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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When Pillars Fall

Over the course of the last two weeks or so, I’ve watched as two communities that I’m a part of take long, hard looks inside of themselves. At the root of each of these, there’s a significant cultural toxicity that’s existed under the veneer of shared interests, finally boiling up from the depths of these burgeoning collectives of humanity. I’ve watched people I’ve known and respected be revealed as unworthy of respect, and I’ve watched insane fallout as battle lines of some sort are drawn across the sphere; nobody’s entirely sure who’s on which side, or even what the sides are outside of some idealistic view of what a community should be. There’s truth interwoven with vicious rumour, there’s lies sprinkled with damning truth, and there’s a multitude of interpretations and reactions.

It’s been a really, really tough thing for a lot of people. Some have stood up and bravely exposed ugly things that surge under the surface of the community; some have demanded proof, or rejected the idea that anything is wrong. Some have lashed out in anger, or in confusion, or in simple disbelief that the accusations being thrown around are founded in reality. We all, as humans, have some desire to feel like we’re supporting the right people, that we’re good judges of character and that we surround ourselves with people that deserve and respect our time. We build up communities because we share some common thing, whether it’s a hobby or an ideal or a political stance — we create a force that’s greater than the sum of its parts, and certain pieces of the puzzle become bigger than themselves by the very nature of what we’ve constructed.

I’ve often heard the phrase “pillar of the community”, and it’s these very pillars that become the junctions to formation of even larger groups. A single person may bridge a gap, intentionally or not, between two disparate but related circles, and suddenly those circles are one – they join together, forging a stronger and larger group, all because one link in the chain was made strong enough or bright enough to act like a beacon to those who want to be a part of something greater. And who doesn’t want to be a part of something greater? It’s a basic human instinct, the way we’ve survived ice ages and world wars, the way we’ve carved the history of all humankind from the epochs of Earth.

The problem is that, no matter how venerated, no matter how pure their intentions, these pillars of any community all share a fatal flaw: they are human. Humans do stupid things. Humans do hurtful things. Humans fall. And when the linchpin falters, then there’s a decisive split within any group that formed around them, any platform they supported on their backs. When these pillars crack or crumble, or when the cracks that have been spreading for years are suddenly laid bare for all members of the community to see, we’re left at a loss. The light that called us together goes out, and we fumble in the dark for answers — he’s misunderstood, she’s being too serious, they’re not looking at this the right way. From the fallout of these collapses, the dust gets in our eyes and we all are guilty, at times, of being blinded by it, of being susceptible to knee-jerk reaction, amplified by a multitude of people all reacting in different ways to the same stimulus.

So, where do we turn when a community consumes itself in righteous fury? What do we do, but turn on each other and strike while the iron is hot? The immediacy of the internet’s social platform inevitably leads to instant vitriol, made all the more toxic by the propensity for everyone to signal-boost and pile on to whichever piece of things makes the most sense to them. We grasp for the only piece of a confusing mess that makes any sense, whether it’s buying a lie or rejecting all unproven variables. We latch on to any shred of hope that we were right from the start, and use even the slightest piece of supporting information to solidify our stance and entrench our beliefs in whichever things we need to be right. Each person fabricates this unconsciously, putting together the only sequence that their mind is willing to accept, and — well, some of them are going to be right, but when the chips are still falling, it’s impossible to know where they’ll land.

Conflict is the one constant in all of human history. From the first time our primordial ancestors decided that a thing could belong to one entity or group, we’ve built engines towards the end of ensuring that the sacred cow remains in the possession of the right prophet. We’ve torn down cities and civilizations in the name of reclamation, and built empires on the backs of the unworthy to justify our own superiority. While the history books keep close the events of those which influence global policy and belief, there’s little to no record beyond our own thoughts and deeds to write the history of the smaller things; things that, ultimately, may seem petty in the grand scheme, but which are the most important things to ever transpire in the lives of those living them. It’s easy to take the moral high ground and simply disregard the “Others”, or to smirk and say that these things aren’t going to change, that they don’t matter since their impact is only on these few hundreds who form the community.

These things matter. No person is any more or less allowed to feel the gravity of any one thing, just because another fails to see what they see. No person is permitted to dictate to another person which things in life are important, and which are not. None of us have the right to tell another person that something just doesn’t mean anything, or that we should just walk away rather than being an advocate for change. There’s no set of rules or regulations on the scope of human emotions, or the way that we categorize the things that matter to us. Issues large and small, global and local, are important; just because they’re important to less people, this does not make them any less important. If one person feels that a thing is their reason for being, nobody has any right to strip that meaning, or to deny it. Inevitably, though, the dissonance between one person or group and another creates an irreconcilable friction, and these build up over time, and eventually the whole thing is up in flames because passion, for all its beautiful potential, has a way of clouding reason.

