[Preface: So this was written round-about the start of September, I think. I didn’t date this one, but from the surrounding dates, it sounds reasonable. While it is undoubtedly diary-style, I think it’s worth putting here. Partially because it’s a damn sight more coherant that much of my private-style writing, and partially because I no longer work in this job. After 8 months of pretty much daily scream-worthy frustration and beauracratic fuckery, I got fired. This post therefore, marks a very nice snapshot into why this job was the passive-aggressive pressure cooker that it was.]

As those (un)lucky few who both personally know me and read some of the things I write will know, I’m not much for consistancy.

You’ve almost certainly come across ‘the zone’. Flow is just another, rather more zen-like term for that. It’s a state of active immersion. I use the word active there because plain ol’ immersion can be a very passive thing. If I watch a film, and it’s a good film, and I’m paying attention, then I may well be fully immersed in the events on screen. But I don’t actually interact with them. They happen, and I pay attention. To be ‘in the zone’ has to mean there is some chance for you to have meaningful input.

Let’s paint an example. At the place I work, every morning there is a 15 minute morning meeting. For some horribly corporate reason it’s referred to as a ‘huddle’. Why is that horribly corporate? Well because you’re not allowed to call it anything except ‘the huddle’. It’s one of those things you come across quite frequently, where someone – very soullessly – tries to force something to have soul. Like a 50 year old middle manager trying do a fun, 30 page presentation to The Board on ‘how to be down with the kids’. With clipart. I’d laugh, if it wasn’t for the fact that this kind of thing, very obviously, happens all the time. But hey. We have this huddle.

This huddle follows the same formula. I don’t think it’s a corporate-mandated formula, although I don’t know for certain, but in my branch, there is this formula. First, 3-4 minutes will be filled with stupid small talk. Sometimes it’s someone’s wedding. Usually it’s the traffic. Importantly, only half of the room will actively participate in this, because only half the room is allowed to. So, inevitably, the three male members of the room stand in silence, waiting for it to finish (very importantly, we still have to be there, and in fact we will be called over from our actually-job-necessary morning tasks if it’s past 9 o clock.) The huddle doesn’t start until all are present. And then 3-4 minutes are wasted. Very importantly at this point I will interject that the small talk does not happen inherently because the people doing it are women, and the small talk is not inherently passive for the men just because they are men. This is the dynamic of my branch – a branch in which the three males are all under thirty, the three most senior females are over forty five. This is how it is here.

In what stands as a microcosm for the entire huddle experience, and the branch experience above that, we still have to pay attention during this time. We can’t tune out. At any time, a question might be thrown my way – and if I don’t answer suitably, then my lack-of-attention-about-the-fucking-traffic-for-the-fourth-time-this-week will be taken as rudeness. I will be publicly shown to be someone who just doesn’t care about the branch, and by extension, my job. This is not an exaggeration, this is a thing that has been said. So I stand, rooted in my purgatory. Eventually, after all stars have gone out, after all beings have breathed their last, and the universe itself has folded down to rest, the small talk finishes.

Then our advisor will be given the stage. She inevitably says one of two things. Option A: I’m having a good week, so I need you guys to do it more for me. Or more often option B: I’m not having such a good week, so you guys really need to do more for me.

Some background at this point. The branch advisor is a slightly odd position. They take care of a lot of the more nuanced and time consuming things. If you’ve ever had an appointment in a bank, chances are the first one you had was with an advisor. Now, their job is different from mine. They get some different training, and probably a slightly higher pay. But importantly, their job is not senior to mine. I can’t do their job, it’s true, but they can’t do mine. I can’t open a new account (at least, not correctly according to legal standards), they can’t get £10,000 in cash for customers. But there is a degree of interdependency. Obviously, I see a lot of customers. Obviously then, people wanting appointments will often come to me. So I will book them in with the advisor. Actually there isn’t a degree of interdependency. When I think about it, anything that I need the advisor for (usually some more specific nuance of what-is-allowed) is only actually done in order that I might book the customer in to see the advisor. So I help them. And they help me to help them.

But the advisor relies on me and my colleagues – at least in our branch. As I mentioned before, I have never worked in another branch. I have no context. So it was several months before I met staff from other branches, and got to really talk to them. And one of the biggest things I found? It’s not my fucking job to book appointments. Well, it is, but only for my benefit. I book appointments in order to ‘help customers’. It is not my job to book appointments because our advisor’s diary is empty. Because it’s her damn job to fill her diary. Her job literally is her diary. If she has nothing booked in, she can’t do her job (or more accurately, can’t get her stats up).

