HELLO INTERNET BOY #41: Say no to bunnies

Last night at my improv class, we were talking about bad behaviour on stage. From something so dumb, the ‘prov as it’s known, sure looks like it has a lot of rules. Although, it’s actually kind of a myth. Improv is kind of like painstakingly breaking down the process of communication, and building it back up again using idiots. Every “rule” is just another layer of basic process. The classic rules that people know about improv is the whole ‘say yes’ thing. It starts off being prescriptive, but after a while it’s not so much a rule as a layer. It’s about being open and receptive to what the other person on stage is trying to do, and not shutting them down. When you start off, you’re encouraged to literally never say no, in order to try and drum this into your head. Saying no is actually quite instinctual in improv, because we have this idea that drama and interesting things come from opposition, although it tends to actually just stall things, or spin a scene into a stalemate of bickering. After a while you’re actually allowed to say ‘no’ as long as that ‘no’ is in some way saying yes to the situation proposed. There’s something known as the ‘game’ of the scene, which is both the technical structure, and also somehow the soul of the whole thing. Saying yes to the game, can sometimes look like saying no to something a character is proposing. This is confusing, maybe I’ll go read my UCB handbook and explain this better.

Anyway, breaking down improv rules and talking about bad behaviour made me think about roleplaying, especially on Aelyria. It’s interesting, because the two mediums are so incredibly different, yet at their heart, they are exactly the same. There’s a lot of rules on Aelyria too. If you ask me, there’s way too many at the moment, and a lot of them involve complicated time-measuring systems. I have a lot of trouble telling the time in reality, let along in magic world. But the main, overarching rule of playing Aelyria used to be known as ‘no bunnying’. I don’t know if they use bunnying as a term anymore, but it basically means being true to the reality of Aelyria, and not overstepping your bounds. Bunnying can include giving your character knowledge that they couldn’t possibly know, like if there are assassins breaking into the castle in the night, just coincidentally waking up and putting plate armour on for no reason. Bunnying can also be affecting the world around you – like walking up to a tree and finding a deus ex machina apple in it, when your character is starving. In essence, bunnying is saying no to the reality of Aelyria. It’s literally rejecting the ‘game’. Everyone is helping construct a fantasy world, and to reject even a part of it, weakens the shared communication, the shared goal.

This post is generously supported by the Thiel Grant for Online Writing, and is included in a 50 part series called ‘HELLO INTERNET BOY’ ranging from March 2015 – March 2016.

HELLO INTERNET BOY #38: A community of fuckheads

In Aelyria, ‘Patrick Lenton’ has been tasked with the awkward process of being forced to  read another writers work, while they sit there and watch. This has happened to me a few times, outside of a workshop scenario and it’s always been excruciating. Especially because I’ve been trained in a certain style of criticism – you don’t bother pussyfooting around with empty compliments and platitudes, you just go straight into the meat and gristle of what’s not working, and provide solutions. When you’re sitting at a bar, and someone has pulled out seven loose-leaf sheafs of their new novel, you don’t really have the ability to do that. You’re left awkwardly talking about how good it is, desperately trying to seem engaged, but not too engaged.

That said, I love spending time with other writers. I love it when writers form communities, because they tend to be really weird and excellent people. I love talking about writing and books and just stupid stuff. When I was younger, I used to think that I only wanted to be friends with writers, which was helped along by the fact that I was studying creative writing and everyone around me was part of that world. But over the last few years, as much as I still value my writing community and my word friends, i’ve found an unexpected pleasure in getting to know people who have absolutely no tie with my insular little book bubble. This is for obvious reasons – being a writer doesn’t make you a good or a bad person (although will often tip you into being a crap person to be around), so obviously hanging around with non-writers means you get literally an entire spectrum of new cool people. BUT, the bonus is being exposed to people who are doing amazing or interesting or just different stuff. Having that exposure is so important, is a way to be inspired in all the thousands of ways that writers need to be. Getting stuck in the bubble is bad, because you stagnate in there.