At the end of the day, the events that have ripped through these communities I belong to will eventually sputter, but they will not have died. The things that have happened, the rifts that have opened, cannot be undone, and I’m suffering because in both events, I’m able to see points from multiple angles. I’ve often thought that I’m either blessed or cursed with some acute empathy. It makes me insane to see two people that I know and respect tear at each other over these things, to see two sides of the same coin wage violent protest against each other. I’ve seen it a lot recently, and it’s something I can hardly even begin to process myself, and as I catch myself compartmentalizing people as being “this side” or “that group” I have to step back and remember that months, weeks, maybe even days ago, this was one entity, one community that shared itself despite its flaws, and now the gaping wounds are healing into scars that I’m not really able to reconcile.

I wish that I could say I’ve got clarity in these days. I wish that I could say I’ve had the time or the capacity to see where the dust is settling, but frankly, I’d be lying to myself, and I try not to do that. I’ve seen good friends say things that hurt me or other good friends. I’ve been warned against continuing to associate with certain people by people that, days earlier, were associating with each other. I’ve built my own little tower to watch the battle, and it makes me as bad as anyone in the trenches spitting fire and brimstone and scorching out whatever they feel doesn’t belong. I wish I could say I’ve been a better person than some of those who’ve been exposed as something less, but again, I think I’d be lying to myself. I wish I could say that any of what’s happened has made me feel better about myself, or has helped me find something to champion, but it comes out empty and I’m left sitting here, watching as the walls cave in, wondering if I should have left the building while knowing that a safe retreat is cowardice.

I guess what it comes to is that I really, honestly wish that humans could reach a social evolution that would allow us to be great. I’ve spent years believing in the good in people, and years playing the cynic that refutes that it can exist. I’ve marvelled at the beauty of our species and the heights to which we can soar, and stood agape at the horrors we’ve wrought. I see so much potential, so much pure, unbridled power within so many people that I can’t comprehend it, but I see so much waste and spite for its own sake that it boggles my mind. It’s said that a person can achieve anything they set their mind to, that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains, but here in the muck and mire of what we truly choose to do, it’s all but impossible to even think that these are true.

I’m at a loss as to where this goes from here. I wish I could stand up and tell people to just get along, to be good to one another, to stop tolerating or propagating bullshit. I’d love, more than anything, to have some solution to what’s eating these communities, and the people within them, alive. I’m being gutted near-daily by one-off comments and miniature lectures from pulpits built on what we feel is right, and there are so many of these that I don’t even know, sometimes, which ones I agree with. Everyone feels like they’ve got The Answer, but we’re all refusing to acknowledge that it’s a trick question and we’re all fooled by our own perceptive filters. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, but I’ve tried to (by and large) keep a lot of it to myself out of some misguided sense of social parity.

The fact is, there are toxic elements to any community. We can either suffer them in silence for the good of the whole, or we can speak up for the sake of change, but these are both things that often fail to do anything useful. By remaining quiet on the cancerous elements, we tolerate their existence and embolden those who perpetuate them. By standing against them, we build walls and start fires that will burn across our collective landscape — and, more often than not, we solidify the very opinions we’re hoping to see snuffed out. Conflict, after all, is in the hearts of all of us, and the clearest piece of human-to-human interaction that’s out there. Very little causes us to double down on our beliefs more than someone declaring to us that they’re wrong – after all, these sanctimonious naysayers are simply misinformed, we say, or they’d agree with us. And so, the cycle repeats itself in an endless feedback loop that’s not likely to end with anyone’s point of view having been properly constructed or understood.

I’m not sure what else I can say here, except that I’ve little left in me for fighting battles right now. I’ve seen too much damage already, and much of it can never – maybe should never – be repaired. I’ve observed and participated as beloved communities have struck themselves into furor, and I’m worn thin from trying to put it together in my mind. I’m here, writing this, because I needed to vent some things, to allow my thoughts the space to breathe. I’m here because I’m bleeding and I don’t know if I’ll stop, and I don’t know if I want to, because in some way, feeling the sting is a means of feeling alive, of feeling like a part of something that’s happening. I hope that someday it heals, but for now? For now, I’ve got my wounds to examine, and communities to build or burn. After all, I’m only human.

