The Mysterious Gentleman

So I went to Sleep No More last night. And it probably won't come as a surprise to you, internet, when I tell you that it was amazing. Again I have to thank my dude Ryan for what turned out be the most mind-blowing Christmas present. It was one of the few genuinely out of body experiences I've ever had. I spent ... probably a good deal of time alone. I'm not sure how that compares to most folks who go. Whenever there were masses of people - even, perhaps especially, if there were actors to be seen - I walked in the other direction. Probably the best times I had were just wandering in the graveyard and the maze, alone, listening to the crickets. It was maybe not meaningful to my friends who've gone so far, which is why no one mentioned it, but a really huge portion of the music and musical cues inside Sleep No More are just the score from Hitchcock's Vertigo, which is maybe my favorite film score ever, and moved me close to tears several times. And also influenced my own movement and body language through the scenes. There were a lot of people with crossed arms or hands in pockets or just like walking like commuters through the space, like people on line at Blimpie's, and the way they comported themselves took me out of it a few times; along with some people's clothing choices. I'm looking at you, guy in the Ed Hardy Spider-man shirt and neon green YOLO trucker hat. They were just so recognizable as people. It was weird. I feel like I spent my own time walking with probably an exaggerated slowness, hands never leaving my side except to touch things. It was like a dream. I think I cut a profile pitched somewhere between Scotty's wanderings in Vertigo and Michael Myers. Or that's how I felt I guess.

The strategy of crowd-avoidance did pay off handsomely a few times, since the actors do kind of zip from one location to another, with everyone following behind them. There were two or three times where I was just, you know, already exactly where I needed to be, just sitting by myself in the bathtub bedroom or the "my dearest love" room when the actors came charging in and I was perfectly positioned front row center while a giant crowd behind me strained for a glimpse. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth at the bathtub and in bed together were perhaps my favorite parts. I didn't see any repeats, and in fact didn't realize the action repeated several times over the night. I assumed it was just a very long performance that lasted hours.

I was advised by Caroline to run if I needed to, but I only did a few times, mostly to chase the nurse from the my dearest love room, who for whatever reason didn't have much of a train chasing after her. Mostly the actors were so thickly crowded with people that when running might have been a useful technique, I was so hemmed in by the scrimmage it just seemed ... a little dickish and even dangerous to take off at a jog. I was also advised to take any hand offered me, and none was, sadly, but I'm certain that wasn't the last time I'll go to see Sleep No More, so there's time.

When I got home I felt myself particularly moved to watch a movie. I wasn't ready to stop experiencing stuff. I'd discovered Jean Rollin very recently, whom I'd somehow never heard of before, and have been watching a few of his movies and saving others for a special occasion. Yesterday was a special occasion. As soon as I got home I watched his Fascination, which, in its lovely, mysterious, vividly dreamy imagery, was precisely where I was at, and was perhaps the most fun I've had watching a new movie (well, new to me, I mean) in a very long time.

Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry (1)

It's my month this month at book club, and this was my pick, more or less at semi-random. It's a thing I've been meaning to read for a while, but "a while" had stretched out so long I could no longer remember why I had even bought it, or exactly how long it had been gathering dust on my shelves. A while. But that mystery helped; had I known more about it, I might not have selected this. It's a little too on the nose for me, too much something I'm into to be utterly fearless in listening to a roomful of people dissect it. I'm a chronic sharer of the things I like, but I can also be a Gollum-like in keeping the things that are precious to myself, at least until I'm done digesting.

So, no, I didn't know anything about it. As the old saw goes about why people tend to read Mark first, I chose it because it was short.

Not knowing it was a comic novel, or that it was kind of avant garde, I opened it to find Christie Malry, a "simple man", taking a job in a London bank because he wants money and, you know, banks are where the money is. Not in the sense of the apocryphal Willie Sutton quote. Christie isn't a criminal, he is just simple and doesn't really understand money. I can empathize. He moves on from there to become a bookkeeper at a sweets factory, where he begins to apply the principles of double-entry bookkeeping to his life, and the perceived wrongs and slights that life doles out to him, from the major to the minor, are annotated as debits in a ledger, while Christie creates credits for himself in the form of general mischief, petty vandalism, and, later, mass murder. (I told you it was a comic novel didn't I.) Then it gets dark.

