Another year, another birthday blog! This year I decided to ask those that wished me a happy birthday to contribute a writing prompt they’d like me to answer. Special thanks to Alex, Balt, Brian, Camus, Chance, Copper, Dakota, Doobie, Drakon, John, Kyne, Landis, Leeroy, Lokai, Milo, Mitri, Ray, Rosco, Sarge, Sepf, Simia, Soli, Tailsy, Toya, Tugs, and Vic for questions.
1. Do…you want to go to Nonna’s?
I asked Rob for a question for the blog and he misunderstood as me asking him to rephrase our birthday night plans as a question. My partner everyone! <3
But seriously dinner was great: garlic knots and alfredo sauce, chicken parm and pesto gnocchi, and a chocolate-dipped cannoli for dessert. Outside, socially-distanced, and only the nuclear household, but I’ll take it; it was great.
2. How’s lockdown, eight months in?
It’s been an unpredictable rollercoaster: a few genuinely good days, lots of up-and-down days, and more than my fair share of strangely-bad-for-seemingly-no-reason days.
But I think that’s just pandemic life. The extra bits of boredom, mixed with a relative absence of coping mechanisms, add a bit of randomness that doesn’t deserve much inspection but can sure be a bummer. I know I have to work extra hard to keep things fresh—I go new places, working from my car, walk in random sections of the city—but it isn’t always enough to prevent from getting sucked into self-pity and hopelessness.
Disclaimer: I am very, very thankful for my income, my partner, my roommate, the house, and all of the other privileges I have to get me through this. I just need to work on a better mental image of a positive future.
3. What’s going on with Bunker Club? Are you guys doing that anymore?
I really loved doing the 10-episode season of our podcast this year, but it took a lot out of me and I didn’t like how the routine was driving a lot of other things in my head to the background. However, I was pleasantly surprised with how much some of my friends really cared about what we were doing and I really hope to find a healthy way to do it again! If it’s up to me there will absolutely be a 2nd season of Bunker Club, and it this week doesn’t go so well, maybe sooner than later.
4. What little quirks about living in Deltona do you enjoy that you didn’t have by UCF?
Great question! It’s less busy. Less traffic, less busy roads, more walkable areas, more trees and hills, even more wildlife (see: Sandhill Cranes). It’s much closer to the coast and many other outdoor spaces which has been super nice this year. And whenever we need to drive out of Florida for a trip, it’s almost an hour closer to Georgia, which adds up! It’s definitely more like where I grew up and closer to the kind of place I want to live.
5. What was your favorite hike this year?
- Most interesting: Glen Burney Trail – We hiked it on a whim and thought it would be terrible. It turned out to be: extremely cool and extremely steep. We barely made it out of the trail in daylight…highly recommended.
- Most fulfilling: Stone Mountain to Cedar Rock Loop – The longest continuous hike we’ve done, amazing views, tons of variety of terrain and slope, and virtually no one on the trail with the best weather possible.
6. Your hiking video mentioned a video project at the end. What was that?
Oh, yeah! I replaced a cool mountain photo on my website with a video production! I wrote a little speech about me and my values, recorded several long takes on the side of the mountains in North Carolina, and cut a very narrow video for the header. You can check it out here!
7. What’s it like being a product owner?
When it’s good, it’s awesome. It’s the perfect marriage of web development knowledge and customer representation, and it’s a job I know I can do well that others have little interest in. And it’s hard work, and I love it! Watching a complex plan succeed is the ultimate sense of satisfaction, knowing I played a critical role in making it happen.
When it’s not good, it’s horrible. When your organization’s goals are not well defined, your customers non-communicative, and/or your team not interested, there’s almost nothing you can do but accept your fate. This is mostly how it’s been during the pandemic, sadly.
8. Are you trying to rob a bank?
I’ve been working from home like many of you, and with a smaller house in a disconnected neighborhood and two roommates, it’s been difficult to focus or find a comfortable place to sit and work. To mix things up, I’ve been working from my CR-V with my laptop on a mobile hotspot. As crazy as that sounds, it does wonders for my mood and focus, and it creates magical little opportunities to go out, get some coffee, and timebox some work before heading home. I’ve done this 100+ times at this point in the pandemic, and often cycle the same spots: the nearest shaded parking spots next to one of the three Starbucks around here, some nearby parks, libraries, and so on.
