Wednesday, July 04, 2018

If This Goes On - IV

 
fully armed and operational space fascist

Hey! Before you dig in, did you know that subscribers to my Patreon can now read Galaxy of Zeroes every week (cough) in the virtual pages of The Hurting Gazette? AND NOW - I am happy to announce the release of the first issue of The Hurting Gazette Omnibus, collecting the first five issues in their entirety in original reading order. That's almost 70K words - about as big as Brave New World, if you're keeping track at home. 

The fifth issue is now available through my Patreon for subscribers. The double-sized premiere issue, featuring “The First Star Wars Essay,” is still available free here.

Thank you for reading!
 
yeah ok I like helvetica what's your point

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CW: Suicide, self-harm
 
So let’s talk about good and evil.

There’s a reason why political discourse in mainstream media leans heavily towards technocratic discussion of process: it’s a really good way to talk about politics if you want politics to exist in a vacuum. If politics is system – rule and mechanism and Discourse, all very orderly concepts that can be discussed without passion or bias – then you can discuss the proper maintenance of system without any acknowledgement of what system actually does – that is, the people who it supposedly serves, and who it actually serves. It’s a good way of talking over the world.

So let’s talk about why I’m wearing a brace on my left hand.

I know I shouldn’t read so much into the kinds of small and incremental triumphs that mark my progress in the game, but really, that’s the reason I play the game: the feeling of satisfaction I get when long-term plans pay off is simply extraordinary. I am not being at all facetious when I say that this game has taught me serious grown-up life lessons about patience and economy.

It’s been a hard thing to understand just how thoroughly I had lied to myself for so many years about so very many aspects of my life. The mind is a strange thing, to turn on itself so rigorously and ruthlessly.

Think about the fact that a significant percentage of the population of the United States thinks that feeling bad for their fellow human beings is a dirty trick being played on them by people who pretend to care in order to “score points.” The implication, if you follow, is that an active minority in this country really very enthusiastically does not perceive the active and ongoing suffering of fellow members of its own species as a significant crisis, and think that people who do are making it up for ulterior motives, and naïve to boot. Do you now feel any obligation to extend the olive branch to people who so willfully abrogate the most sacred responsibilities of being human?

Last week they released a rather obnoxiously large new update that centered around the Ships minigame. Essentially it was a whole bunch of new levels that were going to be useful for farming gear that hadn’t previously been available to farm, but in the moment it was merely a pile of busywork that needed doing. In order to be able to farm the levels I have to beat them first, of course, which means beating every rinky-dink level on my way to the top. Which I did.

So why am I wearing a brace on my left hand?

But it’s not like it’s any different here, now, in the United States of America, than it has ever been anywhere. It really isn’t. That’s neither consolation nor fearmongering, it’s simply a fact: there’s always been people who care and people who don’t, along with people who don’t like suffering so much but are OK with it as long as they don’t have to see it, and finally and most fatally people who really, really get off on projecting their will onto other people simply for the sake of it. That’s . . . all of history, basically. We’re not immune to history.

For the longest time I lied to myself about hurting myself, in so many ways. I have spilled a lot of digital ink exploring all the ways I’ve denied hurting myself, and all the ways I’ve worked to overcome that. So far.

It was a half-hour of tedium using my team (currently placing consistently in the teens for the Ships rankings, on the days when I have the time set aside to battle right before rankings are set at eight), but my Ships brought me unexpected gifts in the form of a pile of Zeta mats that were given as bonuses for completing the top tier of the new levels. So my Emperor Palpatine got his second and final Zeta ability slightly ahead of schedule. And that means Thrawn will get his first Zeta ability that much sooner.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of Political Theory, at least inasmuch as I really enjoyed the discipline as it was taught me by the faculty at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is that it’s a discipline still tragically in active dialogue with its earliest theorists. In terms of the basic insight into the structural deficiencies of representative governments, what Aristotle observed in the Politics remains essentially axiomatic. It gives me sincere comfort to know that fucking Aristotle, of all people – hardly my favorite philosopher, I stress, actually one I greatly dislike in many other contexts – would be able to look at our political situation in 2018 and say, oh, yeah, that’s a “demagogue,” sorry, that’s on page twelve of the Politics, pretty much the terminal point for democracies, which are fundamentally unstable, which I kind of already pointed out but no one ever fucking listens . . . the human race has been here before. We understand why these things happen now a lot better than he did, and certainly the shape of our societies would be unrecognizable, the value sets illegible. But it’s still the same forces, the same pantomine torsions between competing interests masquerading behind virtue to hide a stubborn dedication to the preservation of inequality as the invariable basis for societal wealth, undergirding society then as now. Now we have smartphones.

As dark as it gets, we’ve still been here before. Not everyone makes it out, but that’s precisely why I’m writing a lot, so that, like Walter Benjamin, I can be a patchy and undisciplined writer and member of a persecuted minority whose large but unorganized body of posthumously published work galvanizes a generation of postwar intellectuals after my tragic death. I mean, if you put this on your shelf next to The Arcades Project you can barely tell the difference. Strong narrative focus. Good beach read, accessible. 

