Aarghle Flarghle Blarghle!!!

Please bear with me. This stuff is all a jumbled mess and I need to get it out but I don’t know where to start.

Our legal marriage ceremony is in a week and a half. I let anxiety get the best of me and put off getting my dress hemmed by another day. I procrastinated by finally doing some of the other things I’d been procrastinating.

I don’t even know what I’m so anxious about. I know the person who will be hemming the dress, she’s a very nice supportive person and we’ve made clothes for me before. I’m even pretty sure I know what to expect. I’ve driven to and from her house a million times at all hours of the day and night. But just thinking about it makes me feel sick with anxiety.

I know I want to marry Fox and gain the legal recognition for what we’ve felt for some time. But I can’t shake the anxiety, and I can’t shake the feeling that I’m boxing myself in. Maybe it’s because we tend to fall into the trap of being each other’s only social interaction for days at a time, and because I’ve stopped doing a lot of things I used to enjoy since we met. But I can start doing those things again; we can and do spend time with other people both together and apart. We just need to make more of an effort to do so consistently. It’s a big problem but I don’t think running away from marriage is the answer. I think I can – I really want to – make it work with him.

Because there are times when it feels so right, like we were made for each other. Lately, those have been the times when we’ve turned off our computers and talked about the discussion questions in our premarital counseling homework. I’m hoping those will be valuable tools to keep us connecting with each other on the important things.

I’ve been playing The Sims 3 to reassure myself that life after marriage can work. The game I’ve written about most recently (Escape to Dragon Valley pt. 1 & pt. 2) started with a recently-married young adult couple – precisely what Fox and I will be in a week and a half. I stopped playing that family because the game kept crashing when I had the wife – who had just become an elder – try to plan her outfits. I started a new game with more of a focus on raising children, but it became nearly impossible for the sims to do anything without being in each other’s way. When the husband/father couldn’t eat breakfast because his teenage daughter was brushing the cat (and there wasn’t really a better spot available where she could have done so) I snapped and deleted my save files for both of the above families.

Just like that, they’re gone.

Now I’m playing a new family in the Sims 3 that started with – you guessed it – a recently-married young adult couple. I put them in a starter house with the goal of moving them to a small but easily-expandable house I had built on a generously-sized lot. They moved up their respective career tracks quickly, largely because they had access to skill books in the library (Moonlight Falls). Before long they were able to afford the house I had built them and start producing offspring, the first of which just grew up into a child. My primary focus is actually on her; the young adult sims exist to provide their children with the best possible foundation for a very promising future. Everything they’ve been doing – their financial success, all upgrades to their home, even the family portraits – all of it is for their children and future generations of this family. The young adults don’t even get memories, only the children do (one child so far, but I intend for them to have two).

I’ve been doing a pretty good job of balancing the parents’ needs, career development, friendships, and contribution to their child’s development. Their relationship with each other is suffering, though. It’s kind of rare for me to have them interact; I think part of it is how the game – especially its artificial intelligence – works, and part of it is mirroring my disconnection from Fox (which ironically manifests in and is worsened when I play the game). The bottom line is that having sims interact, especially in ways that build or maintain their relationships, takes consistent intentional effort. If I’ve learned anything from premarital counseling (and life in general) it’s that real-life relationships are much the same.

I’m wary of putting in that kind of effort because I’ve been hurt in the past. My mother requires a ton of it but tends not to give me what I need in return; if she does it’s at a very high cost. (For example: after supporting me in working through some of my anxiety today, she insisted on taking Fox’s shirt to be pressed without his knowledge or consent.) My father physically abused me. Other loved ones have died, moved away, withdrawn emotionally, taken advantage of me (or tried to do so), etc. I want this relationship to be different; I want to trust that it is. But I can’t. I’m constantly wary. I feel like it will all fall apart as soon as I relax.

And in a week and a half it will be legally binding. Mom says I can still back out; it’s entirely my choice. But I feel like I’m watching a train wreck … while bound to the front of the train.

