Yes, and

May. 8th, 2014 04:57 pm
talonkarrde: (color)
He just turned eight — a week ago — and he's playing at a soccer game. The team isn't quite competitive enough to have starters and bench warmers, but if it was, he'd probably be a bench warmer.

Still, he gets his chance to play, close to half-time, and swaps out for one of the forwards. Running on the field, he looks to the stands and waves excitedly to his parents, who cheerfully wave back.

The whistle blows, the ball is set out, and he plays his little heart out. He's not going to be the world's next Ronaldo or join FC Barcelona or Real Madrid, but he's been practicing, knows how to dribble the ball, and almost manages to score a goal after a few minutes on the field. After a few more, he even sets one of the other forwards up for a goal, and their team wins.

On the way home, he babbles excitedly to his parents, who seem pleased with the team's victory. His mom turns to him and gives him a high five.

"Good job out there, Timmy! You definitely helped your team win. But next time, try to score by yourself, okay?"

"Okay, mom," he says, promising that he will, in fact, try harder next time.

-

It’s his senior year and the party season is kicking in, along with a sweeping epidemic of senioritis. There's definitely been more than a few cases where he's looked at all the prep books his parents bought for his six AP classes and then said 'fuck it' and went to the party-du-jour. Besides, there's this really cute girl in his biology class that he'd like to get to know better, especially if they both end up going to Yale.

He does end up getting to know her better, asks her out, and even ends up taking her to prom. As the year wraps up, it turns out he's done pretty well in school, too — full fives on all of his AP exams except for a four in European History (where the teacher was honestly pretty awful), and good enough grades that he's the salutatorian — the second highest graduate by GPA — in his class of three hundred. The valedictorian, Susan, is a close friend of his that sailed through all of her classes without barely cracking open any of the books, as far as he can tell.

As salutatorian, he gets to give a short speech to the graduating class, and spends a couple of weeks crafting it, wanting to make everyone — but especially his parents — proud. The material is solid, the moral meaningful, and the humor well delivered in all the right places, and he gets a standing ovation for his speech.

As he gets his diploma, he turns to the audience and sees that his parents are beaming. After it's all over, and his cap is thrown to the winds, his mom reaches out to hug him tightly.

"Well done," his dad says, "though, you know, maybe you could've been valedictorian, and even got all fives, if you had spent a bit less time out with friends, and with Megan."

"Yeah," he accepts, smiling ruefully, "But Susan really deserved valedictorian. Besides, I wouldn't trade the time with Megan for anything — and I got into Yale in the end, didn't I?"

"Oh, yes, and we're very proud, but still, it's important to do as well as possible, " His mom responds. "And yes, it's good you got in — it's a shame Megan didn't."

-

Halfway through his first semester at Yale, he breaks up with Megan, after over a year together. She wasn't that far — she ended up going to Cornell — but in the end, seeing each other only once a month, at best, is something that they can't overcome.

He has a conversation with his mom about it shortly after, which ends in, "Well, she didn't get into Yale, so maybe it's all for the best," and he's struck speechless for a moment.

"Mom, that's not fair," he responds, at which point she apologizes.

"You're right; I know you really liked her. But keep in mind what you're trying to do, okay? You could really be amazing." And the conversation goes on to other topics.

He ends up dating others that he meets, but can't help but wonder from time to time what would've happened if he had gone to Cornell instead — he had gotten in there, too. But his parents pointed to all of the information that said that Yale was the better school, better for his future, better for whatever he wanted to do.

-

He’s in New York, working on pitches for various brands at a creative agency. They're doing pretty well and have a great selection of partners, and he selects a rather difficult pitch for a fairly abstract company — a tech company, a search company, in fact. How do you make an advertisement for a search company compelling?

To him, it's a great challenge, and he dives into it. Six months later, just after his twenty-fourth birthday, he comes up with an answer: it turns out that you can tell quite a compelling story, very minimally, with just a search bar. A few animations, a few clicks, and he knows it's a success when his prototype leaves his boss — and then his friend — and then his favorite bartender — in tears.

