A Travelogue in Wanderlust and Medicine in 7 Parts

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    I joke that I can’t stay in Chicago longer than 48 hours, like the wanderlust has embedded itself like stones in my itchy shoes. My weekends are now a progression of rental cars and airports, gas station food and long nights.

    In the last two months I have begun crossing borders again, renewing my passport for the first time since my name change. My far flung trips were once bound to the United States, itself a large country, but are now only limited by the events that will have me, the countries that will open their doors for my questionable art.

    This is my fault, clearly. One does not get to this level of exhaustive travel by the force of someone else’s will.

    I’m stressed. I do not grind my teeth, because I do not have the money to replace them.

    2.

    Last year at a show, a person who’s probably one of the closest I have had to mentor in my field had a conversation with me that so demoralized me that I felt like I needed to take a break. But I couldn’t. I had shows lined up for months. That was a show where I should’ve felt at my highest — it was successful, I had managed to raise money to be there, and was even asked to speak. I didn’t feel great. The night before, while talking to members of my community all they asked was how I was going to innovate, warning me not to get stuck in a box. It felt like being chastised. I don’t remember the words, just the sensation. It was so hot outside that my pants had become a second skin.

    There’s no future here for you. It felt like I was a fraud, and everyone was aware. I was fooling no one. At best my being there was a favor.

    As a consequence I stopped applying for shows entirely. I kept a calendar of due dates so I could watch hollowly as they passed without me sending out a single letter.

    Is this success, when it feels this bad?

    I think I’m not wired for success. Somewhere inside of me there is a disconnect, a snapped piece of solder, a broken port. I only know responses for others hatred, I can only find safe harbor in places where I’m unwelcome, where people bristle about my work. Polite, even feigned interest disturbs me. All my life I’ve only felt comfort in being unwanted.

    There’s nothing more isolating in my life than working on alternative controls. At the same time there’s this rich and vibrant community, but it’s as though we are separated by a semi permeable layer. I can see them but they’re separated, a gaussian blur across thick plexiglass, their voices distorted. I don’t know what it’s like on the other side of the wall. Do they talk? Are they friends? Do they spend nights up til 4 AM wondering if they’ve made the right decision about this strange path?

    My Twitter DMs, the ones you have to click message requests to see, are a graveyard of threats and men telling me I should leave the industry. I wonder sometimes if they’re right. But I’ve only ever thrived where I’m unwanted.

    3.

    2018 was the year of travel and 2019 was the year of crying in parking lots over healthcare.

    4.

    I know this I-75 corridor by heart, my foot leveling out on the gas as I make the turns in the flow of traffic. This is home, this is where I learned to drive, and I know these signs and roads more closely than any other place on Earth.

    I’m exhausted.

    The sign says it’s 9 miles to the Artisan Center in Berea, but realistically it’s another hour or two til home. I grew up nomadic – we moved so frequently when I was a kid I lost the concept of home as a physical place, and as an awkward child who made friends poorly I didn’t manage to make any before we packed up and moved to a different state. You find quickly that home is not a physical place but a sensation, a collection of objects that can be easily packed into boxes, family members whose faces you find safety and comfort in. When my family sold the home in Berea it was the closest I’d ever been to having a physical home, a location we stayed in for ten years, but I didn’t feel anything over it’s loss.

    I’m the least interesting type of game developer nomad, the kind that traveled ceaselessly as a child and now wants to lay under soft blankets on a couch at home, who wants to watch Queen of the Damned for the thousandth time while night falls.

    5.

    I was diagnosed with keratoconus this year. I looked down at my PC in the dark and realized that with my left eye, there were two of them, nestled on top of each other. Malevolently. Can you nestle malevolently? It certainly carried with it a sensation of ill intent, regardless. My eyes have betrayed me. They are showing me something that isn’t there. It’s not doubling, my optometrist told me with little interest, it’s ghosting.

    I’m not really sure how the terminology is supposed to help me pay for a $2500 procedure.

    The specialist they sent me to afterwards was a personable older man. When he came in to the room he told me I had keratoconus, he seemed taken aback by my response.

    “Cool.”

    Doctors shouldn’t be allowed to say the word “alarming.” Itss the second worst thing a doctor has said to me about my body, behind the word “perforated.” Paper is perforated, not skin or my cervix. My father, himself a sufferer of this rare disorder, had told me how they tested him as a young man, holding a piece of hole punched plastic in front of his eye. It’s the first test they gave me before I looked into a machine that resembled Hal 9000 — a lower tech proofing of what I already expected. The doctor didn’t think I understood the gravity of the situation. He gave me charts.

    The collagen in my eye, perhaps the rest of my body, is distressed. This makes sense as it now distresses me too. It has come to a hardened conical shape, visible on the surface of my eye through my eyelid. In a movie this would be the sign of my possession by an alien. In real life this is causing my vision to look like drunken goggles. It gives me a headache. It saps all of my attention. Of the potential things that could be wrong with me, it’s probably one of the better ones. I can have a procedure done to reverse the effects, though the underlying condition will remain. Without treatment I will go blind but that wouldn’t be for another 20+ years. And it’s only one eye.

    I keep qualifying myself unnecessary for the Pain Olympics, where I consistently rate my fate lower than others. If I don’t have the worst possible situation then clearly I should toughen up and press on.

    6.

    I saw Chicago in 2018, but as a tourist. It was a hot September day and we stumbled through Millennium Park the day after Bit Bash. The sun was this extreme presence and we’d accidentally spent $30 to park the car but Adam, my fellow designer and road trip buddy, insisted we had to actually see the Bean. Just once. On the way in a kid asked us if we knew how to dab. We lied.

    As someone who has visited Chicago innumerable times, there are not words to express how much of a let down Cloud Gate is. Large and shiny, it sits like an illuminated shit. It’s hot and the Bean is metallic and in the center of a large concrete plaza, so approaching it felt like walking into an oven. We took our tourist picture and left.

    We went to the cool confines of the Art Institute with its overpriced cafeteria. On the first floor there was a red carpeted room, with speakers embedded into the floor. You’re invited to take off your shoes to walk on the carpet, socked feet deep in the softness. The sound is audible everywhere in the room, but it’s the strongest around the speakers themselves, each one a different adherent praying. As a consequence of design, their prayers vibrate up your legs, settle from toes to fingertips. You are at once a lightning rod for their prayer.

    It was the calmest I had been in weeks.

    So naturally we drove to Milwaukee that night to do another, unplanned show.

    7.

    Tomorrow I’m having surgery on my eye again. It might even work this time instead of leaving a ghastly smudge across my vision. Maybe.

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