Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Letter to the Nation Concerning Belonging

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this will be my third letter having to do with my unemployment. What can I say? It’s on my mind. If it’s any consolation, I’m trying to keep it varied within the subject.

Dear America,

It’s been a while since I’ve considered myself to be a patriotic American. We’ll ignore, for the time being, the reasons for this that include my heritage. Let’s just say that as bloodlines go, I’ve got enough in me to be pissed that this country both marched my people off their land into Oklahoma, and, declared its independence from the empire. Add to that being raised in Louisiana, a state so rich with customs and traditions wholly separate from any other passed down and celebrated in the other 49 states, it still wouldn’t be that weird if we seceded. I tried to include those things in more detail into an early draft, and it just took over the letter.

So, I’m just going to focus on the political reasons I don’t considered myself patriotic.

For the last, oh I don’t know, eight years, I’ve tried to shy away from attaching blind allegiance to any group that has the possibility of labeling me with descriptors that I don’t think apply to me. Descriptors like hate or greed or ignorance. I’ve tried to itemize my politics as much as possible so if and when someone asks me if I’m pro or anti-American, I can throw a list of yay or nays back at them without ever actually answering the initial question. Douse their accusatory flame, if you will.

I was comfortable with that responsibility. The responsibility of educating myself on the important issues and how my views differ from the decisions of my government. It was the only logical course of action to take in anticipation of having to defend myself against a generalizing international community. I needed arrows so I became a fletcher.

So, I separated myself, mentally, from the club house of the Americas and instead decided that I was a “citizen of the world” who happened to have a blue passport and paid taxed to the United States. Technicalities that I couldn’t overcome due to certain legal obligations outside of my control.

And then something happened. I got fired. Not exactly an Earth shattering shock to anyone familiar with my previous place of employment and my disdain for everything that they encompassed, but, still something bad at the worst possible time for something bad to happen. Anyway, I was laid off, but that’s not what got me thinking about America. It’s what happened after I got laid off: absolutely nothing.

I still haven’t found a job. I look every day. I apply every day. I seek out a new role in my community every day, and still, I am unemployed. I am unemployed.

Well, I don’t need to explain what an American thing that is becoming. And I think it’s me being unemployed that has gotten me thinking about America again. I think it’s what’s gotten me feeling better about being an American again.

I don’t mean to make a ridiculous statement like Americans are the first ever to be unemployed, or that we’re the first ever to have a large number of our citizens be unemployed. What I mean is that this is the first time our, my, your generation of Americans has experienced a drop in our worth as a nation to this extent.

The unemployed American population is a group that has collectively, and metaphorically, been kicked in the balls and is now rolling around on the ground waiting for the stars in their vision to go away. And it’s a group I am now a part of.

The President, our President, whom I voted for, has a way with words. He has a calming and informed manner of speaking that before, for me, always felt relevant, but now feels critical. He’s the man that is going to make the decisions that determine maybe not how easy it is to get my next job, but how easy it will be to get a better one after that. The real one. He’s the one that is going to be the face of the push to help me run again after I’ve pulled myself back onto my feet.

So, how does that translate into me suddenly feeling that unmistakable, and previously avoided, feeling of pride swell ever so slightly in my chest?

Well, I’ll tell you.

The reason I chose to think of myself as a citizen of the world, as I stated before, was one of protection. I was protecting myself from the association with our nation and its attitudes and policies. Because they were not my attitudes and policies. They weren’t a lot of people’s. The government in the recent years has been the obnoxious drunken uncle at the wedding, toasting these “done up sumbitches” on this, their special day. And I, we, are the red faced nephews slouching in our chairs wishing we could will ourselves invisible.

But unemployment is different. The economy is different. It’s not a brown bearded foe we can attempt to bomb back into the stone age or a tiny slant-eye we can tariff into poverty. It’s not something we can drill into at the cost of our Mother Gaia or a phone conversation we can subpoena at the cost of our humanity. It’s a situation where the problem makes us suffer and the solution allows us to use our minds creatively, instead of our government creatively coming up with ways to make us suffer due to a problem situation.

It’s a problem America is going to have to think her way through. Oh, I get chills just typing it. A puzzle to solve. Imagine that. We are the midnight IT man whose computer has gotten a virus. We are the mechanic whose truck has broken down. We are the Iron Chef whose secret ingredient is chocolate.