It hits the internet six weeks later and gets three million views in an hour. His mom, in fact, calls him — he had mentioned something about working with the company to her a few conversations ago — and asks about it.

"Yeah, mom, that was our team. I did some work on it, but it was definitely a team effort."

"Well it's really sweet, Tim. Good job on that. It seems like you're doing well for yourself. Have you thought of what you're going to do next?"

"Well, I think I might get promoted for this—"

"Oh, that's wonderful. Well done, Tim, just remember that you could also get an MBA, or maybe a JD if you're interested, if you've thought about that?"

He allows himself a brief moment of irritation, watching his video view count tick higher and higher, thousands every minute, before he quashes it.

"No, mom, I haven't. I'll think about it, I promise."

-

She’s not a doctor, a lawyer, a Ph.D., or any of the other things that his parents have consistently dropped hints of wanting to see in a future daughter-in-law. Instead, she's an comparative literature major from a liberal arts college in the pacific northwest, working in customer service at a startup that's trying to make shopping more efficient; they meet because of a mutual friend.

He falls for her quickly, but hesitates for months before telling his parents, knowing, in his heart of hearts, what they're going to say. When he finally picks up the phone, he's not disappointed — or rather, he is, but he's not surprised.

"You know, Tim, you've accomplished a lot, and maybe it's just not the right time to get into a serious relationship — there's so much more you could do," his father says, to his credit quite diplomatically.

Tim pauses for a second, and then two, waiting for his dad to say something else. But instead, the silence simply stretches on.

"Dad, I really do love her," he says. His dad waits just a bit too long before responding.

"Which is important!" His dad says, and then adds, "But think about what else you could do with your life. We really just want the best for you, son. You have so much potential."

Then there's some more smalltalk before they finally hang up.

The thing is, at the end of the day, she makes him laugh, spending time with her makes him happy, and he's starting to realize that maybe it's not about what he could do.

-

A few years later, his company has done so well that it's been acquired by another, his boss has quit and been replaced by someone a bit less good, and things just weren't quite the way he thought they were going to be.

The new boss, Monty, drops something on his desk without even looking at him, and Tim stares at the folder, hoping it'll just grow legs and shove off.

It doesn't.

He'd been thinking of leaving, but something always kept him from doing so, something that whispered to him about what he could accomplish if he could keep trying, something that told him that he should stay the course.

His phone rings, and he answers it absentmindedly.

"Hey, Tim, just checking to see how you're doing," his mom's voice comes over, and right as he's about to answer, he realizes: that something that had kept him from quitting sounds very, very much like his mother's voice.

"I- I'm doing fine," he says, weakly, looking at his desk, at the work that's piling up and the projects that no longer interested him, at the culmination of years of effort, of 'success'.

It's a nice desk, at least, he thinks.

"Fine? You don't sound fine. Did you and Sam have a fight?" And finally, now that he's listening for it, he feels like he almost hears the faintest note of eagerness in her voice.

"No, mom, just the opposite," he says, frowning.

"Oh, well. That's good. How's work? Are you gearing up for that next promotion? It's crunch time, isn't it—" and she goes on, and on, and Tim stops listening, really, until his phone beeps — a text message.

Tim takes his phone away from his ear for a second, looks at the notification: I love you is all it says, and Tim blinks.

And then he blinks again, and puts the phone back to his ear. His mom was still going, about doing better, doing more, about working longer hours.

"Mom, I'm quitting my job," he says, cutting straight through her endless stream of advice. Her response is quick, and surprisingly vehement.

"But Tim! You can't! How will you support yourself? This is a terrible idea, you just need to put some more—"

But he's no longer listening to that voice; there's a better voice to listen to now, a better message emanating from his phone's screen instead of his phone's speaker. A better person to listen to.

“No, mom. This is what I’m going to do with my life,” he says, and hangs up.
talonkarrde: (color)
He steps through the moonlight and shadows, ducking through the underbrush, moving by memory. He passes the nettles he knows are there and straightens up as he comes through the bushes, an opening that's grown smaller every time he's been through it.

