XCOM 2: The Grand Tour

For previous entries, click reverently: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

My team needs a break. need a break. But we can’t have one. So instead, I organise some pomp and circumstance, something to boost morale. I have a grand walk of the ship. Let everyone see how far they’ve come. Keep everyone’s chin up. Let’s have a look shall we?

First up, we tour the ship. After months of backbreaking labour, we’ve cleared out the debris. More than this, in the last few weeks we have had a fit of progress. Our ship is nearly complete. Each room bustles with the hum of activity. From top to bottom, we are running well. Doesn’t it seem like just last week that we didn’t even have a Resistance Comms? And look at us now crew, look at us now.

And now, the stars. Each and every member of this crew deserves recognition.

I believe in leading from the front, and recognising achievement without ego or false modesty. As such, I am proud to say I haven’t been letting you down. You know me affectionately as ‘Deacon’. I am your field medic, your ally. I may seem hard on you, I may seem dour. But I watch over you, ever vigilant.

Next up, we recognise Major ‘Solo’ Toshney. Equal in rank, and my staunchest buddy on the field. Her progress has been dramatic, and she wields her twin axes and ‘Dice’ shotgun wherever it is needed. Running headfirst into danger without delay, risking her life for her team; trusting they will do the same for her.

Captain ‘Valentine’ Greenwood, the pistol sweetheart. She has us covered when we need it, but has never been afraid to get up close and personal. Her achievements are well recognised as she sports the second highest kill count on board the mothership. In recognition of this, we bestow on her Shadowkeeper, a bespoke pistol recovered from our deepest archives.

Lieutenant ‘Rhino’ Haines. Their customised yellow armour brings a presence to the battlefield every time. With a heavily customised repeater they whittle out the heavy targets, marking enemies and dictating the flow of battle for their allies.

Lt. ‘Jester’ O’Sullivan, whose innovative use of drones and scanning equipment has kept our troops safe many times.

Lt. ‘Judge’ Linden, the gun on high. Once planted, his unnerring aim takes out whoever is needed, before they even spot him.

Sgt. ‘Crypto’ McGowan, our second medic. Keeping us alive; the most vital skill of all.

Cpl. Alexander Carrington, whose lesser rank has decieved many foes. More than anyone else, Cpl. Carrington has given up the medals of battle for the softer blade of covert work. We formally recognise his outstanding work today.

Cpl. Nate Spencer, who along with his ally Cpl. Carrington, is joint for the most successful covert ops achieved in XCOM history. His work behind the scenes has perhaps saved more lives than anyone else on the mothership.

Initiate. Joss Hordern, whose latent powers are still training, we recognise the value of an ally who understand these alien foes on a deeper level. Do not let your inexperience in the field of combat mislead you from the fact that you, and you alone, rule the battlefield of the mind.

As we end our ceremony, we take this time to recognise Erin ‘Mad-Dog’ Donovan, who remains deep in a covert operation, and is unable to join us at this time. We wish them a speedy and safe recovery, and look forward to the return of their artillery.

Lastly, we mourn the loss of Jamie Brewster. He fell too soon, and is missed.


XCOM 2: Still…Alive?

For previous entries, click relatively: Part 1, Part 2.

It’s been busy. To summarise: Jamie’s memorial was turned into a PR piece, we finally finally have some buildings, we came into contact with The Warlock and The Hunter (shit), Morgan became our covert ops champ, we killed The Assassin only to discover they reincarnate. I became so stressed from healing burn victims in combat that I was diagnosed with Pyrophobia. We finally got some better weapons. Morgan, Alex ‘Valentine’ and Ciaran ‘Jester’ were ambushed in a covert op and had to escape a city filled with ADVENT and Lost. The AVATAR project reached 11 out of 12 on the progress meter, we blew up a facility to knock it down and came across a King Viper (see above). Our reserves were so thin we had to send Aimee ‘Solo’ into combat despite her exhaustion, and she freaked out mid-fight and has now been diagnosed with with permanant aggression issues. Our ally, the Skirmisher ‘Mox’ is killed in combat saving the lives of two of ours. We have a new operative I trained in secret – Joss Hordern – our psychic. And we finally, finally, finally have an infirmary. All of this shot through with countless operations, near-death experiences, stress, and goddamn fucking aliens.

