Posts tagged my history
What a strange trip it has been.
I could potentially type out my entire writing history in this post, but I’ll spare you that much. Admittedly, it wasn’t until last year that I started to really think about writing in a serious sense. Not just as a thing I did for fun, or something I did to get through school — but as a thing that could potentially become a much greater part of my life. This tiny idea that started as a dream quickly evolved into something else entirely, constantly morphed and tossed against cynicism and self doubt. It’s a weird thing, being someone who creates (or tries to). It’s a struggle. On one hand, you seek perfection with absolutely everything, on the other, you worry — is this too little? Have I done enough? Can I succeed with this?
Somewhere along the line, I realized that I could no longer just sit around and worry. I had to do something. I had to force myself to write, and I had to write even if my own words made me restless. It wasn’t important if it was good or the-best-thing-ever, it just had to be done. I had to get my hand to the page or the keyboard, and I had to put myself out there. It’s cliche, but the only way you become a better writer is by writing. I knew this, but actually putting it to practice was hard. It took me 21 years, essentially.
So I started a blog. It wasn’t my first, nor was it the first time I had made one with the promise of, well, using it. But here I was. I did everything I could to reinforce the process in my skull. I bought a domain, set up WordPress, made it (somewhat) pretty, told my friends — hell, I even made a Facebook group, knowing people would nag at me if I didn’t update or post anything.
I started slow, posting what I knew. Opinions, primarily. I wrote about school, about music, about the world I lived in. In an occasional fit of passion, I’d dabble in politics. Short fiction also had a place, as well as flash fiction. The last one even gained a special place in my heart.
I wasn’t always true with my promise to update. I sometimes slacked off, but I’d always get that article in. I stopped ignoring that niggling feeling that writers get when they need to write. Or, quite simply, that feeling everyone gets when they need to create. I promise to not ignore it, to spill my brains on the page whenever the itch arrived.
It worked. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Outside of the blog, I felt my mind constantly thinking about the process, ideas would come in the strangest of places. It felt good. I was a writer.
But it wasn’t enough.
I was writing more than I had in the past, but I wasn’t satisfied. I spun a plan in my head to start another blog that would focus on “serious” video game pieces. Basically, I’d take on video games in a way similar to Hellmode, a site I had grown fond of. You see, up until that point I always tried to avoid video game discussion on my blog. I’m not afraid of the world seeing me as someone who likes games, but I was afraid someone would see that and take me less seriously. After all, I want to be an academic — what sort of academic likes video games?
Don’t answer. I know how silly that is. One of my biggest inspirations — an English professor who unknowingly convinced me to switch majors — once struck up a conversation with me about roleplaying in World of Warcraft.
Tangent aside, I had this whole plan set out, but I just couldn’t think of any material. I loved games, but I had never placed myself in a critical position near them before. So I put it off to the side, struggling to come up with anything. It seemed crazy. I couldn’t think up anything to write about despite gaming being such a big part of my life. Suddenly, I had an idea for an article. I wrote it up, sending a portion of the rough draft to one of the editors of Hellmode. Unfortunately, I received a reply basically telling me that the site was out of order for awhile, and it likely wouldn’t be back for some time.
It was a downer, but not that big of a deal. I enjoyed writing the article (even though it was a bit rough when I sent it…), and life went on. I figured I’d probably shelf the whole video game blog idea. A day later, I saw a message on Reddit looking for writers. A somewhat successful new gaming blog was looking for people, and all they needed was some information and an article about gaming.
This is important to mention: Before writing that previous article, I had never written about gaming before. If I had not started this blog, if I had not, by chance, decided to write something up for Hellmode, I would have had nothing to send in.
Long story short, I sent in the article and ended up getting picked up by Piki Geek. I was ecstatic. I enthusiastically took to writing, pumping out multiple articles daily. As of a month ago, I think I’ve written something like 120 articles? A good chunk of those are features, too. While it meant that I didn’t have time to post here (Sorry!) it also meant that I was writing more overall, which was incredibly important to me. Also, I was writing in a different style than I had in the past, giving me exposure to an entirely new field.
