The problem is OVER. You are not allowed to keep doing the mean thing or fighting over it.
This is a simplistic version of apologies, because, you know, kids are stupid. And most of the things they fight about are stupid. So these first few apologies are insincere and coerced by the parents because kids don’t understand yet that their actions affect other people, or even that other people ARE people, with as full and lived experiences as they have. Kids aren’t able to grasp morality, so parents walk them through it by hand, building the muscle memory so that they will be able to give sincere apologies as they grow and develop as humans.
Which is fine. These toddler disputes are generally not over substantial problems (“She’s playing with the toy I wanted to play with.” “He’s taunting me because he got a bigger pancake.” “I wanted to be the one to jump in the leaves.”). “Forgive and forget” is baked into these arguments because they are forgettable problems and because the little kid brains are quick to move on to the next thing. And sometimes, the parents just need the fight to end so they can get a moment of blessed relief from the screaming.
But you can’t stop at this basic understanding of apologies. “I’m sorry” doesn’t make up for running over someone with your car. There are a lot of adult situations where the kid rules for apologizing don’t work. Situations where harm was not intended, but inflicted all the same. Situations where you’ve come to regret actions you did not feel remorse for at the time. Situations where the harm that was caused is irreparable. Situations where you apologize not because you mean it, but because you want to maintain peace or keep your job.
Obligatory forgiveness is often not the right response, either. Forgiveness can be smug or insincere just like apologies can. Sometimes, instead of “I forgive you,” an apology calls for “Thank you for hearing me,” or “I need more time before I’m ready to respond,” or “I can’t forgive you if you’re not trying to change this pattern of behavior.” And sometimes the right answer is just walking away.
In American culture, at least, the childhood script (apology, forgiveness, problem over) is drilled into us early, and I think a lot of us never advance to a more layered understanding. I think this is particularly evident in discussions about inequality (economic, racial, sexual, etc.). In many cases, people feel bad about participating in or benefiting from unfair systems or structures, and want these problems to be resolved. But because of our conditioning, we tend to see the apology, the forgiveness, and the solution to the problem as inextricably linked. In one case, a person apologizes, and when no forgiveness is forthcoming, they short-circuit at the lack of resolution to the problem (“I said I’m sorry, what more do they want?”). In another, a person sees that the problem is too big to be fixed by an apology, and they don’t feel the apology is necessary (“Why should I be sorry? It’s not MY fault.”).
For apologizers: Practice apologies that aren’t contingent on receiving forgiveness in response. Let your apologies be for the other person, not just to absolve you of your guilt. Understand that an apology often does not remove a problem.
For forgivers: Learn that it’s okay to set boundaries, and know how to gauge whether you’re ready to forgive someone or not. Forgiving does not have to mean forgetting.
For parents: Try to revisit the apologies conversation with your kids as they become capable of abstract thought and seeing things from other points of view. Teach them the difference between apologizing for intent and apologizing for effect, and how to do both well, even for problems that can’t be solved.
People walk by and see me waiting And they act like I look mighty strange Point and laugh at me waiting, waiting Like I’m out of my mind or deranged But I’m just waiting, waiting, waiting Waiting for the stop sign to change.
You hear the story of David and Goliath as a child And it comforts you, in this world of giants twice your size To know that God will protect you if your cause is good And your pockets full of five smooth stones
Then one day you find there are no giants any longer And wonder where they must have gone You see no one but the children half your size Slings spinning with eager anticipation.
The prayer is selfish As most are A plea for a small miracle
Not a large miracle with flashing lights and a PR blast No rejoicing multitude, no voice thundering from the heavens Just a little miracle, for only me
I offer a poor case I do not promise to share the miracle with the world To show how it proclaims the goodness and mercy of God I do not promise because I know I would not keep it Out of fear of being called a fool, I would downplay it Attributing the miracle to good choices and good fortune Nobody would see God in the miracle I ask Nobody but me
I do not know if God does miracles for individuals In the book, I read about lepers cured Blind given sight Dead revived But were those miracles for only those affected? Or for everyone who saw And everyone who heard And everyone who read?
