Jason Porath

has a website, i guess

Category: bitch bitch bitch (page 2 of 3)

Indigestion

Freshman year of college, I had a group assignment. The conceit was that each 5-6 person group had been shipwrecked, and found themselves in shark-infested waters with a small lifeboat – just big enough to support all but one of the group members. The assignment was to figure out who died.

Yes, it was a weird class.

When results time came, most groups talked about their deliberation process. Usually the decision was made either by drawing straws or logistical debates. Not so with my group. We actually had the quickest decision of them all. Because I volunteered to die.

I wasn’t trying to be melodramatic. When the teacher asked me why I volunteered to be the odd man out, I said that I felt I could do so. I’d be content. Obviously wasn’t an optimal state of affairs, but I believed I’d achieved all my goals. If I died, I said, I probably wouldn’t come back as a ghost or anything.

Barely nineteen, and I’m saying this.

In the years following, my friends convinced me that this was due to not having actually experienced life. So I went on adventures. Oh, how I went on adventures. Japan. Europe. Burning Man. And before each journey, my friends would sidle up to me, ear-to-ear grin, and ask, “are you excited?” And I’d say yes. Each time, it was a lie.

It wasn’t that the adventures were bad – it’s that I didn’t want to disappoint my friends. Each time they asked, it felt like they were really asking, “Are you alive now? Do you understand now? Can we relate now?” It seemed like they wanted so badly to have someone experience what they did. To have that connection. But time and time again – I was not transformed by that movie, that book, that festival, that drug, that religious service, that country. I didn’t live what they lived. I didn’t see the same colors they did.

How do you break it to your closest ones that what they hold dear, what they are excited for you to experience, what they love, you don’t? That you won’t be able to connect with them, like they’d hoped? How do you convince them that is how it is, without proclamations that “you didn’t do it right,” or “you have to be open to it,” or “you have to give it time”?

How can you – without coming across as a mopey git – express your doubts when someone says, don’t worry, your answer’s out there somewhere?

Today I am in yet another new place – to be precise, Winnipeg. Here for a wedding. It’s a nice city, and I’ve enjoyed myself here. But if you had asked? No, wasn’t overly excited for the trip.

So it’s the day after the wedding. I wake up and I am not hungry. I google interesting places in Winnipeg and start walking. I pass block after block of shops. Clothes, trinkets, books, movies, food. These are the things to do here. Or there. Or anywhere. Gobble gobble gobble. And I am still not hungry.

Out of habit, I whip out my phone to check my email. Then Facebook. Then the news. Twitter. Reddit. I read the local student paper. I idly scan the billboards.

And I think, didn’t I just say I’m not hungry?

And somehow that thought proves the keystone for my mind’s dam. I pull it out and suddenly there’s hundreds more to go with it. I think about my fractured mind. How I want to write, how I need to focus. How I devour wholesale the works of my favorite creators, as if, by osmosis, it’ll rub off on me. How I am always searching, consuming, feeding, yet never hungry. How here, there, and anywhere it’s what you like, what you buy, more than what you do. How long it’s been since I last sat, alone, quiet in thought. How, for years, I’ve plunged headlong into throngs of people, out every night, surrounded at every hour, when, at my core, I hate crowds. How my picture of God in my mind’s eye is totally blank. How writing is like meditation. How meditation is like prayer. How blank is this paper I stare at. How my answer’s not out there, it’s never been out but in, how, god, I took such a circuitous path. How big is this backlog. How full am I. How I must digest to be hungry.

And so I come back to the hotel. I stare at a blank screen. And I write this.

Off now to get some lunch. I’m famished.

Nerd Rage

If you haven’t been checking your teacups for storms lately, you may have missed the recent kerfuffle over this Gizmodo article (that has since been modified). For those looking for a summary: girl named Alyssa meets guy online, goes on two dates, she finds that he used to be the Magic: the Gathering World Champion, is immensely turned off from that point forward, writes catty article about it.

As you can imagine, this article didn’t sit well with the internet.