Eventually, I’d get promoted to weekend editor, and then news editor. I’ve even brought down the site with traffic once or twice — and I’ve edited the articles of others that have done the same. While it might not be Joystiq or Gamasutra, it still feels awesome. I might not be at the very top, but that was never my goal in the first place. My goal was just to write — and now I get to do that, just with 300,000 monthly readers instead of 30. That adds a sense of responsibility to my writing that really helps me out when I’m not feeling it.
There’s also a joy in seeing a site grow. I feel incredibly lucky to be on-board with a site that hasn’t even been around for a year yet. With any luck, I’ll be able to see all of the people around me succeed as it continues to grow and gain legitimacy.
Outside of that, I’ve also started to write fiction again. I hope to have two short stories done by the end of August, both of which will hopefully get me into an MFA program. I also want to start writing a few articles for this blog again, too. After all, a year ago at this time I hadn’t even published a single article… now I’ve completely lost count.
But that’s the point. Just a year ago. Just one.
None of these things might be important to anyone else — but to me? I’m excited. I’m excited about the possibilities. This is just the beginning. It’s been a long year since I started this blog, but it’s certainly been a good one.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have more to write.
Just this morning I read an article on digg exclaiming that the college experience is “worthless.” A handful of comments under the article itself seemed to solidify this. Many current (or past) college students seemed to be under the impression that the whole thing was a waste and that if you aren’t going for something that makes a lot of money, then you shouldn’t be going in the first place.
Indeed, I’ve heard my peers echo the same sentiment over the years, or at least similar thoughts. A good portion of friends find the whole college thing a waste, at least on an educational level. I know many who have graduated and headed into different directions from their degree. Was it just a piece of paper to be ignored? A place in life we all must visit in order to be successful, even if the words on the paper we receive have no meaning to us?
Watching the negative comments stream out from my fellow BCC students also seems to solidify this. Complaints about the education not being up to par, about it feeling like “13th grade” and most of all — a general disinterest with the content that is being taught.
So then, judging by the experiences of others I should be in a pretty poor place. I’m grabbing my English (an arts program, oh no!) degree with my first steps taking place in a county college. That’s the absolute worst, right?
Well, not quite.
Despite the local harbingers on social networking sites who yell about doom and gloom during their two year stay in purgatory, I’ve really never had a problem here. I’ve found the material interesting, certainly — and I’ve had some great professors over the last two years. Even my general education professors (the ones who are supposed to care the least, according to the vocal populace) have been amusing and willing to share their wisdom.
Now, my time hasn’t been completely positive. I’ve also had professors who’ve made my eyes roll so many times I’ve ended up with migraines — and on top of that, there was the one teacher who didn’t seem to understand the nature of Crohn’s disease and how it might impact me coming to class. But still, we don’t live in a perfect world and these experiences were few and far between.
So how is it that my experience is so positive? How is it that I’ve left virtually every class with a bit of wisdom (not just knowledge) that I continue to carry with me?
For one, I think it has to do with an incident from early on in my college experience — one that had been growing ever since I started high school.
I had always been the nerdy computer geek. The kid who everyone went to for technology or gadget advice. I certainly didn’t mind it, either. After all, I was under the impression that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I was going to be a computer wizard for a living. Maybe I’d fix them, maybe I’d work with their insides — or maybe I’d work on securing them. I was absolutely sure that was what I was going to do. I was so certain about it that I had virtually planned out the next ten years of my life. I was going to go to county college for two years then transfer to Drexel where I would switch my major from engineering to computer engineering and be off to a world of high paying jobs, white picket fences and prestige from colleagues… or something like that.
I’d even picked up a job in the field I was interested in during my junior year in high school. It didn’t seem too bad at first. I then landed in class and something changed.
