Me — Playing Life on Damage Control

At risk of taking an even more intimate look at my psyche as I have been writing on my blog lately, I need to vent a bit. Again. So read at your own risk.

At the onset of even more bad news, I’ve been starting to seriously look at how I could possibly make the changes I need. I feel like at a certain point, the depression becomes my identity, and when it gets as bad as it is right now, nothing makes me feel better, I can only do things that don’t make me feel worse. Life becomes a game of damage control and mitigation in the hopes that each day is as not-terrible as it could possibly be.

Every conversation I have ends up being about staving off the sadness, and every thing I decide to do is carefully chosen with the intent of distraction and suppression. I start to seriously consider whether or not I would really care if I got hit by a car or if that headache suddenly turned out to be cancer, (being bedridden for months would remove a lot of options and choice, and the self-loathing that comes with them) and when I decide I would care, it’s because I couldn’t even begin to afford the hospital bills that would cost.

Now, my thoughts haven’t strayed towards action, and I don’t expect they ever will, but it can be hard to gauge just how bad of an emotional state I’m in because for all I know, this is just what life is and everyone else is just more well-equipped for it. I’m inclined to think that this isn’t the case, but you never know.

I have little doubt that my depression is worse than it was in January, and if I have any hope of being okay now rather than later, I need to make some drastic life decisions. As I’ve talked about before, I intend to move out of California, and my current plan has been to start that process next January/February. The reason that I’m not looking now is because I have one more semester of school left, I want to help get my passion project off the ground (which, admittedly, wouldn’t be much harder if I moved), I’m sort of waiting for a suitable replacement at work (though I’m not wouldn’t hold out for that—plus the idea of looking for new work breaks me a little bit), and I want to find a good conclusion to the D&D campaign I’m running. That last one is kind of important to me, and though my brothers and I could play over voice chat, I feel it would take a lot of the fun out of the game, because we’ve only ever played D&D on a table with character sheets and miniatures. Plus, I really hate it when campaigns don’t get closure, as is often the case.

But what if none of that really matters? What if I started packing my things right now and moved next month? Would I start healing right now? Would that be the right choice in the long run? I’m very aware that given the grand scheme of things, none of the things I’m holding out for really matter all that much, but I like to have a game plan, and throwing out the next few months of plans worries me.

Still, spontaneously going on a three hour walk because you can’t get out of your own head and almost crying in public while you’re listening to All You Need is Love also worries me. To me, that is a very clear indication that Kollin’s normal mental functions are failing.

I’ve found a quote about a week ago that really struck a chord with me.

“It doesn’t get easier. You get better.”

Strange how words can have the power to soothe and terrify at the same time. They say it gets worse before it gets better, so maybe my best course of action here is simply to assume that life isn’t done yet.

Me/D&D — A Love Letter to Critical Role

Dungeons and Dragons can be played a myriad of ways. I’ve read someone describe it as “being the main characters in a fantasy novel”, but it’s even more open-ended than that. It can literally be anything you and your friends want it to be, it just so happens that most people value simplicity over anything else, and so they more or less stick to the rulebook (which, as Barbossa would say, are more like guidelines—especially the Dungeon Master’s Guide). I came to a realization about Critical Role today, and I thought I would share that realization with all of you in the form of a love letter… Buckle up, this one is going to be a long one.

268x0wCritical Role, a weekly livestream of D&D I’ve already dedicated one full post to, does just that. They play with the rules that they’re given, and only on rare occasion does the dungeon master, Matthew Mercer, ever cook up a new monster or a new character class/subclass. I would go so far as to say that they play a very vanilla version of D&D, and the only thing crazy about it is how gifted the players are at pacing out story beats and telling the tale of a group of people rather than getting from Point A to Point B. Of all the D&D streams I’ve watched in the past, that’s the #2 reason to watch the show.

What’s #1 you ask? Well, before I get to that, I want to step back and talk about why I personally love it so much. Not as the critical observer as I often am whenever I’m consuming media, but as the fan. As Kollin.

I’ve been watching the show since it aired 3 years ago now, and this only dawned on me today. Critical Role encompasses every aspect of my personality, and encapsulates everything I want to have and be. (If you’re lazy, just skim the paragraphs ahead—the bullet points are in bold.)

