sitting in christmas

I sit in a living room. I sit in Ohio. I sit in Christmas.

I take my glasses off and stare at the tree, at the lights dissolving into complex bundles of spikes and fur that contain the same swirls that every light set in darkness has always contained for me, the same distortions of an eye that never learnt to focus itself properly.

And I remember a time, long ago, when the boy who would become me sat in Christmas, in a chair nearly hidden behind a tree, watching a TV tiny by modern standards but large for then, watching a rented video tape of “The Dark Crystal”, its widescreen letterboxing decorated with something like Celtic knot work instead of the usual black.

I wonder if this is a real memory. I wonder if this is a composite of multiple moments, multiple times. Fragments of my past, jumbled together and brought back by bright lights on an artificial tree with gifts set around it. Was my father still alive at this moment, if it was truly only one memory? He might have been. He might have not. He died a couple of years after that movie first lit up the big screen, and back then it took much longer for movies to go from cinemas to home video; back then filling a wall of your home with video was the domain of the impossibly rich. My mother and I only put up the tree for a few years after he died. I never put one up after leaving home; it’s been long enough since then that people have been born and grown to the beginnings of adulthood since then. A lifetime, it feels like. (I tried making a sketch of a tree once out of a camera tripod and a coil of LEDs and it was at once bright and cheerful, and a pathetic sad gesture against the greyness of Seattle winters, and perhaps a subtle reminder of long-gone days it would not do to delve into when I was fighting off huge seasonal depression.)

(Perhaps it was some making-of piece about the movie, on broadcast TV? I cannot know. I dig for scraps of memory and can conjure one of a video tape in a cardboard case rented from Blockbuster, but it’s suspect. Am I just cobbling that together from memories of renting other movies? So much is a blur. So many years between being and then, with a long stretch of grey where nothing mattered, and would never matter again, and why bother trying to preserve any particular moments of that misery for a future me I couldn’t really imagine? Depression’s a bitch, folks. Depression just chops bits out of your life like that.)

 

I sit in Christmas, and ponder the fragments of my past.

the saga of Isildros the Tamed

Lately I have been playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Bought it cheap on the Sony store’s Black Friday sale, it’s your basic sprawling open world full of marginally small variants on the same three or four gameplay units. It’s impeccably crafted but it really feels like its biggest virtue is that there sure is a hell of a lot of it; I keep on scrolling through my inventory and marveling that every single thing in it has a sentence or three describing it. Every sword. Every dagger. Every spear, every bow. Every piece of armor. Every piece of loot that I interact primarily with by hitting the “sell all my miscellaneous loot” button when I’m looking for a few more drachmae to throw into upgrading my favorite sword at the blacksmith’s stall. Someone sat there and wrote all of this stuff.

There’s also this thing going on where you get registered in the Mercenary Ranking and are kind of casually murdering your way up their ranks as they keep on getting sent your way after someone puts a bounty on your head for, I dunno, “shanking their kid as you slaughter your way through a Spartan war camp” or “setting a minor local functionary on fire to destabilize the region so you can join in a battle between the Athenians and Spartans to control the area”, or… whatever. It’s not really a goal (unless you decide to make it your goal for a while; climbing the rankings gives you assorted bonuses in other parts of the game), they just kinda show up sometimes and try to kill you if there’s a bounty on your head.

Each mercenary, of course, has a name, and a paragraph or two about them, and a set of body sliders and a list of gear they come with. You kill one and another pops up in the All-Greek Mercenary Ranking to take their place. I’m guessing there’s probably a few hundred of them; I’ve been murdering my way through them and haven’t seen any repeats. Someone had to name and describe every one of these guys. Or maybe someone built a really finely-tuned Mercenary Paragraph Generator, I dunno.

They’re all pretty much disposable.

But I read the description of one of them. “Isildros the Tamed” was known by this epithet because he’d lost a certain amount of his edge after having kids, and grandkids. And, I dunno. I just didn’t feel like I wanted to murder him because of that. Murdering a grandfather just felt really wrong.

