Archive for the ‘On Life’ Category

What I originally set out to be a weekly project with a consist release deadline has quickly tumbled into yet another of my fleeting projects. It’s more about discipline than inspiration, I suppose, and late is still better than never, so here we are. Welcome to 2019; we’ve begun another lap around the astronomical phenom that gives us life (see also: the sun), and unsurprisingly, it doesn’t feel that much different from 2018 so far.

Actual representation of my brain at work

In our last outing, I gave SparkNotes versions of how the last few years of my life have gone down, my bubbling, fetid anxieties, and some other generally wordy bullshit in that special way that only I and about 6 million other aspiring somethings can. Since then, Mrs. Fish and I have successfully made the trek down I-25 and we’re now officially roach-fighting city slickers. In between feverishly perusing job board sites, staring at my resume in abject self-loathing frustration, and reveling in my new lair (holy shit I have roommates and a dishwasher and a washer and a dryer and), I’ve had quite a bit of downtime to chew on my thoughts.

Over the past two years or so, I’ve gradually come to terms with the fact that I’ve got some type of anxiety issue. I don’t know enough with any certainty to call it a disorder, I’m not sure how the sliding scale of mental illness functions. It manifests itself in many ways: general irritability, avoidance of social situations, dermatophagia (just Google it it’s kinda embarrassing but here we are), difficulty sleeping, a fleeting sense of depersonalization, nagging stomach issues, etc. That said, I don’t find myself struggling to maintain my basic humanity. I do my best not to put off chores or tasks with deadlines until the last inning, I don’t cancel plans with people I’ve given my word to, and I do my best to avoid skipping meals or basic hygienic practices. It’s an issue I’m unsure how to tackle completely until I gain the financial stability to talk to a professional, so in the meantime I’ve taken to pretending as if there were two of me, with the important caveat of taking responsibility for the actions of both.

One version of me, the one I feel in control of, wants. I want to get a job that is more than just tolerable at best. I want to regularly play music that I enjoy in a band with people that I enjoy. I want to write, I want to play, I want to create, I want to inspire, and narcissistically I want to be recognized for the talents and traits I feel I am capable of showcasing. I want to be the best husband and tag-team partner I possibly can be for my wife, who successfully triumphs over her own demons each and every day (even if it doesn’t seem like it to her). I want to be informed on what I’m talking about each time my mouth opens or my hands lay words on paper. This version of me does his best (at least in his own mind) to be kind to other people, help those he realistically can who are in need of it, be an empathetic friend and hard worker, and be someone that others can be proud to know and have in their corner. He’s also aware he can be a bit of a callous, self-important cockhole who has difficulty committing to his interests and just putting the fucking work in, but something something only human something something shit happens something something tomorrow’s another day.

Then, there’s the version of me that reacts, the one that feels completely out of control. A flippant customer or a belligerently dickish coworker, a snide comment on an empty stomach, or an overdraft caused by a banking oversight (what do you mean I get charged for not using my card enough times in a month how the fuck does that even make sense) are enough to bring him to the surface. My very own Mr. Hyde. He snaps at his wife without any merited reason, he broods and revisits the ways his culture and government fuck him incessantly, he favors loading a bowl and playing another twelve rounds of Rocket League over finishing a podcast or writing a blog post. He reminisces about past successes as if they were one-time-only, completely unattainable feats. He bellows as if his opinion had any merit or validity over all others. He’s an irritable, unapproachable, grouchy asshole that behaves as if everyone around him is wasting his time and as if he had better things to be doing, but for some reason he isn’t doing any of them.

For better or worse, both of ‘him’ are me. I am thou, thou art I, so on and so forth. Rather than pass all of my shitty qualities and behaviors off onto an aforementioned “Mr. Hyde,” I’ve instead tried my hardest to acknowledge the fact that I generally have a choice in which of those two people I am at any given moment. I can choose to let an incompetent coworker or manager ruin the entire tone of my day. I can choose to take a criticism or innocent jab the wrong way for the sake of having justification in my anger. I can choose to hide behind the fear of failure and the assumed inadequacies of others to justify my own lack of action. These are choices made reflexively rather than consciously, and to me that means that there’s an issue in the programming that needs to be reconfigured. Be it my own outlook, my behavior, or my discipline, I acknowledge that I am my own person with my own agency, and only I can take the steps necessary to change for the better.

