Monday, November 28, 2011

Something Fun

I spent a half hour before bed last night reading my posts from two summers ago, those fine months spent at Disneyland as an official Cast Member. Damn, I had fun! I also realized I haven't done such a good job lately of really trying to relate an experience to you all. In trying to figure out what's going on around San Francisco that might make for an interesting read, I continually draw a blank. Not for lack of detail to write about, but because I think the whole experience is so overwhelming that attempting to single out any one aspect is near impossible.

So here's this instead: I drove from Bend back to SF yesterday. The trip consists of two self-patented key Phases, each with four sections. From North to South, they are:
- Phase One: Bend to Klamath Lake, Klamath Lake to Weed; Weed to Shasta; Shasta to Redding.
- Phase Two: Redding to Dunnigan (505); Grassy Fields (505); Nightmarish urban sprawl (I-80); Richmond to San Francisco proper.

Phase Two is notoriously god-awful. Not only do you have I-5 to conquer, but once you've finally managed its 160-mile stretch of nothing, an even more boring series of grass fields looms (excusable only because it's super easy to break the law and use your cell phone here), followed by a guaranteed traffic jam for 65 miles.

When I stop and think about it (which the traffic jam allows ample time for), though, the funneling process I go through to take me from rural highway to urban parking spot near my apartment is remarkable. Wading through millions of people and their cars, taking a specific series of exits, crossing multiple bridges, turning an appropriate number of lefts and rights, and finally pulling into whichever patch of pavement is lucky enough (and empty enough) to have me is just such a process. And then once I'm out of my car and walking to good old 2423 Post, the relative silence of the street is staggering considering the onslaught of mind-boggling stimuli I just had to deal with to reach a specific point in the city that, from afar, looked SO busy.

And I have this ritual of putting on the entire Suburbs album by Arcade Fire as soon as I start crossing the Bay Bridge. Little else is as epic as approaching the SF skyline with Arcade Fire blasting, the buildings looming larger and larger and larger until before you know it the vista is too IMAX-y to appreciate as a whole and you're submerged, and all around you is the city and lights and traffic and incredible rolling hills that you have to shoot quickly up before you can come barreling back down the other side of, all the while dodging bikers and crazed cabbies and homeless slinkers and drunk couples pirouetting off sidewalks, neon signs flashing left and right to the heavy beat of "Modern Man."

It's all fabulous spectacle, to be sure, and little else makes me feel so alive. Also, knowing what I'm doing has helped substantially, because my first few visits here I was too concerned about not getting mowed over by crazy Californian drivers to pay any attention to these man-made vistas.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Different folks, different strokes

I took an entire college course on the ethics at play behind magazine covers, and these antics happen more frequently than you'd think. Regardless, I wonder if TIME has an explanation other than that they didn't want the cover story they were working on for *weeks* tossed.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Interactive Narrative

Definition: the intersection of storytelling, visual art, and interactivity.

When it gee-wowed me: During my several month stay at Nonchalance headquarters. I would sit every day at the office facing a fantastic map on the wall. This map visualized the entry points, segue ways, and end points of each of the three phases of the Jejune Institute - the interactive narrative game that, in this humble blogger's opinion, is trailblazing in the realm of immersive media.

I could trace, for example, a curling arrow from an icon that read "flyer with phone number" in the bottom left corner of the map, to a "Jejune Institute Orientation Meeting phone message" icon. This same icon was also reachable by two other arrows, which directed players from "graffiti art with phone number" and "Dolores Park radio transmission", respectively. In essence, a willing participant could access the phone message from one of three distinct entry points to the game, and also have no idea that the other two existed. Then, once the phone message was digested and curiosity actually led a participant downtown to the orientation session, literally so many variables for alternate modes of play presented themselves that how and what a person explored within the game's narrative became their own prerogative. Indeed, from the "Orientation" icon, the map on the wall became an intricately linked labyrinth of possible paths of narrative travel, some dead-ending, others leading a player to the very heart of the game.

And I think the dead ends are what made the Jejune Institute so special. Consider, for example, the elaborate backstory constructed for the purely fictional Hip Hop Shoe Repair, itself a now-decrepit, in-story hangout for the fictional characters who used to populate the Mission. When they track it down through various means, players come across a chained-up newsstand on Valencia Street that apparently doubles (in-story) as the Shoe Repair stand. Whether or not you are then supposed to glean anything meaningful from the structure in order to advance your own narrative is a question that took me and my intrepid partner about twenty minutes to determine.

Was the newsstand actually a piece of the puzzle, or was Nonchalance's goal of reclaiming the Third Space (more on that at another time) as an adult playground actually working? Because when it comes right down to it, you really start to appreciate a chained-up newsstand the more you look and realize how beautifully random and absurd its existence is. Here I was seeing an unremarkable little detail of the city in a brand new, devastatingly exciting light, and it made me want to treat every object I passed with the deserved level of reverence.