Within hours, Alyssa’s Twitter account had been flooded with scathing messages, and the front pages of many well-trafficked websites (most notably Reddit) were awash with posts insulting her and championing him. The guy, to his credit, has handled the entire thing in a remarkably adult fashion, first remarking on his Twitter that “I just thought she was a nice girl, which I still mostly think. God knows we’ve all made poor decisions in our lives.”

This maturity has not been mirrored by the internet at large.

This event struck the “nerd rage” nerve, hard. It’s understandable – while specific nerd communities might be organized around love of a specific piece of media, the nerd community at large is organized around shared experiences. Experiences that this article brings up expertly: feelings of inferiority, rejection, impotence, and rage from marginalization by the world at large. It’s practically a rite of passage.

Not to downplay things: childhood as an outsider is hard. Your emotional defenses are weaker, your peers are crueller, and you have no sense of perspective. You may have a support network outside of school, but internet friends are no help on the playground. The hurt inflicted can last well into one’s later years – as evidenced by the skewering of Alyssa Bereznak.

And some nerds cling to that. Build personalities around that. Scream to anyone who will listen that they are a marginalized minority. Victims.

Well, they’re not. Not anymore. The fact is that nerds have been a driving force in popular culture for awhile now. Look at Hollywood. You’ll see even C-list comic book superheroes like Doctor Strange are getting movies. Look at Apple, the most successful company in the world right now. You’ll see a next-to-death revitalization built on the backs of early adopter nerds. Look at OkCupid – the site on which the two in the Gizmodo article met. You’ll see no shortage of girls saying they’re “total nerds” for liking Harry Potter, or knowing esoteric words, or being diehard football fans.

Nerdy. Football. Fan.

Seriously, what the hell.

It was around the time I saw that, that I realized “nerd” is the new “hipster.” In that it doesn’t mean much of anything anymore.

My initial reaction to the co-opting of nerd culture was to retrench. To reclaim “nerd” – a hard-fought insult-turned-credential. To launch into a series of nerdier-than-thou proclamations. To establish myself as the Alpha Geek. To explain why I deserve that title. To exclaim that I, unlike those others, am a “true nerd.”

It’s not the healthiest reaction to have. It is, however, the common one.

This reaction is understandable: this is a community is defined by being rejected and abused by the mainstream. So when the mainstream co-opts instead of rejects it, many feel anger that their formerly-marginalized interests, the things they’d built their identities around, are no longer truly theirs. Iron Man fans don’t necessarily have that same instant kinship with other fans – one may be into it for the Demon in a Bottle storyline, or Warren Ellis’s Extremis revamp, and another may simply like Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man fans can come from different backgrounds now. That’s new.

The ledge that “true nerds” have stood on has gotten smaller.

Some “true nerds” – I dare say most – take this opportunity to take a step back from the edge. Instead of hating the world, they engage with it. If they don’t feel like the world is out to get them, they may find that they like jogging, or drinking, or, god forbid, pop music. In so doing, they lose some of their “nerd cred.” They lose their attachment to their largely self-appointed outsider label. I know, because that’s what happened to me. It’s healthy.

And yet, other “true nerds” take this opportunity to walk further out onto the ledge. These are the Forever Alone types. The ones whose entire existence is so tied up in their childhood hurt that they can’t stand to let their wounds heal, because they would cease to be themselves.

So instead, they retrench. And get angry, real angry, because their backs are up against the wall and they have no choice. That rage starts co-opting their identity, to where all they are is angry at forces so large and so vague they can’t name or understand them. So you start getting groups like 4chan. Like Anonymous. Like Lulzsec. People who don’t engage with the world. People who don’t care about the world. People who would “meh” as Rome burns.

As to where it goes from here? I don’t know. Although a lot of the hallmarks of the nerd community can be easily identified at any point in history, this does seem notably different than in years past. Over the course of my life, I’ve seen the life of the average outsider transform from a truly difficult and isolated existence to a largely proud, boisterous, and hugely-networked one. And yet, many people hold fast to their picture of life as a lonely, blighted reality. These people cannot or will not give that up. And as their turf is encroached upon, they feel more threatened, and they lash out more. Their own Little Bighorns. Their own Battles of Thermopylae. Their own guerrilla war, for reasons they can’t articulate, against an enemy they cannot even rightly name.