Operation Hell Storm

As you join us now, we are, in a word, totally fucking fucked. We are up fuck river with out a fuck paddle. Mid-operation, our early scouting was blown by an eagle-eyed turret, who spotted Alex ‘Valentine’ on the roof above the VIP we want to kill (or ideally, capture). Everything has gone sideways. Our entire squad is out of position, Valentine is exposed, and the entire building we are on top of is surrounded. Turrets, Officers, flamethrower-wielding Purifiers, baton-wielding Stunners, rocket-launcer-toting MECs and a fucking flying half robot…thing? Oh. And then The Assassin shows up. Yeah, the one we thought we killed.

I am sweating, for reals. I can’t see a way out of this. We focus our fire on the right, aiming to take out the squad there. It’s hard, ridiculously so. Erin ‘ Mad-Dog’ does the bulk of the work with a well placed grenade, it’s tough going. Three of our squad are set on fire, our newest member Joss Hordern falls through the floor. Our twin medics, Deacon (me) and Alastair ‘Crypto’ are having to double up on aid and healing, bringing our offensive capabilities down. Our two snipers are out of position, which brings those capabilities down even further. In the time-slowed whirl of my tactical overview, it takes me over ten minutes to figure out a way, a possible way to simply not die.

It works. For a turn. But we still can’t get near the objective. We’ve still got an invisible, unstoppable Assassin on the loose who will definately take one of us out of the fight. There are, in all likelihood, multiple other squads hiding out there in the unknown. And we have a handful of minutes to get our objective, find a rendezvous and get out. Fuck.

OH FUCK OFF. We finally, finally manage to take out the other troops, although it feels like it’s taken hours to work out how to do so. Joss has been knocked out and revived, most of the rest of our squad is running out of ammo or, y’know, life, and this FUCKING Assassin summons a FUCKING robot. FUCK YOU.

Some astonishing teamwork sees our squad essentially destroying most of the building we are hiding on and in. By carefull destroying walls and ceilings we are able to find, expose and eliminate the Assassin in one fell swoop. We don’t take out the mech though, and in retaliation it takes Joss out, again. They’re bleeding to death for the second time in as many minutes.

We go for broke. If there are any squads hiding, we’re done for, but we have no choice. Crypto hoists Joss on his shoulders and makes a dash for the pickup, it’s their only shot of survival as we are completely out of meds on the ground. Meanwhile the rest of us break cover and surround the VIP.

I get the enormous satisfaction of punching the VIP unconcious and hoisting them over my shoulder, setting off alarms as I do. The flares light up for enemy reinforcements and we waste zero time, sprinting to our escape.

We get out. We all get out alive. I honestly can’t believe it. I can’t. To say ‘lesson learned’ is an understatement. Never send someone ahead on a rooftop blindly. Never ever ever.

The crew are desperate for a break, or better tech, or a break, or better food, or a break.

XCOM 2: Still Here

For previous entries, click relevantly: Part 1.

Well it’s certainly been an exciting time. Since last time, we’ve met the lone survivor of ‘The Council’ (e.g. my banker), discovered two other factions fighting against the aliens (Reapers and Skirmishers respectively), fought alongside them,  spent a month of research completely ignoring the important things and chasing after early magnetic weapons (after our scientists were ‘inspired’), discovered entire cities of undead alien/human zombies called The Lost, bought rookies Cee Haines, Ciaran O’Sullivan, Jamie Brewster, Nate Spencer and Morgan Linden in on various operations (no fatalities yet!), completed an entire rescue mission without firing a single shot or ever being spotted, run op after op after op, met shapeshifters, snake people, The Chosen Assassin, and fought of goddamn wave after wave of Lost…and it’s what, month 2?

Fucking christ on a goddamn bike.

Operation Lost Dream

As we join our squad now, it’s another rescue. Our dubious allies, The Reapers, have requested our help on this one. The Reapers, by the by, are sniping stealth masters. Hard bastards. Fortunately, they like us (a bit), and have lent us one of their operatives – Elena Dragunova. She’s with us on this mission, and she’ll be serving as our deep scout. We have only a few minutes to scramble across the city and get to where our ally is trapped. They have a turret defending them, but it’s running out of ammo. And the city is filled, stuffed with Lost. You know those zombie movies you grew up watching? You know how they were scary, but not that scary. Yeah, this isn’t that. The Lost are endless. Ten, twenty of them can crop up when you’re not expecting. They give zero fucks about your tactics or your cover. They will surround you, and beat you to death with their own flailing limbs. Perhaps most terrifyingly – certainly for me, as a commander – they are drawn to explosions. Which means that our primary method of crowd control – the heavy weapons gang – are severely limited. What’s the point of blowing up five of them, if ten more are drawn to the noise?

