rambling

There’s Always Time for Grime

Howdy folks! I’d meant to write this, well, almost a month ago. That’s ’cause a sweet game called Grime released in early August, and I’d been waiting a long time to play it. I’ve been surfing, rather, diving into Reddit way too often throughout the pandemic, and thanks to my Reddit obsession I see a lot of posts regarding video games. Games that look really cool. I usually glean enough info about games from trailers and developer updates to decide whether they’re worth a shot, and well, this interesting game called Grime kept coming up in the Metroidvania subreddit. That was the first indicator that I’d enjoy the damn game: it’s a Metroidvania, which is just a portmanteau of Metroid and Castlevania, which are both series that involve platforming and action-packed encounters and diligent searching to find all the hidden items, and … I could go on forever, but if you’ve read any of my past stuff, you may have picked up on my love for Castlevania, and my appreciation of Metroid. Or maybe you didn’t, ’cause like, I’ve been writing a lot more poetry lately.

Sorry for mansplaining (me-splaining?) Metroidvanias, but I want it to be known that I have a preferred game style, especially these days. Every now and then I go out of my way to play something a little off my personal path, but during these times of heightened stress and tough living, I’ve fallen back on my favorite gaming sub-genre to fill my heart and soul with joy. Which means I’ve been playing a lot of Metroidvanias or roguelikes, ’cause action-packed challenges tend to make me happy. And I found Grime on the Metroidvania subreddit, as I mentioned before. So it had that going for it.

The other thing it had going for it was its unique aesthetic: Grime looks frigging awesome, but also pretty weird. You explore and fight as a statuesque humanoid with a blackhole for a head. You read that right: you have a blackhole for a head. So you’re a statue-person whose head is a blackhole, and you’re slapping the shit out of funky rock creatures and bone-monstrosities and clay bastards and … well, I shouldn’t spoil all of it, actually. This is my weird way of saying that the game looks interesting, in a way that pulls at me … much like a black hole, oh damn. So I got pulled in by the established sub-genre and the unique look.

But here’s the best part about Grime: it was so mysterious beyond the developer updates and rampant speculation that I knew almost nothing going into it. I didn’t know how long it would last, what kinds of mechanics I’d be utilizing, which weapons I’d use to destroy my foes, or what the story would offer … I just knew it all looked cool, and I wanted to learn more. So I put the game on my wishlist, and the moment it went on sale, I bought it. And I played it. And I … eventually became a weird mix of impressed and disappointed.

I was impressed most by the deep lore and emotional pull (there it is again) of the game. The story isn’t spoonfed to the player, but pieced together from item descriptions and area names and NPC dialogue; so the game borrows some storytelling techniques from Dark Souls, and the devs use those techniques well. I want to say quickly that I realize Demon’s Souls was made before Dark Souls, but I think the latter is the one most gamers recognize. So I use it to refer to indirect modes of world-building and storytelling. Anyway, Grime took me a much longer time to finish than I thought it would, but by the time I beat the game, I was nearly in tears. It was an emotional journey, and the game does a great job of layering details and realizations until you have a formidable sense of scope – the world before you is intricate, and your place in it is meaningful.

Another great aspect of the game is its control. Not just the actual controls, but the way your blackhole-headed character runs, and dodges, and swings their weapons – it’s all finely tuned and it feels great. My only small gripe with this is that it took me part of a second playthrough to really appreciate the finer grains of combat, mostly ’cause I made some strange choices with my character build (oh yeah, I forgot to mention: you also level up and allocate statistics in Grime) … long story short, I thought I’d be a badass and ignore health improvements. So my character had base health, and I died in, like, two hits. Sometimes even just one hit. It made combat difficult, but in my second playthrough, I actually leveled health and combat became a much smoother dance. It feels good because any mistakes you make, any losses you suffer, are literally in your hands: none of the fights felt unfair, except for maybe the final phase of one boss … but they fixed that in an update, huzzah!

And that brings me to my small list of disappointments. Grime was lovingly crafted by a rather small development team, and this means that it has some rough edges. One thing I noticed: my first playthrough took FOREVER because, er, I couldn’t fast-travel as often as I wanted. What I’m saying here is, there weren’t enough fucking fast-travel locations in the game. So there weren’t enough shortcuts. And uh, despite the character feeling great in combat, they really don’t move fast … at all. So running from one part of the world to another takes a long time, and without a robust fast-travel system, the game’s length is padded by unnecessary foot travel. Thankfully, the devs added a bunch of new fast-travel spots in updates since the game released, and this change has brought the game much closer to perfection!

Yet more gripes (Grime gripes?) exist. When I really enjoy a game, I take the time to unlock all the achievements to really dig into the experience and do everything that I can. I want to show my respect to the developers and spend as much time playing the game as it takes to really complete it. But there were some achievements for Grime that were legit unearnable because they were glitched, or, in the most egregious case, because the devs forgot to place one item in the game. Naturally, all these glitches and missing items have been fixed, so I now have all the achievements! But you can imagine my dismay when I discovered that I spent a ton of time scouring the game and wondering what the hell I did wrong only to learn that it wasn’t my fault at all. I was pretty pissed at first, but I got over it, and things are much smoother now. I have to give the devs a lot of slack, ’cause they’re a small team.

AND, most importantly, Grime is really good. Like, super enjoyable, and it just feels great to play. The music is fantastic. The sound effects are masterful. The combat is super refined, and the story/lore is just top-notch. I felt something while playing the game, and that says a lot. That’s why I feel so funny mentioning all the rough edges: as of now, they’re mostly sanded off and fixed, but for some reason, I want to record the initial troubles I had. It may not be fair to the state of the game now, but I kind of want to acknowledge what can happen when a stellar game suffers frustrating bugs, and how awesome it is when the creators address their game’s problems and bring it closer to perfection.

I had a great time with Grime, and I encourage everyone to get sucked into its gravitational pull.

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Sort of a Public Journal Entry

Sometimes I get lonely. Actually, I always get lonely. For me, lonely is a constant state of being. I think I have a problem. My problem is that no matter how much social interaction I’ve had in a given time period, my reaction to most invitations is to say “Yes, please.” I convince myself that I’m so lonely that I just have to fill the void with other people. Naturally, this does not ease my loneliness.

The real problem is that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to enjoy my own company. To sit back with just me and my thoughts. That brings up my second response to constant loneliness: if there are no people around, there is always the internet. Or video games. Or my phone. Notice how I didn’t mention books or my journal or my cat. I’ve swapped organic, wholesome connections with fabricated time-killers. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve played and loved video games since I was about six years old. I wouldn’t call every single minute spent playing a game a waste; however, even I have noticed that I’m too insistent to boot up a game and drown myself in pixels these days. It’s because I don’t want to do the work of improving myself.

I don’t necessarily believe that I have to be an ideal version of myself to find a stable connection to other humans. I can be in the middle of improving myself and still find common ground with my friends and family. Sometimes, though, in the middle of the long nights when I swipe endlessly on Tinder and Bumble, just waiting for the quick rush of joy brought on by a match (these are fewer and further between these days), I start to believe that I’ll never form a solid connection because I’m not at “one-hundred percent,” and I haven’t been at “one-hundred percent” ever.

