Stubborn Ignorance

Silence is not agreement.

I keep my mouth shut as I walk behind the two women I am working with this week.  The younger one is marching in her formerly fashionable combat boots in time to the words barking from her mouth.  The topic is Suicide. Don’t ask how they got on to that subject, I wasn’t really paying attention.

She says, with all the force of the righteously ignorant: “I don’t understand how anyone can kill themselves. It’s so selfish. How can anyone be that selfish?”

This woman has been a part of my life for about eight years, a friend of a friend at first and now a coworker. I’m sure she’s heard my story. Perhaps she has forgotten.  Or, more likely, she thinks she is imparting a message to me.

“I’ve been depressed, everyone gets depressed sometimes, but I’ve never wanted to die.  Don’t they know how final that is?”  She says, with a tone that implies, “idiots.”

In my head, I answer, “Uh, yeah, they do. That is kind of the point.”  But I don’t say this aloud.  I just follow. Silent. Listening. Cringing to think of the older woman’s thoughts.  The older woman is smart and tolerant, I know she’s been through an emotional hell of her own.  She doesn’t respond either.  Because what can you say?  Silence is not agreement, I just don’t have the will to argue with her.

The speaker continues on, telling stories of people she knows who were hurt by someone’s suicide and how terrible their lives became because of their loss.  “So selfish!” she says, repeatedly, unaware of the hypocrisy.

What is Death?

I know other people who don’t understand the desire to end ones life.  They may not be as obnoxious in their verbalization,  but it boils down to the same thing: they don’t think about death the same way I do. I want to ask her, what does the word DEATH mean to you?  She is one of those agnostic-yet-spiritual types.  I imagine she would answer,  “Of course we don’t know what comes next, and I don’t believe in a fairy-tale heaven or god or anything, but there has to be something. My soul is real, and it can’t just disappear.”

In other words, you are afraid of not existing, therefore you have convinced yourself that you (your ‘soul’) will never die. It is that fear that keeps you from understanding suicide.  If you looked upon death as an inevitable ending, a dissipation into nothingness, a sleep without dreams or waking, perhaps then you could understand the desire to just skip to the end.

What is Life?

I choose to live, and it is a conscious choice. My life is a good life. I have experienced great joy and I believe that I will feel those bursts of happiness again and again in the future. That belief counters the anxiety, the fear of failure, the defeats, the blanket of numbing despair that threatens to smother me. No, I don’t forget.  It is always there, in the dark corners of my mind.  An open door into oblivion.  A promise of nothingness.

We are born into a reality not of our own choosing. The chemical soup of our brains can so easily twist that reality into pain/despair/insanity. We make life-altering decisions before we have the knowledge to understand that the repercussions can destroy all happiness. There are no second chances. There are no do-overs.

What keeps you alive?

She is facinated with skulls and crossbones, symbols of death, evident in her tattoos and the stickers she plasters on her car and her luggage. (Reminds me of the totems used by an old shaman to ward off evil spirits.)

English: Skull and crossbones
English: Skull and crossbones (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She has a ‘Kill or Be Killed’ attitude towards guns. She believes the weather/economy sucks and is just getting worse. The city is full of terrorists.  We’re all going to be speaking Mandarin in twenty years and of course that means the end of the world.  All strangers are bad until proven good.  And in the end, life is about suffering, after all.  If you aren’t complaining about something, you aren’t really living.

Here’s what I don’t understand, when your fear of death is the only thing that keeps you alive, what is the point?  If I told her I believe the world is a wonderful place, that most people are mostly good, and disasters bring out the best in us, she would tell me that I was terribly naïve. If I told her I that I live for the future moments of unexpected joy that I know are coming, she would tell me I was being childish.

And yet, I’m the one who has attempted suicide.  I’m the one who understands why, for some people, it is the only solution. I’m the one who’s selfish because I figured out that we can live (or die) only for ourselves, because it is the only reality we know.

I know why I keep going, why I keep breathing through the unending moments when I’m curled up in a ball on the bathroom floor unable to stop crying.  Does she?

Stubborn Ignorance.

“I don’t understand suicide!”  No, you don’t.  And somehow, by ignoring the inevitable end of life, you seem less alive.

Her ignorance on the topic of suicide ought to mean that she has less to say, but, sadly, she just keeps talking.

 

You don’t know me at all

You were right, she doesn’t like you.