All of the above background is actually important, because now you might understand why both option A and B (remember those?) are fundamentally wrong. Option A would be good, if the bottom line wasn’t ‘because I need you guys to make me look good’. Option B would be okay if there was some form of interaction. Give and take. Something.

But there isn’t. As I realised above, the reason the oft paraded ‘give’ of asking-for-help has always felt so hollow from our advisor is that it isn’t what it appears to be. I’m not doing it to help me, and nor is she.

All of the above comes with one huge caveat: regardless of if it’s option A or option B being said, it will take ten minutes. Ten minutes. Every day. Of the same, entirely self interested thing. Being said to me by someone who isn’t my boss, but who is given the power to act like it by my boss. My manager genuinely seems to think this 10 minutes of time is useful. More than that, she thinks it is ‘good for the team’.

So we’re 14 minutes into our morning huddle. 1 minute left. What’s to take care of? Oh right: All the security/audit questions, all the internal business news updates, all the special notifications that might be happening in branch that day, all product updates, all service updates, any suggestions/thoughts staff might have to help the branch, and pretty much anything else that needs to be covered.

And that is my morning huddle. Every day.

Now, I haven’t worked in my job for all that long, only six months or so. I’ve never worked in an environment like it. And I’ve never worked in any other branch. So my experience of these morning meetings is extremely limited; I have no context, aside from my own general-worldly experiences. I say this because I’m willing to believe that it’s possible for these huddles to be useful. Hell, I’ll concede they could sometimes even be good. But during the last six months I have sat there every day, mug of tea in hand, trying to pay attention to information I’ve heard before and will hear again, and I have proceeded to lose a sliver of my soul and a shaving of my patience.

My point being (eventually) that those morning huddles, they are not actively immersive. For me, they literally cannot be. I have to pay attention at all times – because you never know if a fragment of something very important is going to be thrown in with the swill (this happens about once a month, but the important thing is often very important in order for me to do my job). So my attention needs to be right there, in the room. But I can’t do anything. Anything I say will be ignored, mitigated, explained away, or otherwise sidelined in some way. This is demonstrably true. In a horribly self-feeding loop of pure idiocy, I have already established myself as someone who ‘speaks up’ – something I am constantly told to do. During my time in the job, one of the most consistent observations/criticisms I get is that I don’t ask enough questions (this being the main way I am supposed to learn my job. Six days of basic training, and then ask questions. Oh, did I mention the place I work is in a bank?) So I am constantly told to ask more questions. But if ever I have a suggestion (i.e. an interaction that is not purely passive) then I am marked as trouble. Not openly of course (oh no, that would be unprofessional). Instead, I will get a response. Just not a relevant one. Here is an example:

Manager: …and so we will all be out front in the hall, greeting customers.

Me: Okay, that sounds good. I can see what the bank is going for here, I think it could be really good. One thing though – and I’m really not being negative here Manager, I just think it’s something to think about – if we’re all out front, and having to walk back and forth through the security airlock, is it possible there might be delays? Because if someone is coming out, no one can go in and so on. I’m just wondering what we might be able to do about that.

Manager: (immediately) So it’s really important that we’re not just negative about this, and throwing up problems and saying we’re not going to do it, we have to give it a go.

Me: (slight pause) Okay Manager, I’m not saying I’m not going to do it. I’m absolutely going to do it. But I thought it was worth pointing out as something to consider, otherwise when we do it, if this happens, it’ll cause quite a lot of confusion and stress for us – in front of the customers.

Manager: Okay, but bear in mind it’s really important that we’re not just negative about this, and throwing up problems and saying we’re not going to do it, we have to give it a go. We all have to pitch in on this, and do our best.

Me: (genuinely a bit dumbstruck, although fuck knows why, I should be used to this) Yes, I get that, I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it. What I’m saying, maybe, is that this could be a problem, and you know how busy we get, so my worry is that if this happens, it’s gonna cause fairly big delays, and it’s gonna make us even more stressed. So I was just wondering if we could think about it in the next couple of days, maybe come up with a solution? Then we can avoid any problems. D’you get what I mean?

