I recently had an epiphany after getting frustrated with the Half-Life 2 mod Black Mesa Source. I was frustrated because it’s punishingly hard for me, even on the easiest setting. Normally I’d quit in frustration, but I kept coming back for some reason. It prompted me to post on my blog about my great epiphany of how I need to have that attitude outside of gaming; when life knocks me down, I need to keep getting up and going back for more. If you saw the post during the 10 or so hours it was up, you’d know what it said. But I took it down. The reason: when I went back to the part that had been kicking my ass so hard, I just kept getting my ass kicked. There was a literal army sent to kill one man and far too few healing packs, and it was too much for me. I gave in and invoked god mode from the console just so I could get on with the game. My post became irrelevant because I gave up.
Funny thing about epiphanies: they’re easy to discover, and they’re very easy to pontificate about, but when it comes to actually applying them, that’s a different story. It’s where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. Epiphanies are inspiring. They are uplifting. They make you get up and shout, “Let’s do it!” But then you try to do it, and you get knocked down again. And again. And one more time just in case you didn’t get the point yet. The message is clear: you were failing before the epiphany, and nothing’s changed just because you read some inspirational words. If there’s no momentum behind that epiphany, well, nothing changes.
Now, Black Mesa Source is just a video game. I played it for no other reason than the desire to experience the events that led up to Gordon Freeman walking off that train into a dystopian city at the beginning of Half-Life 2. I should have just watched a Let’s Play on YouTube, but I figured I could get past my suckiness and play the game by myself if I played it on the easiest difficulty. Of course, I vastly underestimated my suckiness. It’s no skin off my teeth. I won’t cry into my pillow tonight because I failed at a stupid video game. I came to grips with the fact that I’m a lameass quite a long time ago.
Let me tell you a little bit about my life for a moment. In June of 2011 I was laid off work. I basically knew it was coming for about a year, but kept holding out hope until the end. I had been working at that company for seven years, and in the industry for thirteen. My life was good during that time. I was making enough money to pay for my gaming habit and have plenty left over without having to scrimp and save just to get by. I’ve been through that before and definitely hate it. I loved the town I lived in, my apartment was cheap but had everything I needed. Life was great. So losing my job sucked. Not in what it did to my life. I moved in with my father and brother, received unemployment insurance, and still had plenty of money, largely because my expenses had dropped drastically. No, losing my job sucked because it opened my eyes to some harsh realities.
So now we come to another epiphany, which actually happened a few years before I got laid off. As I said, I was happy. Living large, minus the lavish VIP treatment, but I’ve never been much for excess. As far as I was concerned, I had everything I needed. I was content. Only I wasn’t. Something seethed under the surface. I realized after some pondering that that contentment was a façade. In reality I was an out of shape college dropout in his late thirties who hadn’t had a successful romantic relationship, spent most of his time outside of work holed up in his apartment, and was working at an unfulfilling job instead of living his dream out as a published author or video game developer. I hadn’t done any of those things because they were hard. They required me to get up after I failed. They required me to maintain some self-confidence. They required me to endure pain, humiliation, and sacrifice. I was comfortable, and I thought comfortable was all I needed.
Of course, after I had that epiphany I promptly fell back into my old ways, swearing that I would “get to it someday.” We all know what someday means – never. That epiphany could only do so much to jerk me out of my cozy little lifestyle. Go back to school? Why, I paid off my debts. Why would I want to incur more? Go out and date again? Well, the girls have made it abundantly clear that they want nothing to do with me, so why should I subject myself to that self-esteem shattering humiliation anymore? Finish my novel? Well, that’s a good idea, but after an eight hour work shift I don’t want to do more work; I just want to relax with a good video game. I had the excuses to not act on my epiphany, and they turned out to be stronger than the epiphany itself.
Fast forward to August of 2011. I’ve lost that comfortable lifestyle, I live with my father, who needs 24-hour care, and I’m having one Hell of a time finding a new job because I really don’t have marketable skills and I don’t have a college degree. My life has a way of shoving my epiphanies down my throat. I was forced to come to terms with what I had discovered a few years before: I had to do something to improve myself. So I went to the local junior college and started studying computer networking. I even did a little writing now that I had a bunch more free time. It was going to be hard, it was going to take a long time, but I knew that my former complacency wouldn’t cut it anymore.
Now we get to the present. I found a job, and I’ve been working there for a few months. While I’m not anywhere near where I was before, I’m finding myself falling back into my old habits. I came here determined to exercise more, write fiction like nobody’s business, and continue my extended education. Guess how many of those things I did today? None.
Epiphany is a bitch. It dangles hope in front of your face like a carrot but leaves you to your own devices when you actually have to put it into action. Old habits are hard to break and even though my introspection keeps me hopeful that I can push on, I just fear that this old dog doesn’t have any new tricks left in him. Every time I make a run at some aspect of life improvement I run into a wall, whether it’s writer’s block, the expense of taking an online Game Development course, or hurting a muscle as I try to keep up an exercise routine. That’s not even including my own laziness.
I was just listening to a song on my iPod called “Wake Up,” by a group called Mad Season. This was a collaborative effort from the mid-nineties of some of the members of Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and Screaming Trees. Layne Staley from Alice in Chains does the vocals. I’ve always loved Alice in Chains. Staley’s haunting vocals and odd poetry just get inside my skin. This song is no exception.
At one point, the lyrics state,
“The cracks and lines from where you gave up
They make an easy man to read”
I wish I could sit here and write about what an exemplary human I’ve been. I mean, I’m not some scumbag. I try to be nice to people, and I have done and continue to do many acts of service for friends and family and sometimes even strangers. That’s all part of my upbringing. It comes naturally. But at the same time I’m not a strong person. I go along to get along, and that’s all. I don’t really push myself beyond my boundaries. I succumb to limitations. Black Mesa Source is just the latest thing I’ve given up on because it was too hard and frustrating. The cracks and lines have made me an easy man to read indeed.
This song is not one that brings me down, though. Earlier in the song Layne Staley says:
“Wake up young man, it’s time to wake up
Your love affair has got to go
For 10 long years, for 10 long years
The leaves to rake up
Slow suicide’s no way to go
Blue, clouded grey
You’re not a crack up
Dizzy and weakened by the haze
There you have it, straight from Layne Staley’s mouth. I may have been in a slow suicide, but I’m not a crack up. I’m weakened by my self-induced haze, but I can still move onward. Layne Staley may have succumbed to his long battle with drug addiction when he died of an overdose, but his words still haunt me. I know what needs to be done. Maybe I should listen to this song over and over again until I finally wake up.
Oh, and I just figured out what I should have done to get past that part in Black Mesa Source the legitimate way. The answer was in front of me all the time: missiles lying on the ground. I always forget I have a missile launcher because I don’t have much ammunition. It’s amazing how the impossible becomes possible when you just pay a bit more attention to the tools at your disposal.