Flying Car Schmying Car

Here is something so amazing it chokes me up:

There are so many layers to the awesomeness I just showed you. It’s a photograph of a football field sized spacecraft, floating 200 miles above my head and yet so large it can be seen at ground level by the naked eye, that was built in Earth orbit over the course of 15 years by a team of friendly nations, two of which as recently as twenty years ago wanted nothing more than to obliterate each other in a nuclear holocaust. Moments after I took this photograph, I was able to share the image instantly with anyone on the planet, using a 5 ounce electronic device that fits in my pocket.

I am in such awe at the fact that I was able to do that. The future is amazing and I want to make love to it.

The post industrial world is in some of the worst turmoil it’s experienced in decades right now. It’s easy to look at recessions and unemployment and TSA pat downs and political bickering and think we have nothing in store for us but futility and hopelessness. But try to keep this in mind: The photograph you just saw could be taken, and all because hundreds of thousands of incredible, unthanked humans wanted to build some cool stuff and just went and did it.

There are parts of this world that suck right now, but when you look at the big picture, you realize today is a fucking amazing time to be alive.

Doodad in C Major

Wanted to try something. Made this:

This text will be replaced by the flash music player.

(Download it here if the player doesn’t work.)

The synthesizers were all sequenced on the KORG DS-10 software, and the drums are me playing on my Roland V-Drums. I’m not totally happy with my drumming in the song, but that’s easy to fix with some practice. I just wanted to see what it would sound like if I combined the synths with a real(ish) drum kit, and I like it.

PERHAPS I WILL DO MORE (yes)

I Am Not A Complainer (Hear Me Out On This One)

I’ve done an awful lot of kvetching on Twitter about my day job in the last year. I also hate complainers. I want to talk about that dissonance.

My general opinion of complainers is the same most people have: That even when the thing they’re complaining about finally gets fixed, they’ll just go and find a reason to complain about the fixed thing. For example, someone who hates his apartment might spend months complaining about it, eventually move into a new apartment, and then stop complaining for a little while until he starts complaining about his new apartment.

Similarly, one probably assumes that, once my day job situation is resolved and I’ve finally transitioned into my new life as a full time game developer, I’ll just find something about the dev life to bitch and moan about. I want to present a counterexample that I hope will convince you that I’m not like that; that I am, in fact, by the definition we’re assuming here, not a chronic complainer.

Those who know me well should be familiar with my demeanor from before I met my wife. Back in those days, I constantly complained about being single. While I believe I was justified in doing so (it was a seriously painful thing for me), I know it was annoying. But a chronic complainer, upon meeting and wooing the girl of his dreams, would then go on to complain about his relationship with said dream girl, yes?

Do I do that?

Of course not. I’m completely in love with my wife, and utterly content with my relationship with her. All those years of complaining about where my love life was way back then happened because I was hurting, just as I am today with my day job.

So yes, I’ve been bitching a lot lately, and I am truly sorry for that, but I need the world at large to understand that, right now, at this particular point in my professional life, I am genuinely and intensely unhappy. This is not a mindless complainy habit talking when I whine about my job. This is pain talking. Just as someone with a broken knee has a right to complain about the physical pain, a person in a life situation that causes him regular emotional pain should be allowed to voice the feeling when it gets bad. The two kinds of pain are more similar than you think; They tweak out the exact same parts of the brain, in fact.

I don’t like being like this, and I know nobody likes hearing about it, but please don’t assume I’m just a complainer by nature. I’ve been around people like that and they make me sick.

Looking Back At My 20s

I turn 30 today. I scheduled this post to go up at the exact time I was born, in fact, so my 20s ended literally just this minute. I thought this might be a good time to look back at the last ten years of my life and see if I like what I see.

This is going to take a while, and it probably won’t be especially well written, but please, join me on this journey! Ah, what a lame thing to say!

Age 20: 11/13/2000 — 11/12/2001

In November of 2000, I was in my sophomore year of college at the University of Delaware. I was majoring in Chemical Engineering. I had just recently admitted, after some coercion, I was in love with somebody. I had a terrible anger problem. Life was weird and uncomfortable but otherwise comforta— Ah, right, okay, so life was uncomfortable.

