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Solace State in Netherlands, New York… and soon, Seattle for PAX West!

Summer 2018 has been a season to remember for Solace State!

In May, Solace State brought on board Gabi (@UndeadOoze) working full-time as a programmer from May through the first week of June, then part time for the rest of the summer. We also worked with Silverstring Media (@Slvrstrng), narrative consultants, and Seage (@Seageart), 2D character artist, on contract throughout the last few  months. Everyone has been contributing their utmost; Our first ambitious milestone was to make a submission to Indie MEGABOOTH. Indie MEGABOOTH for PAX West is one of the most competitive pavillions in the world to apply to showcase indie games to excited consumers.

 

In June, we continued to polish this build, and by the last week of June, I travelled to Utrecht, Netherlands, for the INDIGO 2018 Expo on June 29, along with 40 other games. Run by the Dutch Game Garden, most of the games are by the Dutch, and some are from European developers; Solace State was the only one invited from North America. From the event, we connected with Utomik, had three pieces of press, and was selected by XGN.nl as one of four best-in-show games. Later in July, Utomik even followed up to connect with me to do a live-stream!

 

 

On July 13, less than two weeks after my Netherlands trip, I traveled to New York City with an updated build to Game Devs of Color Expo that took in some of the earlier feedback to improve on its choice mechanic. We had been periodically improving on the game build since it has had a lot of public exposure and concentrated feedback from local devs. I also did a talk about how Solace State became a social impact game (full stream here). Both the game and talk were well received, with Solace State mentioned on 7 publications and shows, including Kotaku, NPR, Polygon, and Intelligame Radio. It was shortly after this trip that I realized how much I need someone to help me on vlogging, video promotions of development, and marketing in general.

 

 

I received some timely feedback that my business and marketing plan are weak to nonexistent (in that it relies on portentious hope rather than reality), which is actually a blessing because it coincides with my gut feeling about how I should structure my company and project. After consulting with Ryerson Transmedia Zone (TMZ) Mentors, TMZ teams such as Blackout, Paere, and Cherrydale, non-profit leaders, friends working at tech titans, and other published interactive digital media studio owners in Toronto, I refocused on sharpening the company’s vision to create an audience-community that encourages social healing and advocating for marginalized stories.

 

 

The hard work paid off. In July I received a wonderfully surprising email: That I have been invited to participate at Indie MEGABOOTH. I will be showing the game with new build additions at PAX West, in Seattle on Aug 31 – Sept 1, at the smaller, more experimental pavillion Indie MEGABOOTH’s MINIBOOTH!

 

 

Please stay tuned! After PAX, we hope to keep building more content and perhaps even a vlog or two about my experiences travelling to show our new Solace State demos!

 

Peace and love,

Tanya Kan

 

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Solace State updates in energies, bizdev and social impact learning

Tanya Kan reporting in: There’s been a lot of behind the scenes activity for Solace State! In the past 9 months, I’ve been focusing on a lot of very diverse moving pieces of work that I have not written about in a blog post yet.

First of all, we have a new-ish trailer with new music by Robby Duguay, and lots of new in-game footage. The trailer is edited by yours truly. Don’t worry, the text will slow down to a pace that you’re comfortable with reading in the visual novel for the actual playable build itself.

We’ve been expanding our team. CJ “Seage” Howlett have been working with us to create beautiful character art for Solace State! He has a fantastic fantasy and fashion arts background and he streams some of his art commissions online frequently on Twitch!


Here we are showcasing the game. From left to right: Solace State’s producer Henry Faber, me, and 2D Character Artist Seage, at Bit Bazaar at the CNE. See how many Solace State tees you can spot in this post.

I haven’t done a speaking engagement since the last half of 2017, but Sept 2017 onwards was very eventful. I spoke at two industry events at Toronto International Film Festival (DIALOGUES 2001: An Immersive Odyssey and CONNECTIONS New Technology & Immersive Storytelling) and connected with documentarians who are doing some incredible work and wish to dive into VR and interactive story-driven experiences. I took the opportunity to describe how politically complex and engaged work is as necessary as ever within even entertainment media. I also spoke at Make Change Conference on social impact games; A talk that I hope to polish – and with more than 3 hours of sleep before its delivery – and harness parts of it later on as well. I also showcased the game at Dames Making Games’ first ever Damage Camp. Finally, a small chapter demo of Solace State was selected as an official selection at the Regent Park Film Festival. The chapter was very well-received and I thoroughly enjoyed the programming at that festival!

