Eyes Wide Open

I’ve recently made a new friend. She’s funny, she’s clever, she’s talented, and, as of today, she’s probably the most influential person to enter my life in a very long time.

My friend is strong, not because she loves going to the gym, but because she splits wood to fuel the only heat source in an off-the-grid homestead powered by solar panels and devoid of running water. She lives with random relatives and other people in a place specifically designed to exist tomorrow regardless of whether the rest of the world suddenly vanishes. She receives random checks every so often which put Subway sandwiches in her hand and pay the meager charges the world has levied against her life.

Unless fortune finds her, my friend will continue to live this way indefinitely. She was raised in a somewhat crippling way; educated, but not formally, and kept from typical avenues of employment, she now struggles to find success in a competitive and spiteful professional world which shows little love for anyone without a resumé that sparkles. It seems in many ways she never had a chance.

And yet I, I keep getting chances. Despite the countless ways my laziness, carelessness, and selfishness have seemed destined to derail my trajectory towards anything but misery, I continue to be incredibly blessed.

I’ve been incredibly blessed all along. I’m typing this on a laptop I bought with a fraction of the thousands of dollars that were simply handed to me when I graduated high school, money I otherwise squandered on fast food and video games. Nothing remains of the second ten thousand dollars I was handed — again, for doing little more than what I was dealt — when I graduated college less than two years ago. I’ve regretted my spendthrift ways in the past, but my friend has me actually swallowing my own vomit at the thought, the agonizing thought, of what she could have done with her life had she been given a mere fraction of the opportunity I’ve had.

Humbled seems too weak a word, as I sit here typing on that expensive laptop, connected to one of two Internet connections in my house, hearing the new Satellite television system my parents are watching upstairs on a 56-inch television, lights on all over the house despite an absence of occupants in their rooms, the automatic dryer beeping to let me know that the clothes I just decided to toss in there are ready to be folded and put away, or can just be rewashed and dried for fun if I’m too lazy to deal with them now.

Mortified. There’s the word.

I don’t deserve to be happy or optimistic about my future right now. I deserve to be paying the penalties for years of squandered potential and copious prodigality. Instead I’m looking forward, past a few “hard” months of maybe having to work an easy-to-get job at some grocery store, towards a fully-funded education I barely even had to raise a finger to be offered.

I don’t want to brood. It’s not helpful to revisit the mistakes of one’s past over and over again. Regret’s natural but not productive; I can’t undo what I’ve been, what I’ve done. But looking forward, I have a chance to actually change, to truly apply myself to being something, to refusing to ride the coattails of my jackpot-winning life even if I could, perhaps especially because I could, because I’ve been given a gift so valuable I no longer feel comfortable accepting it. I’ve got to earn this. I’ve got to at least try.

Long-time readers know this isn’t the first time I’ve been struck by something and promised to reform. It’s almost a running gag — I could hashtag it and you could go back and read it as if it were just a recurring topic in the annals of the failure to try that is my life. But you know what? I don’t accept that. I won’t own it. Because after a decade of weight gain, I pushed back the needle on the scale twenty pounds. I killed the writing and reading sections of a standardized test a year and a half after leaving an academic environment. I got accepted to one of the leading schools in the nation for my field on the assumption that I can back up my words with actions.

The past couple months have seen real, tangible change in my life. I’m not going to let that die. I have a new-found reason to be a better man. If I’m to ride any wave, let it be the wave of Citius, Altius, Fortius I spoke of last summer. Because if a reality check of this sort does not galvanize me into improving, for real, well…then I’m not worth the air I breathe. Someone else out there needs it more…for those cold days and nights she has to go outside and put another log on the chopping block.

So thank you, friend, for opening up my eyes. Here’s to keeping them open.

three and twenty

You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve sat down to write something here. How many ways I’ve begun. How many angles from which I’ve lined up the shot, only to decide the lighting wasn’t ideal, the exposure too great, the lens too scratched. Or, perhaps, you would believe, because you know: sometimes things happen in our lives we don’t know how to articulate. At such times you make a choice: fret about the words you’ll never find, or give up on keeping chronicles and let yourself get caught up in the moment.

I opted for the latter. Boston was a whirlwind which, having whisked me away for awhile, flung me homeward headlong.

First, what didn’t happen: I wasn’t fired. I didn’t quit. I didn’t hate my job. I didn’t chicken out, and I didn’t lie. Those seeing a homebound Bogert needn’t add another tally (for, of course, you’re keeping track) on the list headed “Adam’s Failures.”

