The Figurative Voice in My Head Didn’t Want This Blog to Exist

This is a pretty consistent problem with me. I get all geared up, I start actually working on something regularly, be it this blog, or working on writing fiction, or poetry, or exercising. Things chug along for a while there, and I’m pretty happy with what I’m turning out. Slowly though, ever so slowly, stuff starts to creep in at the edges. My obsessive, worrying nature latches on to my enthusiasm and productivity like a cat on curtains and rides them all the way down, shredding them as it goes.

It’s a pretty consistent, discouraging blast of self-discouragement. The thoughts range from legitimate self-criticism like Why did you yak on about Space Camp for like ten paragraphs, what is this, middle school English class? to complete absurdities like What would Hugh Jackman think if he read this? I bet he would be embarrassed, Kyle. He would be ashamed. You would disappoint Wolverine, how does THAT sit with you? Not very well, figurative voice in my head. Not very well at all.

This causes me to quickly lose interest out of self-defense. It’s far easier to happily live my life if I’m not too busy worrying about whether or not famous actors approve of my choices. However, in doing so, I give up a pretty good opportunity to seek more and push farther than I usually do. This time around, I’m not going to let it happen. There’s absolutely no way.

Tonight, I suddenly remembered that it had been Wednesday, and that I hadn’t yet written a blog. Ah well. You can just write one tomorrow. It’s not like anyone is waiting with baited breath to read your inane rantings on, like, vampires or whatever. No one’ll care. It started out sort of friendly. Like the figurative voice in my head was trying to be supportive by saying I was allowed to take a break. That’s how figurative voices in your head get you, though! They’re tricky.

It soon moved on to another tactic. Okay, fine. You really want to feel bad about not writing today, huh? Fine, why not read some of your more recent ones! Oh, yeah, remember that Zelda one? Boy, I bet you feel dumb about that now. All cryin’ and shit. My figurative head-voice is kind of a bully. I pushed past the attitude, trying to find a reason to write, a focus, something to spark some vague interest in writing tonight’s blog.

I told my friend Jess, she of acting and japanese steakhouse fame, that I had forgotten. She encouraged me to write like the wind. I opened the site, and sat there staring. What to write? What could I possibly write with no planning? I turned again to Jess. “Minecraft!” It’s not a bad suggestion, actually. I went so far as to type the word Minecraft in the title line before FHV popped up again. Minecraft? Seriously? MINECRAFT? You’re going to slap out a blog about a literally plotless video game where you move blocks around? I considered this. Though I believe that there’s a blog in that game, I didn’t think I could possibly write it in one sitting with no thought. Though the game is simple, the feelings it inspires are complex.

So what to write? I was deeply discouraged. FHV had almost won. We both knew that I hadn’t forgotten so much as I had pushed it under some stuff in the corner of my mind to give myself an excuse to fail. Suddenly, I noticed something. The stat bar on my page had moved. Someone actually read my blog today. I took a look, and lo and behold, several people have read it this week. Suddenly, I felt invigorated. I felt energized.

I dove deep into the recesses of my mind, and I found FHV in the old moors. We stared at each other across a dark, foggy field. He was tall and broad of build, with dark hair and eyes. His face was fairly handsome beneath the beard, and somehow… familiar. I smiled. Why are you smiling? he asked, his eyes full of malice. His voice was powerful and melodic, with an Australian accent. My eyes widened in shock. Of course! How had I not seen it before!? My lips moved to form the name I dared not speak aloud. Hugh Jackman.

Seriously, he destroys sinks in a weridly high number of his movies, keep an eye out for it.

The sink-hating bastard in the flesh.

He gave a subtle nod, indicating that he knew I’d recognized him. I was confident in my own power this time, though. I stood my ground. “I have what I need to defeat you,” I said, softly, with a smirk. You can’t beat me! You’ve never beaten me, and you don’t even have a topic! I didn’t look away for a moment. The fog swirled around us as I spoke. “Don’t be so sure, you bastard of a literary device/triple threat! I have you right where I want you!” FHV/Hugh Jackman looked at me, his dark eyes wide with fear for the first time. What? No! “Oh yes,” came my reply. Suddenly, I raised my voice, calling into the mists, “I’M GOING TO WRITE A BLOG ABOUT NOT BEING ABLE TO WRITE A BLOG!” It can’t be done! NO ONE can escape that level of pretentious meta! You’ll never survive! The fear in FHV’s voice was as thick as maple syrup and even sweeter. My face split wide into a laugh as I showed him the computer monitor. “I already have.” FHV/Hugh Jackman screamed in agony. A brilliant white light poured forth, tearing him to shreds. He melted away like a candle, leaving only a greasy black residue in the moors of my mind.