I told CoWorkerA that I felt bad for CoWorkerB.  “She had to travel with me on our last job, all that time in the cab to the airport and then at lunch, I’m sure she was miserable.  I tried to not be too annoying.”  I said it with a smile, but I meant every word.  CoWorkerA said in reply, “You know, you’ve said that before, and I never believed you, but the last time we were all working together I saw her make a face when you walked in the room. You were right, she doesn’t like you.”

That’s not like you.

A friend pointed to the chipped polish on my fingernails and said, “What’s going on? That’s not like you.”

It isn’t?

I don’t wear nail polish often.  But when I do, it always ends up chipping off slowly, sometimes for weeks, because I can’t be bothered to use nail polish remover.  And I like chipping away at it.  It gives me something to do with my hands.  I get the same sort of pleasure doing that as I do picking a scab or peeling sunburned skin.

When he said those words to me, I realized that even though he and I had known each other for years, even though we’d had some really intimate conversations (if we’d been single, we might have dated) he didn’t know me at all.

With that one statement, That’s not like you, memories of things he’d said about me filled my mind and formed a picture of a person who didn’t resemble me at all.

That person was sweet, professional and even a little simpleminded.  That person had clean, neat fingernails and never bit them.  It was a picture of a person he wanted me to be.

My relationship with that friend disintegrated in that moment. That might sound extreme, but don’t worry.  I don’t think he will notice.

If you knew what I was like, you wouldn’t like me.

I wonder if anyone really knows me.  Even when I speak to people who are very close to me I filter my thoughts, choosing words, tone and facial expressions so as to not offend or annoy.   These are people who will love me regardless of what I do or say, but it makes life easier for all of us when I think before I speak.

By default though, I am not nice. If you knew what I was like, you wouldn’t like me. My initial thoughts are harsh, unforgiving and judgmental. My expectations for people are very high, and I am often disappointed by how human and fallible everyone is.  I say that with no hypocrisy as I am equally disappointed in myself.  I should have / could have done so much more with my life by now.  And so should have you.

I am an acquired taste.

I have nothing in common with CoWorkerB and there is no harm done by the fact that she doesn’t like me, but I still want to ‘fix’ the problem.  So I talk, a lot, when I am around her.  I fill the space between us with words. The illogical, emotional side of my brain thinks if I talk enough I will find the magic phrase to make her understand me.

Why do I do this? I am not lacking in friends. It is ok (really) that some people don’t like me. I know I am an acquired taste.

You don’t know me at all.

Even if we could read each other’s thoughts, we still couldn’t know the experiences of the lifetime that created the foundation for those thoughts. There would still be the issue of translation.  Everyone’s perspective is based on their own unique perception. There is no way to alter that. There is no way to make someone else’s perception your own.  We are all alone with our own view of the world.

I can not remove my ‘self’ from this body and move into your body. I cannot see the world through your eyes or walk a mile in your shoes. I don’t know you at all.

And now, reverse the pronouns.

You can not remove your ‘self’ from that body and move into my body. You cannot see the world through my eyes or walk a mile in my shoes. You don’t know me at all.

Memory of something that hardly happened

Memory is shadow.  A 2d projection of a 3d event.  Warped and wrung by heat and light. Mushed and mangled by time and experience.

A memory of seeing the Mona Lisa, an event almost a decade old, passed, unrelated to anything, to the front of my mind on a day when other, more interesting things were happening, as if my mind accidentally hit the ‘shuffle all’ button on my life’s playlist.

The memory isn’t of the painting at all, it is from above, looking down on a sea of disembodied heads and hands holding cameras, although I’m sure cameras weren’t allowed, all pointed towards a small glass box on a wall, inside of which, we were told, hung the most famous painting in the world.

I wanted to be moved. I guess the existence of the memory proves that I felt something. Enough anyway for my mind to use up precious synapses or neurons to hold a permanent impression of the event.

In the end though, my memory isn’t of the thing, (the painting,) it is of seeing the thing.

It is a memory of something that hardly happened at all.

English: Eye painting on a wall in London.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once you go Creative, why go back to Normal?

Both Sim City and Minecraft, and probably other games too, offer a ‘creative’ or ‘sandbox’ mode.  This means that the game turns off all the monsters and disasters and gives you unlimited access to materials. With all that potential wealth at your fingertips, why would people play any other way?

See all that dark brown ground - very bad pollution!
See all that dark brown ground – very bad pollution!