You can probably see why such a mindset is bullshit, and completely unhealthy. Who is ever at their full capacity in the midst of this late-stage capitalist hellhole? Existence tends to be a desperate clutching as we cling to burning branches in the worst firestorms we’ve ever seen. The firestorms are literal and figurative nowadays. I imagine the interlocking systems of capitalism, patriarchy, misogyny, racism, ableism, et cetera, as the factors that create the storms. They’re fucking terrible. They’re killing us all, faster and faster with each passing day.

It is too easy for my self-pity to morph into rumination on the quickening decay of wellness due to the powers that be. I go from the micro of myself to the macro of the state. This state being the overarching authority that impels most global change (read: catastrophe). It’s usually the U.S. I suppose a more general term would be “imperialism” or “empire.”

All of this rambling about unfair power structures and exploitation of the masses is to place myself and my emotional struggles squarely in the crosshairs of history. I am not unique in my suffering: everywhere around the world, people are lonely, and frustrated, and tired, and distracted, and pissed off, and desperate to find some sense of meaning in the madness of life. Life doesn’t have to be quite so maddening; we feel brittle because current systems are designed to make us brittle. So I am lonely, and I am struggling to find my silver linings, because it is difficult to disentangle myself from the worsening material conditions of the masses.

I am not trying to foist responsibility or blame upon the forces outside myself. Wait, yes I am; what amount of willpower on the individual’s part can stand up to the slavering titan that is imperialism? I am all too aware of how fucked up everything is, and this awareness feeds into my reading of every interaction I have.

Believe it or not, I started this rambling piece with the intent of exploring a funny and possibly twisted thought experiment I’ve been thinking about for a while. It’s possibly twisted because it leans on the gender binary, and for this I apologize. I identify as a cishet male. When I look at myself in the mirror, sometimes I acknowledge the fact that what I see is what other people see, and then I remind myself that I look at many other people with an eye toward my aesthetic satisfaction and romantic fulfillment. If I am constantly on the lookout for the people who attract me, then there are people looking at me and wondering if I attract them. More often than not, I don’t think I attract people. Of course, it’s hard to tell these days; the pandemic makes close social scrutiny dangerous.

But this all circles back to connections and dating apps’ stilted attempts to forge them. I say they’re stilted, and intentionally so, because the point isn’t to bring people together for a permanent life journey; the point is to get people swiping, and paying, and hoping for permanence, only to miss that or lose it and start swiping again. That’s capitalism: get people to try your product, then manufacture conditions to make your product more desirable.

So anyway, my thought experiment: since many of us are looking at each other, and looking for aesthetic and/or romantic satisfaction, who finds me attractive? Furthermore, would I find myself attractive if I was another person? I realize this all goes beyond physicality, but at first glance, it’s all about the face. So I look in the mirror and, being attracted to women, I wonder: what would a female version of myself look like? If it was possible to distill my physicality and all the factors that influence my bodily makeup into a female facsimile of me, what would she look like? And, if I saw my female self, would I be attracted to her?

I recall that line from Silence of the Lambs: “Would you fuck me? I’d fuck me. I’d fuck me hard.” I want to think that my female self would be attractive in some way. Not everyone finds my particularly geeky brand of physicality sexy, but I know there are folks out there who like the way I look. This is all just a very roundabout way of saying that I wonder if I’m attractive. And it goes beyond physicality: I stop and wonder if the way I speak, the way I communicate, the way I try to think, I wonder if these are attractive or if they’re deal-breakers.

I have to acknowledge right now that I probably shouldn’t use Tinder and Bumble as litmus tests for how charming or “datable” I am. I realize that in the beginning, these apps were mostly used for hook-ups. That reputation still stands strong, for many are the profiles that read “Not looking for hook-ups.”

So I get bent out of shape because I don’t make too many connections on apps that are designed to squeeze money from me by artfully denying me real connections. Yet the pandemic has made it hard to organically “meet” people, so … I turn to the internet.

I won’t hide the truth: I went to the bathroom in the middle of writing this and I forgot where I wanted to go next. I have been thinking, however: the whole gist of this rambling self-pity party is me asking the question “Do I even like myself?” And if I don’t really like myself, what can I do to become a person of whom I am proud? I take my friends for granted, believing that if people spend time around me, I must be a good person. Yet I know that this is not sound logic. I can always do better.

Now I’m ready to ask myself “Would you hang out with you?” Would I text myself back comfortably? Would I want to cook dinner with me? Would I want to go on a road trip with me? I want to be a person who is liked and respected. I want to deserve these positive feelings.

Perhaps I’m being too hard on myself. There are some who would pipe up and say “You don’t need to earn these things!” I’m somewhere in the middle: I don’t think that good relations are a given, but I do believe that everyone deserves common decency until they demonstrate that they don’t deserve it.

I’m not even sure how to end this. I’m lonely, and I want to connect with people. I suppose I’ll keep trying to improve myself.

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Walking Through Death’s Door

Don’t worry, I’m not talking about literal death. I’m talking metaphorical, figurative, pixelated death. I suppose that in the video game world of Death’s Door, death is real for the folks you defeat. You play as a bona fide reaper, after all; but I’m getting ahead of myself. Allow me to start again.

In the recently released Death’s Door, you take on the role of an adorable crow whose 9-5 job is to reap souls. You step off a bus and into a grayscale office complex where your murder of crows performs all the duties relevant to reaping, storing, and harnessing the souls of the dead. One of your colleagues handles soul requisitions; another types up the paperwork that officiates your handlings of said requisitions; a third crow guards the soul vault, and allows you to upgrade your abilities with the souls you gather. That’s because you’re the “muscle,” if you will: you walk off the aforementioned bus with a sword on your back. You’re here to chew bubblegum and claim souls, and you’re all out of bubblegum.

The upgrade system is a very video-gamified way of displaying the progression one expects to undergo on a job; the more you work, the better you get at working, usually. So the more you reap souls, the better you get at kicking ass. Your fellow crows serve as mouthpieces for the drudgery of streamlined office bureaucracy; your handler is always stressed out by their workload, the typist is legitimately obsessed with typing and knows nothing else, and one of your fellow reapers frequently mentions a staggering workload and calls the job a gig. It’s not meaningful work, necessarily; it’s the status quo, and there are some reasons why the drudgery has increased in recent years.

I won’t go into those reasons as they’re definitely spoilers, but I will take this time to pivot to just how fantastic Death’s Door is as not just a video game, but as a work of art. I will go that far in describing it: the game is art, and every aspect of it is meticulously planned out and designed to produce the maximum amount of joy, satisfaction, and fun. The artistic direction is cartoonishly charming and gorgeous – I was excited to just stop moving our crow every now and then so I could absorb the beauty of the game’s world. The level design is also top-notch, with every room and area integral to progression; I would argue that there are almost no frills in the game, and this makes for a very quick and satisfying pace. The leanness of the world design may be a double-edged sword, however, since the game is so good that I just want to experience more of it … but overall, I prefer a short and sweet experience to a long and rotting one.

The writing is great as well, and I found myself smiling at the various personalities you meet throughout the game, and laughing during particular conversations. Finally, the gameplay is fantastic. Combat is tough but fair, and every time I experienced the harrowing DEATH screen, I quickly analyzed my output to realize that I’d made some mistakes. When I die in Death’s Door, it’s no one’s fault but my own. The game gives you everything you need to succeed, and it’s up to you to use your skills to cleave through challenges and reap as many souls as you can.

