Compassion

There’s been quite a bit of talk on my social media lately about kindness, humanity, activism, and how these things play off of — and against — each other. I’ve seen a number of people who I love and respect be hurt by the words and actions of others, and this isn’t an easy thing for me. I went to bed last night ruminating on some of this, and the word that kept ringing in my head above all else was simply ‘compassion’. This word, this concept, has become central to many aspects of my life recently, though it’s always been a part of it in a pretty significant way.

I was raised in the church. While there’s a lot of churches out there that focus on other aspects of their religion, most of the leaders I looked up to during my youth focused on a singular interpretation of what Christianity truly meant, and how best to reflect its ideals in our daily lives. Youth pastors, church elders, and my own parents instilled in me one great concept: that being a Christian is not about reading the Bible, it’s not about praying, it’s not about keeping yourself surrounded with those of the faith. The way I heard this phrased that stuck with me most was simply this: to lead a Christ-like life.

I’m not a part of the church anymore, having slowly separated from it during my late teens. I think the last time I attended a service was probably 15 years ago. Still, this concept was so ingrained in my upbringing that I don’t think I could ever really carve it out of myself. So, what was it that it meant to lead a Christ-like life? To me, it meant to model my very existence after this fellow described in the Bible by the name of Jesus. I don’t hold to many of the precepts of my religious beginning, but I still think this man — whoever you believe he may have been, or whatever else you think about those who claim to follow him — is a pretty good model for shaping a life worth living. At the core of that existence, if we strip away all but the lessons tied to his name in that book, is compassion.

A lot of people, I think, mistake compassion for saccharine kindness. Compassion can absolutely be this; it can be the softening of an impossibly hard blow, the mincing of words to make harsh realities more palatable. Doing this all the time, though, is far from compassionate. Covering up an ugly truth is not a kindness, but an almost-sinister deception. To lie in order to preserve feelings is not compassion. Being truly compassionate means that, sometimes, you’ll have to rip off the bandage and allow a wound to breathe. It means that you’re willing to help others confront ugliness, even when that ugliness is within themselves. Sometimes, it means being blunt.

This isn’t to say that there’s no room in a compassionate life for handling things gently. There are, of course, times where tact is needed in order to be kind. This, though, isn’t the same as just being “nice”. Being nice is often a byproduct of selfishness or narrow scope; we can adjust our frame to fit the world that we wish to see, and keep our words within a limited spectrum to avoid hurting others’ feelings. Being compassionate does not mean that you will never hurt someone that you care about; it means that you will be there to help them tend the wounds. It means being willing to set aside the comfortable existence of pretending that those wounds don’t exist, or should not be examined, in order to facilitate progress towards a more healthy whole.

Even in my work life, the theme of compassion has been at the core of my recent experience. The company I work for doesn’t just put the word on posters, but truly tries to get its employees to embrace it. I’ve had training sessions and meetings focused on examining the role of compassion within our lives, both at work and at home. The simple truth is that my job sometimes requires delivering news that can be devastating to others; we’re taught not just how to do this tactfully, but how to help people cope with the life impact of what we’re saying. Honestly, it’s been the easiest part of adapting to my “new” company culture since I began just over a year ago, and it’s the part that I try my best to carry home with me when I leave. I can’t allow myself to bear the burdens I’ve seen throughout the day, but I can reflect on the way that I’ve helped others bear them, and think about how to best ensure I continue to do this moving forward.

I awoke this morning to a private message on Twitter. A friend, someone who I deeply respect and feel is an example of the strength that I wish I saw in myself, felt the need to go out of her way to thank me for being who I am. This was an incredibly wonderful and moving thing to wake up to on its own, but it was her choice of words that drove it home in a way that made me feel like I’ve been doing a good job of being the person that I wish to be. I hope that she doesn’t mind my sharing a piece, not because I feel like being self-congratulatory, but because when someone reaches out to simply tell me that I show ‘ level of compassion that very few people have’, it truly and deeply moves me and is a big part of the reason that my late-night introspection became this behemoth of text today.

I suppose the point of this, and why I felt I should say it, is this: I want to believe that I am holding myself to the highest standards of compassionate conduct. I want to put this forward, because I want anyone who’s read it to call me out when I fall short. That’s what compassion is, after all; a willingness to take the uncomfortable step and tell someone that they aren’t being the person that they say they wish to be. It’s the act of helping each other grow as humans, and to accept the help that others offer us even when we’re unable to see the need in ourselves, and it is the act of setting aside yourself in order to listen, learn, and grow.

