The eye of Sisyphus

He walked from the car to the door of the gym; rummaging through his bag as he did so looking for the fob. His fingers found the rounded plastic edges of the fob and he withdrew it. He pressed it against the receiver, mounted at waist height on the door frame, and he waited for the familiar click to let him know the lock had disengaged. Sisyphus always felt a rush when he sensed that click, he waited until that exact second to pull the door open – he enjoyed the display of mastery in opening the door at the exact moment it unlocked, the exact, precise, minute execution. A moment sooner and the door would pull, uselessly, against the locking mechanism. A moment later and he would have wasted a single precious second of his morning.

He strode into the gym, this early in the morning it was all but deserted. Sisyphus enjoyed training at this absurd hour. He enjoyed the struggle in it, the battle to rouse himself from slumber and assert his will against the natural order of things in order to train. Of course, Sisyphus did not need to train. Thousands of years in Tartarus rolling his boulder up the hill had refined his already masculine physique into a positive masterpiece of strength and poise. He placed his bag on the ground and began his memorised morning ritual. First; he opened the bag and withdrew the water bottle. Next, he found the towel in its aerated side pocket and stuffed its corner into the waistband of his pants. Third he took the gloves from the main compartment of the bag and placed them under the crook of one elbow as he zipped the vessel closed. He rose, headed for the water fountain and began to fill his water bottle from the chilled fountain. As the water flowed, slowly, into the bottle, Sisyphus donned the gloves and began wrapping the tails of the gloves around and around his wrists for stabilisation. As he finished the second glove, the bottle was filled to capacity and he took the bottle into his hands and replaced the cap.

The final and most important part of Sisyphus’ ritual was next. The part he savoured most. He reached into his pocket and withdrew his phone. He opened his music application and the endless possibilities of the morning finally engulfed him. Of all the magic and majesty Sisyphus had found upon his release from Tartarus, modern music was certainly the greatest. In the untold years he had toiled underneath the earth, hopelessly happy, he had not thought to ever hear music again. Early on, sometime in the first millennia of his struggle, he had despaired when it dawned on him he would never hear the mournful tones of Calliope’s lyre again. He had realised what music was to him. Was to all men through him.  A source of transcendent joy. A way to momentarily transport oneself into the place of another, the place of a creator –  a muse for the mundane man. It was this realisation buried deep in Sisyphus’ consciousness that drew he so forcefully to the modern musical masters channelled through his phone.

Having found a track that suited his mood, Sisyphus reached up and placed his headphones over his ears and hit play.

Shuffle

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ccKV1X9uyP4 2:17

“Forgive me, I’m trying to find My calling, I’m calling at night I don’t mean to be a bother, But have you seen this girl?”

The words burst into his consciousness from the speakers. Manifestations of some pure universal magic, some truly wondrous shared unconsciousness. He hangs from the bar, his heart swells as the feelings surge, unbidden, to the forefront of his consciousness. Reah turns and leaves, her parting kiss haunts his lips. Her laughter echoes in his ears as she tells him she will return. He feels intoxicated, he wants to call out to her, but doesn’t. Fear, holding his tongue. The vision fades as he heaves himself aloft once more, feeling the sinew and muscle of his back contract as he rises Sisyphus smiles. Reah’s kiss fades form his lips as he crests the pull-up and the music swells again.

Shuffle

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUEL0FbnDRI 2:09

“And there before my eyes on the glossy paper, quiet whispers of something I had lost or put aside for the longest time. The hope that I might find some kind of peace”

 Sisyphus lowered himself on his raw knuckles, his chest brushing the spongy, rubberised floor. His breath beginning to feel heavy in his breast. The slow, sad sounds seeped softly into his ears as he raised and lowered himself once more. Esper stood, illumined against the fading light of the fiery orange sunset framed exquisitely by the pillars of his manor behind her. Her eyes, clear, deep and pristine in their beauty burned in their sockets as she smiled at him once more. Love, it beat strongly in him once again. He felt it, truly viscerally – as if he were there, at that moment once more.  As she began to turn, heading into the manor the vision wavered and Sisyphus was confronted once more with the chalky, flecked matting of the gym floor rising to meet him.

Shuffle

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GuX-F08fwI 2:25

“Please don’t walk away and please tell me you’ll stay”

As the guitars swelled in his ears Sisyphus saw her, Jezabelle, her pale skin reflecting the warm rays of the morning sun back at him. Her elusive topaz eyes faintly touched by the hint of her suggestive smile. Trapped in the midst of his movement he could only let the weight of his bar press down on his shoulders as he was enveloped by the memory. Jez, shifted as he moved around her to kiss her cheek softly and whisper into her ear. The weight moved up as Sisyphus pushed away the bar and the memory away.

For all the time he had spent toiling for his freedom, thirsting for the immortality he craved so – his ghosts had lost none of their potency.

