rambling

A Brief Lesson on Limits

Yes, we’ve all heard or read this one before: know your limits. In other words, don’t push yourself too hard. I’m sure we’ve all been hearing and reading about another phenomenon that has become a buzzword: burnout. I’m not here to wax poetic about burnout (though I should probably get back to posting poetry at some point in the near future), but I will say that I don’t think I have very large limits. I get to my limits quickly and easily. This is both good and bad. The awful work culture of the U.S. has never been my thing, and my lower breaking point means I haven’t been through the wringer in as harrowing a way as many folks; I’m a firm believer that too much time in the capitalist meat grinder tricks people into enjoying their destruction, or at least, pretending they enjoy it. Fuck, I said I wouldn’t wax poetic. I should stop now. But, as the title implies, this should be a brief lesson on limits.

Total tonal shift: DoorDash is dangerous if you’re one person. In the beginning of the pandemic, I managed to avoid DoorDashing for myself because my brother, saint that he is, went to the grocery store and kept our supplies coming in. I didn’t download any of the delivery apps ’cause if I wanted food to be brought to my door, I got old-school and channeled my inner Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (trademark, hashtag, whatever) by ordering pizza. And that worked, for a long while. It even worked in the midst of my COVID-19 infection. Both my brother and I suffered the virus in the middle of January, and even during my 10-day quarantine, I didn’t use DoorDash for myself; once again, my brother came to my rescue and just ordered food for both of us. Was I using DoorDash by proxy? Eh, I guess so. But anyway, my point is, I didn’t even get into DoorDash until we were nearly two years into this pandemic mess.

But oh lord, when I finally embraced DoorDash, I embraced it wholeheartedly. I opted into the monthly fee (mistake number one). Now, every time I go to order food, I get that reminder that I have to spend at least $12 before my delivery fee is waived. Now, if I was some kind of gourmand or a DoorDash expert, I’d take full advantage of this and order all kinds of shit to save for later. But I’m neither of the aforementioned beings: I’m just a dude who’s too lazy to drive down the street to McDonald’s. The McDonald’s mention is important, and I’ll tell you why. No, I’m not sponsored by McDonald’s, though I eat there enough to be. McDonald’s is the great representative of fast food the world over; if the U.S. wants to get its foot in the door anywhere, it need only deploy the two M’s: the military, and McDonald’s. Neither one of these entities is good for the world, but I came here to talk about DoorDash and (a lack of) limits. I’ll leave the military for another brief rant.

Anyway, back to the big yellow M. The first time I used DoorDash, I actually ordered Cheesecake Factory for myself and some of my tabletop buddies, and I don’t think I had opted into the monthly fees yet. Those came later, post-quarantine, after I’d recovered from COVID and I found myself even more unwilling to leave the house. I didn’t want to go anywhere, but I still wanted food. Could I have groceries delivered to my door? Sure, that’s one way to solve a problem, but like, I’m not great at buying groceries. There was a time when I worked in a grocery store and that made my grocery life so much easier: I’d make a list of shit we needed and I’d buy it on my way out the door, after a shift or whatever. I probably should have been more clever and bought my groceries while I was on the clock, but hey, I was a lot more brainwashed then. So I decided not to order groceries for myself. Instead, I asked DoorDash to do what I didn’t want to do: drive down to the nearest fast food joint and grab greasy crap so I could shove it down my gullet.

Damn it, I said this would be brief. I lied. Seeing as how I just wanted one fast food meal at a time, I’d open up the app and look at my options. On nearly all of the options available to me, a little reminder hung below the card for each “restaurant”: “Spend $12 or more for free delivery.” I put that last part in quotes though I didn’t actually check the app’s verbiage; the fact remains, every fast food joint offers the free delivery, IF you cave and buy twelve bucks’ worth of fast food (how much can one buck eat?). Do you know how much fast food one skinny-ish dude needs to be sated? Like, nine bucks’ worth, maybe, if you’re going for a combo. If you’re going for value menu shit, you can get by with like, six or seven bucks’ worth of fast food. Some places offer what they call “deluxe” combos. Everyone should convert “deluxe” into “baconified” in their heads, ’cause that’s usually what a deluxe fast food combo offers: bacon, and more bacon if you’re into that. Today, I ordered almost thirteen bucks’ worth ($13!) of McDonald’s, because I don’t want to pay the delivery fee and I’m stubborn and damn it, I can still eat that much fast food. But Ronald Christ McDonald, eating that much fast food is neither fun nor healthy. Let me break it down this way: the Big Mac Combo, which is likely the most popular combo meal offered by McDonald’s, only costs about $8.99 or something. We’ll round up to nine bucks ($9!). On a day where I’m really hungry, a Big Mac Combo (trademark, hashtag, whatever ((I know the hashtag should go before the phrase, I’m just being willfully obtuse at this point))) would be a whole dinner for me and I’d be happy. Full. Fulfilled.

But gods damn it, I have to spend more than nine bucks to waive the delivery fee.

So what do I do? Well, I’ve done a few things to get around this dilemma. Solution number one: buy 20 McNuggets. Now, I don’t advise this solution unless you have friends/family members/roommates to whom you may offer many nuggets. ’cause eating a whole combo meal AND THEN trying to shove McNuggets into your throat is not a recipe for a good time. So only attempt solution number one if you have assistance. I went for solution number two today: I ordered another burger, believing I would save it for later, after I’d digested my Big Mac Meal and started feeling peckish. Big spoiler: I did not save that extra burger for later, and here’s why. I ate the Big Mac. I ate all the fries. I forgot to mention earlier that when I go for fast food combos, I opt for the large size or the local equivalent, ’cause I’m a fool. So I ate all those fucking fries. And as I finished the mondo mound of fries, I could feel my stomach expanding. It could barely fit all that shit in there, and it didn’t want me to put any other food into it. But y’see, I’d been thinking about my options. There were, as far as I could tell, three of them.

Option one: put the extra burger in the fridge and eat it later.

Option two: eat the burger now. Do it, coward.

Option three: toss that shit.

I didn’t like option three at all, ’cause I only bought the extra burger to avoid paying the delivery fee. I’d be tossing, like, four bucks ($4!) into the trash! So I couldn’t stomach (ha) option three. Option one sounded ideal, until I reminded myself that a cold burger isn’t great, and a reheated burger might even be worse. So that left me with option two, an option which mine stomach didst protest. Yet I didn’t want to waste a perfectly good bad burger. So I … I ate the damn thing.

My stomach bulged even more than it had already, and as I write this I can feel the food baby melting. Or dissolving. Whatever the fuck happens to food in one’s stomach. Now, I realize that I am a fool because I opted into this dilemma: I choose to pay that monthly fee. The only thing the monthly fee actually gets you is the sweet delivery fee avoidance, but that avoidance comes at a price. The extra money it takes to spend more than $12 (twelve bucks!). I’m pretty sure most delivery fees come out to like, four or five bucks (4 or $5?! How does one write that with numbers and symbols?), and typically, I gotta shell out about three or four bucks to waive the fee. So I don’t even think my solution is that cost-effective.

I can imagine that for families who all share one DoorDash account and typically order food together, the monthly service is great and they easily avoid delivery fees ’cause they buy food for multiple people at once. For me, a single, lonely, still-sorta-scrawny guy, it’s hard to order twelve bucks’ ($12!) worth of food. I can manage it most of the time, but my wallet isn’t happy. My body isn’t happy either; I’ve eaten more fast food over the last three months than I ate in the like, two years prior to that. Maybe it’s not that bad, I could be hyperbolizing here, but the point still stands: I’m eating too much fast food. I’m spending too much money on a service that I honestly don’t need.

I think my problems go way deeper than my newfound DoorDash addiction, but for now, I’ll apologize for not being brief at all. The title will still stand, though, a testament to good intentions and poor execution.

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Riffing on Music

I’m old enough to recall the last gasping breaths of cassette tapes. Maybe they were more like, the last creaky attempts to reel the tapes back in? Either way, music on cassettes lay dying as newfangled CD technology struggled to be born. Flash forward about 25 years and my stories of finding new music for myself usually start with “Spotify showed me … ” or “I was listening to a song on YouTube, and … ” The algorithms are probably designed to feel sort of organic, as in, I can trace the branches back to the trunk and the roots of my musical tastes, moving backward from the seemingly random song that’s playing now to the band or artist who was similar to an artist who was similar to my current ear worm. And it shouldn’t have taken me so long to figure out that algorithms are designed, intentionally, to mimic a more “natural” flow of information from one person to another. Today I woke up thinking about music, and the ways my consumption of it have changed, and these are my initial responses to the questions I’ve been asking myself. Before I ramble too long about the present, however, I should probably hop into my personal music history.