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Entitlement

On Friday night, a man went on a shooting spree at the UC Santa Barbara campus, killing seven people and wounding another seven. I have no interest in digging into the identity of this man; to grant him the glory of infamy is an injustice to the victims. There are plenty of places to look if you’re really set on knowing his name or his story. To me, that’s not the relevant part of what he did, or why he did it, or what we should take the time to think about and act upon in the wake of tragedy.

This man did what he did because he felt spurned by the women of the world. He felt that sex was withheld from him by women everywhere. He felt he was entitled to sex with these women. He felt, as many young men do, that it was a just reward for his efforts to be courteous, to be a “gentleman”. He felt this, in part, because of his involvement with so-called “Men’s Rights Activist” (MRA) communities, and the related “Pick-Up Artist” (PUA) culture that surrounds it. He felt this, in part, because society teaches young men that women are a prize to be won; films, comics, television, music, and even media stories about real people build up this image that being a powerful man, being the right kind of man, gives rewards of money, cars, and sex.

I’m aware of these cultural pressures because, when I was younger, I was subjected to them. I felt rejection, isolation, and – I’m somewhat ashamed to admit – occasional flashes of anger or rage as a result of my not receiving what society said was my due. While it wasn’t a primary motivator for me, courtesy of a very good upbringing and a more rational take on things, the potential for sex to develop as a result of “proper” friendship and pleasantries was certainly a whisper in the back of my mind, feeding me stories of my insufficiency when it failed to emerge.

I had friends that I wished would become romantic partners and never did. I did things for them in order to make displays of affection, to “win” their attentions, and was guilty of resenting the lack of reciprocation. Rather than turning violent or unstable, though, I internalized these feelings. I buried them with the rest of my emotions, shutting myself out from the world in many ways, silently reflecting on how I’d failed, what I’d done wrong, what was the missing piece for me to get someone to take that next step.

I’m sorry to admit that this, while a quiet thing for me, was a persistent and vocal inner monologue within myself for a good portion of my life. I did a very poor job of recognizing the actual shortcomings I was guilty of; namely, that I was subconsciously depriving women of personal agency and, despite my own believed convictions, buying in to discrete objectification and dehumanization of half of the human population – possibly including myself, just to pack on the adolescent and post-adolescent angst of it all.

Fortunately, there’s a key event that happened in my mind at some point. I can’t pinpoint exactly when, or even what, it was, but my attitudes – both external and internal – began to shift. As I learned more and more about the dangerous and threatening world that women traverse daily, I learned. I absorbed information and reflected on it and began to see what it was I was doing; I began to come to terms with the fact that this narrative of women as a prize to be won, sold to me by so many roads, was a lie, and to profess love or tend to another’s needs based on some imagined desire to see something blossom from that was so entirely removed from any form of love as to border more closely on hate.

The resentment I’d felt ate at me. The way I’d approached certain people, certain situations, became a hindsight view of extraordinary feelings of entitlement that I couldn’t even recognize while in its grip. The women I wanted, the relationships I desired, stopped being things to yearn for or wistfully daydream about; they became, to me, what they had always actually been: people. They were not someone’s girlfriend or sister or daughter. They did not belong to anyone but themselves, and they never had.

As I’ve become more active in the feminist community – and especially, for clear reasons, since my admitting to myself and the world that I do not identify with my assigned gender – I’ve become stunned and embarrassed by my own prior thoughts and actions. I’ve looked back at myself with revulsion and disdain. When I look at the world of MRAs and PUAs, I see some fragment of myself reflected uncomfortably back at me, some glimmer of a person I once was and wish I could eradicate. I see thousands adolescent boys, taught that they are supposed to have access to women for use as they see fit, huddling together and licking their wounds and building a dangerous, toxic, and tantalizing fantasy.

Many men I’ve talked to over the last few days have admitted to having had similar struggles in early life, though often expressed in unique ways. The one constant, though, is this: all of us, by whatever means presented, grew out of it. We developed beyond the socially-constructed narrative, and found ways to become better than it. Most, if not all, have regrets about the way they were, assuaged only by their recognition that they are no longer that. Many of them owe their growth not to simple personal maturity, but to friends or relatives or loved ones who helped them finally see a more accurate picture of women, of humanity.

Therein lies the real problem with the rampantly misogynist MRA and PUA communities; rather than having that opportunity for growth, they huddle together like so many weeds choking any chance of new life from a garden. They share their perceived injustices, and normalize the idea that they are the victims, the wounded, the ones truly deserving of dominion over women, sometimes over every person. The concept of the “Alpha Male” who simply takes what he wants – be it money, power, sex, or any other thing – is the glorified goal of these groups and the people within them.

