Playing Catch-up

Hello, friends! My time has been being devoured by both finals and work over the last few weeks, as you could probably tell by my late (or even absent) posts. I’m happy to finally report though that finals are now over, so my work schedule will resume to a simple 9-5! I’m very excited to slowly start getting my weekends and weeknights back, but with that excitement comes cleanup.

As I stated before, my job recently lost a full time employee, and I’ve had to fill in the gap as best I could, even while going to school (and, of course, finals). So aside from all the extra stuff I’d like to be doing, the shop just needs to be straightened up and organized. Scrap material has been piling up in the corner for weeks, and my partner left a ton of stuff in disarray! (Or at least, not to the nigh-obsessive level of organization that I would like to keep it at.) I went in to work for an extra 6 hours yesterday just to clean and I still have what I would predict to be another 4 hours of work. (It’s not as though I’m simply sweeping up wads of paper, after all. These scrap pieces are still 4′ x 8′ sheets of material.)

If I could get the shop in tip-top shape, finish all of the extra stuff I’d like to do, I would estimate it would need about another 12 hours in total, though a lot of that would just be normal maintenance like mopping the floors, which should be getting done more often than it is.

That leaves me to well, my actual room. I like to think I’m an organized person, but there seems to be a certain point in every semester where I just can’t be bothered. I get home late with various loose papers in my hand, and I just put it down on my desk sitting atop the rest of my various papers and then don’t bother to look through it ever again. I’m starting to seriously run out of desk space because of it, but the amount of time I’ve been able to spend just relaxing at home is so sparse as it is, then when I am here I’d rather just watch YouTube videos and play Magic than do more work. Obviously that’s a self-perpetuating cycle, but I’ll get to it soon. Along those same lines is the fact that I’ve been contemplating doing a deep cleaning of my room (yay purging!), but if I did that it would take all day, and the last time I had a full day to myself was probably January. As much as I want to, I’m not sure I can spare that kind of time.

As far as I’m concerned, summer can’t really start until both the shop at work and my room are completely clean and primed for living in. It’s just a matter of finding the time to do that.

I’m coming for you, summer. I have games I want to play and books I want to read.

Rambling — The Lack of Long-term Goals

I was talking to a friend the other day (a game developer who’s been working closely in the industry for a few years), and I told him that if I had had my way, my ideal career would be writing up the storylines to video games. My thought was that I could be the lead writer for an indie company, because that avenue has been growing more and more prevalent over the past decade. It wasn’t his intention, but he said something that was really disheartening, which was the fact that the project that he’s currently working on has over forty developers and zero of them are just “writers”.

Now, the thing is, I’m not sure how well his situation translates to my ambitions, because the project that he is on is unannounced, and therefore he can’t tell me about it. It sounds to me like the thing that he’s working on is very mechanic-driven, with little to no narrative. (I’m struggling to avoid using the term ‘game’ here, even if that is almost assuredly what he is doing). You don’t need a narrative for a game like Chess, after all, and for all I know he’s just making Super Chess.

I don’t like facing the fact that he’s probably right—there’s very few careers for a writer in the video game industry, meaning they will be hard to get and more than likely, none of them would be exclusively writing. (I love brainstorming, but there’s no way in hell anyone would pay me to sit in an office 40 hours a week to brainstorm with people and string story threads together.) But the problem with that is that I have no other marketable skills for that industry.

The vast majority of the time I do a pretty good job at not worrying about the future and just live in the present. Building towards and preparing for my life in two years is all well and good, but looking much further than that doesn’t tend to yield very accurate results.

What concerns me here is that I have no real passions. I’m sure that’s not uncommon with a lot of people my age, and so I should count myself lucky that I tend to be competent at most everything I pick up, but what I don’t want to do is be sitting in the same spot 10 years from now wondering when I can start calling myself an adult.

It’s stupid, I know. I’m already an adult and my life started decades ago. Some people live their whole life waiting for it to start, but if nothing motivates me into kicking myself into gear, what is there to do?

I used to think I’d be a published author by now, well into the first few novels of a fantasy series, but as it turns out I get bored with long-form writing and burn myself out. I have this irrational (if commonplace) fear that every aspiration I turn to will yield the same results.

They say not to make your hobby your day job, but my only hobby is D&D, and I already consider it a load of work. Ho-hum. Rambling over.

