The Stopgap Measure and the Inevitable Descent into Maudlin Nostalgia

I haven’t posted in quite a while. What’s up with that?

Lots of personal and professional upheaval in the last six months.  Not just for me, either.  I had to stop myself from shooting my mouth off on more than one occasion.  Now that I’m working full-time again, I have to observe certain protocols.

I never wanted to be one of those people pontificating on events of the day.  More accurately, I don’t mind leaving the door open for that sort of thing, but I would hate feeling obligated to belch out a thousand words every time some politician or pop star says/does something stupid.

To put it in mathematical terms:

Professional obligation to avoid talking about certain issues +
Personal disinterest in many other issues                     +
General upheaval associated with moving and working full time =


Several months of radio silence

I can’t say things will change dramatically, but interested parties may notice a renewed emphasis on posting every once in a while.

As I write this it is still June 1 according to Central Daylight Savings time.  June 1 is the birthday of my friend Peter Marks, who died in 2009.  He would have been 37 years old today.

I think of him often.  Every time I hear the song “Roxanne” by the Police, for example.  Peter enjoyed singing that song with my name in place of the titular prostitute.  Now, every time that song pops up on the radio I can hear him crooning that those days are over and I don’t have to sell my body to the night.

I think of him chuckling at me from beyond the grave and I cannot help but smile.

I have another post about Peter that’s maybe three-quarters complete.  It’s about the sense of loss I felt when he died, and is kind of a downer (go figure).  But it’s his birthday (for another half hour or so — more on the West Coast!) and I’d like to commemorate the occasion with happy thoughts.  So here’s a picture from a whale-watching day trip I took with Peter, his wife, and a bunch of our Bungie pals back in 2002(?). It was the first time I shaved my head; it was also the day I tried licorice ice cream for the first time, and scared people by opening my mouth to reveal my coal-black tongue and teeth.  I also got a brutal sunburn.  Perhaps someday those pictures will surface.  For now, here’s a lousy pic of my good friend Peter staring off into the distance, probably smiling at something only he can see.

The late great Peter Marks, on a boat

A Christmas (Eve) Story

This is an old story, but I’ve only told it to friends and (former) coworkers so it’s probably New To You.  It’s about the time I caught a Crazy Guy doing Bad Stuff on Christmas Eve and some things I thought about afterward.

I spent December 23, 2006 driving around Chicago and environs, buying gifts.  By the end of the day I had a trunk full of goodies.  My living situation at the time did not afford me a lot of clear horizontal space suitable for gift-wrapping.  What to do?  At the time I worked for the pre-Disneyfied Wideload Games, and Wideload’s West Loop office had a long butcher block table — great for serving lunch to the entire company, but also perfect as an impromptu gift-wrapping station.  The hour was late and I had neglected to buy any wrapping paper, so I decided I would haul the goodies up to the office and return the next day armed with festive gift paper. I would spend Christmas Eve wrapping presents and listening to Pandora at the office.  Everything was going to be cool this Christmas.

It took two trips to haul all the stuff from the car to the office.  Heavy bags dangled from each finger — sometimes multiple bags per finger, cutting off circulation at the knuckles.  By the time I got everything inside I was a sweaty cursing mess.  I rubbed my tingling fingers and looked at my watch; it was just past midnight on December 24.  I grabbed a soda from the fridge and drank it.  I used the lavatory.  I shut off the lights, armed the alarm system, and locked the office door behind me as I exited. That’s when I saw it.

There was an office space directly across from Wideload’s, just a few steps down a short hallway.  At the time, oddly enough, that office was occupied by a company that had fulfilled mail orders for Bungie in the early days.  Small world.  If you’re facing the door to their office, directly to the left of it is the door to another office space Wideload had recently annexed to house the Shorts team.  I don’t want to get into a whole digression about the layout of the building, so let’s just call it the Wideload Shorts door.

The thing I had seen was a DHL shipping box, folded flat and dangling from the top of the Wideload Shorts door like a broken limb.

Someone must have wanted to leave a note, I thought, but they didn’t have any paper so they improvised with the shipping box.

(Incidentally, a recurring motif in this story is “wow Matt, you are dumber than a bowl of soup.”  All I can say in my defense is that I’d been running around all day and was very tired.)

