I have this image in my head. A swarm of people are chaotically climbing into a boat. They thrash and jerk desperately while stormy waters batter them in an attempt to weaken their spirits and make them quit. The thing about this storm is that it really won’t kill you until you decide that it will. The waves are never big enough and they never hit you hard enough to put an end to your trial.
Nobody wants to let the storm win but the boat always flips after a certain amount of time regardless of how many people came aboard. They all end up back in the water. Some give up, go under. Some are ready to give up, but their loved ones grab hold of them and continue their struggle. They’re thrashing and fighting for two now.
The result is always the same. Some get in the boat, but they all end up back in the water eventually.
One man has been ready to quit for a long time. Every slap from a wave saps his will a little more, and the relief he felt on the boat feels like a fool’s hope. Every time his head fully gets above the water and a surge of strength returns to his body, a loved one wants to sink. He’ll grab them and drag them along, but the burden of his own weight has already become too much to bear.
His frustration and contempt for his loved one, as well as his own predicament, leave him ready to let his loved one drown.
As he lets go of his loved one, his guilt turns to rage. “Sink to oblivion then! I’ll reach the boat alone!”
Another person swimming at the man’s side shouts over the howling winds, “What good is the boat if you’re alone?!”
As that person swims on, the man is stunned at this question. He has not given up like some, but he is not giving chase like the others. He sees the loved one slowly going below his reach. He also sees the boat.
It’s getting further away. The storm isn’t letting up.
I can’t remember how many times I have sat in this chair and stared at this screen. How many times I’ve started writing down a thought only for the satisfaction of deleting the words just as soon as they all form. When you feel like your thoughts don’t matter, destroying the words before they can be ignored is the closest thing to a reward that you’re likely to get. I’ve certainly done a lot more of this than actually writing anything, especially this year.
The reality is that I’m unsure if I even love writing anymore. This is a common sentiment I find among writers, but it feels odd because a few of the things I have made public this year have been some of my favorite pieces that I have ever wrote. Even though those posts were largely ignored, they are instances where I could personally feel my skill improving. I have not wrote frequently, and I have yet to engage in any sort of disciplined editing system, yet I know that I am somehow a better writer today than I was back in January.
And I somehow did it on my own.
That feeling, as if I had discovered some semblance of independence and natural talent within myself, is what made me fall in love with writing in the first place.
I was not a great student in my early High School years. I skipped classes, I refused homework as if it were a personal insult, and I was okay with taking an “F” if I couldn’t coast through to a passing grade. This attitude was especially true for English, where I had really gotten fed up with anyone telling me how to write. Up until 10th grade, I didn’t know I was any good at writing. What I did know was that the things I happened to be reading didn’t even slightly resemble the stiff structures my various teachers tried to get their students to employ. What I eventually realized is that the authors actually had ideas that they wanted to communicate to a reader. Teachers have the horrible job of trying to get specific thoughts and feelings out of people who largely don’t have any.
So I did horribly in English classes when I tried to follow their instructions. I didn’t realize the real thing English classes should be teaching; how to think critically about a work of literature, and communicate those thoughts in an effective way. The “rules” to writing are all just arbitrary bullshit we need to have in order to keep people from scribbling completely incoherent gibberish, unless they call it poetry. After I realized the whole point was communication, I could figure the rest out on my own with practice.
Still, it wouldn’t be until the 10th grade that I stopped trying to make teachers satisfied. Once I hit that point, I didn’t care if I failed, and it showed when I had my first writing assignment. I decided to abandon almost everything an English teacher had ever taught me, and spewed every thought I had down onto the paper in whichever way I wanted it put down. To my surprise, the tangled mess of responses floating around in my head at any given moment somehow naturally formed into something more clear, as if I was prepared to discuss a specific perspective I’ve considered for years rather than an impression I had for five minutes.
More surprising was that my teacher liked it. And while it took me another year to really get my act together as a student, my English grades never really struggled after that point. It felt similar to that old cliché of an actor yelling at a director in frustration, only for the director to declare “That’s it! That’s what I’m looking for!”
Once I realized the initial bullshit for what it was, that’s when I could start getting something out of English classes. Sometimes it was advice, most of the time it was a challenge. I’ve blown teachers away for entire quarters, and I’ve let some down in terms of their personal expectations. However, I’ve never felt like I’ve truly struggled as a writer in all that time. I’ve had occasional fits of writer’s block, but I’ve met all my academic obligations up to this point, and I’ve enjoyed writing about video games in my spare time since I chose that as my focus back in late 2010.
Until now, where something feels different. Now the one talent I have been so confident in since I was that frustrated teenager feels like something I’m having a hell of a time holding onto. The skill is still there, but the drive is lost.
Part of me suspects it’s just the focus wearing me down. And it’s true that this year has been pretty horrible in the video game circles I’ve ran with online. Many of the professionals in the field I play in have done a marvelous job turning our shared passion into just another battleground for political opinions, and it definitely has gotten a response from readers. It’s rarely a constructive response, because the posts are rarely constructive themselves, but back-and-forth flaming is great for views so why should they stop?
For as exhausting as all that has been, though, I’ve mostly divorced myself from it. I managed to write about the stuff I wanted to this year, even if I do wish there was more I wanted to talk about. And I consider most of those pieces to be pretty good, even if none of them blew me up into the great internet fame I so richly deserve!
I joke, but maybe that’s what is bothering me. My own shallow expectations. I have no delusions that I earned any sort of celebrity over these last few years, but I suppose I thought that in the time I’ve been writing, and talking to other writers, I would have developed some camaraderie with people. Instead, I feel more disconnected than ever.
My 23rd birthday was on Saturday, and it was actually alarming how little people cared. That’s nothing new because I’m not a popular person and birthdays had become more like “regular days plus a cake” around 19, but a surprising amount of people didn’t acknowledge it this year in comparison to last year, or the year before. I’m truly grateful to all the people in my life who did, but I don’t bring this up to throw a pity party for myself.
This isn’t about guilt-tripping people. This is me pointing out that less people care about me now at 23 then they did when I was 22. I’m not just stagnating, I’m rotting. Even a halfway-competent writer would at least have a decent chunk of people fucking hating him with the time I’ve had.
And when I hit that realization, I want to do something about it. Find my calling, if you will. I just want to find a way to be moving forward with my identity as a writer, because that’s all I know how to be.
Initially, I wonder if I should quit writing about games, but I have no new ideas to fill the gap. I also genuinely do like what I write about when I can muster the energy to do it. So maybe I should just keep at it, and maybe it will finally grow into something cool.
The problem is, when I have the drive, all that comes to mind is everything you just read. So maybe that’s why I didn’t delete it this time, like I did countless times before. Maybe by putting all my insecurities out on the table, I can finally get my focus back. That I can stop associating my one talent with nothing but these feelings of early failure.
I’ve been in a dark fucking place for a long time, and I’m ready to get out of it. And sometimes getting out of my depression is just that easy.
I hope this is one of those times.