The first music cassette I ever owned was a Chumbawamba tape that I got for, you guessed it, “Tubthumping.” In a twist made more amusing in retrospect, I don’t think I ever actively listened to another cassette. For a slightly entertaining modification to the pervasive 1990s ear worm, replace every “[alcoholic beverage]” with “whiskey drink.” So the song now goes “He takes a whiskey drink, he drinks a [whiskey drink], he drinks a [whiskey drink], he drinks a [whiskey drink].” It’s all whiskey now. To take this game even further, replace “good times” and “best times” with “whiskey drink”; now the chorus concludes “He sings the songs that remind him of the [whiskey drink], he sings the songs that remind him of the [whiskey drink, whiskey drink].”

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve started singing “Tubthumping” to myself only to get caught up in endless flights of whiskey drinks. This is the way my brain has altered thanks to early internet staples such as FunnyJunk and YTMND, and the glorious DIY era of early YouTube. Lines, limericks, images, everything gets thrown in the blender that is my mind and turned into some weird variation of YouTube-poopified reality. Have I strayed too far from music? Let’s get back to music.

I grew up listening to mainstream radio in the 90s, and thanks to my mom being in tune with the times, I knew the legend of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana; I listened to a lot of Bush, and eventually, my teenage brain looked into Pearl Jam. At some point in this essay I’ll wax poetic about the importance of nuanced, evolving takes on music, musicians, bands, et cetera, but at the time, Pearl Jam was my obsession. I was single-minded about them; I started with Ten and, thanks to one of the first internet forums in which I participated, I learned Pearl Jam’s whole discography and methodically bought each and every CD they’d released to that point (that point being 2003, the year I was a freshman in high school). I seemed destined to get into grunge and long-haired rocker shit. I was a child of the 90s, after all. When I was a pre-teen, I asked my parents for a CD player; I probably should have mentioned this sooner, but the story is flowing from me in the way that it wants to. This CD player could also tune into the radio, so I’d switch from bombarding my ears with Eddie Vedder and company to consuming all the popular crap on the local “alternative” station. While a half-step from mainstream is hardly alternative, radio stations gotta stay afloat somehow, I suppose; I recall hearing a lot of bands on the radio for the first time, from Audioslave to The Killers to Interpol and, to my ever-changing appraisal, Coheed and Cambria.

I listened to the first Audioslave album for a while, usually on the bus ride to school in the morning; my first girlfriend didn’t like Audioslave, and she didn’t like Pearl Jam, but we sorta liked each other and that’s what mattered at the time. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure my brain only has enough attention for things that are right in front of me, and anything beyond the present bubble of time is sorta relegated to the shadow realm of “non-existent to me.” So like, while I should have known that current bands like Audioslave and The Killers would keep releasing new music, I only listened to their first albums and let things sit like that for a long time. To be honest, Hot Fuss has been stuck in my head, off and on, for … almost twenty years? Oh shit. I listened to it a ton, then put it away for a handful of years until one night when I decided to deep-clean my room. And for some reason, the best music for getting into a cleaning mindset was that first Killers’ album. Maybe because by that time, it had become an almost mindless, comfort listen for me. So I sank into its familiar hooks and melodies, sang along when I felt like it, and cleaned the shit out of my room. Antics by Interpol was treated sorta the same in that I was way into it for a short while, like, a whole summer, then I put it away for good. Every now and then the chorus of an early Interpol song will emerge from my mind and my mouth, but for the most part, I don’t listen to them anymore.

Some of you may be wondering “Are you just a music opportunist?” And that’s a valid question. In my teenage years, I think I was; I listened to the radio until one song or another really hit me the right way, then I’d seek out the particular album on which that song lives, and I’d give that album and that band a chance. A lot of that stuff was “one album and done”; for what it’s worth, I heard so much about The Beatles when I was young that when my parents burned one disc of some kinda “Greatest Hits” compilation, I listened to like all 25 of those songs for months and got them stuck in my head. Then I stopped looking into The Beatles. I only needed the bangers; everything else was just so much white noise to me. (Lol, The Beatles and white noise, Elvis stealing black musicians’ sounds and styles, oh god so much music is theft. I’m not an expert on this subject so I’ll stop now.) Anyway, I picked up and abandoned bands and artists all the time. Some stayed: my older stepsister started listening to a bunch of Queen when I was 14 or 15, and I became obsessed with Queen. Then there’s Coheed. Oh god, there’s Coheed.

One weekend I heard a really interesting song on the local “alternative” radio station: it was called “A Favor House Atlantic” by a band named Coheed and Cambria, and according to the DJ, Coheed’s music was based on a comic book written by the lead singer of the band. It was so many cool nerdy things at once: prog rock, writing, a comic book story. I had to hear the whole album. To my chagrin, this album wasn’t Coheed’s first musical creation; it was called In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3. 3? THREE?! There are two other albums I need to hear?! I learned fairly fast that there was actually just one other album I needed to hear, The Second Stage Turbine Blade; the first part of the story and thus, the “first” album, hadn’t been completely written yet. “Good writer man,” you may be saying, “are you telling us that you finally went beyond a band’s current discography?” I mean, yes; I used to be obsessed with Pearl Jam, remember? But truly, Coheed and Cambria was probably the second band that made me pay attention to their whole output. To be transparent, I don’t always listen to the lyrics of a song, as in, I’ll pick up the words and sing along and get really into the feeling of a song but I won’t think too much about what the actual words are saying. And well, Coheed is a band that puts a whole fucking narrative into each song. Since each song covers a part of a whole comic book narrative, each song tells a story. My teenage brain wasn’t preoccupied with those details though; my teenage brain was like “Whoa, this dude sings in a high pitch and it sounds awesome!” So when the end of one song goes “Pull the trigger and the nightmare stops” repeatedly, I didn’t stop and go “Damn, that’s dark.” I just kept singing it. To be fair to myself, I grew up with stories of Kurt Cobain and sang a whole lot of “Yeah I swear that I don’t have a gun.” The darker aspects of existence, the sadness that can consume a person, I think I lived with feelings similar to them without actually confronting them.

So for a long time, I just accepted Coheed’s lyrics, and sang them as best as I could, and just kinda loved each song’s vibe. I thought In Keeping Secrets was fucking rad, but Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness came out when I was a senior in high school. This album. Fucking. Shredded. In many ways, I think it was the most proggy of the band’s stuff to that point, and Jesus, it was dark. Darker than pulling the trigger and stopping the nightmare. This album, according to hearsay and eventually the lead singer’s own admission, was his response to a real-life failed romantic relationship. He took that breakup hard. And, as it turns out, the protagonist was based on the lead singer, and the in-comic-book-universe writer of the comic book was based on the lead singer, and the respective women connected to each of these fictional dudes was based on the lead singer’s girlfriend-now-ex, and … the story hardly makes sense through hearsay, but like, he did some fucked up stuff through this album. At the time, I thought that like, the mingling of the real world with the fictional world and the use of fiction as a method to cope with grief was really cool and interesting, so I just accepted that general vibe and didn’t think too hard about the lyrics. Until one day, just a few years ago, when I was driving a co-worker to a public event shortly before COVID kept us all inside.

This co-worker and I did our best to share pieces of our lives with each other, and when we had to drive an hour to a place, then another hour back home, we naturally turned to music to help smooth out the experience. I’m not picky; I’ll give almost any music a chance. One weekend, however, she asked me to play something I enjoyed. Well, Coheed was always ready to return to my brain, and I really liked the mix of storytelling and real-world personal events, so I … played Good Apollo Volume One. And I sang along. And like, the whole album is about the fictional writer planning to kill off his protagonist’s love interest to force himself to get over his breakup, which is the actual writer’s way of coming to terms with the real breakup, and no matter how I try to spin this, this dude is using imagined violence to do away with a woman who gives him trouble. It’s not good. Imagine suffering a breakup and concluding “I just need to kill at least one person to make myself feel better.” I totally understand that it’s fiction, and no real people were physically harmed through the music, but uh … mentally and emotionally, I think it’s all different. The lead singer/actual writer imagined killing a fictional character based heavily on his actual ex. He sang some twisted lyrics that are, according to his explicit admission, inspired by this breakup. A lot of imagined violence against women. And I was singing through that imagination. In a car. With my co-worker.

I don’t know if she felt unsafe, but she definitely told me that she didn’t like the music. So I turned off that album and handed her the aux. Her reaction finally got me thinking: how far should we all read into fiction, especially when the writer himself states that it’s heavily based on real life? Should we be concerned when artists display and/or describe violence that is, at least in part, inspired by real-world pain? I believe that art is a useful response to pain and trauma, but something about Coheed and Cambria cutting so close to the bone is unsettling. I think that the lead singer, Claudio, even spoke out eventually and said that if he could do one thing differently, he would change a lot of that album. I believe it’s due to the speed with which he reacted: they broke up, he was hurt, and he put all that pain directly into the album. It made it violent and dark, darker than their other stuff, and their stuff is pretty dark. A lot of murder and vengeance and bloody conspiracy. But this, this felt more personal. Maybe that’s why it’s unsettling: personal grievances turned into fictional violence feel way too close to real violence.

