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Archive for the ‘Memory’ Category

Here’s an essay I wrote on the horrendous PWR BTTM situation.

Writing this wasn’t easy, and with a lot of anxiety I chose to address the issue. The older I get, the more I realize the role which sexual violence has played in shaping the person I am today.

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I keep meaning to come back and make writing here a regular thing. But a lot of time has passed, you know?

Anyway, I’m still here. And still writing. I hiked the AT, by the way.

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For now, anyway, here’s an essay I wrote on the new album by The Mountain Goats. It’s also about the movieĀ Moonrise Kingdom, and I hope to start writing about movies regularly. I started this music review website thing called Eat Your Owner, so I’m always writing somewhere.

The Mountain Goats – Goths

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Months after you
die I learn about
Yokohama’s blue light
special.
It is 10 PM again,
the hour they found
you after an alleged
half day of dangling.
The report suggests
the blue light could
save the nearly 58
people a year who
jump in front of
speeding trains
at this one specific
station.

The only set of cones
I have is blue.
Meaning that if you
and I stood beneath
the lights after 6 PM
on any given day in
Yokohama I could
hug you one last
time before you
jumped. I could
see a world all in
blue and see what
you saw for one
incendiary mo –

the flickering light
bulb in your bathroom
is yellow. I attempt
to figure out whether
you hanged yourself from the top
of the closet or the bathroom.
I will never see yellow or eye
to eye with you lifeless.

The watch you left me is gray.
I keep it tuned to 8:43, the
hour you jumped out in front
of the train we called manic
depression. The day, February 11th,
where the world became endless
sky pearl opal blue.

In the flickering lights of
the Yokohama line at 10 PM
I hold your hand as you are
running towards the station
and, in this fiction, I am
strong enough to pull your
arm back and I hold you
beneath the awning while
the rain falls while
the drunks vomit while
the girls lift their skirts
while an old man asks us for cigarettes
I know the world is so wrenching but
please, please, please the world was
never meant to be so blue.

Color cannot save this life, this life
cleaved from me in so many shards of light.
I am stuck here in the blue without you.
I am stuck here waiting for the 8:43 AM
Yokohama morning train and watching
the tracks, the shrinking distance
between my heart, dad, and yours.

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Interview w/ The Geeky Press

(http://thegeekypress.com/2014/09/16/episode-4-andrew-neylon/)

Interview with my college mentor and friend Brad King.

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It’s perhaps for the best that I’ve missed the social-media bubble surrounding the death of coveted comedian and entertainer Robin Williams. All Watchmen references aside I’d likely be the one dissenting voice to offer, only if provoked:

I didn’t really like Robin Williams as a performer.

Robin Williams

Yet, it would seem, I would have liked him tremendously as a person. A variety of remembrances, from Moises Kaufman (here) to the gaming community (ditto) have spoken out about the warm, generous, less than self-serious actor behind the zany characters. Williams had a “manic” nature few other actors could come close to in performance. His roles, while often played for laughs, reminded me uncomfortably of my father during his most extreme manic episodes of bi-polar disorder. There was little laughter for me in a film like Jumanji. Mostly distress, fear, and the reminder that even the greatest performative high has an uncomfortable edge when it returns home.

The unexpected death of a major star is always fit for cannibalism. It’s almost become rote that everyone respond with an outpouring of emotion, condolences, anecdotes, and probing pieces of journalism about the career, what could have been, and that only now do we fully understand the gravity of what we have lost. I think it’s important to be critical, however, of the way in which we discuss celebrity deaths, and particularly sensitive ones like overdoses and suicides.

Articles like this one by Slate (Here), which still contains (if you scroll properly) part of the original headline “I Bet Robin Williams Knew He Was Loved. Unfortunately, Love Doesn’t Cure Mental Illness”, continue to put me ill at ease. At the time this article was written there’d been no ruling on his death beyond “apparent suicide”, and I was frankly appalled that Slate would run an article which all but signed his death certificate and used the death as a sort of vague spring-board for some woman to write about her own experiences with depression. Not that it isn’t important for people to discuss our experiences, or for us to collectively reflect on the nature of mental illness in the wake of a beloved American actor who struggled with depression, but gosh. Could we wait for an official ruling on his death before we start diagnosing his end goal? How about not assuming you know how someone who just died felt in the days and moments leading up to their death?

