One of my favorite stand-up comedians of all time happens to be Mitch Hedberg. He was known for his surreal and unconventional humor that most people failed to understand. He was considered an oddity by some. For others, like me, he was a genius and ahead of his time. Announcers on stage would often introduce him as the man who sees the world through rose-colored glasses. He used to wear a pair of colorful shades on stage but that was not the reason that he was given that label. He saw and interpret the world in a new light.
This particular literary work, With Those We Love Alive, is a perfect medium to experience that alternative interpretation of reality. The feelings that people sense, and sometimes endure, are often difficult to place in words. Sometimes, it is much easier to convey those feeling through metaphorical means, such as abstract artwork or poetry. With Those We Love Alive, is an electronic literature that examines the feelings that come along with life experience, and presents them to the reader through rose-colored glasses. Heightened colors of the background, ambiance music, and figurative form of writing create an aura of frustration and despair. There is an overall theme of decay in the story; physically and mentally.
The main purpose of With Those We Love Alive could be considered a self-reflection. It is an examination of sorts. The reader (or the player) is able to make choices that affect the story at times, but also able to make choices without a specific consequence just to reflect on them. A great example would be crafting a gift for the character, the Empress, only to have it simply placed over her throne for you to look at it as you continue to read (or play) the story. The type of gifts that you craft varies depending on whom it is for. The gifts for the Empress are either brandish or glamorous whereas the gifts that you craft for yourself are more personal. The telescope that you can craft and place on the your quarters’ balcony is a great example as it represents the wonder of what is beyond the known reality and seeking another life.
At certain points of the story, the reader is asked to draw a sigil on his or her arm. Certain ones that I was asked to do so are the following:
“Draw a sigil of what you feel”
This one represents the position that you may find yourself in society. The player is given the choice to join or reject a mob violence. You can either choose to be part of the group and do the things that they do despite how repulsive they may be, or you can choose to be alone and isolated to avoid actions expected of you. This particular part, in my opinion, examines what it means to feel free as opposed to being oppressed, and what sort consequence it may have over someone’s mind, such as ever-lasting loneliness.
“Draw a sigil of shame”
This one represents the lack of courage that people experience at certain points of life. One could draw a parallel with public speaking; the greatest fear.The reader experiences a failure due to lack of courage among other people and asked to consider the aftermath. In order to achieve success, one must discover the strength to leap forward.
“Draw the sigil of your relationship with the chasm”
This one represents the hidden identity of a person and bottled up emotions that consume the mind. In other words, being a damaged person. The reader explores the mysterious past of another character whom he or she is in relationship with. The given task is to convince that character to let go of that past and find a new purpose in a new life. It is always important to remind ourselves that the future holds more opportunities when we are free of our burdens from the past.
“Draw a sigil of insight”
This one, specifically, represents seeing the world in a different way. The reader experiences what it is like when someone attempts to use drugs to overcome emotional pain. It is an easy method of escape that people turn to whenever their lives make them feel trapped. The creator of the story manages to convey that feeling by keeping the reader inside a limited space with a very limited amount of activities to perform until a major even occurs. The way the descriptions of things which you examine is written reflects the emotion of suffocation that one may endure. So, the characters use drugs to escape that pressure. They believe the effects they experience allow them to express their thoughts and bring out their bottled up feelings to the surface more freely. The sigil is also ironically named ‘insight’ to ponder upon.
Each sigil represents a mark left over someone’s body or soul after a tangible experience. It is also an analogy of making a cut on the arm. Some people tend to exercise self-harming in order to feel alive, feel relief from bad feelings, or express strong feelings of desperation, longing, and emptiness. They feel overwhelmed by their lives and do not know alternative ways to get relief from emotional pain or social pressure. The important point that With Those We Love Alive reminds us that this is self-inflicted, and it could be overcome no matter how difficult it is. Despite the decay that people may experience in life, there are things that can still offer them hope: the good people around them, who are still alive to reach out and ask for emotional support and a guiding hand. They are worth cherishing. It is also very important to remember that nobody is truly alone. As long as you have the will to discover the strength within you that already exists, you can find love and respect that will diminish the yearning for death permanently. People fail to realize the importance of those around them, or appreciate the possibility that they also mean a lot to them, until they are gone.
Mitch Hedberd died of a cocaine and heroin drug overdose in 2005.