All in all, the game has everything one could want: beautiful art, stellar music, sharp writing, and satisfying gameplay. The cherry on top of this video game masterpiece is trust, and just like in real life, trust is a two-way street. The game’s creators, an awesome group called Acid Nerve, trust players to persevere and continue fighting and exploring to uncover every last secret in the game. This is where the other way of the street comes into play: while the creators trust players to be patient and explore everything, players must trust the creators and their vision. There are plenty of places in the game where a particular path is blocked, but only temporarily; if players trust the developers, they leave that blockage for later, when they’ve earned a new ability that opens the path. As of this write-up, a decent number of players are impatient and tend to ask “How do I get past [insert obstacle here]?,” when all they need to do is keep playing the game. They will acquire the abilities they need to progress; it just takes some time.

I don’t mean to bash these players. I happen to be a big fan of these “Metroidvania-esque” games, wherein backtracking with new abilities is standard fare. I was prepared to come across walls I couldn’t open, only to blast them with a bomb later. I know the subgenre, and in a funny way, Death’s Door is a Metroidvania despite its relatively tight design.

I love this game so much that I’ve actively participated in various Reddit threads about the game. I tend to be introverted and stuck in my own little bubble, but sometimes I like something so much that I have to gush about it. So I’m on Reddit, and now I’m on my blog, gushing about Death’s Door. It’s one of the most immaculately crafted games I’ve experienced in recent years, and I hope that it sells super well so Acid Nerve can make a sequel, or an expansion, or even just a spiritual successor. Speaking of Acid Nerve, I highly recommend that folks try Titan Souls; it was made before Death’s Door, and a lot of the gameplay in the latter was influenced by the former.

So there they are: my thoughts regarding Death’s Door. As scary as it may sound, I strongly suggest that you go and wander through Death’s Door – it’s a valuable experience, and a rewarding one.

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The Demons Gotta Go

Hey folks, thanks for stopping by. I’d like to ramble a bit about a particular video game I’ve been playing. Oh hell, there’s no point in drawing this out. I’ve been playing GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon.

If you’re scratching your head at this point and wondering what the heck that is, don’t worry – I went through a similar query almost ten years ago, when I first stumbled upon Getsu Fuma. For the quick answer: GetsuFumaDen was an action/hack and slash game made by Konami in 1987. It never released stateside, which mostly explains why I and my fellow Americans scratch their heads when they hear about it.

But wait – if GetsuFumaDen never released stateside, how the heck do I know what it is? Well, I love Castlevania. Konami, despite their recent slip-ups, will forever be thanked by me for bestowing the awesomeness of Castlevania on the world. While Castlevania took off like a leaping flea-man, er, a rocket, GetsuFumaDen stood alone, as though it was waiting for hell to be unleashed upon the world, ready to swing a sword at monstrous demons with deadly precision … but first things first.

For what was to be his final official Castlevania game developed for Konami, Koji Igarashi pulled out all the stops and delivered a multi-generational, time-bending tour-de-force that featured protagonists from almost every Castlevania game. Castlevania: Harmony of Despair freaked me out at first, but only because I didn’t understand how the game worked, or how fun cooperative games could be. I’d spent most of my life getting lost in solitary endeavors, traipsing through huge worlds and downing the forces of evil on my own. So when a co-op Castlevania game came out, I was real confused.

Until my friend invited me to play the game with him over Xbox Live, that is. I soon got the hang of cutting monsters to ribbons with my friend, and my brother, and any random folks who joined our sessions. It turns out that teamwork can be fun, and rewarding.

We played the shit out of the game. We harmonized our despairs perfectly, and soon Dracula himself was weeping tears of blood on the floors of Hell.

Grisly melodrama aside, we did commit to the grind, and soon enough we agreed that we wanted more content. Thankfully, Koji Igarashi and his awesome team were working on more stuff, and by the time the game was “complete,” there were 11 stages and even more characters!

The final DLC pack included a mysterious character named Getsu Fuma. The artwork for him depicted a samurai wielding a katana. Yet when I picked this demon-slaying warrior, he entered the stage as an 8-bit sprite. He was shorter than other characters (great for evasion!), and he didn’t have too many bells and whistles – he always used his katana, so I didn’t need to farm for different weapons. What I did have to do was level up his magic attacks, which, when strengthened, also strengthened his katana.

At least, that’s how I remember him. My interest in Getsu Fuma was piqued, and I looked into him … only to discover that GetsuFumaDen came out in 1987, had still not made it to the states, and stood alone as the only game in its “series.” It technically wasn’t even a series. But damn, it sounded cool – a samurai who fights the demonic forces of Hell? It’s everything I enjoy!

So all those years ago, I learned that Belmonts aren’t the only ones who take up arms against the hellish night. Vampire killers and monster hunters come from all sorts of different cultures, and I appreciate all of them.

Which is why, when I saw that a “sequel” to GetsuFumaDen was in the works, I was over the moon. Little did I know that I’d be over an undying moon. The name of the new game, 34 years later, is GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon, and it’s fucking rad.

“So what is it, Chris?,” I hear my imagined audience asking in my head, “Is it an action game? A platformer? A hack and slash bloodfest?!”

Yes to all of the above questions. The game combines all the things I’ve loved over my gaming life, as well as some things I’ve grown to love over the past few years. I know I haven’t written about a lot of my recent gaming experiences here, but I’ll use this sentence to proclaim my love for roguelike games.

Whoa, what? Yeah, I’ve become a glutton for punishment. When I finally got a decent gaming pc in the winter of 2019, I downloaded Steam, which has been a window into an ever-widening world of awesome indie games. While looking for something that fits my interests (2D, platforming, action-packed, challenging), I came across some Reddit posts gushing about Dead Cells. So I bought it, and sweet lord, I was hooked. I’ve hopped into Risk of Rain 2 as well, and Enter the Gungeon, and oh my gods how could I forget Hades? My point is, I’ve played a lot of randomized games lately, and uh … they’re strangely compelling and fun.

And GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon is a roguelike. Or maybe it’s a roguelite? I don’t really make this distinction too often, but I’m sure there are diehard roguelike fans who would mince these terms … I don’t worry too much. The game features randomized elements, mostly in the form of weapon and material drops, with level layouts changing a little bit each time as well.

The randomness makes the grind extra important; if I’m going to get stuck with a weapon I don’t usually use, it’s ideal for me if I’ve upgraded it at least a little bit. I definitely have favorites: the katana is my favorite primary weapon, and the bombs and guns are my favorite secondary weapons (oh my, I’m bringing modern weaponry to bear on the demons). A lot of the challenge comes down to moveset memorization: if I know what an enemy can do, I can react to it accordingly. If I see three enemies arranged just so, I need to know what they can do so I don’t get clawed to ribbons by a hungry oni and their friends.

I love games like this; the ones that push me to play over and over until I’m almost perfect, slicing and dicing and dodging and living until the end. That’s what Undying Moon feels like right now. It’s got the challenges I love with the aesthetics I crave. I’m gonna play it right friggin’ now.

P.S. The original GetsuFumaDen is finally available in the U.S., for folks who buy the new game in early access; I forgot to mention that the game is still being developed, but I was so stoked to experience it that I bought it anyway. I was gifted with the original game. I’ll be killing 34-year-old demons soon enough.

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Something About Stagnation

Hey everyone, I’m here to reminisce and ramble about my youth. If you’re curious about some of the factors that influenced me, read on; if not, that’s cool, and I hope you have a pleasant day.

