Monday, June 30, 2014

The Silent Generation

            Hello, everyone. I’m not going to apologize for the long break in between entries, because instead of writing here, I’ve been trying to finish a longer piece of fiction I’ve been working on. Remember that “short story” I posted a couple parts of? Yeah, it’s over 115 pages now. You can read it here, if you’d like. I think you’d like.
            So anyway, if I’m supposed to be doing that, why has this popped up? Well, to be honest, 115 pages of writing the same dude necessitates a break every once and awhile. But more to the point, I came across a review for a game called Valiant Hearts, a stylish PS4 puzzler based during the First World War. It looked good and whatnot, but $60 is a bit much for a puzzle game, especially when I don’t own a PS4. Mostly the second one.
            However, the review coalesced with other thoughts that have been streaming through my head. I’ve been mentioning for awhile that this year is the 100th anniversary of WWI, and until 2018, there’s going to be all sorts of interesting, smaller anniversaries. I really want to make it to Europe at some point during the interval to see what they’re all up to over there. If Russia doesn’t have some sort of tongue-in-cheek “Oh hopefully we don’t have a huge Bolshevik Revolt and have to pull out!” commentary on the 2018 World Cup they’re going to host, I’ll be very disappointed.
            Only two days ago (6/28) was the anniversary of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand being assassinated by Gavrilo Princip. I’ve been following the @RealTimeWWII and was pleasantly surprised to find they’ve got a sister account in @RealTimeWWI. I’m going to start teaching (hopefully) before the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, and I plan on having a “What was going on in Europe 100 years ago today?” board. Spoiler alert: WAR.
            I’ve already written on World War One before, here, and I must say, damn good reporting, Dickinson. Such use of mnemonics I’ve never seen. I covered the beginning of the war and how it was a pretty great comedy of errors using MAINS and high school drama.
            The video game review back there, I feel, missed a pretty big opportunity to expand upon their subject material. Sure, it describes if the game is good or not (answered with a resounding “meh”), but it ignores the game’s timely release and specific historical relevance. The review mentions that very few games are made about WWI, but moves quickly on.
            I’ve been recently spoiled by excellent medium-form writing about things, mostly sports, like Matt Ufford’s amazing piece on why you should cheer for the USMNT. He takes an exciting, timely event in the World Cup and expands upon it with pride and interesting writing. I wish that this review could have done something similar. Take the game, review it; its mechanics, its graphics, the plot, whatever. But I wish IGN had used the review as a jumping off point. There aren’t many video games about WWI. In fact, there aren’t many anythings about World War I. Few movies, few museums, few History Channel documentaries, and no patriotic pining.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Social Media and Social Accountability

            I'm taking a class this semester that my university calls a "capstone." It's supposed to combine everything you've learned in the liberal arts classes in order to give your college experience a nice climax. Or something, I'm not really sure, since most of my liberal arts classes applied to my simply humongous major. I do really like the class I'm taking, though, as it focuses on aspects of critical thinking and modern social issues. As an exercise, the professor asked us to give up any electronic device for 24 hours, and write a paper on our experience. I went a little above the requirements, so I'm going to share it here.

            In my own personal experience, the fast was only difficult in times of silence. The morning, especially, before I was ready to go about my day. I did my 24 hour period from 10am Friday (when I don’t have any classes) to 10am Saturday. In the morning, I ate breakfast and realized that I didn’t know where I was supposed to be looking. Without my phone or computer, I just stared lamely at the kitchen table. We don’t subscribe to a newspaper, and the books I'm reading are on my Kindle.
            Going about my day, I listen to a lot of music. When I’m cooking, or shaving, or folding laundry, I’m usually playing iTunes on my laptop. So without any electronics, these tasks became unusually silent, and even a little disconcerting. I wrote 12 handwritten pages of creative fiction since I didn’t have Microsoft Word, and it took me over an hour to transcribe everything back into the computer.
            The oddest feeling in the whole day was that I never knew what time it was. I don’t have a clock anywhere in my room, so I would have to walk to the kitchen in order to see the microwave clock. Time seemed very elastic since I wasn’t always checking my phone.
            Once the day got going, though, things got easier. Working out (although I had to do it without my iPod and hear my stupid labored breathing) and running errands are a good use of time that doesn't necessitate an electronic device. I just wish that the weather was warm out. Spending a day outside seems like a good companion exercise to a 24 hour electronic dry spell. Unfortunately, it's still freezing cold.
            The most revealing aspect of the fast was not my experience, but from others' reactions. I’m in a sociology class right now, Social Inequity. The class itself seems more like a graduate-level class, with very cut-and-dried readings from theses and other extremely academic sources. My professor has to explain just about every major point that the readings convey, because the students really don’t get any information from their own reading. This is all to introduce a topic that I did understand my first time around and have begun to notice all around me; social accountability nets.
            Social accountability nets are basically the process that keeps us “doing” our identity. For example, it’s what keeps girls girly, and men masculine. It would show up if a previously manly man ever wore a dress, because all of his friends would bother him about it and peer pressure him into acting more “manly” again. They try to force him back into his identity.
            I found the same interactions happening the day I did my e-media fast. Trying to tell people that I would be unreachable for the next 24 hours or that I didn’t see that thing on the internet always drew confused looks. Everyone asked why, and most even went as far as to get mad at me for giving up electronics for only a day. I realized that part of my identity as a 21st century college student was to always be available and always be online. When I stepped out of those pieces, I was shedding the entire identity, and the people around me tried to put me back in.
            I’ve seen it more so lately because I gave up alcohol for the month of February. Nothing problematic, just a nice exercise I’ve begun doing to give up something I like every month. January was video games, and March might be social media. But my identity as a college student demands that I drink alcohol at some point. Watching people struggle with the idea that I willingly am not drinking for a month, just because, is an odd experience.
            The E-media fast reinforced many things that I already knew deep down. I listen to a lot of music, I’m never without contact, and that I’m probably on my phone too much. But the most revealing thing I learned is that millennial college student is an identity that comes with many rules. Always be available for contact, always be online, and above all else, drink. I don’t begrudge the people who make up my accountability net, they’re not doing this maliciously. They’re so wrapped up in their own identities that the thought of shedding one or two pieces of it seems foreign.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Like Losing A Piece

So, that thing I was writing is going to end up a lot longer than I originally planned. A LOT longer, as in "Too friggin' long to keep posting 1,500 words at a time". So instead, here's a self-contained short story, to apologize for the loss of the other one.

