A Breath of Joy and Light in the Dark

In two days from today, on Friday the 30th of June, Nintendo is releasing the first segment of the DLC for their latest smash-hit Legend of Zelda game: Breath of the Wild. This bit of post-release content is going to add quite a few wonderful features to this already amazing game. The one I’m looking forward to the most is the map tracker. Finally, there will be a way to tell which parts of the map I’ve never actually been too. It, and the Korok Mask (that rattles when you near an undiscovered Korok), are what are finally going to let me find the other 100 or so Koroks I need to finish upgrading my inventory.

At a very close second comes Hard Mode. Basically, it’s going to let me replay the entire game with tougher enemies (every enemy has been replaced with a one-tier tougher copy and the maximum tier has been raised) and a few twists. The only twist they really detail is that now there will be little floating platforms with enemies and chests on them. I really can’t wait to see how it all plays out.

Other than those two things, there are some outfits and a challenge mode they call “Trial of the Sword” that will get you a stronger Master Sword. Nintendo has done a pretty good job of outlining the DLC and driving hype for it. I know I can’t wait.

A project I mentioned in a blog post a few months ago, after I finished my initial play-through of the game, will be starting sometime this weekend. I’ve taken to calling it a “Naked and Afraid” run-through. The rules I’ve set include no armor other than hats, a new fire must be lit every 5 minutes or so, as long as there is flammable material around, and I must provide a running monologue of poor Link’s thoughts as he runs from everything, dies ignobly, and does his best to ward off foes in nothing but a hat and his shorts. I intend to stream it via my Twitch channel this weekend. Maybe on Monday, the 3rd, since I have the day off.

I am admittedly very fond of this idea because it juxtaposes quite nicely with the themes of the game. In the game, you are a warrior awakening 100 years after you nearly died, your land in ruins, your people scattered, and the woman you swore to protect the only remaining barrier between the evil scourge you must someday face and the final destruction of the world. So you run around screaming like a small, excited child wearing nothing but a hat and your boxers.

When I first played the game, it was rather depressing. You wander through a world destroyed long ago with a quiet, melancholy sound track fading in and out of the background to selectively emphasize the horror and sadness around you. One of the first places you find is a room that matches the iconic meeting between Link and Zelda in Ocarina of Time. In this game, it lies in ruins. Windows shattered, walls toppled, and serenity destroyed. All that remains of that memory is a quiet thread woven into the game’s theme, a slight change in the melody that plays Zelda’s Lullaby throughout the time you’re in or near it.

I won’t spoil what you find there, but Makar Island was the biggest blow to me. I remember playing Wind Waker and always enjoyed the little Korok named Makar, that you save from evil in your second dungeon and that you assist in bringing back the Master Sword’s power. Makar’s Island lies to the west of Hyrule Castle. I suggest checking it out.

The whole game is full of these moments. Sad little references to past games and people you’ve met throughout the years of playing Legend of Zelda games. All of it placed through this game to drive home that point that, yes, Good will eventually triumph over Evil, but you failed to keep it at bay and now it is impossible to return to the life you knew before. Nothing can ever be the same again.

I know they were working on the game for years, long before the current political climate in the US and most European countries reared its ugly head, but it really feels like the game was meant to come out now, to serve as another reminder that we need to keep fighting so we can salvage whatever we have left, even if we’ve already lost a lot.

That’s a lot of heavy themes for a game. I guess that’s why I want to do my silly play-through. Not to mock the severity and solemnity of the game, but to stick truthfully to my ideal that laughter and joy are our best defenses against this kind of evil and darkness. The DLC hits the internet Friday and my stream will hit it sometime shortly thereafter, so come laugh as I make an idiot of myself and one of my favorite protagonists so we can have some fun and fight off the gloom that threatens to swallow us whole.

Rain Storm

I am relaxing on my bed, right arm tucked behind pillows that support my head and left leg crossed over right. My toes, freed from their normal cotton restraints, idly fidget in the cold wind that blows through my apartment. In my free hand, I hold a book over my head so that, should I begin to doze, I will not sleep for long. A book to the face is enough to wake most anyone.

