Puzzles Are Fun

I’ve always enjoyed puzzles (had a puzzle party when I was 4, because I loved them so much), but they represent a sort of one-and-done amount of entertainment that has made it difficult to justify the cost. The introduction of local programs that allow you to change out your used puzzles for someone else’s used puzzles (usually with a small fee to support the local business coordinating these efforts since you’re not buying a new puzzle, or using a store credit system similar to buying and selling old video games) has made it easier for me to get my hands on new puzzles and they’ve formed the backbone of my non-electric entertainment over the past year.

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I Might Have Escaped Too Hard

Once again, I am confronted by the weirdness of the time I write these posts versus the time I post them. It’s a bit different this time, though, since I’m writing this only two days before it goes up. There will be no gap in post coverage, but it has been almost a week since I wrote my last blog post. I respect the break I took because I do feel better rested, but I also don’t want to not have blog posts for six days. Also, I have a lot to say since I did that thing where I escaped with a variety of activities and did a lot of thinking in the background while I kept my fore-mind busy. I’ll skip this upcoming weekend, but I’m going to get a couple extra posts written this week to fill in the gaps I created while I rested.

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Saturday Morning Musing

I really enjoy spending time with my friends. Like most people, I’ve got a mix of introverted and extroverted qualities. Depending on where I am when I’m with my friends, it can be either relaxing or tiring. For instance, I organized a get-together tonight since one of my friends is leaving the state for her last semester of college and I like send-off parties. We went to a Mongolian grill restaurant for dinner and that was super exhausting because it was super loud, super busy, and I had a hard time participating in any kind of talk with my friends. Afterwards, we went to a coffee/chocolate shop where one of the group was still working, and the much quieter atmosphere helped me relax from the stress of the restaurant.

After the coffee/chocolate shop closed, they all opted to go to a bar and I opted to go home. It was a Friday night. The last thing I wanted, tired as I was and as busy as I am this weekend, was to go out to a noisy, crowded bar. They all get it, which made it easy to linger as they made plans so I could enjoy a last few minutes being around them. To be entirely fair, I probably still would have gone home even if they’d gone someplace super chill. I was exhausted after a long week and the continued reduction of my daily caffeine intake. I also started getting back into some more active things, so I’m super low on physical and mental energy. Throw in a week’s bout of depression brought on by the gloom and the cold that had ruled Wisconsin, and I’m also out of emotional energy. The trifecta. All energies dwindling and rapidly approaching zero.

So I went home and went to bed. Brushed my teeth, put on my pajamas, and decided to just wake up a bit early to get this written and pack for my trip. Unfortunately, as is often the case when I’m nearing zero, I couldn’t sleep. Instead, I opted to lie awake and stare at the ceiling until I wanted to pull my hair out. Rather than do anything to speed up my inevitable male pattern baldness, I got out of bed and worked on some poetry for a bit while listening to a band my girlfriend suggested since they’re in town for a concert next month. Walk the Moon makes for pretty good late-night-poetry-writing music, actually. They’ve got a good sound that fades in and out of the background as your attention waxes and wanes.

While I was trying to sleep and then writing poetry, the main theme of the thoughts I was trying to ignore was dread for my weekend plans. Even now, as I’m double-checking my bag and debating whether or not to bring my Switch, I really don’t want to go. I know I’m going to have a great time because I’m seeing some of my closest friends from college, people who used to fill me with such a creative charge that they drove some of the almost-insane amounts of writing I did during college. Well, insane in a sense. Given the amount I’d written at the time and how many projects I started that eventually influence my ability, I was at my most prolific in college. These days, I wrote more in a month (NaNoWriMo 2017) than I did in any entire semester of college.

Even though I’m going to meet with these wonderful friends, watch some fun movies, exchange late Christmas presents, and have a peaceful drive to clear my mind, I’m still dreading departure. This same exact thing happens all the time. I make plans that sound like a lot of fun and then the plans start to appear on the horizon, looking miserable. It happened with my plans to go out to dinner yesterday. It happened with my decision to return to my foam-fighting practice on Thursday nights. It happens with pretty much everything I do these days.

I will go and I will have a great time assuming nothing horrific happens. Unless I get in a car accident, break a bone, or get my wallet stolen, I’m going to have a net-positive trip. I’ve got too many great people and fun things packed into my weekend to have anything but a good time. The only thing that could make it better is bringing my girlfriend along for the ride. Which will happen eventually, I hope. The friend I’m staying with is still adjusting to her new apartment and hasn’t met my girlfriend yet, so I’m going to hold off on throwing additional stress her way. Plus, now I’ve got a reason to go back and visit everyone soon!

Pokemon Through The Ages

I’ve been a fan of the Pokemon games ever since the first one came out. I have dim, partial memories of standing on the deck at my parents house, looking at my brother’s Red Version cartridge, and deciding I wanted blue version because I liked blue more than red. I remember how amazing it was that you could have your Pikachu follow you around in Yellow version. I even still have the game guide and Pokedex my brother got for Yellow Version so he could complete his Pokedex. Back in the days when there was only “Special” instead of “Special Attack” and “Special Defense,” breeding wasn’t possible, IVs were unheard of, and Pokemon abilities weren’t even on the horizon, I built my team in Blue using the Pokemon I thought were the coolest and my Yellow Version team as a match to Ash’s team, since I watched the Pokemon Anime religiously.

