Wednesday, April 13, 2011

3 Twenty

So today was my birthday and it was pretty darn good.

I feel like on this milestone of no longer being a teenager I should write down basically how I think of things right now.

This will be the same sort of half-baked ideology rambling as always so uh dig in if you like that sort of thing?

A Brief History of my Ambitions as well as I can Remember Them

Very young - actually semi-feasible careers!: I liked dinosaurs and space a lot as a young child and therefore wanted to be an astronaut or a paleontologist. I don't ever remember consciously stopping wanting to be either of these but I guess at some point I did.

Like 1996 or so, age 5 I guess - video games! part 1: Here I was playing all sorts of Nintendo 64. Previously I had played a lot of Gameboy, sure, but it was the N64 that really made me start wanting to make my own video games. Back then I mainly played Super Mario 64 and the dominant genre was 3D platformers. Most of my ideas were just more platformers where you ran around a big level and collected stuff. I used to picture my surroundings being levels in games like these. I had a lot of little dinosaur models back then and I would usually see those as my playable characters. They each had special abilities that required switching between them in each scenario. I can remember a lot of them actually, geez. I would pretty much play out my game by trying to navigate these models around and switching between them and such. In retrospect I'm not sure if I actually wanted these things to exist as a game or if it was just a Mario 64-esque game I was playing in real life.

Later in 1996 I think - video games! pokemon and rpgs: Oh boy and then Pokemon hit and I spent a long long time making fake Pokemon, drawing out maps for Pokemon games, making new Pokemon cards, etc, etc. Again, I'm not sure if I pictured some endgame where these became actual games or if the actual experience of creation was the whole appeal. If it was the latter I admire my younger self! Around now I played my first RPGs, too. Or actually I had played Super Mario RPG at some point earlier but now I was playing it again with my older cousin and actually understanding what was going on. This became the dominant genre in my mind, and a lot of my old platformer characters were restructured to become RPG characters, although the plot (I think it was some sort of temporal crisis involving black holes that merged present day Earth with dinosaur-era earth) remained largely unchanged. This plot, although heavily modified, would eventually become the story "Red Dream" which I thought about pretty much constantly through all my childhood.

At some point during public school, I think it must have been grade 4 or 5 maybe - writing!: At this point I began to have some inkling about how difficult it was to make games. Rather than give it up entirely, I decided I would just provide game ideas and have someone else actually do the programming and art and everything. I knew even then that this wouldn't fly, that I couldn't just waltz into Nintendo and dish out ideas, even if they were genius. I needed some sort of in. So, the plan became to write novels of my stories, and then actively try to get them adapted as games, wherein I would provide all sorts of really specific advice about how much health each boss should have etc (I had actually written much of this down). I clearly remember explaining this idea to my mom. Previously I had done some writing in school that I had been praised for, and I cited this to make the plan sound feasible (I think the words I used were "people seem to think I'm a pretty good writer"). It wasn't like "call the press this kid is clearly the reincarnation of Joyce" praise, unfortunately, but like, good marks on assignments, lol. I don't remember much of what I had written back then except that I always did it really quickly and refused to edit it or proofread it later. I remember one story about some dogs that run away from home and one story about a mad scientist guy who humiliates his family with his experiments, specifically making their house fly into the air or something. Back then I also tried to tie everything I wrote or thought of into the universe of the one overarching story I was working on, Red Dream.

Near the end of public school, so like 12-13ish? - writing more!: Around the end of middle school I started to actually read a whole lot. I went through a lot of the "classics" etc. I still had the same sort of plot floating around in my head, but it shifted further and further away from being a plot for a video game and more just a book I wanted to write. Or maybe like an anime or something I think, I was watching a lot of Dragon Ball Z at the time. In retrospect, the plot is a weird mashup of all sorts of cliches from all sorts of places but the premise still seems sort of novel to me. Basically the plot was like this: sometime in the future, an evil scientist of some sort abuses his success in creating bioengineered creatures (IT'S A LIVING) to distribute a plant that eventually would control the target's mind. I can't remember why he wanted to do this, I think he was just evil. Anyways the idea was that the plant would be marketed as some sort of at-home medical resource that could diagnose patients by observing them etc and even cure them by producing medicines naturally in its body. It was called the Heart Plant and it looked like a plant with a heart-shaped face and I drew it everywhere through the later years of public school. The plant would then make the target into mindless drones through the "power of psychology" or something. The first symptom would be that the target would start to have bizarre warning dreams as the subconscious would be destroyed before the conscious. Hence the title "Red Dream". So he gets the Earth under his control but some small subset of the population manages to evacuate on the ship. But the ship hits a black hole and goes back in time. Just 'cause. One of the survivors, who was just a baby at the time, grows up in an orphanage (ha!) and goes on an epic quest to discover his identity by tracking down remnants of the future ship and other potential survivors. He then must try to stop the plan before it occurs!