He’ll be back. He always comes back. He doesn’t always look like Hugh Jackman, though. That got weird fast. For now, I can kick back and take pleasure in the fact that I just wrote an entire blog about defeating a figurative voice in my head that looked like Hugh Jackman so that I could write an entire blog about defeating a figurative voice in my head that looked like Hugh Jackman. I sat down with the goal of finishing something to post tonight, to keep my momentum and make sure that I didn’t lose this blog too, and I have done that. I may only be able to get away with something this absurd once, so at least I can say I did it in style.

Suck on that, Hugh Jackman.

Advertisements

My Dad Could Beat Up Your Dad

This isn’t going to be a long post at all. I can honestly say I know for certain that it’ll be the shortest post I’ve ever done, because there’s no beating around the bush on this topic. My dad is pretty damned awesome, and that’s all there is to it. He’s always been supportive of me, helping me deal with my issues however he can, even when he doesn’t understand them. He works around the country, traveling far and wide to make money for our family, to keep us happy and healthy. In the years since I turned 18, he’s never once made me feel like a drain or a bum.

He’s gone to great lengths to teach me what it means to put your family first, and to make sacrifices for the ones you love the most. I’m not very good at following his advice or learning the lessons, but the fact that he got through to me at all, considering how deeply dysfunctional my mind is, is a miracle.

When my dad is around, I can tell because I hear him playing “Crazy Train” on his electric guitar with the amp cranked up to 11. My dad plays a damned electric ukulele. I’m going to say that again for emphasis. ELECTRIC UKULELE.

I’m proud of my father. I’m grateful to my father. I love my father.

Electric ukulele.

Homesick for Hyrule

“The Legend of Zelda is the closest thing I have to a religion.” This is a sentence that I’ve repeated often in recent days and months, with a note of pleasure and wonder in my voice. With the announcement of a new, massive, open-world Zelda game at this year’s E3, my excitement for the franchise has never been higher or more powerful. I’ve written before, years ago, about how I came to love the franchise, and the sequence of events that drew me into the land of Hyrule. Forgive me if I paraphrase myself here, because I feel like that history is important. I’ll keep it short, however, because what I’m really attempting to do here is finally find words to describe just how deep and powerful my adoration of the games go, and why. To that end, I’ll talk about the first real experience I had with a Zelda game. I’ll leave deeper examinations of the specific games and their content for another time and place, but more on that later.

It occurs to me now that some of you reading this might not know anything about Zelda, so I’ll fill you in. In a nutshell, the games are about a young man, Link, and a young girl, Zelda, who are the living personifications of courage and wisdom. They are reborn again and again throughout many thousands of years to protect the mythical land of Hyrule together from all sorts of threats, usually but not always driven by the living personification of power, the demon king Ganon. Each of the three represents and holds a piece of the Triforce, and ancient relic that, when united, will grant the wish of the holder. Link is the player character, and uses a wide variety of magic items and skills to defeat myriad monsters. There are gods and goddesses and alternate timelines and dragons and… just… just all kinds of stuff. It’s pretty great. Anyway.

I was introduced to Zelda first in seeing my Uncle playing the original, and then a few years later a friend of mine who lived down the street playing A Link to the Past on the SNES. The games got my attention, and I loved trying to play them, though at the time I hardly understood what I was doing and never really got anywhere. I didn’t really understand then just how much they would come to mean to me some day.

When you’re growing up, it’s incredible just how much difference a year or two can make. When I was ten, I never really grasped the concept of games that were more complex than the simple goals of Super Mario and Sonic The Hedgehog’s “walk to the right and jump” objectives. I played more complex games anyway, but the open, explorable locales in the Zelda games were daunting and intimidating, and I was never able to get the hang of them due to my limited time with them. By the time I was twelve, however, I was able to grasp the more complex concepts, helped along, I’m sure, by my increased love of written fiction. That’s when things changed, and I began to see the true face of the franchise.