Now, what is happening: I’m studying for GRE (as soon as my review book arrives from Amazon tomorrow; that is, my second review book, because ironically the guy who moved home to focus on test preparation managed to leave his test prep materials in Upton). I’m scouring vast repositories of information in search of a graduate program that will mold me into what I finally, firmly, determined I need to become: a professor.

Lastly, what will happen: I’ll continue to do a small amount of remote work for ten24 under title of independent contractor (because, hey, we liked each other). I’ll take the GRE in early October, and give my professors a heads-up that I’m hoping they’ll recommend me. I’ll see if substitute teaching is a viable option now that I’ve had my fingerprints taken and sent off to OSPRA. But mostly, I’ll write.

Because push has come to shove, and I can’t stand that I spent a year not doing what I expressly believe I was born for. I was created with a distinct proclivity for criticism and curiosity, a need to understand “why” and an inability to simply accept “because” in reply. Where I find answers, I feel drawn to pass them on to others, a trait tedious in conversation but perfect for written discourse. What I lack in generation of ideas I make up for as one heck of a conduit.

Don’t mistake that for pride. At least, not arrogance. Read instead a watch recognizing it was made to tell time, and to tell time better than a compass or a sextant; a tool embracing its purpose.

There is, I’m coming to appreciate, a difference between self-love and selfishness. I’ve exhibited little of the former and much of the latter, and it’s long past time for that pendulum to swing the other way. We are called to love others as ourselves; ergo, to love others more I must also learn to accept who I am and embrace it. That doesn’t mean ignoring faults or flaws, but it does mean zooming out and refocusing on the bigger picture.

In that picture there are three loves: Christ, Geekhood, and Arguing. I know that last one doesn’t really seem like a passion proper, but there it is: I like to be right, and to know why I’m right, and I am driven to establish rightness wherever I see a wrong. Like the metric in last year’s Catherine, I tend to view life as a spectrum between chaos and order, and I’m pushing ever on towards the latter.

I’ve never struggled with not arguing enough (your eyes rolling yet?), but the other two passions seem to ebb and flow a bit too much, so henceforth (hear me, hold me to it) I plan to be extremely intentional about “plugging in” to both.

That’s where you, faithful reader, may have a role in all this, because as it stands I’m pretty much coming from a clean slate insomuch as news, articles, podcasts, and communities (for gaming, anime, devotionals, sermons, etc.) go. If you have favorites, pass them along. If you want to start a dialogue, let’s talk. If you want to set up a game night, let’s play. If you want to organize a Bible study, let’s plan.

Meanwhile, as I begin to write, and as I consider undertaking some sort of professional endeavor, I have become acutely aware of my dependence on friends and family for publicity. Not that I expect you to take to the streets over this blog, but perhaps someday in a month, or three, I will have something I do need shared, at which point it shouldn’t be a chore or burden, but mere reciprocity between friends.

I’m blessed with an extremely talented, creative group of friends. Some write, some preach, some sing, some play, some record. Many do all of the above. And each, carving a niche in the web, relies heavily on people like me to feed and water the seeds they’ve planted, to bounce ideas off of, to reap and sow encouragement. Remember that selfishness I mentioned earlier? That’s me expecting y’all to celebrate my work while I ignore yours.

So that’s going to stop too. Right here.

See that, back there? It stopped.

I’m going to be intentional about investing in the lives and passions of my friends. And if you count yourself among that group, and you have some project you think I should check out? Consider these ears officially opened.

This post is long and rambling and I’m going to draw it to a close in a moment. After saying nothing about turning 23 and embarking on a new year, I felt like a progress report was necessary. But that’s all this is: a report of work in progress, to which I’m merely adding a few to-dos. Other goals are coming along swimmingly. I’ve been consistently in the Word for three weeks. I’ve lost about 15 pounds.

And autumn, my favorite time of year, is already rustling through these New England trees, bursting with promise.

15 Days, Day 5

This is part of a writing exercise dictated by this list. It may benefit you to read it if you seek to know me (or merely someone) better; it may benefit me in the selfsame way. And if knowledge of others is your goal, seek out Anna, whose list prompted mine, and Kimi, whom Anna credits for said list.

Day 5
What sort of person attracts you?

An odd way to put it. I’d have asked “what sort of person are you attracted to;” then my English major compadres would have scolded me for the preposition, and we’d be needlessly off-topic already. Oh wait.

There are two ways for me to answer this. The first, more obvious, is tinged with romance, and though it stretches beyond “what’s your type?” it can’t help being bogged down with the awkwardness of answering that question. Nevertheless this is an exercise in honesty, not in cowardice, so I’ll do my best.

