Back in ancient times, before Facebook and the smart phone, when the internet didn’t exist, when software came loaded on 5¼-inch floppy disks and the bones of recently deceased dinosaurs still littered the streets, there was a game called Zork.
Born during the infancy of home computer games, Zork was what we used to call a “text based adventure”. The concept was simple, although the youngsters, spoiled as they are to cinema quality graphics, might have trouble wrapping their heads around the idea. Basically, the game would give you a description of an area and you would respond with instructions on what to do through a command-line prompt.
Yeah, visually it had all the elegance of MS-DOS.
See what I mean:
That little greater-than sign at the bottom is the prompt.
From there you could type something like, “open mailbox” or “walk north” and the game would respond with a brief description of what happens next. Eventually, as you wandered about, you would get the idea that your goal was to collect certain treasures, which became progressively more difficult to acquire.
Playing Zork was a little like playing Dungeons & Dragons, but lacking the rule books and dice, and without a Dungeon Master there who might be convinced to let you walk boldly through an ancient Red Dragons fiery breath, if only he were drowsy enough from overindulgence in pizza and cheap beer. The DM that is, not the dragon (the question of whether or not dragons are prone to or adversely affected by overindulgence in pizza and beer is one I shall leave for another day).
And what, you may ask, is the reason for all this nostalgic woolgathering?
This post marks the 1st Anniversary of this blog and for the past several days I’ve been looking for exactly the right metaphor to describe my experience of blogging. It’s been a bit frustrating, because every time I would put my mind to the task, the first thing that popped into my head was, “You are standing in an open field west of a white house.”
“Yes,” I would tell my brain (the apparently less than creative side of my brain that is), “those are the opening lines of Zork. I know you want to do a post about computer games, and I’d be happy to do that later, but just this moment I need to come up with something about blogging.”
To which my brain would reply, “There is a small mailbox here.”
Sometimes, when I’m working on a post, the ol’ brain doesn’t want to cooperate. I tell it what to do and it just repeats my words back at me until I give up and do what it wants.
Okay, so Zork as metaphor for blogging it is! Having spent most of the last week in that same open field trying desperately to avoid looking in the direction of the boarded up house, I guess it’s time to give up and head around to the back. I’m pretty sure there’s a window back there that I can force open.
Welcome to Shaun’s creative process folks!
Please keep your hands inside the car at all times, and enjoy the ride.
So where was I? Ah yes, in a field, near a house, by a mailbox, all very safe and easy.
And that’s how I thought the writing would go. After all, I’ve followed many excellent blogs for a number of years and I know that I am not that bad a writer myself when the mood takes me. The plan was to simply write about the things that interested me, anything from religion and politics to comic books and pop culture, and then tie it all together with a nice little polytheistic bow. I didn’t want to write a religion blog exactly, but I did want it to present a polytheistic perspective on the things I chose to write about.
That’s “a polytheistic perspective”, not “the polytheistic perspective”. The beautiful thing about polytheism is that multiple and shifting points of view are not just accepted, they’re the rule of the day.
So there I was, standing firmly on familiar ground waiting for the adventure to begin.
What could go wrong, right?
Once you enter that house, things get really weird.
There are internet trolls in the cellar, although thankfully, I’ve met very few of them.
There is a thief who appears at random moments to muck up my efforts. In the game he appears as a scoundrel who makes off with your treasures. In the real world, he appears in a million little things that pull my attention away from the task at hand, all the while stealing away that most valuable commodity of all: precious time.
And then there are these guys…,
Sometimes, as I wander through the maze of rooms looking for that next great topic, my electric lantern will sputter and go out. There I am, standing alone in the dark, without a single good idea, as the sinister, lurking presence of the deadly Grue close in all around me.
Blogging, like exploring the ruins of great underground empires, is not without it’s hazards.
There have also been great rewards.
I have learned a lot about myself in this past year. I’ve looked at my beliefs and opinions in a mirror and sometimes found myself standing in a slightly different space than the one I had believed myself to occupy. In my attempts to wheedle relevant posts from an ever shifting maze of ideas, I have pushed myself into different approaches to the craft of writing.
Sometimes, with enough luck and effort, I find myself holding the small treasure I was looking for. When I’m very lucky, within that first topic of discussion, I find yet another, perfectly nested inside, like a clockwork canary hiding inside a jewel encrusted egg.
When I began this project, I seriously wondered how long I would carry on with it. I assumed I would be able to stick it out for a few months, although there were moments, early on, when I really wondered if I had another post in me.
My goal was to make it a year. That’s fifty-two posts, published each Monday morning.
I’ve seen other bloggers vanish from the web after just a handful of entries, victims of the grue perhaps, or the time thief. Maybe some were frightened away by the trolls.
Most, I suspect, just lose interest.
At the beginning, fifty-two posts seemed like an awful lot.
Now, to my great surprise, this blog has become part of my weekly ritual.
Puzzling out how to approach each topic helps to put me into the proper head-space to meet the more mundane challenges of the week. Ring the bell, light the candles, read the book; we all need rituals to ground us and shield us against the obstacles of our daily lives, even when it seems as if we are passing through the gates of Hades itself.
I hope that those who count themselves as my readers will forgive this whimsical bit of self-indulgence. Next week, it’s back to business as usual. Fifty-one posts to go, and always more puzzles to solve.
For anyone wanting to indulge further into the nostalgic chasm that is Zork, the game is available to play here.
And bonus points to anyone who catches all the Zork references I hid in the branches of the above post.