Hi, how have you been? Things were going pretty great for me two months ago, right? Oops, here comes the karma train, and it does not appear to be slowing down.
To start with, at the end of January I suffered what you might call a “sports injury.” I was stretching, because one of my goals was to regain a little of the flexibility I had when I was younger. One of the stretches was a front split. The stretch lets me do higher front kicks, and I like to be able to get my foot up to head height. I can’t really do “the splits” in the way people think of them — I can feel the limits of my hip sockets far before I get there, but I can usually get a nice hamstring stretch out of trying.
This time, instead of doing the safe thing and kneeling on the rear knee while stretching the front leg forward, I tried to just slide into the split. I was in socks on carpet. But my rear leg twisted and somewhere between half or all of my weight was on it. And I dislocated my kneecap.
It popped back into place immediately, but the damage was done. I had excruciating pain and a leg that could bear no weight. I have a few canes in the house but no crutches, and canes were simply not good enough. My wife drove me to the ER. At about two in the morning, we got home with a leg immobilizer, crutches (which make all the mobility difference in the world) a bottle of 600-mg prescription ibuprofen, and some hydrocodone. For those who only know brand names, that’s tabs of Advil and Vicodin. I slept in my clothes (because taking off clothes was actively painful), and got up for work the next day with a story to tell.
Then, like dang near every other company in the games industry this year, Airship Syndicate decided it was time to do some layoffs.
To be clear, I don’t begrudge them the decisions they had to make. The upper management were pretty transparent about the source of the decision and cut their own pay in solidarity. They didn’t want to lose anyone.
It came as an unpleasant surprise, because I had been deliberately busting my butt for the previous month to hit deadlines. One of the things I’d learned in other jobs is that while management likes to say layoffs are not performance-related, when they make the decision of who the company can afford to lose, a proper manager will look at some kind of semi-objective metric. Who’s got a high-paying salary that will save us a good chunk of change? Who’s got bad performance reviews? Who’s got measurable accomplishments as represented by tasks checked off in the task tracking software?
I don’t know the decision process used at Airship. I do know that this time around I have no basis to wonder “was I not enough?” I was writing a lot of content, and my team and manager were pleased with my work. And because I’ve gone through this before, I’d been knocking out a lot of tasks and checking them off. But as several thousand highly experienced people in the game industry can tell you, sometimes it’s not just about being a valuable employee. Sometimes all you can do is say goodbye, update your resume, and start the application dance once more.
Out on the Streets, Into the Orthopedist’s
Of course, the main thing that occupied my mind was my new handicap. I’ve never broken a bone before, or anything on the scale of a dislocation. A visit to the orthopedist led to X-rays and a leg brace, which I actually managed to sleep in for a week or two. Then came an MRI, which revealed that I managed to bruise the end of my femur and break off a small amount of cartilage. I may need surgery to remove it, depending on how it heals. Apparently it feels like having a stone in your shoe, except it’s in your fricking knee.
Then there was physiotherapy. Two crutches gave way to one crutch, and then, as long as I don’t go super far, no crutches. Slowly my need for the leg brace has lessened, from sleeping in it to limping in it to going a whole day without it so long as I’m super careful. Vicodin was necessary for the first night or two, but after that, Advil was the way to go, sometimes for the pain but more often to try to reduce the swelling.
Next up came the applications. While waiting for any replies, I sat in bed, paid bills, prepped my taxes, and refreshed my memory on a bunch of relevant video games.
Lest you think that sounds like paradise, I’d like to introduce you to my wife. Jenny is working a full-time job, and now she had to feed me and strap me into the leg brace, while also picking up the slack of dishes, driving, cleaning the kitchen, trash, hauling laundry, and other things I was no longer capable of handling. We also had two blackouts (thanks, Pacific Gas and Electric!) and some strep throat going around the family. So while I got better, everybody else got measurably worse, and only a jerk would think that’s a good deal.
So Did Ya Write?
Well, I was laid up in bed with nothing to do but heal, so yes, a little.
Back in late January, I spotted a themed anthology and rewrote a short story to specifically target it, which took up all my personal writing time for a few weeks. My writers’ group queued the story up for review in four weeks, which was going to be when the submission window closed. I always want feedback before firing off a story, so I used the group’s rule of “if you review the most stories in a week, you can get your own bumped to the front of the line.” In other words, I burned my eyes and typing fingers out trying to write extensive, helpful critiques.
It worked, though — I got feedback in one week instead of four, and the story was submitted with time to spare. Whether or not it’ll be accepted is not up to me. It was bit of a sunk cost — I’d already spent time and effort on the rewrite by the time I busted my knee, and wanted to see it through. Future personal writing is a lot more dicey.
So, What Now?
So now I sweat in physiotherapy and make myself into the best potential employee I can be.
There’s a Sun Tzu quotation that goes “If you know everything about yourself, you will win 50 percent of the time. If you know everything about your opponent, you will win 50 percent of the time. If you know everything about yourself and your opponent, you will win 100 percent of the time.” I try to take this attitude into job interviews, but there are so many “opponents” who are potential employers that it becomes hard to predict where I might be the perfect fit.
When I think about returning to Civil Blood’s sequel, I think first of all the AAA-caliber games I missed out on playing because I had to master Wayfinder, and the mobile games I focused on for years before that, because I was working in the mobile space. That made sense for me at the time, but the next job I apply to might be for a mobile game, or it might not.
Worse, it’s a different landscape for hiring now — to get re-employed, I’m competing with hundreds of writers and narrative designers, many of whom have similar experience. So, I need every edge I can get, and game literacy is a big part of that.
So, I’m going to focus on games for all my available time for at least a week or two. After that, we shall see. Spending an hour or two per night on a personal project may feel like a waste, or after a long day of twitchy reflexes, it may be a much-needed mental release.
You know… just what the doctor ordered.