But first there is the other way, an inquiry of sheer magnetism: when I look around me, is there a common thread uniting my inner circles? For the most part, there are two threads, circles in a Venn Diagram which so overlap that one might not notice the exclusions: intelligence and faith.

Doubtless this is what led me to a Christian college, for there (glaring exceptions notwithstanding) the majority of people possess both qualities; they are smart waxing wise, inquisitive, open to pondering “big questions,” and all of these things under an umbrella assumption that the God of the Bible is real and that He became incarnate in Jesus as the conduit of redemption for the human race.

I have had some decently close friends who are atheists and agnostics. I have also been close with, not idiots, but people for whom good grades come hard (if at all) and the fields of philosophy and theology are prohibitively complex. But all of my “true” friends — that is, the ones who know my deepest secrets and fears and hopes — are bright believers.

One interesting point: as much of a role as gaming has had in my life (and though many of my close friends love gaming) I am not, precisely, drawn to gamers. The gamers in my life who do not fit into either of the other categories (particularly those who are not Christian) possess various other qualities which have drawn me towards them, but never has the shared experience of loving games actually proven enough to form the basis of true friendship with me.

Ahem.

I have never had a girlfriend. I’ve been on exactly “one date” and that didn’t really count since it was a date based on company rather than mutual attraction, had neither anticipation nor promise of a sequel, and was a mostly unmitigated disaster insofar as my “good date” gestures go (I still shiver a bit at the thought of all the things I did wrong).

I have been “in love,” or as close as one can get without reciprocity, three times, with two close-but-not-quite-there runner-ups. And when I survey those five, I see no particularly obvious similarities beyond the professing of faith. So let’s start there: for attraction beyond the basic and animalistic, a girl needs to love Jesus.

I firmly believe in the principle of “equal yoking,” but a lot of people seem to misinterpret what that actually means. Really, it’s no more complicated than the image of a yoke suggests: two creatures united under one burden. If one is dramatically weaker, or pulling in a different direction, or covered in fleas, it will inevitably hinder the progress of both. If every single girl is a prospective partner, then I’m looking for one who is headed the same way, doesn’t conflict with who I am, and balances out my shortcomings while benefiting from my strengths.

Granted, who I am is malleable, and some parts of my life can (should?) and will go as I become a better person. But anyone who requires me to change major parts of my life right off the bat isn’t going to be wringing any heavy-hearted poetry from me. Assuming we agree on the Christ thing (same direction and all that), she’s got to also love stories. Now that could be books, movies, plays, games (all of the above? JACKPOT!), I don’t really care which; the key is imagination. I’ve spent my life wrapped up in creativity and I don’t plan to stop just because “the missus” wants me to pull my head out of the clouds and concentrate on things that “actually matter.”

I don’t claim to deserve immaturity, but being young at heart? That’s a birthright. A girl who doesn’t read or game or watch movies that don’t suck is a girl I’ll never get; more importantly, she’ll never get me.

Personality-wise, I’m a bit of a Janus. I’m either loud and outgoing (and extremely opinionated) or quiet, introspective, and brooding. The latter tends to come out around my closest friends and, inevitably, would be seen by a wife. I’m thus attracted to a girl who makes me quieter when I’d otherwise make a fool of myself but keeps me optimistic when the raven starts croaking “nevermore.” Typically this means free-spirited; strong-willed.

Quite bluntly, if she can’t keep up with me and put me in my place, it’s not going to go well for either of us. I’ll come off the bully, she subservient, and we’ll both grow to despise one another before long. She doesn’t need to be as smart as I am but what she lacks in intelligence she’ll make up for with wisdom and clarity, an example of the humility I so desperately lack.

Really, it comes back to the yoke. Each time I’m drawn in it’s by a girl who I’m trying to picture as a partner: not one to dominate and drag or be dragged and dominated by, but equals; not mirrors of one another, but fitting puzzle pieces.

I could rattle off a list of specs, hair colors and body types, nationalities and ages, but I won’t. Because I recognize that all the typecasting in the world won’t matter when I find the North to my South and, like magnets, we are pulled irresistibly and inseparably together.

Any Other Way

The dream of our reunion makes me crazy just to think, how so very far away you are; my heart begins to sink. Today’s the day you’re leaving and tomorrow you’ll be gone. You’re in my heart and on my mind; I will bring you along. Everything sucks when you’re gone. ~MxPx

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Online Becomes IRL

To those who’ve never really met me outside of the context of me already being with friends, it may come as a surprise that I am really bad at the whole interacting with people thing. Too nervous to kick off my PAX weekend with introductions, I ironically opted for a panel about “Online Communities and ‘Real Life’ Relationships,” wondering about the online/IRL relationship divide: how do people feel about it? Does crossing it tend to enrich relationships or make them really weird? Is physically meeting online friends and acquaintances generally a positive experience?

