John Zeitler

Fight or Flight

by on Sep.07, 2014, under Main Stuff

Throughout the life of this blog, and its predecessor, anime conventions have been a big part of my social activity. I’m grateful for the time that I spent both participating as a patron of these conventions, and for the effort and work I put in to them as a contributor. I made some very close friends through the time that I was with the local convention, and I had some other people who I was not as close to but was still amicable with for the sake of the show. But today, two years after I was dismissed from the service of that show, I cut off the last and most tenuous of those relationships. It was not out of malice, but rather a realization that, since there was no business connection which mandated me to swallow discomfort at certain behaviors, I had no real reason to continue association with those individuals. Of course, it was sparked by one incident and one individual in particular, but that was (as is usually the case) the straw that broke the camel’s back.

A lot of people don’t know this, but two years ago, I came very close to leaving Pittsburgh and all of my friends behind. I felt as if the world around me had come crashing down; that I had overstayed my welcome in this city, and that I needed to leave in order to be able to move on and recover. If I had done so, I might have managed to join up with another convention, might have made more friends, might have been in a completely different situation. But in truth, I knew deep in my heart that I wouldn’t. I would have left Pittsburgh and recommitted myself to my previous habit of isolation, of coming home night after night to an empty apartment, playing video games alone and never once reaching out to anyone again. After all, I’d been burned so badly once again; the experiment had ended in failure and disproven my tenuous hypothesis that I could be a social creature. Being miserable and alone would have appeared preferable to being happy with others, just long enough for them to leave.

I thought seriously about it. Of course, in the end, I decided to stay. And it has brought me pain nearly every day since then, as the circle of friends I had previously engaged with and found a place in continued to deteriorate. Some friends had their circumstances change; others deliberately cut others off; still others left Pittsburgh themselves. Through it all I tried to remain friends with as many of them as I could, fighting my instinct tooth and nail to keep sight of the fact that I didn’t have to run away again, that I still had people here who I cared about and who reciprocated that affection. Each day that passed when another friend dropped off the radar was another body-blow to that assertion.

It all came to a head about a month ago, when one individual tried to get me to reconnect with the convention organization. The management that had dismissed me was still in charge, and I harbored doubts that I would fare any better under them this time than I had when I still had goodwill and ambition for the convention. I attempted to make it clear that I didn’t want to be part of the organization again, but the end result was that the person who attempted to reach out to me got the wrong impression and, I think, took it personally. The dismissal had been a personal insult to me, but it was not that individual who had done so. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding culminated in a breakdown in communications today, and prompted both of us to mutually terminate relations. That person and I had almost never seen eye to eye, and so I’m sure that neither of us are too terribly broken up about it.

Afterwards, of course, I felt myself wondering what was keeping me in Pittsburgh. Obviously now there is a more urgent force keeping me here, specifically my continuing education, but there was still an extremely strong urge to consider disappearing again. It has been on my mind throughout 2014, especially considering that up until May I had no real attachments keeping me here. I could have left any time I wanted. I chose, however, to stay; to leverage the resources available here to bring myself closer to a greater amount of freedom if and when I choose to leave later on. That choice is still a few years off now, but it has been on my mind today.

My education plan includes, as a matter of necessity, an extended period of time spent overseas in order to more fully immerse myself in the language, culture, and idioms of Japan. I love travel, and it would be dishonest to say that I’m not looking forward to the trip. But the reason for the travel is not just for the educational opportunity it provides, and it is also not solely for the entertainment and excitement of international tourism. In a sense, crossing the Pacific Ocean is a real chance for a new start. I’ve said on more than one occasion that once I leave Pittsburgh, the odds are not good that I will return for very long, if at all; most of the work that I would be looking to do is centered on the West Coast, and if that doesn’t work out, I can freelance from pretty much anywhere on the planet. I wouldn’t mind an itinerant lifestyle.

Even with all of this on my mind, I have found myself not wanting to leave. I’m making new friends in my classes, socializing more and forging new connections once again. Each day that passes I find myself more and more unable to make the mental severance that I had throughout my time at Gannon: that the campus was merely a way-station, the origin point of my journey, but never more than first base. The Pitt campus feels more like a home that I will not want to leave. Though I’m only familiar with a few of its buildings right now, each day I learn more places that feel like they are mine now, that I belong here. I am only a visitor here, but I increasingly don’t want to leave.

