Explaining Bioshock Infinite, maybe: an attempt.

Finished Bioshock Infinite again today, and was left with some rather serious questions. When a narrative leaves me thinking, and I think the clues ARE there to make the story complete and coherent, I have difficulty leaving it alone until I understand it to my satisfaction. Often my satisfaction is not the same as the creator’s intent. I even managed to make Looper make sense in my head, and that took some doing. Anyway, the following is my understanding of the game, mainly understood through all the voxaphone recordings or other environmental exposition. At the end, I raise about a million questions and attempt to tie up the paradoxes to my satisfaction.

Robert was a physicist (philosopher?) from Booker’s reality. He thought about the alternate world theory, published books on it, and just thought about the idea incessantly. Rosalind was the ‘him’ from Comstock’s reality. They’re the same person, from different worlds, different realities. She was a quantum physicist, and clearly quite brilliant. She was able to levitate atoms – the ‘Lutece Field’. This, eventually, became the force levitating Columbia. This quantum levitation led to much more messing around with quantum ideas, eventually leading to her accidentally interacting with Robert, in another timeline. The two developed a way to talk through this, and, in tandem, eventually opened a tear, allowing the two to meet. They then experimented together in Comstock’s reality, creating a machine allowing them to manipulate the tears.
This, really, is the crux of the entire narrative.

For ease of use, I will refer to Rosalind and Comstock’s reality as ‘prime’ – most of the story takes place there and it makes everything SO MUCH EASIER.
Whilst Rosalind was doing her early experimenting, Booker DeWitt was soldiering, and being baptised, and becoming Comstock. Comstock became a politician, and a motherfucking Prophet. He had visions – REAL visions. He saw floating cities, he saw his daughter raining fire blah blah blah etc etc. At some point, Rosalind Lutece’s work caught his interest. He learnt that she could create the city he had seen in his dreams. He funded her, and it was done. I may be oversimplifying this. Shush.

Once the Lutece’s were together and the machine was built, Comstock goes full on nutcase. Cedes from the United States, denounces them and everything they stand for, develops his rather impressive bigotry, etc etc. In doing this, he uses the machine extensively, allowing the Fink brothers to further culture and technology massively. He creates his floating dystopia. At some point, using the machine gives him a disease, ages him rapidly, and renders him sterile. Comstock still believes that Columbia can only survive/succeed with his heir at the helm, but he can no longer beget one. Hence the rather convoluted main plot. Robert goes back to his prime reality, finds that reality’s DeWitt, who rejected the baptism, became a Pinkerton, married, had a child, blah blah gambling debts gambling debts bad things alcoholism depression. Robert manages to convince this DeWitt to sell his daughter to pay off his debts. The playable Booker is a TERRIBLE PERSON. Seriously. He TOTALLY gets away with this in the game. Anyway, Booker attempts to rectify it, the little cutscene happens where baby Anna loses the tip of her pinky, and Booker goes and spends 20 years as a drunken mess.

Far from being the malleable little heir Comstock wanted, however, Anna, growing up as Elizabeth, is terrifying. She can open tears, and control them – possibly, as brought forward by the Luteces, because her body is split between two worlds. Either way, a siphon is built to control the power, and Elizabeth is trapped above it – partly so she can do no harm, but partly because Lady Comstock is convinced the child is a bastard. The Luteces, meanwhile, discover that Elizabeth’s power can and WILL lead to the eventual destruction of New York. Robert is not okay with this. Rosalind doesn’t overly care one way or the other, but she DOES want to stay with her ‘twin’. So Robert gives her an ultimatum: help me sort this mess out, or I WILL leave you.

Comstock, at this point, is faced with all his plans falling apart. His wife is not content to let it be bandied about that Elizabeth is her daughter, and the Luteces have determined to return Elizabeth to her true reality. He reacts… badly. He has his wife killed, blaming it instead on his wife’s servant, Daisy Fitzroy, forcing her to create the Vox Populi and giving himself an enemy to use as political leverage. He also has the Luteces killed, and the machine destroyed. However, the actual execution of this didn’t go perfectly. The Luteces ended up scattered inside time and space, able to go anywhere, do anything. And they still want to make everything right.

