Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I Love You.

It’s been three years since my dad died, and so much has changed since that day. I’ve changed so much since that day, and I wish my dad was here to see that. Yet I’m also asking myself, would I have changed this much were he still alive? In many ways his death was a catalyst for me, because death, at long last, made him human to me. And I will always regret that it took his death to finally see his life. Yet maybe that’s what death is there for.

Fear of a death is a universal fear, every creature on earth shares it and will seek to escape death at any cost. Death is certain and arbitrary. There is no appeals process, it doesn’t discriminate, and can happen at any time for any number of reasons. Death is the great equalizer, rich or poor, saint or demon, it doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter who you were, or what you’ve done, when death comes for you. There is no negotiation.

I hated my father for a long time, and only years after his death am I realizing it was because I’d written him as the villain in my story. I blamed him for all my problems. I wouldn’t be so depressed if he’d been happier; I would have been more active if he hadn’t been so tired and played with me; I would have gone to college had he not spent my college fund paying the bills. If he hadn’t hated himself so much, I wouldn’t have grown up hating myself so much. My dad was larger-than-life to me, not in the good way unfortunately, but he wasn’t a real person to me.

Death made him real. Not all at once, in fact the first few months after he died, he became even less human. I was haunted by dreams of his for months on end, nightmares, flashes of memories, and sometimes, just an overwhelming sense of emptiness would wake me up in the middle of the night. He became a ghost for me. Eventually though, even the ghost faded, and death began its slow, methodical, but ultimately beautiful work.

I began to forget. My projections, assumptions, and judgments about who my father was began to fade away. I remember thinking them still, but the emotional core of those memories is gone. When I think about all our petty arguments, I no longer feel anger or hatred, most of the time I laugh now at how absurd it was that I let it grow so out of proportion. I realize now, he wasn’t the villain in my story, and he wasn’t the hero. He was just a man. And we were more alike than we were different.

I literally followed in his footsteps when I went to Berlin.

Death is a terrifying prospect, and it still scares me, but not as much as it once did, because I now see the beauty of it. It reminds us of what’s important, the entropy of time slowly washes away all the junk that gets in the way of realizing we love each other. I never told my father I loved him when he was alive, aside from whispering it to him moments before he died. I like to think he heard me.

Death also reminded me that, one day, I’d be where my dad is, and that day might be here sooner than I’d like. It brought my life into focus for the first time, I couldn’t keep doing what I’d been doing.

When my dad was diagnosed with cancer I was out of work, a hundred-pounds overweight, and so depressed I was constantly thinking of suicide. That didn’t change overnight, but slowly and surely, it’s been changing. I began going to ballroom dance classes, I started going to a Dungeons and Dragons group, I found a full-time job finally. The full time job let me pursue my passions and I began dancing more frequently. I took an amazing trip to Europe with my best friend. When I returned I began to go to an amazing personal trainer who began helping me get in shape. Recently I went on an amazing emotional journey, discovering a lot about myself as well as building a larger support system for myself.

I even went on a date for the first time in 3 years, and it went badly, ending after 30 minutes and never hearing from the girl again. And I was sad for a few days, which wasn’t fun, but it also didn’t send me into a downward tailspin that left me depressed for months which would have happened a few years ago. The most important part though, is that I actually put myself out there again. That I was able to look at my shadow of “you’re a big, ugly, creepy loser, no one is going to want you” and actually ask someone out.

My life isn’t perfect, and it never will be. As grateful as I am to have a fulltime job, it doesn’t pay nearly enough considering the huge emotional drain it represents. A recent problem with my car has meant I’m living paycheck to paycheck. Due to that I wasn’t able to renew my WordPress membership, which is why this blog’s appearance has suddenly gone down the crapper. Yet I’m also coping with those challenges far better than I would have before. I’m looking for a new job, I’ll have the care problem paid off in a year, and eventually I will get the funds to rebuild this website. I’m making progress.

My work of self-improvement isn’t complete. It will never be complete, it will be a constant, never-ending task to make myself a better person. Yet the work has begun, and it’s largely due to my father dying.

As my mom told me recently, my dad wouldn’t recognize who I am today. I’m sad he’s not here to see it, but I want to honor my father, because without him I wouldn’t be here.

Thank you dad, for always encouraging my writing. . Thanks for always being in my corner, even when I didn’t realize you were. My elementary school principal recently told me how you took him aside on my first day of school, and asked him to take good care of me. When I was tortured by a dentist, it wasn’t until your funeral that someone told me how angry that had made you, and I’d somehow convinced myself you didn’t care. Thanks for trying your best, because I know you did.

And I forgive you for all the mean, hateful things you said to me, and I hope you forgive me for doing the same thing. I wish we could have said these things to each other in person, I wish we could have had a better relationship while you were still alive.

I honor you, Dad, for being the best person you could be. You weren’t perfect, but you also weren’t the monster I’d made you out to be. You were a good man who tried his hardest.

I love you, Dad. I miss you.

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How Dungeons and Dragons Makes Me a Better Writer (And Person)

Three years ago a friend of mine invited me to come play Dungeons & Dragons. It’s been an incredible experience. I’d heard of D&D, and having played Baldur’s Gate and D&D-like games such as Dragon Age: Origins I was familiar with some of the mechanics of it. Yet I never realized the potential storytelling abilities of the game.

Much like D&D based video games, our dungeon master (the guy telling the story), created the world our party lives in and there’s a one big objective we’re trying to achieve. However, unlike in video games, where the scope of the story and a character’s possible actions are limited, in table top the character can do anything. Or perhaps more accurately, at least attempt to do anything.

Our DM comes up with an outline of what he expects us to do, but there have been times our party has gone in completely different directions to what was expected. What this has allowed for is collaborative storytelling. Every player is telling a story from their character’s perspective, and the DM weaves it together into a coherent narrative. It’s truly remarkable how well developed our story has become.

Now I know my experience won’t be universal because I lucked out and rolled a natural 20 on my D&D group. We’re all actors, writers, and musicians; we’re all storytellers. So when you get a bunch of storytellers in a D&D game, it’s magic, because we’re all dedicated to telling a compelling and emotional story. If my first D&D game had been with a bunch of gamers, people more interested in gaming the mechanics to make the most powerful character and hunting for epic loot, I would not have continued playing. Not because that’s not a legitimate way to play the game, but simply because that’s not what interests me. So if have one piece of advice to give, it’s this: if you want to play D&D, play it with a group that shares your interests.

Over the course of these past three years, playing this game has taught me more about storytelling, characters, and narrative pacing than I would have thought possible outside a classroom.

Here’s how Dungeons & Dragons has made me a better writer.

I’ve Learned How to See Things From My Character’s Perspective

So let me introduce you to my character Krael, a human Dragon Shaman. Due to some unfortunate dice rolls when generating my stats, he ended up with 7 wisdom; whenever I have to roll for something that uses Wisdom (to notice important details, for instance), I have to subtract 2 from whatever I roll. Worse than that though, is the Krael is Chaotic Good.