After spending three years in the field I thought I loved so much I realized that maybe it wasn’t for me. Turns out, it was just a hobby. On top of that, I looked at the list of classes I’d have to take and started to panic. For some reason, it had never occurred to me that I would probably be programming a hell of a lot with this degree. Sure, I could do that — but I hated it. I would be doing this possibly for the rest of my life? I sunk. What was I going to do? I stopped caring. My GPA plummeted. I was utterly confused. My whole life? The prospect seemed damning. Nine to five — living for the weekends while I died a little bit every day. Sure, I’d make good money but would it be worth it? What would the cost to my state of happiness be? I went by for months, eager to join the other apathetic souls who surrounded me, all who had fallen into majors that were filled with uncertainty and a special kind of soul-crushing negativity.
And then I was given a gift. An adjunct professor who taught my English 101 class. Up to this point I had considered English classes fun — but easy. English had indeed been three-fourths of my day my senior year of high school, but it was just interesting, right? Nothing I would want to do in the future…
It had never struck me that I truly enjoyed them, apparently.
I entered the class and immediately took a liking to the professor. He was a pretty young guy and had a teaching style that seemed very “college” to me. He was chill, but intelligent and came off as immediately caring about his students. I enjoyed the way he taught and found myself enthralled by the tidbits we read. Not only was I learning things I found quite interesting, but I was -enjoying- the learning process itself. Not that I’m the type that hates that sort of thing — but it wasn’t quite like this before.
At the height of my educational depression I had a sudden thought: What if this could be my path?
Here was a guy who at his heart, seemed a lot like me. He was a gamer and had a flair for fantasy, he had a bit of quirkiness and most of all he seemed enthralled by what he was teaching (and thus, learning, I’d imagine). Here was a subject that had always come so easy to me, one that I’d always enjoyed talking and reading about — but I’d never thought I could make a career out of it, so it remained somewhere in the back of my head, never to be found again until I was 50 and regretting most of my life.
I remember staying after one day and asking him about switching my major. “If it seems like something you want to do then go for it.” He offered help if I had any questions — an offer I would take him up on a few times in the future.
I played the whole idea in my head throughout the semester until one day I decided to take his advice and just go for it. I remember the look on the counselor’s face when I handed her the paperwork to change my major from engineering to English. It was this “have you lost your mind?” blank stare. Don’t you know what you’re doing man? You’re going to live in a box!
I just smiled. I had found a path that I enjoyed.
From that point on I found my classes much more enjoyable. The experience went from tedious to something I loved. Now when I walk into a class for my major I am always excited to find out just what I’ll be learning. I take pride in the papers I write and in the answers I give in class — and most of all, in the experience itself. It is something I wouldn’t want to give up and something I feel is completely worth the money.
The link, to me, is simple. I enjoy it because I want to enjoy it. When I was an engineering major I had no real love for it, so how could I possibly find an honest interest in it? Passion is like a conduit for wisdom — it can be gained without, but when that desire exists your mind turns into something else entirely. You become hungry. You want more.
I feel that the main problem in my peers is that the “hunger” just doesn’t exist. They aren’t there because they want to be, they are there because their parents (or social expectations) want them to be. Many of my friends have explicitly said that they’ve wanted to do something that wasn’t college-related with their life (such as go to tech school) but that they had no choice because their parents pushed them so hard. So $50,000 and 4 years later, they’re lost and without direction mostly feeling like college was a complete waste.
It isn’t all on the parents, though. I know many of my old high school peers picked certain majors simply because of prestige or because “it makes a lot of money” — they have no actual heart for it. They slog through the degree for their own reasons, rarely sharing anything from their own college experiences that isn’t a complaint.
Not only that, but in today’s society how are you even supposed to figure out your own path? We are rushed from high school immediately into college with little room to decide what we want to do. Being undeclared or not immediately starting up college is seen both by guidance (or head offices, if you prefer) and your peers as sort of a faux pas — you are almost expected to jump head first into a major and if you find out you don’t like it later on? Well, -maybe- you can change it, but the nature of the system means you will often be pushing yourself deep into debt, so you end up tossing around, miserable for four years of your life until you finally graduate with a piece of paper that rightfully means little to you.