Why, then, do they let Booker stew for two decades before approaching him? I haven’t a clue. Much the same, I don’t understand why they went about ‘making things right’ in the way they did. Throughout the narrative, there are clues that the twins have done this hundreds of times before, each with (obviously) sub-par results, so it could be they’d discovered this was the only way to make things stick. I don’t know, and it’s honestly hard to think about. What I know, though, is that at the start of the game, the twins pull Booker through into Comstock’s reality, allow his psyche to create its own reasoning for the change, and then basically wind him up and set him off.
This knowledge of the twins explains their immortality, their omniscience, and their ability to re-appear and disappear at will, as well as creating a ‘prime’ timeline upon which to base everything that happens.

Elizabeth is somewhat harder to explain. At the end of the game, when the siphon has been destroyed and Elizabeth is back up to full strength, she outshines the abilities of the Lutece’s. This DOESN’T MAKE SENSE to me. She, after all, still has a physical body – as does Booker. Yes, if there truly is an infinite amount of realities I suppose there might be one or two or three that serve as handy lighthouse metaphors for the concept. I understand that, due to the nature of this ‘hub world’, they might see duplicates of themselves. I can even believe that in this world paths make themselves as you walk. My problem, however, comes from my understanding of what Elizabeth herself is doing here. She is simultaneously behind you when you walk through the next door, and in front of you. Is each a different Elizabeth, in the new world? Is she so omnipotent at this point that she knows what each version of her is doing? Has she become ALL of them, all at once – a kind of Elizabeth hive mind? Is each body the puppet of some centralised intelligence? The scenes throughout the game, Booker in his flat – are they happening inside his head? Are they a separate reality existed SOLELY FOR THE EXPOSITION? If they are, are they created BY Elizabeth? Is she right earlier in thinking she is creating these alternate realities? What happens, in the game, to the realities they leave behind, to never return to? Do they cease to exist? If not, what happens to Booker and Elizabeth in those worlds? Do they simply disappear?
But there WAS another Booker in the ‘Martyr’ reality – was there another Elizabeth? Or is there only one Elizabeth across all realities? But then who are the others at the end?
OBVIOUSLY there IS an Elizabeth in the ‘martyr’ reality, because there’s a voxaphone explaining Martyr-Booker’s attempts to find her. So what happens to her? Did she cease to exist when Prime Elizabeth entered the world?
THIS IS NOT EXPLAINED AND IT BUGS ME.

The game ends with all the Elizabeth’s drowning Booker BEFORE he was allowed to choose baptism or not – with the theory being that of the Quantum Junction (every decision splits the universe into different roads). By killing him BEFORE he made the decision, NO Booker ever becomes Comstock. But there’s a couple of problems here, as well: first, the paradox (the only real paradox throughout, somewhat amazingly – it’s mostly many worlds, not time travel): Booker’s daughter killing him before she was even born. Was that seriously the best way she could think of to improve her life? Stopping it from ever existing? Because that IS the meaning of all the Elizabeth’s winking out. I think the fact that the screen cuts to black before we see OUR Elizabeth wink out is because we’re seeing things from her point of view, almost – the cut to black IS her fading out, and taking our perspective with her. I seriously have a problem that the best way both Elizabeth AND the Luteces could think of to give her back her life is to wipe it away entirely.
Secondly, and more interestingly, it ISN’T the original Booker they drown here. They drown a Booker who has rebelled against the Baptism, and then gone through the ENTIRE story up to this point. Surely this doesn’t help anything? I choose to believe this is only symbolic – this is OUR Booker, accepting the necessity of the drowning on behalf of every other Booker in every other reality.

I cannot think of any way to marry the post-credit scene with the rest of the game. ALL possible Booker’s moving forward from the baptism choice are dead. There simply cannot be any Booker left here to open that door, and therefore there wouldn’t even BE an Anna there to find. In fact, the only way I can make this work at all is DEPRESSING. AS. FUCK. We had Booker’s death earlier from Elizabeth’s point of view. Now we have it from inside his own head. He knows he is dying to help his daughter, as best he understands it, to give her back her life. He therefore sees himself walking over to her, on the day he actually remembers giving her up, to find her still there. It’s Booker’s personalised way of walking into the light.

Also, IS this the Lutece’s last, successful attempt? Was this what they wanted to happen all along, or will the player simply become another tally mark on Robert’s board? I kind of like the idea that this was just another experiment, and the Luteces will try again with different circumstances until the story has an ending that’s actually happy.