Without going too much in the mechanics of D&D, Chaotic Good means that Krael is driven by a desire to do good but he hates following the rules. If he has to break the law to help someone, he’s perfectly okay with that; in fact, if he has to break a law to do it, so much the better. If he has to murder someone for the greater good, that’s fine too. With his low wisdom, I decided Krael would probably always decide he knew what was best, and almost always be wrong. Being the disciple of a dragon, whom he viewed as a god, would also make Krael arrogant and convinced that no matter what he did, he was fulfilling the divine will of his master.

This is all to say that Krael is just a huge dick.

As my friends have pointed out, that’s a complete opposite of who I am (for which I’m quite grateful). I’ve been writing all my life, and I always thought I did a good job writing the characters as they would actually act. Which I did, but here’s the thing: they were all just me in a fictional world. Mary Sue is the term for this and no, it’s not just a derogatory word for a female character you don’t like. It’s the author inserting themselves as a character, knowingly or not. So of course I was great at writing characters before, they were all just me, so I knew exactly how I would act.

Coming at things from Krael’s perspective, however, has meant I often end up doing things I don’t want to do but Krael must do. For instance one time Krael and the rest of the party were trapped in a hallway with only one way out, and an unseen foe was hurling fireballs down the hallway at us. Now me, the constantly worried John who hates taking any kind of risks, wanted to hunker down and wait for one of the other characters to do something. Our party had an archer that could shift into the ethereal plane, who could probably take the attacker out at range or at the very least shift into the ethereal to avoid detection and flank the attacker.

But then I thought about Krael: a man who possesses that special arrogance of youth that makes us think we’re invincible combined with a self-righteousness and desire to protect his friends. So headstrong and arrogant that he believes he’s the only capable fighter in the group, and it’s his responsibility to act. Which meant there was only one, inevitable conclusion to this scenario:

“I charge down the hallway at the enemy.” I told our DM, facepalming so hard I left a handprint on my face. To my surprise Krael did actually make it out of the hallway, but only just. As he stepped across the threshold into the chamber beyond the hall, a fireball hit him square in the chest, exploding with enough force to slam him into the wall. I can’t remember the exact amount of damage it did, but Krael was barely alive following that. Yet that was the inevitable conclusion of Krael’s actions, and he couldn’t have done anything else because that’s simply who he is.

I don’t always succeed at this however. There was one night it was late, it had been a long day at work, and Krael was trapped in the middle of a fire. He was low on health, and he could either retreat to the other side of it, to keep it between him and his enemies, or charge through it to attack them. I knew what Krael would do, but for some reason decided that I had to save Krael from himself on this day. Yet I instantly regretted it, because I knew that isn’t what Krael would have done. Yet that failure to consider Krael’s character was one of my greatest learning experiences.

Now when I’m writing, and a scene doesn’t feel right, I go back and think: are the characters acting true to themselves, or am I forcing them to act the way I want for the sake of the plot? Or worse yet, afraid of what the consequences for the character might be? 90% of the time, if the scene doesn’t feel right it’s because I made the characters act in a way contrary to their nature.

Yet I’ve also learned that sometimes there’s a rare occasion, that you do have to bend your character’s to your will to keep a story on track.

I’ve Learned Your Character Can’t Direct Everything

There was a moment when our main quest was going to take us off course for rescuing Krael’s dragon, who’s been missing the majority of the game. This was an interesting dilemma for me. On the one hand, in-character, Krael’s most important goal is to locate his dragon and would not brook any interruption to that quest. After all, as a Dragon Shaman, so for Krael his dragon is literally a god in his eyes and inspires the same fanaticism as any other zealot.

On the other hand, out-of-character, I didn’t want to break up the party. For one, I didn’t want to put our DM through that, making him write a seperate story for me. And secondly, half the fun is the interactions with the other characters, a solo D&D story just wouldn’t be as much fun. My friend BJ was able to jump in and give my character an out with a convincing argument that Krael couldn’t rescue his dragon alone. Did Krael capitulate a little too easily? Maybe, but that’s also a small price to pay for the story staying on track.

If you write a story to be entirely character-driven then you can derail your own story. If you have a character like Krael, given to impulsiveness and recklessness, you can’t always stay true to the character, or the story might go off on a tangent. Game of Thrones has a good example of this in the Dorne plot. Is it in character that the Dornish would seek to avenge Oberon’s death at the hands of the Mountain, and seek revenge on the Lannisters? It absolutely is. Did it completely screw up the pacing of A Feast for Crows and a couple of the later seasons of Game of Thrones? Yes it did, and thus should have been left on the cutting room floor for the good of the story.

Character driven stories are great, but you have to have some limitations on that or risk your story becoming unmanageable. It’s also important to make sure that your main character doesn’t overshadow everyone else.

I’ve Learned Every Character Has To Be Allowed to Experience Their Story

You have to let other people experience their own character’s stories. Not only is this the polite thing to do when you’re playing a group, but also improves the story by allowing complex characterization. Just recently our party returned to the home of our dwarf paladin character, and he had his own storylines to pursue about reuniting with his family. All of our characters had their own adventures while we were there of course, but this was Ivan’s story, and even though I had so many ideas for how Krael could get into trouble in this city, it was important to let Ivan (and more importantly, the man playing him) to have his moment. In doing so, we had a better idea of where Ivan had come from and the events that had shaped who he’d become.

This is important, and something you’ll find in every good story. The Harry Potter series is obviously centered on Harry Potter, but it also allows its other characters their moment to shine. If Harry was the only one allowed to shine, it wouldn’t have survived that first book; it was Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore, Snape, Hagrid and countless others that brought that book to life. You can’t have Harry Potter without everyone else.

I give our DM a lot of credit, because he’s given every character in our party their chance to shine. We all have our own personal quests, something at stake for all of our characters, and most importantly, the possibility of failure looming over us. In fact in the coming weeks, it may be Krael’s turn again as his dragon dies from an incurable disease and only a crazy magical experiment might save her. There’s a good chance that both Krael and his dragon die in the attempt.

In which case, I’ll be back with a new character and a new opportunity to learn how to see things from a different character’s perspective. Who knows, I might even learn new things about myself as well.

Unexpectedly, I Learned To Be A Better Person

Where did Krael come from?

That’s what my friend BJ asked a couple days ago. After all, he’s the polar opposite of who I am.

Krael came from the parts of my personality that I was terrified to express. The man who leaps first and asks questions later, always up for adventure, who says yes to even the craziest ideas no matter the danger. Krael is the adventurer, the warrior, that I’d carefully hidden away from the world. Krael was a dick, because that’s how I was afraid the world would perceive me if I ever let that warrior out.

And this how D&D made me a better person: it was therapeutic. It gave me a safe place to express parts of my personality that I was afraid to show.

When I finally decided to try ballroom dancing, I was terrified, but I was able to say to myself “this is no where near as stupid as charging into a dragon’s lair.” When I decided to ask a girl out on a date, as much as I feared I would come across as pushy and threatening, I reminded myself that Krael is a far bigger dick than I am.