Manager: (slight pause) Well if it happens we’ll just have to deal with it as it comes up – so moving on…

The above is not overly-dramatised by the way. That is a genuine interaction that happened, and near verbatim. This is what happens when I try to be not passive.

Untitled #1

[Preface: so this was apparently written on 25/09/16. I remember nothing about that particular day, or for that matter, that week as a whole. It was…a week that happened. Probably. But on reading, I do remember writing this. It was a direct effort to uncensor my own expectation. (In short, my base state is that I dislike writing badly so much, that I write nothing. I am aware this is entirely stupid, and counterproductive). So this entire thing was written almost as stream-of-conciousness-fiction. An attempt to conjure up a snippet of…something, developing it as it came, without editing or allowing my own sense of ‘norm’. Much like trying to sprint with numb legs – you technically know how to do it, but you have limited sensory feedback so you aim yourself forward and hope that if you just tank that fucker, you’ll manage to constantly collapse yourself forward without actually going over.

Looking back, it went pretty well.

As a technical note, I wrote the entire thing with my eyes closed, and then went back an spell-corrected it (which was pretty hard to do without actually reading/understanding what I was correcting. On the whole I managed it. For your enjoyement (possibly), the last few paragraphs are written as they originally were, with a translation beneath.]

rutting rotting triptych of agony and noise that takes and gives nothing to no one and leaves all that is gone where it is, nothing but chocolate and lemon acid dripped on the tongue, bleeding through the gums and lungs until the air is all encompassing noise and mist, left sitting alone in the clouds you exhale. The tyrant rules on high atop the hills of bone and crushed cars, the forges neverending in their hunger and rage. We sit in the foothills and wait for judgement, or blessing. The saints walk among us and give communion. The rust is gritty between my teeth, the oil is choking. We accept this gracefully, as we should. The lone madwoman stands a the cliff, keeping her council, refusing her evening rust. She wears no clothes but the jagged chains she has fashioned. She does not sleep. Merely gazes at the imaginary speck that could be the tyrant on high.. Night falls. The howling begins and we take our turns. A mockery of pain to end the day, it pleases the tyrant, we are told. In the pitch of night, a tremor is felt. The tyrant is coming. The madwoman is gone, and no one saw her depart. Her chains remain, half fused to the panels and rooftops she stood upon. Her defiance has been tamed, the saints say. I do not sleep again.

The ground is shifting. Not the tremor of the tyrant, no cause for celebration this. A deep shifting. Like glass, piled into a a heap like the children do, but on a slope of slow collapse. The sound grows and is unbearable. The screech reaches into the stomach and spleen and tears them apart, constricting them open and shut and open again. It does away. Something is wrong. The saints say all is well. In a quiet moment I see one waste water from their eyes, and she does not pick it up. I am afraid. The saints are uncertain. And we cannot see the tyrant.

The howl is slow at dusk.not a thing of terror and pain as should be, but uncertain. Frail. Old. We dp pir dity/ Bit we cammpt see tjetyramt/ Je wo;; retirm. Saomts sau. Je wo;; retirm/ O s;ee[ bad;y. Amd we;;/ Dee[ om the [otcj O cam sto;; taste the po; om ,y tjrpat. Ot tastes pf berroes amd ;eaf/ Pf salt amd old stone. I must be asleep. But drea,inmg os not a time for fancy, there is work to be done.

In the night, the ground tears again. We cling together, subsumed by the wash and wail. The floor tils and is gone. Or no. It is there, and we are no longer. O awale om the ,prmomg, face presed to the steel of mmy favourite chevrolet. The hills are different / Tje eartj jas ,pved/ A cru goes uup, the tyrant is there! The imagined speck of half-sight is againamong us. To the est now. A new throne! The saints are excstatinc.

End.

[The howl is slow at dusk not a thing of terror and pain as should be, but uncertain. Frail. Old. We do our duty. But we cannot see the tyrant. He will return, saints say. He will return. I sleep badly. And well. Deep in the pitch I can still taste the oil on my tongue. It tastes of berries and lead. Of salt and old stone. I must be asleep. But dreaming is not a time for fancy, there is work to be done.