There’s a tree to his left, marking the start of the path, and he puts his hand on it as he always does, as he always has.

He remembers learning of the secret path in the park for the first time, behind two hedges and a ‘no entry’ sign, one he gleefully ignores at fifteen. He remembers how single-minded he was then, with only one thing on his mind, and danced through the glade every time, only ever stepping on the patches of light, leaping and posing, every time a performance for the royal court. Later on, he discovered other joys: a fountain pen on thick stationery, sent and received from far away; letters typed in neat lines in Trebuchet, no, Georgia, no, Garamond, watching as a story poured itself out of his soul and onto the papers. For that part of his life, his journeys through the path are muted, his feet quiet but his mind loud, as each shadow on the path became a friend, a character, a companion, whispering to him the secrets only they knew.

But even after diving into dancing, into writing, he still felt incomplete — wasn’t there more? Wasn’t there something else to conquer, to master, to embrace? He remembers the feeling of being an actor who hadn’t had a title role, only understudies and chorus performances; he never stopped feeling like there was something missing.

So he explored and experienced, tried odd jobs and took on odder hobbies, time passed, and he learned: even the careful will make mistakes; even the best actors forget their lines.

He slows his walk, frowning, recalling the days spent answering to a manager that only ever made comments about his appearance, never his work, remembering the dead-end jobs, the scramble just to make enough money to buy cereal for dinner, the casual insults to his character, appearance, and ability, all from those he considered friends. He remembers the night he sat down in the middle of the path, in the middle of the darkness and simply cried for hours, the moon a waning gibbous, the leaves rustling and sounding like all they said was I told you so. He remembers thinking, wondering if it would all just end, please, he just didn’t have the strength to fight it all anymore, to fight anything.

Absentmindedly, he reaches out to touch an old beech tree; he runs his fingers over the initials carved into it. He brought his friends here, once: led them past the now overgrown barriers, showed them the best spots to watch the moonlight glide across the cobblestones. They hugged the trunks as they left and the branches seemed a bit lower that night, ready to hug them back; the wind seemed to whisper through the leaves, telling him it would all be okay.

Here, once more in the dusky night, with only the soft moon hanging over him, he reflects on how far he’s come, how long it’s taken for him to realize what he was looking for. And he looks at the path in front of him, the light and the darkness, the wind and the willows, and the many roles that he has now in the world diverge, run free, each claiming a moment independent of the others.

He walks through the latter half of his secret path and sees these waking visions, ghosts of him that move and linger in the light. In one beam, he’s a father, caring and concerned and looking for dangers to protect his little girl from. In another, he’s a writer, brow furrowed as he paces, thinking of what to do with his characters. Another step and he sees himself as a child again, leaping into the air, holding a moment, a pose for an impossible second at the peak of the jump, and then lands, sweeping a bow to the phantom audience. Somewhere up ahead, manager-him is muttering quietly, concerned about metrics and goals and quarterly performance indicators.

He slowly makes his way up the path, reflecting on his roles and goals, his successes and failures, and all too soon, comes to the end. There, he turns back, watching as the visions step back into the darkness, nodding to them in thanks, and smiles, having finally found what he was looking for.
talonkarrde: (Default)
This is an unfinished story, about a man who will never read these words.

It is a man who didn't have a home, a car, a job, or any one of the comforts that we enjoy and discard carelessly on a day to day basis, a man who walked and slept with the clothes on his back and a guitar in his hands. 

His name was John — or at least, that's what he claimed it was — and he had been busking — or panhandling, or flat out begging — for a few years now. He was dirty, and unkempt, and looked just like you'd expect him to look, just as you'd expect someone who had been out on the streets for months and not have easy access to a shower to look. His clothes were tattered, though at least they covered everything they should, and his beard was disgusting and matted and tangled.

