup thing above) owning it, so to speak.

  4. Gamergate has been quiet for the last week or so, but it’s sadly only a matter of time before 4chan shitbirds start another campaign of astroturfing and harassment. The exact reasons for why GG is total bullshit have been covered extensively elsewhere, but it’s still very much an open question of what effect it’s going to have on journalists and indies trying to make a living in the industry in the months and years to come.

  5. Of note, though, is that games writing has seen the departure of Mattie Brice and Jenn Frank, two of the finest writers the industry has had. It’s easy to feel bad about this (and true enough, that video games are so toxic as to allow such a thing is genuine cause to feel bad); but it’s worth remembering that as they move onto bigger, better things, they both leave behind an admirable body of work. Paging through Brice’s blog is an excellent way to spend an afternoon, and last year Jenn Frank covered That Dragon, Cancer; and what starts as a game preview turns into something confused and sad and maybe, a little, feelings-are-looking-up. Worthwhile also is Frank’s tremendous piece on caring for her parents, agoraphobia, and living in Second Life. I am rereading it, paragraph by paragraph, as I edit this post. I am crying a little bit.


  1. Apparently Terran bureaucracy has delegated so much and become so (in)efficient that the leader of humanity has time to sell clothes on the side.  ↩

  2. Not about race.  ↩

  3. There’s exactly one (1) good bit of writing in the game: Ghost talks about looking up at the Moon and seeing the aliens’ data transmissions coming off of it and wondering/dreading what they were saying. Now, granted, his delivery is pretty bad; the line isn’t actually about Ghost looking up at the moon and being filled with a sense of wonder/dread at the prospect of extraterrestrial life; it’s actually just more exposition, because Ghost goes on to talk about encryption protocols or fake space magic history or whatever. But despite the writers’ best efforts to totally botch this line—this idea that a robot would look up at the night sky and see infinitely more than what a human could see and yet still be filled with that same (presumably) wonder/dread that homo sapiens felt 200,000 years ago—the thought is nearly perfect.  ↩

  4. So, honestly, yt. has been using the “yt.” appellatory abbr. as a bit of an affectation; I have finally justified it here, though, because unabbreviated, this would read “Yours truly truly regrets…” and that’s just nonsense.  ↩

  5. not a euphemism  ↩

  6. I hated typing those tortured numbers as much as you hated reading them.  ↩

Seven notes wrt. XOXO 2014

  1. oh my god i’m so tired and my brain might be a little busted up right now :( :( :( :(

  2. I was decidedly anxious as I walked through the gates of The Redd for XOXO’s opening party. All that sense of not-belonging did, miraculously, vanish after about half an hour, and I rode that feeling for four days. It was weird. I have not had fun like that in a long long long long time.

  3. Contrast with this afternoon as I stepped off the train in Seattle, towed my luggage back to my tiny apartment, grappled with the junk mail that had piled up, and finally in an anxious fit threw all my things down on the living room floor. I’d been feeling the tickle of mundanity since I woke up and checked out of the hotel. Stepping back into my apartment, though, was like getting hit in the face with a brick.

    That was also weird. I think this might be a quintessential grown-up experience, a little bit.

  4. Man is this a downer or what. I don’t mean it like that! Because XOXO was truly strange and exciting and (I hate this word but it is apropos here) inspiring. I met way too many people. They were way too smart! (That’s a good thing.) We talked about opera and clean water and art and literature and oysters and musician business models and roller derby and feminism and that’s just what I can remember. And they were all making their thing and that was terribly—inspiring.

  5. In the last few hours before this year’s festival closed for good, I started asking people, “What are you going to make now?” One person turned it on me; I thought I had an answer, and I didn’t. I froze up for a second. Awkward! I made some vague sounds about writing more, or expanding the kinds of media that I work in. And yeah, that’s stuff I want to do. But it occurs to me, as I decompress and sort through all these feelings of inspiration and excitement and (yes) anxiety and (yes x2) sadness that I am just about as liable as before to get stuck in the same rut. The tarp might come off and I wouldn’t have learned anything. I mean, the tarp is kind of the whole reason I went to XOXO in the first place, right? I didn’t go just (“just”) for creating; I already like the things that I make, as trivial and slapdash as some of them are, and that’s not a new feeling. But getting a brick’s worth of mundane sadness—actually, maybe that is the most important thing I’ve gotten out of XOXO. And I don’t like feeling like this, all boring and sad, hitting the social media like a crack pipe. You know. For a momentary jolt of interconnectedness.

