25 Aug

Anatomy of a Grammar-Nazi

Literally and Figuratively

Somehow those two little words have gotten no end of attention in the past few years, and while I’m sure the debate has raged for far longer, the internet has that wonderful, amplified echo chamber effect that makes even the most minuscule arguments seem like epic holy wars. And really, that’s what it is; it’s an argument grounded in personal belief, no matter how much we want it to be a matter of objective truth.

This perceived misuse of “literally” remains a bugbear for me. I can’t help it. I recognize, though, that a lot of things that irk me have nothing to do with their validity. For example, the word “addicting” as an adjective sets my teeth on edge. Now, there’s a whole other can of worms that can be opened up there, but really, “addictive” and “addicting” are more or less interchangeable, and have been since at least the 30’s. My distaste for the latter really boils down to nothing more than “it sounds wrong to me”, and really, that’s fine. Acknowledge it, and move on.

Still, I’d convinced myself that my crusade against “literally” was a just one. A word that can have two diametrically opposite definitions, I argued, serves as an explicit barrier to understanding, and as such, undermines the very purpose of language. Really, though, that’s essentially shorthand for “look at me, I’m smarter than you. I mean, look what big words I used!” I don’t think any reasonable human being ever found themselves confused when someone said to them, “I worked literally a million hours last week.” It’s unmistakeable hyperbole, and to argue otherwise is to be disingenuous in the service of our bourgeois ideal of what language “should” be.

The Lexicon Valley podcast actually had a great conversation on the subject a while back, and pointed out that the use of literally as a hyperbolic device goes back more than a century. And really, that makes sense when you think about it. The whole point of hyperbole is to intentionally misuse language for comedic exaggeration. So I’m brought back to my original question: why does it bother me as much as it does?

Consider the following three sentences:

“That song is so awful that my ears are bleeding.”

“That song is so awful that my ears are literally bleeding.”

“That song is so awful that my ears are figuratively bleeding.”

Of the three, only the last is, strictly speaking, true. It’s also the one that is the least useful. Using the word “figuratively” here is the metaphorical equivalent of having to explain the punchline of a joke; if you have to point it out, it kind of defeats the purpose of going to the trouble. However devout I may be in my jihad against “literally”, even I have to grant that a useless word is worse than a “wrong” one. The real question is, does the second sentence give us anything the first one doesn’t?

Of course it does. In this case, “literally” is being invoked for emphasis. When you’re already being hyperbolic, your options for added emphasis are limited. One tactic is to add an adverb:

“That song is so fucking awful that my ears are bleeding.”

My go-to, of course, is to compound colorful metaphors like so:

“That song is so fucking awful that my ears are bleeding and my pants have filled with shit.”

Clearly, my preference goes to whatever lets me work poop into the conversation. Such is my wont. Still, I’m no closer to figuring out just why that second sentence bothers me as much as it does. It was finally Harlan Ellison, the patron saint of curmudgeonly bastards himself, the gave me some insight.

In the bio-doc Dreams with Sharp Teeth, there’s a scene in which Ellison signs a fan’s book, and in turn the fan says, “Awesome!” Ellison’s response was this:

“No no no, ‘awesome’ would be Grand Canyon. ‘Awesome’ is the Greater Magellanic Cloud. A cheese quesadilla and my signature are not ‘awesome’. Would you use the word properly? Your mother brought you up right, you went to college, you read a book a week or more…”

It’s a throwaway interjection in the film, but it stuck with me. It stuck because I realized I have none of the ideological fervor for the perceived misuse of “awesome” that I do for “literally”. If I think about it, it makes perfect sense. I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, a time where surfer slang, the Ninja Turtles, and Nintendo’s constant insistence that I “play it loud” (whatever the fuck that means) managed to turn words like “awesome” and “radical” into soulless synonyms for “pretty good”. By the time I reached an age where I actually started caring about this shit, I’d already been desensitized.