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Unfinished

It’s been a long while since I sat down here without a specific topic to focus on. The urge to whip up words usually comes from some outside stimulus that prompts a flurry of thoughts that end up needing let out. Tonight, though, I’m just here to write whatever comes to mind. I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about a great number of things. I’ve shared a lot of these thoughts both here and on Twitter, but there’s a ton of energy bouncing around in my brain lately. I can chalk some of up to an extended break from work. My mind gets restless when it doesn’t have a sustained, focused distraction to keep in occupied and in motion. One of the things I’ve been thinking about, in fact, is writing.

I’ve always had this notion that I’d like to write a book. I’ve let a few ideas run around my mind for various stretches of time; some of these sat there marinating for years before finally fading out, while others only stuck around for a few weeks. I’d like to I’ve got some kind of knack for writing, or maybe just for language. I’ve been told by several people that I’m better at it than I give myself credit for, and I think there’s been enough of this now that maybe it’s time I start respecting their opinion despite my misgivings. This still leaves me at an uncertain place, though. I don’t have any ideas left to mull over, or any from the past that I can really run with. Fiction, as much fun as it is to be absorbed into, just isn’t my wheelhouse.

I’m not sure what else there is. Most of my experience, and most of the things I’ve written that people seem to enjoy, are basically journal entries. They’re why I keep renewing this domain name, keep paying my hosting fees to hold onto my corner of the internet. That, and I’m pretty fond of the domain name itself. A blog is a far cry from a book, though, both in scope and in audience. After all, there’s a pretty big leap from spending a few minutes to scroll through a webpage at some point in your day to paying cash money for a thing to devote more serious time to, likely over an extended period.

Nobody wants to read the biography of some unknown author. Those sorts of things are reserved for the folks that people already have an interest in. The point of a biography isn’t as an introduction, it’s a behind-the-scenes glimpse at work that the reader already enjoys. Whether it’s a look back at a political career, an actor or director reminiscing on bygone projects, the self-told life story of a wealthy businessman — they’re an in-depth examination of things you’re already passively aware of. I suppose, though, that becoming rich or famous isn’t exactly the goal I’d have in mind, anyway (though being rich wouldn’t necessarily be the worst outcome).

The only other thought that springs to mind is, essentially, just a longform documentation of my opinions on a topic or selection of topics. The problem I run into here is that, outside of myself, I don’t think there are many topics I’m a particularly valid source of knowledge on. Not to say that I think I’m ignorant, but there aren’t exactly a lot of things that haven’t already been written about by much more qualified people.  That hasn’t, historically, been enough to stop droves of authors from offering their less-informed take on any of a number of things, but I’m not entirely sure that’d be something to shoot for. I don’t really feel like branding myself as some half-cocked pundit is the road I’d consider ideal.

So that leaves me here, at a quarter past ten, pouring random thoughts into an electronic box and wondering where, if anywhere, I could begin. It’s incredibly difficult to take the first step on any journey, but it’s compounded by a lack of destination. At this point, I can’t even say that there’s a path to take. So I keep finding my way back here where I can just unload anything that I feel. It’s the best way I’ve found to organize my thoughts, and maybe just putting something here on this topic will spark something, will get some of the swirling out and allow me to find something I can write about. I’m not counting on it, but hey, a girl can dream.

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Labeled

Today, social media is all atwitter (heh) with the unveiling of Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover. Personally, I couldn’t be more thrilled to see her getting this spotlight, and the majority of the conversation that I’ve seen spinning off of this across the internet has been very good and very positive. Still, it’s a conversation that always stirs up my mind a bit, since I still don’t have a real lock on where I fall in the grand spectrum of LGBTQ+ identity. Being that I identify as a gender other than the one assigned to me at birth, there’s likely some spot on that wave that fits me, I’ve just never found the part of it that I can identify and embrace. Part of this comes from a place of uncertainty, while other pieces of the puzzle come from my lack of personal preference and my desire to tread carefully on the experiences or lives of others.

