Undone

I’m standing in the courtyard just off to the side of the mansion.

I call it a courtyard, but it hasn’t been one for a long time. Flowers haven’t grown here in a long time, filled up with nothing but weeds and dirt now. Dirt that can’t even grow grass properly, dirt that blows away like sand.

So many things that got undone. At one point, this place was probably the prettiest damned place I knew. Undone. What a shame.

Now only those dry brown weeds grow here, driving out all the other plants. It’s driving me nuts, seeing nothing but grey, grey, grass, grass all over. Sun’s too bright for something like this.

Compared to the lavish mansion just beyond it, this courtyard really seems like a joke. It’s so pathetic, I wanna laugh.

But hey, I’ve no idea why the hell I’m here. Everything’s already happened, you see…

~

I’m sitting at a coffee shop that likes to pretend it’s a bar, trying to clear my mind.

I’ve got this crazy smile on my face, the kind that my sister always said made me look like a daredevil. It’s not that the coffee is good, or anything. I’m just trying to focus on the good things in life.

At this rate, my face is gonna freeze like this, and I’ll be stuck with a cocky grin the rest of my life. Better than being stuck with a grumpy expression, I guess?

It’s three in the morning. I’ve no idea why in the world I’m here, when I really should be back home sleeping in that lovely master bedroom I now own. My new room’s really gorgeous, my father had bought all kinds of expensive furniture and majestic paintings to line the walls, but that’s why I can’t stand it. That room’s way too fancy for a guy like me, though it is quite nice.

Was this what I wished for? That strength I wanted so, so bad, was it just for the sake of sleeping in that giant room?

Ha. If that were the case, what the hell am I doing here, at this dinky little coffee shop at this ungodly hour? I’m surprised the place is still open, even. It’s not a high-class place, just a few tables and a low, home-y feel, and the coffee ain’t even that great, yet here I am.

I order my fifth coffee. But just as I do so, the last of the patrons leave, and I’m now the only one here. What horrible timing. Guess this’ll be my last one.

The mansion seems so awfully quiet now. Which means I got the whole place to myself. I mean, it’s exactly what I wanted, all this time, but still…

Coffee’s more bitter than usual. And the sun’s gonna come up soon. I’ll just grab some rest, then see what I can do to spruce my place up. Starting with that old courtyard, it really needs some new flowers.

~

It’s my birthday. I don’t remember exactly how old I am, not that it matters. There isn’t really anything to celebrate about growing older and getting closer to dying, anyway.

Ambrea visited today. My older sister of three years, a graceful, endlessly sorrowful woman, a woman that at one point, I’d admired deeply. Came to wish for my happiness.

It was a heavy wish. We talked for a little bit. It didn’t end particularly well, and I don’t think I’ll see her again.

I don’t know if I can see her again.

…I need a drink. I’ve been pacing around this empty mansion for too long, and it’s already nighttime. But alcohol’s no good, ‘cause then I’ll get sleepy, and I don’t want to sleep just yet.

Hmm, if I remember correctly, there’s this coffee shop in town that likes to pretend it’s a bar, and so opens even in the middle of the night like this . Maybe I can pay that place a visit.

~

Here I am, standing silently in the mansion’s office. My father – Romin Partrakilas – he always sat here, in this way-too-fancy office chair. While he worked, he was like a crime lord. Always had this nasty web of ‘connections’, always going on meetings with his ‘brothers’, with some shady agenda up his sleeve.

Actually, that’s just me being bitter. He wasn’t like a crime lord, he was a crime lord.

I never really knew what he was up to, but I’d had suspicions even when I was younger. But right now, with me staring at that empty chair, I couldn’t help but find it rather pathetic. What was he the lord of, in the end? Lord of uninteresting paperwork, maybe. They’re still here, scattered upon his desk. No, not his desk anymore. My desk.

It’s still a bit too empty here for my liking, and a little too dark, so I open a window to let in some sunlight. Only now, do I see just how much has changed, how much has come undone. And I really quickly realize that now, I’m the only one here to clean it up.

I remember the mansion being so huge, and the grounds it being a vast forest. But from this third-story window, I can see the grass, which hasn’t been clipped or watered for far too long. I can see what remains of this forest, a thin strip of trees separating the land belonging to the Patrakilas from freshly paved streets.

A part of me wishes that I’d held on to some of the servants. Romin would always be flanked by personal assistants, and we had butlers and maids wait at our beck and call.

But that would be a disservice to a promise I made. My goal was to gain power, yes, but those people had been trapped within the mansion perhaps for their whole lives. I had no right to keep them here.

I walk over to the desk, and read the various papers scattered upon it.

They’re nothing but words. Words, telling me exactly what it is that I own, exactly who it is that I own. There’s so much power in these mere words that I don’t know what to do with it.

At once, the face of someone I thought I’d forgotten flits into my brain.

Shut up. Don’t tell me what to do. You were banished from the family for a reason.

But, my birthday’s in less than a month, and I remember that when I lived at the old apartment, she always tried her best to visit so we could celebrate. When Romin was around, he’d always turn her back at the door, so I didn’t see her while I lived at the mansion. But he’s not here, either.

Part of me hopes that she’ll be intelligent, and know that she’s not welcome here.

Part of me hopes that she’ll come anyway.

~

I’m standing, again, at the office, but it’s a bit more lively this time. It’s too early in the morning for me to be awake, yet here I am, fully dressed in one of my nicer outfits, standing in front of my father’s desk.

