And Lo, the Silence is Broken

I’ve always been a fan of silence. There are many different types and I love most of them. The noisy silence one finds in the deep woods or the countryside, where all the noises of city live and humanity are gone, no longer hovering just below hearing like an invisible weight dragging us down but replaced with the cacophony that is nature. The soft silence of a quiet afternoon as the fans whir and the whisper of cars on the distant highway is only interrupted by the drone of an airplane heading to the airport. The heavy silence of a moment shared between two people as they recognize the depth of what lies between them and the strength they find in each other. The quiet silence of a good book as the rest of the world fades away and all you are is subsumed by the story unfolding between the quietly rustling silence.

There are a few I don’t like, some that I find every so often that seem to make me more miserable and depressed than I truly expected. The painful silence of two in the morning that weighs down the world and all of its problems, threatening solitude and loneliness without end. The mournful silence of hotel rooms in the quiet glow of a busy city that seeps through the curtains no matter how tightly they’re closed, weeping as it tells the tales of all the lonesome nights spent staring at the textured ceiling. The yawing silence that grows between people who have no more words for each other, who can only seem to hold up what once was and is now broken while bemoaning their inability to restore it.

I like silence, despite how deeply it can sometimes cut, because it gives me a chance to reflect and let my mind wander. I spend so much time just trying to get from one day to the next that I have an awful tendency to completely ignore what is going on in my head. Unraveling that mess can be a painful or exhausting experience. Work drains me more than anything else I’ve ever done and I don’t always have a lot of energy to spare outside of it. As a result, I tend to enforce an internal silence by removing all of my external ones, filling my life with noise and life so I don’t have the ability to look inside.

When I have a less stressful day or I get to the point where ignoring my internal self is no longer an option, I will take the time to create a comfortable silence for me to reflect in. Today, that silence is whistling wind, no music, and the quiet tap of my keys (plus the annoying screech of my sticky spacebar whenever I hit it off-center). It is my first silence in a couple of weeks, almost, and I’m taking the time to reflect a little bit on all the changes in my life. I’ve been in Madison, Wisconsin for almost 3 years now and I’ve been through a lot to get here. I’ve lost contact with people and let friendships diminish. I’ve renewed contact with other people and strengthened other relationships, not to mention started entirely new ones. I’ve learned a lot about myself even if there are a lot of things I learned before that I need to be constantly reminded of.

The origin of today’s blog also lies in a silence. I hadn’t talked to a very good friend of mine in years and he messaged me out of the blue today. We started catching up and when we talked about my writing, he had a lot of positive things to say in addition to having complete faith that I’d eventually finish and publish one of my novels. It was not only nice to be speaking to my friend again (you know who you are), but it was an excellent reminder that I’ve been working toward the next major step in my life for years. I’ve been writing since high school and I’ve constantly been improving. I can write faster now and at a much higher quality than I could have ever achieved with editing. I have written at least a million words just in terms of creative writing projects. My bigger book projects alone get me well over halfway there, not to mention the hundreds of short stories, unfinished novel ideas, and practice drafts of random situations.

Silence is good. In my life, at least, it helps more than it hurts. However, there is always a time to break a silence and I think today is as good a day as any. So thank you friend, who is hopefully reading this, because you gave me the push I needed today by breaking our silence. I am not ready to be specific (sorry, I know, vaguebooking sucks), but I can promise anyone who follows me will see the results in the coming months.

 

Escaping Through Video Games: No Man’s Survival Craft

I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite things about video games is their ability to take the player away from their present situation. Whether the player is avoiding eye contact on the bus via phone Tetris or Sudoku (my personal preferences) or trying to get away from a bad day by delving as deeply as possible into their favorite RPG (Skyrim), these games provide a quick escape from the primary world. For a lot of people, that’s all they really need: a break from the pressures of their life and the opportunity to put it all away for a little while.

