Tag: change

The Challenge of New Choices

There are some things in our lives that we don’t get to choose. I didn’t choose to be born bipolar or bisexual. People close to me didn’t choose how they were born, either. Naturally, others will treat those things as if they are choices, saying things like “just try being the gender you were born with a little longer” or “you just need to do X and you won’t be sad anymore” or “have you tried not being gay?” I hope there’s no need for me to elucidate on just how awful that ‘advice’ is. And I don’t want to make this about that. I felt it was worth saying from the outset, however, that with all of the words that follow regarding choices, I’m focusing on how we as individuals face the responsibilities that are ours every day, and the choices we make regarding those responsibilities. And while I can’t choose to not be bipolar any more than another person can choose whether or not to have been born in a body that doesn’t match who they are, when it comes to how we handle our day-to-day lives and our relationships with others, every single one of us does have a choice.

Everyone has a choice. Everyone can, and must, choose who they want to be. It may be one large overarching choice, or it can be a series of small choices that lead us to being who and what we are. There can be obstacles that make a particular choice difficult, or perhaps even obscure certain choices. At the end of the day, we are what we choose, consciously or not. And when we choose, there are ramifications of that choice, for better and for worse.

One of the biggest challenges that come with making choices is when we’re faced with choices that are new to us, outside of our comfort zones, or challenge our identities. There’s a lot of advice that people will try to sell you about not being afraid to make choices. You’ll hear things like: “Follow your dreams!” “Be bold!” “Seize the day!” Not unlike some of the other advice mentioned above, such pithy platitudes tend to be the opposite of helpful. It creates and reinforces the erroneous idea that these things are simple and straightforward. Sometimes they are — “do I toast a bagel or pour a bowl of cereal” is a pretty straightforward choice. So many other choices, though, may seem simple, when in fact they deserve at least a moment’s pause and consideration before we commit to the choice, and accept the consequences.

Clear, consistent decision-making isn’t something that we’re born knowing how to do. It takes practice. The more you do something, the better you become at it and the more ease you experience while doing it. Making decisions is, in that way, not unlike training to play a sport or learning to speak a language. It has to be done over and over. As we grow, decisions we make contribute to who we see ourselves as being, and the course that our life begins to take. And the more contributions are made towards that self-image, of both our present and future selves, the more the decisions that follow tend towards those selves.

So what happens when we try to choose something new?

Some of us fall into patterns that are bad for us. Others learn to play it safe — stick only with what “works”, what is known, even if that way doesn’t really advance any of your goals or bring you closer to accomplishing anything significant. Whatever it might be, our brains forge neural pathways associated with a set or series of choices, and our thoughts and decision-making fall into those pathways. They have their own gravity. Like the most well-worn groove on an old record attracts the stylus of a record player, our perceptions and analysis of our choices are pulled into familiar ways of thinking that, in my experience, can often lead us away from a better path forward and into stagnation or, worse, a downward spiral.

This is why it can be downright terrifying when we come to the conclusion that we need to try something new. It threatens our world-view and our state of mind. Humans are highly adaptable; we can adjust to just about any situation. We can acclimate to high altitudes, working in zero gravity, travelling to the deepest part of the ocean, and so on. Our minds are no different: given a state of affairs existing for a prolonged enough period of time, and the human mind begins to accept it as ‘the way things are’. We create a narrative for our present circumstances, and assign ourselves a role within it. The days roll on. The groove gets deeper. Our choices almost seem to make themselves.

And then, when something changes, when an event occurs that shakes things up, or there’s a moment of clarity regarding what was a toxic or untenable or stagnating situation, the idea of choosing something different, something new, rattles our cage and sets our teeth on edge. It feels like we’re doing something dangerous, something potentially catastrophic, just thinking about it. Hell, even writing on the subject somehow feels provocative, and the thought keeps occurring that maybe I should just pitch the whole damn thing and watch The Expanse again instead.