He’s not sitting in that chair like I always see him doing so, but rather pacing around the back of the room. He called me here for a meeting or another, but it seems like we’re the only ones here.

“I hope your studies have been going well,” he says, in a voice far quieter than I’ve ever heard come out of him.

I tell him as much. Quite frankly, I haven’t been paying attention to all that he’s tried to teach me. He’s cramming management skills into my head, to get me ready for running the ‘family business’ or whatever, even though I wasn’t aware that we had a family business until recently.

Then again, he must’ve been able to afford this mansion somehow. So it’s only natural that we have a business of some sort.

Yeah, my studies are going okay. I just wish it wasn’t so much work.

When I say that, Romin begins to laugh. It’s a raspier laugh than I remembered.

“Yes, I suppose you are right. It is a lot of work. So much work, an old man like me can’t keep up with it.”

That’s why I wish for you to join me, he says. Always so much to be done, so many things to keep track of. In business, in school, even in maintaining the house.

My father walks slowly to the edge of the room, and pulls back the curtain on the only window. The room lightens considerably, but still seems so dark somehow. The sky is covered entirely in grey clouds.

Romin frowns. “Seems like it’s going to rain, and quite heavily, I’m afraid. Saran, do you mind calling the gardener to tell him to come another time? We wouldn’t want the rain to damage our lawnmower, do we?”

How annoying. He just gives me menial tasks like this. But he did promise me that I’ll be able to take control someday, when I’m older, so I’ll bear with this.

He’s still standing at the windowsill, frowning. A little curious, I ask what’s on his mind.

“Hmm, nothing important,” is his reply. “It’s simply, time has a way of sneaking up on you. I swear, I just had the lawns mowed and the flowers watered, and the courtyard is already overgrown with weeds. It seems like such a waste, for us to have to keep a gardener on hand just for this purpose, don’t you think?”

I shrug.

~

“The situation is simply like this,” my father says, holding a packet of papers. I have no idea what’s written on them, yet he takes them as if they were sacred treasures. “As I have informed you in my letter, the family business has been growing much faster than it has before. Great news for the family, as I’m sure you’re aware, but it’s quite a bit of stress for an old man like me.”

It appears that trustworthy people in the Partrakilas family are hard to come by, at least that’s what Romin tells me.

“I want to leave the company in good hands when I retire, you see,” he says .“Thus, I thought it was about time that you learned how to manage it. After all, you will be an adult in less than a year, Saran.”

Wait. What about Ambrea? I mean, I’m not even his oldest child.

“Regretfully, it appears she has no interest in business whatsoever. She will not be coming back to the mansion.” Romin frowns, but not out of sadness. “But perhaps, you are different. Are you interested?”

He leaves me with that offer.

If I nod, what does that mean?

I will be living in the mansion. My true birthright. Boarding school was luxurious enough, but that is absolutely nothing compared to the size and grandeur of this place.

I will be leaving behind my friends. ‘They can always visit, Saran’ my old man told me, but the Partrakilas mansion is a far walk from the city. I don’t know if I will have the time to see them.

I will inherit the Partrakilas family business. I don’t quite know what it is, as I didn’t really read the letter that well, and I definitely didn’t pay attention to any business classes in school, but I know there’s lots of responsibility involved.

But it is a chance for me to obtain the power I promised I would —

“Agreed,” I say.

We shake hands, not as father and child, but as business partners.

~

I haven’t stepped foot within this place for, what, six years now? Yet the mansion is just as big as I remember it being.

My room, even though I know now that it’s just a mere guest room, is far bigger and better than the one I have at the boarding school. It’s a room that could easily sleep five people, all to myself, and I even have a queen-sized bed. Is it the same kind of room I had as a child?

Actually, it’s entirely overwhelming, so I just stand there for a while in shock.

“Master Saran,” the maid says. “Is this room not to your liking?”

No, that’s not it at all. I like it quite a bit. It’s just…I guess I’m not used to it anymore.

“Understood. Master Romin would like to meet with you in thirty minutes time. Would you like me to bring you anything?”

I send the maid off, and go on a walk. I’m not a kid anymore, so I shouldn’t get lost that easily.

Somehow, my feet take me to that courtyard. Part of me hopes that it’ll still be there, full of flowers like it was when I was a kid. But that part of me quickly vanishes.

It’s still there. A simple little grass courtyard, paved with stones around in a circle. There used to be so many flowers of all colors peeking out of the stone, growing in the center of the courtyard.

There still are flowers growing there. But only a few, and they seem so miserably sad all by themselves. It’s the end of the spring, so the few that are there are almost withered away.

It really is kind of sad, when you think about it. They really are pretty, those flowers. She always spent so much time tending these flowers, yet they only last a few days. A few weeks, if you’re lucky.

One of these days, once I’ve become stronger, I’ll make something as beautiful as these flowers, something that lasts forever. I think that’s a happier ending than having to watch those flowers wilt all the time.

But first things first. I have a meeting with my cranky old man to deal with first.

~

I’m taking a walk in the middle of the night.

I’m going away to boarding school for the next few years, so I couldn’t sleep. The gate’s locked by now, but I’ve snuck out so many times, that I get out without making a sound.

There’s a full moon tonight, so I use the moonlight to find a tiny little path shooting out of the side of the mansion, and follow it all the way to the courtyard.

