EIGHTEEN

Happy new year! At least, for the most part. Still alive, still making progress towards most major goals. But there’s been a few complications, new challenges to overcome, and many reminders that youth is fleeting and we all have to face the eventual decay of things.

The Bad Back

When I was a wee lad we discovered that I had a minor defect in my spine. It wasn’t even a big deal: with a little chiropractic help and regular core-strengthening exercises I’d grow up to be a (physically) normal boy. Saw the chiro, did the extensions and crunches, and never had an issue. At least, until a few years ago.

I was cleaning up after a good afternoon of Hearthstone (the original trading card game, not the digital money-vacuum that Blizzard runs these days) and I’d reached over sideways to lift a chair. The next thing I knew I was writhing on the floor in the most intense agony I’d ever felt in my entire life, and I’m someone who’s had their ribs tattooed. Seems that I’d managed to pinch a nerve in my back, and it was lighting up my nervous system with pure, raw pain response.

Not fun.

Went to the hospital, got some morphine and muscle relaxers, and it went away. After that I was doubly careful with any lifting, both regular and weight-training, and nothing like that has happened since. But roughly seven weeks ago I was hit by something kinda worse.

I’m still not certain if it had anything to do with my weight lifting, though it does seem like deadlifting near my limit might have agitated the situation. After an intense leg day at the gym I started feeling a pressure and pain in my lower back, not unlike typical delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). DOMS is normal, and usually goes away after a couple of days. The sensation I was feeling didn’t, and got progressively worse. It went from a dull ache in the back to a radiating, spiking pain that spread out into my hips and down the left leg. It got so bad that I couldn’t walk more than 20 paces without curling up into a pain-filled ball.

The doctor told me that it was probably a common issue that I’d just have to live with. Further scans revealed that it was in fact related to that congenital defect I thought I’d conquered as a kid. There’s a minor imperfection in the vertebrae of my lower back, a kind of spur. The cartilage between the vertebrae adapted to the spur, becoming malformed. Fast forward 40 years, and half a lifetime of running, weight training, and slouching at computers takes its toll, resulting in a pinched nerve.

You know when your leg goes to sleep, because you’ve been sitting or lying on it funny, then it’s all pins and needles as it “wakes up”? That’s what I’m feeling right now, only it never wakes up. I’m constantly surfing that pins and needles feeling, and it’s grossly painful. Sitting down relieves it a little, which turns out to be rare and lucky for me, but lying down and walking are a special kind of nightmare right now. It’s one I’m getting used to, though. Never underestimate the adaptive power of the human spirit!

The doctor told me to monitor the pain over the next few weeks. There’s a possibility that the nerve will burn out, and stop responding. There’s also the possibility that will never happen and I’ll have to live with this condition for the rest of my life. We’re in a bit of a holding pattern for the moment, but I’m not as concerned about it now as I was when I first didn’t know what was happening to me. The days prior to diagnosis were terrible, where I was wondering if I was on the road to paralysis or worse.

The Bad Architecture

I live in a small, 1-bedroom apartment. It’s been good to us: very low cost, close to all amenities, and decent maintenance. Then a gutter exploded and flooded the bedroom, and since then it’s been not so great.

Whoever designed the apartment thought it would be a brilliant idea to conceal the gutters inside the frame of the building. They probably did it for the looks; I mean who’d want ugly gutters and downspouts hanging where they’d be easily accessible for cleaning and maintenance?

Part of this lovely system in the attic above were I was sleeping got clogged with pine needles, burst, and filled the attic with water. It then poured into the bedroom window frame where it built up pressure until exploding outward, sending a literal waterfall showering into my bed.

It was a cold, blowy, rainy mid-November night, but they still managed to get some restoration folks to help out. Kudos to them, walking around on the slick metal roof and crawling through the slimy attic to figure out what had gone wrong. Unfortunately they couldn’t do much more than set some drying equipment up and take pictures, as they needed approval from the owner to proceed with any repairs.

So we waited.

And waited.

And we’re still waiting. More than a month and a half later, we’re still crashing on a futon in the living room and paying full rent. You might be saying “that’s ridiculous Jack, I’d have sued their asses off by now”, and while that does sound like righteous vengeance we’re also trying to avoid stress and confrontation. We’re reaching the end of our patience though, so time will tell whether or not we need to escalate this. You may also be asking “why not just move out, Jack?” and that’s also a great idea, if only we didn’t live literally 5 minutes from where my partner works, and the rent was less than half of every other similarly-sized apartment in the entire city. So there’s that.

The Bad PC

I’ve had my current personal computer since October of 2010, right around the time production started ramping up on the then nascent Dark Acre Digital game development company. The machine’s been a great workhorse, and over the last 7 years I’ve only ever had to replace the graphics card. The PC helped me build over 40 videogames, render hundreds of hours of video, write thousands of words, do a bunch of school work, broadcast and record livestreams, and of course play the latest and greatest games at ultra or near-ultra settings.

That is, until a few nights ago. I’m the kind of person who never turns their computer off unless it’s to clear the dust out. After 45 nights sleeping in the living room (see above) where the PC fans constantly drone, I decided I wanted one night in silence. So I turned the rig off. The next morning, I couldn’t turn it back on again.

It seems that components that had been threatening to fail over the past few years (motherboard, CPU) took the opportunity of me wanting some peace and quiet to die.

It’s a bit of a shame, since I need the PC most to do the livestreaming, and that was just starting to grow. I can’t do any high-powered PC gaming either, but that might not be such a bad thing with yet another semester of computing science looming. I can afford to repair/replace it, but I’m thinking of just leaving it for now, unplugging, and focusing on other stuff for a while.

