Homestuck, Act 7, and Living for the Ending
No spoilers for Act 7, mild spoilers for post-Gigapause. TW for discussion of suicidality. This has also been significantly edited since its first posting here and on Tumblr, so if you read this before this note was up, go ahead and reread it.
I was a relatively late reader to Homestuck, that sprawling multimedia web comic inadequately described as “creation myth via kids and videogames”: after a number of false starts, I saw some kids cosplaying as the trolls in SF and decided to give this comic another go. I started my first full read just before I finished grad school, in 2014 (I remember spending almost all my time before and after the graduation ceremony trying to read it on my Asus tablet) and not only did I get sucked in completely, I deeply regretted not reading it sooner (or at least getting past the first few sections earlier).
Storytelling-wise, Homestuck hit a ton of my fave points. It’s super meta. It’s transmedia (and not in the overly commercial sense). It references a ton of things I am familiar with, as a 90s geeky kid, without solely being a string of pop culture references. It had a deep contemporary mythology, where form mattered just as much as story, and it engaged all sorts of creative modes: multiple genres of games, mini-movies, animation, music, passages upon passages of text. I wish I had read this through before I started my MFA, because I would have absolutely used this as a basis for my thesis project. Internet-based geeky mythology transmedia epic? FUCK YES.
The characters also touched me deeply — all very diverse personalities, some adorable some strange some annoying, but all really fully realized people (even the joke characters!). They were all caught up in complicated and convoluted plot machinations, with doomed timelines and dreambubble afterlives and Scratches and villains that were ALREADY HERE — and yet they also had interpersonal concerns, family matters, loves and interests, deep relationships beyond romance. A rich inner and outer life. It made the grand story more relatable and accessible.
I could go on for days about how, at 30, I’m surprisingly old for the fandom writ large. Or about how powerful it could have been to be part of this sprawling project, especially towards the end when Andrew Hussie brought in a cadre of artists and musicians from the fandom to create canon; if only my skills were more in visual art or music rather than writing. Or my thoughts on Homestuck’s impact on pop culture and literature.
But this isn’t about that.
This is about how, at one point, Homestuck was the only thing I lived for.
In mid 2015 my US student/OPT visa was quickly running out, and I was out of options for staying. I really didn’t want to leave the Bay Area; I felt like, in many ways, I had just gotten started . I had just started exploring the games and tech world and was building strong relationships there. I had found pockets of close friends and communities that were more welcoming of me than most other communities I’d been somewhat a part of elsewhere. I knew it probably wasn’t going to be forever, especially with the economic situation and my general nomad nature, but I felt like I had at least a few years left in me worth to give.
However, to stay in the US, I needed some form of visa sponsorship, which meant getting a job. And not just any job, but a job that was eligible for H1B sponsorship, which usually meant a lot of requirements — a certain app deadline, a certain length of employment, a certain level of pay. The job I did have at the time, part-time tutoring, wouldn’t have been enough. I had been applying for jobs as much as I can, but could never secure anything. I was forced to self-select out of many otherwise-great jobs because they didn’t fit visa requirements. If I truly had limitless choices, I probably could have been employed sooner, but I was stuck with cramped parameters and was rapidly failing.
My only other options were Malaysia and Australia. I had received Australian Permanent Residency in mid 2014, which meant that theoretically jobhunting should be much easier for me, compared to the Hell On Earth that was trying to jobhunt for 5 years on a bridging visa (one of the reasons I left for the US). However, besides the sting of joblessness making me fearful, I had also lost many communities and even career paths there for all kinds of reasons petty and otherwise, and was really not looking forward to returning to a situation where even the progressives are terrible with racism, where I’d be tokenized or ostracized yet again, where I’d probably be alone because subcultures are small with long memories.
Australia seemed like paradise compared to Malaysia, though. When I left in 2006 I never wanted to go back. I grew up tortured and cast out, as someone of the “wrong race”; even getting citizenship in 2011 wasn’t enough. My parents can drive me absolutely bonkers after too long with them. I could get arrested at any moment due to my sexuality, my spirituality, my activism. It was unsafe…but it was also free. Well, not at all free as in freedom, but free as in money: no rent, food is paid for, no obligations.
[S] Terezi: Remem8er, the last update before a pause and the string of updates that led to today’s finale, came one month before the day my visa expired. I had to give my landlord one month’s notice to vacate. If I decided to leave, I had one month to settle all my things and go. In short, it was a day of big decisions: very fitting given Terezi’s Mind powers, which were all around understanding consequences and making choices.
On that day, I decided to leave the US and make my way to Malaysia.
On that day, I also decided to die.
In Remem8er, Terezi — normally not a very emotional heart-on-sleeve character — opens up about feeling conflicted and upset because she felt like she could not live up to the example of her alternate self in a doomed timeline, whose last action before death involved making a list of points in history where she could have made a different decision and directing another character, John, to go back in time and prompt her past self to change those decisions using his retconning powers. She felt that this alternate self, while dead and doomed, managed to make much more of an impact on their game’s success than her current self did. She wished she could remember what her other self did, not just through John’s testimony but viscerally, just so she could really know that there is at least one version of her that was bad-ass.
I wouldn’t say that Remem8er triggered me, at least not directly. But Terezi’s ruminations about how she would never be able to compare to her alternate self tugged at my feelings of failure, of feeling like nothing I did ever mattered.
I was frustrated at a job history mostly filled with amazing opportunities, well-known personal projects, short part-time jobs, and plenty of volunteering — but none of it seemed to matter when it came to looking for steady work. I was still healing from an abusive relationship and was regretting leaving my first relationship (which was awesome) mostly because I came out to myself as a lesbian; I felt like following my sexuality only led to doom. I felt like, almost at 30, I still had none of my shit together. My biggest wish since I was 4 was to be personally independent and free from obligation, and yet I still needed to be supported by my parents because getting a regular income seemed impossible. I was pathetic, useless, nothing to show for.