I do not find any miracles done in true isolation There is always someone to sing praises To run across the countryside declaring the good news To inscribe the account in chapter and verse But if there were If God does perform miracles for one I suppose I never would have known.
It’s April, 2021. I’ve spent about a year keeping isolated from people in the shadow of the pandemic.
So of course I want to play a game about waiting alone in a cave for 400 (real-time) days.
Created by Studio Seufz, The Longing has you playing as the Shade (a gremlinish being that looks like Mr. Burns made out of charcoal), waiting to awaken your ancient king after his 400-day slumber. Originally released on PC in early March of 2020 (just over 400 days ago as of this writing), the game now feels like a accidentally apt metaphor for the year-plus isolation of living in the age of Covid. Every once in a while, the Shade will say something that strikes a familiar existential note.
The game has just released on Nintendo Switch, which is where I picked it up and have started playing. I tell my friend Bran (who also saw the game release announced), and he lets me know he has set a calendar alert for 400 days from now to show his support at the appropriate time.
Minute 1 (of 576000)
I start by exploring my home. There is a table with a piece of paper and a coal, a musical instrument (that’s missing most of its pieces), a fireplace (which will require more coal and flints), and an armchair where I can read or sit and stare into space. I sit down and see what there is to read.
I have a small journal of the Shade’s thoughts, The Goose Girl, part 1 of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and the entire text of Moby Dick. The latter seems like a bit of a commitment right now, so I take a look at the Shade’s thoughts instead.
It’s a start.
Hour 1 (of 9600)
I make a self-portrait with the piece of paper, which more or less amounts to a black scribble in the middle of the paper. It’s not a very good likeness, but at the same time, it is. It takes about two minutes to sketch, and I hang it on the wall.
The journal suggests some things that the Shade might do or find to improve the quality of his home and the nature of his 400-day wait. I set off (at the Shade’s slothly walking pace) into the caverns to explore. Each journey out takes me past the body of the King in repose, his snores a reminder of the purpose of my long wait.
The caverns beyond my home are filled with branching corridors and interwoven pathways, and I soon learn to let go of a need to explore methodically, instead meandering wherever curiosity takes me.
I find pieces of coal, which tumble from the ceiling at regular intervals.
I find some paper.
I find red clay and white stone, which will provide additional colors for my sketches.
I find a book of poetry, intriguingly titled “Poems II”. Where then is Poems I?
I find a fragment of my disassembled instrument. Two more to find before it is usable.
I find a piece of flint. I need one more (plus the coal) to start a fire.
I find mossy stones, but the moss is not ready to be gathered.
I also find dead ends.
In places throughout the caves, there are crystals that I could pry out of the wall to cheer up my home, but I require a mattock (mining tool that looks like a broad-headed pickaxe). I can see the pickaxe in one room, but the only way to reach it is via a long fall onto some hard rocks. The Shade sensibly avoids such risks, but he points out that there may be a safe way down in due time.
There are other similar roadblocks with a long timeline: a gap in a path that will be filled by a loose stalactite in about a week, and a pit that I’ll be able to swim across after a month-long dripping from the ceiling fills it with water.
I take note of each of these locations in the Shade’s memory. You can save up to 15 locations in his memory in a sort of screenshot format, and send him to make the patient journey there automatically (or to his home). Understanding the whole structure of the caves isn’t as important as recognizing the landmarks and knowing the places you’ll want to return.
I use the auto-travel to send him back home, folding some laundry in real life during the several-minute-long trek. I return right around the 1st hour mark. My wait is 0.01% over.
Day 1 (of 400)
I celebrate this milestone with more art.
The journal says the Shade would like another pair of eyes to look at, and that he likes pictures of lice. I select “eye” from the art options and make two, one in red, one in black, and hang them on the wall. I also give him a couple of sketches of lice, in the same colors.