So that’s the situation. On the ground we have a mixed bag of experience. Half our troops are injured, or worn out, or on covert missions, so we’re running through our roster. Heading up the team is my companion, Aimee. She’s fast earned her callsign, and these days is known as ‘Solo’. With her is Alex ‘Valentine’, our pistol-toting sniper, Erin ‘Mad-Dog’, covered in their signature blast armour, and Ciaran O’Sullivan, a little less experienced than the rest. But he’s seen some thing. And last is Elena ‘Outrider’- deeply important for the mission, but always at arms length.

The city is still, the only sound the far-off gunfire of that turret; our target. It’s eerie. All around are figures, frozen like Pompei fossils. As we run past, some of them crumble to dust. We…don’t know what they are. Are they humans, preserved by some virulent plague? Are they Lost that simply expired? Or are they simply waiting, Lost-In-Progress. It’s still for now, but any minute, we’ll come across a Lost. And where one is, many more will be.

Valentine’s squadsight is a strength here. Since Outrider can scout ahead with reasonable safety, the streets leave a clear avenue for our sniper to take out stragglers before they can even engage. It won’t help us for long, but you take what you can get.

And here they come. A sprawl of five of them. It’s not too huge a threat, but the race against time means we can’t get bogged down. It’s a running battle.

Ciaran does us proud, taking point and mowing down four of them. The rest of the squad moves up, but in doing so rouses another six Lost from the right. Fine. Fuck, a stray shot sets a car alight, and when it blows – which it does – more Lost come pouring in. This is why they are terrifying. They never. stop. coming.

We persevere, and make good time. Outrider runs ahead to the VIP. It’s a mixed move. With VIP secure, we can start to escape. But now they’re not manning that turret (and with that car explosion) the Lost have become a horde. We gotta go, now. Outrider grabs the VIP’s unconcious escort and legs it, VIP in tow. The rest of us beat a fighting retreat – buying Outrider and the VIP enough time. More and more and more of them are pouring in, there are twenty or thirty of them now. As soon as the VIP and co are aboard the skyranger, we drop all pretense and leg it.

All fine. Really, it was a simple mission. Which is not the same as saying easy, or relaxing, or anything other than pant-wetting terrifying. Back to the mothership.

Back on board the ship, Ciaran earns his callsign – Jester. My other up-and-comers Alexander Carrington and Jamie Brewster return from a covert op, in tact, and with a scientist in tow. Good job guys.

Well I’m glad their morale is high. Because here’s my current ‘to-do’ list: infiltrate and investigate the blacksite facility, punch an ADVENT officer in the head with a device, make enough contacts across Europe and Africa to get to where we think the AVATAR facility is, destroy the AVATAR facility, uncover a seperate guarded facility, clean up the mothership, upgrade the mothership to something worth a damn, research weapons and armour for my squads, build a room to fabricate said weapons and armour, buy those weapons and armour, make local contacts worldwide, protect all those contacts, meet and get in good with all the other factions, interfere with The Chosen who keep running around and fucking up my day, actually find The Chosen, kill the Chosen. All of this with almost no money to my name, and a tactical AI that – whatever I am doing – is constantly reminding me there are at least six or seven things I’m not.

Let’s get to it. I sent out Erin ‘Mad-Dog’ and Nate Spencer to make contact with the third faction we’ve been hearing about. I start making contacts in the west US, while our scientists continue to research weaponry that we can’t afford or build. I want to focus on something else, but the breakthrough’s are just too valuable. Ach, jaysus, we’ve now got multiple things that need dealing with, but we can only rush to help one. I go hardline: I pick the one that gets us the most money. We need it.

Operation Swamp Wheel

This time it’s me (now known as ‘Deacon’), my mate Aimee ‘Solo’, Alex ‘Valentine’, Cee nee ‘Rhino’ Haines, and our fairweather friend, Outrider. I notice Rhino and Outrider have clicked, similar to me and Aimee. Maybe AI-creep was right.

