Personal Update #3

Okay, I’ll tell you this up-front: I expect this one is gonna be fairly light on what’s been happening in my life (mostly I’ll be discussing what I’ve been playing/reading). Not because it’s been an uneventful stretch though. Quite the opposite in fact. There’s been some fucking intense, emotionally trying shit going down: holding my lover’s hand and maintaining umbilical eye-contact and trying to keep up a steady stream of sweet, distracting babble as a very long needle infiltrates her spine, riding in an ambulance for the first time in my life, and so on. But, interesting though they (and all distressing experiences) are, I don’t know that they’re really my stories to tell.

And, anyhow, I’m probably still too caught up in subconsciously processing it all to have any chance of articulating it halfway well. There are some things which one ought to await a certain amount of emotional and temporal distance from, before one dares to put pen to paper with them in mind. Otherwise, you’re probably going to just be unwittingly writing about the side-effects of shock, which tend to cloud everything else for their duration. And – alas! – the longer one is willing to wait, the better. Three-months’ hindsight is a magnifying glass; three-years’ hindsight is a microscope. (I am rarely so patient as to avail myself of the latter, however.) Definitively past-tensing it is the price of genuinely figuring out how it affected you, what your thoughts on it are. A price worth paying, I’d say. That is, if one hopes to avoid cramming these moments into a meat-grinder of fractured, incipient understanding and doing them little justice. Which is a prospect I find… unpalatable. To flippantly bungle conveying the gravity of grave things seems, to my mind, somehow disrespectful.

And, to get back to the point at hand, my brevity – I mean, relatively speaking; I’m still me, after all – of navel-gazing is also not because I don’t have me-things to ramble about. ‘Cause I always have me-things to ramble about, as befits/necessitates this type of post. (The narcissist’s quiver is never quite empty, rest assured.) I just happen to find myself, in this moment, with only enough… whatever the fuck… energy or willpower or capacity to stomach my own rambling… to touch on one or two of them. Lucky you, huh?

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A Partially-Retracted Apologia for ‘Deus Ex: Invisible War’

I recently played through ‘Deus Ex: Invisible War’ again. (I used the full edition of the excellent Visible Upgrade mod, which I highly recommend. It bundles a borderline essential hi-res texture pack – seriously, in retrospect some of those original faces are just… not right – with a miscellany of little fixes and tweaks which just make your life easier.) I don’t do this very often, to put it mildly.

Some people seem able to regularly re-experience the fiction they love without running the risk of it starting to seem boringly over-familiar. My girlfriend is a prime example of this. She re-watches her favourite movies all the time and takes great comfort in them being a constant companion. Also, she’s just finished reading a book she discovered she loved, and she’s planning on immediately re-reading it.

This is totally alien to me. I’m just not like that. Or at least I fear I’m not like that. I’m not really willing to risk it and find out for sure. I only return to my favourite games/movies/books with extreme infrequency. In part this comes down to the fact that I simply do not derive much enjoyment from diving back into them too soon or too often. I’d struggle to re-engage with them properly and it would feel like a waste. It’s like trying to defy a mental refractory period. Yeah, that’s just not for me. I prefer to let years and years go by; let my fondness for it percolate; let my memory of its particulars start to fade a little bit, become blurry, so that I can rediscover them anew.

But it’s also a matter of worrying that if I overindulge in that repetition, I’ll begin to weaken my connection to the thing itself. I’ll know it too well – inside and out, beat for beat – and I’ll become numb to it. This scares me. I love, and I mean really love, so few pieces of fiction when it comes down to it. So a certain measure of… preservation is called for, I believe.

As a result of this approach, when I do decide to revisit something I adore, it feels like a big deal. It becomes its own sort of mini-event. Which serves to amplify the whole experience, make me really focus on savouring it and its specialness. However, this can have some unexpected side-effects as well. It’s daunting, honestly. It’s half like opening a time-capsule and half like partaking in a sacrament. You get what I’m saying? It almost means too much to me, has too much personal significance. I need everything to be ‘perfect’ when I come to sit down and dive back in. (My OCD certainly doesn’t help with that.) And it can be hard to step outside those obligations which my reverence for that thing seems to imply, and just… you know… relax and have fun with it again.

