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Thursday, 19 July 2018

Day 83: Games

Oh boy, did I not want to get out of bed this morning! Or didn't I not want to get out of bed this morning? Or didn't I not want to not get out of bed this morning? Maybe I misspoke just now. Who's to know?

That's a jab at the lord mayor of Trumpton, Donald McRonald Trump, in case you didn't know. Highly politicised with the lampooning, me.

But yes. I didn't want to get out of bed this morning. I've been putting my phone on the far side of my room the last few days to ensure I'll get up when the alarm goes off, and I was literally crawling on my hands and knees to the thing today. It was like crawling up through hell, shadowy sepulchral arms grasping at my legs and pulling me back.

But I made it, and get this: now I have coffee. Fresh, strong coffee. I must have crawled all the way to heaven. A heaven that trades at hegemonically-determined prices with the poverty-stricken farmers of Latin America, but heaven nonetheless.

Anyway. Day 83. One week to go! Or was that yesterday? Or tomorrow? I don't know how numbers work. Drrrrr. 90 minus 83, carry the two, multiply out the brackets...

The seventh day from today, not including today as one of those days, will be the 90th day. Big times.

I'm going to buy myself a Nintendo Switch to celebrate. I know I was talking about Ivan Denisoviching the shit out of my life yesterday, but I love videogames, I've wanted a Switch since they came out, and I've been using the promise of one as a carrot to coax me all the way through this challenge - a carrot that is now so very, tantalisingly close. Mmmm. Carrot.

I have to play the games I own first, though. That's the deal. I've got a Wii U, Nintendo's previous console, and I want to finish my games on that system before I get a Switch so that, A) I can feel like I've got my worth from them and I deserve an upgrade, rather than simply buying the Switch for its novelty and then throwing it into the giant pile of shame with all the other games I haven't finished once that novelty wears off - and, 2) So I can sell my Wii U to my flatmate guilt-free and recoup a chunk of money for the Switch.

So now I'm going to bang on about videogames for a few posts. Writing about what I'm playing will be a good way to create more accountability to help me see the games through - blogging always helps with accountability - and also I've barely written about games since I stopped doing the gaming blog I used to write years ago, and going back sounds like fun.

Let's start with some history:

In the beginning...

Back when I was the same size as my kitchen counter everyone at school was either a Nintendo kid or a Sega kid. You either owned a SNES, a Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or a Sega Mega Drive. No one had both. It was a true dichotomy; the lines were ideologically divided, and completely non-permeable.

... Though, hang on. Perhaps you're staring at me right now, blinking rapidly, trying to stop your brain turning to soup. If so, let's back up even more.

Even more in the beginning...

For as long as there have been computers, there have been people finding ways to manipulate them into playing games. This is because games humanise technology, they help showcase it, because humans are playful beings by nature, and the universe itself in essence is a state of play. And it's also because computer scientists like to do goofy things on their lunch breaks.

Early games like Tennis for Two and Spacewar! (these names don't get any better) were built onto specific computers - huge, hulking machines with their own displays - and controlled via switches on the cabinets.

As the popularity of games grew, companies began to develop dedicated gaming computers that could plug into your television, with joypads for controlling the action. The home gaming console was born. These devices at first came with one or a couple of games programmed into them, though later systems would allow games to be individually loaded via tapes, floppies, and cartridges, and even later CDs and DVDs, and so on.

During these first embryonic years arcade cabinets, featuring a single game, set up in pubs or rec rooms, dominated the market. But home consoles were gaining in popularity. Simple handheld devices also emerged. And later, when PCs began to be found in every home, people started playing games on these as well. Videogames were spreading like wildfire, or a particularly nasty fungus. Anywhere you could put a computer board, someone would find a way to run Pong off it.

And then, in 1977, the market crashed. The ubiquity of all these Pong clones saturated the market, and bored players. The bottom fell out of the industry. But it recovered quickly, and, by the early 80s, thanks to new games like Space Invaders and Pac Man, more revenue was being earned by videogames than by both pop music and Hollywood movies combined.