My father, the same one who so uncomfortably mirrored Williams at his most manic, also died by hanging himself. It’s been over 500 days since and I still remember both the shock of the moment and the palpable sense of wonder in regards to what he was thinking as he lead up to that final moment and decision to end his life. If I was one of the family members of Robin Williams, his wife or daughter, I would be so frustrated to have random strangers write things like “I Bet Robin Williams Knew He Was Loved”. My only thought in the moment I read that, as another complete stranger to Robin Williams and his life, was “I Don’t Think You Know What the Fuck You’re Talking About”. The experiences and psyche of someone who dies by suicide aren’t some elaborate madlib we can just fill in by assumption and use as fodder to further discussion of our own problems. They deserve sensitivity, caution, and ultimately respect for the fact that when we discuss the death of a well-known celebrity (or heck, anyone) we run the risk of unintentionally doing them a disservice or hurting friends and family who may encounter those materials. Freedom of speech, of course, but also freedom to be sensitive. My father’s suicide was so mind-bogglingly complicated for me, and I can only imagine what it must have been like for the media maelstrom which speculated, often without sensitivity or care for authenticity, honesty, or good taste, on the death of a great comic actor who was also father, friend, and above all human.

The dominant emotion surrounding suicide, for me, was one of confusion and disbelief. How presumptuous and, yes, inappropriate, for writers with little regard or sensitivity to the judgment-laden world of suicide-discussion to offer such complete certainty as to why the man died. For the last week I feel I’ve had the brunt of suicide jammed in my face and, frankly, it rankles when people don’t approach the issue with caution or sensitivity. From the language of “committing”, to seeing that his daughter Zelda Williams had to shut down her social media accounts due to online trolling (Very upsetting) (something I once had to do during my father’s worst episodes while he was alive), to the disturbing moment of seeing “Robin Williams leaked suicide photo” as a major search term on Twitter… it’s bad enough to make you wish life came with a trigger warning.

I’ll never know what lead my father to that choice any more than the rest of us will know what lead Robin Williams to his. The reality is that suicide, and the attempts to understand it, can often lead us into answer-seeking and illogical territory. But as the family member of someone who died that way I can write that the dominant emotion I experienced afterwards was confusion. It still is. I can’t imagine how the Williams family must feel to see thousands, even millions, of strangers speculate on one of life’s most oblique enigmas with such maddening surety. The aftermath of suicide is an exercise in recognizing the limitations of our understanding and sewing up the black-hole of grief which a violent death manifests. I’ve barely discussed Robin Williams with anyone in this past week not because I have nothing to say, but because the shouting match to become most heard, most read, and most authoritative on the matter has become toxic and hurtful to me.

Writing about the dead shouldn’t be an opportunity to self-aggrandize or get easy clicks. At the least, it should be undertaken with the kind of trepidation fitting great people who were, ultimately, real and deserving of respect. Robin Williams will likely always hue too closely to my father for my own comfort, and it saddens me so deeply that their lives of courage and brilliance met with the same tragic end. In death, Robin Williams gets the earnest respect for me he never got in life. I have my father to thank for that, for the great lesson of empathy which has spawned in his wake, and those two men to thank for teaching me so much about what it means to be here.

Here’s another great article dealing with respectfully discussing celebrities and their personal turmoil. The author, Matt Zoller-Seitz, wrote one of the few articles I’ve read about Robin Williams which I felt was conducted respectfully: (http://www.rogerebert.com/mzs/strong-enough-a-note-to-drug-abuse-concern-trolls-concerning-philip-seymour-hoffman)
(http://www.rogerebert.com/mzs/robin-williams-died-2014-63-possible-suicide)

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I was watching a film the other night in which an 18 year old woman was preparing to marry her high-school sweetheart as he began a twenty year sentence in prison. In that moment, at 22, I sucked in my breath and hoped she would recognize the foolishness of her decision. I thought, “she will change so much in the next four years and has no idea what she’s signing up for, how she will change, who she and this man who is about to spend more time in prison than has been alive will change…”

But change is inevitable. Contemplating time, and its passage, I was brought back to my childhood of gaming. I worked relentlessly during college to make a name for myself, took on seemingly endless projects, and generally veered away from the media that raised me. I stopped gaming, and except for a few ill-fated runs of Tales of Vesperia and Chrono Cross, moved into the realms of people, parties, and social life.

