Video Games

Earlier today my friend Isaac published a blog post about how video games have been beneficial to his son, and it really got me thinking about my experiences with video games. Growing up, I played a fair amount of video games. My family wasn’t wealthy, in fact, we were probably poor, so we didn’t have the “newest” games or systems, but we did have some wonderful games. Particularly, I was into Role Playing Games (RPGs). This was all in the 80’s and early 90’s, which means the games I played had limited graphics but could have pretty in-depth stories.

My favorites took place in fantasy worlds with dragons, sword fights, and magic. I loved franchises like The Legend of Zelda, Dragon Warrior, and Final Fantasy in part because it took me to a world very different than my own. I wasn’t escaping reality (though, I think video games get a bad rap when it comes to that… you can escape reality and responsibility through a lot of things) but I was being introduced to new worlds and concepts. For someone like me, who isn’t particularly creative, it was awe-inspiring to have adventures like this. Video games also greatly expanded my vocabulary beyond what school could do at a young age. In 1st grade I needed to understand words like “quest” and “dungeon”, and be able to follow complex instructions to solve problems and move on to the next stage.

In video games you are rewarded for hard work, perseverance, and creative problem solving in a very tangible way. Your character levels up, you get stronger and you have more tools at your disposal to solve future problems. You make it to new stages that get more difficult and are rewarded as you move forward.

Even back in the 80’s and 90’s playing video games wasn’t just a solo activity (though, technology allows it to be a social activity today in some amazing ways). I remember many days over at my friend Frank’s house pouring over Nintendo Power magazines to look for new tips and hidden areas in our favorite video games. I would play the games with my brother’s, often taking terms at the controls but as a group trying to solve the puzzles and defeat the enemies. Back then games could usually only save 1-3 games at a time and this forced my large family to collaborate together. It encouraged communication and teamwork.

Video games are tools, like so many other things in our society. They shouldn’t be demonized or cast aside because they are fun. Enjoying what you do is not a bad thing and value creation (within yourself or for society) doesn’t need to be uncomfortable. Video games, like sports or other “hobbies”, can open up possibilities within each of us that we never knew existed. They can challenge our mind, help us grow as people, and provide practice in dealing with the stress and troubles that will inevitably creep up on us in “the real world”. Sure, they can be abused, but so can everything in this world. Sports (watching or playing), food, reading, exercise, travel, drugs, and basically everything int world can turn into a dangerous escape from reality and neglect our responsibilities, but they are also all an important part of the human experience that can enrich our lives and make us better people. Healthy use of something has nothing to do with the tool but everything to do with the person wielding it. Video games are no exception.

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Next Chapter

I’ve been having a lot of trouble focusing on my writing lately. To be honest, the only thing on my mind is the next chapter of my life that is about to begin. I made the announcement on Facebook last week, but I have not written anything about it here yet. Long story short, Anna and I have decided to pause the bike ride for a few years and move to Wilmington, NC. I don’t want to rehash all the reasons here (though, I will copy/paste my Facebook status at the bottom of the post for those interested), but it is something we are both incredibly excited about.

Why Wilmington? Well, it has so much that we look for in a town plus a ton of bonuses. The city is dog-friendly, bike-friendly, cheap, near a beach, has a college, and an active community. It is also near bigger cities that can provide opportunities for new sexual experiences, concerts, and an airport for travel. It is also near the mountains and the city of Asheville, which is an area we’ve always wanted to visit and hope to spend a fair amount of time in. It is also a reasonable drive to other places we love like Charleston, Savannah, Richmond, and DC (well, we don’t love DC, but we love some of our friends who live there). The cheap housing will also allow us to get a multi-bedroom house with a yard on our budget, which means lots of Couchsurfing/Warmshowers hosting, friends can visit, and we can start gardening and home brewing.

So, what will this new chapter mean for my life?

Work will be the same, though I may look for some part time work depending on how expensive life gets. It has been a while since I was in a stable location for several years. I am pretty minimalist but there might be some unexpected needs or wants that pop up. Life on a bike is really cheap (you basically have only a cell phone and health insurance bill), living in a house is very different. The things I’m really excited about is focusing on rounding out my mental, spiritual, and physical fitness.