Under this pale moonlight, the flowers seem especially beautiful. My sister is there, at the center of the courtyard, just sitting there.

I didn’t expect her to be the type to break curfew, but company is always welcome.

“Hey Saran,” she says. “Can’t sleep?”

I nod, and sit down besides her. You can’t see the colors right now, but she planted them so all the flowers of the same color would be next to each other. In the daytime, they almost make a rainbow. Except there aren’t any green flowers, and we couldn’t get good blue ones.

“Hey, Saran. What do you want to do with your future?”

What a sudden question. It probably wasn’t actually that sudden of a question, but I don’t remember what we talked about before then.

Like most kids, I give a pretty vague answer. Something about changing the world. Although, it isn’t that I’m lying. I tell her, that I hope to become a stronger person, that I hope to gain the power to be able to help people with their lives.

What about you? I ask.

She doesn’t respond for some time. I can’t really see her expression in the moonlight, but she seems sad, somehow.

“I spoke to Father just the other day,” she says. “He said that I’d eventually own the Partrakilas fortune if I helped him with something.”

Isn’t that great news? You won’t have to ever worry about money, right?

But Ambrea’s mouth is still twisted in that sorrowful frown, so I find myself unable to say much of anything.

“Hey, Saran. Can you make me a promise?”

Sure, if I can keep it. I want to help people, and Ambrea is a person that I care about, so I want to help her, to. When she hears my response, she smiles for the first time tonight.

“Thank you,” she says.

Promise me, she says. Promise me that you’ll be a good person, that you’ll stop to think about all the people who are impacted by your actions. Promise me that you’ll work to improve the lives of even those people that everyone else ignores.

“I promise,” I say.

I take that promise far too much to heart.

~

I’m standing in the courtyard just off to the side of the mansion, thinking about times gone by.

Undone. The whole mansion is like that now, the whole business is like that now. Just…undone. What a shame.

“I was wrong, back then,” she said. “I didn’t expect you to take that simple promise so literally. So please…please learn to forgive yourself, Saran.”

She always treated me like a child. But I’m not a child anymore, you know. My birthday was just the other day, and I’m not even a teenager anymore.

I curse her, my sister who wished only to help people. I curse him, my father that had left me a legacy he wished could last forever.

All of those wishes. Undone.

Where does that leave me?

Well, first things first. The midday sun is beating down so brightly, and this courtyard looks so pathetic.

I don’t have a gardener anymore, so I guess I’m doing this by hand. How’d it go again? Ambrea taught me once, but I’ve long forgotten.

Later, once I’ve gotten some sleep, I’ll go and get some more seeds. But first, I tear out all those weeds, and begin to break up the cracked, crumbly dirt.

Ring

I typically do not wear jewelry, as I never understood the appeal of wrapping your arms or neck or ears with various metal or plastic baubles. Once or twice in the past, I might’ve tried out a necklace or bracelet or two, but inevitably, I’d find them bothersome, and leave them behind.

I think part of my dislike of jewelry comes from a love-hate relationship with jewelry stores. I admire the artistic quality of jewelry a lot, quite a lot, and if I get the chance, I can gaze upon jewelry displays for hours. (I have not timed myself.) Yet, once I step foot inside one, I always feel like an intruder in an extremely organized space.

I say all that, yet you will occasionally (actually, probably more than occasionally) find me wearing this particular ring on my right middle finger. This ring is the only jewelry I own, and it isn’t even particularly impressive. It sits heavily and awkwardly upon my hand, yet I still find myself slipping it onto my finger when I wake up in the morning.

I wear it not out of habit; I got it only months ago. I wish I could tell you that it meant something special, that I’d examined it (and other rings) carefully before deciding to buy it, but there really isn’t anything special about it. It’s a cheap little thing, a simple, dark metal band I found in some thrift shop for $10 while on vacation.

I bought it in the summer, when it really was far too hot and humid outside. My sister, who loved shopping, was flitting from little store to little store, and I was more or less just dragged along. They were little market stalls, colorful and very crowded. Perhaps my brain had completely clouded over from the heat, the noise, the people, but I saw that there was a box of rings on display.

A black ring upon the right middle finger. In some circles, that means something. A symbol for a particular kind of identity, I suppose. On a whim, I decided that I should get a ring for that purpose.

A few days later, I met one of my close friends from high school. Actually, ‘met’ probably isn’t the right term, as we lived in different states by now, and only saw each other through video chat. But, as one of my habits was to bring my right hand up to my face when thinking, she managed to catch sight of the ring.

She is one of the people who knew what the ring meant. “Why didn’t you get one for me?” she asked, in a tone I was certain was not entirely serious.

A little too seriously, I said, “I don’t know your ring size.”

I still don’t. To be honest, I don’t even know my own ring size.

If I had, I probably would’ve gotten her one.

Encounter with a Goddess

It was time for the bar to close, so I set to work on my daily routine.

It was really a much-needed peace to calm my heavy heart, so I started working without any comments. The barkeeper noticed, and made some snarky remarks about how quiet I was, but for the most part, we worked in silence.

And just like that, we were done, about ten minutes faster than usual. Somehow, that made me a little sad.

“Something on your mind, Tarik? Why are you just standing there?” the barkeeper asked me.
“I…”
“You know you’re done, right? You should probably go home and get some rest.”