I mean. It’s the name of the blog. Still. Never changed it.

Spring was hard. One of the reasons why it was hard was that things were supposedly going better. It’s easy to be a deep-sea diver. But suddenly the pressure gets relieved and there you are, back on land, trying once again to acclimatize yourself to regular atmospheric pressure . . . and there’s always something new. Every time I sit still for longer than five minutes I feel the hot breath of revelation on the nape of my neck. The wolf finds me.  

The incremental improvements some of these supposedly game-changing abilities offer really do not seem that impressive on first or second pass. In this instance, Emperor Palpatine’s Leader ability – his second and final Zeta ability, so he is now officially completely filled out . . . except of course for the new Level XII+ gear slots that just opened up, even if they haven’t yet rolled out any of the activities where we can get the new kinds of gear. So, you know. The mods need improvement. EP went from, heh, please pardon the expression, zero to hero so quickly he’s still got some decent-but-not-exemplary mods on. He could be a lot faster. He’s getting regularly beat in mirror matches against much faster versions of himself. So much of the game depends on EP’s board-locking Power of the Dark Side ability, which has a high chance of immobilizing your opponent’s entire team. I’m not saying it’s impossible to come back from getting Power of the Dark Sided first, but you’re fighting an uphill battle, and especially not one that the team is going to be able to do on auto half the time in the Arena. You need to be faster, and that’s that. Even just a few ticks off the clock might make all the difference He’s a naturally slow character, and right now his speed is 196. He needs to be well over 200 – well over – but I need time to farm for really good mods. That’s not a small thing. 

(I never really figured out quite how the timing mechanisms work, other than that bigger numbers correspond to faster characters. Someone in the guild chat tried to explain it once but there’s no shit a lot more math than I can deal with, and I’m willing to deal with a surprising amount of incidental math in this game.)

He left a lot out, obviously. I’m a woman who can vote and I sure don’t own property, so I can attest that Aristotle left out plenty. But I don’t think about it in terms of him being some great dead white male who successfully defined the world with his mighty brain, but as a smart guy who long ago made some very, very rudimentary observations about the political organization of human societies, and whose observations regarding the ways in which those different kinds of human societies inevitably and tragically falter remain sound. Think about it this way: we are still using an iteration of governing technology that the fucking Ancient Greeks knew was faulty, full of bugs, and in dire need of constant patches. We’ve had a long time to figure our shit out but we keep getting stuck on page 12 of Aristotle’s fucking Politics. If we’re constantly stuck arguing with troglodytes over the very purpose of the species in terms of communal responsibilities to one another, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for paid sick leave or police abolition.

At the end of 2017 I wrote an essay called “Delaware.” (I mentioned it once already at the very beginning of the book.) The reason why “Delaware” was so terrifying to revisit after writing is that it signified on some level that I was still playing double-column bookkeeping with my emotions. I wrote an essay about all the trauma and turmoil of my 2017 and when I looked back at it, when I actually sat down and read what I had written, I was shocked by the picture of myself that I had drawn for myself. I was surprised by my own words about myself.

Thrawn isn’t even at level XII yet, I should mention, doesn’t have either of his Zetas, but he’s already quite useful. A fun character once you get the hang of his tricky abilities – a feat I stress I have by no means accomplished myself. Well worth the effort. With any luck he’ll be at Level XII by the end of the week.

(Update: Dear reader, he made it.)

Do you see why that might seem so terrifying? I put it right down in black & white over half a year ago that I react to stress and anger with self-harm. I devote a page to hitting the refrigerator of my old apartment as hard as I can, so hard I’m amazed I didn’t break my hand . . .

So many people are hardwired to accept powercults as rational and good organizational models. Our President is the head of an unstable powercult. There’s no organization here other than the stultifying hierarchy of a dysfunctional family suffering under the arbitrary whims of an imbalanced and abusive patriarch. The only people who thrive under a system like this are the ones who get off on suffering. I hope that’s not a familiar dynamic from your own life. It’s all our dynamic now.

A few people in and around the political center are waking up to the status of the powercult in our midst, and the fact that the relationship between the two major political parties in this country has for years been purely abusive and largely symbolic. One fun thing to look for when you have the daily pundit shows on in the background: the frequency with which guests drop pretense and actively appeal to the TV audience to become more engaged. It’s happening a lot more now than you might think, if you didn’t often watch those kinds of shows. Measuring the frequency with which the pundit class manages to overcome their professional detachment in order to express human fear is as good a measure as any other to judge the severity of the day’s cavalcade of atrocity.

Things aren’t going badly. Life-wise. I realized a few more things about myself, over the Spring – a couple more new demons bubbled up from the bottom of the cauldron. Only this time it turned out that I had been lying to myself to cover up something good.

