Life — Learning From the Fire

This sort of thing doesn’t seem to happen often. A lot of people I know are talking about how tragic the fire is and how life shouldn’t be this way, but I think it’s worth looking at things in its opposite.

It’s much easier to remember history by its tragedies rather than the miracles (you can point to my own blog as an example of this: I never once mentioned Katie Bouman’s team that created the black hole picture!), but by the look of things, the world used to be much worse. Sure, the world could stand to be a lot better, but let’s look at things in a positive light today. 100 years ago we were just getting out of one of the worst wars humanity had ever known, and was just a few steps away from entering one that would rival it.

Not too long ago, monuments and landmarks were being destroyed left and right, not to mention the millions of lives that were suddenly lost.

When a single building being on fire is international news, as important as that building may be, we have reason to be thankful for the relative peacefulness our modern day has provided us.

Beyond this, death (as the case may be), is a natural part of life. All things must end, and if the Notre Dame Cathedral is left in a state where it can’t be restored (which would honestly surprise me), then that doesn’t diminish the fact that there is still an endless supply of art, history, and culture in Paris alone.

People have short memories, and I think it’s in events like this that remind us of the pieces of culture that we still have, right next door. You never know if it’s going to be there tomorrow, because something as crazy could happen there, too.

Is it tragic? Yes, of course. But as far as I know nobody was injured, and with today’s technology the building could probably be rebuilt better than it was yesterday in less than a decade.

It astounds me a bit that some people seem to view events like this exactly the same way as terrorist attacks. You see the same things being spouted off: “Our hearts are breaking today in light of recent events that took place this morning/afternoon/evening. Tragedies like this…” and so on. I think treating the destruction of a monument the same way as the deaths of hundreds of people in the same way is incredibly insulting, frankly. And yet, which will history remember more clearly? Hard to say, though it does seem that this sort of freak accident is far more rare than terrorist attacks, unfortunately.

I think days like today are best used reflecting on the past, looking forward to the future, and pressing onward to right wrongs (intentional or not) without taking more time than we need to mourn over what was lost.

One thing I feel modern society has gotten really bad at is learning from mistakes and correcting them. Let the cathedral’s fire (and the subsequent blow against European past and culture) be your excuse to go to your local museums or exhibits. Go explore culture you otherwise would not have! Life goes on.

Life — Making Your Own Happiness

In my experience, there’s a certain type of depression/sadness that a lot of people have. It’s a very common affliction I like to call (as of right now) apathetic depression. It is the primary symptom of a state of life that is suboptimal for reasons that don’t appear to be your own. Your life sucks because you hate your job, you hate your family, you have no idea where your life is headed, etc. None of these things are your fault, so you just live day in and day out moping over how you drew the short stick when you were born.

I think there are people out there who drew the short stick, but you aren’t one of them.

The trap that a lot of people fall in is being comfortable in their contempt. It’s easy. Why blame yourself for the professional career you hate when you can just write it off by saying you have no other options? (It’s like in video games: nobody wants to blame themselves for their team losing; they will always point to somebody else first.)

Being happy sucks.

I say that because it’s not what people think it is. It’s not a magical state of mind that suddenly transpires when you get a raise or when you enter a committed relationship. Good events are easily overshadowed by that wall of the uncontrollable misfourtunes of life, because while it seems that good events are rare, misfortunes are constant and ever present.

But anyone can be happy, despite any misfortune and any life circumstance. I won’t pretend it’s easy. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. But it is simple. In fact, you’ll probably nod to yourself and think “Wow, that was really deep, Kollin” as soon as I tell you the trick. (Or maybe you’ll just think I’m an idiot pretending to be philosophical, which wouldn’t be far from the truth.) The key to happiness is something you’ve already heard many times in many different ways from different inspirational quotes. But the inspirational quotes are just flowery ways of mystifying the truth right in front of our eyes. Ready?

