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Monday, August 31, 2009


Disney's buying Marvel.

My first thought was to wonder how this effects the theme parks in Orlando. Universal is Walt Disney World's biggest competition, and they have an entire section of their Islands of Adventure park modeled on the Marvel characters. Whatever deal they made with Marvel would almost certainly prevent Disney from competing with the same characters, so Disney's in a weird position where they can't use (what will be) their own characters in theme parks until that deal expires. Or so I imagine; I'm sure what those lawyers are doing is actually really complicated.

There are similar issues all over the place: Disney's licensed their brands to BOOM Studios, who are doing a good job with those comics. Sony has the rights to Spider-Man movies. Fox has the rights to X-Men movies. I'm really curious to see how they'll wiggle their way out of these prior commitments.

But even without all that, this is a shrewd move. The Avengers movies will appeal to the same kind of audience as Pirates of the Caribbean, the kind of audience that gets them huge amounts of cash. And it would help, in making those movies, to call on all the expertise Disney has. The marketing money alone that Disney will get from this will pay off the outrageous price (4 billion dollars) they're paying. They've got more licenses for Disney Interactive to work with. They've got total control over the Marvel cartoons which they're already using on TV. Plus, they can make big-screen animated movies based on characters like Captain America and Hulk... they're going to be getting money off this for centuries. And with the way Marvel Studios seems like they're just about to take over the world with their crazy plans, this is the perfect time to buy.

A lot of the comics community is concerned about Disney meddling in the actual Marvel comics, but I think they're safe for now. Marvel's the market leader. Under the current management the business has done well (by comics standards), so Disney would have to be really stupid to try to mess it up. When DC starts overtaking Marvel, that's when the bosses will step in. But as long as Marvel's on top, it's good business to leave them alone. Disney's comparing this arrangement to Pixar (in that they haven't messed with them), and I'm inclined to trust them. What I do expect to see is greater coordination between the comics and the TV cartoons, as in, there will be some cartoons set in the current Marvel continuity. If TV-watching kids see a crossover with crazy events that they can only read about in the comics, that gets a lot of them to jump onboard. That's an obvious enough idea that I'm sure Disney's come up with it already. It'll make editing Marvel much more complicated, but I don't see that it's at all harmful. Crossovers with Disney characters are going to happen (Anything for a buck, right?), I'm sure of that, but it's not going to happen often. It's a gimmick, not a long-term plan.

I think the most important thing about this news is that it guarantees more readers of Marvel Comics. Disney can market anything. Superhero comics have been a niche for a very long time, but they're now in the public eye (thanks to the movies) and I don't know who could possibly take advantage of that better than Disney. So I'm pretty hopeful about this whole thing.

Also, I'm very curious to see how Marvel deals with Uncle Scrooge.



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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

~How To Fix X-Men

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How To Fix X-Men

"Ultimate Marvel Comics", 18/11/2008
What it should have done from the start was rethink the whole concept of the X-Men, because I think the problem stems from the originals. In the sixties, they were just another bunch of superheroes. Since then, the cast has gotten larger by the hundreds, and writers have used them as a metaphor for all sorts of oppressed minorities, but still I don't think the X-Men have found focus. They started out as superheroes like any others, so no matter how much you add on top that's what they'll still be. Their stories will still be about fighting this guy or that guy, about cleverly using this power against that power. I think there's a real problem with all the regular X-Men books, where even excellent writers write stories which only long-time fans could care about.

"continue extrapolate repurpose", 24/5/2009
It recently occurred to me that all my ideas are following the same formula. First I establish my take in accepted continuity, using as many past elements as I can. Then I try to imagine how that would naturally play out, connecting all the pieces together and going farther with them than their creators intended. And then I flip the whole thing around, so that it's actually not the same kind of story at all as the ones it's following.

Please note: This is a superhero-related post. If you are not interested in superheroes, don't read it.

The X-Men comics might make sense if they were in their own little world. But they're set in the Marvel Universe, where the Fantastic Four and the Avengers are seen as heroes (even though they're no different from the mutants), and it just doesn't work.