It’s….huh. Okay. Well, it’s dramatic. There is sneaking. Sniping. Teamwork and camradarie. Solo goes to town with a machete, slicing up three enemies in a row (with help from Deacon). Rhino pins down annoying enemies with their supressive fire. Sectoids repeatedly try to mind control us, but instead send multiple squad members into a panic. Oh, and they have robots now. And yet, for all that…we do fine. No one even gets injured. We go in, take calculated risks, and this time, they pay off. I can feel myself screaming in my head ‘do not get confident, do not get confident’. I know it’s going to go wrong. I know it is. But…not today.

Back on board AI-creep says it’s time for me and Aimee to take it to the next level. We’ve been identified as being able to take on dual-training. It’s a command risk, since it means two of our highest ranking soldiers will be out of commision for a while (including me, the medic). But it’s worth it. I hope.

While we’re doing that, work continues on the ship – science and engineering are in overdrive, we’re flying all over the place to try and make friends and influence people. It was easier back in the old days of the initial invasion, everyone was on board. Now, however, people have lost hope. That, and we’re asking them to rebal against a monolithically powerful race of ruling overlords by joining…one man and his mothership, essentially.

The bulk of progress seems to currently be coming from the covert ops. Might have to invest in that some more. And I would, if I had the personpower or the the actual electric power. As it is my engineers are still frantically burrowing out space in the ship so we can actually, one day, build everything/anything. Our tech is progressing really quite well. It’s all useless – no mag weapons or supercool stuff for our gang yet. Everyone has normal bullets and, if they’re very lucky, a medkit.

Ops keep coming. My squad are starting to display – let’s just say it – acts of heroism. It’s like they have a light inside them that drives them. I honestly don’t understand it. I’m a goddamn coward. Erin ‘Mad-Dog’ literally runs through a burning building and goes to save civilians while they are on fire. Alex ‘Valentine’ is basically a precision Punisher – she guards the team from a afar, and then dashes in and goes hogwild with her oversized pistol. That six shooter currently holds the record on ‘most Lost blown away’. Jamie Brewster, one of our less experienced guys, cut apart an ADVENT trooper that blew itself up. He took it for the team, nearly dying in the process. I think the propaganda campaign is working. And it’s working most on the team itself.

And then it happens. A mutagen, an unexpected shapeshifter – we’re caught out of position. Our squad is scattered, running to save civilians. Jamie is in the open, and gets tagged. He runs for cover. But it’s not enough, the mutagen throws a grenade that critically injures Ciaran ‘Jester’. And Jamie is dead. Gone.

The mission starts to fall apart. Our Skirmisher ally – our rebel ADVENT – is crippled, close to death. Jester has no more heals. In the worst moment, we find that Alex ‘Valentine’ was Jamie’s bondmate as she flies into an emotional tornado, firing round after round ineffectually at the foe. First Mad-Dog is set on fire, then repeatedly shot at, before being poisoned. There are now more of them in good shape than there are of us. And we still have to stop them killing civilians. We pull through. Just about.

XCOM 2: War Of The Chosen

Alternative title: Will I actually keep at it this time?

So, once again I’m venturing into the breach. If you’re not interested in the setup/mechanics at play here, just skip past the italics to the actual Shit That Is Happening. For everyone else, with the drop of XCOM 2’s expansion happening today, I thought it was worth diving back in. And for a combination of fun, interest, and making myself write, I’m once again going to record how the game goes.

The setup is as follows: I will be playing XCOM 2 with all DLCs and expansions active. I will also have several cosmetic mods as and when they get updated for the expansion (because funsies). I will be playing on standard difficulty (which is to say ‘still really hard’) and most tellingly, Ironmode will be on. This means there are no takesy-backsies. Every action is permanant, good and bad. I can’t save-scum. And as before, my starting squad (and several other recruits) will be named and modelled after real life friends and allies. Why yes, I am going to project, thankyou for asking.

Lastly, this is my first playthrough with any of the new expanded content. Which, based on Fireaxis’ past record, will shake things up a lot. So, that’ll be fun to deal with.