For starters: storytelling. Obviously, I love stories. I’ve fancied myself a writer for nearly a decade now, and I specifically love epic fantasy. I grew up with World of WarcraftLord of the RingsDragon QuestOblivion, etc. The romanticism of picking up your sword and shield and going on an epic quest is something so inexplicably baked into my being that I literally cannot describe why I love it so much. It’s simple, easy to understand, yet its breadth is endless. In order to tell a complex story in such a world, you first have to start simple and show the audience this new world—explain its rules—and seeing a world where our impossible becomes their mundane is always fascinating to me.

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That ties into the concept of what Dungeons & Dragons is. It is a literal, mechanical fulfillment of the Hero’s Journey. You kill monsters, you level up, you achieve goals, and so on. I love watching or being somebody who has nothing inevitably challenge literal embodiments of evil. By then, you’ve really learned about and grown with the character, and in many ways you’ve watched their life go by. What I like about D&D is that victory is not guaranteed. If I had my way, I would even go so so far as to say that it is less likely than defeat, for how can victory feel empowering if you feel it was given away? (Now, a Hero’s Journey and storytelling clearly go hand in hand here, but I think the distinction is important. Not all D&D needs to be a journey, and not all storytelling is D&D.)

116curiousbeginningsAs for aspects specific to Critical Role, and to explain why it holds a special place in my heart over any other D&D show, the first component to this is the cast of the show itself. Every player in the game is a notable and respected voice actor, and I knew over half of them when I first tuned in (by the sound of their voice if not their name and appearance itself). These people have all had a hand in creating the games and shows I’ve dedicated so much of my life to (the aforementioned World of Warcraft is certainly pretty high on that list). So because I recognized their voices, I was already familiar with them. I already know these people, and this is an opportunity to know them better.

But even more than that, they’re all actors. I’ve been a part of the theatre world for six years now (which is crazy to me), and it literally changed my life. I tell people I was the kid that sat in the back of class reading and hoping nobody would talk to me. They’re always surprised to hear that because I’m so outspoken (they don’t realize that all that’s changed is that I now sit in the front of the class hoping somebody will talk to me). It didn’t necessarily make me more confident—I’m lucky enough to have pretty much always had that—but it did teach me to have fun by not caring about looking cool, stoic, and professional. I’ve found that people will hold a lot of respect for those than can throw caution to the wind. It’s a skill not many have. So watching the cast put on silly voices and make dumb jokes really speaks to me. Not because I’m an audience member admiring their skills, but because I’m a fellow performer that appreciates their techniques and the obscure theatre-related jokes they sometimes toss out at each other.

Lastly, and by far the most important reason that this show is the best—these people are all best friends. It’s really heartwarming to watch a group of people have a blast with each other. To share in the absurd humor as well as the very real tears that have happened over the years. You see people who so overtly love each other and the community they’ve created, and watch as they empower each other every week, and it maxresdefaultreally has an effect on you. It’s really difficult not to feel like part of the reason that they do this show is for you—and not in that “we do this for the fans” sort of way, but in a genuine way. They show fanart on stream and have hired fans to be part of the tech and have quite literally built a community founded on love and respect for one another as much as D&D. Sure, not everyone is as loving or respectable as the cast, but the vast majority of voices I’ve seen in the YouTube comments or on Reddit have been supportive and, in general, awesome.

I have a lot of dreams for the future. Some of them I know I will never achieve, simply because it’s not what life has in store for me. But if I have one goal, it’s to be happy. And every week when I get home from work or school to watch Critical Role while relaxing with a cup of tea, I can’t help but think.

One day I’ll have that sort of life. I don’t envy them for having it, because I’m grateful that they’re willing to share it with the world. And one day I’ll surround myself with people who bring me nothing but joy and we’ll share tears of both joy and pain. I may not be there yet, but if they can do it, I can do.

Life — Having What it Takes (390)

I’ve been writing since I was around twelve. I had this idea in my head about two friends that were so powerful they could fight an entire army on their own. One was a wizard, the other was a ‘dragon keeper’. I even had a bit of a plot twist set up where it would be revealed that they were literally the same person with different fates and lives, somehow. No, I didn’t figure out how that was supposed to work, but it was an idea I had.

I have been writing more and more in those seven plus years since, but before I started this blog early 2016 you could have read everything I had ever written in two sittings (one, if you spent the day doing it). Nowadays I have a substantial amount of output (several novels worth, if you count my blog in that tally), and I’ve finally gotten into the habit of writing even when I don’t want to. Not to mention the fact that I’m starting to be able to enjoy certain aspects of writing.