Maybe this won’t make sense to anyone else, after all it’s just a game, obviously the consequences for Krael aren’t real. The possible consequences for me are. Yet because the consequences for Krael aren’t real, it allowed me to practice. Being confident, I’ve learned, is a skill like any other. I’m still learning, and still practicing. Now my practice extends to doing ballroom dance competitions, going on international trips with my best friend, and even attempting to date again after three years of hiding.

Yet none of that would have been possible without that first tiny step of pretending to be Krael once a week. It’s the small steps I’ve learned, that lead to the biggest changes.

Breaking Walls

[I almost didn’t release this post. Like so many others, I didn’t think that it was good enough. I simultaneously thought that it as both too self-congratulatory and too self-pitying. It was too much about me, who cares about what’s happening in my life? Well, I do for starters. So I’m posting this for me, to remind me of everything I learned.]

It’s been an incredible few weeks for me: I just got from an incredible adventure with my best friend Hali; we spent two weeks in Europe, exploring 9 different cities in 8 countries and walking over 150 miles, an experience so amazing I’ll likely be discussing it in another blog post. Aside from all the great food and experiences, Hali helped me work through a lot of things that have been holding me back in my life. Fears, insecurities, regrets.

While in Berlin, I saw the broken remains of the Berlin Wall. In fact Hali and I even followed it’s old course through part of the city, walking in what would have been no man’s land. 40 years ago we would have been shot for walking in that area. Instead we strolled down streets lined with restaurants and stores.

It was a powerful reminder that walls can be broken down, and that things can get better when they are. I’ve built so many walls to protect myself that even ancient Constantinople would be envious. I’ve made friends yes, but I feel like I’m yelling down at them from the ramparts, never letting them actually get inside.

The First Wall: Stop Isolating Myself

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Oktoberfest in Munich!

This wall has been coming down slowly but surely over the past two to three years; I’m hoping that my trip to Europe heralds the final fall of that wall, because I had a lot of anxieties going on this trip. We’ve been friends for 10 years, but this was the first time we were going to essentially be living together for a solid two weeks. We even had to share a bed on a few occasions. Surely living with my disgusting habits, my boring personality, or just looking at my stupid face would drive her absolutely crazy.

Yet this trip made me realize how truly remarkable our friendship is. I still can’t believe how well we got along, the magical evenings we spent together just laughing over the ridiculous events of our day… how naturally we coexisted. Platonic love between friends is one of the greatest things in the world, and it’s sad how little it’s valued in society when compared with romantic love. It was that love, that connection, that allowed me to open up to Hali about the walls that have come to isolate me.

One of the things that’s always been a source of profound sadness in my life, is that my friends have never been as close as I’d like. With the exception of Hali, I’ve never had a friend I would consider close, and that’s been an incredibly lonely experience. For a long time, my whole life really, I believed that was because I simply wasn’t someone who people wanted to befriend. The reality, though, is that this was my own fault. How could anyone become a close friend of mine, when I’ve closed myself off behind walls taller and thicker than a fortress battlement?

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Yet despite these walls I’ve built, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some incredible people who have never stopped trying to get through them. Nearly three years ago now, I was invited to play Dungeons and Dragons with a small group of friends. These people are some of the most intimidatingly talented people I’ve met; artists, actors, writers, and occasionally philosophers. But while on my trip with Hali, I told her how much I like this group of people and how much I regret that I’m not closer to them.

Yet how can I expect to get closer to them if I never let anything get close?

Hali and I spent around 6 months planning our trip to Europe, but you know when I told my D&D friends about my trip? About two weeks before I left, too afraid they’d think I was bragging about my good fortune. They ask me how my day is, I say it was fine, even if it wasn’t. Heck, they even asked about my trip when I got back and I barely managed to string together a few descriptions of our trip, constantly second-guessing what I should say because I was afraid of boring them.

I need to change this, because I want to experience more the connection I feel with Hali, to be more than just acquaintances with people. I need to destroy these walls I’ve built around myself. They weren’t built in a vacuum, they were built brick by brick by various cruelties through the years, but I’m finally realizing that I was never building a fortress to keep myself safe.

I was building myself a prison.

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It’s time to break out.

 

Wall 2: Start WRITING

This is the biggest wall of them all. I’ve written about it before, several times in fact, but it’s one I’ve never been able to break through. I’m hardly alone in this, Ernest Hemingway once said that:

There’s nothing to writing, all you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

And bleeding sucks.

Nowadays I use my work schedule as an excuse as to why I don’t write. I work 56 hours a week, sometimes more, of course I don’t write who has time? The honest truth is that I do have time, I could spare at least an hour or two a day to writing instead of watching Netflix at the end of the day. I just need to buckle down and do it.

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As amazing as my adventure in Europe was, it was also quite expensive. So on my return I started looking for some extra money to hold myself over. I had some in an old paypal account, a deposit from Patreon and after seeing that, decided to check my old Patreon page. Now honestly I haven’t looked at my Patreon account in years. Why? I figured no one would actually be paying me. I barely update this blog, I don’t have any talent as writer, you pick the excuse I probably told it to myself.

What I saw on my Patreon page almost made me cry. There was close to $300.00 stashed away in that account. It made me both incredibly happy and made me feel awful, because I didn’t earn that money. I didn’t maintain my blog, I ignored all the amazing people who donated it, didn’t do anything I said I would do. Yet I’m so incredibly grateful for everyone who chose to donate, because…my words fail me. I cannot express how grateful I am.

I need to start updating this blog more often, and I think perhaps its time to stop trying to force myself to do reviews just because that what was what was popular. Maybe I need to do what I’ve always wanted to do: post stories, about my life, fiction I’ve written, articles on writing. I’ll still do reviews when the mood strikes me, and I actually have time to play games and watch movies again, but now I think it’s time to switch focus.

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I need to start posting more creative works, and slowly but surely this wall around my writing will come down. And when that happens…

Well who knows what might happen?

A Monster Calls: When Stories Speak to Us

I’ve been sitting on this blog post for almost a month, I wrote it immediately after watching A Monster Calls, and the words poured out of me in a way they rarely have. Yet as usual I was afraid to post what I wrote. Normally that just means it gets buried in my ever increasing pile of drafts that I’ve never finished, but this one wouldn’t stay buried. I kept coming back to it, and unless I post it, I don’t think I’ll ever move on.

This isn’t a storytelling review of A Monster Calls, which I would like to do at some point. Instead this just me talking about how this movie spoke to me and helped me confront the grief and guilt I still hold onto a year after my father’s death.

[Spoilers, I completely ruin the ending, so if you haven’t seen it I highly recommend you do before reading this.]

A Monster Calls

When Stories Speak to Us

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A Monster Calls is a beautifully written movie, and the book it’s based is now on my Must Read list. This film is a shining example of the power of storytelling because it can help people deal with their darkest and most difficult emotions.