I walked down the hall and examined the cardboard mailer.  No writing on it.  Weird, huh?  I glanced to my right at the fulfillment company’s door.  That’s when I noticed the second weird thing.

I stared at that door for a long time.  I had walked past it every day for a couple years. Suddenly something was different and I could not figure out what the hell it was.

It was one of those doors with a large rectangular pane of glass in the middle, framed by six inches of wood on each side.  The company name was stenciled on the glass.

The glass.

That’s what was off about the door: the glass.  And by “off” I mean literally not in the door anymore. Someone had removed it.  Probably with the assistance of a flat-folded shipping box to protect against cuts, just as they’d done when they tried to punch through the glass in the Wideload Shorts door.

I had been standing in front of this door, staring into the darkened office beyond, for quite a while at this point.  I didn’t time myself but it probably took me at least a minute to realize the glass was gone.  Once the penny dropped, other pieces of the puzzle started coming together in my addled brain.  I remembered the email our office manager had sent the week before. Someone had broken into one of the other offices on another floor.  They found him in the morning, sleeping in one of the hallways, a knife on the floor beside him.

Oh shit, it’s another break-in, I thought, and then I saw the guy crouching behind the receptionist’s desk just inside the door, not five feet away from me.

He knew I was there.  I knew he was there.  When this happens in the movies, Bruce Willis leaps into action.  When it happened to me in real life, I was frozen to the spot.  I wondered if I was hallucinating.  Then the crouching guy shifted his weight slightly and nudged the receptionist’s office chair, which rolled slowly toward the center of the room.  Nope, not a hallucination.

I backed away from the door and sidestepped into the stairwell, closing the door behind me and leaning against it in case the guy tried to follow me out.  I dialed 911 on my cell phone and told the operator I had stumbled upon a burglary in progress.  She took the address and said the police would be there shortly.  I wondered what “shortly” really meant on the Saturday night before Christmas in Chicago.

I walked down the stairs and out of the building to await the cops. An unmarked car pulled to the curb moments later.  “Are you the guy who called?” the driver asked.  Startled by the speedy service, I led them into the building and up the stairs.  Soon the two officers were standing in front of that same door, staring into the darkened office beyond.  I cowered in the stairwell and peeked around the corner at them.

“I don’t see anything,” they complained. Repeatedly.

“He’s right there,” I said. “Behind the desk to the right of the door.”

“I don’t see him.”  I could tell the cops thought I was jumping at shadows… until, in the middle of an “I don’t see him,” one of the cops interrupted himself to shout “There! I see him!”

The mood changed immediately.  One cop pulled a nightstick; the other a gun.  Both were shouting at the top of their lungs.

From inside the office I heard a low, miserable groan.  The sound of an animal realizing it is trapped.

“Hands where I can see them, motherfucker!” shouted the cop with the gun.

The groan from the office got louder, angrier.

“BOTH hands, motherfucker!” shouted the cop.

Why won’t he put his other hand up? I thought. What’s in his other hand?

From my vantage point in the stairwell, I suddenly realized what a great target the cops were.  Two men crowding a door built for one, lit from above and behind by the antiseptic glare of fluorescent lights, staring into a darkness to which their eyes had not adjusted.  What if this guy had a gun?  What if there was more than one guy, and they all had guns?  In my mind’s eye, I saw the cops’ brains erupt from their skulls and spraypaint the wall behind them.  My stomach somersaulted.

The cops pushed into the dark office, weapons drawn, shouting.  I could hear them stumbling into office furniture in the dark.  I heard the moaning person stop moaning and start shouting “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” and I heard the cop with the gun reply “I’LL SHOOT YOU DEAD, MOTHERFUCKER.”

For maybe twenty seconds I heard the cops and the burglar struggling in the dark. Then a few seconds of eerie silence before one of the cops found the office lights and stepped out into the hall to tell me the suspect was in custody and I would need to hang around to make a statement.

An army of cops showed up and I had to tell this story five or six times.  They perp-walked the burglar out of the building while I was doing that, so he got to see my face and where I worked.  One of the cops told me it was the same guy who’d broken in last week, and he’d popped the lock on the front door of the building with a butter knife. (The building in general, and Wideload’s office in particular, upgraded their security measures shortly after this happened.)  By the time it was all over, my 15-minute office visit had turned into a couple hours, and I was equal parts exhausted and exhilarated when I finally got home.