In the night, the ground tears again. We cling together, subsumed by the wash and wail. The floor tilts and is gone. Or no. It is there, and we are no longer. I awake in the morning, face pressed to the steel of my favourite Chevrolet. The hills are different. The earth has moved. A cry goes up, the tyrant is there! The imagined speck of half-sight is again among us. To the east now. A new throne! The saints are ecstatic.]

Distance

Writing (kind of) about distance a few days ago, along with reformatting how I write for myself, seems to have done a fair amount for my ability to read my own words. Which is to say that, for the first time in about a year, I’ve actually done so (yeah, it’s kind of weird).

Digging through your old self is alway interesting, if slightly horrible. Doing so in public eye is significantly more horrible. But it is unarguably fascinating as an experience. It’s a constant re-remembering of previous action, often with a pastel-washed glimpse of a previous state of mind. In many cases it turns out I don’t really remember writing what I wrote, or rather I do, but I /only/ remember that I wrote it. Not why. It’s like amateur archeology; see these walls, buried for…about two weeks…what were these half-broken items used for? We’ve restored them here, but can still only ponder the intricacies of this long forgotten culture.

But in the interests of airing my brain out, I thought it might be worth trying to see if there is anything with (external) value. Which is to say, anything that I’m willing to share. The self-referential diary-rants are less likely to be considered so. Unless I feel like it. It has occurred to me several times that I embed by doing, so reading this stuff (and consequently posting some of it, maybe, possibly, you don’t know) is essentially an excersize in rememberance. So this is essentially me doing things here, publically, in order to help me, personally.

I said it was weird, right?

Challenge

Apparently it’s been a month since I wrote Twitch. (Incidentally, as with many things I’ve written, they only have titles because the page format offers me a place to put one, and/or because I borderline-obsessively title everything in my head. So often not for any externally good reason). In a deep attempt to not go off the deep end of introspection, I’ll resist the urge to simply write about how when I came to this page I was intending to write something else, then WordPress informed me that it had been a month since I wrote Twitch, so I wrote about that instead.

…Yeah, you get the idea.

So my initial premise here was the phrase ‘challenge accepted’. It’s a little bell that rings in my head whenever I read something A: good in some way, written by someone I personally care about, or B: when something meh is written by someone I don’t personally care about. And at some other times too, but mainly from the above A and B. I count myself as exceptionally fortunate to have many of the friends/associates that I do. And not for the normal oh-they-are-so-nice reasons that people typically trot out here. Those things are certainly true, and important, but not what I care about here. I count myself as fortunate because I am oft surrounded by people who do things. As in, things they actually want to do. Like writing. Or painting. Or accounting. That last one isn’t a joke by the way. The reason these things affect me is that, on the overwhelming whole this doesn’t appear to be true. Most people (meaning the generalised populace of England) don’t appear to do shit all that they want, as an actual pursuit. I’m really not slagging off English people (or people as a whole), but this really does seem to be how it is. I’ve worked a number of jobs, and many of them have been (in some capacity) customer service. And the overwhelming majority of people I’ve worked for and alongside, as well as the overwhelming majority of people I’ve served, all appear to do shit all that they actually want.

As part of writing this, I’ve actively tried to think back over the last 3-4 years of my life, and the jobs I’ve held. The list reads: Call centre, data analyst, admin, repairperson, bank cashier. That’s five distinct jobs. Four of which worked heavily with colleagues, or customers, or both. I literally cannot think of a single person, at any of those places of employment, who was doing something they wanted – inside work or out. There are two cases that might come halfway to this, but in both cases they fall short of the mark.

The first is a data analyst who was working towards a postgrad in councilling. But unfortunately they fail, on the simple basis that I have never, ever seen them actually connect with anyone. Ever. They appear to want to be a councillor for just that, appearance. Respectability and a career in helping people, all quite possibly without…actually wanting to help people? It’s entirely possible I’m being horribly unfair, and they have a heart, and I’m being a total prick. BUT. This is honestly how they appear to be.

The second is actually a number of people, from the repair job. There was an entire team of around six or seven. And they liked their jobs. But it was still just a job to them. No one was fulfilling any deep desires. It was just…an okay job. I was insanely envious of these guys at the time, and still kind of am, which tells you how low the bar really is. I was envious of this group of people because they didn’t mind their jobs. Most of them worked there because they fell into the job one way or another. And then the company was…okay (i.e. not actively dickish), and their management was…okay (i.e. rarely actively dickish), and their immediate supervisor was a fucking boss. She got shit done. She cared about her team. She looked out for her team, and they in turn looked out for her.