But, once again, by 1983 a surplus of near-identical machines playing near-identical games had flooded the market, and North America saw another enormous crash. Personal computers were beginning to take off, and there were too many consoles, and too many low-quality games, available. Retailers didn't have space to stock the stuff, and consumers didn't have the motivation or money to buy it. Many companies folded. Atari, one of the most successful developers of the time, infamously ended up burying 700,000 copies of their E.T. tie-in game that they couldn't sell in a landfill in the desert of New Mexico.

The concept of the home console was dead in the water. Analysts predicted that videogames were a fad, and one which had now reached its end. I almost grew up to be a long-distance runner or a tree surgeon.

And then along came a little Japanese company called Nintendo...

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Day 82: Passion

Bleary bus ride at 07:20 down into the belly of the city, arriving at work to a delivery of Tramlines barrels to be squeezed into a cellar too small for them to fit. Hauling casks out of the lift, chipping concrete from the floor, sweating, swearing. Making space where there was no space. Stomach churning. Shirt sodden. Then eight hours doing laps of the bar, trying to stave off boredom, trying to find a rhythm in the monotony. To make the same phrases repeated to the same customers somehow fresh. To see out of eyes that haven't gone all the way dark. To feel that spark of the sublime still flickering, low, low, underneath all things.

You scrape the clay from the inside of the glasswash, because it needs doing. Pull coffee beans and hair and stringy filth from the glasswash jet arms. Write a note on a stack of cider bottles upstairs to not use them, to use the older ones first, because you know what people are like. Take the bibs from inside empty syrup boxes and break down the cardboard properly, so more will fit in the recycling. Trade cappuccinos with the chef for a cheaper lunch, because you don't have the money to eat it full price.

The mundane has dimensions, weight, and it can be handled - slowly, with patience, one moment at a time. Routine can be hellish or it can be acceptable. Depends where you focus your attention. Ask Ivan Denisovich. He knows.

Then limping back up the hill, homeward, legs gone, but saving the vital two pounds for the bus - a fortune - because I paid in the morning, and I can't afford twice in one day. Missing the cinema and overpriced sweetened snacks with Arron and Pat, missing craft beers and old fashioneds and shots. Not feeling I'm truly missing anything, apart from the company of my friends. I've tried to assuage my soul's suffering with instant pleasures for too long. So now I trudge home and save my handful of pennies and eat leftovers for tea, and I give myself to words, to sighing evenings of work, to dedication to a thing that is very far off but stretches from this point and can perhaps be felt even now. Not filling myself up anymore but emptying myself out, over and over, until all that is left is space.

While putting out the beer garden this morning Pat and Sam were discussing how kids all aspire to be Instagram models and Youtubers these days. I said that in fairness the ones who make it are singularly driven and dedicated and work so hard, because there are so many of them fighting to stand in that sliver of sunlight we call fame that you have to be tireless to succeed. But I ventured that it's a shame all those children don't feel the same drive to learn to play music or make art as they do to take pictures of their faces for social media.

Pat said yes, but obviously there is money and attention in Instagram, and you could play music for all your life and get nowhere.

And I was reminded of something I'd recently read in an Elizabeth Gilbert book. Gilbert said she was friends with an aspiring musician whose sister once asked this musician what would happen if she never got famous, if she pursued her passion forever and never found success.

The friend's response was this: "If you can't see what I'm already getting out of this, then I'll never be able to explain it to you."

When it's love, the work is enough. You're already here.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Day 81: Speaks

Iya. Turns out it's easy to get up at seven in the morning. You just need to have a training session you're giving at work later that day to be awake for already and worrying about.

By the time my alarm went off I'd been sat up in bed for half an hour running through my presentation in my head. It was only some basic beer training for the staff, going over some fundamentals that I thought they should know, but still, I was feeling stressed about it.

