First pages

Growing up I loved the idea of a journal, a place where I could write down what was going on with me and where I was going. The kind of diary a ship captain or adventurer might have. I would buy a book and then sit down and write out what was going on, only to read it over later and come away profoundly disappointed.

This wasn’t how a journal was supposed to look. It didn’t feel the way I imagined it would. So I ripped out the page and then, maybe the next day, maybe a couple days later, I tried again. Maybe that one stuck. But the next day didn’t. Unlike a journal in a movie or a book, it didn’t have a consistency. I was one thing one day and another the next. It wasn’t a story, it wasn’t a collection of exciting (inciting?) incidents. It was just what happened to me. It was my life, I suppose, and it didn’t look right.

I have dozens of barely started notebooks in a box in the basement. The first few pages of notes from more than a hundred ideas. Some are stories, others are journal entries. I have mission statements, I have promises to myself. All of it revolving around the central idea that if I got this right, this beginning, and continued to get things right, then it (my life) would work out.

This is real definition of insanity type shit right here. Always expecting a different result.

A few months ago, I read (the audiobook version) of a book by Laurence Gonzales called Deep Survival. It’s a book about survivors, about the mental and physical commonalities that survivors of all different types of accidents share. I read the book at first out of sheer interest. I’m still tinkering away at the goblin book, and was thinking about learning more about what a person struggling to survive would act like. But the more I read, the more the book affected me. In the opening chapters I realized I would not be a good candidate for survival in a real wilderness situation. I’m a rule follower, and apparently they don’t fare too well outside of civilization. A few more chapters in I came away from the book in tears, because even though it was talking about the stages of being lost and how to get out of that state, I saw a metaphor for my own situation.

For years now I’ve been trying to get my shit together, professionally and personally. On the family front, with my wife and child, I’ve got that sewn up. I’m rock solid on the family side of things. But when it comes to my individual goals I’m in the same grey space I’ve been in for the last five years. All of this was drawn into glaring focus after a recent upset at work, but mostly it drove home that when it comes to personal accomplishments, I’m not happy and haven’t been happy for a long time and the only person who can fix that is me.

A week ago today, Ryan Davis, host and writer for the Giantbomb site died of natural causes in his sleep. He was 34 years old, a year older than I am now. I listen to the podcast every week and over the four or five years I’ve had Ryan talking in my ear for days if not weeks worth of content. I’ve come to know him and the rest of the crew through those weekly updates. They’ve made me laugh and they’ve given me a fun place to hang out on the internet. They pointed me to games that I wouldn’t have found otherwise.

When I heard that Ryan had passed it hit me harder than I expected it would. We’d never met. He read one of my questions out on the podcasts once, but couldn’t find my name to put to it at the time. That was the extent of our interaction. But I’d watched him and listened to him for hours and I saw a guy that went after what he loved and in his too short time with us accomplished a lot. He was happy. Not all the time, and he worked long hours, but he seemed to be a guy who was happy doing what he was doing. For the past couple days since hearing the news I’ve been confronted with the fact that I can’t say the same thing. Not in the slightest. And if I died tomorrow there would not only be a lot left undone but unattempted.

Gonzales references something that D.H. Lawrence writes where every year we silently pass the anniversary of our future death. We don’t notice it, we can’t, but it’s there. Just a regular day every year until it’s the last. And I don’t know where that day is, but seeing a guy like Davis go so soon pushes home that there really is no time to waste. If you’re going to go, you have to go now.

I don’t know what the right steps are. I don’t know what the right words on the first page of the notebook should be. If I’m going to move in a direction, I want to know with a guarantee that it’s the right direction. But I can’t. Despite how hard-wired that desire is in me, it’s not something that’s possible.

According to Gonzales, one of the problems that most people have in a survival situation where they are lost is thinking of themselves as someone who is lost. They think about the destination, where they wish they were, and they paint their current situation in that light. What that does on a brain level is change your interpretation of the information around you to suit your desires. You want the path of least resistance to lead you home? You’ll go that way even if it’s the wrong direction. A survivor is the person that understands that they are not lost because they are where they are. They find themselves first and from there make decisions.

Whether it’s Laurence Gonzales or Andy Whitfield, the first piece of advice is this: Be Here Now.

And that’s something I haven’t done. I’ve had my mind focused on where I want to be, not where I am. I’ve pulled away from friends and family. I’ve isolated myself and tortured myself over mistakes real and imagined. I haven’t always been the most fun company and all of this has culminated in making the wrong choices based on the wrong information.

I want to make the right decisions. I want to go after what I love.

So while this might not be the perfect first page of this new virtual notebook, it’s still the first and it’s where I am now, with words of a book and the pain of losing a friend I never met rattling around my head and my heart.

Goodbye, Ryan. I’ll miss you.