So the first time he showed up I just ran away. And every time a mercenary popped up on my screen, I’d make sure it wasn’t him, and refrain from murdering him if it was. It added a little narrative tension: there I am merrily sneaking my way through a Spartan fortress, popping out from the shadows and high places to kill them one by one, occasionally getting seen and leading a mad chase through the whole place until I could find some cover long enough for them to stop hunting me… and in waltzes Isildros, and I suddenly have to be aware of where he is and do my best to not get him involved in a big battle.

I kind of wrote a story in my head that he’d developed a glancingly polite relationship with my character. Here she is again with another bounty, and he rides off after her. And even though she’s a good ways up the Mercenary Ranking Table (he was in the lowest tier, and has pretty much remained there while I kept on killing my way through the ranks) she never kills him. She’ll kill other mercs he teams up with right in front of him sometimes, but she just nods at him and vanishes. They know each other by name and are perfectly cordial, even in the heat of battle against each other.

And then finally when he popped up nearby as the subject of a “kill a random character from the Mercenary List” mission, I decided to try something. I saved my game and I went off to hunt Isildros… non-lethally. Stun arrows and bare hands only. I didn’t want to kill him. I just wanted to knock him out and walk away, making it absolutely clear to him that I’ve singled him out for Not Dying in the hopes that he’d just stop coming around.

We had a lengthy battle in the middle of a modest city. Another, much-higher-ranked mercenary showed up in the middle, which complicated things immensely. But I hid and waited for him to leave, and smacked Isildros on the back of a head with a stun arrow before he left as well.

Eventually, of course, it ended with him knocked out. And I stood there next to his motionless body, looking at the plume of light coming from it indicating he had rare gear to loot. And I contemplated the two options that showed up on my screen, as they do for any character you’ve knocked out: I could kill him while he lay there helpless. Or I could recruit him for the crew of the ship I’d become the commander of for no real good reason beyond “they gave you a ship like five AssCreeds ago and it was a big hit so they’ll keep putting it in next year’s AssCreed”.

And of course there was the third choice, just walk away and have him keep on showing up, and keep on dodging him or knock him out. It’d be a good running bit of flavor to my game, you know?

But I recruited him. And my headcanon here is that this took place over an amphora of nice wine, and ended in my character hiring him to train the crew of her ship in the fighting arts. Because if you are a career soldier who has grandkids, you are going to have accumulated a lot of dirty tricks in the course of your life, and that’s a valuable resource.

She probably slipped him a few extra drachmae to send home to the grandkids, too.


And then I saved the game and turned the PS4 off because I wanted to go out and try and get something done despite my Seattle winter habits wanting me to spend several months under a blanket in front of this sprawling pile of virtual Spartans who aren’t gonna shank themselves.

ok, boomer: a concise guide to the generations living in early 21st century America

One thing lead to another and I ended up spending today making this infographic to help you know exactly when you will be annoying a Boomer by saying “ok, boomer” to them, and who you will be misgenerationing by saying that instead of “whatever, x’er”.

 

That’s a slightly truncated version of the chart I initially made; the first version goes all the way back to 1900, when the last few members of the Lost Generation was being born.

Here’s that first one; click for the full-sized version.

Originally I was going to have the “also known as” bits for every generation be something similar to “ok, boomer” but I decided to fill in those spaces with the many names people have proposed for the post-Baby Boom generations. And if you are wondering, there were not any other names for the Boomers that I left out; they are alone among living Americans in having exactly one name for their generation. Unless you count the “Generation Jones” name for the younger half.

Me, I’m smack in the middle of undisputably Bill And Ted’s Excellent Generation territory, unless you believe that one guy who says GenX is the disputed territory between Boomers and Xers, and that most of the rest of X is the Bust Generation. And my parents were both near the end of the undisputably Silent range.

I think the most interesting feature of this chart is how the multiple ranges for Jonesers all end in 1965, and the multiple ranges for the Oregon Trail generation all begin in 1977, quite neatly bookending the Indisputably GenX zone aside from one year of Jones overlap. That and the fact that there is a twelve year span of time between the earliest and latest start dates for GenY and only five years that are indisputably GenY; I already had the impression that the definition of GenX was a messy thing, but damn, y’all have us beat. Well done, kids. Well done.

