“Alien: Isolation” And The Art Of Dying

Alien-Isolation-6 Fear is holding me back.

Most people can say this, but I’m at a crossroads in my life where it’s more apparent than it’s ever been. I’ve always been fearful. There’s a pit in the middle of my soul that has always been a ball of  solid, concentrated fear. I remember going through a sheaf of papers in grade school and finding a progress report from pre-school: “Talks often about monsters getting him. Is often fearful.” I was scared of the dark, of bugs and moths. I was scared of the vacuum cleaner and the blender. At parades, I would go to great lengths to avoid clowns (well, some fears are justified).

I’ve had modest success as a musician and writer, but I’m stuck at both. I need to break through a wall of fear that has surrounded me.  Every selfish decision I’ve made in the last two decades of my life, every alcoholic drink I’ve ever taken, every time I’ve ever eaten until I was almost sick, every weird OCD habit creeping into my life (as I write this, I’m looking obsessively at the screen of my new laptop, looking for scratches) is there because of fear. One of the first things anybody ever says about any great artist, from Miles Davis to Bruce Lee, is that they were fearless. I’m not a great artist.

I have a book in print, which is something that most of the human population will never be able to say, but it’s sitting squarely somewhere around the 5-million mark on Amazon because I’m afraid to promote it. I’ve said for a long time that I believe that writers have to face rejection in a way no other artist in any other medium has to. Stephen King talks at length about the trunkful of rejection letters he received before he started getting acceptance letters, and the oft-told legend is that his wife rescued Carrie from his garbage can.

And, what is fear of rejection if not fear of death? In his book Beyond and Back, Ralph Wilkerson states-correctly-that every single fear we have is ultimately rooted in the fear of death, and if the fear of death can be conquered, the other fears vanish as well.

I have a videogame that I’m literally scared to play. As a huge fan of the Alien franchise, I saw reviews for Alien: Isolation and of course, wanted to play it. In fact, I broke one of my rules and paid full price for it instead of waiting for “Greatest Hits” status and a substantial discount.

The game is marvelous, immersive. The plot, in a nutshell, involves Ripley’s daughter Amanda (mentioned during a sub-plot in the director’s cut of Aliens) and a ship, the Torrens, identical to the Nostromo. The game’s design nails the 21st-century-meets-1970s aesthetic of the original, along with the amazing sound design (watching the Alien director’s cut through a good sound system is a religious experience).

I’m not a huge gamer, but I’ve faithfully played every Resident Evil installment and the first three Silent Hills, along with various others. Getting killed in Resident Evil has never been pleasant, but it’s never kept me from playing the game, either:

This has happened to me countless times over the last fifteen years: I just shake it off and come back for more. But, not this time.

Some people might live in fear of zombies, ghosts or serial killers, but I don’t. For me, the last word in terror has always been H.R. Giger’s ubiquitous xenomorph. It’s always been disturbing to me in a way that guys in hockey masks will never be. Beautiful and deadly, a perfect organism, its structural perfection matched only by its hostility. Eight feet long (well, Bodaji Boladejo, the actor in the costume-yes, it’s a guy in a suit-is technically 7’2) but endowed with cat-like grace…by the time you see it, it’s usually too late.

It’s the only movie monster I’ve ever had recurring dreams about. In these dreams, it never kills me-sometimes I never even feel like it’s hunting. It’s an enigma that stalks for its own reasons and on its own timetable. But, it’s like a time bomb that could go off at any moment. Quite simply, it has a mythology inside my head that no other creation like it has.

Two nights ago, I did an experiment that I’ll most likely do again tonight. The best suggestion I’ve seen for “Isolation” was; just simply let the monster kill you a number of times. Get used to being killed by the beast until you’re completely desensitized to it. I think there’s a real parallel there in regard to making friends with, accepting and even welcoming failure as a stepping-stone on the path to eventual success (or peace with said failure).

So, I fired up the Xbox with the express purpose of dying. And, believe it or not, it was incredibly difficult. I was in the medical wing (like in the video below), and watched it fall out of the ceiling vent. I forced myself to walk toward it instead of running away (incredibly difficult, even in a cartoon), let it see me and it was over.

I was going to let it kill me several times, but during my one deliberate failure, I found the door with the security code that let me in. If I hadn’t failed on purpose, I wouldn’t have found the door that let me continue. And, it did finally snatch me out of a storage locker, but I imagine I’ll get a little farther tonight:

I’ll die some more tonight, and maybe while I do, it’ll give me some clues on how to keep on living.

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