from The Big Book of Secrets, Lies, Truths and Half-Truths
What are you working on right now?
I don’t know how to describe what I’m working on. Every time I try, I sound like some stupid agent. Maybe I can do a better job here. I wrote Black Cloud and I liked it and felt proud of it. The problem with that book is it feels like such a small part of me: the angry part that likes to get fucked up. I don’t want to write a memoir. There are enough of those in this world, and the memoirs that tell my story – those of mental illness and addiction – feel largely boring and inaccurate to me. The truth is there is no easy beginning, and there isn’t a happy ending either. Life is blurry and complicated. It doesn’t fit in a neat narrative arc. The only true resolution is death. Maybe not. But I hope my death is a long way off. I wanted to take all of me, all of the sides, and cram it into a book. I want it to be in pieces, pieces that feed into and overlap and sometimes contradict each other. I want some of it to be told as real as it can, and some of it to be complete lies. I want it to be impossible to tell which is which. I want to use every form of storytelling I can think of: stories, essays, poems, pictures, documents, interviews, lists. I don’t know if this way of making a book will work. Maybe it’ll just be a gigantic mess, but so far it is keeping me engaged, at least. So far it is both exciting and scary to me, and this is how I want the act of writing to make me feel.
(The following excerpt works as sort of a companion piece to this.)
COMPUTER GAMES I PLAYED AS A CHILD
Oregon Trail (MECC, 1990)
OBJECTIVE: Take your family in a covered wagon from Missouri to Oregon. Don’t die.
This game wasn’t that difficult to win, once you figured out the best time of year to leave and how to hunt accurately. To mix things up a little, reverse the goal— aim to kill your family as fast as you can. Leave in March, when the rivers are high. When you get to the high rivers, ford them rather than using that costly ferry and gleefully watch your family drown. Set your rations to meager. Set the pace to grueling. Watch morale and health plummet. Delight in the misery you have caused. It makes you feel just like God, doesn’t it?
The Manhole (Cyan/Activision, 1989)
OBJECTIVE: Click on things to see what they do.
The game began with twisting the manhole. A bean would sprout out, its growth divided across three frames, the motion jerky. From there you climbed, not as a body but an arrow, into a strange land full of rooms and waterways and borrowed fairytales.
It was supposed to be fun. But everything was so silent and still it was like you had slipped into the dreams of someone dead.
Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Deluxe (Broderbund, 1992)
OBJECTIVE: Run around the world, collecting clues to catch the criminal.
This game led me to believe that the world was small, spelunking a popular hobby, and Tex-Mex an acceptable version of food.
Think Quick! (The Learning Company, 1987)
OBJECTIVE: Find the armor hidden around the Castle of Mystikar while evading slime worms in order to kill the dragon.
I learned to read too early. I read books I shouldn’t have. Things about spontaneous combustion, diseases, insect infestations, ghosts that crawled next to you in your bed as you slept.
Most of the actions in this game involved figuring out how to get various levers to open. The primitive graphics meant most of the screen was left black. This, plus the worms, caused the game to feel akin to having been buried alive.
Sim City 2000 (Maxis, 1994)
OBJECTIVE: Build a city. Avoid overpopulation, pollution, too much crime, earthquakes, and urban decay.
Arcologies were, for me, the ultimate goal. You had to have the right set of conditions to build one: the year 2000 or later, at least 120,000 residents, at least $100,000 in the bank. (Alternately, you could type in the cheat code porntipsguzzardo.) The Launch Arco (TOP LEFT) was the most populous, most expensive, and most beautiful. The DARCO (BOTTOM RIGHT) was the most frightening; the game description stated: Inside, the ill-lit corridors twist into odd, meandering corkscrews that mysteriously turn back on themselves. There are rumors that a strange sub-species of man inhabits the air ducts.
When I was in third grade, I competed in Geography Olympiad. One of the competitions I entered was called “City Planning”, which really just meant playing SimCity 2000 competitively. To prepare, I stayed after school and played SimCity for hours and hours. I had dreams about the arcos. Launch Arco dreams were sliding crystal greens and blues. DARCO dreams involved stark pains in my abdomen, x-rays showing DARCO-shaped tumors that protruded under my skin in bumps, later tearing through, dark with blood. My team won the competition. It took a long time for the arco dreams to go away.
Midnight Rescue (The Learning Company, 1989)
OBJECTIVE: Find the Master of Mischief in Shady Glen School while evading his robot henchmen in order to stop the school from disappearing at midnight.
Time ticks by fast. A few hours go by in minutes. Taking photos slows it down, allows you to examine clues. I could hear myself moving down the corridors, sneakers squeaking, ponytail tucked under my cap and jacket. Every movement an echo.
As a child, I remember being told to be tough. I remember trying not to cry. The jacket and sneakers and baseball cap fit neatly into this idea of myself—silent, stoic, not girly, expressionless. Hiding under oversized clothes and a camera.
All the robots had to do with paint for some reason. Buffo (PICTURED) was inexplicably terrifying for me. I think it was the enormity of his head. Harsh lines in his expression, teeth and eyes exposed, shiny, so much larger and vibrant than my own. Beside something like him, I was made invisible.
Yukon Trail (MECC, 1994)
OBJECTIVE: Same as Oregon Trail, but you’re in Alaska and you want gold.
My father bought me this game shortly after I read Jack London’s To Build a Fire. It was difficult to separate the two plotlines. Alaska was unrelenting and indifferent; gold, inconsistent. Sometimes hope can be a death sentence.
Juliet Escoria is the author of Black Cloud. For more, go to julietescoria.com