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Escape to Dragon Valley Pt. 2

I started out my The Sims 3 game with a recently-married young adult couple and their small dog. They initially moved into a small apartment in Bridgeport, the most city-like of the available worlds. It seemed the most thematically appropriate 1) for the careers I intended them to pursue (Music and Styling) and 2) because the low cost of the apartment enabled them to afford a better quality bed and a laptop. (I think on some level I wanted it to mirror my experience of sharing the equivalent of a one-bedroom apartment with Fox.)

At first I played my couple more as two individual sims than as a coherent family. They each had a career to pursue: Carina dove straight into the Music career track and Jason found his way into the Styling profession. Carina spent several hours most days per week at work, requiring minimal attention from me; she also spent a lot of her time home from work practicing violin and guitar. (The game requires guitar skill for both the rock and symphonic branches of the Music career, but I thought violin was more appropriate to the symphonic branch – which I was having Carina pursue. My solution was to have her improve both skills at the same slow pace.)

I thought I’d have fun controlling Jason during his work days as a stylist; I actually got to change the outfits and hairstyles of other sims in town! Unfortunately his clients kept missing appointments and I lost interest in giving makeovers to random sims. So, I had him decide to quit his job and try to find work in a more conventional career track. He tried Business first and quickly received an opportunity to pursue a career in Politics, so I had him change jobs, thinking it might be interesting. He sold his drafting table (required for the Stylist profession) and got an easel instead, which enabled him to paint many valuable works of art. I think he’s made more money selling paintings than going to work.

There was added pressure on Jason to work in a less-than-ideal career track because the couple desperately needed to save up money so they could afford a larger home. The apartment was too tiny and there was no door to the bedroom, so it was often impossible for Carina to practice her instruments without disturbing Jason. (In real life I go for long stretches of time without playing music because I don’t want to disturb Fox.) They had a short time when they weren’t getting along – and even spent Snowy Day apart from one another! – largely because Carina kept practicing when Jason was trying to sleep. The rush to move became even more urgent when Carina became pregnant with their first child; there was no way 3 people could live there comfortably! (In real life Fox and I will also need to find a larger home before we can start having children.)

Eventually they were able to move to Dragon Valley, the new world I’d acquired and was eager to explore. They received a grant to fix up and live in a fort that had been destroyed by dragons. (How wonderful would it be to receive a grant enabling one to buy a nice house in a good neighborhood?) It provided them a far more spacious home, where Carina could practice at any time of day or night and Jason could go in a different room (with a door he could close!) to sleep. Their baby, Aaron, even had his own bedroom.

It was a slow process, but they were able to make the space their own. I had a lot of fun finding creative ways to keep the living-in-a-fort feel while also dividing up the space into usable rooms and making it a functional home. My favorite thing about it is the very open layout on the first floor, which makes taking pictures for memories easy from almost any angle – no walls in the way or awkwardly being able to see inside the bathroom. I’ve also enjoyed having the space change over time, documented in their memories. It gives me a sense of continuity and accomplishment: look how far they’ve come!

I’d wanted this to be a much more essential story element than it ended up being: Carina found dragon eggs in the basement of the fort-turned-home! Way before she (or I) expected, the eggs both hatched: the first into a green-thumbed treasure-seeking dragon I named Kes, and the other into a death-themed logic-oriented dragon I named T’Pol. (No, I’m not a Trekkie. What ever gave you that idea?) They’ve helped the family out a great deal – Kes by providing useful resources and T’Pol by equipping each family member with a death flower, which will save their lives once should a tragedy (fire, drowning, electrocution, being hit by a meteorite, etc.) occur. My sims love playing with the dragons, talking to them to learn gardening and logic, and carrying them around, but the dragons require a lot less maintenance than I’d expected. They’re more like other household objects than pets. It works well enough, I guess, but it’s a little bit disappointing. (That won’t keep me from trying to acquire and raise the other kinds, though!)

