Start from Part I

Today’s lighthearted alternative is a project announcement. Before Catastrophe Theory even had a name, before the author had any intention of making her silly documentation public, there was a sim whose bizarre life choices blew the author’s mind. A sim who took charge of his own life and outdid any planning a human could have done. Whose love story can only be described as “epic,” whose actions alone motivated the story’s public release. And because this went down so early on, the description in Book I does not do it justice.

Because the story and characters are so much richer than I’ve revealed, I’m going to give it another shot. This time with a twist: it’s a comic. Yeah, it actually motivated me to learn to draw. I’m confident the story will speak for itself even with my shaky hand on the pen—two damaged misfits who have done unforgivable things but damn, you can’t hate them because they’re clearly meant to be? That’s enough beautiful disaster to forgive many of the visual art sins I’m about to commit, fingers crossed.

Here’s a draft of the first page of Haunted. Enjoy.

Besides that morning’s wonderful postmodern-cartoon-and-plastic-cheese conversation, Hector was having an absolute butt of a day; there was some Big Test sprung on him last-minute and he had to decide whether to nap or cram, the choice to nap being the wrong one on this occasion, as he learned. It was a doughnut’s worth of school-system trauma. He did have some—doughnuts—in the fridge, thanks to yesterday’s culinary self-serving self-study he’d focused on instead of the test.

Today’s captions will be an unrelated rant on the upcoming reality show because haha, what the fuck

As he approached the front door, he became aware of a prickling feeling. He slowed his pace to process what his intuition already knew. On the patio’s left side, there was a figure dressed in black, peeping through the windows, standing between him and the doughnuts. Ragged was the only word he could summon to describe the figure’s energy. There was nothing still about the sim in black: in their meditative state they did naught but breathe, but those breaths made them look like an indecisive balloon, or a fly seeing its own reflection for the first time in a spider’s compound eyes. Neither Hector’s conscious nor his subconscious could drum up a non-sketchy reason as to why this would be happening.

Apparently the goal is to create the “most unique characters, worlds and stories.” Someone tell EA that ‘unique’ is an absolute adjective. And if you’ve been around a while, you’ve already heard my opinion on how much competition sucks for true unconventional creatives: the more novel your work is, the weaker it looks in a judged setting, for several reasons. The evaluators can’t reliably place value on qualities they don’t expect. Also it’s like on GGG where the guy made these fantastic chilaquiles and his competitor made a boring old steak, and the guy with the steak won because it was a more flavorful protein, like come onnnn

Perhaps he’d been standing there long enough for the shadow at his window to notice a disturbance, because it’d begun to turn around. Oh, thank fuck, it was Aileen.

“What are you doing here?”

“Hector!” When she said his name, it was like she’d spat out whatever had been keeping her in ragged stasis. He could tell she was angry, but that this anger was tainted with another emotion, one he couldn’t associate a color with. Another thought pushed its way in, a speculation about how quickly he’d lose to Aileen in unarmed combat if it came to that. “Thank god you’re here! I need you to let me in.”

“The best stories?” “The most creative Sims players?” What a fucking slap in the face. The actual players whom I’d consider exceptional won’t be invited to participate for the same reasons Nicki Minaj is a better reality show candidate than Esperanza Spalding. There’s a reason I wrote a character whose central problem is that he’s *too* creative, because there is such a thing. The best stories… that are digestible and designed to appeal to a wide audience. The most creative Sims players… except for the ones who alienate people by being unusual.

Hector’s friendliness won out over his confusion. “Hi, Aileen! Uh, how was your day? Are you here to see my mom?”

“I need you to let me in.”

“Alright, alright.” But he would ask later about what was grilling her cheese, partly to use a phrase he was fond of. Hector moved toward the door and his presence caused it to swing open.

Despite the summer heat, home felt even warmer than usual, his mother’s bright laughter filling the oversized room. Whatever he was feeling before washed away at the sight of her. She was sitting with Dad at the bar, not fighting or sulking or shutting down, but joking, being her old delightful self. “Mom!”

“Hector!” She rose from her stool, stretching out both arms to request a hug.