Really though, while the comparison of mesmerizing outer space phenomena to a melting hunk of cheese and tortilla is an amusing way to highlight how overusing words cheapens their impact, it’s that last bit of the quote that speaks to what I’m searching for. I’m left to infer that while Harlan would certainly not miss an opportunity to scold anyone for such nonchalance, it’s the fact that his fan should know better that really sets him off. To misuse a word because that’s the only use you know is to be ignorant. To misuse a word as a lazy shorthand is to take part in perpetuating that ignorance. He sums this idea up more succinctly than I can:

” …you are not entitled to your opinion; you’re entitled to your informed opinion.”

Finally, I have something I can work with. I realized that my problem isn’t that people use “literally” for exaggerated impact, but that this use seems to have supplanted the word’s original definition. It’s that I can conceive of people using the word to punctuate their metaphors without even realizing that’s what they’re doing, or even that it can be used to separate the metaphorical from the objective. Language is alive, and the meanings of words have always and will always evolve. Language is also a zero sum game — for every word or definition we gain, the one we might have used instead is lost. Which ones stay and which ones go is ultimately at the mercy of the collective consciousness; no individual gets to make that call. But that’s not to say words don’t need their defenders. We may be a hoard of miserable pedants, but we’re the necessary obstacle that stands in the way of the new. Language needs to evolve, sure, but it needs to get past us first.

So fuck you, I’m still going to correct your dumb ass.



I’ve never been able to reach a conclusion and just leave well enough alone. In thinking about this, I remember my mother telling me many times, over the course of her career as an English teacher, that her kids had a hard time understanding metaphor.

Of course, this is ludicrous. Everyone understands metaphor. A four-year-old that says “RAWR! I’m a dinosaur!” understands metaphor. They just don’t recognize the metalinguistic concept of a metaphor. When I think back on how the subject was presented to me in school, I wonder how in the hell I ever managed to figure it out.

You remember that chapter in your grade school textbook, right? “Simile and Metaphor”? Why the fuck are we taught it this way? The framing presents two concepts at the opposite end of a spectrum, where in reality simile is just an example of a type of metaphor. And it strikes me as a completely arbitrary one, and confusing to someone you’re trying to teach the basic concept to. What the fuck difference does a “like” or “as” make? Is “her lips were like wine” highlighting a significantly different concept than “Juliet is the east”?! I can teach a computer to understand the only real distinction there. In what way does this enhance a child’s understanding of the concept?

I have a new syllabus. It’s called “Allegory and Metaphor”. Instead of a sheet of useless phrases, which require no comprehension beyond identifying the letters L-I-K-E in the proper order, my “worksheet” will contain the entire text of Animal Farm, as well as a half dozen historical essays about the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalin. At the bottom of the last page, will be a single question: Is this an allegory or a metaphor? Half credit for either answer. Full credit for “Fuck you, they’re not mutually exclusive concepts you goddamn hack.”

6 Aug

Comicsposition Dump


I’m going to be spoiling parts of GotG here. If you haven’t seen it yet, read at your own peril.

Everyone seems to love them some Marvel movies, and my mother is no exception. It’s become a ritual now, since she knows I’m a big ‘ol comic nerd, for her to ask me questions after each one. Usually, it’s just to explain what the post-credit bumper is about, but sometimes she gets more than she bargained for. Here’s the e-mail she sent me the other day:


Have you seen Guardians of the Galaxy? If/when I have a couple of questions for you.


I had such a fun time watching the movie, I didn’t even prompt her for what they are — here’s what I sent back. Figured it might be amusing for other folks as well!

Be careful what you wish for.

Just watched it last night. Figure I can probably guess some of your questions, so I’ll kick this infodump off! Let me know if there’s anything I miss.

The Mad Titan and the Infinity Stones
This all started back in the Avengers (well, Captain America if we wanna get technical) and that post-credit bumper.
What does that Chitari dude say to Thanos? “To oppose them is to court death.” Cue smile.
This is my favorite little easter egg. In Thanos’s case, that’s *literally* what he’s doing. In the Marvel Universe, death is anthropomorphized. As a true nihilist, Thanos is in love with her, and most of his grasps for power are an attempt to woo her. Then come the Infinity Stones.

