The Etiquette of Moving In

Note: I wrote all of this on the Friday-Saturday night of last weekend. There is some weird, interesting language in here.

I’ve had my fair share of place-moving. I’ve slept in quite a few new and temporary beds. For a year in Egypt, when I was 12/13, I slept on the couch. I took many naps on unfurnished, unconvered floor. When it comes to sleep, I’m not fussy. If I can rest the weight of my head, at least partially, on something, I can fall asleep. Cold weather helps me fall asleep faster. If I am hot, there may be no way of getting my mind to shut down.

So why, then, is this room causing me so much trouble to sleep in? The bed smells of my teenage cousin, which is unsurprising, since this is her bed. My aunt set it up such that I sleep in her room while I help them with some house moving stuff for the second, and hopefully last, time. It doesn’t smell as strongly of my cousin as her room in their old aparment. No, this new room still has a lot of null to be filled. There are traces of perfumes from whoever lived here before, but it’s largely uncharacteristic of anything.

So, the smell isn’t the problem. I thought that it was the temperature, at first. It was breathtakingly cold two hours ago. The wind blew past the windows high and hurried, and I felt their streaming in my chest. In my lonliness and fatigue, I wondered who I wanted to tell about this. I could have told my oldest friend, with whome I shared a drink and a sympathetic smoke across a sea during new year’s midnight. I could have told my closest friend, my thrice-lover who was so frantically busy with a new life somewhere I’ve never been. I could have told my ethereal friend, whom I’ve recently refound and replaced where she should have been all along. But, instead of choosing one and wondering two, I told them each the same story, and eagerly folded away the conversation, wondering what their replies would be when they send them. Meanwhile, I put on a hoodie and slipped back into bed.

It is now approximately one hour and twenty-six minutes later, and approximately twenty-six minutes ago, it had become way too warm inside that bed. In fact, it had become hot, and my skin was starting to ache. I’ve done my fair share of place-moving and bed-changing, but I’ve never felt quite so misplaced before. This wasn’t just a place that I didn’t belong, this is a place that is shifting with me in it. It is tumbling and churning. Most places just want to talk before they accept your presence. Your eyes dart from spot to spot, along corners, around focal points, and eventually it had said enough that it doesn’t need to bother you anymore. It starts listening, and you start acting yourself. It watches and learns. Over time, you become some sort of friends. Sometimes the relationship doesn’t go beyond business, and sometimes the two of you develop such a strong bond that, no matter where you go, that place will always be home. This house, however, doesn’t want to talk. And that’s mainly because it is screaming for attention. I can’t blame it. It’s very beautiful, yet it is not being appreciated. It is being used. Without regard for its desires, it is forcibly bent and reshaped, and it is churning itself back. My cousin’s metal bed has no business being on this wood-tiled floor, in front of this heavily-varnished window frame. This cheap, white, plastic Ikea chair is, frankly, an insult to the light inward bend of the wall facing the outside street. This place is wrong.

I suppose that’s why I’m here. I’m trying to help them move. Thankfully, though, I don’t have to deal with my aunts’ haphazard terrestrialisation of the (rightfully) proud house. I’m only gonna be working in helping the dismantling of all the rigging they left in their old place. That poor, poor apartment. It didn’t deserve the Frankensteining it got, and neither did my aunts’ deserve the restricting that the small place exerted. It was just a terribly matched partnering that went on for 15 years. I doubt a single day will undo all the construction that was built in that time, but I certainly hope my presence can expedite that process to near-completion. This house-moving has gone on for too long.

I wonder how many things I will leave behind or pass on when I move out of my room. That resilient room has seen me go through so many changes that it might fit anyone after I leave. Not like I didn’t have to break it in in a few corners…

I will go try this sleeping thing again. Neverwhere is a nostalgic story so far. Gaiman seems like a sweet, kindly man.

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Do Star Wars Fans Have Milk Deficiencies?

Bit of a short one here, bear with me.

Up until two weeks ago, I had never watched a Star War, and I loved making that joke to see people completely ignore it and instead give me that horrified face that makes me realise that, yes, full grown adults can be total shits. Once I’ve told them to calm the fuck down and remember what kind of background I come from and how this is hardly a surprising thing, I ask them for their personal reasons why I should watch the movies. Usually it comes out to be a variation of “because they’re awesome!” with some level of arm waving. None of them were convincing or nicely inviting. Almost all of them acted like I was committing a crime by not having already left the venue at which the conversation is happening and started watching Episode IV already.

Let me make this clear: if you do this to people, you’re a fucking idiot. You’re driving people away from the thing you love and you’re being a dick while you’re at it. Chill the fuck out, stop with the exaggeration, and have a normal conversation.