I know that because A Monster Calls helped me. My father died over a year ago and I’m still struggling with all the things I miss about him. The biggest struggle has been wrestling with my guilt. Not just for missed opportunities or the petty arguments we had. No my guilt ran deeper than I ever realized, and it was A Monster Calls that helped me see it.

In the film, the main character Conor, struggles to come to terms with his mother’s impending death. He keeps having a recurring nightmare of trying to save his mom from falling into a bottomless abyss. When finally Conor finishes the dream, he reveals the reason for the guilt that had been gnawing at him for the entire movie… he let his mom go on purpose, allowing her to fall into the abyss. He was tired of struggling to save her, tired of the fear and the desperation… tired of the pain. He wished to be free of it.

“The most human wish of all.” As the Monster might say.

I wished to be free of my pain too, but my crime was even greater than Conor’s, because I made that wish years before my dad was struck with cancer.

My dad, like me, suffered from depression. Unlike me, however, he never found an effective treatment to manage it. For seventy years he carried his depression with him like a festering, never-healing wound that sapped the life out of him. My mom and I tried to get him to go to a doctor, a therapist, anyone who might be able to help. At least for a while.

Then I stopped trying.

I wanted it to be over. I wanted him to be gone.

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And like Conor, I wanted to follow right after him.

I told myself I wanted him gone because he could never see the good in anything. I wanted him gone because of the way he treated the waitress at a restaurant. I wanted him gone because of dozens of petty slights and arguments, real and imagined. I wanted him gone because at least then he’d be at peace.

I wanted his pain to end. That was the lie I told myself.

The truth that I was afraid to speak was this:

I wanted him gone because I wanted my own pain to end.

It hurt to see my father because I can remember so clearly how bad my depression once was. Being depressed was like being a raw nerve with no protection, the mechanisms that most people have to deal with their emotions didn’t exist. Every schoolmate’s insults made my heart hurt as if someone had reached into my chest and was squeezing it in a clenched fist. Every news article I read about endangered animals, the deteriorating environment, or even a passing asteroid sent me into a tailspin of despair about the world around me.

I remember that pain with perfect, piercing clarity. Every time I saw my father I felt that pain squeezing and clawing deep in my chest. He was a constant reminder of my own painful memories. Worse than that, I was terrified that he was a glimpse into my future. As amazing as my medication is at managing my symptoms, there are days that still get to me, where my defenses come down and every emotion stabs into me like a knife. What if one day it stops working? Will I become my father, unable to see the life, love, and happiness that surrounds him?

I wished it was over.

So when his terminal cancer diagnosis came, it was my wish come true. He had a year to live the doctors told us in October, by the following November he could no longer walk. My wish was coming true faster than I could have hoped. Throughout the course of my father’s illness, I never felt afraid or sad, I didn’t even cry once.

This was what I wanted.

It wasn’t until the morning of January 14th, 2016, as his labored breathing slowed to pausing, rattling gasps, that I realized a truth that I had been hiding from myself.

I didn’t want him to go.

It wasn’t until I whispered in his ear that I loved him that I realized the man my father really was.

My father spent his entire life fighting against a chemically imbalanced brain that made him see the world as darker than it truly was. I have no doubt he spent a majority of his days wondering why he should go on, fantasizing about killing himself. For 72 years he fought his depression to a standstill. I remember the pain of depression, and sometimes I still hear the seductive siren call of suicide.

I know it must have taken immense courage to survive that. If ever my medication fails, I’m not sure I’d have the strength to do the same.

My father deteriorated faster than the doctor’s were saying he should. At the time, I thought it was yet another example of his selfishness and weakness.

But I realize now that my father was simply ready to go, he’d fought his war to the bitter end, and now he wanted it to be over.

But I didn’t want him to go. 

Here, at the end, as his breath grew shallower and the pauses between breaths became longer, It was too late to tell him that I didn’t want him to leave. It was too late to tell him that I loved him and that I was sorry for all the stupid things that kept us estranged for so much of our lives. So I did the only thing I could.

I told him it was okay to go and held his hand until he took his final breath.

That was the truth I was so afraid to speak, the crime for which I feel so ashamed: In my selfish desire to see an end to my own pain, I wasted the moments I should have been cherishing.

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“Stories are how I topple my enemies.” – The Monster

When your enemy are emotions like grief and guilt, stories are the only thing that can topple your enemies.

Thank you, Monster, for helping me topple mine.

Westworld: Evil Pricks

I was in the process of writing an article about the awesome way Westworld uses its own story to teach people about good storytelling, when this line from last night’s episode reminded me of something I wanted to talk about for a long time.

“Why is it every time you come to this place you turn into such an evil prick?” William to his friend, HBO’s Westworld.

That’s the same question I’ve had about video game culture for quite some time, and I think it’s time I talk about it.

I used to play multiplayer games, specifically a game called Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries. I was a young teenager suffering from crippling depression, I had no friends at school or at home, I was tormented by both depression and the hormonal rollercoaster of puberty, and I felt like I had no future. To make a long story short, Mechwarrior and the friends I made playing it, made my life somewhat bearable. I’m still friends with many of the people I met playing Mechwarrior, even as we come to a mind-boggling 20 years since I’ve played it.

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This was cutting edge when I played it.

It’s those friends I want to talk about, because over the years I’ve watched them become evil pricks in video games. It didn’t start that way. Back when I first began playing, it was just good fun. Oh we made fun of each other, called each other gay, and joked about sex, typical young teenager stuff. But over the years my friends began to change.

The jokes became crueler, more personal. Those who lost competitive games against our team were mercilessly ridiculed, and then called cowards when they didn’t want to play us again, when it was more likely they simply didn’t want to play a bunch of rude petty people. The changes were subtle and at first I didn’t notice them.

Eventually Mechwarrior’s multiplayer died out, it wasn’t exactly the most popular game even in its heyday, and while we tried to play other games together, I lost interest. About ten years later though, a new Mechwarrior title arrived: Mechwarrior Online. Suddenly we were all back together again, and for the first few months it was like old times. And then I began to notice things.

My friends began openly trash talking, calling people faggots, ridiculing new people who asked questions, and following people they didn’t like from game to game specifically to “grief” them. Still, this had become such a normal part of online games that I was able to shrug it off. What I couldn’t shrug off, is what they would say to each other in private.

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I began to love this symbol.

Several of my old friends were now referring to each other as n***ers, and I grimaced every time they said it. Mechwarrior Online was also a free-to-play game featuring microtransactions, where you paid to unlock certain mechs and equipment.

When my cash-strapped friends couldn’t afford these microtransactions or bought only the cheapest available, they called it “Jew.”

“I’m too Jewish to spend that much money.”

“I got the Jew option.”

I was shocked, and I told them: “Oh I’m sorry, apparently I stumbled into Nazi Germany by accident.” The joke was an icebreaker for me to voice my discomfort with using old antisemitic insults.

“You’re being too sensitive, they’re just words.”

They’re just words.