I have also been working on a lot of writing in November through January, and have grown in my confidence as a writer to develop a story of complexity that presents how difficult it can be for communities to protect each other’s livelihoods and bring about a more peaceable society.

Silverstring Media are always a joy to work with. They have helped me wrestle with some of the hardest questions, including how to write about societal dramas, to how to stay productive and energized as a writer. I can’t wait to share more about my writing process as we get closer to launch, because the questions that the Silverstring team have engaged me with have been so substantial. I have also worked with Silverstring Media on Matt Makes Games’ and Noel Berry’s Celeste to offer narrative consultation on East Asian representation, and this was a most enjoyable and inspiring experience!

At the same time, I have increased the amount of bizdev learning over the course of 2018, including attending an accelerated course at the Artscape Launchpad program and participating in Ryerson’s Transmedia Zone.

Artscape Launchpad’s Creative Entrepreneur Program was fantastic in helping me reframe my mind around how to consider everything from the presentation of my business, to accounting, legal, marketing and grants. Launchpad brought in some great experts to walk artists through the process, and I highly recommend its classes and other events. Our cohort is fantastic and it’s great to learn from other artistic peers about their business directions. The whole experience has been very healing for me.

Transmedia Zone also gave me resources about pitching and offers a huge library of business development resources, and in the future I have their mentorship program to look forward to as well. I have been working with an intern at the Zone and engaging her with directions on branding and social media as I learn the material myself.

A post shared by Tanya (@vividfoundry) on

Bring that all together, I’ve been teaching myself more about social media use for branding, as well as taking advantage of my contacts in legal and accounting to ask questions to augment my learning. In turn, I have been getting more involved with consultation as an entrepreneurial artist, as well as engaging with community groups and legal thinkers to discuss about education and society. The community involvement helps ground my work as well, in a “bigger-picture” sense, and also helps me think outside of the box as a creative.

For the month of February and March, the bizdev side has been my focus, and it does take a lot of energy out of me. Grants and finding sources of funding have also remained at the forefront the last several months. From April onwards, I will be refocusing on strategizing set hours around writing, while I work on a bit of design during other parts of the day. We aim to have a new build out later this year to share with you all!

[Press] IGN: Women in Video Game Development in 2017: A Snapshot


It was a joy to be interviewed by Lucy O’Brien, IGN Games & Entertainment Editor. We had a very reflexive conversation about some of the challenges that women face in the video game industry. What makes her piece stand out is that she examines deeply at our roots, our first spark of delight at finding game development as a viable path, to the systemic barriers, and finally to the actionable elements that can help us as an industry improve. Ms. O’Brien had interviewed 55 women and non-binary game developers from around the globe, and it’s extremely empowering to hear the stories that resonate with me. If there’s an equivalent to a palatial mural of our times on women’s experiences today in the games industry, this is that article.

 Read about it here!

 

An excerpt:

The no-girls allowed reputation around video games is further encouraged by years and years of mainstream advertising that has turned its back on the female gender (or sleazily revelled in its aesthetic). As video games continue to be primarily marketed towards boys and men, boys and men continue to primarily develop them.

… “To be honest, I would like to see a whole change in the way games are marketed,” says Vee Prendergast, a game developer from Perth. “Mainstream game advertising is still so male-oriented despite the target audience having completely shifted.”

This viewpoint is shared by Tanya Kan from Toronto, a game developer who frequently contends with the ill-educated idea that video games are, by default, ‘shooters’ or ‘gun games’, an idea as archaic as believing every video game console is called a ‘Nintendo’. “The moment I tell a bunch of strangers or friends I’ve not seen for a while that I make video games, they immediately think I’m going to make the next Halo,” says Kan. “I’m like, ‘I make pacifist games.’”

Poem: Bleached Ocean (draft)

You brought her to the ocean edge.
She wondered how much it would hurt
If she held her breath without any peace.
If she trailed into the waves on her own,
Met mantle crusts that squeeze her side
Just for imagining different shore lines.

