Nothing changes, maybe even me. I wrap my scarf around my neck three times and nestle in. I drive my father’s car in the dark, in the rain, winding my way around random streets, wandering until I run out of coffee. Or I’m an early morning passenger with a bagel in my hand, passing my husband his coffee as we wander together, wondering how our lives will be next year.
He drops me off at the station and the sun is bright. On the train it’s quiet and outside it’s warm and I walk to the place where my friends are waiting, and we spend our time together in such pleasant and easy conversation, and I sit my friend’s toddler on my shoulder and the baby laughs and strokes my hair and I feel so lucky to know her, and to know them all. On the train heading back I lean my head against the humming window, a head full of plans, and it feels like such an end-of-the-year cliché to realize what was always obvious, and nothing and everything seems possible all at once.
Days that feel like older days. Lazy suburban summer drives, windows open, listening to a short story read on the radio. Sitting by the lake for an interminable length of time. Browsing at the bookstore I used to spend so much time in, tripping over the carpet. While my mother looks at religion books, I turn around and consider the wicca books, the angel books, remember my teenage bedroom full of ornate candlesticks I imagined would fit in in an Anne Rice novel. A woman approaches and pulls a tarot book off the shelves. She reads a couple of pages and puts it down. I see her ahead of us in line later, holding an interior design magazine, and I wonder if she was remembering too.
I tried for a week and a half to get through 23 pages of an Ayelet Waldman novel I ended up abandoning, but have spent the past two hours completely engrossed in a book based on the Dragon Age video game series.
Draw from that any conclusions you will.
(I was surprised to find the Dragon Age novel has a higher average rating on Goodreads than the Waldman novel.)
My friend Teri has an article in the latest Ricepaper, titled Between Representations: Filipinos in Canadian Literature. Teri’s one of my favourite writers so I am always eager to read anything she writes, but I was especially excited to read this.
She and I are both half-Filipino, and have talked in the past about how we express that in our writing. For my part, I’d say about half of my stories have either fully Filipino or half-Filipino characters in them, but for the most part they’re still pretty “Canadian,” which is a term that I personally find fairly fluid, depending on who’s using it.
In the article, Teri writes about the difficulty in finding portrayals of Filipinos in Canadian writing that go beyond the usual nanny or maid cliché, or address it in a deeper way. With my own characters, I wonder sometimes if having these first-generation Canadians of Filipino background is enough. Shouldn’t they be doing something more? And then I can’t think of what that could possibly be. Do I want to have the characters in there to teach the world about pancit, or maybe about the cultural repercussions of hundreds of years of Spanish rule followed by a shorter period of American influence? Or do I want to have them just there playing their parts in the story, being a little bit Filipino and a little bit other things, like me and all the other first-generation people I know? Maybe having them just there is enough, maybe it’s more than enough right now.
I don’t have an easy answer to these questions, but I do know that not having these characters in there at all seems weird and wrong to me, and I like having them, these little blips of a world that some people might not know too much about.
Anyway, I didn’t intend for this to be a huge post about myself. I highly recommend picking up a copy of Ricepaper and reading Teri’s article! You can order print and digital copies here if you can’t find any in your local bookstore.
Some of my fondest childhood memories are of playing Nintendo and Super Nintendo games with my brother, and making that long suburban walk to the arcade on summer vacations. In high school and my early twenties, I dropped the hobby for a while mainly due to lack of a console and a lack of funds (and discovering blogging probably helped), but I happily returned to it after a few years. I haven’t looked back since.
I hesitate to call myself a “gamer,” mainly because I associate that word with someone who’s quite serious about it, who enjoys playing almost any kind of game. My husband is more like that than I am, and teases me for being picky about the kind of games I like (and before anyone thinks that’s unfair, I do have to vocalize my bewilderment when I see him playing games that I would give up on in two minutes – so it evens out).
I don’t mean to make myself sound like some video game snob. While it’s true that I can be strangely picky about superficial things such as setting (no space or post-apocalyptic environments for me, thanks) and graphics, my favourite games are the ones with a compelling, immersive story and well-written characters.
When Skyrim (my favourite game of all time thus far) came out in 2011, my husband and I took turns playing. I had slightly more free time than he did then, so I progressed a little further in the main story than him. Many shouts of, “Oh shit, wait ’til you get to this part!” were heard from the living room. The story and world of Skyrim were so engaging that I played it right up until a couple of months ago, when our PS3 gave up the ghost with the Skyrim disc still in it.