Advertisements

Taylor Swift and outgrowing music

So coming into the new year after a somewhat disjointed – but hugely rewarding year of my life I want to make a concerted effort to write more and write regularly. I do make what apology is pertinent for my absence this year – I promise my thinking is all the better for it though.

For longer term readers – I will put this admin point up front, my Lovecraftian short story has evolved and is now becoming somewhat more that it was originally envisioned to be, more on that hopefully soon.

With that out of the way –on to the main event.

Something light to start – Taylor Swift.

So, Taylor’s most recent album ‘Reputation’ dropped last month and to be honest I really really like it – but I don’t love it, certainly not in the way I loved ‘1989’ or loved ‘Red’ even more so  but it is a remarkably fun album to listen to and significant evolution of TS’ sound. Now some of the shift in my opinion could be chalked up to the fact that the two singles that TS released prior to the launch of the full album really suffer without the context of the rest of the album to support them and so I had a fairly low, disappointed, perception of the likely album going in. But I do not like this reasoning – it is over simple and doesn’t account for the real and palpable enjoyment I get from the album, even those singles when put in with the rest.

Of course, this caused me to sit down and do some thinking and some reflecting on the relationship I have had with lady Swift’s music throughout the last 8 or so years (No I am definitely not an OG Swiftian, I took some convincing). I remember quite vividly that I was in a really dysfunctional place the first time I ever really connected with a Swift track. ‘Mean’ off ‘Speak Now’ really reached out and grabbed me – form your own reasons for why that might have occurred based on the above inference if you wish – and for a time that was about the extent of my enjoyment of TS.

Some years later I was, once again, in somewhat of a serious funk and ‘Mean’ once again grabbed my attention – however this time I delved a little further into Taylor’s catalogue. ‘Red’ was out, and from the first to the last it absolutely grabbed me; my marriage had broken down and the sentiment expressed by Taylor as she so publicly worked through her own breakups resonated with me – it truly felt to me in a time when I had very very few people who could connect with what I was going through as if that album had something to say ‘to me’.

So, I went back and discovered I had a similar kinship with all of Taylor’s work to that point – all the way through her musical history there was a consistent willingness to jump head first into romance and feel that anguish when it inevitably blew up in spectacular – or mundane – fashion which was a trait I felt I shared with Taylor.  Over the years that enjoyment for the cathartic realisation that I was not as alone as I could feel at times was much more than a useful distraction – along with other musicians Taylor’s work truly did prove to be somewhat of a lifeline, helping me stay above the surface as I battled my more depressive tendencies.

1989 was released and I had transitioned from being a moody, retiring, indoorsy type of depressive to the Tinder type of depressive (more on that in previous writings) and so of course ‘Blank Space’ immediately stole my musical heart and the rest of the album soon followed.

After having reflected on all of this, in the light of the underwhelming response I had to ‘Reputation’, it finally dawned on me that what I was connecting with in Taylor’s earlier writings was the universal experience of loss and overcoming that loss. Taylor’s career toi this point has done an amazing job at chronicling these patterns in her life and sharing her story with the world. However, because I have become markedly better at managing the processes of grief and recovery since the last time I had been invited to form a fresh connection with Taylor’s work it was no longer integral to feel connected to her music in the way I had in the past – I had outgrown that facet of my love for Taylor Swift.

Obviously, my enjoyment of the music has abided and the nostalgia of the days angstily spent brooding to ‘Mean’ has some ephemeral lingering romance to it – but I no longer have the same visceral connection to Taylor’s work as I once did. I was reading some Liz Gilbert recently and the way she talks about creativity being an actual spiritual being that one might converse with has stuck with me and I will use it here. As I came to realise that my need for Taylor Swift to be singing about a shared experience dwindled, I had a meaningful conversation with my past and my memories of pain and the relief that her music has provided me across the years and wished them fair wind and following seas. That wonderful feeling of connectedness offered to me and so many others by Taylor had changed for me due to finally finding the strength to face (some of) my own demons. And so it is not with regret that I say I outgrew Taylor Swift but with the truest gratitude and love, not only for Taylor but for all the other people in my life who she represents, the family, friends and strangers who have provided me with the impetus to become better to reach new heights and believe in what I might accomplish if I just act a little more fearlessly.

Change and culture

So i suppose fair warning to my ‘readership’ this piece touches on issues of gender and culture and expresses views that some members on the left might find – regressive.

– The Brave Bothan

So today something happened – Certainly a thing that I didn’t find comfortable or endearing in the slightest; but I would like to put it here to provoke thought.

Annually the organisation that I work for hold a series of training seminars to ensure that employees are up to date on what management consider to be corporate culture for the firm. For the last half a decade or so these have necessarily included a section or two on gender and gender politics both within and without the workplace.  I attended one such seminar today – and was caught in one of the most uncomfortable intellectual and moral positions I have ever been in.