Does this make sense? I quite like it and have decided to make it my head canon. So there’s that.
If anyone has anything to add to this, PLEASE comment and argue with me or throw another idea at me or something, because I really find this all rather fascinating.
Oh, all my exposition is in-universe, by the way. Mainly the voxophones, which are invaluable in explaining this bloody story.

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Literary enthusiasm, OhGodIAmSoBadAtTitlesHelpMe

I’ve recently decided to allow myself to be enthusiastic about the things I’m enthusiastic about. I’ve gone back to my favourite things: reading and listening to music. I’ve read so many good books recently. Everything I’ve read has been brilliant, and it’s made me happy.
If you’re enthusiastic about something, BE enthusiastic about it, dammit. Don’t try to be ‘cool’ about it. If you’ve got a raging hard on for a particular book, then don’t try to hide it. Find people you can share it with. That’s what the internet is for.
Holy shit, I did not think that metaphor through properly. DO NOT GET YOUR DICK OUT ON THE INTERNET, GUYS.
I suppose this is really a long-winded way of saying that I’ve been re-reading children’s books but you’re not allowed to judge me because I said so. His Dark Materials, if you’re interested.

Re-reading the books was really interesting to me. It’s probably the first time I’ve read them since I was maybe 13, and it’s fascinating to revisit them. Not because what I get from them has changed drastically, because it hasn’t, but because I can see how much they shaped who I actually am. They also say things about my childhood that I don’t think I really knew at the time. I mean, I was reading a series in which one of the main goals is to wage war on and kill God. I didn’t even think this was weird. I literally didn’t think about it one way or the other. It wasn’t even an issue.
I absolutely love how I was brought up in regard to religion. It was never an issue. I knew we weren’t practising Christians, but I knew literally nothing else. I knew a little about scripture, I knew about the values and beliefs held by Christians. Hell, I approved of them – still do, when they’re actually held. I’m all for good feeling and good will between ALL people. My questions about death were answered from a “Christian’s believe that…” point of view. I was never pressured into believing one thing or another – it literally wasn’t mentioned at all.
I never thought about my own atheism until I was taught, in RE, many years later, the terms Theist, Atheist, and Agnostic. That was literally the first I’d ever had to choose. Now, I self-identify as an Atheist, but I’m more likely to say ‘Agnostic’ when asked. Simply because I don’t want to be associated with some of the absolute dirt-bags who identify as such. I don’t want to hate someone because of their belief. Atheists who hate on Theists are just as abhorrent to me as Theists who villainise Atheists.
I didn’t know until I was maybe 18 that my Dad hates religion – due to a cult-like group who had nearly convinced my Grandma to give up her home and her family many years before I was born. The fact that he has such strong feelings about it but was still able to absolutely allow me to come to my own conclusions is beautiful to me. I hope that, should I ever raise a child, I can do half as good a job as he and my mother managed with me.

I may have gone off topic here. I feel I was talking about enthusiasm. I read a lot of books. I read contemporary literature, I read classics. I also read unapologetic genre novels. Sci-Fi, Fantasty, Crime. Some of the best books I have ever read have been genre work. NEVER let someone shame you into thinking a book is less serious or less good because it has, I don’t know, Constable Space Dragon the fourth investigating the murder of an elf on board a space shuttle.
Sure, genre work can attract some of the strangest, most appalling writers available, but it can also be used to frame very, very deep thoughts. I’ve written about Tana French before. Some of my very, very favourite novels and yet, because they’re crime fiction, they’ll never get the same kind of recognition as ‘serious’ literature. Who decides a novel is ‘serious’, anyway? I love some serious novels, but they always seem to be about death, or depression, or other such cheerless, big subjects. Why can’t we have some wonder, too? I like wonder. Okay, so I’ve chosen the worst possible example in Tana French – her novels make me want to go out and hug a kitten, but whatever. We all know what I mean.
Basically, you know what you like. Allow yourself to like it FULLY. If you like something that has, dare I say it, a ‘fandom’? Fuck it. Have a look at it some time. Enthusiasm is contagious, and having your views validated by hundreds of strangers is just nice. It just is.

Go and look at http://markreads.net/reviews/ if you don’t believe me. The guy basically reads books/watches tv that basically EVERYONE else in the entire world but him has experienced. He then gets unapologetically excited about them forever. So it’s kind of a way of experiencing something for the first time again via proxy, along with an unbridled and infectious enthusiasm, all melded together with a view and a life story that is as interesting as it can be depressing. Basically, if something links to his life or his ideas, he will explain it, and talk about it. Very well, and very candidly, with some very good ideas.