I first saw The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time at a school friend’s house, VERY shortly after it came out. I had already been reading about it a bit in the relevant issue of Nintendo Power Magazine, and I was deeply intrigued. I watched him play it at his home, and was entranced. I didn’t play, that I remember. I know I adored it. I don’t really remember how or when I got my own copy of the game. Memory is odd like that, of course. What I do remember is the feeling that it brought me the first time I played my own copy.

My anxieties hadn’t really surfaced yet, but my mind was already buzzing with thoughts and misfiring feelings that I couldn’t express or explain or connect. I couldn’t relax or find peace. Video games of the time didn’t really help with it, either. They were always a flurry of activity. Even the previous Zelda titles had monsters on nearly every screen, constant pressure to fight or flee. Though I loved them, the constant stream of colors and sounds and images would overstimulate me, messing with my moods, and putting stress on me in ways I didn’t understand. I would become irritable quickly. It was like taking a busy intersection and introducing a second set of traffic lights that contradicted the first set. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, marked a change in the style of video games that changed that, and made them into a respite for me.

This game was different. The music on the opening screen was soft and soothing, the moon rising in the night sky of a field in a beautiful canyon. A young man in green rode by on a horse, kicking up dust. As he galloped past, night turned to day, and the camera panned over to a walled castle, the drawbridge lowering over the moat. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.Image

 

Looking back now, the graphics are certainly archaic, but for me they still have that haunting beauty. 

The reason that this game was such a turning point is incredibly simple. It is, first and foremost, a world. This game brought me into the land of Hyrule in a way that I had never been brought into a world before. I explored Hyrule’s fields, I dove to the bottom of Lake Hylia, I climbed to the top of Death Mountain and slew a dragon. I journeyed through time. I fought hard and long, and saw many dangers, and persevered, and saved the world from darkness. All of that was amazing, and made a weak little kid who was just learning about how big and scary the world really was feel powerful and courageous. None of that was what drew me into the series and drove it deep into my soul, however.

As I wandered the land of Hyrule, speaking with people and visiting the towns, I found something. There were areas of the game with no enemies, no quests, no goals. There were options to break away from the pace of the game, and just explore the beautiful world it presented. There I found ways to make my own stories. I discovered secrets. Most important of all, I found peace. For the first time, I found a place where the incessant motoring of my mind couldn’t touch me. I could close my eyes, and listen to the soothing music, and imagine the wind sweeping through the fields, the smell of the wild grass, and I was there, in Hyrule, this beautiful world that I wanted to protect.

That feeling has carried with me for nearly twenty years now. I eventually rediscovered the games that came before Ocarina, and grew to love them just as deeply. There have been some missteps along the way, and a few games that I don’t much care for, but as a whole, the series has been amazing. More importantly than that, though, it has become a part of me. When I hear the music swell, or see the worlds play across the screen, I feel shivers up and down my spine. I feel it coursing through me, that call to adventure, the certainty that I’ll be needed again to protect the place I love.

One of the suggestions often received during therapy is to try and find a sort of “happy place”, and hold it in your mind, putting yourself there to calm the senses. Hyrule is the closest thing I have to such a place. My entire life has been informed by the feelings I have for this wonderful legend. The cool, quiet places in the world that I adore most all make me feel like some piece of me has traveled somehow to that mythical place. Even as I write this, I have to blink back tears, because I’m homesick for a place that I can never go.

I have no doubt that this sounds strange to a lot of you, and that you may never understand, or even ever want to. That’s fine with me. You can chalk this up to my mental illness, and call it an unwarranted obsession. I don’t care. I’ve been struggling for my entire life to explain to people just why these games so deeply affect me, and I don’t even feel like I’ve succeeded here today. The closest that I can come is to say that in fiction I found my god, and in Zelda I found my religion.

The new title in the series which was announced yesterday seems to genuinely be everything I could dream of in a Zelda title already. We know nothing of the story, or the gameplay, or the details of the world. Hell, there are even rumors flying around that the main character may not be Link at all. None of this matters to me as much as the fact that if the description Nintendo gave is accurate, it’s a truly open world.