If you want the backstory on how my previous efforts went, click relevantly:

Attempt number 1 – which ended because I realized I was too depressed and fragile to watch simulated versions of my friends die.

Attempt number 2 – part 1, part 2, part 3 – which started with me playing actually drunk for realsies, ended because I got so involved in describing what is a huge fucking game that I realised I’d have to write a frickin brickthick novel to capture the whole thing. Hopefully I will get *slightly* less involved this time. Or something.

Operation Gatecrasher

Like the clown says, here we are again. The first strike back. Our squad, picked at random from a pool of 13, is Erin Donovan, Aimee Toshney, Alex Greenwood, and Laurence Kirkby. That’s who we’ve been dealt. Let’s hope we all shape up.

Erin takes the first steps, scouting out ahead. They quickly find us a squad of ADVENT that have us at a height disadvantage. Erin hunkers down while the rest of us loop around, climbing up to the same level as our targets.

Ah shitAlex gets excited and takes an early potshot (read: I missclicked). She blows our cover, but immediately takes down the target. The updated Command UI lets me know she’s already earned a promotion, for this. I’m not quite sure I agree, but what do I know, I’ve been unconcious for 20 years and have only just been rescued.

Aimee seizes the moment and follows up, taking squaddie number 2 out. That just leaves one, who has run down towards Erin. I leverage my height advantage (like usual), but before I can capitalise on it, Erin runs headlong into the open and fires point blank range. I mean, it works, so there’s that. And everyone has earned a promotion except me. Not that I’m jealous.

Not knowing who else is out there, we set up a cautious ambush. This time it’s me who ventures ahead. Our plan works – I discover some ADVENT and they scatter, only for Aimee to take one of them out. On the other hand, I’m now dangerously forward from my team, and the ADVENT officer marks me, AND everyone is shooting exlusively at me. I cower behind a pillar, and somehow don’t die. I refuse to be the rookie redshirt!

Jaysus. Erin is our resident mutherfucker, as they run out front to flank not once, but twice more. The asshole officer shoots at me again, and once again my pillar is my friend.

With small aplomb we plant our explosives, and run away (but, heroically). A PR operative pulls us to one side as we leave. Apparently this is a new war, and it’s won with propaganda. We pause for a photo op.

It also becomes apparent that Aimee and Erin look creepily similar. Let’s hope I don’t get them confused at a critical juncture. Oh, it’s promotion time! Erin becomes our first heavy gunner, with grenade launcher and minigun. I am promoted to specialist – I get a drone friend. Alex is given a sniper rifle and a frickin desert eagle or something. Which means Aimee is our ranger – shotgun and machete.

We fly back to base, to start the day.

I get started on admin and y’know, running everything. Everyone else kicks back. This base needs a lot of work. I mean, it’s kind of sad really. We are in a literal flying fortress, with literal world-class scientists and engineers, and that’s…basically playing with Duplo, by comparison to what we need. We get started on searching for anything we can use – putting the word out for recruits, supplies, whatever. We get wind of an engineer who can help us out, and we are there like a shot. We need the workers.

Operation Knife Mask

AI still hasn’t mastered the art of naming things. Nice to see some thing haven’t changed. But our squad is ready.

We’re underground for this one. We need to hunt down and eliminate the ADVENT field commander, disrupting their organisation and getting our engineer out. It’s a new way of fighting. Everything is enclosed, lots of small vantages and box rooms. It’s claustraphobic. And despite our shiny new toys, we’re all painfully aware of how wet behind the ears we are. We play it cautious, always cautious.

We spot a patrol. Should we engage? If we do, we’ll have less foe to deal with, but they’ll know something’s up. Either way could fuck things up for us. Shit. I have to make the call.

We go in. I plant my drone on Aimee for protection and take the first shot. Between us we take the two of them out no problem, but as we feared – it’s raised the alarm. An evac is incoming, and between us we have to seek out the commander before he (she, it, they?) get a chance to escape.

Fuck. He’s running. Erin spotted him and managed to fire a grenade, but it didn’t slow him down. We persued. Flanking again, Erin maintained an overwatch, pinning the commander down. It’s a good move. But – fuck – a lowly trooper comes to help, and Erin twitchily focuses their gun on it (taking it out, which is something). But the commander is free to run. We run right after. A sectoid comes to help. Oh shit. We have to take it out before it fucks with us, but we can’t afford to not chase the commander either. We’re gonna have to split our attention. It’s rapidly decided. I (and my drone) protect Aimee while she gives chase – running directly into the commander’s overwatch, anything to keep it in our sights. Meanwhile Alex and Erin will focus on the sectoid. And I’ll go where I’m needed.