No matter how I look at that particular album, the follow-up just seemed lackluster in comparison. Which is a shame, given the impetus behind the first volume. It’s possible that my time with Coheed was just done; I listened to the “final” album of the story, and when they finally looped back and wrote the “first” part of the story and released that album, I didn’t even listen to it. I think that this is an organic way to approach music: we figure out what we like about it, we stick with that, and when a song or an album doesn’t hit us right, we either throw it out immediately or we listen until it grows on us. Or we listen a few times to verify that it won’t grow on us, then we abandon it.

People tried to get me to hop back on a few musical trains. A woman I dated for a long time loves The Killers, and she gave me all the albums I’d ignored since Hot Fuss came out. I listened to them a while in preparation for a concert, then stopped listening altogether. I’ll go back to Hot Fuss every now and again, but I sorta leave The Killers alone now. A former friend was even more obsessed with Coheed than I was, and every now and then he’d try to get me to listen to their newer stuff; I’d express polite interest, then put Coheed away for good. Shit, I forgot to even mention the Fall Out Boy times; in high school I loved Fall Out Boy, and that love lasted a good few years. At some point, I stopped listening to them too. I remember, back in the MySpace days, one person’s profile stated something like “I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know.” At the time, it seemed like the epitome of arrogance, and in a way it is, but the general truth remains: some people consume so much information and knowledge that it overflows and leaks out. I feel like my history with music is this way, with me picking up on random bands for a while, then discarding them when I want to experience something else. Details get left behind.

Where once I tried to remember every person who showed me that one band and how many other people I shared that band with, now all I have to do is recall whether I found new stuff through YouTube, Spotify, or maybe an Instagram story. Which incorporates Spotify, usually. The algorithm has come along and replaced human interaction, in many ways. I don’t need to talk with people about the music I like to hear what they have to say or if they have suggestions for my next listen; instead, I listen to someone on Spotify, and the algorithm does all the connecting of dots for me. A few years ago, when the “lo-fi hip-hop beats to study/relax to” joke first started, I actually really enjoyed that playlist. And that playlist connected to a lot of other YouTube playlists that were actually pretty good! I found a bunch of future-funk and synthwave that way. My word, the retrowave playlists are everywhere on YouTube these days. But thanks to YouTube, I found a bunch of electronica-adjacent artists, and now that I have Spotify, I can sink down weird chip-tuney rabbit holes. My ears have never been more curious, or more tired.

Don’t get me wrong, I like talking about music with real people. But with COVID running rampant and everyone staying inside, the algorithm might be the next best thing. I say this as I’m fully aware that all this data is used to figure out what I like, what products to which I’ll respond, and which tactics will convince me to part with my money. Damn it, big tech is too powerful. In a way though, sharing intimate details of how I found such-and-such band and what they mean to me, that’s a lot. Not every stranger wants to hear that shit. Not every person wants to know my musical history. Not many would care. So uh, if you read this whole thing out of curiosity, thank you. It started with an idea, and I didn’t exactly refine it the way I thought I would. It became a rambling exploration of some of my past. We all have different ways of tracing our forming, and this is but one part of my formation. Maybe one day we can all swap stories organically; for now, it’s algorithms and random encounters. To the tune of a great ear worm from the 90s, “He takes a whiskey drink, he drinks a whiskey drink, he drinks a whiskey drink, he drinks a whiskey drink; he sings the songs that remind him of the whiskey drink, he sings the songs that remind him of the whiskey drink (whiskey drink).” Happy whiskey drink, everyone.

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Reminding Myself to Make Waves

(Author’s Note: I actually looked up the film I describe here, and I got a few details wrong. Aaron Eckhart plays a married man who learns his wife is cheating on him, and he mentors a kid, and he and the kid and one of his new friends go on a quest to … fix his life? My memories are hazy at best, so I got some of the film’s synopsis wrong. Oops. The general gist is still the same: dude tries to fix his life.)

I remember browsing video stores when I was younger. When I was around 17 or 18 years old, I recall wandering a local Blockbuster and scanning the shelves to see if any combination of actors, titles, and cover images caught my attention. At the time, I’d recently watched Thank You For Smoking, a satire that examined the life of a cigarette lobbyist played by Aaron Eckhart. I suppose I could pinpoint the year I perused the shelves of this now-gone Blockbuster, given I recall a few specific details, but the particular year doesn’t quite matter; what matters is that I was relatively young, approaching the end of high school and the possibility of college, one more crucial step toward “adulthood.” This general vibe of progression will make more sense when I describe why I recall Aaron Eckhart.

Thanks to Thank You For Smoking, I’d become something of an Aaron Eckhart fan. I’d see his face or hear his voice somewhere and I’d lean in, intrigued. So that day in the Blockbuster, my eyes scanned the shelves until they hit upon some rom-com-dramedy sort of deal starring, well, Mr. Eckhart himself. There were a few other folks on the cover, a pretty young woman and some other people, but Aaron Eckhart played the protagonist. The synopsis on the back went something like this: 35-year-old dude played by Aaron Eckhart works a dead-end job and he’s super sad about it. His friends/co-workers help him refresh his life and get a new lease on excitement, or something. All I remember is that this character was in his mid-30s, and he was not happy. Why, dear writer, are you recalling this film at this point in your life? Good question, reader. I’m in my 30s and I’m not happy. I guess I could have defaulted to the contemplative early-to-mid-oughts Zach Braff stuff, but for some reason, that never stuck with me. My criteria make no sense, I know; films I watched all the way through, like Garden State and The Last Kiss, didn’t come to mind when I started to think about my life spiraling to an eerie standstill in my 30s, but the vague premise of a movie starring Aaron Eckhart that I didn’t even rent or watch suddenly becomes all-consuming.

It might have something to do with the way I remember reacting to this back-of-the-box synopsis. As an aging teenager, I thought my spirit was enough to defend me from any sort of stagnation, that I would never allow myself to become an adult with a dead soul or a dying sense of adventure. That I wouldn’t be stuck in habits tailored to solitude and introversion, sitting in my room for hours at a time and talking with no one, afraid that my thoughts and feelings would be invalidated by some heartless logician or know-it-all asshole. I think I actually went through a “know-it-all asshole” phase, whereby I caused folks to use adjectives like “pretentious” and nouns like “hipster” to describe me. I had particular tastes, and back then I wasn’t afraid to speak of them. Teenage me scoffed at the idea of being 35 and needing a soft reset.

Now, I desperately crave a soft reset. I’m 33 and I’ve attended two weddings in the past year, despite a legitimate personal fear of COVID. I actually suffered COVID in January, and went through another quarantine two weeks ago because my roommate went to Coachella and caught it there. I didn’t get COVID again, but I still locked myself in my room and really enjoyed myself, for a time. A few of my friends have earnest discussions with their spouses about the “right time” to have children. Everyone, it seems, is getting one advanced degree or another. Everyone is working toward a promotion of some sort. Everyone is moving, not in the “I’m leaving one home for another” sense, but in the “my life is dynamic and I change” sense. And I know that, even though I maintain connections and have a decent group of friends, I haven’t grown in quite some time.

All the personality tests say that I’m the sort of person who thinks through their feelings. I think this is what most of my writing is about: I put my feelings through the colander of my brain and see what the words say once I sift them. The overall sense I get from wordifying my latest feelings is, I’m really sad and I’m really tired but I need to do something to get moving again. Last weekend I did something I hadn’t done in a long time: I went on a road trip. “Great,” you may be thinking, “that’s a good way to break the monotony!” But here’s the thing: two of the three days of this endeavor were spent driving, and I wasn’t the driver. One day to drive to the location of a wedding, another day for the wedding itself, and the third day for driving home. I didn’t drive, my brother did; I didn’t arrange the AirBnB, my brother did; I didn’t really do anything, my brother did all the hard work.

Those personality tests say there’s another thing I do: I act like a child so that others will take care of me. That’s right, I’m a 33-year-old man who infantilizes himself to trick people into doing stuff for him. I don’t do it on purpose, not all the time; indeed, as a person who’s too self-aware, I tend to just narrate my thoughts, so if I’m doing something I’m not familiar with, I’ll say that out loud. And whoa, suddenly people are there to help, to give encouragement, to make sure I do it right. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just trying to get everyone in on something, like a team effort or what-have-you. A collective endeavor. Some folks argue that a person needs to do everything for themselves, and those folks will get red in the face as they espouse the virtues of individuality. Don’t get me wrong, it’s clear that I need to make some choices for myself and do certain things on my own to improve my life, but I think the “FrEeDoM” crowd misses the importance of community. Teamwork is a beautiful thing, and when people work well together, collaboration is refreshing and enjoyable. Too many of our social ills stem from this idea that it’s up to individuals to address their own shortcomings, as though the systems and institutions we’ve allowed to proliferate aren’t exploitative and responsible for most of our troubles. But I’m veering into a whole other territory of subjects with which I don’t intend to grapple here!