There’s a more cynical way to write the last sentence of the next-to-previous paragraph: Measuring the frequency with which the stifled humanity of the pundit class manages to reassert itself in the form of active terror bubbling behind a surface of placid disassociation is as good a measure as any other with which to judge the severity of the day’s cavalcade of atrocity.

Some things are still personal even for me and even in the context of these essays. I don’t talk about other people here, for one. That may give my work a slightly (haw haw) hermetic or even self-obsessed quality – well, I don’t think I have the right to air anyone’s dirty laundry but my own. Take me at my word, however, when I say that the work of becoming a better person must also be done at subterranean levels of the soul unglimpsed by passers-by, and just like those marvelous cross-sections of superhero headquarters in the Official Handbooks, there’s whole underground complexes somewhere around my basal ganglia filled with snakes you don’t even know about.  

One thing about these kind of abusive powercults, though: they don’t outlive their founder’s success. They can’t. The only thing keeping the structure in place is the inexorable downward pressure being exerted from the apex of the pyramid. When the exchange of power in an organization is purely vertical – that is, strictly hierarchical – there’s no other glue but every individual atomized actor’s fear of the authoritarian. There’s little loyalty, save perhaps the bitter camaraderie that naturally arises from the shared experience of living in the wake of emotionally vindictive abusers. To the shrugged delectation of the hard father they make elaborate ritual of stabbing each other in the back.

Anyway. I want to compliment the designers and developers because they’ve really done a good job at keeping the game just new enough to be interesting. I know it’s all different ways of packaging the same kinds of incremental changes to the same infinitely complex game economy – but they keep me interested. They keep me feeling invested even if I don’t spend any money. That’s a neat trick. They add something significant to my life.

I tried to forgive myself for something that happened a long time ago that wasn’t my fault. The problem with forgiving yourself is that sometimes you really don’t want to.

I don’t even remember what specifically pissed me off. Some piddling petty bullshit with my parents. The kind of kitchen-table bullshit that shouldn’t really get to a grown adult who pays taxes and votes by mail and everything. The gap between thought and deed was the span of a razor’s edge and the impulse to hurt myself was relieved as I hit the floor with my left fist as hard as I could.

Just because a powercult doesn’t operate under the same rules as a standard political party it doesn’t mean any of the consequences, damages, dead bodies, anguish, are any less real. On the contrary, because it operates without any consideration of a future horizon beyond the emotional register of the hard father, it operates completely without foresight of any kind. People who try to discuss the political strategies of the moment are comprehensively unable to perceive the reality of the moment – which is that a powercult does not operate under any rules but the capricious rule of the hard father. When he is gone so disappears his rule – if not always his machinery.

The satisfaction that I get from successfully jumping through the game’s infinitely reiterating hoops is disproportionate to the significance of the events themselves in a vacuum, I freely admit. The longer I plug at it the more confident and in-control of the game environment I feel – even if, as I’ve pointed out, it’s not any kind of immersive game in the sense of role-playing as another person. It’s nice to feel shitty in so many other parts of my life and have a place I can go where those matters really don’t – matter. I guess I never got that part of gaming before.

Some people just like telling other people what to do. Some people like being told.

I’ve always done this. I’ve always lied about it. Always managed to convince myself that it wasn’t really a serious problem, that it couldn’t really be any kind of serious problem. Self-harm was cutting or fire – the stuff I saw when I worked at the hospital, like the kid whose forearms were covered in parallel rows of the most precisely measured scars. Serious business.

Dudes just hit shit when they’re pissed, right? Right.

Anyway. Emperor Palpatine’s Leader ability is called, naturally, Emperor of the Galactic Republic, and it reads, in full:

Empire and Sith allies have +35% Potency and +35% Max Health. Jedi and Rebel enemies have -35% Potency and -35% Evasion. When an Empire ally inflicts a debuff during their turn, they gain 20% Turn Meter. When a Sith ally inflicts a debuff during their turn, they recover 20% Health. When a debuff on an enemy expires, Empire and Sith allies gain 5% Turn Meter.

Holy moly. Got all that? The beauty part is that Darth Vader, of course, gets both faction bonuses, which actually makes him quite decently playable with his master.

(Trump voters wouldn’t know a real hard daddy if one choked them off in front of the entire chain of command using only the Power of the Dark Side.)

Only this time, well. Not only did I do it in broad daylight in front of two other people – my parents, no less – but I seriously hurt myself. I went to the store and bought a brace that I’m still wearing a week later. Typing isn’t so bad but it’s still dicey to pick anything up.

I have a picture of my arm two days after I punched the ground. Although I hit the ground straight-on with my knuckles the entire back of my hand up through to my wrist was a single yellow bruise. It still hurts right now.

The Zeta ability was the last sentence of that passage: “When a debuff on an enemy expires, Empire and Sith allies gain 5% Turn Meter.” Does that seem like much? It doesn’t look like much to see it in action. It’s a small but consistent incremental boost that basically leads to Emperor Palpateams dominating any battle in which they can draw first blood with the Emperor’s board-sweeping AoE attack. Remember, every negative status effect in the game – including the Stuns he inflicts with Power of the Dark Side – are carried via debuffs. And now every debuff, when it expires, gives a little boost to the Empire’s turn meters. It’s diabolical. Perfectly in character. Early advantage leads to late-game domination, and there’s no relief from the onslaught once it gets going.

