art_work

They say that writing about art is like dancing about architecture.

Just kidding, I’ve never heard anyone say that. But I wanted to record a little formal history of how I started making artwork, explain some of the different kinds of pieces I make, talk a bit about process and such. There will be a smattering of personal details and hopefully very little philosophy about the meaning of art or its practice. There are few questions less interesting than “what is art?” and I do not intend to indulge the inquiry here.

Without further ado, a brief history of my journey with art.

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chronistic

Here we are, once more.  Familiar ground.  Another long period of neglect and zero writing.  Another blog redesign complete.  Another chance to reflect on this thing which is now legitimately one of the oldest active (ish) blogs on the internet.  I thought it might be fun to do a quick little jaunt across time to see how the design has evolved.

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A Future Worth Loving

If the Internet is an ocean, I am a fish. This is where much of my life has been lived, and so I have grown to love it, warts and all. It has enabled, for me, that which I love most in the world: endless knowledge and learning. I never went to university — my education has been largely digital, from beginning to end. Some of my earliest memories are of exploring Encyclopedia Britannica, watching animations about windmills and levies. I remember the first day I found Wikipedia — I immediately went on a 2-hour dive through black holes on through retinas and cow-tipping. I just couldn’t believe that such an expansive resource existed. Everything I know about design and programming has been learned online. I’ve devoted thousands of hours to lectures and documentaries. For me, computers and the Internet really are a bottomless spring of knowledge and ideas.

This isn’t how many people see or use the Internet. For a time, this irked me, similar to the way a dancer might feel about someone who’s never danced — something of intrinsic value, perhaps not actually essential to modern life. Today, however, there is no question that the Internet is a central component of so many of our daily routines and exchanges. Watching this growth, that irksome feeling has steadily grown into a deep concern for the ways computers are failing to unite us, or even creating divisions where before none existed. While the Internet opens up rich new channels of exploration and connection, others seem to be closing.

One beauty of the Internet is that you can, at this very moment, go to YouTube and find all manner of skills demonstrated by people around the world. Your Facebook feed is likely sprinkled with photos of various hobbies, projects, and achievements. And it’s all inferior to experiencing things in real life. The online conversations we share about these activities — particularly with friends and family — are often unsatisfying, lifeless and primitive imitations of real world communication.

For some people, their purest and most powerful form of expression is with a paintbrush. For others, it’s a guitar. A basketball. A pen. A sewing needle. A steering wheel. A deck of cards. Pick whatever you want — there’s someone, somewhere who could stun you with their mastery over these inert objects, that could expose you to new thoughts and ideas through the creative expression realized in their demonstration. It’s passions and talents like these that weave the fabric of culture and enrich the human experience. But on the Internet, these skills are worth only their weight in views and likes.

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video game feminism

I’m a huge fan of Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women in Video Games series. Although I highly recommend them to anyone with a serious interest in pop culture or video games, the series is quite long. Since this post involves many of its core ideas, I’ll provide my summary of Sarkeesian’s most important observations.

Video games and the industry surrounding them are extremely male-dominated. Games aren’t just being marketed exclusively towards men — games themselves are designed around the assumption that the players are male. They overwhelmingly cater to this group to such an extent that it is actively alienating the players that do not match this target demographic.

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Zombie Arena Simulations

Scenario 1

You’re in line at an amusement park at peak visiting hours. A zombie outbreak occurs.

The challenge: Kill the original zombies before they can infect civilians and without harming uninfected civilians. Each original zombie is worth maximum points, but for each civilian a zombie infects, the original zombie’s value decreases. Infected civilians are worth much less than original zombies. Bonus points for protecting all of the Dippin’ Dots vendors.

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control

Recently, John Campbell, the author of my most favorite webcomic, pictures for sad children, wrote a series of articles (for lack of a better word) that have generated some interesting controversy that’s relevant to my previous post about trolls.  Although they’re an interesting read, the titles alone rather succinctly describe the content.  The only background you need here is that John Campbell’s comics and street art are nothing if not compulsively melancholic, but never, ever serious.

His entire confession and apology was fake.  A lot of his readers and fellow artists were pretty offended, and not unfairly – but one line in particular got me thinking.

I regret the borderline people, those who could identify the problems in their life, face them, and allow themselves to be changed, but instead found it necessary to conceive of themselves as “struggling with depression” rather than being genuinely held back emotionally by some nasty and real situation. Any work participating in the “culture of depression” has probably contributed to these sad and unnecessary cases.

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Sand Wraiths and Boar’s Blood

The Setting

Near-future techno-fantasy. Limited forms of magic exist, but are not possessed by humans. There is no mechanical flight and no space exploration, but a few major cities enjoy an extreme level of technological advancement and wealth – automated wireless everything, high speed magnetic rail, laser weapons, flexible and lightweight armor. Recycling is not just mandatory, but ultra-efficient; when old technology is replaced, all of the parts and pieces are broken down and the core materials recovered for future use. While this has made the cities extremely self-sufficient, it has left secondary populations in the dust. As a result, the few remaining rural towns – which are still agrarian and contain a vanishingly small portion of the world population – are a hodgepodge of pre-industrial technology with what little unrecycled gadgetry finds its way out of the cities. Some possess no technology whatsoever. The overwhelming majority of city dwellers know nothing about rural populations because of how few and irrelevant they are.