I know all that might seem silly. In some sense, it may well be. If only recognizing their silliness could diminish or even vanquish one’s irrational compulsions. But, sadly, no. More’s the pity.

It was something I struggled with a fair bit on this playthrough. And this game is quite the magnet for such difficulties, let me tell you. Because depending on what day you ask me the question, it’s possible I might say that ‘Deus Ex: Invisible War’ is my favourite game of all time.

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Personal Update #2

To be candid, the past couple of months have been… somewhat of an emotionally-trying whirlwind. For various reasons. Some I care to disclose, some I do not. At any rate, I was not at all in a place where I felt like writing, which is why this blog went sadly neglected.

But, yes, I am back now. I know I had you deathly worried. I’ve no doubt you wept and wept until – having reached a perilous state of dehydration – only a sort of moist-ish dust seeped out of your tear ducts. Which is, I suppose, touching. And also upsettingly gross. Still, all that’s behind us now. So call off your search parties. Take my photo off the side of milk cartons. (Weirdly, that practice has long been cemented in my mind as a tiny, morbid facet of Americana. But was that ever actually a thing? Or did movies just make it up? I truly do not know.) Stop forcing bloodhounds to sniff my watch strap to learn my scent. Rescind that eight-figure reward for any information leading to my safe return.

I even have some thoughts on what to do with those freed-up funds. I say divvy them up to create a bunch of interpretive dance and flower arranging scholarships in my name. After all, when I do finally leave this mortal plane for good, I want to know that I’ve left an imposing legacy in my wake. Because charitable donations are all well and good, in theory, but we all know beyond a shadow of a doubt that 99.99997% of that money gets wasted on ‘overhead’ or embezzled to buy gold-plated bidets and diamond-encrusted pet tigers and whatnot. That’s just cold, hard fact. Whereas all those artful bouquets and profound shimmies at my funeral will be indisputable proof of both a good deed and money well spent. My gravestone will read: ‘Ryan J. Finch, 1993-2149 (ed note – conservative estimate; I come from hardy Irish peasant stock, i.e. inexplicable Methuselah-genes), BELOVED PATRON OF THE FINE ARTS’. From time to time, well-wishers will visit it and leave one of those tacky electronic dancing-flower toys as a kind of wry two-in-one acknowledgement of the fields which owe their continued vitality to me. And thus all will be as it should be.

Ah, I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s all to come in the distant future. In the meantime though, let’s talk about my more recent doings.

What it’s like trying to find a Literary Agent (a.k.a. feeling honest, may delete later)

So, I wrote a novel. (If you’d care to read about that whole process, you can find the transcript of S02E08 of the unfilmed, untelevised one-man TV show I’ve been, uh, living for a long time now, called ‘Making Art to Prove I Exist’, by clicking here.) And then a little while ago it came time to put up or shut up. That is, try to find a way to publish it.

I went into this stage not really knowing what it would specifically entail. (I had sought to insulate myself from that intimidating/preoccupying knowledge whilst I was writing the book.) After some initial research, I learned that the place to start is submitting your work to literary agencies and praying they’ll agree to represent you. Then they try to sell your work to the publishing houses themselves, who are reportedly much more likely to lend serious consideration to agent-backed authors.

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Personal Update #1

I have to say, something does really tickle me about the idea of having a separate category of journal-y posts on a website already dedicated to me and my thoughts. What shameless micro-divisions of narcissism.

But on to the matter at hand.

How have I been feeling?

Depressed…

Or rather, depressed AF, as the kids would say. Wait, do they actually say that? Shit, in all honesty I didn’t even really know ‘what the kids are saying’ when I was a fucking kid. So I definitely shouldn’t count on doing any better now that I’m peering in from the outside.

The cool new slang – even saying that makes me sound like your mom ineptly trying to work the words ‘tight’ or ‘sick’ into a conversation all faux easy-breezy like – is, uh, not really my thing. Not least because by the time it reaches someone like me, it’s probably already at the very end of its coolness life-cycle. I’m talking withered body, audible death-throes here. (At which point, fast-food brands, via the millennial interns who work for their PR departments, will just be starting to use it in their adverts. To superficially seem edgy and relevant. E.g. ‘Burger King™ wants to slide into the DMs of your hungry tummy with these thicc Whoppers™!’)

