Commodore Dreams

When I was young my brothers and I had a Commodore 64 Personal Computer. We all three of us sat enthralled for many hours by the vast trove of video games available for the machine, but I wanted more. I wanted to create. I wanted to get under the hood of this 64K, 16 color processor that could display 8 sprites—8! onscreen at any given time. I wanted to unlock its secrets and make games myself.

I had no teacher. I didn’t know any computer programmers, and there was no school curriculum for it. All I had to guide me was my Commodore 64 User Manual and my own determination. I started writing simple programs in BASIC, gradually increasing the complexity until I could build something that almost resembled a playable computer game.

But there was always an obstacle. The documentation was spotty; there were several BASIC commands in the manual that simply did not work when I input them as shown. I checked out books from the library, but they were unclear on some key concepts; I could input a mass of command lines and they would function as the book described, but I couldn’t pluck out the principle behind them that would enable me to use the techniques myself, spontaneously.

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Fiercely Guarding

This week I’ve got something very raw and vulnerable to talk about.

Someone close to me—I’m not going to say who—said something to my two-year-old daughter Niamh that shocked me. My wife Annie was napping and the three of us were alone together and feeding Niamh lunch. I gave her a cup of juice cut with 80% water, and this other person looked Niamh in the eye and said “You’d better drink water instead of juice, or you’ll become a fatty!”

I was stunned for a moment—did those words come from the lips of someone who loves me and my daughter? “Fatty”? FATTY?! My daughter is only two years old and already people close to her are tossing that vile word at her as a weapon of shame? Does a toddler need to bear a burden of anxiety over the shape of her body? Does anybody?

The word was spoken by someone with whom I often experience sharp values dissonance, despite our closeness. Ordinarily I would bite my tongue and remain silent in the face of such a remark, to keep the peace between us. But this was different—this was an attack on  my daughter, on her very identity. So I looked this person in the eye, and I said:

“Please don’t ever use that word in front of my daughter.”

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We All Suck at Joy

Regular readers, if any remain, no doubt have noticed that there have been no posts on Story by the Throat! in a long, long time. There are a number of reasons for this. There are a lot of things pulling on my mental and physical resources that make it difficult to do such a simple thing as write blog posts.

I’m going to be real with you for a moment. My life is not what I want. like, really, truly deeply falling short of what I dream and yearn for. Oh yes, I have many pleasures, many wonderful, enriching friends, many creative and fulfilling pursuits available to me. And of course I live a life of incredible privilege compared to most of the world. But still somehow I find myself beaten down by life until I can barely even remember my dreams, much less pursue them. I drive many miles to work long hours at a job I hate, for a world machine designed to chew me up and spit out the bones. The joyous work I dream of doing–celebrating story, poetry, music–is unsupported in society outside of a corporate-sponsored celebrity system. The precious work that awaits me at home–husband, father, simple liver off the land–increasingly declines as the job exacts its toll. It takes the best wine from my cup and leaves me with dregs.

It’s like I’m running a deficit on spiritual resources; everything I do, everything I attempt, requires a loan against a soul reserve I can’t back up. And acts of love, of creativity, of joy, are the most draining, so it’s much easier to sit and anesthetize the ache with entertainment and frivolity. My time and energy are drained away until I have none left for the pursuits I care most deeply about.

And I’m not alone. I think many of us, maybe all of us, are suffering in one degree or another from this soul disease. Someone I love has found themselves stuck, trapped in a life that looks far different from what they planned, hemmed in with debt and workload and isolation until even the ability to hope for more is numbed.

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