A lot of my life is like that. Television, movies, I have quotes from them bumbling around my head, always ready to be referenced at just the right time in the conversation to set a tone or a joke. I can do that with songs to a certain degree as well, of course, but that usually requires me to actually sing, and, while my voice isn't torturous, I don't like to unleash it on the unsuspecting or unappreciative (read: anyone except my fiance or my mother) unless I absolutely have to. Or it's truly going to be hilarious.
Other than the TV and the like, there's also comics, and books. More comics, because I've read far more of them over my lifetime than I have actual novels. That's partly because the pamphlet-aspect is an advantage of speed and volume. But I also really just love comics. And I know and hang with a crowd that are much more likely to have read the same adventures of a man dressed as a rabid animal as I have than ones who've read the same handful of fantasy, horror and sci-fi books. You can talk up "The Great & Secret Show" over and over, but it's only so many people that will pick up Barker and claim it changed their lives like it has yours.
But books, even comics, aren't exactly screens. They have a fixed picture. They're quiet. They still force you to imagine, at least a little bit. The television didn't. It was just one long stream of "here's what's on!" And, with channels, you didn't even really have that limit, did you? Your propensity for Quincy has besmirched my level of enjoyment, CBS! I'm off to the wiles of ABC and their generous offerings of both Jack Tripper and Mork from Ork!
TV advanced quickly in my life too. By the time I'd gotten past having an actual (enforced) bed time, I'd already moved past relying on channels that had their own, playing the National Anthem and going to static for a couple hours until the sun returned. We got cable TV. I can't even recall the channels then, how many there were or weren't. I know there was a Nickelodeon, because I followed the "You Can't Do That On Television" crew when my mother was watching. But there was also a Showtime and an HBO, and those came with movies, all day, all night. And some very inappropriate programming for a boy not yet in his tens. Bizarre with John Byner introduced me to Super Dave Osbourne, sure, but it also introduced me to a vaudevillian version of the Tonight Show, but with swearing, and topless women, and the dirtiest jokes I'd ever heard and had no real understanding what they meant. Similarly, there came Benny Hill, the uncensored version, a bit of Abbot and Costello or Three Stooges, but with British wit and girls in bikinis, some of the time. But that was the gateway in. There were things that went so much further. Aerobicise shorts between programming had absolutely no painted-on pretense of entertainment, beyond what it did to your nethers. And there were these after-midnight soap operas, where people would argue about who was sleeping with whomever else, and then... they'd sleep together, just to interrupt the arguments, right there in front of you!
Hormones aside, I also discovered other things. The first two homosexual characters I knew of on TV (I don't think I "got" what Billy Crystal's character on Soap was really all about at the time) were on a show called "Brothers." One of them was named Donald, so I identified with him, even though he was so far from being like me, or anyone else I'd ever known. I watched that show for a few seasons, even though it never had the pay-off of girls in their altogether, and it may've been the precursor to me not having the outright bigotry and homophobia that I see so much still in the world (although I also don't think my mother could've raised a son who'd think like that). Donald and Cliff were just two characters in an ensemble cast that I wound up watching in the same way I watched Family Ties or Silver Spoons. The people around them worked at getting past them being "abnormal," and did. I thought that was the lesson, like Sesame Street teaching me what sounds a ch- make, or Alex P. Keaton learning what an alcoholic was from his uncle Tom Hanks. Television taught me about life, as far back I can remember. Life lessons, values, history, what a "Sniglet" was.
Among those years, though, there came video games. And video game systems. I knew kids who had Ataris. I spent the evening in someone's home who had an Intelevision. I had an Odyssey 2. It was, really, the also-ran of gaming, having K.C. Munchkin in place of Pac-Man, but it was a great load of fun for my mother and I. We eventually got the voice controller add-on, so it was actually speak to us, both in certain gameplaying scenarios (for no real reason), or when we sat and typed up messages on the keyboard to hear it repeat the words, poorly most of the time. Why it was more fascinating for an 8-bit processor to squawk out bits of conversation to me than to hear an actual person talking in my ear, I don't know, but this and the comics I picked up at the 7-11 in front of our apartment complex were pretty much what I used in place of real friends. I'm not saying I didn't have any, but most that I did were placeholders until I got home to my fortress of makebelieve and manufactured living.
Shortly after we moved in with my grandmother, just before my 12th birthday, I think, my mother got us a Commodore-64 computer. I don't remember if it was in my room straightaway or if I conned it away from her soon after, but it was certainly my obsession for a good number of years, and incredibly accessible. I had a black and white TV in my room with aluminum foil substituting for a genuine antenna, but the monitor for the Commodore was in color. I think the first game may've been something a bit like what would one day be Eye Of The Beholder, a dungeon crawl, so my very first exposure to role playing (or close enough). But that gave way to Lode Runner, and then Pitfall II, and then me writing up Basic programs from the back of Family Computing magazine. I got a drawing tablet for it, which was actually an arm on a slider that followed your pencil around as you drew on it, and copied those movements as bits up on the screen. I became bored immediately of drawing on normal paper, and would just click up pictures, dot-by-dot. We got one of the first color printers, an OkiMate, that had these cartridges of ribbon with four colors, and you would print, it would go back and forth over each line, once with magenta, and cyan, yellow, and black. They were a fortune to replace, I think, and would go so fast, but it was amazing to my mom and I both. I remember an animation program as well, something that was so rudimentary, you might as well be making a flipbook with some old scrap paper, but, again, physical things became meaningless compared to the digital. I later got an attachment for my monitor that allowed me to tune in actual TV channels to it. And, therefore, I got my first personal color TV. A while after that, we got something called "The Rabbit," which repeated the signal you got from one tv to another one, using an extremely long, fragile line of cabling that I ran from one end of our house to the other. That meant, to some extent, cable in my room (and access to the VCR).
