Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A New (old) Challenger Approaches!

It is weird competing again.

I should clarify. I know most of my readers are here because of Smash and a lot of people in that community ask if I’m ‘unretired’ or what. The answer to that question is “sort of.”

I play locally. I am sort-of-sponsored by a store in Dallas called the FX Game Exchange, which has essentially become the hub of Dallas Smash. It’s not a big deal, but the owner covers my entry fees to tournaments and I wear the store’s t-shirt. So if you ever look up results for local events and see me listed as “FXDFW Wobbles” that’s why. I have lots of respect for the owner and he’s gone to great lengths to support the local scene, even rearranging his store so there is more space for setups and streaming. Mutual backscratching has commenced, and itches are satisfied.

But I’m probably not going to be flying out to major events anytime soon, and I probably won’t be competing in them, since it’s not really in the “contract” for FX to pay for my travel, or for me to represent them in the global marketplace while expanding corporate synergies. I also find the longer weekends of play to be stressful and distracting, especially when trying to maintain concentration for an entire event (that’s another way of saying when I go to big events, I want to party and hang out).

However, as long as tournaments are nearby and people don’t get tired of me showing up, I will probably keep playing. It is really hard to dampen the competitive drive completely.

Like I said though, competing is weird. It’s stressful. Personal growth never really ends, and if you don’t keep tending to it you tend to regress. The downside is that you have a feeling of progress in your head, and it can be very frustrating to feel that regression. “I thought I was over this!” you might think.

I like to use weightlifting analogies when it comes to personal growth because I think many similar principles apply. One of them is “use it or lose it.” You don’t set a personal record on your bench press, then lie in bed for two years, then come right back and get the same results. If you don’t put effort into at least maintaining your progress, it does vanish. The same is true of your personal habits, changes to your mindset, attitude, lifestyle, whatever. If you don’t keep an eye on it and don’t constantly implement new techniques or behaviors, they will fade.

I was kind of disappointed/surprised/frustrated when I first entered a tournament after a long period of inactivity to find that I was not only making errors, but my old frustrations with myself kept bubbling up. I was cussing at myself for making mistakes (even reasonable ones!) and I was getting mad that I was getting mad. It was like 2009 all over again, except worse, because I thought I was supposed to be more mature and enlightened and et cetera.

In fact, I rediscovered that whenever the concept of winning and losing is involved, I turn into a bit of an asshole. I re-learned just how much I really hate losing and making errors, and how stubborn I can be when it comes to my own prowess and proving it.

You know, ignore how little real practicing I’d done. Ignore how many neuroses and personal problems I had to try and pick apart over the years to improve my peak performance and happiness while competing. Ignore all that! I lose and I get angry. Grrr.

Seems silly. And it was and it is. But after observing myself and others, it’s a very understandable silliness.

People, in general, hate loss. We dislike losing material things. We dislike losing competitions. We dislike losing progress. Because we get a bit stuck on how good it felt then to overcome the obstacle, except now we have to overcome it again. We go through the pain of the process with less of the pleasure of overcoming the challenge. We already did that. We’ve been here before, and it sucked then and it sucks more now because we don’t feel like we’re gaining, we just feel like we’re recovering lost ground.

It was really nice going out with a bang and feeling like I had achieved a big personal victory. It was not nice feeling like I would have to do it again, especially when feeling the expectations of people around me to keep being super good. Was I imagining them? Maybe. People still get excited about beating me in friendlies when I’m playing Donkey Kong, so I don’t think it’s totally unjustified. But a major part of overcoming my issues and frustrations was learning to relax those impulses. Ask the people who play with me lately, and you will find that this is certainly not the case right now.

Like I said though, it’s tough to dampen the competitive drive for good. The fire rises up inside and no matter how unreasonable it might be, you (well, I) want to win now. I have it pretty bad because I want to win at everything and be the best all the time. Channeling that fire in a productive manner can be tricky.