Times you’ve shared pilgrimage in virtuous lines,
Couldn’t say she was so much on a constant edge.
You’d say you’re a worldly friend to be by her side;
Only faraway carrion calls sounded the hurt.
But she said, “I can make it on my own”,
Smiled and prospered like flowers of peace.

There are such words to wound the peace,
Insincere, power-hungry, carnal lines,
To those that rob legitimacy of her own.
The futile silence becomes an edge
That only scrambles in betrayal and hurt
And fear of reprisal shackles her in-side.

Wondered how selfish you were in-side,
To break a pristine and platonic peace.
Prideful with lust and coiling with hurt,
You pried at her armor and broke border-lines.
Won’t let her descend to her own dreamer’s edge
And extol with her beholder’s eye on her own.

She’d once weathered mirrors to a world of her own:
Upbraided expectations that she’d shake off her side,
Kept the levies high to maintain her own edge.
Taught from dusk to dawn to keep the peace
With the boys and their machismo lines.
Her body heat chose solitude without hurt.

Now your emotional dishonesty that did the most hurt:
Tilting deafened eyes and ears, poured by your own;
How asking her for permission never lines
Your mouth as you clenched fingers up her bed-side.
Is this not the bleached desecration of all peace,
As you brought her to the ocean edge.

(As one goodwill drops off the saline edge,
Eventually turns into a tidal, pitiless peace
Emptying like sediment onto her corroded side.)

 

A sestina is a poem with six stanzas of six lines and a final triplet, all stanzas having the same six words at the line-ends in six different sequences that follow a fixed pattern, and with all six words appearing in the closing three-line envoi.

The fixed sequences:
1. ABCDEF
2. FAEBDC
3. CFDABE
4. ECBFAD
5. DEACFB
6. BDFECA
7. (envoi) ECA or ACE

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Eviction Notice direction and design notes

GDC17 was a great time, and I was happily surprised by the positive reception to Eviction Notice! Because of this, I want to share some of the core elements of design that drove me and the art direction that I pursued with this small-scale VR project.

Eviction Notice’s design premise is very simple. It is primarily a linear narrative where voice-overs are triggered by gazing at objects around the room, which causes them to vanish. The story is about a young woman who is being forcefully evicted from her home for political reasons. So the overall feeling is that the space becomes more claustrophobic as it empties out, even as you examine artifacts that bring up feelings of nostalgia, whimsy and melancholy.

Compared to some other interactive projects that I’ve created, the core design of the project remained the same today as it was from its outset. From the feedback the game received, it worked really well within the core strengths and technical limitations of the Oculus Gear VR (without controllers).

Here’s the first pitch I ever made on an open channel for the Dames Making Games #hyperreal game jam:

And this is an excerpt from my original game design doc, and further iterations of it really helped further tighten the core vision:

I went with an aesthetic that was developed from my other works associated with Vivid Foundry: Painterly, with colours like a more muted version of Wong Kar Wai’s films (In the Mood For Love, shown below). I wanted to create a sense of homeliness and of a fleeting moment in time (as sociopolitical impressions upon a person often are). Thus, the scene is set with a kind of smoggy, urban dusk.

I’ve always loved setting up lighting, and creating colours in both raster textures and shaders in Engine. Because this was built for mobile VR, there’s a lot more limitations for post-production, but it was thus an interesting challenge adjust the look between modelling programs and Unity constantly. That’s the fun part of being the sole level builder, to really have the fine adjustments and control over the look of the game.

Additionally, when I was travelling in East Asia in 2012, I spent some time with the Society for Community Organization, a non-profit organization for the life and dignity of those in poverty and an advocacy group for public and grassroots housing. I must’ve shipped back hundreds of dollars’ worth books from SOCO and overseas, many of which I offered to friends of the East Asian diaspora.

When reading their publications, I was struck by how the interior spaces photographed create deeply anthropological documentations to underprivileged groups, while simultaneously tell deeply personal, social stories about loss in family and community. I’ve also had the privilege of speaking to volunteers and locals there to discuss the plight of both the working poor and the shrinking middle class in East Asia, and the civil society ramifications of this. These themes thus embed inside my writing for the entirety of Eviction Notice.

