Me — Mt. Wilson Hike

I have a friend that is really into exercising and hiking. Outside of work, I would say it’s probably the thing he spends the most time on, with basic exercise equipment in his room and whatnot. He’s not obsessed with it—it’s not a thing he just talks about in casual conversation—but it does occupy a lot of his time.

Recently he made a post on social media about getting a group together for his second hike up Mt. Whitney (the highest mountain in California at 14,500 feet), and wanted to see who was interested in joining him on his training hikes.

I don’t really spend a whole lot of free time exercising or even being outdoors these days, so I told him to add me to the list of invites for the hikes. So he did, and I joined him for the first hike: Mt. Wilson.

When I said I’d be interested in hiking with him, I thought I was signing up for a 3-4 hour conversation along some longer trails, but that is not what I got. This was an 8 hour hike with an elevation gain of 4,300 feet.

IMG_20190511_061401273_HDR

The view from the parking lot: not our jeep. Also, the parking lot was already packed at 6am!

I didn’t have a national park pass, so I couldn’t park there, so instead I spent the night at his place and we carpooled over. The thing is, I got there around midnight, slept on his couch, and we got up at around 4:30am. Our hike (with a group of 4 people) began at around 6am. (Yes I started an 8 hour hike on 4 hours of sleep. I took what I could get.)

I was also very leery of joining him because for one, the weather forecast for that day had predicted showers over the entire week, and only the day before did that forecast loosen into noon-time sprinkling. The sky was overcast, threatening to rain at any given moment.

We had a good chat. I learned lots of hiking etiquette from the more experienced hikers (which was everyone), and even though it was early in the morning, the exertion proved to be quite a workout.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

It took us about 4 hours to get to the peak, and we were excited about the prospect of a cafe at the top. We got to the observatory before it opened, and when we did arrive, the people there told us it was closed due to the weather forecast (though it didn’t rain a drop the entire day). It was a bummer, because we had planned on treating ourselves to soda at the top.

 

And so we made our descent, and let me tell you friends, if you thought going up was bad, you have either never gone down for long periods of time, or your knees are better than mine (and let’s be honest, it’s probably the latter if not both). The way down was the more scenic route, with more creeks and waterfalls  alongside (or cutting through) the path. We added a mile to our hike to go to one particular waterfall (which was the main attraction for most of the people that came here). I stopped us on the descent a lot because I saw a lot of good photo opportunities. Also, I was low-key dying a little bit, but had too much pride to call for a real break.

As much as I really didn’t want to add another mile to the hike 6 hours in, I’m glad we went. It lead to a few really cool pictures. There were lots of people there, including a few kids throwing rocks into the water to make big splashes. One of them hit me with a rock instead of the water. It didn’t hurt, but boy did I want to kick his dad in the face for not stepping in and apologizing.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

At the end of the trip was a steep 400ft incline (I’d guess maybe 20-25°), and that last quarter mile-ish killed me. Imagine walking for 8 hours and then the last legs of the journey is a steep slope up asphalt—not even nice, packed in dirt.

I was sore for two days after the trip, but I’m pretty sure that if it wasn’t for that last little bit, I would have been almost completely fine the next day or two.

So that’s it. I’m not a hiker, but this was a fun little thing to do. Some stats: Gained 4,300 feet of elevation over almost exactly 8 hours. Average pace was a 28 minute mile, but our best was 7:50 minutes. We covered 14.7 miles and burned 1,653 calories.

 

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 — Being a Charismatic Introvert

My social life is weird. up until my junior year of high school, I was extremely introverted, only making friends when I needed to and avoiding eye contact with anyone I didn’t know. That changed when I was accidentally put in a theatre class and, well, I learned improv and became a different person. I didn’t gain confidence per-se (my natural intelligence has made me something of a narcissist, unfortunately), but what I did gain was the ability to be okay with looking dumb and having fun. As a result of that, basically the only friends I came out of high school with were the people I met through improv.

What this has amounted to is a sometimes overpowering feeling of loneliness in college, as I’m painfully aware that the three or four friends I actively talk to don’t even live within an hour’s drive. I still don’t like talking to strangers, but as a desperate attempt to make friends, and putting my improv skills to good use, I constructed a version of me for the purposes of meeting people.