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Burnt out on activism – When I started writing, I wasn’t expecting this.

I once again find myself weary of the way the world continues on. ‘Ignorance is bliss’, is the saying. The more I know, the more days that pass, the more I find myself understanding the viewpoint. Things happen. Normally, these things aren’t good. The good things are the small things. The inconsequential happenings that don’t get recorded, or remembered. That pass with no fanfare and are quickly swallowed by everything else.
Big things aren’t good things. Even big things that should be good, that should positively affect a huge number of people, they can’t be seen that way. Not entirely. Because there is always someone not so subtly trying, in the background, to make it about them. To make it a platform, a position.
Or maybe I’m just cynical. Maybe the royal wedding and the royal baby really are things to celebrate. Maybe they weren’t eventually defined by the political hijacking. Maybe my response should have been genuine joy, rather than horror that so many people whom it will never, ever effect are showing genuine joy. Horror, conversely, that people were banding together in verbal and mean-spirited denouncement of that joy.

“May you live in interesting times” was, in probability, never an ancient Chinese curse. But that doesn’t lessen its reality. Interesting times are the worst. Always interpreted in the most dramatic way possible – wars, riots, turmoil. And yeah, sure, they count. Of course they count. But so does everything much more singularly personal. Death in the family. Losing your job. Realising your best friend is getting into the kind of trouble you can’t easily get them out of. Discovering a needle in your sibling’s kitchen. More dull yet – something small but importantly expensive breaks in your car. Your gas bill suddenly hikes.
Anything that breaks up the daily routine. That makes things interesting. Interesting things are rarely pleasant things, I guess. In fiction, the things that make it ‘interesting’ are problems, disasters, crises.

I love the phrase. “May you live in interesting times”. It’s subtle, it’s concise, it means something I couldn’t say in an essay. On paper, translated the best it can be, it means “may everything in your life that can go wrong, go wrong. May you have to live in constant strife. May you constantly have to deal with the unexpected consequences of unexpected problems. May things ‘just pop up’.”

When I first started caring about the news, about politics, I was about 16. I felt that simply by making sure I knew about all the atrocities in the world I could deal with them – I felt that owning the knowledge would somehow help. Prevent it happening again. I felt my disapproval would be enough to change the world. I figured that by talking about it, reading about it, formulating my own opinions on it… I thought I could somehow make it better, I guess. I don’t know. I can’t guess my own motivations. Maybe I just felt that knowledge was better than not knowing. That righteous anger was the only possible outcome. That if everyone knew, things would change. Would HAVE to change.

Now I still don’t know how I feel about anything. I still feel the need to know. I still prefer the choice to become outraged about what I know over the complacency of ignorance. But everything I hear now goes through filters I don’t have control over. I have never assumed that the powerful people in the world are cold, or heartless. Some are, I’m sure – but some aren’t. And yet, decisions are still made that seem exclusively harmful, or corrupt. I’m not talking taxes and economy – I’m talking Obama’s Guantanamo U-turn, for example.Things that make me think, in an entirely sane and un-paranoid way, that there are some considerations we do not have the knowledge to make. And yeah, the fact that we aren’t trusted to know the full story pisses me off. But then I look at the tabloid press, and the people the tabloid press caters too, and I understand what could happen if the full story WAS always available to everybody. I understand the tough decision that had to go into deciding not to allow every fact on every decision, every response to every problem, made public. I understand it. I understand that I’d probably, if forced, make the exact same decision.
And that makes me think about what else I’d do. And so, now, when something breaks news that would have left me fuming 3 years ago, I often can’t help but understand it from a much wider viewpoint. Sometimes, no matter how broad my empathy goes I still see nothing. The current government, for example, manages very well to evade my understanding.

