Post #400, fantasy, and reality

I didn’t even realize this milestone had come up, but hey, this is the 400th post I’ve put up. Seems strange to think after nine years and over half a million words that I’ve spent so much time on a project — it really doesn’t feel like I have. When you’re doing something you enjoy, it doesn’t feel like work, even if it requires real effort (which writing certainly does, as my fellow writers can attest to.)

This isn’t a celebratory post, however. Not because I’m unhappy with my work here — at least my work starting from 2019, which in terms of post and word count and effort spent is by far the bulk of the site. I just feel myself slipping deeper into some kind of void. I don’t know how else to put it. I’m doing all right at work, making decent enough progress in my career, to the point that even if I were to be downsized in the supposedly coming and/or present recession I now have enough skills and resources to continue making a living for myself. A lot of that required me to get rid of old feelings of pride and conventional modes of thinking that were holding me back. But more likely I’ll continue to climb the ladder, with all the horrible stress and bullshit that comes with that.

I do have anxieties about money and work. Who doesn’t — who among us is really secure outside of that top 1%? And even for them, security is relative. But that’s not really what keeps me awake at night. It’s rather this sense of emptiness, like something vital in my life is missing. I’m not sure whether that’s a partner who I’m actually compatible with (i.e. the only kind worth having and the kind I’ve never had once in my life, which I’ve gone through a lot of probably unnecessary heartache and headache for thanks in part to my terrible life decisions) or just dissatisfaction with my career. More than once I’ve noted that dissatisfaction, so I guess it’s no secret — I’ve even written an overlong post about why you almost certainly should not attend law school. So I won’t pile onto what I’ve already written.

However, I do want to expand on another matter I’ve written about before. It’s one that I find endlessly fascinating, but also one that I can’t just observe from a detached perspective, since it so strongly affects my own personality and way of life. What else can it be but escapist fantasy? Of course, I’m not just talking about the fantasy genre, though that’s tied to this matter as well. Any art in any medium that allows for such an escape from the miserable realities of life, that’s what I’m concerned with.

I’m going to take yet another left turn here, but I promise it connects back to my main point. SCP is one of the longest-running and most interesting collaborative fiction-writing projects online, a large collection of accounts of various magical, cursed, and/or interdimensional items/persons/phenomena. These are sorted into official-looking entries compiled by the secretive “SCP Foundation” complete with clinical descriptions of the items in question and instructions about how to effectively contain them (if possible) and usually with reports of incidents caused by or related to the items attached.

Not every one of these entries is a winner. Granted, I haven’t read anywhere close to all of them (numbered in the high thousands now from what I understand) but I’ve read a decent number, and admittedly some of these tend to be a little too silly or over the top to have much effect. But there are some excellent entries as well, my favorite of which is SCP-1230, a book that’s nearly blank when opened but that causes the reader to enter an extremely deep and realistic dream state when they next sleep. This dream is presided over by a supervisor figure connected with the book (sort of “inside” the book) who helps the reader/dreamer live out a fantasy of their choosing. The perception of time in this dream is extremely warped, and the dreamer might go through months or an entire year in this fantasy in the span of a mere nap.

All this is very interesting, but the reason 1230 earns the title of best SCP for me is its account of an SCP Foundation scientist who opens the book and enters the dream supposedly for the purpose of conducting research, but who instead uses the book as a complete escape from his everyday life. This scientist ends up sleeping for 15 hours but spending 200 in-dream years living out his fantasies. When he’s finally forced out of his fantasy world, he excuses himself to the bathroom and hangs himself there with his own belt, leaving a note behind that he just can’t return to this life.

A little dramatic maybe, but the message hit me in a personal way. One of the aspects of SCP I like, and that I imagine a lot of readers enjoy, is thinking about what I’d do if I were faced with one of these amazing and/or terrifying objects and its effects. If I had access to this magical dream book, would I use it to live out my fantasies? I can honestly say I would. The fact that so little time apparently passes in the real world as you live out this realistic but fantastic dream makes it a pretty easy and consequence-free choice, though that’s also maybe assuming you can actually use the thing more than once and that you can keep enough perspective to avoid the fate of that poor scientist.