You don’t want to be an innovator. Maybe you already know what it’s like. If you’re thinking differently than everyone else, you’re constantly playing catch-up—and when you finally get to express your ideas, everyone’s silent because they don’t know how to respond to unexpected outbursts. And novelty can’t be measured as well as craftsmanship can. Often when people judge something as “good,” they’re referring to execution, and the newer an idea is, the more experimentation you have to do to execute it well. I’ve had a million conversations where someone says a creative work is good and I’m thinking yes of course it’s fucking good it’s the same fucking love story we’ve been seeing since time immemorial, we’ve figured out what works over 3000 years, go us, but I’m glad the person connected with it so I just say as much. Usually by “good” they don’t mean “visionary,” they mean “well-executed.” That’s part of why so many visionaries only become famous after they kill themselves. You’re trying to connect with people in the only way you know how, but because we’ve inclusively re-defined creativity as stepping one toe outside the box or making the box look really nice, all you’re doing by thinking outside the box is making its existence, and everyone else’s position inside it, more apparent. And that’s mean.
Anyway, eat my ass, EA.

“Hector. Don’t joke with her. Get back.”

I guess that rant applies more to my actual job, but sure, it applies to my hobby blog as well. Of course I’m not surprised EA would do this

“What th—what’s grilling—” was all Hector could get out before Aileen reached her target.

“I’m sorry, Claudia.” Before Miss Universe could react, Aileen slapped her cheek hard enough to torque her backward.


Disadvantage in unarmed combat or not, Hector felt his jaw clench and his body lunge toward his mother’s attacker. But once more, his gut told him to wait. Claudia had stopped moving. She’d stopped laughing. She hung there, twisted, as if she had something to say.

The tension was so thick, Hector found he couldn’t move or even breathe.

She slowly turned her head back toward Aileen. Comedy is all about timing.

“Good one.”

Aileen’s assault didn’t faze her. The grin she wore reminded Hector of a ventriloquist dummy: designed to mimic amusement, but ultimately the smiler wasn’t the one pulling the strings. That was impossible, though—she was just off, ticcy even—and why was his gut reacting to her and not Aileen? Speaking of Aileen, she seemed to be looking toward him with regret, like they were on the same team even though she’d just used him to barge into the house and slap his mother silly.

And then his mother started laughing again. And the smile made sense. By the time Hector had finished processing the situation and re-configuring his loyalties, Aileen was already up in Claudia’s face, speaking a mile a minute and whipping out item after item from her inventory.

“Alright, Claudia, stay with me. Look at this painting, can you just look at this painting for a minute? I know it’s hard but stay with me. Deep breaths.”

He turned to his father. “What happened? What did you do?”

“Claudia, here, drink this. Claudia? Can you see what I’m holding?”

“I didn’t do anything, she just started doing that. I don’t know what’s wrong.”

Claudia found Aileen’s potion so hilarious she had to sit down. At least Hector thought it was a potion. He’d never seen one in real life. Still, Aileen wasn’t letting up. “Go ahead and sit down if that’s more comfortable. Claudia, remember those breathing exercises we did? Okay, you’ve leaned forward, stomach in like a pillbug, exhale everything out. Now relax with me. Big inhale, arch your back.”

Claudia rose from her sternum, pulling her chest toward the ceiling and allowing her head to fall back a tad, before another convulsion jerked her head all the way toward the ground, the hardwood ringing out when she made contact.

“Mom, no!” Hector screamed and ran to his mother’s side. Having stepped over Claudia to support her head, Aileen tried to synchronize her palms with Claudia’s twitching long enough to dart between her head and the floor, wishing she had brought something softer to rest on instead of the crystals.

For her noble intentions, Aileen also blocked Claudia’s view of the living room—upside down and backwards! It didn’t end at the living room; her whole world was upside down and inside out and backwards. And every other time, Claudia’d kept going past backwards till she was right side up again. How many times do you have to flip the world on its head before it’s back to normal?

She was finding the whole thing just an incredible riot. If this was the end, it was fitting for her, wasn’t it? The girl who could never stop smiling.

A choking fit brought her forward. As her spine curled she tried to obey Aileen’s commands to exhale, commands she could barely process but could piece together from context, but could only focus on gasping for air between spasms. It was like her mind had a mind of its own and this was what it had been training for a lifetime to do, to find the joy in anything. Like how Tai Chi practitioners say that if you do something enough times, muscle memory will kick in and save you before you’ve realized what’s happened.