Last week, I did something uncharacteristic: I went to a Pitt Panthers game. Well, half of one anyway; it was a blowout by the end of the first quarter, and I was in lousy seats in direct sunlight, so I left near the end of the half. Before the game started, though, the Alma Mater was sung, and I was struck by one of the lines in the song: “Over fate and foe victorious”. The past few years have been bad, for me, in the professional sphere and in my personal life. My health had a bad scare, and my mental health hit a breaking point. A lot has happened, enough so that the phrase does little to really encapsulate the breadth of the challenges. But you know what? I’m still here. It hasn’t been easy. It isn’t going to get any easier. But I am still here. I’m here, and there are still people here who want me here. I am where I belong, at least for now.

I can live with that.

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Above And Beyond

by on Aug.27, 2014, under Main Stuff

After having had all of my classes once each, and after doing homework for two of them, I’ve come to realize that being older and having had this level of curiosity about Japan prior to my formal attempts at learning has made me a bit too eager to move on to certain things. I pride myself on being a fast learner anyway, but being able to pick up on the fact that the first reading assignment in one particular class is meant to demonstrate what not to do, or being able to connect a vocabulary lesson to a catchphrase heard years ago… These are things that I don’t think too many of my classmates can do just yet. I have to balance out my natural inclination to go as far as I can and to exceed expectations with the desire not to stand out too much.

These are, of course, fundamentally incompatible, which is why it is so difficult and stressful.

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Stand Up/The Vanguard

by on Aug.24, 2014, under Main Stuff

In a few short hours– less than half a day– I’ll be beginning my second college experience, and with it, my second career. Quite a bit has happened in the past ten months, much of which would destroy anyone who had not already endured it, but one thing remains true: I am a survivor. I cannot be broken so long as I can see a way forward. I have clawed my way out of hellish situations in the past, and this one– while still the worst challenge I’ve ever been set against– is no different.

I got to thinking about this a little this afternoon. I remember what I had to my name when I left Cleveland for the last time; I had sold off all but a handful of my most treasured possessions and felt that there could be no recovering from such a disaster. That was the end of 2006, the conclusion of a dark chapter in my life, and the beginning of a rebirth of sorts. 2007 was not easy, but it was better. By 2009 I had considered the Reclamation Project complete, and was looking to improve my situation further than I had been before my retreat. I may have overextended my reach in some cases, but by and large I was on the right track– until I suffered an exceptional advance of my depression in 2012. Life collapsed around me then, and while not all of it can be traced back to the disease which is my daily hell, it certainly didn’t help matters.

Tomorrow, though, starts the rebuilding phase again. It will not be easy. It will not be quick. I will have to sacrifice, to eliminate much from my everyday, in order to recover even the slightest equilibrium, let alone advance. The next three to five years will be a true test of who and what I am. Some people never survive their first trip to college; they drop out, or find they can’t handle the pressure, or discover their true passion and talent elsewhere. This will be my second. And if a third, fourth, or ninth is required, then so be it.

The last week has been one where I have found myself doubting everything that has led me to this point. An unrelated setback also occurred which shook my confidence and left me truly doubtful as to whether or not I could manage any real improvement. I’ll freely admit that there have been nights where I have lain awake and on the verge of tears, wondering if I hadn’t just wasted every breath since last Thanksgiving. Some nights I crossed that border.

Tonight will not be one of those nights. I’m going to bed and I expect that I will sleep peacefully, confident that everything will be okay for once. I am, for a change, aware that this is within my power, not just to influence, but to control. That’s the key, for me, and what’s been a major point of my emotional crashes: that what happens to me is not what happens because of me. There’s going to be a lot of unforeseen problems from here on out. Some of them are going to wreck my shit completely. But what I need to keep within me is this feeling– right now– that says that all of that would happen even if I did see it coming and simply couldn’t avoid it. I can let the world go to hell. As long as I keep doing my part to prevent it– by studying, and dedicating myself to the ideal that communications is the answer– then none can judge me unworthy.

If my life is too big to fix on my own, then the reverse is true as well: I’m not wholly responsible for it falling apart, either, and I don’t deserve to stay so low.

I believe that luck is cyclical. I had a bunch of good years in the beginning, and then fourteen bad ones. The wheel has to come back around sometime.

Good night, folks.

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Faulty Motivator

by on Aug.19, 2014, under Main Stuff

To say that the last two months have been hectic and busy would be a gross understatement, the likes of which are unheard of from my usual idiom of communication. It’s taken this long for me to get back to something approaching a normal schedule, and despite the fact that I start classes this coming Monday, I’m still not entirely at 100%. But, like I said, I have less than a week to go: the time to slack is running out.