The other main filter is something I am much, much less happy with. Something that I actually kind of hate about myself. I haven’t the words to describe it, so I’ll instead give an example.
Third World Poverty is something I never understood. I didn’t understand why it exists – why the distribution of wealth is so ugly, so weighted towards the few. The white, western few. I still abhor the existence of poverty. I still wish it didn’t exist, and that the world was a more even place. But, in the last year or so, I’ve also came to hope it survives. Without a huge, top-down distribution of wealth, the abolition of poverty would absolutely decimate the lives of those in the UK, in America. It would, literally, be the end of the world as we know it. If, in the next five years, poverty ends – if rural African workers are given an education, prospects, they will – quite rightfully – no longer wish to make a meagre, meagre living farming fruits for western distributors. No longer settle for growing the very basest ingredients for food, industry. No longer be happy working in poorly conditioned factories for a sum of money so small as to be insignificant. All of a sudden, the supply chain is cut. Common goods become in shorter and shorter supply. Prices rise. The repercussions in countries that rely almost entirely on imports are disastrous. To simplify into marxist terms, the factory owners don’t want to lose profit simply because the law dictates the workers are paid more. The consumer loses out. As long as a company declares a fiscal year a failure because their profits didn’t rise by a zero or too, poverty cannot be eradicated without tremendous destruction heaped upon western markets.
So. Whilst technically a diatribe against capitalist business, I’ve just defended the existence of poverty. I’ve TAKEN the view of the big organisations I’m hating on. Basically, my view of the world has stagnated. I’ve come to the conclusion that the big evils can’t be changed, not now, not ever. As long as the world is ruled by money, whatever makes money will rule. Despite the casualties. Never thought it out loud before. Not a cheerful thing to realise about your thought. Basically, I suppose I’m trying to say that the filter is that the world will never change in the way I’d like – so, where does this fit in with the world as it stands? There is a term in psychology called ‘cognitive dissonance’ – basically holding two or more conflicting… ideals, beliefs, reactions. This is how I seem to experience things. I react to them through my ideal view of the world, and the reality of the world. Dishearteningly, the reality of the world never quite shapes up. And so, like with the poverty example, I’m forced to accept something I hate as the normal. As the expected. As the standard. And it is horrible. It is disheartening. Crushing. And so I find myself caring less and less about things that would have once driven me into a self-righteous fury. The recent news about the conflicts in Egypt would have driven me into an angry rant about individual rights, about civil liberties, about freedom. Now I haven’t the effort. I haven’t the heart. It makes me sad, instead. It all feels so utterly inevitable. I still hate the breakdown of the state. Of the infractions on human rights. The needless deaths. But, damningly, I can’t get emotionally involved in it any more. I’m burned out on it all. There’s too much to even comprehend, let alone react too. You need to filter it out to stay sane, to stay from simply rocking in a corner. “After all”, says my deepest, hateful consciousness, “it doesn’t affect you, right?”

I feel sad and sickened that the world isn’t able of living up to my expectations of it. My expectations have never been high, really. I expect people to be decent to each other. I expect things to be fair.
The difference is… I no longer believe the world can ever live up to my expectations. I no longer feel anybody can change it. I despair of us. That, really, is what I’ve spent 1500 words trying to say. I have never had high expectations of the world, but even then it will never step up and try to meet them. It will just beat me down until I accept that ‘this is the way things are’.

But, when I see someone who isn’t burnt out on it, who still feels their anger can change the world, I feel hope. Maybe they can. Certainly they should. So give me a cause to believe in. Give me a cause I believe can change the world. And then let it.

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Lyrics and Delivery.

Half the time when I talk about song lyrics that I love I’m not really talking about the lyric itself at all. More like I mean the delivery. But, that’s not quite it, either. Because that implies that it could be merely be gobbledegook and have the same effect – and that’s just not true. It’s not even close to being true. There’s so much more to it than that.
I just don’t know how to properly explain it. I don’t even know how to tell you that there’s something there to explain.

It’s a mixture of the two, I suppose. The lyric itself is important. The delivery of the lyric is important. I suppose, really, the thing that really sticks is what the singer means by the lyric. The feelings and the emotions they put into it. What it means when they sing it. Because it hardly ever means exclusively what it says.
Or maybe it does, but it’s so emotionally charged that it becomes something much more powerful than the sentiment itself.
In The National’s song Green Gloves Matt Berninger tells the listener that all his friends are somewhere getting wasted. In Wanderlust Frank Turner begs, “baby let’s get out of the city, we need to breathe some cleaner air.” In neither instance are those lyrics particularly affecting, but somehow, in the context of the song, it becomes absolutely beautiful. Both of those examples are some of my favourite “lyrics” in music. In fact, both of those artists do this time and time again.