This was my haven.
Then, unbeknownst to me, High School changed things. I developed actual relationships with other people. Sure, the start of my friendships were kids int he neighborhood who came over for my basketball hoop (which I didn't use) and my computer (which I shared, but not graciously, and often got irritated when it no longer felt like it was "mine."). But they eventually drew me out of my safety zone, getting me to go to strange new places like the Mall (for reasons other than being forced to buy new clothes for school), the bowling alley (where I sometimes bowled, but usually played arcade games), the roller-skating rink (where I never actually skated, but, again, blew threw $20 of quarters by the end of the night). Wherever we'd end up, I could still find my way to a screen, but I was at least somewhat social now. I'd spend more time driving from place to place (or being driven, really. I had a healthy fear of myself behind the wheel), so I'd talk, make jokes, sing hair band metal from the back seat. We'd chase girls (for all the good it did us most nights). We'd do stupid teenager things. We moved up to alcohol because that's what teenagers did (I rather hated it myself). I started to think I'd like to write. It started with poems and song lyrics, though, so I also became enamored with the idea that I might be a musician. I had the hair for it, after all.
I spent a lot less time watching TV by default. And my Commodore lost a bit of its appeal when I had friends with a 128 over my 64, and school had gotten in the first Macintoshes. Eventually, my mom traded up to our Amiga, but that lived in her room, so I had to find time with it when she wasn't around. That was a terrible kick in the interest. On a whim one night, I cleared out my room of furniture, and the next day I painted the whole thing black. Then my friends and i did murals in chalk and florescent paint on chosen walls. It was this giant canvas, and I realized, as much as I liked the intricacy of drawing in binary, what I had been missing all this time was size.
I lost my house, my room, my murals, and my youth, very suddenly. I went to visit some family for the weekend, and then... it was just gone. I hadn't even known to say goodbye to it, to try to save any of it. That's what growing up is, I think. It doesn't happen while you're looking.
Some time later, I worked my way back to living with my mother in a new home, a very alien situation. I wasn't comfortable there, and my friends were outside my reach, and it wasn't always convenient for them to come retrieve me (and I still hadn't learned to be responsible for my own transportation yet). So TV and the Amiga (now in a neutral zone, at least) were my refuge. Shortly after, my mom married my step-father. Even more alien to me, I withdrew as far as I could into my new bedroom and a TV that was on anytime I was home. They got their first (and, after a lightening storm, their second) PC computer, and something called Prodigy. My mom pressured me to get onto Prodigy. I was in college at the time, studying guitar, becoming painfully aware how much I lacked the talent to really be there. But I tried to keep the computer at arms length, because I knew it was a trap. I would get on there, and I wouldn't get off again.
And that's what happened.
I went looking around the message boards. First was music. Then was a creative writing group that centered themselves around a love of the X-Men (namely the new cartoon that had just premiered on Fox's Saturday line-up). Now, here it was... X-Men, that I'd been reading since I was ten years old, and writing, which I had forgotten I liked to do once I'd thrown myself at the guitar. And since that instrument was far too challenging, I was discovering, and this had absolutely no expectations for me whatsoever, I fell deeply in love with my new virtual reality of friends in costumes and masks and powers and fandom.
This was a perfect storm for the screen. I would come home from school (when I chose to go), and get on Prodigy. My friends were here, so I wouldn't become bored or frustrated with a level. I was in Michigan, and many of the people I knew were in other states, other time zones, all the way to California, so it could get late for me, but be still early enough for them to be up. My blood was half Mountain Dew at this point, so it's not like I slept all that much. And when I finally would go lay down, it would be on a warm waterbed in a cold basement, with the glow of my TV giving my last bit of download for the night (or, usually, morning). Sleep to a screen, wake to a screen, live by a screen, create on a screen.
Now, to at least give some credit, Prodigy brought some real human contact to my life. And it wasn't the only thing I did. My still lingering group of High School friends had settled into early adulthood, but we would weekend Game. We did Dungeons and Dragons every Friday night (strange how that's still a thing I do now, with a completely different group of people, at the other side of the country). We'd also play Euchre (no one out here as heard of it). After taking a trip with one of my Prodigy friends out to California to meet a couple more of them, I came back to Michigan ready to look into doing a little more with my life, and I wound up working at and managing a comic store for a year or two. I was suddenly in a very charmed life. Too charming for me, I gave up my cushy-basement existence and moved back to California to live with my best friend (Prodigy again).