During this process, I notice something odd. While he sketches the drawings, I periodically glance up at the 400-day timer ticking down at the top of the screen, and every once in a while, it skips a second. From 399 Days, 22 Hours, 47 Minutes, and 38 Seconds to 399 Days, 22 Hours, 47 Minutes and 36 Seconds. I begin watching it carefully now as I add new drawings to the wall, and the skips keep occurring, and they happen more frequently as I add more art to my abode.
I think I’m starting to understand how this game works.
Returning to the armchair, I open up The Goose Girl, setting a stopwatch to compare the passage of time in the real world and in the game. Sure enough, the time quickly diverges, and I realize that an extra minute passes with the turning of the page. Reading the whole story takes about ten minutes of real time, but 30 minutes pass on the game clock.
It occurs to me that with the acceleration of time, my game will not end on Bran’s Make Fun Of Nathan For Buying That Game Where You Just Wait For 400 Days calendar appointment, so I start a second instance of the game on the guest profile that he has used in the past. In this instance, I have the Shade sit in his chair and stare into space, which he shall do until the King awakens next May.
I take a break for a few hours (time continues to progress when the game is closed), and when I return to my actual game, it’s back into the caves I go. With a fair bit of exploration, I come across another piece of flint, the other pieces of the Shade’s instrument, and a massive door that will take two hours to open. I begin the opening process, and go back home to wait for it to open.
Now I can light a fire and play music. The fire makes a notable increase in speed: time travels five times as fast with the fire lit and drawings on the wall, and playing a tune on the instrument makes it go even faster for the duration. I read another short story I’ve found in the caves: The Six Swans, and between this (and taking some other breaks), the two hours for the door to open elapse in a fairly short amount of time.
The door opens to a new collection of branching pathways, but it is late, and I need sleep (IRL–the Shade does not appear to need sleep, but he does reflect that a bed might be a nice addition at some point). I send the Shade back home to idle overnight, in his comfortable armchair by the fire.
The next morning, significantly more time has passed in the game than the eight hours that I slept through. The game has passed the 1-day mark and gone a few hours beyond that. The fire has burned out (so I will have to continue gathering coal to replenish it), and the Shade is lost in thought. He muses that the King would not approve of his ever-widening explorations and I–serpent in his ear–encourage him to keep on exploring anyway, and find a light to explore the darker places.
I revisit some of the places I’d found the previous day. Some of the moss has developed enough to be gathered, and the pit beneath the dripping ceiling now contains a visible puddle at the bottom.
It’s details like this that make the game’s concept come alive: a pool filling at an absurdly slow pace, or a fire dwindling over an hour to a single flickering pixel before going out: you can’t follow these incremental changes, but you can tell that they’re actually happening when you check in on them, and know they aren’t just changing from “incomplete” to “complete” when you leave the room and come back.
The game is a weird sort of fusion of game styles. At times, when you leave the program to let a slow process take place, it feels like an idle game. When you explore, it feels like a slow-paced adventure game. And when you work to improve your home, it feels like something in the vein of Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing. There’s a lot less to do than in any of those games, but it produces that same sense of developing a home space that you own.
I plan on following up on this post as I explore The Longing. I don’t know how long it will take, but I feel safe in saying it will take less than the advertised 400 days. Until then…
Hey there everyone, thank you all for coming. I’d like to specifically thank the organizers of this event for providing seating that is comfortable enough to keep you from walking out and uncomfortable enough to make you think you’re paying attention to the lecture. And a special thank you to Chandler Birch for providing the title for tonight’s talk. Rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it, ladies and gentlemen? And yes, don’t worry Chandler, we’ll be getting your consultation check to you any day now. Aaaaany day now.
<opens water bottle on the podium>
Now, I bet a lot of you, in your working day, feel a lot like this water bottle. You start the day feeling full of life and energy, but then for some reason or another, throughout the day… <takes several gulps of water> …you find your energy being drained away from you, as if from some invisible force or entity. <takes several more gulps> And you may find yourself asking, why is this happening to me? <gulp> Who is responsible for this draining feeling inside of me? <gulp, gulp> And who recharges me if I run out of energy completely? <gulp, gulp, empty>
The answer may surprise you… You see, that invisible force you feel sucking your soul dry and choking the life out of you like a bootheel on your throat?