  6. I read half of Gilead on the train back and I must have held my breath the entire time. I don’t know how much that plays into this current melancholy, but to read (half) a book about staring death in the face, well, it’s a hell of a comedown.

  7. So, then, what am I going to make now? I have no idea how, but I think I’m going to make myself happy. My life’s work. Here we go:

Depression is the worst.

So one day the other week, I woke up to sounds of cheers and merriment. And because I’m a little bitter in the morning, I couldn’t help but get just a little bitter about it. I didn’t know who was cheering or what reason there was to be so merry, I just knew that my slumber had been interrupted by happiness. Yes. I am a morning person.

And later as I was coming back from the cafe, I would realize the cheers were coming from Seattle’s infamous Ride the Ducks tour—that that day for some reason the Ducks were detouring down the street that I live on, and if you are at all familiar with these dorky tourist trap tours, then you know that the tour guide will milk their audience for every cheer they are worth. I’m pretty sure they feed on it like a slake moth. And somehow this made me angrier! Tourists! Having fun on their vacation?! How dare they?!

And maybe it was because my espresso shot was a little overextracted, or maybe it was because I might be a bitter person, but I started getting really bitter about it. Something like: “Fun? That’s not fun. That’s not lasting fun. Do they know it’s not fun? Are they going to post photos to Facebook for their friends to see? Wait, do I have friends? Do they have better friends than I do? Why don’t I have more friends? Why haven’t I called my friends recently? Wait, why haven’t they called me? Would a real friend call or wait to be called? Maybe I should call someone. Wait. What if they think I’m needy. Maybe I am needy. Nobody likes a needy friend. Maybe I shouldn’t call someone. I bet they wouldn’t care anyway. I need to learn to be self-sufficient. I don’t need friends.” And so on, for hours.

And then I was so worked up that I had to crawl into bed and stare at the ceiling for awhile.

And when I came to, I was sad.

Sad because I had the FOMO. Sad because I’d spent the day angry at other people’s happiness. Sad because I’d convinced myself that I was and should be alone. Sad because I should know by now that there are people who reserve thoughts for me and my well-being, and yet—not for the first time, and I doubt for the last—I was trying to push them out of my own brain, because I thought was I alone and had too much shame and guilt and rotten insides to deserve friends.

Some people who know me well and read this might be surprised to hear some of this. I wasn’t going to write it. I’d been thinking about writing it for a few weeks, but I decided to shelve it; and what you’re seeing is pretty different from what I expected. But in light of recent events and recent emotions and recent things, it felt like I could stand to try again. It upsets me, even though it isn’t about me. I’m not qualified to do much besides talk about the specificity of my experience, but if somehow someone reading this needs help, then I hope talking about it helps a little. And? I think I need to hear it myself.

{ * }

Depression is a lot of things, but it’s always personal—sometimes so personal that it feels like no one could ever understand. When I get that low, I can’t but fixate on my shame and my guilt. This feeling of being rotten inside. My belief that I’m a bad person, instead of a good person who’s done bad things. People will ask how someone as widely beloved as a celebrity could die by suicide, and maybe some of those people will silently wonder what kind of chance the rest of us have; of course, the quantity of love is not the same as the size of its meaning. And so that’s kind of what this little blog post is about, about this thing that Matt Fraction was talking about, kind of a little reminder for myself that that meaningful little thing exists, that there’s a thing that I can latch onto and look forward to. What that is changes a lot for me; I held onto his words when I first read them earlier this year. Last month it was the Sleater-Kinney discography. Before that, it was Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest. Last week it was the new Haruki Murakami book. And those are just the things that I can remember. The other things, I only know that they were small and trivial. But at the time, they were everything.

For anyone struggling with depression, finding that meaning can be the hardest fucking work. The mental and emotional pain of it is just as difficult and horrific as physical pain. There’ll be people who say that it isn’t, as if psychic pain lacks legitimacy, as if it’s possible just to “man up”—but that’s bullshit. It’s ignorant, and it’s bullshit.