It isn’t uncommon. We always say that an artists lyrics are beautiful or amazing or resonant, and sometimes they are, but more often, out of context, the lyrics are almost nothing. What’s important is the way the lyrics are sung, the emotion that’s invested in them.

That’s not to say that lyrics can’t be appreciated off their own back, however. To use another example from The National, “I leaned on the wall but the wall leaned away”. Undeniably beautiful, that one. Even when, or particularly when, devoid of context.

 

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I went nostalgic again. I then lost my point and tried to salvage another one. Which I think I then lost.

I still know where my one of my childhood best friends hides his keys when he goes out somewhere and wishes to leave them behind. I still know which of his neighbours keeps a spare key for them. I know the layout of his house as well as I know my own. I know what he will and will not eat. I know his family – I know his mother’s dry humour, his father’s quiet tolerance.
I have an entire set of memories in which he stars, and he has an entire set of memories in which I star. I remember summer evenings, he, his sister and I running around the cul-de-sac on which we lived until night finally fell and we were called inside – at ten pm, half ten, eleven. We were about eight, and I can’t believe we were allowed to get away with it.
I remember when they owned a minivan, and we’d sit in it and pretend to be driving places, far away places that could never be found on any map. I remember a few weeks one Summer when scaffolding was up in the front of their house, and we’d climb up and around it. We felt like kings. I remember falling off the top of it once, and basically bouncing when I hit the ground. I remember it like it was there forever. I remember when the summers seemed to last forever.
I remember playing swords with bamboo sticks, or even with metal poles from a broken down climbing frame. I remember sleep overs in a tent in their garden, or on the floor of their dining room. I remember seeing my cousin stack it off my friends bike, after assuring us both he wasn’t too big to be riding it.
I remember endless afternoons playing on a Sega MegaDrive – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Sonic. I remember all of this, and more. My first real hangover was in that house. I was invited to a family reunion and fed whiskey until I was overflowing with it. I was maybe 15.
Now, I could count the amount of times I’ve seen him in the last year on the fingers of one hand. I could count the amount of times I’ve been in the house on the fingers of none.
Now, the Summer never seems long enough, the nights seldom seem bright enough, or warm enough. I no longer spend summer afternoons running off the road in which we were playing to make way for a car.

And it’s strange to think that I barely know someone I still know so well. I know the names of his childhood pets, long since dead. I don’t know if he’s currently working, or what job he has if he is. I don’t know what his interests are now. I don’t even know with any certainty what kind of music he now listens to, although I know damn well my guess would likely be good.

The point is, I suppose, multifaceted and contradictory and simultaneous, all at once. As we grow, we change more than we know, but less than we might like to think. Are we all still the same people we were as children? If we’re not, how have we changed? I’m not sure much does change, when it gets right down to it. I think that’s the greatest and most terrible secret kept from children. “When I’m grown-up”, we think. “When you’re grown-up”, we hear. But there’s no difference, is there? You lose maybe imagination, you lose maybe belief, but who you are as an adult, hell, who you are on your death-bed, has its roots in who you were as a child. And you haven’t really changed, not really. Maybe you skipped one way or the other during adolescence, because that really is the shittiest time ever, but the adult you become has more to do with the child you were then it does the puberty stricken adolescent you briefly had to endure as.

That’s what I’ve chosen to think, anyway. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe you’re reading this thinking, “Fuck no, when I was a kid I was a little shit, and now I’m a respectful member of society who never has any urges at all to do the things I used to be able to get away with!”
Maybe, more disturbingly, you’re thinking “Bullshit! I was a lovely child, and now the week hasn’t been spent wisely if I haven’t killed someone! And their pets!” Although in that case, you’re probably too broken somewhere important to be counted. Either way, I like my way.

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This is what reading means to me.

I define myself as a reader. It’s one of the most important things, right up at the top of the list, when I think about who I actually am. About what shapes me as a person.
And I think the same is true of all readers, but I’m not sure if people who read ever really show how important it can be. And I’m even less sure why.
When I think of myself, I think of myself as a reader. But I also consider myself, out of the people I know, very, very rare. Nearly unique. I know of a few people who read, but only one or two readers.
And I don’t think that’s because there aren’t many readers, I think it’s because people don’t identify as such. To themselves, yes, but not to others. I think I am nearly unique in the same way they mistakenly believe they are nearly unique.