With a wave of her hand, the lights to the bar dimmed. It really was quite dark in here, and if I tried, I could see the stars outside the window.

“…I should,” I finally said.
“You don’t want to?” the barkeeper said.
“No. Not really.” I smiled bitterly. “I just want to stare at the stars a little longer, that’s all.”
“Something is definitely on your mind.”

She turned the lights back on, but only halfway. Then, setting down her bags, she pulled out a chair.

“Well, I guess I might as well stay a bit longer too. Here, have a drink. On me. Uh, no alcohol in this one, sorry.”

She poured me a glass of apple juice.
I drank, and we sat in silence for a bit, watching the stars.

“Thanks,” I said. “Every time I have any kind of an issue, you always seem to know, and help me out. So, thank you. And sorry for wasting your time.”
“Wasting my time?” she laughed lightly. “It’s not a waste of time at all. I’m glad I’m able to help…it’s what I’m here for, isn’t it?”
“A bar usually isn’t the first place people look for therapy,” I said.
“I suppose not. But this is peaceful in its own way. The bar is a place for people to gather, and a place for stories to be shared. That kind of simple joy is the best, I think.”
“Yeah. I get what you mean.”

She didn’t respond to that, but there wasn’t a need to. I hadn’t had that many conversations with the barkeeper before, but for some reason, I trusted her. She could not be older than 20, definitely younger than me, yet I couldn’t help but admire her a bit. It took a certain kind of skill to run a bar at this age.

And somehow, she seemed awfully familiar, yet almost entirely alien…

“You know, Tarik,” she spoke all of a sudden. “You always looked like you were very sad, in some way. It was kind of funny like that…you were always the most optimistic, idealistic person, but there was always this sadness to you. I noticed it the day I met you, but I didn’t know what to say.”
I didn’t know what to say either, so I just kept quiet.
“I guess that I just noticed that the sadness was a bit greater today…sorry if I’m being insensitive.” she said.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s just…been a hard few days. Thanks for being here.”
“I know I shouldn’t be here right now, but I kind of want to just sit here for a while longer. You mind, Phyrum?”
“Hmm…I don’t like the word ‘should’. Just because something ‘should’ happen doesn’t mean it actually happens, and what you think ‘should’ happen is different from what I think ‘should’ happen, and different from everyone else’s definition of ‘should’. As for what I think, well, I don’t think you shouldn’t be here right now, so feel free to stick around.”

There was a long quiet, before I sighed softly.

“I just…don’t really know what to do,” I admitted. “The last mission caused nearly half my troop to get killed, and I’ve just been really depressed about it. Everyone else is already back to normal, joking about the next mission, and here I am, scared to death about the fact that I might not make it out alive.”

The barkeeper played with the glass a bit, her metallic fingers reflecting what little moonlight came in through the window.

“I think most people would be. People aren’t always as fearless as they’d like to imagine themselves being…and people are more affected by tragedies than they’d like to believe, too. I think that’s where part of your sadness comes from, Tarik. You’re the kind of person to want to care about everyone, and so when they are hurt, when they die, you accept their anguish. It’s kind of painful to be like that, because you want to help everyone, and everyone dies in the end…yet you never stopped,” Suddenly, she smiled. “Ah, what am I saying? I suppose I see a bit of myself in you, that’s all.”
“What do you mean by that? Have you seen death too, even at your age?”

At that, Phyrum began laughing, laughing for a long time without end. It was a gentle, light laugh, though, one that was oddly relieving. It made me want to laugh as well.

“At my age? Tell me, Tarik…how old do you think I am?”

Uuuh, isn’t that a dangerous question?

“I’m thinking somewhere between 16-20. You’re definitely younger than me, at any rate.”

She just kept laughing for some time.

“…what’s so funny?”
“No, nothing. I probably should be flattered, actually. But you know, I’m a lot older than I look.”

She rolled up her sleeves, and revealed her metallic arms. I wasn’t surprised to see them – I’d always known they were there – but they really were incredibly sophisticated machines. At times, I even forgot that she had lost her arms, the robotic ones moved so realistically.

But this time, something was slightly different. Her hands glowed with a dull pink light, and somehow, I could feel the force emanating from those palms. It was such a soft light…

“A long time ago, and I mean a very long time ago, way before you or anyone else in this world even existed, I lost my body and my life trying to save the people I cared about. But I was saved by a miracle, and a friend built this robotic body so that I could continue to live.”

She rolled up her sleeve all the way up to her shoulder, and I could see that even the joints and the part of her exposed torso was also metallic. In fact, underneath the shirt she was wearing, her body seemed to be glowing with that same soft light.

“So…you aren’t human…”
“Does it matter if I am or not? All I will say is this: In the time I’ve been alive, I’ve seen a great deal about the world, Tarik. A robotic body like the one I have does not die, and I’m sure you understand that…so I have been living for a very long time as well. I’ve seen so many people die – because I inevitably will outlive them – and I’ve seen entire civilizations rise and fall on these very lands.
“As an immortal being, seeing people grow up and live is at once very happy, and very sad…because at any point in time, I’m always reminded of the fact that they grow up, grow old, and are inevitably getting closer and closer to death.
“But at the same time, life cannot be meaningless. Because although I’ve witnessed the beginning and ending of so many lives, every single one has been incredibly unique, and incredibly beautiful. I see humans, and witness their joys and hopes, and I accept their sadness and frustrations…throughout the many, many years, I have gained countless experiences, made countless friends, and witnessed countless tragedies. Yet, even if I could change the past, I would not wish to negate all the tragedies I’ve seen…sadness is, in a way, also a powerful aspect of human existence, and I don’t want to deny people the paths they have traveled to get to where they are now.”
“That kind of life difficult enough, and here I am speaking from the perspective of an immortal being. For you to try to take in all the good and evil of the world around you, I think you know as well as I do how much pain that will cause you. To care about everyone is far too much strain for the human mind, yet you choose to keep this path and keep that morality in the face of the death. I must admire you for that.”