We are all in an amazing position to finally kick ass in the most internationally accepted way possible. We get to figure our way out of a problem that we are supposed to be the experts on.

You know who figures their way out of problems? Macguyver does. You know the one thing that MacGuyver never felt like to me? An insufferable fucktard.

Lame? Maybe. Hokey? Sure. Cheesy? Absolutely. Complete, foaming at the mouth, guns-blazing, beer guzzling ass hat? No, never.

And that’s why I’m feeling this little bit of pride. We might actually solve a problem here, ladies and gentlemen. And we actually might do it without coming off like complete ass hats. Two firsts at once after almost a decade of neither. It’s like there’s electricity in the air.

And for right now, ring side to the big event, for as long as I can afford it, an unemployed American is something I’ll wear as proud as I used to wear the American Flag on my Boy Scout uniform, before I started making a list of yays and nays, and before I decided that America was something to be denounced as quickly as possible, before I could be counted among them.

I am a cynic, and I am a realist, and I always plan for rain on a sunny day. But for right now, now in this time when the statistics on CNN directly include me and my family and my friends, let me hang on to this small glimmer of hope and pride for the government that is in charge of the land I have come to love and belong to. Let my pride in becoming one of the millions of Americans that are being threatened by a national problem make sense. Let me hold on to the hope that being born an American citizen when I was just means that I had an opportunity to be onboard at the ground floor for this nation’s next rise to greatness through intelligent and peaceful socioeconomic success.

Let me quietly consider having an American flag hanging off of my home for the first time in 12 years, if only because I’m going through the worst low I’ve ever gone through, professionally, in my young adult life. Because it feels like the most appropriate time to feel good about your country is when it’s in the toilet.

Thanks for indulging the soapbox,
Chiggie Von Richthofen
Canada's still up there, don't fuck this up

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Letter to Gamers Concerning Gaming

Dear fellow gamers,

Since I lost my job nearly a month ago, I’ve noticed a few changes in my life. Specifically, what I’ve chosen to do with all the new free time during the day, alone. Had you asked me a week before I was laid off what I would do with my day if it was all up to me, I probably would have said, sleep, watch TV, and play videogames. And for a little while that was the case. Along with the chores I had set out for myself, there were pockets of the day devoted to laziness and gaming in that order. But that changed.

The longer I went without work, the less and less I even thought about playing something. The last few days I have only turned my XBOX on to watch movies from my laptop on the TV and talk to my friends. I just don’t want it anymore. The very idea of playing a game, a modern game actually, just kind of makes me wrinkle my nose.

Maybe it’s a phase, maybe it will pass, but there is a big part of me that hopes it won’t. A part of me that is whispering in the back of my head, “Finally, now we can really get something done.”

I wrote an article for Gamers With Jobs a little while back called “A Fundamentals Flaw.” In it I played devil’s advocate a little bit and compared gaming to alcoholism and substance abuse. Trying to point out that the line between those categories is so thin it’s practically transparent. Now, as my day is laid before me and I am the one who chooses the agenda, I think of gaming, and I can’t help coming back to the comparison.

I’m not sure exactly when I started using gaming as distraction and escape from reality. Maybe from the very start. But, that is what I’ve been using it for. Yes, it’s fun. Yes, it’s challenging. Yes, it’s satisfying. But so are a thousand other things I could be doing. A thousand other things that wouldn’t allow me to so easily and totally forget where the hell I am or what the hell I have to go through on a daily basis.

I was literally living a lie. Purposely, with full understanding, and for pure pleasure. Letting myself become so immersed and hoping that when my brain records the experience it would forget the HUD and the controller and the subtitles and it would be a real life memory. I wanted the experiences from the box to be real for me, so I just kept pushing in deeper and deeper hoping to wedge myself into the rabbit hole permanently.

The first sign that I might be coming out of a decade’s long haze was the guilt. The horrendous nagging in the back of my throat when I’d look at the box plugged into my TV and think, “I really should be gaming.” It’s not the first time I’ve had thoughts like that, but, it was the first time I’d ever had a repulsive reaction to them. I SHOULD be gaming? No, no I shouldn’t. I SHOULD be doing something I want to do. If that’s gaming, so be it, but right now it’s not. And I shouldn’t make myself feel guilty about that.

It’s stupid. It makes me feel like a stupid person, and that directly flies in the face of all the things I do on a daily basis specifically done to trick myself into thinking I’m NOT a stupid person.

