Scene From A Bar

Shamelessly pretentious and inspired by the wonderfully filthy work of Charles Bukowski, this is an extremely short bit of something that resulted from me just wanting to write with a version of his voice. 

There were maybe six others in the bar. I sat in a booth at the back with a really terrible scotch and waited. That’s all I came for, just to wait. I treated the glass in my hand like an excuse to do nothing and hope that my day would just occupy itself, tucking itself in neatly with all the rest I had burned away in the dim light. It was going well so far.

A lot of people need a reason to drink, but my reason was the act itself. Liquor is a catalyst, it makes things happen. Not that I had faith in a cheap bottle of whiskey or anything, not at all. Whatever it was going to set up wouldn’t be worth the price of admission. Still, two mouthfuls and I had gotten used to the taste.

There was one girl in the place; pretty, with blonde hair pulled back too tight into a ponytail. The hum of the music was an annoyance, it distracted me from eyeing her properly. She was with a man who stomped his leg rapidly with either excitement or nerves, neither of which I was sure were justified. His hands painted ten messy pictures as he told her about his lunch or something, and she just looked right past him. She was a wall that he regaled with false stories of bravado and fabricated charisma. He had a routine all lined up and it didn’t matter which beats hit, he’d follow through. The girl pursed her lips after every sip she took, auburn clinging to those pillows from a bottle of house red. He never even touched his, it got in the way of his speech.

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A New Year

First things first, I hope everyone reading this had a long and happy Christmastime filled with far too much food and warmed by good company. Mine was lazy and pleasantly blurred, with days melding together into one very welcome break.

It’s 2014 now, and I haven’t shown myself on here for quite a while, I know. As of November I’ve been writing for Nintendolife.com as a news reporter and occasional reviewer. It’s been keeping me busy on my days off work, and if you’ve an interest in Nintendo at all then I genuinely can’t think of a friendlier and more informative site to recommend. The staff are amazing, and this sounds reallllllly self-serving as I’m now kinda one of them. Next I’ll be putting up banner ads and subliminal messagingVISITNINTENDOLIFE.COMor something.  Check out my profile, and a quick search of ‘Conor McMahon’ should bring up most of the stuff I’ve written so far.

So I’m aiming to get this blog a bit more active again, with a few opinion pieces and bits of fiction in the works for the near future. Today I’ll throw up a very brief piece alongside this, more to come soon as well. I want give my thoughts on the methods of storytelling, review and analyse different films and video games, and hopefully keep to some kind of schedule. This could even be my resolution, actually…

I ramble, so I’ll stop it here and wish you the absolute best for the new year. Make it a good one, do something weird and give up biting your fingernails or something. Though…that’s easier said  than done…

Conor X

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Thoughts on Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Within five months of its Western release and just under a year of its initial release in Japan, Animal Crossing: New Leaf has managed to rack up over six million sales. While undoubtedly a hotly anticipated title, it is nonetheless an astounding figure for a handheld game, particularly in a climate where many were quick to announce smartphones as the new evolution of mobile gaming. As one of those six million sales myself, I thought I would give my thoughts on the title, and question just where it fits in with modern contemporaries. 

Animal crossing is a game reliant on the player. It doesn’t do much to offer the kind of spectacular set-pieces and compelling story we’ve become accustomed to recently, and doesn’t even really give much in the way of missions or checkpoints to aim for. There’s a definitive beginning of course, the player’s initiation as Mayor of a perpetually quaint and cosy seaside village is a charming little ceremony, but aside from that the world is set out for you to create your own objectives. There’s no looming apocalypse, no alien threat or love interest to strive for. There is simply a cluttered little haven of cottages and wildlife for the player to mould as they see fit, and there is plenty to mould, no doubt about that. In the absence of a story, you’re left with a town to run and a population of animals to keep happy. From the beginning there is an even greater emphasis on choice and freedom than previous titles in the series. Tom Nook no longer forces you into employment, but simply suggests ways by which you can earn ‘bells’, the currency you’ll be hoarding like a miser worthy of a Christmas Carol. You don’t have to listen to his advice at all, as there are a plethora of ways to do so, but it does offer a guiding nudge for newcomers. What happens next is an experience that you make entirely your own. Some may focus on filling their museum with all the available bugs, fish and fossils, some will seek to expand as quickly as possible, and pump money into the local businesses to help them blossom and grow, some might even just want to make friends with their villagers. It’s a clever mechanic to release these possibilities bit by bit as villagers speculate over what additions to the town they’d like to see, or even upcoming events that are planned by a real-time calender system. Play the game on Halloween for example, and you can go ‘trick or treating’ for candy. Animal Crossing has always seemed to aspire to be a companion rather than an outright adventure, and it’s interesting to see this appeal to so many people. 