These were originally research for Solace State, but some of my writing, stories and inspirations that didn’t make it inside Solace State made its way to Eviction Notice. Thus, the two interactive experiences share very similar visual language as well. In many ways, Eviction Notice is suffused with “happiness within sadness”, while Solace State is about “sadness within happiness”.* I’ve also studied civic engagement for a good few years both during and after my academic career, and sought to create an accessible story that doesn’t take the political complexities for granted. It was in having conversations with people regarding their expectations of public policy and civil society that helped me bridge the gap between writing academically to writing for interactive narratives. It’s conversations about family histories, their hopes and fears for the future, and how they seek to protect the things that are most important to them.

Thus, one of the biggest changes to the game from initial planning to its current iteration was actually the script. My friends Kwan and Jason offered the feedback that our early build with a voice-over soliloquy comes off as a lecture (which is only engaging if my politics are very similar to the viewer’s), as a cerebral experience rather than an emotive one. It led to one of my most important design changes, which was to implement an “I-spy” narrative framework to pick out the objects in a somewhat linear manner, with another voice in the room guiding the player.

Here’s one of the lines from my first script:

Compared with this one, after my design changes:

Following this, I’ve also had the privilege to work with Kaitlin Tremblay, whose narrative editing ensured that the dialogue is as evocative and natural as it can be. Afterwards, Chris Donnelly recorded Erika Szabo and I as the two characters whose voices now occupy Eviction Notice: Erika’s voice acting brought to life the owner of the flat, who is politically detained and fears for her possessions in her flat; My voice is that of her friend and the player character who helps her pack away her belongings.

Eviction Notice has proven to be an interesting project for me to direct, design and develop because of its small scope, but still maximizing emotional impact through visual and narrative design.

*Original quote about happiness/sadness attributed to Jungkook in a video behind-the-scenes about Run music video versus I Need U. 

 

Poem: 4’33” and Variations

He was tremendous to me, once.
Told me everything I wanted to hear.
Into the long night, it was
Where everything was analyzable.
We scrutinized every silence and
Lorded over that time, that space.
We seemed unafraid to speak our
Minds: Restless, young, brash.

There were silences when we
Watched each other breathe,
Wanted to stay awake just so.
We talked about dreams
But forgot about the nightmares.
Flourished in play but negated
Grief and minute, intricate shames.
Eyes closed first, then the ears, and
Neglect became the most
Unforgiving silence of all.

There are many such silences.
A singular in a multitude.
A drop cascaded into a movement.
The streets creased unseasonally,
A stop-start jerk of arrested action.
There are some that hear not,
And twist the hearings.
There are blackouts.
There are lines that shouldn’t
Have been struck, erode the stories
Of the fallen and the meek
As noise.

In retaliation,
There are the silences of protests,
A bubbled time in a streetwise candle,
And of remembrance.

Then there are the silences
Of contemplation in a “temple” of the self.
Or: A behemoth in muffled lightning,
That roils with relentless challenges,
With drops of calm like oil in water,
Breathing deep against the tide of time.
There’s pressure, easing and honing in.
There’s scribbles, loose-leafs, coiled spines,
Which all get shuffled and satedly vandalized
On the way to create new memories.

[coda]

And then there’s you.
My newfound silence in newborn shyness,
In a staccato heartbeat of quiet hope.
A singular glance poised for harmony
Of endless discussions in crafted havens.
It runs full color arpeggios in my imagination,
Eliciting a gasp of paradigm shifts.
A question fluted on the lips, wondering,
If the meaning I make is meaningful to you.

      D.C. al Coda

[coda]

Sometimes (time and time again),
Allowing one’s truest self to Become
Is but the silent grace of listening.

Poem: Unseasonally

Unseasonally that winter,
The heat burnished street corners
Into a filmy, snow-less static.
Songbirds twisted their heads
In confusion, as pedestrians
Gestured at one another
In hesitant notes and climes.

I think I waved at you then,
Just as your heels stuck to the mud.
For that moment, it was as though
No cars moved, nor a single reel.
And everyone spoke to each other
With an outpouring of relief and tears.
I can still feel your weathered hands.
They’re forged and calloused by
The banners you’ve hoisted,
The fences you’ve climbed,
The shields on their side and yours.

I offered you a drink to soothe
The voice that shouted against, for, with,
In a thunderclap of orations.
But you smiled and said, “I’ll tell you
Everything, after all’s said and done.”