I know people know I read. I know they know I do it a lot. I don’t, however, think they actually know what that means. Not many. To most, I am a person that reads, not a reader.
There’s something deeply personal about reading. It opens you up and allows you to experience things in a different way, or experience new things in the same way, or a hodgepodge of everything, all at once. It lets you live someone else’s life – both the mundane and the spectacular. Sometimes, when I read a well-characterised book, I think I could read a book in which nothing happens. In the best books, you feel that nothing happens. You’re just sinking into someone else’s skin for a while. To them, to that character, nothing happens. There is no plot. It’s just their life. In a good book, it’s just their life.
So it’s personal. It’s not escapism, not like so many clichés would have you believe, it’s… a conversation. Between you and the author. You and every other reader you will never speak to. It starts trains of thought and opens pathways. It demands empathy for the characters, empathy for yourself. It causes perspective, and introspection, and I don’t know what else. It connects you to the whole world, everything in it. Everything thing that is happening, has happened, could happen.

And it’s too much to take in. Too much to even wrap your head around and quantify in your own head. FAR too much to verbalise. So you just say that you read. And you feel like you’ve done yourself a disservice, done the entire concept of literature a disservice, with that answer. And then they ask you what type of books you like to read. And you just want to cry. Or cry out that that’s a silly question, you can’t answer it, it doesn’t even matter. You can’t tell them it’s the wrong question. You don’t even know what the right question might be, only that they’re asking the wrong ones.
And so they leave the conversation thinking, “always weird, the ones who read. Never quite seem there when you’re asking them things.” And you leave the conversation knowing it, and wishing you had the words to make them understand.

Reading isn’t about the physical act of looking at words and understanding the meaning. It’s tied in deeply and personally with the writer, and the act of writing. It’s open to interpretation, but it meant something solid to its creator. It opens a direct link from writer to reader, “Do you understand what I want you to understand? Are you feeling how I am?” It’s about expanding your thought and feelings and understandings of all the slippery little concepts that you can’t pin down. And the wonderful thing is it does it without pinning them down itself. You can’t pin them down. That’s the whole point. All you can do is dance around the issue so elegantly that you can begin to see its shape. Let people know that they’re not alone in thinking the big things, the strange, indefinable things. The ticks you can’t even bring up because the vocabulary just doesn’t exist. And yet everyone is on the same page regardless. Reading is about philosophy, even when it isn’t. It’s about how we think, why we think, why we are. It’s about history, even when it isn’t. It’s a commentary on the present, even when it doesn’t seem to be. It passively betters you, and I don’t necessarily mean in an intelligence way. In a health way, in a well-being way. In a thinking way.

It shapes who I am, and in 700 words I still haven’t really been able to tell you why. And that, right there, IS why. Because I can’t talk about it, because I can’t even construct the means to think about it. A reader is all this, or more, or less, or different. And yet, to most people we’re just ‘people who read’, or else we don’t mention it at all. Because it’s so impossibly hard to work out what to say. To work out what it means.

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Talking to myself, I guess.

I found the following in an old notebook. Can’t remember the exact circumstance of my original writing, but I liked it. Here it be.

I wish I had a normal sleeping schedule, and I wish I could stick to it like a normal human being. I wish I could just have someone to speak too all of the time. It doesn’t even have to be some deep and meaningful conversation, I’m happy to just talk shit about stuff, but I like a continual conversation. It’s the only real way to spend your time that doesn’t just feel empty.
Maybe the first time you read a good book, watch a good film, or engage with a good story. Maybe that can count, because you’re kind of having a conversation with the creators of the story. Maybe that’s why writing can sometimes help as well, whatever the purpose or final outcome of the actual writing. Because you’re having the conversation with the paper, or some reader who only exists in potentia, or maybe even just a conversation with your self. I think all worthwhile time is spent in a conversation of some sort, though. Anything else is just a way to waste time until you can have your next time. Most activities we do are to spark conversation, or to create something to have a conversation about. I don’t know. But I think conversation is what it’s all about. The spoken word, or listening. Rhythms and cadences and lilting tones. Nodding along, smiling, crying. Conversation is fucking wonderful. You should try and have a good conversation every single day, be it with someone via the proxy of their art, or your friend, or even just with yourself, a conversation every single day would probably do you good. At the least it will make you feel less alone in the world, even if the world is trying its very, very best to alienate you amongst itself. Fuck that guy.

 

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