A senior executive was giving a seminar on gender perspectives – with the outcome being mostly advocating for an undefined increase in awareness of cis gender perspectives, which was annoying in and of itself. During the course of this seminar the executive shared an anecdote about a consultation with foreign nationals that the firm had been involved with. It was a shelter development project for impoverished peoples as part of a government sponsored aid program.

A design consultation session had been held with all the tribal elders of the region – who due to the region’s gender politics were all male. After the completion of the consultation session the firm built the shelters to specification. The flaws were apparent only after completion of the program – these shelters lacked a kitchen…

Corporate embarrassment aside – the executive at this point made the quip that if only one single woman had been involved with the planning process this glaring oversight surely would have been rectified…. as women inherently solve these types of domestic problems…..

My heart veritably broke.

Here was a senior executive member of the firm not only committing a correlation/ causation fallacy – which is embarrassing and horrific enough in and of itself – but ostensibly under the auspices of promoting gender equality she was committing such a fallacy without realizing the ways in which she was confirming negative gender stereotypes.

I honestly didn’t know what to do – Any attempt I could have made to publicly correct her concept of gender relations and roles would have only served to diminish the overall intent of the seminar. But failure to correct such regressive and patriarchal stereotypes would be to allow those values to suffuse the outcomes of the seminar.

I was caught – trapped but the desire not only to not rock the corporate boat and undermine a senior executive – but also completely and painfully aware that by saying nothing I was allowing a whole room full of people, representing all facets of the company, to take in and perhaps internalize and unknowingly regressive stereotype.

To my shame at the time of writing I stayed silent.

Despite realizing at the time what had been said and knowing it’s impact I couldn’t muster the courage to fight for the cause the way it ought to have been. I stayed silent – not wanting to undercut, however righteously and senior executive.

The gender stereotypes we have been raised with are insidious in the way they influence our thinking – even when we think to champion the cause we are subject to our own fallibility. I believe that the human giving the brief had every intention of championing a positive case for gender equality they just fell victim to ingrained concepts of gender roles.

I elected to join this human’s committee to try and  shape the way my organisation views and interacts with concepts of gender.

But this doesn’t make me feel better about my cowardice.

Krom And The Church Of Iron

So I have mentioned from time to time that I really find value and enjoyment in daily trips to the gym. I enjoy the self-aware ‘bro-science’ humour trends that have emerged. I love the idea that the modern trend towards fitness and wellness culture are already being viewed with ‘ironic’ skepticism. Rather jarringly though I also adore the feelings of mastery, control and achievement that this practice has brought into my life.

To me the gym is a source of contentment and inspiration for me. The ancient Greeks proposed that A healthy mind could only inhabit a healthy body and certainly I function best after a good workout each morning. But more than that the daily pilgrimage to the holy house of Krom focuses me, centers me in a way that nothing else really does. The only other time in my life I experience the zen state induced in me by a good set of curls is whilst deeply engrossed in a video game – and not just any video game only highly competitive raiding in WoW has ever elicited such a deep state of focus from me.   It strikes me as the perfect continuation of the aforementioned ‘ironic’ humour that two so diametrically opposed disciplines should have such similar effects on my mental state.  Something so ‘Nerdy’ as WoW and so ‘Masculine’ as lifting finding a soft spot within my psyche.

The Church Of Iron is also the one place on earth that really feels like it deserves the title of being holy to me. The gym is a place removed from the rest of the world, dedicated to the betterment of man. Yes I admit this is a wholly sohpisitic reading of it , but to me after years of experiencing the true dedication of not only myself but my gym ‘family’ it really strikes me as true. So much of our modern culture is about segregating us – about encouraging us to ourselves as wholly separate and divisible entities in order to play on our fears and make us more malleable to neoliberal influence. The gym, when looked upon charitably, is a building where all men and women are made equal before the force of Krom. No one is ‘king’ of the gym, everyone no matter their strength is humbled by the endeavor for gains or tone or fitness.  When in the presence of the divine iron we are all made one, made to pray in the same way to receive that which we crave.

The gym is a place where one can commune not only with the divine but also with the self. It is a place that we can work together in to achieve the impossible. It is truly one of the most gratifying experiences to help someone with a lift they’ve never made before – a new height of their personal story. The time we get to spend in reflection as we focus and push past our boundaries has the ability to make better people of us in small daily and incremental ways.

The summation of this is rather a simple thought – Despite being a nerd, despite being primarily a skinny white guy I adore the gym. I adore the dedication and passion i get to display and see mirrored in those around me . I adore the pursuit of self betterment, I adore the generosity and humanity displayed by those who share that journey. For every arrogant or obnoxious gym rat you meet know that there is a monastic follower of the god of gains. Every time someone tell you that gym rats are just meat heads please recall the lady reading her med text book on the treadmill. For every person decrying the gym know there is someone for whom it is a daily grace.