One day recently I backed into a shaded spot near a Starbucks because we had the bikes on the rack and I didn’t want them messed with. After a couple hours of working I was wrapping up when a police car pulled up directly in front of my car, threw the lights on, and began circling my vehicle. I was asked for license and registration and an explanation as to why I was “scoping out the entrance of a bank at closing while sitting in my car with a laptop open.”
Yes, you got it, the bank manager called the police on me because she thought I was planning to… rob the bank I guess? After explaining myself the officer let me go. It was pretty harrowing, but yet another lesson in “please try to be empathic and not assume the worst in everyone you see.”
9. Who is your role model these days?
I don’t think I cast a wide net these days—I’ve really cut back on following people on Twitter and I can only listen to so many podcasts—but for now, here’s a short list of people I really look up to and admire, mostly for their openness, genuineness and empathy:
- Kirk Hamilton
- Hank and John Green
- The McElroy Brothers
- Tim Cook (in most ways, maybe not some of the ultra-rich ways)
10. What is the most memorable food item that you’ve ever had (or had in the last year)?
I’ll do both! Within the last calendar year I’ll have to go with the meals we’ve had at Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack. Chicken strips with outrageously good and spicy sauce/rub, awesome sides and dipping sauces, and friends and family to share it with a few times. If you’re in Asheville, hit it up!
Ever? I’ll be hard-pressed to ever have a more satisfying first bite than the wings at Fuel ’n’ Fuddle in Pittsburgh. Standing in line until 11pm so the food is half price, ordering a mixed drink, the “5 Speed”, and downing half of it before food arrives; smelling the Cajun Jerk and Swamp Rub wings as the slide onto the table; and the feelings that rushed through my body as I dipped a wing into some spicy ranch and bit into the strong flavor. Euphoria at its best.
11. What’s your favorite movie?
I’m going to break the rules and just list some of my favorites, in no particular order:
- The Matrix
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
- Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
- Kill Bill Vol. 1+2
- Home Alone
- Minority Report
- The Fugitive
12. What’s the most memorable movie from your childhood and why?
I started out with a list of the cartoons I remembered that fucked me up (Little Nemo: The Dream Master, Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night, Sampson and Sally), but after thinking about it for a bit there’s really no comparison to the original Star Wars trilogy.
I taped the USA television airings of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi and wore out that VHS tape in my elementary school years. It was full of awkwardly-skipped commercial breaks and was missing the scenes cut for time, but I fell in love with it. Around 4th grade I realized that despite having a deep knowledge of the original film I didn’t know if I’d ever seen it through. With the help of a school friend, I got a separate (copied) VHS tape of A New Hope and it was like a religious experience completing the trilogy in my mind.
I went on to develop a bit of an obsession with Star Wars: got into the CCG, read a ton of the expanded universe novels, all that. These days it’s a bit overplayed, but before the prequels? It was like my religion.
13. What is your favorite musical instrument?
I’ll be cheeky and pick the Ricoh RP2A03, the sound processor in the NES. Chiptunes! They are the best. Here are some of my favorites from the console:
- Willow – Prologue
- Mega Man 2 – Wily Stage 1
- Bucky O’Hare – Yellow Planet
- Ducktales – The Moon
- Kirby’s Adventure – Grape Garden, Final Battle 1/2
- Little Nemo – Mushroom Forest
- Metroid – Kraid’s Lair
- Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors 2 – Stage Theme 01
14. How do you relax? Do you prefer to relax alone or with friends?
I find I’m most relaxed when I don’t have to worry too much about wondering if I’m doing what I want to be or should be doing at the moment. Not coincidentally, I find myself excited and motivated to work on organizing or completing goals and am most relaxed going out to get coffee and walking down a sidewalk just after burning down a backlog. I generally need to be alone to get through those periods, but I do prefer to share the time immediately after with Rob or friends.
If I can’t climb out of a hole and I need to relax, it’s way more difficult! But the method is similar: go out on my own to a park or somewhere I can walk, put some earbuds in, and listening to a podcast walking in the shade. As long as I can sip some coffee before, during or after, I’ll be smiling the whole time. Being in charge of where I go and having the freedom to set my own schedule for a little bit is very important.