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The Internet versus Immersion

A Response To “WoW And The Evolution Of Games And Gamers”

It’s no secret that the MMOs we know today are quite directly built out of the tradition that Dungeons & Dragons laid down so long ago. Many of the core principles translate to the digital age quite nicely – namely its overt reliance on stat manipulation to create gameplay mechanics. What doesn’t translate is information inequality, specifically between the players and the dungeonmaster. In traditional D&D, encounters are planned exclusively by the DM. Unless the DM chooses to reveal information within the campaign, valuable strategic data about the environment, NPCs, and encounters are known only by the DM. As a result, a sizable portion of the game is spent in siphoning information out of the DM through skill checks and challenges. The medium of voice communication itself further limits how much can be shared, as all of this has to be described in words by the DM. Human error is also a factor; incorrectly recorded or misunderstood information gets passed occasionally between players, especially when there are simultaenous events to track. Players will debate each other at length simply to verify the accuracy of their knowledge. These sorts of challenges are appropriate for pen-and-paper, but they just aren’t relevant when the interface is a computer with internet access.

Think about the experience of a single-player game. Using a strategy guide to progress through a game is more or less considered cheating, and not simply for elitist reasons. A properly designed single-player game demands no guide because all the information the player needs will be found within the game itself. As in D&D, encounters are designed on the premise that the player possesses only the knowledge that the developers have deigned to reveal, which will be minimally sufficient to progress. It’s for this reason that the types of puzzles and encounters found in a single-player game don’t scale well into multiplayer. The first person to solve the riddle is also the last. That’s why most MMOs don’t bother making meaningful logic puzzles or riddles, outside of the handful you might find in the occasional quest chain. In a genre where time efficiency is highly valued, it’s hard for a mere riddle to compete against alt+tab -> google.

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Discussion: Terraria & Minecraft

And Lo, the Bloglomerate did descend upon Terraria, consuming it with fervor in the fallout of the catastrophe known as Diablo the Third. Verily, Terraria did provide a unique and thrilling video game experience that the blogging conglomerate thoroughly enjoyed, and experimentation began with creating PvP arenas to siphon further joy from the game – but disagreement lurked on the horizon.

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nomenclad

In general, I think Facebook is a good thing. It provides a way for people to stay in touch at all distances, it allows people to share cool and important things, and it provides a snapshot of what your peers value and desire. It does not, however, guarantee any kind of parity to reality. People assume that Facebook is showing real people and real lives because it’s real names that are popping up on their screen. What they forget is that Facebook is one giant filter of intention.

What shows up on Facebook is what people want to show up. Go look through your friend’s albums: how many weddings do you see? How many vacations? Babies? Trips abroad? Graduations? Visits with family? Parties with friends? There’s something missing from this picture. Like, say, people getting fired. Funerals. Arrests. Divorces. Suffice to say that we aren’t rushing to Facebook to tell everyone about our imperfections and admit that we’re not as happy as our pictures would have others believe. For the experienced netizen, this is business as usual. It’s a different story for the average Facebook user, however, and I’ve long pondered over how to challenge the way people perceive Facebook. Recently, I found a way.

As a kid, the game of the internet was always to appear older so as to enhance credibility, and the best way to do that was not to give anyone an excuse to look down on me. The first line of attack is always the display name, and by the time I was 13 I’d mostly standardized my name across the various mediums of the internet: salandarin. It was unique, didn’t have numbers (super important!), was easy enough to type, hard to say wrong, and carried a flavor of fantasy without sounding elven or magical. It’s austere and inert.

The preteen me wanted that because it provided a shield against scrutiny. Passivity is a great strategy for avoiding criticism, but it also leaves any hope of quality interaction in the hands my neighbors. Salandarin provided no material for conversation. However, as I became more engaged in online communities at the end of high school, I had earned a few nicknames. I started adopting them because they were flavorful and personal. Since 2008, my display name evolved thusly:

  • salandarin
  • saladman
  • salad
  • sal
  • salmon
  • salmonesque
  • SALMONATOR

I jumped between all of these sprodically for the next few years, using them for alts or special accounts, picking whichever seemed more thematically appropriate for the given environment. I could only have so many, however, as I still needed to log in to the accounts without going through the “Forgot your username?” prompts every time. But then sites started separating account name and display name. In particular, Steam eliminated all restrictions on what display name you could use. Duplicates were fine. Special characters were fine. Really long, or really short. It was all good. So, when I switched from HoN to DotA 2 and found myself using Steam a whole lot more, I realized I had a golden opportunity.

For the unfamiliar – Steam is a platform for playing video games.  Your display name dictates what identifies you in the game.  So, if my display name is SALMONATOR, it’ll tell everyone in the game “SALMONATOR just got a double kill!“, and it’s the name that appears in front of all chat messages.   With that explained, here are just some of the names I’ve come up with over the last year. Yes, all of them were in caps, and I’m proud to say they’re all original.

  • SALMONATOR
  • HEROIC SALMON
  • SMICKDASH
  • CHIROPRACTIC MANSLAUGHTER
  • PREMIUM FOOD STAMPS
  • GONNA POOP ON YA
  • IMPROMPTU BRODOWN
  • BUTT ALCHEMIST
  • PREHISTORIC MOP
  • JANITORIAL MASQUERADE
  • INTERSTELLAR VISIGOTH
  • SERF DUNKING
  • QUESTIONABLE OSMOSIS
  • LOBSTER CANNON
  • CAPTAIN THUNDERFUNK
  • SMUGFRUIT
  • FATSLAP
  • DUMPTURKEY
  • SPOONIST
  • SHAMBURGER

Some of them are silly and lame. Some of them are alright. A few are hilarious. In general, though, a quirky and unique name goes a long way to breaking the ice in the garden of social butterflies that video gamers are known to be.  I can hear people trying not to laugh when they say “dumpturkey” or “butt alchemist” over voice chat, and it’s absolutely great.  Seeing “GONNA POOP ON YA is GODLIKE!” appear on the screen is just a delight. Anything that gets people to chill out and remember that it’s just a video game is a huge winner, and it makes the overall experience better for me (and hopefully others too).