There was a whole bunch of other crazy plot elements, a whole team of like 7 party members I think (a lot of it was still about making a good RPG), this whole element of the protagonist's father working for the bad guy and trying to stop his son that he doesn't know is his son, an ancient sword that gives some power, I remember all this stuff pretty well, I might write it all out formally at some point but you prolly get the gist. It was a lot of cliches, really, but I have to say I still have a fond spot for all of it. Eventually I came to the point where I felt I had "finished" the story. I still remember this really well. It was in the summer between grade 7 and grade 8, and I was at my cottage, and I remember starting to think about a new story. I remember the main reason I wanted to start a new story is that I felt that my old one was too "game-y" and at this point I had a whole list of literary cliches that I knew wouldn't gel well with my fantasy cliches. I didn't really abandon it, though, I just decided it would be the "sequel" that "wouldn't need a game adaptation". I remember a lot of that plot too, it was about the son of the protagonist falling into a cult of people, led by the first evil scientist's brother, that were trying to resurrect the Heart Plant. There was some gang element too, like they were like a mafia cult or something. Two plot elements I still find fascinating today!

I think I came up with a few more sequels on top of that. You know, even now, I think it would be a decent book. I can remember specific plot points that I'm still pretty impressed with. Like, the scene where the protagonist goes off to try this ancient trial thing. I can picture how I pictured that back then perfectly, and it still seems like it would be a pretty moving scene. 'Cause like, he's actually one of the weakest people in his group at that point, but they all acknowledge it has to be him that does it, because they know he wouldn't let anyone sacrifice so much for them. So after he leaves, and they know this'll be like 6 months or so of training, and they're all really worried for him, so they go off to fight the evil professor in his evil lab on their own. And it's like, because they know it has to be done, but there's this unacknowledged but understood idea that they're doing it in his honor, because they've all sort of given him up for dead. And they fail, of course, and there's this other scene where they have to give up, like, "mid-dungeon", because they know they're going to die if they progress. Basically I was interested in just turning a few of what I knew even then to be cliches on their head, like the party going on without the protagonist, or the party actually acknowledging how dangerous something is, or having skepticism about these old magic rituals and essentially feeling like the protagonist was being foolish. Etc, etc. I still think it'd be pretty good.

I wish I'd written down more of this at the time. All I really have are like, a lot of drawings, but I can't draw for shits so I don't really know what a lot of it is supposed to be. Oh, and weapon charts and lists of special attacks of course. I still remember quite a bit of it, all things considered.

High school - Art explosion! In high school I really started going nuts on music and stuff. This is another moment I can remember quite clearly. I had gotten a Minidisc player, and I was loading it up with random stuff, and I made a decision to download a song that I hadn't heard on the radio or anything, just downloading some random song that looked cool. I was still at dialup at this point so it was a big commitment. I think it was Hot Hot Heat's "Talk to Me, Dance With Me". Anyways I remember thinking "Oh man, this is like, cool. I should get more music." Around then my older cousins had made me some mix CDs too that really inspired me. I started listening to hip hop and electronica and everything else. I know for quite a while I wanted to make music. Actually, all I was interested in mainly were the song names and album names and what sort of "feel" I wanted for the music. This I think has directly developed to how now I still try to come up with story ideas from a starting point of just an aesthetic I want to express or some sequence of words I think to be cool that I want to give significance. I started reading even more, too, devouring so many good books in such a short time with such a limited understanding. I almost feel like it set me back. There's tons of "classics" that I remember the gist of and remember really enjoying, but since I read them as quickly as possible why I was enjoying them and what exactly happened in them just slipped right off. Oh well. At this point I was fully set on the idea of writing and making music and still probably being involved with video games and even shooting films, I think. I can't remember if I saw it as a career or a hobby at this point. Considering all the worry that decision gives me now, I envy these times.