This post is generously supported by the Thiel Grant for Online Writing, and is included in a 50 part series called ‘HELLO INTERNET BOY’ ranging from March 2015 – March 2016.

HELLO INTERNET BOY # 37: I am a writer

One of the things that I like about Patrick Lenton from the fantasy world of Aelyria is that he introduces himself as a writer. No vacillating, no ‘I’m a digital marketer but also an author’ no ‘oh you know… trying to be an author’. I suppose it would be weird claiming to be a digital marketer. What would be the Aelyrian parallel? Town crier of the… astral plane?

In my current storyline, I’m being asked by a gnome and a dog man what my occupation is, and that world’s Patrick Lenton is like ‘writer’. He is off to do some writing. And of course, I haven’t given that Patrick a day job. In Aelyria, he earns all his money from writing. This is a fantasy world, after all.

It was fun when I was travelling to experiment with saying ‘I’m an author’. I’d just had my book of short stories released, so it felt the truest it ever has. I managed to do it a couple of times without slipping up, but often I’d follow up with ‘not that it makes me any money’ or ‘you know, I work too.’

There’s a lot of well meaning and aspirational articles and memes aimed at writers that basically says ‘you ARE a writer, if you write, you are a writer, identify as a writer, asshole!’ and I agree to a certain extent. I do. I am a writer. But am I an author? Someone asked me the other day if my ultimate goal was to be a full time writer, and I paused. That’s the dream, I suppose. But I’ve worked in trade publishing for years – I know how difficult it is to make a living. Almost impossible, really. There’s no middle ground anymore, no mid-list. You have to be J.K. Rowling or nothing. So I’m ready to support myself to pursue my writing, that’s a reality I’m comfortable with.

I’m currently not comfortable with the amount I’m writing, the demands of a full-time job that I love meaning that my writing output is much less than I hope. I would like to solve this somehow, but that’s a different issue for a different day. Would upping the percentage of time I spend writing make me more comfortable in saying I was an author? How much? 60%? 80%? Or is it always going to be about how I make my living. I don’t know yet.

This post is generously supported by the Thiel Grant for Online Writing, and is included in a 50 part series called ‘HELLO INTERNET BOY’ ranging from March 2015 – March 2016.

 

 

HELLO INTERNET BOY #30:Gifts

Despite never having met my teenage love interest, there was one instance where he managed to somehow appear more real and central and in my life, like when a ghost decides to become a poltergeist and starts moving shit around.  That was when my internet crush sent me a package of gifts in the mail. I didn’t realise it at the time, but limiting my interactions with this guy to MSN Messenger, ICQ and the forums of a fantasy roleplaying game kept the entire relationship as a… fantasy. As something not real. That could be sectioned off from my real life when it became too uncomfortable, or threatened to expose some truths about my sexuality. Even the rare phone calls, his voice crackling through my Nokia with a breathless, American accent, were less than real. They were also exciting and stressful and I missed every third word.

So when a package of stuff appeared out of the blue, I opened it up in my room (or the caravan I lived in out the back of my parent’s tiny house to be precise) and had a small panic attack. There was a gorgeous letter along with it, where my name had been written in painstaking calligraphy with blue pen, on some kind of bright, spiral stationary. There was a lot of feelings in the letter. It was super teenage. I felt uncomfortable and flushed while I read it, but that wasn’t what freaked me out.

There was a chunky man ring, which I loved, despite the fact that I am definitely not someone who can wear rings. There was… a man bracelet I think?

And then, underneath it all, there was a Playstation.

And this is what freaked me out. The idea of a Playstation was somehow too big, too real. If I wanted to play this, I would have to explain to my parents where the Playstation came from. It was a big white box of reality. So I gave it to my friend Bob.

Problem solved.