My point is, I have some strange way of avoiding responsibilities, and my self-diagnosis is that I need to try new things and be braver with my words. I fantasize too often and end up regretting my lack of real-world actions. At the wedding I attended over the weekend, I was one of the “young” guests, young meaning somewhere in the neighborhood of folks under 40. My parents and relatives, obviously, all had partners of some sort, and even the other young folks were paired with their respective people. I met one guest who made it clear that she was single, and like a drop of mustard to a clean t-shirt, I was drawn to her. She was incredibly gregarious, she was self-aware, she was funny, she was pretty, and I have a problem whereby I turn any new female I meet into a potential match in my brain. I imagine scenarios that see us getting together. Like I said, I have a problem; I’m incredibly lonely and I badly want to connect with someone.

Anyway, things seemed to be going well. She said things like “You’re a delight” and, after I said I really should go to the dance floor, she replied “Oh, there are plenty of girls who’d love to dance with you!” I realize she may have just sensed my overwhelming insecurity and she was bolstering my confidence any way she could; I also realized, in retrospect, that I should have been more direct. Fantasy fights reality, right? In my fantasy, she and I wind up dancing together. In reality, I thanked her for the compliments and left the opening as a gaping hole in the realm of possibility. I could have said “Hey, would you like to dance with me?” and seen where things went. At the end of the night, when my brother said he’d start the car, I said I’d make my goodbyes and meet him in a few minutes. I wanted to establish some kind of connection, but how? In this instance, I had little to no agency; my brother was my ride, all weekend, and while I could have resorted to Uber or a cab, I didn’t want to force a situation into existence. So, when this particular woman said “So, is this the end-all be-all?” I said “It doesn’t have to be!,” which probably should have meant more than “I’ll get your phone number” or “I’ll add you on social media.” But that’s where my tired mind went: I didn’t want to take a chance and say, like, “Do you wanna grab food somewhere?” So I took the coward’s way out: I got her number, I texted her as though we lived in the same city, and everything ground to a halt. ’cause we don’t live in the same city, or even the same state; we are now separate from each other, and any intense interest I may have felt is now forced to be snuffed out.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about that random Aaron Eckhart film where he’s 35 and desperate for a soft reset of his life. I’m 33 and I need to make some changes, for my health. Physically, I’m soft; mentally, I’m tired; emotionally, I’m sad. While I don’t want to become a creep, I’d like to have the ability to take more chances with relational connections; that night at the wedding, I would have liked to have my own car so I could ask questions like “Do you wanna get out of here?” I think, under all this desperation, there’s a desire to be braver. I was once told that I’m “afraid of women.” And those interactions (more like, my lack of actions) at the wedding prove that statement true. I didn’t ask this woman to dance, I didn’t ask if she wanted to go on an adventure, and the worst thing that could’ve happened was I heard “No, thanks.” Rejection is better than nothing and silence. I’m 33, I’m working a job that doesn’t fulfill me, and I haven’t done all that much to move forward. Maybe I’m being hard on myself, but I’m sad and I want to make my daydreams into reality. I want to dance, and say my thoughts out loud. I think I’ll look up that movie now, and actually watch it. Maybe it sucks. Maybe it’s just ok. Maybe it’ll speak to me because I find its subject matter relatable. All in all, I won’t know unless I give it a chance.

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What’s In the Navel

I’ve felt a little lost lately. Though I do not wander at all. The sound of my keyboard shouting reminds me that a while back, I planned to buy a new keyboard. A better one. I don’t even know what constitutes an improvement when it comes to keyboards, but mine is so noisy. And generic. I’ve been pondering a mechanical keyboard. I think that’s a good one. I reach endlessly for little improvements to my life and my possessions and my habits, hoping the next little leap will be enough, and it never is. I look outward too much. I need to look inward.

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COVID, The Expanse, and Me

As folks who follow my blog may already know, I tested positive for COVID-19 twelve days ago. I quarantined myself for approximately ten days, waiting to test negative and for my symptoms to subside. Around the five-day mark, most of my symptoms were gone. Yet the older CDC guidelines state that a person infected with “moderate COVID-19” should quarantine for ten days. Now, in light of the new CDC guidelines that suggest a mere five day quarantine, I figured I might be safe after five days; however, I also tend to agree with many that the CDC has shown itself to be a pawn of capital and a danger to workers everywhere. These new guidelines which claim that folks are safe and non-contagious after five days seem tailor-made to send workers back to their jobs too fast, putting their coworkers and customers at risk. So, I chose to ignore the new guidelines, and I quarantined for ten days. My symptoms may have been gone around day five, but I wanted to play things safe. I am immunocompromised, after all; type 1 diabetes and illnesses don’t mix well together. It takes my body a while to kick invaders out. So I stayed inside my room and made sure I tested negative and kicked my symptoms away before I walked around and did anything even remotely close to other people. Naturally, this gave me plenty of time to watch a lot of YouTube, to finally embrace a podcast, to watch the Netflix adaptation of that podcast, and read a book I’d put off for too long. What are all these things, you may be asking in your head, and I’ll tell you about one of them for now. The book I put off was Leviathan Falls, the final entry in the much-loved series The Expanse. The series has been about a decade in the writing, though the final book is the ninth book, so the pace of development was not slow at all. By the time I started reading the books, I believe they’d released five out of the nine planned novels, so I had a good amount of material to get through. Sometime along the way, SyFy decided it was time to develop a tv show based on the books, and I’ll get to that later; all you need to know for now is that I dutifully avoided the tv show as I read through the series, and I kept television’s beautiful but tailored imaginings of the books out of my brain. Anyway, back to my quarantine and the final book of the series.

A Long Time Coming and a Short Time Remembered

Perhaps the first half of the header above is unfair; not many of these books were a long time coming, as the authors collaboratively referred to by their pen name James S.A. Corey completed a nine-book series in the span of, let me check … yep, ten years, give or take. That’s about a book a year. The first novel released on June 2nd, 2011, while the ninth and final novel released on November 30th, 2021. I realize that they probably took some time to write the first book, so it’s probably more like an eleven or twelve-year process for the whole series, but still … even for crunchy-sweet science fiction, nine books in more or less a decade is pretty good. The potential math behind the creation of The Expanse is unnecessary and overly geeky at this point, so I’ll stop that train of thought; while it’d be fun to play around and figure out just how many words a day each of the series’ two authors wrote, it’d just be an exercise in self-amusement for me. What matters most to this discussion is the descriptor I used to talk about the series: crunchy-sweet. It’s a fancy way of conveying what I say to people when I talk about the series in real life: that the books are long, but they go fast like candy. Sweet, for how easy it is to consume them, but prefaced by crunchy, for the weight of the character development and the moral quandaries explored within their pages. Crunchy-sweet, maybe like peanut brittle, or something. Tasty so I remember that I ate them, but I can’t always recall the exact ingredients of the candy. There’s a funny phenomenon I experienced while reading the series: I could recall important vibes, like general emotions associated with plot advancements, but I couldn’t always recite important details. The specifics of situations and their space opera gravity fell away like a ship pulled into orbit, while the general feelings stayed like so much starlight. POTENTIALLY BIG SPOILERS AHEAD: I would always remember things like “The second book is when Prax goes searching for his missing daughter” and “The third book is the one with the slow zone and that one asshole who tries to take over the big ship.” The fourth book is the wild west one where the main players are stuck on a planet way out in one of the galactic frontiers. Book three to four is a big change; book six to seven is an even bigger change. To be honest, I hardly recall book five. It’s just the one where some of the characters are on Earth, or something. There is something stupefying yet beautiful about how easy it is to forget the specifics of this series, and I’ll go into that now; it’s about time I talk about The Expanse as a tv series.

Painting in Broad Strokes: Why Television Doesn’t Have to Hammer Home All a Book’s Details

Okay, now that I’ve drawn a line in the sand, let’s discuss the interplay of books and television. When I was a younger man, I leaned hard into books as the superior storytelling medium in comparison to tv. I love(d) to read, and whenever the books I enjoyed were turned into something filmic, I inevitably cried foul at the tv adaptation’s omission of certain details, and/or the weakness of film for not allowing time or space to accommodate all of a book’s complexities, as in characters, storylines, et cetera. Fuck, that’s a huge et cetera. In the words of one of my favorite college professors, “Your sentences are too long.” Actually, I’m paraphrasing, forget the quotation marks. Eh, I’m too lazy to go back now. Anyway, overly long sentences aside, this piece would be over. Okay, stop with the jokes, “writer.” So I used to get upset when movies and especially tv shows butchered my favorite books. That’s because I was looking for a 1:1 conversion, when, naturally, books and televisions shows are different mediums. They will present information differently, and when done well, each will play to their respective strengths. When I got upset at tv shows for not being as comprehensive or detail-rich as books, that’s because I was judging the filmic medium unfairly; I was using the strengths of books as my barometer for quality, when tv can’t be expected to be a book. In the last five or so years, I’ve softened my stance on the books versus tv debate, mostly because I’ve started accepting each iteration of a story as its own thing: sometimes so similar it’s hard to tell the difference, but usually different enough to warrant different criteria for judging quality. That’s my overly fancy way of saying that books are books, tv shows are tv shows, and expecting adaptations to be 100% faithful to their sources is foolish. Most importantly, those expectations detract from the enjoyment of each medium, usually to tv’s detriment; most of the time, they’re books that are adapted to the screen, not the other way around. So television gets shat on when it doesn’t necessarily deserve that.