Despite its fans, I went ahead and watched the fourth episode, i.e. the first film. It was fine. It wasn’t mind-shattering, it wasn’t the best thing ever, and it was definitely flawed. Nonetheless, I enjoyed my time. I thought the ending was horseshit, but the world was a lot of fun. None of the characters were particularly interesting, and the events were sort of squished together to fit into the runtime, but it was a great short tour of the conflict which showed important events. Of course, none of the plot twists had any effect, because I already knew all of them. But, on the other hand, I was very amused to find that I knew practically every third line of the dialogue because of how commonly quoted they are. They were good lines, too. The sets were pretty fantastic. That this was made in ’77 is all kinds of wonderful.

I had finished the first film thinking “That was worthwhile, and I definitely want to see more of this world. I will endeavour to watch the second movie when I feel like it.” The plan at first was to watch all the movies before Force Awakens hits the cinema, or maybe finish catching up one week after it has been in the cinemas so I can easily find a ticket and sit in a not-crowded theatre. However, it is now well past the time of the new movie premier and I still haven’t watched Episode V. In fact, right now, I’m much less motivated to watch it than two weeks ago, and there’s a very good reason.

There’s gonna be yearly movie releases in this franchise.

Star Wars, the franchise that has been milked to the bone, pumped full of synthetic milk, then milked fleshless again, is actually gonna get further milked.

And you people looooove that.

Why would I want to take part of this? I went to watch the first movie because I thought being wilfully ignorant of such a big part of pop culture is the kind of mistake you’d only make in protest, and I had little to protest about a franchise in which the last three iterations of the main work has been a joke for years. Now, however, the Star Wars Money machine is in full force and it’s pumping out so much milk it’s rivalling the threat of global warming in raising the ocean levels. And yet, somehow, it seems like a chunk of the human population have all turned into full grown babies and are just wailing for that liquid white diary goodness.

Please, take a moment to reflect about how this fits in with your identity and self-image, then tell me how you justify being excited about this to yourself. I am genuinely asking, mind. This isn’t just an attempt at boiling piss. I genuinely would like to know how you can muster that excitement out of yourself. I don’t like hating people.

In related news, I’ve put in 49 hours into Fallout 4 since release day, and I’ve decided that it is the most disappointing, missing-the-point game that I’ve been excited about since… ever, actually. That’s pretty frightening. I cannot play the game now and quit without either partially or fully regretting the time I had just spent playing it. My recent playthrough of New Vegas feels like a grand old time, relatively speaking, even though I clearly remember being pissed at quite a few things. I’m not buying the next Fallout thing until a month of dust has settled on it and the reports involving it go beyond “This is the best thing ever since the last best thing ever.”

Silent Hill Christmas Night Party In My Domepiece

I’m fully awake at 9 am. On a holiday. This, my dear Reader, is very unusual.

I’ve been awake for at least two hours now. Even on workdays, I don’t wake up this early unless I have to, and I’m usually not awake­ when I do. Not for at least another hour. I suppose an exception to that would be the days when I had my skills training, when we’d be in the labs by 9 and would be done by just before 1700. Even then, the shroud of sleep would be around my head like a hood.

I’ve spent the night trying to sleep and being awakened constantly by visions of twisted corridors, jammed doors, rusty metal fences, dirty hospital sheets over rotted walls, slow creatures with bludgeoning appendages, and so on. Last night, I streamed about 4 hours of Silent Hill 2. That’s the longest I’ve streamed in one go, and one of the longer play sessions I do of anything these days. Even though nothing during the period was remarkably scary or scarring, by the 7th time I was awoken by a Silent Hill scenario playing out in my head, it started to feel like something was awakened in my subconscious. By the 20th time, it felt like the ghost behind the things that I don’t remember in my head was busy filtering through all the material that was consumed. It was incredible.

I’ve been kept awake by scary movies and games before, but that was usually due to fright. An image, a sound, or an idea would be stuck in my head and repeating. I would be too scared to sleep. Perhaps the justification for that behaviour is that, if I stay awake, I can keep an eye on the thought. I can guard myself from it if I keep staring at it, even if the staring is unpleasant.