 

The Curious Question of Consent

Warning – This post will contain discussion about sexual violence. If that isn’t your speed; feel free to give this a miss. Thanks for stopping by.

—- The Brave Bothan

We are currently living in a dangerous time. Not due to an increase in sexual violence, or related offences – but because the framework under which we consider sexual violence has not been adequately defined in the public or legal spheres and we are leaving ourselves open to the potential of a very dark and unforgiving future.

As a single white male I actually feel threatened when I go out to drink with my friends. I’ve never gone out to ‘pick up’ but the possibility of meeting someone while out is not inconceivable to me. So the current political and legal climate surrounding alcohol and consent has me slightly worried.

In Queensland currently this is the fact sheet about  sexual assault published by our state police force. It states that people under the influence of alcohol are not able to give informed consent and that rape is sexual intercourse without consent. There is no information or links to further information given about what constitutes ‘under the influence of alcohol’.

This lack of definition could mean many things – in fact almost anything. I have narrowed it down to what I consider to be three likely outcomes. First: the literal reading that any consumption of alcohol removes the ability to grant consent. Second: Consent, like vehicular transport, is only legal if given under 0.05% B.A.C. Finally consent whilst under the influence must pass, our favourite legal test, the ‘reasonable person’ test. All three options have merits and issues.

Given the lack of definition I feel it would be functionally ‘safest’ to take the literal reading as the intended one. However any amount of logical thought experimentation with this concept shows that it has immediate flaws. If the law suggests that a married couple of twenty years who have shared a bottle of wine over dinner and then, hours later, proceed to engage in intercourse – should be considered to be engaging in rape due to lack of consent I feel this presents a problem. This would be equally problematic to a couple of any persuasion or a relationship of any length. I do not feel it is reasonable or legally acceptable to propose that a zero tolerance policy on alcohol and consent be enforceable -that is some serious 1984 mumbo jumbo.

If we look at the second possibility, 0.05% B.A.C being the legal limit for consent, immediately things become somewhat more ‘sane’ but much harder to enforce. The benefit of the B.A.C path is that it takes the physiological ability of the individual into account, rather than an arbitrary number of standard drinks. However given the problem of transporting an offender to a police station or officer for testing within a time frame that would provide admissible evidence it seems incredibly hard to enforce or gain value from. Given that the majority of rapes are reported 24-72 hours after they have occurred it would be almost impossible to use this as an enforceable law. Whilst it would offer some very limited protection I do not feel it s a reasonable way to read the law as it stands.

The final option, the ‘reasonable person test’ – this has always been a bastion of subjectivity within the law. The law utilises this method for a number of other complex and subjective issues and has done for quite some time. However it is the result I have the least personal faith in. Particularly with issues of consent I feel that this is a very very slippery slope – the mindset of a ‘rational person’ has always been difficult to legally articulate and with the subjective judgement that is involved with sexual consent, I do not feel it is a call any one can make.  It would be very difficult to say that someone reasonably would have denied consent – a thought experiment for me here looks like: I would deem it impossible to say that a married human would have, but for alcohol, refused to engage in an adulterous rendezvous – particularly given the reduced legal implications of adultery in our modern society. This is a fairly cut and dry case for me, the subjective nature of beauty and desire and the deeply personal nature of sexual intercourse rule out a ‘reasonable’ standard for consent.

We are living in dangerous times. We have identified a link between alcohol and sexual violence – statistics confirm this. Unfortunately our system of laws is not yet up to the task of regulating the incredibly nebulous concept of consent – which I think it would fail to do even if alcohol weren’t involved.  I don’t have a proposition for the best way forward – only my usual plea for increased sensitivity and respect in the way we live. A plea, like so many others, to look out for our friends male and female and ensure we are all making choices we can live with in the morning.

 

Colour And The Fear Thereof

I cannot say when it was I first worked out I was in love with being terrified.  My parents would tell you that as a child an episode of the old Goosebumps TV series scared me so bad I woke up screaming for 3 nights that week…. I was subsequently banned from watching scary things as a kid. My next strong recollection of being scared through creative media  came with the VHS release of ‘The Matrix’; My parents rented a copy and forbade me to watch it with them, I was 10 so this seemed the largest of injustices. I snuck a view from the hallways secretly as Agent Smith removed Neo’s mouth – and I was done, no more movie for me.

But I cannot recall when things changed and I released that Horror excited and enthralled me. I began seeking out classic films in the genre and reading creepy pasta and watching YouTube clips about serial killers. I began enjoying the heart pounding terror induced by a well crafted scare. I fell in love with the feeling of empowerment in overcoming the oppressive atmosphere of dis-empowerment this media sought to create. Somewhere in this transition I found one of my all time inspirations – Howard Phillip Lovecraft.

