those grooves



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like roots grow a tree

Whenever a fairy tale is told, it becomes night. No matter where the dwelling, no matter the time, no matter the season, the telling of tales causes a starry sky and a white moon to creep from the eaves and hover over the heads of the listeners. Sometimes, by the end of the tale, the chamber is filled with daybreak, other times a star shard is left behind, sometimes a ragged thread of storm sky.

Storytelling is bringing up, hauling up; it is not an idle practice…In dealing with stories, we are handling archetypal energy, which is a lot like electricity. It can animate and enlighten, but in the wrong place and wrong time and in the wrong amount, it can have no desired effect. Sometimes people who are story-collectors do not realize what they are asking when they ask for a story of this dimension. Archetype changes us; if there is no change, there has been no real contact with the archetype. The handing down of story is a big responsibility; we have to make sure people are wired for the stories they tell.

In the best tellers I know, the stories grow out of their lives like roots grow a tree. The stories have grown them, grown them into who they are. We can tell the difference. We know when someone has grown a story and when the story has grown them.

–Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves

you’re really sweet when you’re on mute

I am warming to the multiplayer in DA:I.

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The first time I tried it, I wasn’t yet finished on my first playthrough of the story and while of course there were no spoilers–the quests are too vaguely generic for that, and I was far enough where none of the zones were visual “spoilers” either–it was so jarring to go from the immersive world of the story to the comparatively context-less replayability of a bunch of battle maps that I fled, for months.

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But I’ve now reached a point I’m very familiar with in Dragon Age games: where I still want exposure to the world, but where the story–in this case heavily augmented by the books (all but The Masked Empire–dammit, library, purchase it already!) and the afterglow of my fic effort, all of which I plunged through in the past few months–is still too raw and recent in memory for replaying it to feel…like it should. I made it halfway through a second playthrough and then had to stop; once I’d amended the major choices I’d made it became just playing through to see places I hadn’t been and interactions I hadn’t had. Which is a completely worthy reason to play, mind you! It just…wasn’t distant enough yet to be handled. The same thing happened when I tried to replay DA:O too quickly, and DA2 after it: you need some distance, some restraint. And restraint is not one of my strong points.

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Enter Multiplayer, then. Here I still get to pad through scintillatingly gorgeous Orlesian chateaus–where I still get to hear the Wicked Eyes Wicked Hearts theme I so dearly, dearly love–and Tevinter ruins and all manner of familiar environments. I still get to hear, with a little thrill, the voices I’ve come to know so well, sometimes lending themselves to NPC characters to the point where you yell “That dwarf! That’s Varric, dammit, just speaking a little lower! Listen!” Which NPCs bring us to the main selling point of DA:I Multiplayer–

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–You don’t have to hear other people. Sure, the occasional jerk will turn their mic on–worse, some of them will turn it on and not use push-to-talk, resulting in a horrible echo loop that everyone quickly bails on at the end of the round–and you will have to be reminded that behind these swashbuckling people you’re battling with lie people you don’t ever want to meet. Ever. But then, provided you take the time to look before you start a match, you can see who has their mic on…and you can click the blessed mute button.

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Which means that you can use the game’s detailed VA to overlay the people you probably don’t want to know. You can listen, for example, to the archer express unease at the amount of people that now surround them, and the elf agree with the sentiment. You can listen to the the alchemist make some cheerful one-off about potatoes and hear the necromancer, buzzkill extraordinaire, snap at her to shut up and carry on. You can listen to different characters respond completely differently to the same conversation starters, based on who is in the party–and thus, you can edit out the personas of the actual people out there, and replace them with the manufactured NPC personas of the game, which are far more palatable.

I’m sure this is the sort of thing that people who rail against games would use as a textbook case of why games are destroying humanity, building barriers between us, yadda yadda. But 1.) I should think by now I’ve successfully weeded such folk off my blog, if they were ever here, and 2.) that’s a terribly shallow view of what’s going on here. We’ve been given an incredibly detailed story in a way that allows us to approach it again and again. But because of its immense detail the experience gets so deeply seeded into our memories that replaying again too soon can tarnish the feel of the thing. So what to do when you still want to be exposed to that world but not diminish the experiences you’ve had thus far by going through them again? Multiplayer! Skim the top of the world, hear the same words used in the same way, but without the emotional impact. Bide your time ’till DLC–and we now know there is story-based DLC coming, huzzah! Also, blow some things up. Because really, how satisfying is it to see a contingent of red lyrium templars come charging into the arc of mines you laid out in wait for them?