The elephant in the room for the 3DS has of course been the ever-growing success of apps, and there were many who dismissed the handheld as outdated and overpriced when compared to the slew of $1.99 titles that can be bought for your phone. It stands on a precarious middle-ground between home console and portable device, bridging the gap between two very different kinds of experience. This year it earned its place yet again though, and strength of sales from the 3DS alone has been a huge boost to Nintendo as they continue to struggle with the Wii U. In another life, Animal Crossing may indeed have even existed as an app. It shares some similarities with the hugely successful wave of management games on a small scale such as ‘Pixel People’ or  ‘Tiny Tower’, in that it encourages checking in on a regular basis to maintain the game world and reap the most rewards, albeit on a much broader scale. It requires a certain level of commitment, as neglecting the game results in progress slowing to a near-standstill, and those who put in the most time will more than likely have the most to show for it. Comparing it to the bite-size commitment of smaller, less expensive apps almost seems to negate a meaning for Animal Crossing to exist at all, but it’s more than just the expanded features that set New Leaf apart.

The tone of Animal Crossing has never been anything like the massive growth of an airline or an entire city that can be seen in similar titles. On the contrary, it never really grows any larger than what could be considered a village, emphasizing a break away from the urban environment and encouraging the player to instead enjoy the calmer moments of life. New Leaf is there as a refuge, a quiet break in the busy schedules that portable consoles were made for. It can be seen as the modern equivalent of a Zen garden; a place to be cultivated and appreciated under your control. It follows along with your day, so whether playing on the morning commute, at lunch or in the late evening, there is always an opportunity to take a walk through your very own forest, be it by sunrise or moonlight. Villagers will come and go, and New Leaf does a wonderful job of making you care about this fact. When your best friend in the town questions spreading their (often literal) wings and moving on, you feel a sense of panic that drives you to ask them to stay. Micro-transactions don’t even poke their head around the door here, and that is vital for the pacing of the experience. There will never be a ‘wrong’ way to play, the world is what you make it. The only way the game will ‘punish’ you for playing is if you sprint through forested areas. This will inevitably damage flowers, tear paths through your grass and even scare away wildlife, so the player is again encouraged to slow down and make the choice to get into a different, less immediate mindset. Strolling through your town in Animal Crossing is a calming experience, and a fairly literal break from the battlefield sprinting we’ve been inundated with lately. As such, it’s easy to see why many continue to play the title on a regular, often daily basis to this day. Whether for ten minutes, or a full day of renovation and exploration, Animal Crossing presents the player with a quiet little slice of existence that they can dip into for as long as they like, and now with a digital copy all they have to do is open their 3DS. It requires commitment, yes, but does nothing to make that a chore. You don’t play just to get through and earn another reward,  your village can be a place that you want to visit every day, even if only for a while. That, I feel, is something very special indeed.

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On turning 23.

So it was my birthday about a week ago; that’s always a weird couple of days.

Usually they go by without much fanfare, and that’s entirely intentional. For someone who likes to pretend that time can stand still and wait until i’m good and ready, a definitive marker that another year has gone by is something of a speed-bump for that mentality. I was scared of turning twenty and abandoning the all-purpose excuse that I was just a teenager. I was scared of turning twenty-one and really ’embracing’ adulthood. I was scared of turning twenty-two, and admitting to the fact that it was probably a littleeeee too late to start considering my break into the modelling world. It’s just scary for me to get older, and difficult not to look back and calculate with grim precision all the wasted days and missed opportunities I probably could have made use of that year. Happy Birthday to me!  – here is a list of problems you didn’t fix this year.

Twenty-three though, that has actually been pretty okay. I guess the fact that I’m laughing at myself as I write this shows a different outlook I’ve taken on board recently, or the onset of insanity. By now I suppose I’ve finally learned how useless a post-mortem of past choices really is, though it is important to realize whether or not they were ‘good’ choices. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about stupid stuff I’ve done, but at 23 I’ve gotten down to actually making sure I never do it again. Hardly an original comment to make on the human condition, but it’s pretty much the gist of it. I was a dumb kid, a dumb teen, and now a dumb adult, and that’s absolutely fine. I’m conscious of it now, conscious that being older still allows for mistakes and wasted days, while making sure that I compensate for it before too long. Slipping up is inevitable for everyone, but now I refuse to wallow in it. This actual post is pretty indulgent and rambling, but it’s still huge for me that I now have a place to put it, and the volition to do so on top of that.