I don’t know who’s reading this, and I don’t know your circumstances. (Google Analytics isn’t that creepy yet.) But if you’re in the midst of it right now, then I want you to know that you’re not alone in this. That is a fact, even if you don’t believe it, even if it makes you sick to your stomach, and even if that’s how you feel, I hope that you tuck that fact away in your brain somewhere where you can find it. And regardless if you find that meaning by talking to a friend or finding a therapist or making a vitally important phone call when you’re on the edge and afraid of what you might do to yourself, teasing out and chasing down that hope is everything, and it works, and you will get better because of it. There is a way to get through that pain and emerge on the other side. You’ll have to ask for help, but people will help you. It’ll take work and it’ll take time, and sometimes it might not feel like you’re moving forward. But you are moving forward, and you are getting better.

It’s worth it. It is fucking worth it.

*

So, this week? This week I think I’m latching onto people. Friends and family and all the love that goes with that. Which is cheesy, I know, but there is a loyalty and responsibility that I feel there, and I’m holding onto that, and I don’t want to let that down. So, thank you. Thank you for thinking of me and inviting me to things. Thank you for the video games we play together and for the jokes you make during Dungeons and Dragons. Thank you for the Twitter arguments. (I swear I enjoy them.) Thank you for the hug you gave me the first time we met; you said I looked like I needed one, and you were right. Thank you for having the courage to admit that saying “Have a good day” every morning wasn’t enough anymore, for either of us. Thank you for the rooftop barbecues and the sunsets that feel like they mean something. Thank you for accepting how scared and weak I can be. Thank you for not thinking that makes me undeserving. I love you all.

Re.: that thing I was going to write about depression and then sort-of gave up on

Recently I was trying to write something to rationalize/make significant/find meaning in the things that I’ve done in 25 years of being alive and in the past 3 to 4 years of trying to be a Real Person, and I ended up with a little audio self-affirmation thing for some reason? And—actually?—I’m pretty okay with that.[1]


  1. Not sure if I am going to do more audio! But I kind of enjoyed it! So maybe! FILDI! P.S. I tried to edit out as many mouth sounds as I could but :( I see that I :( missed :( a few. :(  ↩


Edited August 13, 2014
For Various Reasons, I did, in fact, end up writing that thing about depression.

Truth is Fragmentary, Skulljhabit, a braindump, and this place that is no place

Maybe something a bit lower key, yes? A little rambly, maybe? Less formal? (Like formality is even a thing for this blog.) Pretend that we’re sitting at a kitchen counter somewhere. In one of his more recent (term used loosely) videos, Zefrank talks about getting unstuck in creative work, and one of the tricks he mentions is thinking about “specificity of experience.” If I paraphrase (badly), Zefrank is referring to one’s thoughts and feelings in reaction to a particular subject, e.g. how you feel (sad, angry, bored, etc. etc.) watching a movie, or, like, how you feel waiting for it to start or the atmosphere in the theatre after it ends, or even how it feels to write about that movie. I’m pretty sure that as a filthy blogger, this is basically about the only thing that I’m any good at.[1] Anyway, I bring this up because I’ve been literally (not literally) holding a copy of Gabrielle Bell’s Truth is Fragmentary in my hands for two weeks and turning Porpentine’s Skulljhabit over in my brain for even longer, and once again I don’t know quite what to do with ‘em. (Except read them. Ha! Ha! Thanks for that joke, Dad Brain.) Really, the only thing I can think about is that experience part. To wit: they have nothing in common except that they both have a little bit of travelin’ feels to them. So I’m going to talk about travelin’ feels, I think. Kind of.

Truth is Fragmentary subtitles itself with “diaries and travelogues,” which if we’re being kind of rude, sounds like the most indulgent thing ever. Heck, the whole travelogue genre is the poster child for indulgent vicarious living, what w/its jetsetting and deliciously authentic foods and romanticized backpacking trips across the south of France. Yt. has to disclaim that his touchstones for travelogues are limited to Anthony Bourdain[2] and Elizabeth Gilbert[3], so maybe this is a bit heartless.

