Why You Don’t Want to Live in Ohio

Because it’s just kind of terrible.

Well, that was a short post. Join me next time, when I talk about-

Oh, you were expecting more details? I suppose I can indulge you.

I spent a couple of years in Ohio, largely living in Azeroth, as I put it, spending almost all of my time playing World of Warcraft. WoW was pretty great at the time, vanilla was my first MMO and I loved it. Gave myself a bit of the ol’ carpal tunnel spending nearly every waking hour levelling, farming, and occasionally making people’s lives miserable (I played on a PvP server. I loved world PvP, and warlock PvP, and I had a rogue named CruelGank. See On Names for some thoughts on how that played out. (Short version: gray daggers, garrote, Redridge Mountains. If this sentence is just so much noise to you, congratulations on not wasting your time in this fashion.))

We were living with Kierstal’s grandparents, who’d asked us to come down there because they were getting on in years and were having difficulty taking care of themselves. They were nice enough people, but most of the other people I met in the state were… not so great. I’m not interested in saying a bunch of harsh things about individual people. I’d rather talk about the atmosphere in the area.

There was a strong current of being ignorant and proud of it that made my skin crawl. I imagine that there are states in which this trait is more common, but I’ve never had to live in any of them. Meeting many people there, I felt a strong sense of, “What I know is everything that is important, don’t waste my time with teaching me anything.” At the time, I wasn’t as driven in personal growth, but the sense that someone would not just not be actively pursuing learning, but would actively shut it down evokes a sense of revulsion.

There was also the way people tended to be very, very traditional, in ways I found uncomfortable. At the time, I knew I was trans but hadn’t done anything active about it. I had also had experience in being polyamorous, and I was kink-curious. All of these put a fairly strong separation between me and most people I’d encounter there.

In any case, on to more specific pieces of my time there. As I said, we were there for her grandparents, and so we didn’t feel we needed to do much beyond what they needed, some heavy lifting, some yard work. Reasonably easy stuff. They were less than pleased with this – they expected me to get a job. After all, I was “male”, and they were very traditional, that way. I had no interest in holding a job – while I hadn’t worked out the reason most work doesn’t suit me, I did know that I felt a fair amount of dissatisfaction working in most realms I knew, and I’d just had a falling out with Martina not too long before, so I didn’t have a connection to find anyone to work for, and a disinterest in PCA work as well.

I spent a lot of my time there thinking about gender as it related to me. My dysphoria had gotten worse over time, and felt like a significant contributor to my gaming time. After all, at least when I was playing a game I could be seen as the person I was. Then I’d break from the game, to get food, or go to the bathroom, or go to bed, and be back in the form I found so objectionable. It was like getting methadone for part of the day, and then going into withdrawls for the rest of it. It was rough on me.

Another factor making life less than ideal there was Kierstal’s mother. She had been at a low point in her life through most of her life, and had leaned on her parents quite a bit to get by. She had a boyfriend at the time who got her into meth, stole some hardware from a home depot, and ripped off the grandparents; he was supposed to do some work on the window frames, and left the job roughly half done.

I recall at one point getting into a shouting match with Kierstal’s mother in the dining room at this point. I no longer recall exactly what the conversation started as – I think she was trying to extract money the grandparents didn’t really have, since her money was all going to meth, and her boyfriend wasn’t really working. Regardless, partway through it, I blew my top and started shouting at the top of my lungs. Not something I’m proud of, but hey. Fuel for current me to grow from, right?

After more than a year there, things went downhill pretty fast. Kierstal’s grandmother fell and couldn’t get up, even with our help, and refused to be taken to the hospital for days. She didn’t have the obvious signs of a stroke, so I didn’t push as hard on that as I could have. I imagine the other players in that scene have their own guilt from it, but yeah. I also don’t think that until just now, reflecting on the situation, that I’d updated enough from these events. Truly it is said that past you is always an incurable idiot.

From there, she went downhill fairly quickly, and died before long. Kierstal’s grandfather decided to move in with his son and sell the house, and we were left with a need to get out in a hurry. I reached out to some people for help, and got the advice to apply to return to UMass from my mother, and also a job offer from Martina, so back to Mass we went, in a Uhaul funded on borrowed funds, and with two crying cats in crates up front with us. Interesting way to cross the country.

Tune in next time, when I talk about taking another shot at college, and what happens when college, and work, and being the person responsible for most of the rent on your place, come together!