Sure, there have been plenty of good X-Men stories over the years. There are good X-Men stories running right now! But these stories are standard superhero stories that would work equally well if you didn't distinguish mutants from all the other superheroes. I mean, what I'm reading in X-Men these days is two time-travel stories, a crossover with The Avengers where they all punch each other for PR reasons, a gory action story where they fight a bunch of literally-resurrected villains from their past, and a story about the son of Wolverine where he tries to humiliate his teammates. These are stories that could be told with or without the existence of mutants.

If I were to decide to call a superhero character a mutant, that would mean two things and only two things.
  1. I don't have to come up with an origin story beyond "He's a mutant!".
  2. I don't need to give people an excuse for hating him beyond "He's a mutant!".
So the whole mutant concept, as it exists, is really weak. You can see from the recap that I've been thinking about this for a while.

What differentiates the X-Men comics from the other Marvel comics is not so much the racism, I think, as it is the huge cast. There are literally hundreds of random and interchangeable X-Men characters, each one with a convoluted soap-opera connection to all the rest. So X-Men fans expect X-Men comics to be overloaded with characters. Marvel's editor-in-chief, Joe Quesada, felt that the X-Men cast had gotten much too big, so a few years ago he had a comic written where almost all the mutants lost their powers. (In the story, this event was called "M-Day".) But that didn't really change anything. Even the depowered mutants are being kept around, and all the popular ones have already reacquired their powers through other means like magic crystals or advanced technology. (If being a mutant is no different than being any other kind of superhero, then why should it matter at all that they're not mutants anymore?)

The problem isn't really that there are too many characters. The problem is that there's nothing interesting to do with them that you couldn't do in The Avengers or Spider-Man or even The Punisher. So when I wrote that Ultimate Marvel post, I thought the only way X-Men comics could work would be if you rebooted the whole thing.

Well, I've changed my mind. I think I see exactly where X-Men comics ought to go, where all the potential I'm looking for is there but none of what's there (and enjoyed by X-Men fans) is undone. Believe it or not, it's actually really simple to get there from here.

Let me describe where "here" is exactly, because all the pieces are already in place. On M-Day, a mentally-ill mutant called the Scarlet Witch (whose powers are inexplicable magic) said "No more mutants.", and changed the world. After M-Day, most former mutants don't have powers anymore, and more importantly no new mutants can ever be born. Or so everyone thought, at least. The scientist called Beast went all over the world looking for a way to undo what the Scarlet Witch had done, and every road he went down was a dead end. But then, for no apparent reason, a new mutant girl was born in Alaska. She was kidnapped from the hospital, the entire area was burned down, and a battle broke out to get the baby back. The X-Men wanted to protect her, the Christian radicals wanted to kill her (They called her the anti-Christ.), and the evil mutants.. come to think of it, I don't even remember what they wanted. Anyway. In the end a time-traveling soldier called Cable took her and jumped into the future so that no one could find them. (He sees her as some sort of savior for mutants.) Another time-traveling soldier named Bishop jumped into the future after them, and he's been chasing them ever since. He believes that her existence directly leads to the terrible future he comes from where mutants are put in concentration camps, though he's doesn't seem to really understand how she can do all that. Cable named the girl Hope, she's grown up ten years, and they're still running for their lives. Her powers haven't manifested yet. Meanwhile, in the present (I always wanted to say that.), the mutants have all moved to San Francisco where they're sort of fitting in for once. ("Sort of" because they're already getting kicked out.) Beast assembled a team of scientists called the X Club (named after this) to see if they could solve the mutant-gene problem, and so far they've had no luck.

I didn't make any of this up, it's all from the last few years of comics.*
(Specifically: House of M, the Endangered Species back-ups, the Messiah Complex crossover, Cable, and Uncanny X-Men)
But it's a great set-up for what needs to happen.

The X Club should identify exactly what it is that made the Scarlet Witch's magic work, but to undo it they need massive amounts of some exotic kind of energy that they have no access to. They're ready to give up entirely, when -lo and behold!- Cable and Hope come back from the future. Hope's power turns out to be exactly what they needed. Apparently the Scarlet Witch made a deliberate exception to her "no mutants" rule for the one mutant who could undo what she'd done. I know that sounds weird, but she's done exactly that once before (with a girl named Layla Miller), so it's not a stretch to say she'd do it again. Psychologically speaking, the explanation for what the Scarlet Witch is doing is that she isn't really in control of her own powers, and on some level she doubts herself. That doubt in her subconscious causes her to create what will stop her. But enough psychoanalysis. Bottom line: everyone was right. The X Club was right that magic can be undone through science, Cable was right that Hope's very important for all mutants, Bishop was right that killing her would prevent his future.