I stir as the wind picks up, the unseasonable chill it carries into the beginning of summer deepening. It convinces me to wrap my lower legs and feet in a blanket. A chill breeze is easy to ignore. The seeping cold is not. My nose grows cold and I occasionally wish for a light blanket for my upper body as well, but not enough to pull myself away from this place of peace and relaxation.

I begin to doze every page or so. At one point, I miss my face and my doze extends into a short nap. It would have been a long nap if not for the flecks of icy water that splattered on my elbow. I wake, some five minutes after my nap began, almost an hour after I cease to notice the world around me, to find the rain sheeting down outside my window. The cold gusts that had been pushing through my apartment now carried rain with them, as far as my bed. It is unexpected. The forecasts called for clouds and wind, no rain.

I rouse myself from my stupor, propping myself up on my elbows so I can nudge the window, closing it to about a quarter of its full capacity. After fumbling for my bookmark and putting my book on my bedside table, I lay back again. I breath deeply of the damp heady aroma of mixed rain and churned dirt that flows in through my window and think of nothing as I stare into the sky. My peace grows as I let my senses embrace this rain.

Two minutes in, I am roused by the familiar anxiety of every unexpected storm. I rise from my bed and trek into the main room. There are no raindrops on the window screen and half the small porch beyond it is still dry. My couch is safe unless the wind changes. I stand and watch the waves of rain cascade through the parking lot, hammering the puddles that never seem to disappear these days and making me glad I no longer live at the bottom of a hill.

I retire to my room again and find the playlist I’d created not even a week ago. I turn it on and let the five songs that remind me of the calmness and relaxation I only truly feel during rain storms play through the speakers of my small stereo. I take my place back on my bed, but leave my book on the nightstand. This time, I do not begin to doze. This time, I stay and breath in the rain as it falls, wishing I had a proper porch on which I could watch it. After a few minutes, I no longer desire it. I am content to recline on my bed and let it play itself out as I experience it through my window.

It takes only half an hour. Longer than other storms I’ve seen this month, but still nowhere near as long as I would like it to be. My playlist has only made it halfway through its second rotation. The rain leaves me behind with nothing but the damp, acrid scent of a small woods holding onto the humidity that it has acquired. This humidity is released slowly. Even when I climb into my car for work the following morning, it will still be there, making the whole area feel almost like a chilly sauna.

But tonight, as I drift off to sleep, the churned earth and plant matter scent of the rain and forest will keep me company. I return to my book and sigh contentedly, no longer focused on the storm’s end. It will be there in a few hours, when I need it. Tonight, I will sleep well.

Saling Away

One of the most frustrating experiences for me, in a definite “First World Problems” kind of way, is being in a bookstore during a sale and not being able to take advantage of it. Not because I lacked the funds to buy more books, of course, but because I couldn’t find more books I was willing to buy for full price.

I was at my local Barnes & Noble just yesterday, Starbucks coffee in hand, looking for the next volume of a manga I’m readying. While lazily scanning the shelves, I found that there was a sale on manga: buy two, get the third for free. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find another series that looked super interesting to me based on the cover and a quick skim. For those of you who read manga, you know that’s a pretty terrible way to judge them, but there’s not much else to go off of other than that without a recommendation from a friend or trusted reviewer. My go-to friend was busy ignoring his phone and none of the review sites I checked could help with my selection, so I had no help at all.

After futilely wandering the manga section for another 10 minutes without a reply from my friend, I made my peace with my single purchase only to go over to the mass-market paperback section and find a similar sale. Buy two, get the third for free. There was only one Terry Pratchett book in that section that I didn’t own and none of the other books looked terribly fun or engaging.

Being a somewhat picky reader, I couldn’t find any information from my trusted sources without searching every title individually and I had been standing around for long enough already that any more time would have felt awkward. Especially because a whole slew of people had come and gone while I dithered. I skimmed around for the other books I wanted–a replacement copy of Red Rising since I stuck my old copy in a Christmas grab bag and the third book in the trilogy, Morning Star–but none of them were a part of the sale.

