Popular Anarchy And A Lack Of Excuses

I finished the outline for PA’s rewrite, which means I am officially out of excuses for not writing it. I’m trying to think of some; I’ve been helping train a new employee here at work, I have a pretty crucial run of sessions in Final Fantasy Omega that require a lot of work and investment, I’ve started playing tennis again to get back in shape, I’m reading more books lately, I’m playing in a Dominions 3 game with wargame expert and Dominions 3 manual writer Bruce Geryk (and he hasn’t killed me or called me a communist yet, so I think I’m doing well), I’m writing a Hakuoki game diary for Broken Forum still, and I’ve been following the NFL pretty close as free agency is going to be underway in about ten minutes and my favorite team, the Redskins, traded all of the draft picks in the eastern seaboard for Robert Griffin III.

I’ve written a book before. This is rewriting Popular Anarchy for the second draft, which comes with some pretty major changes, but the fact remains that I have done this before. I wrote a book, complete, from start to finish. It’s not like I can’t do this. I know I can do this. I’ve done this. But it’s still surprisingly hard to get started again.

But there’s nothing else for it. I have to get working on it or it’s not going to get down. No one’s going to write this for me, and no amount of hand-wringing is going to do this. Starting tonight, I write.

Right after I finish The Last Story.

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On Marriage

(Editor’s Note: Something else that I wrote, this time July 1st, 2009, posted on the other blog. I used to rant a lot — A LOT — and while I had grown out of that phase by this point, occasionally things would happen to draw me back in. As you can see here, Ms. Loh’s column triggered that relapse, and I decided to vent about it on the Internet like anybody else with a broadband account. Much to my surprise, the link at the bottom of the post still works, though I haven’t re-read her original article because I don’t have time to be irate this morning.)

Sandra Tsing Loh wrote a column for The Atlantic on June 22nd, 2009, titled “On Marriage: Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.” The subtitle, as it appeared on MSNBC.com, was “Author Sandra Tsing Loh is ending her marriage. Is it time you did, too?”

No, Ms. Loh, it is not. Honestly, you shouldn’t have either. Or, and this is more likely, you never should have gotten married in the first place.

In Ms. Loh’s article, she explores the reasons behind the split. The catalyst, the straw that broke the camel’s back, was Ms. Loh’s affair, though she couches it in far more flowery language.

I am a 47-year-old woman whose commitment to monogamy, at the very end, came unglued. This turn of events was a surprise. I don’t generally even enjoy men; I had an entirely manageable life and planned to go to my grave taking with me, as I do most nights to my bed, a glass of merlot and a good book. Cataclysmically changed, I disclosed everything. We cried, we bewailed the fate of our children.

When you strip out the five-dollar words and the Ivy League-educated writing, what she is saying is that she broke her marriage vows. This happens in many relationships, more than it should, but many couples are able to get past it and continue growing. Would Ms. Loh be one of those?

No, she would not.

…I realized … no. Heart-shattering as this moment was — a gravestone sunk down on two decades of history — I would not be able to replace the romantic memory of my fellow transgressor with the more suitable image of my husband, which is what it would take in modern-therapy terms to knit our family’s domestic construct back together. In women’s-magazine parlance, I did not have the strength to “work on” falling in love again in my marriage. And as Laura Kipnis railed in “Against Love,” and as everyone knows, good relationships take work.

Ms. Loh quits instead.

She goes on to say that she would continue to do the tasks she had always been doing, “like so many working/co-parenting/married mothers” do, and she lists out a number of acts most parents will recognize; picking up her daughters from school, taking them to doctor appointments, and the like. But in this passage, she strays down a few tangents, like “I can earn my half — sometimes more — of the money,” and “I can drive my husband to the airport; in his absence, I can sort his mail,” and “I can make dinner conversation with any family member.”

Ms. Loh, you will please excuse me if I do not submit your name to President Obama for a medal of honor. What I see in that paragraph is a sense of entitlement and haughtiness about your place in the relationship. Why do you emphasize that you are making more money? Why do you stress that you are able to “sort his mail,” as if this is some tremendous hardship but you, God bless you, will push through and manage? Why do you feel that making dinner conversation is some remarkable achievement? This is nothing to be lauded. This is basic human existence.