For the most part, I grew up in suburbia. I lived in various apartments with my family until I was nine years old, when my mom moved us almost all the way across the country to a high desert place called Reno, Nevada. The man who would become my stepdad owned a house in a south Reno suburb, and it was in that house that I would come of age and take on most of the qualities that make me, well, me.

The house was red, like a stereotypical North American barn, and one of my classmates found it hilarious to point this out. I became proud of the house, because it was mine. Sort of. I shared a room with my younger brother and our stepbrother, and despite our lack of bedroom space, we had a lot of cool shit. I had a Super NES back in Florida, and I was beyond stoked when I walked into my new living space and saw a Nintendo 64 in the game room. I say “in the game room” like that’s a normal thing, but I know that a room dedicated to gaming is a luxury. I want to say “upper-middle class luxury” but I’m not sure how these hierarchies and stratifications work anymore.

Anyway, the N64 was the first of our fancy things. The backyard (another fancy thing) featured a few small boulders for climbing, a playset replete with swings and a slide, and an honest-to-goodness trampoline. A fucking trampoline. I’m actually not sure how fancy or expensive a trampoline is, but all my new friends assured me that the trampoline was cool. There was also a hot tub, but over the years, no one maintained it and we had to decommission it.

Later, I would receive the benefits of a modest middle class upbringing, such as a stable internet connection, a computer of my own, and a mini fridge. (It feels weird to say “middle class,” since the middle class is disappearing super fast, but at the time I think we were in the middle class. Things to think about.) With the eventual departure of both my stepsisters (they chose to live with their biological mother), I did receive my own room. I keep saying that I got all these nice things, but it may be pertinent to point out that many of them were handed down from one person to another.

I’m trying to make it sound like I wasn’t a privileged person, and I’m failing, because I was/am privileged. I had almost every popular video game console under the sun, and my voracious appetite for books was never denied – my mom would take me to the book store when I wanted more stuff to read. I stopped going to school for a whole year, fucked up the online class substitutions, and still managed to graduate high school on time. Some of this was hard work, sure, but I can’t help but acknowledge that I’ve received a lot of generosity and understanding.

I’m writing this piece because yesterday, I visited the home of one of my longest-standing childhood friends. We began our friendship because he was a friend of my stepbrother, and our collective connections have remained steadfast throughout the years. My friend’s parents still live in the same neighborhood that we all grew up in, so going to their house is a great nostalgia inducer.

Speeding up a bit: due to my old, tired phone, I missed a few crucial text messages about our meeting. I showed up forty-five minutes early, and when I finally thought to turn my phone off and on again, I realized I had about forty minutes to spare before my friend showed up.

It’s not that I didn’t want to spend time with my friend’s parents; they’re good people, and conversing with them is relatively easy. It’s just that I didn’t want to inconvenience them; they’re magnificent hosts, and I know they wouldn’t have minded if I walked in the house before their son, but I wanted to wait for my friend. The connective tissue that holds me and his parents in the same cosmic space.

Also, I really wanted to see the old neighborhood. When I lived there, I loved to walk around, absorbing what I now know are the hallmarks of people with money to spare: lush gardens, well-maintained yards, a car or two or three in the driveway, dogs in backyards. Lots of lights. Grills everywhere. I never felt weird when I walked through the old neighborhood – another sign I can retroactively chalk up to my privilege.

When my brother and I finally moved out of our parents’ house and into an apartment, I didn’t go for walks nearly as often as I used to. While I can pretend it’s because I didn’t have as much free time as I used to, it’s mostly and actually because I never got used to the apartment landscape. Big numbers of people crammed into small boxes and forced to make do with small spaces? I’m uncomfortable just thinking about it. So instead of embracing my new living area, I stayed inside and festered away with my thoughts.

If you’ve read some of my older stuff, you may know that I moved into a house a few months ago. It’s not my house – I don’t have the money for such an extravagant purchase – but I am once again living in a house, thanks to my brother. You’d think I might be inclined to go on walks again, but the funny thing is, my brother’s house is close to downtown Reno. It’s not in a suburb, it’s in a weird cul-de-sac that’s attached to one of the bigger thoroughfares in the city.

And as much as I’m loathe to admit it, it’s the suburban walks that I miss. While I wended my way through the neighborhood I grew up in, I saw sights that tugged on my nostalgia and covered me in memories. The house that had a ground-floor window that looked in on a kid’s Xbox setup; the place that was in the middle of a remodel but had now been finished; the house where I played Bomberman 64 with a boy a few years older than me; houses that used to have familiar names on them, that are now missing those names (hopefully due to a successful move); the house where I watched the younger child of a family friend; and of course, the house where my longstanding friend grew up.

All these memories tied to houses, all these houses home to stories, pivotal points of growth and departure in their own ways. Despite my misgivings, I attach too much importance to houses.

Or do I? My political beliefs and my ideals fall somewhere on the left, if I’m not mistaken. The far left. Screw it, I’ll claim it: I think and believe like a communist. And an anarchist. A Marxist, for sure. I believe that every person deserves a clean and comfortable place to live, money be damned.

I have very little money of my own, and I hate the corporatized work ethics that have taken hold in the United States. Most of us spend too much time worrying about where our next meals are coming from, and that’s a problem. That’s a failure of the system, though I realize that it’s actually a success of the shitty exploitative system that our greedy elites have set up … but I digress. It suffices to say that I think like an anti-establishment person.

But I live like a coward, holed up in my room in a house my brother bought and waxing poetical about the plights of the masses. I don’t go outside and fight for my beliefs, I don’t garden like I want to, and my dream of sharing books with people languishes on my bookshelf while I play video games.

It’s possible I’m too hard on myself, but the reality is that I wish for a new world, a new and better way of connecting to my comrades, but I have a history of putting my own personal comfort above my revolutionary desires. I hide. I am the white moderate.

And all of these thoughts coalesced because I took a walk through an older, more affluent neighborhood, wherein I used to live, whereby I became who I am, and now I am wondering how to square my ideals with my reality.

I love my friend, and his parents. They worked hard to get the things they have. I’ve also worked hard, in my own way, and I enjoy relative privilege and comfort. This is why, as I float through life, I want to do something to help people. To set up a community library, to grow a big-ass garden and share the literal fruits of my labor.

I think too much. I need to act.

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Transformation Aria

It’s not hard to imagine that one night, you’ll stay alone in your room while outside your door, everything suddenly changes. Or you change. You might not notice it at first, but one morning you’ll look in the mirror and ask “Were my eyes always this shade of green?” Or you’ll look outside and wonder “Was the street always like that?” Infinitesimal shifts in reality will add up to a whole new world. Maybe you’ll trace your life back and pinpoint that night. Maybe you’ll wish every waking moment afterward had been a dream, so you could wake up to the same eyes, and the same streets. Sane eyes, sane streets. But when you realize everything’s shifted, it’s too late. The crack in the universe has yawned too wide.

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Can I get paid for that?

Last week, I played 80 hours of Monster Hunter Rise. Yes, do the math – quickly now! – in your head. If Monster Hunter was my job, I’d have shoved 16 hours of Monster Hunter into each of my workdays. Monster Hunter isn’t my job, though, so let’s break things down more realistically. I bought the game last Sunday (that’s April 25th, 2021); as of last night (May 2nd, 2021), I had something like 79 hours of playtime logged on my file. Maybe it was 80 hours and change and I’m a little too embarrassed to say so, but at this point, I don’t remember. I swear I’m trying to take a break from the game, as I think about the game, and write feverishly about the game. Anyway, back to the math – 80 hours divided by 7 days of playing comes to almost 11.5 hours a day. God, “eleven-point-five” sounds awful. 11 and a 1/2? Eleven and a half? Let’s just write out eleven and a half. For the past week, I’ve played Monster Hunter Rise for eleven and a half hours a day, on average.

