|Five Years Later
||[Oct. 13th, 2018|02:49 pm]
Yesterday I got off a particularly brutal day, week, and fortnight of work, and found my way almost immediately to YouTube, where I discovered that LRR had done a playthrough of Analogue: A Hate Story. As you may recall, that’s one of my top games of my whole adult life, and I was more than ready to say good riddance to the workday and usher in the weekend with a few hours of Kathleen and Cameron playing this spectacular game.
The game is even better than I remember it, and so well designed. Cam and Kathleen got into it immediately, and enjoyed it all the way through. Due to the branching, nonlinear nature of the game, they found some logs I had never seen, and they missed others that I keenly remember.
It was a real pleasure. It ended up lasting two sessions for them—three, technically; but they beat the game at the end of the second one and the third session hasn’t happened yet—which for me translated to six solid hours of Friday night relaxation and rediscovery of this magnificent game.
Afterwards I was trying to remember when I had originally played it. My first guess was 2013, because Amy and I played it together but 2012 felt too early, while by 2014 she had mostly stopped doing activities with me. So I went to my Live Journal archive and, sure enough, I had played it in September of 2013.
Five years and a month ago!
And I got to thinking about that. It was just one year and a month ago that I played Life Is Strange—an anniversary I meant to do a journal entry on, but which I’ve been too busy to get to. One year feels about right. It computes that I played Life Is Strange one year ago.
But five years for Analogue? That doesn’t compute, not really. As I was thinking about it, it struck me how that number feels simultaneously too short, too long, and just about right.
It feels just about right because that is actually the amount of time that has passed, and if I connect it in my mind to its context—played on the Mountain together with Amy—2013 is indeed the first year that I thought of. But it doesn’t actually feel like “five years ago.” It feels both vastly far away and comfortably recent.
It feels fairly recent because that period in my life was a stable, timeless period I’ve had, while most everything since then has gone by super fast, often with much trauma, and has felt mostly hollow, like a great, boring nadir. Five years is a long time indeed, and it’s hard to imagine that the Josh who played that game lived five whole years ago.
Yet it also feels vastly far away. Only five years? That was another lifetime! How dare we quantify it as a mere five years.
This morning I was thinking about it again, and it occurred to me that I don’t know what five years is. A second, a minute, an hour, a day, a week I can wrap my ahead. A month, sure. A season, even! And an entire year if I stretch a bit.
But much longer than that? I don’t actually know what that is. And I don’t know if I ever realized this until today, because for my whole life I’ve used the calendar and dating systems, as well as numerous cultural parlance, which easily quantify such spans of time.
It is generally agreed that the human mind cannot truly absorb the concept of, say, a billion years. But in my case—maybe some of yours, too—even five years isn’t something I don’t truly understand, except in terms of numbers. I can’t feel it. It just blurs out into eras and epochs.
One of my earliest journal entries, dated August 3, 2003, tells a story of a caper I’d pulled back in 11th grade—“ages ago,” as I put it at the time. (No doubt I was cribbing from one of my favorite lines in Chrono Trigger, which I had recently played.) And, well, “ages ago” in that context of that journal entry also happened to equal roughly five years.
Similarly, ever since leaving Texas, I speak of living on the Mountain “for five years.” But that period feels to me like an entire era of my life. It is timeless. Not five years.
I can count the numbers just fine: Five years ago today was close to the middle of my time on the Mountain. Five years before that I was living newly alone at my Castle in the Sky in Seattle and we were about to elect Barack Obama and bring the disastrous Bush years to a close. Five years before that—just a couple months after writing that journal entry I mentioned—I had just moved into my Hidey Hole on Capitol Hill, having lost my residency in the U District (for good, as it would turn out), and was in the slow-motion process of losing my ties to the UW. And five years before that I was a junior in high school, taking on my most academically intensive year of schooling ever, and was soon to pull that aforementioned caper.
But five years is a concept I’ll never really understand. I don’t think I’m set up for it.
One of the subtler messages in Analogue—but also one of the most important—is that a technologically advanced society depends inextricably upon the layers of economic complexity holding it up. It’s not conceptually hard to, say, open a factory that builds computer RAM: Just gather your capital, acquire facilities, purchase or build the equipment, hire a workforce, and so on. But if you took all those same people needed to make it happen, and gave them all the same materials, and plopped them into a feudal society, they wouldn’t be able to do it. It would be, indeed, impossible. Societies, like people, have certain limits that they, by reasons of structure, cannot exceed.
I really enjoyed Analogue last night, and it fanned a fire that had gotten going earlier in the day when I’d listened to the title theme from Braid. Despite the workday being supremely frustrating, my creative energies were sizzling yesterday. As Analogue rolled through, I remembered for the first time—in I don’t even know how long—just how keenly I had wanted to push ahead with developing my own video games after I first played Analogue the first time. I had totally forgotten about that. I hadn’t thought about it for months, at least.
Week after week, month after month, my mind continues to heal. That is intensely strange to me, because work is so oppressive, and the fact that I can’t simply quit without once again triggering a 2017-style oblivion countdown is even more oppressive.
But that’s where I stand. I’m getting better, at least psychologically—I can’t say the same for my falling-apart body this year—and continue to do so. And my creative energies are just pulsing. I really want to act on them.