Now, that all sounds great in theory and on paper, but putting it into practice is the real clincher. It’s easy to get home from a shitty day and dump it all on your spouse without bothering to ask how their own day went or how they’re dealing with their own struggles. It’s difficult to reflect on one’s own flaws and behavior and identify the need for a change. It’s hard to stare those negativities in the face and make the effort to defy them. It’s even harder to maintain the diligence to alter those aspects within one’s self until “positive” becomes the default setting. I’m not the type of person to simplify down the entirety of a person’s day as being attributed to their outlook. Good days can turn bad and vice versa. Humans are infinitely complex and emotional creatures, to say that one can never have a bad day or never feel sorry for themselves is simply to be idealistic to a fault. Negativity is a drug, one with a necessary and vital role to our humanity, but one that proves to be dangerously addictive. Existence is suffering, yes, we know that, but existence has so much more to yield than that.

So, rather than use some fleeting TEDTalk-esque bout of inspiration to try and tackle some herculean, fucking impossible task all in one go, I’ve instead begun to look at tentative hopefulness and small, attainable goals as a rudder. On Friday I have an appointment to obtain a MED (Marijuana Enforcement Division) Support Badge that will allow me to get a job working in an industry I have an interest in, be it as a sales associate or a janitor. If I’m going to do “dead-end” work, I’d rather do it in a setting I care about as opposed to snatching up the first bill-paying endeavor that comes along. If I succeed, then that’s at least a single step closer than the day before. My brain has the annoying tendency to jump immediately to “What if ____ goes wrong? What if ____ happens?” Sometimes, it’s right, and dealing with it sucks, but I survive and the world continues to turn.

But where’s the harm in instead asking “What if ___ works out? What if ___ isn’t so bad?” Both outcomes are, after all, equally likely. I’m lucky enough to have the wealth of close friends and family who express the utmost confidence in me. Who am I to tell them that their faith is misplaced? Setbacks happen. Life is rough and then you die, or so they say. But I’ve grown tired of compounding my own misery and just accepting what I considered to be my nihilistic, unremarkable fate.

Maybe I’ll hate my new job. Maybe I’ll have a coworker that I regularly fantasize about murdering horribly. Maybe I’ll feel unfulfilled and underutilized and want to come home and bitch until I’m blue in the face. Maybe. But I’ve done all of those things before, I know what kind of result they’ll yield, and I know how both versions of me will want to react to them. So, instead, we’re going to try and shake things up and go with: Maybe I’ll get a job that is at least palatable. Maybe that’ll afford me the time to reignite my passions. Maybe.

Only one way to find out.

Spero


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(I missed the memo that liking this show isn’t cool anymore, but if I abandoned every fandom ruined by neckbeards, I’d have none left)

With the sun setting on 2018, many people, myself included, are looking to the daybreak of 2019 with equal parts existential dread and necessary-for-the-sake-of-survival-but-nonetheless-tentative hopefulness. Our rotations around the sun seem to be getting more difficult, what with the deep political and ideological schisms in the country, the abysmal state of job availability and wage earning, and the fact that mentioning either of those issues immediately labeling you all manner of juvenile insults conjured up by the hard-at-work minds happily continuing to get back-doored by the powers that be. Regardless of the memes floating around regarding and oversimplifying the issues presented us this year (“2018 DIDNT SUCK U JUST DIDNT BETTUR URSELF LOLOLOL”), I know for many of us it’s been an endurance test for the ages.

But I guess I’m getting ahead of myself. Hi, I’m Jeff. Some of you might remember me as the dude that used to do shit. I used to be an avid writer and sometimes-publisher of fiction. I used to be a regularly gigging musician in a multitude of different genres. I used to dabble in podcasting and (poor) voice acting. I used to be a Literature major at Chadron State College – then was a janitor at that same college after graduating (yeah that degree was money well spent, sorry Mom and Dad), then a prep-cook at a restaurant in BFN Wyoming, and for the last year and a half I’ve been a delivery boy at a Chinese restaurant in Fort Collins, Colorado. My track record seems remarkably lackluster in my opinion, but here I am, still kicking despite it all.