HELLO INTERNET BOY #29: Eggs eggs eggs

I just ate scrambled eggs on gluten free bread, mixed in with green capsicum. The smell, now and perhaps forever, reminds me of the little AirBnB I stayed at in New York. I ate that same meal every night, sometimes travelling back on the L train and rushing up to the apartment just to shovel some barely cooked yolk into my mouth before travelling back into Manhattan to catch a show at UCB. Every time I made it, I was almost paralysed by embarrassment, completely sure that my dour eastern European hosts were judging me. They always seemed to be lying in their loft bed that overlooked the kitchen, always stirring and whispering as soon as I fired up the hot plate, as soon as I deftly stole more of their olive oil and pepper.

I didn’t just eat eggs because I’m an unadventurous cook who could almost literally eat the same thing for every meal. Only a week after I got back from the US, I went into hospital for my colonoscopy and endoscopy, or as I like to call it, getting double-teamed by the doctors. The reason was that for a full year I’d been getting horrific stomach cramps, that would put me out of action for days, either in crippling pain or acid nausea. I was tested over and over again for tumours and cancer and ulcers and babies. I got incredibly good at popping up my good vein for blood tests. I got thin and tired and depressed. I finally got a recommendation for a gastroenterologist, who after going through all the tests again, came up with the incredibly unsexy conclusion that I had irritable bowel syndrome. He booked me into hospital to make sure it wasn’t cancer as well, but in the meantime he put me on an exclusion diet, where I basically had to cut everything except basic proteins out of my diet, and then gradually reintroduce things to discover what it was my system was incapable of digesting. By the time I went to New York, I was two weeks into the reintegration diet, and had discovered I couldn’t handle gluten, onions and garlic – ie everything good in the world.

When I booked my trip to New York, I had several people give me comprehensive and amazing lists of things to do. It was amazing, and super useful, considering I was travelling on my own. They also all included the food I should try, the amazing slices, the bagel houses, the burgers. But I wasn’t yet used to asking for things to be made to my specifications, and I was in a strange land, with a currency I was even more incapable of understanding. Instead, I basically didn’t eat anything that I didn’t make with my two stupid hands. I basically just ate eggs. One day during my improv class at UCB, I bought a tuna sandwich with some of my classmates, feeling so incredibly happy to talk to other humans. But while I was eating it, I realised that the bread wasn’t gluten free, and the tuna had onion in it. My stomach immediately twisted into the well-known, well travelled cramps I was used to, and I contemplated with dread having to spend another few days curled up in my makeshift bedroom, enduring the judgement of the Europeans hovering perpetually over me (I’d already spent three days in my first week with the flu). But then I realised it was impossible – there was no way that the poison had reached my bowels yet, no way they were sitting there like undigested bricks. It was all in my head. I still didn’t eat the sandwich though, after those first bites. I’d been in pain for so long that there was no way I could conceive of risking it. One of the guys asked me why I wasn’t eating it, and I told him I was allergic to onion. It just sounds cooler than IBS. More dangerous. ‘I could die’ automatically trumps ‘tong term intestine pain.’ On my last day I went to that famous pizza place in Brooklyn, and then looked at it and decided that it wasn’t worth it. I didn’t want to vomit all over the plane the next day.

The way I got over this fear, and actually started working through my limits was when I got to the South on the roadtrip. There was so much stuff made of corn that I started to get a little giddy, a little free with my choices. I learnt that I can handle a fair amount of gluten before getting ill (less if I’m drinking), a small amount of garlic, and a lesser amount of onion.

I’ve had a few conversations since I’ve gotten back about the food of New York, and I can never actually engage beyond vast amounts of candy and eggs, morning noon and night, eggs eggs eggs. And that’s why eggs reminds me of New York.

HELLO INTERNET BOY #22: JAZZZZZZZZZ

In Columbia, the real world desperately needed Michelle’s attention again. This was a shame, because she had basically single-handedly organised our entire trip and driven us around and explained why high school kids took her on dates to gas stations (the answer is West Virginia, and it was a FANCY gas station) and why her shithead ex who also played the game might be wandering around her old college town still. But in Columbia she had to go to her partners graduation from medical school and get all dressed up and fancy. And while we were travelling around, while we were day drunk and sleepy in our cabin, she suddenly had to write an essay in order to get the job of her dreams. The real world has trouble letting Michelle go.