And, of course, the smell, the same smell that hangs around your trash can and you can never get rid of, the same smell that you learn to associate with spoiled milk and rancid meat and decay. That was his smell.

It wasn't much of a first impression.

But then he'd open his mouth and sing a tune, and you'd forget about all of that, because he was good. Not that good, mind you, not good enough to make a living from it and sit in a fancy nightclub, crooning out the blues or covers of the hits, but good enough that you noticed, good enough that you'd take out the one earphone you had in to listen to him instead.

I must have walked past him ten, fifteen times in the station over the course of a few months without making eye contact, or smiling, or doing anything that acknowledged his existence. It's generally better that way, because then you don't have to say no to them directly when they ask you for change — though he never did, even when he was taking a break between songs and could've asked those who were just listening to spare some money.

But this night in particular, he was singing Hotel California, and doing a good job, too. I had nowhere to be in a hurry, so I stopped, leaned up against a wall, and simply stared at nothing in particular while he sang and strummed along. He was pretty good at the guitar, too, and I hummed along in my head, listening as the notes of the closing refrain drifted towards the ceiling.

He was smiling, and I felt obligated, after that, to give him something for his time. After all, he had just performed, and it felt like he was due something, so I stepped forward to give him a five. Not that much to me, but something that made that song worthwhile for him — might even mean his meal tonight, I figured, or at least a beer.

He thanked me and then asked me if I had anywhere to be. I honestly didn't, and I said so, and he asked if I'd mind listening to one of his original songs. Shrugging — and mentally preparing myself for the class of people who are better at copying than they are at creating — I said it'd be fine, and he launched into it.

This isn't a fairy tale: the song wasn't the most glorious thing I had ever heard, nor was it a sad, thoughtful reflection on the state of the world, or a rant about being left behind by society.  It was simply a small ditty about who he was, with a few good turns of phrase about his hometown (Portland) and a few jokes about current events in there. It couldn't have won a Grammy, even in a world where Taylor Swift does, but at the same time, it wasn't bad, and I enjoyed it.

That's where it started, I guess; I ended up asking him how he had gotten to San Francisco, and the entire story came out. He had lived in Portland for most of his life, and then had gone to college on his parents' money, going to a Univeristy of California school. He had stayed with it for four years, despite not being too interested in what he was doing, and ended up graduating, albeit with a somewhat low GPA.

His major? Computer science.

Yup.

I'm pretty sure he saw the surprise in my eyes when he said it. He half-smiled, and shrugged, and said that coding was something that he was good at, just... not quite good enough, he finished, with the pause in the middle. He had held a few temp jobs, but they all ended up falling through, and finally decided to strike out instead of leeching off his parents, and after a few more temp positions, ended up where he was, wandering the city and playing for the money to get his next meal.

And for the life of me, all I could think about is how, if things had been slightly different, I could be in his spot — albeit, I suppose, with less talent in the vocal performance department. And the guitar-playing department. And probably the 'actually being able to live off the streets' skills department. In fact, I don't think I could make it half as well as he was.

I asked him — as I'm sure anyone who had ever heard his story before asked — whether he was still looking for jobs now, but he smiled that self-deprecating smile again and indicated his current state. "Not exactly what they look for," he said, and I could only agree. 

"Still..." I tried, and he pre-empted me, and assured me that he was still trying. In fact, he said, he was heading back to Portland soon, to follow up on a few leads his high school friends had there. He said that I had caught him at the perfect time, since he was due to leave next week, and that if he didn't show up there again, it meant that he had found a place to work. I gave him everything I had that night — only about $25 — and wished him the best — if he did come back, I said, I'd buy him a meal, at the least, while he caught me up on his travels.

#

It's been a month since then, and I haven't seen him back yet. I hope I don't, but if I do, I'll absolutely honor my word. Beyond that — well, this isn't a morality tale, and there are no easily taught lessons, I don't think. All I know is that I still think about how dumb luck can be the difference between a career and (at least) a few years on the streets. What if the job market was better? What if he tried a bit harder? What if his parents knew different people?