The mutant gene is reactivated, but it's not the same as it was before. (This is where all the fun starts.)

The new mutants can't control their powers. There are different degrees of instability: Some new mutants can usually keep their powers controlled just with medication and mental exercises, and only lose control while sleeping. And on the other end of the mutant spectrum, there are those who are using their powers every moment of every day and can't do anything about it. Most of them are not particularly dangerous to the public, either because their powers' effects are temporary or benign, or because their powers don't effect anyone but themselves. But some of them actually are dangerous, like the little telepath who rewires the brains of everyone he ever meets. The onset of mutant powers is a lot more unpredictable than it used to be: rather than being tied to puberty, it can happen at any point from one year old to sixty years old, and with no apparent cause.

A new trend begins all over the world, where socially-conscious people (usually former mutants depowered on M-Day, but also normal people) start support groups for mutant kids. And to make them feel better about their situation, they're not called "mutant support groups". No, they're called "X-Men"! The old generation of mutants is taken as a role model, because even though it's not really the same mutant gene they can still be seen as mutants who got to be just like all the other superheroes. (In this way, the flaw with the old premise becomes a strength in the new one!) "Look at Cyclops, little Timmy! He's a mutant just like you, and he goes on adventures with all the other superheroes! Some day, you can be an X-Man just like him!" The word "mutant" starts to be seen as derogatory: if you want to be politically correct, you've got to call them "X-Men".

Imagine this scene: A little mutant girl is walking through the mall with her mother. Everything and everyone she gets close to changes color (She can control the color it changes to, but right now it's all subconscious.), and when she walks away it all goes back to normal. Everyone is staring at her in disbelief, until one guy gets up and starts yelling: "Get the hell out of here! We're trying to have a good time here!" And the mother yells back: "You can't talk to my daughter like that! She's an X-Woman!"

So what happens to all the existing X-Men characters? Well, they become really interesting. The majority of the public is lumping them in with all these new mutants, so even though they've been acting like superheroes for decades suddenly they're seen as ticking time bombs. People now have reason to be scared of mutants, and they're not thinking about the subtleties of whether you got your powers before or after M-Day. That's racism that works, dramatically.

So you'd have the original people calling themselves "X-Men", who have to be role models for mutants who aren't really like them, as their every move is under scrutiny by the new mutant-haters who would like to vilify them.

And then you'd have the "Brotherhood of Mutants", taking pride in the "mutant" name, who try to distance themselves from the new strain of mutant by attacking the dangerous ones. ("Maybe if we're seen fighting them and protecting people from them, people will understand we're not like them.")

And you'd have superhero teams which no one knows are mutants, who live in constant fear of their secret coming out. In rare cases, the old X-gene can slowly turn into the new X-gene -if that started happening to a member of one of these teams, then it would start getting really complicated.

All the solo characters (like Wolverine) would go on doing the same thing they've always been doing; the new species doesn't really affect them. But now they'd have people who were previously nice to them suddenly distrustful and scared, and no matter how hard the old mutants try to gain these people's trust back, there will always be some doubt and hostility there from now on.

That's the entire X-Men line reinvigorated right there, and that's just with the characters who aren't the new kind of mutant! On top of that, there are all the new stories that could be told with new characters, where the premise is a lot more interesting than it used to be. It's much more interesting to see someone who could lose control at any moment, than to see someone who is in perfect control but is feared anyway.

This most likely isn't going to happen. I'm guessing the stories of Hope and the X Club will go in less interesting, more convoluted directions. (Like Hope turning out to be the reincarnation of Jean Gray or some nonsense like that.) And I expect that the effects of M-Day will be totally reversed as soon as Joe Quesada is replaced as editor-in-chief, and we'll be back to the status quo from way back when. That's how these things usually go.