End of high school - jobs n stuff! By the end of high school I had begun to write at roughly the rate that I do now, and a lot of the stuff I write now: random short stories, parts of novels that go nowhere, bits of "pseudo-poetry", rambling accounts of things, reviews of music and such, etc, etc. I also began the art of "random troll-ish stories to be spammed on 4chan and similar sites", which is a hobby I still enjoy. The pressure to produce paragraphs that sustain interest in a short time is an excellent motivator. Video games and music and other media also sort of lingered around, but writing was my primary ambition at this point. I also knew though that the possibility of making a living writing the sort of things I wanted to write was low, so I was probably more career-minded in those years than I've ever been since. Back then I always had a philosophy of "every task tomorrow is easy", like, I was somewhat of a slacker all through high school, but I had no doubts that when it counted, when it was actually necessary, I would work hard and achieve whatever I wanted, and it would be easy for me to do so, even. I know now that anything hard I want to do I have to actually motivate myself to do, and I know now that it takes more than the prospect of money to motivate me. Back then, though, I very easily envisioned myself going through law school and becoming a lawyer or politician and making a very cushy salary and then retiring early and becoming a writer. It seemed simple. I knew law school would be "hard work", but I saw it as just losing a few years, you know? Like how getting dental surgery is "hard work". Yeah, it's unpleasant, but you don't actually do anything, you just lie back. I envisioned myself being able to lie back, and probably get stressed out or something, but there'd be some new Steven working tirelessly, deadened to all distraction, and it would get done. It wasn't until much later that I actually became able to envision that the me that would do something a year from now would be the same, or at least extremely similar, to the me of now, and that the me of now's inability or unwillingness to do something shouldn't bode well for doing it a year from now.

I applied for an engineering program after deciding that would be better than law school. Even when I first decided, though, I pictured a graduate degree in something at the minimum. I never went into engineering to do engineering. There was always some other endgame. First it was to get enough money so I could retire and write, but that bothered me because I knew I would never really make that much money. Then it was to get a graduate degree in something that would let me make that much money, but such things proved much harder than even the me back then, who, in some sort of future-self-loathing, had no problem setting myself up for horrible times, could imagine. Then I figured I'd get a graduate degree in something that would let me write, like journalism, and keep engineering as a backup degree in case that didn't work. That was roughly the plan I went into engineering with.

Start of university - Ahh! Basically the fatal flaw of my plan is that I still envisioned Engineering Student Steven to pop out and replace me at some point and take the wheel for the next five years, but he didn't really exist. Such determined Stevens could only be summoned with serious temptation, and when my actual goal was the acquisition of  a degree in English, not Engineering, I could only push myself so hard. The idea of doing Engineering work depressed me. My first co-op placement was about as good as jobs could come, and my second one was great too - both challenging, but interesting, work, both great work atmospheres, both full of great co-workers, etc, etc. but I always viewed them as me spending time and energy on something that didn't actually do anything for me. No job could ever offer me the freedom that no job could. I knew that if I was going to write everything I wanted to write as well as I could write it, I could not have too much time, and a job was a terrible drain upon it. So Engineering got me a job, and I'm terrified of having a job. And why did I need a job? Because I wasn't sure of making enough, if any, money from doing what I actually loved. So I was working myself as hard as I could to take time away from my favorite thing that I wasn't good enough at. That was how I saw Engineering.

At the same time, I was starting to read Russian literature and James Joyce pretty extensively. Philosophical paths began to reveal themselves to me, and I started to give a lot of thought not just about how I would enjoy spending my time, but what I wanted to achieve in my life and how I wanted to change the world. "Be the change you want to see in the world", a Gandhi quote, really resonated with me. Vague ideas I had about my lifestyle in the future began to solidify as decisions and objectives. I questioned everything I had previously assumed I would have to do and contemplated everything I assumed I couldn't. Furthermore, I tried to become more realistic about what things I would or wouldn't be willing to do, and to not make the mistake of assuming I could do anything in the future that I didn't want to do right now.

I also began to rethink how I viewed art, and how I viewed ideas of subjectivity and objectivity. This is an ongoing thing with me, but basically I'm just getting my head around the idea that somethings can be objectively interesting but not interesting to me, and that there's things that are logically worth doing and should be done but won't be enjoyed by me and that I shouldn't feel a responsibility to do them. I tried to still operate in a rational way, but with the acknowledgement that I am a unique and flawed human and that my life will be infinitely better if I operate in a way that satisfies myself and not in a way that seems most objectively satisfying.

Furthermore, I really decided to commit myself to the idea that I wanted to produce art, specifically writing and video games, but possibly movies and music and whatever else, that I wanted to do this beyond all other aspirations. I gave up trying to rationalize it as objectively the best use of one's time. All I can say is that, personally, art is an important thing in my life. If I want to make a positive difference in other people's lives, the best thing I can do is to influence them in a way I feel I have been influenced positively. Specifically, I should try to influence other people like me. Why? Well, for starters, people like me are really the only people I can please. If I make art that I like it follows that other people that like it must be like me, and making art that I like is of utmost importance. Also, I just like people like more than the rest. It seems like a sort of egotistical thing to say, but if it wasn't true, what would that say about me as a person? I'm trying to be the change I want to see, a person I would respect.

So I dropped out of university without really much of a plan besides "make stuff". And I have been making stuff! And it feels great! Even though I'm not at the point where anything I've done is worthy of praise - i.e., I haven't written anything I would want me to read yet, really - the idea that I am improving and progressing and creating things that can never be undone, never unwritten... the idea is "very exciting"!