What the hell was I on about? Oh yeah, The Expanse. The best part of each book’s details being easy to stick in a random corner of my brain, and my unwillingness to watch the tv adaptation until I’d finished the book series, is how it made the tv show’s interpretation of events look fresh. Thanks to the crunchy-sweet sci-fi that comprises the book series, the big story beats are easy to convey while details that would convolute the limited time and space of a tv show are fairly simple to repackage, repurpose, or right-out ignore; the people that make the show can go all protomolecule on the books, taking them apart and using only the bits that are actually useful to their overarching purpose. This isn’t to say that I’ve watched the whole show, but I did binge the first three seasons at the tail end of my quarantine. I’d finally finished the book series, and the time had come. I could watch the show without getting too hung up on details.

While some characters are way too young to match their book counterparts, and other characters are left out completely, and still other characters are merged with different ones, the general feeling of each character is conveyed surprisingly well on the screen; although I got used to Amos being a little older than his crewmates and Alex being a paunchy former marine well past his prime, the demeanors and motivations of these characters stay true to the overarching vision of the books. Besides, as it goes with candy, the moment-to-moment details, the minute pieces of the books, they don’t matter so much as long as the general themes and messages are shared. Honestly, after the first book, I mostly forgot how the writers described the crew of the Rocinante; the show’s versions of the characters could look however the showrunners wanted them to look, as long as they felt like a crew. As long as they hit the important story beats. As long as I felt something while watching the show. And, to my pleasant surprise, I did. I felt strong emotions, just like I did while I read the books, and I found myself gasping in delight at certain character introductions, and crying like a baby during particular developments. The show captures the vibes of the books perfectly, at least as far as season 3; I haven’t watched beyond season 3 yet, but I hold out hope that the rest of the show will affect me just as much. This is the beauty of forgetting and/or storing a story’s details: an adaptation or a re-imagining has a chance to affect the audience just as well as the source when the source is used as a skeleton. The flesh of the adaptation can be molded; the framework is all there, and now it becomes whatever the new medium’s creators want it to be.

Hope for Filmic Re-visions of Genre Fiction

There’s another show I watched recently that blew my fucking mind. I don’t think the show was an award-winning kind of endeavor, but it managed to make me laugh and cry and gasp, and have a damn good time while I watched it. That show is Shadow and Bone, and POTENTIALLY MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR SHADOW AND BONE AHEAD. Shadow and Bone or, more apt for the whole series it spawned, the GrishaVerse is a fantasy remaking of real world sorts of conflicts that are made more dramatic by the small science, which I will now insultingly call magic; I’m so sorry, Leigh Bardugo. What non-Grisha (read: non-magical) individuals see as magic is actually the in-universe study and application of theories called the small science. Basically, the small science proposes that the building blocks of nature, life, and the universe may be manipulated by those who are gifted, these gifted folks commonly being referred to as Grisha. I’ve now gone on a long tangent explaining the general makeup of the series of novels collectively called the GrishaVerse, novels which started with the Shadow and Bone trilogy, which is the very same trilogy on which the Shadow and Bone tv show is based. Only, I just lied: the show weaves other books and story arcs into its creation, in the most creative way I’ve seen it done. While the general arc of the Shadow and Bone book trilogy provides the skeleton of the tv show, a duology set in a different part of the GrishaVerse is also infused into the show’s storyline. Characters who initially operated outside the original Shadow and Bone story are now artfully mixed into the Shadow and Bone narrative, in a way that strays from the path taken by the books but still delivers a satisfying and believable story for television. I, as a reader and a viewer, am aware of these huge deviations, yet rather than shaking my fist and shouting at the showrunners for going off-book, I grinned at the confident beauty of this maneuver: my favorite characters from that other storyline are now involved in the show, and it actually makes sense, and it’s really fucking cool to watch.

This is why books and tv shows must be judged on their own merits; although prior knowledge of a book series may feed into the enjoyment of an adaptation’s creativity, I believe Shadow and Bone may still be enjoyed by those who didn’t read the books at all. I’m grinning because I know all these characters from the books and I love them; I’d hope a total newbie to the series would still grin, because the characters are compelling and clever and cool as hell. I think I’ve learned something, or maybe, I’ve accepted something: tv shows don’t have to follow their sources beat-by-beat. They can do their own things, and still be good in their own ways. I’m happy I’ve experienced a lot of television adaptations in the past few weeks, because they’ve shown me what is possible when tv and books are judged based on their own merits. Happy reading, happy watching, and happy living to you all.

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My Time With COVID-19

Yep, I caught it. I’m still well enough to record some of my thoughts. Here’s a log of my recent COVID experience, starting a few weeks before I caught it. Jesus, it sounds like a fucking Pokemon, and it shouldn’t. Anyway, I’ll update this as things develop.

The New Year: December 31st, 2021 Leading Into January, 2022

I have friends. This may seem weird to some, since I tend toward introversion and I’m not easy to get to know, but I have a group of people with whom I enjoy spending time. My friends and I made plans to ring in the new year. We’ve been relatively safe about the virus: we’re all fully vaccinated, we all wear masks when we go out, we wash our hands. We figured we’d be fine.

These details only become relevant in the aftermath of the New Year’s Eve soiree. See, we all drank that night. I’ve never gotten shitfaced, and I didn’t get shitfaced that night, but I drank a little more than I usually do. A lot of champagne. Okay, I had two glasses of champagne, max, but my brother went hard on the champagne. We all stayed awake until 4 AM, watching Return of the King (we primed The Two Towers so we’d hear Theoden say “So it begins” as soon as 2022 started, and we kept watching from there). We should have gone to bed sooner. All these minor-yet-unhealthy decisions will make sense in the aftermath of the soiree.

So, after the soiree, my brother felt sick. Like, not “I drank too much and gotta barf” sick, but a combination of a hangover and a respiratory affliction. Ah, there it is: a respiratory affliction. My brother immediately starts saying “Oh shit, [our friend who’s a nurse] might have brought something to that get-together.” Now, I saw his logic, but I didn’t buy it. Our nurse friend is careful. We’re all careful, but we can’t account for other people. The impropriety and carelessness of other people will become relevant in the aftermath of the aftermath of the soiree.

The First Week of January, 2022

Alex (my brother) decided to stay home from work the week after the soiree, afraid he might have COVID and not wanting to infect anyone. We all masked up in the house. He ordered a test from a pharmacy to be sure of his condition. Our stepsister was in town, but Alex wound up quarantining and working from home so he didn’t see her much at all.

He finally goes to get tested on Friday, telling us he won’t get results until 4 PM Saturday. We keep wearing masks. We avoid each other’s company. He gets the message from the pharmacy: he’s COVID negative, all activities may resume. Whatever cold-like illness he had was just that: a cold-like illness not as threatening as COVID-19. The timing is pretty good; our sister’s birthday was on Friday, and our family was making plans to celebrate. There’s a restaurant we all like in midtown, and our sister asked if we’d all go eat there with her next Friday, the 14th. We agreed. We’d been to the restaurant before, and it seemed safe. Everyone there wore masks, we wore masks, and so on.

A quick aside from me: I realize how messed up it is for people to go to restaurants in the middle of a pandemic. I’m not one of those “Gimme mah FREEDUMS” Americans, though I’ll admit now that I haven’t been as careful as I could be. I’ve gone to restaurants for birthdays and such. I am, in fact, part of the problem. I, and everyone else, should have just stayed home for months. Like, literally, stayed inside. Yet such extreme measures are untenable within a capitalist system that demands people still pay money for shelter and food. If the government had provided people a lot more money, and a lot more resources, to stay home and prevent infection, we likely wouldn’t be in this mess. But perhaps my solutions to the real capitalist plague that’s killing us are best left for another time. Back to COVID, I suppose.

The Second Week of January, 2022

Things were looking up. Alex tested negative and so he returned to work that week. I showed up to work a scant few times, for reasons unrelated to sickness, which I won’t go into here. Okay, I’ll touch on it a bit: I work at a non-profit, and funding is everything. You have funding, you get paid. You don’t have funding, you don’t get paid. There’s definitely funding to pay me for my work, but due to some assumptions on my part, the account from which I get my paychecks wasn’t added to my timesheet. I assumed my boss was too busy to handle this problem, so I reached out to someone else … it became a whole thing when it didn’t have to, and now it hardly matters ’cause, well, COVID. Work can wait.

Anyway, back to COVID. Alex went back to work, I went to work, everything seemed fine and dandy. What I didn’t know was that Alex was still experiencing symptoms of whatever cold-like illness he’d caught before. We lived as though everyone was well: we ate in the kitchen together, we talked about random shit, and when we went to the restaurant for our sister’s birthday celebration, I sat between Alex and our sister. Alex drove us there. I wore my mask the whole time, unless I was taking a bite or a sip. I was trying to be careful. The dinner was great, and things seemed so good. We went home, and did our respective things.