But if you had asked me the probability of me becoming a “published novelist” only five months ago, I would have said “at best, fifty percent” (this being an almost direct quote from one of my blog posts). Why? Well, a lot of reasons. Writing is hard, even when it’s fun. It has never been something I do in my spare time, and even now I don’t consider writing time “free” time. Instead, I would liken it to going to the gym with the hopes of being a bodybuilder one day. You don’t get in shape without putting in the work, and it’s the same thing here.

But if you asked me today the chances of me making a living off of my writing one day, I would say over ninety-five percent. Because a few things have finally clicked.

When I was first starting out, I read Jim Butcher’s LiveJournal that he did for aspiring writers. In his parting words, he said something that never really resonated until this moment in my career.

If you stay the course and break in, you are going to acquire a ton of absolutely necessary skills. You have to learn to motivate yourself to write even when you don’t feel like it: Discipline. You’re going to have to learn the ropes of the business, and how to work with an editor: Professionalism. You’re going to face what might be years of adversity, facing a monumentally difficult task and you’re going to overcome it: Confidence. You’re going to do it with very little active support, and when you look back at this time in the future, you’re going to know that it was something YOU did all by yourself: Strength.

My brain understood that an author’s path is a hard one, and most walk it alone. But now my heart finally gets what that even means. In the Writing Excuses podcast, Brandon Sanderson mentioned that his editor commented on how young he was for an author. He was twenty-six. For me, that’s another seven years.

I can take that to mean I’ve got a long way to go before I actually sell anything, or I can look at it optimistically. Sanderson was considered young for a published author when he made it. That means that even if I need another seven years of writing practice before I publish, I won’t have lost any time in the professional field. They’ll say I’m young now, and they’ll say I’m young then. (To clarify, this is because a lot of authors looking to publish are retiring people. Comparatively few people start their working class career as aspiring writers.)

I’ve learned so much with this blog and now my writing group in this past year alone, that I’m finally starting to really see how daunting a task becoming a writer really is.

If I get a job offer elsewhere. If I start making a living off of something that isn’t writing, I’m not going to stop. It’s my firm belief that nothing at this point can stop it from happening anymore. The train has left the station, and I don’t know where the next stop is, but I can’t well get off now.

I’m a writer. I’ve made up my mind to walk this path. There’s no turning back now.

 

As a side note, Jim Butcher’s advice is really inspiring, and they’re words I live by at this point. I found a hard time only quoting one chunk earlier because I kept wanting to expand it more and more, so I decided to leave the whole post below. There’s also a link to the LiveJournal itself, if you’re so inclined to read it that way instead. Continue reading “Life — Having What it Takes (390)”

Life — Appearances

For me, one of the more frustrating things in life is that it is impossible to know what you mean to other people. You can’t know what they think of you, what they like about you, or anything related towards you. You can ask them, of course, but any info you get that relates somebody’s opinion about you to you will be at best second-hand information. You can’t get in their head and know what they think.

This is frustrating for me because I like learning things. Everything, really. I like learning what we don’t know, too. So it’s always annoying to me when I encounter something that is impossible to learn. That said, appearances are very important. Whether or not we notice it, people make judgments and actions around us based on what we look like and who we appear to be, both physically and socially.

This is one of the reasons I changed my sense of fashion. I used to wear a t-shirt and hoodie every day, and that served my purposes just find. Clothes were just something that was necessary. I barely even looked at the shirt I grabbed before putting it on in the morning.

Then, I started taking myself seriously as a writer. I didn’t like the casual shirt and hoodie combo that says “nerd” to everyone. I’m okay with people thinking of me as a nerd, sure, but I don’t want that to be anyone’s first impression of me. So I got a coat, and now I wear it with a collared shirt every day. As far as a typical “dress code” is concerned, I went from casual wear to what I would say is midway between business casual and business professional (if I wore a tie it’d be business professional).

So, I have no idea how my change in appearance has affected the people around me, both strangers and friends. I can guess that I look more professional to people, as that is the point, but on an individual level I can’t tell.

On a more social (rather than purely physical) level, I also want to present myself professionally. When I’m talking to other people, I always follow the same rule: Present yourself in a strong, positive, but not arrogant light. For example, I tell people I run a blog, that I’m a writer, and that I teach high school kids. The image these facts present to people won’t be quite accurate, because many will make assumptions that are not true. For example. when I say I teach high school kids, one may assume that I’m a literal high school teacher, which I am not. At best, I’m a “guest teacher”, but I don’t have a teaching credential or anything that would qualify me as a formal instructor. Am I lying to people? No. Am I intentionally misleading them? Sort of. I didn’t say any word that could be considered untrue, but the picture those facts paint is one of a more “professional and successful” me than the real me is. I don’t see this as a bad thing at all.

