The dark sisters

Stress and Sadness. Fear and Longing. Worry and Sorrow. They go under different names, but we know them well. We know their real names. Anxiety. Melancholia. Like dark sisters that never meet. One is our enemy. One our friend.

They seem similar, but they’re not. Both seem to arise from the same dark, hidden place, but one whispers while the other yells. If it was possible to choose between the two, the choice would be a simple one. But it’s not possible. They come and go as they like.

Anxiety is like a predator. She buries her claws deep into your flesh, feeds on you, and leaves you bruised or worse. You want to flee, but this is not the pre-historic savannah and running will take you nowhere. So you remain on your chair as she screams at you, shouting ugly things. You dont want to listen any more, but it was never a choice in the first place, was it?

Melancholy is a cocoon. She slowly grows around you until you are fully enclosed and divorced from the world. Inside that cocoon is the entire universe, cold and vast. With her near you are alone, on a mountaintop in the faint light of distant stars, feeling the night’s breeze against your naked skin. The world is an ocean embracing you, and you can feel every inch of the never-ending depth’s ice cold water.

It’s the summer sunrise before the others have waken up. The starry night when they’re asleep.

The madness of a cold

Muscles aching. Head full of snot. Tired. Slightly grumpy.

I got a cold all right.

We’re nearing a milestone at work, so I’m currently putting in a few more hours to reach my goals. But it’s honestly not much of a strain, so why do I feel like I’ve worked a 24 hour shift in a coal mine?

Again, it’s just the cold. Damn you, unescapable facet of being a biological machine!

Here’s a random thought. The cold makes me feel a bit strange, like I was a bit disconnected from the real world. I wonder if something as mild and harmless as a cold has the potential to affect a person’s conciousness during the peak of the sickness. Perhaps that could be useful creatively.

Who the hell is this?

Nothing has been posted here for a little while. With the new name and the new look, it’s all of a sudden like the blog is a stranger. Or a mere aquaintance. It’s no longer Pixel Park, and I don’t know this new character yet. But we shall become friends, of course, me and Instead of Letters.

The truth is that not much has changed, really. I will still write about games and movies, although with more posts about other art forms like literature, theatre, ballet… It all sounds a bit pretentious, perhaps, but the blog is merely an outlet for me to talk about the things I like – cultural expressions that resonate with me on some level, emotionally or intellectually. Both as a consumer and a creator.

Instead of Letters

When was the last time you sent a hand written letter to anyone?

When in Amsterdam a couple of months back, I and Lena spent a rainy afternoon at the Van Gogh Museum. Beyond simply taking in and enjoying a lot of Vincent’s great art, I was struck by the man himself; his determined struggle to be the artist he wanted to be, the confidence that told him to keep working, and the gradual collapse of his mental health as the confidence started to wane. Wall by wall, room by room, you could follow how he developed and changed and became ill. It was fascinating, and after having walked through his life in chronological order, I felt I had a sense of who he was.

Most of the knowledge we have about him comes from his letters. He wrote often and long, usually to his brother who was also an artist.

At the exhibition I realized that private letters have been instrumental in understanding the lives of so many of history’s important individuals; artists, politicians, warriors, believers – people that moved and changed the world. By far, we wouldn’t have the same insights into what drove them, what they desired, who they were, if not for ink and paper. But who writes hand written letters these days, now that the Internet has changed everything? It seems as if we all of a sudden are without an important tool for writing our history.

What do we have instead of letters? E-mail is the supposed replacement, but it doesn’t quite invite you to write the type of long, thoughtful letters that people once composed. Communication is fast, cheap and painless today, and I believe that it makes people sloppy in their written communication. E-mail is also merely one of a large number of ways to communicate today. Using myself as an example, I use e-mail but also a cell phone, Skype, blog comments, Steam, Facebook messages and comments, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr… And that’s just at the top of my head.

The written word of today is simplistic and fragmented, and most of a person’s written output will be lost. Social networks become deserted and go offline, passwords are forgotten, chat logs vanish during the next reinstall, e-mail addresses are changed and forgotten or their accounts closed.

There is hope. One form of communication still require coherent thought (from those who own the ability, at least), is completely public, and will remain mirrored even if the server goes offline or the author deletes the content – the blog. Perhaps blogging is more worthwhile than we usually give it credit for. No one knows who will be determined as “interesting” or “important” by the future – van Gogh was considered a nobody during his life – and for those of us who will never be given posthumous praise it might still be of value for the family we leave behind.

My own blog, the one you are reading right now, started out with the name Pixel Park because it was meant to be about digital culture. I wish to move beyond that rather narrow description. I want it to also be about theater, ballet, literature and that friendly duck I met at the summer house. A greater slice of my life.

These blog posts are my letters to you, whoever you are. This is Instead of Letters. Thank you for reading.

Never forgetting the storms

There are some childhood memories that I’ve thought about quite a bit recently – vivid memories of the storms at the family summer house. I remember that the worst of the storms almost always seemed to keep away from the island we lived on, hammering the lake but sparing us as if there was some hidden barrier protecting our home.