Image

According to Nintendo, this is what Hyrule will look like, in game. You can explore the entire world you see. Traveling all the way back to the distant mountains and exploring them was specifically mentioned. When I saw this, my heart stopped. I stood up from my chair, and clamped a hand over my mouth. This… this is what heaven will be like if I get there. This is the closest I’ve ever been or likely ever will be to actually being in Hyrule. I can’t wait.

These games have been a constant uplifting force in my life. They make up the very core of the light side of my personality, tied together with countless other works of fiction. In light of my deep affection for the franchise, I’ve been playing through the games in sequence, in the order of the official timeline put out by Nintendo. I’ve set aside a blog, where I’ll talk in great detail about each game, what it means to me, what it means to the world of the games, and more. They’re bound to be in-depth examinations with a huge amount of emotion and care, and as such will take a long time to complete. When I finish the introductory post, and finally get cracking on it, I’ll post the link here. Until then, if you’ve never played one of these games, I can’t recommend them enough.

 

Communications Technology Changed My Life, or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Social Media

I’m sure you’ve heard something like this before. The Baby Boomer generation and the Gen X’ers don’t seem to agree on much, but by and large, they dislike one thing together: cell phones, social media, the internet, and the way us no good kids have forgotten how to communicate and make friends in the real world. There’ve been hundreds if not thousands of posts going over why they think we’re lazy good-for-nothings who need a kick in the pants, and why we think they’re frightened old cavemen who are afraid of the new world. I’m not going to bore you with that. Instead, what I’m going to do is spell out my own experiences with this new world, good and bad, to show how, for at least one person, this new world has been a life saver.

My parents will tell you that I was a happy kid. That a smile was never far from my face, that I laughed and ran around a lot, without a care in the world. Hell, they’ll tell you that my nick-name was “Smiley” for years. In a way they’re right, because when I was a kid, I didn’t know what else to do BUT smile. The truth is that I never felt particularly happy. I just knew that they liked it when I smiled, so I did. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I have an extreme difficulty with my emotions. I only ever really feel the most extreme ones, and then I have difficulty controlling them, unless I find a way to connect to them through fiction. This was never more true than my years in middle school and high school. I was off the wall, I had difficulty connecting, so I just did extreme things, not really understanding that I was different from other people, or how. I’ll talk about that more in-depth in another post, I think, so for now, just understand that I was beyond socially awkward and into the “who is that weird kid, shit, he’s probably a serial killer” area.

Enter the internet. I remember the exact date we got it, because it affected my life so deeply, right from the start. I remember the first time I heard those horrible dial-up modem sounds. I remember my first username and e-mail (k86dragon. Come on, guys, I was twelve).  I remember the first website I went to (the official Star Wars website. I finally learned to spell Kashyyyk!). It was an incredible day for me.

It was only a matter of time before I discovered the infant forms of social media. I had a LiveJournal, I messed around a little in Yahoo! chatrooms, I got my very own AIM account. The big change for me came in the form of a little website called Gaia Online. I joined a long time ago, just before the transition from its original forum state to Gaia. It’s difficult to explain exactly what this site was/is to people who aren’t involved with it, but I’m going to try.

Basically, it’s a forum site that was originally designed to talk about anime, but became something very different. They implemented a system where you had an avatar that you could customize by spending gold, which you earned simply by surfing around on the site. It became a sort of a role-playing site in time, where not only did people discuss things, but they played a sort of a game. Not unlike, say, Dungeons and Dragons, people would create characters, using the customization of the avatar to represent them as they saw fit. Many people stayed in character the entire time they were on the site, which rapidly became one massive, deeply complex, living, interactive fantasy story, with millions of writers. People played vampires, knights, witches, warriors, detectives, aliens, cyborgs, literally whatever they wanted, and all interacted on this massive stage. It combined the best elements of acting, improv, and writing, and was deeply satisfying to me. It was here, you see, that I met my first friends.