But please, Ms. Loh, do go on.

Which is to say I can work at a career and child care and joint homeownership and even platonic male-female friendship. However, in this cluttered forest of my 40s, what I cannot authentically reconjure is the ancient dream of brides, even with the Oprah fluffery of weekly “date nights,” when gauzy candlelight obscures the messy house, child talk is nixed and silky lingerie donned, so the two of you can look into each other’s eyes and feel that “spark” again. Do you see? Given my staggering working mother’s to-do list, I cannot take on yet another arduous home- and self-improvement project, that of rekindling our romance.

Oh come now.

Now, Ms. Loh, I will admit that I cannot understand all of the particulars of your situation. I am only 27 years old, after all, and I have been married merely nine months. But I don’t need to be in your age demographic or your position in life to deconstruct your statements. Your tone gives your opinions away, even as your words attempt to obfuscate your meaning — you don’t care and you don’t intend to care. The dismissive phrase of “Oprah fluffery,” the wording of the “messy house,” and the emphasis placed on your “staggering working mother’s to-do list.” In your opening paragraph you stated that you cheated — not in so many words — and yet here you have already retreated behind your sandbags of workload and age groups, hardening your defenses against any blame.

So no, Ms. Loh, I do not see your point. There are many couples that do get through this period just fine, working together and relying on each other. But I’m interrupting you, I’m sure you have a point you’re working toward. Please, continue.

Sobered by this failure as a mother — which is to say, my failure as a wife — I’ve since begun a journey of reading, thinking, and listening to what’s going on in other 21st-century American families. And along the way, I’ve begun to wonder, what with all the abject and swallowed misery: Why do we still insist on marriage? Sure, it made sense to agrarian families before 1900, when to farm the land, one needed two spouses, grandparents, and a raft of children. But now that we have white-collar work and washing machines, and our life expectancy has shot from 47 to 77, isn’t the idea of lifelong marriage obsolete?

It’s generally considered improper to write out laughter. Use your imagination.

Again, Ms. Loh, you hide behind your excuses. You say you failed as a wife, but you sneak that out behind a primary failure as a mother. And your journey towards enlightenment is nothing more than a poorly-disguised attempt at self-vindication. Your marriage has failed, so it’s not your fault, it’s marriage’s fault! How did I miss that? You cheated and your marriage fell apart, and the reason you decided to quit on it was because you saw the light. Remarkable.

I will gloss over the next few points. Ms. Loh proceeds to blame failing marriages on the United States of America, religion, and the lack of nannies. Americans attend more church than anyone else in the western world, and agree with the statement “Marriage is an outdated institution” less than anywhere else in the western world, yet Americans have the highest divorce rate. I find this a little strange, because when I think about those statistics, I wonder why people who think that marriage is outdated have much better success with it than Americans do.

I admit I don’t really understand the nanny bit. She states: “My domestic evenings have typically revolved around five o’clock mac and cheese under bright lighting and then a slow melt into dishes and SpongeBob … because yet another of my marital failings was that I was never able to commit to a nanny.” This seems to be primarily more misdirection, blame placed on society because she felt it would be seen as exploitative.

Ms. Loh now has Girls’ Night dinners with her friends, in her divorced person’s “oddly relaxed” schedule. In setting this scene, she labels a number of marriages, the Romantic Marriage (“Think of those affectionate 80-somethings in convalescent homes, still holding hands.”), the Rescue Marriage (“…partners who fit each other like lost puzzle pieces, healing each other from mutual childhood traumas.”), the Traditional Marriage, where the man works and the woman runs the home, and the Companionate Marriage, where both husband and wife have a career and they handle all the tasks together. She asks what type of marriages we have now, in the 21st century, and then introduces us to her friend Rachel. Or, more correctly, Rachel’s house and her husband’s cooking.