There I was, standing around with two books that were a part of identical sales but didn’t qualify for each other’s sale (yeah, I asked), and zero inclination to buy anything else I could find. So I took my four books, grabbed two more Pratchett books that weren’t a part of the sale, and cried bitter tears as I said good-bye to my chance at cheap new books. It was a tough thing to do, to walk out of there with a sale whispering sweetly into my ear and wallet, but I had nothing to buy.

If you should happen to find yourself in a similar place, I’ll make some recommendations now so you can avoid my pitiable fate. I highly recommend checking out Tokyo Ghoul if you don’t mind a little gore and would like a refreshing and well-written take on zombiism. It follows the life of a young man who gets turned into one of these “ghouls” as the result of a life-saving surgery and how he struggles to find his place in both societies. There is plenty of action and drama, but the characters are endearing, believable, and worth the wait for each new volume.

As far as sci-fi goes, I recommend the Red Rising trilogy–by Pierce Brown–if you like sci-fi and social commentary. It’s a bit heavy-handed at times (nowhere near as heavy-handed as some of the older sci-fi is, though) and a bit dense to read because of the stylized language Brown uses, but it’s definitely a pleasant read and a very engaging story. The protagonist is a young man from the lowest caste of society, a Red, who is the chief earner for his clan, who takes his place in a rebellion against their Gold overlords after his wife is killed for singing a particular song.

In less detailed terms, Brandon Sanderson is always enjoyable and anything by Jim Butcher is worth a read. Terry Pratchett is great for humor, as is Douglas Adams. Stephen King is great if you enjoy macabre stories and crude shock-value (seriously, the guy breaks/challenges social rules purely for the shock value they bring to his stories). Brian Jacques is one of my first favorites and Terry Brooks has a large series out that is now drawing to an end. I’ve got plenty more where all that came from, but dropping all those names would double the length of this blog post, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

Happy Saling!

A Little Perspective Can Go a Long Way

I’ll admit that I was rather surprised by some of the responses I got to yesterday’s post. I got a couple of messages from friends who were concerned about me (thanks again for caring enough to talk, it really does mean a lot to me, whatever I might say in response) and then, because I didn’t think what I’d posted had been dark enough to warrant that level of concern, I asked my closest friend for her perspective.

She told me that it was, in fact, darker than I’d thought and, furthermore, most of my interactions with her had become rather focused around my depression. She wasn’t complaining of course, mostly just reinforcing the realization I was coming to.

One of humanity’s trademark abilities is adaptability. Every sci-fi and fantasy depiction of humans–as compared to other races or beings–has made the point that humans can survive anywhere and get used to any circumstance. It’s pretty well exemplified in the real world as well. As soon as a city is destroyed by an earthquake, a flood, or a tornado, we immediately begin to rebuild right where we were. Maybe we upgrade some stuff to make us more likely to survive next time, but we just adapt to our environment rather than find someplace less hazardous.

I’ve been the same way my entire life. Every time something bad has happened, I’ve just figured out how to cope and then carried on. I adjusted. Sure, that meant sometimes shoving things so far out of my mind that it took 7 years of my life and 4 years of therapy to be able to feel something about it again, but I managed to survive the encounter and continue living my life. I adapted to my new life and even thrived.

So when it comes to talking about my depression and how bad things have gotten for me, I’m going off a baseline created from three years of being over worked, under appreciated, and held to impossible standards at a job I couldn’t afford to leave. All that on top of all the crazy, unfortunate stuff that happened to me in the 21 years before getting that job. I got used to being pretty much low-key depressed all the time. I stopped expecting to have any kind of happiness from day-to-day and settled my hopes on just not being miserable.

I adapted to my situation by removing expectations and hopes that would accentuate the bad situation I was. In doing so, I lost my frame of reference for what was acceptable and how bad some of my issues were. I also made a point to remind myself, when empathizing with other people, that everyone has their own scale for what they’re capable of dealing with and what they’d consider to be “the worst.” Throw both things together and I wound up not only with no frame of reference or ability to concretely measure my own suffering, but also with a poor ability to realize what my own suffering sounds like to other people.