It is a brief wonderful blink at how there is meaning in our lives, and where that might be located, or whether there is any at all, where you might go to fill up that void if indeed there is nothing there aside from what we put in it, and how we serve that meaning to ourselves - or create it - in the shape of the novel. One thing I think that resonated with me but not with M was the degree to which the novel is not entirely outward facing, telling a story, capital S story, about external characters in whose lives things happen, but is also about itself, and novels in general.

At carmyarmyofme's New Year's Day party I saw her copy on her coffee table and spontaneously chirped about how much I'd loved it, which maybe skewed people's perception of it. mordicai was in his review perhaps less sanguine than he would have been if I hadn't shot my mouth off. Also in his review M likened it to Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which I confess I have picked up and hastily put down numerous times over the course of my life as a speaker of the English language, but I would probably locate Christy in the genetic lineage of comic formalists like Sterne, Joyce, and Beckett.

Apart from Christy, all of Johnson's books are out of print, and have been for a long time. On finishing this one, I immediately ran out and tracked down copies of Albert Angelo, Trawl, and House Mother Normal. That still leaves, for my own future reference, the list below. I also picked up a somewhat recently published biography of him, Like a Fiery Elephant, which I'm doubly excited to read since it's by Jonathan Coe, another writer I dig a lot (his House of Sleep is one of my favorite books of the 1990s - he's a little like what if Nick Hornby didn't make you so conscious of consuming a pop product). As someone who makes not at all infrequent and very earnest attempts at being a fiction writer yet who like Johnson regards the basis of fiction as a sort of lying, and is both mystified and tickled by my unrelenting love of the lie, this one passage in Albert Angelo dragged its finger across my heartstrings:

fuck all this lying look what I’m really trying to write about is writing not all this stuff about architecture trying to say something about writing my writing I’m my hero though what a useless appellation my first character then I’m trying to say something about me through him albert an architect when what’s the point in covering up… I’m trying to say something not tell a story telling stories is telling lies and I want to tell the truth about me about my experience about my truth about my truth to reality about sitting here writing looking out across Claremont Square trying to say something about the writing and nothing being an answer to the loneliness to the lack of loving

All in all, a great find. As I get older I miss, with ever increasing nostalgia, the ramshackle pace of lovely discovery that happened on what now feels like was a weekly basis. Coming to work in a book store when that was still a novel thing, discovering author after author after author, feeling like Scrooge McDuck swan diving into a swimming pool of letters. I could not move an inch without coming across something I'd carry with me the rest of my life. That pang of fresh discovery doesn't happen nearly that much any more but when it does, man it is glorious.

Bring on more B.S. Johnson.

  1. Travelling People

  2. The Unfortunates

  3. See the Old Lady Decently

  4. Collections
  5. The Evacuees

  6. London Consequences

  7. All Bull

  8. Aren't You Rather Young to be Writing Your Memoirs?

  9. You Always Remember the First Time

As Nature Made Him

As Nature Made Him, John Colapinto

Finished this a little while ago, but am trying to get back in the posting habit.

I liked this more than a little. I didn't love it, but it was superior to the overpadded magazine articles (which it started its life as) that are most of its fellows on the nonfiction shelf. Still, it's only a little better than that. The style's nothing to write home about and as reportage it's not really ... enough, I guess is the word I'd plug in here, there is something else wanted.

The basic story: in Canada, identical twin boys go into the hospital for circumcisions. The doctor inexplicably does not employ the small knife he should, but a needlessly powerful electrocauterizing wand that is never normally used for that purpose. As he goes to circumcise the first child, Bruce Reimer, he destroys the boy's penis utterly. Understandably vexed, he ceases the procedure and does not attempt the circumcision of the second child. The parents, reasonably well meaning blue collar dunderheads, struggle with what the loss of a penis means for their son, and, partially through the convincing of prominent sexologist John Money, are persuaded to clinically castrate their son and raise him as a girl, renamed Brenda, thereby creating a sexological experiment with an in-built control (the genitally untouched twin) that would have academics drooling for decades.