 

the dream of the Pee Sword

“When it is time for you to forge the Pee Sword, then you will make the Pee Sword”, she said.

And there it was, hanging off of my body, freshly crystallized in all its off-white, red, yellow, and black glory. If “glory” was the right word, it looked like it had been made by arranging a bunch of plastic Mardi Gras beads on a cookie sheet and half-melting them. I put it in my shirt pocket and narrated to myself: Someday, the Pee Sword would be “Stabber”. But right now it was just the Pee Sword.

 

(“Stabber” was not it’s actual name, I could not recall the name I gave it in the dream. It was one of those single-word names you give a Cool Magic Sword and it was not a bad choice. Much better than “Stabber” at least.)

 

Before that was a lot of wandering around tubes and watching turf battles in strange cities that I feel all added up to my dreaming self getting a status update from my immune system on how the tide is turning on this case of bronchitis I picked up this past week. There’s more in my paper dream journal but it’s all pretty boring compared to Forging The Pee Sword.

the Internet, considered as a mirror

This story about some fiftysomething YA authors holding up a mid-twenties college student for ridicule because she dared suggest a piece of YA popcorn fiction was not worthy as an assignment for an entire incoming college class to read is making me think about some discussions I’ve had lately with people I only realized were kids halfway through.

On the Internet, age is largely hidden. Is this person you’re making fun of someone your own age, who it is appropriate to hold to the same standards of critical thinking and underlying knowledge you hold your colleagues and yourselves to? Are they someone much older than you, whose vast store of experience must be dismissed because it always seems to be used in the service of telling you to do boring shit? Are they someone much younger, who should be patted on the head and gently shown the error of their ways, or simply ignored if you don’t have the time for that?

Maybe you’ve got an icon to give you a guess. Maybe. If you’re lucky. Lots of places don’t have those. There’s no guarantee it’ll represent the user even if you do – I tend to favor cartoon dragons, for instance. Maybe there’s a scent of another nationality coming off of particular word choices. Which could sometimes just be autocorrect. It’s hard to tell. You might get some clues if you went and looked at someone’s profile before responding to them but who the hell can be bothered to do that nowadays?

And I find that the default for me has always been to assume that people are pretty much the same as myself. When I was a teenager I assumed everyone I met on dial-up BBSs was a teenager. Now that I’m in my late forties, my default is to assume that everyone has a similar depth of experience as I do. I’ve gotten a little better at remembering this is not true, but it’s still a thing I have to make myself do. Unless someone is actively disagreeing with me, in which case the tendency is to very quickly stick them into one mental box or another, that’s probably filed inside a larger box of “enemies”.

Sure, sometimes it’s good that this exists. “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”, to quote a once-ubiquitous New Yorker cartoon of two dogs sitting in front of a computer. You can be free of some prejudices and stereotypes. But you’re just as likely to quickly be sorted into other boxes based on a few bits of pattern-matching. Especially on an Argument Machine like what Twitter has become.

I don’t really have any conclusions or deep thoughts about this. I just feel like I’m suddenly really aware of how much this is a thing that happens.

(I also find myself wanting to make a feature suggestion for Mastodon of “when replying to someone, display their profile text next to the reply box and the text you’re replying to, to help combat this effect”. Because honestly it’s gotten worse over the years, BBSs and forums had a lot more side data about who you were talking to than just “a name and maybe a user icon”.)

another special night

Sitting outside the coffee shop in the park, working on comics. It’s night.

Suddenly there is the sound of a lone trombonist and his recorded accompaniment coming from around the back of the building. It’s kind of nice, kind of romantic.

Then he starts doing Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ and everyone starts going to look.


On the way home, the moon is low on the horizon, yellow behind a light wash of clouds, lighting the edge of darker clouds. It was astoundingly gorgeous. And I found myself thinking about how I live in a place that people from all over the world dream of coming to visit. I feel pretty lucky.

It might get irrecoverably destroyed in my lifetime, what with melting icecaps and rising sea levels and being, on average, five feet below sea level before all of that started happening. But until then I’m savoring every day.