And I think – how many times have I done this? The knuckles on my right fist are already sensitive and stiff. I always managed to forget. It’s easy to tell yourself that you have “a little temper” that might need a bit of work when you keep the kind of double-column books that erase all outstanding accounts after around 48 hours. Hard to see a pattern when you actively work to suppress the memories.

Why do I hate myself so deeply? Why do I hate myself so deeply that even just the bare idea that I could in time find the strength to forgive myself strikes such a deep chord of fear and anger within me?

I mean, can I just say –

Going back to the Police of all bands in 2018 – trust me: it’s all going to make sense eventually. The last year has been rough. The Police and Sting are figures from my childhood who stopped being culturally relevant to my family before the end of Reagan’s first term. It’s music I never got to hear a first time. They were one of my parents’ bands for the duration of their career, so they played in the car a lot. And then they stopped making music, and when he picked up again on his own it was never the same. He’s got a new album out, I see it in Target when I’m in there, it’s on one of the small shelves where they still sell CDs for the few last weirdos like myself who don’t think it’s such a great idea having all our music on diaphanous clouds that can be deleted at an oligarch’s whim. (Hey, when Bowie died I walked across the room, pulled out the CD I wanted to listen to, and had already ripped the crystal-clear audio to my computer in the time you were still figuring out which streaming service had the Bowie catalog and what restrictions applied which week.) It’s him and Shaggy, the reggae guy. Honestly? Good for him. He’s 66. If he wants to fart around with motherfucking Shaggy and fart out a reggae album in two thousand mother fucking eighteen it’s not like he hasn’t been playing reggae on rock radio since Jimmy fucking Carter. He still somehow, when I sit down and do the hard work of measuring such things, has some cred in the bank, and considering every fucking awful solo jam this man has done since 1983 just that fact should impress upon you how much of a big deal those first five albums actually were. Did you know he saved a giant chunk of the rainforest? No joke, he put a lot of effort into conservation charities in the 80s at the height of his fame and helped preserve millions of acres. There’s caveats that should go on that, I believe, in terms of international charity being a profoundly crooked racket and all the stuff that accrues around the field – they spend a lot of money on parties. But still. Using the windfall of sudden fame and fortune to try and do something for the world – there are arguably better ways to do it but inarguably a lot worse. He saved a chunk of the rainforest and wrote “Every Breath You Take.” What have you done with your life? I mean, what I’m getting at, really, is maybe not so much that Sting is 66 but that I’m 37. The Police released Synchronicity in 1983, he was born in 1951 – do the math, dude peaked at thirty fucking two and then got to spend basically the rest of his fucking life taking a victory lap for writing “Every Breath You Take.” Nothing at all wrong with that. I know, I’m a critic so I’m supposed to walk around and say things like honestly, everyone knows the Replacements should have called it a day after Pleased to Meet Me and those last discs are just Paul Westerberg albums in all but name but that’s not how my mind works. I love prolific artists. I fucking adore Guided By Voices even as I practice very selective purchasing habits regarding the band’s output. I can appreciate people who know their limits and act accordingly . . . but I admire people who go hard on the fucking paint every single fucking time even when it isn’t working as well as it used to, and I mean, come on, I know you don’t like those last five R.E.M., but I love and cherish them, even Around the Sun which I will still swear up and down under torture is the only truly bad slash unlistenable album my all-time favorite band ever made (I’ve done the numbers, trust me, I could never hear “Harborcoat” again for the rest of my life and that would probably still remain true). A good band is interesting even when they’re bad. The Police discography is very good but it’s not perfect, every album has stuff that hasn’t aged well, Sting’s lyrics are what they are. There’s another world where Sting sticks around for a few more albums and it’s perfunctory and he’s obviously just eyeing the door and sticking around for his mates, that version of the Police ends in a lot more acrimony; there’s another world where Sting quits just like he did in ours but critics carpet bomb The Dream of the Blue Turtles so hard it makes Travis Morrison wince and he comes crawling back for five more perfect and better albums with the other two. That version of the group does a leg with Jane’s Addiction in 1989, loves the sound so much they decamp to LA right before grunge hits the west coast and end up recording a less maudlin Achtung Baby. It’s wild, you’d love it. If you didn’t get that Travis Morrison joke you probably have better things to do than be weirdly obsessive about Pitchfork’s rating system – specifically, weirdly obsessive about how bad it is. I have never written for Pitchfork and honestly that’s something I wouldn’t still mind checking off the ol’ bucket list at some point, if there’s time, but I also know I really hate working within . . . basically any kind of structure whatsoever, so the chances of me doing any freelance work that isn’t strictly by invitation are slim and none and slim just caught the last train outta town if you know what I mean. So those five albums – that’s all they had in the tank, for better or for worse. And the weird thing is that I used to be a lot more cool about that stuff when I was younger. More accepting, if not appreciative (if you see the distinction). But the older I get the more I think, you know, I’d have really liked to have another half-dozen albums from these guys. I’d have loved to hear what they did when they got bored. Now it’s not like anyone has a responsibility to be artistically fecund. No one owes me personally sticking it through to the bitter end. It’s not even like Sting stopped making music. But I didn’t make a Walter Benjamin joke lightly. He weighs on me, as much as I actually dislike much of his writing – he was just brilliant enough that his unfinished and disorganized scraps changed the course of western philosophy. Of course, there’s some context I’m omitting. I used to think I liked Benjamin because he was a fellow disorganized bloviator with a large book collection who got by because his biggest fans were other writers. We never got to see what mid or late period Benjamin had to say about the world because he killed himself while trying to escape fascists. I don’t think I’m going to die that way. But just the fact that I have to precede the statement with a serious pause should tell you all you need to know about how confident I am in said statement. I don’t think it’s going to happen not because I don’t think there are people in the upper echelons of the United States government who get hard every night imagining Queer Genocide ’18 but based primarily on logistics and geography. That’s about where we’re at. We’re all in the same basket now. We all join hands and walk together in the light of truth. Sting could have retired at the age of thirty-three, never again recorded another note of music, and died secure in his legacy. What’s this really about? Is it about waking up at 37 and realizing even if by some miracle you manage to survive the action packed fascist dystopia of 2018 you still have to deal with the fact that you’re almost forty and you have nothing to show for decades of your life spent marking time in anticipation of the arrival of the realization that there was nothing left to wait for? I wonder if he ever thinks about what he lost, sitting around whatever kind of grand palatial English countryside estate “Message in a Bottle” buys you. I can’t do anything about the fact that I didn’t find out I was trans until I was 35. There’s nothing in that box but a deep hole of inchoate howling regret unfixed to any signifier – there’s no one to blame, I just didn’t know, it went down the way it did for a lot of weird fucked up reasons that are just the way they are, and I wasted so many years hating myself for nothing.