For my own part, the idea of “trans*” has always seemed to imply an intent — or, at least, a desire — to become physically aligned with one’s gender identity. Having had some time to reflect, I’m not even sure that I know where that came from. While the easy answer is that I’ve simply assumed that the trans– prefix to be related to transition, this isn’t necessarily the right way of looking at it, either in actual examination of the word or of my own process in defining it. Of course, I’ve deconstructed my own thoughts here far too often to even put together a rational argument here; and that’s where this all bleeds into the much more important piece: none of this has anything to do with how I identify.

I was born a white dude. This, in itself, gives me an advantage in almost every area of life. While admitting that my gender identity isn’t the same as my outward expression or appearance, it’s easier for me to be — or feel — accepted for who I am simply as a byproduct of my starting position. Many trans/non-binary/etc folk simply do not get this edge, and that’s the hinge of most of my hesitation to say I am, or am not, anywhere on the list of defined identities. These people had to fight tooth and nail for their place, and struggle to this day; maybe they want to undergo reassignment, but can’t for economic reasons. Maybe they’re trapped in the social pressures of their outward appearance, and can’t step forward as easily as I did with their feelings. If I, from my place of privilege, attempt to put boundaries on what they wish to be called, then I’m stepping all over something that I have no right to — which, I think we can admit, is something there’s enough of from other light-skinned penis owners out there.

So this is where I admit that, while I don’t have a real preference for any of the labels I’ve seen, that’s entirely my own personal choice. Maybe I’m trans*, maybe I’m queer, maybe I’m somewhere between these. Maybe I truly belong within some other place in the myriad of names that exist for those who, whether or not they’re comfortable in their own skin, don’t feel it’s the truest expression of who they really are. Maybe there’s a name I haven’t yet heard that will speak to me when I do; god knows it would be nice to have some nicely packaged box to place myself in, if only for the convenience of explaining myself to others. But know this: as of now, I do not have a preferred category. I am not interested in making others refer to me by any particular set of pronouns. I am not concerned with what names or methods exist for these things, because ultimately, I am being the human that I want to be, and I feel loved and accepted for it.

For those out there who don’t — who can’t — share this feeling, I do not mean to erase your struggle or to make it seem unimportant. Far from it. I recognize that I came into this with an advantage that, for better or for worse, is not one I can lay down. Please know, if you feel marginalized: you are loved. If you feel like you cannot be yourself because outside forces prevent it: support is out there. If your friends, your coworkers, or your family do not make you feel accepted: there are those of us who care. There are people — many people — who would love to see the beautiful, unique person that you are, whoever they may be in contrast to the skin you’re wearing. Caitlyn Jenner’s story is so far removed from the experiences of so many people, but please see that her platform is a step in the right direction, a force that can drive the conversation that we, as humans together, should be having.

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Break

Sometimes, I come here just to vent some steam. It’s been quite a while since I sat down to do this — probably because all of my creative energy lately has been funnelled into games reviews and training for a new position at work. This all takes time. Energy. Effort. It takes a lot of things that, frankly, I feel waning. I’ve kept myself going through all of my moments of weakness by simply focusing on a goal, on a better future that’s not so roughshod. I work so I can earn money so I can save up and, in theory, end up owning a home in which to raise my children; I work so that I don’t lose my mind seething over my own frailties and shortcomings. Sometimes, though, things bubble up, I struggle, and I bite down to force back the sensation that everything I’m doing isn’t building a damn thing.

I didn’t have a childhood particularly filled with hardships. We were far from wealthy, sure, but we had our necessities, and we had a family, and we had plenty. Still, the best thing I’ve been able to hold as motivation is giving my kids more than I had. I think, really, that’s a line that runs in my family — in many families, I’m sure. That, while we’ve got what we need to survive and, by some definition, thrive, that the best legacy is to build more for the next generation. It’s the very embodiment of the American dream, of what it is that we’re all working towards — not always for kids, of course, but for something.

The line sold from schoolyard to skyscraper is that more is better. That our most fundamental reason for existence is to make our existence more than it is; more meaningful, more comfortable, more dramatic, more noteworthy. Humanity’s only constant: the drive to improve. Become better. Stronger. Richer. Wiser. For what? For a future, for a legacy, for fame or fortune or glory or — well, for anything. Whatever it is, whichever ideal we’re seeking, what we have simply can’t be enough because there’s a greener pasture, there’s a bigger fish, there’s a plusher seat from which to watch the world burn. There’s a better fuel to pour over the degrading cinders.