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sparked

The design is still a work in progress. If you’ve visited multiple times over the weekend, you’ve seen quite an evolution in quality. I’ve greatly enjoyed this process, and it feels refreshing to have something new here. I was once very attached to the old background – and certainly, it excelled in a number of categories. It was unique, it made the setting, and it was personal. I probably squeezed as much out of that formula as possible. If anyone’s curious, the process wasn’t all that complicated. I made a gradient from orange to black, ran a cubism filter, ran an edge filter to add some perspective, and then added a light and bumpmap. The only difficulty was in getting the color and lighting done properly. As much as I dislike GIMP’s interface and design, I can’t begrudge its unique capabilities.

Over the years I made many attempts to move on from that scheme, but I possess very little in the way of free-hand skills. I can’t sketch or draft to save my life, but the doodles I made as a kid on church bulletins during sermons became the one thing I actually found aesthetically pleasing and satisfying to create. I would use the logos or text as a kind of seed, and draw as many concentric circles and parallel lines surrounding the original features on the page as I could. I still do the same kind of doodling at every possible opportunity, so my notebooks for any lecture class are packed with doodled patterns. Similarly, many of the things I made in Minecraft were the product of pseudo-algorithmic reduction.

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replay

In January, my friends and I embarked on a project that has become, for me, a serious creative outlet. We decided to start building a town on our Minecraft server. If you don’t know what Minecraft is, that’s okay – all you need to know is that it’s essentially multiplayer Legos. This post is an attempt at sharing some of the amazing creations and the process behind the town’s development.

We didn’t have any idea what would go on it and we didn’t set any rules for what could or couldn’t be made. We just started making stuff. The location we chose was nothing more than hills and trees. Sitting in the middle of nowhere, the first creation was a statue of a bug with a sword plunged through it, and some signs (note – these are all recent shots, unfortunately I don’t have any from the beginning days):


By Ben

Here’s what the signs said:

The Bug King as he was found in 1388, after having been slain by the Bug Slayer. The Bug King’s death marked the end of the Insectowars, and ushered in a century of peace and a new golden age.

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unfinished and untitled, pt. 1

My mind scoured page after page of words, hunting for that most excellent descriptor to do justice to the elation of my senses. Delectable? No, this was not steak. Irresistible? I suppose, but there are men that would use this word to describe goats, and I would hate for them to carry such associations to this banquet of sensation. Glorious, stunning, phenomenal, awe-inspiring; so many were considered, and all were found sorely wanting. A mutter of defeat escaped my lips, and I resigned to enjoy this discovery without the company of the word I desired.

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veer

I love conversations that spin wildly out of control. One moment can be spent talking about something incredibly mundane, but an off-key observation sparks a fast-paced back-and-forth and a solid fifteen minutes are spent hashing out the finer details of the disagreement, ensuring that no logical paths have been left unwalked. The ever-present danger in such a conversation is that things might get too complicated to enable a strong and coherent analysis and response at each turn. Creative thinking has to be applied within the box that the initiation of the conversation set. The best conversations make use of all the space within that box before expanding outwards as may become necessary, and they end when enough has been said, regardless of whether a consensus has been found.

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offensive perhaps

To anyone who is deeply insulted by the mention of poop, feces, or the act of defecation, I sincerely apologize for this post. It is rife. Really, really rife.

Of late, I’ve found myself pondering a large number of bizarre alternate reality scenarios, spurred on by my increasing awareness of how arbitrary many of the things we do are. There are innumerable ways in which the world could function differently. The differences might even be sub-optimal for efficiency of purpose, but the same could be true of our world as it stands now. A huge number of our actions are fundamentally born of tradition; they aren’t necessarily based off of a rigorous formula of logic, effectiveness, or functionality, but often times can instead be traced back to tradition. Easy example: very few people use forks and knives because they’ve analyzed all of the various eating utensils and have deduced that forks and knives are the superior tool for consuming food. Tradition and convenience are ultimately what have lead us to forks and knives (among many other things), in the 21st century.

Resisting the forces of conformity is arguably the most inconvenient choice we can make. People often use conformity as a dirty word, but it’s just an easy way of describing the least disruptive path of action in any given situation. Disruptive can be good or bad – it’s all contextual. Social pressures aside, even the physical infrastructure of society enforces or discourages practically every type of behavior. With this in mind, I once asked of my friends while we sat in a food court eating our dinner: what if societal norms dictated that we ate alone and pooped together?

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what if

What if men of the future run for president decades in advance

What if they would troll forum after forum, talking themselves up and saying their name over and over again to the rhythm of a popular pop song

What if they would viral market themselves into popularity

What if presidential candidates’ names turn out to be consistently similar to the sound of the word for a kind of rare species of giant squid and land-faring dolphins

What if parents started naming their kids after obscure things to increase their chance at achieving the presidency

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crow

Something about Norse mythology fascinates me. Every artistic depiction I’ve seen captures the essence of pure, unadulterated might. The very concept of a god like Odin seems inestimably epic, on a scale that culture today dares not wish that it could capture. We have no parallel – for what equal could there be?

Take this, for example:

The immortal Odin, overtaken by the son of Loki, Fenrir. I look at that drawing, and I long for it to be a reality that I could witness, and partake in. To face such a mortal enemy, for the whole of my destiny to be summed up in the intensity of one, ferocious moment.

Odin leaves behind the Valkyrie Brunhild as he goes to battle. Odin’s incredible strength wholly tamed by the delicacy and fairness of his Valkyrie.

One day, I hope to live in a house adorned with these sorts of images.

odd

Over a year ago, I started writing a story, but I didn’t get very far, and ceded it to writer’s block. Yesterday, zefrank linked to a short story by a screenwriter, John August. Here is John August’s introduction to his story:

After 35 years working at the Central Library, Vincent Lewis has perfected the art of unremarkability. But when a terrified woman falls through his bathroom ceiling, he’s forced back into a life of gunfights, double agents and paranormal research. The secret he’s been keeping for nearly four decades might reunite him with his lost love, or kill millions.