Picture a stunning two-story Craftsman — exposed wood, Batchelder tile fireplace, caramel-warm beams, Tiffany lamps on Mission tables — nestled in the historic enclave in Pasadena dubbed Bungalow Heaven. Rachel, 49, an environmental lawyer, is married to Ian, 48, a documentary-film editor. They have two sons, 9 and 11, whom Ian — in every way the model dad — has whisked off this evening to junior soccer camp (or drum lessons or similar; the boys’ impressive whirl of activities is hard to keep track of). Rachel is cooking dinner for three of us: Ellen (a writer, married with children), Renata (violinist, single, lithe, and prowling at 45), and me. Rachel is, more accurately, reheating dinner; the dish is something wonderfully subtle yet complex, like a saffron-infused porcini risotto, that Ian made over the weekend and froze for us, in Tupperware neatly labeled with a Sharpie, because this is the sort of thoughtful thing he does. Ian subscribes to Cook’s Illustrated online and a bevy of other technically advanced gourmet publications — he’s always perfecting some polenta or bouillabaisse. If someone requests a cheeseburger, he will fire back with an über-cheeseburger, a fluffy creation of marbled Angus beef, Stilton, and homemade ketchup. Picture him in bike shorts (he’s a cyclist), hovering over a mandala of pots that are always simmering, quietly simmering. To Ian’s culinary adventurousness, Rachel attributes the boys’ sophisticated taste buds — they eagerly eat everything: curry, paella, seaweed, soba noodles. My own girls are strictly mac-and-cheese-centric (but I’ve been told in therapy not to keep beating myself up over the small things).

Never have I seen a more blatant attempt to meet a word-count limit.

Ms. Loh’s friends commiserate about their marriages. Rachel, the one referenced above, says that she is now considering divorce because she never has sex anymore, along with some other reasons.

“Ian won’t have sex with me,” Rachel says flatly. “He has not touched my body in two years. He says it’s because I’ve gained weight.” Again, we stoutly protest, but she goes on. “And he thinks I’m a bad mother — he says I’m sloppy and inattentive.”

The list of violations unfurls. Last week, Rachel mistakenly gave the wrong medication to the dog, a mistake Ian would never make. She also forgot to deglaze the saucepan and missed the window to book the family’s Seattle flights on Expedia, whose chiming bargains Ian meticulously tracks.

Rachel sees herself as a failed mother, and is depressed and chronically overworked at her $120,000-a-year job (which she must cling to for the benefits because Ian freelances). At night, horny and sleepless, she paces the exquisite kitchen, gobbling mini Dove bars. The main breadwinner, Rachel is really the Traditional Dad, but instead of being handed her pipe and slippers at six, she appears to be marooned in a sexless remodeling project with a passive-aggressive Competitive Wife.

I would agree here that Rachel’s husband appears to be a jerk from this telling, but I don’t see anything here that screams out “Divorce him!” Has anyone heard of marriage counseling in their elite subdivision?

But enough about that, let’s go here.

Of the four of us, Renata has the fastest-thrumming engine, as evidenced by her rabid in-the-moment sex-tryst texting (“omg he flyz in 2nite on red i @ 2 am!!!”). One imagines a string of men toppled behind her in ditches like crashed race cars. “My problem is, I’m a dopamine freak!” She waggles her hands in the air. “Dopamine!”

“Helen Fisher!” Ellen exclaims, pointing at her.

Ms. Loh, your friends are idiots.

Ms. Loh goes on to explain that Helen Fisher wrote a book explaining hormones that lump people in to four categories; The Negotiator, the Builder, the Director, and the Explorer, who is tied to the dopamine that gets Renata all foolish, as seen above. Explorers are attracted to Explorers, and Builders to Builders, but Negotiators are attracted to Directors, and vice versa. One of Ms. Loh’s friends slaps the book and exclaims that her problem is that she’s an Explorer married to a Builder.

Here’s the problem with this idea; it’s too neat and simple. Dropping people into four categories and claiming that it breaks down how attraction works is no less stupid than lumping them into twelve categories based off the Zodiac and claiming that it breaks down how attraction works. It allows you to look at someone as a preconceived label, not as a person. It’s too easy to then dismiss any problems as that elusive “incompatibility” instead of actually working through a problem and solving the issue.