In Thor 2’s post credit bumper, they set the stage. When handing off the dark matter maguffin to Bencio Del Toro, they say “It’s not a good idea to keep two infinity stones int he same place.”

In Guardians, Del Toro lays it all out in black and white — there are 6 of these things, they pre-date the universe, and the Tesseract, Dark Matter, and the orb that Starlord steals are three of them. Expect three more. That brings us to….

In the comics, Thanos dies at one point, and death brings him back to life when he tells her he can amass enough power to make a grand offering to her. He collects all the infinity gems (what they call ’em in the books) and affixes them to a glove. Each one grants its bearer untold power in its specific realm, Power, Space, Time, Mind, Reality, and Soul. Their combined power gives him near-complete omniscience, and he has unopposed power over everything. He uses it to wipe out half the population of the entire universe with a thought, and there’s a big ‘ol miniseries where all your favorite Marvel heroes join forces to take on the big purple brute. This is the fracas they’re building up to. Not sure if that’ll end up being the plot to Avengers 3 (2 is already slated to be an Ultron story — that’s a whole other ball of wax I could spend hours on), or if they’re going to make a standalone Infinity Gauntlet movie, but Marvel’s got this stuff planned out years in advance, so they’ve been planting seeds since the word go.

Worth noting: Remember when I was obsessed with Marvel trading cards and the like back in the 90s? This all happened around that time, so it’s near and dear to the grade schooler in me.

Starlord’s Daddy
I actually don’t know much about Starlord, or the Guardians themselves as a team. I’ve read a bunch of comics with Drax and Gamora, but the rest are mostly new to me too. That said, I did look it up, and I guess his dad is the emperor of some crazy alien empire — I’m unfamiliar with ’em. The internet tells me they’re kissin’ cousins of the Shi’ar, which are another alien empire I DO know (their empress likes to knock boots with Professor X — Marvel really needs to go murder someone at Fox so they can throw the FF and X-Men into their movies), but again, that’s a whole other thread I could go on and on about.

Interestingly enough, my googling also turned up that his dad was responsible for decreeing that the Earth is off limits to space-faring types which, if they follow it up in the movies, would explain why guys like Michael Rooker didn’t just take the whole place over for fun and profit, and why Loki’s gambit in Avengers is such a bold move.

In the comics, I guess Quill’s mom is killed by some aliens or somesuch, and he ends up becoming an astronaut chosen to take on the mantle of “starlord” by some galactic so-and-so. His backstory here is a product of the movies, but since the one I read about online sounded pretty dumb, I have no problems with that.

Interestingly enough, there is a big cancer storyline in the comics that involves a lot of the players here. Captain Marvel (literally a guy named Mar-vell — their way of saying “fuck you, DC, and that Shazam guy. We’re taking it back.”) is a Kree hero (see below) that gets cosmic powers and is generally loved by everyone. He comes down with the big-C in a storyline from the 80’s and passes away. Never read it, but have been meaning to for years.

Ronan, the Kree and the Nova Corps
Speaking of the Kree…

I’ve read some comics with Nova in ’em (another cosmic superdude — don’t know that he’s actually present in GotG, but I could have easily missed an easter egg), but didn’t know much about him beyond that. Again, online research seems to say they’re kind of like Marvel’s version of the Green Lanterns: a bunch of space police with some unifying power source that’s distributed among ’em. Their home planet is a sort of intergalactic hub, and that be the place Ronan’s trying to destroy.

The Kree (Ronan the accuser’s race) I mostly know as guys who are constantly at war with the Skrull (the green prune-chinned dudes the Fantastic Four are always fighting). They end up playing into a lot of the outer space-y storylines, and Ronan is essentially a genetic purist (think the Malfoys in Harry Potter — the blue-skinned kree are apparently the de-facto aristocracy. On the nose, much?). The generation-spanning racial grudges, and general nonchalantness over genocide are pretty on-par with Kree characterizations in the books.

