My Ancestors Baked Things!


James Baker is me. My ancestors baked things. I began in the 1980s, in the dark days, before the web and the smartphone. Before the robot apocalypse...

It was the rise of the digital age, and it was a fascinating time for all of us kids! For me, it was the start of an obvious obsession with video games. Their push and pull were particularly effective in shaping my peculiar path.

It began with Lode Runner and Ballblazer on Atari XE... Then came The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. on NES... Sega brought Sonic the Hedgehog and NBA Jam! And from there it was onward to the glorious PlayStation and its 3D 32-bits!

Alien Trilogy and Resident Evil and the brilliant Bushido Blade! Just three of the very finest titles by which my mind was made. Oh, no...

Have I begun a rhyme?

To drive a point home to you?

Ah, frack it! Why not?

Twisted Metal and Twisted Metal 2!

More metal twisting, perhaps?

Amid rounds of Need for Speed?

Yes! More twisting of metal!

More metal twisting, indeed!

Twisted Metal III, of course!

And then Twisted Metal 4!

I twisted all the metals!

And then I twisted them some more!

And marked maturity meddled not with my mettle, as my meeting Metal Gear Solid merited me my Medal of Honor! Okay, fine! I'll dial it back down to a more mundane prose...

The simple point is that I enjoyed a lot of video games. But more importantly, they were honing certain skills, traits, and desires. That said, of all the games I played in those days, the most addictive and the most influential could only have been the epic RPGs, Final Fantasy VII and VIII and IX... Oh my!

Because of those particular games, I began drawing maps of worlds of my own creation. And each came with a story, and with magics, heroes, and foes. Those were the teenage years, when a fictionist's future formed. By the end of high school, I had envisioned a career in video game design, a goal which I thought to attain via a B.S. in Computer Science.

But early in college, a certain Peter Jackson trilogy turned me on to Tolkien's tales, and then over the years my love for games was supplanted by a love for books. The many works of H.G. Wells ensnared me next, as did The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas and Don Quixote by Cervantes. And then there was Rowling's entire Harry Potter series, of course. Nevertheless, it had been those tales of Arda and Middle Earth, and the professor himself, that had rocked my world the most.

In 2008, graduate school saw me seeking a Ph.D. in Psychology, but it also saw me outlining my first science-fantasy series. As I plodded my way toward the doctorate, I took the plunge into Jordan's The Wheel of Time, a masterpiece which led me to Sanderson's Elantris, Warbreaker, and Mistborn, and all the while I was studying their techniques and styles. However, it would be the quirkiness of Richard Adams's Watership Down that became my favored model!

Somehow, I finished grad school in 2019, and not by coincidence, in the process of taking twice as long as intended, I had also developed depression and generalized anxiety disorder. And so rather than forcing myself to then make any long-term career moves, I took a nice job in I.T. support. My goal was to let myself heal, and to further develop the science-fantasy story that had been incubating for over a decade.

The plan had been working! But when COVID came and filled the whole world with misery, my mental health was certainly knocked back off balance. Enough was enough! I went to the bookshelves, and I took out my Watership Down, along with all my Tolkien and all my Wells!

And during those lonely months of waiting for the storm to pass, I reread all my old favorites to help me hammer out a first draft. The tasks kept my fragile mind occupied each night after work, and with the help of my mother's proofreading, I had written a rough draft of over one hundred thousand words by mid-winter of 2021. But a year of death and dismay had taken its toll...

With the draft completed, I lost my ability to write. My only desire was to find a way into the arms of my Thilani, the Sri Lankan who had acquired my heart from afar. Several more months passed before the world would allow it, but in early October of that year, we embraced for the very first time, and we became engaged!

My mind began to mend a bit, as we made moves to prepare for her immigration. Then, humans did another one of their most human things. The pandemic had already brought Sri Lanka to the brink, and then war pushed it over.

If ever you want your mental health kicked while it is still down, then try watching helplessly from abroad, as any number of your loved ones become afflicted by an ever worsening scarcity of food, with no end to the crisis in sight. Meanwhile, go to your customer support job each day, and listen to woe begotten adults vent their fleeting frustrations. And lastly, be sure to have your disorder regularly criticized, downplayed, and dismissed by those who value you only for your labor.

If finally you are relieved from the toxicity, perhaps you too will feel a wonderful rebound of your mental health, even as any number of your loved ones still remains in their dangerous situation. Perhaps you too will then open up your long-neglected rough draft and begin pushing it closer to publication. And perhaps you too will provide potential supporters with relevant website links at the end of a brief and annoying autobiography...

Read my things!

Fuel my creativity!

Infinite thanks to pal Barbara!