And doesn’t that just suck, to find yourself mere moments before the end of the world?
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Galaxy of Zeroes


If This Goes On - V

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a thing of beauty, no?

Monday, June 18, 2018

If This Goes On - III


guess which one is me

Hey! Before you dig in, did you know that subscribers to my Patreon can now read Galaxy of Zeroes every week (cough) in the virtual pages of The Hurting Gazette? 

The fifth issue is now available through my Patreon for subscribers. The double-sized premiere issue, featuring “The First Star Wars Essay,” is still available free here.

Thank you for reading!

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So let’s talk about “Message in a Bottle.”

I don’t think there’s anything on the band’s first album, 1978’s Outlandos d’Amour, that quite prepares the listener for the sophomore effort. The debut isn’t a bad album. It’s got “So Lonely” and “Can’t Stand Losing You” on it, and if it were those two songs long it’d be five stars. Unfortunately it also has “Roxanne,” a song I didn’t like when I was younger and which I really don’t like now that I’m older and know that sex workers have more important things to do with their time than assuage the feelings of sensitive young men. Outlandos d’Amour also has a song about a blow-up doll, which should tell you how young these guys were. The latter is far more forgivable than the former, especially since the former doesn’t get a lot of airplay anymore. It’s actually funnier than I’m making it sound. 

(“Be My Girl – Sally”) 

Now let’s talk about what writers block is and what writers block isn’t, at least for me. It’s never a matter of ideas – goodness, no. I never struggle there. What I struggle with is mental illness. What I struggle with is my mood and my energy. What I struggle with is feelings running hot and cold like a broken spigot at all times of the day. What I struggle with is being able to focus my thoughts, not a lack of them. 

Something odd I noticed while revisiting the Police: Sting’s lyrics are terrible. He’s certainly not an unintelligent man. Well-read, to his detriment. It’s not worth belaboring the point since the first couple Police albums are actually older than I am, but it’s hard not to wince now. Sting never found a meaningful human drama he couldn’t render utterly trivial. Synchronicity is musically a masterpiece, but it also has a song about dinosaurs and how the human race is walking in the footsteps of dinosaurs. It’s called “Walking in Your Footsteps,” and it has the lyric “Hey, mighty brontosaurus / don’t you have a lesson for us?” I wish I could leave it at that but he also rhymes “creature” with “future.”

Discovering a new fact about yourself is a bit like turning up a rock: sure, you might find a dollar underneath, but you might find a snake, too. You might even find both. You don’t get to choose.