Strange New Brightonians…

Life is an absurd series of billiard ball bounces. As I mentioned, in my first try at college, I went on adventures all over the place, including to New Hampshire, to a group house of furries called Berry Grove. While I was there, I met a future boyfriend of mine, Tad. We’ve fallen more out of touch than I endorse, and that saddens me; he’s a good guy and I’ve bounced off him a few times, to my benefit.
After I started dating Tad, I got interested in meeting his other partner, a man living in Pennsylvania. When a friend of mine went on a trip down there to meet her boyfriend, I tagged along to meet Theddie. I spent the weekend at his sister’s trailer, where I also met Kierstal, who I would date later.
Theddie was kind of amazing. He’d been dumped on by his history and health, and kept struggling against to be a man full of joy and life. He made most of his earned income through being an artist, but he was also a brilliant chef, and like me, a jack of all trades. Most of the time I spent around him, we spent in a house in New Brighton, where I moved, having nowhere else to go, after a falling out with Martina.
He welcomed me into a borrowed home, which we spent a fair amount of my time there fixing. That house had been trashed. The owner’s son, who went by the nickname “Shaky” due to having a tremor from malnutritive choices, had kept a dog inside the bedroom all winter long. Not, the dog stayed in the bedroom, except to go outside. The dog lived in the bedroom 24/7. There were ammonia crystals in there. Awful. Prior residents had put holes in the wall, and fixed them with cereal boxes. There was another hole in a different wall that let in the worst infestation of fleas I’ve ever seen – walk on the floor and watch your legs look peppered.
Not that the upper house was much better – in some ways it was worse, since Theddie started fixing his place when he moved in. The upper house didn’t see attention until it was condemned, filled with old newspapers, wrecked furniture, car models in boxes, and what I will genteelly call, “cat byproduct”. Shaky’s dad was a hoarder, and Shaky didn’t care / actively interfered with cleaning efforts.
Honestly, aside from having talked his dad into letting Theddie and Kierstal occupy the lower house, Shaky was short on good qualities. He knew Theddie from a gaming store they frequented, and he’d dated Kierstal, which is how they met each other. He was paranoid, and not a little vicious, and he hated me; after Kierstal broke up with him, she eventually started dating me, which he regarded as my having “stolen” her from him.
In and of itself his hatred of me was fine, but he fantasized online about harming / killing me. With that, with the way his paranoia led him to actually act in the world rather than idly fantasize (he once cut his way through a screen on his back porch to have an escape route because he heard us passing by), and with the way he treated his father (“The old guy”, in his words – a wallet who could drive him places) give him the dubious notability of being the only person I decided the world would be better off without enough to pick up a sword and start walking. Theddie and Kierstal talked me down, which I thoroughly appreciate from my current perspective, years later. Current me would definitely regret bringing harm or death to someone who was himself already harmed by the world, and the world would not, I think, be better for it.
We also had an issue with the woman who lived on the other side of the alley / street that ran behind the lower house. We had many cats, who lived indoor/outdoor lives. She hated free roaming cats. This would have been a minor neighborly dispute, aside from the fact that she had access to poison and a willingness to use it. SNA (Subject Not Available, all the cats in that litter had web-related names) seized and convulsed to her death in Kierstal’s arms, and that was enough to convince us that they needed to be indoor cats, since the environment was particularly hostile.
That was towards the end of my time in New Brighton, but there is one more event I wanted to recount in this piece. As I mentioned, Shaky had once dated Kierstal and still sought her affections, which cashed out to him doing her favors. The last was when she asked to borrow his Starcraft disc so she could play it. He loaned her the case for the game, which contained a burned CD, hand labelled, “Little Angels”. When inserted, it proved to be full of child porn. This was not a little shocking to us, and we discussed what to do about it for a while, eventually deciding to bring it to the police in town. Not long after that, they raided the upper house, leading Shaky out in cuffs and causing the building to be condemned. When they went through all of his things, they eventually found seven hundred gigabytes of child porn on burned cds – a truly staggering amount, considering he was on dial-up internet. I don’t know how he’d accumulated so much, given that even dial-up internet wasn’t commonly available to consumers nine years earlier, that being the length of time he would have had to have been continuously downloading, according to a back of the envelope calculation I did at the time. Even today, more than a decade later, I find it hard to believe how very invested he was.
So Shaky went to jail, and Theddie, a number of his friends he called in for help, and I cleaned out the upper house, a nightmare of trashed paper, furniture, and worse things. We managed to get the house to a point that the condemnation was revoked, and Shaky’s father was able to spend the rest of his life in it; it was not in any way an easy task. It was made a little easier, in the sense of not getting worse as it went, because the police had had little regard for the cats when they came through, letting them all out into the world. We attempted to recover them where possible, but even this was ill-fated. One of them, a very sweet calico known as, “the Hippie cat” showed up across the street one day. I tried to call her to me, and she started to come, just before a car sped up the hill we were on, and crushed her in front of me.
New Brighton has a lot of bad memories for me.
Kierstal and I moved on not terribly long after that, and while leaving Theddie was painful, we had reason to go and many unhappy remembrances urging us on. Martina was in need of someone to work for her, and I had both gotten over our last falling out, and felt a drive towards earning income again, so leave we did.

