This Essay is Not About My Phone

My phone is on life support. The only things keeping it alive are a micro-usb IV attached to a portable power bank. The doctors said it needs a replacement battery, however, the manufacturer of the phone decided to make it impossible to do so without tremendous effort and technical know-how (or money), so the phone stays in limbo, waiting to die the sad inevitable death that its silicon laden kind often faces. The tragedy here is that the phone is barely over a year old (coincidentally outside the warranty period though), which I bought to replace another defective phone. This essay is not about my phone. Instead, it is about the absence of my phone; and what I’ve learned from “coping” with it being relatively absent from my life.

My generation was at the zenith of cell-phone popularity. Before Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, the phones we carried were little more than mobile phones that maybe could connect to the internet but were mostly used to send text messages (which often contained grammar so bad it frequently led to older people lamenting our apparent inability to write well) and make phone calls. My first phone as an LG EnV, which at the very least, had a full QWERTY keyboard.

I was in 8th grade when I got it, mostly during to pestering my mom that I still didn’t have a cell phone when all my classmates had one. It gave me the power to actually ask my friends where they were (a tremendous time saver during Summer vacation). Compared to the burgeoning smartphone market, however, these phones were pretty quaint.

By 2010 I had an iPhone to call my own, the iPhone 4. It didn’t happen right away, but over the past 8 years of owning a smartphone, I’ve noticed my patience and attention span whittling down to nothing. I used to read books for hours on end in middle school, but by the time I graduated High School I could barely sit down for an hour straight without checking Twitter or Facebook. I was no longer able to be “bored” or allow one singular thing to take up my time. Even as I write this now I’m listening to music and occasionally chatting with friends on Facebook messenger. The smartphone allowed me to become an expert multitasker, at the expense of not being to focus on any particular task at once.

So when the initial panic of my phone’s decline wore off, I felt sort of free. I always thought as my phone as my lifeline to the “world”, which is to say the internet. In fact, I was being shackled by it; I couldn’t take in my surroundings all that much. So when I stopped carrying my phone with me everywhere I went, I began to pick up small details. The first day, on my walk to class, I truly felt like I was witnessing everything for the first time in a long time. There was the girl who parked her jeep without feeding the meter, and who didn’t notice the parking enforcement officer 10 feet away (and who promptly wrote the girl a ticket) or the loose WalMart bag fluttering in the wind that reminded me of one scene from American Beauty. There was also the guy riding a unicycle, the groundskeeper wheeling a cart of cleaning supplies down the walkway, the posters for events I would never have known existed, and so many more; the world was alive in a way that I had completely forgotten about.

Later that day I went to Walmart. I was a little worried that my lack of a phone would be an issue and some life or death scenario would appear, or that I would need to check the reviews of whatever hair styling cream or deodorant I was going to buy. It didn’t though, instead I had to suffer through the bargain-priced purgatory that is Walmart, this time while actually paying attention.

The parking lot was abuzz with those same bags I mentioned earlier, almost like tumbleweeds in their shape. If I had to fathom a guess as to why they appeared, I’d like to imagine that some poor soul had just bought their child some life-saving medicine and desperately needed to rifle through the bags to get it to them in time. Inside the glow of the fluorescent lights was noticeable, but I always noticed it. What I didn’t was the sound, the disgusting grunts, and groans of the elderly and obese, the squeak of the carts that had not been oiled since their creation, the “boops” of the 2 registers that had to accommodate dozens of customers. All of these sounds meshed with the so-boring-it is undescribably music that poured out of the invisible speakers, creating this constant hum that I’m sure haunts the dreams of the employees who work there. I didn’t feel awful about having to suffer through this though; it was just different. Normally I would, in typical Depression/Anxiety guidebook form, be completely absorbed in whatever music or podcast I was listening to that I would almost be completely disconnected from my surroundings. But without my phone, I could be a part of this wonderful, terrible Walmart experience. I could actually ask an employee where the hell the pomade and hair cream was because they sure as shit weren’t with the rest of the hair products. When I checked out I could actually talk to the disinterested cashier, without having to pretend I know what part of their script they’re at.

Continuing the trend of being a disgusting American, I took my lunch (is that a phrase people still use) at the local fine dining establishment; McDonald’s. Most of my experience with McDonald’s is almost always either late night drunkenness (it is one of the few places open late) or after-work apathy; I have never gone during lunch time, and certainly never actually eaten inside the restaurant. Earlier I had seen an ad for a bigger Big Mac, aptly called the Grand Mac. Inside the McDonalds was filled almost entirely by retirees who probably shouldn’t be eating McDonald’s. There was a family with school-aged children despite the fact it was noon on a Wednesday. I never really thought about how people feed their children, but the parents were tipping the large side of the weight scale and I felt a sort of empathy for the children who might be doomed to follow in their parent’s example. I thought all of this, of course, while munching on my oversized burger drenched with the thick, creamy sauce that Big Mac’s are known for.

On my long, bloated and sweaty walk back to my apartment, I truly started to appreciate how it felt to have some sort of presence in the world around me. Ironically, it was in two of the most stereotypically awful places in the world, but nonetheless, my lack of a phone allowed me to experience the world in a way that I hadn’t realized was gone from my life. The colors were more vibrant, the smells more intense, and the sounds were actually extant. While the experiences of the day weren’t exactly “great”, I feel like I was missing something when tethered to my phone. I don’t want this piece to be a complete condemnation of cell phones; they’re great, but I think that there is some moderation to be had here, at least for me. Going forward I don’t think I’m going to spend much money on my next phone (besides I can’t afford $700 for the next big “generation), and I certainly want to try and limit my daily use and maybe not carry around headphones with me. Perhaps I’ll try being bored again. Perhaps I’ll go back to my first phone, which I wouldn’t be suprised if it still works.

 

 

Sequence

This sequence of essays is, in large part, about depression. Only one of which will actually address it head on, however, the other two will be, in large part, molded by my own experiences with depression. The Tetris essay, which originally started as a lighthearted piece about getting better at Tetris, instead became an experiential essay about the immense difficulty it is to dedicate your time and energy to something, even something that is supposed to be “fun”. My second essay will deal more directly with depression, and namely its ability to drastically reduce your will, your productivity, and even your ability to engage in things you love. The final essay, tentatively, will be more about hope and passing on what can to our children. This was largely inspired by the March to Save Our Lives, but also, in a way internet memes. I wanted to explore how the definition of the word “meme” has dramatically changed, while still carrying a semblance of what it formally stood for. I will talk about my life, and how my mental illness has affected my opinions on this subject. It will touch on the secretly volatile subject of nostalgia, and how I think it affects both my worldview as someone with depression, and how it seems to have consumed many parts of our society, both politically and culturally, and the intersection that these two fit together.