During my recent bout of Sim City playing, I at first resisted the urge to play in the sandbox.  I did manage to build a good city with a somewhat stable budget, but large problems loomed. The coal that made the city so much money was running out and the ground pollution caused by the mining and the trash was slowly seeping across the land towards my dwindling water supply. Random tornadoes and Godzilla had ruined important structures. ( I could go on detailing the various strategies to handle those problems – but I haven’t figured it all out yet.)

It got really frustrating, so I started a new city, this time in sandbox mode, and it was good.  Ah – the perfect city – clean energy, low taxes, lots of education for all those happy little sims.  Lovely.

So Pretty and Perfect
So Pretty and Perfect

Funny thing though…  I haven’t played since the day I built that city.

I haven’t played Minecraft in ages.  In Minecraft’s normal mode there are Creepers.  These monsters do nothing but chase after you and blow you up.  The explosion scatters all the precious materials that you have gathered around the area where you died, potentially losing them forever.  If you happen to be standing next to the awesome structure you’ve just spent hours building, they blow that up too.  All the other monsters in Minecraft I can deal with, but the Creepers freak me out.  So I play in creative mode and build sprawling manor houses or majestic castles, and then…  After a moment or two of admiring my work, I turn the game off.

It is hard to go back to normal mode, with its money problems and lack of resources after playing in creative mode.  But there is something about watching in horror as a tornado rips through the really expensive hospital you just plopped down (and, yes, Plop is the word they use in Sim City to place a structure on the ground – weirdos.)  that, while making you want to punch a hole in your monitor, also makes you want to keep playing, in an, “I’ll show you,,” sort of way.

It is the monsters that make the games interesting.  Games without challenges might be easy and stress free, but they’re not addictive.  They don’t wake you up in the middle of the night with a mind full of ideas on how to solve the latest crisis.  We’ve all got these gigantic, problem-solving brains – if we aren’t using them to solve problems, well, what’s the point?

Next time I play Sim City, I’ll go back to my original, troubled city and see what I can come up with to fix it.  The perfect sandbox city will hover in my memory as the goal for ‘reality,’ but I doubt I’ll ever play in it again. Perfect is Boring.

I’m a Gamer Woman, Dammit

One of my favorite places on the web to find help for the game (SWTOR) is Dulfy.net.  I guess the pink script of her logo should have tipped me off, but I did not realize at first that Dulfy is female.

assumed that a gamer blog would be run by someone male.

Why? Why, despite being a female gamer myself, do I too believe in the pimply, teenage boy gamer stereotype?

When my boyfriend and I pop over to the local pub to grab some sustenance after a long afternoon of laughing our asses off playing LA Noire, (that game makes me laugh more than any intentionally funny game ever could) we share the funny moments with our gaming friends there.  Those men (and they are all men) think my boyfriend is the luckiest man in the world. Why? Because not only do I not hate the games, or sigh and roll my eyes when he talks about them, I play them too.

All women are supposed to hate video games, not play them, according to the stereotype.

Am I being a bad representative of my gender when I say I don’t want to fight against these stereotypes?  Because of those stereotypes, I am considered unique, if not downright cool!

But maybe by even writing this I am dating myself.  Dulfy looks young in her picture.  Maybe the millennial girls play more video games than we generation X women?  Let’s do some research…

According to this report (read the whole thing – it is amazing!) by the Entertainment Software Association, the average age of a gamer is 37 and the gender split is almost even.  Now, this report includes all games, even silly phone apps and things like farmville – which I refuse to even look at, much less play.  But still, it means that the stereotype is going to die, and sooner than I would like.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, the only scifi/fantasy ‘thing’ my non-geek sister had any awareness of was Star Wars.  (And I think the only reason for that was her crush on Harrison Ford.)  She used to be the stereotype – sighing when her husband spent a night online with his Counter-Strike friends, but now she plays Minecraft and Rayman Origins with her kids and is writing an iOS game herself.  She knows all about Game of Thrones and Doctor Who and when Ender’s Game comes out in November, (starring Harrison Ford) she’ll probably go see it, despite never having heard of the book before now.  My point is, there is nothing inherently masculine in being a scifi fan or an online or console gamer anymore.

To my dearly beloved feminist friend who wants me to fight against these stereotypes, I say, No! I won’t do it.  They will fade away on their own as the next generation of women like Dulfy, who think nothing of their gender when posting online help to a previously male dominated gaming community, come into their own.  Too soon, aging female GenXer gamers like myself, who were once cool and unique, will look like idiots if they make a big deal about being a girl.  The gaming world will sigh and say, who cares what plumbing you have in RL*, what counts is the gear you bring against the next boss*.