Allow me to sketch for you that life-cycle. First of all, the jargon takes a while to emerge out of the formative womb of the internet. By which I of course mean the insular, arcane, utmost molten core of Twitter. This is a realm of frenetic hyper-activity and kinetic urgency. I couldn’t tell you exactly why, but I envision it as being like a gargantuan spherical fish-tank filled with liquid fire. Wherein swim and skitter about absurdly agile, absurdly fast metallic spider-bots, which occasionally bump into each other and emit a screechy, distorted facsimile-recording of laughter.

You know, on second thought, maybe I should talk to my doctor about lowering the dose of this new medication…

Anyway, I’m sure you know the well-revered young, cool layer of Twitter I’m referring to. I’m more or less as ignorant an outsider as could be, but here are my general impressions of it nonetheless. (Look, this is my site. And I’m not here to not talk to you, you know?) It’s a place where capitalizing the start of sentences or using even semi-adequate punctuation is seen as a heinous faux pas which reveals that at birth you must have somehow ended up with an old-fogey soul trapped inside you, like coming across a fancy new laptop inexplicably running Windows 95. It’s a place where strategically left-in typos are seen as a marker of ultimate carefree authenticity. (The amount of time and effort one can sometimes sense has been put into finessing the off-the-cuffness of a purportedly hastily written off-the-cuff tweet is insane. Doing that must require having a very low opinion of the reader’s basic perceptiveness.) It’s a place largely peopled by those who strangely, unabashedly treat Twitter like a full-time job, and one they’re desperately, desperately trying to seem ‘good’ at. Who they’re hoping to win some kind of attaboy from I do not know; I wonder whether they do either. It’s a place where you can simultaneously bemoan the dumbing down of mainstream entertainment whilst happily bandying around an endless stream of low-effort memes which just recycle the same three or four kinds of tired, excruciatingly unfunny jokes.

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Assorted Reflections on First-Time Novel-Writing

The 31st of January 2019 may mean nothing to you. Fair enough. But it means a hell of a lot to me. Everything, really. It was the day I finished – truly, conclusively ‘finished’ – my first novel. A considerable self-imposed pressure was lifted from me that day. A pressure which I had felt squeezing my bone marrow into thin stringy pulp for quite a long time.


Before I get into why that was, first some background information.

The story of its creation begins as a disjointed one. As was perhaps unavoidable. Because I was asked to start writing a novel, rather than independently choosing to. So it’s not like I just sat down one day and resolved that this was the life goal I was going to tackle next. (Though it was, as with most writers, a vague ambition of mine. Whose start-date was set for some unspecified tomorrow.) It kind of just… came about. An external impetus set things in motion. But then I let that momentum sweep me along until, before long, I had my head down and I was running so much faster than the fading tidal wave behind me…

Okay, don’t wanna get ahead of myself. Let’s back up all the way. At university, I majored in English Literature and minored in Creative Writing. To be frank, I did not enjoy the in-person CW classes themselves. I want to be careful with my language here, so as not to overstate the matter. They weren’t a… horrible experience. They were generally just kind of a chore, and not very useful.

I disliked how some teachers would try to impose rigid rules (sourced from either received wisdom or their personal preference) about how one should write onto their students. Whenever they introduced one of these rules, my imagination reflexively conjured up a bunch of instances where defying it could work out well. And, alright, maybe I just have an overly rebellious cast of mind. It is true I’ve never loved being told what to do. But given that this ready abundance of counter-examples was obvious to even an inexperienced writer like myself, I think it was only fair to be dubious. I’m sure I was far from the only student there who was.