As I grew and more games came out, I played at least one of every version up until the Black and White generation. I tried to convince myself that I didn’t want to play new Pokemon games at that point since I was in college and there’s no denying they’re basically all the same game, but the reality of the situation is that I was too broke to buy them. To this day, they remain the only generation I haven’t bought or played. Pokemon games don’t really lose value and they’ve been coming out with new ones at a pretty regular frequency, so I’ve never really been left wanting a new Pokemon game.

I primarily play Pokemon as a way to relax. For me, it is all about having something easy and calm to do that I can use to deal with stress or anxiety. If I’m playing Pokemon, I’m too busy to be stressed or anxious, but not so busy that I can’t quietly work through stuff in the back of my mind. The games can be kind of boring at times, if you’re going for Pokedex completion, but it can also be rewarding to come up with plans, look at models for the appearance frequency of various Pokemon, and to calculate which Pokemon will make for the best addition to my team.

Unlike some of my friends, I’m not into the competitive scene. I have no interesting in fighting Pokemon battles against real people via online competitions. I’m not super interested in the strongest Pokemon and maximizing their stats,  but I definitely enjoy Pokedex completion more than they do. I’m the only one of my main group of friends who actually takes the time to collect or works on creating a full Pokedex using the “Pokemon Bank” service, something that allows me to store Pokemon from the more recent games on a server somewhere. This allows me to transfer them between games whenever I so desire and is not limited by in-game storage capacity.

Due to my penchant for starting the games over multiple times (mostly so I’ve got actual objectives beyond just catching Pokemon, because that can get kind of boring at times), I’ve now got enough evolutions of the Pokemon in the recent games, Sun/Moon and Ultra Sun/Moon, to complete my Pokedex simple by moving Pokemon from the Pokemon Bank to my game. I’m still working on getting ALL of the 800+ Pokemon now, since a lot of the rare ones are event-specific and I suck at going to the events or even turning my game on at the right time to get them.

I would say my favorite generation was Gen 2, the Silver/Gold/Crystal generation and their remakes, HeartGold and SoulSilver. I prefer the remakes since your lead Pokemon follows behind you and I’ve always enjoyed that. Generation 2, especially the remakes, had the most story elements in them, though the recent ones probably have the largest story (though it is a lot more straight forward and less complex). I also really enjoyed being able to get more than 8 badges and was really sad when Gen 3 didn’t continue that trend.

I can understand that a lot of people aren’t always enthusiastic about each new Pokemon game and I’ll admit that I rarely play the older ones now, but I can’t deny that they hold a special place in my heart. They were the first video game franchise I ever bought into and my longest-running. Half of my handheld games, if we exclude the Switch, are Pokemon games. I’m constantly on the lookout for cheap copies of the games so I can complete my collection. My love for the games also instantly provides common ground between myself and other people as most people my age have played at least one of them.

Aside from the easy identifiers such as apparel and knickknacks, Pokemon fans are usually easy to identify. All you have to do is drop the name of a less-popular Pokemon. If you get a look of confusion, you know to avoid Pokemon. If they recognize the name, the conversation will usually take at least a momentary aside to talk about Pokemon. With the advent of Pokemon Go and its continued popularity, the game is reaching more and more people. I’ve got a coworker in his early 50s who likes to talk about Pokemon as a result of the app, even though he never has and never will play any of the console/handheld Pokemon games.

I can’t even criticize the games for being money grabs because I’m happy to give the studio and Nintendo my money so they can keep making more of these games and other wonderful stuff in the future. The games bring people together, they help me relax when I’m stressed or can’t sleep, and they’ve been a part of my almost as long as I can remember. What more can you ask of a game franchise? I really hope they’re still making these when I’m 80 and enjoying my retirement in a space-station retirement hold. Don’t have to worry about breaking your hip or falling if there’s no gravity!

Rain Storm

I am relaxing on my bed, right arm tucked behind pillows that support my head and left leg crossed over right. My toes, freed from their normal cotton restraints, idly fidget in the cold wind that blows through my apartment. In my free hand, I hold a book over my head so that, should I begin to doze, I will not sleep for long. A book to the face is enough to wake most anyone.

I stir as the wind picks up, the unseasonable chill it carries into the beginning of summer deepening. It convinces me to wrap my lower legs and feet in a blanket. A chill breeze is easy to ignore. The seeping cold is not. My nose grows cold and I occasionally wish for a light blanket for my upper body as well, but not enough to pull myself away from this place of peace and relaxation.

I begin to doze every page or so. At one point, I miss my face and my doze extends into a short nap. It would have been a long nap if not for the flecks of icy water that splattered on my elbow. I wake, some five minutes after my nap began, almost an hour after I cease to notice the world around me, to find the rain sheeting down outside my window. The cold gusts that had been pushing through my apartment now carried rain with them, as far as my bed. It is unexpected. The forecasts called for clouds and wind, no rain.