Lovecraft is perhaps most famous for his seminal work ‘The Call of Cthulhu‘ and this was certainly the way I found him. I like to read about and explore the media I experience and so one of the director’s interviews or another referenced this as an inspiration and I went searching for it. What I found hooked me deep. The anachronistic style of Lovecraft and the themes of thirst for knowledge and the limitations of humanity revved my engine immensely. I began to read his collected works – Fortunately they are in the common domain so they are freely available online. It was in this initial foray into Lovecraft that I discovered the most singularly affecting story I have ever read – The Colour Out Of Space.

I won’t go into great detail about the plot here, the story is very short and you can rip through it in about 30 minutes, what I want to discuss is the perfect way in which this story manages to capture the fear of the unknown and unknowable.

It is common knowledge among horror movie fans that the more you see of a creature the less scary it becomes – your imagination is always far more capable of scaring you than any prosthesis or CGI is. This story has at its core a monster that you cannot see – ever. Not because it is invisible or intangible in a ghostly manner, but because it is a colour. The monster that incites dread terror and all sorts of horrific occurance is just light reflecting off a surface in a way that humans are not built to experience.

Throughout the course of the story horrible things happen to those who come into contact with the colour – they all remark upon the oddity of the colour and the things it affects but none of them seem to understand the danger – until it is too late. This is one of the things this story does so remarkably right for me. The fear, the horror is something so banal we take it for granted, we cannot possibly understand a colour as being responsible for horror because it is ‘just’ a colour. This is one of the most perfect examples of fear being embodied in something that is purely the construct of the viewer – purely a personal fantasy.

 

Lovecraft is famous for constructing tales of things that we simply cannot comprehend and this story, I think, is the pinnacle of that tradition. There are other stories with more profoundly unsettling imagery or more vividly constructed creatures – even with more oppressive atmospheres.  This story however shows Lovecraft’s true genius at constructing a fear so beyond our scope that we cannot see it even when it is right in front of us. Lovecraft constructed true terror in something so alien in its mundanity that it cannot be understood let alone combated.

It still makes my head spin to this day thinking about the way this story first affected me as a younger man – I couldn’t walk alone at night for a week. So i do implore you, if this piece has interested you in slightest, take a read. Who knows, maybe you’ll experience your own version of my terror.

The Evolution of My Dire Straits

So I have loved music my whole life. I sing in the shower, in the car, while walking my dog and in the hallways at work. I remember once; while walking through a shopping center with a girl I was seeing at the time I started singing softly – She stared at me in horror and demanded that I stop…. She was clearly not ‘the one’. These days I consider myself to have a rather wide and eclectic taste in music; I listen to everything from Thrash Metal all the way through to Classical. This was not always the case – as a young man I was very very exclusively into scene and emo music and very vocal about how terrible everyone else’s taste was for liking other sounds. This is the story of the song that changed that.

Some years ago I had a friend living with me. This friend, Bob (not his actual name) was originally from Perth and was a bit more typical of a young Aussie lad than I was at the time. Bob was into Utes and Beer and Rugby. I was into Computer Games, Books and Tea. How we ever came to be as close as we were actually escapes me at the moment; but we spent a bunch of time cursing around over the weekends, talking smack and just chilling out.  During this time Bob would love to play a mix of disgusting Aussie Hip Hop and much more palatable Metal in the car.

I remember asking Bob on several occasions over the months how he was able to listen to such a broad range of music – and he gave me the answer that any reasonable human would; because he enjoyed it. This continued to baffle me for months until one day , driving back from the coast via an adventurous country route, Dire Straits Pt 1 came on. I had a ‘lightbulb’ moment, I loved this song. I couldn’t tell you if I was feeling depressed that day in particular – but I can say that at the time generally I was struggling with depression. The way in which Solo described his experience with depression in this song – wrapping a smile around a tired face to hide the marks of the walk of life through dire straits. These words took root in my imagination possibly because of the clever lyrical allusion to Dire Straits that play out throughout the rest of the piece; possibly because it so mirrors my own perception of the feeling of depression.

But from this vantage I was able to move on and really start to enjoy the entirety of Horrorshow’s first album – The Grey Space. The way it described the ups and downs of late teenage life in the busy modern world – It espouses socially progressive ideology in small moments throughout and so that further drew me in. The complex instrumentation of the album made me fall deeper and deeper in love with it. After I had memorized the whole first album I moved on to Horrorshow’s second offering – Inside Story. The first track of this album has a sound byte from Firefly….. Need I say more? I loved it as much as I had The Grey Space.