But I’m being specific here, I’m talking about people doing something they want to do. Not ambivilance, active desire. I think I know a reason for this. And here some people might start to roll their eyes a little, but do me a favour and reserve your finger-twirl-at-temple gestures for just one moment. I think it’s because our culture actively punishes people who do do things they want. The twin chains that are the fetishisation of work (any work) and the massive rise in consumerism leads to a state of affairs where if you don’t have a job (by which I mean a 9-to-5-working-for-a-company job) then you are derided as being either feckless, lazy, arrogant, or stupid. The very best you can hope for if you work in a non-standard job is that people will politely applaud, and then skeptically ask you what your real job is. Failing that, people will regard you as slightly odd. “Oh, you’re a theoretical mathmatician, that sounds…interesting.”

I’m fucking calling it now, anyone who says “…interesting” in that certain tone (you know the one) needs to shut the fuck up forever. Or at least just be honest and say what they mean, which is always some variation on “that doesn’t sound very good, but I don’t want to be impolite.” Except of course you already are. If I look around and drop my voice before saying a racial slur, it doesn’t mean I’m being more polite, it just means I don’t want people to call me on it.

Where the fuck was I?

The alternate line that runs in my head, and also contestor for title slot, is ‘Grit teeth. Head down. Go.’ This being the other, slightly more combative line that pings in my head at these times.

Jumbled up with my original point (somewhere, remember that?) is the other central point – who am I writing for? It’s actually a fairly big thing to try and pick apart, and worthy of it’s own space to examine (e.g. another post sometime). But for now, simply know that it’s there.

Nope. No title today.

Aahhhh, remember the good old days, when this blog was young and carefree, writing about shitty board games one day, and half-finished religious journeys the next? When I could post what I liked, feeling no pressure either internal or external. When I stood tall and proud in my tiny tiny tiny tiny corner of the internet, a king among mere data dust motes.

No?

Yeah neither to do I. It’s never happened. I’ve always felt like a nervous wreck, piloting myself through life like a drunk sheep who’s been strapped into a car seat. And the worst part is I’m not even drunk very often. Although I can at least drive. (Just don’t have a car).

Distance is rapidly becoming one of the most useful tools I have at my disposal. While I will inevitably think of whatever I’m doing right now as a pile of horse shit tied together with rubber bands, after a few days/weeks/months/years (insert as appropriate) I now actually get to a point where I can see things that I have previously done as having worth. My internal standards are still outlandishly high, and I will still very much focus on the things I do (or percieve myself to do) wrong. But I can acknowledge that there is worth present. A comparatively rare phenomenon for me.

(As a side note, it’s thought processes like this which comfortingly convince me that I’m not still secretly suicidal (and yes, that is a fear that I repeatedly have). Because the idea of distance being a positive is something I would not have comprehended just a year or so ago.)

((That said, my head feels like it would be a strange palace for someone else to be in. Like Escher drawn by Charles-August Mengin in his Sappho days, while suffering from incipient blackouts. But even so. There is the potential for optimism. (The fact that it’s rare, and growing in the mental garden equivalent of a concrete tower block build in soviet era Russia is a sidenote, of course.)))

(((My partner and I have joked before about what would happen if we swapped brains. Which is to say, what if we retained our own personalities, our own memories and so on, but swapped how we percieve the world. (Yes I’m well aware this is not a thing that could ever happen, that’s why you’ll have to use the power of imagination). The thing is, even with my fairly high levels of empathy, I literally cannot concieve of what that would be like. I have no way of routing what that would be like, even in the broadest generalities. It remains a mystery. If you ever feel like twisting your own mind into knots for twenty minutes or so, I highly recommend trying to imagine a similar thing, but with someone you know.)))

…where the fuck was I? Oh yes, distance. As an experience I think it’s something worth actively fostering, this slight seperation of ‘this is how it feels to do something’ and ‘this is how it feels to view the thing I did’. They are always going to be related, but it strikes me as particularly valuable for a person who is essentially unable to get to the point of ‘this is how if feels to do something’, by virtue of simply never doing it.

And yes, dear potential audience, I’m aware that this post may come across as egotistical, or convoluted, or cyclical, or complete batty banana bread. And that’s…kind of the point.