Was this irony? She couldn’t figure that out. Another thing to laugh off.

She thought how much better the world would be if everyone learned to laugh at themselves when they’ve made a mistake. Every weakness was a chance for mirth. Hunt them down and it becomes a game. And whatever she was doing now, she knew she couldn’t contain it and didn’t understand it, and that was bad of her.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Yet another mistake.

She howled louder.

She didn’t know how long they’d been standing over her like that, if the last breath command she’d heard from Aileen was three seconds or three minutes ago. So she’d finally lost control; to think her final attempt to take back control would teach her she still had more to lose. The power was inside you all along! So simple. Even kids’ movies thought that was too cheesy nowadays. Claudia admitted that she’d also grown tired of it, the message, and was just now realizing the reason it had to be bashed into her head. She didn’t listen.

She didn’t listen until she had a reason to listen, and by the time she finally had one, it couldn’t help her.

She couldn’t help herself. It was all so funny.

And then a single word rang through the racket she herself was making. Mom.

She used what remained of her energy to drift off to the left, hoping the speaker would get that her measly turn was the only way she could communicate, that she wanted to look into his eyes, hear what he needed to tell her. She wished he were smiling. Why wasn’t he smiling with her? She strained against instinct to pull her lips over her teeth and close her jaw, producing a smile that must have looked like a card caught in the spokes of a bicycle, blurry and trembling, hoping he’d return her efforts.

He didn’t. And then she kept drifting.

“Can you still hea—“

The scent of orange blossoms and chili powder hung in the air.

NOTE: If you empathize with Claudia in this chapter, or are going through something similar, the message is not that it’s impossible to leave. No one can predict the future that well. Instead, don’t convince yourself that you deserve to be mistreated simply because your abuser hasn’t gone violent. You don’t.

The scope of abuse is much larger than people think it is. Why Does He Do That? is a great resource for learning about more insidious forms of abuse and manipulation.

And good luck. If you’ve made it through thus far, you’re much stronger than you think you are.

Sunshine and Laughter (Part XI)
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21 thoughts on “Sunshine and Laughter (Part XI)

  • July 12, 2020 at 11:47 am

    **** Just let me plea with the Reaper, OK? If you plea when their dying of old age, you’ll only get an extra day. But if you plea after an untimely emotional death, if you’re successful, you get a full life. She deserves it.

    And kudos on the writing and pacing. I’m still shaking and my heart’s beating too fast.

    • July 12, 2020 at 7:10 pm

      Oh no… yeah, I do apologize for this chapter going on while 2020 is doing what it does. But I’m sure you’ll retroactively pick up on some connections, themes, symbolism, foreshadowing, etc., when you recover.

  • July 12, 2020 at 8:22 pm

    Okay, wow.

    That payoff.

    Let me just say that deciding to reread S&L from the beginning once I got the email notification for Part XI was very much worthwhile. So many of the themes crystallized for me — themes that may have otherwise slipped my attention — and for everything to come full circle was ~chef’s kiss~.

    Claudia, exercising controlled breathing in the opening paragraph, only to have her dying breath be one of convulsing laughter? I daresay the execution was breathtaking (pardon my double pun). The olfactory detail of orange blossom and chilli powder was particularly evocative and solidified it all for me, and the literal fade to black in the screenshots was a nice touch as well.

    And Claudia, the Sun: as much as she strives to project an air of light and ebullience, all the years of being worn down by her husband’s (see what I did there? wink-wink) subtle abuse has spent the fuel she’d need to keep shining, and she collapses — folds in on herself — a black hole to internalize everyone else’s negativity.

    And for the J.-E. children to realize how fraught their parents’ relationship is, even before the acquisition of language? Damn, this hits hard.

    The buildup and suspense was superb throughout this chapter. Present/flashback construction is one of my favorite narrative tropes, and it really is effective here.

    Kudos. Many, many kudos.