We didn’t find out the most fascinating detail until a few days later. Someone in the other office had a stack of frozen peanut butter sandwiches in their refrigerator.  The burglar found the sandwiches, thawed them in the office microwave, and smeared the peanut butter on the office walls.  Had he not taken the time to do that, he probably would have been long gone before I showed up.

Every time I think about that night, I think about the way I felt peering around the edge of that stairwell door, staring down the hall at that dark office and the violence within.

I’m the sort of person a concerned parent might call a “bad example.”  I have done all the stuff I’m not supposed to do.  Read all the mind-warping books, listened to all the anarchist punk rock and Satanic heavy metal and gangsta rap, watched all the ultraviolent films, played all the ultraviolent video games.  Made some of ‘em too.  Picked up a morbid sense of humor and a healthy disrespect for authority figures, including cops.

But all I could think of as I stared into that dark room was how much I wanted all those people to walk out of there unscathed.  I didn’t know the two lunkhead cops, and their bellowed death threats didn’t sit well with me, but I didn’t want to see them die.  The pathetic thief growling like a trapped animal in an office he’d painted with peanut butter was no friend of mine either, but he didn’t deserve the lethal brutality that Chicago cops have been known to dish out.

I could end this by saying, “Balls to all that talk about violent media turning decent people into sadists and sociopaths, because that’s not what happened to me.”  But that’s cheap, slick sentiment, and not exactly scientific.

If the burglar had been a pro, he could have killed me two or three dozen times while I was standing there trying to figure out what was wrong with the door.  Even as he was, with just a butter knife and the element of surprise, he could have seriously fucked me up.  Might have done the same to the cops.  What he didn’t have was the willingness to go that far.

Likewise, the cops who stormed a dark office with no real idea of what they were up against had the means, opportunity, and motive to shoot that guy dead.  They brought him in alive and unharmed.  Their bluster notwithstanding, they didn’t want to kill anybody.

Choices were made by people capable of terrible things. They chose to do something else.

There is a casual vindictiveness that infects our conversations. You don’t need to go looking for it in a video game or a CD. It’s all around you, in every newspaper, every venomous talk radio show, every anonymous internet tough guy running his mouth about all the people who oughta be taken out back and shot in the face.

None of us are immune to this kind of thinking.  I’ve wallowed in it myself from time to time.  And I can easily imagine it applied to this situation.

The people who would say the cops should have wasted the burglar and ended his criminal career.

The people who would say the cops were bloodthirsty assholes who deserved a bullet to the head.

The people who would say I was clearly too soft to go on living in the Big City if I couldn’t recognize a crime scene when I saw one.

It’s the sort of thinking that makes for great Nike ad slogans and Bruce Willis movie dialog.  Makes it easier to write people off instead of seeing them as people.

But at the risk of sounding pedantic: embracing compassion and mercy is still an option.

It’s the option that burglar chose when he decided to hide instead of attacking me.

It’s the option the cops chose when they decided to take the burglar alive instead of blowing him away.

In a world where we are constantly reminded that Something Drastic Should Be Done about Those Other People who are Ruining Things for Decent Normal Folks Like Us, it’s good to remember that we have options.

You never know when exercising that option could keep you out of a body bag on Christmas Eve.

And if this has devolved into glib sentiment… well, fucking sue me.  It’s Christmas.

In the Poker Game of the Blind, the One-Eyed Jack is King

It’s been a weird month.  Not the good kind of weird.

Surprises, even unpleasant ones, are not necessarily ruinous to my workflow.  Some of my best stuff happens when something blows up and I’m forced to improvise.  When the horse throws me, I do my best to get back on the horse.  But when the horse throws me, kicks me in the nuts, makes cruel comments about my appearance, has fifty pizzas delivered to my house at 4 AM and elopes with my dog, I start to wonder what was so fucking important about riding the horse in the first place.  Especially since I own a car.

