When The Towers Fell

How do I remember 9/11?

I was a freshman in high school. Sitting in history class. The teacher had left the room while we chatted amongst ourselves, taking advantage of her absence. When she returned, she mentioned that something had happened, maybe a bombing in the city, and that we were to sit tight. This was before the advent of smartphones; I didn’t even have my first Motorola flip handset yet. Laptops were barely a thing, and Facebook hadn’t been conceived so no one was rushing to check social media for news. Word of mouth was our link to the world.

More time passed and she returned and informed us that we were all being dismissed, released on our own pending parental permission. I found it a bit strange that our mommies had to call in to say it was okay for us to leave, after all, we were high schoolers now! But my mom was on the ball and had done so. Her job was only about 10 blocks away, so I made my way there to meet her with a group of downtown-bound students. All public transportation had been suspended, and the streets were teeming with pedestrians, even more so than normal New York standards, as if we were walking a marathon.

I met up with my mom at her job and we continued from 14th Street, down to Grand Street. I couldn’t see the smoke from where we walked. But at that point I’m not even sure I knew planes had crashed into the towers. The word currently going around was that the World Trade Center had been bombed. Again. I didn’t remember the first one, but that one hadn’t been SO crazy, right? The mood was cautious, yet spirited. With trains and buses halted, and an unknown looming threat to the city, New Yorkers stepped up in solidarity. As we walked through the streets I love, store owners offered bottled water to those journeying home. Apartment building doormen held their doors open, inviting folks to use their restroom facilities. Strangers exchanged friendly words of encouragement. I saw a long queue of bodies crossing each bridge in the distance. I felt for them, since I only had to walk to the bottom of Manhattan.

When we finally made it back home, we beelined for the television and the clarity it would bring. We didn’t even have to specifically turn to a news station. Every channel was broadcasting live and looping raw footage of the morning’s events. Two planes had flown into the Twin Towers, and our beloved buildings had crumbled.

We had just been there the weekend before. Stage Door Delicatessen had been across the street, with their confection-like pancakes. We’d discovered there was a little shopping center in one of the towers. In New York, you are always making new discoveries; you never truly know all the nooks and crannies of the entire city. I couldn’t believe those two towers, the icons of Manhattan that appeared in countless movies and that I’d always used as a directional compass, like the North Star, looking up in their direction to navigate, were gone.

Everything broadcasted was uncensored. The frustration, rife with profanity, the terror, the shock, the desperation, it was all there, unscripted. We watched as those trapped in the tower and resigned to their fate, soared from the windows to a guaranteed demise that was the lesser of two evils in their heads. The sticky web of stifling human emotion wrapped heavily around us, connecting the souls of all who watched. That day, we were all the same. We all felt the same things.

Back then, I was a chat room nerd, who went online every night at the same time to hang out with my Internet friends. That night, the mood was equal parts solemn and anger. There were no jokes and no discussing the latest episode of Gundam Wing.

“If they take the Empire State Building next, I swear to God…” someone typed.

It felt good to make empty threats against unknown (at the time) assailants as powerless teenagers. It felt good to simply expel the emotion we were feeling. Anyone who tried any troll-worthy comments that downplayed the massacre were punted out to the harshest degree. Methodus Toolz could do that.

The next day was a little less raw, but likely only for those like me who were less affected and less in the line of fire. I hadn’t lost a loved one or listened to a voicemail they left about how much they loved me and how they wouldn’t make it home tonight. I hadn’t thrown on my gear and dodged a barrage of concrete on foot to save anyone like the first responders did. My apartment building was far enough away from the debris and soot to affect me no more than some eye sensitivity for a few days after. But I still felt a deep bond with the people of my city, who had so often garnered a reputation for being rude, nasty and uncaring, who were embracing each other and offering helping hands or shoulders to cry on in the true spirit of support. For awhile after, we didn’t just pass each other in the streets. We checked on each other, gave smiles of encouragement and eye contacts of acknowledgement. We gave each other strength.

For months, even years after, I had the wildest dreams. Dreams of warmongers coming to assault our country on ships with motion-tracking explosive cannonballs. Dreams of terrorists hiding in plain view in bodegas launching rocket-launchers at my window. Dreams of an unknown threat eating away at our moon, threatening to plunge our world into eternal darkness because we didn’t have the resources to stop the source or save it. They prompted me to begin a dream journal to explore my subconscious. I hadn’t expected such an aftermath of rippling currents, expanding out to reach me with its tickling tremors.

When they first showed preview pictures of how they were going to turn the sites of the Twin Towers into deep waterfall reflection pools, I thought, “No way!” For some reason I didn’t think it was possible. But they did. They came through and I’ve visited the memorial multiple times and they are beautiful. When I go, I slowly meander through the site and never lose sight of the reason these pools are here in the first place. I touch a few names, gaze over the railings, and reflect. It’s important that I pay mental tribute when I visit, because I remember the collective trauma. Whatever the surrounding reasons behind it, so much human life was needlessly extinguished. I hope that fact remains respected, even over the passage of time.