After having spent about 2 months acclimating myself to the complex and mellow sounds of Inner Western Sydney Hip-Hop the jump from there to other Aussie Hip Hop artists no longer seemed so jarring or obnoxious I had a language with which to reference my likes and dislikes within each new artist or track I heard. Rather than feeling lost or bewildered by my inability to articulate in the language of the form what I felt about it – I was now passingly fluent in Hip-Hop and so much more able and willing to accept it as ‘worthy’ or ‘good’.

Like all people – I feared what I did not understand. I had been musically xenophobic and after taking the time to appreciate another musical culture – I could begin to accept that it wasn’t scary nor particularly different to my existing culture within Metal and Emo. Clearly the didactic point here is one about cultural acceptance in a wider context – but I want to be slightly more nuanced and human than that. The reason I spent time explaining the long way around how I came to this viewpoint is to show that it is very very human to be exclusionary and xenophobic and that that doesn’t make a person irredeemably bad, they just haven’t worked out the similarities that will allow them to realign their perspective yet. We should be trying to educate those folks, trying to show them the ways in which we are all similar rather than deriding them for their ‘failure’ to see the obvious humanity in our shared experience.

To All The Dark Souls Of The World

So I love Dark Souls; I am a filthy glutton for punishment. I’ve loved Dark Souls since before it was Dark Souls. I remember when I was on my L plates begging a friend to supervise me driving to go get a copy of Demon’s Souls after hearing from Zero Punctuation that it was hard….. And oh god was it hard. I remember sinking hours upon hours into that game. My first time through the game I actually ‘cheesed’ about 30% of the bosses because I was so terrified of them; sadly I must admit that my first kill of the infamous Flamelurker was one such cheese. When I finally downed False King Allant, let’s be honest – the true final boss, I felt accomplished in a way a game had never elicited from me before. I read, many years later, that the Souls games are not games you simply beat; they are games you conquer and emerge bloody after one hell of a fight with. This was how it felt to have vanquished, what was being called at the time, ‘The hardest title in modern video games’.

I remember when Dark Souls was announced being giddy with excitement – I turned down a  date with a girl who I was seeing at the time to sit and watch IGN’s first 24 hour live stream of the game pre-release. It took me 60 hours to finish my first journey through Lordran – most of that spent grinding in the Duke’s Garden to upgrade my magic spear…. And once again, after felling Gwyn, I was suffused with that elation that only besting a Souls title could bring.

Years later when dark souls 2 was released I was once again buoyed by the excitement of dying countless times and the feeling of mastery that I would achieve after I finally bested that game, conquered that mountain.  Only this time something else happened. I got about 30% of the way through the game and I couldn’t do it, I was truly stuck. Dark Souls 2 bested me – and shamefully I put it down.

A few years later and Bloodborne had just landed this game was 50% of the reason I had invested in swapping to a PS4 from the 3 (the other 50% was Infamous). New console, new setting – surely whatever had plagued me in Dark Souls 2 would melt away as I stalked the beasts of Yharnam… Only it didn’t and this time I couldn’t even best the first boss…. I was truly despondent – I’d lost my hardcore edge, I was turning into a filthy casual gamer.

One final fast forward – to earlier this year. Dark Souls 3, the last hurrah for the team behind Souls. I didn’t get excited for it. I wasn’t up to the challenge. Souls had broken me and there was no coming back. Only….. I couldn’t give up I had to try. Had to have one more bite at the cherry.  About a month after release, in time to be ganked by every pvp invader in the world, I picked it up. With trepidation I booted it up…… To my surprise I felled the tutorial boss with relative ease. I thought it had to be a fluke, a way to lull me into a false sense of accomplishment and security. But as I progressed I didn’t see that infamous ‘You Died’ screen for about my first 1.5 hours of play – not till a Dragon swooped in and roasted me in typical Souls fashion.  But i had gotten a solid start, and so kept going. It was tough, like remembered form all those years ago, but just like in ages past I persevered, I gritted my teeth and pushed through the rage, the frustration and the gut wrenching loss of souls. Until I did it – I had finally beaten a new Souls title.

I was filled with that same intoxicating victory rush. I looked at my vicotry trophies -and thought back to the statement about conquering souls games, and to my shameful 50/50 record with the series…. If i had now tipped the balance 60/40….. It was time to really conquer this mountain, too vanquish all doubt and to finally prove that I was the master of fate and captain of my soul.

I decided I would ‘Platinum‘ Dark Souls 3.

So I did – 4 play-throughs and 95 hours later it was done. From this vantage I felt untouchable, invincible, omnipotent. It was time to get my ledger out of the red. My past failures would no longer limit me; I would not only erase them from existence by besting Dark Souls 2 and Bloodborne, I would ‘git gud’ and platinum those games too.

It took nearly another 150 hours and countless deaths to Blue Smelter Demon trash runs and Winter Lanterns; but I did it.

