in no meaningful order. hopefully someone else can find meaning in my saccharine new year’s brain dump.
I’m sitting on the curb of the road in downtown Boston as panic sets in, indifferent to the fact that it had just finished raining and would make the back of my ratty jeans wet. I’m shaking and coughing and looking at my phone, dumbfounded, after having stormed out of my miserable minimum wage job impulsively, my manager having told me I’d lose my job if I took a day off to go to the hospital for my pneumonia. My fever makes my head hurt hard enough that it’s difficult to try and focus and grasp what exactly I had just done to my life. The way home is a blurry mess of muddled thoughts, wrapped up tightly around my brain yet vanishing before I can follow any train of thought to the end of it’s line. I barf when I get home and lay my head on the cold tile of the floor wondering how I am going to fix my life and hate myself for how pathetic I am in that moment. I feel like the only thing I *can* do is to finish this game that maybe 5 people will play and pray I find a replacement shit job soon. To force myself to see it through, I decide to make a trailer and pick a random day to launch and stick to it - it’s much harder to back out once you’ve committed. My head still a mess, my eyes red from a combination of fever and being racked with coughing fits, I record myself in bed for 30 seconds and put a release date on the video hoping that something simple and concept-focused will work.
It needs to go out on Valentine’s Day, I decide, feeling bitter and lonely in my failing relationship.
I’m sitting in a job interview in the nice part of town, dressed up and hoping to get a position I’m very much qualified for. It’s the third interview and has been going well, and I’m hopeful. The producer asks me after a discussion of company culture point blank if I have ever done anything to invite sexual harassment. I’m so dumbfounded by the question that I’m not even sure how to answer it. The moment feels surreal, like time has slowed down, and my stomach churns. The other men at the table interviewing me look at me expectantly, and I feel like I’m insane for being caught off guard and incredulous by the question. The interview takes a turn for awkward after I say no and that I’m not sure that’s a real thing someone can do, and the producer mentions that, in a discussion about community moderation in which I’d mentioned I’d dealt with gross sexual remarks in the past and handled it without escalation, and trails off before directly blaming me. My face feels like it’s on fire as I stammer out a PR-laiden answer trying to move past this line of questioning, but the interview’s tone has shifted. My mind remains blank for the subway ride home, and turns to futile anger once I come back to my apartment.
I’m in San Francisco, walking into a party that I’m shocked I can attend. I’m surrounded by people I look up to and wandering around the room nursing a beer and trying to overcome the fact that I am too nervous to talk to almost anyone and am caught in sheer disbelief of the moment’s existence, when I come upon one of my favorite artists. He’s visibly drunk, but not in the embarrassing or gross way, smile beaming across his face.
"Zoe! I understand dubstep now!" he tells me. It is the single greatest thing I’ve heard an inebriated person say, to this day.
I’m sitting in a dive bar, laptop out and typing into a text editor furiously. I’ve had several beers at this point, brought to me without much conversation between the waitstaff and I. The first time they’d brought me a PBR upon arrival without asking what I wanted, I was unsure if they’d gotten used to me working there so much given my lack of a desk at home or if I just looked like THAT much of a hipster on this particular day. As I finish this small prototype that I’d started the same afternoon, I remember how the same time a year ago I was convinced I’d never learn how to code, and how it felt like that up until something just had clicked in my head. I try to think of a way to articulate that style of learning so that maybe I can better harness it in myself, the kind that looks less like a curve and more like a flat line up until it spikes up like the summit of a cartoon mountain, but my thoughts are interrupted by the arrival of another beer delivered to me by some flirtatious punk guy, and it’s the first time I feel good about myself in months.