However, this last night was not one of those nights. I was not frightened by anything Silent Hill 2 showed me. However, I suppose I was sort of obsessed with it. So much of it doesn’t add up and yet those very things make complete sense. It’s common knowledge by now that the Silent Hill games operate within a “logic of a nightmare” sort of framework. The location, characters, and events are all just there to serve the overall feel of something that has gone terribly, disfiguringly wrong a short, but forgotten, time ago. It’s not the ‘ancient curse of doom and disaster’ flavour of horror. It’s more inspired by unethical science experiments than Aztec rituals. It’s more concerned with what we, as humans, are able to do and think right now than the things none of us remember doing anymore. That makes it much more interesting to me, since I’m convinced that you can convince me that any atrocity you can think of did, indeed, happen some number of thousand or hundred years ago. What we can do now, though, is another story. I suppose the reason for that is that if someone can do it now, then maybe I can do it too, and that is a horrifying thought. I’ve long since realised that, given that the situation lines up in the right way, anyone I know can turn into the worst kind of human being. Given the right situation, anyone can go so remotely demented that they would bring many depths of distress to anyone who recognises them. So, if someone out there, in our time and sensibilities, could do something unthinkably awful, what if I end up in their shoes? What if I am the one demented? What ancient people did in an ancient time is too far for me to make that connection. Their lives were so different I cannot begin to relate. Today’s insanities, though, could be anyone’s insanity. Given a certain margin of similarity of life, of course. I doubt a well-to-do white suburban Dutch family can relate to the horrors of a homeless Somalian child living in a town dominated by an angry militia, but they could probably do better with that than whatever an Assyrian prisoner in a Babylonian camp was afraid of.

Yet, each one of those times my whatever calmly woke me up from whatever my other whatever was conjuring up from the images and sounds I saw in the game, I realised that whatever that was was not actually from the game. Every time, it was a new location, sound, and scenario. They were all very Silent Hill, but not the same one. I suppose that is to be expected out of dreams, but I felt very surprised that my mind was that fascinated with the setting. Usually, when I’m awakened by repeating nightmares, they’re all similar and/or carry the same theme. With these ones, it was always different, except for the feeling that something has gone wrong. Maybe the reason why is because I honestly don’t know what to fear in Silent Hill. I’ve played the game for over 10 hours now (according the save file), and I still don’t know what the fuck I’m looking at. This is in no way a bad thing for the game to do- it is its biggest strength. The plot is fairly loose, and the characters don’t just linearly advance the storytelling forward. They obviously do facilitate the telling of the story, but they feel like they can just as well walk out of the protagonist’s path, never to be seen again. The voice acting for these characters constantly sinusoids between pretty spot on and hilariously off, and it makes it all harder to predict. Honestly, I’m glad this is the case, because the laughter is kind of necessary to break the game’s gloomy, choking air. The dialogue is good, but for some sub-plots it breaks the seriousness of what could be an effective narrative (I’m looking at you, Eddie, you humourless cunt). And yet all of that sort of falls in favour of the game. Silent Hill is Weird, and all of these flaws make it Meta Weird. I love works that leave me unsure as to whether they are good or bad, but leave me with a lot to process.

Now, I know that there is a certain point in the game where things line up and it turns out this is all about James Sunderland’s demons and deeds, but I have not encountered this yet, and I would like to assess two things that I find exemplify this Weird design in SH2. First, let’s talk about that one enemy I concededly named ‘Legs’.

Hans_Bellmer

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: Legs. Apparently they’re actually called Mannequins*.

See, the first time I saw that, I was really weirded out by the idea. It’s not scary, but it’s so fucking strange. That’s your design for your monster? A pair of legs with a pair of legs on top? How’s that not, like, a kid’s idea of what a monster would look like? If there wasn’t really loud clanking and screeching being played as the background “music” of the encounter, I would’ve burst out laughing. Mind, even though it’s just industrial noise played to a beat, I also fucking love the music of this game. Is it good music? Is it even music? Don’t know. What I do know is that it is effective, and the only way Legs is effective is the weird way. And here’s the other thing, Legs is like the second most common enemy type in the game. So you end up seeing it very often while playing. The fact that it isn’t immediately scary is intended. In fact, very few enemies in this game are immediately scary. They are, however, odd and out of place. They make you wanna come take a closer look, inspect them all around and see how they function, but you necessarily have to keep your distance and shoot them down before they take you out. Even now, after having seen Legs in action so many times, I wanna look up a 3D model of it and rotate it around to see how it moves.

The other thing I wanted to talk about was a scene/level/room that I encountered in my play last night, so it’s a bit of a spoiler for this section. If you want to play Silent Hill 2 completely clear, please do skip this paragraph. In this room, there’s a big garden with multiple headstones. The ones furthest away from the entrance had open graves, and the one to most left looked like it didn’t have a bottom. As soon as I saw that, I thought “that’s my grave, isn’t it?” Unsurprisingly, it was, and the two next to it had the names of two side characters. Now, at this point in the game, I’ve dropped through multiple bottomless holes in really weird/surreal buildings, so as soon as I saw the hole, I also knew that I had to drop through that to advance. Now, even though, to me, this room was very cheesy, it was still sort of taken aback that it chose to use this motif. It doesn’t really fit. I can understand it if it was, instead of a grave, a padded cell or an electric chair. A grave that you have to jump through, though, says to me (as James Sunderland) “You’re doing this to yourself. This is your fault.” I have a feeling that something at the end of the game will reveal to me why this is the case (especially since I already found a few writings saying that I should die if I wanted to get out of Silent Hill/fulfil my objective). Still, even if the meaning is fully intentional, it’s still not an original scene. Given how much of Silent Hill is incredibly creative and influential, to have this “Let me show you your own grave” scene here feels out of place and weird. The room’s surroundings are actually more interesting: this is a room in a building, with typical room walls and shit, which sort of independently breaks the geometry of the place (I mean, if you’ve been playing to this point, you really don’t expect anything to follow real life logic or physics or anything). Also, the grave a bottomless pit into what exactly? You’re like on the second floor of this building, and you’ve dropped down at least 2 similar pits so far, which both ended up with you being in a building. That kind of logic breaking is a lot of fun to go through, but it feels like my own headstone being there is intended to break the pace of ‘cool things you are now expecting but knowing’ with ‘cool thing you know but didn’t expect’.