Having Aaron kind of forced me to play my sims more like a coherent family. Jason really loved teaching and playing with his son, but wasn’t really getting anywhere (or anything out of) his job. I was also struggling to come up with a career-related goal for him, but I loved watching him play with Aaron and wanted to give Aaron the best possible start. So I had Jason quit his job and become Aaron’s full-time caregiver, while Carina continued to advance in her career and make plenty of money for the family to live on (especially since they’d been responsible with the money from their grant). It was a little bit frustrating because I wanted Carina to be more involved with raising her son while also excelling in her career, but – as in real life – that’s extremely difficult to pull off in The Sims 3. Fortunately, I had a way to express that within the game memory system: Carina had a mid-life crisis! It was a wake-up call for her (and me) to become more involved (to involve her more) in Aaron’s life.

It was kind of rare for the whole family to experience things together, except that I had them attend each season’s festival. My primary purpose for doing so was to have them take a family picture, which I used to keep track of the family changing over time. They also got to have some season-related fun together and with other sims from town. As time has gone on I’ve had them spending more time together. The deaths of their two dogs were very sad, but were also shared experiences. Jason, Aaron, and Ryan shared the experience of sightseeing in Egypt, while Carina played guitar for tips. (I’m not crazy about her excluding herself from their adventures; I feel like I’m struggling to really integrate her into the family while also advancing her career.) Most recently, the family got to come together for 2 birthday parties!

When they’re not directly engaged in activities together, they’re each doing whatever is immediately necessary to keep the household running smoothly. Whoever has gotten the most sleep (or is closer) gets up to care for the crying baby. If there is no prepared food in the fridge, a hungry sim cooks a group meal so the others can also eat – possibly even together! Whoever is closest / in the best mood / is not immediately engaged in skill-building takes out the trash, helps the child with homework, reads a bedtime story, repairs the broken sink, etc. It’s tempting to have whichever sim is best at something (e.g. cooking or gardening) be solely responsible for that task, but I’ve found playing that way to be quite frustrating. This game has taught me that maybe it’s better not to have roles, but to have everyone equally responsible for everything – at least to some degree.

Jason has developed an interest in photography and decided to pursue that as a possible career – despite the fact that his paintings are currently worth a lot more than his photographs will be worth for quite some time. I finally decided to make it his goal to raise both the painting and photography skills to level 10. He just grew up into an elder, so his time is waning. He feels very accomplished to have raised his son, Aaron – now a young adult – and continues to be invested in his second son, Ryan’s, development. He hopes to have grandchildren to help raise as well.

Carina has achieved her lifelong dream of becoming a hit movie composer! She’s getting close to elder-hood, but still has plenty of time to enjoy the career / position / job that she worked so hard and sacrificed so much for. She is also very proud of her sons, especially Aaron who has graduated high school and become a young adult. Investing in businesses around town is a way to ensure future generations of her family will have income, and I’ve used a good chunk of Carina’s lifetime happiness points to acquire objects that any sim in the household can use even after she dies.

I guess, due to the nature of her main goal, Carina has been more focused on her own individual advancement and career success than on being part of the family as a whole. She’s still contributed in her own way by carrying, giving birth to, and financially supporting her sons, even if she’s been less involved in raising them (and it’s not like she hasn’t been involved at all, just less than Jason). Her success has paved the way for them and future generations to have a much easier time in life. And dude, being a hit movie composer who can play guitar and violin in her sleep and whom everyone trips over themselves to photograph is quite the accomplishment! I’d say she has a great deal to be proud of.

For the record, she has NOT given in to demands that she exercise in order to shape her body into what people think a celebrity should look like. She’s an older woman and a mom and an extremely successful musician; people can accept her as she is or go harass someone else, thank-you-very-much.

Aaron has picked up the torch as my new young adult, with all the excitement and opportunity that suggests. His lifetime goal is to be a Renaissance sim – to raise 3 skills to level 10. He’s well on his way to that with painting. I haven’t really decided on a career for him yet and I kind of have notions that he and his brother might open some kind of shop (toy or otherwise; this possibility was unlocked by a recent purchase, so I’m eager to enjoy what I paid for). I’m getting frustrated with failed attempts to make his imaginary friend real (the game didn’t register the first step I took toward the relevant Opportunity). It seems most likely I’ll have him marry and raise a family with his high school sweetheart.

