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We Now Rejoin Real Life, Already in Progress


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Posted (edited)

Well, reviewing my purchasing history on Steam - which doesn't include my purchases on EA, Ubisoft, and Epic Games - was good and bad.

It was good in that I was able to reconstruct more of my history with gaming, part of my current effort to reconstruct and come to terms with the entire history of my marriage and the earlier trajectory of my career. That's really been helping me a lot, and has bolstered my resolve to recapture the promise of the early years of my professional life.

It was bad in that it reminded me of all the games I'd played, and how and why I had enjoyed them, how I was bowled over by the great leaps in technology since that old vector-graphics dungeon-crawler I played back in the 1980s. They were immersive! They were dynamic! Sometimes, they were just gorgeous, with the play of light through trees, a vault of blue sky . . .

But, really, if I want that again, I just have to look out my back windows as the sun is rising, or walk out my front door as the sun is going down. If I want adventure and striking landscapes, it's a short drive up into the Appalachians from here; the Great Smokey Mountains are just a 3-hour drive away. In fact, one end of the Appalachian Trail is not very far from where I live.

If I want a stunning vault of blue sky, I just have to go home to the American Midwest.

(The sound design is really astounding in the real world, isn't it? The Foley effects are always on-point.)

And If I want to be in a relationship with someone, again, I'll have to do more than complete a few side missions and pass a few speech checks. At minimum, I'll have to be able to give someone my full attention without part of me jonesing for a hit of that ol' dopamine. That, and I need to be worthy of attention in return.

Anyway, all of this got caught up in my dreams. I have not in the past dreamed of games, nor even had dreams inspired directly by games. Last night, though, I had a nostalgia dream for that open-world exploration/survival game into which I've sunk the equivalent of 4.8 months. Later on, closer to dawn, I dreamed I met someone extraordinary - intelligent, sensitive, kind, stunningly beautiful - and there was a spark, a possibility.

I woke up feeling hopeful.

Edited by Zeno
some word-smithing and typo-hunting
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Posted (edited)

The Key Log

In the nineteenth century, lumberjacks in the Great North Woods of the upper Midwest in the United States, would cut down huge pine trees, strip them of their branches, and send them floating down rivers in huge "timber rafts" to lumber mills downstream. (This is the context in which the legends of Paul Bunyan arose, the giant woodsman with his trusty giant blue ox, Babe.)

Once in a while, logs would get snagged on some obstacle, more logs would get snagged on them, and so on. Without swift action by the log drivers (or "river pigs"), logs would continue to snag until the river was blocked by a massive tangle of tree trunks: a logjam.

These were extremely dangerous, as you could imagine, to anyone just downstream. Just imagine a jumbled mass of tree trunks suddenly breaking loose and rushing toward you . . .

The log drivers would be on the lookout for the formation of a jam and try to release the snagged timber before the jam became too large. They would quickly try to identify the "key log", the one piece of timber that, if removed - by main force or with dynamite if necessary - would set the timber raft moving again.

In other contexts, I've seen 'key log' used metaphorically for the one thing you would need to change to bring about a cascade of further changes in a positive direction. The mid-twentieth-century forester and writer Aldo Leopold appeals to that metaphor in his hope for the development of a "land ethic" in the final pages of A Sand County Almanac. (If you have any interest in environmental values and environmental policy, that's a book you should read as soon as possible.)

I was thinking about this again, this morning, as a way of summing up a line of thinking that developed all through the day, yesterday. Through my adult life, I have developed a number of bad habits, many of them stemming from a sometimes overt tension between my marriage and my professional aspirations, many of them associated with the coming of the Internet and the always-online fire-hose of comforting distraction it could provide. As my marriage disintegrated and I found myself trapped in the wreckage of it, I turned more and more to electronic distraction just to numb myself to the pain and the shame of it.

The result seems like a massive jumble of bad habits and the traces of bad decisions, along with a massive jumble of stuff in my household, all of which needs to be cleared away if I am to move forward into whatever is left of my life on this Earth.

It seemed to me that I should start with gaming.

I must have the eye and the instincts of a "river pig", though, as I think gaming was the key log. Reconstructing my history in this journal and in my own private thoughts, after I'd set aside gaming and gotten rid of my graphics card, and talking with my kids over dinner about our shared history in this household, has allowed all the old bad habits to come to light so I could name their names and let them go.

I thought I was setting out to quit gaming, to free up some time and maybe restore some of my ability to pay attention. I didn't realize I would be resetting my entire way of being in the world.

