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.

Small Victories

Today I:

  1. Took a shower
  2. Got dressed
  3. Had an honest conversation with Mom
    1. During which I asserted my needs
  4. Stood barefoot in the grass and let the wind rush over me and enjoyed the sun
    1. And let fresh air and sunlight into my living room
  5. Emptied the sink; filled and ran the dishwasher
  6. Thought about how awesome (NOT perfect, but awesome nonetheless) my relationship with Fox and his family is
  7. Shared a banana with my rats
  8. Balanced my checkbook
  9. Decided that, of all the things I could post about today, this little bit of positivity was the most important

Daily Prompt: Burning Down the House – What Cannot Be Replaced

Daily Prompt: Burning Down the House | The Daily Post.

Today, The Daily Post has set fire to my house! All the people and animals are safe and I have time to grab – and save – five items.

I glance around quickly at all the things that will be lost: my furniture, clothes, beloved books, countless nicknacks. My eyes tear up as they fall upon the bead curtain my friends and I have been working on since college. But all these things, as painful and expensive as it may be to lose them now, can be replaced. The air is filling with smoke; it’s getting harder to breathe. I must act quickly.

The very first thing I grab is my viola; if I’m lucky it is already packed, with its bow, in its case. My viola is not an inanimate object, it is a beautiful musical instrument with a unique personality and with which I have a very meaningful relationship. To lose it would be to lose a part of my soul.

Next I grab my guitar, also already packed in its case – which I can sling fairly easily over my shoulder. I knew this was My Guitar the moment I first strummed it. There is no way I could leave it behind.

Choking, I run over to my desk. I grab the external hard drive that houses the only copy of some of my older files, most notably music I composed in college.

Once that is secure, I unplug all the wires from the back of my desktop computer. This baby was custom-built three years ago and my only complaint about it is that my security software somehow manages to slow it down – nothing some extra RAM couldn’t fix. More importantly, it has the only copy of some irreplaceable files on it. There is no way I will willingly leave it behind.

Finally, I am torn as to what my last item should be. Do I try to wrangle the bead curtain? Grab my digital camera, which likely has some pictures on it I have yet to transfer to a computer? What about my sketchbook? It has my unique drawings in it … but the ones I care about most have been scanned.

I check my left hand – yes, I’m already wearing my engagement ring.

The air is thickening; I can barely see. My eyes fall on my laptop. It is one of the most valuable items I own, and it also has irreplaceable files on it. Though I’ve had the desktop longer, the laptop – because I can use it in bed, take it anywhere with me, etc. – feels more like I have a special relationship with it. I grab it and run for my life.

I escape just in time, running from ground zero as my home collapses behind me. Ashes, smoke, and flames billow into the air. Somewhere in the distance, sirens are sounding.

I am so relieved to join my loved ones in safety. We hug, we cry, we tremble, but we’re all here, safe. I think about all the stuff that I have lost … but it is precisely that: stuff. What I really need is what’s around me: Love.

*****

As a hoarder, especially a hoarder who is transitioning between spaces, I find it exceptionally useful to respond to this kind of prompt. It can be so hard to get rid of things. As crazy as the clutter drives me, it’s also comforting. Each item I get rid of is like throwing away a part of myself. It hurts.

But they’re just things! This prompt has me thinking about which of my things are really important, and which I could live without. Ultimately, the answer is that the items I need most enable me to express myself. My computer hard drives contain some of my most meaningful self-expressions.

Yes, I need things like clothes. Yes, I want to keep all my books and other media. But most of this stuff is just stuff. The emotions, the memories, they all live inside me. I can be whole without this stuff! And that means I can let some of it go …