*RL – Real Life
*boss – a non-player-character in a game that is very hard to defeat – usually signifies the end of a level or story-line.

The Game vs Real Life

Should I worry when the line between real life and a computer game seems to blur?

My boyfriend and I were walking along the street, chatting about this and that, when I saw a sign in a store window that contained the initialism, “GSI.”  Earlier that morning he and I were searching in the game world (SWTOR) for a GSI vendor.  In the game world, GSI stands for Galactic Standard Industries.  I have no idea what this real life version of those letters meant.

SWTOR Empire logo
Come to the dark side (Photo credit: Derringdos)

Here is what happened in my brain during the one second of seeing the sign:

  • Millisecond 1 – Eyes input visual of sign in store window
  • Millisecond 250 – Brain recognizes letters
  • Millisecond 500 – Oh, that is the place we need to get the next quest from
  • Millisecond 750 – Realization of what I just thought
  • Millisecond 1000 – Laughter

My boyfriend turned to me and asked why I was suddenly laughing so hard.  It took me a while to catch my breath enough to tell him, and of course he thought it was hysterical.

And then it happened again.

This time the game was Sim City, and the real life prompt was an abandoned building.  In Sim City it is good strategy to immediately bulldoze abandoned buildings to avoid creating homeless people and to maintain your tax revenue. Probably a good strategy in real life, but not nearly as easy to do:  I held up my hand in the direction of the real life building, moved my finger in a mouse clicking motion and said aloud, “bulldoze.”

English: Abandoned Building
Bulldoze in one click? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My boyfriend almost fell over, he was laughing so hard.  He is threatening to write the two events up on facebook.

I guess I just beat him to it.  But should I be worried?  Is this yet another sign that I am gaming too much, or is it just evidence of a healthy imagination?

What do you think?

My Occasional Obsessive Tendencies

English: Cropped by : Fourohfour, to remove ir...
If you don’t get the Cheetos reference, good for you. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Allow me to share with you my list of activities for the last five days:

Sleep – six hours a night
Eat – about two hours a day
Play Sim City – half of all the remaining time
Play SWTOR* – the other half of the remaining time

Is this obsessive behavior?

(A brief aside for any readers who are also gamers:

 SWTOR just released its first expansion last month and this past week was the first opportunity my boyfriend and I had to take our avatars from level 50 up to the new high level of 55. If any of you out there play SWTOR, let me know what you think of the new content.  I was not pleased.

Sim City does not deserve the negative hype it has received – I have had no troubles playing and the ‘traffic problem’ is not a problem if you lay out your city properly.  It is an amazing game.  I think because of my programming background I have a better understanding of how the ‘sims’ move and act.  I don’t expect them to behave like individuals.  They are simply code.  Sophisticated code, yes, but in the end, they are just 1s and 0s.  If you treat them as such, you won’t be disappointed when they don’t act they way you would in a real-life situation.  There are patterns to their behavior, and once you determine the pattern you can successfully manipulate it, and earn your simulated city millions of simulated dollars.)

You can call my five-day, almost non-stop gaming obsessive if you like.  And in a way it is.  But I wasn’t really neglecting anything.  I worked on a large project two weeks ago and I have another two weeks of work starting soon.  My boyfriend is applying to every single graphic artist job he can find out there.  So what is the harm?

I’ll tell you.  The harm is that, while I am sleeping, I am dreaming of the games. Even when I am doing other things, buying groceries, cooking a meal, taking a shower, I am always thinking about the games.  In my mind I am constantly strategizing, running ‘what if’ scenarios, and planning my next move. I can’t wait to finish up the things I have to do in order to get back to the games.

After a while it starts to hurt.  My mind churns and spins and focuses on this one thing for so long, it physically starts to ache.  Not like a headache, more like a strained muscle.

Thankfully, I am a strong-willed person.  When this sort of mind-ache starts I know what I have to do.  I have to stop playing so much.  I set an alarm clock up across the room to limit my playing time.  I call people on the phone and have long conversations about anything other than the game.  I find a good book and go into the other room, the one without a computer in it, to read.  And eventually, I will lose interest.