My city is strong.

~Tael

The Silent Abuse Of A Narcissistic Partner

I used to think the term “narcissist” only applied to conceited, attractive (or those that think very highly of themselves) individuals who couldn’t stop looking in the mirror like the mythical Greek hunter who drowned in his own reflection. But during the healing phases of my last breakup, I researched how it has a highly toxic way of entering the relationship realm. And I realized, oh shit, it’s happened before. My family probably doesn’t even know about it, because I never really told them the story. Does physical or emotional abuse weigh more? For me, the physical abuse I experienced long ago was far more forgettable.

Back in college I dated your typical urban pretty-boy, obsessed with his image and having a girl on his arm who enhanced that. He was your textbook narcissist, so self-centered, his own sister once told me how much it bothered her. He spent more time in front of the mirror than I did, making sure his outfits were immaculate, the designer logos showing, the sneakers uncreased (I believe he even shoved MetroCards down the front of them to keep the wrinkles out) and that his du-rag was perfectly centered and aligned with his forehead.

He’d insist that I step up my swag, rock the latest sneakers, he’d take credit for sexy heels I’d wear, saying he bought them for me when he hadn’t, and constantly comment on how well-dressed and attractive he was. Lord only knows what his Instagram would look like now if he has one.

The stream of abuse trickled in slowly at first. He’d insinuate that I might be sleeping around on him, demand to check my phone (although he’d make sure to first delete anything off his in front of me before handing over his) and threaten to fuck both me and the mysterious man up if he ever found out. Then he’d use intimidation tactics, like invading my personal space, slowly getting face to face with me, and punching the wall next to my head. I have a certain sort of stupid fearlessness sometimes, so I never actually felt threatened. One night, after a party, one of my good friends observed him yanking me around in a parking lot during an argument and stepped in to intervene. He told him to get lost (my friend was a tank, so my ex couldn’t take him) and walked me home that night, saying he didn’t like the kid’s antics, and that I should rethink the relationship. Still, I thought it would all be fine.

The first night he put me in a headlock during a heated exchange, I forgave him. I knew he wouldn’t REALLY hurt me. But then it happened a second night, and this time the blows came with it. I don’t remember any pain. I just remember my spirit ascending from my body and looking down at my physical body, shaking its head that a smart girl like me had ended up there. When my spirt re-entered my body, I recovered my wits and grabbed an iron from under the bed, prepared to bash his face in. Before I could make impact, he released me and fled. I ended it the next morning.

Since then, I’d never even thought about the other kind of abuse; the emotional kind. The kind that comes from a Nice Guy Narcissist. They put their best mask on up front. The same one they show to everyone else on the outside, saving the Mr. Hyde underneath exclusively for you. With my last ex, it started small. I asked to please not continuously ask to borrow money from me, as it’s a certain thing I’m uncomfortable with, especially in relationships. My requests went ignored. Every paycheck he asked to borrow money from me, and eventually got abrasive when I’d remind him how much I didn’t like it. Eventually I relented and gave in every time because I wanted to make him happy. Maybe that’s where I went wrong, setting aside my deeply uncomfortable feelings in the name of love.

Eventually, I began to give in on more and more things that made me uncomfortable, convinced by him that I was wrong for feeling uncomfortable about it in the first place. Not only that, my discomfort BOTHERED him. It was no longer something for him to acknowledge; it became something I had to hide. And just like that, it was all turned around and the downward spiral began. I could no longer guess what about my normal self would randomly set him off and suddenly become a problem I had to take it upon myself to change.

On a trip to an amusement park, two girls cut the line in front of us and he flipped.

On me.

I took a laid back approach, because I was just happy to be on vacation with him, saying it would be alright, it happens sometimes and let’s let it go.

Triggered.

He said I wasn’t taking his side enough and proceeded to publicly lash out at me for the next hour, as passers-by looked on with concern and I gave them the reassuring eye-contact that said “I’m fine, I can handle this. I’m okay.”

This was after the night after I’d found myself hunched on a bench wondering why he was emotionally pissed because I’d asked, “Can we go to one haunted house first to kill time since the alcohol stand isn’t open yet?” No. We had to sit and wait until the stand opened and apparently, I hadn’t asked with the right attitude, so now he was upset at me. No compromise.