Whatever my perception of the travelogue in general, though, Bell’s entry in the genre is remarkably pragmatic. Anyone who’s familiar with her work will probably know about her self-deprecating humor and matter-of-fact drawing style (not much shading here, just splotch shadows and a keen handle on negative space), so that pragmatism, too, probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. There’s no glamorous jet set; Bell makes it clear that she’s traveling to Oslo/France/Colombia/etc. as part of her comicking career—to do work.

It’s a direction that lets Bell open up a bit, get kind of personal; there’s no grand culture clash (partially, one has to assume, thanks to the internet), no sweeping rumination on The Entirety Of Life And What It All Really Means.[4] Sometimes it’s just what she’s talking about with friends at a bar, and sometimes there’s small a personal drama or two, like who’s talking about her behind her back. Not fate-of-humanity stuff.[5] But with Bell’s attention (and aforementioned technical skill), those are the kind of situations that feel like they carry a lot of weight. It’s palpable, her sense of accomplishment upon completing whatever she’s working on, whether it’s wrapping up comic convention appearances or drawing the last panel in the comic we’ve just finished. Or, simply, surviving a plane ride from one place to another.

Sheesh, I just wrote a “celebration of the mundane” paragraph, didn’t I?

Okay, but so this is what I’m getting at, yeah? The personal, mundane stuff: surviving a plane ride can have real personal importance, just because sometimes the act of traveling is so fraught with unexpected emotion. Yt. (sort of) remembers a This American Life episode about Travelin’ Feels[6] (and possibly? possibly about crying on airplanes). And if yt. remembers with any accuracy, the whole airplane crying phenomenon comes from a sense of liminality—being neither here nor there, but at least in a quiet, calm moment of loneliness. I’m not talking about being at a destination, but the act of traveling and being in transit; that state really, truly does feel lonely to me, regardless of if I’m, like, going a long distance on an empty plane or surrounded by strangers or even traveling with people I know. So that’s like the most personal thing, right? Loneliness? Right? Am I just a crazy person? Am I? Am I?!

Certainly, if you’re collecting skulls![7] In her liner notes for Skulljhabit, Porpentine mentions the superstition angle, the formation of habits without knowing the efficacy of those habits—crazy person behavior. (I spend about 70% of my time feeling like a crazy person, so believe me.) The randomness of the game mechanics—whether or not one follows any habit at all—turns the world of Skulljhabit into a waiting room (filled with skulls). For the longest time it’s not clear what the player is supposed to actually do—sell skulls? shovel skulls? take endless walks up the mountain? But the interminable fog, the fact that the player can take a one-way train ride and somehow end up back in bed, all contribute to a sense of transience. With how little the village acknowledges the player’s presence, the player barely exists there at all. The “promotion” that the player receives as a result of their decorated skullduggery (heh) reinforces that sense of never belonging. The player’s whisked away, as quickly as they came, to a strange bureaucratic building, seemingly devoid of life but built to purpose—just not your purpose (which is skulls). So Skulljhabit feels like a game about the process of traveling to me; being from a place, going to a place, even being in a place, but not belonging to a place. If we choose to read into the letter written to Skulljhabit (aka the player character)—the emotional core of the game, the single thing that meaningfully ties the player character to some place—then there’s a thread about the things we lose in transit, whatever form that transit takes. And if we want to get really wacky, here, then there’s an entire story being told from the opposite side of that letter, at the same time that Skulljhabit is shoveling in the skull pit. The tragedy I see in the game isn’t the loss of the letter itself, but (maybe obviously) the loss of that contemporaneous story.

That’s all well and good, but what do all these travelin’ feels have to do with anything? Well, I’ve got the Travelin’ Feels[8] these days because I’m planning a trip to Portland to attend XOXO.[9] And I’m scared. I’m scared shitless.

Because, look, 2014’s been pretty bad for me. Okay? It’s been lonely and sad and anxious. Despite seeking help and having a small but profoundly generous support network, I feel like I spend so much time wallowing in negativity. So this trip into the Great Unknown (that is, a Social Gathering in Another City) sans backup is, okay, yes, a lot exciting. But also effing horrific, and the opposite of everything that I want to do right now. Because I’m pretty sure the bubble is shrinking again. I’m pretty sure the tarp is falling off. And I’m pretty sure that if I don’t try this now, I probably never will.