The problem with Sting is that he was – objectively speaking, that is, as someone with no interest in men – a spectacularly attractive person. He also had a pretty distinctive voice with a good range, and could even play bass pretty well. The problem was that he didn’t really have a lot of ideas in his head. Everything good about the Police comes from the energy those two talented young men and one not quite as young man summoned while playing together. Everything bad about the Police can be summed up in the lyric sheet for Ghost in the Machine

This book exists because I knew I’d need it. Writing fantasy books and comic book reviews is fun, extraordinarily good fun. Healing. But then I also wrote another book that genuinely meant something to the world, meant something to people, to a lot of people who’ve read it and reread it and told me so, even before it’s ever been published anywhere but on my blog. It brought me closer to people, and brought people into my life . . . it’s funny, the other week someone made a comment under one of my articles at the Journal that I was a famously self-obsessed writer. That’s true, I mean, you’re reading a book about my cell phone game right now, and if you think about that it’s kind of a baller move to get up in the morning one day and decide you’re going to frogmarch your most dedicated fans through 50-70K words about your cell phone game. But somehow people, I have always suspected, would get the point, that the game was always just a spark for the essays, something to build thoughts around since people really seem to like me talking about Star Wars, and it’s a good commercial hook for when they end up between two covers. 

The real thoughts I had to think were thoughts that I knew were going to arise as a natural consequence of living through a fraught period in my life. Another fraught period, this one in a minor key. Just like this book is in a minor key compared to Tomorrow Is Always The Best Day Of My Life.

The Sting we meet with the Police is someone who really wishes he were a deep thinker, but just isn’t. He wrote a song that namedropped Nabakov – since we’re discussing questionable attitudes towards women. Young men will be lascivious, it’s part and parcel of rock & roll, well baked-in by now – but then he turned around and wrote a generational wedding anthem that just happened to also be about stalking a woman? Again, it’s not like it’s isn’t a decent song – but, I mean, come on. How can anyone ever really hear “Every Breath You Take” again? We’ve all heard it too many times. It makes sense on Synchronicity, so I don’t have a problem with it there in context. It’s a dark song on an album stuffed with dark songs. On its own and in the wild it’s thornier and unsettling. It’s not supposed to be something you hum in the checkout line. 

(Puffy’s cool using it, though. Actually kind of nice to have that killer baseline on a song that isn’t about stalking a woman tee bee aich.) 

There’s no one way I compose essays. It changes depending on the challenge. Galaxy of Zeroes was always conceived as an exercise in improvisation: I wanted to do something else in the vein of Tomorrow Is Always The Best Day Of My Life but knew I didn’t have it in me to write another book quite like that one. Some of the lessons I learned from that book were negative ones. It doesn’t always pay to know precisely how my essays are going to end because when I work with that kind of determinism I can struggle to stay engaged in the writing. Writing is a very spontaneous process for me and its very easy for my brain to get sick of an idea before I write it down. That gets to be problematic when I get occasionally blocked. When I am too exhausted or emotionally drained to vent my ideas they curdle. Like the last few chapters of the first book of Balthasar Foeman, which have been written in my head for a month but which I can’t bring myself to write. Sigh. I’m sorry, Balthasar. It’s not your fault. 

(“All for the best, my good woman, for I am absolutely certain that you are now and always trying your best in every endeavor to which you put your formidable intellect – which is more faith, I hesitate to add, than you usually evince in regards yourself. All things in good time, I am sure, and I remain eternally patient and merely grateful in the first to have been created.”

I made a joke once that my favorite Police songs were the ones where Andy Summers played guitar – maybe it was funnier in my head, but the joke is that Summers is the rare rocker who works more through subtraction than addition. After he sets the initial riff for the first verse he lays back relatively speaking through the bridge and chorus, allowing the rhythm section to take the wheel. Summers is the oldest in the group, with a full decade on both Sting and Copeland. Musically he knows that the only way a guitarist can fuck up a band with a rhythm section that good is to get in the way. So he doesn’t, mostly. You don’t hear a lot of the notes he plays. They’re there, but they’re rarely at the front of the mix, sometimes even seem to disappear. On those rare moments in each song when he does stretch a little bit, it always comes as a bit of a surprise. He knows how to lay back in the cut. He knows it means more when you build to it. He knows how to let the kids do the hard work before swooping in with a couple perfectly chosen licks that wrap it all up – perfectly.

What I struggle with is the knowledge that there’s still a world of difference between acknowledging my mental illness and actually taking real steps to live with it. Because it’s hard to live with. It’s also been very difficult to realize all the ways my failure – or perhaps it would be better to say my resistance – to this acknowledgement hurt me over the years. I didn’t know all the ways I was hurting myself because of my poor sleeping. I didn’t want to put the pieces together and acknowledge that there was a reason why I felt better after three hours sleep than seven. It was easy to abuse myself when I had plausible deniability in the matter. 

The odd thing is that around the time when I was making serious long-term plans regarding my game they also began implementing a series of upgrades to the game economy that, when taken as a whole, simplify a lot of the upper-level resource bottlenecks that I had taken as invariable. It takes a lot less time for me to fully gear a character now than it did six months ago, when such an achievement was unheard of. The most narrow bottleneck, and hence the one that most dictates my pace of advancement, is still Zeta ability mats.  