Here is the whole page and a half of my story that I wrote. Keep in mind, this is not particularly proofread, and is (for me) a rather old piece of writing. I think I have since learned quite a bit.

He is a man like any other, and no one would speak to the contrary.

The clouds above do not brood above his home in a remarkable way.  The drops of rain do not trickle down through his well-stained ceiling with any special grace.  The small patches of mold lurking in the corners are no more divine or demonic than the simple brown curtains that sporadically waft with the short gusts of this particular storm of thunder.  The sheets of his bed do not find much honor in their task of guarding him from the wet chill of the outside air, and perhaps that is why this man finds himself awake at an hour not meant for waking, though the blame might be shared with his windows that never learned what to keep in and what to keep out.  This man, however, does not care how well his windows have learned, nor what his sheets think about their lot in life.  He is not a man that likes to think about such things, especially not at this hour. 

Instead, as he rests beneath the cool indignation of his sheets, he ponders his own misery, as only a man in bed can.  The last slivers of the dream he is sure he was enjoying fade from his present memory, so he turns himself onto his stomach and plants his face into his pillow, choosing instead to consider the chill that was now spreading across his body.  His woefully uneducated window continues to bless him with frigid blasts from the outside, and with each draft, he imagines that he was simply never warm in the first place, and it is a thought that seems to comforts him.

He is not the sort of man to stay comforted, however, for he is a conflicted man.  A small, persistent thought begins within his mind that merely reminds him that he is not being truthful with himself, that he was perfectly warm but an hour ago.  His mind drifts to thoughts of spring and summer, and he wastes no time romanticizing these distant times, a feat that demonstrates his incredible power of forgetfulness. This is the sort of man that finds no joy in long walks on the beach, so intensely does he hate the discomfort of sweat upon his brow brought up by a clear day’s sun, a hatred matched only by the invasion of hot sand between his toes.   Unable to silence his suddenly fond  memories of warmer days, an insatiable feeling of restlessness and dissatisfaction overtakes his thoughts.  Rolling over onto his back, he glares at the wooden rafters above him.  Being used to such unwarranted abuse, they ignore him.

           Unable to think of a more productive option, he continues his baleful stare upwards for far longer than he originally intended.  As his eyes start to grow heavy once more, he sinks into his bed, and might have drifted back to sleep had it not been for what happened next.  Now, it has already been stated that this is a man like any other, a statement which has never been false for the whole of this man’s existence.  This, however, says nothing about what happens to this man, for it is quite possible to be dreadfully average in the midst of incredible circumstances.  This is one such man.  Indeed, the only remotely remarkable feature of this man is his unending determination to be unsurprised and unchanged by the events to which he is constantly subjected, a quality which some might make the mistake of commending him for.

           Concerned only with recapturing his sleep, he ignores the uproar beyond his window, a noteworthy choice given how strong the winds had been growing.  The whole of his home groans with a noble effort to resist the storm’s breath, and as the rafters began seriously considering divorcing from the roof to elope with the floorboards, the winds let up quite suddenly, leaving a silence broken only by this man’s short, light breaths.

           As he shuffles back to the dream he lost not long ago, a great and frightening crash erupts from within his home.  Frantically propping himself on his elbows, he stares ahead into the eyes of what some would consider opportunity, others might label destiny, but few others would regard as an inconvenience.  Looking upward, rain drips through an appropriately large hole in his roof.  While others might have leaped up in shock and concern, he merely stares at his uninvited guest with a blank face and ponders what the worst facet of this new situation might be.  Having landed in his living-room (or rather, the half of his home arbitrarily designated as such), he notes that his intruder has wisely landed upon his lovely forest green futon, purchased on clearance but two months prior.

Making faces of excessive consternation, he pushes his covers away and gingerly brings his feet down to the cold wood that comprises his floorboards. Careful to avoid debris from his roof and the puddles of water that have begun to collect on his floor, he kneels next to his visitor, who lays sprawled across his futon.

I couldn’t really decide what I wanted the visitor (a woman) to do or to incite within him.

Originality is more impossible than I thought.

the surreality of truth

(here is the complete and mostly finalized version of the story; constructive criticism is welcomed and appreciated, as are questions of any kind)

Preface: This epic tale begins at 4:00pm on a Thursday, when I rise from my slumber to find my father has left me a note, saying something about having made an appointment for the doctor, citing concerns about hot flashes and clowns. I do not sleep, because sleep is for infidels. Dusk and dawn have passed, and I set out to the clinic.

FRIDAY: The Ambush

10:45am: I arrive at the clinic. The normal old saggy man is not around and has been temporarily replaced with an old saggy woman, a detail which I fail to notice until hours later. I inform her on various matters regarding depression and narwhals, and the fateful question arises which I have always lied about: “have I ever had thoughts of suicide”. I ponder the consequences of saying yes, and I feel that whatever happens, it should be entertaining; I give her an affirmative. I can see something sinister light up within her eyes, the fires of a white person’s over-reaction burning deep inside. She leaves the room, and approximately three games of cell phone solitaire later, she returns to inform me that if I do not check in at the hospital in two hours, she will tell the police that I am a godless heathen. I later learn that this was a bullshit bluff, but I am becoming quite sleepy at this point, and details/vision become blurry. I begin to regret my choice.

12:00pm: An angry horned man greets me at the desk, citing his gross over-qualification for his current task. Though I do not know it, I smoke what will be my last cigarette for seventy-two hours, and after two hours of Disney channel fornication being blasted throughout the waiting room, I am summoned into the inner sanctum to offer a sacrifice of urine to the cultists. They smile warmly, but I see through their illusion, and I am shunned back into the waiting room.