That’s the excuse I heard over and over again for all manner of utterly inexcusable behavior.

Words are powerful. The right words can help someone find hope in a hopeless situation, humor in a tragedy, and joy in a moment of despair. The wrong words can make someone cry, make them feel alone, and even drive them to suicide. My friends didn’t seem to understand that.

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And I was putting up with all this for a game that thought $500.00 qualified as a microtransaction. 

They began insulting me, and not the friendly jibes and insults that people exchange. They told me how bad I was in the past, to stop being bad during games, and stop being so emotional about the toxic conversations they’d have. This poisoned not only my relationship with them, but also in how I perceived our previous relationship. Did they ever actually like me? Was I really that bad in the past?

My friends used to have a nickname for me when I was young “tightpants”, and I never understood the reference. I thought perhaps it was a reference to my weight, which would have been fine because I was constantly joking about that myself. After we began playing Mechwarrior Online they began to refer to me as “tightpants” again, and this time I asked what that meant.

Turns out whenever I spoke on comms, I had a high pitched voice, and apparently I still did. Except now they weren’t so kind about it.

“Jesus, didn’t your balls ever drop?” They once asked me.

That, unfortunately, got to me. I asked my best friend if I had an unnaturally high voice, and she hedged saying she didn’t really notice. Which only convinced me it was true. For a few weeks there I actually tried lowering my tone of voice while talking to people, until I noticed it was just getting me strange looks from people. I’m also not as insecure as I was when I was young, and after a couple weeks I figured that even if I did have a high voice, it wasn’t like there was anything I could do about it. So why worry?

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Besides, Varys has a high voice and he’s bitchin’. 

I continued playing with my friends, because between their occasional bouts of cruelty, we still had a good time together. Then one day we were playing, and having a grand old time. I remember I was laughing so hard my ribs were actually aching. I was trying to talk over my laughing to convey some information about the enemy team when:

“Shut the fuck up!” Someone yelled over the comms.

This person wasn’t one of my friends, but he was a talented gamer, he outranked us all when it came to talent. That alone was enough to let him play with us. It wasn’t a friend yelling at me, but they also did nothing to discourage it.

I disconnected and didn’t talk to them for about six months, until one of them decided to contact me on Skype and ask how I was doing. They asked me what had happened, and I simply joked around with them saying that I’d been asked to shut up and was just following the order to the letter. The reality was even simpler: I play games to have fun and relax. The moment that stops happening, the game is over. Yet I kept coming back to these people, because I’d known them for nearly fifteen years! These were the friends that kept me alive in the darkest period in my life, and I couldn’t simply write them off.

One of my friends, whom I’ll refer to as DV, I counted as among my closest friends.

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If I was Varys, he was definitely Tyrion.

When I was thirteen/fourteen, I was absolutely infatuated with a girl I knew. Being a moronic teenager I lost all perspective and restraint, pronouncing my undying love for a girl I barely knew, which of course scared her into never talking to me again.  That sent me into probably the darkest depression I’ve ever experienced. At the same time DV, who was slightly older in his late teens, was having problems with his girlfriend constantly dumping him and taking him back. We were both hurting and we helped each other through it by talking about our mutual girl problems.

“Oh back from your emo trip? Show me on the doll where [the guy who yelled at me] touched you.” That was how DV greeted me, the man who I once would have done anything for. If I was rich and he needed money, I would have written him a blank check, that’s how deeply I trusted and respected this man. He was one of my closest friends.

And I no longer recognized him.

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I felt like Bruce Willis in Surrogates when he first steps out into a world populated by mechanical dopplegangers. It’s seriously a good movie, and I encourage you to watch it if you haven’t.

The boy who had once been my friend would never have been so casually cruel to me, so indifferent to my feelings. A few weeks later GamerGate happened, and I’ll spare those of you who don’t know about it the indignity of hearing about this stupid event. The cliff notes is that a girl made a video game and one of the reviews may not have been entirely without bias. The dumbest and cruelest elements of the gaming world took this as an invitation to threaten her life, threaten her with rape, post her address, phone number, and work location to everyone on the internet. They made her life a living hell for years. I haven’t looked into it, but I’m sure she probably still gets harassed.

And my friends supported it.

Each

And

Every

One

I have no explanation as to how this happened. Some of my friends were now married, DV even had children, and they were either cheering on the harassers (perhaps even taking part) or tacitly approving of it by offering excuses for turning a woman’s life into a living hell over a video game. When, and how, did my friends turn into these people?

westworld05
How do otherwise decent people turn into this guy?

It can’t just be an effect of video games. I ran over crowds of people in Grand Theft Auto; mowed down innocent civilians in Postal; tortured and murdered people in the cruelest ways imaginable in Manhunt. I’ve committed every war crime and atrocity imaginable across twenty years of gaming, but I never turned into the evil pricks my friends became.

It can’t be their social and economic situation. One of my friends was working at a fortune 500 company and would show us pictures of his fancy new cars. Others were working a variety of jobs with varying levels of success. Some were married or had girlfriends. Hell, DV was working as a cop in London with three kids and a wife. If anything, I was the one who fit the stereotype: a fat, single guy who hadn’t had a girlfriend in years, no job and no prospects.

Maybe it was because I had depression, and I knew the kind of damage words could inflict. I know what it’s like to feel like the world is against you, to feel like your fate is suffer constant pain. Did that give me an empathy my friends lacked?

Mixing.png
Were they missing an ingredient in their soul?

I don’t play multiplayer games anymore, because the unfortunate truth is that my friends are the rule. I’m the exception. Go into a multiplayer game and you’ll find a cesspool of insults, negativity, and downright cruelty.

As seen here in a great comic by The Oatmeal

That’s not to say I think all gamers are horrible. In fact I think the vast majority are just like me. The problem is that, like me, they can’t be bothered to deal with assholes when they’re trying to relax. So people leave, like I did. They stick to single-player games, or maybe they find a new hobby all together. Hell maybe that’s why games like Candy Crush are so popular, you don’t have to put up with racist misogynists to play Candy Crush.

So the decent people leave, and that just leaves the assholes in an echochamber of assholes. All they hear is the same toxic drivel they spout, and it becomes normal to them. It becomes a cycle of constant abuse, and it becomes so normal that they don’t even realize their language is abusive. Last time I was in a multiplayer game, someone threatened to rape my sister (I’m an only child).

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My sister.

 

And the eerie thing about it was that he didn’t say it with hate or anger in his voice, it was a reflex. I killed him in a video game, and his immediate instinct was to launch into threats of sexual violence. He said it in such a way that I’m pretty sure if I could have been bothered to confront him about it, he wouldn’t have even comprehended the problem. Just like William’s friend in Westworld, who couldn’t understand why William calls him evil.

I still talk with my friends occasionally on Skype, because when they’re not talking about video games we still have great conversations about politics and life. One of them discovered they had kidney cancer, the same disease that killed my father, and we commiserated over how shitty cancer is. If I ever met them in real life, I’m sure I’d see the great friends that I once knew. But I don’t play with them anymore, because like the man said in Westworld: 

“Why does coming here turn you into such an evil prick?”