Is this making any sense? Oh man. Okay, different tack. I’ve felt—homeless lately. Weird, right? But I dunno, I have some pretty firm opinions on what a Home is, which sometimes (rarely, but sometimes) leads to tortured sentence construction so I can refer to places of residence by their function. E.g. “your apartment” vs. “your home.” And so this place that I’m living in now, I dunno, there’s nothing there. It is just an apartment. It’s a waiting room (without skulls); it’s transit; it’s not any place in particular.

So. That’s the last four weeks.

You know, I don’t expect this trip to be life-changing; I just want it to be kind of fun. And (okay this is def. going to make me sound like a crazy person) I want to know that I can be in transit and arrive at a place and not belong to that place and still be okay. I would like to be able to get off a plane (or a train car for this Portland trip, I guess) and know that I have accomplished that most basic task of being human and surviving. I’d also like to attend John Roderick’s Rendezvous while I’m in Portland. That would be pretty rad.[10]


  1. I have so many feels, y’all. But I’ve been thinking about it because even after like a decade (!) of on-off blogging, I still feel like I have basically no idea how to express anything external to my brain with any kind of coherency. For example, do you have any idea what I’m talking about with this paragraph? Heck, I kind of don’t! An example would be helpful; that thing I wrote about howling dogs is useful reference material, then. That was very much about the experience of playing that game. Not to say that I’m displeased with how that piece came out, but man it’s only been like a couple months since I wrote that and I already know that I would have done it way differently these days. On the other hand, the experience of playing it was way more important to me than, say, theme and tone and texture and mechanics (though obviously those things fed directly into everything that I found deeply personal about that game). Which is fine; there’s a place for that stuff, certainly. E.g. there’s Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest, which is in my experience is more important to have played than to play (???). By its own admission, it’s very much (my words) an “experiential” (??????) game, where the important thing isn’t the game itself, but one’s reaction to it; the “tangible” bits—or what Zefrank calls in his video the “specificity of observation”—(so, e.g. loudness of static, locking/unlocking of choices) again feed into that experience—but it’s not a game about its mechanics. Obvious, right? (Can I just disclaim that I realize how tortured this paragraph is? Totally aware of it. I also realize this isn’t an excuse at all [cuz like this kind of disclaimer just highlights how many solvable structural issues that this paragraph has], but probably if MultiMarkdown supported footnotes in footnotes, this problem would be marginally tolerable.)

    I guess what I’m trying to say with this mess is that I have a serious struggle with backing up that “experience” with what’s actually in the text. (This came to light when I was talking to friends about True Detective and Rust Cohle’s philosophic turn at the end—spoiler alert, by the way, so you can skip the rest of this footnote—and no one bought it because they felt like it came completely out of nowhere. I was trying to make the argument that basically every scene with old-Cohle getting interrogated by the detectives is Cohle pitting his nihilism against his need to believe that his daughter/his life/anything and everything that humankind has ever done, no matter how seemingly minute, has significance despite the infinite darkness that surrounds them. So when Cohle finally ends that struggle inside himself—“The light is winning”—I felt like it was an extremely effective conclusion to an incredibly complex character arc. It’s a way more interesting thematically, I think, that Cohle considers himself a being of darkness—see his “bad men” quip—and tries to reject his humanity, but he realizes through this that his humanity is the most vital thing about him; contrast to what I think a lot of people wanted out of True Detective, which is that there’s weird supernatural cults and horrors and I-don’t-know-what-else that humanity has no chance against. The problem, of course, is that I couldn’t cite any example in the text to support this. Although this actually suggests to me that old-by-now cliché that people don’t want that kind of hope, and instead want to see gritty and dark, and the conflation of grimdark with thematic maturity. Which is a cliché and probably not true, unless you look at, say, Man of Steel, because after all Superman is supposed to be a completely cut-and-dry good guy who never compromises on the goodness of his heart, except then fucking Zack Snyder was all grimdark about it. End parenthetical!)