Meet Kollin: the charismatic introvert.

From all angles that a stranger would see, I seem extroverted. I make conversation, ask questions, engage other people, and say hi to people I know just to say hi. I interact with people that, ideally, seems friendly, open, and inviting. Now, I’m on the inside looking out, so I don’t know how well this works, but this method was exactly how I met who I would currently consider to be my best friend.

I can’t put this mask on for everybody, as I don’t really find the will to open interactions people I have sub-par feelings towards. When I invented this personality, I basically made a good friend instantly, so I put it away again and returned to my “don’t speak unless spoken to” state, which is far more natural for me.

But the last few months I’ve been pretty lonely again, so I’ve pretty much been wearing that mask whenever I’m at school. It’s not a headspace I’m used to, so I have a hard time gauging the social situations it causes. I can’t tell if the people I’m talking to enjoy talking to me or simply respond because they’re being spoken to. Obviously, that distinction is important for my purposes.

Another thing about my social personality is that I really value open communication. Perhaps even overvalue and overshare. My inclination when I meet somebody new and graduate them from “person whose name I know” to “acquaintance” is to outright tell them I have a very difficult time socializing and making friends even if that doesn’t seem to be the case. I like my motivations and intentions to be laid out from the beginning, and the charismatic introvert sort of runs counter to that. For good or for ill, I’m not sure.

I feel like part of my problem is that my brain has inorganically concluded to simulate organic social norms. The only friends I’ve made “organically” are people I’ve known for 8 or more years, and some of my closest friendships were made because I made a conscious decision in my head to befriend them before we really knew each other (or before we even met in one of those cases).

I just… don’t know how to make friends. Does that make the charismatic introvert me a lie? Well, maybe. It’s certainly not my natural state, but my natural state also perpetuates bad behaviors I want to break, so here we are.

(Author’s note: Photo is unrelated. I just found it funny because it makes no sense.)

Improv 101 — Being Somebody Else

Every year, when I meet the new class of high school kids I teach improv to, I always give them a lecture. Most times I’m teaching it’s a gauntlet of “what game is he teaching us this week”, but the first week is always different, because I mostly just talk. About me. You might think that’s asinine or narcissistic, and well, maybe it is, but I think my story with improv is important.

I was always the introverted kid in class. Okay, I am the introverted kid in class, but in high school it was even worse. I was so bad I would be reading fantasy novels in my theatre class any chance I could, as long as the teacher wasn’t talking. And yeah, I got my book taken away by multiple teachers over my high school career. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly fast friends with anyone I met.

But then my soon-to-be improv coach started coming into the class as a guest teacher. He’d teach imrpov games just like on Whose Line is it Anyway?, and I loved when he came because then we’d get to play improv. You’d think the story ends there right? I jump on stage, come out of my shell through improv, then I started teaching, right?

Well, no. It took a lot more work than that. I wouldn’t even go on stage to play games when he asked. I just liked that he was there because I enjoyed watching improv, not because I wanted to do it myself. Me? An actor? Yeah, okay buddy.

A few months go by, and he eventually states that he’s recruiting students for an improv team. Nothing school related, but we would be joining a non-profit that helps high school kids perform on stages (most often by singing, but well, that part of the story isn’t really important). Against my better judgment, I signed up. I could watch more improv that way, at least.

And so, Kollin the audience member was forced to become Kollin the improviser. I’m not going to pretend I was the best on the team, (in fact I would argue against it), but my best moments tended to last the longest in our minds.

After a few years of our improv team doing great and going strong, old faces leaving and new faces joining, our coach told us he was moving. We had two options: hold our own or quit while we were ahead. We made the mistake of trying to hold our own. The only people that were left were just out of high school, after all, and neither of us had the resources nor the charisma to lead a team of teenagers.

But, I did accept the mantle of improv coach. And so Kollin the improviser became Kollin the teacher. Freshly graduated, I started joining my coach as he went into the high school to teach, and when he did move, soon it was just me.