I could never call what would trigger his explosive reactions. If his friend did something I considered disrespectful and I got upset, he got mad at me for feeling and reacting disrespected. If I was too curious about a girl he’d hooked up with but was still friends with, he was resentful. If I got upset because I wanted his attention during an hours-long video game binge (unless I whipped out a vibrator and started pleasuring myself in front of him, that was the only proper way not to trigger it), he became incensed, then made it clear the game would come first before any tears or serious matters that needed immediate attention. If I was cleaning in the evening because it hadn’t been done yet, he’d feel guilty because he hadn’t done it, and demand that I stop and wait until he was ready. If I ran away from a bumblebee in fear, he’d get furious and say I would make it sting him, even though everyone (and the Internet) has told me bumblebees (yes, those giant furry, bear-looking things) are harmless and don’t sting. If he blew all his money on frivolous things and I didn’t want to bail him out when he suddenly needed an expedited passport or to book a cabin for his friends, it was my fault.

20180413_213120I couldn’t be sad. I couldn’t be pissed. I couldn’t ask one too many questions. I couldn’t bring up something that bothered me if 24 hours had elapsed already (although he could); it meant I was thinking about it for too long, which angered him. I couldn’t do what genuinely came naturally. I was only allowed to express happy emotions and say things that equaled praise in regards to him. If he had made me sad, it meant he had failed in all aspects and couldn’t handle it, which resulted in him lashing out at me or saying he may as well leave then. If I read a menu improperly in his mind, he had to devote time to explaining why I was wrong about it, until the food came exactly as I had depicted it would, then there was nothing more to say. He could do no wrong. The rules didn’t apply to him. He could be jealous but I couldn’t. He could announce when it was time to leave an event or outing, even if I wanted to stay, but we could never leave if I was ready to go before he was. I wasn’t allowed to point out any faults of his.

If I tried to say, “Here’s something that really bothered me and I need to talk about it,” instead of listening, he said “Well here’s something that bothered me a few weeks ago and we need to talk about THIS now and i’m angry!” Always overshadowing my needs. Always tossing what I needed to the side. If I tried to say, “Please, how do we stop this argument from happening,” I was accused of wanting things to end on my terms and being “over it”. If I remembered something differently than he did, I was crucified for not adopting his version of the memory. At times, he’d violently punch himself in the face or bash his head into the walls. I suggested a therapist, but he refused. I thought of secretly contacting his father on multiple occasions because of the fearful level of destructiveness he showed to himself. This was not normal. Once he knew that I was cautious about what I said to him, because I was afraid of the outbursts he might have in response, he grew angry at my fear.

One night, on a company trip, he locked me in our room and said he was going to go kill himself and that I had caused these feelings because I wanted to stay in a hotel that night. I had to escape by climbing over the wall of the outdoor bathroom. I was terrified to tell my boss. My friends later said it was better I hadn’t.

He blamed it all on anxiety. That was always the excuse for the lengthy, bitter reactions. He viciously battered me with harsh words as retaliation for bringing up my issues to him. Only in hindsight did I realize how ridiculous it was to pander to these temper tantrums time and again (God forbid I ever argued back that I felt I was right, it would have made the conflict last 48 hours instead of 24). I don’t believe anxiety should make you lash out at people. I have it sometimes, and it never makes me angry at someone, just scared. It never makes me want to attack someone. His anxiety made him interrupt my aunt while she was speaking to me one night, when she said she didn’t want us sleeping in the same bed at my grandparent’s house. I may reside on the social outskirts of polite normalcy, but I know better than to try and pull someone away from their mom or an elder family member because I feel my need to immediately speak to them is more urgent. Even I know that’s rude.

20180406_140443The amount of money he also borrowed from his father, in addition to me, showed me I might never get the the level of respect I craved. Because that’s someone who’s been there his entire life, and far nicer than myself, and I just popped up late in the game. The professions of marriage and kids seemed like the strangest thing coming from him, blurted in moments of drunkenness. He stormed away from me during every argument, even though he told me he hated when I did it (so I’d stopped, but he continued), multiple times, so the conflicts lasted even longer because a proper conversation couldn’t even be held. He’d admitted to me that whatever he didn’t like, he walked away from it. That was his M.O. in life. Which is exactly what he did to me. Straight into his ex’s arms the same night he left me. It was proof that whatever I had tried so desperately to protect, was flimsy and provisional. Why didn’t I see it before? Why don’t we ever see it? The abuse and manipulation runs so deep, you don’t even notice it hidden behind the emotion which equals passion which equals…meaning…? You don’t realize the bonds you thought were so strong were really transient cancers, and the longer cancer lasts the more it leaves you sick, ravaged and exhausted. After the breakup, I stumbled across posts asking “Were you dating a narcissist?” and the lightbulb flashed and grew in brightness. The selfishness, the need for instant gratification, the manipulative tactics when they don’t get their way, the sense of entitlement, the charming mask for outsiders, the table-turning.