They will say, of course, that the man who took the lives of seven people in a violent rampage was a ‘fringe case’. That he did not represent the ideals or goals of their “movement”. That he, as a diseased, isolated man, is solely responsible for what he did. That, like many of the venomous beliefs spewed by these vile, hate-filled groups, is a lie. Is he responsible for his actions? Of course. However, it is not his alone to bear that stigma; the blood of those left dead is on every forum-goer who reaffirmed his beliefs, on every list-maker who put together a step-by-step guide to “acquiring” sex that failed, on every propagator of the myth of women as objects.

It does not end there, though. While I won’t extrapolate blame for this act to anyone but those named, the blood of the next victims, and those after that, is on every one of us who sees these things, and who chooses to remain silent. It is on every person who, bearing witness to abuse and harassment, does not intercede. It is on every person who, knowing the danger and threat presented by these ideologies, does not speak out against them. I will not have those lives weigh on my conscience; I may be only one person, and of limited ability, but what I can do is attempt to have my voice heard. I can refuse to be silent. I can raise my sons to be better men than I was, to be above this pervasive and perverse lie. I can speak out when I see someone I know crossing a line.

I can make a difference. And I can hold accountable all those who refuse to do the same.

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Offended

This morning has been a strange one for me, and it’s mostly been around a Twitter discussion about a certain video game, and people’s reactions to an individual’s expression of feeling uncomfortable with certain aesthetic aspects of that game. There have been proverbial shots fired from both sides, but the opening commentary is where I found myself the most intrigued; that there’s this game, a pretty well-lauded independent-development thing, that dresses everything up with ‘thinly-veiled Nazis’. Having not played the game, I can’t comment on it in terms of how it plays or whether it’s fun or any of that, but I’ve looked over a bunch of the artwork both within and surrounding the title, and there’s a pretty clear “WWII Germany” vibe to it all. The person I saw initially posed a few questions along with observations to that end, effectively boiling down to, “This makes me uncomfortable, and I’m curious why nobody seems to talk about it.”

From here, of course, The Internet happened, and people from both sides of the argument began to get angry. Insults were hurled, PR-approved quotes were laid out, and so forth — I’m not really here to dissect whether the game is really particularly offensive or if things could have been different or any of that nonsense. My issues, mostly internal, stem from a few crucial points: firstly, that I hold a fundamental belief that people have a right to feel offended or upset by anything that offends or upsets them, and also a fundamental right to express those feelings in whichever medium they choose to do so. I believe that if someone is upset, the relative importance of the thing upsetting them on the global scale is irrelevant to these rights; if we’re only allowed to be upset about things that “really matter”, then all emotions are useless vestiges of some primitive state, and I don’t buy into that at all.

I don’t think it’s a negative thing, either, to say that you’re offended or upset by something. I do think it’s extraordinarily insensitive and unnecessary to tell people that the things they’re upset about are irrelevant to humanity; if we’re supposed to care about humanity, I think the only place we’re capable of displaying that is in the way that we directly interact with other members thereof. How we treat people on an individual basis is the most basic expression of how we feel about humanity on a conceptual level, and I think that a failure to recognize that is incredibly toxic to any sense of community or camaraderie amongst humans. To be told that your emotions don’t matter because they’re not about the right things is to be told that you, as a person, do not matter.

I was called out for negativity because of my ability to sympathise with someone who was upset about a video game. Are video games important to humanity as a whole, and our continued success as a species? No, probably not; our ability to sympathise, however, almost certainly is. Maybe it’s completely useless, but I was deeply hurt by the accusation of negativity, and I don’t even really feel like I can say that without it being a vulnerability, a weakness in myself – after all, the point of the comment was to say that everyone needs to just get over how they feel about trivial things, and ultimately, what someone says to me about my emotions is, on a grand scale, probably even more trivial than any video game. My emotions – my being offended by the comment – are irrelevant, so there’s no point in trying to discuss them.

So, if it’s all so trivial and irrelevant, why am I writing this? Catharsis, probably. I need this out of my head before it festers into something worse, I need to express the importance I place on everyone’s right to both feel and express their emotions. I need to ramble to sort out my own muddled thoughts, and to bleed out the negativity I felt when I was told that we should only be concerned with items of global importance. I need to do something, anything, to get myself right; to keep this in and let it worm around in my mind would be the worst form of insincerity, and I’d really like to think I’ve reached a point where I’m able to be honest with myself, and with those I care about. And, frankly, I need to speak up, because I’m upset, and I don’t care if it’s about something that matters to anyone but me.