I enjoy that kind of escape immensely, almost as much as I enjoy reading. However, when I’m at my most stressed, at my most worn, when my OCD and anxiety are at their worst, this level of escape either isn’t possible or only puts my problems off until I stop playing (and I can’t tell you the number of nights I’m played games or read books until I’m falling asleep in order to put off that moment when they all come rushing back). I always need something that takes it a step further, that provides something beyond just the escape of a different world.

For a long time, that something was Minecraft. I’ve been playing it since my sophomore year of college and I’ve probably logged more hours to it than every other game I’ve played since. It was a world that was constantly changing and improving, a world where I was in complete control of the world provided I placed enough torches out to prevent Creepers from spawning. I could imagine whatever I liked and, with enough work, the game would come to reflect it. I leveled mountains, built lakes, and created entire mine cart pathways that took more than 10 minutes to go from the central hub at any of the ends.

Unfortunately for me, the game has lost a lot of its appeal as it has added a lot of features and items to create an adventure mode. The more features they added to make it an adventure game (The End, XP, potions), the less interesting and fulfilling it became for me. Even the exploring and building aspects that I loved started to become boring and monotonous, good only for a couple of hours at a time before I lost interest.

Then along came ARK: Survival Evolved. This seemed like exactly what I had been looking for: a game focused on taming the environment and surviving the harsh realities of life on an island inhabited by dinosaurs. I can’t tell you how much fun it was for me to make a character with maximum movement speed whose whole purpose was to give me the ability to run up to a T-Rex, punch it in the butt, and run away before it could hit me. All while cackling like a madman, of course. Unfortunately, that quickly went the way of Minecraft as well. As soon as survival stopped being an issue, I lost interest. Leveling up became a necessary chore and finding enough resources to feed myself and my pets was simple. I tried to challenge myself with made up games and the idea of making a base my character could carry to the middle of the island and deploy, throwing myself into the most dangerous area in the game. Even that started to bore me when nothing even tried to attack my new base.

For a long time, I listlessly cycled through these two games, trying to recapture my earlier feeling of tranquility and happiness. Almost nine months passed before I found a glimmer of hope. One of my friends had called for all to board the hype train for a game that was set to come out the next week: No Man’s Sky.

Now, as anyone can tell you, the hype train and marketing team killed any chance No Man’s Sky had of being a success. They promised more than any game could hope to deliver and left an enormous and outraged fan-base with a game they hated. I, however, managed to avoid the hype train until the week before the game came out. Everything I read pointed toward simple resource gathering, space exploration, and the quiet wonder of finding something new on every planet.

Judged based on those scales, the game is amazing. I get to fly from world to world, collecting resources I can sell to purchase more hyperdrive fuel or to outright buy a better spaceship. I can spend time getting to know the language of the locals through exploring their planets and interacting with them, my status in their society changing based on how I interacted with the few people I ran into during my travels. Sure, a lot of the actual exploration parts can get a little monotonous, but there’s always a new cave to find, a new word to learn, or a new pillar of gold to mine. I’ve named a half a dozen star systems and about four times as many planets. I’ve left my mark on the universe of the game and have yet to find another player.

I am alone in the universe and, for the first time ever, that idea is uplifting. I have no demands but those of fueling my exosuit and my spaceship. I can go wherever I like, do whatever I like, and just enjoy the scenery. I am alone in the universe and I am fine with that.

I know a lot of people hate the game and I know a lot of people want them to add a story or features to make it more action oriented. I don’t. Sure, it’d be nice if the flying controls were better or if it was easier to fight off space pirates, but I’m fine with things the way they are right now. It is refreshing to play a game that is just so calm and relaxing. Even the soundtrack is relaxing.

If you like action games, if you want to go on a bad-ass adventure to save the universe, don’t buy No Man’s Sky. If you want to just wander around the universe just to see what’s going on someplace else, buy this game and let it take you to places you never expected. Let it take you away from everything you want to leave behind and escape into this nigh-limitless universe.