Objects can hold energies, and with each one I threw out, I felt my heart cleansing. Only those who have been through an emotionally abusive relationship understand how tossing the articles that belonged to the abuser helps to purge the nightmares. So maybe that’s why my mom didn’t understand when I wanted to toss all the decorative pictures he’d put up, but she wanted me to save them “just in case” she might want them. I knew that she WOULDN’T, it was just a case of sticky-eyes at seeing something free, but if she wasn’t going to take it then and there, I couldn’t stand to have them in my house any longer emanating poison memories. “You’re a brat, you know that,” she said to me, in a cruel moment where I needed someone to think about me and my feelings the most.

I believe life wanted to remind me of my strength. I distinctly remember coming home from a night hanging out with friends towards the end of it all. He hadn’t wanted me to go. In fact, he had made plans with his father earlier in the week, so I had made plans after for the same night to avoid being depressed in the house alone. His father ended up canceling. Of course, my ex got pissed at me because I didn’t immediately cancel my plans. I told him this was unfair, as I really needed to talk to my girlfriends and I knew he would absolutely NEVER do the same thing in my position. Hell, he wouldn’t even drop the controller if I was distraught. He didn’t like me talking to my girlfriends about my relationship either. Well, he did in the beginning, when he still had the mask on.I came back that night with positive vibes, and he felt them, and said something very poignant. He said that he could tell after speaking with my friends that I had come back with a strong, black woman, no-nonsense mentality.

And I could tell it distressed him to say that.

Why wasn’t he proud of me? I had forgotten that’s exactly who I am, and I could never be ashamed of that or have someone, especially not a man, make me feel as if being a strong, black woman with a no-nonsense mentality is problematic. Do you want to know the hidden meaning behind my fifth tattoo? It’s not JUST my favorite Smash Bros. character on my leg. It’s a sign of strength. It is a reminder that I am strong, sexy, confident, regal, and a worthy soldier who holds her head high with a powerful stance for what she believes in. A narcissist will make you try and forget that. My head had been brought down so low, I almost didn’t recognize myself anymore. Now I have a permanent reminder when things get rough. Stand tall.

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The scars from the physical abuse over a decade ago were nothing compared to the mental wounds I was dealt as of late. But the beautiful thing about the mind is, while it can be cripplingly weak, it can be blazingly tenacious. We all may die a little sometimes, to be reborn from the ashes with renewed vigor, lessons learned and a vibrant healed wingspan, thirsty for flight.

~Tael

The Facets of Feeling

I have a problem with the term “chasing happiness.” It’s too simple. The past 2 years for me were a prison of black and white, upbeat happy or pitfall sad. In-between emotions weren’t recognized or permitted. Hell, even sadness was considered intolerable, and angrily acknowledged if it surfaced. The vivid spectrum of human emotion could not be fully accessed. The only emotion allowed…was “happy.” But denying your palate the varied flavors of life through emotional suppression only creates a disastrous recipe.

Happiness. We hold it as the most powerful, sought-after state of being for a healthy, satisfying life. But there’s a problem with those who ONLY wish to be “happy” and banish the other emotions to the dungeon-like doldrums. Happiness is just one shade. Satisfaction, for example, is not as surface-level as “happy.” Satisfaction can run so much deeper and give you a far higher sense of achievement when attained. Contentment, as well, is a warm feeling that echoes softly through your soul putting you in a relaxed state that “happy” cannot achieve on its own. Exuberance is an exhilaratory upgrade of happiness that heightens your mental state with a gripping thrill.

And then there’s the downside of the spectrum. No one wants to be sad. No one wants to be depressed. And no one should wish for it. But when it happens, sometimes you have to feel it deeply. There is no such thing as a “bad” feeling; there is only a poor way to handle it. Choosing “not” to feel it is one such example. You can never truly face your situation by running from the sentiment. If sadness happens to be your reality at the moment, then face it head on, grieve, and learn from it. Fleeing from feelings conquers nothing and produces 0 growth. It’s simply putting a lid on a pot that will continue to boil and erupt later with explosive, exponential intensity.

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It may feel like a curse to feel emotions magnified other than “happy.” If you’re like me and feel things very deeply (mood swings galore as a child), simple words with an odd inflection may cut you deep. Brutal anger may draw a curtain of red over your world. Unfair treatment might make you curl-up-on-the-floor-sick-to-your-stomach with resentment. But buoyant, spirited vibes resound within you, magnifying to a high better than any hallucinogen.

The individual you run into sobbing in public will be one of the most honest people you’ll meet. Unafraid of the world’s judgment, they are showing you their current truth in raw form, without a facade. That highly opinionated acquaintance who constantly vomits their viewpoints that everyone finds “inappropriate,” likely won’t be “two-faced” behind your back because they give you themselves without dilution. The stranger you’ve just met who heatedly shares his indignation at an injustice he recently witnessed is unafraid to display the passion in his heart. Fearless emotion is an amazing thing.