And, despite how much I knew I loved that game, I was surprised to find that I actually missed it. I missed almost everything about it. The music, the world, even my character (whose face I spent a long time creating at the start of the game). I had beaten that game long ago and completed all the side quests I’d cared about, but I kept returning to it. If I was anxious or frustrated or bored or even in a perfectly fine mood, I’d pop in the disc and just run around in the game, jumping up to the tops of mountains, firing arrows at giants and bandits from high above where they couldn’t reach me. Returning to that world over and over again was strangely relaxing.
I was thinking about all of this recently because I’m feeling the same pull towards the game I’m playing now, Dragon Age: Inquisition. The first Dragon Age game was my original Favourite Game of All Time. I played it when I was recovering from eye surgery, and while that was maybe not the best thing to do to my eyes, I couldn’t resist (and no harm done, anyway). I remember driving home from a meeting and thinking about the quest I would do next in the game, and how that would influence the story, and how my character’s companions would react. And that to me is the biggest parallel between a good video game and a good book – I think about it when I’m not actively playing/reading, and after it’s over.
And much in the same way that a good book can make you think about yourself and your own life, a video game is a great chance to analyze your own decisions and logic. For example, I have a friend who has no compunction about playing as a fully evil character in the fictionalized environment of a video game, but I can’t do it. And that applies to non-evil things, too. I’m on my second playthrough of Inquisition and making some significantly different choices than I did the first time around, and a few of those choices were actually difficult for me to execute. What do these things say about me? Like with all of my favourite games and my favourite books, I’m right there in the world, seeing how the protagonist’s choices affect people and what happens in the story, and thinking about why I had a particular response to a character or an event. In a game those repercussions are arguably more immediate and less fixed than in a book, which raises the mental anguish potential.
Books and video games are different of course, and games have a long way to go in achieving the same equality standards and cultural significance as books, but I can’t help but see so many similarities between the two. With video games I get to be a writer and a reader at the same time, and it’s wonderful.
A few days ago, I had to go to Toronto for a Finnish class. It was the first time I’d been to Toronto since I moved away in mid-January, and I was expecting it to feel disorienting. I felt a slight surge of alarm as I got to my old subway station and didn’t disembark, but aside from that, there was nothing major.
Afterwards, I was happy to cocoon in my parka on the bus back to Hamilton. It’s not anything special. It’s a stretch of highway I’ve been on hundreds of times in my life. But it was comfortable, it was quiet, the sun was low and the light was weak, and I had a cup of perfect Earl Grey tea I was more than willing to burn my tongue on.
When I moved to Calgary, I did so on a Greyhound bus. I spent 52 hours in total on it. It was such a narrow, contained little world for those few days. My Walkman died before I left Ontario. My life became little more than jockeying for first place in the washroom lineup at rest stops, eating packaged snacks, and watching out the window as my gigantic country slipped by. I wrote a lot. Fiction, but I also kept a record of everything I said in those 52 hours. It wasn’t much.
I’m probably making it sound dire, but it was actually nice. It was a big thing to do. I was 21. An Elvis impersonator serenaded us at the Dryden Greyhound station.
The trip from Toronto to Hamilton is nowhere near that long, but I found myself lulled back into that little egg of space, high up from the road, where I placed my gaze vaguely out the window and just let everything be important. And when we returned to Hamilton, for the first time I felt like it made sense for me to be there.
The summer after Grade 10, my family and I went to visit my great-uncle and great-aunt in northern California. We ended up all getting colds, and spent a few days recuperating in their home. For some reason, I only brought one tape with me – Elastica’s first album. I listened to it over and over until I grew to hate it. After that, I listened to talk radio at night. It was so quiet outside, a deep, unsettling quiet. And I can still remember the low, almost monotone radio voices. I listened through headphones, so they were right there in my head, sounding so eerie in the dark.
(I don’t hate that Elastica album anymore, by the way. In fact, I find it comforting. It reminds me of those closed-in few days where there was no outside world at all.)
Somewhere around Grade 11, one of my friends loved this band. I remember listening to this song in his car once, very loudly, when we were on our way to some Swiss restaurant with some friends, though I don’t think we planned on going there. I think we were just hungry and happened upon a place and were intrigued by the concept of ordering fondue in a restaurant. Since we were ignorant teenagers new to the world of fondue, we ordered too much and sheepishly asked for it to go at the end of our meal. We were presented with a large plastic ice cream tub of melted cheese. In the car, laughing our heads off at how ridiculous we were, we had the bright idea to leave the tub on someone’s doorstep in the wealthy neighbourhood. In that naive, almost pure black-and-white thinking of high school, we thought it would be a funny prank to play on someone rich. This song always makes me think of that day, embarrassing for many reasons.