I wish I knew the answer to that, and I’m hoping that maybe through Westworld‘s exploration of this frightening transformation people undergo, that maybe I will find the answer.

You’re all Enabling a Fraud!

It’s been a strange year. I still can’t believe my dad is gone, and it’s been almost a year since his diagnosis and ten months since he died. This whole year has passed in a surreal blur, I can barely remember what I was doing this year. Probably because, aside from an amazing three week vacation with my girlfriend back in August, I didn’t do much of anything these past nine months.

I’ve allowed everything that’s important to me to just stagnate, my blog, my relationships, my career. I haven’t worked on an original story in over a year, and as I’m sure you’ve noticed, my blog updates have been few and far between. You’d think that the death of my father would remind me how precious time is and to use it wisely, but instead I’ve been wasting time binging on Netflix or playing old games I’ve played a dozen times over.

I’ve been wasting my time. In fact I’ve been wasting my time for yearsThe honest to goodness truth of the matter is that I could have written several books by now, or made this blog have daily updates. I could have done any number of things in the years I’ve wasted.

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Netflix isn’t going to watch itself, after all.

Why does this happen? Why do I simultaneously love writing and yet fear actually sharing anything I write? Fear of rejection is the most obvious answer, but as a friend of mine recently pointed out, last year when I tried my left-handed writing experiment, I didn’t stop writing when I got bad criticism. I stopped when I received positive feedback. People wanted more, and for some reason that scared me off. It was the same thing that happened after my Mass Effect 3 Ending article, rather than capitalize on the fact that tens of thousands of new readers were suddenly flooding my tiny little blog, I fell back and allowed it to stagnate until the reader numbers came down to a normal level.

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Whew, good thing they put that sign up. I almost drove right into it.

This has been a pattern that has been repeating itself for far too long.

When people ask me for writing, at first I’m happy to give it to them. A good friend of mine asked me to write a small play last year. Back in August someone asked me to write a character for a Fallout 4 mod. Three years ago my friends at Ara’Kus asked me to write a series of short stories to flesh out their fictional world.

I wrote the play and when I gave it to my friend, he loved it, it needed some tweaking, but he loved it. I should have felt elation, I should have felt accomplished. Instead, I felt like garbage.

I wrote the first part of the character for that Fallout 4 mod and sent it to the guy who asked for it. Again, he said he liked what I had so far. It took me weeks to pick it back up again and start finishing it (in fact I finished it just prior to writing this article).

And three years ago I wrote a short story about an assassin. Everyone said they loved it, including a man who’s been an artist and has taught artists for decades… I never wrote another short story for them.

netflix
Because, again, Netflix ain’t gonna watch itself!

The worst incident though? The absolute worst? When I was 19 I wrote a story as part of my High School Project, which was a requirement for graduation. It was basically an assignment to write a story and go through the publishing process. I wrote that story, it was almost 25,000 words long and I submitted it to the Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine. Several weeks later they mailed it back to me with a rejection letter that read:

“The story didn’t quite work for us, but keep writing!” Or something to that effect, I unfortunately didn’t keep it.

I also let several friends and family read it, they all loved it as well, but they agreed that in my attempt to keep it under 25,000 words for publication purposes I had shortchanged the story and characters. I needed to lengthen it into a novel.

I never touched that story again. And somewhere along the line, I lost both the print copies and digital copy I kept.

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That was a close one. Thank God they have these signs up everywhere.

I hope none of this comes across as humble-bragging, because that’s not my intention. I’m just trying to sort out this mess, and putting it here on my blog seems like the most appropriate place. I want to understand why I react like this, and this is cheaper than a therapist.

And it’s not like I’m somehow craving negative feedback, I’m sure if everyone told me how crap everything was I’d feel awful.

I think it’s because, deep down, I feel like a fraud. When I first start writing something for someone, I’m okay, I get it done. It’s when I finally let them read it, and they end up liking it, because that’s not how it’s supposed to go.

“NO!” I want to scream. “You’re not supposed to like it! You’re supposed to hate it! Reveal me for the fraud I am! I don’t know what the hell I’m doing! I can’t write! Don’t you see, I’m a charlatan! A conman! You’re in the Matrix man, and I’m the shitty, overly verbose Architect!”

soylent
Listen to Charlton Heston! My writing is people! IT’S PEOPLE!

You weren’t supposed to like it, that’s the problem. I wrote it wanting you to hate it, to tell me to give up, to confirm what I’ve been telling myself for years: I have nothing to contribute, no talent, and no purpose.

I had this whole brilliant plan for finally giving myself permission to give up. And you all had to go fuck it up by liking my writing. Jesus. Some people have no consideration.

So thank you. Thank you to my family, my friends, and everyone who continues to read this blog despite my repeated attempts to subtly kill it with inactivity. Despite my subconscious attempts to sabotage myself, you’ve kept me trucking along in my futile quest to write something so bad you’ll all tell me to quit.

For the past week I’ve been going to the local library to write, and getting out of my little room has done wonders for my writing. I was lucky if I averaged a thousand words a week before. In the past week I’ve written 12,000, and that’s just since Monday.

I hope I can keep it up.

And  I hope you all keep reading.

The Ghost of my Father

When my father died back in January, I was surprised at how well I took it. The tears were there of course, especially the morning he died and at his memorial. But otherwise I had all this grief stuff figured out, man, emotionally in-tune with myself and all that good stuff. I was a goddamn guru, I was thinking of starting up my own line of self-help books. But the reality is…

I miss my dad. A couple years ago I would have sworn I’d never say those words.

And then, two months ago, the dreams started. I rarely remember my dreams, at least usually, but these were so vivid. And they weren’t pleasant. I didn’t dream of my father resting happily in the afterlife, or even something so innocuous as simply seeing him in an unrelated stream of dream imagery. I was reliving my mistakes, my regrets.

I wasn’t a good son to my father. He was too depressed, too pessimistic, too stubborn. In short, he was everything I was, everything I hated about myself. So when a few years back he wanted to go on vacation with me, just him and me, I hedged. I made excuses, told my mom I didn’t want to be alone with him, until he finally gave up. I wish so much that I had gone, that I had made the effort to be with him when I had the chance.

I was so angry at him for so long, and now that he’s gone I don’t even remember why. All the anger and frustration, it died with him.

Death is the focus of so many of humanity’s religions, why people die and what happens to them afterward, but maybe that’s the wrong question. Maybe death is for the living, a way to remind us of what’s important. To wipe away everything that clouded our love for each other, all the petty frustrations of our daily lives. I only wish it didn’t take someone dying to remember the love.

Now that he’s gone, I realize how much he loved me and everything he did for me.

He was one of my biggest fans, right next to my mom, and he always wanted to read my stories. Even when I was twelve years old and writing terrible fantasy stories, just god awful stuff and he loved it. He praised my imagination and encouraged me to keep writing. In his final years he’d always ask what I was working on, and I told him about all the half-finished stories I was always saying I was working on. Even stories that were nothing more than an outline in my head, I’d tell him that I was working on it.