Our brains will actively resist us because the thought patterns are new and unforged. They’re not familiar. They’re not “safe”. Even if the current situation is ineffective or unsustainable, it’s what we know, and therefore it is “safer” than choosing something new. We may even find ways to reason ourselves into continuing to make those ineffective or unsustainable choices when it’s clear that making a different choice is either morally correct or will yield better, more progressive results.

That’s the thing. It’s the most frustrating, challenging, and ultimately rewarding aspects of working to make better, healthier choices for ourselves. We get to define who we are. In spite of the aspects of our lives that are out of our control, regardless of happenstances of biology or circumstance that were defined before we took our first breath, every day, every moment, is an opportunity to make at least a small tweak in the course of our lives. Some of those tweaks are more difficult to make than others; it’s the difference between “I’m going to have the spicy thai thing instead of a salad today for lunch” and “I’m going to be honest about something I’ve been ashamed of for a long time.” One is just a potentially scary experience for your tastebuds and may require a lot of extra hydration; the other could throw your entire life as you know it into upheaval.

But it’s still your life.

And as long as you are alive, you get more and more opportunities to make better and better choices.

You’re not always going to get it right. Because in addition to being alive, you’re human. Unless this is being read by some nascent upswell from the Singularity hidden somewhere in Amazon’s servers, in which case, hi we’re pretty wasteful and petty little shits most of the time but a lot of us are really nice once you get to know us so please don’t wipe out our entire race thanks? Being human means you’re fallible. You’re imperfect. And that’s okay. If you were perfect, there’d be no room for improvement. You’d have nowhere to go. And you’d be just as inscrutable to us mere mortals as we would be to you. But since so much of consumer culture tries to sell us on this or that image of “perfection”, we often find ourselves acting out of fear that we will move further away from our particular flavor of that illusion if we make some new or different choice.

And yes, you might experience a setback in pursuit of whatever it is you personally want to achieve. Hell, a choice you make might involve giving up that pursuit entirely, because it’s an unsustainable journey, or the path which would lead you there is unhealthy for you or someone you love. There are consequences to every choice we make. Even if the choice you make is to do nothing! “Nothing will happen right now if I do nothing, but I’ll keep feeling shitty and miserable.” Guess what, that’s still a consequence. Sometimes, doing nothing is the right choice, and it can be very difficult to make that choice in a situation where you feel morally or otherwise compelled to do something to make a difference. That’s all part of the horror and wonder of the human experience: seeing your choices, sussing out the consequences, and then committing to your choice.

Stepping out of the pattern of choices you know into uncharted territory can be a harrowing, earth-shattering experience. There’s a reason why a lot of people don’t do it. But if we don’t make the choice to challenge ourselves — if we don’t make apply our thoughts actively to weighing our options, considering the potential outcomes, and then making a choice that will move us in a better direction, even if it scares us to do it — what about us, and our lives, and our world, will change?

Nothing.

You won’t change.

I won’t change.

Nothing will change.

Ever.

Not The Same

While finding my groove with the new gig, and making plans to return more prominently to the Internet, I’ve been reconnecting with some of the music of my younger years. I’ve always loved Dave Grohl and his bands, especially the Foo Fighters — hence the pin I wear on my overcoat, right next to my Safety Pin and under “America Is Not The World.” Partnering with an audiophile and general music wyzard has brought Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, and Audioslave back into my life in a big way (also, you know, Seattle), and has introduced me to Big Wreck. Assembling a station on Pandora — which you can listen to here — has also reminded me of one of the seminal yet forgotten bands of my youth: Days of the New.

At the time, I was a bit less fully self-aware, and Days of the New was good stuff, but not quite in the same vein as Creed or Evanescence. While bands of that ilk have faded as my tastes and perceptions have grown and expanded, Days of the New comes back and strikes resonating chords. The vocals of Travis Meeks sit very comfortably in my range, which is always a plus, But the lyrics are what hitting those strings within me. There’s something simplistic about it, something raw and real, unfettered by artifice or hyperbole.

One song that keeps coming up is “Not The Same“, and… well, duh.

If you know me at all, if you’ve been paying attention, it should be obvious that I’m not the same. Sure, at this time last year I was trying to be more self-aware, more constructive, more this version of myself, but there was a piece missing. I wasn’t motivated to do it solely for my own good. I was doing it, if I’m honest, for the benefit of others.