Fuck YES. It pays off. Aimee gives the line of sight needed for Alex to make a helluva shot – through the crumbled gap in a wall – and kills the commander in a single shot. We’ve still got the sectoid (and possibly others) to deal with, but it’s a huge pressure off us. Our team has some good cohesion.

It all goes manic. Another sectoid and trooper show up, flanking us. Some ballsy machete action takes out the original sectoid, and stops it’s recently reanimated corpse pupptert. But the second sectoid has us. It tries to take control of my mind. It tries to take control of my mindAnd I lose my shit. I panic. I run, hide, take a potshot at the sectoid and in a fit of karma, critically wound it. But it’s not enough, the lowly trooper comes in from the side, and Aimee is the first of us to take fire. She’s still standing. But she’s hurt. We’ve still got this, but it’s a reminder that we can never breathe easy. Okay, the sectoid is down now, thanks to Alex. I heal Aimee up. But fuck, that trooper. It dodges another overwatch, and Erin takes shots as well. This guy. This guy.

We take him out, and we’re gone.

It was a tougher mission, and we all know it’s early days. Aimee and Erin are on bedrest for 6 days each. Alex is getting worn out, she’ll need a break too. I seem to be faring better – quite probably because I’ve just been doing less fighting. Still, it’s not all bad. We’re bonding, as a team. Me and Aimee in particular seem to get along, and our (slightly creepy) AI has established that we have ‘high compatability’. Uhm. Moving on, in recognition of the work they’ve been doing, Alex, Erin and Aimee all earn themselves another promotion. I do not.

And it’s back to base. Until next log entry, goodnight.


God’s Teeth on repeat,
like Lover’s Kiss for Nietzsche’s kids
a shuffleboard of blending slurs and words
you hear but do not understand,
so awfully difficult, this life, all hip-cocked standing
rolling eyes and statements thumbed into your phone,
announcing we are not alone
into a cold uncaring server tower.
Who knows, it might not have effect but Holy Other’s curing this
overdramatic pride-malaise and jarr-

We pause. Stand. Take a breather. Move on to something cheerier.
It might cut through and not slide off like smiles did off of Quirrel’s core.
The Battle Magic nevermore.
A book you never helped to write,
and failed the final test.
Click next.
Settle down into your chair, allow it just to pour and take that slivered moment in.

And now we’re
thanking Lorde for synths and
Ribs and little hiding places
in the body you inhabit
when you cannot stand alone
again. So taking hours for time and
then we turn to Ornaments and
send a thought to all the happy
kin we haven’t spied and rarely
lend our days, or ears leaning to
bend and offer our condolenc
es for graven sermons losing
them until in black suits standing
penned we raise a half-filled glass in
memory, awash with marshy
glen and salt and our hallucino
gens, this is our life and they are gone

and we have wasting flesh to keep,
along with dust filled mattresses and Ivor Gurney losing Sleep.

What else is hung upon the head?
Your meat still breathes, we are not ____


Continuing this blog’s journey into self-referential recursive wankery, I thought I’d think about how I tend to make things (when I do).

Whether it’s a real thing, or a thing I have entirely self-constructed, or a halfway house between the two, the fact remains that almost anything I do manage to do, or half-do, or think about doing but not really-do, is usually a direct result of something I have just consumed. I don’t mean something that has boiled away in my head and been spun out in new ways (although that is technically true as well), I mean I experience something and immediately begin to conceive of my-version-of-that-thing. Often while that thing is still occurring. Hear rap music, immediately start writing raps. Read a sci-fi, immediately start visualizing a (different) sci-fi world.

Something that is interesting for me on a non-self note is that I have no idea how normal this is. Which is to say, what do other people do. I honestly don’t know. My empathy-circuits are imperfect, because they are not you, but simply my system running my imaginary version of you. It is twice imperfect. And even on the rough chance that I arrive at a situation where I can have this conversation externally, the same problem exists – imperfect communication, mirrored into imperfect receivers. You can try to communicate your version of perception to me, but the only way I can attempt to understand that, is by running it through my filters.