In real life, I was a train-wreck of a person, able to fake that smile all I wanted, but utterly unable to deal with any other emotions. The depressive and manic cycles that ripped through me were generally the only emotions I felt, causing me to be wildly unpredictable at the best of times, and flat out cold, cruel, and distant at the worst. Online, though…

Online, I watched how other people acted. I saw how they phrased things, saw the intricate description of their feelings, and found that, like with fiction, I was able to feel them through the writing. Better than that, because I was able to interact with the people directly, I found myself learning to feel, or at least mimic them in the real world. I learned the rules of social interaction and comfortable communication through the internet, and the people it connected me to. I have no doubt in my mind that without this support system, I wouldn’t be half as functional as I am today.

Through this website, I met several people from all over the country who I’m very good friends with to this day. I still talk and text with these people, both online and off, nearly every day of my life. There’s a deep sense of connection there that I’ve always had trouble forming in the real world. The ones I HAVE formed, I’ve done so with these friendships as guides.

As time passed on, I outgrew Gaia Online, as did most of my friends. I still RP sometimes, but now it’s private and between friends, and feels like a writing exercise and a way to promote creativity as well as an escape. I’ll always be thankful to the site for showing me the way to people I never would have met without it, and for paving the way for the next big change in my life: cell phones.

I had a cell for the latter part of high school, but I didn’t use it for much. The occasional call to an online friend, a call home to my parents here and there, long chats with the girlfriend at the time (Side note: She’s my blog partner here now!). With college came a new group of friends, and the first time I really genuinely felt like I had found a place in the world. They taught me a lot, and helped me adjust even more to the world, and inspired me to try to be a better person. The important part for this entry, however, is that they showed me the joys of text messaging. I discovered that simply by having a phone, I was now in constant contact with literally every friend I had.

This was the time in my life when my issues stopped being a background feature, and something I just ignored, to being the driving force behind every action I made. I stopped being able to eat, touch, or even look at the things that I didn’t like. I began compulsively washing my hands and hair, something which has only gotten worse over the years. I began having minor hallucinations regularly instead of just occasionally. I became more paranoid than ever, and soon discovered that when I was alone was when these things struck hardest. Being with people always helps, and always has, but you can only spend so much time with friends. The phone became my lifeline.

You see, because I spent most of my formative years constantly online, being in text contact with someone feels as real to me as having them in the room. When I’m alone, and things start to twist around in my head, clogging the gears and filling my whole brain with lead and blood, all I have to do is reach out for my phone, send a text, and suddenly I’m not alone anymore. These texts can be a simple thing, hiding my fear and despair with a happy conversation, or they can be an outpouring of agony that waxes weirdly poetic, a stream of consciousness rant that feels like it pours my demons onto the screen, where my friends and I can fight them together.

I hear phrases like “internet addiction” and “Cell phone addiction” tossed around a lot, and I find them insulting. While there are no doubt people who are obsessed with these things to unhealthy levels, it’s not the net or the phone I crave. It’s my friends.

Think about this. Thirty, forty, fifty years ago, when you graduated high school or college, and you and your friends went your separate ways, what happened? You began to drift apart. You found friendship in other places, yes. Perhaps work. Perhaps your family. In either case, or any other, however, your communication and interaction were limited by proximity. Sure, you could make a phone call, or send a letter, but who had the time, when you were living your new lives? You could have a real, genuine conversation with your best friend at most, what, once, twice a week? In many cases, far less. Once or twice a month wasn’t unheard of. I was raised my entire life expecting this. I watched my parents and their friends drift apart, and it seemed only natural, but still, deeply sad. Now, look at me. I don’t see my best friend from high school very much any more. I see my best friends from college once a week, if I’m lucky. Do you know what, though? I talk to them every single day. For hours at a time. During downtime at work, when they’re at home with their own families, when they’re shopping, or reading, or playing video games, my friends and I are always connected. I’ve had enough conversations with them to last a lifetime, and I’m not even thirty yet. We have this constant connection, and that allows us to form a bond deeper than any I ever thought possible.

Every person I have ever known is at my fingertips. If I want to know how my friend from the creative arts program in high school is doing? I ask him on Facebook. If an acquaintance from years ago sees something that makes them think of me? They tag me into the topic. My world is constantly and powerfully connected, and this has proven the single greatest tool in my arsenal against my mental illness and anxiety, because I can ALWAYS reach out with faith that someone will take my hand.