FFVII

Following graduation I’ve played a little bit of a video game almost every day for the past three months. Persona 4 and FFXII, especially. You might have gathered that I like JRPGs. If you read this blog with semi-regularity you may also have gathered that I was born with Asperger’s Syndrome (they don’t use that term anymore technically, but it has always explained things neatly for me), am color-blind, fairly physically inept, and have manageable OCD. The masochistic nature of JRPGS, full of collecting and puzzles and side-quests, is perfect for me. Except, as is sometimes the problem with game design (or comic colors, movie subtitles), when it’s not.

And that can be all too frequently, unfortunately. I belabor the point about my abandoning games in college because it’s important to illustrate to the strong degree that video games raised me. Not metaphorically, either. They taught me curse-words, some very outdated ideals about sexuality and gender roles, how to read (thanks Pokemon and FFVII), and about the weird and wonderful world of genre-fiction. When one of the primary games that made you love JRPGs combines ancient races, summoning magic, cloning, AND psycho-analysis… well, you can imagine how a kid like that ends up where I am. A magna cum laude English Lit. student from a pretty good university, not a bad representation of how gaming really and truly can make us better people. In my case, as I usually played upwards of 8 hours of video games a day, they taught me nearly everything there was to know about how the world worked.

Video games were terrific for one facet of my personality, allowing me to explore human relationships on-screen as I attempted to learn them in the world around me. But any sort of puzzle game or color puzzle would frequently become extremely difficult for me. Even more-so, poorly lit or designed game environments were often so difficult I had to get my mom (or a friend, if I was lucky enough to have one) to help me beat that part and resume my play-through. From the bleak color-design of Metal Gear, to tiny red coins in Super Mario 64, and the genuine pain of the temples in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and assorted other titles. Playing the music in the Zelda video games has been a game-breaking experience for me, one relying on me to get others to help… and frequently I didn’t have anyone else. I could write an entire post on the frustrations of color-oriented chocobo breeding in FFVII or the low-contrast nature of the Midgar Zolom. The difficulty of color-oriented mini-games in Gold Saucer or low-contrast ones in Junon. The frustration and awesomeness that was Golden Sun and Golden Sun 2. The utter anguish I felt in color-oriented matches of Advance Wars. Sometimes I could laugh it off and get by. Sometimes I was genuinely perplexed. Without realizing it I often felt marked, distinguished as unable, and left out.

I know that color is an important part of design. And for the color-seeing world that must be a tremendous experience. A good friend of mine once suggested I start playing online games as he thought they’d help me socialize. Sadly, he didn’t realize that for many of those games the text flashes up in so many different colors it’s almost impossible to read, and does little to improve the situation when the text is tiny (and comes in overwhelming amount) or the “high-contrast” options are thoroughly limited. Having one “inverse-color” setting doesn’t help all people with color-related visual disabilities as there are a variety of different combinations which can create color-blindness. My color-blindness is total and effectively amounts to black and white. For me, the inability to navigate a game on my own often meant having to risk entering a potentially abusive environment just to get someone to help me. It felt limiting, frustrating, and contributed to the sensation that as a disabled person I had to rely on others even in the fantasy realms I so often sought to play in by myself. It’s called “play”, after all, because it’s supposed to be a world of your dreams and imagination. For me, the realms of Final Fantasy and Hyrule were so often just that, the architecture I would turn to as I grew older in an effort to understanding storytelling. In other moments, however, it was brutally unfulfilling and grounded me in the learned helplessness disability so often mirrors.