It occurs to me that Xavier and Magneto, the main good guy and bad guy of the X-Men, are both non-mutants now. Xavier got telepathy from the M'Kraan crystals on an alien planet, and Magneto got his powers from a supervillain called the High Evolutionary. It just goes to show how little the mutant gene has to do with what X-Men's become. Also, Cloak and Dagger are now calling themselves X-Men even though they were never mutants. And I'm not too clear on the whole story, but Wolverine, the most popular mutant character, has so much backstory involving secret army projects and wolf packs (yes, wolf packs) that if he weren't a mutant it wouldn't make much difference.

You might wonder why I chose to disconnect the onset of powers from puberty, losing the symbolism there. There are two very good reasons: Because of the way the new mutant gene is being introduced mid-story, it wouldn't make sense to have many adult or even teenaged mutants popping up for a few years, so there need to be viable young-mutant stories. Secondly, a lot of mutant hatred would be driven by the knowledge that the hater could wake up one day and find out that he himself is a mutant.


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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I couldn't figure out the math before. I somehow figured out a specific set of numbers that looked pretty decent, but Kyler said it should be better and he's not wrong. So I've been procrastinating, because it's really scary to come up to something I don't really understand (those numbers) and be told to rewrite it. I don't even know where to start. I stare at the numbers, try a few things, see how spectacularly they fail, stare some more, then decide to do something more fun with my time.

Today I had a minor breakthrough. I decided that rather than trying to change the numbers, what I needed was to create a system for easily changing the numbers, where the program would figure out how they all fit together. That meant lots of math, so I spent an hour or two working out the problems and then programmed my results. It didn't quite work. Somewhere in my long calculations, I must have put a minus instead of a plus, and some of it is running backwards. I don't understand how to fix that short of redoing all the math, but I think I see a way to make that part a bit simpler so that I'm less likely to make mistakes like that. That's what I'll do tomorrow. And then I'll solve the problem and move on.



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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

No work done.



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Monday, August 17, 2009

No work done.



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Friday, August 14, 2009

People Who Need People

That was a lonely month. Avri was gone, Moshe was gone. That left Nati and Eliav. Nati I spent all of my Shabbats with, because Eliav doesn't talk about anything anymore except for the MMO he plays (Fiesta). And sure, he's got what to say about that, but I've heard it already. It doesn't change that much from week to week.

So during the week I've had no human contact except for Games Nights. I guess I really needed those Games Nights. (Here's the last session report.)

Eliav said that if I downloaded Bioshock, we could play it together on his (powerful) computer like we played Phoenix Wright and The Path. So I downloaded it, and for the past two weeks I've been trying to get him to play it with me. But when I go over, he's in Fiesta.

Eliav is a kind of person which I didn't expect to exist for another few hundred years: a person who lives in a virtual world. He spends his entire day in Fiesta. He's got lots of friends there which he hangs out with. He's a productive member of the virtual society. Whenever he gets to a point in the game he's happy with, he starts over from scratch with a new character and does it all again.

I went over a few days ago. He was playing Fiesta, and from where I was sitting it seemed like the most boring game in the world. He kept fighting the same monster, over and over and over again. He had a portable DVD player next to him, which he was using to rewatch Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the DVDs I'd lent him while he played. (He was up to season seven already.) I asked if we could play Bioshock, and he politely pointed out that he was busy. So I asked if I could come back in a half hour and we'd play then, and he said that wasn't possible.

See, in fifteen minutes a quest would start that he could only play once every four hours. So he needed to play through it in fifteen minutes, and then he needed to come back to this other quest which he was doing, because he'd be leaving it in the middle to get there. And then there would be another quest after that, and another after that, and in four hours he'd want to do that second quest again...

Yesterday Eliav came over to return the Buffy discs. (He'd finished the series.) I asked him if we could play Bioshock, he said no, and I got angry. Dena informs me that I was yelling at him. I said that we'd agreed we'd play Bioshock together, so it wasn't unreasonable for me to be irritated when he was always doing something else. He said I was being selfish, and if I wanted to play Bioshock I should get a better computer. I went upstairs for a moment to put away the DVDs, and he ran off. I ran after him, and he explained that he thought we were done arguing and he had to get back to Fiesta.

I think he thinks this was about me wanting to play Bioshock. Like I don't have any other games to play. I'll have to talk to him. Not that that'll make any difference.