We always do the best we can with the cards that we're dealt, I suppose, and can only hope the cards aren't too bad.
talonkarrde: (color)
I mentioned a bit earlier in one of the topics that I was working on game design - today, we ended up posting it to Kongregate, one of the largest sites out there for flash game distribution. If you guys are interested, the game is called Convergence, here's a screenshot and link.



There are three separate levels - in the screenshot, you can see the toddler player-character in the first part, the young adult in the second, and the older adult in the last. It is, as you can probably gather, a little game about life and the choices we make in them, and it's certainly more than a little bit simplified. It's not aimed at hardcore gamers but rather as a stepping stone in a (hopefully) long line of games that are approachable and relate-able, and cause people to think about and perhaps connect to what the message behind the game is. In a non-trivial way, I think what we're trying to do is push forward gaming towards art.

As for this game, it starts with a platformer and then turns into something that incorporates more gameplay through narrative, and finally ends with a mix of our best art and dialogue for the finale scenes. There are three 'true' endings and two 'perfect' endings, and a host of achievements for doing well in the first level as well as making the right choices in the second.

It took us about four months to make, and we're pretty proud with how it came out - though of course there are always improvements to any labor that is made. There are a few bug fixes (holy crap, grammar mistakes;  how could we not catch those?) that are coming through the pipe right now, and I think there are one or two final updates/small easter eggs/edits that will be made in the upcoming week or so, but it's pretty much done. When we posted it tonight, we looked at each other and said 'wow, we did this, we made...a game. An actual game.' And I have to tell you, it feels pretty amazing - especially it's just the first of many.

I hope you enjoy, and as always we welcome all and any feedback.
talonkarrde: (Default)
It's been ten years since I first heard about the procedure that would give me eternal life.

When I was young, there was a period of my life where I could do anything presented to me. Any sport, any physical activity, any challenge. I skiied down mountains and hiked up them, I rollerbladed and ice skated, I ran marathons monthly, and never felt like anything was beyond me; even if I wasn't Olympic-level, I could do it, and be good at it.

Mentally, I drank from the fountain of knowledge as if it were a firehose. I learned facts and figures and algorithms and troubleshooting, and I solved puzzles and expanded the boundaries of human knowledge and worked hard, climbing the ranks through talent and talent alone. I was alive, I was learning, and I was going to be somebody.

Most of all, I was young.

After my youth, I traded in sharpness for maturity — I had a face that people respected, a voice that was commanding, and the experience to solve problems with subtlety instead of the brute force of youth. I made clever decisions that saved wasted effort, I suggested good courses of action which were adopted, and I was respected for my position in life, for the judgment that I held, for the family I had raised.

I was happy and successful, and had achieved my dreams.

But even with all my successes, I never did find a way to escape the cruelty of time, until the twilight of my life. I was seventy when the news came of the triumph of medicine over biology, and I was already beginning to feel the fingers of the reaper, reaching from the other side. I had gone in for routine checkups where the doctors who used to greet me so cheerfully now looked at me with careful, measured expressions, where they spoke about potential issues and probable diseases.

Once upon a time, the world was mine for the taking; now I was forced to ever smaller pieces of it.

But then the breakthrough, the successful tests, the clinical trials that proved that there were effective ways to overcome time, and age, and death. In the same month, two complementary studies were completed, and the world would never be the same again. Clinical trials of a process that differentiated embryonic stem-cells correctly proved that it was possible to regrow entire organs, so that no one would ever need another donor; a specific advance in telomerase-therapy proved that it was possible to reverse the effects of aging, by preserving DNA chains across millions of replications.

The old could become young again, the news said, and for once, there was no exaggeration in their words.

I signed up for the treatment, right away, and was lucky enough to be in the first group that would get to experience the fountain of youth. And then we waited, for a week, a month, a year, and then more, as the scientists, doctors, lawyers, judges, politicians, pharmaceuticals, and religious figures tried to figure out whether it was permissible to free humanity from the bondage of death. Every major figure from Aristotle to Stephen Hawking was quoted, discussed, debated endlessly, while I and many others waited to be told if we could live.