The rest of us went to the after party of the graduation after drinking some beers in the most quintessentially American bar I can imagine. It had plates all over the wall. I can’t explain it better than that. The graduation after party was in a fancy cocktail bar with a live jazz band, and for the first time since I’d become traveller Patrick, I felt like I wanted to be real world Patrick again. And the reason for that was very simple: clothes. There I was in my sneakers and stinky travel t-shirt, rubbing my tourist shoulders with well dressed, freshly minted doctors, and I felt off. I like clothes a lot, and I wanted to be wearing some nice shoes.

There was also the fact that we were Michelle’s weird internet friends, and they were her fancy doctor friends. We weren’t sure if we should even say that we are ancient nerd brethren, and instead lie, and say that we are a travelling tuba group or something more respectable. Steven spilt his drink all over the floor and the only topic of conversation I could think of was ‘when I get back to Australia I’m having a colonoscopy!’

But it was fine. Jazz is such a wanky thing.

HELLO INTERNET BOY #21: Walmart

I wanted to buy some crazy American t-shirts where eagles are made out of flags and carry a wingful of guns and underneath it says ‘Freedom’, so they took me to Walmart. I’m not sure if Australia has an analogue to what Walmart is, but I vaguely knew its reputation through a thousand absorbed references via pop culture. Walmart didn’t disappoint. I walked into what I can only describe as a fluorescent aircraft hanger full of crap. Things spilled from the shelves into the aisles, and rat people pawed through the miscellanea in search of salvation. At one point we got stuck behind a slow moving behemoth who has absorbed their trolley into their body and took up the entire lane and glared balefully at anyone who tried to overtake. We made the mistake of asking an employee where the crazy t-shirt section was, and they gestured with one limp hand towards 3/4 of the shop, which could probably fit the entire population of small European nations, depending on how you stacked them. I went to look at the cookies and discovered that everything has peanut butter in them, everything in the entire world, and I’m ok with that. When I went to the cashier with my cookies and my shirts, I swiped my card and it made a weird beeping noise and she just wandered off, never to return.

It was everything I dreamed of, and more.

HELLO INTERNET BOY #20: Duelling Piano Bar

When we drove out of Cincinnati, I saw a sign for something called a ‘duelling piano bar’ which I thought sounded hilarious, and I took a photo of it. Little did I know that duelling piano bars are a thing that are in lots of places. I was promised two things on this road trip, and one was that they would take me to a Walmart and show me what horror was, and one was that we’d have a night out at a duelling piano bar.

In Asheville, North Carolina, we stayed in a ridiculous suite with a giant two person (or potentially six person probably) bathroom, which is because you can get amazing deals when you’re travelling in the middle of the week. I was super excited about the shower, but in the end it was basically just a really big shower and not overly exciting.

We went to some beer garden and played giant jenga again, which also seems to be a thing, and we wrote Aelyrian slurs on the jenga blocks. It’s still endlessly funny to me that people in North Carolina are playing giant jenga and reading elvish insults. Michelle and my character’s are in the same elvish noble house, the once extended Al’lende clan. I was one of the many black sheep, while Michelle was the strict grandma. We wrote ‘House Al’lende RUNS this empire’ and laughed like only giant nerds on a giant nerd roadtrip playing giant jenga can laugh.

By the time we got to the duelling piano bar, I was well-beered and ready for whatever the hell a duelling piano bar was. Two men sat on a stage, with pianos facing each other, and one was singing. People in the crowd sang along. It turned out that you gave them suggestions along with some money for songs to sing, and then they sang them. I’m not sure exactly where the duel came into it, except that perhaps they were competing for tips?

One of the piano players was a vaguely ex-military looking guy with a buzzcut and a big gut and giant pouchy eyes, and he really led the night in the banter. A lot of the time he teased people into singing or made off-colour jokes. The other guy was handsome and had a jaunty show-tunes voice and he sometimes made jokes about boobs, but when he did, he stared blankly into the distance like he was dead inside.