    Did I mention that this is the blog post where I just completely braindump about everything that I’ve thought about in the last four weeks? Secrets are revealed to the people that read the footnotes.  ↩

  2. Who isn’t actually as bad as all that.  ↩

  3. Gilbert catches a lot of flak for being what Jesse Thorn once tactfully referred to as a ”certain kind of white lady”, but she really is a funny, smart woman. And she wrote this thing about (yes) boozin’ it up on a backpacking trip across Provence, which, yeah, is like the most indulgent thing ever.

    Now, granted: the most advanced thing I know about wine is how to pronounce “pinot”; I’m not the biggest fan of cheese (I think the most adventurous thing I can manage with any regularity is brie, which is like the most whitebread of cheeses); and while I find certain aspects of French cuisine rapturous (of course it would be the thing that resembles deep-fry), I find just as many things utterly ???. Basically what I’m saying is that I’m a charlatan about the things that a person would backpack across the south of France to experience, which is probably why the idea sounds incredible.  ↩

  4. Bell brushes up against these topics during a self-imposed quasi-exile, in her home in New York while reading some Michel de Montaigne, and I will quote her thoughts here:

    “Life?”

    Okay, she goes on a bit more than that, but you get what I mean.  ↩

  5. Unless her day was really boring (one assumes) and ergo she has to make up some fate-of-humanity story (e.g. zombie apocalypse) to fill up a page.  ↩

  6. “Travelin’ Feels” is the title of the worst blues song ever.  ↩

  7. oh my goddddd  ↩

  8. Oh man I’m cracking up every time I read “Travelin’ Feels,” why didn’t I edit this out, it’s so badddd. Whyyyy  ↩

  9. Festival only; no talks. A bit conflicted about this; it would have been even more costly (and I’m not exactly swimming in cash at the mo’), and if previous years are any indication, the talks’ll go up on YouTube before long to soften the blow. But the list is filled with names that I highly respect, and I would have loved to see them speak in-person. I mean, Gina Trapani? Darius Kazemi? Joseph Fink?! John Gruber?!? Johnathan Mann? Anita Sarkeesian?!?!?!?! Those other people…?!  ↩

  10. Hey, wait, what? That’s it? That’s the end? Aw man aw geez!  ↩

Lightning round: SIFF 2014 remainders

Two weeks later, it’s time to call it. Here’s everything that didn’t seem to deserve a full post.

The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears

Women are terrifying, apparently, or so one might believe from this giallo-inspired horror flick. Probably? about a woman’s sexual awakening (?), The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears plays its strong cards too early, building up a lot of Hitchcockian tension but failing in the payoff. The film moves through flashbacks and stories told by the exceptionally unreliable residents of a beautiful French apartment building.

Suspense aside, the wild color palettes and off-kilter soundtrack (songs that wouldn’t feel at all out of place in a ’70s young-romance movie) alone are enough to sustain things for, like, the first hour. But the movie loses its footing when knives start going into people; between gratuitous murder sequences (resulting, obviously, in wounds resembling female anatomy) and increasingly hallucinatory/nonsensical scenes,[1] it’s hard to feel like the movie isn’t just jerking you around. Which, really, it is, because it ends up feeling like an exercise in form,[2] containing everything necessary to be a giallo film (goofy title, killer in black gloves, woman named Edwige, &c. &c.) but nothing else.

The Keeper of Lost Causes

Sufficiently thrilling, probably one of the slickest police procedurals I’ve seen. There’s some fairly clever use of flashback to set things up and inject some much needed tension. And that’s fortunate, because protagonist Carl Mørck is totally wooden. (Actor Nikolaj Lie Kaas does the best with what he can, but still.) His partner, Assad (played by the charming Fares Fares), injects some much needed character warmth as well. But maybe I’ve been spoiled by True Detective; for a few hopeful opening scenes, The Keeper of Lost Causes looks like it’s pursuing the same thing—i.e. character study dressed up as police procedural—but eventually settles comfortably into the latter. Still, it’s pulpy and gripping, with stylish lighting and a soundtrack that knows when to sting and when to back off.