Ten years, we waited.

Think about that for a moment. Ten years, three-thousand-six-hundred-fifty-plus days, with each year worse than the last. It's ten years of growing weak, of watching hair fall out, fingernails crack and skin become almost loose enough to slough off. It's ten years of having more and more pains which can't be helped, of having bones that might shatter if were not absolutely careful, of simply feeling wrong inside as systems start failing.

And then it was put to a vote; a vote where every single human being would be given a chance to decide an issue that affected every single one of them.

We voted, overwhelmingly, that the generation before us would be the last to die, and ours the first to live forever, and the treatments were prepared.

When I went in to receive it, there was no fanfare, no news coverage; we already knew it worked, and the systems were being put in place for widespread distribution. I sat down in the doctor’s office, received a shot from a needle, and went home; the doctor said, calmly, with tears in her eyes, that it would take a few days for the effects to become apparent.

On the first day after the treatment, there was no difference at all; on the second, I felt a bit lighter, on the third, I realized that my skin was starting to tighten back up. By the end of the first week, I was able to walk to the end of the street without losing my breath, and by the end of the first month, I remembered what it was like to be strong, to be alive.

And then, as the elixir of life was given to everyone, as the doctors reported a greater than ninety-five percent administration rate, only then did we look past the immediate future. We had conquered death — but only from natural causes. Would we fight each other? Would we expand to the stars? What would humanity become, now that we had all of eternity to become anything we desired?

Once upon a time, the world was mine for the taking. Now that it was mine, what was I to do?

Commitment

Jun. 4th, 2008 08:05 pm
talonkarrde: (Default)
I’m not a person that can really say a lot about commitment. I’m young and don’t have that much experience with it, as you guys know. But there is one experience with commitment that I would like to share, here.

Commitment comes in a variety of forms – to a person, to a task, to an ideal. At its heart, commitment is tied to sacrifice and assurance; to commit to something or someone involves sacrificing other things for that one, and assuring them of a place
in your priorities.

My experience with commitment has been more to ideals than to people, which should come as no surprise. As an EMT, the ideal I commit to is helping others - I sacrifice time and sleep every Sunday night to assure the township that I live in that if someone is injured, there will be help for them.

But the easing of pain and preservation of life is a common commitment; EMTs are not remotely alone in that – they are joined by medical professionals and volunteers of all sorts. Every Good Samaritan is committed to the same ideal that I am.

However, there is one commitment that I have come across that I think is relatively unique – the commitment to life in the face of imminent death.

We humans do not often commit to things that are likely doomed to failure; we don’t put our life savings into buying lottery tickets, we don’t jump off fifty-story buildings with the intention of living, we don’t try and move objects with our minds.

But working in a hospice exposes you to people that are doing precisely that. The residents of the hospice will not live their full lives. Most will likely will die in the next month. Survival rates, by the time that a patient is placed into a hospice, are less than 10% for a year.

But that doesn’t stop everyone working there from committing to life, even as they know of the inevitable failure. It’s different than in hospitals, because we are taught that while death is inevitable, we can often beat it back, push it away, and snatch back from the edge those that should not yet be there. With hospice care, it is accepted that death will claim those that we work on – and through that, we carry on.

It is inefficient. It is hopeless. And it restores my faith in humanity, every time I take my place in there. Through our efforts, we bring hope to those that have none.

It takes a great deal of commitment to walk in there, day after day. There is a reason that hospice care is not a field that many choose to go onto – the burnout rate is tremendous. How can it not, when you daily fail where you strive to succeed, and even the victories that you gain are cut short brutally and almost immediately.

And yet, we commit to it anyway. We sacrifice our mental health, our time, our energy for the sake that they may know that someone cares about them in the last few days that they have.  We are there to assure them that whatever they have gone through in the past, we will be there for them at the very end.

That is what I know of commitment.

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