Living Underwater

“Having depression is like, I do not know, being underwater.” my therapist told me with her thick Russian accent, seemingly afraid of contractions as most non-native English accents are, obscuring the weight that this analogy would hold. In recent months, I have been struggling to accurately describe how something as nebulous as depression affects me day to day, yet here it was. A perfect analogy; handed to me on a silver platter over a decade ago, I just never realized what it was. I had many issues with this therapist, largely due to her being my first and not someone who could cater to my specific needs as a patient (the thick Russian accent didn’t help either), but this analogy she fabricated as a passive thought is something I still remember to this day.

I never really enjoyed swimming. Early springtime was when my after-school program would take us to the local YMCA for swimming lessons that put pre-pubescent me through the ringer. While I got the gist of floating and swimming from end to end, going under the surface was something that I could never grasp. They had us do exercises where we’d dip our noses right under the crest of the water, holding on to the side of the pool as if it were our diving rope that we would pull if our oxygen was too low. Every time we would do this exercise water would rush up my nose, causing me to gag uncontrollably while the chlorinated water flushed its way down my sinuses. I never, to this day, learned how to keep the stuff out of my nose, which is to say I never really learned how to go under the water. So to say I was living underwater was, in essence, a death sentence. Just a painfully slow, and dull one. While I am sure she intended to convey the weight of the water slowing you down, making every action much more arduous, it had the added benefit of speaking to my inherent fear of being underwater.

Explaining to someone what depression is, or how it manifests itself is one of the most difficult things that someone who suffers has to endure, even to others who suffer from it. This is especially frustrating because everyone knows what depression is, in a clinical sense at least. There is a sort of lack of empathy from others, however, in that since there is nothing physically wrong, then you must be lazy or bored. Depression is invisible, insidious. In my family depression is commonplace, yet that doesn’t stop my mother, for example, from complaining that I don’t get out of bed some days. And in an ironic twist, befitting of the most rote M. Night Shyamalan script, she’ll do the same a few weeks later. Depression does not elicit very much sympathy from other people, I’ve found, especially as a guy.

Women are said to be twice as likely to have depression than men, a statistic I find hard to wrap my head around. It isn’t that there is a lack of circumstances surrounding women and depression; there are ample reasons unique to womanhood that would. But, this further muddies the issue by making it seem like more of a feminine issue, rather than something more universal. But the blame obviously isn’t with women. When I hear this statistic, I can’t help but think of HBO’s The Sopranos. Tony Soprano lives in a very masculine world, exemplified by his position as a mafioso and domineering family patriarch. There is a line in a season one episode, where his daughter remarks that it is 90’s and he retorts that in his household “You see out there it’s the 1990s but in this house, it’s 1954.” This is a salient point because, Tony, patriarch that he is, has depression, something completely unheard of in his world of 1954. It is a women’s issue; while the world outside his purview is continuing to evolve, he’s stuck in a time when men were men. That is why something as rote as seeing a therapist and taking Zoloft is a major throughline for Tony’s character development; it is stigmatized as a severe character flaw; a weakness that is punishable by a threat of death (spoiler warning I guess).

When I was a child, learning to swim at that YMCA, I was growing up in a community that, while outwardly supportive, still clung to that outdated notion that “boys don’t cry”, which I had wrongly assumed was destroyed by the 1999 Hilary Swank film of the same name (no not really). Most days I went to an after school program, where we would often take short trips to local parks with open fields. On one such occasion the boys were all brought to a park to play a game of “touch” football. The supervisors in charge were two guys, early 20’s, athletically built, with chips on their shoulders from what I can only assume was formed from not making the cut at College level sports. All this to say I don’t think either of them should have been supervising a group of children. Both of the men split the group of boys into two, at least a dozen of us in total. I was a pretty small kid, compared to others my age; lanky, kind of short, egg white pale skin with bright red chia pet hair; not the football playing type I quickly found out. This game of touch football, devoid of any actual adult supervision, became hyper-aggressive, with “touches” becoming outright tackles. When I, inevitably, became the subject of one of these tackles, my small size or obvious lack of experience did not garner any sympathy from the chunky kid who probably weighed twice as much as my twig-self, who proceeded to slam me into the ground and contort my nose into an unintentional allergic salute. It bled much more blood than I had ever seen. What’s the normal reaction here? Crying, right? That’s what I did, that’s what was natural to me, yet that didn’t stop one of my doltish caretakers from telling me to “suck it up”, as he gave me a pittance of tissues to try and clean the explosion of blood on my face. That was the first time in my life that I remember where I felt like I was a “less” of a man, whatever that is supposed to mean.

As it turned out, I spent most of my childhood depressed. One of the weird boons from going to therapy as an adult is the gift of hindsight; many of the seemingly innocuous events in our youth are actually integral to understanding how we’ve become our present selves. When I was diagnosed with depression at the age of 14, I wasn’t entirely sure what it meant. It was given to me as an explanation of my behavior; frequent depressive episodes and an inability to cope with any degree of trauma. The football incident I had in my after-school program was not a case of me coping incorrectly since I think that it was a natural response to what happened, but it was an event where I was made to feel like I was being a baby.  In effect, I kind of fucked myself up by caring what my dipshit counselor thought, and it colored my perception of what emotions were acceptable to show for the rest of my adolescence; i.e. none at all.

Until I was 14 those emotions writhed around in my mind, ready to burst out when they reached the boiling point. When it did, I nearly drowned in those emotions. As the flight or flight response kicked in, the panic overwhelmed me. Thrashing around under the surface I realized I couldn’t contain all these emotions to myself anymore. I asked for help and got oxygen tanks, some of varying quality. I’m no longer drowning, but I’m still living under the surface of the water, sluggish and slow, but living.

 

 

 


 

On Nostalgia (Tentative title)

Ready Player One came out in theaters last week, which leaves me feeling confused. When the movie was first announced, a part of me hoped it would just languish in production hell. Now that it’s out, and is one of Warner Bros highest grossing movies ever, especially in China, I’m at a loss for how it makes me feel. On one hand, it’s helmed by Stephen Spielberg who, remarkably, has made very few objectively bad movies in his career and currently sits at a 74% on Rotton Tomatoes, a 64% on Metacritic, and so on. It’s a pretty decent film, from the look of it, so you might be wondering what the issue is. Well, it turns out, I really truly dislike the novel it is based on. I believe it to be one of the biggest examples of wasted potential, and its author, Ernest Kline, one of the most obnoxious writers of the 21st century. The book ultimately ends up being so bogged down in nostalgia for the 1980’s, that is text becomes laughable and its themes paved over.

He actually drives a fucking DeLorean.

I first encountered Ready Player One my freshman year of college. I was 19, and Christmas and the end of my first semester were fast approaching. As I got older and had my own money to buy whatever bullshit I was into at the time, Christmas became less a time of selfish accumulation of goods (namely video games and DVD’s) and more a time to spend with my family. So when my mom asked me what I wanted for Christmas that year, I had no idea what to tell her, so I just said: “surprise me”. After all, what good is a present if the person knows what it is ahead of time, despite that being the apparent Christmas tradition (Santa must be one of the most avid readers on the Earth). Come December 25th, amidst the various clothes and socks (which I have grown to appreciate more and more every year) I was surprised with a novel, Ready, Player One by Ernest Cline. It was seemingly a good present; I enjoy video games, and I enjoy reading. Putting the two together seemed like the perfect concoction for a Dylan Ryan Christmas Present (patent pending). The premise of the book was interesting; a near future dystopia (sort of) where everyone spends their time (sort of) in a virtual reality environment to escape their insane poverty (sort of). The cover of the book is actually pretty evocative, with these skyscrapers of trailers doing a great job of representing a sort of futuristic poverty, even if the idea is a little silly.