In that time, the case becomes a sort of academic battleground between Money, a nurture-over-nature guy who for years continues to report the sex reassignment to be an unqualified success, and Milton Diamond, professor of reproductive biology, who thinks Money is full of shit. Brenda's childhood and adolescent life are an unrelieved misery as she is massively aware that something had happened to her, something that made her different, even if she had no idea what it was. Literally everyone in her life is aware that there is nothing girlish about Brenda, and everyone treats her as if this is Something Wrong. In her teenage years, her parents finally tell her about the accident that started the whole thing. Brenda, relieved that there actually is A Thing, and she is not crazy, reassigns herself as a male and takes a new name: she doesn't go back to Bruce, but becomes David Reimer. He grows to adulthood, gets married, settles down quietly (except for 15 minutes in the daytime-talkshow spotlight after Colapinto publicized his case). In the end Diamond largely defeats Money, in that it totally comes out that nope, that sex-reassigned little boy was full of anger and loathing and it was not working out in any way. The end.

The book irritated me at first for a number of reasons, one being that there is very little mention of the existence of trans people, and sexual politics are kept to a surprising minimum given the subject. To be fair, much of the book is from David Reimer's perspective, and there were no visible trans people in the back woods of rural shitkicking Canada. But David's story seems to me an essentially trans narrative, a life of alienation from one's own sexual body, followed by a conscious decision that one was going to actively choose the gender one truly felt for oneself, despite the opposite hopes and desires for your gender stasis that the people in your life have for you and try to enforce on you. That at least sounds like a trans narrative to me; I will however offer that I have never read a single actual trans narrative. I should look into that.

While the book ends on a reasonably hopeful note, with David Reimer having fully reclaimed the gender he felt himself to be, lived to become an adult, started to mend his personal relationships with his family, and gotten married, the unwritten real world postscript is far more somber. David Reimer's twin OD'ed in 2002, and not terribly long afterward David found himself unemployed and single after his wife had left him. In 2004, at age 38, he blew his brains out with a shotgun.

Where the rubber meets the road

So one thing that happened at the tail end of our Christmas celebration was that I asked mordicai to alpha test the game I've been writing, in the fussy state that it's in. Now, asking someone to "test my game" probably ranks up there with "wait while I get my acoustic guitar so I can play you this song I wrote" for a certain kind of bashful-eyed narcissism, and it was at the very very end when Jenny was sick and they were getting ready to 86 ranai and me, which was probably the wrong time to broach the subject. But he was a sport and gave it a shot, and while the test lasted about thirty seconds, it was in fact valuable and illustrative. Though I read it a good while ago now, I have always remembered a bit of advice from a coder/developer whose blog I really dig:

There are three ways to learn game design, in descending order of efficacy:
1.) Make games, then watch people playing your games
2.) Play other games analytically
3.) Study game design theory

It was ... a sobering experience. M took about thirty seconds to find all the things I had assumed players would be gentle and patient enough to not do. He ignored the tutorial sprite completely, clicked on everything in sight, repeatedly and angrily, attempted to start multiple character dialogues at once while at the same time physically assaulting the other characters, and generally ran amok. And the game basically broke. Now, part of this user experience is about things beyond my control - hard-coded in the Scratch environment is that the ENTER key resets the game. UNLESS YOU ARE IN DIALOGUE MODE. In dialogue mode, of course you have to hit ENTER to submit your commands (it's kind of a very very lite Maniac-Mansion-esque point-and-click). But don't hit ENTER again or you reset your game. Nothing I can do about that one unfortunately.

Part comes from just bad assumptions and bad design on my part. Not like, I'm bad, but just, teachable moments. One thing the game REALLY doesn't like is being interrupted. When you click on any one clickable thing there's an animation as it moves into your inventory. If you keep clicking on it, this animation doesn't know what to do and just freezes the item mid-screen, and ceases to execute the animation code. I can probably fix this by making the animation faster or just eliminating it, removing the player's opportunity to fuck with the process. But man, I'm so proud of that inventory system and my inventory animations! Sooo proud. I could also probably write something to check for incorrectly displayed inventory once in a while and have it just fix that stuff. Lesson there is don't fall in love with anything, because it might not be as wonderful as you imagine.

The thing with starting multiple character events at the same time could be solved if I could figure out how to lock down the rest of the game while characters were engaged in dialogue (the way most games do it) and have the game resume when the dialogue was complete. I'm honestly not sure that's possible with the limited tools Scratch affords you (I don't think it is, but I could easily be proven wrong.)