“I’d like to read it when you’re finished.” He’d say.

But I had plenty of time. There was no need to rush.

Now he’ll never read the stories I’ll write. Never see my name in print. He’ll never read my blog again.

I’ll never see him again.

 

My Father

It’s been a rough couple of months here. My father was diagnosed with kidney cancer back in October and by November he was no longer able to move on his own. He went into hospice care and died on January 14th, hanging on until after both Christmas and my mom’s birthday. He hung on for much longer than the doctor’s thought he would. At some point I’d like to write something about him here, but for now I thought I would at least post the obituary I wrote for him here, so you all know I’m still around.

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Nigel Stevenson, my father, 1944-2016

Nigel Stevenson departed on his next great adventure when he died at 4:40am on January 14th, 2016. I hope that when my dad passed from this world he found himself at the helm of a ship sailing on a boundless silver sea with a golden horizon stretching into infinity, ready to explore an undiscovered dimension of existence.

Insatiable curiosity was an aspect of Nigel’s character that dominated his life. In his youth Nigel walked through the Valley of the Kings and climbed the Great Pyramids of Giza. He went behind the Iron Curtain to explore the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War and when the Berlin Wall came down, Nigel was there to take a piece with him as a trophy. Later in Nigel’s life he began sailing the Puget Sound, a shimmering blue paradise that he grew to love with all his heart. Some of Nigel’s happiest moments occurred when he was on the water, whether it was watching the sun set over the horizon while moored on Blakely Island or being surprised by a pod of Orcas while out for a leisurely cruise.

And my father won’t be alone on that ship. Alongside him will be the many beloved pets who travelled alongside him in life, for my dad had an amazing affinity for animals. Beloved cats like his Archimedes and Cicero will guide him, and his faithful dogs Elmo and Quincy will be there to man the rudder, working alongside a crew of dozens of different animals that my father loved over the course of his life. My father was a great lover of antiquity, all things Greek and Roman, and as part of his wishes I placed two coins over his eyes for the ferryman to carry him across the River Styx. Another ancient Greek tradition was to celebrate a man’s life by partaking in all the activities he loved in life.

So in keeping with that great tradition his wife of thirty years, Julie, as well as I, would like to invite you to Normana Hall to feast at their monthly pancake breakfast. For twenty-five years my father took us to the pancake breakfast, and it was a beloved tradition, because the other thing my father loved to do was eat good food. And the pancake breakfast serves the best Swedish pancakes outside of Sweden itself. Even at the very end when his cancer was at its very worst, he still wanted a few bites of those delicious pancakes.

So come, join Nigel’s family and feast while we remember the life of an extraordinary man and to toast his voyage into the unknown that awaits us all.

I’ll be back soon with articles about XCom 2, as well as follow ups to my articles on Star Wars and Life is Strange that I never got around to completing.

They Can’t Win

So everyone must know by now about the terrible attack that took place in Paris last night. First of all I’d like to express my sympathies for the people of France, and hope that all my readers there are safe. I know I’ve had a few French people comment here on my blog, so if you’re reading this, drop me another comment and let me know you’re okay.

As always happens during a tragedy, people start to lose hope in humanity. But I’m here to tell you that yesterday’s attack only gave me more hope for humanity. Not because of the attack itself obviously, but because of what the attack represents and how humanity has chosen to respond to it.

The perfect response to terrorism.
The perfect response to terrorism.

The attacks in Paris is the last desperate flailing of a dying monster. What ISIS wants is to make us as violent, savage, and xenophobic as they are. They see a city like Paris, filled with people from all over the world come to visit one of the most beautiful cities in the world and welcomed with open arms, and it frightens them. They’re terrified of a world where we no longer divide each other by race, nationality, or gender. But that day is coming, sooner than they’d like, and it scares them.

We’re living in the most peaceful era in human history.  There has literally never been a time where there has been less wars, less violence, or more equality, and more peace. There has never been a happier, more peaceful time to be a human being living on Earth. A scant seventy and some odd years ago, Germany was invading France. Today they’re pledging their support. That’s how much as changed in such a short time.

Yes, you can look around the world on any given day and see horrors beyond imagining. Extreme poverty, starvation, civil wars. But we’re getting better at solving each of those problems with every passing day.

A graph of the incredible progress humanity has made.
This is humanity getting better-

At
at

EVERYTHING!
EVERYTHING!

And yes, people like the members of ISIS will continue planting bombs in shadows and shooting at unarmed civilians. But again, those are the last desperate actions from people who can see a world of unified global peace approaching, and are utterly terrified by it. Their time is quickly running out and they know it.

And you know what frightens them the most? What they’re afraid everyone is going to do?

They’re afraid everyone is going to go out there and do exactly what they did yesterday.

And that’s exactly what most of you did today without even thinking about it. I myself went to go eat some delicious pancakes this morning and didn’t think twice about it.

And this frightens ISIS because it means their most desperate acts, their most powerful blows… ultimately amount to nothing. It reminds them of a single, inescapable truth that frightens them to their very core:

They can’t win.

Barring a third world war that blasts us back to the stone age, ISIS simply can’t win. Humanity has evolved beyond them. Whereas they desperately try to hold onto a past world that ran on violence and cruelty, the rest of us are marching toward a world of unprecedented peace and prosperity, where everyone is equal. We’re getting so close to Star Trek levels of utopia that you can practically hear the Warp Engines powering up.

This is how I know in my heart that ISIS, and others like them, can’t possibly win:

New York
New York, The United States

Mexico
Mexico City, Mexico

Shanghai
Shanghai, China

Australia
Sydney, Australia

New Zealand
Auckland, New Zealand

My home city of Seattle
My home city of Seattle

That’s just a fraction of the world’s monuments that have been lit up to show support for France. Across the world, millions of people have taken to social media to voice their support. An entire planet’s worth of people have stood up and said that the death of 129 civilians is unacceptable.

That’s how I know that national, racial, religious and every other flavor of extremism, whether it be from terrorists like ISIS or blustering fear mongering politicians, can’t win.

Because against an entire planet determined to make a better future for itself…

They simply can’t.

Tortured By a Dentist: My Last Two Weeks

So I’ve been AWOL for the past two weeks, and it wasn’t by choice. First my landlady’s internet went down, a niggling little annoyance that should have been resolved quickly. Unfortunately her internet service provider is… well an ISP in the United States, which operate under the assumption that their customers should pay them while providing as little service as legally possible. Still, not a big deal, I could go the library.

About a week after the internet went down another of my teeth decided to execute order 66, attempting to assassinate me from the inside. As my long time readers might remember, my mouth is basically Europe circa 1945, a series of craters and smoking ruins at this point. I buried myself in a few thousand dollars of debt in order to repair my front teeth, but the back teeth, arguably the more important ones that allow me to actually eat are basically gone at this point. Still a starving writer, I wait until these teeth are ready to implode before actually paying to get them ripped out. So finally another of my molars collapsed in on its self like a dying star and a sucking blackhole of agony took its place.