I’m sitting in a bus, looking out the window and listening to headphones, as I start to enter the Toronto city limits and the lights begin to come into view. Its the first time I’d come back, and my anxiety has settled into a calm heavily influenced by the Elliot Smith album I have on repeat. I realize it doesn’t feel like a homecoming, not really. The homesickness that I’d felt, the longing and feeling out of place and loss I’d been drowning in, it all re contextualizes as being a byproduct not of missing a particular place, but of missing a point in time. Missing who I was back then, and missing how I’d felt. I have an epiphany, and I feel like I take the last step forward on moving on after two years of a tailspin kicked off by significant trauma. I realize that I can never go back to what it was before, not really, and that maybe that’s ok - maybe it lasted as long as it was always going to, and I can take what I’d learned and experienced and move on. That home wasn’t an arbitrary location but the connections I had made with people who now felt like family to me, and my peace of mind and hard-won comfort in being alone with myself. And if that’s the case, then maybe I’d never really lost anything irreplaceable as those experiences and connections and lessons - that sense of home. Instead of losing it, maybe I had just shifted my home onto my back like a snail. I exhale and it feels like breathing it all out, and I spot the CN Tower over the horizon.
After a party in LA, I’m driving around the city at some ungodly hour in the back of a car with two old friends, both from Europe, both wonderful people and coincidentally in town at the same time for unrelated reasons. One of them is a good friend and fellow developer, and he is gushing to me about his new girlfriend, showing me pictures of the two of them. I’m not sure that I’d ever seen him so happy before - he’s practically radiating light and it’s contagious and lifts my mood as well. Having just left a party where an ex was giving me dagger eyes and sending me passive aggressive texts every time I’d talked to a dude for more than 2 minutes, my friend’s energy completely recharged me as he flipped through photos of his girlfriend on his phone. He speaks so optimistically and excitedly about his future with her, and I wonder if or when I might feel like that again. We all crash at a house together, and another friend shows up later - the two of us stay up and talk quietly, shivering outside while the rest of the house sleeps. Conversation wanders as we talk about the nature of trying to rigorously become better people, where we’ve gone wrong, how to balance wanting to be open and loving to everyone with taking care of yourself and not coming off the wrong way. A wave of feeling impossibly lucky washes over me. I feel so thankful to have found all of these people in an industry that many would not think to find such genuine and loving people who care and work so hard to make good and honest work that will mean something to other people. I feel even luckier to be able to call them friends in addition to colleagues now, and it recharges me and makes me want to become even better at what I do alongside them, as they branch out and iterate on their craft as well. I want this to be what the medium looks like - I want it to be full of supportive people being honest and supportive of one another, and I want to help work towards making it an environment where everyone could feel welcome here. We talk until he falls asleep on my shoulder for the second time in a row in the two times we’ve hung out talking until late into the night. I drift off too, feeling like I can do anything with people like these by my side.
I’m in a too-loud, too-expensive club feeling socially awkward at the bar when a young guy recognizes me and in a tone that matches mine in nervousness tells me that he reconnected with his father over this game I’d made. I listen attentively though even after months of emails thanking me and sharing stories with me, some people even going so far as to tell me that my game saved their lives, something I can never wrap my head around fully, stories that made *me* feel less alone in the ways they were claiming I helped them feel, I still can’t find words. I’d put 40,000 of them in that game and still I couldn’t find a proper fit to express the overwhelming emotions that welled up inside me every time I’d actually managed to help someone. Nothing seemed to do it justice - all I’ve wanted since I was little was to leave this life a little better off for having been in it and to try to make the lives that I touched in any capacity have had a positive experience or at the very least a neutral one. And here I was, standing in this bar after having my very first game get into a festival I’d dreamed about getting into maybe someday, years in the future, hearing it face to face that this stranger felt that I was able to do something good and positive for him. It’s too much. I must be an awful writer because I don’t think words quite exist for that honored, humbling, grateful feeling of having your raison d’etre validated. When he finishes his story I blink back tears and ask if I could hug him and we share a moment afterward talking before both nervously parting because shit got too real. I go outside to catch my breathe, and my resolve to help people learn how to make games and encourage them to make honest and personal work becomes stronger than ever. I believe so completely in the importance and power of the medium, and how putting your personal, honest, scary feelings into something like this can go places you’d never expect it to, to find out there’s so many people who feel the same way you do even if it’s something you’re ashamed of or trying to change, or even ESPECIALLY because of that.