    • July 12, 2020 at 10:03 pm


      I’m so honored you’d go back and take the time to process this monster chapter in full, and even more honored that it was worth your time! Yeap yeap, those are the two bookends, give yourself a pat on the back for catching them. (Initially I wanted to put ‘she exhaled’ at the end, but Aileen’s breathing tips were enough to sell it IMO.) I completely forgot I wrote the black hole thing and am not at all surprised you made the connection between that and “folding in on herself”—leave it to you to read into the space stuff. Let’s pretend it was intentional. Ok?

      Anyone who sees what you did there will get a cookie. The cookies are not real. The cookies have no value.

      About the present/flashback construction: other people, this is somewhat of an in-joke because I’ve been personally referring to this as the Somewhere Among the Stars chapter (, because I accidentally outlined a chapter in the format of 1esk19’s longest work, realized it later, and was like dammit. It helps if your characters were still solidifying at the beginning of the story and you need to go back and clarify a lot of extra stuff, I’ll say that.


      • July 12, 2020 at 10:46 pm

        SAtS shout-out very much appreciated! Many thanks! I suppose I should clarify for those who would otherwise be clicking blindly that it’s angsty and introspective F/F Mass Effect fanfiction, and not SimLit, unfortunately…

        Also, I will note re: stellar evolution, lest someone call me out, that *our* sun isn’t a massive enough star to become a black hole. But Claudia is “Miss Universe,” so there are lots of astronomical phenomena metaphors to be had regardless.

        And I do hope other readers get their cookies.

  • July 17, 2020 at 2:07 pm

    Ah okay I don’t have any reason to put this off I’ve been coming to this page every day without writing anything for a bit now but I’m just GAH! (Warning: Emotional rant/outburst whatever incoming)

    I’m so intrigued by Hector’s unique view but I’m so distracted by the end of the story. GAH Claudia saying ‘Good one’ is so heart-breaking along with the EVERYTHING ELSE after that. She’s so affected at this point that a direct assault to her face is seen as a joke. It’s such a plumming warning bell ringing here and the stupid clueless (OR IS HE REALLY) Mike is just standing there chilling with his son thinking nothing is wrong here. And that damn deflection/denial whatever the fak he’s trying to convince himself when he talked to Hector ARGH. No you plum fak you did this. You’re the reason why she has to take everything as a joke and use her smiles and laughter as a shield against you and the world. And the worst part was how she internalised it all as her fault even as she was dying. The power was inside you is a stupid thing to think! She thinks its her fault that she can’t cope/control/take it/maintain composure when it’s thrown her way for how many dang years they’ve been together of course she’s going to be weathered down no matter how strong she is or whatever Miss Universe title she got (did you give her this title deliberately for this moment to be more impactful?? EVILLL!!!). I don’t know about losing control. She’s dying here. And dying thinking self-deprecating thoughts at that, never realising its him. GAH SO a;sdlkfjdsa;fal To me this dang chapter is so dark. So damn dark because funny is not the word I’m reading. Idk whats the literary device/word for this but the funny here is abuse, or trauma, or manipulation or conditioning aRGH. FAK.

    And in the end she still wants to smile when she clearly wants to cry. FAK. GAH.

    OOOH boy I need a drink after this.

    You know what’s the worst of it all? When that dang Mike meets a psychologist and they ask that same question Hector asked. The fakker’s gonna have no clue. Because he’s so used to deflecting at that point that its going to take a hammer to bash up his head for him to realise its his fault. He’s going to justify his actions with her actions, her character flaws, his son’s flaws, his fakking cat’s flaws. Counsellors are saints. I’ll just bring a blow torch into the counselling session.

    Ah okay fine. I will really go for a drink now so I can stop ranting lol.

    • July 18, 2020 at 11:36 am

      Dang—let me say that I’m honored you had that much of an emotional response to this! Needing a drink after reading an entire chapter about Claudia is quite on-the-nose, let me tell ya.

      Heck YES, I am so glad you caught that Mike’s only line is him denying his involvement. That was intentional. That’s one of the details that people might miss on the first read and then only later catch what the author is implying, and of course I’m stoked you brought it up.