All of which wanders fairly far from my original point: I am a creative chameleon. At least in the short term. As an example, two days ago I listened to Frightened Rabbit’s new album Painting Of A Panic Attack. While I was listening – as I was hearing new music – I could feel my own brain spinning up lyrics. In an effort to not let such an event slip through my mental fingers (again), I started typing them into my phone.

Here’s the interesting point for me though. Those lyrics? They are, obviously, mine. But they unfixed melody they would go to? It’s Frightened-Rabbit-style. The mood evocated by those lyrics? Frightened-Rabbit-style. As long as that (brand new) song was playing, I could create something of my own. But as soon as the song finished, and the next track began, my thoughts fell to pieces. Stopping the track didn’t help. It was gone. So I settled back into this new album. Less than two minutes later, my phone was out again, new snippets of different songs appearing in my head.

And then there’s the rub. I know, I know that when I review these lyrics (if I manage to resist the impulse to immediately delete them in disgust, natch), I won’t remember how they go. That possible-melody? Gone. The mood? Gone. If I continue to review or work on them, it will be from scratch, sewing those lyrics into an entirely different song-canvas. I won’t remember anything about that thread of song, except the circumstances of it’s recording: it was made on a train, while listening to Frightened Rabbit.

A chameleon is one thing, and while it’s something that irritates me (often because I don’t know how irritated I should be about it), it is a thing I can accept as potentially useful. A chameleon with a lobotomy is quite another.

That Most Mystical Process

I have often wondered about my own ability to create. I don’t mean that in a starry-eyed ‘whooah’ kind of way, I mean in terms of pragmatism. The question, such as it is wordlessly framed, is usually along the lines of “how do I make myself create?” There may well be layers and flavours of subtext wrapped up in this question, which will change based on the mental equivalent of inflection. How do I make myself create [2000 words]. How do I make myself create [for fucks sakes]. And so on. But the overriding tone is usually one that likes to think of practicality.

I am, for example, deeply skeptical – often to the extent of derision – about self-help books. Not because I don’t believe there aren’t any such books worth your time/money, but because I believe that the overwhelming majority aren’t. If everything you eat tastes like shit, then how long before you expect the next one to taste like that too? I know full well that informed-common-wisdom preaches that we shouldn’t make assumptions. And there is value in that. But of course we always will, and those assumptions do actually serve a purpose: they’re usually right. Most books that identify as ‘self-help’ are no such thing. They are shit.

The relevance here is that, unless I actively combat it, I tend to discard the ephemeral in favour of absolute criteria. Those criteria will change from day to day/moment to moment, but they will be – while they exist – concrete. If such and such is x, I will achieve y, where y is creation. The thing is, I know this is lunacy, at least as a definite. You cannot set condition x and know that y will emerge. I’m playing a game of odds with myself right from the off. But it would be equally absurd to say that certain circumstances don’t have effects on output. And so the game continues. If I can do x, y will come. The cargo cult of creation.

The only reason these words exist is that, in a fit of terminal boredom and idle vanity, I checked this site. Only to find a post I wasn’t expecting – Drunk. I was surprised, expecting empty space, and finding a new object. After a milisecond of thought, of course I remembered the post. Not the details of it. Not even the content or general drift. But the fact that it exists, and I had written it. It would be most accurate to say I remembered writing it, but did not remember remembering to remember having written it. There were no conscious ‘I did this’ markers, only the experiential detritus that are left by…well, doing something. And as noted on previous occasions, this is something I am bad at recalling. Even now, I remember that this is true only because I remember deliberately trying to remember that this is a thing that is true. And I wonder why my thoughts seem self-looping sometimes.

And so the problem remains; how do I make myself create? Thus far, the most successful things I’ve found is alcohol (apparently), which seems like a reasonably poor crutch.

All of this, of course, works under the sprawling umbrella of my own absent-mindedness. This chronic forgetting-of-event/emotion/drive is now emerging as ‘a thing’ so often that I’m beginning to wonder if it’s more severe/affecting than anyone has noticed. Of course, the only reason I remember this is through repetition; I have consciously questioned it often enough, that I am beginning to remember that I have done so before. Wait, didn’t I just do this?