13732318_1645295835786049_1610193476_n

I was reflecting weeks later on why I loved the Souls games so much; they were, after all, not particularly heavy in story – in the way of Final Fantasy or Legend of Zelda and other RPG titles I had grown up loving. They were rage inducing and really not what I went to gaming for, abnegation. It wasn’t until i really thought about my complex journey to conquer these titles that it dawned on me. The Souls games are, in my opinion, the pinnacle of gaming’s ability to teach one of life’s most important lessons: ‘Inputs affect Outcomes’ what we do directly correlates with what happens in our lives. If something doesn’t work, doing it over an over again will not make it magically work, you need to find a new way to approach the challenge, a new strategy.

The Souls games were stripped of all other surface details, they were tight mechanically focused experiences that forced you to learn each and every second of them. They forced you to conquer their challenges through skill and absolute determination. Giving up was possible – you could walk away – but the task wouldn’t magically get easier or complete itself in your absence. Much like in the rest of life – you could ask for help,  consult a guide and get directions to aide you in the task, you didn’t have to go it alone, you could summon a phantom.

The Souls games have really stuck with me because they are a wonderful microcosm of the challenging parts of my life, a series of seemingly impossible encounters and challenges that all require, patience, consideration and dedication to overcome. I will always remember the hard won lesson of the Souls games and how hard I fought to learn it.

Praise the Sun!

Magical Creativity – Inspired By Mark Rosewater

So as a younger man, and to this day occasionally, I was heavily invested in Magic The Gathering. Don’t know what Magic The Gathering is? It is the progenitor of all Trading Card Games. The first, the High Pumba – and certainly the longest lasting and most financially successful. Any how; as a teenager my love of this game bordered on obsession, I would live, sleep, eat and breathe Magic news, theory and more. Every day one or more of the designers or notable players would publish an article on the Magic website. I would rush home and refresh my computer at 4pm, needing to be the first person to read the article – to be ahead of the curve.

This story takes place back in the misty forgotten times of 2007. Mark Rosewater who was the head designer of Magic  published his regular article on Mondays. It was called Making Magic and it was centrally about the design choices behind mechanics or cards in the game. However Mark was known for his flair and panache with writing and so regularly mixed up his topic with anecdotal material from his broader experiences. Monday April 2nd was one such time. Mark published an article that has influenced my thinking about intelligence and creativity since that day.

Connect The Dots is an article about Mark Rosewater’s understanding of the nature of his own creativity and creativity in general. Given his profession as a games designer and his prestigious station as Head Designer for Magic -I was more than willing to assign a great deal of weight to what the man had to say on the topic. He spun a tale of a his youth – a time where he was ostracized and misunderstood for having a mind that worked differently to those around him. 15 year old me ate this up, he seemed so similar to me, he understood my pain, from half the world away this sage of  a man reached out and touched my life and explained away so much of my angst about my childhood.

Mark explained that after years of researching the subject, which had become a passion of his, he had deduced that creativity could be fairly quickly summarized as ” The ability to see connections that others do not”. This simple sentence was then, as it is now, a saving grace in my emotional life.

For years my teachers had identified me as ‘gifted’ or ‘high performing’ without ever really being able to articulate why. I had asked them time and time again what made me special or different – they had told me I was smart, smarter than most. I had a great deal of trouble accepting this as there were people I knew, my peers, who seemed to possess a great deal more knowledge on many topics than I did. It confused me for so many years to be told I had potential and never to understand what I did that made people think this.

And then Mark Rosewater gift wrapped the answer for me in an article ostensibly about my favorite hobby.  I was not ‘smarter’ I was simply more creative – more willing to see logical leaps than my peers.

“The ability to see connections others do not” – This is a beautiful gift; much as it helped me finally understand the point of difference in my life it continues to help me see and understand people around me to this day.

My brother is a high functioning autistic ( I am not – as was made famous by Sheldon Cooper ‘My mother had me tested’) and I struggled to get inside his head and empathize with him and why certain aspects of his life fixated him so, or why he continually brought these things up in conversations where they just didn’t fit…. And then I recalled the words of Rosewater. My brother, and all subsequent individuals I’ve met in the high functioning spectrum, weren’t fundamentally misunderstanding a context or misreading a conversation, they just saw a piece of connective conversational tissue that I did not. They were being more creative than I could understand. Following the advice of Mark I asked my brother to explain these connections at times where I had previously just been baffled; and sure enough every single time he could logically and intelligently articulate to me how he saw the connection in his mind and how this or that fixation really did fit into whatever the current context was. It was a revelation.

Reflecting on this I am recalled of the words of Aristotle – “No great mind ever existed without a touch of madness” noting the frequently high correlation between those we perceive as high functioning spectrum ‘sufferers’ and those with vast degrees of ‘conventional intelligence’ it seems logical enough to me, taking into account Rosewater’s theory of creativity, that perhaps those other people on the spectrum – the ones who we can’t quite understand- are just as intelligent if not more so, we just aren’t thinking creatively enough to understand them. This can be seen in the way we recognize the talents of ‘idiot savants’ – people with phenomenal talent that we simply cannot understand outside these ‘rational’ gifts.