Edited by Zeno
accuracy, word-smithing
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One more thought, in addition to the previous entry.

There's a sense in which my gaming habit was a symptom of a deeper disorder more than it was a disorder in its own right. This has led me to wonder if, once the jam has cleared and I am well established in a new kind of life, I might be able to play some games without relapsing.

The answer right now is: I don't know, and it's far too soon to be making that call. I have to become well established in new habits, first!

Actually, I'm quite skeptical that such a thing would be possible, and I hope I would by then also have other, better things to engage my attention, preferably in company with others.

Still, if I could ever get to the point that I could spend a pleasant hour or two in a game once in a while, on a quiet Saturday night, say, and then set it aside for days or weeks or months after that, it might not be such a bad thing.

It will be at least a year, probably more than that, before I'd be willing to even try such a thing. You know, around the time it will be possible to buy a new graphics card without taking out a second mortgage.

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7 hours ago, Zeno said:

The Key Log

More than a century ago, lumberjacks in the Great North Woods of the upper Midwest in the United States, would cut down huge pine trees, strip them of their branches, and send them floating down rivers in huge "timber rafts" to lumber mills downstream. (This is the context in which the legends of Paul Bunyan arose, the giant woodsman with his trusty giant blue ox, Babe.)

Once in a while, logs would get snagged on some obstacle, more logs would get snagged on them, and so on. Without swift action by the log drivers (or "river pigs"), logs would continue to snag until the river was blocked by massive tangle of tree trunks: a logjam.

These were extremely dangerous, as you could imagine, to anyone just downstream. Just imagine a jumbled mass of tree trunks suddenly breaking loose and rushing toward you . . .

The log drivers would be on the lookout for the formation of a jam and try to release the snagged timber before the jam became too large. They would quickly try to identify the "key log", the one piece of timber that, if removed - by main force or with dynamite if necessary - would set the timber raft moving again.

In other contexts, I've seen 'key log' used metaphorically for the one thing you would need to change to bring about a cascade of further changes in a positive direction. The mid-twentieth-century forester and writer Aldo Leopold appeals to that metaphor in his hope for the development of a "land ethic" in the final pages of A Sand County Almanac. (If you have any interest in environmental values and environmental policy, that's a book you should read as soon as possible.)

I was thinking about this again, this morning, as a way of summing up a line of thinking that developed all through the day, yesterday. Through my adult life, I have developed a number of bad habits, many of them stemming from a sometimes overt tension between my marriage and my professional aspirations, many of them associated with the coming of the Internet and the always-online fire-hose of comforting distraction it could provide. As my marriage disintegrated and I found myself trapped in the wreckage of it, I turned more and more to electronic distraction just to numb myself to the pain and the shame of it.

The result seems like a massive jumble of bad habits and the traces of bad decisions, along with a massive jumble of stuff in my household, all of which needs to be cleared away if I am to move forward into whatever is left of my life on this Earth.

It seemed to me that I should start with gaming.

I must have the eye and the instincts of a "river pig", though, as I think gaming was the key log. Reconstructing my history in this journal and in my own private thoughts, after I'd set aside gaming and gotten rid of my graphics card, and talking with my kids over dinner about our shared history in this household, has allowed all the old bad habits to come to light so I could name their names and let them go.

I thought I was setting out to quit gaming, to free up some time and maybe restore some of my ability to pay attention. I didn't realize I would be resetting my entire way of being in the world.

That analogy was really cool. Thats great you are able to have reflected more upon the roots and causes that perhaps are more underlying to your gaming experience. It makes me think of digging deeper into my own life to find that “key log.” Thank you for sharing and all the best.

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Posted (edited)

Quick update:

I now have the case, motherboard, and memory for my computer downgrade, but the CPU is still somewhere out on the Pacific and will likely not get here for another couple of weeks. That's all right, though, as I'm getting by with the ancient graphics card I found in the closet.

Meanwhile, I received the money from the sale of my RTX 2080Ti graphics card, which does just about cover the cost of the downgrade. I'm also making arrangements to sell off some other old hardware that's sitting around, which can only help my budget.

I spent a couple of hours today cleaning and organizing my bedroom, which included the tricky, irksome, and slightly dangerous task of removing part of a very large and heavy piece of furniture.

(To make a long story short, it's a "captain's bed" with a platform supported by two long, low chests of drawers, attached back-to-back underneath so there are drawers along the two sides of the bed. There were "wings" coming out from the headboard to support side-tables with drawers; one of those side tables had broken off . . . about eight years ago. I needed to remove the side-table on the other side, then remove the supporting structure on both sides, but that involved detaching the platform from the supports and sliding it down so I could get behind the headboard. Then I had to push the platform back, lining up the holes for the screws that attach it to the supports - all of this while a large, heavy mattress leans up against the wall.)