USA Today: Publisher of shitty blurbs

As I sat down to actually read the novel a few days later, my initial excitement had whittled down after each and every chapter until I reached the conclusion: this book kind of sucks. I’m not going to explain the minute details of the plot, or anything like that, but what I will show you is this excerpt that stands out to me as one of the worst pieces of writing I have ever read in a published, best-selling, novel:

“I made a big entrance when I arrived in my flying DeLorean, which I’d obtained by completing a Back to the Future quest on the planet Zemeckis. The DeLorean came outfitted with a (nonfunctioning) flux capacitor, but I’d made several additions to its equipment and appearance. First, I’d installed an artificially intelligent onboard computer named KITT (purchased in an online auction) into the dashboard, along with a matching red Knight Rider scanner just above the DeLorean’s grill. Then I’d outfitted the car with an oscillation overthruster, a device that allowed it to travel through solid matter. Finally, to complete my ’80s super-vehicle theme, I’d slapped a Ghostbusters logo on each of the DeLorean’s gull-wing doors, then added personalized plates that read ECTO-88.” (Cline, Ready Player One)

Is there any substance to this passage? No, not a single bit. None of this is relevant to the plot, none of it matters at all other than to demonstrate that the author is creating a Mary-Sue out of his main character; living some fantastical life sandwiched between a cross-section of 80’s movies references. The book has at least one passage like this a chapter, sometimes more, and it’s exhausting. It drags the plot to a snail’s pace and is incredibly obnoxious as someone who doesn’t share the same relationship with that media that the author does. It also highlights another problem with this book; namely that it comes across as self-flagellating fantasy that the author has. Frequently he finds himself up against large, brutish characters with names like “HotCock1234” that he always manages to outwit or take down verbally because he’s such a smart guy, don’t you guys realize how incredibly smart I am? It’s a bad look for people who enjoy video games or other “nerdy” things, and I really don’t understand how this book got such rave reviews when it contains passages like the one I mentioned earlier ad-nauseam.

 


I’m cutting a lot of this essay if I haven’t already (I won’t be deleting this reflection) because I found a way to focus it more than just the rant that it becomes about this book. I think nostalgia is nice in short bursts, but I think as a culture we have begun to enjoy it a little too much. Just look at Donald Trump’s campaign; it was based almost entirely on nostalgia. Make America Great Again, emphasis on “again”. It’s longing for a time when things seemed better, but maybe (probably) weren’t. The time that Donny Boy and his band of fools long for is completely unfeasible in today’s world; World War II provided the perfect opportunity for jobs, manufacturing, etc. which allowed an unprecedented level of growth, but really only for a select few (white men). While the times afterward, particularly the 60’s were more tumultuous in their attempts to expand that prosperity, the 50s are seen as a time that we should live in, but realistically can’t. Obviously that’s a giant leap from a fairly innocuous brand of nostalgia to a rather destructive one, but I can’t help but see the connections and the way people use something we all like to do occasionally, and twist it into something so insidious.

Getting Good: A (Poor)Attempt to Become a Tetris Grandmaster

Tetris is very likely the best thing to come out of Russia, with maybe the exception of vodka. It is, in all likelihood, the most-perfect anything that has ever existed, in any medium, and that’s high praise for something that was created in the cultural vacuum of the Soviet Union. (Stalin didn’t seem like the kind of guy who likes fun). Alexey Pajitnov, the creator of Tetris, created something that has enthralled people for decades, and as a testament to just how faultless the game is it has remained relatively unchanged since its inception in 1986. It’s an enthralling game and the fact that we can play it on virtually anything, including the little computers we all keep in our pockets, certainly isn’t helping the productivity of people across the globe.

For me, Tetris provides something of a catharsis. I can turn off the part of my brain that worries about such distracting things like eating, work, relationships, etc and can focus on the puzzle that is right in front of me. There’s a primal force at work here; there’s something instinctive about the way putting together those squares rewards some part of the brain that we don’t think about. It’s beyond satisfying, and it’s something that I don’t think can be matched, at least for me. There have obviously been quite a few puzzle games in the same vein as Tetris, some of which are quite good, but none trigger that response quite like Tetris does.

Without an exact figure, I would estimate I have spent, at the very least, a few hundred hours playing Tetris in the past year alone. Of course, a part of me wishes that time was spent more productively (like writing more perhaps), but I figure if I’m going to continue to spend that much time playing this game, I might as well get good at it. Here is the plan; I’m going to spend a week starting Monday, March 12th and largely using all my time to learning the craft of Tetris, whatever the hell that means.

A Primer:

Here I am going to explain how this process is going to work, including how Tetris works generally and in a competitive sense. You can skip this part if you’d like, but you will (probably) regret it.

First things first, my plan is to spend the better part of a week making some progress in getting better at Tetris. I have played quite a bit and I would consider myself to be decent, but I think I am at the glass ceiling for where I can get from experience alone. I’m not some savant who can break down the minute details of my game sessions, so I’ll have to rely on others who have done that work for me. I plan on researching and perhaps even buying some books on Tetris; it is popular enough that I don’t think I’ll have a hard time doing this. We also cannot forget that Youtube is a thing, and as such, I am sure there is a 13-year-old who has completely mastered Tetris and is willing to share their knowledge in the form of a poorly made video tutorial.

The second part of this routine is to play at least two hours of Tetris a day, however, I doubt I can do this without spreading it out throughout the day because even I have my limits on how much I can do something I enjoy. By casual I mean just plain old marathon sessions or competitive matches against the computer, nothing too strenuous. Third, and perhaps more importantly, I am going to spend an hour per day actively playing competitively against real human beans. On my computer, this means probably playing Tetris Friends as the game has probably the most concentrated population of players across the literally hundreds of versions of Tetris. I also want to try and get involved in Puyo Puyo Tetris on the Nintendo Switch, but I have no idea how many players there are and what skill level they have. We shall see.

Now, if you don’t know how Tetris is played, I pity you. But, simply, the basics are that you get these shapes made up of four boxes called tetrominoes. These shapes fall from the top of the playfield and you try and fit them into straight lines at the bottom of the playfield, and when you do so the line disappears. Simple stuff. Ideally, you will get a Tetris, which is clearing four lines simultaneously, for maximum points. If your stack of boxes reaches the top, it’s game over bub. I’m sure you knew this, but what you might not know is how competitive Tetris works. In most versions, both players start as normal, however, each line they clear will send lines to the opponent, with the ultimate hope that they will top out on their side and lose first. This is the crux of what I’ll be doing; it’s what separates the children from the adults, makes a very relaxing game potentially very frustrating, and it’s what I masochistically want to be good at.