I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I just nodded.

“The reason why I’m telling you this now, Tarik, is because you stand now at the edge of a crossroads, much like I did when I was younger. You’ve seen the ways your path could lead you, and the limits of both kindness and evil. And, though you are fortunately not immortal, you will see your fair share of tragedies and sorrows as well. I had someone who listened to me and helped me out when I was where you are, so I think I should at least pay it forward a little bit.”
“What in the world do you mean…?”
“You, as with everyone else in the world, exist in contradiction against yourself. You wish to save the world, as fitting of your job as public defender, yet you also wish to protect yourself and the few people close to you, as the human being named Tarik Kono. And, especially with this next mission, those two desires may become mutually exclusive.”

Her eyes grew sharp, and I felt a slight chill running down my back.

“I suppose you could be unlucky in a way. Most people don’t have to choose between those two desires in their lifetimes. But somehow, I think you will. And some day, if you have to decide between the world and yourself, could you make a choice?”

I thought about it for a moment, but Phyrum immediately waved it off.

“You don’t have to think about it right now. I’m getting waaay too ahead of myself, anyway. I guess, the only thing I really wanted to say before I got carried away, is this: no matter what you choose, it will be true to yourself. That goes for everything in life. No matter what you choose, at that moment, it is correct for you, so you shouldn’t blame yourself if the result isn’t the best option.”
“…”
“That’s all I have to say. Sorry for offloading that onto you all of a sudden.”
“It’s okay. It’s just a lot to think about. How old are you, really?”

Another laugh.

“I’ve lost count by now. Older than you could imagine.”
“I…see. Sorry for being rude earlier, then.”
“Hey, don’t worry about it. I do look to be about twenty, so you weren’t exactly off the mark or anything. And seriously, after all that, THAT’S what your first concern is?”

She said that so outrageously I couldn’t help but laugh too.
It was still dark, but Phyrum’s arms were glowing that soft pink…it really was kind of soothing.

“The mission starts tomorrow, doesn’t it?” she said. “I know that you might not remember this conversation after that…but try to get some rest. Don’t worry too much about the moral dilemmas that face you, because in this situation, no human being can be perfect. Good luck, Tarik Kono.”
“Thanks.”

It seemed a good time as any, so I stood up, and waved goodbye to that weird barkeeper, before stepping out into the starry night.

Hey, remember that story I sent you last year? Have you read it yet?

I wasn’t sure what to title this half-rant, so I just threw up a question that I’ve had to ask probably a little too often.

~

Just the other day, a friend of mine decided to create a blog, and post a link to it on Facebook. Within a few hours, a bunch of people liked it, and commented on it, praising her writing and how personal it was.

She is an amazing writer, and I really just ought to be happy for her. Still, I can’t help but be just a little bit jealous. Okay, maybe really jealous. Not really for the attention – if I had wanted attention that badly, I probably would’ve decided to forgo anonymity and push this thing to all the social networks I wanted – but rather, for the simple fact that her friends had taken the time to read and comment (even critique) her work.

I’ve…not really had that kind of success. With my friends, at least.

I’m always touched when total strangers happen upon my writing here, and take the time to read through my pieces. I don’t usually know when that happens, courtesy of WordPress’s odd analytics (that I don’t check anyway), but every so often, I’m notified that someone has liked or commented on a piece – and it’s always gratifying to know that at some point, my work resonates with someone else. (I’d probably reach out to some of those people, except I’m still ridiculously internet shy. I’ll eventually get there.)

But most of the time, when I send a piece of writing to my friends, it gets ignored. I know they are busy people, but at the same time, I usually send my writing to them because they told me they wanted to read it, or they offered to comment on it.

I’ve had, on more than one occasion, had to pester people for months before they finally decided to take a look at the story I sent them.

If I had just sent a random story to a friend, a ‘hey here’s something I wrote check it out if you have the time?’ kind of deal, then I probably wouldn’t be bothered so much. However, most of the time, my friends had decided to tell me that they wished to read / comment upon my writing, before neglecting it for weeks or months at a time. I understand that they have no real obligation to read anything, but I can’t help but get a little angry.

It feels like a respect issue to me, more than anything else. Sure, every writer knows how disheartening it is to receive heavy criticism for their work, but perhaps work that is forgotten or ignored is even more disheartening.

Especially so in my case, because I usually don’t write for the sake of selling books. I write for myself (in the case of this blog), I write for my friends (in the form of hopefully-entertaining stories). But what’s the point of writing stories for my friends if they don’t even read them? …sometimes, that thought goes through my head. Or other, similarly ugly thoughts.

And then I dump all of my thoughts, ugly or not, here. Where, unless they tried really hard, or stumbled upon it by accident, my friends can’t even read those thoughts.