For eight years I didn't want to bother with all the fuss of dealing with that task. Today I had time, so I bothered.

My room looks and feels much better now, and the bedding is almost done in the dryer.

I baked a loaf of cinnamon-swirl sourdough bread this morning. Tonight I'm making chili con carne with ancho peppers.

Edited by Zeno
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Posted (edited)

Sometimes it's good to find out you were wrong about something.

In particular, I've discovered that the CPU I ordered was not, in fact, crossing the Pacific by ship. Rather, it had been delayed in a shipping facility in Asia until it could be flown across. It seems to have arrived on this continent, now, so I may have some hope of seeing it this week!

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Posted (edited)

My new trophy display:

1969283822_TrophyShelf.thumb.jpg.63979a775e495658a20f971b72338d9b.jpg

On the top shelf are books I've finished reading since I quit gaming; on the lower shelf are books I have lined up to read, not including books I'll be reading for my ongoing research projects (for work). Not shown are three books I'm currently reading: Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, Phenomenology of Dance (for research), Isaiah Berlin, Liberty (for my side-interest in political philosophy), and Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Wind, Sand, and Stars (for the adventure of it).

My goal is to fill the top shelf by the end of summer. I don't think that will be a problem.

One interesting shift in my habits of attention: I now have a growing wish list of books I'd like to read. It's a diverse and strange list, some of which may seem random. For example, in looking up a few things for my post on the metaphor of a 'key log', I came across a history of folktales about Paul Bunyan; that's now on the list. Since so much of Saint-Exupery's book is set in North Africa, I now want to go back and reread Albert Camus' The Plague, which has other obvious connections to ongoing world events.

Edited by Zeno
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Posted (edited)

I'm not sure when last I listened to music while working around the house. It's been a few years, a good habit lost in the frenzy of bad habits.

I've started deep-cleaning my home office, and this is the sort of thing I've had playing in the background:

Darol Anger is a phenomenally gifted post-bluegrass fiddler; I was lucky to be able to take a week-long workshop with him, a few years ago. For this recording, he invited four talented young musicians over to his house to jam and record. "Farewell to Trion" is an old-time tune by a fiddler from Alabama; he wrote after being laid off from his job at a mill in the town of Trion, Georgia.

Edited by Zeno
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Posted (edited)

Spring Cleaning

One thing I didn't say about yesterday's housework is that my initial intention was just to wash the bedding. But then I got annoyed by the ugly piece of wood sticking out from the side of the bed, and noticed the dust along the baseboards, and fell into just over two hours of steady work until the room was in order and clean.

I even vacuumed the blades of the ceiling fan.

Today, I intended to clear my desk and sort some papers, mostly in preparation for building and setting up my new desktop PC, I hope by next weekend. I ended up working for about five hours straight, until all the drawers in my small cabinet were organized, the filing was done, the books were all arranged on the shelves, and every surface I could reach had been vacuumed . . . including some of the walls!

At one point, about midway through, I was overcome by melancholy, thinking of all the wasted opportunity not just of the past few years, when I was lost in gaming-world, but in the years before that in my increasingly toxic marriage.

I kept working, though, and as things came into order again I saw the room had been transformed . . . and so, in some small way, had I. Spring cleaning, this year, is not only a chance to clean my house, but to make it my house, to be lived in on my terms. Oddly, as my house comes into order, my mind comes into a new kind of order.

The melancholy is still lurking around the edges, though, and I think it may be connected with the fact that the world I'm entering now is unfamiliar, and I have a powerful sense of time passing, of old days being left behind, of nostalgia and regret and loss. My work involved letting go of things, overturning the comfortable familiarity of my surroundings, however cluttered and dysfunctional they may have been, and it hurt some.

But I also have a sense of renewal, of expanding possibilities.

These are things I would have been incapable of feeling or of working through when I was gaming myself into numbness.

Sure, there wasn't so much pain or regret, but there also wasn't much hope, either.

Edited by Zeno
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I've been on the site for about two weeks now. Gaming mostly seems to be part of a long-ago past, at this point, something I used to do in an entirely different era. I do occasionally snap through the frame into gamer-world, but it seems so much less appealing, now; it barely amounts to a temptation.

It does help that I got rid of my graphics card, so that I didn't revert to gaming when the pull of gamer-world was stronger; I have not one shred of regret for doing that.