A running theme in this article is the avoidance of any kind of “work” on a relationship. Upon being asked if he wanted a divorce Rachel’s husband said no, saying they must show discipline and work at the marriage. At that, Ms. Loh adds the parenthetical comment “again with the work!”

Ms. Loh posits that “it’s clear females are dissatisfied,” saying that more and more divorces are being initiated by women. She then paints a remarkable picture, and I would be doing it a grave disservice to not present it in its original form.

If marriage is the Old World and what lies beyond is the New World, it’s the apparently stable men (comfortable alone in their postfeminist den with their Cook’s Illustrated and their porn) who are Old Worlders, and the Girls’ Night Out, questionnaire-completing women who are the questing New Worlders.

Ms. Loh continues to state that women get a bum deal, being told to “work, to parent, to housekeep, to be the ones that schedule ‘date night,’ only to be reprimanded in the home by male kitchen bitches, and then, in the bedroom, ignored.” She presents a few modest proposals, the first of which states that high-revving, sexually-frustrated women could have two men, the “postfemininst” male doing all the work in the house, and the fun-loving boy toy on the side to play around with. This is due to the fact that rekindling the romance is “biologically unnatural.” The children should be raised in a tribal society, from 1-5 years of age, by the woman and her female kin, with men coming by every now and then to provide sex or put up shelves. Then, once that is done, push the children off on the father, or the “superdad,” so the Type A woman can then work and presumably run around with her aforementioned boy toy.

In closing, she states:

In any case, here’s my final piece of advice: avoid marriage — or you too may suffer the emotional pain, the humiliation, and the logistical difficulty, not to mention the expense, of breaking up a long-term union at midlife for something as demonstrably fleeting as love.

Ms. Loh, I will not follow your advice, because I must consider the source of the advice. In this case, the advice is coming from a biased, self-righteous, sanctimonious fool.

From the beginning of your article straight through to its conclusion, you dodge, duck, sidestep, and avoid the true issue; according to your own writing, you are the reason this marriage failed. It was not society, it was not latent feminism, it was not America, it was not God. It was not a roaring fireplace or a screaming child. It was not macaroni noodles and a talking sponge. It was not level shelves and a travel schedule. You, Ms. Loh, are the reason. You failed. And here I am not pointing to the affair, because couples can and often do work through that kind of transgression.

You failed, Ms. Loh, because you quit. You gave up. You took a look at your marriage, shattered primarily by your own actions, and you decided that to fix it would have been too hard. Yes, you disguised this as well, claiming biology, society, and other excuses that have no bearing on this. You failed and you gave in. You betrayed your husband’s trust, and decided that because of this, you would not try to restore the marriage.

And what have you taken away from this? A horrible sense of entitlement. You refuse to take responsibility for anything that has happened. You are so full of yourself, so overflowing with confidence, that you believe that it is the world that is wrong, and you, you and your little nest of harpies, you are the ones that are correct. And what’s more, you drag down all women with you. You claim it is the woman’s right, that because you are women you can take this stand. Men are the stodgy idiots blundering about the Old World, while the intrepid explorers, pushing boundaries, exploring new lands, filling out questionnaires — filling out questionnaires! — are the New World. Your audacity astounds me, Ms. Loh.

In closing, Ms. Loh:

Your marriage is over, and despite your best efforts, you have only yourself to blame. You are a failure, a quitter, a coward, a fool, and an embarrassment.

It’s a shame your ego will never let you see it.

-Matt Bowyer

(The link: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31452178/ns/today_relationships/ )

Existentialism On Raid Night

(Editor’s note: While digging for a particular game reference in my Google Documents, I found a post I made for my last ill-fated blog attempt. I wrote this in January 2009, and feel it’s one of my better random thoughts. Since I’m closing down my past life, I wanted to replicate it here.)

I never thought that a World of Warcraft character ability could make me sad.

Last night Meghan and I fired up Plax and Shayara again, and I ran out of arrows somewhere in the Howling Fjord, so we went back to Valgarde Port to sail to Menethil so I could hit the auction house and get more materials for my arrow maker boxes. After I dive into the water for Cobalt (something I’ve done about six times so far, including the times I leap off the boat and delay my trip by five minutes so I can get two things of ore), I head back to the dock while she works on some smithing while we wait.