Health has a lot to do with diet and having a kitchen will put me in greater control of what goes into my tummy. Ideally I will be able to take my veganism closer to “raw” and cut out some of the processed foods that have been a part of my bike riding diet. I did a quick meal plan (below) and I should be able to spend less than $100 a week on food and easily meet my dietary needs. Also, and this is a big one, I’m basically cutting out alcohol for the next few months. The only time I will drink is special occasions, like an upcoming bachelorette party in Canada and my birthday in October. Other than that, I will try not to drink any alcohol and will not keep any in the house. Luckily, Anna supports this and has the same goals. Having a partner that shares your goals and methods is super important to success.

In addition to my food, exercise is going to be important for me to feel healthy. It would be really easy for me to get out of shape when we stop. A major benefit of the bike ride was activity was a necessary part of life, now I will need to make an effort. Anna and I signed up for a half-marathon to help with motivation and I will be joining the local YMCA to use their weight room, pool, and yoga classes. We are also joining a local cycling and running club to get some community support and to make friends. I’m also interested in barre and martial arts, but I’m not sure if I will jump into that right away.

I’ve never run a half-marathon before. In fact, I really haven’t run at all since my time in Army, so I have no idea what I’m doing. But, then again, I had never really biked before my first cross-country ride and that seemed to turn out okay. I am taking precautions with the running and will be consulting with professionals to make sure I have the right shoes and get a training plan that works for me. I know that running uses different muscles than cycling and is harder on the knees. As much as I want robot knees someday I don’t think the technology is advanced enough in 2016, so I should probably take care of my body.

I will be very likely be recording this time in detail and blogging about it. I want to keep track of my weight, measurements, and such during the few months leading up to the half-marathon. During this time I will take lots of nude pictures to have a visual record of this time, and they will probably be shared on this site. Don’t worry, I will provide ample warnings to prevent anyone from accidentally seeing my booty or flaccid penis in these non-sexual (kind of medical) pics.

This break will also give me an opportunity to focus more on my writing. I am dedicated to finishing the book about my solo cross-country bike ride, as well as submitting some of my sci-fi story ideas to be published. Anna and I are also working on a series of children’s books about our adventures around the US and a “Couple’s Guide to Adventuring” that will share what we’ve learned by spending two years together cycling nearly 10,000 miles.

Another thing we are looking forward to is accomplishing things that are impossible on the road. We want to expand our sex life to be more than just “maintenance sex”, we want to start gardening, and I want to become fluent in a foreign language. I’ll also be doing a lot of reading about transpersonal psychology to decide if that is a future career path.

To be honest, the thing I’m looking forward to most is building a community. Some of the clubs we will join will help with that, but I also want to start volunteering. I’m sure I can find local animal shelters, LGBT community centers, women’s shelters, and Planned Parenthood facilities that can use support and volunteers. The kindness of strangers has been such a part of my life and I want to make sure I’m returning the karma.

Anyway, I’m fucking excited and I can’t stop making lists and schedules and researching all the things I want to do. My little heart is all a flutter with the possibilities.

 

*Facebook Announcement*
“After a short conversation, Anna and I have decided to stop the bike ride for a few years after this next week. There were several factors that influenced this decision. None of them alone would be enough for us to alter our plans, but all of them together made us realize that we needed to change.

First, we just weren’t having that much fun anymore. Our frustration and stress runs deeper than the shitty roads of the south. We both started dreading the days when we had to ride. We love cycling, but that doesn’t mean we want to be forced to do it. It is better to stop now than to keep going until we hate it.

Second, we have been presented with an opportunity to live with our friendIvy for a few months and then move to Wilmington for a few years. As wonderful as it is to travel, we haven’t really had solid home since 2014 and we miss it a bit. We want to do home brewing, yoga, gardening, go on our honeymoon, get tattoos, learn to dance, begin fire staff again, take up rock climbing or surfing, foster animals, go to Burning Man, host Couchsurfers, take classes, etc, and that is more plausible with a home.

Third, the current logistics would make much of our journey a terrible rush… and we don’t want that. It is hot as balls and we would be on time crunch to get north.

So, what does that mean for you?
Probably nothing, unless you want to come visit us in Wilmington and hang out on the beach in the next few years. You have a place with us.

Post-Script: There was a surprising surge of anxiety about this while we discussed it. We felt like we were quitters or something… Luckily, we realized that bullshit. It is our life to do what we wish, and that includes changing your mind. You shouldn’t let past decision prevent future pleasure.”