So for the first time in a while, getting older is pretty exciting. I’m excited by the place i’m at right now, and even if that happens to be unemployed at the moment…it feels more like I’m on the cusp of something. The cusp of another week’s dole to keep me going at least, and the chance to whittle down anything else holding me back. I’ve got the shameless mentality of an Afterschool Special now, and it’s a nice change of pace. My birthday seemed less like another few grains of sand in the hourglass, and more like the kind of celebration it should be. I could be out of the country in a year, maybe to visit America before it all collapses in on itself and I have to visit Disneyland:Atlantis. Or maybe I won’t be! Maybe I’ll still be trying to level up my bitch of a Meowstic in Pokémon.  I’m less stoic, much less sedentary, and now I even get to vent online! Truly i’m living the life right now, and I can’t wait to see where I’m at when I turn 24. Happy Birthday to me! – I think I’m due a party next year…

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The Mermaid

This is a bit of an odd one, as I’ve been meaning to come back and finish it but just never did. It’s a couple of years old and I wrote it all in a day, basing it entirely off my enormous interest in the ocean and all the mythology that goes with it. It’s in a diary / journal format (which I hope you’ll forgive me for), as it just seemed to translate best when told through a Captain’s log of sorts.   I’m pretty fond of this one though, so I do think I’ll be giving it another look soon. As for now, I hope you’ll enjoy a fairly grim story about a Captain’s descent into mindless infatuation. Cheery stuff!

November 12th

The men hate me for this, I know it. They don’t say it outright but they certainly make no secret of it.

No matter, our course is set whether they decide to join me or not. It is my word, or death. Food rations will allow for a deviation to Western tides, I have already put a lock in place to the lower storage, one that I hold the only key to. I have this under control, they must understand that.

November 13th

With four attempts at a breaching of the lock already I must say that I thought better of them. I shall make a grave example of the next sailor who dares question my methods. Progress is slow with almost no-one following orders immediately.

November 15th

They have calmed. I am now merely resented. The waters have been kind so far, which surely gives them less reason to complain. Earlier I gave the order to belay all attempts at communication with England, perhaps not a wise decision to make outright as now some of the men look positively terrified. I find myself laughing at this, though I am not quite sure as to why. I will have to release the birds during the night as I do not trust any of them now, they will try to contact home. I take them somewhere glorious, they will see that in time. Tonight the moon is beautiful; full and ethereal. She sings for me and I follow, silver light carving a path for us. If only I could describe the music.. Such beauty, such sorrow. Screams and whispers, both in equal measure.

November 16th

Last night I awoke with a sharp pain ringing in my ears. I cried out in fear but only the ship answered, waves breaking against its hull. I may have slept again but my bedclothes were damp; soaked in fact with seawater, pools of it gathering at my breast. My love, you have visited me. Would you not linger a moment longer? Had you watched me sleep, envisioning the day our eyes lock again? No, you torture me. I have set out my orders to increase our speed. My darling cries out from all directions, a test to decide if I am worthy enough to find her. I will not fail, and I do not plan a return journey.

November 17th

His death was unavoidable, mutiny cannot be tolerated. May he rest in peace, he was once a good man.

November 18th

You Must Leave You Must

Leave Dear

God You Must

Leave!

November 19th

I awoke late, the afternoon sun already gleaming the surface of the water. It concerns me to say that I found the door to the pantry had been given a new lock, infinitely more complex than the first. I have no recollection of doing this, and little recollection of last night at all. I feel…sick, perhaps with some minor ailment that will pass in time, although I doubt that. My disease is more substantial. In any case, the others will survive a day or two without food until I find the key to the mechanism I myself must have placed. I need no food in any case. Though I am undoubtedly ravenous, my stomach turns at the sight of it.

November 21st

They have realised that I don’t know where we are. This enrages them. Simpleminded rats such as those who serve on this ship find fear in everything that is unknown to them. I may not know where we are, but I know where we are going.

November 22nd

A group of six left last night. I awoke in time to see the back of their crude vessel, curses thrown not only at me, but to the rest of the crew as well. Half our food went with them, the door splintered and cleaved in two. As I watch their lamp-light flicker on the horizon, she sings to me. It is a soft lament; wordless and beautiful. Its tone is not of sympathy and the hope that I long for, but instead I make out laughter.

My vigour for writing diminishes, particularly about her. I no longer write the words down or speak them aloud, with that I admit it.

November 23rd

I hear them whisper. They seek to kill me. Such a task would be difficult.

November 24th

With fifteen less now, the ship has become impossible to fully control. I have taken to doing most of the work, struggling to keep us heading towards the music. The others watch in silence. I wake with her hands around my neck and her teeth on my skin, tearing and caressing. I howl with agony, but there is no-one there. Just the breath of the sea air.

November 25th

We have not seen land for seven days now.

November 27th

It is a magnificent night, the clouds swirling around a blue moon.