Something glimmered that sundown,
Softly blushing, giving grace to fear,
A past participant of beauty
In the midst of calamity.
The movement of the trams restarted,
Jangling with scheduled purpose,
While I was still standing with my
Hands outstretched.

(We’re all still standing with our
Hands outstretched.)

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[Press] Versions: Inside Eviction Notice

versionskillscreen_insideevictionnotice

I’ve a delightful time speaking with Caty McCarthy, editor of Versions. Versions focuses on AR/VR/MR development at Kill Screen, including experimental works! She asked me questions about collaborative development of Eviction Notice and how it went from game jam to its current iteration with a collaborative team, how it contrasts with my work on my 3D visual novel Solace State, and how we hope people will take away from it.

Read about it here!

An excerpt:

Eviction Notice is something that came up from a game jam in the Dames Making Games community in Toronto, and it only started in July 2016. So it’s a fairly recent game. Whereas Solace State precludes that by almost two years in terms of its ideation and its concept. I was doing quite a bit of research for Solace State, and it’s about civil rights, youth movements. I tried to find a very diasporic expression for it, something where from my own ethnic background I can compare and contrast it with the institution building in the west, for example through the Occupy Wall Street protests and so forth.

From the research that I did and interviews I did with individuals who are activists or politicians, I also wanted to create a spin-off. A different tonality regarding civil rights, or the loss of culture in a slightly different format. For something like Solace State, I was very focused on breaking away from first person, so everything about that is going against the idea of configuring people in a kind of first-person-shooter experience. I wanted to disrupt that. I wanted to look at a city in a different way, from a different perspective. Eviction Notice, however, is fully into first-person because that’s part of that appeal. You want to be immersed in that environment.

Poem: SmallTalkBig

Where are you from?
I ask not the typical question;
I mean how you would paint yourself,
Whence you’re developing your core.
I mean that I see myself in a nest of mazes,
Colors and meandering wildflower ideas,
Being wholly comfortable in complexities,
And simultaneously needing to gulp down more air,
Flirting with reality and dousing it with dreams.
I mean that I’m from the rolling hills that
Shift with the freckles of the clouds,
Uncertain but in love with the possibilities.
I mean that I’m hugged by the warming hearth,
A soundscape of endless conversations,
Of openness on the ground, lightness in space,
Making me ask next: What tickles your soul?

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Creative Production Inspirations and Lessons from BTS in Kpop, Pt. 1

BTS, a seven-man K-Pop hip hop group, has been a creative inspiration to me in ways that I didn’t believe would be possible for my cynical-of-mainstream heart and mind. With their recent win of Mnet’s Asian Music Awards (MAMA)’s Artist of the Year Daesang, they have literally started from the bottom to win the most prestigious award for Korean musical acts. Thus I found myself writing about why this phenomenal group resonates with me and my creative development, and why I think it transcends borders for so may fans.

bts_mama2016_winningbackstagetweet

BTS is the English name based on their Korean name, Bangtan Sonyeondan, which translates to “Bulletproof Boy Scouts”. It’s quite a high-flown title and reminded me of something like “Fullmetal Alchemist” at first. As they’ve explained in a few interviews, they chose this name because their music is meant to reflect the issues that teenagers and youth in their 20s in society, and use their songs as a shield against prejudice.

And I’ve been delighted to find BTS’s name and motto remains true, in their musical production as well as their visual direction that engage with social consciousness themes for a youth age group. They have done this in an unpretentious way that allows young fans to have open conversations about difficult topics on family, mental health, inequality, sexuality, and more. As someone who has enjoyed Cinema Studies in university, some have called my cultural media interests esoteric and niche and out of touch with what’s “popular”, but BTS has shown that you can have it both ways; Their strength lies in their simultaneous presentation that is both accessible and self-reflexive, with both breadth and depth.

Throughout the rest of this winding article, I will present what ingredients in their oeuvre makes them such a creative and commercial success, and key points that I believe any commercial artists of any medium who strive to talk about social consciousness in their work can learn from.

Read more

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DMG Speaker Social: Talk on Eviction Notice VR Development So Far

I had a great time on the evening of 2016-Nov-19 presenting to the wonderful community of Dames Making Games! I talked about my experiences so far developing Eviction Notice with the rest of my team. Eviction Notice VR is a game that first began in mid-July out of the Hyperreal Jam that Dames Making Games organized! I covered some challenges that we had developing for the Gear, especially focusing on art and production and narrative design. I also mentioned what worked well for us in terms of feedback structure and keeping everyone motivated.