Though the scrutiny ultimately led nowhere, the experience of the narrative turning literally everything into a potential clue for our discovery was a feeling of real-world excitement no single-medium-bound story could ever replicate. The more you looked, the more you noticed the stuff around the city that really was an element of Nonchalance. You also started seeing everything that wasn't in the same mysterious light. And everyone knows mystery is what makes the world go round.

Conclusion: The more irrelevant detail an interactive narrative provides, the more meaningful and immersive an experience it weaves. I am reminded of Roland Barthes' essay "The Reality Effect," which explores referential and aesthetic restraints in literary narratives. Put very simply, the more meaningfully random the descriptor, the more tangible the experience. Without Hip Hop Shoe Repair, the Jejune Institute still would have kicked ass - it just wouldn't have kicked ass so fully. A newsstand is a newsstand unless it's a clandestine hangout.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Future 2.0 (take seven)


I think this visual is the closest I can get to explaining the paradoxical nature of the decisions I was - or wasn't - making these past several weeks: do what your gut says, not what your brain thinks; follow your heart, not your head; reach a decision and then question your logic until anything definitive has turned back into a good old-fashioned "?" again; ask for advice and listen to none of it; etc.

And so on and so forth, until we've gone there and back again in proper herculean hobbit form. Fuck I'm clever.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: I shall hang my hat on two unlikely job opportunities, and if neither works out (or the universe's vast intricacies presents an even less likely third option) I"ll be back in Oregon by Christmas. Portland ho! Probably. Either way, I won't whine about it. Promise.

Last night was fantastic. I went out with three girlfriends to Moby Dick, and I'm not even being boastful when I say I don't believe a better time could have been had by any of the Castro's other Sunday-night drinkers. I received my all-time highest number of paid-for-by-random-people drinks (two), indulged in a celebratory bowl of late-night chili at Orphan Andy's, and then was treated to a walk all the way home from the Castro because the 24 Muni line was in a perpetual state of "calculating...". Oh, plus the men's lacrosse team who asked for their picture taken in front of the bar, only to let me know after I had agreed (and after they'd started stripping) that the picture needed to be of them in their underwear. Insant Good Samaritan karma, right there.

It's good to know that after considering and obsessing over all possible 3,487,622 potential courses of action I could have taken with my life as of last week, the one I settled on and am traveling down includes a mostly-naked lacrosse team.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Back to the Drawing Boards

My Plan:

1) Stop entertaining any notion of taking the job with Collectors Weekly. If I'd wanted it, I would have jumped at it immediately. On a related note, it wasn't a good move on their part to have me spend the entire first trial day writing about glass.
2) Don't move to Portland... yet. Portland will still be there in January - and Oregon's mountains will have snow fit for boarding by then, too.
3) Spend the time between now and Christmas really trying to find something exciting here in SF that pays well. I understand this will be difficult, as hiring during the holidays is gauche. Plus, nothing super awesome has worked out so far - but that's okay, because I really feel like I've focused my interests and aspirations in the past few weeks, and that's going to help the hunt.
4) If nothing surfaces, head to Portland. Snowboard, drink staggeringly exceptional beer, hang out with all my best friends, and continue pursuing a dream career.
5) Or freak and move to Paris.

I'm feeling good about this one, people. Let's hear it for defeating indecision!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Me For a Day

Wake up. Decide you can't tell what time it is based on the window light, then decide it doesn't matter because you have no one expecting anything from you. Then feel guilty for squandering one of your final days in beautiful SF by lying in bed. Then think about coffee. Wonder if anyone has sent any messages your way since you fell asleep last night. Reach for your phone. No messages. Think about how you have to leave this goddamned city. Then think about how it might not be any better anywhere else. Hug your pillow.

Consider your plan of action: shower, maybe trim the facial hair. Spring out of bed. Springing is better than any other method of leaving your bed. Walk to the bathroom. Decide that since it is Thursday, and your chances of being seen by lots of gay men are statistically much higher tonight than they were for the past several nights, you should definitely trim the facial hair. Once you are finished, hop into the shower. Hopping and jumping are your two means of entering the shower. Anything less active is not acceptable. Make funny little singsongy noises as you soap yourself, then realize people might think you're a freak if they overhear you. Decide not to care. But it's so hard not to care.

Contemplate breakfast. Opt for a sandwich somewhere, what with it already being 11:23 and all. Bring a book with you, wherever you go, so you don't look like the single most lonely kid in this city.

All things considered, days off kind of suck.

Walk to the coffee shop. Consider the sad-looking people walking around you. At least you don't look as sad as them. Pay no attention to the happy ones. They're fools.

Sit outside and eat your sandwich. Be happy you can buy yourself a sandwich. Those guys over there look like they want your sandwich. They aren't getting it. Stretch your legs out in the sun. Sun rules! Read your book and think about how quaint this moment of your life will look from the future. Just a young you and a book and the sun. Almost no worries. Almost.

Except for all the worries! Gahhh. Stifle them.

Walk up the street to pass time. Head into the comic book shop. If nothing else, bookstores of any kind make you feel right at home. Walk serendipitously to the graphic novel memoir that most closely aligns with your life at this moment. Buy it. Smile and be nice to the comic book guy. Wonder what his worries might be.