Finally, Ryan has decided he wants to become a world-renowned surgeon. That should be a fun and interesting career track to pursue; I’m not sure I’ve had a sim complete it yet. I’m also thinking of having him be a chess prodigy. For some reason I’m loving the idea of having the youngest member of the family be a genius and quite unlike the rest of the family, yet still a loved, respected, and integral part of it. I like that it’s safe for him to express himself freely and pursue his dreams, even if he doesn’t fit in – no, especially because he doesn’t fit in.

Escape to Dragon Valley Pt. 1

I feel like I should write about the rest of the time I spent with Banji at her aunt’s house, but the words just aren’t coming right now. There was a lot of crying and other emotional vulnerability. We also had a lot of fun connecting (especially through music) and watched the entire first season of Elementary. The single best day IMHO was the one we spent outside around a fire talking, cooking hot dogs, and making s’mores.

As the visit came to a close, I found myself thinking more and more about my game in The Sims 3. I packed too much into the day I returned home, so by the end of it I had little energy (especially emotional energy) for anything social – even just talking or cuddling with Fox. I dove back into the game and haven’t really left it since. I’ve been playing it even more since Wakana gave me a list of things I need to do to get myself living life and interacting with people more; she asked me to call her at the start and end of each play session. I swear I didn’t lie when I agreed to do those things, I just promptly decided not to do them.

One thing Wakana asked me to do that I am inclined to follow up on is to write about my active game and what I get out of it. This post is the first of … some number, I have no idea … that will address the issue. I suppose I should mention that I’ve also been feeling very pressured to move more quickly on preparations for my legal marriage ceremony in less than a month. I want people (especially Mom) to back off but that doesn’t seem to be happening, so I hide in The Sims 3 instead of dealing with any of it.

My The Sims 3 family consists of a stay-at-home dad who’s going to become an elder very soon, an orchestra conductor who is painfully close to achieving her lifetime goal, a high school senior in a promising relationship who also has an imaginary friend, and a child genius. I’m at the point where I have a habit of abandoning my current game in favor of a new set of young adults, but I’m hoping that maybe I’ll stick with this family for multiple generations. Yet at the same time part of me thinks the best thing I could do for myself is drop The Sims 3 cold turkey, uninstall it and everything. There I typed it but I don’t want to do it, okay? I’m still holding out for a solution that lets me keep playing, just without sacrificing my whole life.

Last night I took a break from actually playing to create a timeline that combines all four sims’ memories into a sort of rudimentary narrative. This was more important to me than sleeping last night / this morning or doing anything useful today. There’s no point to creating something like that just to keep it to myself, so, well, enjoy. Please don’t hesitate to tell me what you think.

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Running Red

Banji and I arrived at her aunt’s house last night, after a full afternoon of driving through mountains covered with glorious yellows, oranges, and reds. We had a fun drive and good conversation and I think I even managed to stay awake through most of it! (though I did nod off a bit in the middle, oddly enough while listening to Led Zeppelin) It felt great to talk with her and her aunt once we’d arrived, though I’ll admit I felt a bit left out during some of their conversations about their family members.

I woke early this morning; my first reaction was to try and go back to sleep. My mind kept berating me about Schmoozer’s death, telling me it’s all my fault my adorable, sweet, uber friendly pet rat is dead. “Fine, if you’re going to torture me, I’ll get up.” So I did. And, genius that I am, I went online and looked at information about the Speaker of the House. I think it’s ridiculous that one person has so much power he can keep the government shut down indefinitely by refusing to allow his colleagues to vote on a bill. I wanted to create a petition asking for Boehner to be kicked out of that position and replaced with a non-partisan individual whose immediate job it would be to call the clean funding bill to a vote. But there is no higher authority to appeal to, and it seems most likely that if we could convince the House to “encourage” Boehner to resign, House Republicans would immediately elect someone worse.

I read an article that said the Tea Party is actually pleased with Boehner and that this shutdown is part of his career strategy. That’s right folks, starving mothers and babies, survivors of rape and domestic violence put out on the street, head start programs ground to a halt, hundreds of thousands of people without work or pay, parks and monuments closed, a lapse in veterans’ benefits, etc. etc. etc. … merely the pawns in Boehner’s game of chess. If he’s winning, he’s not going to listen to our petitions – unless perhaps there is a massive outcry by the people in his district, who can vote for his opponent in the next election. Without their votes, all the support and campaign funds from his party will be nothing. One district in Ohio may determine the fate of us all.