      Funny thing (not really funny): Claudia did earn the title of Miss Universe before the start of the story. When this story started, I had basically nothing planned out. No Bernard, no Chantel, no Mike being a dick. None of the qualities that make the characters memorable. If an event looks set up, it’s because I’m riffing off of what’s already there. Miss Universe + yellow + cheerful + central to plot = sun: throw a bunch of sun metaphors everywhere. I will say, people with insider knowledge (my co-author) called me evil and sick because of the chapter title—which should make a lot of sense now—but not the Miss Universe thing.

      And I love your point about “the power is inside you,” because I 100% hate how we keep being bombarded with this message, but at the same time didn’t want readers to think I was blaming Claudia for her situation. I get that people repeating that positive-thinking crap have good intentions. At its core, though, it’s really a gross oversimplification of people’s real problems, like “why are you depressed? Just go outside! Why are you broke? Just get a job!” Then again, it’s not Claudia’s fault for being an optimist. If someone takes advantage of her, it’s on them.

      10/10 awesome rant.

      (Also, swear all you want here. I think I dropped at least a couple F-bombs in this post, can’t remember.)

      • July 19, 2020 at 10:55 pm

        Owh man that title just made everything 10 times worse. I’m really hoping Mike gets brought to justice. I mean technically Aileen is a witness right? Idk how your sim Universe works and in the first place there are no policemen in the game. I suppose there’s the law system. Yeah I guess I was super irked by the whole situation and that ‘Power is inside you’ totally tipped me over because this entire chapter was Claudia basically trying to prove to us readers over and over again that she can overcome anything (him) through sheer determination and willpower. I mean it’s great to be introspective(?) but the responsibility doesn’t fall on one person. Victim blaming is exactly that and is annoying. I’m so amazed at how you tackled this. I feel like I probably missed a lot but even with this its so powerful already.

      • July 20, 2020 at 4:56 pm

        Oh my goodness, that last sentence made my entire month!!

        So true about victim blaming. And we get bombarded with that stupid message in nearly every single popular movie! Turns out if you’re in an abusive relationship, “love conquers all” is a TERRIBLE message to take to heart.

        Don’t worry about missing stuff; it’s cooler to see what people pick up on because it’s going to be influenced by their past, priorities, experience, views on relationships, and other stuff in that vein. I have to say, you’re killing it with these rants XD

  • July 21, 2020 at 10:44 pm

    I thought that I was ready for this chapter and I was wrong. It’s wild, there was a part of me that knew we were coasting towards a breaking point, towards a sheer drop off the cliff. And yet.

    And yet.

    I think that’s it is incredibly telling that thing Claudia used to protect herself (just smile through it! stay positive) is the same thing that killed her. Literally. Figuratively. That’s how it always is. Not to mention, it’s the very thing that Mike used against her. It was wild to watch him standing their, hands clasped over his mouth like he just couldn’t believe what was happening.

    He probably couldn’t.

    Guys like Mike never do.

    I believe him when he said: what IDK what’s happening, this is just how she is.

    Fucking masterful. I don’t even think I’m done unpacking all my emotions about this yet.

    Okay, the captions – I feel like your captions are like a whole other book (WHERE DO YOU FIND THE TIME!?) and this was no exception. I saw the commercials for this show but then I couldn’t 100% figure out how to watch it or what it was about really, and also I fell down a rabbit hole of animation mods and making a movie trailer for BBD so I promptly forgot about it.

    It’s weird to see a show like this when there is a whole community of creators both storywriters, machinanima makers, builders, cc makers, etc etc and EA doesn’t really support them. Like a reality TV show is ::shrug emoji:: and I guess there are one or two youtubers I like I on there, but mostly I can’t get myself excited about it for all the reasons you said. Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t imagine people really doing something interesting. And I don’t even mean because it’s vanilla. I mean, I write romance. I mean…I guess it’s supernatural romance where the lead character is a 600 year old sociopath, but still, tropes are fun for a reason. And yet, I can’t help but think about all the weird and wonderful stuff in this community and how it mostly gets buried and I wish the show was about that.

    I guess I should watch an episode before I get all judge-y but also why and for what?

    • July 22, 2020 at 6:08 pm

      Holy crap, another person picked up on the fact that Mike’s only line was denying his involvement?! It’s always fascinating when some details stand out more than others. And, minor spoiler, you called it: Mike has absolutely no understanding of his involvement. Care to guess how he’ll react if someone tries to hold him accountable?