Rather than further vomit my unwarranted and unneeded opinion into the endless ether of the I N T E R N E T in 2018, I’ve opted for the greater majority of this year to sit back and watch the calamity from a safe distance; a pale gargoyle perched high atop the clocktower of brooding, watching the series of tubes below descend into complete bedlam. There was once a time where I was either so conceited or so deluded by grandeur as to think my opinion held any merit or could at least serve as a form of passing entertainment for some, but anymore opinions are a lot like the assholes spouting them: completely undesired, wholly run-of-the-mill, one of several billion, and completely and totally full of shit.

Any cynicisms or frustrations I expressed in years prior have only compounded since then. For the most part, I’ve tried to opt out of keyboard jockeying and dinner-table debate — a far cry from the militant ‘anyone, anywhere, anytime’ bullshit-spouting I once championed. Spewing stupid fucking bullshit with zero fact sourcing has become a national pastime in the years since I’ve left this old blog up on the shelf, even moreso than when I first stepped away. It seems like all you need now to have people agree with you and shower you in digital high-fives is to record a vlog in a lift-kit truck, have a large red beard with an American-flag baseball cap, and just grumble out a half-cocked opinion sprinkled with politically charged insults akin to 5th grade playground fuckery. I got squeezed out of my own market (see: bitching) by the world over in 2018. That’s a bit disappointing.

Since I’ve graduated I’ve had more important considerations than calling strangers on the internet and mild acquaintances in life pants-on-head genetic tragedies. Student loan payments, inflating rent costs, and dead-end-gun-in-my-mouth jobs have taken up most of my time, and one by one all my hobbies and pastimes have fallen by the wayside in favor of THC-assisted escapism. It’s a problem I’ve been aware of and one I’ve tried to curtail, but no amount of optimistic outlook or “living for today” can seem to quell the anxieties in my brain. Is it normal to get up in the morning and feel literally physically sick at the thought of having to endure another day of work? Should it be?

I’ve had lots of accusations levied at me over the past few years. I’m lazy, unmotivated, unambitious, lacking direction, squandering my potential, and any number of other generic criticisms you receive when you’re sailing dead reckoning on the tumultuous waves of life. “When are you going to grad school?” “Are you planning on getting a real job?” and all sorts of other well-meaning but backhanded questions have me rolling my eyes so hard I can get a full view of my own brain. There was once a time when I dreamed of silly shit like being a professionally gigging musician, or writing in a style that could sustain me financially, but those things really just file me away into one of another million and two people who wish for more out of their day-to-day, but don’t have the means or the drive to seal the deal. I don’t see those goals as impossible to attain, but I do see them as something I have neither the time nor the energy for right this minute. I forsook each and every one of those things in the grind of just getting my god damn bills paid. I love Colorado, but JFC, the cost of living seems more determined by a roulette spin more than any actual rhyme or reason.

I’ve spent more than my fair share of 2018 being angry. Shocking, I know, that’s kind of been the gimmick since day one, but it’s been different lately. Being angry used to be a shtick for me; I had something to say, and a man I respect very much once told me that people are more keen to listen if you’re funny rather than just bitching incessantly and offering little alternative. This new anger has been poisonous to my psyche and my attitude: the kind that makes me walk around with a sneer on my face and wish ill upon the most non-assuming inconveniencers in my daily life. I discovered quickly that arguing with the cultitsts who support our current presidential administration was akin to beating my head against a brick wall, that people will desperately go out of their way to take a shit on anything even remotely popular in modern art and culture, and that levying any criticism at those who would rather share dank memes than actually contribute to their community in any way quickly ostracizes you from the conventional spheres of the Internet. That’s okay, though, because I don’t feel like I’m missing out on much from a Facebook feed clogged with all talk and zero action from people stuck in their college years in both personal taste and mental fortitude. Accuse me of ‘vaguebooking’ if you will, one thing remains the same about me: I’ll say it to your fucking face if you name me a date, time, and location to meet up. I’ll even bring beer. I like beer!

2018 wasn’t complete garbage, though. Mostly, but not completely. I punched way above my weight class and got married on Halloween to a lovely, patient woman who serves as the yin to my moody, overly-aggressive yang. We married in a cemetery just to really sell the whole “edgy kids” bit. I look forward to it putting a grin on my face during the Octobers to come. I’ve made quite a few new friends, something I was expecting to have difficulty with given my super friendly and approachable demeanor, and I did manage to squeeze in a few concerts (both performed in and witnessed) before all was said and done. I got to sit out on my balcony and watch the fireworks on the 4th of July with a loaded bong in my hand, and it really doesn’t get much more American than that, now does it? There’s been plenty of good in 2018 in all honesty, it just seems to get obscured by copious amounts of stupid fucking bullshit more often than I’d like.