Surely, some days were busier than others. Maybe on one day, I woke up, turned on my Nintendo Switch, and didn’t turn it off until I went to bed. There were breaks for food and the bathroom, of course, but I kept the game running. Every Tuesday, I play Pathfinder 2E with four of my friends. Last Tuesday, I definitely played Monster Hunter during the day, played Pathfinder during the evening, then pulled an all-nighter to play Risk of Rain 2. Quick aside: I experienced my first god run in Risk of Rain 2. It looked a little scary at first, but by the end of the first loop, I was nigh indestructible. By the end of the next loop, one of my friends who was new to the game was also nigh indestructible. We decided to play until we got tired. We saw the sun come up. Or, we would have, if we weren’t glued to our computer screens, wondering how far we could take our first real god run. (Potential piece about a god run to be determined.)

It is now a running joke that the house into which I moved with my brother and a friend of ours is called Gamer Haus. We adopt the shittiest “teenager with an attitude” voice that we can, throw up the horns (sometimes double horns), and exclaim “GAMER HAUUUUSSS!” to be funny. We think it’s hilarious. The only unfunny part is that I have adopted the joke as my lifestyle.

It’s severely unhealthy. But I adopted this unhealthy lifestyle to cope with my previous unhealthy lifestyle. Wait, what? What is he even talking about, you may be wondering. I shall now tell you what I’m rambling about.

This time last year, in the beginning months of the pandemic, I was bound to a contract that locked me into working 50 hours a week. Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch; if I wanted to meet the terms of the contract and reap the material rewards offered therein, I had to work 50 hours a week. Some weeks, I pushed it to 60. (Shit, I now realize all of my numbers are mismatched and I should adopt some stylistic rules or something. For now, I’ll just let everything flow from the keyboard; sorry, editors.) Long story short, I fulfilled my contract, and all was well. Until I signed up for another year of the same business. I thought to myself “I started late the first year and still met my obligations, so this year I’ll have it easy.”

I’ve never been more wrong in my life. This pandemic has taken a toll on all of us, and I was already burnt out from my first year of this contract work. In the beginning of my second year of contract work, I could hardly work 30 hours a week, let alone 40. I had to hit 40 at least, if I wanted to keep a steady pace. But I didn’t stay steady. My work was slipping, and I anxiously kept a tally of how many hours I’d need to fulfill my contract this time.

Here’s my strong opinion on work: 40 hours a week is horseshit. Unless you absolutely love what you’re doing, it’s soul-wrenching and heart-rending to work for 40 hours a week. Add in commutes, overtime, deadlines, et cetera – 40 hours just doing a job is too much, and the things that go along with a job make it worse. In my ideal world, I’d work 20 hours a week. Make it four days in a row, work five hours a day, and call it good. If 25 hours are necessary, fine, make it five days of 5-hour shifts; really though, three-day weekends should be the way, and working more than five hours a day should be discouraged. Productivity declines at a more involved clip. So let’s be good to ourselves and take it easy, yeah?

I can’t blame my burnout entirely on work. I happen to have very bad habits. I’ve built them up over several decades of conflict avoidance and people-pleasing. When people ask if I want to do a task, or they offer certain roles, I’m the first to say “Yes, let me try that.” It’s too easy to let work pile up, and I always think I can handle it if I just “buckle down” for a good day or three. I also put off doing important things – life maintenance sorts of things, such as doctors’ visits and teeth cleanings – because I’m too comfortable in my little cocoon. I don’t want to drive to an office somewhere and talk to a person I’ve never met – but I should. For my sake and the sakes of the people who care about me.

Where was I, again? Oh yeah, I played a shitload of Monster Hunter Rise last week. ’cause I’ve taken a big-ass break from work.

About three weeks ago, I just didn’t want to log onto my work computer. I knew there would be emails, and Teams messages, and tasks I should have done months ago; I didn’t want to face the cascade of work. So I let my computer sit for a week. That week leaned into the next one, and on Thursday of the second week of my unwillingness to work, one of my coworkers reached out. She asked me about a specific project, and said that everyone is worried about me. I came as clean as I could: I felt frozen, and I couldn’t do any work. Things happened fast: my supervisor sent me a message, telling me to take all the time I needed to take care of myself.

I felt a weight lift, but it wasn’t completely gone. Work itself isn’t the problem: it’s also my responses to problems, and the coping mechanisms I use to escape responsibility.

For the past three weeks, I’ve fallen back on old habits and become a night owl again. Shit, that’s a lie: I’ve been a night owl the whole time. Staying up until 5 A.M. is nothing difficult for me. I cram my waking hours with video games, while a voice in the back of my head says “Shouldn’t you make a doctor’s appointment? Shouldn’t you reach out to your co-workers? Shouldn’t you keep up with social media? Shouldn’t you do more things?”

No wonder I’m burnt out. It’s work, it’s life, it’s a lot of different responsibilities compounding at once, and my unhealthy perspective turns any one of them into the first domino; I handle one, I have to handle the rest. And that’s a lot of time. That I now have. That I’ve spent playing Monster Hunter Rise.

Last week, I played 80 hours of Monster Hunter Rise. This week, I won’t play nearly as much. This week, I’ll make a few phone calls – to a doctor, to a dentist, to an optometrist. I’ll get my appointments scheduled. I’ll talk to my supervisor and figure out where to go from here.

I’ll take everything one step at a time. I’ll put my life back in a place where I can handle it in a healthy way. That’s the dream, anyway – I just have to live it.

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Home is Where the Cat Is

(Disclaimer: This is a rather lengthy personal essay, with little to no headings or subheadings. Paragraphs go on and on while topics shift in weird ways. Please read at your own risk.)

Home is weird. No, that’s not how I want to start this … houses are weird? No, that’s not it either; how about this? My home life has always been a little weird. Let it be known here that I didn’t move out of my parents’ house until I was 28. Was it right before I turned 29? Details slip from my brain now, but the point is, I lived at “home” for a long while – at least, if we insist on looking at things through the outdated lens of rugged capitalist individualism. But that’s a subject for another piece – or is it? Okay, I’ve digressed and diverted attention enough. It suffices to say that some strain of collectivism and/or communism is always running through my brain, and it will probably permeate this piece in one way or another. Thought it would only be fair to warn you. Let’s continue, shall we?

I didn’t move out of my parents’ house until I was 28. This did not work well for me. Long story short, my stepdad has never been a nice person, and he has been verbally abusive since my mom brought me and my siblings to Nevada so she could be with him. I think the catch-all term that folks like nowadays is “toxic” – my stepdad was toxic. Still is, though I don’t spend long stretches of time around him anymore so I don’t experience his bile nearly as often. To best describe the general gist of his poison, I’ll sum up his exchanges and attacks as “totally unsupportive.” More often than not, if he was not doing well financially (which was often), he would blame it on my mom, and/or me and my siblings. He frequently concluded that we would “amount to nothing,” “become failures,” and “live on the street” in the future. As though his failures at work were inextricably tied to my playing video games at all hours in order to escape the living hellscape he manifested. (Emphasis on “man”; I attribute most of his toxicity to narrow and harmful definitions of white masculine success, by which he became embroiled in a lifelong struggle of fitting into a cultural mold that will never accept him. I fall back on attacking him as a person, but this does me no good. It is better to recognize that our culture and its prevailing systems are stacked against most folks, and even a resilient, stubborn person like my stepdad can’t escape the heteropatriarchal capitalist trap that is set for all of us in the U.S. … )

What the hell was I talking about, again? Oh yeah, my home life hasn’t been all that great, historically, and it’s amazing and alarming that I stayed in the poisonous confines of my parents’ house for so long. Or it would be, if my stepdad wasn’t onto something when he railed against my (lack of) work ethic.