That mining colony is in one of their heads, and the giant dude you see destroy a planet in the Collector’s exposition dump is one of them too. They’re generally big, enigmatic, cosmic badasses. Kinda like Galactus (good god, I want to see him on screen and not be a stupid space-cloud. Fuck you, Fantastic Four 2). Depending what corners of the Marvel canon you pay attention to, I guess they also created humans as a genetic experiment? Marvel can get pretty weird.

The Bumper
Yup, that’s Howard the Duck. He’s a Marvel property alright. I laughed.

As for the movie, I really liked it! It’s not perfect (I think Cap 2 comes darn close), but it was a ton of fun! Most surprising to me was Dave Bautista (Drax), who’s a pro wrestler I never much cared for, but thought he did an amazing job. I also love that they got Vin Diesel on board to say three words over and over. Fantastic.

“You are like your earth hero, Kevin Bacon.”

8 Apr

You can’t go home again

Memory’s an odd thing.

Over the past few months, my girlfriend and I have taken to dedicating a portion of our weeknights to mainlining some TV show or another. I got her hooked on 30 Rock a few months back, and last week we crossed the finish line and got all teary-eyed for the finale (it’s still great). So, when I picked her up from work last night, we sat down ready to start our next adventure — we had decided on Spartacus at her co-worker’s recommendation — and after about 10 minutes we couldn’t take any more of the awful green-screen, shoddily shot battle scenes, or soap opera caliber actors screaming “cunt” in a pathetic attempt to say “we’re totally edgy like that Game of Thrones show you watch”. It might make for some good point-and-laugh entertainment somewhere down the road, but last night we just weren’t feeling it.

So, as ever, we pulled up our trusty companion, Netflix, and tried to decide how we would waste an hour or so of our time. We never did arrive at a decision, opting to shoot the shit and get to bed early instead, but we did spend some time trying to make cases for our respective guilty pleasures.

I still maintain I could get Amy into Buffy the Vampire Slayer if I find a good hook. I made the mistake a while back of trying to pique her interest the same way my ex-wife hooked me: I pulled up “Once More with Feeling”, the musical episode. Now I’m the sort of guy who, when you show me something surreal and silly, I’m in. Amy, on the other hand, just rolls her eyes and loses interest; I just didn’t know her tastes well enough when I tried that particular gambit.

Amy’s pet project was trying to get me interested in the X-Files. We’ve watched a few episodes, and while I find it enjoyable enough, it’s so aggressively campy that I have a hard time taking it seriously. It amazes Amy that I was an adolescent male in the mid 90s and somehow managed to miss out on the cultural phenomenon that was the adventures of Mulder and Scully, but nevertheless I was and I did. While I never did follow the show, however, I did watch at least one episode in my youth. For as little as I cared about whether the truth was, in fact, “out there”, I have a strangely strong memory of the experience. I remember the plot clearly, I remember where I was, and I remember who I was with when I watched it. What’s even stranger than how vivid my memory is of this seemingly inconsequential slice of my youth, however, is the fact that it can’t possibly have happened the way I remember it.

Sometime in my last year of middle school, we had ourselves a special assembly. I can’t say for certain why this was. Maybe it was a snow day, or maybe a bunch of teachers were out sick. Whatever the cause, the entire student body was rounded up and crammed into our auditorium for the afternoon, and they put on some TV to keep us occupied. Turns out the entertainment du jour was an episode of the X-Files. So far, it’s not too far fetched, except that the episode we watched was “Home”.

peacock family

If you’re not familiar, “Home” was the first episode of the show to feature a viewer discretion warning for graphic content. It was an episode that opened with a group of inbred hillbillies burying a baby alive, featured a grisly booby trap decapitation, and climaxed by revealing that said hillbillies keep their quadruple amputee mother on a dolly under a bed so they can use her as a breeding sow. It’s an episode that’s gone on to inspire a lot of controversy, is still lauded as one of the best written of the series, and it’s something that I absolutely can’t believe my school would have shown to a bunch of 10-13 year olds.