When you’re trying to get into virtually any field, presenting yourself as a better person than you really are serves multiple purposes. The first and most obvious one is that in order to get people to give you what you want, you need to convince them that you don’t need it. If quality assurance is what I’m looking for, I’m not going to buy from a little girl’s lemonade stand when I can buy it from a store. I wouldn’t want to take the chance that I might not enjoy it as much. It’s the same thing with everything. People won’t want to hire applicants that are unsure of what they’re doing: they want potential employees that are experienced and carry themselves well.

Another reason why putting on a professional persona helps is that in a way, it helps you become that person. If people treat you as a successful person, they will be more positive and encouraging, and thus your job will get easier. It’s a lot easier to play the part of a professional that knows what you’re doing when people treat you that way.

You may be reading this and think I’m trying to tell you to lie to people and tell them you’re better than you really are. Absolutely not. Lying will never get you anywhere you want to be (unless you’re really, really good).

All I’m saying is that when you are given the opportunity to talk about you (in an interview, with a friend, even non-verbally like through clothing,) don’t be upfront with your flaws. If people ask about them, that’s different. When people ask me about my writing, I tell them I’m not published. I’m not ashamed of it, but it’s not something I tell people right away, because then their view goes from “author” to “wannabe”, which is detrimental to my career. People will look at you in a different light if your shortcomings are less apparent, so make them dig for it if they have to.

You don’t have to change yourself all at once, either. Even if you just go from wearing t-shirts to button-up shirts like I did, it still has a significant impact. And even if it doesn’t stick long term, it doesn’t hurt to try.

Life — Doing What You Love (340)

A lot of people will tell you that you should learn what you love doing and then find a way to make an income from it. “If your job is something you love doing, you’ll never work a day in your life.” But at the same time, I’ve also heard advice that you shouldn’t make your passion your job, because soon you won’t enjoy it anymore. If you love writing, making it your profession would supposedly kill the enjoyment you get from it.

I think there’s merit to both arguments. There are certainly situations in which making what was a hobby a job could run the potential of making that thing less enjoyable. If woodcarving is your release, and how you relax after a long day, getting commissions and suddenly having to stress over completing the project in time may not be the best course of action.

But taking all of that into consideration, I think a lot of life is about learning not only about the world around you, but about yourself. You can’t make a blanket statement and say that a hobby can’t turn into a job without positive results. It clearly works for a lot of people. The question then becomes: Is doing your passion professionally good idea for you?

In general, I think its best to give it a shot. The ideal thing here is to work a job that you enjoy, and one of the easiest and simplest ways to accomplish that is by getting a job where you do what you love. If you find that the added wait of making this hobby a profession adds too much stress to enjoy something, you can always stop. Just quit the job. If you like woodcarving but don’t like the time constraints commissions may add, you can always go back to having woodcarving be just a hobby.

In the end, this process will have the guaranteed effect of making you learn about yourself. Maybe you found that getting money from woodcarving was pretty dang cool, but it was specifically the time constraints and the stress that occurred because of it that you didn’t like. In that case, you can step back and re-calibrate what you want to be doing. Maybe instead of offering commissions, you can simply sell things online when you’re done with them. That way you can still have fun doing it, work at your own pace, and get money.

I’m a firm believer that any hobby can be worked into a job. If one does enough exploring and self-discovery, the capability of finding a job one enjoys is always out there, even if its not a job you expected to enjoy. For example, I didn’t expect to enjoy writing in this blog. It was purely a means to force me to write more often. by a happy coincidence, I also enjoy writing on the various topics on a weekly basis, in addition to the fiction.

So, don’t let anyone’s advice on what you should be studying in school, or what jobs you should and should not apply for scare you. The process of self-discovery is always working on the sidelines, so no matter what you end up doing, you’ll end up closer to what you really should be doing with your life.

Life –Becoming, through Body Language

When I started this blog, I had one purpose and one purpose only: to force myself to write more, about anything at all, and in so doing grow as a writer. Even today, I’m still not actively trying to promote myself, because I want to have a more solid foundation to stand on before I push my name outwards.

That being said, I have to treat myself as if I’ve already “made it” now. People often say “Fake it till you make it”, and while this sounds stupid, it really is true. There is scientific evidence that proves “faking” body language and expressions has benefits not only for the impressions we give to other people, but the chemicals going through our bodies as we utilize certain body postures.