3:00pm: I am again called into the inner sanctum, where my blood is tapped because I am a virgin. Despite my protests, the cultists keep me quarantined from the others in a room containing grotesque amounts of literature on Jesus, no doubt to ensure me that they are not satanists. I fall into a sleep-like state, because I am goddamn tired.

5:00pm: I am awoken by a shaman, and she tells me that they think I should be checked in to the hospital. I ask many questions, generally following a tone of “I thought I was here to be evaluated” and “It took you five hours to tell me this?”, but she is not fazed. I ask if I can do this tomorrow, and my request is declined, citing concerns about me driving straight home to jump off a bridge. I give her a “what the fuck” look and she smiles warmly, but I cannot see through her illusion. I sign a paper that, unbeknownst to me, says that I agree to be bored out of my fucking mind for three motherfucking days.

6:00pm: The shaman leads me into the sanctuary of her people, handing me a pair of holy robes to be donned before I join the other initiates. The robes are made of blue paper, and I question the validity of a cult that cannot afford, at the very least, some Snuggies. She takes away my cigarettes, citing concerns about bullshit that I do not heed. My cell phone and wallet are also stripped of me, and I begin to realize that I have signed a very ill contract.

6:30pm: The sanctuary is filled with new initiates, and not much else. I am promptly greeted by an 80-year-old woman wearing socks on her hands, and I politely decline her offer of a high five. I spot no less than three middle-aged men that appear to be detoxing from various drugs. The shaman hands me off to her acolyte, who happens to be the first attractive person I have seen in twenty-six hours. I am grateful for this, but she spends most of her time ensuring the woman with socks on her hands does not take her clipboard away.

I am shown to my quarters, and a man wearing a Led Zeppelin t-shirt is snoring in a cot not far from mine. I am thankful that he is not wearing a Metallica t-shirt. The acolyte provides a tour of the facilities, which are not large enough to elicit a tour. A single shitty television sits quaintly in front of half a dozen chairs designed for the mentally unstable. There are no doorknobs, only these odd pyramid-like contraptions that I can only assume were made for the aliens these cultists undoubtedly worship. She informs me that contact with the outside is mostly forbidden, but that I may call for reinforcements via a singular phone that cannot reach cell phones. I manage to make a single call home, and plead for my music and some books. Every time I use this phone, it gives me a static shock. This cult is skilled in the ways of torture.

7:00pm: The woman with socks on her hands has grown weary from her quest for the attractive acolyte’s clipboard, and makes several attempts to retire to her quarters, entering mine several times in the process. I cannot blame her, because the demonic taint in this sanctuary is powerful. In the meantime, I examine the only sign of culture within this wasteland: a meager bookshelf. In between copies of Danielle Steele, I spot Anna Karenina, and I hide in a corner caressing it, drifting off in between long Russian surnames. The attractive acolyte leaves, being replaced by an obese woman that waddles in excess.

8:00pm: I spot a girl carrying a laptop. She hides quickly, and I am unsure if I really saw her. My parents arrive with survival gear, but my music is snatched away before my eyes, citing the potential ability to stab myself with the headphone jack. My copy of Baudolino survives the interrogation process, and I am granted normal clothes to replace the blue paper robes. I ponder tearing my robes as a throwback to Biblical outrage, but most of the initiates are too busy detoxing. I deem it an unworthy pursuit.

9:00pm: The initiates assemble in front of the single shitty television to determine the fate of this night. Several voices call out for Forrest Gump, but the disc cannot be found; the group settles for Uncle Buck, to much derision from the detox crowd. The AA crowd approves.

11:00pm: Uncle Buck has taught Ferris Bueller’s sister some manners. Satisfied with John Candy’s performance, I retire to my foam cot, hoping that I do not wake for several days. The man in the Led Zeppelin t-shirt is still snoring. After this, I learn that the demonic taint of this sanctuary spoils the possibility of even the most humble hopes coming to fruition.

SATURDAY: The Death of Comfort

6:00am: I awake, bleary-eyed, hoping that it had all been a nightmare. The light of dawn taunts me like an ill-mannered street urchin, and my back screams obscenities at me for sleeping on what was possibly the most uncomfortable bed I have ever encountered. Calling it sleep would be a stretch; the obese acolyte enters my quarters every fifteen minutes throughout the night to be certain that I am, in fact, still alive. Led Zeppelin is still asleep, and I begin to wonder if he has been subjected to voodoo magicks. I emerge from my room to see a twenty-something with a neck-beard pacing back and forth singing Van Halen lyrics in an off-tune voice. Fearing for my life, I quickly retreat back to my quarters, and I consider my options:

– take a shower, or
– brood

I choose to brood while taking a shower. I examine the sparse contents of my bathroom, noting that cleanliness (let alone aesthetics) has taken a backseat to preventing all means of hanging oneself; truly, it would take a master to commit suicide in this room. I examine the cultist shampoo (my shampoos were rejected, citing fears that I would smell better than the other initiates), and while the ingredients do not list the blood of daemons, the foul smell tells me otherwise. The shower spews lukewarm water with almost no pressure, and this enhances my ability to brood.

7:30am: Not really feeling any more clean having spent twenty minutes attempting to scrub away the image of the unholy neck-beard, I venture out from my quarters. The Van Halen devotee has taken to sitting motionless in the corner, which appears to be his primary method of sleeping. One of the middle-aged detox men occupies a chair, staring blankly into space. I decide to do the same, thinking that there is perhaps some merit in this activity. After ten minutes of staring at the floor, I give up the search for nirvana, and I embrace my dear Baudolino, hoping that I will fall asleep again.

8:00am: The acolytes dole out deceit in the form of eggs and sausage without remorse, and I do not forgive them. I avoid eye contact with the other initiates, fearing that they might bond with me, thus beginning the process of hypnotism.