Work has never been for me. Not the way that work has been structured in the U.S., with time clocks watching the very minute you begin and end a shift, and salaries tying ambitious folks and fools alike to long hours that drain the soul … no, the bureaucratic trap that is late stage capitalism never held much appeal for me. I didn’t have the terminology to describe these factors and systems back then, but even when I was young, I knew that going to a job site and shoving my soul into the bottom of my rib cage just wouldn’t be enjoyable for me. I like staying up late, always have. I like sleeping in, always have. I like doing things at my own pace – always have. Most jobs are about doing things at a pace that nets the most profits for some quasi-mythical CEO whose hallowed name and hollowed life one hears of in passing, but whose slimy physical presence one never suffers, thank the maker. Can you tell that I’m not ambitious? My stepdad knew it. Or he told me so many times that I wouldn’t amount to anything that I internalized his bullshit belittling mantra. Did criticism create the communist, or did the communist create criticism? Anyway, the fact remains that I’ve never enjoyed the soul-crushing drudgery of work in our star-spangled police state.

You may be wondering what all this has to do with home. I’m getting there, I promise. I took my sweet time getting through college, only working when I felt it was absolutely necessary, and by the time I was 28, I had no fun money to my name. I had taken out loans to finish school, and I wasn’t working. But things at the ol’ toxic homestead had come to a head. My brother did not enjoy the atmosphere there, and he was more vocal about it than I was. I can’t remember if he got kicked out, or if he left voluntarily and our stepdad said he kicked my brother out to save face. Either way, it doesn’t matter; my brother wanted a place of his own, but he needed help to get that place.

In the words of Ron Howard in that one episode of The Simpsons, I guess it’s up to me. Surely I thought something like that to myself as my brother explained the situation to me, and I realized that, despite not having a ton of money, I had enough to float my portion of a potential rent payment for about half a year. Surely that’s plenty of time to find a job, right?

The rest, I’ll make into history. My brother and I moved into a place that was graciously rented to us by the mother of a longtime friend of ours. A family friend was our landlady, to put it simply. We received a sweet deal on rent, at a time when the going prices for living spaces were skyrocketing thanks to a localized big tech infusion. I still had about a year of school left before I graduated, and I also wanted to get out of the shit situation that was our parents’ house. Our mom, sadly, couldn’t just move out and get away. But we could. We could escape, carve out a new space for ourselves, and attempt to recover from years of verbal, mental, and emotional trauma. And we did. One important aside: in the process of writing this piece, I remembered why I had enough money to float through half a year of rent. This aside will become important later. I totaled my first car a few months before my brother and I moved into our own place. The cost of fixing the thing was higher than the price of the car, so my insurance company opted to give me a payout rather than fix the damn thing. Was totaling the car my fault? Courts and insurance officials seemed to think so. I halfway buy it; when I started making a left turn into a small shopping center, I saw no cars approaching in the oncoming lane. However, mere seconds after I started turning, a truck slammed into my 2002 Ford Focus. The front was crumpled. The engine, destroyed. I hadn’t seen or heard anyone coming, and so I wasn’t braced for impact; I was wobbly like a wet noodle. I suffered no injuries, just the sudden sadness and shame of destroying a relatively nice car.

So the insurance payout covered my rent for half a year. I took a temp job near the end of that first summer in the apartment, which paid super well and got me rent for another two months. Right at the end of that gig, I was hired by a fancy-sounding grocery store that was opening in the area. I’d never worked in a grocery store before, but at the time, I had weird, romanticized visions of grocery store life in my brain. These were quickly dispelled – a shit job is a shit job, after all – but the grocery store got me through two years. When my time at the grocery store ended, I hopped into volunteer-ish life, which let me experience the inner workings of a non-profit. Office life? I’d never tried it, and apparently, despite most evidence pointing to the contrary, I always assume new job experiences will be rosy and awesome.

This isn’t to say my current job is awful. I actually believe in the work I’ve been doing, and it’s fulfilling in a way that no job has been before. But it’s still an office thing. And you may have noticed I said/wrote/typed “volunteer-ish” – I do get paid, but it’s not a lot.

I’ve been doing this volunteer-ish thing for almost two years now, and this has all been my long-winded and winding way of saying that I don’t have a ton of money. I’ve been scraping together enough to get by for the past four years, but I’m always hanging on by the skin of my teeth. By the dregs of my bank account. In no way am I getting paid enough to save up money for any kind of rainy day, emergency, or other dramatic life shift. I started this rambling personal essay by stating that home is weird. And I’m finally at the point where I can talk more about it. You see, I’m living in a house right now.

I provided all that disjointed background to make it clear that I have no steady work ethic or income of my own. As I said, I scrape enough money together to cover rent and bills and get food in me, but I would not be able to afford any kind of permanent dwelling with the money I’m making. But my brother, the dude I’ve been mentioning? He’s been working really hard at his current job, and he gets paid a decent amount. With our rent as forgiving as it was, he was able to save up a decent amount of money. So much money, in fact, that he could afford a whole dang house for himself. I’m not saying he bought it outright – that’s the sort of middle-finger money that not even my brother has – but he could afford the down payment and the first month’s mortgage payment and all the other fees that come with a house. And the U-haul rentals we used to move our shit over here. And various new appliances and furniture that a big dwelling sort of demands by virtue of its size. And oh crap, am I sounding neoliberal and bougie yet?

I don’t want to sound this way. But I don’t want to live in a shithole either. And our apartment wasn’t a shithole, that’s not what I’m trying to say. What I’m trying to say is, I’m living in a place that I can’t afford by myself, that I do not own, and I’m talking about houses demanding a certain standard of living. Which sounds like some capitalist, corporate, neoliberal schlock to me. How’s that George Carlin bit go? A house is just a place to keep all your shit? Well, yeah, it’s true. And for some reason, if we don’t have enough shit to fill the house, we think we have to acquire more shit to “fit” the house. That is some true consumer-brainwashing right there.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. I’m lucky my brother is willing to bring me along with him, to his new house. We’ve always gotten along pretty well (hence the living together), and even with his money, I don’t think he could comfortably afford the mortgage payments on his own. Or maybe he could, but he’d rather save a bit of money. So I’m in the new house with him. I have my own room right at the top of the stairs. Second-floor living, looking out on a tiny cul-de-sac … it’s exhilarating and weird all at once.