Was there another version of me in another timeline that was more successful? Someone who took on the opportunities I missed and dropped the ones that weren’t good? Someone who was more stable with interpersonal relationships and didn’t get caught up in drama (self-inflicted or otherwise)? Someone who was thriving on their own because they knew how to support themselves and have been for a while?
If so, how did they do it, and why can’t I remember?
Was it even in me to be the sort of person I wish I was?
In the update, Terezi eventually gets to “remem8er” what her alternate self did, and her alternate self found resolution and happiness. I, however, am not a character in a sprawling epic, much less one where alternate selves were an option, so asides from a ton of conjecture I would never know whether I had the capacity to be a self-sufficient successful self-assured soul. Instead, what I have is a decision that threatened to undo nearly 10 years of self-work, throwing me back into a prison of isolation and agony: a decision I felt was forced only because I’d painted myself into a corner. (Incidentally, this feeling of choicelessness was one of the factors that doomed Alternate Terezi’s timeline, and led to her attempts to “F1X TH1S”.)
I watched the update at Bittersweet Cafe in Oakland, where I regularly ask for a salted caramel hot chocolate with a shot of espresso. I thought I’d get some work done with my laptop, but instead I was a bawling mess. Homestuck had its tearjerker moments, but all the events in my life leading up to that point in time messed me up more than before. Terezi’s internal crisis cut close…maybe a little too close.
On the way home, I was already posting on social media about how despondent and suicidal I was feeling, how I felt like I was reaching a dead end and I could see no way out. When I got home — a studio apartment in a bigger house that I got for a steal after taking over a friend’s lease when I needed to get away from my abusive ex — I started scouting around for something to hang myself with. Suicidality is no stranger to me, not at all, but this was the worst it had been in a long time.
Somehow I had enough presence of mind to call for help, and a friend got an Uber to bring me to their house. I spent the next few nights at a different friend’s house, one of my best friends — well, two of my best friends; they’re dating and living together. It was when I was there that I told them, quite honestly, that the only thing I had to live for was the end of Homestuck, because I had to know how it all resolves.
As far as reasons to live goes, wanting to know the end of a story isn’t necessarily the strongest choice. It’s just a piece of fiction, what does it matter to you when you’re dead?
But when your life seems like a pile of dead ends and you have no idea if or how anything will move forward, you hang on to the rare certainties that you have. And right now, the only thing I knew I could look forward to was the resolution of a 7-year project that captured my heart in its final 2 years.
It’s better than nothing, I think my friend said.
It’s been about 9 months since [S] Terezi: Remem8er, since the Bittersweet tears and brink-of-the-moment Ubers. Since I’ve returned to Malaysia, I’ve spent most of my time here studying something or other; either the GRE or Harvard Business School’s online HBX CORe program. It’s really outside my nature, swotting away at exams and doing homework (I loved learning but not school) but it was something to fill the time.
Job-hunting hasn’t panned out in Malaysia, as I expected, and the political system here is getting weirder and weirder, so I’ve been planning to get out. My plans are working: I’m headed to Melbourne in early May, hoping to follow up on some possible opportunities.
I even got a job, as of yesterday: Community Coordinator with Pipeline Angels, a network of women investors and social entrepreneurs. It’s part time remote, and not really a living wage, but it’s the first job I’ve had since I left the US and it’s a great start. If anything, it’d make house-hunting a lot easier.
Homestuck ended today, after 7 years. A beautiful high-quality animated piece that still left a lot of questions unanswered, but there is an epilogue planned and a game and possibly a few other things, so it’s not completely over. Even so, I can barely imagine what it must feel for Andrew Hussie right now, to finally bring this magnum opus to a close. I’ve gotten absolutely verklempt over projects that lasted a year or less, culture shock plus grief in creative settings, and Act 7 left me dazed the whole day. Who knows how he’s coping; this was practically his baby. I hope he’s OK.
The end of Homestuck was often one of the only things I had to live for for quite a while, even after I arrived in Malaysia. There were the job apps and fellowship apps that I could have looked forward to, but I’ve learned the hard way that hoping for the best for an application you put your heart and soul in only results in disappointment. Homestuck, at least, would definitely conclude without me needing to do anything about it.
They say that once you open the door to the possibility of suicide, the door never quite shuts, and its still in the back of your mind even if you’re not feeling as dire about life as before. But I am doing better than I was about 9 months ago, and I am hoping that the good things that happened in the past little while will carry on.
I’m glad I stuck around long enough to watch the end.
Towards the end of Homestuck there’s some discussion from some characters about the Ultimate Self, about how all your alternate selves come together to make a Greater You. That even if your alternate selves made different choices or were in different circumstances, there is still a core that stays true across all iterations, and ultimately they all build something bigger than just yourself. They’re all important, even the versions that are less viable than others.
I know that the Real World does not function like SBURB, but between theories around multiverses and notions of pop culture magick, I feel like there’s some comfort in considering the Ultimate Self framework for myself. I’m still not sure why my current timeline is the “alpha”, but if there are iterations of me that are successful somehow, if I can imagine that those iterations exist while still being true to myself, it means that I’ve always had that possibility. I just need to figure out how to tap into it — pretty fitting, for a self-described Heart player, one who deals with souls and identities.
Thank you Andrew Hussie and company, for building such a deep and engaging story, ticking all my creative boxes, that was able to draw me in for long enough to keep me going. Thank you for giving me something to live for, at least for a little while.
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