Victory, in theory

Day 1 

I’m really excited to get started with this project; I’ve been pretty envious of people who are really great at Tetris. Today I will focus mainly on playing and getting a feel for where I stand. First, I want to start on my computer, with Tetris Friends.

So I had never actually never made an account before, usually just playing random games whenever I am bored at work. First things, first, I set up a username. I gave myself the username “Orpheeus” because I use that for most things nowadays, for reasons that I will not divulge here. With this account, I can formally start “ranking up”, which is to say I can start climbing an arbitrary ladder which, ideally, is used to pair you with other players of your own skill level. The problem with this method, however, is that I was immediately placed against people who, for lack of a better word, sucked. I wish I screenshotted it, but my increase in rank was expedited by the fact that I was absolutely demolishing these poor, poor people. I noticed that, even in games where I was winning by a considerable degree, I was a little more agitated than usual. Perhaps I have a competitive bone in my body after all. Regardless, by the end of the hour or so that I played today, my rank had increased from “1” to “12”, actually skipping ranks 4-11 because of my seeming inability to lose. Now that I am getting higher in rank, I’m worried that my winning streak will come to an end as I get matched with people of a similar skill level to me. I called it quits because I worried my luck would run out were I to continue.

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I first played Tetris when I was in Kindergarten. I had a Gameboy Color which, at the time, was being used almost exclusively as a Pokemon machine. My uncle, at the time, was working on cars down at a Junk Yard, and had found some Game Boy cartridges in the glove compartment; The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, and (more importantly) Tetris. Now, I won’t bore you with the specifics, but these two games were not Gameboy Color games, they were OG, grey screen, fat beige body Gameboy games. Tetris came packed in with all new systems when it launched in 1989, nearly a decade before I would come across my own cartridge. Now, of course, I did not know any of this as a child, but nonetheless, I played the ever-loving shit out of that years-old cartridge until I eventually lost it as the child version of me was prone to do. I didn’t re-discover Tetris fully until 2017 when a game by the name of Puyo Puyo Tetris was finally released in the United States. Of course, I had played Tetris before this, it’s literally the most ubiquitous video game of all time, but nothing had quite recaptured the love I had as a child quite a bit as this game did.

Languishing in the limbo that was an erratic licensing scheme, the game took years to finally release stateside, leaving us with mediocre versions of Tetris that frankly were garbage. It’s really hard to fuck up Tetris, yet the likes of Electronic Arts and Ubisoft managed to do so. With Puyo Puyo Tetris, Sega created a game that not only celebrated the legacy of the game but married it to its own puzzle game series; Puyo Puyo. This part I couldn’t care less about, but the long and the short of it is that the two can be played simultaneously, but work better when played independently, as better to not disturb the perfection that is Tetris. Puyo Puyo Tetris is unabashedly Japanese, with anime-styled characters shouting and jumping on the screen whenever a critical move happens, but this is part of the charm of the game. To date, I have probably played this version of the game the most, and its nearly impregnable competitive multiplayer is going to be one of the most challenging aspects of this exercise. I suppose that is why I started with the comparatively casual Tetris Friends.

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Day 2:

Yesterday I started with Tetris Friends, largely in part due to my fear of getting demolished in Puyo Puyo Tetris, which off the top of my head I think might be the biggest Tetris game right now, at least on the platforms it exists on. I already spend an inordinate amount of time on my Nintendo Switch, playing a quick round or two of Tetris before bed, but I have never actually sat down with the thing and really got into it.

This game is disgustingly cute

I decided today that I would focus on this game, mostly because I can slouch down on the couch like a slug (probably not too great for my back) while I play. To start, I decided to play a few endurance rounds against the computer; essentially playing until one of them beats me. It does not take very long. This version of competitive Tetris is slightly different, in that you may be pitted against someone (or a computer) playing Puyo Puyo. I won’t go into too many details about how it works; but basically, it is a different puzzle game in which you match similarly colored blobs (called Puyo) to have them disappear, rather than create lines like in Tetris.

The blobs on the right are Puyo, and they too are disgustingly cute.

However, this transitions perfectly into my frustrations of the day; combos. Not the disgusting pretzel snack, mind you, but combinations. I really didn’t want to get into the weeds with Puyo Puyo, but the fundamental way it works is predicated on creating combos. You set up a chain reaction, essentially, and the longer it is the more points you earn and the more garbage you send to your opponent. Now, Tetris also utilizes combos. While the original iterations of the game did not give you additional score for combos (just for how many lines you clear at once) the current versions I am playing do. My typical strategy for Tetris and the most fun way to play in my opinion is to just create a stack with one space open, so I can create a Tetris’ (four lines cleared) as possible. While not a bad set up, it is rather amateurish, I’ve found, as there are so many different methods to score points that are safer (topping out is much easier this way) and will score you more points. This tripped me up many times today; largely due to my over-reliance on the straight “I” piece I ended up in many unwinnable positions where my computer opponent could wipe the floor with me. By the end of my play session, I had gotten, at most, a win streak of 4. Not too bad, but it could be better.

Day 3:

Today I will finally dive head first into the online world of Puyo Puyo Tetris. The first opponent I beat, going by the highly creative name of “Steve”, was not too difficult. The ranking system this game uses a similar system to Tetris Friends in that you increase your rank to earn new titles, with the ultimate title being “Grandmaster”. Where it differs is that everyone starts out numerically at rank 2500, with the number going up or down depending on how well you do. Unfortunately for me, Steve was the last easy opponent I had today, and also one of the few whose names I could read. Puyo Puyo Tetris is most popular in its country of origin; Japan. Suffice to say that the majority of the people I played against were Japanese. They were also quite good at the game, even at lower levels. They were utilizing a variety of moves I never even thought of, most common of which was a “T-spin”. This move, which nets you a lot of points on top of any lines you clear with it, basically involves you leaving a large enough gap in your lines so that you can wedge the “T” piece into it. It’s not overly complicated, however, I still have a hard time wrapping my head around it due to the fact that you have to set it up far in advance of using it. My typical strategy of just setting up Tetris after Tetris involves only reacting at the moment, so doing a “t-spin” is not something that will come easily to me. I played quite a few games of Puyo Puyo Tetris today and came away with two thoughts; everyone seems to be playing exclusively Tetris (I did not encounter a single Puyo player today) and that I kind of suck at this.

I’m an expert now, I guess

I had hoped that Tetris Friends would offer me a respite from my losing streak, however, it ended up being only slightly easier. From two days ago, my rank had skyrocketed to “Veteran”, which is kind of weird considering that I had played the game for a mere day. Regardless, the competition here was a lot more fierce than I had faced when I started playing; it felt like so long ago that I was actually doing well. Today every game was a chore; the first day I could afford to only pay half attention to what I was doing since I was confident I would be able to win most games. The games today were much more intense, requiring me to focus intently on what was going on the screen for the duration of the two-minute matches. I managed to get my rank up once during this time, although I’m not sure if I will be able to keep it.