Pure bullheadedness goes a long way.  I will not clean the Augean Stables in a day — in fact, having scooped more than my share of poop for minimum wage in my teens, I will postpone that gig as long as possible — but I will get around to it.  And when stubbornness fails me, my cheerful willingness to throw propriety out the window usually takes me to interesting places.  A nice cleansing fire will take care of those Augean Stables lickety-split.  No one said I couldn’t.

I don’t worry about Getting Things Done, because there are always Things To Do and the time to do them is always Whenever You’re Ready, which is a wordy euphemism for Now.

I was chatting with someone recently about vision — specifically, the kind of vision people tether to technology when attempting to sound Important.  “Technology has finally caught up with my vision,” these preening windbags announce, presumably with a straight face.  Or “I have a great idea for a sequel to Metacritic Quest, but the technology to realize my vision doesn’t exist yet.”  It’s the equivalent of “the dog ate my homework” and I can’t believe anyone takes it seriously anymore.  People have realized all manner of compelling visions using crude and imperfect technologies.  Vladimir Nabokov did some impressive work with a pencil.  Conversely, how many times have you seen some World-Changing Technological Breakthrough used not to advance the art of storytelling, but to coat tired old clichés with a thin layer of shiny chrome?  How many times can you sell people the same rusty Econoline van with a shiny new dragon airbrushed on the side?  Where is the artistry in that — apart from con artistry?

Plenty of people have pointed out that in any creative endeavor — writing, game development, filmmaking, you name it — execution trumps inspiration. Having a great idea means nothing; what counts is the ability to turn an idea (great or otherwise) into something tangible and therefore valuable.  Part of that value derives from how well one uses the available tools and materials, however primitive they may be, to create something unique.  If you’re waiting for someone — or worse, for something — to do the heavy lifting for you, you’re blowing it.  Ideas circle you all the time like hordes of the undead; the only question that matters is how many of them you can take out before one of them finally gets to you.  You won’t nail all of them with perfect headshots, but even a sloppy kill is a point in your column.  And a little unpredictability keeps things interesting.

With that in mind, I bid farewell to the wreckage of March 2013 and cast my eyes to the grandeur that is April, now just minutes away.  It’s going to be interesting.  I hope it will be the good kind of weird.  I’ll do what I can.

Neither Dead Nor Resting

After unloading/unleashing that last rant, I feel compelled to mention that I’m not just sitting around the house getting mad at trivial things.  I do other stuff as well.

I’ve been sitting on that last post for a while.  In fact I have a number of posts for this site in various states of disarray and unfinished-ness.  Some just need a bit of spit and polish; others require many more words if they are to make any sense at all.  Only one or two are as vituperative as the last one.  Seriously.  Smiley face.

So what else have I been doing, apart from writing things I’m not ready to post?

  • Began a collaboration with the artisté nonpareil M. R. Bernal.
  • Talked to some people about some game-related stuff.
  • Talked to some other people about some non-game-related stuff.
  • Wrote a script for a feature film.

The first and last items on this list have been the most satisfying ones so far — though there are definitely interesting things afoot in the middle there.

I’m planning to put up a “What I’m Doing” page that will list current projects with (one hopes) a bit more detail, as well as a “What I’ve Done” page to talk about old stuff.  There might be some fun things in the archives…

Anyway.  Work In Progress.  You know not the day nor the hour when it’ll show up.  Neither do I, honestly.  But it’s coming.

Get Out of My Way

It has come to my attention that some of you do not know how or when to get out of my way.

This isn’t rocket science. It’s not even the fake-ass Da Vinci Code.  It’s common sense and basic human decency.

I’m going to point fingers and name names because clear and unequivocal communication is key if you’re to understand the situation and move forward. Or at least step to one side.

Tall Guy with Big Hair at the Concert: I don’t begrudge you for being tall. I don’t even begrudge your silly hair.  (Trust me, I’m in no position to mock anyone for silly hair.) But if putting your goddamn white-boy dreadlocks in a samurai topknot destroys your equilibrium, maybe it’s time to get a haircut. Or at least get out of my way so you can hop and sway like a drunk fighting to hold in three gallons of urine without forcing me to do it too. I came to see the show, not to dance the flamenco with the back of your goddamn skull.