Exhausted from having to evade their silent assault upon my sanity, I retire to my quarters, and my stomach voices its concerns over this cult, demanding food that doesn’t taste like shit. Led Zeppelin appears to be awake, and he stares at the ceiling, without movement. Although my suspicions regarding this phenomenon are many, I refuse to pass up the opportunity to sleep through this ordeal, and my back steels itself for another arduous trial.

11:00am: One of the shaman yanks me from my slumber, and he smiles warmly. He performs a dark ritual to see into my soul, but I remain steadfast, even though I lack the comfort of my shampoos. By the end, he acknowledges that I am too narcissistic for this cult. He informs me that I will be able to leave Monday morning, because the high priests do not work on weekends. The shaman is engulfed in a shroud of mist, and I do not see him again. In retrospect, it seems likely that he was a product of the breakfast sausages. Eggs are not usually so sinister.

11:30am: The neck-bearded fellow is flipping channels, and I happen to catch a glimpse of Gandalf. Seizing the remote, I hunt the dear wizard down, discovering an all-day marathon of Lord of the Rings in progress. For the next nine hours, I guard that most holy power over the television like a mother hawk, the continuation of my sanity inexorably linked to Frodo’s quest more than any fanboy could ever dream. To my surprise, Led Zeppelin rises from his slumber, and he sits down to watch, saying nothing. I fall asleep amidst the marshes of the dead, and I awake just in time to rescue the television from a VHS viewing of Titanic. Led Zeppelin gives me a knowing look – though he has not shaved in weeks, I accept his support in my cause. I have found my first ally.

1:00pm: My back has swayed my knees and shoulders to its cause; these chairs were not designed for mortals, and my attempts at adapting them to my uses are futile. This cult is skilled in the ways of torture.

7:00pm: I am temporarily interrupted from the loving embrace of Middle-Earth to consult with one of the acolytes. No doubt word of my victory over the illusory shaman has spread; she has been chosen to test her mettle against me, and her wavering gaze suggests she is unsure she can best me in mortal combat. The victory is easy, and Aragorn looks pleased, upon my return. This was not a coincidence.

9:00pm: The detox crowd demand Titanic, citing concerns over the questionable relationship between Frodo and Sam. While I cannot deny them this point, I remain steadfast, knowing that effeminate voices and awkward dialogue are merely circumstantial. A vote is cast, and with the valiant aid of Led Zeppelin, the forces of good prevail, for two more hours.

11:00pm: The exhaustion of utter inactivity overtakes me, and I crawl back to my quarters. The ill mattress laughs at my attempts to siphon relaxation from it, but I do not heed its merciless taunting, citing an inability to understand the foreign tongue of cultish furniture. Led Zeppelin is already asleep, noble warrior that he is. My body aches at every joint; this cult is skilled in the ways of torture.

SUNDAY: The Wurst is Yet to Come

4:30am: No. No. No, no, no. It cannot be.

It is dark.

Led Zeppelin is snoring.

My heart, which shrivels like an erection at a comic con, tells me that dawn is not near. Dawn has forsaken me, its feelings hurt over being compared to a street urchin. I apologize profusely, and I am not forgiven. I lay upon my foam cot, impossibly awake. I am not even left with the whispers of a dream to entertain me; like a prostitute with no clients, my thoughts wander the empty streets of my mind, desperately searching for a solution to this situation. None are found, and I know that I will not be allowed to sleep through this ordeal. I resign myself to my fate, taking Baudolino with me into the main shrine. The neck-bearded singer is not to be seen, and I conclude that God sort of exists.

6:00am: The sun decides to show its cowardly face. One of the detox men has risen, likely drawn by the scent of agony and despair, and he voices unintelligible slurs in my direction. I respond with long words that may or may not comprise a sentence, and he looks dizzy. I continue reading.

8:00am: This sanctuary has an endless supply of sausages. I ponder a crass joke about sausage-fests, and I laugh to myself. Horror strikes me, as I realize that I have taken the first step towards joining this cult. Seeing this, a shaman smiles warmly in my direction, but I parry her blow, quickly riposting with a frown. She emits an ear-piercing wail, and disintegrates into a puddle of demonic taint. The other initiates do not seem to notice.

10:00am: A few of the initiates gather in the main sanctuary. They voice concerns that coloring pictures is no longer entertaining, and they request the release of a board game. Boggle is revealed as an option, and my whole body quivers at the notion of finding words in a 4×4 grid of letters. My advanced rhetoric convinces the others, and the first game is played.

I have found forty-one words.
The combined total of my three opponents is less than thirty.

My heart shrivels. If it were a prune before, it is now a raisin. The others wisely choose to find a different game. Another hour is spent on Scategories. Most of my contributions in this event are euphemisms for penis. The AA crowd approves.

12:30pm: Outside, the sky turns pitch black, and a terrible earthquake rattles the entire sanctuary. A giant chasm reaching down into the depths of the earth erupts in the middle of the shrine, and one of the detox men (still sitting in a chair) falls into the abyss. grunting incomprehensibly as he plummets into the void. Out of the deep nothingness, the high priest emerges, floating quaintly in the air. The chasm closes behind him, leaving no trace of its existence. The earth ceases to shake, and the sun appears once more. The smell of sausages lingers in the air.

I ask the question that lingers on the tip of every initiate’s tongue: “I thought you didn’t work on weekends?”. He laughs loudly, and a swarm of gnats erupt from his mouth as he does so. “No,” he says, “I don’t normally, but we’re short-staffed this weekend”. He beckons for me to follow him, and seeing that he is unarmed, I trail him cautiously.

When we have reached our destination, he turns to face me. In the distance, I think I catch another glimpse of the girl with a laptop, and for but a moment I take my eyes off the high priest. Seizing the opportunity, he begins to grill me with questions, and I am no match; his grilling is superior even to George Foreman’s. The stench of sausages becomes overpowering, and images of neck-beards and socks swirl around me. I sweat profusely, and tell him what I told the shaman and the acolyte.