Today has been very, very hard for me. I can’t even put a name to why; I didn’t do anything particularly difficult, I didn’t overextend myself, physically or emotionally. And yet, here I am, at the end of my day, feeling like a tight-wound rope pulling apart, like whatever I’ve been building for this whole time is nothing more than a shimmering oasis that, once reached, becomes another in an endless swirl of arid, acrid sands. I see smiles on my children’s faces, and these make everything I do worth any ounce of pain I endure, every drop of sweat I squeeze out. Every bad day at work is worth it if they’re comfortable, fed, and safe. Still, there’s more that I need to secure that comfort and safety, there’s things I can’t promise or provide while struggling to eke out my own sense of harmony within a chaotic swirl of wishing I could simply stand up and say “It will all be okay” — not to them, because I can do that — but to myself.

Confidence has never been a strong suit, but it’s one I’ve worn despite my own misgivings. I get up every morning and I do what I need to do, for the singular purpose of ensuring that, at the end of each day, I can say I’m striving to make things better. To imagine that, at some point, I won’t check my bank account every day to make sure that we’re still afloat. To imagine that, one day, I’ll wake up and feel like I’ve accomplished what I feel I must accomplish, instead of feeling like I’ve scraped by to meet the barest minimum of survival and provision for those that depend on me. These struggles aren’t mine alone, and that’s probably the only reason I’m able to keep a grin while I bear through whatever it is I’m doing, but – well. Some day, I’d like to look back and think that I didn’t just do what I had to, or what I could, but that I truly did what was best and most beneficial for my family.

And today is not that day. I don’t look back at the chores I did, the good times at the movie theater, the balancing act of keeping life moving forward and think, “Well done.” I look back and I think it should have been more. How is it that I’m to build a meaningful future, a meaningful life, when I turn to desperate diversions when I could be doing something else? How can I call myself hard-working when I still take time to sit here and vomit words into the ether, contemplating the value of my own labours versus the time spent here exhausting myself for thinking they’re not enough?

This will pass, I know. All things do. Sometimes, though — I just need to come here and vent steam, for the sake of getting thoughts out of my head. It may not be the best coping mechanism, but I’ve no idea what is.

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Clever Title Goes Here

So, as most anyone reading this probably knows, I write about video games for a website. There are obvious reasons that this piece is written here, on my personal blog, rather than there. It should go without saying, but for the sake of absolute clarity, the thoughts herein are entirely my own and do not reflect upon those of the site I write for, nor anyone but myself. They’re kept here, separated, to help ensure that some of the things bouncing around in my brain have an outlet so that they don’t impact my work writing about games, because – despite what much of this may sound like – I really, honestly enjoy playing and writing about games. It’s phenomenally fun, rewarding, and I’m not planning on stopping. Still, there are things that I see in the greater community that, for various reasons, I can’t simply remain silent on. So here are my thoughts about some things.

By now, nearly everyone that’s connected to the gamer community, whether fully-invested or tangentially-interested, has come across something that I see in effect on a near daily basis. It comes in small pieces, or in huge waves (as there have been recently); it comes in whispers online, and it comes in smash-hit news or rumormongering. It’s in comment sections, social media sites, and everywhere else that the gaming community lives and thrives. I’m talking about an epidemic that reaches through to the furthest corners of our collective space, lingering and festering. I’m talking about a harsh, cruel, and unnecessary mistreatment of members of the community. More specifically, as it seems to come up more, it’s a mistreatment of female members of the community.

Let’s reflect for a moment on some of the hot stories that have been on the fingertips of many gamers of late; the tales of Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian. Now, I’m not here to say that I agree (or disagree) with anything that either of these two do. I won’t wade into that tinderbox, because it’s a ridiculous minefield that I’m not safe entering. Honestly, I don’t care who does or doesn’t agree with them — that’s not the point. What I know, beyond all doubt, is that the harassments hurled at them, and anyone who expresses support for them, is absolutely, positively beyond anything that they deserve. Before you cut me off — though I’m sure it’s too late for that — yes, I’m aware that some of you think they brought it on themselves. That’s great for you. It’s nice to know that you’re so secure in being wrong.