There is a dark side, however, and one that I’ve been bitten and wounded by many times, and used to bite and wound in turn. Social media is a powerful, powerful tool. We can use it to share ideas and beliefs and find friends, and stay in contact with loved ones that we otherwise may have lost… but that instantaneous sharing of knowledge is dangerous. We all have bad thoughts. We all want to hurt people sometimes, and to insult, or attack, or otherwise express momentary feelings of spite and rage and jealousy. The way that a single click can whip our innermost thoughts into the world, where they can never be deleted or taken back, should never be forgotten.

Being able to know people more completely than we ever have before is overwhelming as well as beautiful. People who, in times past, you may have had a long-term friendship with, never suspecting that their innermost thoughts were harmful, now wear those thoughts on their sleeves, simply because the speed with which they can say them doesn’t allow time to think it through. People appear more callous and cruel than ever, only because the sheathe is now off the blade of our thoughts and minds.

People I love dearly have hurt me deeply in this way, and I know I’ve hurt people just as deeply, both in defense and attack. I’ve previously written about how deeply fiction affects me. It’s a soft spot for me. Negatively speaking about something I love sets off a reaction in me that I can’t always control, causing an explosion of the rage and despair that seem to be the only emotions I can ever feel completely without effort, because in that moment it feels like I, myself, am being judged. I’ve had countless public arguments on social media, and I’ve been the swear-word slinging, cold-hearted monster more than once during these times. Not only can I use the internet to share my pain, but to spread it around all too easily. I’m by far not the only one.

Everyone I know has said something they wished they could take back. Everyone I know has become wrapped up in a fight they shouldn’t have online. Everyone I know has showed their most awful sides to the world. Smarter men than me have said that telepathy would cause society to crumble. Social media is a form of selective telepathy. We broadcast our thoughts to the world, striving to be seen as the best versions of ourselves, but every mask slips, every veneer cracks, and the truth shines through vibrantly.

The constant deluge of news and opinions shows the darkest side of the world. I find myself routinely driven into depression by the news, by science and the approach of a turning point in humanity that I may live to see, by people championing causes that I support but can’t handle emotionally, and I don’t know how to turn it off without receding from the tool that helped me learn how to be (or at least appear) human when I never felt like I was. I try to pull away from just those aspects of it that do the damage, but it can be cruel and crass to do so. It’s a really sticky situation.

So where does that leave us? What do I think of this whole big mess of a world within a world, and the constant, deep connectivity that comes with it? With all its pleasures and pains, and the rippling, shifting, rapid culture it has given to the world? Make no mistake, the internet and social media are a culture in and of themselves, with customs and art forms and leaders and subcultures, and that’s where the key to this question lies.

It’s wonderful, and beautiful, and awful, and messy, and filled with horrors and wonders, even putting aside the technical, magical marvel that it is (and I can and likely will write and entire blog on the nature of just the tech). Just like every culture that has ever existed, it’s evolving, and changing. The thing about cultures is that if allowed to thrive and grow naturally, they often get better. People get kinder. The world they connect to can become more pleasant. Stop for a moment and consider, really think about the way the internet is now compared to the way it has been. Sure, there’s always been a blend of good and bad in it, but just this week, actor Levar Burton used the power of this to fund the return of Reading Rainbow, a show that’s unquestionably good for mankind. Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Penn Gilette, Wil Wheaton, and countless more celebrities use it every day to call out to good people everywhere, to participate in charities and causes, to speak out against injustice and cruelty the world over… and it’s working. The voices of the good are beginning to drown out the outcries of the bad. People are learning. it’s not a huge difference, it’s not a huge step, but it’s something.

This alien thing called social media has irrevocably altered the world. This is terrifying, there’s no doubt about that. At the end of it all, though, when I look back on my life, and myself as a person, I know that the influence it’s had in my life has been overwhelmingly good, in spite of all the pain that comes with it. Even last week, when I went out to the zoo, in a deeply public, crowded, dirty place for the first time in years, looking at the experience through the lens of the live blog I was doing drastically reduced my anxiety and paranoia. My connection to the world is greater with a smartphone in my pocket than without. This new world does something of indescribable value: it gives me hope.