If your goal is to only chase “happiness,” how can you fully appreciate the facets of feeling? Like a brilliant diamond, there are so many glittering sides to experience that grant you new perception at different angles. Angles that illumine paths to reflections you may not have seen before. Paths that lead you to fellow humans who immediately and completely understand what you’re feeling because they’ve felt it as well. They’ve experienced that facet of the diamond themselves. They’ve tasted that emotion and overcome it before and now you’ve created a powerful connection through sharing and empathy.

We need the jarring rage you feel when a friend is mistreated, the sweltering indignance you feel when you’re spoken down to, and the simmering jealous awe that pushes us to climb and stretch for things out of our reach. Going through life cradling one feeling is a robotic pathway of monochrome imbalance. Celebrate the fact that you can feel a myriad of sentiments. Reactions that prove you’re legitimately interacting with the world and people around you. You hear them, listen, disagree, get angered by what they say, happy at their news, sad at their downfalls. Cry when you’re upset, stomp when you’re mad, yell when you’re frustrated. Shout beneath a waterfall like in A Quiet Place and let go of the composure. Embrace the wild freedom of being human.

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Be wary of those who are only ever “happy,” afraid to come face to face with any other emotion. Those are the ones who hide deeper currents that wash over their hidden truths and malfunction their mechanical myths behind the veneer they’ve put up. If your life is one emotion, you’re half-living, and not viewing the full panorama the human soul has to offer. If you haven’t fallen to the lowest point, clawed your way back out, coped through a mind-numbing loss, been picked up by the kindness of karmatic-hearted strangers, and even had your boss comfort you in the throes of devastation, you might not have truly lived yet.

The ending line from the Fruits Basket manga never resonated so well with me before: Repeat the good AND the bad. Do it all, and pile on the years.

Never be afraid to feel.

~Tael

 

Girl. Gamer. And?

It’s like we’ve regressed while evolving. A month ago when I went to Otakon, I met a transgender individual who shared that some of their female friends who game have gone through some pretty negative experiences with the male gaming community; to the point where they now hide their gender on forums and social media, and are treated fine until somehow the bomb drops that they’re female. When I was growing up, gender in gaming was never a thing, so why is it now?

As a casual gamer, it’s been amazing to ride along the gaming world’s journey. I started out with my very own Sega Genesis at age 7. ALL of my cousins gamed, boy and girl. And when their friends came over, we all gamed together still. There was never any “Girls can’t play” or “Boys club” nonsense. We practiced Mortal Kombat finishing moves on each other, sped through Sonic levels, and bullet-barraged in GoldenEye as equals. We chainsawed Tediz in Conker, helped snag difficult stars in Super Mario 64, and woke up rubbing the crust from our eyes first thing bright and early to grab the controller and take down Wizpig in Diddy Kong Racing.

Going through middle school, gaming was definitely still considered a nerdy hobby, so it wasn’t really broadcast much. We stayed under the radar so as not to become targets. I kept it hidden behind the scenes, indulging with my family and my bestie, who could be counted on to marathon Super Mario World with me in one night, being overly cautious not to accidentally nudge the glitchy console in any way, lest the save not work properly after having played for hours. I quietly played my RPGs in the safety of my room and found gaming companions in AOL chat rooms. I ducked my head in my GameBoy in isolated corners of the school yard.

In high school (and I admit, the fact that my H.S. population was 75% Asian could have something to do with it) it became much more socially accepted. Dedicated teams set up YuGiOh and Magic rounds religiously every day after school in the cafeteria. I encountered my first IRL Zelda fan who loved to share tips on Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. I got invited to a birthday party where we each built our own mini-Gundams to take home (Deathscythe, baby). Gamer T-shirts and swag became more widespread.

College came and my love of Smash Bros. continued to blossom. I formed a purely battle relationship with a dude who’d come around to visit his girlfriend down the hall, and always dropped in just to play a few rounds and demolish me. In fact, there were quite a few Elite Smashers in college, and I was surprised at how many others loved it too! I befriended another girl who beasted in Smash and we took down our friends in Team Battles. And then there were other gamers still, happy to lend their assistance to the excruciatingly tedious puzzles of Prince of Persia or MarioKart training, or collaboratively get back to Funkatron in Toejam & Earl.

The gamer’s life had become a breeze of approval. Twitter wasn’t even a thing back then. Is that why everyone was so nice and accepting? Because in-person, things are different? Because a lot of people gain that web-courage, when they’re behind a screen? Or because the younger generations are more likely to be douchebags now?

Once again, I may have been caught in some kind of bubble (I’m starting to believe myself to be a unicorn in life). I was never once called out for my gender. I was never once interrogated, scrutinized, laughed at, harassed, or belittled for being a girl and having this hobby. It wasn’t considered a “cool” thing to do or pretend to like. It wasn’t a trend, as nostalgic things tend to be now. It was strictly a hobby, done for your own individual entertainment. A gamer was a gamer.