I’m unexpectedly in Providence. I smell like fire and sweat, with a mouth full of fuel and soot on my hands. I hadn’t expected it to taste like nothing - I’d expected it’s gross and oily consistency even less though if I’d thought about it for five seconds it would’ve made complete sense. My firebreathing mentor reminds me, “long sustained notes, and make sure you move back too” as I stare down the lit end of my staff. I try not to think about how easily I could end up in the hospital or dead if I accidentally get this fuel in my lungs. Eventually the desire to get this stuff out of my mouth wins over my fear of death or burning, and I spit my first fireball. It’s louder and closer to my face than I expected, blinding and hot, and once I realize that I pulled it off I started jumping up and down and asking if I could do it again. It feels amazing to be back doing something creative and so completely unrelated to games - to be collecting these experiences with earnest, hoping to gain some kernel of truth that I can then add into my creative and hopefully connect with some unknown third party over. To keep being greedy about how much I can try to see and understand about the world with whatever time I have in it.
Later that night, we burn off old possessions and watch them melt in the fire. I burn away bracelets that had been wrapped around my right wrist so long the skin under them was pale, and so tight I had to cut them off. They had been on me for 3 years, having gotten them right before my life started spinning out of control. Originally, they were a soft plastic but had since grown hard and immovable. I am a sucker for a good metaphor, and having realized that through all of the things I’d gone through since then one of my biggest worries was becoming hardened for it. It’s not in my nature. I’ve always been a bleeding heart, always a little too trusting, and I’d come to recently think that this wasn’t a liability but a strength. It wasn’t something to hide away, it was something to openly embrace and be glad that I could still be myself on my own terms instead of weathered down into something I didn’t want to be.
I’m standing on top of a roof of Pete’s theater with an angry birds piggybank held over my head. I’m shivering cold and bleeding from cutting my hands on it as I shoved sequins into it’s cavity - it was so cold the ceramic shattered a little after barely touching it. We’re up here after a day of texts and phone calls and emails from all kinds of people - ones I haven’t even talked to in years - telling me they had seen me in the news and asking how I was holding up against the harassment. I had to retell the same things so many times it was practically a script by now - I’m fine - I don’t care how much hate gets thrown my way for speaking out because if it moves the needle of progress slightly further and any of the girls I’ve taught how to make games inherit a better industry for it, then it’s worth it to me without question. Earlier in the day though, I had found out that in changing my number to get away from the gross phone calls I was receiving, I missed a call about my only family left being in the ICU several days ago. The news had completely sucked the wind out of my sails and my unease in seeing the comments and votes on my game climb on greenlight turned into full blown panic and stress. Even though the game had been doing so well before the controversy, I knew that people would try to discredit it and handwave it if it had ended up getting onto Steam that way. I knew that I’d be “that abuse girl” and wondered if it was comparable to my current sometimes-title of “Depression girl”. Pete had brought me up here after we had walked past the piggy bank and I’d decided that it might be cathartic to act completely ridiculous in the face of a serious event in my career that felt like it could go either way. I made jokes about it being a sacrifice to the gods of videogames and part of the secret magics of the technowitches. I yelled and chucked it off the theater roof and into the parking lot and the sequins exploded out of it as it hit the pavement, giving the satisfying particle effect I had hoped for.
"Did you get it?" I ask him, noticing that the recording progress bar on the Vine app on my phone hadn’t moved under Pete’s hand.
"Oh my god do you not know how to use Vine?" I laugh as he looks at me, confused. "Oh whatever. It’s fine, it still felt good."
I take a tiny piece of the bank off the pavement later, the only recognizable one with 3 black streaks on red ceramic as a reminder that when things feel insurmountable and deadly serious, sometimes it’s nice to force yourself into sheer absurdity to center yourself again.