That definitely sounds like someone who is addicted to a video game. I periodically (probably once a month) play games for extended periods(+6 hours). But the moment that something more important crops up I can get out of it immediately.

I think that MMOs are designed in such a way as to promote addictive tendencies in people. That way people will keep paying the monthly fees, or keep coming back and seeing the advertising.

I dislike any game that's focus is to get you addicted to it. I haven't played many so I haven't much experience with them, but I still just want to stay away.

As for the good news, Bioshock is a fantastic game if you ever get a chance to play it. I'm not sure how many shooters you have played, so it might be something pretty different for you.

If I have any advice to make it more fun, really go out of your way to be creative with the plasmid powers. I generally tend to find only a few strategies to play games and then use those a lot. But near the end of the game, it force me to be continually creative and I had way more fun.

I am interested in hearing you impressions of it because we generally don't get to play the same games.


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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

~VI: It's Only Pretend

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

VI: It's Only Pretend

I rewatched all five seasons of Lost, to see if I could piece together the puzzle. Well, I did. I don't know where all the pieces go, but I see the picture on the box and it's not what I expected. What I did to figure it out was I watched the show with the assumption that every random thing that people were doing actually made sense. And then I fit the pieces together in ways that made sense. I'm good at that. I'll be very surprised if my theory isn't correct, but I've been very surprised on many occasions before. (Note: I've written down my entire spoiler-filled theory on this page; comment there, and not here, if you want to talk about Lost.)

Avri's been in Canada for the past three weeks, and I've been running the Games Night in his absence. He let me have the key to his house, so on Tuesday at 7:45 PM I've been making popcorn, grabbing a drink and some cups, and trying my best to not let the fact that Avri isn't there ruin our fun. We've had a smaller turn-out than usual, unsurprisingly, but two of the three Games Nights I've run were really fun. Okay, well, one was really fun, one was decent and one was a bust. But still, not bad. I can't explain games like Avri can, but most of the people coming know the games so they can explain it. So really what I'm doing is just welcoming people in, keeping the score, and then writing it all up. I think I've been doing a decent job. (If anyone who comes to Games Night knows otherwise, please comment. Even if it doesn't make a difference, I'd like to know.) Here are the three session reports:

When the Vintage Game Club announced that the next game they'd do a playthrough of was a Zelda, I was really excited. I'd never finished studying Ocarina of Time, and the bits I had studied I'd never really had the chance to tell other people about. And there's so much greatness there to tell other people about. It's like a hundred opportunities, just waiting for their time. Well, the game they picked was Majora's Mask, Ocarina of Time's sequel. I didn't know what I'd find, since most of the game hadn't left much of an impression the first time I played it (with an emulator), but I did remember enough to know it wasn't in the same league as OoT or Twilight Princess. So this playthrough has been somewhat surprising, in that I'm finding that I really love some parts, and the rest is at least an interesting failure which inspires better ideas. I think it's been worth the ten bucks I paid for it. And going through a Zelda game has made me think about all my Zelda ideas again. I've been playing my variations on the music a lot on the piano, and I've changed my mind about what the third act of Broken Duet should be. This new ending would be so cool.

I've also been thinking about Present Self-Defense, and Through the Wind, and Dreams of a Fractured World. I think I've got some great ideas. But I sort of understand (maybe) that great ideas aren't going to be enough. I don't know what will be enough. I've been agonizing over The March of Bulk, not in the sense of working non-stop but in the sense that working on it is agony and I'm doing it anyway. Kyler made some excellent suggestions, which means I'm not stuck anymore like I was for the past few weeks, but each time I try to implement his suggestions it goes horribly wrong. So I've been trying one thing after another, then undoing all my changes when each one doesn't work and looks like it can't possibly work. And then I try something else. One of these days I'll find an approach that works. I hope.



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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Why am I here?

Underlying that question is the faulty assumption that I am somehow more important (in the larger scheme of things) than most people. This is of course untrue. I'm just a person, and like any person I've been put here by God to be part of the whole of society. I enjoy organizing and micromanaging and copying data and tasks with clear rules where I can challenge myself to be as efficient as possible. I pride myself on all these things. There is plenty of room in society for a person like that. I could be a librarian, or a secretary, or a store-owner for comic books. I could easily be happy and productive; all else is arrogance and folly. I need to be a dependable person, get myself a nice wife and settle down and live happily ever after. That's the Real World. The dreams and plans, those are childish nonsense.

