Poetry

Flow

It’s a stream-of-consciousness kind of day,
and my brain just won’t
stop telling me
how sad we are.
While I calculate
how long this sadness will last,
I remind myself
that I only slept
about six hours last night,
and I’d had a bit to drink,
and although it’s not deadly,
it’s enough to put me in a mood.
A bad place.
A dark time.
Maybe it’s time I admit
that the more I tell myself
“Plenty of people sleep less than you!,”
the more okay I become
with denying myself
good health.
In the spirit of optimism,
I’m going to bed.

Standard
rambling

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.

Standard
Poetry

Rotting

I finally sat down
to figure out my broken Zippo
and the sound of it igniting
brought old movies to mind,
people playing at being chimneys,
smoke ever curling from pursed lips
and a light always ready to glow.
I don’t smoke, but I choose my death;
I choose my death every day.
Every time I forget to drink water,
every time I decide not to exercise,
every time I microwave a meal,
every time I cram caffeine in my blood,
every time I don’t check my blood sugar,
every time I don’t make a doctor’s appointment,
every time I binge a video game,
every time I binge chips,
every time I forget about fruit,
every time I vacillate about veggies,
every time, I choose my death.
My death is slow, and habitual,
just like my life.

Standard
Poetry

Potential Repetition

Did I ever share this one?
A possible title for some eventual project?
Here goes:
The Blunder Years, Or: How I Messed Up, Got Lucky, and Managed to Survive Continually in a Capitalist Deathtrap (a collection of poetry from the last few years of working hard for almost nothing)
Phew, that’s a mouthful.
Maybe the title will take up the whole front cover.
In big, bold letters.
I could put the parenthetical on the back.
Or I could leave it with the first part.
Complete. Whole.
Hopeful.
I wrote this in the Notes app on my phone
sometime within the last year or two.
Still working hard.
Still for almost nothing.
Learning to ask
for more.

Standard
Poetry

This Is My Stop

The people who rode
the bus with me in middle school,
they may know me
best of all.
At least, they’d probably ask
the most
interesting questions.
“What ever happened to that house
that looked like a barn?”
“Do you still hide between headphones?”
“Are you still quiet?”
Are you still,
you,
still?

Standard
Poetry

The Dead, Redux, or, How I Ranted About the U.S. and Accidentally Repeated Joyce

I just read a Reddit comment
claiming that America gets the Halloween season right,
and my first thought was
“That’s ’cause we’re one giant ghost country,”
then I thought about how we’re haunted by
so many sins,
and this person went on to say
(I’m paraphrasing here)
that wearing a costume is liberating,
so I thought about
how we cover our problems,
and we hide our roots,
and we ignore all the violence
inside every suit,
and now I’m thinking
that calling us a ghost country
is accurate
and wrong at the same time,
’cause many ghosts haunt us,
but the people we’ve wronged
are still living here,
they’re struggling here,
and though I did not commit many of America’s sins
personally,
I benefit from the repercussions of systemic wrongdoing,
I receive a relatively cushy life
thanks to inherent
violence
vice
repression
racism
sexism
ableism
God, I wish I could be more
poetic about this,
but I can only state it plainly,
that America’s problem, mainly,
is that it’s tearing itself to pieces all the time,
and the people who could do things better
never get positive attention, or power,
and half the country glowers
at any suggestion that we could improve ourselves,
so we’re fascinated by ghosts
and we’re inundated by monsters
because they show us a truth that we’d rather deny,
and the masks let us hide
in the stories we tell,
we convince ourselves that we’re not stuck in this hell,
a gigantic grave,
and a cell,
a shell of the beautiful land it once was,
before all the settlers,
before all the colonies,
now just a siphon that’s sucking the money
from every poor worker
and every minority
and, well, most everyone, actually,
the people at the top
are sipping grape gravy
and chuckling at somebody’s racist tweet.
They know they’ve shackled our feet,
and we can’t get anywhere
unless we agree to work for them,
then they drag us,
slowly,
while syringes and hoses
take every ounce of blood,
every dollar,
from us,
and I don’t know where this is going,
I just know
I’m real sad
that all we have is hospitality, and spooky shit,
Joyce said it all a century ago,
about Ireland,
and it applies to us now,
we’re a frail fucking cow
who’ll bend over backwards
to give up our milk.

Standard
rambling

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.

Standard
rambling

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!

Standard