Meeting Martina

We left off my biographical posts with my brother and I sleeping in a stairwell. Not the best situation, in winter in Massachusetts. Frankly, it was downright miserable. We spent a few days sneaking into various dining commons to stay fed, but it wasn’t remotely sustainable.

Here is another place where memory diverges. I recall seeing Martina in the university craft center, and going in to talk with her, because she looked interesting. She maintained that a mutual friend of ours, Tam, pointed me in her direction. By the time I got around to asking Tam, he honestly could not recall. It’s not the most vital point to be sure about, but it did have an outsized effect on my life, and it saddens me to be unsure of the truth of the matter.

Regardless, I went into the craft center, Martina and I spoke, and the end result was that I acquired a job and a room for my brother and I. Being a personal care assistant, and particularly a live-in, requires a certain sort of person. You need to be capable of handling the needs of the job (Depending on the needs of the person, these can be quite personal. I refuse to draw a clearer picture.) and able to be surprised with shifts out of nowhere.
The live-in deal, you see, is this: in exchange for free rent, you trade away your right of refusal. If a shift isn’t going to be covered, and nobody else wants it, you have to take it. This can work anywhere from tolerably to terribly, depending on how the rest of the situation stands.

Here are some reasons I had to cover a shift:
Co-worker didn’t feel like coming in
Co-worker totaled their car
Co-worker went on break and never came back (This was a fun one, Martina was panicking over this person’s well-being, they were off playing video games)
Co-worker did something else egregious, got fired, and there we were (both on the day in question and until we found a replacement)
Co-worker had MRSA (“Can I come in anyway? I’m medicated!” Martina: “Not with my compromised immune system.”)

A number of my friends of the time ended up cycling through Martina’s employ. Some moved on, others…
At one point she went on a trip, taking the mail room key with her, and leaving all of our checks in a locked mailbox, which left some of us in an awkward position: A car had been impounded, the fee for it was rising by the day, and the price was already painful for the person in question. I watched them pick the lock, because it seemed like the least bad of the options. She fired them. I remember arguing with her on the phone about this being a bad idea and unevenly implemented, as I had at least been present and not stopped events. I was not fired, but I was covering shifts.

Another thing about being her live-in was that I went on a lot of trips with her. Martina got around; it was actually pretty impressive how much she travelled, and lots of other people didn’t want to make a multi-day commitment. The most intense trips were ADAPT actions. ADAPT originated as Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transport, focused on getting wheelchair accessible lifts on buses. In 1990, due in no small part to their activism, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, and they updated their acronym to Americans Disabled Attendant Programs Today. Now, they focus on getting PCA services to be an option as compared to nursing homes, the assumptive default. (Nursing homes are awful. Inadequate Equilibria [https://equilibriabook.com/] has an excellent explanation of why without ever touching them as an example.) ADAPT has a tendency to surround a relevant building, lock it down as much as possible, and chant until someone comes and talks to them.

This, it turns out, works.

Every action I’ve been to, that day’s activity ended when someone from the system admitted that these were people, and deserved to be heard. I remember quite vividly being present when we held an entire government building, including the parking garage, chanting, “Just like a nursing home YOU CAN’T GET OUT!”. I’ve helped block intersections, I’ve chanted at government offices, I’ve stood in potholes on the street to guide the march line away from them, and I’ve helped distribute the in-action meals (McDonald’s) that kept people going.