            Claire walked through the door, slamming it behind her. Sam was there, waiting for her, legs hanging off of her sink. The dorm room was small, like all dorm rooms, and covered in old carpet remnants. To the left of the door was Claire’s roommate’s futon, and she sat down heavily with an angsty sigh. Just as quickly, she hopped back up, and began to walk around the room. From window back to the door, she paced. Luckily, her roommate was out, so they had the room to themselves. Sam watched her pace with a growing look of frustration on his face. Finally, he rolled his eyes and slid off of the sink.
            “You’re going to say something, so say it already,” he said, crossing his arms.
            “It’s not fair!” Claire yelled immediately after he finished, almost cutting off his last word. She threw her hands in the air and continued to pace. “It’s- they can’t- who…”
            Sam smiled his wry smile, saying “I agree completely.”
            She glared at him, her overly mad face that she only put on when she needed to make a point. After a beat, her features softened, and her eyes welled up. “I don’t want them to take you away,” she said.
            Immediately, his smile disappeared, and he wrapped her up in a massive hug. She didn’t cry, but still buried her face into his neck. She felt his arms squeeze tight, two or three times. She didn’t pull away, and Sam began running a hand up and down her back, like she had always liked.
            “But I need to go,” Sam said, finally pulling away far enough to look into her eyes. Claire just shook her head, without saying anything. “It’s past time, and you know it.”

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Our Empty Streets (pt. 4)

No, I don't know how long this is going to be. Part 3 is here.

            The next day, Marilyn and Erin showed up in Marilyn’s SUV, with bags galore in the trunk. I, freshly shaven and showered, felt I should play the host, and had been sitting in my building’s lobby for fifteen minutes, impatiently tapping my foot. Now at the sight of all of the luggage the girls had brought, I raised an eyebrow.
            “Well don’t just look at us like we’re crazy, help some ladies out!” Marilyn said, a large duffel bag around her shoulder. I hopped to, always the chivalrous gentleman, and took Erin’s heaviest-looking bag out of her grasp. I was too old for a part-time job, but in this moment I felt like a bell-hop.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Our Empty Streets (pt. 3)

Yes, yes, we're all excited. Part 3 is here. This might be longer than I thought. You can find Part 2 here, and Part 1 from there.

           Erin and Marilyn were the first to show up, only about 90 minutes later. Of course, I was already there waiting for them, and they worriedly checked the time for fear they were much later than they thought. After the initial confusion, we introduced ourselves. We all shook hands. Erin removed hers from the hoodie’s sleeves long enough to limply grab my fingers and twitch her wrist, while Marilyn’s eyes never left mine and she gave a firm shake.
            “Paul Danny,” I said, well aware that I have two first names. I thought about changing my name to something cooler- more end-of-the-worldsy- after everyone I knew died, but you know how time gets away from you.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Our Empty Streets (pt. 2)

Here's the second part of what I started a couple days ago. I'm posting slowly 'cause I'm trying to stay ahead. Part One can be found here.

            One morning, I eyed the Navy Pier’s Ferris Wheel, and wondered if I could turn in on but still get into a cab before it rotated too far. I never rode the damn thing before: it always seemed like a tourist trap to me. I was an immigrant to the Chicago area fresh out of college, and the last thing I wanted to do was look like I didn’t belong. My Southern accent gave me away often enough, when there was still anyone around to hear it.
            A control panel was in front of me. Where I hoped would be two buttons, one green and one red, was a myriad of levers, lights, and knobs. I poked and prodded at the panel, moved a lever back and forth, but nothing happened. I looked around sheepishly, like an employee was going to come chastise me at any time, but of course that employee was long gone. I slid my pack off of my back, and dug out my water bottle. July in Chicago was hot and humid, even on the pier. I sat and tipped the bottle to my mouth, almost laying down in order to catch the top of the wheel in my sight. Birds alighted upon it, probably building nests on the now dormant structure. I sighed and rethought my plan, not wanting to disturb their hard work. After all, it was more their world than mine now.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Our Empty Streets (pt. 1)

Here's a story that might not end up so short, and it might not end because I'm bad at these things. Whatever, you're reading this for free.

            The apocalypse happened. Then, just as suddenly, it was over. We had been reading tales of the dead taking over the Earth for years, and in fact it had been quite the trend in my younger days. It was all in good fun. The only people you could unrepentantly shoot in video games were Nazis and zombies, so that’s who they cast. But let me tell you this: When it’s your girlfriend clawing at the bathroom door with the trademark black irises, you’re not thinking about power-ups and high scores.
            No one knows why it started. Airborne virus, parasite, evil demonic possessions, whatever. Everyone who was in charge of telling us this type of thing stopped checking in. One day in early May, something like 98% of Americans and 80% of others around the globe suddenly woke up wanting to partake all the normal zombie stuff. Of the 2% that didn’t wake up infected/a host/ possessed, 1.5% woke up next to another person who did. Luckily I always woke up before my girlfriend did, and was in the shower for her… episode.