*Starting Meal Plan*
Total Calories: ~2,000
Protein: ~77g
Fat: ~65g
Carbs: ~227g

Breakfast – Oatmeal with fruit, black bean and veggie scramble, avocado toast (~820 calories)
Snack 1 – Almonds (~100 calories)
Lunch – Veggie wraps (~450 calories)
Snack 2 – Grilled tofu salad (~150 calories)
Dinner – Veggie soup or bowl or chili (~300 calories)
Snack 3 – Fruit and nuts (150 calories)

Starting Meal

My Worst Addiction

Yesterday, an acquaintance of mine wrote this blog post which really resonated with me. The post discusses his relationship with politics and political news and is well worth the short read. For me, my relationship with politics has become increasingly painful. What used to be an exciting hobby (or even a career passion) has become a source of pain and discomfort.

The more rational I get about politics the more I realize it is a waste of my time, particularly when it comes to sharing political news. Not only is it a waste of my time, it is something that is actively making my life worse. It sucks up my time, makes me angry, and reinforces an “us vs them” tribe mentality. Make no mistake, politics is a drug (especially in the form of Facebook). I know that not all drugs are equal, and some can be incredibly beneficial. My own use of MDMA makes me open to experimentation and I recognize the benefits.

The problem forms when the drug starts to take over your life. When the need to argue with people (even though it won’t change anyone’s mind) or the desire to have the most updated news (even though it literally doesn’t matter) starts to interfere with your health, career, and life. News can actually have value if it leads to other positive change. If you find out about a natural disaster and donate blood or money, that is a wonderful use of news, but that doesn’t require hours of scrolling Facebook each day. This is something that Tim Ferris talks about in his book “4 Hour Work Week”, if news is important then you will find out about it, you don’t need to go searching. It is a waste of time to need minute-to-minute updates on the world, 99% of what you encounter will have no effect on your life and will be completely irrelevant in a matter of days or hours.

When I realize I’ve spent three hours on Facebook scrolling and sharing articles instead of meditating, writing, working out, going for a walk, having sex with my partner, reading, studying, sleeping, socializing with friends, or working, then I have a problem. When I feel the impulsive need to check certain websites the moment I wake up, or “just one more time” while lying in bed, then I have an addiction. When I have a regretful hangover at the end of the day when I realize I didn’t do the things I wanted to do or that I didn’t take care of my personal health, then I have a problem. Politics has stopped being a hobby and started becoming heroin*… and maybe worse, I’ve become a drug dealer to those I care about.

So, I think it is time to make another focused effort at weaning myself of the drug. I love Facebook for a lot of things, including getting news that is positive (we live in the safest, most awesome time in human history and science is doing some fucking awesome things) and communicating with friends, but it is terrible for true change in the world. Sharing an article about the homeless issues that effect LGBT individuals replaces volunteering at a shelter to help those individuals. Sharing an article about yoga replaces going to a yoga studio. Sharing an article with writing tips replaces actual writing. Facebook allows us to signal who we are without actually producing anything of value. Sharing a post is literally the least you can do to help change the world.

I know, despite my best efforts, I will probably back chasing that political dragon looking for a fix. But that’s okay, the effort matters and with effort, support from family and friends, and some tools (ie StayFocused app on Chrome) I can improve my life. Research on addiction shows that it isn’t as much about the drug as it is about the community, if I can build a community without politics then I can escape it’s clutches and focus my creative energy on something of actual value, something that actually matters. Hopefully, the community that I have will stay with me if I shake of politics completely, I would like to imagine our friendship is deeper than libertarianism.

*I actually kind of hate using heroin as the evil drug example. I know people who use heroin recreationally without any addiction, and I’m not really in a place to judge other’s drug of choice. Hell, their use of heroin is healthier than my use of politics and some of my food habits. But, it is the drug that most people are familiar with as having a really high level of addictiveness. Maybe I should have used nicotine instead…

Passion and Partnership

I love my partner, but I have never had some sort of earth-shattering passion for her. We had the normal “new relationship energy” when we met, but our relationship developed along unconventional grounds. We were a one-night stand and then we didn’t see each other for about three months because I was on a cross-country bike ride. We texted (and probably sexted) a bit, but there was nothing particularly emotional about it. When I arrived in Los Angeles, the city she had recently moved to, we became friends with benefits but both still dated other people. Eventually, over time, we realized that we had a lot of important things in common and our relationship grew into what we are today.