The high priest gives me a quizzical look, and I can manage only to counter with a smirk. “Really, you don’t need to be here,” he tells me. I give him the most powerful “NO SHIT” glare that I can muster. Despite this, he maintains that I cannot leave until tomorrow, and I weep internally. He lets forth with another tremendous laugh, and this time a flurry of fruit flies burst forth from his mouth. He floats away, though the taint of sausages still lingers in the air.

I retire to my quarters, where I am surprised to see that Led Zeppelin is not in his cot. My back utters vulgar curses at me as I collapse onto my foam piece of shit. Dreamless sleep overtakes me, and I am grateful.

5:00pm: I am rudely awakened by an acolyte I have not seen before. She has the audacity to tickle my feet to speed the process of emerging from my slumber, and before I have time to ponder the legality of her actions, she is talking loudly in a voice one might use to herd cattle. She wants me to join the other initiates for dinner. I question her gender, or at the very least, the functionality of her ovaries.

At the foot of my bed, I find a pile of new clothes, and a note from my father. It does not say anything interesting. I sweat profusely.

7:00pm: The initiates have gathered once more in front of the shitty television. The fate of this night is sealed: the VHS viewing of Titanic cannot be prevented any longer. Led Zeppelin is nowhere in sight. He has abandoned me. With aught else to do, I submit myself to this doom. Popcorn is made, and it smells like sausages.

8:15pm: Leonardo DiCaprio looks like a twelve-year-old boy.

9:00pm: To my immeasurable surprise, the Titanic sinks.

9:30pm: The Titanic is still sinking.

10:00pm: I search my youthful memories of this movie for any recollection of it taking this long for the goddamn boat to sink. None are found.

10:30pm: If I were permitted to watch paint dry, I would.

11:00pm: I ponder my past relationships through the lens of Kate Winslet as she floats on a frozen crate. After a few seconds of this, I decide that I would find a better use of my time sleeping. My back disagrees, but I tell it to shut the hell up. My pimp-hand remains strong, even in this dark place.

Led Zeppelin snores away, as ever. Thoughts of late 90’s CGI fill my head, and I am thankful for the distraction. I comfort myself with the knowledge that a mere twelve hours remain, before I am free. Sleep takes me, and I am pleased to be taken.

MONDAY: Pursuit of the Lovely

I awake from a nightmare involving Frodo, Kate Winslet, and Van Halen. It is still dark, and I feel panicked; it does not seem as though as I have slept very long. My body is flooded with warring sensations. I am starving, yet my stomach informs me that it will re-enact the destruction of Pompeii if I give it any more sausages. I am utterly exhausted, but sleep refuses to take me back. I yearn for something soft to touch, and for a brief moment, Led Zeppelin’s beard looks promising. The ill desire passes as quickly as it came, and I am left alone, wishing merely for something beautiful to behold. I briefly wonder if this is what old age feels like.

I stumble into the bathroom to stare into the the make-shift mirror. It is nothing more than steel that may once have been polished, but has now rusted, and my visage is obscured by blots of decay, making even the phoenix on my chest look dull and forlorn. I wash my face with cold water (the lukewarm water is not available at night), before shuffling out into the main shrine to look at the bullshit clock.

It is 2:30am.

The clock looks back at me without a shred of remorse.

My fury is matched only by my despair, so I sit down on the floor. This is not effective.

Knowing of no other way to vent my frustration without assuring an extended stay with this cult, I do the only thing a man looking to preserve his sanity can do: push-ups. The obese acolyte, who is doing her fifteen-minute espionage, seems confused at the nature of my activity. I am grateful for the first honest sweat I’ve had in days, and I manage to exhaust half an hour honing my impeccable vanity. My rage has quieted enough to go back to Baudolino.

3:30am: An asian man I have not seen before stumbles into the main shrine. He takes a seat across from me, and a polite conversation about how the fuck both of us ended up in here ensues. He shows me some fresh wounds from when the po-po slammed him into the pavement, and we share in righteous indignation against The Man. I am rejuvenated, for a short while, until a younger member of the AA crowd joins us. He describes the sabotage of an affair with a married woman nearly twice his age, and the asian man and I share a knowing glance; we do not pity him.

Eventually the conversation takes a turn for the worse, and a semi-passionate discussion of Jesus breaks out. It is a conversation I have heard a dozen times before, and I am displeased to find that the record is still broken, after all these years. It is temporarily intriguing to be, for perhaps the first time, on the opposite side of this engagement, but I soon find it is not much different than it once was.

Once the debate has sputtered out, the AA fellow returns to his quarters, and the asian man and I discuss various matters of Warcraft and Counterstrike for a while longer. This is, undoubtedly, the first genuine conversation I have had in nearly three days. It feels eerie, knowing this, and as I think of more things I have not done since this cult captured me, I feel utterly panicked at the notion of staying here any longer. This place makes me feel fragile and needy, two qualities I take great care never to emit and do my best to avoid acknowledging.

As the conversation begins to falter, I return to my cot that I might gaze at the non-descript ceiling and bore myself into a coma. This is not effective; try though I might, I stare for an hour without results. Each time I think I feel the subtle touch of unconsciousness, the obese acolyte peers inside to ensure that I am not dead, and apparently to ensure that I do not sleep. I want to scream holy obscenities in every direction.

Measureless sands of time sift through my fingers as I imagine myself in every manner of fantastic circumstance that is superior to my own. Here, I stand upon a mighty tower of stone, and I am the night’s lone watchmen. There, I reside in the crow’s nest of a regal battleship, gazing out at colorless seas on a moonless night. Now, I am a soldier in enemy territory that must sacrifice my sleep for the sake of my comrades. As important as I try to fantasize my circumstance, I yearn only for rescue.