“Let me know when the boat comes so I don’t miss it.”

“I’ll do better than that — I’ll scan for it… from above!”

My favorite Hunter ability is Eagle Eye. It has value, like turning on a tracking ability and scanning for quest NPCs or ore veins, but I mostly use it to see what the world looks like from odd angles. This time, my idea was to see if I could use it to see from the top of Utgarde Keep, right at the tip of one of the spires.

Lo and behold, it works. And I’m speechless.

You can see the fields stretching out on all sides. I’m too far away to see people, so it’s a beautiful landscape shot, as if untouched by human hands. North of me I can see the river break into three small waterfalls, gently carressing a tiny island. To the east is a village built into the side of a cliff, and I imagine what it must have been like before anyone else came here. Below me is the port butting up against the vrykul village, but from here it’s peaceful and quiet. Far to the east I see nothing but green fields, and far to the west I see the edges of the a forest, and I know Westguard Keep is nearby.

The boat pulls into view, and I watch as it lazily drifts into a cave. From my vantage point it’s no bigger than a toy. It is the only movement I see — or at least it almost is, as suddenly to the west I can see something moving in the field. It’s probably a mile away from me.

It’s the Storm Giant.

I watch him walk to the edge of the cliff and look out over the valley, and I wonder what he’s thinking. Is he thinking like I am? Does he remember when this place was pristine, untouched by human hands? Is he reminiscing of peaceful times? Or is he thinking darker thoughts as the Alliance boat arrives? What does he think of the intruders? The invaders? For really, isn’t that what we are here?

I watch him watching the boat for a long time, and then Eagle Eye wears off, and I’m back on the dock, surrounded by soldiers and builders and sailors and travelers and the cacophony of the port.

***

I don’t play The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past anymore because of that feeling. The third Light World crystal takes you to the top of Death Mountain, and I’d battled up there, sword and shield in hand, ready to do battle with Ganon’s minions and save Princess Zelda. And then I came to the bridge.

The view below the bridge was obscured by thick cloud cover, but you could see a forest in the gaps where there were no clouds. And I sat on the bridge for a long time, looking down at the forest. There were little clearings here and there, areas of light green peeking out through the dark green of the expansive forest.

I studied it. It didn’t look like the Lost Woods, not how I knew them. These were different trees, all faint and tiny from this elevation. This was a different forest.

And I would never go there.

It had to be full of creatures, animals both big and small. I imagined villages, kindly shopkeepers, woodcutters, fairies hidden inside tiny coves, chickens bustling about a pen, a thousand little Kakariko Villages down in that great forest.

And I would never see them.

I kept on through the game, but I found myself climbing Death Mountain again and again to look out over that forest and think about what could have been.

A throwaway background graphic in a 16-bit adventure game, and it captivated me.

***

We return to Valgarde after I refilled my quiver, and I use Eagle Eye again, then call Meghan over to see how impressive the view was. I mention my Link to the Past sadness, and she points out that I’d go to all these places — unlike Link to the Past, in Northrend I could go to everywhere that I saw. This is true. Once I get Mayday de-iced for flying in Northrend, I can go everywhere that I see in the game. It’s amazing freedom.

But still I linger at the top of the Keep, watching the peaceful hills, because I know I’ll never see it like this again.

The west has a Forsaken village, where they’re preparing a plague. The east has iron dwarves unearthing dark relics and vrykul waging an all-out war with the invading Alliance. Below me, the port is under constant siege from the Dragonflayer tribe. The north holds Skorn, more vrykul serving the Lich King. Even further west has Westguard Keep, an ever-burning grove of trees, and a mine where the miners have gone mad from forces unknowable.

Everywhere I go, there will be conflict. Everywhere I go, there will be pain, sorrow, suffering, and madness. I’ll see people die that should have lived. I’ll see atrocities committed by every and all races. It will be all around me, surrounding me, overwhelming me, consuming me.