Sometimes your life changes in dramatic bursts, thunderbolts that appear from the blue heralding new ways of living. It doesn’t always, however – most of the time change is slow and needs to be shepherded. You don’t just get up in the morning and say “I’ve changed!” Nope! You have to work for it. 

But here’s the thing about those Zeta mats: while they are by far the single most valuable resource in the game, they are also directly tied to the Ships minigame that most players justifiably loathe. I don’t loathe it but it’s still not my favorite. I do really like one aspect of it: because there are just naturally fewer ships than characters, the Ships metagame changes a lot more slowly. That’s why I’ve focused so tightly on building the characters who work best for the ships. The Arena meta changes frequently – every time there’s a significant new update a new faction takes hold. Right now it’s Sith, led in most cases by a significantly improved Emperor Palpatine. Getting two Zetas in an update took him from being mostly unplayable to the vanguard of the meta in the blink of an eye, which should tell you how valuable those abilities can be. 

Sometimes when you do the hard work of changing, of rebuilding yourself into something new and different, the changes can take on a life of their own. I came to understand a while back that the velocity of change in my life had advanced beyond my ability to control. My initial instinct was to frame that statement by saying that it was a fearful realization, but I don’t really think it was. Even good change can be jarring, though. 

My frustration with the game stems largely from the fact that it’s still a young enough game that the developers are able to very forcefully dictate the shape of the metagame. My prediction – my whole long-game strategy for Galaxy of Heroes – is premised on the fact that this is a very rich game environment that could conceivably support expansion indefinitely. They’re certainly not going to stop making Star Wars any time soon. It’s a rich enough game environment that, if the game sticks around long enough, the meta will gradually grow more sophisticated in a way that enfranchises people who have been playing the game since release. 

I got a box of snakes in my head. That’s my metaphor, that’s the way I choose to deal with the fact that for whatever reason life has chosen to compensate my writing ability with a head that is absolutely stuffed with reptiles. When it gets bad I can feel them wriggling around in there. I honestly can’t say how much dysphoria I feel because the rest of my brain is so loud that on most days it’s just not on the forefront of my mind. 

Would it surprise anyone to hear that I really like Copeland? Occasionally his drumming skips ahead a few years to post-hardcore. He’s not beholden to playing the same fills as any other drummer in rock history – he likes to play with his fills in the same way that a guitarist plays with a riff. Listen to “The Bed’s Too Big Without You,” later on Regatta de Blanc. The song is an excuse for Copeland to play every kind of fill he can think of around a really quite intricate rocksteady template. The lyrics are, eh, whatever. Bed’s pretty big. OK. Can we get a mix without the vocals? 

I’m making a number of assumptions here, any of which could turn out to be wrong. The first assumption is simply that the game will last long enough for this effort to pay off in any significant way. It’s a product of Disney’s contract with EA Games, a contract that was recently sorely tested when the release of one of the Battlefield games was so botched it made world governments to pay serious attention to the idea of regulating the industry. But this game remains profitable, I can only assume, from the fact that new expansions and promotions are thick on the ground. It’s essentially a rolling advertisement for whatever the latest quarterly Star Wars product is, so it sort of sells itself? 

That’s also another reason why I’ve never been tempted to spend any real money on the game: it is, at it’s core, an advertisement designed to get me excited about spending more money on Star Wars. I don’t need any extra inducement to do that, thank you very fucking much. Paying for the privilege of being advertised at seems like the dictionary definition of foolish. Also why I try never to wear clothing with big obvious logos, with the exception of shoes where it’s pretty much unavoidable because, yeah, Nikes really are that comfortable when you’ve got painfully broad and flat feet, and Doc Martens really are kind of inevitable when you’re this gay.

It is sobering to recognize the amount of effort I put, previously, into denying that I was indeed mentally ill. Dear reader, I assure you, I am. This is just one of those things literally every person who has ever got close to me figures out, usually sooner rather than later. When someone sees a part of you that you can’t really control, that changes their opinion of you. If someone sees you lose your shit and stays in your life, they’re probably pretty decent. (Shout out to the three people who I still talk to from high school, all of who saw me lose my shit on pretty much a daily basis for four years solid. You’re all good people for sticking with me even though my life took a few pretty unexpected twists and turns!)

This explains my desire to get the Phoenix Squad characters wrapped up as quickly as possible: they’re not going anywhere, yes, but by that same token they’re not going anywhere. They will always be powerful in certain aspects of the game because they work extraordinarily well together, and were designed to. They were also designed to be strong in Ships, which they are. They’re great in Raids. They tick all the boxes for characters who I am confident will continue to useful in many aspects of the game for a long time to come. They are next to useless in the Arena, but they are good in all the things that enable you to build up the supplies that allow you to respond more proactively to the Arena meta. 