 

Day 4:

Now that I have played both games and gone through the ringer, so to speak, I think I want to spend some time learning the “craft” of Tetris. I’ve found a few videos that help with maneuvers; primarily this one showing how to actually set up a “T-spin”.

I tried to use this a few times after watching the video, but I still don’t think I quite get it. It is definitely something you need to have an eye for, which I can say with absolute certainty that I do not. It has made me question the point of this exercise. What do I hope to achieve here, exactly? I have this inexplicable desire to become better at Tetris, but I feel like I’m losing something in the process. It’s starting to become not fun. The games I played today were relatively few, at least against humans. I spent the majority of the time playing against computers, practicing the T-Spin. However, near the end of the day’s games, I discovered another strategy; giving myself more room.

I’ll try not to bog this description down with details, but usually when I play my board looks like this:

There is one open space at the far right, where I would put “I” pieces to create a Tetris. The problem, however, is that I ended up relying too much on “I” pieces, and if I got too close to the top without getting one, that game is as good as lost.

I instead found a strategy that simply involved leaving two spaces instead of one, like so:

It was a simple change, but I found that in the games I played today that I did demonstrably better. I still lost, but I felt like I could hold my own a little bit better. I think it’s just one more piece to the puzzle (pun intended) and not a sure-fire way to win that would be included in a book titled How to Be a Master at Tetris in 10 Easy Steps. Too bad that book doesn’t exist, or easy ways to do this.

 

Day 5:

Today was the first day that I think I want to call it quits. The failures of the previous days were, if nothing else, learning experiences. I still had fun, to an extent, and I had hope for my inevitable Pro Tetris career. While I’m joking around, I seriously did not have a good time in my games today. I played about an hour, and after the first twenty minutes, I was forcing myself to continue playing. Losing is a learning experience, which is the healthy way of looking at it, but my god it can be really fucking annoying when you cannot even win once.

In Tetris Friends, I got myself to rank 14, which I suppose might be hitting a little above my weight. The depressing part was that I decided to (stupidly) look up just how many ranks there actually are. There used to be over 100, but they reduced it to around 20. Getting that close, but hitting a brick wall is frustrating, to say the least. I have been playing the game off and on for a while, but I have to admit my impatience in my growth is starting to wear on me. Suffice to say my rank went down to 13 since I did not win a single match.

Puyo Puyo Tetris was worse; if it could be considered that. I say “worse” because I actually almost threw my poor, innocent Nintendo Switch after the 8th consecutive loss. Thankfully my better judgment kept me from actually doing so (the fact that I paid $300 for the thing helped), but nonetheless, I had to set down the game because I was getting legitimately angry. If you’ve ever played a game, any kind of game really that involves some degree of skill, you probably realize that you cannot possibly improve if you’re getting frustrated by said game. While my previous days’ efforts were predicated on the fact that I knew I’d be doing poorly because I needed to learn, the reality of constantly losing caught up to me today and I realize that I really fucking hate losing.

That may be true, but it’s still kind of mean of you to say Game.

Conclusion:

What did I learn from this whole experience? Well, cutting this whole exercise short a few days due to frustration should tell me that I have issues with the competitiveness that I should probably talk to someone about. In the meantime, I realized that I can be incredibly impatient. I think that’s why I have never been able to pick up many hobbies, most notably instruments. Whenever I wanted to pick up a guitar I  get over sounding like I’m striking high tension wire with a fat stick. When this doesn’t immediately happen, I get bored or frustrated (usually both) and set the guitar down for a later time. Writing only came naturally to me because I never made any concerted effort to become better at it, which perhaps is where my talents lie. I suppose becoming so good at Tetris I could pack trucks with furniture expertly is something that is going to have to come to me naturally from playing casually for many, many years. For now, I think I’ll stick to playing by myself or against the computer who at least can’t call me bad names when they beat me.

The Interesting Mundane

Authors often talk of revelations, of epiphanies they encounter when reading the works of others. Something about the work just triggers a switch in the brain that creates a path to better understanding.  When I began reading David Foster Wallace’s collection of essays titled A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, I felt as though I had an epiphany of my own; how to write in a way that I find enjoyable. As a personal aside, I’ve always struggled with writing essays in that I never glean any kind of enjoyment out of them; to this day they continue my primal instinct to crawl into bed and curl into a fetal position. However when I read Wallace’s essays, which managed to inject so much personality into the pieces in a way that made them incredibly engaging to read, my entire understanding of the essay changed. No longer is it merely a feat of “what did I learn and how did I learn it” but a personal journey of discovery that is both humorous and informative. Before I understood the essay from a theory perspective; having some idea of what an essay “is”, but I could never seem to put it in practice. I’ve tried, and the results of this trying are very much “to be determined” but after having read this collection of essays, I feel as though I have a better understanding of what I want to do when writing an essay.

David Foster Wallace, through his extensive use of detailed footnotes and a focus on prose,  creates images and characters that are simultaneously engagingly real as well as incredibly artificial.  Through (intentionally) one-dimensional characters like Toupee Kid, Video Guy, (include more) etc and his own self-conscious reflections, the reader is given a humorous distillation of experience that makes a mundane experience of incredibly engaging. The reality of these situations is not something you think of until long after the fact; the legitimacy of these experiences he is writing about is, in hindsight in question, but they’re so incredibly fun to read that you don’t really care. It is not as though he is completely fabricating entire events per se, but there is a certain embellishment to the events that is apparent. He makes frequent references to his observations and note-taking, the latter of which is largely written on napkins.  In both essays, he makes references to his note-taking, which both validates his depictions and undermines them. For example in Getting Away from Getting Away From It All he laments not having an actual notebook to use to record; all of his observations are simply just his memory. I don’t know about you, but I doubt even someone as well read and well-versed in writing as David Foster Wallace give a one hundred percent accurate assessment of their day without detailed notes, and this definitely comes across in the dialogue between himself and his companion; it seems a little too good to be real, and I have my suspicions that it was spruced up quite a bit. When he finally does start taking notes at the fair (in a Barney notebook too of all things, adding to his humorous and often self-depreciating tone)

 

characters are occasionally so outlandish, so cartoonish, that objectively there is no way these people behaved exactly in the way he described. But it doesn’t really matter though; he’s not writing about a public figure in a way that could easily be described as libelous, he’s writing about people who frequently don’t have actual names and whose occasional odd behavior he exploded out on the page. The detail of the scenes and his dedication to giving them solid form in the way of specific dates and times add a certain gravitas to what he’s saying; it’s largely in the interactions of the characters and his assumptions of these people (bring up the 11 year old girl who beat him at chess) that lack an obvious journalistic integrity. But again, that doesn’t really matter because that’s not what he is there for. He was not sent on this cruise to give a well researched and fair review of his cruise. He was sent on this cruise to develop interesting stories based on his experience and what conclusions about cruises he draws in the general.

