Tag: journalism

500 Words on Politics

Courtesy DC Vertigo

This may be one of the most politically charged times in our history. Resurgent Nazis, nuclear threats, incompetent and greedy rulers, obstructionist legislation: all of that and more comes around on a daily basis. It’s understandable to want to get away from it.

We can’t.

I don’t mean the larger politics in play. I mean politics in general. We humans are social creatures, and with society comes hierarchy. It’s been that way for millennia. We are only just now starting to look for inherent value in others as individuals, rather than pushing others — and ourselves — into specific socio-political strata. It’s common to worry about how we are perceived by others when we make decisions and take action. The more people who can observe these things, the more that fear can drive the decisions we make in turn.

This leads to uncomfortable questions. Do you choose what is right, or what is popular? Which matters more to you, your reputation or your integrity? What, or whom, is worth sacrificing or destroying in the name of your advancement within the power structure in question? Do you help another, or do you pursue your own ends?

When we step back and examine decisions we’ve made, it can be difficult to see which are “right” and which are “wrong.” It’s a cost-benefit analysis that involves human lives, relationships, and decisions rooted in anxiety and fear of isolation or abandonment. None of these things are easy to examine. Even resolving to make better decisions, to be a more inclusive and compassionate person in lieu of popularity and social standing, is painful. We remember what, and whom, we’ve already lost. We fear the shifting web of allegiances we may alter with future decisions. At what point does your desire for better personal integrity finally outweigh the politics of a social circle? When do we finally decide that we’re fed up with a system that obliterates one person for another’s personal profit?

“Mostly, I’m tired of people being ugly to each other.” — John Coffey, “The Green Mile”

I won’t stop wanting people to do better. It’s what I’ve wanted others to want for me. To believe in others as I’d want to them to believe in me. It pisses me off when people let me down — they make selfish decisions to preserve their station, or worse, cloak those selfish decisions in compassionate words, or do what they do in the name of a nebulous “greater good.” It’s the very definition of hypocrisy.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, my gorge rises at such utter bullshit.

We’re surrounded by injustice. We’re trapped in a world corrupted by politics and selfishness. We’re responsible, in measures large and small, for the mess we are in. We’ve made decisions that have contributed to the shitpile, and we’ve even tried to ignore the smell because it’s warm and familiar.

You can stay there, if you want.

Or you can break out, take a shower, and realize just how much it fucking stinks.

It’s your choice.

On Fridays I write 500 words.

Spider Jerusalem created by Warren Ellis and Darrick Robertson.

For a more in-depth examination of politics, watch CGP Grey’s “Rules for Rulers” here:

Masks Off

Courtesy DC/Vertigo


I’ve had kind of a shitty week.

I haven’t heard from recruiters. Barely a word from the dayjob leads I’m pursuing on my own. I’ve had difficulties in maintaining focus, getting words out, not being pulled into discussions on the Internet. Hell, I finally went to bed at a reasonable hour last night, and I still didn’t rise again until most of the morning was gone. I’m pissed at myself, which is kind of dumb, since I have no conscious control over whatever the chemicals in my brain are doing on a day to day basis. I’m not even on any drugs. Nothing fun, at least. It’s all vitamins and mood stabilizers and cholesterol regulators, and even those are starting to run dry.

(The last two, at least. I’ve got vita-gummies for weeks.)

The thing is, waking up and making coffee and sitting here, a thought occurred to me. I could do an extensive write-up on the experience I had yesterday with some GG folks who were actually nice to me, and answered my questions logically, and the really terrible knot in my stomach that I got afterwards. But I’m not going to. For one very simple reason.

I’m not getting paid for it.

I’m going to write the article. I’m going to give my observations on the phenomenon, how it’s grown, what it does – really does, in spite of what happened yesterday – and what it could mean for the future of gaming culture. But I won’t be putting it here. It’s going to get pitched. I’m going to write about the appeal of old games and why GoG announcements make me giddy. I’m going to write about the reasons why I’m finding myself playing Old Republic so much lately. I’m going to write articles from the perspective of a cantankerous old bat of a gamer who wants the Candy Crush kids off of his goddamn lawn and the Call of Duty fuckwits to stop egging his house.

The only way to write is to write, and I think I’ve been afraid to do that.

I look in the mirror and I see something that scares me.

I see someone tired. I see someone bruised and battered. I see someone who doesn’t believe he’s good enough to make it on his own, and I mean entirely on his own, no corporate structure or steady paycheck to back him up. The mask has worked so well. The smiling mask. The one I would put on every morning before the commute to the office. I think I’ve been trying it on again, and the damn thing is itchy and uncomfortable and sticking to my skin and I’m sick of it.

I mean, I can be that guy, but I don’t necessarily want to be.

Yes, I know. Beggars can’t be choosers. Any port in a storm. A job is a job is a job, and slinging burgers at McPuke’s or presenting clothes to women who feel judged and uncomfortable just walking through the goddamn door at the Gap is better than no income whatsoever. I’m not an idiot.

But I’m also sick and tired of pretending.

I’m not a hateful person by nature. I’m an optimist. I would like to believe in the better aspects of humanity, that individuals can rise above the miasma of self-centeredness and stupidity that seems to dominate our species. In my mind, intelligent folks who can conceptualize the circumstances of others and imagine those concepts in a complex manner can work together to make the world a better place. I’ve seen it happen.