Overly Cautious Driver: Nice long stretch of road we’re on. It’s what you might call a major artery. That’s why there aren’t stop signs at every intersection; it’s understood that the people on those side streets will need to wait for an opening before they merge with the flow of traffic. Sucks to be them. But not us! We can just put the pedal to the metal and keep on truckin’. So why do you come to a. full. stop. every. single. block. WHEN THERE ARE NO STOP SIGNS? This is the 21st century. Roads intersect now. You’re going to have to get used to it. If you can’t do that, get out of my way or let someone else drive.

OCD Purse Lady at the 7-11: You bought your cigarettes and Lotto tickets. Your transaction ended a while ago. The cashier is waiting for me to put my stuff on the counter so he can ring it up. But I can’t, because you’re still standing there, arranging the contents of your purse just so. You can’t just slap everything into your pocketbook and deal with it later, on your own time, when you’re not in my way. No, that would be too considerate. You need to put that change in the coin pocket on the outside of the wallet right now, except for the two pennies with gunk on them, those go in the separate coin purse for dirty coins that lives somewhere at the bottom of the bag, and the Lotto tickets need to go in the inside pocket on the other side of the wallet with the cancelled checks and the receipts from the last six years of gas station visits, and then the wallet goes inside the purse next to the hairbrush and hand sanitizer and hair gel and moisturizing lotion, while the cigarettes need to be in the outside pocket of the purse underneath the newspaper but above the keys and the lipstick and the maxi-pads and the sunglasses, and the iPhone goes on top of all that, and there’s really no way of fitting it all in there properly without taking it all out and reloading the bag one item at a time FUCK YOU FUCK YOU GET OUT OF MY WAY. Go deal with your pack rat issues anywhere else. NB: Lest anyone think I am unfairly castigating one gender here — guys do this too, and it’s just as annoying. But the ubiquitous purse acts as an enabler in a way that most men’s wallets cannot.

The Consumer Patriarch: I don’t mind that you brought your wife and all six of your kids and your corpulent in-laws and their matching Rascal scooters to the store with you. But when you’re standing statue-still in front of the one exit door with the whole herd of them milling slowly around you like dazed goldfish, yawning and chatting and checking your goddamn email on your goddamn cell phones as you wait for the one straggler in your party, I BEGIN TO MIND VERY FUCKING MUCH. I also mind when you pull this shit in front of the bathroom, or the escalator, or the fire escape. What the fuck is wrong with you people that you find the one choke point in the whole goddamn place and form a human blockade? Well, perhaps “human” is a stretch. More like lowing cattle just begging to be culled.

Neighbors Catching Up in the Grocery Store: I thought this was the Cereal aisle, not the Tableau-Vivant-of-Two-Assholes-Talking-About-Their-Tedious-Lives aisle. If the store isn’t paying you morons to set up random shopping cart roadblocks so other customers have to endure the agonizing tales of your son’s Little League team, and the transmission on the Ford going out again, and you thought Maurice was gonna be different but he’s just like all the rest, then get out of my way. I have my own problems. Whatever bullshit you’re dealing with right now is meaningless compared to my household’s utter lack of Puffed Wheat. Yeah, that’s right. All the trials and tribulations in your world don’t matter as much as a three-dollar box of Quisp does in mine.  Why can’t you head over to the liquor aisle and self-medicate like everybody else?

He Who Gradually Expands To Fill The Entire Warehouse: There you are in the warehouse club, buying socks and crab legs and snow tires in bulk.  Never know when you’re going to need a 5-gallon tub of pencil erasers, right?  You’re staring at a four-pack of toasters — at last, your family can make toast in the kitchen, both bathrooms, and your garage simultaneously!  Keeping up with the Joneses doesn’t get any easier!  There’s a pallet of them on the ground in front of you. Another pallet of them on the shelf above.  And on the shelf above that, pallets of identical boxes stacked to the rafters. And you stand there in the middle of the aisle, one hand pushing your extra-large shopping cart just far enough to block the whole aisle for the duration of your extended stay.  Did I mention you are staring at pallets of the same item as though you are using X-ray vision to figure out which one has the Golden Ticket inside? When in reality they are all exactly alike, and you should just grab one, put it in your cart, and get the goddamn shitting fuck out of the fucking way for fuck’s sake you imbecile. It’s a good thing they only stock one model of toaster or we’d be here all week.