This is the second stint in my life where the screens disappeared. Occasional episodes of Xena on the shared TV in the living room aside, I didn't spend too much time online anymore as it was a nearly unaffordable luxury. I also didn't write often, save for one miraculous story that came nearly fully-formed out of my brain one night (because: a girl). The unfamiliar surroundings and new people forced me into what would normally be uncomfortable social situations for me, but now I thrived on them, because I already was uncomfortable. I had no safety zone in my life. Sure, I found another job at another comic shop, but I was lost in a sea of the unknown. My family wasn't here to protect or feed me. My friends were a 36 hour drive away, and I couldn't even afford the phone call to say hi.
This was not what growing up was. This was desperation. Swim or drown. I'd thrown myself into the deep end, with bricks tied to my ankles.
Despite everyone I'd known before telling me, as I left, that I wouldn't stay in California. I'd be back in six months tops... But, no. I managed. Twists and turns, of course, but I survived it. There were moments, but not many, where I considered home. But I remembered, before I left, other than simple comfort and lack of real responsibility, I hadn't felt a "home" since I'd lost my black room with the murals. Home was the most abstract of ideas any more. I didn't know what it was, what it would take to make it happen in my life again. So I just stayed the course. I had my first real adult relationship, meaning I had actually grown up enough to take it seriously, to set expectations for myself.
But then it happened. A computer. A TV. Cable. Internet. They weren't my every waking moment again, yet. But it was a step.
When the relationship bllipped away (to sum it up with a word with no meaning), I moved into a smaller existence. A friend from back home had moved out here, and we got a place for he, I, and his girlfriend at the time. I lived in the smallest room with my cat and a computer. My TV didn't get to be hooked up to what passed for cable at our complex, so I had to watch it in the front room, and that didn't suit me (even with finally gaining access to Cartoon Network, which had only been a dream for years). I spent time online, but Prodigy wasn't the same. My friend's relationship kinda conked on him, though, so we found a different place, better for the both of us (or so I thought). I got TV, real TV, in my room there, and DSL.
And then Diablo 2 happened. Hard.
I also, around this time, discovered LiveJournal. LiveJournal was like Prodigy, in that it was a community of people, but it wasn't storytelling. I mean, it could be. But it could be mostly anything. The two times in my life I've written the most were Prodigy, and that was fiction. LiveJournal was about me. And yes, maybe it wasn't completely me, the real me, but it was as close as I could come. Sometimes closer than I expected it to be, and a harsher truth of who I was that I'd been able to admit to myself without it.
The perfect storm of screens, for me. My best and my worst. Because I would come home to a computer screen, and behind it was a TV screen, playing Buffy and Angel or The Screen Savers and Call For Help. But I didn't have to abandon one for the other. I'd had that to some degree in the basement back home, but this was me on my own. No one to make excuses for. No one to pretend I was better in front of. I was with Erin at this point, but it wasn't the best of our time together (my fault, and nothing to do with this, honestly). Somehow though, it was probably the most productive I ever was in living, and, certainly, in writing. Just not writing with a goal. And maybe that's why it was my best.
Expectations are always what hold me back. What tear me down. I'm as much afraid of success as failure. I'm afraid of change. I don't do well with assignments. Hell, I'm writing this now as I avoid doing an assignment (about writing). But maybe this is as important. Maybe it's moreso.
See, when LiveJournal became less of a priority in my every day life, being taken over by MySpace (because of work friends), and then Facebook (because of Family, and then work friends, and even some of LiveJournal too), I forgot how to talk about my life. How to write about it. Writing has become more important to me these days than it ever has been. Part of that might be desperation, as this last year has rocked me to my core. But it's also just that I've gotten a couple tastes of achieving something finally, and I'm slightly less terrified of it as I am interested in seeing if I can do something more with it. Only slightly though.
But I get up in the morning, and i go to a screen, my TV, and I put on things I'm barely watching, and open up my laptop, and look at a screen of things I'm barely reading, a play with my phone or tablet on games I'm barely enjoying. I've spent the better part of the last 12 years working on people's computers, and I came home each day and buried my face in my own. On Facebook, I repost things that are mildly interesting to me, hoping they'll be interesting to the others that follow me, but I do so most often without comment. I'm not offering anything of myself there. I play a game about superheroes that is barely a game, really, and in no way superheroic in nature or action. I have TV shows I claim to love, but I tune out for half of each episode on average because I need to refresh through the same five-to-ten web sites over and over to see if Newsarama has updated a new article about comics that I don't really enjoy, or if Twitter has updated people's statuses that I don't know and have no connection to at 120 characters. I bought a tablet because I thought it would be good to read comics on over a Kindle, but I've yet to buy or read any comics on it. My regular comics I save for bathroom reading, and I'm three weeks behind on those (note: more fiber in diet). My phone is a glorified podcast players for $70 a month, because i'll be goddamned if I care to make or receive a phone call on it.
Screens and screens and screen. And I don't see a thing.
And I don't say much of anything either.