I want this blog to have worth; I want it to meet my outlandishly high standards. But the entire point of starting this blog was to encourage myself to write, and somewhere along the way the weight of my own expectations and the passive expectations of having a blog-of-quality have simply caused me to…stop writing. Pretty much in totality. Don’t get me wrong, writing has always been a horrible, self-flagellating, miserable, teeth-gritting-fuck-you kind of experience for me (which is not to say I don’t like doing it/having done it), but there is a difference between that, and doing nothing. So I am actively trying to return to my less considered, whimsical, fuck you kind of writing, in the hope that it will foster the ability to do some actual serious writing in future.

(I’m not sure how I’ll seperate the two if/when that happens, and yes, I still feel bad that my friend bought me a domain name last christmas and I simply haven’t had the grit to use it yet.)

All in all, fuck Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, and most of the fucking planet.

And cheers to Contrapoint.

Twitch

Just now, less than 60 seconds ago, I decided to start writing this with the solid intention that I would post it, regardless of it’s state.

Less than 30 seconds ago one of the neighbourhood dogs began to bark. This happens every couple of days. The dog will bark and bark and bark,  WHRUA WHURA then a break of maybe a second, then a quickfire WRU WRU WRU. A further second. WHRUA WHRUA again. This goes on for hours.

In the space of time it has taken me to write this – maybe 90 seconds, maybe less, my intention has gone. Evaporated. My space has been invaded, my inner resolution breached. I’m on edge. I can feel the tension in my shoulders. My spine. It’s a running joke-not-joke with my partner that my shoulders are ridiculous. Even when I’m calm, relaxed, comfortable, my shoulders still feel like they’re halfway to breaking. Now? They feel like elastic ropes, bungee cords at full extension. Without melodrama, this is how I live. All the time. A bag of constant switchbacks and flickers.

Halfway through writing the word “shoulders” above, I’ve turned on my speakers to drown it out. This week’s blanket of choice is Detox from Skepta’s recent album Konichiwa. It’s not loud enough, I can still hear things. But I will never turn up my speakers any more because then I know that parts of my music would be audible through the walls and floors of my flat – and I would be inflicting my noise on my neighbours, which is something that I am constantly conscious of.

I’ve gone and got my iPod now. The same track, just plugged directly into my ears. When I click play, the song is already playing – I’ve been using this track a lot this week. I don’t even love it that much. It’s good, but not that good to me. But it inhabits just the right headspace and feeling (in tone, not in lyric). In addition the bass-booster in my headphones brings out a particular bass loop that grinds out across the track, and it feels like the aural equivalent of tying a black bag over my head. (In a good way, if that wasn’t clear.)

It’s been five minutes since I opened the browser. Maybe ten? I’m trying not to look at the clock, or I’ll start to time-track again. I can feel myself getting frustrated because I’ve already forgotten what I wanted to do when I first started writing – I was typing the words in my head as I sat down, but by the time my fingers hit the keyboard my thoughts had moved. And I can’t stop typing, or won’t start again. I’m trying not to edit this. I’m trying not to sound melodramatic. I’m also trying to not get into self-looping trains of doubt, and I’m aware that by typing these words, I may be failing.

I’ve remembered what prompted this post now. I was halfway through reading Paul Dean’s On Poverty . when it blurred over into this. I suck at writing. Which is to say, I suck at doing the writing. In terms of quality, I think there’s some value to what I’ve written – some value for me, some value for others. My issue isn’t with that, it’s with the act of writing. A couple of years ago (which in itself is horrible to write: it’s been two years, what the fuck have I done with that?) I started forcing myself to write. It was prompted by reading a section of Terry Pratchett’s Slip Of The Keyboard. A book I have yet to actually finish. Somewhere along the way I started this blog. I’ve no idea when – and I don’t want to stop writing this to go and check, in case I can’t hold onto the will to write in the mean time.

So, started writing. Then started posting some of that. Then someone actually read some of that – something I’d never considered the ramifications of. Skip forward, and I’ve actually written some things that people I don’t know have read. Skip again, and now I’ve done something legitimate – which is to say something I got paid for. I’ve written an article. For a website and everything.

