Monday, July 28, 2008

Day 205 - "But if I had a little more time to kill, I'd settle every little stupid thing...yeah, you'd think that I would"

Yesterday I completed my first half marathon. I finished in 2:23:55, or in 8,573rd (out of 10,506) place, to be technical. I was aiming to come in under 2:30, but in reality the real time I wanted to come in at was 0:10:00, secretly discovering at the start of the race that I was the Flash, and that all it took was the right conditions to bring out my secret super power. But, alas. I suppose this 'mortal feat' was worthy of noting.

Having achieved this personal physical milestone, and in the previous year reaching a new creative benchmark in writing a one man show, I've decided to look now to my career. The next thing I'd like to do is find myself not another "job" - something I've pretty much spent 40 hours a week going through the motions with since college - but a genuine "this is what I was meant to do, now pay me generously for it" career.

Here's the problem though - I don't know what the hell I want to do for a living. No, I shouldn't say that. It's clear what I want to do - something easy that pays a whole lot and doesn't take a tremendous amount of time*. But that's the part of me that assumes I'll hate whatever I have to do for a living. Which describes the vast majority of people's careers. In reality, I just can't think of something I'm convinced I'm good enough at that A) people are willing to pay me (generously) to do and B) I'm actually willing to spend a lot of time doing without eventually growing to hate it*.

When I'm daydreaming in the shower, or in my commute to work, I have the strangest fantasies of how I'd like to make money. They're not worthy of calling them hair-brained schemes or worthwhile goals - they're a different beast entirely.

This past week I fantasized about gaining the power to heal people. Just with my hands - I touch them and any illness they might have goes away instantly. I quickly realized that this would be a dangerous power - people would quickly seek to control me, study me, maybe even kill me, seeing my powers as those of a god. So, what I'd have to do is only let on that I can cure something minor, something innocuous. Specifically, male pattern baldness. This way, you see, people, men in their early to mid forties mostly I imagine, would line up in droves to help me cure them, (and in this fantasy I'm located in a small house at the top of a mountain in the furthest, most remote area of say, upstate N.Y.) and obviously pay good money. I would even consider letting it be known that I could not actually cure myself of baldness, as sort of an ironic twist on my cover story.

Then, once the sun went down (my "baldness curing clinic" would keep strict hours, from about 10-4 with an hour lunch), I would travel in cover of night, healing those who were truly in need - working with top scientists, a select few who I trust with my secret to cure the worst diseases in the world. And with those that I love, anyone who I would want to tell but I couldn't trust with my secret, I would simply cure them without them knowing, while they are asleep, or maybe just drunk. And that would be my awesome life/career/FUCKING COMIC BOOK LIFE I JUST SPENT AN ENTIRE MORNING INVENTING!!!

It's tragic, and at the same time hilarious to me that every career, real or fantasy, that I've ever pined for - from celebrity actor/writer to lead game designer to Superman doing construction (easiest gig on the planet, but oh would those unions hate me) involves me getting something without doing any of the work involved for it. I don't want to start off being a starving actor/artist, I can't stand (or more specifically, understand, given my grades in computer science in college) any of the minutiae involved with actual game design/programming, and I'm just way too lazy to invest the time finding another planet whose sun will give me superhuman powers.

With the race and with my show, and pretty much everything else I've ever theoretically put my mind to, I've had a road map to my goal. Run, run, run, write, write, write, beg, beg, beg. And sure, there's things out there like grad school to consider - but when you don't really know where you want to end up, it's not really a viable option to invest that kind of time or money.

I think the best advice I've ever heard is to keep doing what I love doing and hopefully one day I'll figure it out. Problem is, it's a chicken and egg situation - to do what I really love doing (read: sleeping until noon, followed by hours or doing nothing of any real societal value) requires me to have a lot of money in the first place.

Maybe I'll just win the lottery*. Man, that would be awesome.

-Matt "Half-Marathon" Shafeek

Yeah, but I'd still rather be playing: As a Bionic Commando!

