CategoryNaïvete

Sense Memory

In the spring of last year I was very ill. It got bad enough for long enough that I actually made and went to a doctor’s appointment, which found nothing wrong in any actionable way. Keep resting, drink fluids. As I lay wrung out on my couch, too sapped even to watch television, I stared at the tall ceiling above me and listened to the whining in my ears surge and fade, amplified by fever. For the first time, and at last, it occurred to me: I have had tinnitus my entire conscious life.

The next time I went to my doctor I asked about it, and she nodded. “Did you have a lot of ear infections as a kid?” she asked. I had. One of my earliest memories is of resting my head on the kitchen counter and feeling hot fluid drip out of my ear as my parents discussed what to do in low, worried tones. I ended up having surgery to implant temporary tubes in my eardrums. The infections stopped, but the damage lingered.

Tinnitus is usually called a “ringing” in one’s ears, but that makes me think of a bell or a telephone, which is why I never thought it described me. (Are you one of the people who can hear a persistent, faint eeeee when a CRT monitor or television turns on on? It’s like that, all the time.) The diagnosis explains a lot, actually—my preference for bass-heavy music, the way white noise helps me sleep, the staticky rush and roar I sometimes get in noisy crowds. My hearing is pretty good, considering, but the sound will be with me for the rest of my life, long after age takes that hearing from me. I’m listening to it right now, writing this. I will be as you read it. I will probably never experience silence. Yet I spent decades unaware, unable to distinguish this aspect of my life from that of everyone around me.

I am ashamed of much of what I’ve written here.

The consequence of publishing the things you think when you are twenty is that, later, people can read the things you thought when you were twenty. Most of these things were stupid. Some are toxic. Some are harmful. All were willfully deaf and blind to my own privilege. Several dear friends have turned up here in the last few years and started reading from the beginning, only to be embarrassed or repulsed by what they found. Despite the unbearable kindness of Sumana’s retrospective about this blog, I flinch to think of what it says about me.

All of this is a strong argument for the most obvious action, which is to delete nfd, or at least lock it: for the right to forget my previous self. I think I’m a better self than I used to be, and better at being human. But part of being better is honesty about everyone I’ve been. Ten years on, I still believe in transparency. To wipe this all away would be to brush out the trail marks I’ve left behind me, the stumbling footprint path from ignorance to… well, partial awareness of ignorance.

So I am letting the record stand. Maybe someone will read it and pick up a few of the things that cost me so much time and so much of others’ patience. Maybe you will read it, and grant me your own patience; or maybe you won’t. I wouldn’t blame you. I am flawed in every sense, but I will keep trying to learn to listen.

By now all this is past the point of relevance

But it needs to get written down anyway. On Saturday morning, September 7th, I woke up feeling grumpy about the way nerds had treated my friend Elizabeth and made the following series of ill-advised tweets.

If you see the numbers under those widgets you can see that they became the most far-reaching things I have ever written. I did not plan for that. They were tossed off, poorly thought out, and not particularly intended to stand in the record. This took a while to dawn on me, and when it did, I considered deleting them. I chose not to mostly because it wouldn’t undo anything, and because I should be held to account for my words.

I failed as an ally and a writer in several ways by writing what I did. The most significant and glaring is that I didn’t ask Elizabeth before posting them. That’s enormous. She and I had talked privately about the abuse she was getting, so it was on my mind, and I am so used to violent misogyny being directed at women who point out flaws in popular culture that I failed to consider her public stance about it. But even if she had discussed the hate more openly, I still should have asked. At the very least I should have reconsidered using her twitter handle, which made it even easier for a new wave of garbage to find her.

Also, as several people have pointed out, those three tweets are not exactly an iron syllogism. Elizabeth wrote a strongly worded post taking a strong stance against PAX; all I did was briefly express disappointment. I still think someone with a feminine name and icon would have received more abuse than I did for that tweet, but I certainly am not doing the kind of work Elizabeth does, and should not have tried to accord myself her stature.

There are other things about my phrasing with which one might well take issue, but those two are the most basic and important: I didn’t show my friend the respect she deserves. I can’t undo that, but the least I can do is point out for other people who want to be allies where I went wrong. I hope this helps someone else avoid a similar mistake in the future, especially if that someone is me.

As for the original matter of the controversy, I’ve been wrestling with it, but the simplest way to put it is that I take a version of Elizabeth’s view. I’m not going to PAX in 2014, I’m definitely not volunteering there, and I won’t be back unless and until they demonstrate change from the top down. It won’t be enough for PAX to come up to the standard of games conventions; from here on they’ll have to be twice as good as everyone else to make me consider attending.