I also love doing my own thing in the shadow of a larger group, like friends watching a movie or playing a game while I sit in the corner coding or playing a different game. Hanging out with groups small and large is super fun for me but takes a lot out of me, so I have to be choosy about when and how I do that to be happy afterwards. This makes hanging out with people, whether in person, at parties, or even just on Discord in a voice chat super unintuitive to me and it rarely occurs to me as an option, so I have to work a bit harder to get the benefits there even though I love and cherish my friends.
Surprisingly, video games don’t play a huge role here anymore! About the only games I can to play to unwind or relax are games I’m nostalgic for and can play with a muscle memory to enjoy the feeling of little-to-no challenge. I get frustrated super easily and while gaming is still a huge source of excitement for me, it’s not really aligned with relaxing much.
15. What are the top qualities you look for in a friend?
- curiosity and a sense of adventure;
- a willingness to focus on individuals and small groups over social media;
- and a respect for the desire and willingness to improve
16. Do you think you’ve lost any “traditional skills” as technology has gotten better and more pervasive? Do you miss older tech when it was more magical in your childhood?
Things are definitely different now but I can’t think of a good word for it. I really miss the early days of the internet, when exploring and leveraging make-believe in new, emerging spaces was common and normal. This era of hyper-connectivity, tailored experiences and responsibility of your actual image is a shame and something I find difficult to engage with.
However, I think the ignorance and innocence of childhood, combined with a lack of responsibly and a surplus of time, means basically anything feels magical then and less so now. More than anything, it seems much harder to allow myself to devote a lot of time to just one thing.
I try not to be too down about things now—I think we always have to find new ways to be and new spaces to exist in no matter what.
17. If you could only play one video game for the rest of your life, other than Tetris, what would it be?
Halo: The Master Chief Collection has continued to be a source of relaxation (there’s that muscle memory), excitement, wonder, and multiplayer joy, both co-op and competitive. And considering its cornerstone status and continued development for many years, I think it has a good chance to be around for years to come. Six (six!) Halo games, multiplayer, custom maps, Forge, Firefight, Spartan Ops… I could stand to do worse.
But Dance Dance Revolution is more practical. Playable as exercise or just an exciting rhythm game, official and custom songs could keep me playing alone or with others forever. And it would keep me healthy!
18. In what ways have video games contributed both positively and negatively in your adult life? And how has that changed over time?
On the plus side, gaming has given me a comfortable, go-to identity that feels right. It’s something I’ve always loved, and being able to hold onto it, still enjoy it, and still identify with it well into adulthood is awesome! In the right settings it can be the most relaxing or the most exhilarating thing I can do.
There’s been challenges. It’s been sad to see friends shy away from games and gaming trends that I favor and I struggle to enjoy some of the newer-style stuff, like MMOs and MOBAs. Gaming has also become more synonymous with a lack of social skills and emotional intelligence, and it’s felt like I want to be less and less associated with it over time. The biggest negative is probably gaming’s propensity to require a lot of time, a resource that gets more and more scarce with age. A game that wastes my time can set off my frustration quicker than almost anything.
The completionist tendencies I harbor are probably what I’ve struggled with most. I really took to the advent of achievements in the Xbox 360 era, and after creating 100k I switched to the Sony side and chased a similar goal. I’ve been really down on myself for gaming past my enjoyment just for the trophies, even going as far as turning off notifications. But I think at 35 I’ve found a healthy balance: I only play games I like, I only chase achievements that seem fun, and I set my own bar for each game I tackle. I go out of my way to keep only the games I’m tackling installed and delete them as soon as I hit my target. Achievements are still very meaningless, but I appreciate how they help me get over my hesitancy to commit to leisure time. They’re a great catalyst.
19. What were your favorite computer/video games when you were 10?
Unfortunately I only have the year of 1995 to go by (it’s funny how years before EXIF data are just a blur), but my best guesses would be:
- Myst (came with my Gateway 2000 PC)
- Descent (just the demo that came with my typing tutor software)
- The Journeyman Project Turbo (from my friend Keary)
- Donkey Kong Country and Mega Man X, both courtesy of my grandparents at Christmas
20. Are you excited for the new consoles? Getting any?
Honestly, not really! There are a couple games that look exciting this calendar year on the new consoles, but with all the stuff going on in the world and the hundreds of excellent games already out that could be played, it’s hard to be too excited! It’s an embarrassment of riches, but it’s definitely a dessert-before-dinner kind of feeling.