*See: Gigalo.
*Again, see: Gigalo.
*And now I will fantasize about this in lieu of any real thoughts on career options.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day 190 - "Desperately Wanting"

I have a real problem learning people's names. I think that whatever part of the brain we have set aside for name retention is completely underdeveloped inside my brain. Either that, or I've had early onset Alzheimer's since I was about 4. I have to resort to stupid tricks to remember new names - associating it with a beloved cartoon character ("Ok, Chester, like Chester Cheetah the Cheetos Cat - you like Cheetos sir, because you are Chester Cheetah, that cat with the sunglasses) or in extreme cases, storing the information on my body, not unlike what's his name - that guy from Memento:

It's embarrassing and frustrating to no end, and I hate it. I even forget the names of people I had once fought so hard to remember ("It starts with an S - fuck, what is it - Stephanie? Samantha? Is she a character from Sex & The City, or did I label her as having a Steph infection?).

However, once I've gotten to know you, then we've entered a special place - a place that, while incredibly rewarding for all of those who are willing to take up the cause (i.e. friendship, general merriment), some may find it to be a little intimidating. I take my friendships quite seriously, and like the good Christian who quietly takes a mental note of every sin you make in front of him, I've immediately begun quietly judging you on all of your behavior.

Let me break it down a bit, because it's important for people to know the level of scrutiny they're being placed under:

We've spent enough time together that I've gotten my specific mnemonic device for you down. I'll make it a point to say hello to you when I see you, I will make it a point to remember certain details of conversations we've had, and I'll consider buying you a beer if it's your birthday or you recently told off your boss and got fired.

Paths to Promotion: You ask me how my "year off" is going, tell me about an awesome game you heard about and/or played. You put a cool new spin on saying my name.

Paths to Demotion:
You ask me if I've played that awesome new game yet. You introduce me to a girlfriend I'm more interested in getting to know than you. You are a vegan. You call me Mark.

If things are going really well, and at some point in our busy schedules we make plans to hang out together, alone or in a small group, without any particular cause of end goal in mind other than the business of eating or beating the snot out of each other in mortal kombat, then we've progressed to a Level 2 friendship. We have each other's phone numbers, you receive weekly emails from me inviting you to come see my improv team, donate to my cause and/or go to the movies, and I will probably delight you with stories about my cat on a regular basis.

Paths to Promotion: You read my blog (congratulations!). You seek me out on gchat. You ask me about the status of my cat. You've taken the trip to good 'ol Bed Stuy (do or die!) at least once.

Paths to Demotion:
You move to an area not reachable by NYC Metro or the LIRR. You tell me that video games/Chipotle/Lost are a waste of time/too many calories/not an awesome show. You are a vegetarian.

If things are going well and we're really gellin', then you may just be lucky enough to enter level 3 friendship, also known as BFF-dom. This is not only the hardest level to reach, but the hardest level to maintain as well. Those of you lucky enough to stay at level 3 for over a year should consider yourself very lucky to be in this exclusive club.

Paths to Promotion: You establish a "night" or a regularly occurring event that establishes our mutual desire to spend time together. You help me move. You buy or make me something awesome*.

Paths to Demotion: You start dating someone. You move in together. You get married. You have kids*. You turn down a burger one night.

There's a level of sarcasm associated with much of what I've said in this post. But those of you who know me well - and I'm talking to all the Level 3's reading right now - know that it's actually a lot more factual than you might think.


Yeah, but I'd still rather be playing: As Darth Vader in a world he has no business being in:

*Hint, hint - the stuff I like/want has been promoted regularly in this very blog!
*You would be amazed how many people make an error in judgment and wind up making every single one of the mistakes.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Day 183 - "Ooh, we're halfway there...oooohhh, livin' on a prayer..."

Well, here we are. Like some kind of desperate, crazed boomerang I'm on my way back home. One hundred and eighty three days without video games. It's a funny thing to stay, because I fully realize that that status applies to many, many other people. The same way I'm 10,768 days or so without crack cocaine, farm work, dancing at a disco and kidnapping a Chinese baby*.