      (Is it really a guess if you know immediately and there’s a pop-psych acronym for it?)

      Yeap yeap! I shouldn’t be surprised that every single person with the patience to stick it out this far caught the nuance, that optimism is both abetting and providing relief from her oppression—not causing it—but am still over the moon that no one who contributed came away thinking the message was “laugh bad.”

      Yeah, there are so many deserving creators with no audience, I’m not surprised that labeling a dozen as the “most creative” and pitting them against each other rubbed people the wrong way. I like the showcase format you’re suggesting: it would not only reward thoughtful & time-consuming content, but also send the message that creating isn’t a competition. We’re such an isolated community that what’s good for one creator is good for everyone (unless they’re actively undermining others, of course). I guess that could apply to the Twelve Apostles; I’ll take a minor surge in interest for SimLit ’cause it beats begging for scraps.

      Oh, hey, they changed it to “some of your favorite Simmers.” That’s better, but I still have no idea who these people are.

      A 600-year-old sociopath? Not a cunning genius conduit for the God of Death? But let me join you in the Pit of Creators who are 2spicy4EA or 2nerdy4EA or 2bleakly-existential4EA or simply use too many naughty words. We can do the Destination Wedding challenge in like a custom-made hell or something.

      (Everyone reading the comments, go watch the trailer GO WATCH IT:

  • July 21, 2020 at 10:47 pm


    Ugh. Utterly fantastic. I want it now. I want it yesterday. I can’t freaking wait to see that project take off.

    • July 22, 2020 at 6:10 pm


      I’m still trying to get my head geometry down; did a pretty good Bernard the other day. But I also want it to be done already, haha.

  • July 29, 2020 at 10:42 pm

    Returns a million years later just to gush again. Okay, I’m off to read the next part.

  • October 14, 2020 at 2:26 pm

    You know, with the existential dread looming over this series of chapters, I always had an inkling it would end in Claudia’s demise, but despite the whole lot being called “Sunshine and Laughter,” up until the one with Aileen in front of Claudia’s house and looking through the window (Part 9, I think?), I didn’t expect this was the way she was going to go.

    Well then, I guess what I said two chapters ago about the irony, but without the “if.” You definitely delivered there. But damn. Those final thoughts were brutal, and yet so believable, so realistic, in spite of the absurdity of it being such a sims scenario. It’s such a unique take on intertwining something that’s so esentially ludacris and sims-esque with real life, I don’t know how you pulled it off, but you totally did.

    Also, remember my comment about how the stress of it all almost had me feel like Mike would be looming somewhere with a chainsaw? In a way he was, I suppose. Even though he himself probably didn’t (and doesn’t) quite realise that.

    Oh, and the pictures in this with her drifting away were really well done!

    • October 16, 2020 at 4:15 pm

      WOOMP there it is a second time! You finally got an answer to your question! Yes, in the back of her mind Claudia knows this is a life-or-death situation for her in a way it wouldn’t be for us. But I didn’t want to spoil that.

      And you got to the chapter everyone was freaking out about when you first started reading, so now you know what the fuss is XD

      Thanks for saying I pulled it off; it’s been a long journey of improvement and setup, haha.

      • October 17, 2020 at 2:24 am

        I love that. When I read that chapter back then, I could feel the fear pouring out of it, but it left me so confused, I remeber re-reading it so many times and frantically looking for what I’m missing. It feels good to finally experience the payoff now!

        Ah! Feels like I’ve come a full circle! And I’m finally getting somehwere vaguely close to catching up, yay!

        Ok, I feel like my comment is inappropriately cheery for this chapter. But maybe that goes with the theme.

  • May 28, 2022 at 11:08 am

    Sorry for the late comment. Anyway, thoughts on the stuff I liked are below.

    One of my favorite things in this chapter was the thread of tension running through it. That’s what made me binge it. The question is established early (will she get out?), and everything masterfully exacerbates that tension. From Claudia’s tense introspective moments, to the ominous endings of every part (starting with Mike simply noticing something’s off about Claudia), to the long buildup towards this moment from Book I, to the flashbacks of Claudia’s fiery personality that helped her leave her other asshole ex. I loved the parallels between this growing tension and the tension of anticipating a joke. Except only Claudia’s laughing. The precariousness of the exit strategy is real and I’m glad it’s being talked about.

