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Derailed
Wednesday May 14th 2003, 2:12 am

Life is a ride, remember?

Sometimes you fly downhill. Sometimes you cruise on the flats. And sometimes you roll right over a pothole and fly off your rig, ass over tea kettle. You crash.

I’ve crashed only once on my bike, and it was way back in junior high. Just riding along, on the way to the third-to-last day of school, crossing Adams Avenue when something went wrong. Next thing I knew, I was twisted up in my bike, blood everywhere, and wondering what the hell happened. Didn’t get on a bike for eight years after that. Still have a scar on my chin.

But I got back on the bike. You have to get back in the saddle, ’cause it’s the only way you’ll learn to ride. You get thrown, you get back on. You endo, you get back on. Your rig spontaneously collapses, you weld the pieces back together, wrap the whole thing in duct tape, and you get the hell back on.

I got laid off on Friday, in case you’re wondering where this is all going.

If any of you have talked to me about my job, you’ll know that I’ve hated it since…well, since forever. I hated programming video games. I hated programming. There. I said it. I absolutely loathe programming. It pays well, but I hate it. I hate how uncreative it makes me feel. I hate how the parts of the machine get so intricate and wanky. I hate the fact that, in the end, I’ve never done anything that I’ve felt proud of. Even the last game I worked on, which got a ton of acclaim and sold well, didn’t make me proud. It was a hockey game. Whoop.

It was liberating to say all of that on Friday night as Anne and everyone listened to me gripe over milkshakes. I am through with this industry, I said. I’m going to be glad this happened (even if it’s scary as hell right now). I will not panic and call up the headhunters and get another job making games. I’m done. It’s time to think long and hard about what makes me happy and figure out how to get paid for it.

What does make me happy? Cooking. Cycling. Talking. Yelling about politics. Writing. Writing makes me happy, even when I’m banging my head on the keyboard trying to figure out what these characters are going to say to each other. Writing gives me fulfillment, writing gives me control, writing allows me to create. I love that feeling when some story comes bubbling up out of nowhere and leaves me thinking, “God, that’s cool. Where the hell did that come from?”

I love the feel of language. I love the way words look on the page, how they sound coming out of someone’s mouth. I love it when people love words, when they appreciate these crystallized ideas, when they give them form and meaning and life. I get angry at people who twist and abuse language, whether it’s to sell yogurt spinners or Republican politics. Whoever controls language controls thought, and I can’t stand it when people gladly give up their thoughts. “It’s just words,” they say as they practice doublethink or add syllables (do you say “utilize” when you mean “use”? Do you say “at this point in time” when you mean “now”? If so, we gotta talk). “They don’t mean anything.”

They mean plenty. They mean the world. They are all we have sometimes. Language is a tool, one that can build mountains and hammer down walls. Words lift. They carry. They create the world.

So, the question is: how do I use them to make a living?

I’ve been writing fiction for a year or so now, and I’m going to keep chasing after that the old-fashioned way – with my butt in front of the keyboard for hours on end and sending off submissions when they feel ripe for picking. But I need to find another line of work in the meantime, one that’s more like base training for writing. Editing, copywriting, production, story analysis, whatever: something that pays above minimum wage, won’t consume all my time and energy, and doesn’t kill people. I need to sift through the jobs out there, the industries, the ass economy, and figure out how to make it work for me. The problem is that I’ve had my head buried in the game world for so long that I have no idea where to start, which is why I’m asking you for any suggestions.

I don’t know what a lot of you do for a living. I don’t know how you put bread on the table, or that your work also happens to keep your soul alive. Does it? What do you do? What do you know? What ideas do you have for a 29-year-old engineer who wants to create rather than code and realizes that he’s going to have to get in on the ground floor and work his way up? Where could I start?

Any and all ideas are welcome. I’ll be here. Or at the library, which is where I need to go right now. Free books are good.

Filed under: Spleen Venting