The next day, Alex had plans to go shooting with our friends who hosted the new year’s eve soiree. They went to a shooting range in the morning, then Alex went to a flight class in the afternoon. He came home, made dinner, and he and I and our roommate all sat down to eat food. After dinner, I went upstairs to play video games, and Alex left to hang out with the same friends with whom he’d gone shooting. I didn’t know they’d planned an evening get-together, but I shrugged and went back to gaming. That is, until my phone rang.

I joke that Alex doesn’t call me unless someone’s dead or deathly ill. We’re not really that extreme, but still, we hardly call each other. So I answered the phone, expecting bad news but not expecting this bad news. “I took an at-home test over here and I tested positive.”

Oh fuck. Maximum quarantine initiated.

The Unraveling

Alex stayed in his room all weekend, and if he went into the kitchen to grab anything, he disinfected the stuff he touched. Our mom dropped off five at-home COVID tests along with supplies for Alex, and we all divvied up the tests. I took one, our roommate took another, and Alex took the rest. I don’t know why he took the rest, he’d already tested positive. He tested himself again to be sure, and again, it was positive. I tested myself: negative. Our roommate tested himself, also negative. We seemed fine, though we still lived in an infected zone.

I resolved to test myself every two days, to be sure I was in the clear. The virus takes time to incubate, and in an infected house, I’m susceptible to illness. Tuesday (yesterday) was the big day: if I tested negative, I’d be able to dogsit for a friend, as I agreed the prior week. I’d already reached out and told her that Alex tested positive for COVID, and even if I tested negative, I may be a carrier. I didn’t want to bring anything into her home. She told me not to worry, that she and her partner could take their dog on the trip. That was all very good, because I started feeling a little sick on Sunday. On Monday, I felt a little worse, and on Monday night when I tried to fall asleep, I felt fucking awful. I don’t know if it was real or if it was me having a panic attack, but I had to consciously think about breathing while I sprawled out, trying to fall asleep.

So Tuesday morning, I felt awful. I mean, I’ve been telling people it’s like “a bad cold,” and that’s not wrong. But in my vulnerable moments, it’s not fun. I got myself a cup of coffee downstairs and grabbed one of our at-home tests, then brought it to my room. I went through the whole procedure, pretty sure I knew the outcome: it’d gotten me, and my quarantime had begun. I was correct. I tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday, a Tuesday, the 18th of January, 2022. I didn’t think too clearly at first. I wondered “Where do I brush my teeth?” (I share the upstairs bathroom with our roommate.) “What will Willow do?” (My cat loves my room because I’m there, but her food and litter box are downstairs. She’s so skittish, she usually won’t go down there unless I’m nearby. I can’t go down there, not with COVID.) I carelessly left my door open while I contemplated these issues, and my roommate passed by, asking how I felt. “I feel bad, man. I got it.” He responded “Oh shit. Please close your door.” Yeah, you right.

So I closed my door and hammered out the details of my banishment. Willow had been cool upstairs before; while I don’t like confining her to one room, as long as she has all her stuff, she’s happy. So I masked up and ventured downstairs to grab a bunch of supplies. Willow’s food and water bowls, her litter box, a towel to put beneath the litter box, her big bin of food. Paper towels, tissues, and a trash bag for all my infected shit. I filled my water bottle. I took my toothbrush and toothpaste downstairs, into Alex’s bathroom, since he’s infected already and we can share the sick zone.

It’s Wednesday now. I actually feel better today than I did yesterday, though I’m pretty sure I’m still super contagious. A lot of good people have sent well wishes, and a few have offered to drop off care packages and/or send things to us. I appreciate all the love and support, and I think, thanks to the vaccine, I’ll get through this without too much trouble. I am a type 1 diabetic, which is not great when it comes to viruses and sicknesses. My immune system is compromised … so thank the scientists and researchers and testers for the vaccine. I believe it’s literally saved my life.

I plan to update this post as things develop. When I’m recovered, you’ll all know. Thanks for reading this far, if you have … I didn’t intend for this to go on for so long. It was meant to be a quick logbook, of sorts. Now it’s like a public diary entry haha.

A Note Regarding the Source of our Woes

So naturally, as soon as I started feeling super sick, I thought back on the interactions I had leading up to this. I went to work a few times last week, but only interacted with one person. We had masks on and my co-worker is careful. Diligent. I don’t believe I got it from her – it just wouldn’t make sense. The timeline points to Alex getting it first, then passing it to me. So the real question is, where did Alex get infected?

The bummer is that after that fake-out negative test two weeks ago, Alex thought he could return to work safely. I mentioned way in the beginning of this post that people’s impropriety and carelessness would become relevant in the aftermath of the aftermath of the new year’s soiree. Well, Alex’s return to work is that second aftermath. Yesterday, we met in his ultra-infected bathroom to talk about things. I mentioned that I’d been trying to trace my illness, and he said “Well, I shouldn’t have gone back to work. Most people there are good with their masks and everything, but this one guy who I worked close with, he kept removing his mask and when he put it back on, he didn’t cover his nose.” So there you have it. I wouldn’t string this dude up in front of a firing squad or anything, but I would berate him for being an unconscientious prick. The random dude who probably infected my brother last week is one example of the people who are prolonging this pandemic, people who don’t trust science or don’t think about the health of others when they make decisions.

I said earlier that I’m part of the problem. I realize now that chilling in a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic, vaccinated and masked up as I am, is still not smart or kind. The virus mutates, and all it takes is one carrier to spread that shit like wildfire. I can only hope that Alex didn’t infect more people at that restaurant. I’m fairly certain I got it from him while we sat next to each other that evening.

Going forward, I’m not going to restaurants. I’m not going anywhere public for fun, unless I’m hiking or doing something outside. I’ll shop at grocery stores again, once I’ve recovered, but only because we all need food to live (gods, I need to learn to grow my own food). I don’t want to spread this thing. I don’t want to pretend that nothing is wrong, when clearly, a lot is wrong with our systems, and the ways we’ve been forced to live our lives.

On the Mend

Today is Friday, January 21st, 2022. At one point, this was the release date for Elden Ring, but that’s neither here nor there; the game releases in about a month, and I’m glad the team has more time to work on it. Sorry, I’ve been sidetracked by entertainment, as always, and I’m supposed to talk about my illness. As strange as it may sound, I believe Monday night was the worst of my illness; it’s when I pushed myself too hard, stayed up way too late, and had trouble falling asleep due to respiratory trouble. I don’t know if I was actually having trouble breathing, or if I was panicking about COVID, but it took me a while to fall asleep, and the next day I tested positive for the virus.

Since then, I’d say I’ve gotten a little better every day. Our healthy roommate disagrees (please read healthy as “COVID-less,” since this dude somehow eats a slightly worse diet than I do and also doesn’t exercise – healthy isn’t a descriptor of his lifestyle, it’s a descriptor of his condition relative to my own) and he says my brother and I “sound like shit.” He hears us coughing through the walls, and he’s not wrong; while I generally feel better each day, when I cough, it sounds like melting garbage. That’s what I’ve been telling people and I’m sticking to this disgusting imagery, since I imagine that’s the hell to which my lungs are subjected during COVID time.

So while I feel better in the immediate times, I wonder about the long term effects of this virus. I’m a type 1 diabetic, and sickness kicks my glucose testing into high gear: my blood sugar hasn’t been this consistent in a long time. Yet I know that my immune system is compromised, and my being alive to write this is all thanks to the vaccine. If not for the vaccine, I’d be dead; Alex, despite having no comorbidities (apart from stress, perhaps), believes he’d be dead too. So we thank the vaccinators for their work, and for literally keeping us alive.

The long game of life is best played moment to moment, with a quick smile and a laugh for the enjoyment of time. It’s bright and sunny outside, and my windows are cracked a little to let in fresh air. I hear a few birds chirping, and an hour ago, children were running around somewhere and having a good time. I want to go to France. I want to go to Germany, and Italy, and China, and Cuba, and Brazil, and Argentina, and Morocco, and Russia … I want to go to as many places as I can. I understand the virus makes this difficult. Before the virus, it would still have been difficult, since I’m not flush with cash. Again, capitalism weighs heavy on my heart and my potential.

I return to my quarantine, to sip coffee and order food and play games. I’ll be back to update you all soon.

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Another Anti-capitalist Rant

A Note From the Author: I started writing out this critique on January 10th, mostly off the cuff, after seeing posts addressing the 100th anniversary of the first successful insulin treatment. I think I meant to take it further, but I stopped ranting and just saved it as a draft. I added one sentence for clarification, but really, who stops to clarify their thoughts in the middle of a rant but the most self-critical, anxious overthinkers? Oh yeah, that’s me … but anyway, here we go.