    My next favorite bit was the satisfying narrative structure that manages to tie everything to the dark side of humor. This chapter is a culmination of emotional tensions and refinement of writing style! The symbolism, recurring motifs, and timeline juxtapositions are splendiferous, and when they come full circle, it’s cathartic.

    I mentioned I love the mirrors. We even begin with Claudia looking into a mirror! We get to see Xiyuan and Bernard looking at each other through a mirror! Meanwhile, Mike spends a lot of his time in front of mirrors purposefully not seeing himself. Heck, he doesn’t even get a name this entire chapter! I, again, love how this relates to humor as a way to reflect on someone’s flaws, and how Mike does this with everyone but himself. It makes the flashbacks especially painful, seeing how much Claudia changes over time and how little Mike does.

    Even breathing becomes symbolic of life, self-reflection, and death by laughter. We’re introduced early to the concept of life beginning with an inhale and ending with an exhale, and this becomes so perverted by depictions of “the last laugh” and “breathless laughter.” And it’s reinforced olfactorily by revisiting Claudia’s orange blossom and chili powder scents at her end. It’s even more twisted considering Claudia’s coping mechanism is excessive optimism and laughter, and that was used against her. What is this, contrapassos for the innocent??

    I’m confused about the roadrunner metaphor. Is Claudia the roadrunner or the coyote or both? The obvious parallel is that she’s running away like the roadrunner. But the other parallel is that she’s building an elaborate plan like the coyote, and it only takes the roadrunner doing something simple to sabotage it. But as Hector points out, maybe the roadrunner is secretly behind the elaborate traps, making them easy to sabotage. Did Claudia sabotage herself on some level? I feel like I’m too deep into this metaphor…

    Claudia as the sun is always heartbreaking. The death of a character who always strives to radiate goodness and optimism is so much more tragic. Watching her lose herself to try and maintain the image of her own metaphor hurts. On the other hand, suns are angry balls of fire. That side of Claudia has saved her and others from assholes before, but not this time, even though that angry sun painting was so close to saving her.

    The interwoven timelines magnify the pervasive cycles and patterns that plague Claudia- from her slow deterioration to the intergenerational effects of abuse. And it does this all while heightening the stakes and tensions of the present. Love it.

    Which brings me to my third favorite thing- the hardest to write about psychologically. I’ve always enjoyed reading CT, but I sometimes struggle with understanding the big picture (as you know :P). But this chapter starts locking things into place. The depth of thought and knowledge regarding the lasting effects of abuse is painfully evident.

    Watching Mike slowly chip away at Claudia until she’s barely recognizable guts me, especially seeing how little he changes over time. Heck, the abuse is so gradual and insidious (and not overtly physical), she doesn’t even understand why she’s now afraid to leave her own house. Mike insinuating Claudia lets herself get exploited turns the knife in my wounds. And Claudia thinking that Real Claudia is a Pangloss who smiles despite being abused and juice-addicted? A cynical interpretation might be that she’s already lost. She’s already dead on her Hero’s Journey. But I’m a hopeless optimist (or a hopeful pessimist, haven’t quite figured myself out yet). She still got fire. And we’ve already established the reversibility of death in this story.

    Claudia does some absolutely twisted things to cope during her slow decline. Claudia’s juice addiction qualifies, of course. Her favoritism of Hector and using him as an emotional crutch (did not expect this to parallel Shu, but here we are) also qualifies. Her perverted rationale of how she’s strong and noble because she’s the only one capable of surviving her situation with a smile certainly qualifies.

    See, now if abuse could only be contained into a small bubble that we could one day pop and it would disappear forever that would be great, wouldn’t it? But no, it’s got to spill over into the kids. And each kid gets their own brand of intergenerational effect. Like their own personal cereal box that comes with a free toy. Except the toy is made of trauma. They all pick up on their parents’ dynamic in their own ways, and it always hurts when the kids seem to be more aware of it than Claudia herself.