Of course, it doesn’t happen all the time. Some of my friends read everything I send them, and give me inspiration to keep going. Maybe that’s why I’m still writing. And it’s possible that I’m blowing a tiny issue out of proportion. No, it’s almost certain that I’m doing that. It’s just the misfortune that the people who tend to forget about the stories I send them are the people I consider my closest friends.

I’ve been told that doing business with friends is difficult, because you take each other for granted, because you will not respect each other professionally as much as if you were just acquaintances. Maybe this is a similar effect. I’m not going to stop being friends with any of these people because they don’t read my stories. I’ll just get a little annoyed about it, that’s all.

So…perhaps that is why I am jealous. The person who posted her blog to Facebook was able to so easily get feedback from the people she cared about, while that has been so difficult for me.

I’m not good at taking compliments

I get complimented sometimes. I don’t know if it’s a lot, or a little, but every now and then, someone I know (or someone I don’t know) will say something nice about me.

I never know how to respond to compliments. Usually, I just resort to a quiet ‘Thanks’ and a quick nod, before overanalyzing everything about the compliment that could possibly be overanalyzed.

All things considered, I have had a relatively successful life thus far: I’ve published some thoughts, I’ve created some websites and some games, I’ve done well at a pretty good college. If people compliment the work that I’ve done, that’s easy to deal with. I’m very proud of the work I have accomplished in the past few years, and I feel like I have to be proud of the effort I put in, so it’s sort of ego-boosting to hear that others like that work. Whenever someone compliments me on something I’ve done, I’m always genuinely happy to hear that, and I’ve been told that that happiness is obvious on my face.

But when it comes to compliments about me, I completely, ridiculously, fall apart.

Almost out of habit, I brush off compliments about my appearance, as I usually don’t care about it. (Clothes shopping for me is practically just buying five sets of the same shirt / pants and alternating them, so I don’t have to pay attention to what I’m wearing). Since I don’t put any importance into my everyday appearance, I almost feel a little guilty if people really think I look good. Instinctively, I don’t wish to be rewarded for things I put absolutely no effort into.

The same goes for when people around me admire my personality. (I don’t know how to word this without sounding vain, but I have gotten compliments on the way I act around people.) I cannot easily change my personality no matter how much I try, and my actions are always the ones that come most naturally to me, so I don’t feel there is any reason to be proud of the kind of person I am.

This is somewhat of an obvious statement, but people compliment others on qualities that they find 1) desirable, and 2) nontrivial to obtain. (e.g. most people don’t compliment each other on being able to walk well, as most people are capable of walking. Also, nobody compliments a native-English speaker on their English speaking, but may compliment a non-native speaker for their fluency).

However, a lot of the qualities I’ve been complimented on are qualities that were either easy for me to obtain, or qualities that I couldn’t easily change about myself…or even qualities about myself that I wished I could change. I know I’m just thinking waaay too hard about this, but a part of me always wants to explain to the poor person who complimented me that I’m not as confident or admirable or hard-working in those aspects as they think, that I really did just throw together this outfit in less than two seconds and it just happened to look decent.

I’m not sure why I am that way. I’m not sure why I can’t deal with nice words…perhaps it’s the subtle pressure they put on me. Every time I get complimented, or admired, I feel like I have to live up to another person’s ideal of me. For just a moment, my ego takes over, and I feel like I have to be the perfect person, so that I can be worthy of those compliments.

And then the moment passes, and I realize that while someone has been saying something nice about me, I’ve been standing there spaced out like a fish.

Goodbye, Summer

In regards to the internet, I practically disappeared for a month and a half. Not just here, but practically everywhere: fora, social media, everything.

I stopped making, too. Okay, I still wrote or programmed if I felt like it, a little bit here and there, but I didn’t start any serious projects, nor did I make any promises about releasing, well, anything.

I was done with all of my summer work, and I still had all of August ahead of me, I just let everything go, and

relaxed.

 

…it wasn’t exactly something I wanted to do at first. I’d always lived by my work and by self improvement, so how could doing absolutely nothing contribute to my life? And it was a slow and somewhat painful process, too: the first few days, even after I stopped making, I kept checking. Anxiously checking to see what other people were doing, how they were being productive when I was not.

Somewhere along the line, I stopped caring. When boredom hit, I started doing other things. I learned how to ride a bike, finally. Admittedly, I’m terrible at it, but at least I could now. I read more, helped out some more around the house, hung out with friends, went to conventions and events without worrying about myself, and just, in general, had a lot of fun.

I also went outside for extended periods of time, something I hadn’t done for years, probably. I learned that summer weather was really nice, especially during a light rain.

It wasn’t easy to see before, but school and work had been wearing me out over the past few months, and my productivity had dropped off. It wasn’t exactly made better by the fact that I had my own side projects, but as I stepped back, I realized that I was pushing myself to the point of insanity.

I needed to learn how to relax. Like everything else I do, I decided to learn by throwing myself entirely into it. But with relaxing, that’s sort of a paradox. I learned that you don’t really relax by trying really hard to relax.

I started practicing Aikido. That martial art is all about relaxation. My muscles started out more tense than springs. They still are pretty tense, but it’s gotten a lot better.

After a month of what I thought was ‘doing nothing’, I ended up doing a lot of things I wouldn’t have otherwise. And now here I am, back and writing again…and it seems to all flow much more naturally than it did when I was so wound up.