This post is titled “Get Out of My Way” and if I could summarize it in a single sentence, that sentence would be: GET OUT OF MY WAY.

At some point I’m going to stop being so nice about it.

What we talk about when we talk about whatever the hell it is we’re talking about.

A friend of mine once took a gig recording and editing podcasts for a Big Famous Business Consulting firm.  The corporation changed its once prestigious name after a series of scandals irreparably tainted it — which looked especially bad to clients who hired this company specifically to avoid that sort of thing.  Their solution (changing the name and hoping for an out-of-sight/out-of-mind response from the rest of the world) seems like the sort of surefire-epic-fail-formula that only feverish corporate hubris could generate, but the weird thing is it pretty much worked.  You don’t hear many people badmouthing them anymore.  They still deserve it, but they don’t get it.

Speaking of things they just didn’t get: their podcast.  I’m not sure what gave them the idea that the general public wanted downloadable recordings of business consultants swimming in a soup of marketing-speak. They must have heard somewhere that podcasting was The Future™, and so their company needed a podcast of their own to prove they were still groovy and hep to the new social-media jive.  “Our rad podcast is tubular to the max! Word with your mother!”

Coming from a group of people commonly known as “professionals,” their efforts were shockingly slapdash and amateurish.  You might think you could just put two people in front of a microphone, give them a topic and let ’em run wild — it seems to be the MO for many popular podcasts — but such was not the case.  Two people participated in the recordings: an executive at the firm, and one of his underlings who acted as the host/interviewer.  The executive suffered from a crippling inability to express himself quickly and clearly — possibly due to shyness, but more likely because he knew he had nothing to offer and that evidence of his ineptitude was being recorded.  He stuttered and stammered through rambling responses, leaping from buzzword to buzzword in the hope that perhaps one would save him. I do not have audio of the unedited session, but my friend tells me it sounded a lot like this:

“Um…We leverage, uh, core competencies, uh, to, you know, uh, synergize with, uh…strategic…uh…partners for a…proactive…um…win-win situation…with, uh…uh… a long tail that, uh…maximizes the…uh…outside-the-box thinking….and goes, uh, you know, viral.”

If the answer seemed too disjointed, the interviewer would ask for a second take, hoping her subject would do a better job the second time through.   But the guy seemed to forget the words as they left his mouth, and would often answer the same question with an all-new barrage of blather that made even less sense than his first attempt.

My friend’s job was to edit these lengthy sessions into brief podcasts, sanding off all the rough edges and stuttering and pausing until all that remained was a high-velocity volley of Newspeak.  The dreary and laborious editing process, trying to distill this mess into a seamless and lucid whole, left my friend enervated and miserable. Particularly frustrating was his realization that, even with the hemming and hawing removed, he often could not figure out if the interviewee had spoken an intelligible sentence.  It all sounded like bullshit to him.

I find myself in a similar situation.  My former employer kicked me to the curb recently.  Believe it or not, even in this booming economy, jobs for video game writers in Chicago are in short supply.  But I’ve got a house and a mortgage and I’ve come to enjoy not being bankrupt and homeless. So for the first time in my life I have engaged the services of an outplacement company provided by my previous employer, and I’m writing a résumé.

I think a writer’s résumé should be brief, informative, and free of bullshit in any form: wordiness, haughtiness or mendaciousness.  I’m trying to edit all the bullshit out.  The outplacement company have been trying to persuade me to shovel more in.

They told me I need more “Action Verbs” (their capitals, not mine) and they provided a list, from which they expect me to crib words like “utilize” and “facilitate” and “coordinate” and “prioritize.” It’s a list of words any decent writer learns to avoid; using them is almost always a transparent attempt to fake erudition. When people say “I coordinated an effort to prioritize team morale by utilizing network technology to outsource the creation and delivery of crucial comestible resources within time and budgetary constraints,” what they mean is “I ordered a pizza online” and everybody knows it.  No one is fooled by laughably overwrought language.  It sounds impressive?  To whom?

Adopting a stodgy style for a résumé is not an onerous duty one is obligated to perform as part of the social contract, like wearing a tuxedo to your Senior Prom. It’s more like wearing clown shoes and bat wings to a funeral. You may stand out, but for all the wrong reasons.