Me — Time Budgeting

Lately I’ve been having a really hard time with… well, time. There’s been so much that I need to get done at work and at home, and I feel as though the amount of time I have to do it is getting smaller and smaller while the list of things is getting bigger. Part of the problem is that since I don’t have time to do weekly stuff, it keeps piling up, and another part of the problem is that I’m the only person filling in my position at work as of today. And not only that, the person that left was full time, and because of my school semester I still work part time. So what 1.5 full time employees were already struggling to carry is now being handled by 0.5 employees, which is me.

I do not know how I managed to wake up consistently at 5am last semester and get work done then. That was a magical time—a time I desperately need to emulate and am failing miserably at by struggling to get up at 7 every morning. (Which, back then, was my ‘sleep in’ day.)

What I have noticed is that it is nearly impossible to get real work done at my desk. I mean, why would I do anything when video games are right there and there’s no consequence to doing that instead of writing? (Beyond the mental consequence, that is.) That said, today I went straight to Starbucks after work, even though I was super tired from a long day, and pulled out my laptop to write. I will say, though I only stayed 2 hours and didn’t get nearly as much done as I’d have liked, I did get stuff done, so for that I am happy. I’ll try to do this more in the future.

I also think that since I have such a big backlog of work that needs to be done, there’s always a psychological strain on getting work done, so stress is a constant in my life right now. I imagine it would be a lot easier to get stuff done if I wasn’t so intimidated by the sheer amount of things that need to be done.

The thing that probably frustrates me most about situations like this is that while I know the answer is simple, it isn’t very clear. Do I need to schedule a day where I just kick down the whole to-do list? Would I even use that day properly or would I waste it and feel terrible as a result? Do I go to bed at 9pm and set up alarms that force me to get out of bed in the hopes that I can resume my once-great schedule? Do I just need to permanently trim my to-do list and forgive myself for doing so? Would the lessened burden fix things?

Part of me is thinking “just hold out for the summer, you’ll have more free time!” but I know that isn’t true. In fact, I’ll probably have less, because I’ll be working full time once school is out of the way, and I’ve half-committed to finishing the full-length play I started a few months ago, so the side projects I’m doing now will end up being even lower of a priority if I can’t find a way to up my creativity regarding personal projects.

Here’s hoping that regularly going to Starbucks will be worth my time (and the money my self-imposed patronage would cost).

Anyway’s that’s it for today’s useless ramble. Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

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 — 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.

Me — My Goal in Life

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about how often people reformulate what they want their life to amount to. The end of the road. The “I’ve made it”. I’d never really had concrete plans, as for the longest time the goal had just been “get real good at worldbuilding and then write some books”. Well, if you really know me then you’d know that I don’t have any real, serious dreams/hopes of ever writing books as a career. I’m just never as interested in the characters as I am with the scope of the world itself.

But even at that point of my life, my true goal has always simply been ‘happiness’. I mean, I’d say that’s everyone’s goal whether they realize it or not. To me, it doesn’t matter what my life ends up being as long as I get to a point where I’m not twiddling my thumbs wishing things were different. Do I expect to ever get to a point like that? Maybe not, but I’d like to get as close to that as possible.

Still, I had never thought about what that life looks like. Obviously, I can’t predict the future and I know my life will change in unimaginable ways, but I think it’s still worth exploring the ideal future the current Kollin would like, and for all the introspection I do in my day-to-day life, it’s a little surprising I had never given it more thought until now.

So here it is.

I have a stable career working on story structure and planning for some big game a la Overwatch or World of Warcraft, or perhaps I’m the main story writer for some smaller company. Maybe the story I’m working on is in a world I helped build from scratch. It’s a steady job, something that keeps me living well within my means but doesn’t allow for extravagances (I’m never going to be the person that takes yearly vacations around the world). I probably also live in Oregon or Washington, because it’s gorgeous up there and doesn’t get nearly as hot.

I’ve got a wife and maybe some kids (2 or 3 or none at all), and every week we invite my brothers and maybe one or two other friends to our awesome game room (where most of my expendable income goes) and play Dungeons & Dragons. I have appropriate monster miniatures at the ready and have been playing the game and practicing long enough to tell crazy cool stories with fun adventures, complete with interesting character voices I fully commit to. Perhaps I even play D&D twice a week so I can play with all the people I want to play with (or heck, I might even be running the fabled West Marches campaign.

I wake up just past dawn every morning feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day, because I go to bed earlier than most people. I enjoy the privacy of every quiet morning with a hot cup of tea.

That’s it. That’s all I want. I’m not optimistic I’ll ever have half of those things all at the same time, but hey. Ideals.