June 28, 2013

It has been a long time since I wrote something.

Well, something here, anyway. I tried once or twice, but those drafts remain unpublished. In the interim I’ve felt a great deal of Ecclesiastes 1:2.

You know. Meaningless.

A brief glance at the last several months shows me engaged primarily in fighting things I hate, ideas with which I disagree. It shows me arguing with enemies far more frequently than laughing and learning with friends. It shows me depressed and neglecting both responsibilities and pleasures which ought to have had my attention, which would have made those days fuller and more worthy of having been through.

I am moving from New York in exactly five weeks. Sure, I’m moving to somewhere — Columbus, Ohio, to be precise — but what hits me is that I’m leaving New York. I am, for the foreseeable future (if not forever), leaving the place which has always been my home. And while the change will be gradual, and while the official move will probably not happen until early next year, the fact remains that I’m about to not have an address in New York, a bedroom in New York, a bank account in New York, or any of the other things which might signify that one is a New Yorker.

And with that fundamental change in my identity come others. In five weeks I will no longer be unemployed. I will no longer be a basement-dweller. I will no longer be merely a student, but a researcher. I will no longer be just a gamer, but a games scholar. These are the changes I can’t help making. These are changes which occur whether I want them to or not. They are the new status quo.

But along with the inevitable changes I find myself wondering just how boldly I can reinvent myself in the coming months. If the recent past is filled with triviality, irresponsibility, lost productivity, and negativity, then what if those, too, are identities I can change? If I could be half as thoughtful as I am stubborn; half as compassionate as I am selfish; half as industrious as I’ve been lazy; half as…well, half as heavy as I’ve been. Would I be twice as happy? Make others that much happier?

Truth be told in the past several weeks I’ve had my eyes opened to just how much of a burden I am to other people. Moreover, how much of a burden my life has become to me. And I don’t say that in an emo or frightening way, but as a simple, accurate gauge of reality: I bring myself and others down far more frequently than not. I don’t really like me much and I give others few reasons to do so either. The ones who do often find themselves regretting it. I’ve seen it in their eyes: the wish that they hadn’t bothered to strike up a conversation with me because now they feel trapped in something that’s making them uncomfortable. If people are supposed to leave your presence happier than they were when they entered it, I’ve certainly been doing it wrong.

The funny thing is, when I sat down to write something today, it’s because I realized I really want to learn Japanese. And somehow, starting out by pointing out what I don’t want in my life, I was going to work my way around to what I do want. A sort of wishlist for the future. I don’t really know that I can just jump into that now. Seems the tone’s wrong. But there you have it: Japanese. And Russian. Why?

Well, I…

Their cultures have so many things in them which I find beautiful, which speak to me, often in ways I’ve never felt from English-speaking cultures. Their art, their stories, their way of life, all bound up in characters I can’t read, can’t penetrate, can’t fathom. I suppose that’s true of any culture but for me, those are the ones I lament being locked out of.

So I sit here and I consider what it means, to want to change, to improve, to learn, and the steps one actually has to take to make those changes, to achieve the improvement, to gain the knowledge lacked. And I think back on all the times I’ve wanted to change but have been found wanting in change, and I wonder whether this will be all that again, or whether this will truly be a watershed in the life I lead, and whether all those mandatory changes will facilitate the others, the ones which would make the changes matter.

Que sera, sera; mais, moi?
Je dois être le changement
Que je veux voir.

Greatness

I watched the closing ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympic Games live.

Like the athletes pouring onto the massive floor which had so recently been a track and field, I felt a moment of true solidarity. I pictured families around the world, gathered like I was around a glowing screen, rejoicing in the spectacle and celebration while feeling that tinge of sadness, of loss, that couples the end of any great collaborative endeavor. Mingled with the thrill of the after-party is the realization that the end has arrived, the knowledge that, unless we fight it, the next four years will be mundane echoes of the magic that two weeks brought us, a spirit embodied by a now-extinguished flame.

Unless.

The caveat. The exception. The chance, however unlikely, that the seemingly inevitable will be conquered like so many world records, that the words scrawled across the walls of the stadium live on, that a generation has seen these Games and truly, irrevocably, been inspired.

I am not one of the youth of the world called upon by Jacques Rogge to meet in Rio four years from now. Nor, indeed, are many of the athletes who filled out the Union Jack tonight with the knowledge that this ceremony closed not only the 30th Olympiad but their athletic careers. These leave, hopefully, with the comfort that comes with knowing they have left a legacy they can be proud of. Some still feel the sting of lost gold, the longing in their feet for a podium their presence never graced, but true Olympic spirit dictates that if they gave their all, they gave enough. For a moment in time even the least of them were the greatest in the world.

A Nike campaign over the last couple weeks exhorted viewers to “find your greatness,” a fitting impetus for people like me who have spent many years neglecting that search.

No more.

I don’t know what consolation it brings to the hard-fought, still-fallen athletes of the London Games to know that even in their darkest hour they succeeded in being inspirational. But for what it’s worth, you did.

I’m in an odd transitional part of my life, huge uncertainty looming on the horizon. The Olympics have provided a sense of continuity between my past and present selves, serving not only as the one thing that was the same at home as it is here, but also as the motivating force behind the changes already being made. Eating differently. Exercising more…that is, at all. Taking responsibility where I’ve shirked it. Embracing who I am and who I want to be, and actively figuring out the steps I need to take to unify the two.

Like many of the athletes I’ve learned to admire, I have a long road to recovery ahead of me. I may not have broken my fingers, torn my Achilles, or sustained gunshots to my legs, but the debilitating force of a lifetime of unhealthy choices is no less a barrier to achieving physical regularity (nevermind prowess). Nor, indeed, does a year of slothful unproductivity lack ramifications on mind and soul.

Over the past two weeks I’ve seen longstanding records pressed, bent, and broken. I’ve seen men and women not merely make history but redefine its expectations.

I came into this year’s Olympics expecting sports. Instead, I found stories.

Stories of love.
Stories of sacrifice.
Stories of triumph.
Stories of perseverance.
Stories of heartbreak.
Stories of redemption.
Stories of hope.
Stories of greatness.

These stories have been inspiring, but they all have one thing in common: they are the stories of other people.

The games are over, and a new day dawns tomorrow.

It’s time to write my own story.
It’s time to find my greatness.