Even if you’re generous and figure that they didn’t know what it was when they started it, there’s no way in hell they wouldn’t have realized their mistake before the finale, and that damned dolly is burned into my memory. Years ago, I related this story to an old friend of mine, who would have been right there with me at the time, and he told me I was out of my mind. That never happened, he said. He would have remembered. Granted, I wouldn’t be surprised if my memory was partially, or even completely, a construct of my imagination. I’ve read a number of articles about the unreliability of memory, and how the more you remember something, the more likely you are to very clearly remember things that never happened; each time you remember there’s a new embellishment that supersedes whatever was there previously.

It’s not the memory itself, or even how vivid it is in my head that intrigues me. I’m sure I have tons of equally improbable memories in the ‘ol noggin. What gets me, and what I’d love to be able to trace, is the game of telephone that has to happen in my brain to get from whatever actually happened to what’s stuck in my head right now. Did we watch some educational programming at school, and I watched X-Files at my friend’s house afterwards? Did it not happen at all, and I watched that episode years later? How did those things conflate, and why do I remember it so distinctly when I can barely remember what I had for breakfast yesterday?

Of course, there’s always the possibility that it played out exactly as I remember it, which might be even more bizarre, but would probably disappoint me if I found out that was the case. I’m so invested now in what makes my brain jump from A to B to C that it would almost be a let down to find out that I’m remembering things correctly. How the brain manages to turn fantasy into fact is far more interesting to me than a simple case of irresponsible authority figures. That’s right, the boring version of this story for me is the one where a bunch of teachers thought it was a good idea to show preteens a show with incest and child murder. Such is my life.

28 Mar

Listening is the new Reading

I have an attention span problem.

I don’t know if it’s just an unpleasant byproduct of being raised in the Nintendo Generation, or if it falls into the category of full on ADD (my aversion to mind altering medication combined with my admittedly anecdotal perception that it’s over-diagnosed has kept me from asking a doctor about it), but the fact remains that it takes considerable effort for me to concentrate on any one task at a given time. The really strange thing is that it seems born less out of a general lack of focus, but out of an uncannily misplaced sense of guilt. I learned a phrase in Economics class — possibly the only thing I learned there — that describes it fairly well: “opportunity cost”. If you’re not familiar with the term, it essentially boils down to the idea that every time you make a decision, it’s at the expense of an alternative one you could have made instead. Thus, the cost of seeing a movie is the $10, or whatever they’re charging these days, but the opportunity cost is all the other stuff that same money could have bought you or the things you could have done in the 2 hours you’re glued to a seat. By this same measure, even hanging onto your hard earned cash bears an opportunity cost in that you’re missing out on all the neat goods or services you could trade it for.

In my personal life, this same principle leads to frequent bouts of paralyzing indecision. Simple acts like watching a movie, playing a video game, hanging out with friends and, yes, reading a book are hamstrung in advance by my consternation over the chunk of time it’s likely to steal from me, a million other tasks left undone. Paradoxically enough this often leads to me trying to do 2, 3 or even half a dozen things at once, and in the process not really doing any of them at all. I’ll end up watching the same shows, playing the same games, and listening to the same music over and over because if I half do them while doing something else, I won’t really have missed anything.

It’s insane, I know! I’m so worried about not being able to do everything that I end up doing nothing. I understand that this self-defeating compulsion is not uncommon, and over time I like to think I’ve gotten better at combating it, if only by being aware of it. I go out with friends and co-workers more. I watch more movies, finish more video games, and listen to more albums. I’m reading more too, but that’s easily been the most uphill battle of them all. Part of it is the simple fact that I read at a downright glacial pace. Another part is that I have a hard time reading in motion. I don’t get carsick or anything, I just have an even harder time than normal concentrating in a moving vehicle, or when there’s an abundance of ambient noise. That rules out reading on my commute, during a flight, or even while sitting in a waiting room. Finally, and this may be the biggie, reading is the one activity that really cuts you off from all five of your senses; words are highly abstract representations of ideas, after all, so you can’t even really count “sight”. It’s just you and the images you create in your head, and I think more than anything it makes me fear I don’t have much of an imagination.

