“There’s a Chinese phrase for when you lose money on something that translates to ‘paying school fees.’ I’ve paid a lot of school fees, and I don’t consider any of it wasted money. Even through the mistakes, I’ve learned a lot.”
In my younger, clear-eyed, empty-headed days, I was fond of saying things on this blog in a format that usually ends “… I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
That hasn’t been my position in some time, and oh boy, do I still have anxiety about people digging through my archives to weaponize my naïveté. But if I could speak to my past self—once the initial salvos of profanity concluded—I’d ask him to take a good hard look at the clause above. “The death,” it says. Why, young Brendan, is that an article rather than a pronoun?
It’s time once again for Reel 90s Kids, the podcast you have forgotten that we did one time! We have now done it again. Here is the audio click button thing that tells you the wrong file duration, and below it are the show notes.
0:00 – Thanks to Oliver Schories for this episode’s intro song, which I think has a 40% chance of deeply irritating my cohost.
5:23 – I could put links to the Wikipedia articles for Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Dangerous Liaisons here, but you can type names into Wikipedia as well as I can.
10:48 – Sorry, Mr. Lester.
12:41 – Shooter the 2007 movie; Shooter the 2016 TV series. Since we recorded this episode, USA has apparently decided we’ve had a long enough gap between mass shootings to actually premiere and air it! Yaaaay
19:03 – I cannot put anything about the confluence of Bittersweet Symphony and Shakespeare in Love in the show notes, because my brain completely manufactured it. Why did I think this was a thing?! If you have a clue, please call our toll-free line.
20:13 – Audio taken from this Fusion interview.
22:48 – Movie studios were forced to stop running their own theaters by United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc, in 1948.
31:13 – I neglected to congratulate her, but Anne batted a thousand on these!
37:35 – See you back here for the Drive Me Crazy episode in June 2019!
38:11 – And thanks to Jade Berlin and her terrifying accompanist for our outro music:
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.
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.
So @twoscooters and I were both widely cited for being upset with Penny Arcade. She’s since received thousands of rape and death threats.
— bananabread (@BrendanAdkins) September 7, 2013
I haven’t seen a single negative tweet or email. No threats, no hate, not even an attempt to argue. Not one.
— bananabread (@BrendanAdkins) September 7, 2013
Now go ahead. Tell me again why women on the Internet need thicker skin.
— bananabread (@BrendanAdkins) September 7, 2013
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.
When I was a kid I had asthma. Growing up largely fixed that, but I still got attacks when I went running in cold weather; since running is the only exercise I enjoy or have ever been good at, I got into the habit of slacking off as the weather got colder. In late fall, for many years, I’d slip into a comfortable lethargy, stop caring about what I ate or how much I moved, and gain a bunch of weight that I’d then try to work off in the spring.
After I started recognizing this pattern I wanted to change it. Because the only motivation I understand is self-mockery on the Internet, last September I made a new Twitter account, WinterBrendan. I’d post as him when I caught myself in moments of sloth, gluttony and self-loathing. He hasn’t actually written that much, which is a good thing! It kind of worked, and I ate a lot better and worked out more (aided by the fact that I figured out how to run without asthma, which deserves its own post).
But WinterBrendan was only the beginning.
Within two weeks of his appearance, SOMEONE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED created SpringBrendan, which is the worst thing that has ever happened. SpringBrendan is a machine gun of incredibly lewd jokes, which, well, fine, except all those jokes have my face on them and people instinctively believe I am writing them. The worst part is that he’s fucking hilarious. The only thing worse than people scolding you for coming up with horrible things is people praising you for coming up with horrible things when you did not, and indeed could not.
There are apparently people who still don’t believe I don’t write SpringBrendan. Look! Here! I AM NOT SPRINGBRENDAN. YOU CAN TELL BECAUSE HE IS FUNNY, AND LIKES HIMSELF.
Unfortunately everyone else likes him too. Around the time this was going on, I realized I was coming up on my ten thousandth tweet. Because my friends (and their friends, and total strangers) seemed to enjoy seeing my face plastered on any old garbage, I took a grumpy few hours and wrote my first Twitter client, RealBrendan. It was pretty simple: a text box that hooked up to my actual account and posted whatever you typed. My 9,999th tweet was a link to it, and my 10,000th was “Go.” Then I went to lunch with a friend.
When I got back I was in Twitter jail.
As soon as people realized it was legit, they had unleashed a hideous torrent of raw, anonymous Internet. I once thought of my followers as a carefully curated selection of clever, thoughtful people with taste; now I know better. RealBrendan only went silent when it hit the ceiling for allowable-tweets-per-hour, which turns out to be 128. I got a lot of texts along the lines of “are you okay???” and “WHAT ARE DOING, TURN OFF,” and one person even figured out how to send DMs as me. Exciting! (If you authorize the Exquisite Tweets app, you can read a complete archive of the horror.)
I revoked the app and was allowed back on Twitter the following morning. I did feel a certain sick fascination with what had happened the day before, so I tinkered with the machinery so that it would maintain a queue and post at a more reasonable rate, then hooked it up to its own new account. Once people figured out there was no more immediate gratification, the torrent dropped to a trickle, but now there’s this kind of anonymous group-fiction thing going and it’s kind of fun.
Because ideas are unkillable, there are other accounts as well, and once again I DO NOT CONTROL ANY OF THEM. Summer called them Brendan-shards, which prompted me to start thinking of them as my Horcruxes, because it would be awfully hard to track them all down and also each one represents a horrific murder. They are GrampaBrendan, JoelBrendan and BrendansMcdald, and I strongly encourage you not to follow any them. Or the other ones. Or the actual BrendanAdkins, really.