Whenever I get up for breakfast most mornings, there is a sort of war that goes on between my depressive brain and my stomach. The former wants nothing more than for the rest of the body to fall in line and go back to bed; it is their leader goddamn it and insubordination will lead to severe consequences. The stomach, being the upstart that it is, pulls its own weight and can often manage to impose its will on the often weak will of the brain with incessant cries to feed it. This day, stomach won out and dictated that everyone else make the pilgrimage to the dining hall for breakfast.

Breakfast is a loose-term for I typically end up eating; usually around eleven or noon, which I suppose makes it technically brunch. Regardless, I took my seat with a companion in tow (it’s weird eating by oneself at the dining hall) beneath the watchful eyes of the 12-foot tall carrot. I had pancakes, potatoes, and scrambled eggs, although in hindsight these have no importance to this story. What is, however, is my lack of a working phone. As of this writing, I might be lucky if the thing doesn’t turn off at 90% battery. This was not one of those days. Not having ready access to the internet almost feels antiquated, being bored something that simply doesn’t happen. While my companion contemplated the contents of what should have been a simple email, I was left bored out of my mind, nothing to do but twiddle my thumbs and make mental notes and snarky (potentially mean) commentary of my surroundings.

The first thing that was immediately apparent was that my table was sandwiched between what could only be described as a table of “Bible-Bros” (patent pending) and then one of the bros of the more standard variety, the ones who can’t converse in words that don’t immediately refer to partying, although it’s entirely possible the former group would too. If it wasn’t obvious I am using the term “bro” in a pejorative sense, as I found these two groups of gentlemen to be obscenely unpleasant in the short spatterings of conversations I would glean from their tables. The aforementioned bible-bros, the most outspoken of whom was coincidentally wearing a bandana (I’ll get to that later), were espousing to each other the apparent “liberal agenda” of Marvel’s latest in a long line of actually pretty good films. The portlier member of the table tried to argue that there were some “conservative ideas” in the film as well, and as someone who has seen every one of these movies at least once, I very much doubt this. I imagine this is mostly the rambling, hollow argument of someone who can’t quite bridge their shitty beliefs with the media they like to consume. Regardless, this conversation was the most I could make out from their table, the rest of it being random Church goings on (they were actually Bible-Bros, this wasn’t some moniker I pulled out of thin air) and frequent mention of “The Jews” in a collective sense. I can only hope they were discussing the historical context that Jews fit into, and not making some broad, antediluvian statements about Jewish people.

Reflections like this aren’t normally possible for me; I have been subsumed into the culture of omnipresent cell-phones and constant contact with friends and family. Not having this umbilical cord of social connectedness is freeing, but also incredibly boring. I had forgotten what it was like to be bored, and as a result, I rediscovered my penchant for people watching and listening. This is where the actual purpose of the essay lies, as does it connect to the essayist we are supposed to be writing about. In my case, and I hope it is evident in my style of writing as well as the title, depending on whether or not I have changed it from whatever nonsense I came up with (probably not if this line is still in here). David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again is the title of his collection of essays, written for and published in various publications in the 90’s, and what I have spent the better half of this past week reading. The titular essay details Wallace’s weeklong cruise he was sent to report on for Harper’s Magazine in 1995, was what I was thinking of that morning, namely this passage on his waiting to actually board the ship, and the hours spent waiting:

“A major advantage to writing some sort of article about an experience is that at grim junctures like this pre-embarkation blimp hangar you can distract yourself from what the experience feels like byf ocusing on what look like items of possible interest for the article.” (27)

I found myself recalling this freshly read line and decided that I would at least partially pay attention to my surroundings. A novel concept, I know. While Wallace was interested in detailing much of his experience on and around the cruise, I found myself less constrained, though not in a freeing kind of way. I’m not writing about various cliques of students that I happen to accidentally sit near and reporting my findings; I’m trying to write an essay of sorts about this book of essays that I have been reading. However, in mulling it over, I thought that perhaps I could link the two conceptually, no matter how tenuous that link might be. Luckily for me, it turned out to actually make sense. That is, actually making mundane things interesting to read, even in their uneventfulness. If you haven’t read the essay I am referring to, I will summarize; Wallace is paid by Harper’s to take a 7-day luxury cruise across the Carribean. Being who he was, this meant that he spent the majority of the cruise locked away in his cabin, not even disembarking from the boat when they dock at various ports. Somehow, however, he turns this completely dull concept into something that is exceptionally fun to read. If you haven’t, it’s published online (although I don’t know how much the editor has changed from this version to the one published in his book, aside from the title that is).

The Joy of Jigsaw

No, I am not referring to the eponymous character of the Saw film franchise, but the jigsaw puzzle you might find occupying space at a retirement home or library. These puzzles strike a nerve in my brain that is just oh so satisfying on so many levels. Having hundreds of disparate pieces fit together to form a beautiful winter landscape as depicted by Thomas Kinkade is beyond satisfying.

                                                     

Comparing this to the drab winter outside my window is incredibly depressing

I can just shut my brain off for a few minutes (or perhaps a few hours) and just put the pieces together until I get something that vaguely resembles what is on the box; it is pure bliss. There’s just something inscrutable about the act of being a part of that beautiful landscapes construction, even if it is only fleeting. In a world where cell phones and social media have eroded our ability to be “bored”, the jigsaw puzzle stands out as a beacon of our former collective patience, sometimes taking hours or days (not consecutively obviously) to complete.

However, I am not here to expound upon the greatness that is the jigsaw puzzle. I’m no expert on the subject as I have only recently discovered how fun they are, so the pool of topics I could dive into is rather shallow. Instead, I want to talk about why it is considered to be so strange that a young person enjoys them and how that perspective came about.

When you think of a Jigsaw Puzzle, what is the first thing that pops into your head? I would bargain that many of us would think of pensioners piecing one together in a nursing home common room. This view, for the most part, has dominated our collective consciousness over who actually enjoys these low-tech wonders. A few years back, when I was a Freshman in college, my friend invited me over to her room on a lazy Saturday. When I arrived at her immaculately arranged room, one thing that stood out (aside from the literal mountain of stuffed animals) was the stack of neatly placed Thomas Kinkade jigsaw puzzles adorning her desk. Of course, being a jackass Freshman, I scoffed at the fact that someone my own age would actually enjoy putting together something that was literally designed for old people. Of course, she, being more reasonable than I, saw past the pre-conceived notions behind jigsaw puzzles and told me in a matter of fact way that I was wrong and jigsaw puzzles were amazing. I believe history will vindicate her on this matter.

***
What drove me to this initial surprise and guffawing? I would say now, being a few years removed, I put far too much stock in other people’s opinions. Having lived most of my life with a crippling anxiety, I’ve always been a personal conspiracy theorist about people in my own life.

“Does So and So hate me after I said that at dinner?”

Those guys in my class must think I’m an asshole.”

“That cute girl must think I’m a complete dork for doing that.”