But that’s part of the reason I’m back. If you want it to, competition can keep you mentally sharp. My mission statement (of sorts) has been that entering the pressure situation and learning from it teaches you about yourself. When competing brings a problem to the surface, when it raises questions about yourself, you get to see how to handle that problem and answer those questions. Maybe you can expunge them, or develop strategies to deal with them.

I don’t think my competitiveness is inherently a bad thing. Sometimes I am my own worst enemy when competing, but that can be okay, because enemies and foes give you the information about yourself that you need to be stronger. If I teach myself, it might be worth it to come back for a bit.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Hello Again

Good news! The blog is back.

A number of people (greater than ten, and less than two million) have asked me in-person and online if I would start again. Until now, my answer was a hearty shrug, followed by "probably not."

To be honest, lately I’ve been frustrated. I like writing about things and coming up with thoughts on a variety of subjects. I like reading and learning and synthesizing what I learn, and I enjoy putting it out there somewhere for others to take things away. I like the idea that I’m going to say something and you’re going to read it and it’s going to help.

But I get frustrated because of how hard it is to make changes. Changes require constantly confronting your old habits with a draining degree of self-awareness. Change meets resistance, and if going to the gym teaches you anything, it’s that repeatedly working against resistance saps your strength. However, the other thing it teaches you is that you need that challenge to become stronger. Eventually, if you keep at it, you may look back at your old challenges and think, “remember when I could barely handle this?” And you will laugh, and proceed to do something else you can barely do.

I want to help other people change successfully, I want to change myself, but I can’t always see those changes in action because change is hard. It often takes a while. Epiphanies and realizations are nice and inspiring, but putting them into practice is tough. It’s tough for me, it’s tough for you, it’s generally tough for everybody.

Not being able to see some kind of concrete result of my writing makes it difficult to stay motivated. But when people ask me if I’m going to write again, it’s like a little shot of espresso for my ego. It makes me feel like I did change something, because when the writing stopped, somebody noticed.

That is, ironically, a selfish reason to start again. In fact, it’s doubly selfish, because without people to write for, I don’t do a lot of writing. I originally started writing a blog because writing helps me think; it keeps me critical, it keeps me mentally invested in my own progress. But hey, as long as people want to read and I want to write, it should all work out in the end, I think.

However, we aren’t just returning to the status quo! I’m going to try and do something slightly different. One of the last major events I went to, several people told me that I should start streaming or podcasting or something that they could subscribe to me, because they would totally pay me to keep writing or listen to me talk, or something.

And I thought, “hey, that sounds kind of cool.” Writing and reading takes me time and energy, especially when I want to come up with ideas that don’t stink. If it genuinely makes a difference to people and they want to support me, then I want there to be a way for that to happen (remember: selfish). So I’m thinking of starting a Patreon account.

If you don't know, Patreon is essentially crowd-funding. People can donate to me monthly as a form of support for the things I make. The difference between Patreon and, say, Kickstarter is that I don’t necessarily have a financial target to keep making the blog. The blog is not held hostage to a given ransom; you keep getting words whether you (and others) pay for them or not.

In short, the support is strictly voluntary. The incentive to donate is because you think me and my blog are cool. If you don’t think those two things are cool enough for [dollar amount per month] then you can give less. If [dollar amount greater than zero] is still too much, give nothing! And if [zero dollars] is too much to get you to read but you're here anyhow, then both of us need to rethink our lives.

But I also want to have neat incentives for people who support me, so I think what I’ll do are things like Q&A for patrons, topic suggestions for blogs, things like that. The patrons will--possibly?--have more say in the kind of things I write about and questions I answer, though everybody will get to read them. Honestly I am still not sure everything really works, and so I will be using the time-honored technique of “winging it” as I go through this.

I might still abandon the idea (the Patreon, not the blog) if, after some more looking into it, I don't think it's valuable. So if you have any thoughts on that, please let me know.

That is it for now, but rest assured there will be a new and very interesting post this week. Please react with all due excitement, and keep fragile heirlooms out of reach of your celebratory gyrations.

Thanks everybody. I’ll talk to you soon.