So now I make blog posts like yesterday that make me sound really miserable because I honestly am and fail to really notice the true extent of what I’m saying because I’ve been more miserable in the past. It takes people reaching out to me to notice. Which means I’d ignore problems that are slowly becoming worse like the proverbial frog placed in a pot of water that is then set to a boil.

I think what I need to do to remedy this is not only be more mindful of where I am in my life and what’s going on with me, but I also need to broaden my blog topics a bit and focus a little more on constructive conversation around depression rather than just letting off steam. Maybe advocate to remove the stigma a little more emphatically than just leading by example. I mean, it’s always been my intention to do that to some degree or another and I’ve already figured out exactly what I’d do with my money if I became a super rich author (throw money at that problem as well as words), but I think I can do more, even now. There’s really no better time to start something than “now”.

I’m a tall, middle-class white dude with a degree in English Literature, which means I’m not super qualified to do much on most current topics other than support and align myself with the downtrodden and put-upon. The only exclusion is mental health. After my personal experiences and all my years of therapy, I think I’m pretty qualified to join the conversation, at the very least, even if I’m not an expert.

Hi, my name is Chris, I’m a dude with emotions that are hard for me to talk about because I’ve been taught that I’m not supposed to share them and I tend to lose sight of my ability to properly care for myself because I was taught that everyone else was more important than me (though I guess that dovetails into toxic masculinity pretty well). I want to help people be better than they are and I love to tell stories. I struggle with depression almost every day, along with a fairly constant battle with anxiety, OCD, and insomnia brought on by all my other issues. I have a hard time emotionally connecting with people because a lot of the people I’ve connected to have not only hurt me, but specifically used the vulnerability I’ve shown them to hurt me. I don’t deal well with conflict and I really hate talking on the phone. I have more issues that I’m not sharing because I’m not ready to face them in a public forum.

So now that all that’s on the table, all nice and explicitly, let’s start a conversation. I’m perfectly willing to just stand here and talk if you aren’t ready to start yet. I’ve certainly got enough issues to talk for months, if not years. I can provide resources and suggestions on self-care since I’m constantly working on that myself. I’ll help you figure out how to cope and you can help me keep my perspective in line with reality. It’ll be great.

Conflicting Emotions

I’ve had a bit of a week. A lot has happened since June 13th (Okay, a week and a day), and I’ve been doing my best to deal with it. I tried writing (*cough* last week’s blog post *cough*) but wound up being unfortunately busy most of the time I thought I’d be able to write and entirely too tired for the rest of it. Throughout it all, I’ve had another major bout of depression come and go with a frequency comparable to bipolar disorder (and yes, I’m certain it’s not that) as a result of some of last week’s events.

I’ve never been terribly good at handling conflicts on my own behalf. If someone I know needs an advocate or someone to intercede on their behalf, I’ll dive right in with barely a second thought. When it comes to initiating conflicts on my own behalf, I would almost certainly rather suffer for weeks and months than start an emotionally charged conflict. Specifically emotionally charged conflicts.

Need to decide where to go for dinner and no one can agree? No problem, I can argue my suggestion with the best of them. Need to tell someone that their callous, disrespectful, and down-right negligent behavior is having a severely negative impact on my mental and emotional well-being? Fuck that, I’ll bring it up when it gets to the point of being nearly crippling.

As a result, I have a tendency to stay in shitty situations far longer than any reasonable person would. For example, my roommate and I definitely shouldn’t have re-signed our lease together, even if it was only going to be for 6 months. I knew then that we were not good cohabitors. The problem is that I’d been trying the subtle and conflict-less resolutions to our problems for 9 months at that point without result and even done a few more direct attempts that resulted in small conflicts, again without result. In his eyes, things were not that bad yet. In my eyes, I couldn’t really afford to live alone and we hadn’t tried everything yet.

So I tried being more direct and more forceful, all to no avail, until things came to a head and I told him we wouldn’t room together after our current lease expires. As a result of the conflicts leading up to that moment and all of the conflicts after that (because the issues have only been growing as time goes on), I’ve probably been more frequently and severely depressed than I was before I left my horrid, soul-sucking job in January.