Being happy is just a matter of putting in the effort to be happy. It means getting up in the morning finding ways to get excited for work instead of hitting the ‘Snooze’ button as many times as you can get away with. It means preparing for your future (near or far) instead of rewarding yourself for things you already had to do. It means taking steps to forgive and love yourself rather than dwelling on things you can’t change.

Most inspirational quotes are just an indirect way of saying that being happy is like going to the gym. It’s not easy. It’s a ton of work. Very few people want to go to the gym, they just want the results. It’s the same thing with happiness. It’s so much easier to dwell in misery because misery requires no action on your part. It’s also like the gym in that the more you do it, the easier it gets and the more you can lift.

Treating yourself to Starbucks before or after work isn’t going to make you happier. That’s a mental lie you tell yourself that will actually just perpetuate the problem. Caffeine addicts aside, you don’t (really) need anything but to commit to a personal promise that you’ll think about things with more positivity, and take action to ensure your days are better.

It’s hard, and you might need the help from friends and family to make that effort, but it is worth it.

Me — April ’19 Update

I feel as though I have some big decisions down the line. I’m not necessarily going through a lot at the moment, and my life isn’t particularly stressful, but my path is nearing a precipice, or perhaps a simple fork. The thing is, the choice that I make in the nearing future is going to impact the rest of my life.

But before we get into that, the Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, video games, reading/listening, school, D&D, and other things.

Once again I feel as though the blog is in a good spot. Twice a week is a great pace for somebody whose writer’s block has become mentally crippling. No changes on the horizon.

On that front, I’ve been sort of working on a story for the passion project I’ve been collaborating with, and even that has proven to be an insurmountable slope. So far, in 10 days, I’ve written two different beginnings, each roughly 400 words long, and the story is simply supposed to showcase a piece of worldbuilding, nothing even largely important or exciting, really. I did recently write nearly 8,000 words in a month (not staggering by any means, but with a mental block as powerful as mine’s become, I was pretty proud of it.) I was able to do that because I was given very strict time limits to adhere to when I wrote each scene, and was held accountable for it. As it turns out though, I cannot self-impose similar time limits on my own projects, because I know that there won’t be any consequences if I fail. I know there’s a workaround in my head somewhere, I just don’t know what it is yet.

As far as gaming goes I’ve been playing a lot of World of Warcraft lately, but almost purely as a time sink as I mindlessly kill monsters, because…

I’ve once again picked up The Dresden Files. This is my second time going through the series, as Jim Butcher is nearing the end of Peace Talks and I’m optimistic that we will (finally) get a release date in the coming months.

I’ll hold off on the school topic because it ties into decisions.

D&D has been going quite well. Buckle your seat belts. The Knights of Fire (the party in my Aleor campaign officially has a name!) has just left the city of Craydon to venture into ancient Elven ruins for… reasons. I make no promises, but I intend to start posting a campaign diary of all that’s happened very soon. Perhaps even starting Saturday.

The other campaign I’m a part of (as a player, not a DM) just ended, and my character was the only one that died in the final boss encounter. The poor orc mystic only ever wanted to be a tree, sleeping on dirt and meditating as often as possible, and only in death did he get his wish, having helped save the world! I will note that this is basically the first ever campaign I’ve been a part of that we played start to finish consistently, even coming to a natural end. It wasn’t until our DM gave us the epilogue and one of the player characters visited Ki’s grave that I got a little sentimental. That campaign was very much a “silly over rules”, and neither our characters nor the plot had any depth, and I didn’t really like the mystic class, and we’re planning on starting a new campaign soon, and I might be more excited than I’ve ever been for my new character, and yet, I can’t help but feel a little sad that the story of Ki and his friends is over, doomed to fade into obscurity as new campaigns and new characters take to the stage.