I have dear friends in and around the Penny Arcade organization, many of whom work tirelessly to create safe space, and I’m not going to spurn you or your work for being involved with PAX. But I will say that attending any conference without a clear, detailed, rigorously enforced harassment policy is a bad idea. PAX rose to that standard in 2012, but when internal pressure from the volunteer corps relented this year, they failed again. That alone is a valid reason to stay away.

Some people can’t do that. PAX is a big part of how money works in games, and if the choice is between taking a stance and making your rent this year, I don’t have the moral authority to stand in judgment. I hope you’ve got other avenues for promotion too, though. I won’t see you there.

Mom’s boyfriend is named Jerry

And he’s a museum curator, and his house (two authentic log cabins that he took apart and reconstructed with a new stone building between them) is filled with historical artifacts and ephemera. It is NOT exactly filled with light, because log cabins are not known for their vast expanses of window, but I tried to get a picture of one such artifact anyway.

The A-Bomb And You

It’s a framed flier full of survival tips for when you are struck by an atomic bomb, obviously from the 50s or 60s. These are unbelievably helpful tips; what’s really tragic is that they were kept secret.

Four Survival Secrets

Allow me to transcribe:

  1. Try to get shielded. Get down in a basement if there is one. Caught in the open, take shelter alongside a building or in a ditch or gutter.
  2. Drop flat on ground or floor. Flatten out at base of wall or bottom of bank.
  3. Bury your face in your arms. Hide eyes in crook of elbow. That will protect face from burns, flying objects, temporary blindness.
  4. Don’t rush outside right after a bombing. Wait a few minutes after an air burst, at least an hour if the bomb explodes on the ground, to let the radiation die down.

I can’t figure out which words to emphasize for amazingness. Is it the admonition about “temporary blindness?” The advice to people caught in the open under a nuclear weapon, which is to go flop in a ditch for convenient body-collection? The idea that you must wait at least an hour for radiation to die down?

Anyway, the best part is the name of the establishment that brought this important, life-saving information to you, dear reader.

Grimm Funeral Home

The Great Brendan Hunt

Link to the big picture of my route.

So, when I got the aforementioned iPad at a delicious Moroccan dinner with Kara’s family, I thought I had had a lovely thirtieth birthday and now all that nonsense was over with. She and I had planned to go get lunch and see Meek’s Cutoff with our friend Arlie yesterday, and I thought that would be a neat Saturday. When we parked near the theater downtown, though, she kept insisting we had to go meet Arlie at Pioneer Square a few blocks away. Okay, I thought, whatever.

Except when we got there, I saw someone else I recognized. Hey neat, I thought, Kellie’s here too! And so are a lot of our other friends! Wow, this is a weird coincidence. Why are they holding signs and shouting at me?

Kara had been planning a giant pervasive game involving everyone we know–even utilizing international design services–for a month behind my back. I was completely unaware of this until well after she started explaining the rules. It was basically a version of Journey to the End of the Night, except during the day, and also the only person being chased was me. I had to run around, getting the signatures of people stationed at five different checkpoints on the “happy” side of my birthday card. Each checkpoint had a small safe zone around it, but outside those, everyone else would be chasing me down; if they tagged me they got to sign the “unhappy” side of the card, and the person who did so most often got a prize. (Spoilers: no he didn’t.)

Herein follows the narrative of my desperate attempt to evade my relentless, sadistic friends. You can follow along on the big map I drew. It’s color-coded by time: my route to the first checkpoint is in blue, then red, then green, then orange.

We started in Pioneer Square, where I took off in an attempt to get a head start before I had completely finished reading the handout. THIS WOULD BE IMPORTANT LATER. I circled around down off the bottom border of the map and made my way up along Naito Parkway to the first checkpoint, the fountain at Saturday Market. I got into the safe zone just ahead of Kellie, in plenty of time to get my card signed by Tony and Mandy, then successfully lost any pursuers in the crowd.

Unfortunately, in doing so, I also dropped the card and couldn’t find it even after repeatedly retracing my steps. I ended up paying three bucks at the Market for a little card with an engraving of a cat holding a fish on it just so I could continue the game. I headed up to a good place to take the measure of the second checkpoint, the Chinese Gardens, and even from blocks away I could see a cluster of chasers just waiting for me.

“Aha!” I thought, as the stealthy Matthew Schuler walked right up and tagged me from behind. “I have clearly tricked these poor saps into thinking I will hit each checkpoint in order, which is not required by these rules that I have not read all the way through! I’ll just skip up to checkpoint 4 now and double back after they get bored and wander off. Good thing I have limitless endurance and it is not hailing!”