Like I said, I’ve made progress, but still find myself frustrated when I just can’t seem to get into a reading groove on a regular basis. My mind will wander and I’ll find that I’ve read a dozen pages without actually comprehending a word. At that point I’ll close the book (or more recently, turn off my Nook) in frustration and move on to something else. Every time this happened, I would halfheartedly turn my thoughts to audiobooks, and then quickly reject the idea.

There’s no real rational reason for my ambivalence. I guess it always felt like cheating. The snooty, high-brow, wannabe-intellectual in me would turn his nose up as soon as the thought entered my head. He’d think to himself, “that’s how the illiterate masses consume their Dean Koontz or Stephanie Meyer drivel when they’re too lazy to actually READ about shimmering emo vampires.” I’ve never even read either author’s books, they’re just what I imagine a good snob is supposed to judge someone for reading. And so it went.

Still, as my frustration grew, so did my resolve fade. It didn’t help that every podcast on the goddamn planet seems to be sponsored by audible.com, and my commute tends to be filled with offers for free books followed by “Tell ’em [INSERT PODCAST HERE] sent you.” I guess advertising works, because the idea sounded more and more tempting every time I heard them. Besides, no self-respecting snob worth their salt is going to let anyone that enjoys Kevin Smith movies as much as I do into their club anyway. I finally capitulated.

I didn’t do it unconditionally, though. If I was going to dip my toe into the water, there were going to be some ground rules, by gum. I decided that whatever I tried out first was going to have to meet some criteria:

  1. Anything I had actively put in my mental to-read list is out of bounds. I didn’t know how I felt about this “listening to books” business, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to risk ruining anything I’ve been looking forward to.
  2. Anything I’ve previously read is out of bounds. It seemed like a waste. If I was going to do this, I should at least be experiencing something new.
  3. Anything abridged is out of bounds. I’m already compromising my (silly) principles here, and I’ll be damned if they’re gonna steal words from me too.

With that I set about the task of selecting my first book. After about an hour, I found what I was looking for: Philip K Dick’s A Scanner Darkly. It was perfect! I enjoy Dick’s work, and I remembered watching the movie a couple of years ago, so I had a passing familiarity with what I was in for without outright breaking rule #2. Plus, it’s read by Paul Giamatti, which certainly sounded interesting.

The audio file that made its way to my phone shortly thereafter was just over 9 hours long and I tore through it inside of four days. I think it’s fair to say it held my interest. The following weekend I related the above to a friend of mine, and before I could get halfway through my list of rules and regulations he said to me, “There are two books you should pick up: A Scanner Darkly, and World War Z.” As soon as I finished geeking out over the fact that I’d already picked out one of his recommendations on my own, I shared my concerns. I own World War Z, and had read it a couple of times already. Plus, the version online was clearly listed as “abridged”. Two out of three rules were broken right there. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “it’s worth your time. You should give it a listen anyway.”

When I got home and gave it a closer look, my doubts quickly disappeared. The cast list was absolutely mind-blowing. Carl Reiner, Rob Reiner, Mark Hamill, Henry Rollins, Alan Alda, and Max Brooks narrating. It looked more like a radio play than anything, and that seemed more than fitting for the books interview format. I caved. And once again, I ate it up.

Finally, I broke my final rule last week. I’ve been curious about John Dies at the End for a while, as I’d read a lot of its author’s work on Cracked.com (yet another thing to contribute to my lifetime ban from snob city). On top of that, Bryce Wilson, an online friend of mine, and prolific online fiction blogger, had been singing its praises for quite some time. Once again I caved, and once again, I was glued to the story from beginning to end. There was no celebrity reader this time, but I’ll be damned if Stephen R. Thorne’s horrendous Jack Nicholson impression didn’t turn out to be an oddly fitting match for John the charming slacker.