I see the Storm Giant again, far to the west, this time peering south, and I wonder if he’s watching the boats approaching from the mainlands. I wonder what he’s thinking, again. I wonder if he thinks he sees his death coming on those boats.

Later that day we ride past the Storm Giant on our way back from Shield Hill on our way to Westguard Keep. He’s on the western cliff, facing out over the water, looking into the Dragonblight. I slow to a stop and watch him from far away. I don’t know what he’s seeing; I haven’t been into the Dragonblight yet. I know I’ll be there soon, though, and I’m sure I’ll be fighting the whole way. Everywhere he’s seeing now, I’ll go to, undoubtedly righting wrongs and shooting and stabbing and killing and slaying and adding bit by bit to the cacophony that this land has become.

I watch him watching, for another moment, and then I spur my nightsaber on and ride past him, to give him his privacy. He doesn’t turn away from the view, and soon we are out of each other’s sight.

I envy him, I think to myself as I ride off to turn in proof of my deeds putting spirits to rest. He only sees it like I did from the Keep – peaceful, undisturbed, serene. For him, it’ll never change.

I really envy him.

I wish I could see it like that forever.

I Still Have No Idea Why I Am Playing This

I own a lot of games. A LOT of games. I’m playing a lot of them right now. The Last Story just arrived, so I’m cracking that open this weekend. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is fun and pretty good. I’ve got two worlds left in Rayman: Origins, and that is an incredibly good game and I want to write about it once I’m done. But what game am I constantly coming back up? Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom.

I picked this up from Amazon after reading some of Angie Gallant’s dating game Let’s Plays on Broken Forum and Quarter To Three. I figured I’d write an LP for this, have some laughs, and then move on. It’s a game aimed at girls, full of Beautiful Men and some intrigue and mystery along the way. And blooming flowers to indicate when one of them likes me more.

Dirty secret: I’m really enjoying this game. Unironically.

There is very little animation in Hakuoki, and I think that’s typical of the genre. The closest I’ve had to anything being animated is a few static images wobbling a bit. 99 times out of 100, I’m looking at static pictures and character drawings fading in and out. Here’s the thing, though: I don’t mind at all. The pictures they are showing me are really well done, with painted backgrounds, hand-drawn character models, and multiple images like these terrifying fellows with poor table manners.

With no animation, any tension and pacing is going to come from the writing, and there I’m happy, and surprised, to say that Hakuoki features some very good writing. Dialogue is so far excellent, with each of the seven or eight characters I’ve met in four or five hours standing out from their peers. There is no English voice acting, so it’s down to the original Japanese VAs and the quality of the English writing to bring these characters to life, and they are doing a stellar job.

Of course, you can’t have a story be nothing but dialogue, no matter how hard I personally try in my own white-room work. Hakuoki fills in the gaps between spoken words with descriptions of the actions happening around these static images, and while that’s not normally quality game-writing, it reminds me of the late nineties’ Infinity Engine RPGs, where you’d see little bits of detail from clicking on parts of the world or the written actions in the dialogue options you got when interacting with NPCs, like catching thieves in the Hive in Planescape: Torment.

Hakuoki reminds me a bit of Torment, which is not to say that this story is on par with that game’s; rather, in how it places such important on the written word. Planescape: Torment remains the best book I’ve ever played, and I don’t say that disparagingly. My favorite memories of Torment are not in how I defeated Trias in combat, or my trip through the Modron Cube maze, or the Carceri stampede against the devil hordes. My favorite memories of Torment are from the memory sphere in the upper hives, in navigating the maze of conversation options with Ravel Puzzlewell, in the final verbal confrontation with The Nameless One. Hakuoki does not pretend to have gameplay; I am occasionally selecting options, and then watching a scene play out in front of me. It’s far less interactive than Torment, and has much more in common with Choose Your Own Adventure books than it does any other game I have played.

But tonight, after I’ve finished my workout and taken care of dinner, I’m not going to load up Amalur or The Last Story or Rayman just yet. I’m going to settle in with a good book on my PSP and see what further adventures await Hakuchi Yukimura in Kyoto, and see how much further down this rabbit hole of mysterious samurai I can go.

If I meet a talking skull, though, I’m outta here.