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Displays

This is another one of those “things bouncing around in my head” rambling posts, probably; it’s some largely-incoherent thoughts that have been echoing in my internal chamber for a while now, kicking into some wild crescendo today. I think it was sparked back up by some recent Twitter conversation by people who mentioned that they were less prone to emotional responses to things as children, and my own experience having been quite the opposite – I was quick to react with pretty extreme displays of emotion when I was young, but in recent years I’ve noticed that my responses are dulled or even completely without external display. It’s not as if I’ve stopped feeling things, but that I’ve mostly stopped putting my feelings ‘out there’ where they’re able to be picked up by the casual observer. Of course, those close to me still know the signs indicating swings in one direction or the other, but that’s mostly due to familiarity more than any direct, obvious cue.

Let’s take some random examples here. Last December, I lost my job. This, of course, was pretty troubling; I still remember, though, sitting in the office with HR and my boss’ boss, being told that I was being laid off as a result of some other business goings-on that effectively mandated that some people needed to be cut in order to right the business. On the inside, what they were saying to me was deeply troubling, and exceptionally scary. I was the primary income-earner for my household; I wasn’t scared for me, but for my wife (who’d only recently begun working) and, especially, my children. My thoughts were reeling, my heart heavy, as I calmly heard the spiel about what was happening to me and why, replying with a cool “Okay” before collecting what few things they handed me and being escorted to a cab outside. I explained to the driver what had just happened and that they’d provided me fare to get home, and sent a couple of matter-of-fact texts to explain the situation to my wife and a good friend still working away inside the building I’d just been removed from. I felt like crying, especially once I got home to sit alone with the thoughts of what would happen, what we’d have to cut back on to keep ends meeting. I felt like it, but it didn’t happen, and that was even in the privacy of my home and secrecy of being the only one there.

I’m not sure I should cite other examples, because some of them are deeply personal, but I’ve got several other moments from the last five or ten years where an outburst would have been appropriate (and probably would have been cathartic), but they didn’t come. When I have allowed the mask to drop, it’s still a very low-key thing; I haven’t had a bout of uncontrollable sobbing since seventh grade, when I found myself being asked if I was okay by some older kid I didn’t know who found me curled up in a ball on the floor of the entryway outside the school cafeteria. Somewhere in there, some kind of disconnect, distancing, or straight-up steeling of myself happened, and it’s probably a direct result of how emotional I was as a kid, and the way that people would react to that. It was always made clear to me then that such displays were frowned upon, and I think that eventually the torrent of “that’s not right” wore me down – but I can’t say for sure exactly where the switch flipped.

The weirdest part about this, I think, is that I often beat myself up over it. I get in these weird moods where I feel like, in some way, I’m not acting appropriate to the situation by being so outwardly collected. As I said, I still feel things tearing me up inside, but rather than bubbling to the surface as an actual display of emotion, they simply simmer underneath and I can’t help but wonder if the failure to manifest is indicative of something wrong with me. Normal people cry, so why don’t I? I feel like something – whether it’s myself, or some brain-chemistry thing – is holding me back from the full ‘emotional experience’. More to the point, and possibly worse, I feel like it’s making me out to be some kind of sociopath who’s simply not affected by the things going on around me, and it’s caused me more than once to question whether I’m even actually feeling the emotions I’m going through in the same way as others around me do.

This isn’t limited to just negative emotion, either, though I think I find the contrast most stark there. I don’t get as amped up for exciting things as I did as a kid; that’s probably natural, but I still see plenty of healthy, relatively-adjusted adults who do, so maybe it’s not. It’s made a lot of things difficult, because people around me assume I’m not as interested or into whatever’s happening, even if I am. It’s hard for me to push it aside and play the part, even when it’s genuine, and it gets exhausting trying to keep up the ‘act’ and really appear to be as excited or happy or whatever-other-emotion. There’s a lot of times I’ll just stop pushing because it’s difficult to force it to the surface, and then I end up looking like I’ve stopped having a good (or bad) time and lapsed into apathy, even though that’s not the case, and that just gets me twisted up since I really get the sense that I’m not even playing to the part that I’m in, regardless of what’s actually going on in my head.

Anyway, I’m not really sure what my point is here, but this has been making me crazy for a while now, and really came back today in the form of the urge to write. I find I can’t really decide which things will start turning in to rambling posts in my mind, and there’s a lot that I ended up cutting here from the initial internal jam-session, but for whatever reason, these were some thoughts that needed out, and now they’re out. Also, if you have any ideas for things you’d like to hear me prattle on about, I’d love the kick-start to my creative gears, since this is the kind of thing I come up to when I’m left to my own devices.

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