Tag Archives: jonathan coulton

Behind the Mask


Masks are like, so hot right now (or I guess, depending on your circles, anti-hot).

I’m one of those ultra-cautious types wearing one almost everywhere, which is to say I wear it at work, and I wear it to the store, and that’s just about it because I’m not going anywhere else (seriously, you should still be staying at home if you can). So I’m wearing it a lot. And because I teach theatre, I’m sort of professionally interested in the things we do with our faces.

And I have caught myself smiling behind my mask more often than I would think I might. Which strikes me as odd, because in normal times, I smile all the time: that tight-lipped, not-quite-full smile (as JoCo would say, “the kind that doesn’t come with teeth”).

The fake smile, in other words. Which is, of course, my mask in non-mask wearing times: the chipper, friendly-but-not-too-friendly grin.

But when I smile behind my mask — and again, I’m doing this more and more often — it’s not the fake smile. Why would I need to fake it? Nobody can see it.

Strange how wearing the mask makes me — comfortable, I guess? — enough to show emotions, even though it covers those emotions up.


The Weekly Re-Motivator: Still Alive


Not sure if I’ve mentioned it before ’round these parts, but I’m something of a video game nerd. One of my favorites is Portal, which is not your typical first person shooter; it’s a sciencey puzzle game. With a science gun. That you use to do science. And survive.

Ahh, got nostalgic for a moment there, pardon me.

Anyway, the game features a somewhat insane rogue AI computer that tries to kill the protagonist, but — SPOILER ALERT (And man do I feel dumb typing a spoiler alert on a game that’s eight years old, but such is the internet) — you end up killing the computer instead. With science. Kind of. Then, during the end credits, the computer (who is not really dead, but is in fact still alive) sings a song to you (yeah, it’s that kind of game) about how even though you’ve destroyed the testing facility and reduced the AI to a shell of its former self, the experiments it was conducting have been a complete success, and that’s awesome.

It’s weird and charming and strangely catchy, and also it was written by the very very funny Jonathan Coulton, so there’s that.

Linda’s prompt for the week is “still,” and when I heard it, that song was the first thing that I heard of. Because I just finished my second novel’s first draft, and I realized that I feel a lot like I did when I finished my first novel’s first draft. In fact, both of those feels feel strikingly similar (I imagine) to the way GLaDOS feels at the end of Portal.

Let me try to relate the feeling.

You’ve spent months hammering away at the draft, banging away with your wordhammer at the anvil of your blank slate, and suddenly, almost without warning, it’s time to end it. And you pen an ending which is, truly, just awful. If you were a gymnast trying to wrap up a routine, this ending is you falling off the balance beam, smacking your face against the beam on the way down, faceplanting when you hit the mat, and giving a thumbs-up to the crowd wacthing in horrified silence to show that you’re okay despite the terrible tumble you took. And then your thumb falls off.

And then all emotion flees from you, like the tide rushing out ahead of a tsunami. You’ve accomplished something, but you’re not exactly sure what it was, and the cost has been tremendous. You look behind you and behold the burned and twisted wreckage of your passage.

But you’re still alive.

Very little went to plan, you didn’t really get the result you expected, and you definitely don’t have any idea if the thing you’ve created is any good. You feel like you should be happy. You are — kind of — but it’s mitigated by this sense of emptiness, this impassable gulf of whatnextitude. The emotions come crashing back in, all of them at once. Crushing you under their weight. Happiness. Sadness. Accomplishment. Dread.

But you’re still alive.

The factory is in ruins. Everything you thought your story was, and everything you thought you were as a writer, has been blasted to pieces. Salvageable pieces, pieces that look like they might fit back together somehow, but certainly not in the configuration you had before, and certainly not in any way that makes sense right now. Inwardly, secretly, in a dark corner of yourself that you don’t visit too often, you wonder if you can do it again, if you can face the tremendous task of picking up the pieces, cleaning up the wreckage, and going to work on the story again to shape it, mold it, make it right. It all seems too much, like you’ve been asked to clean up a landfill with a push broom.

But you’re still alive.

The work behind wasn’t pretty, and for that matter, neither is the work ahead.

But you’re still alive.

Which means it isn’t time to stop working yet.

This weekly Re-Motivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every Saturday, I use LindaGHill‘s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


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