Thank you for such a warm reception and support from the community! Here are some Tweets and Instagram from the event.

. @vividfoundry showcasing Eviction Notice for the @damesmakinggames Speaker Social.

A photo posted by Jonathan Levstein (@jlevstein) on

Part of the team was also in attendance! From left to right: Chris Donnelly, Sound Designer; Erika Szabo, Voice Actor (Tricia); Kaitlin Tremblay, Narrative Editor; Tanya Kan: Director, Executive Producer, Writer, Game Designer, 3D and Texture Artist, Voice Actor (Lana)

evictionnotice_partofteam

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BMCAA 10th Unconference Talk: On Narrative Design

I had a great time presenting at U of T Biomedical Communications Alumni Association’s 10th annual Unconference on 2016-Nov-19! I presented a talk entitled “Designing for Narratives in VR and Visual Novels“. I talked about my modus operandi, and my method of designing from narrative-first then follow through with game mechanics, rather than the other way around. Along the way, I offered tips on how to hone in on a meaningful story, how to interview subjects to create great characters, and more.

 

Thank you for inviting me, BMCAA! 

BMCAA 10th annual unconference

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Halloween month brings a melancholic script to Eviction Notice VR

I am delighted that, since July 15, we’ve been working on Eviction Notice VR for the Samsung Gear. It’s something that we’ve contributed to whenever there is a moment outside of our regular work, and we have continually looked at ways that we can innovate on our way to tell a narrative story well.

eviction_161029_promoshot

One of the major changes was in creating a new narrative, one that moved from monologue to a much more conversational story. The vision of the game was always to clear a home due to a forced eviction for political reasons, and the player can piece together the culture within which this character lived. People who played the previous build found that it was cerebral and intelligent, but didn’t engage with the emotions. And it’s a story about forced evictions and injustices that can definitely tug at the heartstrings and make people care. The script that I wrote, in contrast, felt more didactic, almost like a political speech. So, after hearing this feedback and listening to the concerns of the team, I decided to write it so that it was a cellphone conversation between two characters, and the player is helping her friend pack up everything. This gave a level of narrative immersion that really helped tell a better serious story.

We also embedded some particle effects and visuals to make the space more interesting to look at. I think, in the future, the particles need to be designed better so that they all come from a similar style of art, so that you can really anticipate a uniform visual look.

Yesterday we showcased our game for the first time at Akimbo Toronto Arts Show VR Showcase. One of the amazing piece of feedback we got from the showcase is that, the first time a player heard the voiceover react to something that she did in the game world (that is, looked at a laptop to put it away), it made her feel like the voice-over represented her actions and the gameplay felt that much more immersive. Another great piece of feedback we recieved is that the soundscape gave an embodied sense of the enclosed interior. However, those who are unfamiliar with the VR medium did take a while to get used to the gameplay and the visual space. 

We’re still going to continue to explore innovations in game design and mechanics to hopefully make Eviction Notice VR that much more immersive. This is just one of the first steps for us to approach mobile VR storytelling!

Also shout-outs to some incredible Dames in VR, female-led teams who are doing some incredibly artistic experiences in Rift VR. Nicole Del Medico, middle, is showcasing Never Forget: An Architecture of Memory, and Kim Koronya is showcasing Globes.

Poem: Swimming Small

You catch my gaze across the distance.
Many months later, you’re wondering
About the smallness of the world,
Or about the smallness of us.
I can’t remember if I’ve kept a secret or ten,
Or spread them like open-handed cards,
When I’m at my worst and my best.
You used to sing me sonnets,
Interject cosily between my breaths,
Until my silences got too heavy.
My “I don’t love you” is a crippling hymn,
But at least you’ve memorized
Some parts of me before I can avert my eyes.
I don’t know if I can stand it sometimes
All the vices of me against the world,
And I tell you not to wait for me.
But you tell me to “Don’t stand then,
Swim,” as if it’s that simple.
But who am I to question if it is?
Maybe it’s true that I don’t love much at all
But the firmness of your smile under a tide.
That we’re equally adrift, outside-looking-out,
Beckoning each other like two gravitating,
Wild islands, in the smallness of the world.