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your way out didn’t work

In language classes they told us that chotto was a way out. Saying it and elongating the sound of it and trailing off would be understood as a signal saying I want to stop talking about this and I also want to avoid conflict because that’s what we do in this culture so please stop. And your interlocutor, as invested in avoiding conflict as the textbooks promised everyone would be, would stop.

Well, it didn’t work.

A guy started following me one day. From a store to the bank to a restaurant. I noticed–I was so nervous and full of fear all the time that I noticed–and I wanted to go home but was afraid he’d follow me into the train and figure out where that was, which would be worse. And I’d already, in earlier days, been stopped by a cop convinced I’d stolen my own bicycle, so police didn’t seem an option. I figured they’d just laugh at me. (They probably would have. Stupid gaijin wears heels and a skirt and can’t handle the attention? GTFO the police box, lady.)

Eventually this guy approached and asked if he could sit at my table. I was so stupid and worried about him causing a scene (god forbid) I said yes. And then he proceeded to wax poetic for the next two hours on, alternately, how he loved foreign women, and how they loved him, and how he knew this because he had once lived in Canada, and how did I not know what an izakaya was, and would I be willing to rectify that by going to one with him?

I used chotto right and left. “Do you want to…?” “Chotto…” “What is your…?” “Chotto…” He just gave me a flat, fishy stare every time, waiting for me to finish. He was portly and I tried to exhaust him, walking all the way from Shibuya to Shinjuku, through the [busy; I made very sure; having not yet been assaulted on a train where the entire fucking car full of people saw and didn’t help, I was still under the illusion that people might assist should things go really wrong] park, passing any number of my usual sanctuaries (the sudden!Tahitian fish place, for example, or the Kinokuniya under the Takashimaya clock, or even my scholarship office) but afraid to flee into them lest he follow, and associate them with me, and haunt them in the future.

Yes, I gave him my number, after every chotto in the book. I needed him to go away. No, I did not have the prepossession to lie. I barely understood my stupid phone and he knew how to do the tap-to-share-contacts thing that I didn’t. Thank god I understood it so little; I had never entered my address in there. But even so I know I was a fool. I didn’t know how to get rid of him, and overlaying the desire to flee, like an oil slick, was the pressure not to be mean. Because of course that would be terrible.

I did not come to the izakaya (which is a kind of bar, and which no, I hadn’t known, because how would I have known? who would have taken me?) He called for months, leaving alternately mournful and accusing messages, wanting to know why. He called from different numbers sometimes so I didn’t know not to pick up. (After which I would immediately hang up.) I asked the girls in my guesthouse how to block numbers but they said it was a service you had to pay for; that my phone couldn’t do it automatically.

I didn’t return to Shibuya for most of a year. I loathed that I had let myself get into that situation; that I hadn’t just blown him off, hurt feelings be damned, and told him no he could not sit at my table and no, he could not walk with me. Chotto, chotto, chotto… It did not work and it was my fault for believing the teachers, for believing the way out had to be a polite one, a good one, a pleasant one. Thank you and have a nice day, you creepy fuck. Wouldn’t want to upset anyone or make a bad impression.

I thought of this because I remembered the Takashimaya clock, how it rolls off your tongue, how it sounds, when I mention that I used it as a landmark, like there is this lustrous history of experience and adventure I get to invoke when I say it. Well it ain’t true. Looking down at that clock from the sun-warmed safety of a breakfast nook in the Lost in Translation hotel with my mother (her last trip before she got too sick to travel), I shuddered. She asked me what was wrong and I said nothing. But I was thinking how fucking beautiful it looked, all lit up by the autumn light, and how that wouldn’t help. How someone could be fleeing toward it even as I admired it, a shining beacon of knownness and direction (not just through the city but through time itself), a promised way out, and it would grant no safety. There wasn’t any to be found.

When I left I wondered if I would rewrite my experience in my head into the sort of thing people want to hear. (I do, usually, if not on this blog.) I wondered if I could return, years later, and not shake under the jolting heart rate and intermittent bursts of loathing for japanophilic idealism that so characterized my peer group back home.

And the answer is no. Not chotto, just fucking no. I jabbed a finger into my throat to check, lying here, and when I felt that frantic flutter, even just mentally walking myself from Shibuya to Shinjuku–Hachiko, the blowfish, the park, the clock–I gave up sleep to write this instead. Because, no. It never goes away. And no amount of editing can erase it. And the day I was told continued studies would mean a return, was the day I was done.

scotch

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I am like old men in stories.

At the end of particularly bad days* I sit in “my” chair (it is not my chair) with my scotch, and watch the last of the light of the day, and try to remember when that same light was warm.

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* Which is to say, those where your hard work has been rewarded with the curtailment of your opportunities at self-betterment in favor of taking on the work of others because, hey, you have all that time now thanks to that hard work, right?