So is there a solution to this cycle? What advice can I give you (or any other college student) for enjoying your experience and not ending up miserable and hating class? If at all possible, examine your own life and the major you’ve chosen. Do a little soul searching and ask yourself some questions. Do you enjoy your major now? Do you think you will enjoy where it takes you? What do you want to do when you get out of college? Does your major line up with that goal? If you can’t figure out the answers to these questions, then maybe it’s time to do some serious thinking. Take some time off and try something new, or if you are the kind of person that can’t afford to get out of school for parental reasons (or otherwise) then try to take classes outside of your comfort zone, even if they make little sense.
Remember that the educational experience is just that — an experience. It is not meant to be a terrible period of your life that you hate and chances are, if you do hate it — you won’t be enjoying the work that comes after, either. Above all remember that your professors were once in your shoes and that they probably are very willing to share some of their wisdom to get you out of your slump and onto your path. I mean, if nothing else it’s better than complaining about them on facebook!
I spend a lot of my time reading through a couple of forums and on one of them a very interesting thing caught my eye — a topic asking for posters to share their “musical road map.” Users were asked to post a quick text sketch of their musical tastes from when they first realized that music was something they enjoyed to the present. The twisting, often contradicting narratives of taste were extremely cool to read. It was interesting to see how people evolved musically and what guided their specific tastes.
While the same thing can be done for virtually any form of entertainment (I’ve seen one for your favorite literary genre!) I find music to be the most interesting as for many people music is the “object” that best defines them at any one point in time.
I feel that my personal musical journey starts when I was a young lad, probably eleven or twelve. Maybe even younger than that though, as everything in that period of time seems like a blur. I used to listen to a pop radio station as a kid and generally picked up on whatever was playing. I didn’t really have a favorite at the time, I just like the sounds. My mother also was a big fan of club and dance music and frequently had some playing whenever she was doing some cleaning around the house — and I enjoyed that, too.
Most of my listening was pretty passive, however. I didn’t really go out of my way to listen to music nor did I really listen past anything that wasn’t in the background or on the radio. Then came one specific song on the radio — All Star, by Smash Mouth. For whatever reason I liked the song so much that I used some allowance money to buy Astro Lounge, the first CD I ever owned. I listened to that thing all the time, using it as background music wherever I went. While occasionally my mother would listen to something I’d like, I began to develop my own tastes in music. Gradually, I started to dislike most of the pop that I was hearing on the radio and I moved to a different station, Y100.
While the station is now extinct it used to be a paragon of a rock music radio station. They had a pretty diverse sound-scape that was dotted by all kinds of stuff. It was cool and as I’d started to grow toward my teenage years, I began to almost solely listen to the station. There was a small exception though…
Along this time Napster had come around and being that I was quite the internet-capable kid, I began using it. Whenever I’d hear something on the radio I’d go and download it at home. I remember burning my first CDs (and throwing songs on my first MP3 player — a Rio 32MB player) off of my computer and then listening to them as I took rides with my parents.
My tastes blossomed into what you would expect for a kid of my age. Limp Bizkit, The Offspring, Sum 41, various other pop-punk/rock bands and of course — Linkin Park. I loved Linkin Park (and I really do cringe as I write that) and latched on to them completely. While I made no connection to their lyrics, the down-tuned guitars overlaid with hints of electronica called to me. Embarrassingly, I went full gung-ho on the bandwagon. I was a 13 year old rebel without a cause. I used blue-gel in my hair and wore witty saying t-shirts, always keen to stop in the Hot Topic at the mall (before Hot Topic became cool… *cough*) and always willing to stand out just a tad. While I would eventually grow out of the phase, Linkin Park would still remain on my playlist for a little while longer.