Perhaps, in striving for a more dignified and caring world, we might need to reconsider our perceptions of more individuals within it; to understand a bit better, their creative thinking.

A Picture Is Worth 1000 Words

Disclaimer — This piece discusses adult themes and the plot to Jessica Jones season 1; If either of these things disturbs you please turn away for: Here There Be Dragons.

So I am currently working my way through ‘Luke Cage’. I am about halfway through, at the end of episode 7 there was a fairly pivotal moment of character development that I found quite personally confronting. I was going to talk about that here today but decided to wait until I had the entire series done to reflect on it. It did, however, get me thinking about a very comparable moment from the slightly older Marvel offering of ‘Jessica Jones’ and a point in that series that radically recontextualized a behavior of mine earlier this year. This moment was almost unassuming in nature and I think that is what made it so emotionally devastating to recognize it from my everyday life.

For those who are not familiar with the plot – The villain, Kilgrave, has the power plant ideas in people’s minds. They must execute on these ideas, it is explained as a form of ‘Super Pheromone’. This places the restriction on Kilgrave’s power that he has to be physically present when he gives the command for it to have any effect. Jessica was once under his spell and now hates him for all the things he made her do -she is seeking to see him incarcerated or killed.  Relevant plot details explained.

The scene I want to discuss kicks off about halfway through the episode. So the moment in question comes when Kilgrave calls Jessica and threatens to force someone she cares about to do terrible things (through the use of his power) if she does not send him a photo of herself every day. The scene then cuts away to more pressing action elsewhere and we do not get any pay off from this until the last shots of the episode when we see the image Kilgrave receives. It is a fairly plain image of Jessica, not sexual at all in framing or presentation – but her face, her face says more than I could hope to capture here about the revulsion and turmoil and anger she feels about sending the image. The episode then ends. Occasionally throughout the remainder of the season we see the next daily photo but not one character addresses it for the rest of the season.

This moment floored me. It hit right at the core of a behavior that I had previously thought was acceptable and showed me something that thousand of words and many presentations in the workplace had failed to. It for the first time illustrated to me the real effect of indirect patriarchal and societal power around sexting culture.

I am a young man, who has had his fair share of casual relationships begin on or around social media apps like Tinder, POF or Snapchat. Throughout the course of these casual relationships, usually in the formative or early stages, I have asked for, received and/or exchanged sexts. I had thought that this was ok – that it was healthy. I had thought that it was emotional and physical intimacy utilizing modern technology to maximize the ability we had to connect with our partners. I never applied any pressure beyond conversationally requesting these images or offering to ‘trade’, I had never threatened any one or even gone so far ask to ask twice in any meaningful way.

In all of this I considered myself a fairly reasonable human, egalitarian – if not feminist in my views on a woman’s right to choose whether or not to engage in this type of behavior. I’d never been demanding or indignant about the way I approached the subject, I offered to trade if it seemed appropriate. But I really hadn’t ever been shown or been able to internalize to types of pressures my partner might feel about her body and the concepts of worth that are attached to that. I had never really seen an example of how soft power, that I wasn’t even responsible for, could make someone do something they were fundamentally uncomfortable with.

It was the conflux of Jessica’s face in the photo and the intentionally ‘distant’ way in which Kilgrave exerted his control that brought me to my new view point on this phenomenon. I can never know in a casual relationship what type of body image issues a my partner might have with their bodies and the way it is objectified by people outside of their skin. I can never know if the last person they saw was an absolute asshat that made them feel worthless except as an objectively attractive piece of human art – or if those issues stem all the way back to childhood or some other early life trauma. Basically I can never know when society or another individual has ‘Kilgraved’ a person into feeling like they have no choice – no way of affecting their outcome or demonstrating their worth other than to comply with my wishes.

So I decided from then on not to sext casually.

Now obviously this same peril can be read into a great many facets of the early stages of any romantic pairing – and the point here is not to make a grand overarching rule about completely avoiding tapping into residual effects of patriarchal abuses or tendencies. But rather to illustrate one small way I think we might be able to move into a world where we treat each other with a bit more empathy, dignity and kindness.

I think that perhaps sexting has it’s place in committed long distance relationships where a deep and abiding care an understanding exists between partners and you can know fairly conclusively that you aren’t exploiting a pressure in order to get ‘something’. Or perhaps even early in a relationship – but after a discussion about this subject matter has been had and couched in terms of respect for the other’s body and sexuality – rather than just desire but Jessica Jones showed me that in a world where I want to truly be respectful of my partners, I have to pay attention to power that I may not be able to see.

So; that is how Jessica Jones proved to me a picture really is worth 1000 words.