More specifically, it’s your negative attitude. But never fear, friends! With these five easy tips, I’m here to show how you can get that energy back and remain the productive members of society that we know–heck, that we expect–you to be. Ah, thank you, Sharon. <assistant mouths ‘It’s Charlene’ while replacing the water bottle, taking the empty one to the trash>
Tip 1: Remember You Could Always Be Working Harder
<Powerpoint slide shows image macro clearly made in MemeGenerator>
Friends, sometimes it’s hard to write these productivity presentations. Sometimes I’ll realize I’ve been working for thirty–or even forty–minutes straight, and I just want to kill myself. But then I’ll remind myself, hey, it could always be worse. I could have the kind of job all of you have! Once I remember that, it makes me thankful for what I do have, and it makes it easier to power through the last quarter hour of my workday.
And you can use this same trick too! When you’re on the seventieth hour of your forty-hour fixed-salary office job, remember that you could be working for a crappy fast food restaurant job. And if you’re working a crappy fast-food restaurant job–I’m honestly surprised your bosses could afford to send you to this seminar–but remember that you could be working in a third-world sweatshop making fifty-dollar leggings. And if you’re stuck working in a third-world sweatshop, remember that you could be in America and working for Gamestop. The point is, life can always get worse, unless you work for Gamestop, so be satisfied with the misery you have, instead of the misery you could have.
Tip 2: Consider Having Children
In a recent survey of new parents, the most given reason for having a child was “As a desperate attempt to stitch together a rapidly failing marriage founded on unrealistic expectations and extreme conflict-avoidance”. And that wasn’t even one of the options provided. That was the most common write-in, pretty much verbatim. Beat out “apparently condom expiration dates are real” even. Crazy.
Anyway, just in case it needs to be said, having kids to save your marriage is a terrible idea. It never works. The real reason to have kids is to save your JOB.
A new child brings a lot of new expenses: childcare, musical instruments they’ll play for a week, elective plastic surgery–and each of those expenses is a powerful motivator to stick with your job, no matter how much you hate it. If you ever think about quitting your job, just imagine how much your children will suffer. More importantly, think about how much you will suffer when you’re in prison for child neglect.
Tip 3: Remember to Cut Those Corners!
People ask me all the time, “How am I supposed to complete all the tasks I have assigned to me in any given week?”
Oh, you’re not. Dear god, you’re really not. Your employer doesn’t care if you do all the things they tell you to do. There’s a reason you get paid by the hour…it’s the time that they’re buying. The busywork is just to distract you from the time being siphoned away. Eight hours a day of the best years of your life…that stuff sells like crazy on the black market. And besides, it’s incredibly empowering to make people stay in one place until you say they’re allowed to leave.
So of course there’s well more than forty hours of work for you to do. Like octagons, these jobs come with lots of extra corners they don’t need. That way, you can find the unnecessary chaff and ignore it, which lets you feel like you’re putting one over on your boss. Everybody wins! Trust me, nobody will notice if you skip some steps.
Tip 5: Remember That We’re All In This Together
When you work in a fast-paced office environment, it’s easy to forget that you’re part of a team. When we feel alone, it’s easy to focus on the areas where we are most vulnerable, and we might think that our coworkers are out to get us.
In these moments, it’s important to remember that you aren’t alone in this. Many of your coworkers will have the exact same weak spots and vulnerabilities that you worry about. And since you know what they all are, make sure to use them against your coworkers before they can do it to you. The best defense is having the other team disqualified and forcibly removed from play.
All right, folks, that’s about all the time we have for today. Shannon is going to set out the mic for some quick Q&A, but first, I have one final thought to leave you with. On Friday, after a long hard week, the employees filing out of your cubicles may feel weak and drained of their will to live. But I promise you, if you follow my advice, the employees that come into the office the following Monday will be like this water bottle: full of energy– <pops the cap seal> –and good as new.
The conventional assumption about haunted houses is that these are places where the spirits of the dead remain in the place where they died. That these sightings are so few and far between is taken to mean that those dead who do not become ghosts are at peace, that they have moved on.