So there you have it. I can’t say I’ve completely shed the mental stigma I’d built up around audiobooks, and I’ll frequently self-consciously refer to the book I’m “readi… well, listening to”, but the ratio of “guilty” to “pleasure” is shrinking with every book. I don’t know that it’ll ever completely replace the allure of words on the page, but it’s nice to know that if nothing else, I have a decent way to take in a book on the way to work.


You can check out Bryce’s blog here. While you’re at it, buy his book! (also available for us nook folks)

22 Feb

And so it ends.

I remember a few years back when 1up changed hands from Ziff Davis to the Hearst Corporation. It was a scene that’s all too familiar in lots of circles, and in games journalism in particular. People were being laid off, the internet was a-buzz with doomsayers, well-wishers and everything in between. In all honesty, I felt nothing. I had spent a lot of time following the careers of a lot of the people involved, listened regularly to a lot of the 1up podcasts, and the 1up blog community had been a big part of my life for a few years. At that point, though, I’d kind of drifted on. I didn’t follow game media much anymore; a lot of what I used to study like a hawk I found crass and dull or overly pretentious and equally dull. What fell in between I had just sort of lost interest in and tuned out. I felt nothing. That made me feel more than a little guilty, given that I’d had such a strong connection with the site not too long before, but there it was.

Yesterday, when word came down that 1up was picked back up by ZD, and that it, and a handful of other long-running sites, would be closing their doors, once again I felt nothing. I still keep up with the site from time to time, and still feel that a lot of their feature articles represent the best of what games journalism has to offer, but the connection still wasn’t there. It was a world I’d stopped caring about for quite some time.

Then I hit twitter.

I might not have noticed it at all if a friend hadn’t dropped my name in a tweet. When I popped online I saw tons of folks eulogizing the site, and revisiting old memories. Some folks I haven’t talked to in ages had started following me, and still others recounted stories I remembered experiencing firsthand, if from a distance. Suddenly it all came flooding back.

I was back in Japan, studying abroad for my junior year in college and feeling like a fish out of water. I had started a blog on 1up, and for a while it provided me with a comfort zone while I acclimated to life in the chilly north of Sapporo. I didn’t shut myself in and spend all my time online or anything — quite the opposite, in fact. Having that lifeline to the States allowed me to come out of my shell and start living life in a new place. I guess knowing I had a place to fall back on made it all less scary.

I started flipping through my old blog posts, their images long gone, since I had them stored on my now defunct college account. I remembered cheering for Jenn Frank in her mission to go to E3 (she had a nose for news). I remembered a bunch of my dumb friends and I all changing our avatars and online identities to a nebbishy looking accountant type they dubbed “Link Goldstein” — what we thought we were accomplishing, I still don’t know. I remembered the elation I felt at seeing my face on 1up’s frontpage, “blog of the day” written above a picture of me eating my dead iPod’s power cable. I remembered sneaking into Hokkaido University’s engineering faculty building late at night to mooch internet and talk to friends on skype. I remembered spending way to much on phone cards to talk with a girl I’d met through our blogs, a girl I’d go on to marry, then divorce, but a girl who remains one of my closest friends. I remembered joining up with my 1up clique to re-launch a friend’s website, and I remembered all the terrible game reviews I’d written for it.

There were a lot of memories there, is what I’m saying. That just scratches the surface. More importantly, I finally felt something. The weight of all those memories came crashing down on me and all at once it finally dawned on me how much I was going to miss it. How much I already did miss it. It was comforting, in a way. Even though it made me sad, I was glad, if surprised, to learn I wasn’t the hollowed out husk my initial non-reaction led me to suspect. I just needed a friendly reminder from those that meant something to me. Then the introspection started.

As I read through my old blog posts, I came across “the” one. It was the one that got me noticed by the newly budding community, and which I can probably thank for all that fond reminiscing. I don’t think I stopped cringing the whole time I was reading. It’s short, and not very good to be sure. It’s full of the same kind of context-free hyperlinks to other sites that I’ve grown to hate so much, and it was essentially a grossly superficial look at Japan’s relationship with western religion. Why, I thought to myself, was THIS the thing that got me noticed? Who could have read this and thought, “hey, there’s a guy I’ve got to talk to”? The answer came before long, and I actually smacked my forehead when I realized just how simple it was.