And then screaming in terror when we find massive stars being devoured by huge black holes.

I make so little money that the poverty line looks like the summit of Mount Everest, which means I get free healthcare thanks to Obamacare. Fortunately that includes some basic dental care, unfortunately that basic care includes getting your teeth pulled and cleanings, none of the major repair work required. Still, I was able to get in to see a dentist who would extract the tooth without charging me (or rather charge the state rather than me).

The dentist brought me in to the room and began to explain that the state only gives him $50 bucks to extract a tooth, a procedure that usually costs between $300 and $400. He quickly gave me a few shots of that numbing agent dentists use, and left to talk to another patient while the dental assistant continued to talk to me about that $50 dollars that the state pays them.

“If you could afford to donate anything it would be a great help, because if we only saw patients like you, we’d go bankrupt.” She said.

Alarm bells should have started going off at this point, but at this point it had been four days since the pain began. It started late on a Saturday night, when I took a drink of water. I drank and the motion of swallowing set off the strangest sensation I’d ever felt, a kind of suction in my tooth as if the air had been sucked out of it. A crushing, sucking, sinking pain went shooting down the length of the tooth and burrowed deep into my jaw, tunneling outward until it felt like a carnivorous worm was eating my face from the inside out. But it was Saturday night, and no one would be open until Monday. The only reason I didn’t go screaming into the emergency room was because I was terrified of being stuck with a $10,000 medical bill over a single fucking tooth. Plus I had a bunch of hydrocodone left over from my having my wisdom teeth out, so I was able to put myself in a tiny medically-induced coma.

I started channeling Dr. House pretty hard.
I started channeling Dr. House pretty hard.

I came to on Monday and scheduled the appointment, but there wasn’t an opening until Tuesday. So finally, mercifully, after four of the worse days in my entire life, I finally had a dentist willing to remove my tooth. The dentist’s office could have been named Joseph Mengele Memorial and had walls splattered with blood, and I probably still wouldn’t have clued in that maybe I was in trouble. The dentist talking about “patients like me” and complaining how the state underpays them just didn’t register as possible concern, especially since I agreed with them. The state should definitely pay these people more, maybe then it wouldn’t have taken me hours of phone calls to find a dentist that would take me.

No, I was grateful to this dentist. I was sitting in a room across from the children’s waiting room, listening to Elsa from Frozen sing Let It Go and looking up at a beautiful mural of some butterflies. I was fully prepared to give this man the donation he was asking for, I would get paid in a few weeks after all and the only reason I was rushing was because I was in soul-crushing amounts of pain. Or so I thought. In actuality, I had no real understanding of what pain was. But I was about to learn.

Shut up, I'm in too much pain to be subtle in my foreshadowing.
Shut up, I’m in too much pain to be subtle in my foreshadowing.

As the dentist came in, I told him I could still feel my tooth throbbing.

“It’s okay, let me just check your tooth out.” He said, reaching into my mouth with those big ass pliers they use. The cold metal latched onto the remains of my tooth, and the sucking, gnawing pain in my tooth was suddenly accompanied by a shivering cold pressure. I grunted in that international language of pain, a grunt that meant “holy shit it hurts, stop, stop, STOP!”

I don’t know what sound I made next because I couldn’t hear anything past the crunching, snapping, and grinding of my tooth as he clamped down on it and began yanking on it. Yet the sound was nothing. It was the pain. It was beyond description, but I’ll give it my best shot.

It was electric, a shooting, twisting, burning agony that shot through my entire mouth. Every muscle in my body seized up at once, and my eyes became strangely fixated on the black butterfly in the mural above me. I could see it, but I wasn’t really seeing, it was just something my eyes became focused on while I was struggling to comprehend what was happening. My left hand shot up in the air, the universal sign to stop and I was doing my best to gurgle-drool that same sentiment with his hand in my mouth.

I started channeling Dustin Hoffman pretty hard.
I started channeling Dustin Hoffman pretty hard.

“Put your hand down. Put your hand down.” He said, his once kind voice now had a harsh edge to it as he actually got angry at my resistance. “It’s a hot tooth, very difficult to numb.”

Bullshit. I’ve had infected teeth, my wisdom teeth had become so infected that the infection actually ate away part of my jaw bone. But when I had them removed, that dentist had taken the time and effort to make sure I was totally numb before proceeding. This bastard just didn’t want to take the time to humanely remove my tooth, because in his eyes this simply wasn’t worth his time. I wasn’t a patient of his, I was “one of those patients”, the kind that couldn’t pay and he was going to remove this tooth as quickly as possible regardless of my pain. Short of becoming violent, and wrapping my hands around the dentist’s throat until he let me go, I had no options. I simply had to let it happen.

With a final, sickening snap the top half of the tooth came out. A strange cold began seeping into my hands and feet, and it felt like the cold was filling me up like water in glass, slowly rising up into my arms and legs stopping just short of my chest. I felt utterly drained.

I was in so much pain, this sentence almost started making sense.
I was in so much pain, this sentence almost started making sense.

I remember reaching into my mouth to remove a huge chunk of tooth that was just sitting on my tongue, because there wasn’t anyone suctioning away the debris like I’d had in every other tooth extraction. Then he was back in my mouth with a sharp…something, and he jammed it deep into my gum, and began twisting and rotating it back and forth. I understand now that he was loosening the roots of my tooth, but at that time I really didn’t understand what was happening.

He finally ripped out the tooth after a few minutes of this. All in all, the entire procedure might have taken five minutes at the most, the shortest I’ve ever spent in a dentist’s chair. They handed me a wad of tissues to wipe away the stream of tears that had been streaming down my face, jammed a piece of gauze in my agony-hole and sent me on my way. I barely remember the drive home, I just remember rushing up the stairs into my room and downing half a bottle of Hydrocodone, and then curling up in a ball desperately waiting for sweet relief. Unfortunately since it was pill form, it took another twenty or thirty minutes for that relief to arrive.

And thus ended the single most painful experience of my life. When my tooth began hurting at the start of the week, I’d have classified the pain as a 7 on the pain scale. When I broke my ankle as a kid, that was probably a 9. This though, this wasn’t a 10. It was a 40 or a 50. My entire perception of pain has now shifted. That broken ankle would barely register as 4 at this point. I had nightmares for days afterward.

But I survived, and soon I’ll be back to posting our regularly scheduled content. I just had to let someone, anyone, know about the strange account of being introduced to 19th century dental practices.

I started channeling Dustin Hoffman pretty hard.
On the bright side, if I ever write a story featuring dental torture, I’ll know exactly how to describe it…

Later this week I’ll finally start posting some of those poor articles condemned to Draft Purgatory, I nearly talked myself out of it. But after having a tooth ripped out without anesthetic, posting a bad article is no longer a fear worth having.