*Pause for dramatic effect*

So, other things. At risk of getting too personal, I’ve grown to actively dislike my living situation. Specifically, I have never once in my life had my own room, and therefore have never really known a true sense of privacy or ownership of my own space. Most often this is fine. The brother I share a room with has the same interests as me and now that we aren’t kids anymore we get along great. The problem is that our lifestyles are very different and not conducive to sharing a space. Added onto that is the fact that I do not like living in Southern California, primarily because of the living cost and lack of weather. As such, I’ve been seriously considering and making tentative, mental plans to move north, to Oregon or Washington. My trip to Portland felt in a lot of ways like I had found a home, and I’m desperate to go back.

However. There is an increasing likelihood that I’m going to be staying in SoCal for a bit longer. I have to take an extra semester of school, as I’ve previously established, and that alone sets me back a year. What’s more, my job may “require” me to step up my hours, as we’re going to be short handed soon and since I like working there, I’m more than happy to give them a hand and return to working full-time. In addition to that, there is a possibility I might be teaching improv more seriously next school year, and I have confidence that the passion project I’ve been working on will have legs to stand on by the end of the year. All of these are heavy incentives to stay, and I like the prospect of pretty much all of those things.

And yet, if I do stay here, part of me feels like I’m delaying a transition to a new life I would be much happier living. New friends, new job, new everything. Scary, yes, but I’m not really one to let something like that get in the way. My problem is that I know I need to move in order to preserve my sanity. Moving within the area I live might solve some problems, but the larger issues of living in Southern California would remain and would delay what I believe to be an inevitable migration northwards.

I feel as though I can’t win, because choosing one means losing out on a lot of things the other option yields. The nice thing about this situation is that both options are promising, and I’m not picking the lesser of two evils, and in addition to that, this choice is only presenting itself now, and I won’t be required to make any life changing decisions for a few months at least.

Until next time!

Me — Tempering Life Expectations

I’ve been working my way out of a depression the last few months because of a few things, but central to it was an increasing feeling that I’m never going to have my life where I want it to be. (Don’t worry, I’m okay now, for reasons I’m about to get into.) I still have a bad night every week or so, but a few days ago I was talking to a friend of mine, and he commented that life is just always bad and people have to make their own happiness amidst the bad. We all have stuff to go through. It’s a conversation I’m sure we’ve all had in the past, but I guess it was the right time for me, because it sparked some thoughts.

That “revelation” might seem obvious, I know. Life is always a constant battle as we try to position it on a precarious pedestal and hope the slight breeze doesn’t ruin that balance, and that’s after you find the right life and the right pedestal. I’ve started to think, probably realistically, that there will never be a moment in my life where everything is exactly how I want it to be.

Sounds sad, but tangential to this is the opposite effect. Life might never be perfect, but it can get pretty good, so its imperfections shouldn’t disallow you from appreciating the times when it actually is pretty good. And for me, that’s right now. I’m doing great, all things considered. I have two passion projects (sort of three, if you count the play I’m working on), I’m hosting a D&D campaign that is going really, really well, and my school and work lives aren’t tearing me apart, even if they are a constant source of struggle.

So just because I don’t make as much money as I’d like to be, or my living situation isn’t ideal, or my social life needs a ton of work, doesn’t mean I haven’t made any progress. This time last year I had no job, was actively struggling with friendships/relationships, and my writing block was just starting to take hold. I’ve made some good strides since then.

I think it’s time to stop putting unrealistic expectations on myself. I’m not going to fix my financial situation or my social life by this time next year. They might improve, but the problems won’t be solved. But hey, I’m doing fine where I am now, and I can’t discredit that. Of course, we should never stop striving for more, trying to make things better where we can, but being disappointed when perfection isn’t achieved is just going to ruin things at every turn.

Also, if you’re no longer satisfied with being in a good position in life, waiting for it to get better, maybe that’s also a sign that things haven’t been bad for quite a while, and if that’s the cause, you should be thankful for that. It’s easy to forget harder times when you’re living in a period of mediocrity.

Learning! — Are You Creative?