Why am I here? Well, that's obvious, isn't it? As an "Asperger's" person, I've been granted a gift by God. That gift is music, and to ignore it is to ignore every single signpost that God's thrown my way. My entire life has been a linear course to greater opportunities in music. I have potential. It wouldn't be easy to become a professional musician, but it would be natural. Many people have told me that they'd buy a CD if I made one- this in itself should be proof enough that that's what I'm meant to do. When else has anyone ever said to me that they'd pay for something I was good at? New musical themes are constantly coming to me, and I do nothing with them. Every opportunity that has been handed to me I have discarded. I need to stop ignoring my skill, and start using it.

I'm here to make games. I'm not particularly good at it yet, but I will be. I must be. Because if I don't make the games which I know need to be made, no one else will do it. The platformer and the adventure are in horrible shape. The RPG and the metalude are stagnating. They are not evolving in the right direction, and no one is going to set them on the right course if I don't do it. So yes, I don't have skill. But I will make up for it with stubbornness and the strength of my convictions. Nothing in the world seems as important to me as gamism, and that's because it's what I'm meant to be doing. Forget happiness, forget self-fulfillment, forget all the hints from God that other paths will be easier. Pursuing gamism is the path that makes sense. Anyone can be a secretary or a musician; no one can replace the future me as a gamist!

There need to be more people working on artificial intelligence. I have no experience and even less understanding, but I can learn. I am a human being, I can decide on how my life's going to proceed. If I decide to learn neurobiology and psychology, I can do it. Tamir tells me there actually are projects to model AI on the way brains work, albeit projects which aren't taking emotions into account. But it's a start, and I ought to support it. Creating a new kind of intelligence is a worthy cause, and it would be an honor to devote my life to it. What makes me reasonably well-suited to that kind of work is my willingness to be proven wrong and consider many possibilities, and more importantly my eagerness to make a rational system out of many parts which don't seem to fit together. If I learn enough of the details of intelligence, I might be able to figure out some rules which other scientists haven't thought of yet.

When I wrote my first interactive dialogue, I had an epiphany that that was what I could offer to the world. It was difficult, to be sure, but so satisfying. It was easier for me to make Smilie than it was to make The Perfect Color or now The March of Bulk, and that's because it comes more naturally to me to do interactive characters than other kinds of games. So I ought to devote my life specifically to making adventure games, and forget trying to make other kinds of games. I have one huge idea for an adventure game which I think could be really great, and many smaller ideas. My idea for a dynamic interface is one that's never exactly been in a game before, and it has more than enough potential to spend an entire life learning to use. If I made several adventure games with the same system, all totally different in tone and content, it raises the chances significantly of other people continuing my work. Whereas if I were to jump around from Form to Form, never staying in one place, each of my works could be seen as oddities and have no impact. So while I agree that I'd like to make games, I think I really ought to only make adventure games.

I ought to move to New York and try to become a comics editor. Wow, that would be fun. I'm already editing comics just for fun, how cool would it be to do it for a living? Getting to be a part of this entertainment which I love so much, getting to know the brilliant writers responsible, trying to get those writers into positions better suited for them. I spend so much time worrying that comics editors aren't doing what they ought to be doing; well, I could do it! There's lots of micromanagement, creativity in which ideas to keep and which not to, there's regular tasks I could be efficient at. It seems like a dream job, and I absolutely could pull it off.

I'm never going to do anything. I'm going to try a lot of things, never finish anything, never get anywhere, never help anything or anyone, and never find happiness. And then I'll die. And someone will see how I died at such an early age, read this blog, and understand that I was a person confused about my direction, running into roads which I have neither the talent nor the work ethic to get through. My life's purpose will then be clear: I am a cautionary tale. This observer, who I barely know, will take my death as a reminder that life is fleeting, and he/she will hurry up and do things. That's why I'm here.



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Mory, I gotta hand it to you. You always manage to find new ways to shock me with just how goddamned stupid you are. What would I do without you.



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