I’ve had strong passion for people in the past (particularly when I was a teenager and in my early 20’s), but those relationships were almost always bad ones. The passion and fire to be with a person blinded me to how incompatible we were and how abusive the relationship was. Passion is often illogical and it prevents us from making decisions that are good for us. I think we all have said at some point in our life (or know someone who has said), “I know we aren’t good together but I love them so much!” or “I know this can’t work long term but I love them!” or “I know they don’t treat me well but I love them!”. If the only thing that is keeping two (or more) people together is a passionate love then that relationship should probably end. Passion is the worst reason to stay with a person.

My partner may have more passion for me than I do for her, but that would be okay. There is nothing about a relationship that needs to be a 100% equal exchange. In fact, it is probably dangerous to shoot for that or to “keep score”. If both people are happy and getting what they need then the actual acts are unimportant, there can be an inequality in the number of times someone washes the dishes, says I love you, gives oral sex, buys gifts, feels passion, etc., as long as everyone is feeling satisfied and can communicate their desires.

So, I don’t have that passion that poets speak of for my wife, but I do love her. I miss her when she is gone. I long to spend my life with her. Our relationship is based on many things (including love), it is based on our compatibility now and in the future. We have similar life philosophies that naturally revolve around a mixture of stoicism and minimalism. Neither of us want kids and we both want to travel a lot in our lives. We would like to experience new things, live a variety of places, enjoy recreational drugs, and only work when it is necessary. We have similar views on non-monogamy and what defines “cheating”. We both want to grow as individuals, as well as partners, and we support each other in our pursuit of things that may not interest the other person.

We also both realize that there may come a day when this partnership is no longer good for us. Hopefully, we will grow and change over time, bit that means there is the risk that we will grow apart and become less compressible. We both agree it would be better to end it and remain friends instead of dragging it out in the name of “love” or because we spent so much time together (sunk costs are everywhere).

I feel like she is my first true partner. She isn’t just my spouse, which is a title that can be given to anyone with the proper court documentation, whether the people like each other or hate each other, whether they are truly compatible long term or not.  My partner is someone who helps me become a better person, and I work to help her become a better person. Neither of us is a crutch for the other person, instead we accomplish things as a partnership that we couldn’t do alone. We are both “in good working order”, as Dan Savage would say, and we aren’t dependent on the other person for emotional, physical, or financial health. We could survive (and thrive) without each other, we just don’t want to right now.

So, I have a hard time relating to the poets or people who say things like “marry the person you feel an intense burning in your soul for” (I don’t know if that is an actual quote but I’m pretty sure I heard something like that somewhere). That type of fire is a fickle beast, it can burn out during a rain storm or it can rage out of control and devastate everything in its path. Human relationships should have a foundation that is more stable than passion, especially partnerships you hope will last a lifetime

Creepy

Last night we set up our tent in the shadows of an abandoned house in the North Carolina woods. The house was creepy, but it got us wondering, what exactly makes something “creepy”? Why do we get creeped out by certain things?

It seems that thinking something is creepy is related to danger, or at least perceived danger. It is part of the flight or fight response, it gets our body prepped to take on danger. It isn’t just that though; we can easily recognize danger without feeling creeped out. When we bike up to a busy highway we know it is dangerous, but it isn’t creepy. We can even be afraid and not be creeped out.

Perhaps creepiness is when we feel something is dangerous because it doesn’t conform to the way we expect things to be. Horror movies use creepy “monsters” who seem human, but there is something off about them. The “inbred monster” movies such as The Hills Have Eyes have humans who are distorted from years of inbreeding, their eyes and bodies don’t match what we expect and that makes them creepy. And the creepiness can make us afraid, we see it as danger. Occasionally one of the “monsters” turn out to be good, but it takes a while for the protagonists to overcome their assumptions and trust the friendly person.

When someone is acting creepy in a bar (usually a man towards a woman), it is because they are acting in an unexpected way, a way that doesn’t conform to our expectations. And that behavior is read as dangerous. I don’t think this caution is unjustified. In fact, I think it is fairly reasonable to believe that someone who doesn’t conform to social norms in a public place may not conform to them when in private. And when we are talking about situations where one person is particularly vulnerable to another, it is probably prudent to be cautious.

So, what makes an inanimate object like a house creepy? I think the reasoning is similar. When we see an abandoned house falling down or a house that isn’t being kept up we see it as creepy, it isn’t how we expect things to be. We expect our homes to be manicured in a certain way and to last forever. We don’t want our human possessions to feel the effects of entropy, we believe we can overcome nature and when we see our homes (the most intimate of places) start to collapse it just feels wrong. It is a glimpse into our own mortality, that we too shall collapse someday and our bodies will become dust. Nature will overtake us all. The danger is inevitable, no matter how much effort we put into something it will fail.