This is not strictly true. It is not the dead who move on, but us.
When a typical person dies, their spirit is separated from the body. No longer subject to gravity or inertia, they remain rooted to the exact point in space where they passed away. Why then, do we not report millions or billions of hauntings, the remnants of everyone who has ever died?
Because YOU are not rooted to a point in space.
Right now, unless you’re reading this on a bus or some other mode of transportation, you feel that you are stationary. Set in place, unmoving. But this is, of course, an illusion. You, and your chair and your house, your city and country and continent, rotate with the surface of the earth at hundreds of miles per hour. If this were all the motion that a stationary ghost had to contend with, then such senses as the spirit holds after death would be subjected to an endlessly whirling carousel, a blur of images moving too fast to ever come into focus on provide meaning.
But the earth is not stationary.
In addition to the rotation that gives Earth its days and nights, we must also consider the source of its year and seasons: revolution around the sun. Our planet travels through the solar system at over 18 miles per second. What the ghost must experience now changes. Instead of a spinning top of incomprehensible life, at the moment of death, they now see their world, the only thing they have known, flying away at an alarming rate, leaving only empty space and the sun to focus on. Earth will return in a year, breaking the spirit’s monotony for at most seven minutes, much of this spent in the glowing magma core and mantle. If, of course, this was all the motion to consider.
But the sun is not stationary.
The solar system makes its own revolution around the center of the galaxy, more than 10 times faster than Earth’s own revolution, and on a circuit thousands of light-years in length. As our ghost watches the earth recede, they say goodbye as well to the sun, to the other planets, to the asteroids and comets, not to return for hundreds of millions of years. There is no longer any point of reference but the stars in the sky.
But the stars are not stationary.
The stars that we see, unaided by telescopes, are residents of our Milky Way galaxy. But the galaxy is also moving, at several hundred more miles per second. Given the size of the galaxy and the distances involved, this recession would not be noted or perceived by the spirit, but it would be happening, relentlessly, all the same. In time, the stars will move away, shrinking to a point as the galaxy flees. In place of the myriad stars which may, for a time, have given the spirit some small diversion or point of focus, there will now be only the fainter points of distant galaxies, themselves moving steadily farther away as the universe resolutely expands, until, after countless millennia, billennia, trillennia, they too fade into the endless blackness of space.
This, then, is death: to be aware as Earth, the sun, the stars, the galaxies, all possible points of light and meaning and reality, fade and disappear into the cosmic dementia, leaving nothing but void for all eternity.
So what of the haunted houses? What of the ghosts, ghouls, and poltergeists? What of the restless spirits, the grim spectres, the eerie presences, the hallowed apparitions, the tormented wayward souls?
To put it short, they are the fortunate ones.
A spirit cut loose from the flesh is not subject to the physical laws of nature, but it is an entity of emotion, and is bound by forces of emotion. And there is no stronger emotional force than fear.
The ghosts we encounter here on Earth are those that died in terror. Fright is a tether, anchoring the spirit to a place, a person, or even an object with emotional resonance, something which keeps them connected to this ever-hurtling world.
They are the only ones who get to watch humanity continue on after death. They are the only ones who get to listen to music. They are the only ones who can hang on, at least for a while, to a place where meaning–where anything–still exists.
And it is why they must frighten you. Fear is the only thing that keeps them attached to the world they left behind, their fear and yours. Fear of houses where the walls shift in the dark and meet at unconventional angles. Fear of paintings whose eyes follow you as you pass. Fear of porcelain dolls with holes where their eyes should be, and which are never found where you last left them. Because once the fear is gone, and the tether unravels, there is nothing left but the abyss.
So accept the dare to spend the night in a haunted house. Whisper forbidden names in your mirror at midnight. Wander into the dark basement as your flashlight begins to flicker. Say a prayer each night to Saints Krueger and Voorhees, to bestow on you blessings of torment and nightmare. Live each day beneath the shadow of fear, and when you die, make sure you die with a scream clawing at your lips. Because in the end, fear is all you have.