I'm wondering, though, whether I'm at the limits of what I can do with this journal, other than to check in once in a while to document the new directions I'm going in. Over these past few days, I've come to understand that my attachment to gaming was more a symptom than a source of my troubles. Going after the sources may be work for my own innermost privacy, and for support structures focused on recovering from divorce and on overcoming challenges in professional life.

Still, I'm grateful for this site and this forum, and for all of you, for helping me to get the "key log" pried loose so I can move on.

So, after this, I'll post occasional updates, and I'll check the forum now and again to see if I can be of help to anyone.

Until then, be well.

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That's good of you to say, @Theresa. Thanks.

I've had a very good week, since last I posted to this journal. I kept to my new habit of writing for at least two hours every morning on weekdays, the result of which was a complete draft of a journal article I've been meaning to write for over a year. It's actually the revision of a shorter paper I presented at a conference in The Time Before the Plague, but I still needed steady focus and an ongoing effort to coax it into something like a final form.

I've also done more to clean/organize/reclaim my household, and had long conversations with my kids over dinner about our shared history. We have taken to referring to them as "family therapy" sessions, and each one brings some new revelation about how we each experienced the decline and fall of a 26-year marriage.

One idea that has taken root, this week, is that I have been focusing in on those projects and hopes from my past that are worth holding on to - my academic work, helping my kids to launch into the world, cooking and baking, music and dance - and paring away everything else.

I'm remembering how much I loved to read, even when I was a kid, and now I have both the time and the place - not to mention shelves full of books I meant to read along the way - to devour one book after the other. I'm still working my way through Isaiah Berlin's Liberty in the evenings - kind of geeking out on his vision of a pluralistic, open society on (classical) liberal principles - but have moved on to Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle for bedtime reading.

I've also been playing fiddle more, and joining in Friday-night remote dance-related events from my local community and sometimes one up in the D.C. area. Yesterday there was also a special online event sponsored by a national organization devoted to music and dance honoring the life and legacy of a New England fiddler, dance caller, and dance organizer, who has been stricken with ALS after a lifetime of drawing people together to dance and make music. Imagine a Zoom meeting with nearly 700 unique connections, many of which would have included more than one participant/viewer. It was very moving, and a reminder of a kind of connection and community that is very rare in the present day, kept alive in little corners, here and there.

Today, I went out to a park where my local dance group was holding an unofficial get together, including a jam session. The music-making wasn't the most satisfying ever, but I got to play music with other human beings, in person, sitting in the shade along the margins of woodlands on a perfect spring day.

I haven't been quite so productive this weekend, though. I've spent a little more time than I should watching random videos on YouTube. I think that's all right, though. I'll aim to hit my stride tomorrow morning, when I sit down to write, again.

Oh, and one quick update: I'm still waiting for the CPU for my computer downgrade. It cleared import control/customs early in the week, but there seems to be an ongoing delay in the hand-off from the international shipper to the postal service, which will handle the "last mile" and eventual delivery. So, maybe this week?

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It's odd, but now that I'm more than three weeks out from the last time I played a game, I am thinking about games all the time. I've even had dreams inspired by games - including rather twisted, revisionist Assassin's Creed story. Even when I was playing a lot, I never had dreams about games.

On the other hand, now that I think of it, my dreams had become quite dull and repetitive, when I was playing all the time. Now, at least, they are more vivid and creative, even if they do sometimes incorporate elements from games.

When I'm awake, I find myself trying to plot my return to gaming. Maybe if I set up a gaming computer in another room, away from my home office, I'll be able to manage my habit, I try to convince myself. (Wait: Is this the bargaining phase of grief?) How soon until I can afford to build a new gaming PC? How long until I can actually buy a new graphics card, without having to sell one of my children??

(That last bit was a joke. I think my now-adult children would object! The state of the graphics-card market is frightful, though: NVIDIA 30-series and even 20-series cards are not in stock anywhere, except from scalpers on ebay, with a 200% markup.)

And that brings me back to being grateful I sold off my graphics card. My current state of agitation - including the fear of missing out on updates to my most favorite sandbox adventure/survival game - will pass, if not by the 90-day mark, then certainly by the time I would be in any position to build a new gaming PC, or even to sneak a graphics card into my soon-to-be-fully-downgraded home-office PC.

By then, I hope, I will be so well established in a new way of living in the world, and even of living in my household, that I will no longer have any interest in games.

Writing is still going well, though I have been more distractable this week. Teaching is winding down for the Spring term, here, and I'll have a couple of weeks after that to get ready for my Summer courses, which I will be teaching asynchronously online. That means, once I'm vaccinated, I'll be able to travel to visit my mom and my siblings, who live about a day's drive north of here, in the Great Lakes region.