They’ve marched across states, remained stalwart and resolute through rain, snow, apathy, and opposition, and generally kicked ass for 42 years. I’ve watched crowds of them calmly wait while being told that they would be arrested if they did not disperse, and held the line. I’ve seen hundreds of them arrested, and I’ve cheered when they came back to the hotel in small groups after being released. I’m proud to have taken part in their story.

That said, ADAPT actions are rough on PCAs. Six days of getting up early and going to bed late and being on the march and doing your normal duties plus helping out plus marching, it’s a lot! Harder than any work experience I’ve had, save the Hell Year. Lots of people were not up to taking it on, and so with Martina I went. I wish, in hindsight, that I’d stepped up for more. Taking part was good for me, and I think the knowledge that my work supported someone who was part of this group and shifting the world to be a little brighter is a lot of how I worked for Martina as much as I did over the fifteen years since we met.

This has run on perhaps a little longer, and a bit more rambling than I intended, but ADAPT was a huge part of who Martina was, and no explanation of her could be complete without it. They’re some of the most alive people I’ve ever met, and more people should know about them. I hope this moves at least one person to consider volunteering for an action, or at least looking into the organization, the causes for their cause, and update their views about what the ‘right’ thing to do for people with disabilities is.

Join me next autobiographical section, wherein I move hundreds of miles, meet possibly the most psychologically broken person I’ve ever known, and study home repair in a home that had previously been repaired with cereal boxes!

Attleboro and Hadley

This post was uncomfortable to approach, but necessary. I am posting it to share the complete story, but it will not make me look good. I fell short of the standards I hold to now, but those times are part of why I built these standards. Hard times build strong standards; the Hell Year post will support this.

At the end of my last biographical post, I had just left college, unsure of what my future would be, but certain I wanted it to have more gaming and less work. Having no money and no plan, I followed the default path of my generation: I leaned on my mother for housing and upkeep. Mom is a wonderful woman in several ways, but infinitely accommodating she is not. She pushed, hard, for me to get a job, and after a fair amount of pavement pounding, I found employment at a foundry, working ZA-12, a zinc-aluminum alloy that is used in many cast-metal applications. It was, as work goes, okay. I got to look at beautiful molten metal, there were interesting tools and I got bounced around to a variety of tasks, which is a great way to get more out of ADHD employees, and there was some affordance for goofing around.

Still as the new-situation shininess wore off, I found myself less and less satisfied. I’d like to say that I had some sort of principled stand, or that I knew I was meant for greater things… but nah. In reality, I disliked the commute (Biking a few miles in cold rain can be a miserable experience), I disliked spending so much time away from the things I wanted to be doing, like gaming (At the time both video and tabletop) and really, just… taking direction. I wasn’t really into the whole provide value to continue surviving deal. I was a free spirit!

I ghosted that job. I think I might even have left my last paycheck, I just didn’t have the drive to go back for it. Instead I went to Connecticut for a weekend, to LARP, with the brother I mentioned in the last post in this series. Arriving a day early for a small-time LARP can be exciting, because the night is dark, and full of animal noises. We did manage to get a fire going, and we stayed up the night, feeding it. In the morning, the owner of the LARP showed up, and was fairly surprised to see us there. We NPC’d for the weekend, playing characters both generic and unique.

After that… well, I wasn’t really sure where to go, and it turned out my brother was in similar straits, although I do not now recall his exact situation. I do recall that we both wanted to get back to the Pioneer Valley, and I found a way to do so – we would be housemates with a member of the fraternity I had joined.

Across the state to South Hadley went we, laden with our possessions and a certainty that the world was on our side. It even seemed to be true, for a while. We got work at a McDonald’s for a few months, before being fired on Thanksgiving for not coming in. Given we were getting around via bus, I didn’t really see this as fair, but honestly I was sick enough of the job by then that I swore off fast food work, an oath I have managed to keep. Minimum wage was not worth being burned, or the fine coating of oil we returned home wearing after every shift.

Now, here’s where things get a little complex, and disputed. I’m sure neither my brother nor I had more than a couple of months of rent in hand at that point. For years he and I maintained that our housemate drank the rent money. I’ve believed it for a long time – the man certainly had a problem (and I hope wherever you are, things have gotten better for you) with alcohol, and he could have, but I don’t trust myself not to have recast that part of my history to put myself in a better light. Certainly my dedication to Truth was less solid, in those days.