I’ve spoken at length about depression here, and in other places, and it’s because of that fact that I feel like I really shouldn’t be relying on it as an excuse for why I have tended to nap for hours during the day and have been almost completely inactive on the weekends. But, like it or not, I still have depression, and like it or not, that still means I get wiped out a lot easier than healthy people do. It’s not so much an excuse as it is a challenge, and it’s one I’m going to have to overcome relatively quickly if I’m to solve the majority of my problems.

Part of this is that I do need to muster up motivation to do something extracurricular that poses an actual mental challenge. An acquaintance started translating old NES games for what I can only assume to be fun, and I’m thinking it might not be a bad idea to at least do the script work for some older titles as well. This is all predicate on me keeping up my studies; I refuse to accept anything less than a 3.0 from my report card, with a 3.5 being my ultimate goal. I will not fail, I will not falter.

I should probably also mention that I am getting very excited to get back into studying. I picked up the majority of my textbooks last week, and it’s been a bit of a struggle to prevent myself from reading through the novels assigned for one of the classes ahead of time. I’ve also flipped through my language books, and at that first glance they’re set up in a very interesting and different way from almost every other tutorial text I’ve seen on the language. It’s not about rote memorization of the kana, but very contextual; this echoes some of what I discovered about my own osmosis of the language through countless years of games and anime. It’s an extremely natural way to learn, and one which I’m sure will work for me.

As an aside, I tried taking the advice of several friends who told me to plow through a kanji dictionary a handful of pages at a time over the summer. I just couldn’t do it. I am fairly certain I need the interaction with other learners and actual speakers of the language in order to connect the mental dots. Which, coincidentally, brings me to my next point.

For me, college (the first time around) was as much about learning how to do certain things as it was learning how I learn. Endless calculus drills and derivations have left me all but unable to balance my checkbook, let alone determine the volume of an irregular solid in fifth-dimensional space. Reading through white papers and experiment results were excellent ways to put me to sleep. I literally could not endure another mumbled lecture on how multiple inheritance works in C++. But put a task in front of me, and I learned everything I needed to. Have me write about what I got out of a reading assignment and I could go to town on it. Ask me, and let me ask, and you’ll find that I get it a lot more easily than one might think. I learn by doing, by putting principles into action and experimenting with what I know (or think I know).

A few days ago, a friend posted a bunch of haiku to her blog, in written Japanese. I didn’t ask for a translation; I want to work it out for myself, and I know I will in time. But it’s that sense of going the extra mile, of wanting to fight through an assignment that piques my interest that has me more excited than the prospect of ten-minute rampages across campus to get to class on time, or lectures that warp the fabric of reality and become inescapable temporal anomalies. It’s not about learning to do. It’s about what I can do with what I learn.

And that is plenty motivation enough for me.

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Winding Down

by on Jun.13, 2014, under Main Stuff

Another quiet day. With E3 over there’s not much else to talk about until at least the end of the month, when I’ll be looking to kick my plans into high gear. Other than that, I’ll try to keep things steady here.

That said, getting a Twitter reply from the author of the Squid Girl manga was a nice touch to today, so… yeah.

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War Changes Pretty Regularly In Point Of Fact

by on Jun.12, 2014, under Main Stuff

Games Workshop released the seventh edition of the core Warhammer 40,000 rulebook late last month. I haven’t picked it up yet, but I did get a chance to flip through it a couple days ago; overall, there’s not really a whole lot of change in terms of the main rules. Certainly there’s not the massive changes that there were between the fifth edition and sixth, which makes it somewhat strange that GW didn’t choose to release it as an update book as opposed to a full new release. On the other hand, this is GW we’re talking about, so the greed is sort of understandable. The sixth-seventh edition army books are also rather high-priced for their contents; the books also herald new models for those armies, which are also relatively high-priced. It takes a lot to keep up with the game, particularly if you’re trying to maintain multiple armies.

Fortunately for me, however, I’ve been working towards painting up the entirety of what I have, which is a slow process but very, very rewarding. Then again, paint isn’t infinite…

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by on Jun.11, 2014, under Main Stuff

I missed yesterday. That’s a loaded phrase, actually; it was one of the most awesome days for gaming in recent memory, and it was also a day when I should have posted, but didn’t. I of course had other things on my mind. Still, considering that I had meant to have daily posts during my college career, I can afford to miss a few days here and there during the run-up; while I’m trying to get back in the habit of one-a-day, please bear with me.