Night Moves

nightmoves.jpg

As always, Jesse Eisenberg is a twitchy ball of nerves, which works perfectly for this slow-burn ecoterrorism thriller adjective adjective thing. I’ve only seen Wendy and Lucy from director Kelly Reichardt, and while the subject material of the two movies couldn’t be any different, they feel very similar: sparse, paranoid, rural.

Patema Inverted

patemainverted.jpg

I went through a pretty serious Sake Period as a teenager, and having grown out of it in college,[3] I tend to approach anime with caution. Miyazaki films still get to me—The Wind Rises is a hell of a thing—but the truth is that Miyazaki’s style is pretty far removed from the anime that tends to have the most cache with typical anime fans in the West. So despite an open heart and fascinating sci-fi/fantasy setting, Patema Inverted falls into regrettable anime tropes. There are moments of delight—the (wholly unexplained) mechanical city in the sky, the “other surface” of the planet we see in the ending—but really none come from the characters. The villain is over-the-top villainous, so much so that he’s impossible to take seriously—but of course his right-hand man has a heart of gold. Protagonists Patema and Age show a little more promise; but Patema has little to do except get damseled to hell and back, while her love interest, Age, follows the well-worn path of “young man discovering his resolve,” with few twists or turns on his character arc. Weirdly, considering her name is in the title, Patema Inverted spends a surprisingly small amount of time actually tracking Patema; Age ends up being the disruptor and motivator of the plot, and it’s (literally, disappointingly) from his perspective that we see things. Patema is the one standing on the ceiling,[4] because it’s not actually her story.

So much for titular princess characters with interesting stories. Luckily, once again Miyazaki provides.

Calvary

A couple of movies I’ve watched over the festival have, basically, a “spiritual bent,” so it was a welcome relief that Calvary mostly didn’t, despite its focus on a Catholic priest (Brendan Gleeson). Aidan Gillen deserves some…praise? for somehow managing to reach new heights of smarm and sounding totally unnatural in the delivery of his Irish accent despite being Irish. (But heck, I dunno, do some people actually talk like that?) Anyway, there’s a neat trick, here, where Father James knows who’s going to kill him from the start but the audience obviously doesn’t—the type of plot gimmick that sounds like it might try to point out how clever it is, but is actually (like the most of the movie [although there is is a lot of messiah imagery, but I guess you could have guessed that]) subtle and even-handed in its execution. Heh. “Execution.” Get it?

Cannibal

Okay, so one might assume that a movie about a cannibal would suggest some amount of grotesquery and/or body horror, but Cannibal has little of that. It’s a beautifully shot film, and I totally wish I could dress as well as Carlos. But the whole premise—prestigious tailor is also a cannibal—really doesn’t have a whole lot of weight behind it, and the whole “eating people” bit doesn’t add any additional depth to Carlos’ character except being this thing that he has to hide from everyone. Honestly, he could have been the regular (“regular”) kind of murderer; or even just had some particular trait that leaves him feeling alienated from everyone else. (Drug addict, maybe? I dunno.)

Our Sunhi

You know how I said Patema Inverted wasn’t actually about Patema? Our Sunhi isn’t about Sunhi, kind of, and it plays with this expection. One might be deceived by an opening scene in which Sunhi convinces her college professor to write her a letter of recommendation, but quite a lot of the movie follows three of Sunhi’s would-be suitors (professor incl.) as they drift around the city, talking to each other about their love life. The setups are pretty funny and don’t rely overmuch on awkward situational humor. And underneath the quirky humor is a surprisingly potent statement on Sunhi’s identity wrt. these three men, with the three talking in circles about Sunhi, and each individually arriving at the same vapid/self-contradictory/positive-but-probably-not-totally-true-and/or-accurate description of Sunhi. The final scene is fantastic: as the men wander around Changgyeonggung Palace looking for her, Sunhi quietly exits the area—of course, the idea that she is nowhere to be found never crosses the men’s minds. As if to say, “Don’t take it personally, boys, it just ain’t your story.”


  1. Incl. an overly long dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream that surely drew more than a little inspiration from Triangle.  ↩

  2. And it really feels like exercise by the end.  ↩

  3. My final-ish anime being Gurran Lagann, after which I decided that no other show would ever top in terms of anime-ness.  ↩

  4. I mean, predictable, given the title, but not very interesting, thematically.  ↩