I’m not alone here, and I’m by no means the person most/worst affected by this scenario. Color is insidious. It’s embedded in everything, but rarely (at least in the gaming world) was a game-breaking experience. I didn’t usually need color to play Earthbound, but more contrast would have helped in Star Fox: 64 or might have made me feel more included in a game like Deus Ex or Goldeneye, where environments and textures were brutally low-contrast even with adjustment. I spent most of my childhood isolated from other disabilities and people in general. Becoming closer to a person with a latex allergy, who could only play Nintendo games because they were the only company to create non-latex controllers, helped me to understand that the same problems which plagued me in feeling included in my gaming glory affected lots of people. Sometimes in ways far more game-breaking than my own. Gaming was my environment for years, providing the only friends, inclusion, and social skills I was likely to get for most of my adolescence. But I have to wonder, as I contemplate the person I was trying to become in college, if it wasn’t the desire to escape my disability which paradoxically ingratiated me to and then pushed me away from video games. At 18, as I began to build a world where I was as good, if not better at my work than people with “able” bodies, did it simply become too frustrating to engage with games not built for me to succeed on my own?

I’m gaming again, and I’ve missed it so much. But I wish a rating system had existed, when I was reading Game Informer as a child or even surfing IGN now, to let me know a game had been designed with people like me in mind. I wish I could enter into a world knowing, even if I might not like everything I encountered within, at least I could conquer it on my own. Navigating the frustrating world of getting to a job or the grocery store without a car, dressing myself for social occasions, or seeing a movie in a movie theater is hard enough. In my room, so often my only temple, I’d like to be able to worship at an altar which welcomes me with open arms. Gaming has always been a friend, parent, lover, and mentor. I’m eager for the day it’s no longer an antagonist.

The inspiration for this article comes from this AWESOME Polygon piece: (http://www.polygon.com/features/2014/8/6/5886035/disabled-gamers-accessibility)

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Pictures

“Don’t trust your photographs.” – Robin Pecknold

This is a bit of a mantra for me, and a part of why I’ve always disliked photographs. My mind, which holds onto images, information, and thoughts so crisply has, I suppose, very little use for them. And, anyway, something is always left out. Or feels false. Or twists in the faded edges of the frame.

Here are a few. Small memories I’m building, willing to hold onto just a little longer. I don’t keep photos for the most part, and I’ve almost never posted any on this blog in the four years I’ve had it. When I deleted my Facebook I didn’t back up any of my photos, mostly because I didn’t want to be dictated by past images of me. These are just the handful I happen to have on my phone.

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This is me, Berkley, and Huy at Northwestern almost two years ago. We look so young, here! That’s the only time I’ve ever been to that tournament. We took a “grown-up” version of this photo early this year.

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Me, Heather, and Huy. Heather was the person who really taught me the fundamentals of interp. The three of us have a really special bond.

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I grew my hair out for about… 9.5 months? It’s been about 8 in this photo. It got pretty intense. This is one of my favorite photos of Mary Moore, who coached me in collegiate speech for four years. She was/is like a second mother to me.

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Gosh, I miss this beard. This is right before I got a trim for AFA.

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This one is me and Michelle, one of my first college friends and my roommate for two years. She’s moving out of state to get her PhD this coming week. We took this in Arizona during AFA in April.

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I’m not really that into trophies, so these photos are kind of embarrassing in hindsight. But I worked really hard, and even more-so, I was so proud of my friends. The first one is from the day I got to be a two-time national champion with my best-friend. I was the 2014 AFA national champion in Impromptu Speaking and Communication Analysis. Huy won Program Oral Interpretation. The other ones are from the 2014 NFA. Ball State, my college, got 4th as a team. I won Pentathlon, which is basically the cumulative individual award. The photo of me kneeling has all of the awards. The one with me and Huy and our two trophies is from Rhetorical Criticism, I was the national champion and he got 3rd. He did amazing! Berkley got 3rd in ADS, too. What a special year. I was really proud of my success, but to be honest, I was much prouder of my teammates.

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Me at graduation with my Mother and Grandmother. This day was super stressful because I don’t like noise or crowds. But it’s pretty remarkable that we’ve got all three generations. I don’t have a lot of family. It’s all in this photo right here. I’m wearing my magna cum laude medal. I was proud to be able to tell my mother that I’d graduated with distinction, and that my success in speech hadn’t overshadowed my devotion to school.

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Me and my Dad. There are just a handful of these photos. Almost none of them from past age 7. While I was preparing my Downtown Writer’s Jam performance last week I found this photo in the interp. book I’d used last season while performing the piece about my Dad as a Prose. I wish he was here.

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