Aaaaanyway. I was distracted yesterday by some family stuff– nothing too serious, just an ongoing thing– and by E3, which continues today. With the show still going on I don’t want to comment too much, but I would like to say that so far I’m really excited for games that aren’t coming until the end of this year at the earliest. Particularly Splatoon; that was a very nice surprise out of Nintendo. I hope the gamble pays off for them.

Oh, and I had a math placement exam. We shall not speak again of the math placement exam.

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Rising To The Challenge

by on Jun.09, 2014, under Main Stuff

I realize that I’m going to probably be sick of the Cathedral of Learning by the time I’m finished with classes there, but at the same time I have to have respect for any schoolhouse that looks more like the final dungeon from a cheesy 90′s JRPG. This is 43 floors of hardcore education, and if you don’t come out of it without a few more points of INT you weren’t even really trying.

It’s a silly thought, I know. But I have to have fun with everything that’s happening or else I’m probably going to burn out completely. So I choose to have fun. There are worse ways to go through life.

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FrE3 Association

by on Jun.08, 2014, under Main Stuff

It’s strange, to me, that I should be so interested in E3 this year when by and large I don’t really have as much passion for video games as I used to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a gamer, I just have to be reminded of when the big stuff is happening anymore. For example: I actually forgot that E3 was this coming week. But I think, given everything else going on, I can be forgiven for this lapse.

Anyway. In years past I’ve given predictions for what there’ll be at each of the major booths. This year will, of course, be no different. But it should be noted that I’m going to be glossing over Microsoft’s booth this year, simply because I’m not at all interested in the Xbox One’s offerings, and the 360 has been dropped like the proverbial hot potato. The system isn’t yet a true dud– no system should ever be counted out in its first year– but there’s simply nothing compelling about the machine compared to the PS4 or even the Wii U. (Even the PS4 would be a hard sell for me if not for some extremely good luck earlier this year that landed one in my home… but that’s a different story.) The system is still struggling with its launch jitters, something the PS4 is also dealing with, and so neither of the so-called “true next gen” really warrant more than passing attention. Besides, the two are functionally equivalent anyway, and the concept of an exclusive being a system-seller is laughable in this day and age.

So let’s start with the Wii U. It was just coming into its own at the beginning of this year with Wind Waker HD and Mario 3D World landing, and it was followed closely by Mario Kart 8. All fantastic games, and all strong contenders for the coveted “Not This Shit Again” award from the more cynical in the media. But Nintendo has been nothing if not resilient, and the leak of “Mario Maker” is an intriguing tidbit. The odds are good that it’s a return to the Excitebike-style level-creation tool, sort of a synthesis between Mario and Little Big Planet; but there’s also the long shot that it’s a re-use of the concept of artwork and animation creation tools such as Mario Paint or the 64DD tools. Heck, we don’t even know if it’s a Wii U title. Other returning titles will be the Pokemon fighting game first revealed in glimpses about a year ago, Smash Bros. getting a couple more announced fighters (including Palutena, who was leaked a few months ago), and possibly Mario Kart 8 classic course DLC. New reveals are probably going to be a Metroid game that thematically follows on from Other M, taking the series in a more traditional FPS direction; Planet Puzzle League/Panel de Pon Online for Wii U, an eShop title which will include local multiplayer modes; and a resurrection of an old IP from the 8 or 16 bit days. The million-to-one bet is on a Mother collection. Which will, as always, never happen, but I felt like I should at least continue the tradition of futility.

Let’s stay with Nintendo and hit the 3DS. The portable miracle machine that’s kept Nintendo from sinking into 2001-era Sega levels of desperation has shown no signs of stopping, even if the 2DS has been largely a wash. The true bombshells have already been dropped, being the Pokemon Gen 3 remakes Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. Most of the attention this year will be focused on those two and Smash Bros., so I wouldn’t count on too many first-party surprises. Where things are going to get interesting are integration with Wii U titles, including a possible Pokemon Colosseum game being revealed. Also, I’d expect to see DS titles join the 3DS Virtual Console, leading off with the original Professor Layton games. The sucker bet here is Nintendo disabling the region-locking on the handheld, reversing a four-year-wrong decision.