I abhor public speaking. I spent ten years of my life growing up with really severe acne. My skin is still not good. I do not like the spotlight being on me in social situations. Even just in conversations with one other person I've been known to get sweaty and nervous when I sense attention shifting towards me. Having a group of people all focusing on me is my idea of absolute hell. It makes me want to crawl up inside myself and disappear.

But I knew I had to give this training session. I knew it wasn't objectively a big deal. So I tried to be as prepared as I could be in the time I had. I made sure I was solid on all the points I was talking about. I ran over the presentation again and again, muttered it to myself while changing barrels in the cellar, practised key parts over lunch. And in the end it all went fine. Yeah, I was nervous to begin with, but I settled into it, and I think I managed to teach a few things, and hopefully the staff had fun. They certainly didn't seem to hold the same opinions as the negative voices in my head, which like to tell me how pathetic and worthless I am every step of the way.

So it was good. And it was another test that I have faced down and made it through while completely sober. I wanted a slug of whisky so badly before starting, that moment when the staff began traipsing in and I realised I was going to have to actually do it, and I thought of my opening and how unfunny and lame it was and how I'd made the whole thing too esoteric and how I was going to lose my words and trail off and blush and spontaneously wee myself and cry in front of everyone. I really wanted some whisky right at that moment.

But I didn't have any. And in the end I didn't need any. Chalk public speaking up as one more occasion where being sober isn't just possible, but perhaps even preferable. I was present for the whole thing, alert, and I'm not going to wake up tomorrow with a hangover.

But I am going to wake up tomorrow. And I am going to wake up early (for me), and go to work, so for now I will leave this here, and bid you good night.

Good night, lovely people, and take care.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Day 80: Sleeps

Heya cherubs. I've been doing so well with the blogging for these 80 days. So well with staying sober. But one aspect of self-improvement that has fallen somewhat by the wayside of late has been my sleeping pattern. I've slid back into the old routine of staying up till 3 or 4 in the morning (often admittedly to finish the blog post I didn't get time to write during the day), and then sleeping in until midday, getting up finally feeling groggy and lethargic and low, and beginning the process anew.

Which is fine. There's no point getting down on myself. I've been fighting a full-blown war against myself, against my mental health, on multiple fronts for 80 days now, and it's natural that some of those fronts will have been forgotten in the greater chaos.

But now I think is the time to rally my troops and refocus my efforts on these failing battlefields.

Also, somehow I've got away with a full week of opens at work, so I should really take the opportunity to get my body clock back in healthy sync now, while it makes sense for my shifts, while I can.

So I'm going to set myself the challenge of getting up no later than 7am, every day for a week, and see how that goes.

I'll keep you posted with the results. Probably over many, many coffees.

... I would write more now, but it looks like it's about bedtime. Eesh. This is going to be harder than I thought.

See you tomorrow. Night night!

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Day 79: Stones

I'm struggling to write at the moment. All my words look revolting and gross. The sentences tumble out disjointed, banal. Or else don't come at all.

I'm hunkered down in my room with Fran. We've been watching the 100, daft formulaic TV. We want noise, commotion, colour, we want plot twists and betrayals and melodrama. We want tropes we understand. Our brains stimulated, but not overworked. Surprises, but only ones that are expected.

Gentle morning earlier with Fran's sister and her partner, seeing their new flat, holding their rabbit, soft as cloud, feeling the skull curving underneath. And then to a cafe for breakfast and coffee, the sun filtering through the tall windows, the wooden tables painted pastel green.

Walking to town through the sleepy streets of Nether Edge, the stone houses bathed in sunlight, the pavements shaded by old gnarled trees.

Falafel wraps with homemade tzatziki for tea, then television loud enough to drown out bad thinking. Fran is having a very hard time, though it is not my place to say.

So we sit watching dumb shows and we eat black cherries from the packet and we spit the stones and stalks onto a dirty plate. We pull down the blinds, we turn up the volume, and we lie back in our little den.