    Props to Kendra for being the rebel we need. Claudia and Mike are here turning everything into a zero sum game where the kids are always the real losers and she’s NOT about it. She gets the shortest straw (neither parent’s favorite, bullied at school, taken advantage of by Charlie…), but I wouldn’t be surprised if she found out a way to fold that straw into some kind of Eldritch Abomination. I’m pinning some hopes on you, kid.

    ANYHOO, you could turn this shindig into a screenplay and send it to a Noah Baumbach-type indie art filmmaker. Also, was it clear this is my favorite chapter? This is my favorite chapter so far. One of my favorite chapters in the history of chapters. So much to chew on. All meat, no gristle.

    Other misc notes:
    – Aileen is my gray cockroach hero. Well, the whole squad, but especially her.
    – I chuckled at Claudia and Mike’s nerdy banter about Star Wars and medical anatomy, even if it felt incongruous with their personalities. But, hands-down, Xiyuan doing his banana antics in these parts’ backgrounds steals the show.
    – I only have one outstanding question and that’s: Who said the line “A-ba-ba-baaa?”

    • June 7, 2022 at 5:26 pm


      Dang. Triple DANG. Five-syllable daaAAaaAaAAaaaAAng!!!!!

      You, my friend, have earned your leaf.

      This comment/essay should be required reading and I don’t say that lightly. It hits the details I consciously wanted the reader to pick up on, and calls out the recurring symbolism that was meant to subconsciously prime the reader, and identifies the main themes, and predicts which direction this’ll go in.

      My reply has to focus on letting these things stand on their own. All I can say is… it’s an honor to have someone connect with the story so strongly that they read into it to catch every minute detail. You also write SimLit; you know it’s a small audience and we aren’t taking moments like this for granted. (About understanding the big picture, too: part of the culpability belongs to me as a hobby author. I didn’t develop the ability to direct the reader’s attention toward larger cohesive themes until recently.)

      The following couple of lists are meant to pick out and organize bits for curious onlookers.

      – That Mike is never named in the chapter. THIS RIGHT HERE.
      – Inhaling/exhaling as life and death.
      – The olfactory bookending.
      – Sun Claudia and angry sun painting, together at last!

      – How the recurring mirrors theme ties into self-awareness and Mike’s comedy rant.
      – How Claudia’s laugh impeding her breathing is part of the inhale/exhale metaphor.
      – How the roadrunner metaphor fits with the rest of the chapter. (I’ll agree with the variety of takes here because it is an imperfect parallel. But if you want to know my intentions while writing it, here they are: a metaphor for how much easier it is to be a contrarian asshole than to actually stand for something. You’ve already identified why that didn’t come across—it centers around Mike’s approach to life, so “which one is Mike?” is clearer than “which one is Claudia?” That’s fuzzy because Claudia’s the protagonist here and so it’s natural for the reader to think of her first. I’m okay with the metaphor being more accurate to Mike than her, because it hits on a fundamental facet of abuse: victims vary. Abusers don’t.)

      THANK YOU for your kind words. Very few people have gotten to this chapter. Y’know, I do have grandiose fantasies about turning a chapter into a screenplay, but not this one. Not that it hasn’t earned it—rather, it’s not self-contained. And as you’ve pointed out, possibly reliant on sim-world rules like death being reversible.

      Fine: the screenplay-worthy chapter stars Xiyuan. Of course it does. Look at him! He wants to know if you’re also seeing this shit.

      Glad the timeline-hopping worked. At some level it’s a band-aid fix for my storytelling abilities not being developed at the beginning of this serial novel. But it does work to highlight the emotional-abuse theme, and that works as a close second.

      The depth of thought and knowledge regarding the lasting effects of abuse is painfully evident.

      Yyyyyyyeah. Seems like it’s coming across that CT was written because the author wasn’t finding what she was looking for in existing narratives—maybe they exist, she just couldn’t find them—and needed to get something off her chest about the slow-burn trauma that destroys you from the inside out, chipping away so little each time that you barely notice it. And the equally slow process of rebuilding yourself. And the dangers of toxic positivity, and the tradeoffs someone has to make in order to escape, and the intergenerational effects, and how the roadrunner is a dick, and proper exercise alignment…


      Who said the line “A-ba-ba-baaa?”

      Paula Abdul.


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