I cared.

When I was younger, I decided I wanted to be involved in the video game industry in some shape or form. At first, I wanted to be a programmer, but quit when it was too hard. Then, I wanted to be a translator or localizer, but quit when I never had the patience to see a project through. Finally, I decided I wanted to be a journalist. It made sense. The whole reason I came to 1up in the first place was because I used to follow Jeremy Parish’s blog religiously in my senior year of high school. When he came aboard the newly christened 1up ship, so did I. I’d started following a lot of other writers since then. Chris Kohler, Nich Maragos, Ray Barnholt, Phil Kollar… the list goes on and on. When I was younger, I idolized them. As I grew older, I like to think I appreciated them. All throughout, I wanted to be like them.

In that little time bubble, where I was sitting in a tiny dorm room writing blog posts on 1up, knowing that there were a handful of people who actually seemed interested in what I had to say was euphoric. There couldn’t have been more than a dozen people who actually read anything I wrote, and I came to know most of them, but in my 20-year-old brain, I was the next internet rockstar. It’s more than a little embarrassing when I think about it now. As I continued to look through my posts, they became fewer and farther between, and I seemed to have less and less to say. Half of them looked like a hackneyed version of some of the stuff that I’d read in Nintendo Power or EGM in my youth (both of which had plenty of hackney to go around at the time). I’d spend altogether too much time coming up with what I thought were witty titles for what amounted to “here’s what I’m playing right now” bits of fluff. I remember being dismayed when I no longer seemed to have the “it” I though I’d stumbled upon. Heck, I remember being beyond jealous when most of my little clique were tapped to contribute to a volume of Pocket Games, and I hadn’t. I didn’t understand why they were so special and I wasn’t. It’s clear as day as I retrace my steps, though. I didn’t care anymore.

Oh, I cared about people seeing what I wrote, and I sure as hell loved (and if I’m being honest, continue to love) the sound of my own voice, whether it’s spoken or written. I just didn’t care about any of the things I was writing about, and it showed. As I continued to read, I realized that what drew me to all those writers I was trying to imitate wasn’t the first look at Atlus’s new game, the tale of Miyamoto turning Radar Scope into Donkey Kong or historical sitings of Lucky Dan throughout the world. It was that each and every one of those writers were passionate about their hobby, and it came across in their writing.

When I was writing about the Genpei Wars and crucifixions in Nagasaki, the delivery may have been beyond clumsy, but I was writing about something I was genuinely interested in and that, I now realize, is what caught peoples’ interest. A lot of the time I spent trying to think up gimmicky angles for a game review, or desperately searching for some retro niche to claim for myself and become “the” authority on, it never once occurred to me that it was so grueling because I wasn’t looking for something that I cared about, I was looking for something to make others care about what I had to say. Talk about putting the cart before the horse!

I came to the conclusion a while back that for me my hobby is just that: a hobby. While I might enjoy reading about Atari’s corporate espionage at the patent office or the front companies used to circumvent Nintendo’s anti-crash publication restrictions, at the end of the day I’m more interested in reading about them than I am in researching them. I knew I liked writing, and tried to force myself into the mold of the people I looked up to rather than spend any time really thinking about what mattered to me personally. Hell, I’m still trying to figure that out, and have left a trail of half-maintained blogs in my wake while I sort it all out.

When I step back and look at all the thoughts that have gone through my head in the past 24 hours, it’s kind of amazing. Being able to reminisce about my time gallivanting about 1up’s playground was one thing, but I couldn’t have guessed that there was still a thing or two hiding in the cracks for me to learn about myself. It really was a hell of a time. Here’s to ya, 1up, and here’s to all the folks that spent the better part of a decade living their dream. You really did create a magical place.

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