Thanks to Landis I have an Xbox Series X on pre-order but no PS5 at this moment. These systems are kind of like Apple products: you might not need one, but if you’re going to get it at any point in the near future, you might as well get it now. You’re going to pay the same price either way.
21. What would it take for you to become interested in VR as your primary gaming platform/method?
The Oculus Quest’s performance is enough proof that inside-out headsets are the way to go here. Also proof that Facebook ruins everything—I want to buy one, but I won’t let myself.
To make the switch entirely, it would have to be a Quest-type device, powered up significantly, but from a manufacturer that makes a profit on the device and store and not advertising, i.e., your data and you. And untethered from a single app/game store.
And someone to help me figure out VR Chat.
22. What things do you want to stop doing, continue doing, and start doing soon?
- Start: Applying for jobs out of state and interviewing
- Stop: Waiting for perfect opportunities to take action on my goals
- Continue: Creating, specifically audio and video productions
23. What’s one habit you want to change in the upcoming year?
I love and hate this question because it’s what I think about all the time and because I don’t have a good answer. But! If I had to pick one…
I tend to see bad feelings, negative emotions and bad outcomes as opportunities. Sometimes that helps (like in a pandemic), but when it’s just the natural flow of life—a down moment in the day, a bad work experience, an argument, a small disappointment—I tend to hold onto those emotions until I can “learn” something from them, or improve to avoid them in the future.
I’d really like to find a way or at least work toward letting go of that. Most bad things that happen will happen anyway, and how we react is really all we have control over. It’s tempting to try to use them as an opportunity to improve, but it’s much healthier to shrug your shoulders, chalk it up to life being life, and find the best way to move on. I’ve lost far too many days this year, especially in the pandemic, to really stupid and insignificant disappointments, and I’d like to remind myself to stop doing that.
24. You’ve been around long enough to try out lots of different hobbies and pastimes. What’s been the most surprising or most fulfilling? Or that you wouldn’t have predicted that you’d pick up?
This might be a lame answer, but walking, without a doubt. I can’t believe how much I enjoy just going outside by myself or with others and walking, for miles and miles.
I’ll also say kayaking, although I certainly don’t do it as much as I’d like. I guess I just didn’t realize how different and more enjoyable it was than canoeing and wrote it off for so many years, including all the ones I spent springs-adventuring.
25. If when things do open up and it’s safe, do you intend to travel abroad? Has the virus muted any of your wanderlust?
Absolutely adventurous! I’ve wanted to travel internationally for awhile. The pandemic and delay of…everything?…I’ve wanted to do with my life is just going to add extra motivation when the world opens up (and is safe). This virus and the reaction to it has reminded me that life is short, that you can’t assume your government or community or even fellow man has your safety in mind.
Plus I applied for Global Entry before MFF last year and that finally got resolved, so I want to use that too.
26. What international destinations do you want to go to? Top 3.
- Japan, to hike and to shop and get lost. Like I want to just do everything, from the ultra-nice rural areas to the trains and the big cities and the neon backstreets and the used classic video games. I want to have enough time to get lost multiple times and just see what I find.
- Nowhere specific in Europe, but enough time to train around and see places that aren’t crowded. Just chill and take it all in casually, and hopefully be able to visit the handful of friends I have over there.
- Australia / New Zealand, and no not for Lord of the Rings hiking (although that would probably happen), but for the same reasons as Japan: to just learn, open my eyes a bit, and do some of the out-of-the-way stuff that’s less crowded and more magical.
27. Where do you think the other multiverse versions of you would be right now? Do you think life would have pulled a “Bioware” and merged some of those threads back together?
That’s a tough one! I’ve made some fairly consequential decisions in my adult life, from leaving one college to transfer to another, to moving my partner across the country to stay in my single-bedroom apartment, to trying to move to Pittsburgh, to devoting the last 12 years of my life to the same employer. Thinking about how those decisions could have gone differently and what the alternative version of me would look and be like is not something I’m a stranger to considering.