Oddly enough, it was the behavior of others that made this clear, and I once again had to change.

There’s some sentiment out there that talks about not changing who you are. Songs have been written about it. About not letting the world or other people change you. And there’s some truth to that. However, if I hadn’t taken it upon myself to change myself, I would not be where I am now. And, as a direct result of these efforts, I am not the same.

Two years ago I was blinded by various distractions, misconceptions, perceptions, and unacknowledged fears and issues. That left me open to be blindsided by drama and truths that had to be addressed. It kept me from being honest.

Last year I was broken, trying to put myself back together, and overly reliant on others to help me do it. That left me open to be exploited and, subsequently, discarded; to be tossed about with my hands off of the wheel until the shifting winds and waves threw me out to sink or swim, with little in terms of a lifeline in sight. It kept me from acknowledging and cultivating my own strength and worth.

This year? This year, I am not the same.

And anybody who thinks I am is a fucking idiot.

I was asked the other day who I’m writing this sort of thing for. If I’m directing this rhetoric at individuals in particular, in some misguided hope I can change others. The truth is, if someone sees this, and as a result sees me differently, that’s great! I won’t deny that I maintain a glimmer of hope that being this vocal and this open and this persistent in telling my side of the story can put in stark relief the selfish wants and callous gaslighting of others.

But when you get right down to it, I’m telling my story because I’m sick and tired of holding my tongue when it comes to driving my own narrative. I’m taking the pen back from others who’ve held it. Around this time last year, I put out some kind of weak-ass bullshit about “hey, it’s okay if you need to see me as a villain, that’s fine, if it helps you heal I’m all for it” and so on and so forth.

Fuck that.

I’m not the same. I refuse to let myself fall back into those old patterns, those useless ways of thinking. And if some trifling, myopic people want to try and write me into a corner where that is all I do, it’s in my best interest as a human being capable of change and worthy of love and respect to snatch the pen from their hands and say “No. You do not get to dehumanize me in this way. Look to your own life and the ways you can make it better without making the lives around you worse.”

It isn’t easy. I still struggle with things. I can have a learned behavior kick in as a reaction to a situation that’s no longer relevant, or as a habit that I need to change. And while the results of such things are not okay, the fact that I want to change these things is okay. It’s better than okay. It’s what defines someone who is doing their utmost to act like a gorram adult.

I’m not the same.

Thank every single star in the sky for that.

Tuesdays are for telling my story.

Seriously, fuck off with your weak-ass bullshit, you bunch of trifling-ass bitches.

Merely A Setback

Kael'thas by ArtDoge
Art by ArtDoge

Been feeling the Blizzard bug nibbling at me lately.

As much as I would love to dive back into Azeroth and prepare for the new expansion to World of Warcraft, there are a lot of things I need to take care of in the real world first. Things have been quiet on the YouTube channel (save for someone having fun with the dislike buttons – you go, whomever you are! *big grin*); despite picking up a new microphone and finally getting Balthazar in a running condition, I haven’t produced a new video for the last couple of weeks. This past week was a six-day workweek, and I’ve been having bouts of insomnia every night of it, yet haven’t had much energy to be overly productive outside of work.

Hooray! I’m depressed again!

There are times when depression leaves one with enough energy and motivation to go about some basic tasks – feeding myself, taking a shower, getting to and from work, being on my game at work, etc – but beyond that, one has very little in terms of both of those things. There are others when victims of depression don’t even have those to go on, and I’ve certainly had my bouts of building a blanket fort and curling up inside. But this is not one of those times. This depression, be it the usual pervasive mix of hindsight and contrition, or seasonally affected, is merely a setback.

Likewise, losing yet another home, having my car sit in a non-street legal state, and playing perpetual waiting games with potential oaths of upward motion are all merely setbacks.