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Today was especially productive, and I'm feeling more than ever engaged in my working life. I worked on one of my papers, commented on the draft of a paper by a younger colleague, participated in a public online event I helped to organize, and took care of a number of other tasks. Tonight, I'm joining in the (online) New England Folk Festival (or NEFFA, after the association that organizes it), listening and sometimes playing along with the music.

I only ever attended NEFFA in person once, and that only for an afternoon. So this is a treat.

Despite all these good things, I still find myself mulling over/rationalizing/scrutinizing a possible return to gaming, at some point in the future.

What I wonder is this: Is falling into a self-destructive gaming habit really only a matter of whether I play, or is it more a matter of why I play, and maybe where I play?

It's easy to think that any gaming at all will be bad for me, regardless of other factors, because I'll inevitably get sucked in to the dopamine-loop and everything else in my life will start to wither . . . again.

But might it be that, if the rest of my life is caught up in a general trend toward improvement, and productivity, and hope, I'll be able to enjoy a game once in a while? There really are some remarkable experiences and innovative storytelling to be found in games, often in very short and well-crafted games from indie studios (e.g. Journey, The Outer Wilds, Gone Home).

In other words, if the reason why I play is for occasional enjoyment rather than from a compulsion to escape from or (not) cope with being trapped in circumstances that are bad and getting worse (e.g., a disintegrating marriage), I might be able to keep gaming in its place.

As for where I play, part of my problem has been that my gaming PC was also the working PC in my home office, which has also served as my music practice room and all around refuge. Now that I am reclaiming my house and turning it to my own purposes, perhaps, I can have a gaming setup in another room, separate from my office and other work spaces. That, and the fact that I may soon - by August of this year - be able to spend more of my weekdays on campus, working in my office, could help to reinforce the separation of gaming from the rest of my life.

So, these are the things I have been wondering.

Again, though, I appreciate the foresight of my recent-past-self in selling off the graphics card. It was a bold and desperate move, which now gives me time to reflect on on these things, and settle in to new habits, before I can even begin to plan seriously for a return to gaming on any terms. I would need to save several hundred dollars - when more of my budget needs to go to new furniture for the house and new clothing for my eventual return to in-person work - and wait until the graphics card market has settled down a little . . . maybe sometime in 2022?

Edited by Zeno
get rid of and eliminate redundant repetition
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I suppose I should consider also when (and for how long) I play, and what I play, all with the aim of enjoying some games without allowing them to take over my life.

But since I'm in a reflective frame of mind, and since I have broken out of the dopamine-loop so that I can actually think about games, rather than jonesing for them, I figure I should be thorough. I should set out not just what games bring to my life, but what they take away.

Today I'm thinking about a handful of reasons not to try to get back into gaming. They come down to: money, energy, and opportunity.

Money.

The aftermath of the divorce has pushed my cash-flow to its very limits; most months, I have just enough to cover mortgage, property taxes, and expenses, especially since I have new debt from a major home repair and a major appliance, both of which I needed to pay for last fall. The house was never properly furnished, so I should see to that, and I need to build up an emergency fund and begin to rebuild my retirement savings. My younger kid is going off to a private college in the fall and, though there is money set aside, I need to be saving more to cover my bit of the last year or so. My elder kid has stepped back from college, only partly due to the pandemic, and is now seeking another path; I need to be ready to provide what support I can to get elder kid launched into the world.

I've also long had it on my wish-list to buy a new fiddle.

So, yeah, money is tight, and I have other priorities. Gaming is an expensive hobby, especially since I've put myself in the position of needing to buy back into it if I want to play again. Am I really going to try to save up and spend $1000 or so just to play games once in a while?

That seems extravagant. It seems like a failure to keep in view what really matters.

Energy

Earth Day was just two days ago, and I was thinking about this, then. Where I live, much of the electricity is generated from burning coal, most of which comes out of the Appalachians: mountaintops are ripped off to expose coal seams, the overburden dumped into rivers and streams. At the power plant, the fossil carbon in the coal is released into the atmosphere where it contributes an impending climate calamity, all just to keep the power flowing. Seems to me I should think more carefully about how I use that electricity, about the value produced by each watt.

Gaming rigs are not energy efficient. Sure, you can have your 80 plus Titanium power supply, blah blah blah, but I needed one rated at 750W to power my previous setup. Higher-end CPUs use upward of 100W at peak, and graphics cards vary, but the high-end ones are power hogs.