And if you think that either of these ladies brought this level of vitriol on themselves, you’re wrong. Sure, there’s misinformation or deception on either side of the story,. That’s fine to point out, to call “bullshit” when you see it. I have no problem with anyone saying that they don’t like these, or any other, member of our shared community. I draw a line, though, at specific death threats, the publishing of personal information such as, for example, home addresses — which have been “outed” recently for both of the aforementioned. I can’t even fathom the level of pure spiteful rage that must exist in someone that they decide, “This person is saying things I don’t like. I should recruit an internet mob to drive them from their home.

I’m also not interested in hearing that the threats are “overblown”. I’ve seen the threats, ranging from vague statements to acutely specific ones. Not screenshots that may have been doctored, not shreds of hearsay taken out of context, but actual threats levied directly at these women with the intent to intimidate, scare, or bring harm to them. It’s ludicrous to me that I have to say this, but threatening the life or wellbeing of a member of our community – of my community – is not fucking okay. Disagree, sure. Refuse to buy anything from companies or developers that support them or their ideas, fine. I’ve seen a list put together of companies for exactly that purpose, and I have no problem with every angry gamer walking away forever from Double Fine, BioWare, and other entities that support the “feminist agenda” or “LGBT lifestyle”. That’s great. Put your money where your mouth is, and stop buying things from companies pushing things you don’t like.

For fuck’s sake, though, be human about it. To reiterate, I’m not encouraging anyone to “get along” or to change how they feel, just use some common decency in your actions. If you think that there’s some “feminist conspiracy” that’s somehow ruining games, I want you to take a deep breath and say aloud for me: “No they aren’t.” Because guess what? It’s actually not possible. Nobody can “ruin games” by making YouTube videos or creating their own games that aren’t like the ones you love. It’s pretty clear at this point that the ‘big studios’ that pump out the AAA hits aren’t listening particularly closely, and they’re going to keep on pumping out hit after hit for you to keep up your hobbies. That’s not in danger.

What is happening is that games are expanding. By adding new voices, perspectives, and creators, we’re getting more new games, and new types of games, than ever before. It’s a really beautiful thing to see, and many of my favorite games from my time writing reviews include some fantastic indie games, from the bizarre Aqua Kitty Milk Mine Defender to the hypermasculine gun-fest Broforce. Neither of these could exist in a world where the whole of the gaming community was a single demographic, a singular audience. They require – and are formed from within – the diversity and breadth of the present landscape.

The problem arises when these divergent, wildly different demographics meet at a point on which there’s a fundamental difference of opinion between two large, vocal groups. This friction builds up because, at our very core, most gamers take the games they love pretty seriously. They’re close to us, a part of who we are and how we identify with the world and ourselves. This attachment leads to our feeling personally attacked when the games we enjoy are attacked, or things we don’t think are true are said about them. It’s a defense mechanism because, on some level, the assault on our hobby becomes an assault on ourselves, and things boil over quickly because there’s a snap reaction to fight back, and it just keeps feeding back into itself.

I don’t think there’s any way to stop that kind of interaction from happening. I really don’t, and I’m not sure it needs to stop. In it’s own way, a healthy conflict can make both sides examine issues closer. Too often, though, things boil into outright fucking madness. Threats, “doxxing”, pulling apart the private lives of complete strangers – and that? It’s not fucking okay. That’s not how we, as adults, interact with one another. And if you’re not an adult? Fuck off, youth isn’t an excuse for treating humans like garbage. I don’t know what the hell point you think you’re making, or what change you’re thinking you’ll bring about by acting that way, but it’s simply beyond anything that anyone should be doing to anyone else, much less anyone else in the same community — even if it’s a vastly different pocket of that community.

The fact is, for whatever reason, it seems to be that lashing out in sometimes extreme ways is a portion of human nature. Some people – and there’s some on each side in any of these kinds of things — just have an inclination to push further than the rest of us. Some just literally can’t help themselves, and have to keep trying to take things to the next level in some kind of ideological arms race that eventually escalates into brutal, unacceptable territory. Again, I’m at a loss as to how this kind of behaviour could ever be stopped. I’m pretty sure that it can’t be; we can’t just tell people to act a way that’s different than how they’re wired. That’s really one of the core concepts at play in some of the recent friction, anyway. All I really know is that I wish I could dream up some social miracle-cure and somehow bring everything back to a place where actual conversation can happen between people, groups, or even entire subcultures can disagree without the looming threat of neverending, and extremely dangerous, abuse.

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