It’s interesting to see a hobby I once kept on the low explode into something that can make you Internet-famous now. But it’s also great to see how much more open and accessible the gaming lifestyle is now. I LOVE that I can find controller earrings on Etsy, Triforce handbags on Amazon, support indie artists geeky tee and hoodie designs, actually be a part of a gaming community on social media, connect with Smashers just by logging into the network on the WiiU, and pop up on the Tetris Friends site for a bit of mind-numbing block-dropping. I love that bars are incorporating arcades, Nintendo World at Rockefeller Center is a thing, Pokemon is still going strong, “It’s dangerous to go alone, take this,” has become a meme, and retro-fans recognize and appreciate the question-mark tattoo on my shoulder.

20170928_231443As a casual gamer, (and I’m not speaking for the industry side of things) I don’t feel like women are marginalized any more so than anywhere else. Are there hypersexualized characters in gaming? OF COURSE. Hypersexualization of women is everywhere in the world. We can’t expect it to magically not be in this particular medium. Grand Theft Auto is not meant to be a respectable game (you are absolutely an asshole protagonist), Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball does nothing anime doesn’t already do, yes, Lara Croft is known for having large breasts in the Tomb Raider series, that was their thing, and also seeing Valentina’s boobs jiggle when you attack her in Super Mario RPG is hilarious (because they do jiggle in real life sometimes). But how can we forget about the numerous other female roles over the years? Easy-going Jade from Beyond Good & Evil. Calculating Bellena from Skies of Arcadia (which also happened to have two female co-protagonists). Battle-worthy warrior Marta from Tales of Symphonia 2 (because Lord knows Emil needed to grow a pair) as well as the power-hungry, pint-sized sadistic Alice who put fear in even the largest man’s heart. Xelha from Baten Kaitos was one of my least favorite female characters, mostly because I didn’t find her cute at all. Yeah, sounds horrible, but I like my characters to be cute. I much preferred Mizuti with her crazy mask and garbled voice, who everyone was shocked to find out late in the game that she was a girl anyway. Because if a character is not going to be cute, they should at least be cool and have some depth to them. I see Twitter highly in favor of the fact that Twintelle from Arms has an ass. Sexualization or adaptation of the latest fit and trendy body-type?

Having that knowledge dropped on me at Otakon, that one would have to hide their gender orientation around the community they love to participate in, left me surprised, even though I’ve heard stories before. Over the Internet. I’ve just never heard a real-life story from twenty-somethings in person. I was certain there’s the chill, accepting, mature generation of gamers who love the hobby in person (because don’t Millennials accept everything accept right-wing conservatism?), and then there’s the Internet-thugging 12-14-year-old virgins experimenting with cursing behind their headsets and safety screens because they’re not ready for the real world. And I’m not threatened by children. To my fellow gaming ladies who have experienced such nonsense as this, I’m sorry I wasn’t there. I’ve been told I can come off as intimidating. Let some little ignorant troll come at me for being a chick who games.

I would skin them. (And trust me, you could probably take them too).

Just saying.

~Tael

That New York Bubble

At the time of this post, I can still say that I’ve never had an overtly racist encounter. Strange, isn’t it? I’m a 30-year-old African American woman with about 12 years worth of dreadlocks. I have never once been called a “nigger” to my face or over the internet. I have never had a backhanded compliment such as “Oh she’s blahblahblah, for a Black girl.” I’ve never had trouble landing a job either because of my race. The only questionable situation I had with a recruiter was when she tried to low-key tell me that the positions she recruited for would likely have a problem with my hair (And well, the hair stays). And as far as I know, I’ve never been passed over for anything because of the color of my skin.

I grew up in New York City, which I consider to be the greatest city in America. I may not have an overwhelming “patriotic” pride, but I sure am loyal as hell to New York. And growing up here, there’s a whole different lifestyle and an entirely unique state of mind. There is no physical divide between rich and poor and race here. Sure, certain neighborhoods are more LIKELY to have a certain demographic (South Williamsburg, Sheepshead Bay, Brownsville) but gentrification runs rampant through the city, low-income/lottery housing exists in the most luxurious buildings (my friend was lucky enough to bag one) and you’ll find everyone in Times Square from the businessmen to the tourists to the teenagers to the hood squad.

There is a certain kind of acceptance that comes with being a New York native. If you went to school here, you were exposed to a mixing bowl of race and culture at a very early age. I grew up brushing elbows with project kids, families who had enough money to treat a group of kids to dinner and the movies for their child’s birthday (an impressive feat in the 90s), immigrant children who spoke little English, young girls wearing hijabs and a boy brought up as Jehovah’s Witness who wasn’t allowed to participate in any of the holiday activities. We had class luncheons where everyone would bring in family dishes, Dance Festivals where we’d learn choreography from different origins, and Spanish class was a requirement for 5 years of my public school life.