It was a stupidly fun night. My friends requested Land Down Under in honour of me, and we started getting insane about requesting songs. A lot of songs about North Carolina were sung that I’d never heard before, so I just bopped my head along like an idiot in case I was singled out for not being enthusiastic enough.

And then some people in a wedding party were invited onto the stage after a song was requested for them. The military piano guy made them play a game where they sang a song and touched each other in different places when he sang, which heads up, basically meant he sang the word ‘boobs’ a million times, and it was excruciatingly uncomfortable. Then the future husband guy, who was wearing a polo shirt and cargo pants and had a mean, bored look, started trying to ‘join in’ on the fun and rib his future wife, which meant he kept saying things like ‘I’m not marrying her for her smarts’ and ‘she can’t do math, but she looks good’ and it was just the worst thing.

Sometime preceding this, Lyndsay, who can drink more than the rest of us combined, had tipped into slightly boisterous tipsy, and had ordered shots of something sweet and gross for everyone and started heckling the misogynist husband bro.

‘Boooooo’ she yelled, while everyone clapped and cheered.

‘You can do better!’ she yelled to the lady.
‘It’s not too late’.

It was clear the lady was pissed as well, an eventually she left the stage. Later on, we would see the dude leave the women’s bathrooms with a smirk on his face and it was just the grossest thing in the world.

HELLO INTERNET BOY #19: Vertigone

A quarter of the way over the river, I forced myself to look over the edge of the railings at the water and trees so far below us. I immediately got that sense of vertigo, like my head was huge and heavy and my feet were tiny and couldn’t possibly support me. The railing came up to my hips, and it felt like I only needed to lean against it and I’d flip right over and cartwheel into the West Virginian forest below. We also had harnesses with basically a dog lead connecting us to some wires. The vertigo stopped, and despite the feeling that this entire bridge would break and I’d be falling any moment, the view was beautiful, showing us rafters going down rapids and long coal trains and abandoned mines and falcons soaring below us and diving for prey. Trucks rumbled over the top of us, causing the walkway to shake, and my hands to grip the rusty railing so tightly that flecks of iron started to gather in the creases.

We are on a bridge walk near Fayetteville, West Virginia. It’s apparently one of the longest continuous suspension bridge walks in the world, and it spans the entire underside of the bridge, walking through the girders and suspension beams. Our guide was a young local comes back from college to work in the summer. He liked to tell stories about dangerous things that his “friends” had done on the bridge during high school, about sneaking onto the walkway without harnesses during the night and drinking hooch and throwing traffic cones into the river. ‘My friends are pretty crazy’ he says, but everyone knows that he was there too. As we walk along, he is entertaining and professional and slick – too slick, I decide. He points out the falcon nests in the bridge – they’d been bought in especially to kill all the pigeons that had been corroding the bridge with their acid poop. He talks about a year event called ‘Bridge Day’ when apparently there are people jumping off the bridge every twenty seconds. I imagine jumping off the bridge, and immediately get dizzy again.

Halfway across the bridge, Michelle and Lyndsay noticed that me and Steven are walking weird. The entire time we’ve kind of been shuffling forward like old people, hands always on the rusty railing like we’re learning how to walk again, head relentlessly forward. Lyndsay and Michelle in comparison are skipping around, sitting down and taking selfies.
‘Are you guys OK?’ they ask.
Me and Steven are both like ‘fine, but you know, scared of heights’.
Everyone laughs.

It’s been a few days now, and I feel like I get Steven more. He doesn’t always say a lot, and when he does, it’s usually a killer pun. He affects a kind of weary, sarcastic cynicism of everything, and talks about how much he hates everyone on the trip. I never believed that he actually hated anyone – it’s not like he was forced to come on this trip, but I couldn’t quite work out why this was happening. In improv, we’re taught to find ‘the game’ in the scene, which is the point of difference, the funny thing that you can use to facilitate dialogue and up the energy. I understood that the sarcastic pose was the game with Steven, and it was easy to play along with. But the question remained – was he an asshole trying to be entertaining, or was he a nice guy being entertaining by pretending to be an asshole? In Cincinnati when I first met him, I discovered a dog and somehow ended up cuddling the dog and rolling around with it, and it was amazing, and during this Steven just kinda walked away. ‘Not a dog person’ I decided, which kinda leant credence to the asshole theorum. But later I discovered that only a day or two earlier, his dog had died suddenly, and he was standing away because it hurt him. I’ll break any tension here – it turned out he is a super nice guy, like one of those extremely rare nice people.