Walk to the vintage furniture store. See the coffee table you were meant to own. Talk yourself into spending $175 on it. Marvel that you are at a point in life when $175 on a coffee table, of all things, is not only feasible but exciting. Worry for yourself.

Go to the park. Sit on a bench in the sun and take turns staring at the cityscape and reading. Watch the people in the park laugh and socialize with their dogs. Wonder if you are making the right choices in life.

Happy. Sad. Ecstatic. Elated. Miserable. Angsty. Nostalgic. Psycho. Happy.

Meet up with your friend for a beer. Discuss the serendipitous nature of being at the exact spot drinking the exact beer with the exact person you did the exact same thing with exactly a year ago. Wonder what this could mean in terms of you and your choices. Contemplate the harsh reality of leaving a city that has such beautiful sunny days midway through November.

Head home. Make your usual dinner: chicken, black beans, broccoli. Think about how you spent over $200 today. Decide this was a responsible move, despite not having a job at the moment, because at least it wasn't $200 spent on drugs.

Get dressed for a party. Go to the party. It's a gay party! Not one of the guys is attractive. Think about how you've managed to live 16 months in the gayest city on the planet only to spend one of your final Thursday nights at one of the least attended, least attractive get-togethers ever. Consider the sad nature of this situation. Think about the guy from your previous relationship and what all his exceptionally handsome friends must be doing at this same moment, probably less than a mile away.

Take lots of jello shots. Pretend not to care. But also you don't really care. It's more like you think you should be concerned about this situation rather than you really feel concerned, and you don't like the way you let what other people think of you control so much of your life. Realize no one outside of the party knows how ugly the party itself is. Realize your own perceptions are what will continue to bring you down. Tell yourself you are only 24 and you have so much more time to make it right. Then wonder what making it right means.

Exit the apartment. Walk down Haight street to get home. Consider the very act of walking down Haight Street. Realize that you finally feel comfortable in this giant magical city and that you are actually one of the very few people on the planet who has the privilege of casually walking down Haight Street after a gay party to get back to your own apartment in San Francisco. Think of all the men in the world who lay alone at night wishing, in all their separate languages, to be in San Francisco. Many would probably literally kill to be in your shoes. Are you an asshole for wanting to give this up? You're here, goddamit. It doesn't get better than this.

Enter your own apartment. Fall onto the couch. Stay up until 2 reading your graphic novel memoir. Realize most people who move to big cities at 24 feel the way you do. If you could just hunker down and make it another year, you'll probably be transformed enough to manage for good. But at what cost? Will you be the empty husk of the idealistic person you once were, or a new version altogether? Is the past at 24 something worth holding onto? Should you really be trying so hard not to change, to harden? Is this plain old growing up, or is this growing up unhappily? Where do you expect to find better conditions for happiness? Is substituting palm trees and Victorian architecture for rain and moldy housing really going to help? Will you end up worse off there than here? Should you just grin and bear it? At what point will it be too late to make these kinds of decisions? How many more years do you have when decisions like this can still be pulled off? Why are you so insane? How does everyone else just go about their lives as if they don't think these things? What's satisfying about a life without way too much contemplative thought? Are you ever going to change for the better? Will you ever be happy with a respectable career? If you turn tail and run from a writing position, what won't you run from? When is anything going to make sense? At what point is grasping for straws here versus there going to make no difference in terms of how it all turns out? How? Why? What?


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

It Wasn't All for Naught

Sixteen months in San Francisco. Holy cow. I feel as though I've lived within the frame of a postcard for so many days. Similar to what we learned with Blue Velvet's ear, though, surface-level beauty and sunshine doesn't a perfect life make.

I'm anxious here. A lot of people perpetually bustle. Muni rarely provides a pleasurable experience. Web developers take precedence over virtually any other professional skill. I can hardly hear myself think.

But the pho! and the men!

The men. How they prance. So many from so far. Each one restless, grappling for something. The surface-level fun of it all strains to contain so much pressure for genuine connection. Sex isn't the ultimate satisfaction - a truth etched into the older ones' faces.

And the twenty-somethings! With their bikes on the park under the sun passing a joint. How I would so like to feel like I belong among them, instead of like some kid who's a perpetual tourist.

Those twenty-somethings. They each know more people in this city than I will in the entirety of my life, but in most cases, those relationships are hollow. Everyone is an acquaintance. Few are actual friends. It's hard to find friends when you're pinballing between start-ups and don't know which surreptitious individual it'll pay most to shake hands with.

Oh San Francisco. I really don't know about you. Love. Hate. Not very many in-betweens.

But you weren't all for naught:

- I Freelanced as a copywriter for the coolest hybrid arts agency ever.
- I worked for almost an entire year within the Wikimedia Foundation.
- I witnessed firsthand the influence of Apple on an Apple-mad culture.
- I got to strut my stuff down the streets of the Castro on warm nights.
- I relished an eager, youthful relationship that impacted me for the better.
- I will never have to wonder what it would have been like to live here at 23.

These experiences will only shine brighter with time.

It's been formative, yo! Onward and upward.