Without decoding all of the above, without unpacking and explaining all of it, I can’t tell how understandable it is, how communicable my message is. I know what I mean, but getting it across to someone else is hard. Even though this isn’t being directly written for anyone else. Let’s rephrase – I know there is a message, a feeling – I know it’s there, because I’m the one feeling it, thinking it. But pinning it down in language, in any kind of fixed structure, is hard. Like trying to grab snakes in oil.

My initial thought today was to try and hammer out A: that I suck at writing consistently. There may have been a B.

And as ever, starting is (comparatively) easy. Wrapping it up, making it meaningful is hard.

X-COM 2 Diaries: Don’t Panic

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30th April

Well that was all rather dramatic. Still, we solved a mystery, I learned BradFORD’s name (remember it, remember it!), and we killed snake royalty. I think perhaps more worrying were the allusions to other enhanced aliens. I do not want to run into a super-sectoid. Bradford still isn’t talking to me.

2nd May – Operation Holy Pyre

It’s VIP capturing time. We can kill or capture, the squad’s choice. The squad flies down, Baron included. It was a real toss up whether to send him or not. He’s riddled with holes and still has some snake-slime on him, but he’s just too useful to not bring along. I wonder if I’d be as willing to take the risk if he was actually human and not, y’know, a big bunch of circuitry with weapons attached. Almost certainly not. Oh well.

It’s a standard mission. Sneak sneak, scout. A couple of skirmishes are handled with no real panic. We keep Baron on the backline, providing fire support for a change. We spot the VIP, and Ghost uses her flair for ballsy stealth to give us the lay of the land, while everyone else positions themselves just out of contact range on the roof of the building which is – rather conveniently – right next to where the VIP is hanging out.

It’s a thing of tactical beauty. Ghost breaks from cover and dashes the whole twelve feet before clonking the VIP unconscious (with remarkable restraint). The rest of the aliens scatter, but my lot on the rooftops are perfectly placed to skydive down and blown each and every one of them away. Well done.

Now to get out. We have an evac spot lined up, and in the interests of time Ghost hauls the VIP over her shoulder and starts moving. The evac is just over a crossroads, and all we have to do is dash there (with reasonable caution). It’s almost certain there are still some aliens lurking around, and the ever present chance of reinforcements dropping in as well.

Everyone sticks to the nearest wall and makes their way along. The evac point is in sight – but just a little too far to make a break for it. As she’s the one with the package, Ghost crosses the road first.

Oh shit.

Oh. SHIT.

As soon as Ghost starts to move across the road, she’s spotted. An entire alien squad was hiding round the corner, just out of sight. But that is NOTHING compared to the pant-wetting terror of what is with them.

The Berserker Queen. We’ve heard reports of berserkers, but we’ve not encountered any ourselves. Just our luck we run into the most dangerous, genetically fucked up one on the planet. Thanks mad scientists, thanks a fucking heap.

I don’t know what to do. Ghost is crouched behind a bin, caught in the headlights of every single enemy. She can’t reach the extraction point. And I know that as soon as any of my team try to do anything, that queen will come steamrolling in. I have no idea what it would do next, but I know it would be bad.

Ghost makes a hitherto unheard of move: she retreats. Dragging the VIP with her, she makes a dash away from the evacuation point, back to higher cover and the rest of the team. The Queen immediately gives chase. Bellowing loud enough to break eardrums, she thuds around the corner into full view of the team. Thank fuck the squad aren’t as reckless as they might seem. Enough of them had the foresight to prepare for the unexpected, and as the Queen bulldozes round the corner – taking out the side of the building as she comes – three of the squad unload into its ridiculously thick hide.

It doesn’t seem to do much except piss it off. We have just enough time to notice that the Queen appears to have fifty-pound knuckledusters attached to its hands before she slams them into the ground like the fist of a doomsday god. A shockwave smashes every window within 100 meters as the entire squad is knocked off their feet. Some are disoriented, some are simply swearing very loudly. Everyone is scared, and everyone is hurt.

But Dynamite is no fool and immediately responds by freezing its giant, horrifying ass with her cryo grenade. It doesn’t do anything to get rid of the problem, but it buys us a tiny window of time. There’s no time for safety any more, so Baron steps up and fires a rocket directly into the Queen’s face. Ghost flings a desperate axe, and Slinger makes a panicked, if easy, headshot on the thing. Our respite is over, as the Queen breaks free of the ice. Not only that, but the rest of the alien squad has now had time to react as well (don’t forget, all of this has happened in about three seconds)

Thankfully, Ghost’s choice to run away was the right one. The alien squad is just too far from us to make it round the corner. They’re coming, but it’s another few seconds of grace.