But how about a more realistic sort of total escape? Let’s assume for the sake of this scenario that some kind of full-dive VR complete with all the senses simulated is feasible and within reach of regular non-rich customers (i.e. me) soon. Everything you might do in a dream you control is theoretically possible, but time is naturally moving 1-to-1 with the outside world, so every second, minute, and hour spent in this VR fantasy is lost to your “real life.”

If I had such a tool available to me, I think I’d still use it. I’d like to think I wouldn’t overuse it; after all, I’d still have vital obligations to fulfill in the real world between my professional and personal lives. But I think I would certainly use it at least to blow off some steam. Something like an open-ended video game, maybe. Whether any of this is actually possible is beside the point here — see the utter fucking joke that is Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse, a bizarrely tone-deaf project for how crusty, limited, and terrible it looks. The point is rather that assuming such an escape is possible, I’m positive that I’d use it.

Being totally honest about this point, now I have to examine whether it’s a problem for me. More and more, as I get older and have to take on more responsibilities, I feel their weight. One massive weight on my back is my family’s expectation of me to start my own family, something I’m not exactly against but that I also don’t have any special desire for myself. If I were actually left to myself, I’d most likely keep to myself and lose myself in fantasy — I say this knowing what sort of person I am, someone who’s used dangerous means to escape from reality in the past and to “treat” my depression. But there are also outside factors influencing my decision, the most serious of which is a very close relative who may not have a long time left in this world and who really wants to see my family before they go. That weight is especially heavy as an only child. Naturally, I didn’t choose any of this for myself, but it’s the situation I face. That drive to live an entirely “normal life” is strong, even if it’s an entirely external drive.

All that said, if I have any desire to change my life, I believe it needs to actually be my own desire. One lesson I’ve learned over the last several years, yet another lesson that I probably should have learned long ago, is that there’s a great difference between bitter resignation and willing acceptance. I’m resigned to my fate, but I haven’t truly accepted it. Not yet, anyway. I wonder if I can ever get rid of this bitter feeling I carry around. For practical purposes I can bury it, but I don’t want to have a complete mental breakdown one day either. But then actually addressing the matter with the people I’d need to address it with is damn near impossible, so I feel stuck.

All this might be why I connected with Call of the Night so easily after a few episodes. Was it a sometimes silly vampire romance with a few strange issues? Sure, but it also nicely depicted that feeling of isolation and that lack of desire for a “normal life” that you’re supposed to want.

I’m sure this all says a lot more about me and my deficiencies than about the society around me. I’m still only half an adult, with one leg in reality and the other still in fantasy. It’s clear I can’t keep living like this, but it’s not clear how I can proceed in a healthy way.

One thing I can say for sure: I’ll never abandon writing. As I’ve moved away from games simply out of necessity (just no god damned time anymore, I have to accept that now) and towards the far less time- and energy-consuming anime I’ve been filling the site up with this year, I’ve also been picking up the pace of my fiction-writing. I’m not participating in that annual November novel-writing business, partly because I don’t have time for a novel either (now at least) and partly because I might not have a full novel in me, but I’ve found the short story to be a rewarding format. Whether any of these trash stories I’ve been writing ever see the light of day I can’t say, but they’re helping me cope with my situation, at least. Writing is the best therapy for me, far more effective than any of the advice I’ve received from actual counselors over the years.

That’s just been my experience, anyway. Next post, I promise I won’t be dumping these personal confessions onto you. This entire project is the product of a depressive mind, but that doesn’t mean every post has to reflect that fact. So until next time.


8 thoughts on “Post #400, fantasy, and reality

  1. Your posts always make me more introspective. Having been a writer for most of my life, I understand the writer in you so well. It’s such a nice place to live – in your own mind.

    I’m also always fighting depression. Having someone to live for helps to some extent but it’s merely a band-aid to stop the pain of being alone with yourself. I’m still always depressed just slightly more occupied.