I was wrong about many of these things.

I actually used the hail as cover to get into the fourth checkpoint, the Blue Room at Powell’s Books, cleverly evading the nonexistent people I was convinced were waiting at THAT entrance. I then wandered around the Blue Room for ten minutes, wondering where the hell my signatory was, before Susan finally deigned to arrive and inform me that the window for her checkpoint had yet to open.

“Window?” I said.

“Did you read the rules?” she said.

I had already missed my chance to hit checkpoint 2, by dint of sheer idiocy, but I had maybe enough time to still make it to checkpoint 3 if I really hustled. This is why the red segment on the map is the longest one! I did hustle, and made it to the ticketing counter at Portland Union Station with a minute to spare, though my desperate, wheezing jog meant that I had no time for stealth and got ambushed by a whole group of fuckers in the driveway.

I threw off most of them by sneaking out a side entrance and hiding behind a bus, but just as I was thinking I’d sneak up the stairs to the Broadway Bridge and take that back down into the Pearl, I saw Matt Nolan tripping eagerly down them. I was still very annoyed at having my tag-count increased fivefold at the entrance, and I decided right there that Matt was NOT going to get me. No way! ALL I HAD TO DO WAS RUN INFINITELY FAR.

You will note that after the point labelled “MATT ATTACK” on the map, the green line travels around to the far side of the bridge entrance ramp, then up it, across traffic, to the top, back down, and into the Post Office. I only got that far because Matt was lugging a giant bag and a belly full of Indian food, and because I hid in the passport office with my gut sucked in and the lady at the postal counter heeded my desperate finger-to-lips silence gesture. I probably should have gotten arrested.

Anyway I left the post office, now running late for my RETURN VISIT to checkpoint 4, and immediately got tagged by Arlie, plus Matt finally caught up just outside the door to Powell’s. So much for all that. Despite my pulling moves which might humbly be described as “Bourneian” within the confines of Powell’s, I got tagged repeatedly in there too before I finally got Susan to sign my stupid card, and Grace (whom I hadn’t even met before!) pursued me doggedly through Whole Foods and in front of more speeding cars. It was only then that it occurred to me that Kara really should have gotten everyone to sign a waiver.

I limped up across the overpass, got ambushed, and lost the card AGAIN, though this time when I backtracked I actually did find it. That didn’t keep me from getting tagged like a brick wall on a street named after a civil rights activist, particularly by Jonathan (whom I’d faked out earlier) and Matt, who were out for blood. Not even sneaking through a parking garage under a building could throw them off. I finally staggered up to the fifth checkpoint outside the stadium with minutes to spare, and everybody got Oreo cupcakes and went back to a bar for beers and war stories.

I measured that route against the scale on Google Maps and, by that rough math, I ran about fifty-six thousand kilometers altogether. I was tired and the leg I pulled last week was throbbing. I had also lost the game by every measure possible. It was awesome! Thanks to Laura, Amy, Arlie, Jonathan, Matt, Matthew, Matthew, Harry, Harry, Grace, John, Casey, Kim, Greg, Susan, Marie, Mandy, Tony, Jeremy, Holly, Kevan, anybody else I forgot, and especially Kara for pulling off the most ridiculous tailored birthday stunt I can imagine.

Anacrusis

Anacrusis/Ommatidia is done! I started it in July of 2003, wrote 2003 stories, and now it is my 30th birthday and my present to myself is, I don’t have to do it anymore. (Landing on this date is only sort of a coincidence: I calculated the timing versus post count last summer, and you have probably noticed some bonus stories appearing on weekends since.)

The website won’t go away, but the every-weekday part of the project is over. You will probably see the occasional story pop up in future, if you keep the feed in your reader, and I’ll try to do a bit of curation and shuffling. I may end up keeping Anacrusis as the chronological record and Ommatidia as more of a categorized library. Or: not.

Now follows a list of things I got out of this deal.