In the end, the result was the same: No jobs, no place to live. My brother and I took refuge in a stairwell in a garage on the Umass campus. It turns out that (some) people can sleep across concrete stairs. I can’t in good conscience recommend it.

This is as far as I meant to take you today. Tune in next time, when Ratheka gets a profession!

College One

Sitting down to seriously plan this blog, I knew that one thing I really wanted to cover was my life experience: Who I am, and how I got here. I decided that while my childhood might be of interest to some, it was painful enough for me not to want to revisit it. The key points that will be relevant as the story goes are: I had basically no high school education, I somehow ended up with a diploma (with no backing) anyway, and I came out of the end of it with acceptance to UMass Amherst.

By Frigg, I loved Amherst. The whole Pioneer Valley touched something deep inside of me. I remember the first time I travelled through it, and immediately, I knew: This is home. The architecture appealed, from the rather quaint Jones Library, to the WEB Du Bois library, shedding bricks and sinking under the weight of storing books instead of, as planned, administrators. (At least, so local whispernet ran. I am unsure of the veracity of these claims.)

I took housing on the 2 in 20 floor, an initiative to bring together a number of people from the set LGBT. I enjoyed it, made some friends, and had a roommate who was incredibly patient with my poorly socialized and strange self. I was routinely out at all hours, sometimes not returning for days, or in company almost as strange as I. One such experience was when my (sworn) brother and a mutual acquaintance came by around 2 am, tripping for the first time and in need of a sitter.

I haven’t reflected on that night in… years. Looking back, I can see myself exercising the first seeds of a sense of responsibility toward others. It’s not that I wanted to go without sleep, following a pair of people who were having a better time that I was envious of. I considered what I knew of tripping, and that people are safer with sitters. Given that, it almost felt like there was no decision to make. Going with them was my downhill, and I fluidly flowed along. Watching the dawn from one of the Southwest Towers made it pretty worthwhile.

This was also the time I got “back” into chemistry. I’d tried nicotine and THC in my younger days, and found I liked them. As a legal adult, I could do what I wanted! I wanted nicotine and THC, and oh my did I get them. I started smoking hand-rolled cigarettes (Bali Shag Blue, if you please. None of this Bugler crap.) and weed regularly, and hey, I was having a good time. I was Living Life For Real. The philosophy I had at the time was the ancestral, vague and hazy version of one I ran for most of my adult life: Human happiness is the good. To increase the amount of human happiness is therefore good. If I make myself happy, I am serving good. Maybe not optimally, but I was then only a sprout of the person I am today.

I also wanted adventure, and I had several. I took most opportunities that sounded interesting – I went out to New Hampshire, spending some time there at a group house. I spent a while in Pennsylvania, meeting and getting to know Theddie and Kierstal, who became quite important to me. I also woke up to 9-11 in the home of a friend who worked in NYC. It was not a nice way to wake.

Shockingly, all of this was terrible for my grades. You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned classes here, and the simple reason why is that I barely remember attending any. I know I was a CS major, I recall having some serious trouble with Java (perhaps because I NEVER WENT TO LECTURES?) and I’m fairly sure I attended the philosophy class that gave me an important life insight during this time.

We were discussing ethical systems, and I recall expounding my belief that, “The Rules apply to everybody, equally, or they are not rules, they are a club with which you beat people who are not in the club.” See the current American legal system and outcomes graphed over wealth / income for an ugly and close to home example of the latter half of that sentence.

From this, it seemed to me to naturally follow that if your ethical system led somewhere you were uncomfortable with, you had a few choices. You could reexamine the premises that had brought you to that point, and the reasoning you’d followed, to see if you’d erred along the way. You could decide that the entire framework was flawed/broken/wrong, and look for another. Finally, you could recognize that you knew what you were ‘supposed’ to be doing, and if you know what you should be doing then you’d better damn well do it, or admit to yourself you aren’t as good of a person as you’d thought. This remains true for me still, and is the axis on which I have turned a few times. The cloudy, gestalt version drove me to throw shoes on and chase a couple of people around campus and make sure they didn’t try to fly. The explicit version has me pouring all the hours I can into doing that which seems to me currently to be most fruitful to raise p(FAI).

Well, attending a few classes, even if you bring interesting ideas and write good papers, when you do, is inadequate to hold an academic career. I got put on academic probation, then suspension, and I departed campus, unsure of where to. This is as far as I’d planned to take this post. Thanks for reading through, and please do share your thoughts in the comments.