Michelle, who was the designated trip-mom, and had single-handedly organised everything we were doing, kept asking us why we hadn’t said we were scared of heights before we climbed over some really really tall bridge. Steven and I just shrugged a lot. For me, I don’t really have acrophobia, but being up high kinda fits in with my general anxiety. Honestly, the thing I worried about the most the entire walk was my phone. Everyone was waving their phones around to take photos, and it just gave me the hibblies. I have phone-horror. But I’ve also never said no to any height based related activity, unless it’s stupid like skydiving or bungee jumping. I will climb your monument or stand on the glass floor of your tower, because it feels good to know that I am not defined by this fear. It feels better than doing something which comes easily to me. It’s a very similar feeling I had when I got on the plane to come over here.

This post is generously supported by the Thiel Grant for Online Writing, and is included in a 50 part series called ‘HELLO INTERNET BOY’ ranging from March 2015 – March 2016

HELLO INTERNET BOY #13: The Colony

Part of the format for learning level 1 improv at UCB is all about monologues. After we get a one word suggestion, such as ‘skeleton’ or ‘rebellion’ or if it’s an actual audience ‘dildo’, one of us goes on stage and thinks of a story from their life that might relate. And then we do three scenes inspired from the suggestion + monologue, which is a kind of very basic start to what is called a ‘Harold’ which is the improv format that UCB specialises in. But I’m over-explaining improv – I have been living and breathing it for the last week, I’m sorry.

Doing all these monologues is an amazing way to get to know your classmates in one intense, overwhelming week. There’s a guy who talked about his time in rehab, his experiences in the pretentious art dealing world, his apartment in SoHo – he didn’t say it out loud, but he’s super rich. There’s the slightly creepy older dude, Pensive Bob whose scenes are always about dicks and toilet humour and hammy ex-wife gags, who tells monologues about taxes and owning a business, and then about his wife dying and trying to recreate his life as an actor. I feel like I know more about these people than I do some of my close friends. 

The star of the monologues has to be an Irish chap named Declan, whose every story was not only super interesting and funny, but was told in a captivating and charming way. Perhaps a typical Irish gift of the gab, although his experiences are anything but typical. One of his monologues was about working at a summer camp in Germany, and having to rescue a small girl who fell down a tiny crack in the wall. Another was about being dressed as a giant dog and arguing with the police who were shutting down the party he had very legally organised. It’s funnier when he tells them.

But the story that got me, was when he talked about being on a reality TV show called ‘The Colony’ in Australia, where his family and a British family and an ‘Aussie’ family and an Indigenous family all lived in the outback in simulated conditions of the first days of the British colony in Australia, ie old timey clothes and bad food and farm work. He was eighteen years old at the time, and said ‘it was horrible and amazing’.

As he was telling the story, I suddenly said ‘oh my god’ because I remembered watching an episode of this. At first I assumed I must have captioned it, when I worked as a captioner, because otherwise I don’t really watch reality TV, but it was on back in 2005-6, and I remember watching it at university as part of a class about post-colonial Australia. 

Apparently one of the contestants, or participants, I’m not sure if there was a prize or even goal for the show, was acting strange and the producers pulled him out. They realised he was actually a criminal, a diagnosed sociopath, and they kicked him off the show. Then a few weeks later, they all realised that he’d trekked his way back out into the desert, and was living near their camp again.

 Anyway, it’s a great story. I goddamn love having the opportunity to fly across the world and hear these people’s weird stories.


This post is generously supported by the Thiel Grant for Online Writing, and is included in a 50 part series called ‘HELLO INTERNET BOY’ ranging from March 2015 – March 2016