Sega came up in the last paragraph, so let’s head over there. The Blue Blur’s home isn’t doing too bad for itself, with disasters like Aliens: Colonial Marines finally being put behind them. The multimedia project Sonic Boom is also looking promising, but even if all we get out of it is a season and a half of a decent-enough animated show, it’ll still be a more compelling Sonic property than has been shown in recent memory. We’re almost certainly going to see those titles, and Bayonetta 2, but the list of confirmed titles is pretty slim. I’d put a quarter down on appearances of a new Shinobi title and possibly a new IP. With JRPGs having mostly gone down the toilet, any Phantasy Star title that gets any exposure is likely either going to be a MOBA or a social game, but don’t hold your breath for any of it.

Speaking of toilets, let’s talk Square Enix. FF14′s success has been a much-needed shot of Phoenix Down for the once-struggling company, but that’s been just about the only thing they’ve had going for them over the past year or so. We’re obviously going to see news on the game’s first expansion, which will introduce the Ishgard region and battles against Shiva and Alexander being the primary focus of that pack. SE has quietly been beating the war drums about FF15, with a possible re-reveal trailer being the centerpiece of their booth (as an aside: I remember seeing the ORIGINAL launch trailer for what would eventually become 15, way back in 2006). Expect that one to be a PS4 exclusive; if the Xbox One hasn’t lit any fires over here, it’s DOA in Japan. SE will also be pushing some new titles for the 3DS and Wii U, despite most other companies fleeing from the system: I’d say we’re going to see a new Kingdom Hearts title land on 3DS and possibly a Wii U port of 1.5 Remix. The real surprise here will be a revival of an old, disused IP– likely Saga (remaking the originals for iOS) or, and this is damn near impossible, Mana. Money to burn should go on an HD or Vita re-release of Dissidia.

Sony is also going to have a tough act to follow, with the PS4 being a modest success but not the blow-the-doors-off hit they were expecting. Though, considering that the PS3 hadn’t hit its stride until just about two years ago compared to the all-cylinders-but-petering-out 360, the concept of a slow start isn’t shocking. Sony has always been carried by its third parties, but they’ve had some in-house success with stuff like The Last of Us and Resogun. Expect a lot of the same as in the Xbox One booth, nothing too overwhelming. I’m not supposed to say anything about Playstation Now, the streaming service, as I know someone who’s been in on the beta for a few months; that said, the service should be ready to launch by the end of June or July at the latest, and it’s a fantastic alternative to a game rental service like Gamefly. Playstation Plus is going to get a little bit of focus as well, with the free titles on offer cycling more reliably; I can honestly say that I’m very glad I picked up that particular subscription. Don’t look for too many bombshells here.

As for the remainder of the smaller studios, it’s really hard to say. Atlus has gone all-in with the Shin Megami Tensei series, and it’s about damn time; I’d be surprised if some of the older titles didn’t land on PS Now or some other digital download service in advance of Persona 4 Arena Ultimate. Aksys will probably introduce a next-gen version of BlazBlue, necessitating firmware updates to allow the current-gen fighting sticks to work with the new consoles; there’s also a few quirky titles up their sleeve, as always. Bandai Namco is going to show off more titles in their classic-mascot reboot series (the “Ghostly Adventures” Pac-Man titles), none of which will be interesting to anyone older than about ten. NIS America will… okay, not even an Overlord of the Netherworld knows what they’re going to do, but likely not more Disgaea for at least a year or so; they’re definitely going to focus on Danganronpa 2. EA has their usual spate of sports, Bioware, and garbage. Ubisoft’s announcement of next-generation Tetris has probably skunked any chance of Sega bringing out the excellent Puyo Puyo Tetris in North America, so honestly they can rot for all I care. And Valve will announce a long-awaited third installment in their popular first-person shooter franchise: that’s right, kids, we’re getting Left 4 Dead 3.

Overall, without any major hardware announcements, this is going to be a pretty routine year for E3. I don’t think there will be too many shakeups in the industry; given the rather tepid reception of the new consoles, I’d think that most everyone is going to be playing their future pretty conservatively in order to maintain a long-run profit. The one thing that would absolutely floor me, that would cause me to not shut up about it for weeks, would be if someone, anyone, took a real risk.

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Nothing Interesting

by on Jun.07, 2014, under Main Stuff

So apparently when I said that I would have something interesting enough to blog about every day, I wasn’t counting on days like this where the most exciting thing that happened was The Avengers was on television. Honest. I woke up, took my medication, then went back to bed until 4p. Nice, quiet, boring day.

So I’m going to start looking into an online RPG session just so I have some regular human interaction…

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