As a proxy measure for how much power is being wasted, just consider how much attention must be paid to cooling a gaming PC, and think about where that heat is coming from: coal is ripped from a mountaintop in Kentucky, transported by train to my state, turned into heat (by combustion), which makes steam, which drives a turbine to make electricity, which is transmitted to my home and into my PC, where it is converted back into heat.

I have long considered myself an environmentalist, and I even teach courses on environmental issues which include consideration of the true costs of "benefits" we derive from technology. Can I really, in good conscience, buy back into gaming? Just to have some pretty pixels dancing on a monitor that give me the dopamine-jollies?

(And just don't even get me started on cryptocurrency mining!)

Opportunity

I was going to call this one "time", but I've already written about how much time I used to spend gaming, and how much time I might have left to live in the world. I've also written about how not gaming has made time behave differently - or maybe, start to behave normally! - something I still sort of marvel at.

But this is a related issue: Gaming has a steep opportunity cost. Any time or effort or attention I put into playing a game is no longer available to be invested in activities of much greater value: establishing meaningful connections with other people, maybe eventually a new partner; spending time with my grown kids before they go off in their own directions; writing; making my home environment functional and pleasant; expanding my understanding of the world; dancing and making music; listening to the rain.

Knowing myself and my history, I know that it would be very difficult to moderate my gaming. The pull of the dopamine-loop is especially strong, and I'm only too happy to settle into it, wallow in it, for hours on end. Time would contract, one opportunity after another would pass me by, all so I can level up in some RPG grind-fest, or put the finishing touches on a base in a sandbox exploration game.

Even in the depths of my gaming habit, I had a sense of the waste of it. I would occasionally think: when I'm on my deathbed, I won't be wishing I had played more games.

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Posted (edited)

The Grand Bargain

I have jokingly suggested that I have been going through the "bargaining" phase of grief, lately, trying to establish terms on which I would allow myself to buy back into PC gaming. The constant switching back and forth between gamer-mindset and non-gamer-mindset has been creating some turbulence, though I'm happy to say it has not seriously affected my productivity.

I think I've hit on a way to calm things down, and it's by way of taking a good look at my budget. One good thing I've been able to do in the last year or so is to get a handle on my spending, using an online budgeting app, so I know pretty much precisely what I have, what I owe, and what my expenses are every month. One big dent in my budget is the debt I incurred in replacing the roof of my house, last fall, followed soon after by debt for replacing my refrigerator.

So, I've made a bargain with myself: I can start thinking about saving money for the components I'd need for a new gaming PC - for the back room - when all that debt has been paid off. The refrigerator debt should be gone in a month or two, but the roof debt will take longer: if I stick with my current payment schedule, it will take more than three years to pay it off. I might be able to adjust things to pay it off in 12-15 months.

This has two benefits. First, it ties any future return to gaming to a tangible accomplishment, rather than to an arbitrary date on the calendar. I can cut corners or cheat on a 90-day or a 1-year detox, but I can't cheat on the amount that appears on the statement for the loan I took out. It also prevents me from cutting budgetary corners, taking on even more debt to buy toys. Once I've paid off that debt, my monthly budget eases quite a lot, and I can start to think about discretionary spending.

The second benefit is that it motivates me to pay off the loan sooner, which means I will be paying less in interest. If I'm to cut any corners in my budget, let me trim other discretionary spending and direct as much as I can get away with to the pay-down. The elite-level challenge is to pay it off in one year.

I think this is a good bargain.

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The Grand Bargain is working better than I could have imagined. Not only has it completely settled the turbulence I had been experiencing, but it has gotten me to take a closer look at my budget and make a few adjustments in my assumptions as to where my money should be going.

Funny story, though. On the very evening I struck the Grand Bargain, I logged on to my employer's HR system to look at the stub for my end-of-April paycheck. I was expecting some supplemental income from an extra responsibility I'd taken on at my university and wanted to see what my total net pay would be for the month.

When I saw the number, my jaw hit the floor. Somehow, the amount of supplemental pay was three times what I was expecting, with the result of nearly doubling my take-home pay for the month.

I knew this was an error, and I'm not about to take money on which I have no legitimate claim, so I alerted the financial manager in my department, and also the administrators in the office that was the source of the supplemental pay. It was indeed an error - someone had a case of the fumble-fingers and hit one number key instead of another - and Payroll will be in touch regarding options for correcting it.

The direct deposit went through already, which means one option will likely be that the difference will be taken out of my gross salary next month, but that's okay. It's a curve-ball for sure, but it has had the effect of making me look even more closely at my budget, with still further adjustments in my assumptions.