So now we’re headed down the road, literally and figuratively. My apartment currently looks like some shitty caricature of a college student’s dorm room in a lackluster, ham-fisted sitcom about millennials — on account of our getting ready to move to the ‘big city’. The Chinese food delivery is in my rearview mirror, much to the relief of both my sanity and my nagging desire to stab shitty tippers in the eye with a set of chopsticks. The future seems murky as it always does, lending credence to those who question my motivations and my sense of direction, but if there’s one skill I’ve mastered in my short quarter-century on this planet, it’s flying by the seat of my pants. Thanks to the kindness and diligence of family members and close friends alike, we will be neither homeless nor completely broke for the first month of 2019. Hopefully, that’ll grant me the breathing room I need to land face-first into whatever godawful bill-paying, time-sucking, braindead-manager-having place of work comes next. In between whatever that is, I hope to get back on a few proverbial horses – maybe pick my guitar back up, put the pen to paper a little bit more, carve out a few more plastic models of giant Japanese robots (because at the end of the day I really am just another fucking nerd). The American Dream seems alive and well if you have enough NyQuil and naivety to get to sleep long enough to believe it. 

This is all a gross oversimplifying of a complex, difficult, and exhausting couple years, but at the behest of a few good women in my life, I decided that vomiting this series of letters and punctuation marks out into the world would maybe do me some good. Maybe that’s the key to all that I’ve been overlooking; maybe I just needed to fully embrace the art of not giving a fucking shit about the opinions of idiots, assholes, fuckfaces, and morons who are neither paying my bills nor boosting me up in any way that isn’t just a roundabout degradation of my motives or my reasoning.

So, expect to hear a little more from me in 2019. Because I’ve had a lot to say that I’ve kept pretty close to the chest for fear of kicking the beehive or screaming needlessly into the void. The scientists say that unless humanity collectively pulls head from ass, we’ve only got another two or three good decades on this spinning ball of shit, and as little as my opinion matters or as unremarkable it is in the scheme of things, its still something that’s uniquely my own. If someone can find it relatable or crack a smile at my crude, uninformed flapping about, than I’ve already done more for the collective human race than most of the dildos who went out and bought a Tesla and subsequently crashed it watching a Harry Potter film while cruising down the interstate. To any doubters, critics, or those otherwise disapproving of my motivations and my methods: buckle up, fuckers, cause it’s the end of the world as we know it, and that’s the best news I’ve heard all year.

Receperint Retro

Well folks, it’s been about a month since I walked away from Chadron State College with a Bachelor’s degree in Literature with a minor in music. I’ve done what few others in my family have managed to do. I should feel proud, shouldn’t I? Shouldn’t I feel like I’ve accomplished something?

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To be honest, rather than feeling accomplished, lately I’ve been feeling tired. It’s as if 4 years worth of determination and hard work emptied out of me and left my old bitter self behind. People ask me about grad school. People ask me about a career. I have no answers for them.

What I want to do is jump up on the table and scream at the top of my lungs: “I don’t fucking know, okay?! I’ve done nothing but take tests and write papers for the last 16 years of my life, so how the fuck am I supposed to have it all figured out? I don’t even know where I’ll be next Tuesday, let alone 5 goddamn years from now, so get off my fucking back!”

I don’t do that though. I mention writing. Getting a decent job. I say what I think will give me the least amount of pain in the ass explanations and lecturing. You’re told all through high school to go to college, that you’ll amount to nothing otherwise, make no living for yourself. You finish college and you get a slap on the back and a “well, that’s nice!”

image

I’m tired of my efforts being seen as a “good start.” I’m tired of my band not being taken seriously or considered a priority. I’m tired of my writing being rejected by all but the same 2 publications. I’m tired of people having phones for the express purpose of ignoring them. I’m tired of classic literature, I’m tired of Jazz elitists, I’m tired of the ignorance of news media and conservative Christians, ladies and gentlemen, quite frankly I’ve had my fucking fill of the world today.