Next week I will be off somewhere working, and this will all fade away.  But for now, I am ending this post because my boyfriend and I need to kill an absurdly difficult droid thingy.  I dreamed last night of a new way to try it… wish us luck!

*

SWTOR – Star Wars,The Old Republic

Thoughts on Small Talk

I suck at small talk.

The other day my boyfriend and I were walking down our street and we ran into a mutual acquaintance.  He was standing on the corner, all alone, and as we approached, we all said the usual words of greeting, “hi” or whatever, and then I said: “What are you guys up to?”

Guys.  Plural.  Huh?

The only way to explain this flub is to imagine for a moment that I am an actor, rehearsing for a play.  Because of my familiarity with the dialogue, I accidentally say another actor’s line before they get a chance to say it.

This is not the first time I have said aloud what I expected the other person to say.  I also finish other people’s sentences and feed them potential words when they are searching for the right one. I think it is the silence I am afraid of.  A phone conversation with me is deadly.  If you pause to take a breath, I will fill the space with my voice.  I’m not listening at all, I’m just talking.

The way it should go: (example adapted from the wiki on small talk)

Me: Hello!
You: Hi, how are you?
Me: Fine, thanks. Have a good weekend?
You: Yes, thanks. Catch you later.
Me: OK, see you.

But sometimes they get jumbled in my head and I use them out of order.

Me: I’m fine, how about you?
You: Uh, I didn’t even say Hello yet.

Oops.

Or I will get into an unending loop:

Me: Hi! How are you?
You: I’m fine, how are you?
Me: Great, and you?

When used correctly, these practiced words and phrases act as a social lubricant.  A comfortable, easy way of interacting with our fellow humans, the acquaintances and the ‘almost’ friends like the guy we ran into on the corner.  People we don’t know well enough to just pick up the ongoing conversation the way we do with the people we are close to.  I’ll guess that in our tiny village days, 8,000 or whatever years ago, we didn’t need small talk.  We knew how everyone’s day had gone – we were there with them as they experienced it.

Neanderthal You: Hey, how’s it going?
Neanderthal Me: The same as it’s going for you, duh! (I say this occasionally to my boyfriend after we’ve spent the day together. He really loves it when I do that.)

I want to get better at small talk.  I want to sound like a confident and easy-going person who always knows her lines.  Mastering the art of small talk will make me popular among all my acquaintances and admired by the new people I meet when I’m walking down the street.  It will also make me excellent at sales.

Actually, I take that back.  The best sales people I’ve encountered in my life did not engage in small talk.

Hans Dippel is the world’s greatest fine-wine salesman.  I don’t know how he did it, but he managed to remember everything I ever said to him every time we spoke, even when many months separated our conversations. I would have bought anything from him because when I spoke with him it felt like I was speaking with a close friend.  No, better than that.  A best-friend who had no life of their own to talk about and was entirely dedicated to hearing about mine.  (I just googled him – looks like he was running for city council last year – I’m not surprised at all.)

So here is an immensely popular, really likable guy who must have thousands of acquaintances, but who does not engage in small talk.  Interesting.

Perhaps small talk isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Maybe it isn’t a skill I should attempt to master.  Or maybe it isn’t the small talk that I suck at.

What really screws me up in these short, light conversations is not listening to what the other person is saying.  After saying that initial ‘hello’ I should just pause, take a breath, and pay attention to their response. If I did that instead of trying to remember my line, I might retain some of what they actually said.  If I did that, maybe the next time I ran into that person on the street I could think back to the last conversation we had, and pick up where we left off, instead of starting all over again.

Me: Hey! good to see you.
You: Yeah, you too.
Me: So did your brother ever arrive to pick you up, or did you end up walking home?

See, an ongoing conversation. Without being close friends, I’ve managed to make him feel good by giving him something personal to talk about.  But in the end the effect is the same… whether you are the master of small talk or have the memory of an elephant, if you make the other person in the conversation comfortable, they will like you.

The purpose of small talk is to provide an easy way to help everyone get along with each other. And even for the people in the tiny village, that’s really not such a bad thing at all.

Small Talk (1929)
End Credits – Small Talk (1929) (Photo credit: twm1340)

My Dad sent me an email: “I read a blog on “small talk”…. Thought it would be a great topic for MofM and to read your take on the subject……just a thought”
(As an aside – I just love that he referred to my blog as a thing separate from myself – makes it feel more real.) 

Hope you like what I wrote, Dad, and thanks for the prompt.