I enjoyed sitting on my own down by the rocks at the shore, watching the lightning over the lake. It poured down, but the rainwear kept me dry and allowed me to just sit there and take it all in. It was powerful and majestic. The warm rain against my face, the wind blowing the treetops, the roaring sea beneath my feet. The air was alive with a million water drops making the sea boil. Lightning cut lines between a grey sky and the horizon, and thunder danced between the islands. It was exciting, but at the same time calming.

I was alone on that rock, but nature itself opened up and embraced me. It was all around me, and it said “This is what I am. I touch everything, and I am the touched. I am the raging sea and the beating heart. And you are part of me.

That was many years ago. If it would rain right now I doubt I’d even notice it. Living in a city is much like being immersed in a cocoon. Protected. Sanitized. Air conditioned. Planned. Life here is homogeneous.

Each and every one of us have the wonderful opportunity of being alive and sentient, and we get to experience this on a fantastic planet. It’s got sunshine and pitch black nights, heat and cold, breezes and storms, rain and hail. Trees reaching for the skies and mountains large as gods. And yet we choose to live in cities filled with asphalt and malls and traffic lights and 7-11s.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the city and everything it promises. But the cityscape has been my horizon for many years, and I think I’m getting ready to face the elements again.

Playing Skyrim

The move to Sweden was an ordeal. It should have been fairly easy – Norway is a neighbouring country, and I am Swedish after all (although with 50% Finnish sisu). But the completely insane housing market in Sweden (good luck trying to find an apartment without renting one from someone already renting it or paying a bribe of half a year’s salary), and the fact that we were defrauded gave us more than one headache.

Yes – defrauded. We we’re royally screwed on an apartment by a sociopath. It’s long story that I might tell another time, but for now I’ll just conclude that the parasite is doing time.

Anyway. Games.

The ordeal meant that most of our stuff waited for us in a warehouse, in the twilight zone between the previous apartment and the next one, and we had to wait until early December until we got it back. That translates to a lot of time without my PC or my Xbox 360. My already intimidating games backlog continued to grow and grow.

But it’s been well over a month since my hardware returned, so the backlog should surely have been reduced by now. Right?

Well, Skyrim happened. It’s not like I don’t want to finish Deux Ex: Human Revolution, it’s not like I don’t want to try out Battlefield 3, but…

I was never that impressed by Oblivion. And Skyrim is not a perfect game. But by god was it a long time since a game captured my imagination like this. When I’ve played it, I keep thinking about it even when I should be sound asleep. I think about the things I might want to try, and potential scenarios that might unfold the next time I enter its captivating world.

The game lives in the mind, and it was years since that happened to me. I remember having games stay with me during downtime when I was a kid, but these days it’s very rare… and I treasure whenever it happens.

Once there was a Hitch

The Hitch is gone. Christopher Hitchens – author, journalist, debater, atheist hero – has died from his esophageal cancer at the age of 62.

A relatively short life, but Hitch lived (at least to an outsider like me) a full and productive one. His death came as I was in the process of reading his book God is Not Great, with his autobiography Hitch 22 waiting next in line. Someone said that the man wrote more than most people read in their life time, and that is probably true.

Still, 62 years. That’s exactly double my age. When I’m that age, I hope to still have aspirations and dreams, and the energy and time to realize them. There is little doubt Hitchens still had the energy, but he ran out of time.

I’d like to think that death belongs to the grey and frail. That death is the territory of those who’ve not known their own fire for years, of those who stumble on their thoughts and memories. We expect the end of our lives to be a foggy marsh it takes long to wander into, each passing year taking us further into the mist where we ultimately succumb to the treacherous morass.

No. Death belongs to those who die, no matter how young or spirited.

Here are two videos with clips of Hitchens speaking, displaying his razor sharp wit in debates, speeches and interviews. I am saddened that there will be no more of this.

Credits

…and as the movie ends and the closing credits appear, the names scrolling by are less real to you than the characters in the film. Like the rest of the audience, they are avatars. Non-player characters. Vague backdrops to the dreams, visions and hopes that populate your aching head.

Backlog of games

Currently not having my own place or even most of my things, I got no hardware to play games on. Well, I got my trusty netbook (which I use to type these words), but it even struggles making video calls over Skype.

I did get it to run Half-Life 1 with a decent framerate, though. But it ended up just being a nice experiment. I’m not going to spend my evenings replaying games I have already spent too many hours with. Perhaps someone reading this could give some suggestions on good, modern games that works well on a netbook? I’d appreciate it.

As I don’t have my desktop, or my Xbox 360, my games backlog grows and grows. I did get to play a bit of Deus Ex: Human Revolution during a weekend in Oslo, and I can’t wait to get back to it. I love deep, open game worlds, and that game seems to scratch that itch. Of course, not being able to play it just makes the itch worse.

Here’s my current backlog:
– Deus Ex: Human Revolution
– Risen
– The Witcher 2
– Bulletstorm
– Dead Island

Just those games could easily swallow a couple hundred hours (especially the RPGs). And that list only contains games I really do want to play – my Steam list of games I own but have yet to play is far longer. Games I don’t necessarily want to play, but need to play.

That is the plight of the game designer.