As P2P file-sharing became more mainstream, my tastes slowly took a turn in the other direction. Napster (and the internet at large) let me search for bands I’d never heard on the radio. I heard newer Metallica on the radio and decided to listen to their old stuff — interesting I thought, but not for me. I remember passively finding a song by a band called In Flames called Zombie Inc and immediately grabbing my ears. Who could stand this stuff? It was then that I found a band completely by accident that would change my musical taste completely.
As I’ve always loved games, I used to play Jedi Knight series religiously. When browsing through a site one night I saw a video set to a song by an extremely underground (at the time) band. It spoke to me — musically it was awesome and set my imagination alight — and for the first time ever, I cared about the lyrics. I quickly went on a hunt to find out who it was that had caught my attention.
Machinae Supremacy. The song was called “Player One” and remains one of my favorite songs of all time. For a young kid who only ever listened to stuff that could be heard on the radio, Machinae was a radical departure. Here was a band headquartered in Northern Sweden that had created their own genre — SiD Metal — and then proceeded to release songs rogue-style on the internet. I quickly downloaded their entire discography off their site, immediately proclaiming their gospel to anyone who would listen. I suddenly had a favorite band I was proud of.
The band had a message board that was filled with all kinds of stuff — but most interesting to me was a thread with musical suggestions. I read the names of many bands that I’d never even heard of and I decided to listen to them all. The first to catch my ear was a band called Dragonforce (oh god, I know) — then Rhapsody (I KNOW). I loved their fast guitars and thundering drums — plus the singing didn’t hurt my ears! I was sold.
Then I saw another band listed that I had written off a year before — In Flames. Someone had specifically said that “Man Made God” was one of their favorite songs, so I headed off to download it… and was amazed. This song was a long instrumental and it was absolutely outstanding. I downloaded a few more songs, cautiously prodding them to see if I could extract any sort of listenability.
Then one day when I wasn’t paying attention my playlist skipped to Colony — an In Flames song with quite a bit of guttural screaming. I passively decided to listen to the whole thing and much to my surprise… I liked it. Cautious, I decided to pursue this new taste, careful to not offend my senses. I began to download songs by bands I found were like them — Soilwork, Opeth — and from there, expanded my tastes into the metal genre. I found bands like Kamelot, Nightrage, Katatonia — my collection started to expand and my playlist grew.
I was becoming a metal-head.
Though metal wasn’t the only genre I had begun to explore. Electronica was always something my parents had listened to and likewise I had taken an interest in it. While they stuck to dance and radio-friendly stuff, I decided to branch out a bit. I became a fan of trance and “chill” house, artists like Robert Miles also finding their way onto my playlist.
Though, it wasn’t all calm stuff. A friend of mine introduced me into happy hardcore and while I didn’t like it very much, it did pique my interest into another genre I would explore in the future — drum and bass.
As I reached my later high school years I began to become a pretty large In Flames fan — with Opeth not too far behind. I felt my tastes becoming more solidified and objective. Music turned from a subject I had a passive knowledge of to something I felt comfortable exploring with just about any company. Likewise, I began to explore into genres I thought I wouldn’t really like — finding out that some enjoyable stuff had been lurking there. I remember the first time I enjoyed a band like Meshuggah or Daath, something I would have probably found repulsive just years before.
I found that through metal, interestingly enough, I began to have a respect for just about every type of music. I had never been a fan of rap, but I gradually grew into underground stuff such as Aesop Rock and Jedi Mind Tricks. And who could forget VAST? A band whose self-titled album was loaded with the incredibly weird chanting and worldy sounds that would have offended my ears at one point in my life — but now were welcomed as a part of my daily soundtrack.
Throughout college I feel like my tastes have continued to evolve in pleasant ways. While I still feel mostly at home within the metal genre, my playlist is quite erratic. You will often find some dubstep followed immediately by melodeath or perhaps even some indie stuff. Likewise I love finding new music — even if I’m not very interested in a genre I’ll explore a few songs here and there just out of pure curiosity.
Which, by the way, is a great way to make friends with me — just share your music!
I sort of trailed off my original purpose here, but it made for a good self-discussion. Hopefully it gets some internal dialogue going within you!