That’s what conflict does to me. It stresses me out, makes me worry about having taken things too far despite knowing I pulled every single metaphorical punch and let the other person off too easy, it cuts into my ability to sleep properly, and makes my depression flare up with a vengeance. The more emotionally charged the conflict, the worse I get. The more often I’m in conflict, the worse I get. When you get both together, I wind up in a misery and depression hole it takes two or more weeks to actively climb out of (usually after two or three weeks of trying to make myself want to climb out of the hole).

I want to blame my roommate for my recent issues and I know a certain amount belongs to him for not respecting me and not respecting the agreements we made when we moved in together, but it’s not his fault I’ve got issues with conflict. He wouldn’t even know since I’m good at hiding it from people I want to hide it from and he’s already pretty oblivious on his own. I’ve told him a part of it now and I’m probably going to tell him the rest in an effort to encourage him to develop as a person and learn to respect people within his inner circle, but that’s another emotionally charged conflict right there and I’m still reeling from last week’s.

I know whose fault it is and I know how to make progress on resolving the issue as much as I’ll ever be able to, but that’s a big ol’ therapy journey and I’ve been procrastinating on getting a new therapist on my new insurance. It can be hard, to have to spend 6 or more months of sessions just working on getting comfortable with a therapist and familiar enough that I can talk about my big issues without needing a 15 minute aside to tell the entire story. Ultimately, it’s just another excuse to avoid something I find difficult. Like the phone call I’m going to make tomorrow (during business hours), sometimes you have to do something that makes you feel worse in the moment in order to feel better in the long run.

All I really wish, I suppose, is that this idea of misery now for a potential lack of misery later wasn’t a major theme of every aspect of my life. Kinda sucks to be a responsible adult sometimes.

Back to the Ol’ Grindstone

 

After a few bouts of severe depression (worst its been in a loooooong time), some roommate troubles (which may or may not be related to said depression), a week of vacation time, and more than a few false starts, I’m happy to say I’m back to writing. Which will hopefully include updating this blog.

Right now, since it’s 10:30pm as I’m working on this and I get up for work every day at 5:45am or earlier, I don’t have time for much. I might try smaller blog posts in general, so some feedback on content is always appreciated in the comments.

Tonight, I started thinking about what it’d be like to be a professional writer. Typically, I think about this in terms of having more time to dedicate to my craft every day. I think of how awesome it would be to never again sacrifice sleep to get anything done and how great it’d feel to get into an exercise routine I could keep up while writing. Right now, writing and proper exercise don’t mix too well since writing requires sleeping less and exercise requires sleeping more.

No, tonight I was thinking about whether or not I’d be able to write candles off as a business expense on a tax return. I like to work at night in as dim lighting as possible. I’ve tried a variety of programs to dim/change the light on my monitors (f.lux is my favorite since it cuts down on the headaches I get from looking at a computer screen too much), but eventually I always feel like I am getting stabbed in the eyes if I work in pitch darkness. I hate fluorescent lighting with an undying passion and haven’t found a dim incandescent light bulb I like, so I tend to lean toward candles.

Candles 6152017

Looks nice, yeah? WAY better than light bulbs.

Unfortunately, light bulbs are WAY cheaper than candles. I’ve yet to find a good deal on bulk pillar candles (tapers aren’t worth the bother), so that means occasionally going to target and dropping $50+ on candles I can only really expect to last a month of writing sessions. At most. And those are just plain, white, unscented candles. If I actually wanted them to smell like anything, that price could easily double.

When you’re living on a budget that’s kept tight for maximum student loan payment, its REALLY hard to justify $50 in candles. It’d be way easier to justify if I got something back for them when it came to filing my taxes.

This may be a problem that’ll only need an answer when I’m a successful novelist and, since I’ll likely have the money (and eccentricity) to just circumvent the entire issue by making my own candles, the answer is likely to be irrelevant by the time I’ve got it. Keeping bees has always sounded like fun to me. It’d give me something to do when I can’t write. Then, when I’m trying to sell a book to a publisher, I can advertise my “honeyed words” and laugh my ass off when I mail a manuscript whose pages are stuck together using the other by-product of bee-keepership.