Moving our stuff was a hilarious misadventure, at least in hindsight. The day he had to snag the U-haul, he slept in and bolted out of his room in a huff. He asked if I could drive him to the U-haul center, and I said I could. I told him he could have asked me to awaken him if his appointment was so early, but he said he had planned to take an Uber there … it was nice of him to allow for the possibility of me sleeping in, but I was already awake and I could have helped him. Anyway, that’s beside the point; the point is, he missed his appointment, and the next U-haul he could rent was a smallish pickup truck that wouldn’t be available until the afternoon. He acquiesced to this new reality, since his misstep created it, and we went back to the apartment. We retrieved the U-haul later, and then he took off to his new house, to measure his floor space or something. I was fuzzy on the details, but the thing that happened is that he was gone for a good five hours while I chilled in my room, messing around on the computer and ignoring the work I should have been doing. He got home around 8 o’clock that night, and I was in the middle of an impromptu nap. I knew what was coming.

We had to pack up our shit. At 8 o’clock on a Saturday night. It shouldn’t take too long, right? Absolutely wrong. We spent a whole third of our day packing shit up. A whole full-time work shift’s worth of time. And it was already near the end of a “normal” day. If you do the math, we were up until 4 AM. Packing shit into boxes and trying not to freak out our cat. Getting tired and sitting down and quickly getting up to avoid falling asleep. And we were set to start driving stuff to the house around noon the next day.

I have a bad habit of spending an hour or two dicking around on the computer before I go to bed. I know, it’s terrible for my circadian rhythm, and it’s usually not productive. I’m just trying to admit that I probably didn’t go to bed until 5 AM or so, then I woke up around 11 to eat breakfast and drink coffee before our help arrived. Thanks to a great gaggle of friends and their many vehicles, the move wasn’t as intense as it could have been. It was still a bummer that we had a small U-haul truck, but our friends and their packing space helped mitigate that trouble. I finally saw the house. That moving day was actually my first experience with the place, so the folks who moved our boxes and furniture into the place weren’t too far behind me on the awareness scale. I got to wander through the place and pick a room for myself. Any room on the second floor – my brother’s bedroom was the solitary big one on the first floor – and I picked the one that’s closest to the stairs. I wasn’t sure what would go where, and I had no idea how we’d situate our cat, but I knew where my space was. And that was exciting enough.

There was one very non-exciting aspect of this move though: the internet wouldn’t be set up for about a week. I’ve been lucky enough to work from home during this pandemic, but that necessitates an internet connection. So I had to make some funny choices. Okay, they weren’t so strange or funny: I just left behind my blankets, a pillow, my computer and desk, some food, and the coffee maker. Oh, and some toiletries. I’d be camping out at the ol’ apartment, with the cat, until the internet was set up at the new house. I forgot to leave behind most of my clothes, and that made for a funky time. My brother brought me what he could after he searched through the boxes I left at the house, but I still had to make the clothes last. ’cause there’s one big complication I haven’t quite covered yet.

I’ve had nothing but car troubles ever since I totaled my first car. I bought an old car from a friend of mine after I saved up some grocery store money, and it worked fine for a while, but eventually it showed signs of slow death. Something was messing with its ability to go up hills, and eventually it couldn’t accelerate beyond 30 miles an hour. I’m sure that folks who know cars could diagnose a few problems from my scant description, but I just didn’t have the time, energy, or money to fix the damn thing. So I pushed it as far as I could, then started borrowing my mom’s old car. Except, when I say “old car,” I mean old. It’s an Oldsmobile that was made in, like, 1988. In car years, that’s several lifetimes. So that car got me around for a good while, until its engine started to give out. For a spell, Uber and Lyft became my best friends. Real friends helped out every now and then, driving me around in exchange for snacks, dinner, or gas money. But I had to get something. My volunteer-ish job required that I be at schools and other educational centers to share knowledge with folks – I had to get to those places somehow. So what did I do? I bought a different car from a different friend.

“Good lord, man,” you might be thinking, “how many fucking cars did you have?!” Well, if you count my mom’s old car, the total is three. Three cars. Except it was really more like one-and-a-half, ’cause the one barely worked, the second one had some glaring issues, and the new one … well shit, the new one drained its battery two days after I bought it. The friend from whom I bought it had been driving it around just fine, so I couldn’t figure out what the hell I’d done to fuck the thing up. But something had gone horribly wrong, and I had to replace the battery. So I did. And it got drained too. Luckily the warranty allowed me to get a replacement battery free of charge, but I’d learned my lesson: don’t keep the battery connected. So I started disconnecting the battery after every trip I made, and reconnecting it when I had to drive places.

It’s not a perfect fix. I actually stripped a bolt and had to get replacement bolts (they’re real affordable, thank the maker) ’cause I was tightening and loosening the connection so often. “But what happened to the other cars, dude?” I’m glad you asked that question. My friend’s old car, the one that couldn’t accelerate anymore, actually got marked for towing while it sat in a guest parking space outside our apartment. And I didn’t see that notice until it was too late. I tried to move the car to avoid the tow, but it’d sat for so long that the battery cables got messed up and I couldn’t fix ’em. So uh, it got towed. Then the tow company tried calling me, but I wasn’t ready to pay that bill – the pandemic had ramped up, and I was barely making ends meet. So I let all their calls go to voicemail. Eventually, I looked up the invoice number and discovered … nothing. I think they let it go. I’m hoping they let it go, ’cause it’s been months now and they never sent me another notice. I haven’t been summoned to a court. It’s possible I’ll be called upon to pay for that tow at some point in the future, but for now, I just know I’m out an old-ass car that hardly worked. Could I have scrapped it for parts and a bit of extra money? Sure, but hey, the thing is out of my life, and one less janky car, the better. The Oldsmobile … oh fuck, I need to head to a certain parking lot and see if it’s still there. The dang thing gave out after a shopping trip, and I had my mom drive me back to the apartment in her newer car. I still haven’t gone to check on the Oldsmobile.

Whatever fresh hell I’ve invited by letting these problems sit, I’ll accept. As you can see, I don’t take good care of cars. I deserve the repercussions of my inaction. But I did need to find a way to get around with the most recent car, so I got new bolts to connect the battery. I started moving the rest of my stuff, slowly, to the house. (That’s right, this is supposed to be about home, not cars – but the cars are integral to the story, I swear!) Finally, about a week after that first move, the internet was set to be connected. This meant a small flurry of shit had to happen: my brother rented a second U-haul (bigger this time!), we disconnected our computers and their components from the wall, and we started moving the last of our stuff into the U-haul. Once the computers and our desks and our plants (oh yeah, we moved the plants too) were hauled to the house, there was one final move to make. It was the most precious move. And it was mine.

Our sweet cat, Willow, had not yet seen her new home. She had watched us, confused and curious, as we packed things up and took away her furniture and hiding places, one by one. Eventually she was left with just a couch (one that had been passed to us, and that we would pass to the next tenant of the apartment), and two boxes of donations. There was plenty of open space for her to wander, but not much to scamper under or climb atop. And I had the sad task of pulling out the old transport kennel.

She must have remembered it from the day her previous owners brought her to us. She started running around as soon as she saw it, and when I approached her, she started yowling. She knew she’d go into the box, and the last time she did so, everything changed – a new home, with people she’d never met. I didn’t want to force these traumatic associations on her, but I had to get her into the kennel so I could drive her to the house. My brother’s house. Her house. Our house.