Hallways, slow walking but fast crawling disfigurlings, rust and banging. Given that this is the first time I’m fully playing through one of these games, Silent Hill already won my heart and mind. I mean, it kept me up at night. Isn’t that a necessary pop love song lyric?

Funny how love is so much like a horror game, then. You don’t hear “Girl, I swear to you, one day your blood shall be spilt upon white sheets and your guts will make the flesh of the abominations which will haunt our lovely house on the beach” in lyrics very often. Maybe that’s the next pop revolution, then. Would make that drivel a bit more interesting, but only a bit.

*I stole the picture from the Silent Hill wiki. If you ever wanna read some really interesting lore of fucked up things, go there. I love the place. Even if it just spoiled something for me while I was scrolling around.

The Beginner’s Guide and Laura Kate Dale: A Testament To Wreden’s Influence

SPOILER ALERT: This blog will discuss aspects of The Beginner’s Guide by Everything Unlimited Ltd. that will spoil the twists and nuances of the game. This is my favourite game of this year, and if you have any interest in the work of the writer of The Stanley Parable, then please stop here and go play the game. It is worth the price, in my opinion, just to enter this discussion. You might be completely lost while reading this blog, in fact. You can find the game here.

CONTEX: In an end-of-the-year list, Laura Kate Dale wrote a story on Destructoid with her favourite new IP’s from 2015. In it, The Beginner’s Guide by Davey Wreden’s new studio Everything Unlimited Ltd. is highlighted, with a short wrap-up paragraph mentioning that players might want to finish the game before the end of the refund time on Steam in case they want to get their money back because of a moral question the ending presents.

OKAY, now that we got those out of the way let’s get to the nitty gritty. In the game, Wreden (playing/being himself) is narrating over some games made by his ex-friend Coda while you play them. Near the end of the game, it is revealed that Wreden did not acquire the consent of Coda to show (and then sell) his games to other people. In fact, Coda specifically states that he never wanted Davey to show his games to other people. This happens in the last game you play before Wreden steps out of the picture and the game sort of transcends the conflict between the two and shows you that it’s mazes all the way through- or something. But, without stepping into interpretations of the work just yet, let me state something very quick.

If you buy The Beginner’s Guide, then decide after playing it that the seller has lied to you about the contents and they have no right to sell it, then refunding is not the appropriate action, strictly speaking. The appropriate action is to inform legal authorities to make sure your money goes to the appropriate party. If YOU get your money back, it is theft, since you’ve already consumed the work. The conflict presented in the work, as well as the moral question that it brings up, are part of the work itself. Getting a refund is basically saying “Oh. Well, that was very interesting. However, fuck you, you don’t deserve this.” and then walking out one story richer.

For this reason, I feel like Dale’s warning is well-intentioned but somewhat misguided. However, it’s not anything the internet should amass this much of a shitstorm about. It’s something to be discussed. Not the comment itself, perhaps, but what the comment is talking about. In that spirit, let’s get to it. Given the infinite ways one can interpret anything, let us stop here and create the scenario that would incite refunding.

SCENARIO : STORY IS REAL AND CODA IS REAL HUMAN BEING

This scenario is why Dale’s closing paragraph is in its place. If Coda is indeed real and Wreden did indeed fall out with him and then proceeded to show his games and sell them as a package without his consent, then Dale might be the only ethical games journalist of the set who reviewed or talked about this game (she’s definitely the only one I know who has included such a reminder/warning). However, one has to ask whether refunding the full price of the game is actually the right thing to do in this context. For sure, what you’re playing in The Beginner’s Guide is Coda’s creations, but they have been altered. We know for a fact that lampposts have been added by Wreden when he first showed the games to friends. Who knows how much else has been altered since? So, for the game’s worth, some of that money needs to go to Wreden. How much? I don’t know, let’s say a cent for each lamppost. You can see where I’m going with that thought.