A few years of that and here we are. An introverted Kollin standing on stage talking to a bunch of high school freshmen about what improv is. This is only the first half of the lecture, but I think it implies a lot about what improv can be. Yes, I’m still the introverted guy who won’t speak to a stranger unless spoken to. But through improv I’ve gained the ability to don a mask. The mask of who Kollin would be if he was extroverted. I wear it well. It suits me, in a way, and though I can’t wear it for long, people are often surprised when I tell them I’m introverted. I’m still working on being able to pull out that mask in non-teaching environments, but it’s the only time that version of me is really comfortable.

Improv really helped me find myself. For some people, it takes them out of their shell and they blossom into an entirely new creature. Sometimes it’s just a confidence shift. I think I might have changed the least of all the people from my improv team, but the new skills of being able to pretend I’m slightly different versions of Kollin would make people think I’ve changed a lot.

Improv changes you, but it’s always positive. I’ve never seen anyone negatively impacted by the experience, and though I’ve certainly seen people so embarrassed they’ve cried, they really did learn a lot and had some profound personality growth because of it. Improv is one of those things that I think everybody should try for a while. Even if it’s just a simple college class later in life.

Me — Outer Perspective

Lately I’ve been giving thought to the perception I give off to people. This isn’t abnormal, as I’m constantly looking for ways to improve myself, but this time it’s a bit different, because I’ve been thinking specifically about how people perceive me as well as how they feel when they’re around me.

I’ve always considered myself a nice person. I think most everybody does. But I would also be the first to admit that I can be a bit egotistical to the point of being annoying. Sometimes I don’t even see it, and that’s the thing I hate most about myself. I’ve been told I’m so self confident I’m intimidating to talk to, and that’s the opposite of what I want.

It’s hard to change aspects of your personality that you can’t readily perceive, but what I’m trying to do is frame things in terms of how somebody might feel based on their being around me. I can compliment somebody all I want, but it won’t mean anything if they feel inadequate. And believe me, I do know what that sentence sounded like, I’m just not going to spend time trying to rephrase it.

Ideally, I want to people to be totally comfortable around me, tell me when they’re upset, and not have to worry about what I think of them. I want to be somebody that’s confident enough in themselves that people can look to for advice or solidity. When we part ways, I want that person to feel better about themselves than they did before.

These thoughts come in conjunction with a few things I’ve seen on Reddit in addition to the overall theme of the current Critical Role campaign. Leaving things better than when you found them is a noble legacy to pursue, I think.

Also along these lines, (and a quote from Critical Role): “People aren’t good or bad, they’re just people.” While I don’t wholly agree with that statement, I would say one thing in favor of it. I think a lot of us like the people we surround ourselves with simply because we’re social creatures and people are often nice to those around them by default. The people in our lives aren’t really special, the only meaning we attach to them is because they were there. If I had less siblings, my life wouldn’t be better or worse, it would just be different. With that logic, I can’t honestly say whether my life was made better having had them around me, because there’s no way to know.

That said, I’d like to be different. When I’m gone, I want people to think about the lives my presence had enabled them to have. I want them to feel like my being there made a positive impact on their lives. If I did die today, I bet people would say that, but I wouldn’t be so ready to say it’d be a true statement. So whatever my actions, however I pursue my own happiness, I hope I can bring others with me on my way there, that maybe they wouldn’t have been able to achieve otherwise.

D&D — Dungeons & Dragons as Escapism

I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons for a while now. Technically, at least eight years, but I’ve only been serious about the hobby for the last two or so. I would attribute two things to this. The first is Critical Role, which I think is self-explanatory. If you play D&D you probably know what that is. The second was a surprising amount of interest when I offhandedly commented the possibility of running a campaign with my improv friends. Those two things put together suddenly made D&D a much bigger part of my life, and it wasn’t until then that I realized the untapped potential the game had for me.

Before I got serious, D&D was a hobby; an incredibly complex board game in which you made your character and then cast the spells you picked out on the monsters the DM picked out. But then I realized that it didn’t have to be simply a video game. It could be a stage. It isn’t just about numbers and statistics and jokes. It could be a place to become somebody new and then behave as they do. You work in a headspace not your own in a world so different from the one you live. It isn’t the natural 1s or 20s that interest me anymore, it’s the choices the players make at the table because of a world we all created together.

I had a dream recently where I ran down a steep hill and turned into a bird, gaining speed as I swooped down and feeling the air press against my wings as I soared upwards and over everything else. I have never flown in any of my dreams. The closest I’ve gotten was jumping like The Hulk or being thrown from point A to B. But the feeling of flying was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and I am under no illusions: it is because my current D&D character is a druid that can shapeshift.