It’s not like I’m at a lack for overall computing resources, either. I have a decent Chromebook and, thanks to a good friend, 3 new Raspberry Pi. As for gaming there’s a plethora of X360, PS3, PS2, DreamCast, iOS, Android, Vita, Wii/WiiU and Gameboy stuff just lying around. There’s also a good number of Linux games playable through the laptop. I’ll miss playing regular matches of Heroes of the Storm, and I was just starting to get into Escape from Tarkov, but the latter game is still in beta development and both will just be that much better when I’m ready to play again.

It’s just so weird not having access to a proper PC gaming rig. I’d had one constantly running in whatever place I’ve lived since 1987.


I guess this can be summed up by looking at all of these challenges as new opportunities for growth. I know that sounds really cheesy, but it’s true. The siren call of the videogame can be overpowering sometimes, and as outlandish as having obsessive gaming being classified as a mental disorder there is at least some truth to how much it can deprioritize other important things in life.

And I figure when we share a hobby that literally uses “addicting” as an adjective to describe the core features of games there might be some call for temperence…

If you’ve gotten this far, thanks. I really appreciate your concern and I want you to know that there’s really nothing to worry about. The Dark Acre Church will re-open at some point, and hardcore PC gaming will resume, but for the immediate future we’re going to be walking (or, in my case, limping) down a slightly different path.

I sincerely hope that the new year rewards you for what you work for. Until next time: keep calm and game on.

INCARNATION

She was living an existence filled with misery and suffering, where the only escape would be death. It was all that she could see, despite being told constantly, and from all angles, that it wasn’t that bad. It only made things worse to have everyone who bothered to get close to her offer soothing words of ‘things would be alright, just let them be’; it only reinforced her belief that she was trapped in her own private hell, and that everyone around her was at liberty only amplified her imprisonment.

Despite that terrible understanding, she couldn’t bring herself to die. She assumed that her cowardice for the act was a further punishment, but the reality that she refused to acknowledge was that she was more afraid of what awaited beyond the endless toil of living. It was the unknown that she feared most of all, the things that lurked in the deep shadows of the room before a flick of a light switch banished them; the hidden desires behind the eyes of the men who appraised her whenever she came near them; the subtle chemicals that were blended into her twice-daily glasses of milk. Death was the greatest unknown of them all, and she hid her face whenever she contemplated forcing herself into it. Which was often, often enough that it would cause real concern to anyone who knew about it. But she kept her desire for escape hidden, like an expert spy or a sniper encased in a ghillie suit lying prone in some wasteland of the soul, invisible to all but lying face-down in plain sight.

She couldn’t say if she’d always been that way. The closer she got to her 50s the further removed she was from whatever fading shreds of innocence she’d been born with. Perhaps some great trauma had occurred in her youth; if it had she’d blocked it, submerged it deep in the labyrinthine passages of her mind, buried it in the loamy soil of memory and kicked dirty leaves over it for good measure, making certain not to bother with any headstone. She would never submit to therapy and so such a horrible occurrence, had it even occurred at all, would never be exhumed. There was the more realistic possibility, by her thinking anyway, that she’d been born that way. She liked to imagine that whatever it was that had made her so dark had happened long before she’d come mewling forth from between her mother’s legs in that great spasm of birth. A past life where she’d not lived up to her potential, and so had been doomed to repeat it, and again found herself trapped in a horrible loop of mediocrity.

Was it luck? She didn’t know. She thought that destiny was real, and that fate was predetermined. It was the reason she continued to trudge through her bleak existence, in search of whatever terminal horizon that would bring awareness to a screeching halt, so that she might have another chance to cast the cosmic dice and be born again, perhaps into a life less tragic.

BIRTHMONTH

Somehow, it was March again.

That ephemeral month that marks the border of spring in the northern hemisphere, when the ever earlier sunrise begins to warm and thaw the blanket of winter from the lands. How it whips up the winds to help scour the dead season’s bones from the ground and make ready the nesting grounds of the creatures who love the sun. Even us, we who have kept our hearts enshrouded during those dim and cold months so that we might better insulate ourselves throughout the long nights, now throw open the shutters and greet the day with blinking bewonderment. How good it is to smell the green in the air once more, to have banished the dry emptiness of the chill mornings! To store the heavy duvets for another nine months, replace the heavier wools with lighter cottons, once more mothball the caps and scarves so that the full glory of the invading season might penetrate our crowns and heat our necks of its own accord.

I was born in the spring, a mere eleven days after the official vernal point (or autumnal, though I have never been south of the equator to know such a moment) when the day is as long as the night. It was not by design; I had been conceived by accident during a hot night of summer passion in a roadside motel somewhere in California. Knowing the particulars of my conception has never bothered me, less so as they were related to me in my late adolescence, whereby then I had come to understand that more than a few of us human beings were in possession of unplanned existences, and not all matrimonial or parental unions were preordained by destiny or even born from love. There are so many little gateways of fate that a life must pass through in order that it might flourish, or at least reach the point of self-awareness, that none of us can take anything for granted, nor must we be surprised by any twists or turns of fate that life presents us. Thinking on such things for overlong can be a surefire ticket to madness.

So it is that when spring comes around once more I am made aware of my passage through time. Sometimes I ponder what it would feel like to celebrate this change of season in Australia, or Argentina, or South Africa. Would I still find myself possessed of the same shifting energies that signal both renewal and advancing age? To be moving forward into maturity, edging ever closer to that hard limit that all of us face, the limit of our breaths and heartbeats, the cliff that surrounds the horizon of our conscious thoughts, while all around me nature moves into her autumnal evening, the drawing of the shades and preparations for winter. Would such a time inflict a greater sense of depression, or impart a keener awareness of the preciousness of this short life? It is an experience I will have to arrange before the sand has run out of this hourglass of mine.