I decided to give myself a break from the futile & infuriating and do something useful. My student loans will go into repayment soon, so I thought I should take a look at my account and repayment options. The instructions I’d received were to select a repayment plan or apply for deferment before my loans enter repayment. Makes sense to me. But the site wouldn’t even let me view some of the options, much less make changes or try to defer repayment, because I’m still in a grace period. That’s right folks. I’m supposed to do something before the grace period ends, but I can’t do it because of the grace period. That makes so much sense!

Eventually I gave up on the Internet and decided to attempt an idea I had for a Celtic knotwork panel. Banji took a nap nearby, said the design looked good when I showed it to her, and used her smart phone. I felt really guilty for doing something that didn’t involve her, but I also really wanted to complete my design. It was like I literally couldn’t put it down.

But of course my mind wouldn’t let me just focus on the knotwork! It insisted on ruminating on Boehner and the Republicans and how effed up the federal government is. I felt so angry and at the same time so helpless; it’s really infuriating. I talked with Banji about it a bit but she didn’t really want to get into it too much, and really I think she’s taking the healthier course of action. So I fumed a bit, and I compulsively completed a very convoluted knotwork design, including tracing the outline in ultra fine black Sharpie and erasing most of the pencil lines. The perfectionist in me still wants to tweak some things, but overall I’m proud of my day’s work.

We left the house late enough that we only had 20 minutes to peruse the bookstore in town – a tradition that is important to Banji. Of course I was ambivalent about going until we got there, then once we were there I wished we had longer to look at ALL THE BOOKS!!! But maybe it was better we were so short on time because we got to look around and be entertained without spending inordinate amounts of money. Any longer would have been bad for the wallet and might not have actually been any more fun.

Dinner with Banji’s aunt, then we came back to the house and started chatting. I kept fading in and out, almost like I was bouncing between two realities. The one behind my eyelids was quite gory. I wanted to talk to Banji about it after her aunt had gone to bed, but I felt so weird trying to describe the images that were haunting me – precisely because they were so haunting. I couldn’t get myself to say anything about them. Banji was tired, too, so we agreed to call it a night and try to do creative things together in the morning.

I’ll describe the gory, unsettling, potentially triggering images behind a cut, so you can choose whether to read about them.

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Shut Down

I’ve been having a really hard time lately and there’s no end in sight. Sometimes I feel so hopeless, it’s painful to keep breathing.

This government shutdown orchestrated by a small handful of right-wing extremists who somehow managed to take control of the House is such a huge, overwhelming problem. I know one person who works for the government who has been extremely stressed out, and another person who just lost their job – I suspect at least partially due to the shutdown. I’m concerned for them, and for the hundreds of thousands of people out of work, and for the millions of people who won’t receive the assistance they need for Zek knows how long. The impact on the economy is devastating, and more importantly people could die as a result of this.

It completely and utterly infuriates me that the Republicans won’t even acknowledge that they played a role in the shutdown, never mind taking responsibility. Their smug lies are difficult to tolerate on the best of days, now they might as well be physically tying my intestines in knots while force-feeding me spoiled milk. All we need is for the House to vote on one bill that’s been sitting on Boehner’s desk, but that he refuses to call a vote on. I don’t even understand how or why the Speaker of the House – one person – has that kind of power. I thought our government was set up to prevent one person from ever having that much power.

We can petition them all we want but it’s like they live in a different universe. I don’t think they’re capable of having an honest conversation anymore. The meaning of your words gets twisted in their minds before you’re even finished saying a single sentence; it’s almost like they can’t help dodging the question or spewing blatant lies because they’re not perceiving the words or the situation realistically. I think the only solution is for the American people to somehow take direct control of the House – at the very least, force them to vote on the bill that would provide funding to the departments that have been shut down (without removing women’s access to birth control or delaying implementation of the Affordable Care Act / Obamacare for a year, thanks). At least then we’d have some semblance of transparency, a record of who voted to keep this country afloat and who voted against us all.