I don’t play to win anymore. In fact, the concept of “winning” D&D seems silly to me. Even if you and your friends are playing through a story that has a definitive beginning and ending, you can’t really “win” in the same way you don’t “win” when watching your favorite movie. It’s just an experience.

So nowadays, when I make decisions in this imaginary world, I don’t think “what is the optimal play”. I don’t even think “what is the optimal play given the information my character has”. Instead, I think “what would Taldarrin do in this circumstance?” For me, I get the most out of the experience by making the situation as believable as possible.

For example, at level 2, Circle of the Moon druids are basically the most powerful class in the game. Among other things, they can turn into a brown bear, which could probably fight off 3 other level 2 characters at the same time. Taldarrin has only ever turned into a brown bear once, and this was for intimidation, not power. He used to turn into a giant spider a lot, but every time he has, he’s rolled very poorly. So canonically, Taldarrin simply does not understand how to accommodate for all those eyes and legs, and thus doesn’t turn into that anymore. I think that makes for much better story telling than “when we fight I always turn into a bear, and if I roll badly it’s just a bad day. I’ll turn into a bear tomorrow”.

I don’t begrudge other playstyles. D&D is amazingly versatile, and any way anyone likes to play is certainly valid. I’m merely stating that I got a lot more out of it when I moved it from “video game” to “acting” in my head. I think all of us like being somebody else every once in a while, and Dungeons & Dragons is a great way to do that.

Me — Family Dynamic

My family, like everyone else’s, is unique. I’m the youngest of six, and I’m very lucky in that, for the most part, we’ve all always gotten along. (Childhood was a different story, but once I was around 10, arguments over silly things like who gets the computer and whatnot stopped happening.) Basically, fights were very rarely ever constructed on a personal level. Especially today, things we argue about are both lighthearted and either opinion based or circumstantial (such as how X was “back then”). I would consider my brothers some of my best friends simply because they’re the people I spend the majority of my free time with, if I’m spending it with anybody. We’re a gaming team, and one day we may actually end up producing games as well as playing them. Who knows.

So generally speaking my family is pretty close. But I think that came with a cost, because we’re all very private people, and we keep to ourselves much more than other people, at least for each other. I don’t mean to imply that getting along and keeping personal stuff private are two mutually exclusive things, or that they are inversely related, but it does seem to be the case with my family in particular, and I do think there is some sort of correlation. We’re just not open with each other.

I think this is pretty much why when I make strong friendships (which happens rarely), I’m very open and very personal within a month. I like to get to the “where do you want to live when you grow up and why”s, the “what sort of traits do you look for in a long term partner”s, and the “what would you want to change about your childhoods” as fast as possible. Part of that is probably because I want to share my own answers to those questions, but the concept of having a conversation like that with my siblings is… actually very weird to me. Plus, I use those deep questions as a means of getting to know the other person, so I wouldn’t really need to know the answer to those questions with my family, because I know them at a more subconscious level.

For perspective, I’ve written things on this blog I have never told my family. It’s not that I want to keep it from them—posting sensitive information on the internet would be an interesting method of keeping a secret, after all—just that having any level of personal conversation with my family would by its very nature be forced and inorganic.

I’ve written before about in high school I fell in love with a girl that never had any feelings towards me, and we were good friends for five years. I’m sure you can imagine how many situations and stories that circumstance would foster. But I don’t have any idea how much my siblings know about it, or even my parents, because the only time I would ever share anything would be on a need-to-know basis in regards to venting and my own personal sanity, which over the course of those five years probably only happened two or three times. And I’m the vocal one.

I wouldn’t say this is a bad thing. For me personally, I think I handle myself relatively well, so I rarely need somebody to talk to. But it does leave this gap in what should really be basic knowledge. It’s as though I’ve been practicing fetching water from a well a mile away when there’s one a hundred feet away. I’ve been doing it the long way for so long that the knowledge of the closer well doesn’t even bother me.

Note: That analogy is awful because it implies that I’m being illogical and inefficient, which is very much not me. However, I will do the efficient thing in this circumstance and not waste time thinking of a better one. So there.