After all this, I think I may level up, or unlock a budgeting achievement ("Numbers Man") or something . . .

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Also, the CPU I ordered was still stuck in customs as of yesterday. Today, though, there's a change in its status on the tracking page for the domestic carrier that will be delivering it to my door. So, there's some hope I'll receive it over the weekend or early next week.

If it arrives on the weekend, I may spend time on Sunday building my new working PC, the slim case for which fits neatly on a shelf next to my desk. Then I'll move my elder child's gaming PC into the case I'm currently using, which will free up some parts I can then sell off to bolster my budget.

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One Month!

Even though I quit games in the last days of March, I'm using April 1 as my reference point for keeping track of how long ago I left gamer-world. I figure that counting days would mean I'm thinking every day about the fact that I quit games, which is an indirect sort of way to be thinking about games. It would be nice to go for days or weeks or even whole months without thinking about games in any way, even in the negative.

My various projects are coming along. My writing was a little disrupted this week, but I've still accomplished more in this past month than I had in the previous year. More than that, I've started to take myself more seriously as a writer and scholar than I have in many years. My bookshelf now looks like this:

995131625_BookshelfonMay1.jpg.bc6644fe566c5315520a3b01f36eb971.jpg

On the top shelf are books I read in April. Not shown are the books in progress: Jessica Wiskus, The Rhythm of Thought (for research), Alexis de Toqueville, Democracy in America, volume 2 (for evening political science), and Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle (for the adventure of it).

On the lower shelf are books waiting to be read, including Albert Camus, The Plague. Ahem.

Because I have more time open to me, and thanks in part to the Grand Bargain I struck this week, I also feel more in control of my own household. I've been sorting and organizing things - books, photos, CDs - in preparation for my ex-wife coming down here next month to take away the last of her stuff.

Funny side note: Most of the family photos from my childhood were on 35mm slides, which my parents had transferred onto photo CDs about 15 years ago. In digging through a cabinet in the back room, I came across my copies of those CDs, all gathered in a box. With about an hour and a half of research and tedious file-transferring, I managed to get them all converted into .jpg format. I was then able to surprise my mom and my siblings with a link to a shared online folder of family photos from the late 1970s through 1995.

I came across this one, from 1982:

ITEM0191_000.jpg.6a0ffc2ac6560fa3774a7bd812103f0b.jpg

It's from just after Christmas that year; my brother is at the keyboard of our brand new TRS-80 Color Computer (with Extended Color Basic!) - known semi-affectionately as the Trash-80 CoCo - with a cassette player connected to it for external storage. I'm hovering over his shoulder, watching and waiting my turn.

(For those who don't know, TRS was short for Tandy - Radio Shack, and Basic was a programing language with very intuitive and straightforward syntax ("Let X = 2"; "For Y = 1 to 100"). "Extended Color Basic" was, as far as I know, unique to the TRS-80 CoCo, and included commands for controlling the position and size of colored shapes on a screen. I would spend hours using it to create very simple animated scenes. You might think of the TRS-80 as a down-market alternative to the Commodore 64, which set the standard for accessible home computing at the time.)

We also received the cartridge for a game - one I've mentioned before - which was an intermediate step between the old text adventure games and 3D dungeon-crawlers. It was very simple, but also very compelling. I had my first gaming all-nighter with that game, sometime in the weeks after this photo was taken. 

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this first month away from gamer-world is that I'm rediscovering my own history, even the history of my own household and the lives of my own children. I mean, I was there for them, and I shared in that history, but I had become disconnected from it all in the upheaval of a disintegrating marriage and in the haze of forgetfulness brought on by gaming. I've rediscovered it just in time, while my adult children are still living with me for the duration of the pandemic.

Edited by Zeno
accuracy
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Burning Off the Fog

I'm going to stop referring to games at all here, at least for a while. What I did a month ago was not to "quit games", but to begin to reclaim my life from the fog in which I had allowed it to be enveloped over the past five or ten years.

The process of sorting photos and - now- videos in the ongoing (pandemic-prolonged) division of the household has been a harsh sort of therapy. With photos from my childhood, and with photos and videos of my children, I can now survey the entire half-century span of my life, and I can begin to reckon with the damage sustained in the last decade of it.

Yesterday evening, I spent hours going through professional videos taken of my kids' various dance performances from 2007 until 2017. My kids took various classes in ballet, modern, jazz, and tap over the years, and the spring performances were always on stage at the performing arts center of a nearby university, with professional lighting and sound. I found the segments in which my kids were performing and ripped them from the DVDs onto my hard drive, partly to have my own backups, partly to send them to my ex.