Perhaps what this says is that I had a correct read on the 2017 low point: 2017 was as bad as it was not just because I couldn’t get a job, but because I was coming off of two years of intense, life-altering trauma that I was by no means healed from, and the new existential pressure of not being able to earn a basic survival not only reopened the wound but widened it to a hemorrhage. In contrast, this year, each month has been one more month of stability, one more month of nothing on fire worse than some (admittedly stressful) health problems. I get paid every two weeks. I can pay all my bills. I can afford to buy groceries. I’ve gotten all my dental work done. My crazy mother and crazy landlord are both in the past. Etc., etc.
Three years of massive misfortunes wore down my ability to cope. This year the misfortunes, at least those of such a crippling caliber, are not present. And that, I think, is why I am recovering so steadily psychologically. Despite all the pressures of the job, it’s only nine hours a day, and I’m good at leaving my stress “at work” when I clock out (except on the worst days, like yesterday), and I get paid a bill a day for the trouble. I tell myself that most days: “Today wasn’t so bad that it wasn’t worth the hundred dollars I just earned.” Sometimes, when the days are really tough, I’ll tell myself at lunch that I’ve already earned $50. It helps.
So that’s my biggest source of stress in my life right now: an untenable job, and the fact that my lack of time from that job, together with my still-lingering background depression, mean that I don’t have enough time to tackle my creative projects. And when I do have stress dreams, those are not the things I dream about.
All of which is not to say that I’m not extremely close to quitting. I’m being held back because I keep getting hit with expenses I didn’t anticipate, like the extra $1000 of dental work, some money to help out several different friends in crisis situations (I feel really strongly about that, for obvious reasons and unobvious ones), and this means I’ve never been able to get my emergency savings past $5000 despite the fact that I’ve been close ever since the Solstice. That’s a dangerous amount of money to quit on, and I’ve got almost three weeks of days off coming in November and December, six or seven of them paid, and so I feel financially obligated to stick through till the end of the year. Also, after way too much drama, I did finally get a small raise last Friday, and of course that adds weight of its own to the “stick it out through the end of the year” option.
But it is stressful indeed, because the job keeps getting harder and harder—the CEO does not understand the meaning of “we are overworked”—despite the fact that we lost another copy team member earlier this month in large part because of it, and are losing our team lead later this month—possibly the best supervisor I’ve ever had—because he is burned out. Just as terribly, sticking through till the end of the year means giving up my favorite season of the year, the festive season, to a busy work schedule. Each day I look at the leaves turning a little farther along outside, and I sigh and get back to work. So the urge to quit is strong, incredibly strong—especially with my mind steadily recovering and me feeling more and more confident by the week that I’ll be able to get enough work to be able to stabilize on the bills before my savings run out. Nevertheless, I have persisted at work up till this point. I’m giving myself the breathing room of considering quitting on Monday, but I will probably show up and carry on, instead.
Yet I would sorely love to turn away from all that, and, in this wonderful season of clouds, cool air, and a healing psyche, dive into my creative work in earnest—including a renewed push to improve my career status, and get more work on my own terms. Watching Analogue underscored how intact my creative drive still is—one of the few non-mangled systems aboard the ol’ Model J. Truly I have the soul of a creator. I have heard many others say, and I know it to be true for my self, that the art I create, I create because I have to. That part of me is still there…though for a while I wasn’t sure.
This job, for all I gripe about it, is really cool, and it helped me out of a very difficult financial situation and life crisis. In the long run—assuming this health stuff doesn’t preclude “the long run”—that’s how I’ll remember it: an incredibly fortuitous stepping stone upon the roughest of waters.
And it’s close, really close to what I envision a sustainable job looking like for me. I get to work from home. I can look out the window and take in the day. The café is right next door—gonna go in a few minutes, actually. If I weren’t being comically overworked, I would definitely be continuing this job into 2019 so as to improve my finances.
So…maybe it is time to quit, to say no to that extra $3500 or so that working till Jan. 2 would bring me. I have a place to live, and a psyche that is close to the restoration of its remaining willpowers. I have a lot of entrepreneurial ideas I want to try. I have a teeming tank of creative energy begging to be unleashed. It’s my favorite time of the year, and it’s the Year of 36. And even if I did quit now I would be able to pay the rent through the end of my lease in April. Breaking even wouldn’t be hard: With ancillary income like blood plasma and Patreon, I only need about $700 a month to break even. That isn’t that hard, right? And even if I don’t get all the way there, even partial progress would draw out the timer until my reserves are gone. In 2017 I was not equipped, psychologically, to take on this task. Today? Maybe I am. Not as equipped as I’d like to be, but enough that I think it’s a legitimate option on the table.
I don’t know. I’m thinking about it, this weekend. I welcome anyone’s opinion who has one.
In the meantime, I really enjoyed Analogue yesterday, and the creative inspiration that welled up in me as I watched it. But now I have tons of work to do this weekend—though I did get laundry done last weekend, and that’s a big load off my shoulders—so I’d better get on with it, right after I step downstairs to get coffee.
I wonder if it would lead to interesting gameplay, or, alternatively (but not necessarily exclusively), if it would be an accurate measure of skill level and playing prowess, if chess used a point system that accounted for the amount of materiel lost andor the number of tiles moved, with a reconciliation between both players. (So, for instance, victory with a small loss of materiel andor a small number of total tiles moved would score very favorably, while victory with larger values would score less favorably. Defeat, meanwhile, would score most unfavorably for losing large amounts of material andor moving large numbers of tiles.)