This idea that I was somehow falling down on the job infuriated me like it never had before, and it forced and ultimatum into my brain. I can either have one real life that I live, or, hundreds of fake ones that I play. Dramatic, yes, but I’m a dramatic person, and that’s the way it has to be.

I’m not completely oblivious to the correlation between my lack of gaming going along with my new lack of a hell hole job, but, if I don’t feel like playing because I don’t have to go back to that place again, that just seems all the more damning for gaming as a past time. Forgive the replacement, but, if I had just written a letter about how I had finally quit drinking after losing my shitty job you’d be congratulating me.

“That’s fantastic! I’m so happy for you! Your wife must be thrilled! Keep it up!” Hoping the entire time that a new job won’t see the relapse of my dirty old habit. And I’m right there with you.

Of course, I can only speak for myself on this one. People are different, so they can handle things in different ways, but, speaking for myself, I have had other vices. One I can control and another I’ve had to quit. And as far as the results of quitting go, gaming has had almost an identical result as when I cut down on drinking and quit smoking. I feel better, there’s less strain on relationships, more time for my own projects. Life just gets a little easier.

There is one big difference between those vices and gaming, though, and I think it’s very important to point out, because it could be the distinction that disqualifies games from this entire argument. I quit smoking, but I didn’t quit gaming. It just became unappealing to me. Suddenly and for perfectly reasonable reasons. Anyone reading this who has ever quit cigarettes knows that the act of becoming a non-smoker is anything BUT sudden and perfectly reasonable. They would also know that there isn’t ONE day you quit smoking. You quit smoking every day of your life after the first day you succeed. Each sunrise is a new opportunity and refusal. It gets routine after a while, but, it’s still there. Always. Tugging at your shirt tale.

The lack of gaming hasn’t been anything like that. I just had a change of heart. I don’t want to do it anymore. It just seems silly to me lately. Like someone handing me a hula hoop and thinking I will be perfectly entertained for hours with this device.

Another difference is that I haven’t had to find something to take the place of gaming. I chew gum like a spokesman for Wrigley’s when I want a cigarette. But when the gaming stopped my other interests rushed in like the Red Sea collapsing around Yul Brynner.

I’m watching TV shows that I’ve wanted to catch up on or start. I’m watching movies from 2007 and 8 that I missed. I’m reading again, like actual books, with paper and everything. And I’m writing all the time.

I made this goal for myself a couple years back that I was to try and write at least 500 words a day of anything I felt like jotting down. Absolutely anything. 500 words. Less than half a page most of the time. And it was lucky if I hit that in a week sometimes. I would have bursts of inspiration and take down a big chunk of something. But my graph of work was one of great peaks and valleys.

Lately, it’s been an ever rising plateau of carpel tunnel inducing compulsion. Multiple projects at once, writing for no person or entity in particular, entertaining the slightest brainstorm with at least a full page of notes. I’m writing like I did back in middle school only now it’s a little less kindling and a little more passable as human speech.

But, of course, I’ve had these kinds of epiphanies before, about lots of different things. And in the end I just end up doing whatever feels right. A feeling that WILL change constantly through my lifetime. So hopefully in a week or a month when I have a new job and a new set of ridiculous responsibilities, I won’t have a new set of games to play. But I probably will. Actually I fully expect to be right back into it by the time I put this letter out on the internet.

I understand that right now I’m in a transitory period, and that state of being usually creates new perceptions of life. I also know that “new” perceptions aren’t the same thing as “correct” perceptions.

I guess I just want this on record for the period of time I still feel like this. To state that since I’ve stopped playing videogames, the feeling that I’m wasting my potentially short life isn’t gone, but it’s substantially lessened. I want you all to know, especially myself when I read this in the future, that while I don’t demand that you throw out your games and start laying out venison on the highway while wearing leather clothes, I do implore that you examine how they fit into your life. They are fun, and sometimes they take away the pain, but so does Oxycodone. And you wouldn’t make time each night for that, would you?

Just food for thought intended for a group of people that pride themselves on their obsession with removing themselves from reality, posed to them by a card carrying member of their group. It’s not enough for me anymore to just like something. I need to know WHY I like it, and if I don’t know those reasons, or don’t like those reasons, then change should be a priority. Whether it will be, whether I even still want it to be now that I’ve written all these words down, hell I don’t even know.

Chiggie Von Richthofen
Can’t ever remember if it’s better to be on a wagon or off of it.