They also told me I need a bullet-pointed list of Accomplishment Stories.  (Again, their caps.)  I’m supposed to list problems my employers faced, the root causes of those problems, the things I did to resolve them and the final outcome (presumably positive — though it would be fun to see Accomplishment Stories that ended with “Company filed for Chapter 11; CEO sentenced to death by firing squad”).  To me, this sounds like a whole lot of crap to put in a résumé; I’d rather aim for brevity on the page and save the expanded tales of derring-do for the interview.  

They told me the Accomplishment Stories must highlight the ways in which my individual efforts affected my employers’ bottom line — how I made money for them, or kept them from losing money — to prove I am a “value-added proposition.”  This is hard to do.  Mostly because my publishers/employers usually kept me and my coworkers in the dark about how much money we’d made (or lost).  More importantly, game development is a team effort; however many games we sold, it’s impossible to say what percentage of those sales were a direct result of my writing (or VO casting/directing/performing, or music direction, or whatever else I happened to do).  Claiming credit for all of them seems dishonest.

I thought about writing: “I joined a small startup with a few other guys; we worked in an attic, had no cash flow, and could have shut down at any moment. An entire industry with billions of dollars invested in sequels and licensed properties stood between us and our dream of creating original work. So I wrote a zombie game that achieved critical acclaim, cult-classic status and moved a US Senator to discuss it on Capitol Hill in a nationally-televised press conference.  This game and others I wrote ultimately brought us to the attention of the largest entertainment conglomerate in the world, which spent a lot of money to buy our company and all the intellectual property I had created for it.”  Sure, it leaves out a few details.  It denies credit to others.  It’s smarmy in a way I find repellent.  But it’s all basically true.  And it fulfills all the requirements of an Accomplishment Story — except for the lack of impressive-sounding Action Verbs and the all-important numbers.  Oh well.

Ignoring most of their suggestions, I took another stab at the résumé and ended up with something that looked more polished and had a certain density of information I liked.  I sent this revised version to my Personal Transition Consultant (a title that sounds more appropriate for a shrink working with pre-op transsexuals).  I included a note explaining that it was difficult for me to quantify my contributions in dollar amounts.

He wrote back to me in the condescending tone one might take with someone who, through a combination of laziness and outright idiocy, had grown to adulthood without learning how to use toilet paper.  “You have no idea the revenue you helped generate with your work?  Market share growth?  Sales figures?  Just saying you’re good at what you do isn’t good enough in this marketplace.  Need to present yourself as a value-added proposition to your potential employers.”

My PTC also suggested I list “programming and animation” as “Areas of Expertise.” It’s not as if anyone will bother to check that out during a job interview, right?  It’s all just a bunch of impressive-sounding words on a piece of paper.  Words have no meaning, no value, beyond getting you through the door and beguiling someone into thinking of you as a value-added proposition.

I’m not a value-added proposition. I’m a writer. Words have meanings, undertones, overtones, connotations, and all those things are important to me.  Hemingway said a writer’s job is to tell the truth.  You want to know how I propose to add value?  That’s it.

I’ve put off doing yet another draft because I don’t think this company understands what I do or the industry in which I do it, and trying to fit into their template is like trying to fit a hovercraft inside a phone booth.  I’m sure I’ll force myself to do it just to move it off my to-do list and out of my head.  But more importantly, despite my inability to meet the lofty standards of résumé experts and join the ranks of their Value-Added Proposition Club, I find myself talking to more people about more ideas and collaborative possibilities than I have for years, and working on things that excite me again.  I’m not getting paid for it (yet) but it’s all infinitely more satisfying than watching suits and suckers turn a beautiful dream into a grotesque parody of itself, which is how I spent the last few years.  (Pro Tip: if at all possible, don’t do that.)

I probably won’t write many posts like this — I’m hoping to adopt a more spirited style for this site — but there’s a lot of good stuff starting up now that won’t bear fruit for a while, and I thought it might be useful to document a ridiculous thing so I can laugh at it later. Someday, spine-tingling electric beauty will eclipse the few fatuous hassles of the moment so thoroughly that, like a business consultant struggling to string together a litany of hollow hogwash, I won’t be able to remember any of it.