I rouse myself from my stupor, propping myself up on my elbows so I can nudge the window, closing it to about a quarter of its full capacity. After fumbling for my bookmark and putting my book on my bedside table, I lay back again. I breath deeply of the damp heady aroma of mixed rain and churned dirt that flows in through my window and think of nothing as I stare into the sky. My peace grows as I let my senses embrace this rain.

Two minutes in, I am roused by the familiar anxiety of every unexpected storm. I rise from my bed and trek into the main room. There are no raindrops on the window screen and half the small porch beyond it is still dry. My couch is safe unless the wind changes. I stand and watch the waves of rain cascade through the parking lot, hammering the puddles that never seem to disappear these days and making me glad I no longer live at the bottom of a hill.

I retire to my room again and find the playlist I’d created not even a week ago. I turn it on and let the five songs that remind me of the calmness and relaxation I only truly feel during rain storms play through the speakers of my small stereo. I take my place back on my bed, but leave my book on the nightstand. This time, I do not begin to doze. This time, I stay and breath in the rain as it falls, wishing I had a proper porch on which I could watch it. After a few minutes, I no longer desire it. I am content to recline on my bed and let it play itself out as I experience it through my window.

It takes only half an hour. Longer than other storms I’ve seen this month, but still nowhere near as long as I would like it to be. My playlist has only made it halfway through its second rotation. The rain leaves me behind with nothing but the damp, acrid scent of a small woods holding onto the humidity that it has acquired. This humidity is released slowly. Even when I climb into my car for work the following morning, it will still be there, making the whole area feel almost like a chilly sauna.

But tonight, as I drift off to sleep, the churned earth and plant matter scent of the rain and forest will keep me company. I return to my book and sigh contentedly, no longer focused on the storm’s end. It will be there in a few hours, when I need it. Tonight, I will sleep well.

Take a Chill Pill

I have a hard time relaxing. I get the concept pretty well, but the actual execution often eludes me. You could ask any of the people I’m close to and they’d all tell you that I constantly complain about being tired and needing to relax. It is a constant state of being for me, one that I can’t seem to get a handle on despite my success managing most of my other issues.

Anxiety? Got a cure for that. OCD acting up? I got a remedy to take it down. Feeling super depressed? No worries, I got that covered! Feeling kind of tense of wound up? Well, shit, I suppose there’s video games? No, that’s not working… Books! Well, that didn’t work either, though I really should read more that author. How about taking a vacation? Shoot, I’m all out of ideas. And so on.

A lot of the suggestions for relaxing is finding something that frees your mind of your concerns and genuinely brings you joy. That eliminates meditation because, while pleasant, I wouldn’t really say that I enjoy it. Its more like medicine I don’t mind taking. Exercise is also very good for relaxing, but that tends to only work for physical relaxation and I get plenty of that. Hanging out with my close friends is also very rewarding, but it takes energy to do that, energy I need if I’m going to get through another tense, wound-up day.

I’ve had various things from time to time that help with the whole relaxation thing. At certain points in my life it was the relationships I had. Just spending time around a partner who expects nothing from you but is still a comfort to be around is one of the most relaxing things I’ve ever experienced. I’ve had a game or two I could play to really just cut loose and let everything slip away. Minecraft was that game for several years and Pokemon can be from time to time, though both tend to lose this ability if I play them much.

Dungeons and Dragons is also very relaxing. It is always fun to take leaving yourself behind for a bit more literally than usual. I enjoy role-playing immensely and love building worlds/situations for my players to work through. It has a level of freedom and independence that video games have yet to truly capture. The first virtual reality D&D campaigns with fully interactable environments are going to be freaking awesome.

The truth is that I’m not sure I really can relax. Hell, I worry about not being able to relax. How messed up is that? I can’t seem to relax so I’m getting more tense and stressed out, which is why I need to relax in the first place so I’m only needing to relax more as I worry about not being able to relax.

I even bought some of those relaxation/meditation candles to burn in the evenings when I’m trying to calm down and unwind before bed. All I’ve wound up getting is a rather pleasant smelling bedroom. Which, you know, is nice, but not exactly what I was going for. I’ve installed light alteration applications on all my electronic devices to test the hypothesis that all this blue light is making me tense. I’m only a week in, but I’m not seeing much change in terms of LESS stress and tension.

I have one hope right now. One potential chance at something that might relax me. A new game coming out this weekend is supposed to be super visually stunning, sound great, and just be a chill way to hang out and just BE. No Man’s Sky. Comes out sometime on the 12th. A lot of those playing it on the PS4 (release date was the 8th and 9th for two major markets), not to mention articles that interviewed developers and testers, all seem to indicate that this game is just that. No major multiplayer stuff, no need to interact with people unless I want to, and a glorious, vast universe to explore with no agenda other than to find what’s out there.

That would be amazing. I really hope this game is everything I’m expecting it to be. I could REALLY do with some R&R.

If you’d like a review of the game, check back on Saturday or Sunday. I promise I’ll tear myself away from it long enough to post my initial reactions to it no later than 24 hours after I start playing it.