The fact that a Confederate flag was recently found displayed in the window of an LES apartment was definitely a surprise, considering I grew up in LES. Because in the New York Bubble, racism is something that happens somewhere else. Growing up here did not instill the fear of cops in me and getting pulled over was never a stressful or scary event. In the New York Bubble, a racist establishment will get slammed and shamed on social media or Yelp; a racist incident in the street will be recorded on a camera phone and make the Gothamist for the city to snub; a Good Samaritan will call someone out publicly for displaying prejudice. Growing up in NYC, I was not taught to see race, traipsing through Chinatown, the only Black person in a swarm of Chinese friends, their parents thrilled with my knowledge of Mah-Jongg without the English characters on the pieces. In the New York Bubble, racism is a shocking and disgusting thing we’ve mostly evolved past, while small towns in Middle America remain ignorant without progress. In my mom’s building, our conservative Jewish neighbor, a mother of 2, has offered my two cousins to come wait inside her house when we weren’t home, and they can look like hoodlums sometimes.

I just had a conversation with my boyfriend the other night about how different my high school experience was from the ones you see portrayed in teen movies. No one was ever singled out for being poor, for being overweight, or for struggling in English class. Those with bad grades or bigger pants sizes or suspicious odors weren’t really treated differently than anyone else. What kind of alternate universe did we exist in? Were we just on a different level of maturity?

Even when I leave New York, I find that the Bubble still follows me. As much as I’ve traveled to visit my family in South Carolina, no one has ever tossed a racial comment my way down the dirt roads, surrounded by deep forests and trailer parks. When I moved to Boston for 2 years, I was met with friendliness abounds, as if the whole New York vs Boston rivalry didn’t exist. When I went to D.C. for Otakon a week ago, nada. Likewise, Baltimore, Virginia and down the East Coast, nothing.

One might see this as a strong sign that our country is progressing. Until you look at your Facebook feed and the news stories, the viral videos of police encounters and personal accounts from across the country of cultural headscarves getting snatched and sneers to “go back to your country.” And you dejectedly realize it is very much still there. And sometimes…it comes into our Bubble and it’s here too. And while I hold my NYC upbringing like a talisman, how far can that Bubble extend? The outer membrane is so thin…

~Tael

Yes, I Still Play Pokemon GO

No, I did not leave the app behind in 2016 with everyone else who jumped off the bandwagon. Why? I’m not a bandwagoner.

The questioning of why those who still enjoy Pokemon GO continue to do so after its popularity declined with “the masses” last year currently tops my list of MOST. ANNOYING. QUESTIONS…

Mostly because…this is what you’re actually asking:

A. Why aren’t we all quitters like you who didn’t simultaneously drink the Kool-Aid and give up at the same time?
B. Why did we all not follow the prescribed time limit that society set and mindlessly follow the rest of the robotic world who dictates what’s popular?
C. Why do I actually enjoy walking? An incredibly healthy and natural thing for your body to do and a great way to stay fit and active?

I would say sorry I didn’t follow the time-limit that the world-gods bestowed upon the sheep that flocked together and stopped playing just cause others left, but I don’t even want to apologize sarcastically for participating in something that takes dedication and keeps me active.

The simple fact is, there are the casuals and there are the hardcores. It was awesome that when the game was first introduced, people from all walks of life participated. I’d be playing alongside gentlemen in business suits, grade schoolers in soccer uniforms, and hot-dog vendors in aprons, all tossing Pokeballs at Psyducks on the screen. It’s quite the achievement to be able to bring together such vastly different demographics, and I give the game props for that.

At some point, the popularity died down, most likely with the coming of winter. The cold season is not exactly conducive to long walks by the pier and chilling in open-air parks by a lure.

But there’s another ridiculously obvious reason the GO-Bandwagoners/Questioners won’t talk about.

IT ACTUALLY INVOLVES WALKING. Which is like…EXERCISE. Which like…MOST PEOPLE DON’T LIKE TO DO!!

In order to rise to the top in this game, you have to WALK. And since statistics confirm that over 50% of America is overweight, it’s probably not a top activity of choice. You don’t see this so much in New York because we’re already a city of walkers. We were walking since before it was cool to do so in an app game; before the Fitbit craze and all that. Pokemon GO simply gave me something to occupy my mind/time WHILE walking; it made a game of it. But I’m fairly certain at least half the people who outgrew interest did so because they realized that in order to be good at it, you couldn’t do it from your couch.

In order to hatch eggs, catch rare Pokemon, battle gyms, acquire the means to power up, BAG THOSE LEGENDARIES, you must walk. You can cheat and be a spoofer, but for the most part the general public is not that tech-savvy, and also, sometimes you get caught, and also, it’s lazy.

PoGOFit

I’d rather play it the right way and be fit af.