I’ve learned that I probably should relax more often. Like on weekends, for example. So that I don’t have to dedicate an entire month to doing so. But if I do have a month of free time, I might try this again.

Sometimes, it can be a good idea to, if you have the time, to just let everything go, and relax for an extended block of time. After this summer, I’m a lot less tense than I used to be, and I’m starting to feel more creative again.

Of course, unlike what I did, it might be a good idea to let other people know first.

 

Reading, Writing, and Fonts

Typography is a very important, and often underappreciated craft. The little details such as the spacing between lines and letters in the text, the thickness (or weight) of the lines in the letters, and of course, the font used…they all contribute to how we read and write, and alter how a piece is presented.

I’m not going to talk about things like line spacing or kerning here…although I probably could write a whole blog post about it. I’m just going to focus on fonts in this one.

First off, I really love fonts. There are 26 letters in the English alphabet, and an infinite amount of ways to depict those letters so that they present a different tone or mood. Pieces written in Times New Roman always remind me of school, and have a rather serious tone about them. Helvetica, one of the most popular (if not THE most popular) sans-serif fonts, is often seen on business websites and pieces that look for a clean, ‘modern’ view.

Every font has its purpose, and those fonts also impact how we view the words we read. We also classify fonts based on their appearance, and the tones they evoke. If you were to picture a scroll from the middle ages, the way the letters look would seem far different from how you’d envision the text on a sci-fi computer panel to appear.

Likewise, if a font is used in a way that clashes with its appearance, the end result can look faintly ridiculous. I think the most controversial / talked about of these is Comic Sans, a fun, comic font that’s used far too often in handouts or writings that are meant to be serious. A few examples.

As an aside, some of the more flamboyant fonts shouldn’t be used to write paragraphs of text. It’s a pet peeve of mine to see fonts that would be perfectly good for big, bold headers be used for body copy, when readability and legibility have to trump style. Please don’t ever write essays in Impact.

Actually, while we’re on the subject of writing, I find that the font I choose to write in also determines the content and tone of what I end up throwing onto the page (okay, the screen, if you want to get technical). If I crack up Word, the default font is Calibri. I don’t like Calibri, but that’s also a discussion for another time. I can never get anything done writing in Calibri.

I’ve associated Helvetica with blog posting. The font used in the WordPress post editor (at least, for this theme) is Helvetica Neue. I have no idea how to change it, and it’s kind of stuck in my mind that way. Whenever I write in Helvetica, it usually devolves into rambling or some kind of philosophical analysis…because that’s usually what I blog about.

Likewise, I have different fonts that I use whenever I write different things, such as stories, essays, emails, etc. And if I ever get REALLY stuck on writing something, one of my strategies is to switch fonts, and see if the different visuals can inspire me to keep going.

I have no idea if this applies to everyone, or if I just like fonts a bit too much for my own good. But in any case, having a good stack of fonts to always rotate between has helped me with writing…and sometimes, with reading articles I really didn’t want to read.

As a final tangent of the day, I write all of my stories in Alegreya. I’m not sure why, but I just love that font. In fact, if I could, I’d probably edit the font in this blog to be Alegreya, because it’s nice to read…although I’d keep the post editor in Helvetica. So that I can keep making strange musings and reflections in my blog, of course.

Why I Make Things

A sub-500 word essay I wrote for school. The content echoed a lot of what I’ve written so far, so I decided that it can belong here, as well.

~

Every day, I make it a point to make something. It doesn’t have to be big or fancy; often, what I make in a day is nothing more than a piece of a larger project, or a few notes for some story or artwork that collects dust on a shelf or a hard drive. I’m not entirely sure why I do this. Like everyone else, I have my down days, where I’d want to do nothing but just lie around or sleep.

Still, even on those days, I am compelled to make things. I just find the entire creative process to be incredibly beautiful.

Okay, maybe it’s not so beautiful looking at it. Creating is actually a very clumsy, somewhat painful-looking process. I often have no idea what I’m doing. Nobody has any idea what they’re doing at first, and the learning process is…messy, at best. Lots of trial and error.

In my short lifetime, I’ve broken a lot of things. More than I’ve made, that’s for certain. Like the time I accidentally sawed a wooden catapult in half. Or the time I tried to release a game, only to realize that I’d swapped the endings by mistake. Or that other game that I started and failed to finish, namely because I programmed in a memory leak that nearly exploded my laptop.

It’s easy to get disillusioned, and I do sometimes. A lot of times. I look back on my work, and realize just how far I have to go. The stories I write are decent, but not quite good, and I’m probably copying others a little too much. I take a look at the games I make, the artwork, the sculptures, and realize that they are simply collecting dust on a shelf or a hard drive. A lot of what I start never gets finished, and let’s not talk about the multiple failures and broken things I’ve left along the way.

And even if I do finish something, well, that’s all there is to it. I’m not hoping to become rich or famous, and sooner or later, the work that I do falls meaninglessly. Most of the work that humans do is meaningless eventually.

But still, the process in itself is beautiful. Despite how difficult it is to learn something, we continue to try to change the world – and the world has changed so many times over.

It’s still a bunch of trial and error, and a whole lot of that creation ends up being a whole lot of nothing, but it is still beautiful in a strangely clumsy, admirable way. For me to be even a tiny part of this beauty, to just make a little thing each day, that is enough. Even if it’s something beyond what I can reach right now, something that I have to keep learning about and being frustrated about for the rest of my life.