Just one more, and I should be done with the voting listicles.
This year in particular, I’m a blue voter, and I live in a very red state. When elections (especially presidential ones) roll around, one of the things I tend to hear is this:
“What’s the point in voting when you know which way your state’s going to vote?”
So I want to go over some of the reasons why I vote, and maybe they can be your reasons to vote too. (At the time I’m writing this, you’ve still got a couple days left to get out there.)
1. The Presidency Isn’t The Only Race
Your vote doesn’t go very far in affecting the presidential race. Besides the fact that everyone in the country can vote in this one, the nature of the electoral college can mean that your vote isn’t really counted if the voice for the opposing team in your state overwhelms yours and the people who vote with you.
But your vote goes farther when voting for members of congress, governors, and other state-wide races. And it goes farther still for races limited to just your county or city. Especially if you also nudge your less-motivated friends to get off their butts and make it to the polls too.
After George Floyd’s death and the resulting protests, Barack Obama wrote an article about how to effect change and police reform at the voter level. One of the sentences that stuck with me was this: “The elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels.”
So I vote in the presidential election, but I also vote for the smaller races too, where my vote makes a larger impact.
2. Battleground States Aren’t Permanent
In any presidential race, there are a lot of states that are “safely won” by one side or the other, and a handful of battleground states that are too close for the polls to call, and which make or break the race.
If you live in one of the states that’s consistently voted red or blue for as long as you remember, it can be easy to assume that’s the way your state will always be. But battleground states do change. Some battleground states from 2016 are more polarized in this race, toward either side, and states that were very polarized in that election are much less certain now. Populations change as new voters come of age, old voters pass away, and people move from state to state.
While I’m sure my state is going to turn out red, I don’t know how red it’s going to be. Any year could be the one where the vote in my state becomes close enough that candidates have to seriously take it into account for the next election. And if it’s this year, I’d like to be a part of that.
3. Even Losing Votes Have An Impact
As a general rule, politicians want to continue being politicians. And to do so, they have to keep more people voting for them than for their opponents. How close the race runs determines how much they need to work to keep the public’s favor, and which part of the voting populace they need to lean toward.
If you are running virtually (or literally) unopposed, there’s not much you need to do to stay in office, just don’t screw up in a major way. What integrity and impartiality you bring to the office is mostly a matter of personal character at this level.
With a semi-serious contender (someone who may pick up 30% of the vote), the candidate has to work a little bit, but their voter focus can rest further toward the extreme ends of their political base. They don’t have to get voters to vote for them instead of their opponent, they just have to make sure their loyal base actually gets out to vote.
The closer the race is, the more this candidate’s focus has to move toward the more moderate center. The more extreme voters may choose not to vote for a candidate they see as too moderate, but they aren’t going to vote for the person on the opposite side of the spectrum. They just won’t vote. But a more moderate or indecisive voter might be persuaded to change political sides for a compelling alternative. These votes are both a vote lost for you AND a vote gained for your opponent. In this sort of race, the individual swingable voters are twice as valuable as the individual extremists in your party.
So I vote to keep the races in my state closer, so that the officials here have to appeal more to people close to the center than nutjobs on the fringes.
4. Perception Motivates and Demotivates
One of the biggest reasons I vote when it’s “pointless” in my state is so that someday, people will stop saying that it is.
I think most people have a meter inside them that determines when a race is close enough to motivate them to vote. For some, the race has to be almost as sure as won for them to get out and vote. For others (like me), that meter fills up quicker. For some people, it’s enough to see that someone is running at all.
We don’t like to vote for people that are sure to lose. We think it makes us look foolish and naive, and a lot of us would rather not bother trying. But I think making any change requires a little bit of naivete. I think voting is an act of naivete, and a necessary one.
And thus I will naively vote for candidates who won’t win, for all the reasons above. And I hope that my small impact will help nudge some of these races close enough that a few more people will be motivated to naively vote in the next one. And that those votes will bring the next elections close enough that a few more people will vote. And so on. Maybe it’s a silly thing to believe in, but sometimes silly things are worth believing in.