Can you imagine being a person who witnessed the discovery of insulin and thinking “Oh great! Now that diabetics can live, how can we charge them money for that luxury?” Yes, to profit off misery – I fucking hate pharmaceutical companies. I just heard tell of people in California pushing for an affordable way to synthesize insulin at home. I also know there are researchers out there who are trying to create tools that will make insulin accessible and affordable to everyone. Bless them, for they are saints. Medicine and healthcare should never be out of anyone’s price range; capitalism is twisted, and sick, and demoralizing, and destructive, and poisonous, and insidious, but it’s also been hilariously obvious how its shortcomings far outweigh its benefits. Wait, what benefits? That’s right, capitalism has no fucking benefits. It tricks people into believing their worth is tied to their work, and if you’re not productive, then you’re worthless. Somber news flash that’s actually decades old: our productivity has skyrocketed while our wages have stagnated. Now, CEO pay has also skyrocketed. Hmm, a coincidence? Fuck no, friend. The people in power, politicians and executives and management types and grifters (whatever, they’re all grifters) who have all the money and power hold the strings of huge fucking purses, and they shower coins upon anyone who will help them squeeze every last drop of value from exploited workers. We’ve been exploited, time and again, by people who already had way more money and opportunities than us, to grant themselves even more money and opportunities, while we waste away in the shadows. Can’t afford healthcare. Can’t afford a vacation. All the god damn money that “bigwigs” and “fat cats” get paid in humongous bonuses, payouts, and disgustingly large salaries? That’s money that could be paid to workers. Which would then be pumped back into the economy as we all pay for the shit we need to live healthy, happy lives. We shouldn’t have to pay money to live healthy, happy lives.

I don’t want money to be the crux of a good or a bad time. I don’t want a dollar value to be assigned to anything. I want necessities given free of charge, and I want people to care for one another, and I don’t want to hop back and forth on Venmo to make sure I’ve paid all my dues. Money pits us all against one another. We should target the bastards who take what is ours. Rise up, and throw the bigwigs down. Bring them to our level. But it’s too late for the bigwigs: they’re too sick and twisted to withstand the continual trauma inflicted upon the oppressed. The nerve of them, to grease their ways into safe havens.

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Learning to Love Long Underwear

It’s sort of a joke at this point, at least in the U.S. for people who celebrate Christmas, that eventually, all the gifts that mortified us as children take on a new sheen when we’re adults. You probably know what I’m talking about: the limp and lumpy packages that inevitably gave way to reveal socks, underwear, new pajamas, clothes of some kind. Sometime in the last five years or so, I reached the point where I embrace the reality of time’s long and assured destruction of my body. Since that needn’t be one fell explosion (though it might be, depending on how unhealthy I continue to be), it’s important to take measures to protect myself against gradual degradation. That’s just a fancy way of saying that I need to take better care of myself.

This idea initially germinated as a post-Christmas reflection on the passing of time and the changes our understandings of space undergo, with particular regard to the personal space of our bodies, but, naturally, Christmas leads right into the new year … our usage of time is a construct, unnaturally, but I can’t deny the very real effects of aging and the contraction of years into closed-accordions of more anxiety and fewer real memories. So I’m melding my new understanding of holiday gifts with my renewed interest in my own wellbeing to create a relatively tidy end-of-year rumination on my recent life.

Winters are, by definition, cold. When one lives in a place like my hometown, nestled in the high desert near a few mountain ranges, there’s a good chance snow will actually bless the lands and curse the roads with a white Christmas. And that’s exactly what happened this year: winter storms were forecast, people prepared as they preferred to (either by rolling their eyes and continuing as usual or by stocking up on necessities), and while the pre-Christmas storms were light, a fucking blizzard danced atop my little city all Christmas day.

And I said to myself, thank the maker I asked for long underwear. The limp and lumpy packages I hated as a kid, they became my shield against the storm this season. I unwrapped a three-pack of knitted socks, a three-pack of thermal underwear, a handful of thermal long-sleeved shirts, a set of “loungewear,” which I believe is just adult-speak for pajamas, a new jacket that keeps me warm with an efficacy I never expected, and, perhaps the greatest gift of all, two pairs of gloves to protect my hands from the frigid desert air. You may have noticed that I’m missing a few important pieces of winterwear, but I assure you, I already have a good hat, a nice scarf, and hiking boots that keep me from sliding around. Combine the clothes I already owned with my newly received gifts, and I’m pretty fucking set to wander the snow-wracked wastelands of my home. Hell, I can wander the snow-wracked wastelands of any place, as long as it’s not, like, Minnesota or Antarctica or Alaska or okay, maybe I’m not as prepared for the super cold places of the world. But I am prepared for single digit temperatures … below zero is a whole other beast, with icicles for fangs and snow for fur. Icy eyes and a frozen soul. No thank you.

Rather than take the old approach to the cold, which involved me putting on a sweater or a hoodie and saying “I’ll tough it out, it’s not that bad,” I now suit up head to toe to prepare for any foray into the cold. My brother, bless his DIY leanings, finished making and installing a coat rack a few days before Christmas, and my favorite little hook now carries all the things I need if I want to go outside in inclement weather: gloves, jacket, hat. I even took my masks out of my room and hung them from the hook; it’s just convenient to have the things I need for the outdoors hanging within reach. These days, with snow on the ground and ice permeating the air, I wear thermal underwear beneath my pants, and I pull thick socks over the underwear; I put a thermal shirt on over my t-shirt, and if it’s really cold, I’ll wear a sweater over that, before I pull my jacket on for outdoor adventures. I always wear my beanie, and the other day, I walked into my parents’ house to hear my mom say “Where are your hiking boots? I bought them ’cause you asked for them.” See, that was for Christmas a year ago. And damn it, she’s right: I asked for hiking boots so I’d be ready to go outside in more extreme conditions, and I was just ignoring them. So I placed my hiking boots in the foyer, below the coat rack, so I can grab them and pull them on when I have to venture outside during a storm, or when I want to go on a hike, or whatever. I’m just ready now, is what I’m trying to say.

This readiness, and this desire to be ready and outfitted, literally, for any circumstance, is now a part of my new year’s resolution to take better care of myself. For those who may not know, I’m 32 years old, going on 33. By most standards, this isn’t old or even middle-aged, but I’m also a type-1 diabetic. I haven’t been watching my health like I should, and I haven’t taken care of my body like I should. I know that “should” can be a dangerous and belittling word, and I don’t mean to belittle myself; I’ve been caught up in my own struggles, but if I can just take the time to treat my body better, I’ll be happier and healthier. I’ll probably be more long-lived too; it’s not that I want to be immortal, but I do imagine a future where I’m able to walk around at leisure and run a bit if I want to and maybe even tromp through the beautiful woods. For that to happen, well, the world needs to survive. If we manage to avoid a complete global meltdown, and I make it to some number even closer to old age than I am now, I’d like to be healthy. So here’s to a new year, whereby I treat myself well and I work on my wellbeing.

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Drangleic, Redux

With Elden Ring closer to release than ever before, my hype is through the damn roof. Probably through the stratosphere. I checked YouTube every day during the closed network test, and watched hours of footage with and without commentary, and I remembered why I love the Soulsbornekiro (lol, the term just gets bigger) community. People were getting genuinely excited about everything, on camera and/or microphone, and it was beautiful to behold. Memes and serious discussions have swirled from the Elden Ring void for months and months now. We’ve finally experienced some of the game with our own hands (for the lucky testers) and eyes (for the audience members like myself). Some folks believe that too much anticipation is anathema to eventual enjoyment, but I believe they’re wrong: after seeing new details of Elden Ring, I’m even more excited than I was before.

Jesus lord, there are still three months to go before release! I’m so excited and I want to feel the beauty of something, hell, anything FromSoft has made. Anything, I said? Strap your Faraam boots on and heft your blades, folks, ’cause I was so desperate for FromSoft content and so nostalgic for older days that I *gulp* downloaded Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin on Steam.

“Chris,” those of you who don’t play video games are saying, “what does that even mean?” Stay a while and I’ll tell you. Or don’t – I force no one to read and/or listen to my words. In the Souls community, there are a few generally accepted notions. One of these is this: Dark Souls II is the stepchild of the Souls family. Demon’s Souls released on the PS3 years ago and became a cult classic, then Dark Souls followed and garnered more mainstream popularity. Folks were playing and talking about that game, at least, until Skyrim released about a month later and distracted everyone for … way too long. Still, the reality is that Dark Souls followed the road that Demon’s Souls had paved, and that road would eventually lead FromSoft to acclaim, recognition, sales, and, sweet Jesus, rabid fanpersonhood (it’s a new term I just made up). However, a good foundation doesn’t guarantee smooth construction. Indeed, things can get weird during the building phase. FromSoft has built a fantastic repertoire, and a wonderful fanbase, but Dark Souls II tested all of us. I said in this very same paragraph that I’d tell you why. I suppose I should stop stalling and actually tell you why Dark Souls II is an invitation to debate.