I’m honestly not sure they would be very different, the more I think about it. Sure, they’d have different friends, different vacations, different jobs and different numbers in their bank accounts, but so so many things about us and our personalities are shaped so early in life by genes and our environment that I can’t imagine many of them would “feel” all that different inside.
Our cohorts and circles in the fandom are so small that I bet I would still be familiar with and perhaps good friends with many of the same folks. I’d like to think those friendships were sparked and are maintained by our interests, personalities, hopes and dreams, but it is wild to think about who might have ended up with who.
I think no matter where they’d all be, they’d all be under the same macro-effects of the world: Trump, the rise in authoritarianism, climate change, the critical and increasingly-hostile internet, and all that. And I don’t think many of them would be taking it well! But I know a lot of good things in my life now, like my weight loss, are directly a result of my relationships and friendships—without a caring and devoted partner, I’m not sure the other versions would be doing so hot.
28. If you had $100,000 to spend before the election, what would you spend it on? The stock market doesn’t count.
- Pay off the remaining loan on the CR-V
- Buy an iPad setup (new iPad Pro 11” or Air, a Magic Keyboard, a Pencil 2)
- Help some in-need artists and creators out of poverty and into college
29. How are you feeling about the election?
I want to say I’ve done everything I can. Now I just am trying my best to ignore it and focus what I can control and what the future is for me. Rather than try to worry about election night, I’m looking past it and thinking about what I can do for my life.
The outcome of a national election is important but it probably won’t drastically change my plans for the coming months. I would really like to join a public option though!
30. What do you see as your greatest accomplishment of your life so far? And greatest failure?
This is going to be relatively short compared to how long I’ve thought about it, but here we go:
- Accomplishment: Picking myself up from the doldrums of late 2016 to visit every state park in Florida and (over time) lose a ton of weight. Of course none of that would have been possible without my partner and many friends.
- Failure: Being far too complacent with myself and my situation, including where I live and where I work. I’ve gotten lucky in the interim, but it’s in spite of my hesitancy, not because of it.
31. How has the “meaning of life” changed for you over the years?
A heavy one! I’ll try my best. My meaning originated as a pursuit of perfection and an adherence to religious teachings, discarding traditional values like strength or popularity. I was a curious kid and I wasn’t shy about asking questions, and I met the reality of ridicule quickly enough to learn to despise the status quo. I took things like “pride is bad” and “put others before yourself” pretty seriously.
I’ve never really lost that whole “pursuit of excellence” thing through my 20s and into my 30s, but I feel like it’s become a hindrance as it’s forced these unrealistic expectations on everything: myself, my partner, my friends, my coworkers, elections, you name it. Only recently did I really even understand that my attitude was aiming so much higher than most of that frustration was something I was particularly sensitive to.
The “putting others first” bit has been a constant though and I’m very thankful for it. Giving a lot has given me a lot and it’s given a focus to my life and my career path. I still feel like a very selfish person—my standards tend to keep me focused on failure, on frustration and on repairing myself and my emotions a lot more than I’d like—but I understand what it means to be a positive force a lot more now. Not spreading negativity, trying to proactively show interest in others before speaking, focusing on the greatest impact I can have locally and not letting the macro stuff get to me.
32. What’s something to look forward to turning 35?
Perspective. There are so many things in life that you just can’t know, can’t understand until you’ve put in the time of trying, succeeding or failing, and learning from it. And even though older people will tell you to try to speed up that cycle of trying, failing and learning so you can grow into your own faster, you probably won’t believe it until then. But that’s okay!
You’ll likely have more control over your life, have better direction for what you’re after, be more financially stable, but that’s a lot of luck and forces out of your control. But you can pretty much guarantee you’ll know what you care and don’t care about by then.
33. What would a successful 35th year look like to you?
At this point, being alive and happy. Primary goals: moving to a new state, starting a new job, and hanging out with friends new and old. I’ve whittled away all of my small-stakes stuff. It’s time for the big ones.
34. Why is your character a raccoon?
I’m going to dodge this question as I’d love to write a short post about it separately, but in one sentence: because “raccoon” and my last name start with the same letter.
35. Dear reader, how did you make it this far?
Thanks for reading friend! You are what makes all of this worth it. 🐾