If you want to be REALLY good at the game, then you have to walk MORE than the average person. Is it tiring? Duh, it’s exercise. If it’s not tiring, you’re not doing it right. Sometimes your feet hurt. Because it’s walking. And when the masses found out you actually had to WORK somewhat to master this game, well…that’s where the hardcores and casuals get separated.

They probably don’t go to the gym either.

I inadvertently lost 8 pounds last summer playing this damn game. (My gains! *Cries*) I’ve walked over 500 miles in Pokemon GO. Have the GO-Questioners walked over 500 miles NOT playing it? Do they even game outside of this app? Because despite the game’s appeal to everyone, including the non-gaming community, gamers have been Pokemoning it up since Red and Blue. We came into the game already knowing the strengths and weaknesses, that Ground prevails against Lightning, and Dark pwns Psychic and the Poke-Great-Ultra ball stepladder and the evolutions to everything.

Before Pokemon GO, I played Just Dance for cardio for a good 4 versions.  I no longer play, but I would never question those who still stay up to date on the latest releases, because I’ve heard so many stories of Just Dancers shedding pounds just from that game alone. Dancing is fun! And that game can be damn difficult. Not quite in the same league as DDR (and I still worship the ground DDRers stomp on) but still an enjoyable way to get a workout in. Classic. By the logic that we should all stop playing something just because it isn’t popular anymore, there’d be no love for retro gaming, pinball arcades, people would forget Sonic games were once MASTERPIECES, and NES minis wouldn’t be scalped for exorbitant prices. :/

If you think Pokemon GO is played out, and want to ignore the collective of hardcore players in the shadows (Pokemon GO fest, although a failure, sold out in mere HOURS, so SOMEBODY thinks it’s still popular) that’s cool. Ya’ll can stay on the bandwagon with the rest of the sheep, ready to graze on the next big thing society tells you to. In the meantime, the rest of us will be over here getting fit af.

~Tael

 

Mix Hoodies With Black

I tend to have some pretty down-to-earth conversations about racial truths with one of my cousins, who is like a brother to me. They’re never serious, debate-like, haughty, “woke” ones; just some “Damn, shit’s really like this, huh,” ones.

One lovely experience that reinforced the scaffolding of our own invisible prejudice occurred during a trip to Atlantic City for my birthday a few years back that I’ve shared on Facebook before. It was late and dark and the ATM I needed was the drive-thru kind in an empty secluded lot. My cousin instantly put the fear in our party’s hearts by mentioning how one could easily get robbed here. He does this. Like when we went to see “Get Out” on opening night and he said he hoped no white supremacist would come shoot up our theater in protest of the movie. T_T’ Had me looking at white boys with backpacks who couldn’t sit still and the exit routes for half the movie, praying.

The ATM wasn’t constructed in a way where the car could get close; we rolled down the window and I slung half my body out, engaging my core to access the screen and withdraw as quickly as I could. OF COURSE, at that very moment, a black guy with a hoodie enters the lot and seems to make a beeline for our car. Stuck hanging out the window, waiting for the machine to process the withdrawal, while everyone else is giving commentary, “He’s coming closer!” “Did he just pull out a ski-mask?” “LOCK THE DOORS!!” I panic, terrified and fully believing I’m about to get buck-fiftied for my meager checking account balance. I’m not sure if I made it to the part where I actually got the money. I may have just jettisoned myself back into the car and screamed “DRIVE, JUST DRIVE,” without completing the transaction.

Dude walked right past us.

Was our fear justified?

If you were walking down a block at night and saw a group of Black teenagers clustered outside of the projects, would you cross the street to avoid…”something?”

I don’t. Not anymore. I don’t because what am I afraid of? Why should I be afraid to walk past a group of my own race at night? At most, as a woman, to avoid catcalling, but I’d rather show solidarity. When I confidently pass them, they either quiet down or throw out a greeting. I acknowledge them back as fellow humans and keep it moving and the “big, scary moment” is over. I don’t want to fear my own people. If it was a group of White men in suits, there wouldn’t even be a situation up for discussion, my cousin says. Or if it was a group of Asian men.
What if they were wearing hoodies?

“What about Spanish men?” I ask.
“Probably not. A bunch of light-skinned guys don’t look as threatening.”
What if they’re wearing hoodies?
“But your skin is the darkest of all; would you be afraid to walk past a group of you?”

There is not a clear cut answer.

“What if it were Black men in suits?”

Then it probably wouldn’t be an issue either. Everyone loved Men In Black.

What if they were Black but wearing glasses, skater gear, a Nintendo shirt…blahblahblahblahnothoodies, why do what they’re wearing hold so much weight? Why do we trust clothes before people?

I don’t want that ingrained fear that was instilled in me growing up. I’m Black and I wear hoodies. To fear another Black-in-a-hoodie seems silly. I want to break that fear. And so I walk past them, fearless and without judgment. Because we are all people, and we deserve that much. Most especially from our own.

~Tael