Even the days when something crawls up my sinuses and has me sneezing constantly. Hopefully that’s not gonna return to being the new normal, I was really enjoying not being allergic to the place any more now that I’ve been exposed to half a lifetime of other nasal irritants.

the dream of the airless room

Yesterday, Nick and I had brunch at a popular place with a slow cooking time. Our conversation while waiting for our food turned to our dreams. I noted that it seemed like I’d quit dreaming about my mother over the past couple years; there was a sort of acknowledgement from Dream-MJ that she was dead, and she’d quit coming around any more.

Last night, Dream Me found herself rummaging frantically around the house I grew up in to grab a few keepsakes before it was engulfed by some kind of Doom. She dig around the tiny place full of built-in shelves that my room was  in this dream, grabbing a few books. Then she went into the kitchen, which for some reason had little plastic cartoon figures sitting on every flat surface. None of them were the right one to grab. Maybe the right one would be in MJ’s room?

So there I was at the threshold of my mother’s room. Musty, weirdly lit, no sheets on the bare mattress. With a distinct sense that going in was a Bad Idea. But I stepped in anyway. And the air went from “musty” to “completely nonexistent”; my throat closed up and I started gasping for breath, the lights went out and I could just see a shimmering rainbow aura of me waving my hand in front of me as if I was trying to stir up the air.

And then I heard Nick behind me, asking if I was okay. And then I was awake with no lingering fear, and none of the disorientation I’d normally expect from a sudden transition like that.

When I went back to sleep, I spent some time trying to investigate the dream version of my childhood home. But all I could get was a black void. I dunno if that feels portentous or no.

identification

I have been procrastinating on renewing my passport, so I can use it to get a Louisiana ID without digging up my birth certificate. Today I finally got the form and started doing it.

Halfway through I discovered that my current passport is actually good until 2022. I misread its issuance date as its expiration date. OOPS.

Hopefully the rest of this process will go as easily as this did.

(for later reference, the list of documents:) Continue reading

Vacation

It’s been weird lately. Something in the back of my mind keeps on feeling like I’m on vacation, and I should be getting ready to pack up and go back to where I actually live. Somewhere colder. Somewhere more stressful. Somewhere I feel like I’ve gotta burn a certain amount of energy dealing with a constant low-level incompatibility with on some deep instinctual level.

But this is home now. I never expected to be living here again, but here I am in a place in my life where returning to the weird swamp city that I grew up in seemed like a sane plan. Despite global warming.

Maybe I’ll stop feeling this way when I have a decent desk in my studio. Maybe once it’s been around a year it’ll feel like I Live Here.

And until then, hey, I’m on permanent vacation I guess. This place is a tropical resort compared to the past fourteen years I spent in the North. Maybe having a whole winter pass with me barely having to break out a coat will convince my body I’m not about to have to go back to somewhere cold and miserable any day now.

Fourteen years.

Fourteen years ago today, I was in a motel room somewhere in the South with my mom and one of her friends. I’d moved back in with Mom after a decade in Los Angeles chasing the dream of animation; I’d gotten off a train barely a week ago. All my stuff except for one suitcase and the stuff Mom had never shipped out yet was in a shipping container in a warehouse.

Fourteen years ago today Hurricane Katrina sloshed in up through Lake Ponchatrain and drowned half of New Orleans. Mom’s apartment was on the second story; the wind took the roof off the other side of the building but her stuff survived. My stuff was thoroughly inundated. With nothing tying me down I ended up in Boston with Nick and Rik.

A little under half a year ago, I came down from Seattle to look for a place. Moved in about a month and a half later.

There’s a restaurant a few blocks from here – Mandina’s – that has a plaque commemorating where the flood line was. It’s above my head when I’m in there. I think my place is on ground a few feet lower than Mandina’s. When we left ahead of Barry and the scarily high river, I didn’t really bother trying to put any of my stuff in high places around the apartment. If the bowl of the city fills again, I know that everything I own is gone.

I keep on feeling like I’m waiting for this vacation to end. Waiting for me to have to get on a plane and go back to Seattle, where I will resume dying for half the year due to lack of sun. Maybe lingering trauma from Katrina is part of why.

This city is absurd and improbable and wonderful and I hope I get to live here a good long time.