I told myself I would take this summer to work on my writing, and I haven’t. It’s completely my own fault. I discovered a bad habit that I’ve taken on. I only “feel like” writing when I’m in a shitty mood. This is pretty counterintuitive to wanting to be able to write every day. My guitar sits lonely in the corner because I feel like picking it up, trying to learn something new with it is just a wasted effort. I’m going to be disappointed in the results, be them from me or from others.

Maybe I’m just bitching. Maybe I’m just in a funk. Is post-grad depression a thing? I don’t intend on feeling this way forever. Frustration isn’t a good look on me. Do I feel like shit because I haven’t done anything new, or have I not done anything new because I feel like shit?

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Frustratio

It’s been a tough one, boys and girls. I’m not gonna lie. I have most certainly run out of “give-a-fucks” here for my last semester at CSC. Soon, I’ll officially be a college-educated fool. I’ve done a lot of typing over the semester. Blogs, tweets, papers, comments, etc. etc. I suppose I should feel somewhat grateful since I type about eight hundred million miles faster than I can hand write anything. That being said, as part of our DigiLit final, we were asked to go back through our blogs and comments and analyze them. Find some commonalities, some changes, some surprises, etc.

So, for the final time, let’s get this freakshow on the road.

Marc Palm Photo CC-by Marc Palm, tangentially relevant

Repeat Offenses

A lot, and I mean, a lot of my blog posts this semester tackled problems I found in my own and in others’ education. I’m definitely not a proponent of traditional “sit down and shut up” classroom etiquette. We need to shake things up, identify alternative strategies, and figure out how to incorporate them into classrooms. The problem here is the immense amounts of bullshit teachers have to deal with. Curricula being designed for them, not by them, as well as stuffy administration or government mandates requiring they continue to recycle the same busted-ass methods are doing no one any favors. Oh, that’s another common thread: I despise closed-mindedness, tradition for tradition’s sake, and pretty much anything remotely resembling an authority figure imposing its will over others. I’m so edgy (this is sarcasm).

Another thread that joins a lot of my posts and comments together is a contrarian viewpoint. Call me a hipster, call me a douche, whatever, but in most facets of our education this semester, I did my best to look from all angles, and not just take everything at face value. Sure, I can read 15 articles and listen to 12 TEDTalks about how this new innovative idea is so great and will change the world, but I don’t need a pat on the back, and I don’t need idealism. I need results. I need proof. If you want me to believe that your idea is fullproof, I’m going to try to find the holes that can be poked in it and see how you plug them. I’m not trying to be edgy or be “that guy,” I’m really just trying to cover all bases here. A great idea is great.. in theory. Can it hold up to practice? Can it hold up to peer review? These details do matter. Ideas are good. Acting on them is better.

Photo CC-by Sean MacEntee

Sean MacEntee

Takeaway Points

A key point that a few of my blogs mentioned that I feel is worth mentioning again is that we need to abandon the fetishizing of ideas and of innovation. People walk away from TEDTalks feeling good and optimistic for the future, mostly because somebody else has a good idea. What TEDTalks have you actually put into practice? Good for them, they’ve reached a successful point in a career and are coming to share their results with us. What does that do for us if you don’t act on it? If you don’t incorporate it into your own life in some way more than a Facebook share and a “oh hey this was really cool”? I’m a hypocrite, because I think talk is cheap. Words are my favored medium, and still, I get tired of them from time to time. I get tired of soapboxes and causes. I want something I can see – not yet another person like me, rambling on but doing little in practice to implement any differences.

Hypocrisy aside, that’s one of my favorite things about these weekly blogging exercises. I’ve got a week’s worth of Tweets, articles, blog posts, and so much more bubbling in my brain, and I’ve gotta let it out in some manner. I also, oddly enough, love attention. My blog is my soapbox. I can write about social injustice and feel less like a shit person when I fail to notice instances of it in entertainment because, hey, I wrote about it! It’s like the whole “being an asshole concept,” where people believe that by somehow prefacing being a dick by “Hey, I’m kind of a dick,” that makes whatever offensive thing said okay. I feel like writing is one of the few things I can feasibly do to make a difference. I can at least raise awareness about causes. That’s something, right? I like to pretend so. It makes me feel better about myself.