My younger child is something of a natural at dance, but ran into some physical problems right around 2016 that kept her from continuing, just as her mother had all but abandoned the family and I started to scrape bottom, escaping more and more into numbing distraction. She was devastated by the compounding of losses, and I was in no fit state even to see that properly, let alone really to help her.

By 2018, when my elder child was away in college and my wife was essentially living elsewhere, my younger child and I did talk more. We would go out for pizza once a week, and just vent over everything that sucked in the world and in our lives. Still, a lot of damage had been done.

In fall 2019, she returned to dance, signing up for class in modern dance at the ballet school. Then the pandemic hit.

I think my younger daughter is now emerging from the fog, regaining some of the confidence and grace that came to her so easily on stage. She's looking forward to college, and has just secured a good job for the summer.

My older child is struggling more, having stepped back from college (which is nicer to say than "dropped out") when the pandemic started, and has been adrift ever since. There are also some signs of emergence from the fog, there, but only gradually.

The upshot of all this is that, as I looked at all their various performances on stage, I began to feel a tremendous weight of sorrow and loss and regret. There is so much more I could have done to support and help my children, starting with filing for divorce a few years sooner; there were so many lost opportunities for us all.

After all that, I had trouble sleeping. I turned out the light around 11:30, slept for a bit, then woke up at 12:30 awash in a kind of desolate grief. I tossed and turned, struggling through it, finding my way back toward the hope I've been experiencing over the past few weeks. I got there, eventually, but I had to work for it.

I was not helped at all in that I was awake for the one-year anniversary of the very moment of my father's death.

I finally got back to sleep, sometime around 2:00, but had turbulent and elusive dreams about dance and loss, not one detail of which I can now recall.

But this is the thing: I felt these things, I allowed myself to feel them, and I summoned the will and the strength to face them and work past them rather than fleeing from them. There is nothing I can do about all the losses and missed opportunities of the past, but I can try not to miss the opportunities still to come, and I can be ready to accept and bear future losses with a bit more grace.

So what I've been doing for the past month is letting the anesthesia wear off, or, to switch back to the main metaphor here, burning off the fog that had settled like a comforting blanket, obscuring a ravaged landscape.

Edited by Zeno
finishing my thought
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New Desktop PC . . . delayed, again!

Good news and bad news, yesterday.

The good news is that my new CPU arrived at last, after a long delay in customs. It was shipped from a seller in Hong Kong, and everything between China and the U.S. is a bit . . . messy, just now. In truth, most of the delay was probably due to the pandemic. So, I was able to start building my sleek new "downgraded" desktop PC! It works like a charm and, best of all, has no dedicated graphics card.

The bad news is that I was planning to use the stock AMD cooler that came with the processor, which was a bad idea for two reasons. First, the cooler is too tall for the slim case I'm using, so I'm basically running an open rig, right now, as I can't close up the case. Second, I had forgotten that stock AMD coolers kind of suck. Okay, technically they blow, but still, the thing whines constantly!

Well, it wouldn't be a PC build if I didn't make at least one mistake. The first time I built my own PC, I hadn't yet figured out that you need to pay attention to all the specifications of the RAM modules, including the frequency, so I was completely flummoxed when the motherboard would beep angrily at me when I tried to boot it up!

I've ordered a low-profile CPU cooler that is said to be very quiet. When I ordered, I was informed it would be delivered on Friday but then, this morning, I received notice that it should arrive today.

The annoying thing is that I can't just swap out coolers. I have to disconnect everything and pull the motherboard back out of the case to install the custom backing plate for the new cooler. It'll be worth it, though.

As an aside, it occurs to me that learning how to cobble together a PC has been one of the things I enjoyed most in the past four or five years. I'll have to consider taking up other forms of tinkering. I've been thinking of getting (or building?) a proper workbench for my basement, so I can repair and restore things - furniture, tools, small appliances - for my household. 

I think I get this from my dad, who was a mechanical engineer to the very core of his being, always looking for something that needed fixing.

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It's Done!

The new, low-profile CPU cooler arrived early this evening. I had already prepared for its arrival, so it took me only twenty minutes or so to get to this:

2033307722_NewRig.jpg.14ac82e43e7dd252ef7508b42c691047.jpg

With the last-minute changes, the new rig is a little over budget, but most of the cost was covered by selling my graphics card. I'll have another motherboard to sell, soon, which should more than take up the slack.

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