I look down at my phoenix, and such a bold and excellent salvation I envision! At the very first light of morning, a most magnificent and terrifying firebird would rise up from the ashes of my hope, and from its wings would leap divine sanctification. Purifying flame would consume the rampant corruption around me, and only glorious beauty would be left behind. What more might I desire, than to see the existence of this place no longer necessary, and in its place, objects of eternal fascination and limitless grandeur, monuments to true pulchritude, dedications to elegance and grace. At the sight of these things, I could only fall to my knees and weep tears of joy, that my eyes had been blessed to witness such things.

The phoenix gives me a blank stare. The unbeauty of this place remains unmoved.

A few hours after dawn, the high priest convenes with his council of shaman, and he grants me leave before mid-day. An acolyte unlocks the giant steel door at the front of the sanctuary, and I leave silently and without ceremony. Outside, the sky is gray and featureless, and a fickle wind is tossing bits of rain around. The world is green, and never have I felt so grateful for such color.

I save my first cigarette for when I am home. I lay upon the damp grass, and watch the tendrils of smoke join the clouds above; it tastes better than sex, and I am, for what seems the first moment in centuries, at peace.

My heart is stricken with pity as I think back to those still within. I shall have to go back and rescue them, some day. I have much training to do.

whey

Enough people said they’d listen, so I went for it. After some hassling I got my server working again, so if, for whatever reason, you can’t get the podcast, it’s because my computer is doing something funny and I’ll fix it soon.

This first podcast is semi-introductory, but it’s indicative of where I want to go with this. I incorporate a music intro and outro which might involve techno. Maybe. Feedback is always lovingly appreciated.

Podcast #1 – stories (4:55, about 1 minute of which is music)

Intro: Yonderboi (honestly not sure, came from a YTMND I watched two years ago)
Outro: Hystereo – Winters in the City

Took me about three hours to make – half of that was just getting used to the program I’m using (it’s an open source dealio). I really enjoyed making it, though it took forever to get the groove going.

becoming

I often tell myself that I should write a book, but no sooner than I pursue the idea do I get stuck on what kind of book I would write, or what the book would be about. If I wrote a fiction book within my current trend, it would be laden with metaphor, held down by some message I wished to share through the voice of my characters. If I wrote something non-fiction, it would be abstract, too disconnected from reality, yet likely uneducated in its performance and unaware of existing material of its kind.

Thus, my laziness would no doubt propel me towards fiction. Fiction is a very enabling genre. It has a readership that may or may not be looking for what is being offered, and may go through the entire story unaware of what’s really being said, but core ideas live on in the form of the characters and plot. Vocabulary and etymology need not be recalled to retain the truth that is being conveyed. Then again, thinking like this makes me feel as though I’m speaking only to be heard, for the love of the sound of my own voice.

Which is the problem with a lot of my current writing. Many of these blog posts are fueled simply by the fact that I like the way they sound, and I can’t really determine if they hold water until they sit in public space for a while. I don’t like quite a lot of what I write, but that disdain generally comes after the fact, and I generally press the submit button with a somewhat satisfied, occasionally smug feeling of accomplishment. Over time, I’ve learned a lot about what I don’t like and what’s worth saying, even without the sparse commentary that comes by here anymore. Blogging, however, doesn’t push me to finish or perfect anything. A post will almost always remain untouched once it’s been up for a day. It will rarely ever be added on to, slimmed down, or altered, so as to preserve its purity (or lack thereof). The power of blogging is in its chronology, really. A post sits at a place in time, starting out new and becoming stale very rapidly. Books, on the other hand, are meant to be timeless. Which is why the thought of writing one is so appealing.

There is great irony, however, in my impatience. I can barely sit down and read more than twenty pages at a time. I read some Flannery O’Conner earlier, and I keep looking at The Brothers Karamazov with guilt, as well as a collection of Greek and Roman literature. With a dead computer, I have plenty of time to tackle all of these, but my patience is the limiting factor.

role models

Some day, I hope to drag myself home.

When I get there, I want to be hunched over. I want my arms to move with a heaviness that treats the air is if it were water, yet bound by the full wrath of gravity. I want my shredded clothes to reveal the countless wounds I’ve sustained. I want my skin to be hidden behind layers of blood, of dirt, of burns, and of frostbite. I want my joints to wobble like I’m just learning to walk, and I want them to creak like rusty hinges, as a constant reminder of the miles I’ve put on them. I want to look at people as if I were unaware of their presence, as if I might walk straight through them. I want my eyes to speak determination, but my eyelids to blink in the slow, heavy manner that says I am on the cusp of a dream. I want to be at the point where I couldn’t take another step, because my legs just wouldn’t have the strength to put me that far. My journey will have gone exactly as far as it was meant to have taken me.

When I get there, I don’t want anyone to speak. I want my appearance to speak more volumes my tongue could, and I want their curiosity to be satiated in the visual presentation of my journey, and I want them to draw their own thoughts and conclusions. I want them to understand, without being made to. I want there to be no mistake in their minds about the truth of what is presented before them.

Do you understand?

Doubt

Interesting two days. I got in the mood to take pictures again, although these really aren’t as great as they could be – if I had a clue what I was doing with the camera I could probably make these a bit more accessible, but as is, they’re best viewed in a dark room, and the thumbnails don’t even come close to doing justice.

South Hill:

A kind of bizarre tree/street light shot:

My favorite, just the road and some lights:

A tree against the night sky:

Another road shot, the house at the end is mine:

The moon, obscured by trees:

Student housing, obscured by chain-link:

The moon, obscured by clouds:

An apartment complex sidewalk:

Mmmm. I should really invest in some better equipment for this, very few of those shots came out like I wanted them to.