Shawn Carpenter

Photo CC-by Sean Carpenter

Ch-ch-ch-changes

One thing I noticed as the year went on, in my blog posts, my bravado and usual “funny sarcastic guy” schtick began to fall in favor of unfiltered cynicism or flat out boredom. I won’t lie, certain blog posts this semester just did not have my attention. They were definitely cranked out for the sake of an assignment. As we went, I became more and more aware of my own flaws, more conscious about the things I didn’t like about myself or my work, and rather than try to cover them up with a fascade of humor, instead decided to let the truth be the truth. I’m thankful for my education here. I’m thankful for the things I’ve learned, the people I’ve met, and the things I’ve seen. Still, I’m left with a sour taste in my mouth at the end of the day. Do teens really need to commit 4 years of their life and thousands of dollars of money they don’t have for what is essentially a repeat of a high school education? The government sure wants them to think so.

I think the gradual change in demeanor is equal parts the inevitable exhaustion that accumulates for students and teachers alike over the semester, as well as the pre-graduation jitters. I’m going to have a Bachelor’s Degree. I’m going to be expected to be a functioning adult. I’m already being harangued about grad schools. I don’t want to go to grad school, goddammit. At least not yet. I’ve been in academia for a good 16 years straight. I’m calling a time out. I’m done for now. I’m going to experience life a little, be it mundane or absolute chaos. Besides, I have no desire for a higher degree besides “it would make me feel good about myself.” I don’t want to teach, okay? Stop fucking asking. Maybe I’ll give substitute teaching a try, but for now, it’s not in the books.

I know a lot of people whose senioritis kicks in and gets them excited about graduating. I don’t think I could be more lethargic. I took my last hand-written final this morning, potentially ever. What was my first thought after?

“Shit, I need a nap.”

emdot Photo CC-by emdot

Truth Time

In all honesty, my growing cynicism and lethargy aside, I’ve loved this class. I’ve loved (almost all) of my blog posts. This class has forced me to look a lot of things I’ve never considered, and consider a lot of viewpoints I’d never known about. I actually learned something in an online class. Holy crap.

Despite the fact that for the last 8 weeks solid I did the dumb thing and waited until 10 Sunday night to do a week’s worth of homework, I always did my best. I always tried to put some substance in my work, never opting for lame “I agree!” replies or bare-bones blog posts. That’s something I’m proud of. To my classmates: it’s been fun. New perspectives, and a lot of new faces. To Dr. Ellington, thank you for showing me that the ideas regarding innovation and shaking up the classroom aren’t all just blown smoke. To Fish, you’re awesome, and I love you.

Continuing the theme of truth, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some Daily Creates to catch up on.

Contendo

Well, it’s that time of year again. I want to pull my hair out and mash my face into a wall until it resembles little more than poorly-prepared hamburger.

Yes, folks, it’s the week before finals week, or what we here at CSC have dubbed HELLWEEK.

Andreas Levers Photo CC-by Andreas Levers, cue AC/DC track here

Blood from a Stone

I’ve learned a lot of things about myself during the duration of my independent learning project this year: namely, I’m shitty at self-motivation. Terrible. Awful. Etcetera, etcetera. I had an open field to walk through, my own path to choose, I could choose literally anything that I wanted, and I still couldn’t motivate my damn self to get the job done. I’m not proud of myself, especially with Ms. Fish absolutely schooling every challenge I’ve thrown her way and making leaps and bounds in her own project.

Why was this so difficult for me? I suppose I could have chosen “wrong.” I can only wonder how it would have went differently depending on what else I had chosen. Some have hypothesized that the reasoning for my terrible time-management and procrastination issues has been that, at the end of the day, regardless of the freedom been given to me, the independent project was still a project. Still an assignment. Desperately as I’ve tried to stave off “senioritis” and continue waking up each day with gusto and a “go-get-’em” attitude, I haven’t. I have what I deem the “fuckits” really bad. Every assignment coming my way right now isn’t, to me, a learning opportunity. It’s a hoop to jump through. I’ve done this continuously for nearly 16 years. I know the in’s and out’s, and I’m fed up. Suggestions for grad schools are pouring in like water from every angle, and my answer (at least for the time being) is a resounding go to hell.