Some things I've noticed and/or has happened to me:
1) I haven't had a day at any point that I felt would have been a lot better had I spent a lot of it playing video games. Again, an obvious statement, but it's something I'll have to remind myself of in six months. I have to not be doing other, potentially more interesting things in order to play.

2) Having said that, I haven't become the busiest, most exciting person on the planet*. I'm training for a half-marathon, reading a ton more, writing in this very blog, improvising regularly and so forth, but other than that, things are largely unchanged. I think I need to give up video games and win the lottery - then I'm certain things will be a lot more exciting for me.

3) My biggest time waster now? The internets. I have probably increased the amount of time I spend "reading up on" game related news, though not so much so that it literally replaced my gaming time. I think part of me just doesn't want to feel lost come January. I'm subscribed to 3 different gaming podcasts, which I rotate through on a weekly basis. Oh yeah, and my game "To Play" list has grown substantially.

Now, keep in mind it's not games themselves I'm spending all this time reading about, but gaming culture. Every day there are tons of interesting stories that come about from this ever expanding minority of men and yes, women who grew up with controllers in their hands and refused to ever put them down. Sure, some of them are embarrassing to a degree, but at the end of the day, they are my people, and I fully embrace them for all their flaws.

It's also an industry I hope to one day find gainful employment in, so to be clear, it's not like some kind of porn to me. Porn is still porn to me.

4) TV watching has stayed almost exactly the same, if not slightly lower due to the writer's strike. Same with movies - though I have noticed I've been watching a few more netflix lately.

5) I've estimated that I spend approximately $75/mo on games and game related products each month, so I've saved about $450 so far and I'm looking to save about $900 total for the year. That's apparently about what smokers who quit save as well (plus you know, their lungs). That money is going to go towards a nice high definition television come about Christmas time - which will in turn lead to more video game purchases. So you know...that's that.

6) I like NPR. I honestly didn't know what it was about 3 years ago. How about that?

7) I've been to no less than 3 separate parties that have busted out (in some cases, my own) games for everyone to play. And I've had to sit and watch. Or coach, sometimes. Because nothing says I can't coach. Now, while I may groan and roll my eyes at the time - it actually makes me happy to know that gaming has come this far - and it's no longer something people assume is solely for kids, or that you should be ashamed of doing.

8) Del Close was a crazy sumbitch.

9) My "year off" story, combined with my list makes for a great first impression and helps me out in a number of ways. One, I find out if the people I'm meeting are gamers - and if they are, it's an instant kinship. And two, no matter what, even if they thought I was crazy for having played games so much before I decided to give them up, everyone thinks it's noble what I'm doing right now. Which is great. Showing them the double-sided 50+ game list that I always keep in my wallet might take me down a few notches however, as they all slowly realize I'm just a ticking time bomb of overindulgence.

10) And finally, just so we're all clear - I'm still going back to games in January. I never intended to give them up forever, and while these past six months haven't been painful, and I'm certainly getting a lot of new stuff done I might not have gotten done otherwise, gaming is a huge part of my life that isn't going away. I will just have to figure out how to balance the old life with the new life - something anyone whose ever gotten married, had kids, or somewhere during middle age discovered that he has a new step-brother (which would surely to lead to some hilarious antics) would have to figure out as well.

The one thing on my to do list for the year that I haven't gotten to at all yet is cooking, since I've only cooked the three meals I know how to cook (bacon, eggs and toast, quesadillas, and pasta) since January - but when you're running 10-15 miles a week, there's no guilt about that. Post half marathon, I'll be sure to put some effort into it.

And that my friends, is my half year update.


Yeah, but I'd still rather be playing: As SPIDERMAN!!!

*Ok, ok, only 27 days without kidnapping a Chinese baby. I fell off the wagon last month. They're just so gosh darn adorable!
*Believe me, it's as shocking to hear as it is to say.