So far I’ve learned of one way to bypass Boehner and force a vote on the clean funding bill: the discharge petition House Democrats have been pursuing. I encourage readers (especially those in the U.S.) to sign this petition urging House Republicans to join their colleagues in ending the shutdown. Also please consider contacting your representative directly (House.gov). I know I just wrote that petitioning them doesn’t do anything, but I don’t really see any other course of action. People know that the Republicans are responsible; there are several races for Republican seats in the house where polls show the Democrats to have an advantage. Maybe if we keep enough pressure on they’ll realize that the best thing to do – whether it’s to save their jobs or because deep down they actually do give a damn about this country – is to give up the Tea Party’s ridiculous demands and frelling fund the government. We only need about 18 of them to rejoin reality.

Anyways, it’s not just the shutdown that’s got me, well, down. I’m having my own financial crisis. I wiped out my checking account paying credit card bills (in full, on time), then received 2 very unwelcome pieces of mail. One was the bill from the animal hospital where we’d taken Schmoozer; they’re charging me an additional $400 on top of the $200 deposit. I was very angry when I first received it, but the vets and other staff worked hard and they do need to be paid. The financial cost just adds to the pain of losing him. The other offensive bit of mail was regarding my student loans: I need to contact them about repayment or deferment because I’m not at least a half-time student. I’m hoping I can defer repayment, but I’m dreading the call I’m almost guaranteed to have to make. Again, not at all unreasonable (or entirely unexpected), just horrible timing. I’d much rather disappear into a hole than deal with bureaucracy.

I managed to fill out most of the information to apply for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act – which went into effect a week ago – but the site (HealthCare.gov) was “unable to verify my identity.” I haven’t been able to log on since to view the message that’s waiting for me; I hope it’s not time sensitive! I could call but I really feel a lot more comfortable with written communication, which allows me to ensure my own comprehension and make sure I’m clearly communicating my true intention. On the phone I feel pressured to agree with whomever I’m talking to; I might agree to something that’s not in my best interest.

I’m frustrated because I just want to see what plan(s) I’m eligible for and take some time to compare/evaluate them, but I can’t even log in. The more rational side of me is saying to wait a month or two. Then Fox and I can apply as a married couple, I can use my new legal name, and less people will be trying to access the site at once, so it should be a lot easier. But that doesn’t jive well with the part of me that feels an urgent need to Do Something Right Now to change my current status: unemployed and uninsured. Being unemployed and uninsured goes against the values I was raised with, the sense of identity I wanted. It’s hard to accept; it grates on my nerves. But it’s the truth and I want to do something about it. I hate that when I finally get up the guts and energy to try, then I can’t even log in to a website.

I’m also feeling a lot of pressure to get a job, but I find it difficult to get up, feed myself, and get dressed in the morning; my mind fills with doubts about whether I’d be able to be on time for the job, ever. The idea of going in for an interview paralyzes me with anxiety. Mom says I need to figure out what I’m doing with my life, and I agree. But I question whether I really want to and can continue on the career path I’ve already started out with; for the time being, at least, even role-playing a therapist is dangerous. I would love to write professionally (even though I lack a degree in English), but I’m not sure how likely I’d be to actually get paid; most of the jobs I’ve seen posted online would provide unstable income at best. I have the minimal degree I need to enter a career in music composition / arranging / orchestrating and I think I’d enjoy it a great deal … except that I have trouble getting myself to work on my own compositions for fun. Assuming I could even get anyone to pay me for my work, would I be able to stick with it consistently enough to finish commissioned works? Right now I’m full of doubt. I doubt I could be successful in any career.

Mom says I should try to find a small office job or something local. The idea fills me with so much anxiety I have to end the conversation. But then I doubt myself again. Am I really suffering from a mental illness that makes it so I can’t even try to find work? Or am I just being lazy, making excuses? To what degree do I need to take responsibility? And to what degree do I desperately need support? Whose responsibility is it to make sure I get that support? I feel like I should know where to look, but I don’t. I’m lost.