Now, I don’t for a second doubt these teachers were well-meaning. It’s just that their approach was, I believe, a very poor way of helping young people discover or cultivate what kind of writer they want to be. There is an adage which states that one must be deeply familiar with ‘the rules’ before one is entitled to and competent enough to break them. On the face of it, this seems to make sense. And such knowledge, when not inculcated as dogma, is indeed usually a benefit. To be consulted as one option among many; not a sacred yardstick. Yet it has long been my suspicion that it’s very dangerous to ever immure yourself inside that staid, conventionalist mindset. Before you know it, those perfect walls will suddenly seem so… homely. Aye, far too neat and straight and comforting to permit any impulse to start chipping away at them. This complacency isn’t just a novice’s bane either. No no no. It has seduced much, much better writers than you or me. And only towards the end of lengthy literary careers have they clawed through the brittled drywall and screamed their mistake through that gaping, jagged hole. I propose we heed their cautionary tales. These were, it should be said, offered for our benefit. If nothing else, it would be rude to spurn such a gracious gift.

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“The horror! The horror!”

I find I cannot help but think of this famous, chilling line from Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’. (A novel which I greatly admire.) Specifically, its connotations of being overwhelmed to the point of a sort of semi-dumb stupor, robbed of all eloquence or power to elaborate, by the sheer horrificness of something. It is like one’s very soul is gasping for air, having been punched in the gut by the world being so heinously unlike how it should be.

When the news broke several days ago about the massacre at two mosques in New Zealand, I… found I just couldn’t bring myself to read about it in depth. The news sites I frequent had already divulged enough in their blunt, formal headlinese: Dozens Dead. Shooter Live-streamed Killing Spree. Racist Manifesto Discovered. Those kind of summations, alone, sufficed to give me a sense of how unbelievably awful this tragedy was, how especially twisted and monstrous the plan behind it was, how stomach-turningly sick its perpetrator was. And I could not will myself to seek out and absorb any further details. For even the outline of the story was so dire, so depressing. Such a large number of innocent people attacked in such a nightmarishly brutal and callous way. I believe that the current count stands at fifty killed, fifty injured. (And the youngest victim was just… two years old.) Good god. But, of course, it doesn’t even end there. One ought to spare a thought for their families too. Who must be going through nigh-unbearable grief and sorrow.

It occurs to me that words cannot properly capture or convey the sheer evilness of such a thing. And there would be an absurdity in even trying to make them do so. Nor does the mind fare much better. It reflexively recoils in disgust and fear and abhorrence, failing to grapple with the true extent of the crime’s hideousness. This limitation is, perhaps, a small mercy. Even if the universe should have cared more about alloting merciful treatful to the victims instead.

In point of fact, I usually do click on these sort of news stories and, unpleasant though it is, make myself read about what happened. Half because I think it’s important to stay apprised of what the fuck is going on in the world; half because of – I’ll be totally candid here – an irrepressible morbid curiosity. That’s why this choice not to was significant. I’m not quite sure why I made it. I guess I just finally felt like I could imbibe no more of the horror. It might be that it was just a gradual wearing down of the mental fortitude needed to read such things and not let them destroy your day, or even a few days in a row, with vicarious sadness. As there is undoubtedly no shortage of these grisly stories to perpetuate that chipping-away effect. Just today, it’s being reported that there was an attack in the Netherlands, where multiple people were shot whilst riding a tram. And it seems that, at the very least, several times a month one wakes up to find just such a story dominating the news. “Oh look,” you say to yourself, “some unbelievably vicious act of unbelievably idiotic violence has claimed yet more lives.” This grim internal-monologue remark has become a continual presence in modern life. It is the only thing which springs to mind anymore. And its matter-of-factness is jarring, yes. But remember that that’s born from the self-reproaching apathy of compassion-fatigue.

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‘Beware The Twin Neurotoxins of Jealousy and Insecurity,’ said I to Myself

Sometimes I feel very strongly that I truly cannot rest easy until I have… oh, I don’t know… a couple million words-written to my name. To know that I was able to do it. And not bullshit graphomaniac word vomit either; but rather, creditable efforts I can be proud of. Such will be the exorbitant price of admission for a moment where I can finally just breathe and be content. Because I’ll be able to point to that body of work and say: look at that! that proves I’m worth a damn! that retroactively gives my life some meaning!

(Out of curiosity, I looked it up. That moment has five out of five stars on Yelp. But that’s sourced from relatively few reviews. And the reviewers kind of seem like a mix of bots and fakers. Hmm. Weird. Oh look, a moment called ‘the strangely comforting victory of learning to be okay with what you already have’ only has three stars but it does have a shit-ton of reviews. From what seem to be nice, normal, well-adjusted people. Its popularity is enticing, I have to say. Damn it. Choices, choices.)