It doesn’t save us from the main problem, which is, y’know, the 10 foot enraged alien monstrosity that is right in fucking front of us. Everyone tenses for the inevitable murder spree…

…which doesn’t happen. Instead of slaughtering us wholesale, the Queen opens up some kind of…portal? A purple psionic gateway is summoned into existence. Is she…trying to escape? I think she is. We try to get off a shot or two, but the Queen just smashes through our cover and vanishes into the purple maw.

Huh.

The squad picks itself up – there are still some normal scary aliens to deal with. The following battle feels pale, washed out. Our people are shellshocked and hurt, but they know how to deal with these enemies. Our guys dodge, hide, cover and fire. The squad make a firing retreat as they do so, making our way towards the evac point – which has been so tantalizingly in sight this whole time. As soon as it’s within dashing distance, there’s a group scramble to grab the ropes and run.

Whew. How prophetic that operation name turned out to be. Truly, that was akin to being tied to a stake on a flaming bonfire. Except the fire is bullets. And the stake is a horrifying mutant of deity-like strength. As a kicker, all of those back at the base don’t even get to see what the Queen looks like. Turns out we were literally too terrified to capture any images of it.

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2nd May (still)

I need to breath. I need to sleep. I need this to not be happening. Everyone steps off the skyranger and limps to medbay (or the repair shop). Except for me. I don’t get clean sheets and grapes, no, I get rushed to the command room to find out the Advent calender is at EIGHT. Did you forget about the countdown? Because I did. EIGHT, out of twelve. 66% of the way to being dead. More than that, there are two Advent bases in operation around the globe, and we don’t have enough local resources to find either of them, let alone take them out.

Suddenly all of that money I poured into outfitting my squad with stuff to help them not die seems foolishly spent. The secret plan I’ve been working towards for the last month might have killed us.

4th May – Operation Bone Mask

This is starting to go bad. The aliens have found another of our resistance cells and we need to save it. But most of our troops are out of action. Baron hasn’t been fully repaired since we got hold of him. I’m sending in a squad which includes raw recruits – troops who can just about carry a gun. Fuck it, while she’s not nearly as ready as I would’ve liked, I need to send in the weapon I’ve been training up in secret.

I need Jemima Palfreyman.

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I selected Jemima on the day the revolution began, as the one who showed the most potential for mental control. Non of the other troops even knew she was on board. She’s spent our entire time in seclusion – not out of cruelty, but to preserve the safety of everyone on board. A fortnight ago, I finally managed to build the psi-ops centre I’ve been working towards since the start. Since then, she’s been in training 24 hours a day. It seems to have worked. She’s gone from a raw recruit to something…else. She also appears to have grown a foot taller. Not even kidding, when I recruited her, she was a shortarse. Now she’s every bit as tall as me.

We fly the troops down. Angel, Jemima, Baron, and three unknown recruits. I don’t even know their names.

What follows is one of the strangest missions we’ve ever run. Three of our group are on a pure rescue mission. It’s harsh, but we need to calm and save these civilians – if we don’t, they might leave the resistance, and right now, that makes them more valuable than the three cannon fodder troops we’ve jetted down. Meanwhile, Angel and Jemima are teaming up to take out threats, and Baron is charging off on his own. He’s bulletproof enough to (probably) survive at least one surprise, and his weapon is the biggest one we own.

It…works. The entire mission is a surreal wash of fire and bullets. In the attack, the aliens have set nearly everything on fire, and back in the command centre, I’m barely managing to stay conscious. Somehow, I’m managing to give orders. About halfway through the mission, we find out what Jemima has been learning. For the first time, we meet a berzerker – a solid wall of muscle and rage.

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But we’ve dealt with worse and in a flash, Jemima places the beast in stasis. Surrounded by a wyrd purple sphere, it buys enough time for the rest of the team to rescue the surrounding civvies, and as soon as the bezerker comes back down to our plane of existence, Angel is ready to spear the fucker.

A few tricks later and it’s mission success. And Angel seems quite taken with our new psionic team member.

Oh god I need to sleep.

Read part 1: Here

Part 2: Here