  • About 266 subscribers on Google Reader, which is to say, by my estimate, 133 total readers
  • Some useful characters
  • A lot more confidence about my word choice
  • Very little confidence about my plotting
  • A great deal of evidence that I thought stupid things were clever at 1:30 in the morning
  • A name-drop in a doctoral dissertation that I’m not allowed to read
  • A gig writing for one of my favorite comic artists
  • Some really nice letters from cool people
  • Approximately 2003 fewer hours of free time

If you read and enjoyed this thing, thanks, and I’m glad. I owe a debt to Holly Gramazio, Sumana Harihareswara, Leonard Richardson, Andrew Cole, John Dixon, Stephen Heintz, William O’Neil, Kevan Davis, Ben Wray, Riana Pfefferkorn, Joe McDaldno, Tim Coe, Dave Michalak, Ben Carson, the indefatigable Geoffrey Pieper, Christin Clatterbuck, Kris Straub, Penny Arcade, and all the regulars from the LJ/FB feeds for putting the occasional gleam on my raw monument to doggedness. Many of these people have done me the additional kindness of writing guest stories! I’ll be posting them over the next couple of weeks.

I look forward to having my evenings back so I can devote more time to writing code and also homoerotic fanfiction about Inception characters. You think that’s a joke but it’s not.

It’s a threat.

Hey, remember how I used to draw things?

Here’s a comic Jon wrote and I drew a couple years ago, while I was in North Carolina. It’s still one of my favorite things we’ve ever done. Click for big.

Hockey comic.

Anyway I’m getting the book when I get a chance

It has on occasion scandalized my Democrat friends, but I’ve been a Condoleezza Rice fan since I learned who she was in early 2001. (Actually, I was a fan of both Bush’s Secretaries of State, at least for a time.) So it was interesting to see her interviewed on the Daily Show a month ago, and to read the Racialicious take on her book. Both did the difficult, valuable work of exploring what it took for a black woman to rise to her position, and why race and gender politics can’t always be neatly divided between red and blue.

The review is what convinced me that I need to read the book, but the interview revived a lot of what I felt about politics in college: that neither nobility nor corruption is bounded by party lines, that tribalism can blind you to either, and that if someone says “it’s more complicated than that” they might be right. (They might also be wrong.) I was politically naive in a number of ways, sure, and I ended up as a registered Democrat a few years later, but I’m glad my naivete pointed toward ambivalence rather than polarization. For one thing, it helped cement my friendship with centrists like IGR and Dr. Weston, who are noticeably smarter than me and who help me remember to check my impulses at the gate of intellect.

It’s not like I’m going to suddenly start voting for the party of the Southern strategy. Still, Condoleezza Rice learned her political loyalties in a milieu dominated by Dixiecrats, and I can’t blame her for staying put when the racist masses started drifting to the right. I hope I never get entrenched too deeply to notice if something similar happens to the leaders I follow now.

Still playing catchup on my 2009 material

On the plane to Kentucky for Christmas last year, I read Maureen McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang. For the first half of this reading, I was under the vague impression that it had been published in 2008. I found it tremendously enjoyable, and contemporary–a gay protagonist of color and strong female characters, China as the sole world superpower, a mundane and difficult life on a lunar colony–but with some irksome anachronisms, like the way the characters used their wrist-implant cyberjacks to make calls from pay phones.

Eventually I flipped back to check the copyright page. It came out in 1992.

Jesus Christ, Maureen McHugh, you were on top of this shit while the rest of the field was just starting to get boners for steampunk? I will be reading more of your books.

This is an easy test for determining premillennial science fiction from the postmillennial, by the way: the ubiquity of cell phones (and how big a deal the author makes about them).

The dark side of self-exposure

Sumana called me out on my 2007 goal-announcement entry and asked what the follow-up was for 2010-2012. First, HOW IS IT 2010 ALREADY. Second, I thought I’d already done an update on how those goals went, but I can’t find it if I did, so here we go:

Accomplished

  • Get driver’s license

Failed

  • Everything else

Okay, so at 28 I have managed to just reach a 16-year-old’s level of basic competence. Right on track! I got accepted to Clarion but couldn’t afford it, and GSP gently declined my teaching application: this indicates an unsurprising trend of nonprofit programs being happier to take my money than to give me more. I stopped running not long after I posted that entry in 2007, but I struggled into reasonable shape last summer and might be able to get there again now that I own an inhaler.

So. Let’s try this again.

My goals for 2010 are to script a graphic novel and run a half-marathon.

My goals for 2011 are to write a novel and publish a computer game.

My goal for 2012 is to be out of non-student-loan debt.

This is why

Portland Train Station Exterior

(Kara and I are creeping by the Portland train station in heavy traffic. I notice the beautifully gabled windows on its upper floor.)

Brendan: What do you think is up there?
Kara: Oh, offices.
Brendan: What?
Kara: Yeah, you can see in some of the windows. Look in that one–see, cubicle walls.
Brendan: That’s disappointing. I was hoping that, like… orphans lived inside.
Kara: I know!
Brendan: And had adventures.
Kara: I know EXACTLY what you mean.

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