The first Dark Souls is a masterpiece of game design: it features a seamless, interconnected world, challenging enemy AI, deep NPC questlines that span the entirety of the game, hilarious and fun (and possibly frustrating) multiplayer options, an engaging leveling system, more weapons and armor than you can shake a stick at … it’s fucking beautiful. Then, Dark Souls II released. And it offered more of the same. Not necessarily a bad thing, right? Well, it’s hard to describe, but … Dark Souls II always felt slapdash. Incomplete. Like something is missing. Many fans explain Dark Souls II away by saying it tried to recreate the magic of the first game without understanding why the first game was so magical. For years now, I’ve been one of these fans, saying that “Dark Souls II is a good game, it’s just not a good Souls game.”

I’ve had two friends tell me that Dark Souls II is underrated. That I judge it too harshly. Admittedly, I completed Dark Souls II back in the day. I was pulled in by its mysteries, because I love learning cool new things and experiencing interesting worlds. Despite flaws in some of its mechanics and design, Dark Souls II is compelling, and challenging.

So I’ve had my hardline stance shifted by my friends, and here’s the kicker: I never played the “definitive” version of Dark Souls II. What does this even mean? Well, in the age of DLC and game expansions, it means that Dark Souls II inevitably had new content added to it. And well, I never actually played that new content. Both of the people who told me that Dark Souls II is underrated specifically mentioned that “You have to play it with all the DLC.” And I had never done that. And I sit here, saying things like “Dark Souls II is meh” and “I prefer I and III.”

Earlier, I called the game “Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin.” That is because this is the name of the game with all its expansions. As is the case with many older games, one may now buy a “definitive” or “complete” edition with all the DLC stuff added in from the start. So, in my excitement and eagerness to experience something FromSoft made, and to tide myself over until Elden Ring comes out, I bought Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin.

I’m not too far into the game yet, but I’m having a ton of flashbacks. I’m remembering parts that pissed me off, but I’m also re-experiencing the parts that pulled me in. The slow unfolding of a mysterious origami creation – or maybe it’s more like the slow folding of a mysterious origami creation, as one doesn’t get the full idea until it’s all experienced and done. I’ve moved through the game a little differently this time around. Instead of opting for the “I’m new here, let me go through things in some kind of intended order” strategy, I’ve thrown myself willy-nilly at mid-game stuff because I want to use a specific weapon. So I rushed to that weapon, and now I’ve got it, and I’ll be a bit more relaxed from here on out. I haven’t seen any of the new content yet, and that’s fine – I’ll discover it naturally, I hope.

Some stuff is still frustrating: the combat feels so fucking janky, and hitboxes are strange. The NPCs and world are fantastic, until they’re not; draw distances and relative scope are not realized in any realistic sense, and as they say, the devil’s in the details. Upon close scrutiny, much of the world falls apart, and it’s non-sensical. But this is sort of the main thrust of Souls lore. Time is convoluted, and things are not necessarily in any order. If I embrace this mindset, the game is much more bearable.

Some of my favorite armor sets are in this game, and my favorite weapon type, twinblades, was introduced in Dark Souls II. Some of my least favorite bosses are in this game. Shit, most of my least favorite bosses are in this game, but that just means I’ll enjoy beating the shit out of them. This is also my first PC FromSoft experience, and it’s sort of preparing me for Elden Ring: I pre-purchased Elden Ring on Steam, and I’m hoping that years of PC development will pay off in a relatively bug-free launch come late February.

I could probably talk about Dark Souls II for days, and wax philosophical about its place in FromSoft’s game design timeline, and its place in the community … shit, I haven’t even touched on the fact that FromSoft’s “B team” made the game. But like, I honestly don’t think that’s important right now. What’s important is that Dark Souls II was a step on the road that eventually led here, to the Elden Ring hype train (carriage?), and I ride this vehicle willingly. I’m so excited for Elden Ring, and weirdly, I’m excited to experience Dark Souls II again, in its complete form. Happy days to you, folks, and make sure to do something you love today.

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Of Salt and Artifice

There comes a time in every person’s life when they question their dietary choices and habits. I must admit, I’ve come to that time in my life at least a few times. Around four years ago, I had just been released from a relationship with someone who was attempting to go vegan (that’s my nice way of saying she broke up with me), and I was a few months into a new job as a cashier in a middle-of-the-road Trader Joe’s wannabe grocery store. This meant that I had a decent discount on groceries (yay, they probably cost, well, closer to what they should have cost without bullshit markups … but that’s a complaint for a different piece). Anywho, since I was dating someone who wanted to be vegan, and I care about animals in my own way, I also tried to be vegan. Even after that relationship ended, I tried to be plant-based. I did a pretty decent job of it too, until I lost my job at that grocery store.

That time had the potential to be immensely transformative. I don’t often make radical changes to my habits, and in a way, I’m not sure it’s necessary for people to push themselves so hard all the time. The best thing about attempted radical changes, on a personal level, is that even if they don’t pan out, they usually allow space for a person to make smaller changes to their habits. And as some argue, consistent small changes are easier to stick with. So I kept the desire to be vegan in the back of my mind, and fell back a little. When I was a kid and a teenager and oh fuck it, pretty much my whole life I’ve been a huge devotee of fast food, frozen delights, and pre-packaged salt-sprayed junk extravaganzas. And sugar. So much sugar. Have I ever mentioned that I’m a type 1 diabetic? Yeah, my longtime love affair with fast food and sugary snacks is not healthy for me. Hence, my reflecting on my eating habits.

Moving into my brother’s newly acquired house has not given me a lot of space to fix my habits, but that’s only because I don’t take the time to shift my behaviors. My brother, Alex, has actually been trying very hard to cook his own meals every day, and it’s really good to see him paying so much attention to his health. Meanwhile, our roommate Dalton is a longtime friend of Alex’s, and a medium-time friend of mine, and he eats more like I do: hella fast food, salted snacks, and frozen meals. We also tend to be at home more often than not, and because of this, he and I go shopping together. So I default to the Dalton method, and I buy a lot of snacks, and frozen stuff, and only a smattering of fresh ingredients. This makes me sad, but I also take full responsibility for my ultimate lack of regard for my health. I fall into other people’s influence too easily, and I want shopping to be easy for me and for Dalton. So I get the crap I grew up with.

Yet I still dream of healthier living. About a month ago, while I was shopping by myself for a handful of things, I thought “Maybe I should learn how to cook tofu.” So I went to the aisle that houses the tofu, and I looked for a small pack of the stuff. They were out of the unflavored tofu, which I wanted so I could learn how to flavor it myself, so I grabbed a pack of Moroccan-spiced tofu … or something like that. Supposedly, it’s seasoned with spices one would find in Morocco? I’m not actually sure, and it might be a marketing thing. The important thing is, I got pre-seasoned tofu, put it in the deli drawer at home, and just let it sit there. Until today.

Before I talk about today though, I should address the last several weeks. Dalton and I were shopping a few weeks ago and we wandered into an aisle that displayed all kinds of noodles. As in, cups of soup, and pre-packaged ramen. We went for some cups of soup, were not too pleased with the later results, and resolved to buy a bunch of ramen the next time it was available. Well, about two weeks ago, we found a bunch of chicken flavored ramen. And we bought a box of it. So we started making ramen for ourselves, like the relatively poor American dudes we are. I went with just ramen and flavoring the first time, and Dalton mentioned how he cracked an egg into his to give it more flavor and body. I said, oh yeah, that sounds fucking great. So the next time I made ramen, I cracked two eggs into that shit, and used way less water so my broth would be packed with good flavors.

So a few weeks of ramen go by, and I’m feeling pretty good. Today, I go downstairs to make something to eat, and I think “I don’t have any bread right now, so maybe I’ll just wrap cheese in ham and have a little snack.” Then I look past the lunch meat and cheese and I see it: the tofu I bought a little more than a month ago. I think to myself “Tofu is pretty good in ramen.” So I set out two eggs, a package of ramen, a bowl with a fork, a pot, a wooden spoon, a small pan, and the tofu. I put water in the pot, and start heating it. I also start heating the pan as I cut open the package of tofu, then I slice the tofu into cubes. I drop all the tofu in the pan, and when the water boils, I drop the ramen noodles into the pot. I have the noodles going on the left, and the tofu going on the right. After two minutes, I crack the eggs into the ramen, and I push the tofu around with my wooden spoon. Another minutes goes by, and I put my ramen and egg concoction into the bowl. I throw the chicken flavoring all over it, and I stir it well. Then I toss all the tofu into the bowl.

Voila, as one would say in French. I made ramen with eggs and Moroccan tofu … I think. It tasted damn good, and I’m now wondering how I can flavor tofu on my own so I don’t need to bother with the pre-flavored stuff. I think tofu with noodles and eggs is actually pretty fuckin’ tasty, and I was happy as I ate my work. It’s not vegan, and it’s not as healthy as it could be, but I’m still glad that I’m making some kind of food for myself. One of these days, I’d love to make my own noodles, and master that art. For now, I’ll put noodles and tofu and other stuff together, for a pretty good meal. Happy days to you, and don’t stay hungry if you can help it!

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