A while back I wrote about what creativity is. I have a different way of looking at it because my improv experience has taught me that most people think of creativity as the ability to pull things out of thin air, but it’s just not. You’ll have to read that post to hear my full thoughts on that, because today I’m going to talk about something slightly different.

I would say a lot of people also think of personality traits as sliding scales on a Sims game. (I really hope that’s how Sims games work or else I’m going to look real dumb here.) You have 2/10 laziness, 7/10 attractiveness, 5/10 intelligence, etc. Creativity is no different, right?

I actually think it is very different.

All my life, I’ve had things swimming around in my head. Dragons single-handedly fighting off armies of thousands. Powerful spell casters throwing hurricanes and tidal waves at each other, sundering the landscape around them. An evil king increasing the gravity in his throne room to literally force those around him to kneel.

There is always. Always. Something like this in my head—even if I don’t have the willpower to put it to paper, like right now.

This is just part of the way that my brain works, so I was a little surprised when I found out that not everyone thinks like this. To be honest, it still seems a little strange sometimes. But maybe that’s just it.

Maybe having a creative mind isn’t something you put a scale to. Maybe you either have it or you don’t. This is only an inkling of a theory, so I could be way off base, but perhaps there’s a kernel of truth in here somewhere. Hear me out.

If you split it this way, turning it into a dichotomy, it becomes easy to differentiate the sort of people around you. It’s easy for me to split everyone in my writer’s group between creative and non-creative people.

Now, being creative doesn’t necessarily mean coming up with scenes of a book. Maybe it’s hearing new melodies or seeing magic in poetry. Whatever it is, it’s breathing life into something new.

It is important to note that when I say non-creative, it isn’t an insult, merely a descriptor of how our brains function. In fact, some of the best writers in my writer’s group were far more technically inclined. They weren’t creative at all.

You may or may not agree with me, but thinking of people in this way has helped me better accommodate for the strengths and weaknesses of those around me. Putting creative people in technical fields can yield interesting results, and the opposite holds true as well.

You could probably immediately tell me whether or not you’re a creative person with my definition, and if you start thinking about your friends and family, you might be surprised to discover that their profession is something contrary to their personality. Well, you might think it’s contrary, but in actuality they’re just bringing different things to the table.

Just because it’s unconventional doesn’t mean it won’t work.

Me — How to Find Your Energy

I had a really heavy workload last semester of school, as you might have guessed by my unprecedented absence from this blog. I was working a lot, directing a play I wrote, and doing what I would simply describe as a mini dissertation for one of my classes.

Towards finals, I was starting to get really stressed. I would get home from work or class, and based on the schedule I outlined for myself, I would often have a single two hour chunk of free time to get work done before it was due in the morning. Problem was, I would get home with no energy to do any of that; the only thing I’d want to do is sleep.

This problem was surprisingly and miraculously solved when I watched a video from one of my favorite “public” figures: Day9. He’s a streamer (known for Starcraft) that I’ve talked about a while back, an old post of which I did not re-read, so browse at your discretion. He has a very casual and sociable persona, and he’s one of the people I admire most because of that.

That video was a snippet of one of his streams; just a conversation where he’s talking about this very thing: How do you structure your life in a way that allows you to get the work done with the time that you have? You can watch the video with that link, it’s about 9 minutes long (he does occasionally curse, though). But I’ll also just talk about it in my own words.

The solution is actually alarmingly simple. You can start tomorrow, in fact, and you don’t need to prepare. You’re not going to like what I have to say, but let me tell you, all it takes is the discipline to commit to your own promises and the ability to restructure your day to day.

All you gotta do is wake up early and do all the extra stuff then. If you’re trying to learn a language, write an essay, whatever doesn’t matter, don’t set yourself up for failure by pretending today will be different. It won’t. You’re going to get home from work exhausted like always and then you’ll hate yourself for looking at Instagram or Reddit for two hours after you get home.