Today her name was Alyssa.

How I Work

Earlier this week, I finalized my work on Puss in Boots. The work then got un-finalized, but still – I’m right at the end of the show. And it’s been a tough one — I’ve been stressed out for weeks on end, and have barely seen most of my friends. I’ve been very busy.

Not that my busy-ness level is easy, necessarily, to gauge. I’m always on instant messenger. I reply to text messages quickly. I post a lot on Facebook. I can speak informedly on world news. I’ve probably seen that cute cat video before you have. Hell, everyone here has probably caught me at my desk with some completely-non-work-related website up. These are not the actions of a busy man.

To understand this, you have to understand how I work.

To put it briefly, I don’t have direct control over my work. Unlike an animator or a storyboard artist, who has immediate, interactive feedback with what they do (move the pen, get a line), I’m dealing with abstracts. For example, making a splash involves creating and animation millions upon millions of tiny points that represent water particulate. You can’t animate them by hand. You have to cede control to the computer, in the form of simulations.

We don’t know when we start the simulation if it will do what we want. We may have to program in new behaviors or edit existing ones. Increase gravity, decrease friction. Play with the laws of physics. Define some really complex behaviors, all interacting with each other: wind, gravity, buoyancy, viscosity, on and on and on. Write some code. It’s a lot of guesswork, math, and imagination. And then hand it to the computer, let it crunch the numbers, and hope for the best.

What I’m saying here is this: my job is more about time management, cleverness, and ingenuity than artistic ability necessarily. I have to be able to forecast how long something will take, and test within the best of my abilities how it will work, before giving it over to the computer. This means limited, 5-minute simulations to test individual aspects of my effect, before the 6-hour version of the simulation. What can I get done overnight? What can I get done over lunch? What can the computer get done while I work on something else? I need to constantly be feeding the computer tasks, or I’m falling behind. I’m always gathering information. Always keeping the computer going.

This means I come upon many pockets of downtime – sometimes just a minute, sometimes an hour or more. Usually I ping-pong between different effects and different shots, but often I’m waiting. And I’ll check Facebook for a minute. Or the news. Or listen to a podcast. Trying to continue to live life, sneaking it in a minute at a time.

It’s stressful, splitting your attention a hundred ways. Having a life becomes one more task you’re juggling.

Puss in Boots has been stressful.

Here’s the problem: most of these activities don’t require my undivided attention. And I start to have trouble keeping it undivided. I’m experienced enough at my job that many of my tasks are done as a matter of reflex. And when I do need that focus? Those rare scenarios that need real problem-solving? That’s where the real stress starts. That sort of concentration involves a zen-like state of mind that takes time and effort to attain, and is easily shattered by distractions. Like test result notifications. Like emails. Like text messages. Like my entire life.

Some things in life deserve your undivided attention. Being physically incapable of providing it is a horrible feeling.

It’s frustrating and deadening to realize you are not engaged by the majority of your work. To live off of information nuggets instead of substantial works. To be addicted to the flow of the new. To be an info-junkie. So addled with things happening around you that you can’t always think straight.

Which is why I write. Because it requires focus. It demands I unite the disparate parts of my brain, that I sit them down and give them purpose. That I pull myself together and feel whole. Even just for a little bit.

A re-dedication

Hail and well met to the sphere of the blogs
Been gone much too long to the world of the cogs.
Pumping out pixels with quiet dull bellows
Which go on unheard by corporate bedfellows.
I’ll lay out my aim: to daily create
A skit, sketch, or screed I don’t quite yet hate.
I’ll most likely fail hard, at least til I succeed
So this post’s more a marker for this one to heed.
I return to my pens once more energetic
Now waxing poetic, not waning pathetic.