One really big one is that the first thing M tried to do with the inventory is to USE x ON y. Which ... yeah, my command interpreter is not that syntactically advanced that you can use direct objects. It's idiotic, in fact, and only accepts COMMAND + ITEMNAME, with a very, very short list of commands (three, in most cases, USE, INFO and DISCARD). Which is in the tutorial dialogue, which if you skip, is obviously super non-intuitive. If you get things, of course people are going to try to USE them ON things. And I'm positive that I couldn't build a more understanding language interpreter with Scratch. Without being able to use regex, users have to be exactly precise in their command words and item names (and how players know these item names is another problem ... ) I mean, even the oldest of old school Maniac Mansion was built in SCUMM, which is basically just ... C. And even an old-ass dialect of C is gonna be way more powerful and flexible than Scratch, cool though it may be.

The question really is, do I fix it? And the answer ... probably no. Bug fixes are ... ugh. With no functions or objects, to change the behavior of inventory items is to manually amend a couple lines of code repeated in several hundred sprites. Which is a lot of opportunity to make new and exciting code errors.

Also, I need to move on to other things. I went from being embarrassed at this project, to being impressed with myself for doing it at all, and now I've swung back around to mostly thinking I'm wasting my time again. It's a Scratch game. There's only so good it's gonna get.

Merry merry

So here's the deal. I keep deleting my internet presence and reinstating it because as sick and dog-tired I am of hearing my own voice, when I'm gone I miss my friends. A lot. And they are great. You are great. Yeah, you.

And I love Christmas. So much. But let me not underestimate the power of mordicai's passive aggressive coaxing. I'd known it was coming, and steeled myself for it, but his power is formidable. You are a good friend, M.

So I'm gonna ride this feeling for a bit, and love you guys. Then back to cooking.

Merry Christmas!

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Nice oasis of a day in a topsy turvy clusterfuck of weeks. Dogsat Archie for Lilly while she moved back into Park Slope. Made soup. Watched episode one of Awake (pretty good). Studied. Went running. Did really good distances last week, but it kind of took a toll on my joints, so I'm trying to stick to more modest distances while staying focused on maintaining good form. I probably need to buy new shoes too.

Both my work and personal life are in kind of a Man-Thing shambles. Both in ways I can't really talk about, which causes me to have weird spontaneous moments of partial confession here and there. Keeping up with my Javascript lessons constitutes the sole bright spot in my day. Like, where I once might have secretly goofed off at work reading Dinosaur Comics or playing that Facebook D&D game, now I spend all my time reinforcing my understanding of the rudiments of object oriented programing. I still suck, big time, man do I suck, but I suck in a more regular and organized fashion now.

Awesome and unexceptional night

Arduous and fairly grim day at work. Came home and went out for a brief run, thinking I'd just do a quick mile. I'm pretty out of shape and out of training so honestly "a quick mile" is by no means trivial for me. But after a mile, I felt only strength and equanimity so I just kept on going, and before I knew it I was breezing past Green-Wood Cemetery. The quick mile wound up being a quick four. Hooray for me.

Then I came home and did laundry and used the chicken stock I made over the weekend to make vegetable soup. I didn't really have any protein in the house besides the stock itself, and my budget is real thin (tho happily, I've been sticking to it), so I used some nutritional yeast I found in the fridge to supplement the soup, which worked out pretty well. I've been meaning to experiment with a lot more of these lately, so that was a happy opportunity. I've never used it before, or really knew what it was about, but it was just sitting there. In the breakup, that is what I got: the nutritional yeast.

Now I'm sitting watching Buffy, "Fool For Love" (which is really a terrific episode), and waiting for sleep to come on. I didn't do anything more permanent like writing or studying, but I feel pretty good regardless. The post-run warmth and worn-out-ness is tucking me into bed.

"Inspired by your beauty / effulgent." The thought of the payoff in Angel is so warmingly cheerful.

Tomorrow's Wednesday already. TV nite!

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Went running tonight and abstained from alcohol. Ate a cylinder of Quorn for dinner with a bowl of red leaf lettuce. Didn't get much else done, but I don't feel so bad about that.