Young men fight on sheer emotion and passion. But you get some grey and you find that people keep schedules for a reason, that attaining and maintaining are two different things. People don't talk to me about potential anymore. They talk to me about management.
-- Ta-Nehisi Coates, continuing the inexplicable Bane theme in my life
Lately I have been trying, with middling success, to find my passion. I've written, in this little space of mine, of feeling disconnected: from my family, from my friends, from my craft. This is to be expected, for the usual reasons. Depression has a way of alienating you from yourself, but I've been in this game for over half my life now, and at some point I'd be remiss not to consider the possibility that I'm less in touch with my passion because there just isn't as much of it anymore.
Which brings us to Breathing Machine.
the launch event for BREATHING MACHINE: A memoir of computers = everyone drinks whiskey at their computer til midnightHaving established that my plan to get drunk on the internet was, in fact, an officially endorsed launch event, I did, in fact, spend the night of the 21st, and a portion of the morning of the 22nd, reading Leigh Alexander's new ebook. I can save you some time by swiping from Zoe Quinn's Gone Home review: "I'm not sure how else to say it, but it made my heart hurt in the best way."
— Leigh Alexander (@leighalexander) January 20, 2014
Gone Home was an anatomy, an index, little pieces of all the smart, weird, queer chicks who so shaped my late adolescence. It's a personal story, but it's not mine. Alexander's story, while obviously also not mine, was a lot more familiar than I'd have expected.
My early adolescence seems a little unreal to me, an early object lesson in the importance of mistrusting one's memory. A decade and a half down the road, a therapist shared his take with me. He said that I'd been so consumed with my own fear, and the fears of how I'd react under that kind of pressure, that I'd built a cage of logic and ethics: to protect myself from the world, and to protect the world from me. (Somewhat pleased, I informed him that, in my corner of the social imaginary, we have a term for this behavior, and that term is "Batman.")
So I hunkered down and built a tiny life for myself. I read and watched and played, and wrote and wrote and wrote. I built a map of the world, word by word, in poetry and blood. It was a shitty map, mind you. I was a kid. But then, as is so often the case in this life of ours, there were unknown unknowns.
I’d be crouched by the modem in the dark. It’d be late. It’s not that I wasn’t supposed to be awake. I was 13 years old, and no one could really tell me when to go to bed. I’d started nurturing the spark of an idea in my casing that no one, really, ought to tell me anything, anymore.The internet hit me hard. I had marginally more computer literacy than the kids I'd left behind at school, but that wasn't saying a lot; I knew my way around MS-DOS and Win 3.1, but from my perspective, the PC was pretty much a word processor and game console. The introduction of a modem into my awkward, angry biosphere brought a couple of epiphanies: first Prodigy, then Doom. Now that they share a sentence, I can see the commonality. You pushed a game, and it pushed back; that much I'd known since Centipede. What bulletin boards and deathmatches offered was fundamentally the same. All that had changed was an understanding of what was pushing back, but oh, dear reader, in that understanding is space for all of heaven and earth.
The world was out there. A little at a time, and slowly. Community. Hostility. A future. A way to play house with adulthood, with the slightest edge of transgression. Expressing myself verbally had always been part of my identity, and moving to text, either real-time or turn-based, only made it easier. Nobody was going to assume I was 13 if I didn't tell them.
As an adult, with a much-improved map and the awareness that I've never been more lost, I read of Alexander's probing, trial-and-error approach to text-based systems, her solitary pride in a cursory (but fundamental) secret knowledge that hadn't yet been deemed Important, her weird online relationships, her self-conscious construction of a verbal identity, and her first forays into the politics and trends that would develop the net into the excitingly depressing place it is today, I felt...
There isn't more to that sentence. Nothing solid, anyway. I just felt. I think I was smiling. Mostly I just sat, and sipped, and beheld. In a dark room in an apartment I can't afford, surrounded by the props of a life that had somehow outgrown me, I wondered if this might have been a ubiquitous experience for our generation: if we had all grown up alone, together, with the entire world.
@Wordbeast erase all friends who don't like your drinking, they don't know what's bestThe world, as they say, ends with you.
— Leigh Alexander (@leighalexander) January 25, 2014