My traitorous heart

Civil war has broken out in my body. Every heartbeat floods my arteries with strife, cells goose-stepping to the commands of a rogue organ.

I housed the army gladly, wheeling this Trojan gift into my town square, making it my focal center. I stocked it with wishes until it was pregnant with them — to a man, experts on my every strategic weakness, my every resource, my every last recess. And when I am alone, in the still times, they turn on me. They fill my streets and break my windows, tear me down and salt my earth. They have made me a prisoner of this war.

And after each skirmish, again and again this dictator is put to justice. Made to defend every action, account for every word, detail every weakness. “You arm them. You train them,” they accuse. “They are an army because you have made them one.” Promise, they say. Promise to never again invite barbarians to our gates. Promise to defend us. Promise that this will be the last.

The heart will not. The heart stands defiant. “Have I not woken you from your long complacency? Have I not put you to purpose, each of you? Have I not razed these lands that something greater may be built? Have we not built this from a sleepy hamlet to a towering metropolis? One day the invaders will join themselves to us. They will gaze on our works and lay down their swords for plowshares. You have tasked me with this. I will never promise such a thing.”

And so the body is silenced and the heart reinstated, viciously cycling again and again, until hope can be content to reside in the city I have made of myself.

Head and heart

“Your voice is different,” my ex says to me on the phone. “It’s lower, somehow.”

Of course it is.

My Japanese voice has always been different from my English one. It’s exacting and polite, engineered for small talk. It starts high in my throat, birthed two doors down from its grave  — a punch from the elbow instead of from the shoulder.

This time around, my voice is worming its way up from the pit of my stomach. A gut punch. My Western voice.

High and low. Head and heart. East and west. As ever.

I’ve come back to Japan after a year and a half, to see old friends. Only a handful remain, with most back in their home countries. With so much free time and so few people left, I find myself alone a lot of the time.

Two days into my stay, I meet up with my friend Megumi. We go out drinking, shouting across the table to be heard. We sing karaoke, my voice reverberating deeply enough to be heard in the bathroom. Later, we’re talking and I ask, from my gut, “what’s going on in your life?” She replies: “Nothing.”

“Okay,” I say. Japanese voice.

Years ago, I watched Paranoia Agent, an anime that I feel is more important than many realize. It’s a series about Japan’s troubles post-WW2. How they can’t face what they’ve done or what’s been done to them. How they’ve sanitized reality with Hello Kitty. How they look at cell phones more than each other. How they’ve retreated into their shells, never to stick their necks out.

Weeks ago, I am telling my friend Satoshi Okabe exactly this. I jokingly call it Okabe no kabe (Okabe’s wall). He smiles. He says he agrees. Then he talks about the weather.

A week ago, I am in my ex-girlfriend’s living room. We are talking about her job, her health, her desire to travel. We are talking in Japanese, and I am speaking from my throat. She says my English voice weirds her out. After an hour, we stop talking and watch a rented movie. She asks several times if I’m hungry, or cold. Three hours later, I give her a chaste hug and leave. Her last words to me are “Enjoy your new job.”

My last night in Tokyo, I am at a club with Megumi, and she is very drunk. She is leaning towards me, speaking in English, a voice several octaves lower than what I’m used to. She is telling me about her life for the first time.

Within minutes, though, the conversation’s over as she rushes to the womens’ restroom to check on her sick friend. After a half hour, I am standing outside the restroom, knocking on the door to make sure they’re okay.

And there we are, on either side of a door.

I am knocking and there is no answer.

One Year Later

Five days ago, I got a call from a recruiter at Pixar. She told me that, thanks for my time, but they were moving forward with another candidate. Three weeks ago, I’d interviewed up at their gorgeous campus in Emeryville. I’d felt welcomed, appreciated, accepted.

One week ago, I got an email from a well-known comics creator, informing me he’d have to pass on my short comic pitch for the time being. Five weeks ago, at the insistence of a mutual friend who’d loved my idea, I’d emailed the comics creator with my pitch. I’d thought it’d gone really well.