The night passes.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Day 78

At Fran's looking after her. Not sure how much good I'm doing. She's asleep beside me now. Her fan is sweeping the room left to right, right to left. It pauses for the barest of moments half way, stuck, then pushes over the hump and continues on its way. Every time it looks like it won't make it, but every time it does.

Both windows are wide. The night is hot. Outside a solitary car passes on Abbeydale Road, then another, then a truck making late night deliveries. The streetlamp casts a ghostly glow over the surrounding leaves. The world is quiet.

Nothing to say tonight. No words in my head. I'm going to go get some sleep, see what tomorrow brings.

Sorry there's no more, but there's this. I came here for this at least. I'll see you tomorrow. Good night.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Day 77: Fissures

Wait, where am I? What year is this? I remember only a blinding light, a rushing sensation - and pain, indescribable pain. Hold on... Yes, it's... coming back to me. I have journeyed here from the future. My lifeforce ebbs away. Travelling back enacted a great price. I have only minutes before my mind and body crumble. I have been sent to warn you. That thing you are about to do. Do not do it. Please. Do not do it. In the future from which I was sent you doing the thing you are about to do sets in place a chain of events that culminates in a great and terrible tragedy a year from now. But if you act immediately you can change the timeline. My world will cease to exist, but the universal horror that was unleashed will be reversed. My people's lives are but a small price to pay to prevent the darkness, the bloodshed. I only give thanks that I was able to arrive here, in the year 2017, to tell you these things. You do not have much time, but you have some time. You must-

-What's that? It is the year 2018? Oh, no. Oh, God, no. The machine must have malfunctioned. It is too late. The evil cannot be undone. The cracks open even now. The fissures spew forth their agents of torment. The horror begi-- Oh, Christ. I feel myself fading. Oh, it hurts. Ohhhh how it hur...

...

...

Hey there. That's just the introduction I've been doing every post for a while now, as I'm sure you're aware. It's weird, I know, but it's my thing. I like it.

Anyway.

Wet streets outside my window. The smell of rain. Away down the hill, over the rooftops, the nightclub's solitary searchlight clawing at the sky.

I was useless at work today. I was so tired. I snoozed as long as possible this morning, eventually rolled over in a daze and wrenched myself up, my hamstrings tight and throbbing, stood in the shower, somehow made the bus, somehow got to work.

I guess it's nice to be like this though because I'm pushing myself, because I'm holding down a job and blogging daily and trying to maintain the bare bones of a social life, rather than because I'm drunk constantly, or because my mental health is bad.

I mean, my mental health hasn't been great. I've been feeling a bit blank of late, a bit empty. Like I go down to the well of creativity and find the well has an inch of turbid water on the bottom with a decomposing rat floating on the surface, as I think that saying goes.

But it's important, I reckon, to work on separating reality from my opinions about reality. Being tired is not suffering. Going through a trough on the necessarily undulating ocean of creativity is not suffering. Feeling blank, even, is not suffering, if that is what reality truly brings.

It is the thoughts about these things not being right, not being fair, being somehow a sign of my weakness or lack of ability or unsuitability for writing that is the suffering. And I can't do anything about the essential tiredness or the ebb and flow of inspiration or whatever life brings, but I can do something about my opinions about these things.

Not that I can stop them once the thoughts have arisen. And getting worked up about them is just more suffering. They are just more of that essential reality to be accepted, to not be clung to. But it is worth getting used to sensing them, their shape, their taste, their specific emotional valence, and when I notice them arising to remind myself that they are not truth, but value judgements placed on truth.

There is what happens. And there is what you think about what happens. And the two are not the same.

So all is as it should be, then. I've got to go pass out now, and rest up for another day of it tomorrow, but that's where I'm at. All is as it should be. All is good, and bad, and everything in between - and that, it turns out, is all good.

Take care x