1979’s Regatta de Blanc kicks off with one of the best songs in the band’s catalog. When you record a song like “Message in a Bottle” you don’t hide it on the middle of Side B. It is immediately evident from the first moments that the band is better – not a little bit better but measurably better. They understand better their strengths, which is that they are a power trio who like to play around the corners of thorny guitar melodies and anxious bass lines. 

So I knew if Galaxy of Zeroes was going to work it needed something at its heart to fill the same role as “Let’s Talk About What We Talk About When We Talk About Teaching Let’s Talk About Love” from my last non-fiction book – that is, it was time to look at what I had assembled in the first third of the book and see where to go from there. Some of what I was happiest with in that book were the sections where I gave myself a specific challenge to improvise about. It doesn’t perhaps seem as obviously improvisational to you, dear reader, but that’s how I built “Let’s Talk About …” 

The lyrics to “Message in a Bottle” aren’t that bad but they’re not that great either. Like the best of Sting’s lyrics, they’re functional and broadly descriptive. Not one for investigating complex interior states through rock lyrics, our boy. “Love can mend your life,” he says before also noting, “but love can break your heart.” It sounds good in the moment but it doesn’t pay to linger. It really doesn’t. 

A funny thing happened halfway through the writing of Tomorrow Is Always The Best Day Of My Life . . . well, maybe not so funny. We had a presidential election that didn’t quite go the way we were expecting. Suddenly a book that had been conceived as a group of quieter personal essays had to change. It took a while to figure it out – if you go back, there’s a significant gap between “Trifles, Light As Air” and “Let’s Talk About …” The book changes because the situation changes. If I’ve done my job it’s supposed to read as a disruption. I want to communicate, to anyone who wants to hear, how much it sucked to be on the cusp of a new era in my life and suddenly discover that the timeframe to dystopia was actually a lot shorter than I had anticipated. 

Of the five Zeta abilities required for a fully operational Phoenix Squad, I’ve still got Hera and Zeb left to get past Level VIII (of XII, for context). But the other four (Kanan, Ezra, Chopper, and Sabine) are all at Level XII, Ezra and Chopper are completely filled out, and Kanan and Sabine are only short a couple gear slots each. They’ve all had their Zetas (except for Chopper, who has no Zeta but is very powerful without it). It didn’t take anywhere near as long as I anticipated to get those four up. I’m putting Hera and Zeb aside for the moment because there’s really no reason I can’t go for Palpatine right this second. I decided to focus more aggressively on the Sith and Empire characters who make up the bulk of the meta at present, because – well, at this point why not? It’s a cell phone game, why am I hesitant to compete?  

But the song! It’s a monster from the first bang of the snare to the last fade. It seems effortless, just three guys jamming together in the studio – but it’s because they’re good that it looks so easy, and that you don’t mind “a hundred billion bottles / washed up on the shore.” See, people are isolated! 

I’m not really that concerned about trying to sell Tomorrow Is Always … right now. It sells itself. I anticipate it will perhaps be an easier thing to sell fantasy stories than multi-genre autobiographical critical essays about – well, about fucking everything to such an absurd degree that the Venn diagram of people who share my unique tastes is pretty much just me in the center listening to Interpol and writing about Star Wars obsessively while also, like, being newly but enthusiastically gay for girls. As #brands go, it’s not a bad one? 

It’s not so much, I guess, that I want to know if I can compete in the meta – because I’ve already shown that with some judicious planning and flexibility, I can. It’s that I’m hesitant to commit fully until I know I’m completely ready to take a dominant position and keep it up fairly consistently with a relative minimum of work. It’s not enough to win once, because anyone can win once. The people who perform the best over time are the people who put in the work to show every time. 

What seems to work for me is trusting that my readers will care about the things I care about for the same reason they always have: if I’m doing my job as a writer I can explain to you why it matters to me, and if I can explain to you why it matters to me, you’ll understand a part of me that you didn’t before. I just dyed my hair bright neon red and that can’t hurt either. 

Getting there is just a matter of farming. And I’ve been farming every day – every single day – since January of 2016. I downloaded the game just a few days into the year that changed my life forever. It was the last good decision he ever made, because the game gave me something to hold on to in the lowest moments of my life. And it hurts to admit that something so small and petty as surviving to the next drop was literally the only thing keeping me alive for a while in the Spring of that year, but it’s not something I’m likely to forget anytime soon.  

I can kid Sting because he gets to cry himself to sleep tonight on a mattress that costs more than I will make this year, no doubt. And that’s even probably if I sign a book deal tomorrow. The joke is that Sting is rich enough and well-ensconced in the pantheon of rock that there is very little anyone could say at this late date that could possibly change that (barring an awful #MeToo moment, which, yeah, please, no). But the real joke is that this guy, this same guy who’s always so excited about desert roses and brand new days and seems really eager to sell me something even when he’s not – he used to have something. 

When he played with these guys, he actually had a lot. 

You know, that’s life. When you say you’re going to get your shit together you don’t work on getting some of your shit together. You work on all of the shit. What’s the point otherwise?

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Galaxy of Zeroes


If This Goes On - IV

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It's the cover!