It’s not so much that I didn’t know the answers; after all, my fondness for the 2005 Seattle trip has never really waned. But my experience two years ago had maybe muddied the waters a bit, and I needed to be reminded why it was I had been looking forward to this weekend so much for so long. Some people come to Boston for games. Some come for swag. I had come for friendship.

Of course, I’m still — as Scott Pilgrim was once described — chronically enfeebled around people I don’t know well. It wasn’t until Ashlee came over and asked if I wanted to try out Trials Evolution that I managed some half-baked liaison into a greeting. She laughed and asked why I didn’t just say so — I guess that’s a question you could ask me a lot. Too nervous to initiate most conversations, I try to play off my awkwardness under guise of intentionality. When Michelle had given me the same Trials spiel and I introduced myself, she too wondered why I hadn’t cut her off  earlier and I just said it was good practice for her. It might not have been completely true, but at least it was good for a laugh.

A few hours later Dave — thankfully less enfeebled than I — introduced himself. We talked for a bit and then I ended up following him around for the better part of the afternoon. We discussed the community and our history over an extraordinarily overpriced lunch, then met up with two of his H2O friends. It would be with these three people that I’d bump into Amber who, after excitedly showing us the Twitch booth she’d designed immediately demanded to know if we were all hooked up properly for the weekend’s parties. Moments later I was inside the Twitch back area giving my contact information and receiving VIP access to Saturday night’s Estate bash.

And I guess that moment right there came to epitomize what was so wonderful about the weekend for me. In the relationships panel the games industry was jokingly referred to as incestuous, but it proved to be absolutely true. Even if you didn’t directly know someone, chances are you shared a good mutual friend. Suddenly the weekend’s course didn’t depend on what one or two buds had in mind but whatever the overarching collective of people you were in touch with wanted to be doing. And if I wasn’t interested in checking out this panel or that game? No big deal. We’d end up back together before long.

It also helped to have the Ubisoft booth as a center of gravity. No matter where I ran off to, I always found myself coming back, circling closer each time as I met more people and had lengthier conversations. The order of introductions gets hazy, but in addition to Ashlee, Michelle, and Dave I ended up spending my weekend at the booth getting to know Tunesha, Anne-Marie and her husband, Krystal, Jimmy, Melonie, Marcus, Chase, Andrien, Edelita, and Kim.

A Splash of Activism

Saturday was spent panel-hopping. In the morning I attended Irrational’s “Making a Monster,” where I received an awesome Bioshock Infinite poster while learning a bit more — especially regarding sound — about the game I’ve been most looking forward to since its unveiling. The free cupcake — in celebration of the company’s fifteenth anniversary — served as a quick lunch as I ran off to what would prove to be the best panel of the weekend.

Over the past several months the community member I’ve probably had the most interaction with is Ashlee, likely because she’s one of few who actually plays Gears. She, Grace, Jen, and Jon run Fat, Ugly, or Slutty, a website dedicated to comically handling the overwhelming harassment that women experience when playing video games online. This was the base purpose of “N00dz or GTFO,” a panel comprised of Grace, Jenny (from Not in the Kitchen Anymore — a similar site which uses her audio clips instead of text submissions), Elisa (the academic angle), and Morgan (founder, among other things, of the Fragdolls).

The panel itself was as entertaining as it was eye-opening. As people were seated, a slideshow displayed a variety of messages the panelists have received. It was intriguing for me, as one familiar with the sites, to see and hear the reactions of people for whom this was the first real exposure. Most posts welcomed laughter due to being misspelled, malformed, and generally pathetic. But some — notably one inviting its recipient to die of breast cancer — sent momentary silence and chills through the room.

“N00dz or GTFO” touched on a variety of issues, but its overarching message was pretty straightforward: sexual (and other) harassment is a huge problem that pervades gaming communities. As gamers we should demand the tools to combat it. As humans we should demand a community that actually uses those tools. It’s all well and good to laugh off random penis jokes, but when girls are afraid to even use a headset because it’ll open the door to death threats it’s time to stop laughing and take a stand. I encourage you to check out both FUoS and NitKA (and I’ll link to the video as soon as it’s online so you can watch the best panel of PAX for yourself).