But let’s say you have work at 9. Here’s what you do: You get up at 5am. Yup. 5. You cry a little inside, maybe take 20-30 minutes to get up and you curse me for convincing you to do this, but then you get up and get ready for your day. By 6am you’ve showered and eaten, you’d be ready to walk out the door now if you had to. But now you have 3 hours to just do stuff. The house is quiet, nothing going on, you’ve got the whole day ahead of you, and now that you’ve woken up you’ve got the energy to work.

That’s when you write that essay, or go to the gym, whatever you want to be doing more. You devote some time in the early morning, and by the time you get home after work, you’ve already done the stuff you want to, so now you won’t hate yourself for wasting the rest of your night. Maybe you’ll go to bed a few hours early, but who cares? You’ve already done the things you need to. Plus, if you go to bed early, it’ll make getting up earlier that much easier.

I tried this in the middle of a work and school week, throwing caution to the wind, and it changed the way I did my day-to-day. I’d get home with so much more energy because I wasn’t dreading the work I’d still have to do after work. And because I got up at 5am every week day, sleeping in on weekends meant getting up at 7-8am. I felt like every day suddenly and magically had 3 extra hours.

So, that’s it. Watch that video if you’re not convinced. Give it a shot. Trust me, I know waking up that early is awful. But if you can do it, you’ll feel better, and every day after that will be easier and easier. Especially if you’re a morning person like me, sleeping in until even just 10-11am feels terrible because there’s no morning left.

I wish you the best of luck, and as a farewell note, I highly recommend doing things that wake you up immediately. Shower and eat right after you get out of bed because there is no being tired after that. If you jump out of bed and immediately start working on an essay, you’ll just fall back asleep and you’ll hate me all the more.

Me — Overcoming Doubt

I know the everyone gets moments of doubt. That feeling of uncertainty where you don’t know if the choices you’ve made are right, and you don’t know what you can possibly do to keep moving. I’m lucky in that those moments are rare for me. I consider my being a writer a given, and that someday, somehow, I’ll be making a living telling stories.

But after watching The Wind Rises, I had that terrible thought. “How can I be so arrogant as to even attempt to construct something to rival this?” The movie gave me ideas—amazing ideas I’m very interested in exploring—but ideas that end up being shadows of their origin.

It really makes me wonder. If people like Hayao Miyazaki exist, why bother? Even if I end up writing something amazing that is on par with the greats, the world will still be the same. It basically doesn’t matter in the slightest whether or not I do write anything worth experiencing. There’s no hole that needs filling—there’s no shortage of great writers, and it would be ridiculous of me to assume that I would be the person to fill it if there was a hole.

But at the same time, that line of thinking doesn’t help. When moments like this happen, it’s important to remember that you have not just had an epiphany that you’re the worst and will never amount to anything. You’re just not letting the optimistic side of the argument have their say. It can be hard not to give the nihilist the wheel when falling into that pit, because it’s so easy to just think of how much things don’t matter.

You’re right, nihilistic Kollin. The chances of you being successful enough to make any tangible influence on the world are minuscule at the very best. But there are two glaring flaws in your argument. The first is that giving up isn’t an option. It simply isn’t. So entertaining that is silly. You would feel way worse for not trying than you do for trying and failing. The second flaw is that you don’t actually care about making an influence in the world. All you want to do is tell cool stories people love. So really, nihilist Kollin, your entire argument is moot.

Well, somehow I sort of used logic to convince myself to feel a bit better, so that’s good. Good job, optimist Kollin. Thanks… also optimist Kollin? You can go now, me. Argument’s over. You got it, me.

I think everyone’s goal in life is just to be happy, when you boil everything down. What “being happy” means changes from person to person. I don’t know if I’ll ever reach the point where I’m satisfied with the stories I’ve told or with the people that have read them. But pursuing that is the only logical thing for me to do right now. Otherwise, I’m just twiddling my thumbs and complaining about how unhappy I am.

You gotta work for it. Don’t let your nihilist steer the wheel, cause he/she will just steer you into calm waters, and there’s no growth or happiness to be found there.