    And then anxiety is my biggest crux. What do you do with that? It’s difficult to leave and be out and about with other humans. We have a Christmas party coming up and I’m already thinking over excuses not to attend.

    My concern of being in that world where you are living for 200 years in this fantasy, and real life is merely an extended night of hibernation, is that what if I want to leave the fantasy world. I’d be afraid of being stuck there. That could be my anxiety. Of course, I haven’t read SCP 1230 (?). It sounds interesting.

    I enjoy your personal dump posts. I do those much too often. Yours are actually interesting and a thoughtful read.

    Thanks for another great post, AK. 🙂 Take care of yourself.

    • I totally agree. The mind isn’t actually a lonely place, I think, not for us. Though it’s still not enough, I guess.

      I know what you mean about dealing with depression in that band-aid sort of way. It’s better than nothing, and having something to occupy you and another person around to give you perspective can help. I do deal with anxiety as well, though my depression is a lot stronger — on occasion when they’re both around, the depression always wins out (I imagine anxiety saying “you should worry about everything” and my depression responding “why bother? There’s no point anyway.” The only time I’m thankful for it, because it’s easier for me to deal with the depression.)

      Not sure how getting out of the dream in 1230 works. It might be in there somewhere, though I think the account is a little sketchy and thin like a lot of them are. You can probably just talk to the caretaker and ask to leave, since he seems like an entirely benevolent guy. I’d certainly want a copy of that book, though I definitely wouldn’t spend 200 years at a time in it (well, probably not.)

      Thanks for the kind words! I’m happy that my posts connect even when they feel way too self-indulgent and self-absorbed to me. But I hope other readers who are going through some of this can connect with it too, otherwise I wouldn’t write this stuff.

      You too, and hope you have a good holiday! Finally a few days off soon.

  2. Wow, that’s amazing. Congrats on 400 posts.

    I get what you mean by the escapist fantasy. Sometimes my mind is just too exhausted and has wanted to run away to a place of happiness. As you said, the no. of responsibilities and the weight of it keeps growing, and you have to constantly change to keep up with it. As an upcoming adult, I can feel the anxiety with the pressure of my peers and family. I’m constantly in fear over what would happen in the future.
    But although I know I have to change to keep up with the world, there are somethings which I can’t abandon either.

    This was a nice post to read😀. Take care of yourself.

    • Thanks! I think we all have these sorts of moments, and certainly being an adult has its hardships. It’s no wonder escapist fantasy in all its forms is so popular. That’s part of why criticism of it (not in terms of quality, but just about it existing) falls so flat for me. Very often the critic enjoys their own brand of it that’s just in a different form than what they’re criticizing. As long as we keep that all-important perspective!

      You too, hope you have a good week.

  3. There’s a lot here I relate to. As a graphic designer, there are days when I’m so satisfied with getting to create something tangible at work, but then that contrasts with other days when things are progressing slowly or I consider how much of an impact I’m really having.

    All we can do is our best though, and I think some sort of creative outlet – whether it be work or writing – is really valuable. I am regularly sad about how often people seek to tear down the success and work of people, which is why I always attempt to have a positive outlook where I think about the intentions and time that went into making a film, TV show, game, etc.

    I may have gone on a tangent away from your points here, but I think it’s great how you talk in-depth about anime and more, and do so in a way that seems earnest to me. Well done on 400 posts!

    • You make a great point. I think there’s a lot of effort that goes into most creative works, even those that don’t turn out so well. I’ll still definitely criticize when I think it’s warranted, but I always want to try to take the positives into account and to appreciate those even if I don’t like the final product that much.

      And thanks! No problem about the tangent either — I do that all the time, and I like to see where my posts take readers’ thoughts especially if the results are unexpected.

      • Yeah exactly, it’s fine to criticise, but as I get older I realise more and more how much work goes into these things and how we shouldn’t make offhand remarks without really considering everything first.

        OK great, haha thanks. We all like a good tangent right?

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