A month ago, I broke up with a very fantastic girl, whom I haven’t seen since. Three months ago I’d met her at a JET alumni event, and we hit it off immediately. Two months ago, we started dating, holding hands while watching Easy Rider in a cemetery. Five weeks ago, faulty communication and paranoia started putting stress on our relationship. Four weeks ago, I opened up her apartment door to find her drunk, afraid to talk through our issues.

Three months ago, I completely cut off ties with a close friend. We’d met six months earlier, and had grown very close very quickly. She confided in me and I in her, and we even dated briefly. Four months ago, we went on a trip to Las Vegas with friends, and she spent the entire time hanging off the arm of a mutual acquaintance. Two weeks after that, I gave her several expensive baseball tickets as a parting gift, and told her I didn’t want to see her again. Three months ago, I drove off as she threw them at my back window.

Four months ago, I told my workplace I didn’t want to stay around. Three months before that, I’d been made a liaison to the supervisors for my department. One month after that, my boss called me a liar and insulted my work to my face. One month after that, I worked 27 hours in a row to help out a company I didn’t feel respected me. Two weeks after that, they offered me a staff position as a tool-maker, not as an artist. Four months ago, I said no, and next month, I will finally stop making tools for them and go back to being an artist. An unemployed one.

One year ago, I left my job as a teacher. Three days later, I started work at a company that would come to make me miserable. Thirteen months later, I will finally leave it.

One year ago, one of my best friends broke my heart. Four months ago, a good friend broke my heart again. One month ago, I broke someone else’s.

One year ago, I came back from Japan. Tomorrow, I will be in the same place as I was then.

Maa-kun

I lost a friend today.

I met Maa at a Christmas party in Japan — his mom was one of the people organizing it, and he was there helping out. From the get-go, it was clear that he was a little bit off. I’d soon learn that he was diagnosed with both bipolar disorder and light schizophrenia.

Still, he was a delight. He’d dance around and act goofy and make funny faces. We started inviting him out to karaoke and dinner, and he’d always show up on his little yellow scooter, a cigarette dangling from his lips. He loved the color yellow, and would excitedly (and exaggeratedly) yelp out “ye~e~errooo~” whenever we showed him something yellow (including my friend Ananda’s hair).

Maa was going to design school and wanted to make sports shoes for a living. He worked very hard, struggling with his tests, but making good grades. He worked so hard that it was sometimes difficult to get him to come out and join us for our frivolities, but we tried nonetheless. His mom would tell us how much she appreciated it — he didn’t have many other friends.

Almost one year to the day after I met him, Maa killed himself.

I didn’t learn about this until today. My friend Amy, who is still in Japan, went to lunch with her Japanese “grandmother,” and asked about Maa, whom she hadn’t seen in awhile.

“He’s dead,” was the reply.

Amy stammered. “…what?”

“Jisatsu. He killed himself. Suisaido. On Christmas.”

Amy began to tremble. The grandma continued. “Long hair boy right? Yeah, he’s dead. Shinda.” She didn’t even phrase it politely, the way a Japanese person would, by saying “nakunarimashita” (went away).

She then started talking about how delicious the salad was.

When Amy began to cry, the grandmother comforted her by informing her that Maa’s dad had two sons, so it’s okay.

And it’s about there that I completely lost my shit and started crying.

It was preventable. The whole fucking thing was preventable. Maa was always full of life and energy and willing to hang out. And we were the only people who would talk to him. Everyone else ignored him, even his own family — actually, especially his own family.

And I think, if I’d just emailed him a bit more since I came back, invited him out a couple more times, just… done something… he might still be alive. I know I can’t blame myself for this, but…

…this was preventable.

As Amy and I sat there, typing to each other from across the planet and crying, I felt so alone. Like I’d witnessed some sort of secret tragedy, one that nobody would ever know about, that nobody would ever care about. Something I’d carry in silent, in the dark.

And that’s why I’m telling you. I’m telling you that once there was a bright and beautiful person named Maa. He always did his best and never stopped smiling. He was my friend. And now he’s gone.