We are creeped out because it shows us our future, and our future is death (probably).

On the Road

I just finished “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac. This novel, which is probably one of the most famous American novels of the era, is the true stories of Kerouac (as Sal Paradise) as he takes four trips across the United States in the late 40’s and early 50’s. I really enjoyed the book and, in several ways, I could relate to a lot of what Kerouac experienced in terms of environment, people, and the spirit of travel in this country. Though, the times have certainly changed in the last 75 years.

I don’t know of Kerouac’s spontaneity was common back then, but if it was then times really have changed in spirit. He and his friends were willing to hitchhike, take buses, and do whatever was necessary to get where they wanted to go. They wanted to get from NY to SF, so they found a way. They rarely had money, so they just figured it out as they went along. They lived in a time when clean water was not readily available, cross-country communication was expensive, money took time to be transferred, and cars were unreliable, but they did what they desired despite the dangers. It is ironic that we currently live in the safest, most stable time in human history but people are more afraid than ever. It has literally never been easier to go on an adventure but people crave security over liberty, even though security is less needed.

Maybe Kerouac and his crew were an exception to the average person living in post-WWII America. Just like some of the people we meet on the road are the exception to modern Americans. Maybe in all generations there is a stable percentage (1%? 5%? 10%?) that have an insatiable drive to explore, experience, and wander, even at the expense of their sanity or their lives. I think we need this crazy ones, the ones who explore the depths of our mind and spirit, the Earth and the heavens. They help push humanity forward, as painful as that journey can be, it is necessary to find new barriers to blast all to hell.

Or maybe I’m missing the whole point of “On the Road”.

I’m going to re-read this one soon. It had so many beautiful passages that articulated the extreme emotions you can experience while wandering North America. I know that this book had a huge impact on the Beat Movement (something I know nothing about) and I want to read more of the books from that era. Luckily, Kerouac has given me a cast of characters who mostly all wrote books during that time that I can dive into. All in all, it was a good read that I finally got around to. In some ways I wish I would have read this sooner, but in other ways I’m glad that I finished it when I did. Books seem to come to me at just the right moment in your life, and this one was no exception.

Books

When I have some privacy, one of the first things I do when I arrive at a new host’s house is check out their book collection. I love books. Reading the words of another person is like sneaking a peak into their soul. Books are the source of personal growth and it is the technology that has allowed our species to move from being an agriculture based species to where we are today. I think there is a lot you can learn about the books on a person’s shelf, even if they haven’t read them.

I have boxes of books scattered across the country. Every time I stop for a winter or something I end up buying tons of books, it is the least minimalist thing about me, and I have a hard time parting with the books. Unfortunately, I have probably only read 10% of the books I own. Despite my best intentions, I can’t help but purchase a book that seems interesting to my interests, even when I lack the time to dive into it. Also, Amazon One-Click ordering is dangerous after a couple beers.

I’m not sure this is necessarily a bad thing. Books, like most things in live, serve a multitude of purposes. Yes, the primary purpose is to share the words inside… but I could get that with Kindle books (something I’ve tried to dive into several times but I keep breaking my Kindle). I think purchasing books and displaying them is a secondary purpose that has value, it is like purchasing a piece of art. It is a way to share your interests with others in a passive way and provide them with an opportunity to break the ice about subjects they are interested in. It is a way to find common interests, even if neither of us has read the actual book on display.

Of course, I want to read the books, but sometimes I find my concentration and patience are too weak to really dive into a book, particularly non-fiction. I think school killed my passion for reading and learning, and I am just now finding ways to get it back. Which is unfortunate, I used to read a lot more, but after 16 years of being forced to read what others selected and being asked to analyze it from their point of view the idea of reading is sometimes off-putting. I do still read, I see the value in it and I get a lot out of each book I pick up, but there isn’t the enjoyment that I once had.

Things are getting better though. I’m finding the discipline to put down books I’m not enjoying (and that doesn’t serve some sort of further purpose like preparing for grad school) and getting more pleasure out of it. It, like so many things in life, is a combination of practice and reward. Sometimes a book is just practice, preparing for something else, and sometimes a book is a reward unto itself.