Unfortunately, I don’t see it happening often enough. I see people taking advantage of others. I see victims who carry senses of shame and regret a hundred times bigger than their cardboard signs, victims of a system that’s fucked them over or choices they would undo if someone just gave them a chance (but nobody does). I see fat cats getting fatter while they people they claim to care about and protect suffer and scream and plead and die in obscurity, their supplications drowned out by lobbyist money and the hum of narcotics. I see societies and individuals railing against change because it means that you don’t get to have all of the best toys to yourself anymore.

I hate that bullshit.

I hate ignorance. I hate misogyny. I hate rampant materialism. I hate reckless misinformation. I hate the corruption of young people. I hate corporate globalization and I hate upper-crust greed and I hate people who lack empathy or compassion and I fucking hate making people feel worthless because they don’t fit your advertising image and I fucking HATE people who make liberal use of slurs like “faggot” or “bitch” or “slut” or specific racial terms I won’t repeat, THOSE ARE HUMAN BEINGS YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT YOU IGNORANT ASSHOLE.

This is me with my mask off.

Boo.

I’m a role-player. I write fiction. I pretend as a matter of course. And I’m pretty good at it.

But you can only lie to yourself for so long before it starts to drive you insane.

I’m not giving up on the job search, but I can’t maintain this level of dishonesty with myself and people who would choose to trust me with what is, to them, important work. I’ve tried it before and I’ve always let people down. The more I push myself to try and care, to adopt that mask, the more something inside of me rails against it and along the way, something breaks. I really need to stop getting into that cycle because it never ends well. Hence the brutal honesty.

I’m going to start coming at things differently. It’s never too late to change things. It hasn’t been easy so far, and the practical and static side of me has been fighting me along the way because, like I said, change is frightening. Lying to someone to land a cushy corporate gig is easier than putting myself out on the edge of everything, tossing out pitches on the end of lifelines and hoping someone grabs one and gives me just enough positive momentum back from the void so I can finally say, without a trace of irony or caveat, that I am a goddamn journalist.

If I can do that, I can write more and write even better, because I won’t be held back by this endless sense of guilt that plagues me because I might be letting down my parents since I’m not holding down a steady job.

If I can do that, I might be able to forgive myself for wasting a good portion of my adult life chasing cubicles instead of opportunities for a decent byline.

If I can do that, then I can finally set this stupid mask on fire, and never look back.

That’s the plan, and I’m fucking sticking to it.

If you believe in higher powers, pray for me.

If you believe in luck, wish me that.

Otherwise, just keep reading. A mind needs words like a sword needs a whetstone, and my words are worthless without your eyeballs.

Do It Different

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

Breaking into any extant field can be a daunting prospect. The argument that there’s nothing new under the sun can be made when discussing fiction, film, commentary, web series, criticism, journalism, comic books, you name it. You might look at the shelves at a bookstore, the offerings on Steam, the content on YouTube, or the blog of an eminent Internet personality, and believe there’s no reason to follow through on your creative idea.

The problem with this belief is that it is provably false. Tolkien and Lewis have already written about fantastical worlds, but that has not stopped Martin, Jordan, or Hickman & Weis from doing the same. Asimov, Dick, and Heinlein were pretty much pioneers of long-form science fiction, but if you look on those same bookstore shelves, you’ll see names like Abnett, Stephenson, and Zahn. And as one of my favorite cybernetic characters once said, “The Net is vast and infinite.” There’s plenty of room to start up a new web show if you want to.

The way to be successful with it, in my humble opinion, is to do it differently than others do.

I don’t mean completely change the format or your approach to the subject matter strictly to be different from what’s already being done. That can quickly become gimmicky or trite, and you’ll lose more audience than you’ll gain. What I mean is, instead of copying a methodology or setting or theme wholesale, use it as a starting point and let your own idea grow out of it. The idea should continue to grow, as well, and become its own entity, rather than remaining completely tied to the original inspiration.

I think that was part of the problem with IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! – I wasn’t doing anything to grow or change the idea. I was, for the most part, going through the motions of trying to gain traction and an audience for a medium that, if I’m honest, I’m not sure I’m cut out for. I may be passionate about things like gaming and politics, but a lot of people are, and a lot of people are also not qualified to talk about them from the objective viewpoint of a professional journalist or critic. I think most people would agree that most if not all of my attempts at criticisms are amateur at best.

Does this make them invalid? No. Does this mean I’ll never criticize something again? Of course not.

What I’m getting at is this: I don’t do enough differently as a critic or journalist to justify asking people to pay me for it. From where I stand, my voice is not unique enough to stand out in the ever-growing universe of online critics, and while I could possibly cultivate it to make it stand out more, it would take away from my calling to write fiction, an area in which I do have unique ideas that are working and will get me paid.

I simply need to focus on what I’m good at. I’m better at telling stories than I am writing objective journalistic breakdowns of what’s wrong with this movie or that game or this aspect of our culture. I can do all of those things, sure, but it’s never going to be more than amateur dabbling and a little running off at the mouth from within my little isolated bubble in an obscure blog perched on a corner of the Internet. And I think I’m okay with that.

I do not want to prevent anyone else from going that route, though. So, if you do, if you really want to set up a platform and podium from which to get the word out on something you think is really wrong out there, by all means, have at it. Just find a way to do it different, do it better, do it right. Don’t just imitate, innovate. And don’t be afraid to pimp yourself. Remember, if you don’t work, you don’t eat.

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