Peter P Photo CC by Peter P

Post-Haste

You’d think that with the aforementioned “senioritis” I’d be excited for the next chapter in my life. I’m not. I’m as bitter and cynical as ever. I’m about to graduate after 4 years of hard work, get a piece of paper legitimizing said hard work, and… what? Then what? I work the same minimum wage job I would have without that piece of paper? I have some fancy titles to put on a resume for an entry-level position in a job where I’ll be expected to eat shit consistently for years until I progress into something even remotely worth my time and effort? I pay back the federal government for helping me pay for an education that largely consisted of re-hashed high school courses? Some people get nervous pre-graduation. I’ve become lethargic. Dangerously so. My band isn’t playing, stories aren’t selling, and I’m in a pretty bad state of mind if you couldn’t tell from the bulk of this post.

The best, and worst parts of my independent learning project have come from my lovely teacher, Ms. Fish. I say best because I get to see the exuberance and passion she feels for the subject. I get to hear tails of shenanigans in China, dreams of going back, and the interesting change in perspective another culture provides. I say worst, because I have by no means made it worth her time. I haven’t dedicated the energy, shared the passion, or made the improvements I should have with such a capable teacher. She wouldn’t ever say so, she probably wouldn’t even think so, but I’ve let her down. Here I sit with a broken understanding of a language, due 100% to my own shortcomings. For these things, I’m sorry.

The longer I wallow in this pool of doubt and cynicism, the more I realize that these are things under my control. I can choose how to react to poor book sales and gigs un-booked. I can choose how to respond to impeding deadlines and being a first-gen graduate in my family. I’ve chosen poorly.

How do I make up for these things? How do I pull myself up out of this? This isn’t how I usually am. That much I know is certain. I suppose this is the proper time for an abstract image with some inspirational text on top.

BK

Much better.

Agonio

Ms. Fish, my better half, is a total package – smart, funny, patient with me (this one’s the most impressive), and a huge nerd. I have the “gamer girlfriend” that the Internet claims to be a mythical creature. Her preferred addiction is an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) called Final Fantasy XIV. The game allows her to talk to / play with people in real time from literally all over the world. She’s got a group of friends in a group (called a Free Company in game) that are all tight-knit, and no, none of them are the fabled “creepy 90 year old guy playing as a girl to pick up chicks online.”

These connections between people, “real” or no, are a small part of what the Cory Doctorow-written and Jen Wang-illustrated graphic novel “In Real Life” is about.

jen_wang_irl_page-600x817Photo Copyright – Jen Wang

Another World

“In Real Life” follows the tale of Anda, a high school girl who’s just moved to Arizona from Cali, and is doing her best to adjust in the new school. She’s got a fistful of friends, equally nerdy as her, interested in gaming and D&D. She’s in classes learning to be a game programmer, and one day, a guest speaker arrives talking about Coarsegold Online. The speaker is a high ranking officer in a guild made up of only girls, dedicated to helping new people out and improving the community of players. Anda accepts a low-level position in the guild (after some cautionary words from her mother about creepy people online, blah blah technology scary blah), and quickly befriends another higher-up in the guild named Lucy. Anda inadvertently discovers that Lucy makes real-world money in game by hunting down and slaying other players – gold farmers. Gold farmers are players, usually from other countries, who dedicate all of their playtime to the same menial tasks to make in-game money, so they can sell it for real-world money. It allows those with extra cash to spend to skip the long, tedious processes of improvement, and that pisses Lucy off. Anda helps Lucy with these endeavors until she actually speaks to one of the gold farmers, and finds out that this is what they do for a legitimate living in an office building in China. 12 hours of gametime as work, no benefits.

“In Real Life” is a complex tale in that it’s about much more than just gaming, and it’s not a generic coming-of-age tale. It’s about international relations, economics in particular. Anda sees a strike going on at her Dad’s company, and inspires her Chinese friend Raymond to do the same so they can be given the proper benefits for their work. It’s a tale of introspection: Anda loves the game because she can be any number of things she feels she can’t in real life: a leader, a hero, a warrior, etc. Raymond and his plight inspire Anda to take real-world action, to make a difference both in the game she loves and the real world.

Bonus points to the tag-team of authors: they’ve done their video game homework. Many books / movies / tv shows with Video Game-centric themes either rely on the “dorky gamer” tropes or stretch the realities of games and the technology so stupidly out of bounds that any real gamer turns their head in disgust. The in-game system is lovingly based off of real games, and gold farming in other countries is a very real thing in our world.