Then you gotta account for the price of Wreden’s exhibitory actions as necessary context to enjoy the games. What we’re playing is at first ARE just Coda’s mind-children, but at one point the games become reactions to Wreden’s behaviour to the games. Where the line between ‘Reaction To Wreden: A Game By Coda’ and ‘A Game By Coda’ is drawn cannot be easily located. If you take the ending scene in mind, maybe the only game that does not necessarily require Wreden to exist is the very first one, the Counter Strike map. How much does that cost?

The games aside, most of the emotional impact and intellectual food that this game presents has very little to do with the games themselves as much as the narration, the backstory, and Wreden’s actions. After the game is finished, a new mode unlocks which lets you play the games without Wreden’s voice-over. If you can imagine for a bit how playing that mode would be if you didn’t have Wreden trying to break down what these games mean and how they relate to each other and Coda’s making process, how would they feel? Would they be worthy of the asking price? Would the ending be of any impact? Would they make any sense? If you were to take Wreden’s voice-over out of the game and re-price the game, what would you sell it for?

So far, I’ve only played Wreden’s lawyer, and that’s mostly because I have no idea what Coda would want. He didn’t want his games shown, that’s for sure. So, I suppose then you take out all the game bits that were his and give the revenue amount that that amounts to back to him. Then, I don’t know, sue for emotional damage? Wreden certainly seemed to have an impact on Coda’s psyche.

Now, pointing out how difficult it would be to make the division between what is Coda’s property and what is Wreden’s is not the main point of this scenario. What I’m truly trying to say is that, without Wreden’s story, without his voice acting and narration, without his script (however much of it is written and however is improvised), The Beginner’s Guide is worth relatively little. This is a great game exactly because of the story and the Wreden-Coda conflict, as well as the moral conflict it introduces to the players. However, part of the blame of this dilemma would inevitably fall on whoever recommends this game since they would know about it, and so, Dale chooses to note it. She’s in the right.

If you think that was I was not being as fair to Coda as I am to Wreden, you’re probably right. I don’t think this story is the same kind of real as Dale thinks some people might think it is. My interpretation of the game is different. And hence, I introduce to you a new scenario.

SCENARIO: STORY IS REAL BUT CODA IS THE MANIFESTATION OF WREDEN’S GAME MAKING SELF

I’m convinced this is what the game is. The game where you play the woman interrogating the Coda machine comes to mind. To me, the only way the recurrent door and level puzzle makes sense is if you take it as a writer stepping inside their writing mind and trusting that whatever that presents will give them a way forward- a story that makes sense and says something. That doesn’t always happen. Sometimes you try hard to access that part of your mind and it just does not respond. The search turns sour and one starts blaming themselves for failing. The harder you look, the more desperate you get, and the more painful everything becomes. Or something.

One thing that I don’t see most people talking about when they talk about this game is the talk that Davey gave in Helsinki, which he links to in the company’s website. In it, he talks about how what first incited him to make games is to gain attention and verification from people. But, in the end, all that did is cause him to fall into a depression that saw his personal life crumble and his health deteriorate. There are so many parallels that I won’t go into them, but the talk is worth watching even without the relation to The Beginner’s Guide.

I’ll leave my interpretation at that. It makes me very sad.

CONCLUSION

I, for one, am very excited for this favoured medium of mine. That we’ve reached the point where we have a maker like Davey Wreden making something so interesting and moving and have that work widely recognised and talked about is amazing! At this point, Wreden has established himself as a sort of performance artist. I don’t know if he will continue down that line, or if he will come forth about this one game and make more grounded work later, but I’m just happy we’re at this point, whatever this point is. As such, I implore everyone who has an opinion about this not to call people names and get all red-eyed angry at this. I doubt Dale’s short paragraph lost Wreden tons of money and cost him his house and Christmas dinner. IT WOULD BE NICE IF WE CAN TALK ABOUT THESE THINGS WITHOUT SHOUTING LIKE CHILDREN.

Thanks for you time.

I Tell These Stories Because I’m Afraid That I Will Forget Them

Maastricht is, in my mind, an empty city from another age. It is inhabited by a few students who are incredibly confused about the world and their future in it. There are no old people in the Maastricht in my mind, and no tourist in their right mind would come here. Why would they, it’s empty and cold. It’s a tiny city of cobblestone and abandoned statues. Most of the houses are unoccupied but are maintained by civil servants who work at odd hours, rarely noticed by the students. My mind’s image of Maastricht is so obviously a reflection of myself, but it’s the one I like. Come to Maastricht on a sunny Sunday in the summer, and you’ll find a city that is very dissimilar to what I describe. It would be busy and crowded. Families would be roaming everywhere. Tourists on tours and old people sipping bear on chairs outside cafes and bars. Sunny summer Sunday Maastricht is awful for my brain.