It’s a list of all the songs I’ve listened to at fifty or more times on my computer or an iDevice, since I started keeping track a little over four years ago:
- “David,” The Radio Dept.
- “The Police And The Private,” Metric
- “Too Young,” Phoenix
- “Good Morning, Hypocrite,” Electric President
- “Daylight Savings Time,” Josh Rouse
- “Dance Anthem of the 80’s,” Regina Spektor
- “Adventures In Solitude,” The New Pornographers
- “Lisztomania,” Phoenix
- “Citrus,” The Hold Steady
- “If I Ever Feel Better,” Phoenix
- “Like She’ll Always Be,” Jimmy Eat World
- “Hold On, Hold On,” Neko Case
- “This Tornado Loves You,” Neko Case
- “La Costa Brava,” Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
- “Powerstripe,” Tigercity
- “My Love Has Gone,” Josh Rouse
- “Alone in Kyoto ,” Air
- “You Stopped Making Sense,” The Radio Dept.
- “Cars And History,” Strays Don’t Sleep
- “Summer,” General Fuzz
- “June,” RJD2 ft. Copywrite
A lot of these actually date back to 2007, when my music collection was constrained by hard drive size and I did a lot more walking around with my iPod. On the whole, though, it’s a pretty accurate list of every song that has obsessed me in recent memory, for better or worse. (It doesn’t include soundtrack songs, which I often loop without really hearing when I’m working or writing.)
I find it interesting that there’s a pretty standard distribution evident in the playcounts: the top three songs have been played as many times as the next six put together, etc. If you want to get a sense of how easily I succumb to certain musical tricks, I made a Grooveshark playlist called The Fifty Club.
These days I carry around most of the information in the world in my pocket. Ten years ago I was still thrilled to have my dorm-room connection and a Dell desktop. But a few years before that, I didn’t have anything you could really call the Internet. Instead I had Bruce.
Bruce was my eldest cousin, fifteen years my senior, and I revered him. I was interested in sci-fi and fantasy books; Bruce knew about them. I liked board games; Bruce won them all. He had the sharpest wit I have ever encountered, but he was also unfailingly kind, and I never heard him use it to be cruel to anyone.
That included me, even at my most juvenile and annoying, when he spent a while living in our basement and attending classes at EKU. Remembering those days now, I would have been unable to stand me. Bruce listened, and laughed at my jokes, and gave me things.
That was another thing about him: he was never attached to material possessions, and generous with them almost to the point of carelessness. At one point he gave me what must have been nearly his entire collection of gaming books, obviously something in which he’d invested years and hundreds of dollars. He was offhand about it, as if he’d found an odd thing I might like in his pocket.
I treasured those books. For years I could reliably be found in a corner paging through a banged-up hardback with monsters on the cover, spending far more time reading them than actually playing, and blissful to be doing so. I’m sure I didn’t thank him enough, but I hope he saw how much they meant to me.
But if Bruce helped doom me to geekdom, he also rescued me. I was undersized for a long time, and at one point I lagged so far behind the curve that Mom was consulting growth-specialist doctors. When he heard about that, Bruce took a long look at me, then told me to finish my dinner every night instead of leaving most of it on the plate. I listened, and that was when my growth spurt finally hit.
It shames me to say that Bruce and I drifted apart. He waited most of his life for a kidney transplant, and got one, only to have his body reject it a few years later; his health was never the same after that, and his illness frightened me (I had another male role model who got very sick, you see). We had political differences, and the geographical distance between us grew as well. But his patience, kindness and generosity never changed.
I didn’t find the time to see Bruce on my most recent trip back to Kentucky, a few weeks ago, and I will spend the rest of my life regretting that.
When somebody you love dies you’re supposed to put together all the good words you can about him, and assemble an image for your memory that omits their shortcomings and sharp edges. But I can’t do that, because I see now that I was always the one coming up short. All my memories of my cousin are of a man who was better to me than I ever deserved.
I’m sorry, Bruce. I miss you.
Here are some MCs I really like, more or less in order of rising admiration:
- Gift of Gab
- Big Pun
- All the guys in Jurassic 5
- MC Frontalot
- MF DOOM
- Big Boi
- Aesop Rock
But here are my favorite MCs:
Which, I mean, dammit. He is a bad person! He is a product of the same old system wherein white musicians from a black art form are cast in a near-messianic light! I want to have better taste than that, but I don’t. I came to this realization while listening to Recovery, an album composed almost entirely of the same self-excoriation and fury that marked “The Way I Am,” a song I am still not over. Except now he’s doing the whole thing in double-time. No one should be able to move their mouth that fast.
The only person who both raps and rivals Eminem for the #1 spot in my heart is Andre 3000, but despite his skills, it’s almost difficult to think of him as an MC. Big Boi is an excellent rapper, but Andre’s just so much more than that. When I want to listen to a rap album, I might put on Speakerboxxx or Lucious Leftfoot, but not The Love Below or Stankonia: they’re too musical, too much a part of the pop/rap/hip-hop slipstream. Even if you do include him, though, three of my top four are still white, which basically makes me as bad a person as Marshall Mathers. No wonder I identify.
After seeing it on LJ a couple times, I put some stuff from my blogs into the I Write Like tool. Different NFD entries came back as Stephen King, Douglas Adams and (oh God) Dan Brown. Anacrusis consistently gets tagged as Margaret Atwood.
I was prepared to disclaim this whole post, but I cannot argue with that at all. “The world’s longest-running Atwood microhomage” is a painfully accurate description of Anacrusis. You win, Mémoires.