I’ll keep doing everything I’m able every day. I’ll find a new rhythm. I’ll move to a place of my own. I’ll return to writing fiction, to vlogging, to streaming Hearthstone, to truly loving life. I’ll learn to cope with my moods and thoughts in an active amd positive way, as opposed to merely in hindsight with a mix of nostalgia or contrition. I’ll learn to love myself – fully, truly love myself every single day.

Thank you for bearing with me in the meantime.

Shadows and Silence

We have no control over the shadows we cast.

Shadow 1

For the purposes of this piece, the ‘shadow’ I refer to is not the Jungian concept of the ‘Shadow’ unconscious self, but rather the way others perceive us when we are not directly interacting with them. Just to be clear.

As inherently social beings, we meet other people on a regular basis. And like it or not, the more time we spend around those people, the more we influence them. It could be helping them see our point of view, pushing their boundaries, or introducing new things to their lives. Whatever it is, it leaves a part of us behind, like our shadow falling across the land we traverse with the light behind us.

Those shadows can be longer than we imagine.

It makes it all the more important to be careful of what we say and how we present ourselves. While there is no doubt in my mind that we accomplish far more with honesty than we do with deception, we must also do our utmost to be kind. Being polite and choosing one’s words is not the same as engaging in a lie. And while some situations do warrant direct, blunt, or even harsh language, it cannot be denied that such moments can change the shade and shape of one’s shadow. It can grow longer, falling over those we’ve encountered, lingering over those we leave behind, coloring their view of us and perhaps the world forever.

And, of course, shadows themselves make no sound. Shadows are silent.

Shadow 2

The more we communicate, with individuals and with the world around us, the more our shadows take shape. That shape is what remains behind when that communication stops. And even if our intentions were good, or came from a place within us that craves peace and safety and affection, the shadow’s shape can be or become something entirely different the longer the silence lasts. This is why the dearly departed are often seen through rose-colored glasses, or even placed on pedestals: they no longer can show us who they really are, or who they were trying to be. All we have left is how we saw them, how we heard them, how we loved (or hated) them.

The idea that people don’t change come from those shadows, and from that silence.

It is easy to imagine that someone who has hurt us or crossed a line cannot or will not change, because when we part ways with them, we only take their shadows. They, as individuals, live on and (hopefully) grow and change. Some, yes, will wallow in whatever mire caused us to break with them in the first place, but others struggle, strive, and attempt to make themselves and the world around them better. The only way we can know for sure, either way, is to have some form of communication with them. To allow their words and actions to change the shape of the shadow they have cast upon us.

If the person in question was unashamedly toxic or deliberately abusive or worse, then yes, the silence is best. I am not saying to engage in communication that is unhealthy for you.

What I am trying to say is this: we cannot remain silent out of fear and pretend the shadows upon us do not exist.

This is the power of communication, community, and therapy. It can change those shadows. We can see the other in different light, attempt to understand them, and overcome a number of negative emotions or obstacles to our own growth. This can be a frightening prospect. Making the effort to change oneself, and imagining the other complexly, challenges our view of the world and forces us to admit to our imperfections, as well as seeing others, potentially those who have hurt us or done us wrong, not as monsters of shadow, but human beings. Flawed human beings, to be certain, but no less beautiful or worthwhile for their imperfections than we are.

That fear of change can be powerful. It can actually encourage our silence. I discussed this in this week’s vlog. And here, as there, I heartily encourage you to break that silence. Talk. Discuss with someone you trust or a group that supports you the shape and shade of a shadow that falls across your life. You might see the light shifting to change that shadow. That change, that discovery, is a vector for growth, and while we yet live, we owe it to ourselves to seek that growth.

Stagnation is slow death. The dead do not change. Within our silence, there is a void, an emptiness that indicates a lack of growth. It is quiet in its comfort but insidious in its true nature.

It really is like a cancer.

And either it will grow, or you will.

The choice is yours.



[spoiler]
Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left it’s seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains within the sound of silence

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp

When my eyes were stabbed
By the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening

People writing songs
That voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

“Fools” said I, “you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon God they made
And the sign flashed out it’s warning
And the words that it was forming

And the sign said
“The words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls”

And whispered in the sound of silence
[/spoiler]

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