A man paces back and forth along the deck, sleep stolen from him and his heart longing for home. Another cheer erupts from below as drunken men celebrate a successful expedition and the beginning of the return journey. With them they carry a cargo of exotic smells and new flavours. The man is impatient for the return as well, but he also feels heavy, sometimes too weighed down to even support himself. He hangs over the side of the ship and looks out over the water. His life changes, his heart sets into a rhythm previously unknown,  and he sees the most beautiful creature that has ever existed. She smiles and treads water with the elegance of a crystal swan. It takes everything the man has not to dive in alongside her but he calls out to her instead in a cracked voice. He cannot remember what he says, but she laughs in seven different harmonies and dives beneath the surface. His mind erupts, snowflakes and knives swirl within his head merging into one concise thought- If I do not love her,  then I know not what love is. And then, for the first time, he hears the song.

I wake up still hearing that song, and I weep. I love you my darling, but I wish I did not.

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Tattoo

There weren’t many that would call him an artist. His parents only spoke of the career as ‘temporary’, labeling it as a sort of hobby in a low, saccharine tone among distinguished friends. No amount of skill or conviction in his work would convince them otherwise, and his irregular visits home would pass by without a single mention of it. Perhaps it was with good intent, perhaps they saw a greater potential in their son, but stuffy classrooms and withered voices were no guidance for him. He left with a more raucous determination; the kind forged in youth and placed somewhere between passion and delusion. Work wouldn’t come to him on paper, so he settled on a different canvas.

His studio was small, but had a strong voice. Every day the smell of the ink would hit him with a new burst of inspiration, confirming his decision even before that first mouthful of coffee. Leather couches, chaotic walls and often the surprisingly muted strains of some acoustic instrumental would greet clients before he did, setting an altogether clustered tone. It was entirely his intent, there weren’t any constants in his profession. Today, he might have expected someone seven foot tall to explain in great detail a piece that would take up their entire torso, or a slew of drunken tourists, collecting a ‘permanent’ souvenir that would just as soon be put under a laser. What he got, midway through a ceremonial cleaning of the needles, was a more familiar face.

She had visited before in bursts of ten, fifteen, forty minutes; her curiosity building and building into this final appearance. Swept in with more bravery than ever before, she was ready to become his subject, to give him the brief section of skin just beneath her wrist. The gesture was not taken lightly, it never was. He cradled her arm, bringing it out for that one last discussion of intent. ”Something to help me remember him..” she had said on her most recent visit,and echoed again that day. It was a common request, a sort of personal tombstone to be carried with whoever is left behind. There was a sense of trust to the art; a shared goal, that was vital. And so as his thin, nimble fingers mapped out the surface of her skin, they shared a silence normally reserved for lovers. No music played, no outside voices, just breath and heartbeats. ”Alright, I’ve got you.” Even their language was mystified, that sense of touch accelerated by an inherent electricity. The man never asked who it was for, not until she would tell him herself, but he had earned trust in mere hours where others had waited for years. He was entirely aware of the part he played here, his role in determining her transition, providing an inked gateway to a different mindset. He knew what he was doing, even with a muddied reputation as an ‘artist’. It was an entire relationship built on those hours, leading up to this moment of completion. Straw-coloured hair contrasted with his dark, her voice was a light whisper while his was a low hum, and her bare arm paled against the streaked colour of his own. They were strangers, opposites, and yet she allowed him to inflict art upon her, open and shamelessly bare.

The pain of it was distracted by the first real conversation they had ever had. His words and lengthy stories pulled her from the immediacy of the needle in her flesh and set her down somewhere much more serene. The man learned about her in between the gulps of air she took and the heightened courage of gritted teeth. His eyes would sometimes flick up to hers, lingering for just a moment before moving back towards his work. He listened to every word though, every small and colossal anecdote. There were times of course where they didn’t speak, but they rarely lasted. Symbols and colours, primal and elegant. Her wrist became a memory, a mantra. By the end, he found it difficult to believe the girl had come into his studio without it. As his instrument quietened, the two strangers bit down on their smiles. It looked good. Very good. They wouldn’t have to speak any longer, for surely that was the end of their fleeting relationship. He left her with a piece of paper in her jacket pocket, and a tattoo.

 
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Introduction – Conor McMahon

Hello! I’m a twenty-something Irish graduate who thinks he’s worth listening to. Maybe.

I’m very late with this blog, as I’ve actually written for years and mostly kept it all to myself. I’ve had an odd relationship with the process for a long time now, and at the risk of sounding like every other writer on the face of the planet; I tend to drift between confident and fearful without warning. 

This is my attempt to make up for lost time then, and dump whatever I happen to write on what will hopefully be a weekly basis. I’m already grateful that you’ve visited, so thanks in advance and I hope you enjoy whatever I’ve happened to put on here!

It’ll vary from standard blog posts to whole reviews, and then of course short pieces of fiction and whatever I end up creating really. I have absolutely no idea by this point to be honest! It’s a slow start that will hopefully become something a lot more over time.   I’m a lovely boy really. Enjoy.

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