The constant questioning, the inherent desire to always be on everyone’s good side, led me down a path that I can only describe as an extreme aversion to going against the grain, even when it’s objectively the wrong thing to do. In my anecdote, this manifested in the relatively tame manner of being surprised that someone my own age would enjoy a jigsaw puzzle of all things. I was wrong about jigsaw puzzles, they’re great, but the real issue here is that I cared enough to question it without first trying. It’s a lot like the child (or adult for that matter) who won’t eat their vegetables because they’ve almost been conditioned by media to think that they’re literally the most disgusting thing you can put into your mouth.

                                               

                                                                  Literally poison.

 

While my ever-present dread, indicative of my mental health issues as it may be, is a bit extreme compared to most people, I believe as a whole we care far too much about what others think. The types of clothes we wear, what kinds of tech we have, what music we listen to, all superfluous things that really don’t affect our day to day lives. We never truly escape that High School mentality, even if it is much duller than when we were all at our most judgemental. Does it really matter that a person listens to top 40 pop music as opposed to your hipster pandora station? I am always guilty of making fun of my mother and her spontaneous dedication to country music, which I am supposed to believe has been a lifelong passion despite a plethora of evidence to the contrary.

***

When I was younger, in elementary school to middle school, I played a lot of sports. Baseball was the predominant one, but I tried my hand at football (both kinds) and track as well. Around the time I transitioned into High School, I suddenly came to the realization that I hated them all. It wasn’t a case of losing a passion for something I once enjoyed; I always hated them. After my final season, I didn’t even consider joining a sports team in High School. I never thought of them again either, never reflecting on why I was playing those sports in the first place. It took a while, and now as an adult, I can confidently say that I was playing these sports because I felt I needed to.

My family, and to a lesser extent my mother, made me think that I was wasting my youth if I wasn’t playing a sport. I always enjoyed playing video games, but since I was a child they were demonized as a colossal waste of time that could be spent elsewhere. And while I lament that I never learned skills that are more easily acquired as a child such as playing an instrument or perhaps even learning a language, I have a passion for the medium of video games that rivals that of my passion for reading and movies. It wasn’t wasted time in the sense that in a sort of objective view that doing things we enjoy can never be wasted time, but I was always made to fear that it was. This view is still present in my life; I can barely ever play more than an hour straight of video games at a time. It didn’t help that the prevailing notion that the time was that video games were for nerds and social outcasts. This was before the days of an almost universal acceptance of games, and I still feel the lingering effects to this day.

It’s a strange thing really, to care so much about what others think, or to judge others for their choices. Even as a completely cognizant person writing this essay, I believe I will always be a least somewhat judgmental. I can’t stand 90’s and early 00’s clothing, for instance, and ill-fitting clothing in general. I acknowledge that this position is, for lack of a better term, stupid, but I don’t think my prejudice towards baggy clothes will ever go away. Nor does it need to, I think that the healthy thing to do is to acknowledge your tastes, even things you absolutely despise, and to not be so negative about them. I have friends who dress in a way in a way that I would consider poor (namely “Dad” jeans and t-shirts with gaudy logos on them) but that does not affect what I think of them as a person. My preferences towards better fitting clothing only incorporate into our friendship in so far as I have an avenue to rip on them because that’s apparently how male friendships work, but that’s another issue for another essay. I can’t really offer any sage wisdom because my opinions are poorly pieced together from the jumbled mass that is my imagination, but I will say this; we could all use a little more empathy in our lives. Maybe that person whose clothes you made fun of can only afford the hand me downs they got from a sibling, or their flip phone is because they can’t afford the outlandishly priced new iPhone, or maybe don’t care so much about what people find to be fun. Who knows, you’ll never know what your own jigsaw puzzle could be. As with anything though, use moderation; I’m still working on a 1,000 piece puzzle with no end in sight.
*************************

For this essay, I wanted to write in a more casual tone, while also striking a balance between the three pillars that Huxley mentioned in his essay. Obviously, I didn’t pull in everything, and I hope to do some scientific research about how people enjoy games and media, and why they’re so appealing. However I’m struggling to determine a true focal point for this essay; that being why we enjoy the hobbies that we do, or why some people look down on certain hobbies and not others. I’d maybe incorporate sports into it at some point; I felt like I had to play them growing up because that was the thing to do as a young boy. As of right now, I’m a little confused as to where to take this, and want to continue working on it throughout the week now that at least some of the framework is in place. I’ve decided to take it into a stereotyping angle. For instance, why if a kid isn’t into typical manly activities like cars or sports, he’s considered gay (or a lesbian if a girl is actually interested in these things) or even go back to the elderly example and show some examples where they have some unusual hobbies.

Loving and Hating: The Essay

I woke up this morning to a text from my mother. The contents of which were simply a link to a local news story; a shooting, five dead, shooter in custody. In the haze of the early morning, I immediately fell back to sleep, my tired eyes couldn’t even stay awake long enough to care; this happens far too much. When I woke back up later in the day, the results came out; it was a domestic dispute, not some random act of violence that we all immediately jump to. While a far cry from the horrific acts that plague American schools, the fact that shootings of multiple people, for petty and sometimes random reasons, happens on such a regular basis is appalling to me. As is my non-reaction; the numbness from not caring so much because the Sandy Hook’s of the country are so many in number, there doesn’t really seem to be anything that someone such as myself could do.

This gruesome anecdote of my morning is, for lack of a better term, a microcosm of what I believe the essay to be; experience. That brief introduction to this blog post serves as a slice of my own life; my ruminations on the state of gun violence in this country. If you were to cut it out from the rest of this essay, it would be where I would start if I decided to tackle the issue of gun violence.
After mulling it over for a week, I struggled to really grasp what an essay is at its core. There are so many conflicting definitions and ideas of what an essay should be:

“Are they short?”

“Well, for the most part, they are. But wait, this essay by Thomas Malthus is an entire book. ”

“Do they have definite arguments?”

“Well some of them do, but a lot don’t offer many answers. ”

However, there is one common idea shared in most essays that I did manage to pick up on, and we come back that that word “experience”. It is touched upon by Jean Starobinski when he uses Montaigne’s writings as a way to try pin down some sort of definition. Montaigne wrote primarily about himself; what he knew and what he felt on various topics, even if he admits he was no expert on whatever it was he was talking about. The concept of experience has a whole plethora of contexts in which it could be used, from personal anecdotes all the way to the most vanilla research findings. The essay defies definition because it is a thief; picking off elements from other forms of writing such as memoir, lectures, storytelling and so on, making it near impossible to pin down what the hell it actually is. But, again, the one recurring element, that experience, is what drives the essay. It doesn’t matter how it is delivered, whether through cut and paste in text citations or through a moving anecdote on one’s two lovely uncles, what is experienced is what is put on the page in an essay.