This is why walking back home at 11 in the evening from a part of the city I had no business being in while it rains in mid-November is a bliss few people would truly appreciate. The cobblestone was so beautifully lit by streetlamp light bouncing off the pretty coat of water it had gained. The air smelled of nothing at all except for a bit of rain and a bit of cold. Cars drove past with drivers too busy to look about and inspect me walking. The streets were so very empty. I had seldom felt so alone within myself. Navigating the arcane city planning to get back to my room felt like I was slowly unraveling the folds of my brain, picking one seam and stretching it out like a noodle, and having the whole mess simplified into one, straight string.

That’s not what I was thinking about as I walked, though. What I was thinking about was how I’d write this entry. In the 20-30 minutes or so I walked, I had not even come close to a single coherent thought. But if I hadn’t stumbled within my mind for so long, I would not have just improvised all of that.

I had just parted two friends I had been walking with in vaguely the way to their homes. I needed the walk and the cold to ease my mind. We had just watched a documentary titled Merchants of Doubt. I did not know about this feature until one of the two friends, a girl I would like to impress, mentioned she was going to it. After some thought, I thought I might as well join. It was a very well put film about the corporation-funded public relations industry which fights back against unprofitable science. Most of us know about the tobacco industry by now and the millions spent into fake research and fake scientists and fake whatever they could make to keep convincing people that the cancer sticks were not, in fact, cancerous. The film brought up multiple other examples of the same thing happening in the US with other topics, and lent a particular focus to the climate change dilemma they’re currently wrestling with. I laughed quite a bit at what I was seeing. I knew most of the stuff mentioned in the film, but the book/articles I had read on the subjects were not so funny about it. Mind, there’s nothing funny about climate change anymore- we’re actually pretty fucked. But this movie had the good sight to keep itself light where it mattered. When it became very serious about climate change, it felt all the more scary and important. It was also very well produced and shot.

At the end of the show, as me and the two friends were grabbing our stuff and stretching, I said “Whenever I see a movie like this, I think ‘I wonder how many more ways this one country can fuck up my life.’” I did not expect this to throw awkwardness into the gait of the two, but I noticed something of the sort. I have become accustomed to speaking my mind about the US and its long-spanning, clumsy arms. After a good few years of trying to make up my mind, I have decided that, yes, the war did fuck me up and, had it not happened, so many things in my life would be easier. For the longest time I had avoided coming to this conclusion because it took away my responsibility about my own life. No matter how I look at it, though, most of my life was decided by things I had no hand in and a lot of those things pointed towards the starry red white and blue. And yet, no matter how much I hate its body of governance and its people’s ignorance, I can’t help but love watching and hearing Buddy Guy sing What Kind Of Woman Is This while John Mayer plays guitar with him at a Farm Aid concert in 2005. That is the same year my family had to flee Iraq because of the war the invasion started. This whole life thing is so fucked up. So very, very fucked up.

Before the movie started, me and the other friend (not the one who invited me to join) sat waiting and started talking about things. We talked about her clumsiness, my experiences with depression, alcohol, and video games. She said one of the reasons she didn’t get into video games is because she wasn’t very good at them, and I told her the story of when I bought my PS3 eight years ago (my first console since the PS1, which I hardly played on), and how I spent 20 hours in Fallout 3 before realising what the button was for crouching. Up until then, I had roamed Capital Wasteland sneaking the whole time, and always wondered if there was a way to move any faster in that game. The game constantly told me if I was Hidden, should take Caution, or in Danger, and I never knew what the fuck those were about. I didn’t really know what they were about until much after I finished playing that game the first time. When I told her that story (without the game hiding indicator part) she laughed in what looked like very genuine amusement to me. She looked sweet when she laughed. It was very different from her usual demeanour of proud aggressiveness.

The moment, much later that night, as I walked back home, made me realise something about why I tell stories from my life. See, as we walked towards where they lived, they asked me about the war and how I experienced it, and I told them a summarised versions of what might sum up to be 5 years of my young life. I am very self-conscious about sharing my experience, because I feel like I’m hogging up the time and airspace with my own words about my own life. I feel like I’m being vain and incredibly obnoxious. That’s not how I feel about the stories, though, because I recognise just how important they are. Like it or not, mine is not a normal life, and it did not result in a normal person. I don’t like that I say that about myself, because it reeks of arrogance and self-centrism, but if I were to take a step back and look at the person that I am, it’s true. So why even put myself in a situation where I have to go through that conversation in my head about the conversation that I am having? I mean, people are usually curious and ask and I encourage them to do so because I love having conversations about tough topics and I am generally hard to offend, and that’s usually how I end up talking about myself, but why even go there? I could simply cut it off before it gets there. It’s not that hard to steer conversations. Why bother? Well, what I had realised on the walk back, the thing the Fallout story reminded me of, is that the reason why I tell these stories is that I’m afraid of forgetting them or thinking that they never happened. Whenever I recollected moving pictures from when I was still 11 and in Iraq, or 13 and in Egypt, or my first year in Malaysia, it feels like I’m drawing scenes from rather boring, dramatic movies. As real life stories, they’re pretty interesting, but that’s the thing- I often reflect and wonder if any of it really ever happened. It seems so, so far away now. I am sure I am missing details all over and I’ve distorted some others to things completely untrue to the real events. That Fallout story? I’m pretty sure it’s true. But when I imagine 20 hours of gameplay I can’t believe it myself. Was it 4? 6? Surely no longer than 10! And yet for some reason I remember 20 hours. Now imagine that confusion about— you would not believe it, but I just remembered the time when our house was raided by 20-40 US troops in the middle of the night. I am sitting in shock right now about how I had not remembered that one in, what, 4 years?! They took my uncle away, for fuck’s sake! He was only released one or two weeks later- how have I forgotten that?!