InRealLife-COMBINED_100-681280VVVVVPhoto Copyright- Jen Wang

Different Strokes

Wang does an excellent job of differentiating in-game and out-of-game artwork. Anda isn’t some hyper-sexualized character in game, nor is she quintessentially thin or “scene” looking in real life. She’s average, as are nearly all the real-world characters. The real-world style is somewhat darker and less colorful, lines are bolder, and scenery is about what you would expect. In-game the art is light and extremely colorful, scenes are grandiose and ornate, and characters are all extremely unique, including, but not limited to, elves, pixies, and a talking penguin. The jump from fantasy world to real world is impossible to miss, but both art styles are fantastic. Wang avoids the tropes that often come with “gamer” girls in graphic novels: no hyper sexualization, no extremely unattractive “nerd” caricatures. This is life, plain and simple.

Fans of gaming will obviously be more inclined to enjoy “In Real Life,” but the story is compelling enough that non-gamers should give it a try. It’s pretty friendly about easing new people into the lingo and crazy world of online gaming, it’s pretty hard to get lost. The tale is an inspiring one about friendship, economics, and taking action. Give it a whirl.

See you online!

Ludus

Weird at last, weird at least, god almighty, weird at last.

Commonplace Books Photo Copyright – Commonplace Books

Story Time

When I was a wee lad, my mom would read me Goosebumps books before bedtime (explains a lot, right?) Being read to then created images just as vividly in my mind as reading itself did. When I got older, I obviously fell out of touch with being read to – I’m an adult, dammit! I can read my own books!

Well, turns out, being an adult has literally nothing to do with it. Make a 6 hour commute (one way) every two weeks with only country and gospel stations at your disposal, and you’ll find something to pass the time in a big fuckin’ hurry. I decided to give a few e-books a whirl, ones by Stephen King which I had already read, but it had been a few years. Why not, right? What I wasn’t expecting was to have images play in my head, just as vividly as when I read, just as vividly as when I was a kid.

What a revelation! In between Stephen King books, I would tune in to NPR for as long as I could get the signal. All Things Considered and This American Life became staples of my journey – and major sources of news for me as well. Something clicked in my head, here: I can listen to these people talk about things.. Podcasts are usually just people talking about things.. I think I’ve got something here. But where do I start? There are literally an infinite number of podcasts on an infinite number of topics, and some people just are not interesting enough to listen to.

Welcome to Nightvale. Figuratively and literally. Short version: Imagine “This American Life” from a community radio station in a small desert town in the Twilight Zone. Ms. Fish and I have been tuning in for several months now, and this addiction is far more rewarding and less expensive than crack. The most intriguing thing about Nightvale: It’s not a one-shot deal. It’s a continuous, ever-extending plot line. It’s a story. It’s a book that comes to us chapter by chapter. There are characters that appear continuously, plot lines that have ran (and continue to run) since the beginning of the cast almost 3 years ago, and a wide and interesting array of voice actors. Nightvale has become so ridiculously popular that they go on tours regularly, performing live renditions of shows, and have a novel coming out in October. Pre-order on lock.

Scottish Libraries Photo CC-by Scottish Libraries

Application

Certain classrooms in the U.S. are utilizing podcasts as tools – why bother forcing students to slog through classics if you can give them a story they’re interested in? Podcasts give stories that students can most likely better relate to. They can listen to podcasts while doing other activities. I know several people that would be more inclined to listen to a podcast as a homework assignment than read 85 chapters of Great Expectations. Digital storytelling as a medium, whether we like it or not, can appeal to students who rely so heavily on tech more than a conventional book. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for ink and paper, but e-books are a thing, it’s still an e-book, the second half of that phrase being book. Pen-and-paper elitists can get right the fuck outta my face wit dat.

That being said, it’s significantly more difficult to take notes in the margins of a podcast. Unless you can find some pretty interesting readings of said classics (which I hate but are necessary at times), students may miss out on some pretty important literary / story milestones if classics are skipped in favor of podcasts. Digital storytelling allows for an infinite realm of creativity and access, but also allows some pretty garbage material through. Many podcasts are poorly-written, gimmicky, or recorded through something that provides the audio quality of a potato. Quality control is an important consideration.

When it comes down to it, I’m of the opinion of “whatever you can do to get students interested jesus go with it why would you give up that opportunity.” The less students rolling their eyes in angsty disgust and actually engaging in something, the better.

Fabella