The future! Well, I'm going back to university in a literature type program in the fall, it's looking like. I'm very excited for that. A lot of people talk about degrees in those types of programs being a waste of money since they're unlikely to get you a job or whatever, but uh, that sounds ideal. Academia appeals to me. I love going onto the campus library and seeing shelves of books on Joyce, studies of the aesthetics of Ulysses or the true morals of Dubliners. I want to write those. I'd love to lecture on them, too. And making video games; the idea of making video games has lately had all the same appeal to me as it did in my youth. The hurdle of programming etc. that sort of waned my interest for some number of years has been leaped and suddenly everything seems possible again. Basically I want to create for a living, be it novels or essays or articles or albums or remixes or video games or films or what. I want time and freedom to do it, which is, in this day and age, little more than a computer and food. And that's pretty much all I want!

Open questions about these plans:

How will you make money you fool? Well, hopefully, through said projects! I mean, there are writers who make a decent living writing. They exist! Same with "indie" game developers and such. It isn't impossible to it for a living. It's even more possible to crank out essays and articles and such and maybe TA a few courses as you dandle your direction-less MFA thesis and make enough to scrape by on ramen. I feel like I'd still love that lifestyle, honest! Failing all those, I could get a job at a bookstore or something else where, although I'd be stuck somewhat, I'd at least have the freedom to think about things, and likely freedom to read or even write during down time. The sort of professional career-type job always requires skills and knowledge and stuff and leaves you mentally occupied and unable to form the thoughts that every single good book in history started from. A good tedious mundane job really lets the mind wander to uncharted territory.

How are you better from all the failed artists out there? Well, I haven't failed yet. And I feel like it's impossible for me to fail. To me, the only fail condition is to stop, so I won't stop. Maybe I'll make a game and no one will play it. I don't think that's a failure. Maybe I'll write something and it won't get published. Well, does that mean that all the published authors are luckier than me or more talented than me or harder workers than me or what? Maybe all of them, but all I know for sure is that they got published and I didn't and if I want to get published I will have to try something else. That is the only thing I can know for sure from that.

Why doesn't everyone do this if it's impossible to fail? It is said that everyone thinks they could write or whatever, and that everyone sort of wants to do it. I saw some poll that said something like 80% of Americans feel they could write a bestseller. So why don't they? Well, it's hard work, for one thing. When people say they want to be writers most of the time they actually want to have written a book, not actually have to sit down and write it. It's the same sort of abstraction of future tasks that caused me so much trouble. So why do I, someone who is "ashamed" of working hard and cannot seem to realistically imagine the difficulty of future tasks, feel I could undertake this sort of thing? I guess I can't say for sure that I can undertake this sort of thing or not, not yet at least. Furthermore, I really do think everyone is actually capable of doing it. All it requires is the proper motivation, the willingness to believe that what you're doing should be important to you. I find if I can fully realize just how much I want to do this, if I spend time remembering how satisfied it's made me in the past, the work, while still difficult, simply gets done. Not only do I think anyone can do this, I think everyone should try, at least. I know that my goals are personal and not objectively noble, and that if everyone focused on their creations instead of their jobs, etc, civilization would collapse, but I think everyone should know fully whether or not they actually have the desire to do it. The uncertainty I had, the vague notion that I wanted to do this at some point but that point had yet to arrive or that it would ultimately be a waste, was a very distressing notion. I think it would be much better to take a stab at it and know for certain, even if I found that I hated the processes and had no ambition for it after at all, than constantly have that as a greener grass looming over me.

I've given up trying to work out objectively what the greatest things humans can do is. It's an interesting argument, but it's irrelevant to deciding what I want to do. What I want to do is what I want to do. What I'm going to try to do is what I want to do.

And what is that? Please answer by quoting a book that if you had written, even if you devoted the rest of your life to the effort, you could die entirely satisfied and proud of your accomplishments.

-Well? Stephen said. Do you remember the rest?
-What you said, is it? Cranly asked. Yes, I remember it. To discover the mode of life or art whereby your spirit could express itself in unfettered freedom.
Stephen raised his hat in acknowledgement.

But you are unfettered.
Yeah. Pretty much my only limit is my bank account. How distressing is that? What a minor thing! And yet, how can I convince myself to fetter myself in some other way to solve it?

So that's pretty much it, then. You ought to go to bed.


 Oh wait do you want to say a few things about anime?

Sure! I watched "A-Channel" today and really enjoyed it. I think I will watch it and Nichijou, which is even better, this season. Plus, the finale of Madoka, obviously. I'm watching Index still, too. The Railgun/sisters/Accelerator arc has been my favorite by a wide margin so far, even if it did still have it's share of facepalmin' moments. This next one I'm watching now with the Angel Fall is sorta eh.

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