If you were to ask most people what an essay was, they would likely groan and tell you it’s a highly structured paper where they write what they know about a given topic. This definition is not wrong, but it doesn’t quite capture the whole picture. Schools, in both secondary and higher education, use the essay almost exclusively as a learning tool. Philip Lopate calls these practices of using essays in school “questionable”, but I find it to be really useful. As someone who has, to be frank, actually been a product of the education system much more recently than Lopate, I find that, in its academic form, the essay ends up being a pretty good way to teach not only the fundamentals of writing and grammar but also as a vehicle to get students to develop critical thinking skills. Despite relying heavily on rhetoric, having a personal stake in the essay (such as using the word “I”) is actively discouraged. As you might imagine, this usually led to using Word’s find tool to stamp out those pesky semblances of personal voice.

It might come to shock people who grew up under this system to realize that essayists such as Emerson, Thoreau, and White, don’t write essays in this academic fashion. There are common elements, sure, but what the traditional “essayist” writes has a far more personal tone than what most High School teachers want. As for myself, I never thought of these men as writing essays, but something closer to memoirs, despite the fact they have been historically referred to as essayists. This isn’t entirely my fault, the utter domination that the academic essay has over the term “essay” cannot be understated. In its own roundabout way, it opened the word up to a much broader definition that can fit itself in places besides musings on society, literature and whatever else. Somebody who studies History or Safety shouldn’t have their essays be rambling prose like the mutterings of an old man but should strive to have concise, informative pieces that get across whatever their arguments and findings are. Most people could really care less what the future OSHA agent (in my juvenile mind they refer to themselves as agents at least) has to say at length about their assigned readings for class, most notably their professor. It’s just not practical for them to write that way because time is of the essence in that field. But the neatly packaged, concise and factual manner that Academic Essays are written is perfect for this very situation. It’s unfortunate they’re not very enjoyable to read. As an editor, I have to say even these cut down academic pieces are about experience and the self. As previously mentioned, there is always a story behind the content being written, as there is what is taken away. So a simple paragraph presenting evidence for why the President of the United States is a sociopath (not that it’s hard to find), implicitly has a journey that the writer went through to get that information and make a conclusion based on it. The expletives the author used and immediately deleted are part of that journey too, even if they never made it to the final revision, a ghost of themselves will be present. Even after hiding oneself through abstractions as most teachers in this setting want the writer to do, a voice will almost always present itself, even if it is under the guise of an editorial mask.

But what’s the point of this genre of writing, a philosopher (or essayist ironically) might ask. The essay itself is subject to two things; what the author wants to write about and who might possibly want to read it. I’ve already gone over the academic essay, so let’s take segway into more contemporary personal essays. The first of which we should all be familiar with, Siddhartha Mukherjee’s piece in The New Yorker. This is a touching story, one that is eloquently written in such a way that it feels like it wouldn’t be out of place in a full memoir. And that’s where we come back around to my earlier point; the essay is a sneaky little thief. Mukherjee’s writing encompasses many different forms of writing, but it borrows most liberally from a memoir. While the focus is on his ruminations of this experience, it is nonetheless written like a nonfiction story. It does, however, have elements of Montaigne’s essays, in that the thoughts flow naturally (seemingly) like a stream of consciousness. For example, he liberally transitions between past events as well as educational asides. Both of these have their own purposes and highlight both his skill as a writer and his knowledge as a doctor. The best example of this would be the anecdote of his time working in a run down free clinic in Boston, one that reminds him of the hospital where his father is at. This whole aside serves only but to give some background on the idea of homeostasis, which he goes into more clinical detail (pun intended) shortly after. He draws these parallels against his father’s hospital stay, which seems run down, but still finds a way to work with great efficiency. These literary techniques, if nothing else, are on display for an audience of mostly educated people who are interested in reading something a little more in depth, but still moving and personal; people who know what he is doing and can appreciate and follow his logic.
On the opposite side of the personal essay spectrum (to visualize, maybe a few inches to the left), we have something like this piece written for VICE. I won’t go into as much detail on this piece since it’s mostly self-explanatory (and significantly shorter), but what the author here is doing is much in the same as what The New Yorker is doing in hiring Mukherjee to write a piece for them; writing for their audience. VICE, to put it bluntly, is a more casual publication than The New Yorker is, targeting a younger audience with content that is ultimately more broadly appealing. If that wasn’t apparent by the author’s matter of fact tone and frequent usage of expletives than what the subject matter certainly makes it so. It’s simple, not all too profound, but a funny and interesting read nonetheless. Not nearly as thoughtful as Mukharjee’s essay, but something tells me that VICE isn’t always that interested in thoughtfulness.

So here we are, over 1500 words in and there really isn’t a solid definition of what an essay is or what it’s used for. It’s broad, but we can still go back to that word, “experience”. Every essay, from the drabbest analysis of 19th-century literature to the highly personal essay one might find in a magazine or book, contains fragments of the authors experience. Whether it is explicit on the page or not, the essay is a journey through the author’s own thoughts on a subject. If those thoughts have to corralled in and neatly folded into an Academia friendly package or are a flow of thoughts and feelings loosely taped together, an essay works only if that experience is there. To use another personal example, I frequently write how I speak. That is to say, in no uncertain terms, that I tend to ramble like a man three times my age, and with a fraction of the experience to back it up. For the majority of my career (if you could call it that) as a writer, I’ve spent countless hours putting sentences, paragraphs, even entire pages worth of content on the chopping block. For all intents and purposes, I am a mass murderer of my own ideas and thoughts. But that is fine because nobody would want to read these thoughts the way my brain produces them, so editing is required. I suppose my point here is that whittling down the tree that is my thoughts is part of my voice, part of the experience of my essay. Even if don’t intend for it, a lot of my writing ends up being equal parts facts and personal experience. The authors I briefly touched upon, such as Lopate and his peers, have had their entire lives to ponder what the essay is. I’ve had a few weeks, if that, so my thoughts are completely subject to change. And they very likely will.

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So we’re roughly 1500 words into this thing and I only barely scratched the surface in defining what the essay is, which is by design. In coming up with the outline for this piece I couldn’t really nail down the structure of this essay. I started with trying to have a thesis and supporting that thesis with the readings, but ultimately I didn’t find that to be productive. I wanted to be a little more casual, but not so much that I come across as flippant. In deciding to start with the anecdote, I figured that would be a good launching off point for the rest of the essay since it gives an example of what I think an essay (as it relates to this class at least) might look like, at least the beginning of one anyway. The rest of the essay, kind of naturally progressed as I wrote it, regardless of what I wrote in my initial (500 words) outline. I thought that it might work, but I’m not entirely sure if I’m doing it correctly just yet. Perhaps when I can write at length about a subject I do know a lot about, like films or jigsaw puzzles, that my thoughts become a little more cohesive and make a bit more sense. As for content, I was thinking mainly around two ideas; what schools make you believe the essay is, as well as who you might be writing an essay for. In hindsight, I don’t think these two mesh all that well together, but when I get an idea in my head it tends to stick until I jam it into my papers. Speaking of the word “paper” I wanted to include something about the term, and how it is at time interchangeable with the academic essay. I couldn’t comfortably fit it into the piece without removing other parts I would want to keep. Hopefully, with a workshop, and a few days, I can turn this blog post into something that I’d be proud of. Or maybe not.