You may think that forcibly changing one’s mood by standing a certain way or holding a specific facial expression wouldn’t work, because there’s no intuitive evidence to point to that conclusion. How could faking a smile under hard times possibly uplift one’s mood?

It’s simple. By doing these things, it tells the body what chemicals it should produce more or less of. By taking a ‘power pose’, meaning to make oneself as large as possible by extending arms and legs outwrd, one’s testosterone levels increase, while one’s cortisol levels decrease. The hormone that makes one feel confident and powerful is more abundant, and the hormone that induces stress levels goes down. It doesn’t even have anything to do with the people around you because these changes are internal. Similarly, by sitting in a closed off position, with arms crossed and head down, testosterone goes down and cortisol goes up.

I’m sure you can imagine some possible applications for this knowledge. When you’re feeling powerless, you’d be inclined to take up as little space as possible, when in reality being open and out with one’s image will improve your mood even if nobody is there. In high stress situations, such as giving speeches, preparing for a job interview, etc., taking powerful poses even for a few minutes will reduce cortisol levels and thus make you less stressed.

In many cases, famous and powerful people didn’t get to where they are because they are natural born leaders who have an innate tendency to take charge. To deviate from the whole “body language” idea, J.R.R. Tolkien never would have published The Hobbit if somebody hadn’t come to him. He wasn’t really a writer, he was a professor and a linguist with an active imagination. He only wrote The Lord of the Rings because his publishers wanted a sequel to the children book that sold out immediately. Modern writers are often told they have to have a million words of experience before they’re good enough to get published. If that was the case, nobody would ever have heard of Tolkien. Instead, this professor that only wrote for his kids’ enjoyment was tasked with writing a second bestseller with little to no experience.

So he did what anyone would do in this situation and all but invented the fantasy genre.

Tolkien wasn’t a writer. He faked being a writer until he was famous for writing. “Fake it till you make it” isn’t just solid advice, it’s how the world works. If you fake anything long enough, you become it.

 

This TED Talk is where I got a lot of information for this post from. It’s enlightening and goes into far more depth than I ever could in five hundred words, so if you need more inspiration, here you go.

Life — Finding Our Identity

One of the most frustrating parts about growing up is that on top of getting an education, a job, and leading a productive life, we also have to figure out for ourselves who we are. We’re given millions upon millions of seconds filled with data and our brains have to organize it as a side job (the main one being actually living). We learn what we’re good at, what we hate, what we can’t handle, what we’re scared of, and society asks us to come up with a simple conclusion to our identity.

I don’t know how other people fit on this line, but for me this means living in contradiction. I cannot handle being disorganized, but I’m also too lazy to clean my desk up. My Google Drive (where I keep all my writing for both school and fiction) has so many sections and subsections of folders that you may have to open five folders to get to the document you want because everything is so neatly categorized. This, ironically, means I can lose some files in that labyrinth. Thankfully there’s a search bar on Google Drive, but if I use it often enough, there’s no point in organizing everything so much!

I’m taking a course on human sexuality right now. Recently I’ve learned that according to some people, there is almost no relation between gender and sexual identity. On top of that, romantic attraction and sexual attraction can be entirely separate from one another. People can marry somebody they enjoy spending time with, yet mutually agree to share sexual intimacy with other people.

This is the part of society nobody talks about. The world paints us this picture that we can only be attracted to the opposite gender, but studies have shown that most people can be physically attracted to both on different levels. It’s actually quite rare for somebody to be exclusively attracted to the opposite gender. We’re left to figure all this out on our own, if we ever do.

The future is a scary thing. I have no idea where my path leads. Am I going to be a published novelist? At best I would say the probability of that is fifty percent, and even then I’m including the chance that I make a life somewhere else and then publish in my old age. Now, the probability of me making money off of something related to Nacre Then? I’d say that’s over ninety percent, but I can do that in so many ways other than writing novels.

Life is scary. This post may be a bit scatterbrained today. It could simply be that “identity” is such a broad subject to condense into five hundred words, or it could be that I have a lot of half cooked ideas I wanted to include. Either way my point still stands. We’re all just specks of dust floating on an ocean. But it also gives me some hope. I don’t know if I’m going to ever become an actual writer, but wherever my life is going to lead me, I’ll end up there regardless. I imagine I’m on that ocean of life, manning the helm (of that speck of dust I suppose), yet not really sure whether steering the wheel actually does anything. Sometimes it feels like I can steer it in the direction I want, but maybe the winds are blowing in that direction and it’s simply a coincidence. I don’t really know who I am or who I’m supposed to be, but I know that I’ll find out in time.