I’ve Always Enjoyed a Little Dungeon Play

In news that should be surprising to no one, I am a huge fan of Dungeons and Dragons. I prefer 3.5 since the rule system requires a bit of ingenuity to be pretty broken, but I’ll play Pathfinder if people prefer. I tend toward DMing even though I prefer to play, but that’s mostly because I’ve got so many stories to tell and I’m generally pretty clever at sneaky little plot details or creating a world that’s just fun to experience.

I tend to stick to one of those two things. For instance, in the campaign I’m running for my friends from college, I gave them a climbers kit in their second session that they were then able to use to nail vampires into their coffins two months (nine sessions) later. At the other end of things, I’ve created a world where magic is the dominant force in the world so flying ships are safer than ships on the sea. I mean, physics is completely disregarded so often that it stopped caring and, as such, buoyancy is hardly dependable. All the fish already started flying, so the mortal races took the hint and switched to air ships. Not to mention the king of the largest city (by election, of course) is done in my best “Elizabethan Rich/Noble Mother” impression. Think Mrs. Bennet from the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice and you’re pretty much there.

I like to play because it gives me a place to get a feel for some of the characters I’m writing. Sure, I could sit down and writer some stories about them, but that’s getting to know about them rather than getting to know them. Place them in situations for which they’re entirely unequipped or force them to make difficult decisions they’d never face in their world and you really get to know them beneath the surface.

There’s this old adage common to lots of religions that more or less amounts to the deity of choice not making one’s life more difficult than one could handle. When it comes to writing, that tends to be especially true. What kind of story would it be if they character just quit halfway through or died and everything just fell apart without them? I’m not talking Game of Thrones kinds of deaths either, deaths that serve the purpose of advancing a story or making a point, but deaths that are truly pointless. No one would read it. That’s exactly why I like to place my characters, especially the protagonists or the people who are the sole stars of stories, into D&D campaigns. They’re always in the wrong place and they can just die pointlessly if they make the wrong decisions.

One of the things I enjoy the most, either as a DM or as a player, is the cooperative story-telling you can get with a good DM and a good group of players. If everyone is focused, paying attention, and genuinely participating, you can wind up with a story none of you saw coming. The DM lays the groundwork, they provide the opportunity for stories to happen, and the players take the threads and weave a story with them. There will always be loose ends and there will always be missed opportunities, but a good DM can weave them into the story to create something ultimately fulfilling for all parties.

The best DMs I’ve ever had weren’t the ones who could paint pictures with words, nor where they ones who fulfilled their players’ every fantasy. The best DMs I’ve ever had, and that I try to model my own DMing after, are the ones who helped their players tell the story they wanted while still making it a mystery to them. My very first DM was one like this and he was the reason I kept playing and started DMing. I was very lucky.

My weekly D&D sessions, playing or running, are the highlights of my week. There’s nothing like getting together with a bunch of my friends and doing some interactive story telling.

How am I Supposed to be Optimistic About This?

I spent Monday playing Overwatch today, enjoyed myself immensely, and wound up¬†feeling like I wasted the day. It is always difficult to allow myself to have fun when I’ve got a lot of anxiety about my job, about my future, and about my life in general because I’m constantly sending myself on a guilt trip for not putting my time to what my asshole-side calls “good use.” Gaming? Not a good use of my time. Reading? Better, but still not a great use of my time. Watching a show I love? The worst possible use of my time.

I know this voice in my head is not the authority on what is actually a good use of my time and its sole job is to just make me as miserable as possible because it doesn’t think I deserve to be happy. Which is BS. I’m always telling people that they deserve to be happy. Most people do deserve to be happy, so long as their happiness isn’t contingent on the misery of others. So why would I be any different? I’m not a horrible person. I don’t kick puppies or drown kittens or anything like that. I may not be super fit or super attractive, but I’m good to people, I work hard, and I try to be empathetic. So why shouldn’t I be happy?