Saturday night provided a new slew of introductions. I spent the evening worrying about whether I could dress well enough to get into the club, which translated into a long and awesome digital (later personal) reunion with Brooke. While waiting outside and hoping I was doing it right I actually got to say hi to and shake hands with Nikole Zivalich. Once inside I ended up meeting and talking with Grace, Jenny, Elisa, & Katy. For my first club/party experience, Saturday night was hugely rewarding.

Sunday morning I made a point of seeing the Assassin’s Creed III demo, and finally met Lanai after months of chilling in her Twitch channel. After a group lunch packed around a small table upstairs a handful of us wandered the show floor picking up swag and watching people play. Andrew recorded as Marcus, Rick, and I hopped up on the Rock Band stage and did a rendition of Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69.” Then most people went off to try their hand at indie games and I went to watch the AC3 demo one more time. The next hour and a half was spent back in familiar Ubi territory, challenging (and losing to) Tunesha and Ashlee in Trials and trying out the rest of the games for the first time. As the end quickly approached I had a few more chats and introductions and then left to watch from above as the expo was rapidly dismantled.

Providence

By Sunday night there weren’t too many more people to meet. I had yet, for whatever reason, to introduce myself to Ali, and I’d actually sent a tweet expressing as much. As Sunday afternoon became evening, and evening rushed towards night, I still had no idea what the night would hold and I was beginning to think it might hold nothing but a long drive back to Upton without dinner. I was texting back and forth with Dave and neither of us was sure whether the community members were doing anything as a group. All we knew for sure was that there was a PMS/H2O party at the Hard Rock Cafe that had been going on for over an hour, and we weren’t clear on who was there.

Eventually that didn’t matter. I met him at the Westin and we walked down to my car. One convoluted trip through South Boston later, and I was parallel parking for the first time in years as he went in to see if we were at the right Hard Rock.

The private room holding the party was half the size of the total dining space of the restaurant, or so it seemed, and it was densely packed with plenty of faces familiar and strange. Krystal directed me towards a seat that had a purse hanging off the back of it and told me not to worry about taking it because she was pretty sure “Ali’s done.”

God has a funny way of doing things, really. So many times this weekend I couldn’t help thinking about timing — how if I had or hadn’t been somewhere at such a time, something else wouldn’t have happened. If I hadn’t been so worked up over dinner and not getting into The Estate on Saturday, I’d have already been inside when Nikole and her friends showed up, and I probably wouldn’t have talked to Brooke as much. Had I split with Dave when he went searching for his H2O friends, I’d have never even gotten the VIP invite.

And had Dave and I showed up earlier or later on Sunday, I wouldn’t have had such a convenient, albeit awkward, conversation-starter with the one person I still wanted to say hello to. Ali finished a round of pool and came back. I awkwardly said hello and told her she was welcome to have it back, but she was happy to simply share the seat of the person sitting next to me.

After a couple minutes, I turned to her and said, “You know, when I thought of the first thing I would say to you, it was more like “Hey, I like your blog,” not “Hey, sorry I stole your seat.”” She laughed, leaned her head on my shoulder for a moment, and said “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

And that, that right there, sums up the whole of my weekend. Panic and stress and uncertainty led to me not doing some things or doing them later than I planned to, but the way it all turned out was so much better than I ever might have guessed or aimed for.

The night unfolded much according to the same principle. I’d planned on heading back to hang out with Ryan for the night but couldn’t get in touch with him, so instead I ended up just staying in Boston. Had I left, I’d not have been there for the Catfacts and general laughter as we overstayed our Hard Rock welcome. Had I worried more about getting towed I’d have left before the Omni Parker House interlude, the stroll to 7-11 and subsequent conversation with DJ Xyanyde and Vinx.

Most importantly, I’d never have made it to the library.

I’m firmly convinced that the two or three hours spent in that small book-lined annex of the Hilton lobby fundamentally changed my life. It certainly put a lot of things in my mind into place. It put ghosts to rest. More than anything, it solidified beyond doubt the fact that this random smattering of nerds from around the world is more than a community; it’s a family. Like any family we’ve had our black sheep (just look at me). We’ve had our infighting. We’ve lost siblings and adopted others. We have prodigals and stalwart faithfuls. But beyond all the love and the hate and the laughing and crying (and then the trolling that feeds off the crying, followed by more laughing) we have an intangible bond that ensures we’ll still be here in another seven years looking fondly back on our history.

It’s sad to think that it may be six months, a year, maybe longer until I can see all of these wonderful people again, but for now I have this weekend to cherish and the joyful prospect of what the future holds. And you know what?

I wouldn’t have it any other way.