I did not expect that to happen. I was gonna make the point that I tell these stories so I don’t forget them and the details that go with them, and I got a live fucking example of forgetting about an important story. That was a big deal! I had collected 3 used glow sticks that the troops to light the house used instead of turning on the lights in our house for fear that something might be rigged, and we had thrown most of those glow sticks out! I remember we checked after they left and found quite a few things missing. I remember being woken up by a soldier fully clad in armour and a rifle, and seeing another one of them carry my little sister on his shoulder to where they had the rest of the family sitting. They had my father’s hands zip-tied behind his back.

This whole life thing is so fucking fucked up. I’m gonna go to sleep before I recollect any more shit that had formed me into what I am that I have somehow forgotten about. I am stunned.

 

But yeah, the movie is good. If you can go watch it, you should.

 

Paris attack – my anger and fear

The news of the attacks in Paris hit me in a lot of different ways in a quick burst. It feels like something got dislodged in my chest since yesterday’s evening and it has not set back in place since. I fear and expect that it won’t set back for a long time.

I won’t tell you that if you’ve changed your Facebook profile picture to have a French flag over it that you should also do the same with a Syrian flag or an Iraqi flag. It would be the right thing to do, of course. Many more people have died to the same enemy in those countries than in France. But you can keep your populism or reactivity or ignorance or bigotry or whatever it is that motivates you to yourself. This post here is about you, just like how your show of solidarity is about you. But I won’t talk to you till later. I need to get my thoughts in line first.

When the Syrian refugee crisis saw tons of people being very welcoming to people who were running away from the hellhole that the Middle East has become, I was positively moved, but I also worried. Getting across the sea isn’t the only thing these people need. The problem doesn’t stop at the boats. Besides the socioeconomic and political complexities of integrating immigrants escaping a war, specifically Arab and Muslim immigrants in European lands, there is still ISIS. It still tears away at whatever and whoever is left. A lot of those immigrants will want to go home when things clear, but things have to clear for that to become a reality for them. Meanwhile, any terrorist attack- in fact, any conflict between IS radicals and the hosting countries would test the humanity shown when the issue was popular. This stress is felt most by the refugees themselves. You only have one chance to make it out, so you better be at the best of your behaviour while your home is in flames.

And, well, here it is: a surprisingly large attack on European soil- French, no less. France has a well-known recent history of failing to integrate Islam into its culture. It works out well for ISIS’ ideology, and if an anti-Muslim reaction is drawn from the French people and its neighbouring countries, it’s jackpot for the warmongers. Meanwhile, Middle-Easterners are left having to re-establish their political existence outside of extremist images the attacks conjure up.

Let me put it in a simple, personal way: I was born and raised in Iraq up until I was 12, but I still hold an Iraqi passport right now. That means that where I’m supposed to be, where I would end up if I weren’t working or studying elsewhere, where my eventuality leads unless I fight it back, is a country I don’t remember, would not recognise, its street language I cannot speak, do not feel I belong to, do not think in the way most of its locals do, and one that has been burnt to ashes and the ashes burn still. Daesh would not exist were it not for the 2003 Iraq invasion, and neither would I, in my current state and form. The people who have paid most for that mistake are still the Iraqis, whether they’re in or out of Iraq. 127 French people have been confirmed dead at the Paris attacks, while all the Muslim/Arab/Middle-Eastern people living in France and surrounding Europe have one more thing they have to fear. It’s not like the fear is new, but now it’s immediate. It’s not just deportation, either- what they ran away from is now right behind them- and me.

I don’t know what this attack means for me or what I’m doing- how should I. But in the midst of all the support being sent in France’s direction, I feel like the people who keep paying for such barbarity are not only ignored, but also prosecuted. I won’t get to the scum that is asking Muslims to ‘defend their faith’ or such brazen acts of hatred; but they are happening, and they must be pointed out. Meanwhile, I’m left to mourn a place that is too old-news for the media to bring up and too far from me to know what it is. I’m left to mourn some piece of me that undeniable must make what I am but I nonetheless do not feel attached to. Death is not the worst of it; it is faking a will to live while your parts break off.