There is no feeling greater than being able to look upon something, whether it is a piece of written work, or a painting, or even a house, and being able to say, “I built that.”

 

Unedited

Unedited, my writing always turns into a ridiculously long train wreck. The last ‘short story’ I tried to write ended up being about 10,000 words, which is more novella than short story. And that’s one of my short ones, too.

Maybe I just think too much. One idea leads to another, and then another, and then another, and suddenly I end up with a story that started as romantic comedy and ends with the end of the world 500 pages later. Then I reread the thing, and usually, my thoughts fall somewhere along the lines of ‘what on earth was I thinking’? Before I proceed to nuke half the words and rewrite the ending so that it is actually somewhat sane, of course.

My blog posts really aren’t any better. The only reason why I can limit myself to anything below 1000 words is because I limit myself on time. I often write blog posts in the middle of doing homework, and so they often end up being written in little spurts, about 10 minutes at a time.

I don’t edit my blog posts after I write them (except fictional pieces).* It’s more personal preference than anything else, even though I edit my essays and other writing until my eyes bleed (not literally).

This blog’s theme is pretty much ‘random thoughts’, and I don’t think they’re as ‘real’ if I keep editing them. My thoughts progress in a particular manner, and as I write, I see exactly how they start from one topic, loop around a bit, and end at some kind of conclusion, even if it makes no sense. I can see what I ended up thinking most about based on where I end up writing really redundant phrases, or where I find myself picking apart little details. My rough drafts are not exactly my cleanest writing, but they are the most honest in presenting my raw thoughts.

For fiction, that is a REALLY BAD idea. Actually, in professional writing, it is probably a bad idea. Raw thoughts are messy, and writing exists to improve communication, so editing becomes a necessity to make sure the meaning of that piece of writing gets across loud and clear. For me, it’s necessary to make sure I don’t repeat the same concept like fifteen times, or go off on little tangents.

But for something like this? Well, the little English teacher in me is yelling at me right now, but I’m not editing it. I haven’t edited any of my blog posts, again, save for fiction, and as long as I keep writing about thoughts about random things, I doubt I will.

It flows more like a conversation then, each individual blog post. When speaking, you have no time to edit what you say, and people often say non-sequitars, or repeat themselves, or spend far too much time trying to clarify one subject. But given that it’s impossible to edit speech (except in recorded interviews and the like), and conversations move on VERY quickly, nobody seems to mind the fact that everyone says weird things fairly often.

With writing, it’s a bit more permanent, and there’s a bit more room for thought. But oh well, I’ve always been told that I write like I talk, so long as I don’t try to cut away too many of the words.

In that way, maybe a rough draft is a bit more ‘personal’ than a final piece? The unedited writing may reveal some more about ourselves than what we turn those words into in the end.

Not that I usually ever want to look at my first drafts again once I edit my stories. They’re altogether far too long, and usually don’t make any sense, anyway.

*I don’t make any content edits for blog posts, but I will proofread to avoid embarrassing spelling and grammar mistakes…proofreading is always good! No matter what kind of writing!

Continuation of a Story

Everyone in the world has a story about them that is capable of blowing my mind. I don’t know where I stole that idea from, but it is a belief close to my heart. Whereas I might know more than others in some aspects of life, there is no way I can be better than anyone in all facets of experience.

At the same time, however, it is too easy to ignore people around us. We are surrounded by people, and there are 7 billion of us on this planet now. In school, at work, waiting in line for a sandwich, there are fascinating stories and lives all around that simply go ignored.

That part can’t be helped. It’s impossible to pay attention to every last human being you run into, unless you’re either really good at it or entirely crazy. Apparently, we can only really keep around 200 people in our head as ‘people’ at any one time; anyone else beyond that number just become concepts and distant figures.

I wonder if anyone stops to think about the garbage man, or the laborers on the streets? They have lives too, and their own stories, although I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance to hear them.

Whenever I read fiction, I notice that the stories that I enjoy the best reveal a great deal about the characters and their backgrounds. Most media, in the end, exist to tell a story; we get drawn in because we want the story to continue. Deaths in fiction can be so powerful, because we had come to understand a character’s story, and now that story cannot ever continue – even though we are aware that a character is simply a figment of our imaginations, we get invested in the stories of their lives.

But it’s not just fiction that has people with interesting stories. Real life is like that too, and I’ve found, even more powerful than the best of books and movies.

People tell me all the time that their lives are too uninteresting, which to me is kind of silly. Perhaps that person’s life seems uninteresting to herself, because she was the one to experience that life. But for me, and for others, that same experience might be deeply interesting, and really useful in some way.

Of course, people aren’t going to tell their life stories at the drop of a hat. People aren’t blindly trusting, and that’s probably a good thing. Even I’m not that trusting, considering that I’ve been writing under a fake name all this time.

Those two sides are hard to reconcile. The world is a very interesting place, and everyone is an interesting person, but a lot of that interest is hidden. At the same time, there are important reasons for keeping a life’s story secret, because not everyone is trying to learn those stories for benign reasons.

So then what?

Well, in my case, I start making stuff up. About myself, about others, about the world. I think that’s what a lot of people do, even if they aren’t aware of it. We make our own stories, and they become our imagination, our fears (if those made-up stories turn up badly), or hopes (if they turn out well), or what-ifs.

Or, we read the stories that people do share, fictional or not, and let ourselves fall into them.