I’m not dead!

Been a looong while since the last update, and a lot of stuff has happened. Will try and catch up on posts this week, but in the meantime, there was an excellent article in Variety highlighting one of the big reasons I got out of effects as a career. It’s originally posted here, but I’m copy-pasting it in case that link goes offline.

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The good with the bad

So I’m coming down the home stretch on my stay in Japan, and in the span of one week, I’ve had a bevy of experiences illustrating exactly what I’ll miss and what I’ll eagerly try to forget about Japan.
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First, the good. This weekend I went to a fertility festival in Kawasaki, a bit outside Tokyo. It was stupendous. Statues of penises everywhere, transvestites in kimonos, genitalia-shaped candy, the whole nine yards. I went with a troop of foreigner friends, and we had a LOT of pictures taken of us – specifically Amy, who has large breasts, was wearing a tank top, and working away on a giant cock lollipop.

The Monday after the penis festival, I went to my favorite elementary school, where I’ve been able to establish a great rapport with the teachers and staff. They like me a lot there. So much so that when they changed up my shoe locker (we have different shoes for inside versus outside), they gave me a special nameplate… with my name in kanji.

I should explain that both my first and last name are nearly impossible to write in kanji. There is no naturally-occurring “jei” sound in Japanese, nor is there a “po” sound. My teachers got around that by writing it out as “jieison” —慈英尊. The kanji mean [love][english][revered]. Pretty much everyone agrees it’s a kickass name.Having kanji for my name meant a lot to me. It made me feel included in a culture where inclusion is everything. Sure, I still have people staring at me on the street, old ladies amazed I can write kanji and use chopsticks, and I still get the “Wow, you’re really good at Japanese” every time I so much as say one word, but at that elementary school, I really feel like part of the family. Everyone talks to me. They invite me out for get-togethers. They keep me in the loop as to what’s going on. I really feel at home.

Contrast that with my junior high. Recently, with the school year ending and starting again (my contract actually started me in the middle of the Japanese school year, weirdly enough), a lot of teachers have come and gone. Because I wasn’t able to go to their going-away party (they forgot to even tell me there was one until the day before, let alone invite me), I wrote each and every one of them an extensive goodbye note in Japanese. It took me literally all day.

Apparently, several of my favorite teachers actually wrote me back. But I’ll never know what they said. Because the other teachers lost the goddamn letters.

Because of all the new-year hubbub, they moved me around, so now I’m sitting next to the English teacher who isn’t actually very good at English. More than that, she’s incredibly awkward to talk to, and chronically absent. This wouldn’t be a problem, except every single teacher in the entire school is somehow terrified to talk to me in Japanese, afraid I won’t understand them, or that I can’t look up the words I don’t know. They don’t even try. They just route all replies through her, and will never talk to me face-to-face. They have incredibly involved impromptu meetings, water cooler chats, and whatnot, speaking as fast and in as much slang as possible, so that I can’t even understand what the hell they’re saying. In the rare event that I do understand, it’s all going so fast that I can’t formulate a response in the time it’s taken for me to decipher what they’re saying.

Sometimes all the teachers will spontaneously get up and leave the room, or crowd by the window, and I won’t know what’s going on. I have literally had intense, hushed conversation conducted in a circle around me, and nobody bothered to so much as look at me. I have had people pretend they can’t hear me so that they don’t have to talk to me.

It’s honest to god the most frustrating work environment I’ve been in, bar none. I think I actually preferred the CEO of Digital Domain calling me a worthless idiot (to my face) to being the invisible man.

I know I’ve got a reputation at this school for being quiet and reclusive, using my computer to do god-knows-what (usually I’m working on that lesson-sharing website). This really bothered me for awhile, but at this point, I’m just sort of giving up. Every time I try to initiate conversation, it fails miserably. I try and maintain perspective and remember all the good times I’ve had in Japan, but given that I’m here 3 out of 7 days in the week, it’s kind of difficult.

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