I will add this bit here just for the sake of recording it. You know what my initial reaction to the news was? Anger. Not anger that such a horrendous act is committed, because it is committed multiple times a day elsewhere by the same people. I was angry because I felt that I was expected to feel horrified and appalled by something like this just because it happened in France, Europe. I was angry that it was getting 60 headlines a minute. I was angry that other people were sympathising so well. I was angry that the life of a French man is so much more precious than that of a Syrian, an Iraqi, a Jordanian, a Kurd, and whoever else who dies at the hands of vile, religion-arming filth. Even now, every time I see another one of my friends boasting the French flag over their photos I writhe. Every time I see a #prayforparis I wince. After all these years, it still feels like I pay and you pray.

May we all have the strength to keep going on.

Pratchett’s Dead

Note before reading: The instigator for this post (and its reason of being) is an article Neil Gaiman wrote about Sir Terry in The Guardian (http://goo.gl/Aoo4iJ). He tweeted that it was the last thing he wrote about the man. If you’re curious about Pratchett, then that deserves more of a read than this does.

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I do not like grief when death is the subject. It carries on from the primitive tradition of ignoring and actively forgetting about death until it takes someone away and then, lo and behold, everyone is sad and afraid and, most of all, surprised. This isn’t always the case, of course. Persons and families who live with terminal illnesses know how it’s like to live with the thought of death lingering about the place. And yet, the feeling and atmosphere around it remains fatigued, forlorn, and faded. If you wanted to draw a person in that disposition, you’d do well by erasing and drawing and erasing and drawing their outline, again and again until the paper starts to wither and break. How can it not, when that person’s biology and everyone around them constantly and insistently remind them that they need to be cheerful, participate in rituals that help forgetting, and join the joyous flock which lives for the day, forgoes pondering, and is happy.

If there is any word that I despise, it is that. Not that I do not feel happiness or appreciate it, I do. But when it is the default motto and anthem of nearly every human, your ears should perk and your nose should start sniffing. The way I see it, it is the battle cry of every person without the fortitude of mind to think one of their own. Much like large schools of belief, its meaning is diluted and uncertain, and each person has their own definition that they vehemently will defend as the right one. Naturally, of course. If you pick a goal for your life, you better protect it, or else you might find yourself without one. Who knows what might happen then.

To simplify and exemplify, here’s some text that is most often attributed to John Lennon:

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

That is seen as wise and reflective. It is seen as a challenge to the utilitarian view that ‘they’ have, and the dawn of a person who knew what it was actually about. What it reads to me is a desperate and sad attempt at ignoring what life is, at throwing away problems like having to find your position in a society that does not notice you and replacing them with the desire to forget that and live in a fantasy of constant joy and acceptance. It is much easier to ignore life than to stare it in the eye and find no answer.

 

But some people have no choice. They’re born unlucky, either by an excess of cleverness, an excess of thought, simple and ruthless illness, or a combination of those and many other things I cannot count. Pratchett was one of those. It is well known that the ridiculously creative author had to go through too many years (and any number of years is too many) with Alzheimer’s eating at his memory, his being. After having read The Colour of Magic at least a year ago, I could tell that he had developed a sense of unconcerned pessimism way before the disease hit him. Those who read Pratchett would recognise what I am talking about: although it is comedic in tone and fantasy in setting, the writer doesn’t write happy stories. In fact, the joke is almost always that life does not care for the characters, and often will constantly throw bad and good luck around like an overly excited dog gnashing and swinging books at a library. The gods are silly and wasteful while Death is uncaring about his nature to those whom it visits and magic has arbitrary rules and vile consequences. All the side characters have motivations rendered silly by the circumstance. It’s either that the joke is that life is unfair and chaotic, or that I have not read enough Pratchett to make that reading solid.

Of course, this is also me seeking verification of my worldview in a writer much more accomplished and universally acclaimed than I see myself ever being. Like a herald at a prophet’s death, I hold my interpretation as canon and try to amass a crowd so I feel welcome. And now that I have said it, I realise that pessimism and death are not ideas that people can gather around, so it’s a vain effort at best. Point being: I shouldn’t give a shit. I wouldn’t have written any of this was it not for Neil Gaiman’s piece. I held that reading of Pratchett to myself, knowing that it is not polite to call his work pessimistic when his life has become exactly that. I was surprised when I learned that Pratchett was angry, but only for an instance. It simply fit with the narrative of his work. So I’m here to tell you what Neil told me what Pratchett tries to tell us all: life’s kinda fucked; don’t hold on to it like a 5-year-old child.