Okay, so… my motivation for this goal sounds insane, I know. And in a sense it very much is. But stick with me. I’ll try to explain. Hopefully it may make infinitesimally more sense by the time I’m done.

I suffer from jealousy way, way more than I’d like. To an unseemly and humiliating degree really. I feel it in many aspects of my life, but most often and most especially when it comes to the craft of writing.

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First of all: some things to know, some things to click

Okay, look, I’ll be straight with you. It’s simple, this site is where I’m gonna post the things I write. They’ll be non-fiction, of varying lengths, and about anything and everything. Like, sometimes just blog posts about my life, sometimes thoughts on politics, etc.

Hmm. I nearly just made some hackneyed quip about that pairing being appropriate because ‘the personal is political’ and whatnot. But then I stopped myself. Because, as we all know, you’re entitled to vomit copiously onto anyone who says that unironically, as if it’s some notable insight. And *this*? This coat right here? It’s mink. Not just any old mink-fur either; my one is made solely from little minks that really, really wanted to escape being skinned and made into coats. This added note of tragedy, for still poorly understood scientific reasons, renders the resulting garment especially soft and delicate. It will, therefore, definitely not pair well with stomach acid. And I don’t know exactly what ‘dry cleaners’ are or how to use them. I think they may only exist in movies. Just like those weird white open-top boxes which Chinese takeout comes in.

Now, it may almost seem patronizing to even explain the purpose of this site to you, given the URL, but I know that you’ll give me the benefit of the doubt here, negating that potential faux pas. Strangers on the internet are inherently kind like that, right? I sure hope so. Otherwise perhaps that down on his luck king-in-exile who emailed me asking for a loan in order to reclaim his throne and confer honors and riches upon me as reward is… actually not who he says he is?…

No. Impossible. I mean, I’ve already done the requested bank transfer. And so I will be a wealthy prince of Madeuplandia – strange name, an etymological relic from the original, umm, Dutch settlers there I imagine? – in thirty to forty business days. (The well-known standard waiting time for overthrowing usurpers and restoring order, of course.) Don’t worry, I won’t forget the little people when that happens. Probably. Depends on your littleness I suppose. My memory can only retain six-footers and over. It’s a very, very rare neurological condition. I tried to create a GoFundMe page to crowdfund money for treatment, but the error page it gave me just said ‘Fuck You’. Which is… fair. I guess. From a certain point of view.

We’re getting off track here. Let’s focus. Why am I making this blog? Because I have what one might call a manic-depressive relationship to writing. As in, during times where I’m not writing, it makes me depressed. I feel hopeless and insecure and sad. But when I am habitually doing it, I feel elated and fulfilled. Writing makes me feel worthwhile. Writing makes me feel real. Life is better with it, and better when processed through it. Many things are very complicated; this core truth of my self is not. It could not be more simple. And it’s taken me a gallingly long time to just accept that.

I’ve never had my own actual website before. So I’m probably going to be crappy at this for quite some time before I even get okay at it. I do not know how long that length of time will turn out to be. I’d say I hope it’s not too long, but the universe has a way of feeding you your hopes back in their maliciously inverse form. So I’ll just say that I’ll continually be trying to figure this shit out and get better. And we’ll see how it goes.

One last note. Maybe you sometimes prefer absorbing words through your eardrums rather than your eyeballs. Variety is allegedly the spice of life, after all. If so, you can find the podcast I do with my absolutely darling girlfriend here: After Reading This And That (EDIT 09/4/19: Name change! In the interest of greater upfront honesty, the podcast is now called After Rambling Through All That…) It’s super fun, I swear. It’s even been described by an avid listener as “a series of working mp3 files downloadable via an RSS feed”. More effusive praise, you will not find. At least, if you’re asking low-grade androids which you were too cheap to buy the personality-upgrade for. Also, you can find some audiobook recordings I made here and here. You may enjoy them, you may not. Like, I’m not psychic, so just chillax with those expectations of psychicness or whatever. It’s 2019. I don’t owe you anything.