I got scratched a little bit, and she found every way to avoid going in the kennel, so eventually I just had to upend the thing, open the door, and plop her in it vertically. Then I turned it the right way around, as gently as I could, and put her on the floor of the passenger side of my car. She was going on a ride with me, and it was gonna be rough. That’s because my car can’t keep the driver’s side window up. I rolled it down one day and couldn’t roll it back up. And I don’t have a ton of money, so I haven’t been able to fix it yet. Remember what I said about cars and how I mistreat them? Yeah, my bad trends continue. So I got Willow into the car, started the thing up, and ferried her to the house. I talked with her the whole way, putting my hand near the kennel so she’d know I was there for her. I yelled at traffic along the way and apologized to her after I did – I didn’t want her to associate my yelling with her, so I explained the shitty drivers on the roads. Forget that I had one hand on the wheel while I consoled my cat with the other; I love Willow more than most beings, and I wanted to make her as comfortable as I could during this shitty transition.

As soon as I parked at the house and released her inside, she bolted to the nearest armchair and got beneath it. She proceeded to find a comfy hiding spot and chilled the fuck out. My room hadn’t been totally set up yet, and it was upstairs, and my brother and I weren’t sure where we’d put Willow’s litterbox. He put it in his big ol’ bathroom for now, but that’s on the first floor … and I’m Willow’s person. I work from home most days, and she sees me as her big safe friend. I refill her food and water every day, and usually, I’m the one who empties her litterbox. I sing to her when I can, and she sleeps on my bed every night. And I live on the second floor. So I put her bowls upstairs, and she mostly hangs out in my room. Have I curbed her world? I don’t think so; she can go downstairs if she wants, and she has to when she needs to go to the bathroom. I’ve cleaned the litterbox since we brought it to the house: Willow is still poopin’, so I think she’s mostly acclimated to the separation of food and shit. Even if they’re literally a whole house apart. Now she goes up and down stairs, getting exercise and building up a healthy appetite. She actually eats her whole bowl of food now! She’s settling in and it’s wonderful to experience.

I have more space now. I’ve put all my clothes and knick-knacks in a huge closet, and my bookshelf is in a real nice spot. My bed and end table are beneath the windows that look out on the street and the beautiful mountains beyond. My computer is up against a wall in a corner, with a lamp and its soft yellow light. There’s so much space that I put our old entertainment center against another wall; my brother wants to buy a new TV for the living room downstairs, so my TV is in my room once again. Back at the apartment, I had no room for the TV, and in the interest of sharing, we put it in the living room. Now I have space for it, and it’s dangerous. I don’t watch a ton of TV, but I love my video games. Animal Crossing will suck me in again!

This piece has gone on way too long and taken way too many detours, but it’s about home, you know? A lot of different factors make a home. The mountains are in the distance, beckoning me, and there’s a gazebo in the backyard. There are stairs to strengthen Willow’s legs and make her hungry. I have space enough for all my introverted diversions, and my brother is gracious enough to bring me along with him on this new phase of his life. He’s a homeowner, and he’s sharing some of his prosperity with me. Rugged individualism be damned, we can share and team up, at least a little bit.

I’m pretty happy about this whole development. It’s a big change, for sure, but a welcome one. As long as we keep the yard eco-friendly and the coffee flows freely, and I can sing to Willow, life is good. Thanks for reading this.

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rambling

Bifurcated

I live in two places right now. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds, though I am aware of how privileged I am to have a place to fall back on while I settle into a new place. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back and explore the road that led here before it split.

A few months ago, my brother (who is making way bigger bucks than I am) started looking into the local housing market. Tired of giving money to a landlord, he wanted to have his own place. His own house. Something to own and command, if you will. I apologize for making it sound so disgusting; when I look deep into myself, I guess that’s just how I see my brother’s insistence on owning a home. Forget other people and their thumbs – he’d be out from under all that.

Let’s put that digression aside. I can’t fault him for wanting to control his space. I am merely envious of his means, so I attach malevolence where there is none. Anyway. Let’s get back to that road.

He found a place that looked promising. He took a virtual tour of it, then a physical tour of it, and he expressed excitement about it. He described its features to me, and it sounded great. Had I been there to see it with my own eyes? No. Would I need to start worrying about the person who would take my brother’s room in our apartment? Well, I wasn’t sure.

Turns out I didn’t have to worry about that. Houses come with mortgages, after all, and it’s easier to pay a mortgage when other people help you foot the bill. So he asked me to move into his new house with him. Uh, yes please?

(I realize that in a sense, he had just become the landlord he loathed. He now owned the property. He could charge others to rent some of his space. Yeah, on some level, it’s messed up. But it also speaks to the bloated prices of homes; if it’s way easier to afford a house with a few people pooling money, there’s something wrong with the going price for home.)

So I’ll be living in a house soon. Yes, I recall writing that I live in two places right now. This is essentially true: last weekend, we packed most of our shit and hauled it to the house. There’s just, like, one big problem. The house has no internet yet.

And I work from home most days. I need the internet to get anything done. I also like to relax with nothing. Ya know, internet surfing, screwing around on Reddit, that sort of thing. I’m addicted. I know I’m addicted. But I do nothing to change that, and I insist on living somewhere that enables my internet addiction. Lucky for me, we pay rent month to month and we’re throwing down for one more month of the apartment.

Yeah, that’s pricy. But the first month’s mortgage for the house was included in one of the payments my brother already made, so there’s no rent on that side. Would I love to save one month’s worth of rent? You bet. But in case the house ends up being shitty for any reason, it’s nice to have this place to fall back on.

It’s also nice to have internet somewhere. The house should have its router set up in about a week, but until then, I’m in the apartment. All my clothes are at the house. My bed is at the house. My books and things are at the house.

I left my blankets and a pillow behind, and set them up on the couch that, per tradition, will be passed to the next tenant of the apartment. So I sleep on the couch, as I did when I first moved into this place. I have two cardboard boxes filled to the brim with donations that serve as makeshift tables. I have the coffee maker, and a water filter.

I’ve run out of toilet paper. I need to get more clothes from the house so I don’t smell so weird. I need to buy new bolts for my car’s battery and get it running so I can actually, ya know, move around. There’s all kinds of work I need to do, and I’m so tired. Moving is hard.

This whole post has basically been a journal entry, and I apologize. It’s not well-structured, and I don’t say anything too poignant or powerful. So if you read through this, thanks. Here’s to living in a house.

P.S. I was in a strange place when I wrote this. I’m now officially living in the house, and I plan to write a whole retrospective essay on the moving process and my choices that made it a bit more difficult than it had to be. Cheers!

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Poetry, rambling

Scattered Notes

Hello everyone. Every now and then thoughts pass through my mind, and I like them well enough that I type them out as notes on my phone. I almost lied and said that I jot them down in my journal, but alas, I save my journal for longer, rambling thoughts. These are the smaller pieces of my psyche, ones that could maybe develop into poems or essays or some meandering written thing. I’m going to arrange them in the order that I wrote, er, typed them down, then I’m going to rearrange them in a way that turns them into something slightly fresh. Sprightly flesh, I hope. Allow me to try and suffuse them with new life. Here they are.

I want love that blooms and grows
like spring,
that waits while snow falls and
covers everything.

To be neutral in the face of indecency is to be indecent.

To sing the ragged edge
Handsome/Devil
Night coffee

An exhortation against productivity culture

warp of woman, weft of feeling,
west of time, and love, and dreaming,

And now, without further ado, the new form of my old notes.

Handsome/Devil,

I want love that blooms and grows like spring, that waits while snow falls and covers everything. Warp of woman, weft of feeling. To be neutral in the face of indecency is to be indecent. To sing the ragged edge, night coffee: an exhortation against productivity culture.

West of time, and love, and dreaming,
Chris

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