That seems to be the million dollar question, though. Part of my is convinced I don’t deserve to be happy and the rest of me seems to have had little success convincing myself otherwise. Which is why I’m trying to take a step back from everything and more consciously focus on how full of shit that little voice in my head is. I DO deserve to be happy. While spending a huge amount of time playing Overwatch didn’t do much to advance my goals or my passions, it was a hell of a lot of fun and I got to spend a bunch of time hanging out with some online friends.

Sure, I have to go back to work most days, where I have to deal with the difficulty of a new boss, the dumb expectations of corporate employment, and my nigh-constant money issues (even if I’m not constantly broke, I sure live like it so I can pay down my loans more quickly), but I know exactly what it is I need to do to succeed. I have a plan. I know the path forward. I just need to keep my eyes focused on each footstep forward and watch out for all the potholes.

I know the path to what I would consider success and I know that I can walk it. All I need to do is constantly remind myself that I know where each foot is going and that taking an evening to play video games is nothing but a small rest stop, perhaps a seat on a park bench at a conveniently scenic location, along my path.

It’s not a particularly nice thought or feeling, but it’s probably the best that I’ve got for now.

I Turned 25 the Other Day

You know, most of the crap I deal with on a day-to-day basis (both the crap that falls upon me as a worker/inhabitant of this world and the crap I heap upon myself because I can’t seem to just leave myself alone) really isn’t worth the effort of being upset about.

I get angry about it a lot and I can get really fired up from time to time, but I eventually settle down and get on with my life because it didn’t have much of an impact on the grand scheme of things. I also get really upset by it all the time. I try to avoid self-pity but it’s truly hard to avoid feeling like the world is out to get you when you’ve got a laundry list of unfortunate truths you have to deal with every day. Still, though, I’m only down for a while before I pull myself out and get on with my life.

I’m going to try skipping a few steps in these processes. I want to see if I can bypass getting bent out of shape over ultimately inconsequential stuff in order to keep myself focused on putting my energy where I feel it is important. Like writing. I haven’t been updating this blog much because I don’t have a lot to say and I’m often exhausted by the time I’m settling down for the evening. I also haven’t made much headway in any of my writing projects for the same reason. I spend all of my free time trying to recovered from just how whacked out I let myself get before correcting the course of my emotions.

It’s all very zen, really. Going to ignore all the pleasures and pains derive from this sort of emotional involvement in my life so that I can better focus my passion and interest toward what I feel is in the best interests of my future: paying off my student debt and writing my books. Since I started this on Thursday afternoon, I’ve noticed a marked decrease in the level of sheer rage I feel toward other drivers on the road, only truly feeling the need to swear at them or make obscene gestures when they cut me off in such a way that I’m forced to slam on the brakes to avoid rear-ending them.

I’m not really sure how well this is going to work, yet. I have a habit of coming up with these kinds of resolutions and abandoning them before too long. Not because they don’t work, but because I feel like I don’t need them anymore, that I’ve become so invested in whatever practice I picked up that it is second nature to me. Which it never is. If I could change myself that drastically in one or two months, I doubt I would still be as much of an anxious, stressed wreck as I still am most days.

It is supposed to help me focus on the good parts of the day and my life by not engaging the negative parts and by not engaging in self-destructive behaviors that feel good in the moment at the cost of feeling good later. I could really use something like this right now as I’m feeling rather self-conscious about my weight and I’ve had to face the fact that I might be spending more time paying off my student loans that I’d like, so its difficult to stay positive and working on my long-term goals when they feel so unachievable.

Well, I’m going to go play some Overwatch, finish washing my dishes, and eat some kind of dinner (definitely not in that order). And I’m going to let myself take a breath and calmly continue playing instead of yelling at my monitor that these silly little jackasses need to learn to function as a fucking unit and not just run around like they’re invincible so we can take the freaking objective instead of letting their dumbass snipers pick us off one-by-one for five minutes. The main point is that I’m TRYING. As are they. Hopefully, I can do better than they are.