I did create Hindrances to Progress in 2000, though, and TMABB in 2001. Ah what roles they would soon play.

Who was I at age 20? Dunno. I was a Christian, but only because just as I was starting to doubt my religion, I fell for another Christian. Apart from that, I was angry, angsty, and anxious. Social situations terrified me (they still do), but I had a girlfriend, so I was at least counting myself lucky for that. School was kicking my ass, though, and juggling that with a relationship quickly proved to be too much to handle, emotionally speaking. By my next birthday, both the studies and the relationship were well into their respective death spirals.

This is part of an era of my life that I have trouble recalling, partially because I have a lot of bad memories from my early 20s, and partially because I had a nasty and completely unprecedented seizure when I was 22 and all of my memories from before that day have been a little fuzzy since. But like fake nails, let us press on.

Age 21: 11/13/2001 — 11/12/2002

I bought a six-pack of Yuenglings to commemorate my 21st birthday. Then I crammed for a chemical kinetics exam instead of drinking them. The idea of failing to get drunk on one’s 21st birthday became the birth of Burrito Boy’s super powers.

College was a weird time for me, because I didn’t yet know where I was going with my life, and had decided to just study something because what the hell else was I gonna do? Live with my parents? No. I was expected to go to college. I did so. There was no other option.

I had picked chemical engineering because I was good at chemistry and math in high school — I didn’t actually know what the field was all about going in, and while I did indeed prove to be good at it, I realized by late 2001 that I had no interest.

I had, however, taken my first couple of programming courses and found that I liked them, and so, that November, in the middle of my third year of a four-year degree, I changed majors to Computer Science, dooming myself to a) nothing but core requirements for the rest of my college experience, as I had already finished my general stuff under ChemE’s watchful eye, and b) a fifth year.

That fifth year would wind up being a Good Thing, though. It was in my fifth year that I made a friend who would eventually introduce me to my future wife. Please note that I only believe in fate insofar as the laws of cause and effect hold.

I ended up liking Comp Sci a lot, and I still believe it was the right choice. While I contend to this day that I got next to nothing out of college, at least as far as learning anything at all goes, I did at least discover I was a programmer. It set me on the path to finally figuring out, eight years later, what I wanted for a career.

Things were, approximately, looking up, but then my girlfriend, tired of my emotional volatility and ready to be rid of it (I do not blame her), broke things off with me on April 27th of 2002. I was devastated, which you can tell by the fact that it’s a Specific Date I Can Actually Recall. It’s still a painful memory, not because of the loss, mind you, that would be a weird thing to still be mourning, but because it was, er, not a particularly dignified time for me. Lots of moping, lots of lashing out at people, lots of begging, both to my ex and to the deity I still thought was there to listen.

Bee-tee-dubbadubs, on the lashing out at people thing: Alex, dude, I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am for how I treated you back then. The best I can do is apologize publicly. I hope that counts for something.

So yeah. Spent the summer at school to get ahead on coursework and avoid my family. Closed myself from the world somewhat. Went on anti-depressants. Anti-depressants gave me a seizure on October 13th.

Age 21 was, ahm, not a good year.

Age 22: 11/13/2002 — 11/12/2003

The seizure proved to be a bit of a turning point for me. I suppose spending a few days in the hospital hooked up to machines and getting the crap tested out of you gives you time to reflect. At any rate, by my 23rd birthday, my anger and depression issues were ebbing somewhat. Yay for rock bottom! Nowhere to go but up! Zero kelvin all the way!

I’m not sure much happened during this time. I started to feel happier, did well enough in school, became a TA, had a handful of immensely therapeutic rebound hookups. Kind of a quiet year otherwise.

I do know that, significantly, age 22 was when I started, once again, to stop believing in God. For someone who was raised in the Catholic Church, and for whom the Church ended up being a nontrivial part of his last relationship, this was a jarring realization. I still feel occasional guilt for casting religion from my life. Just goes to show you how much the Church gets its nails into you. #crucifixpun

Age 23: 11/13/2003 — 11/12/2004

I finished college in May of 2004. Of course, then I had to move back in with my parents in Hackettstown, NJ, while I looked for work in a post-dot com world that didn’t have any. Combine job hunt despair with being stuck living with people you don’t get along with, and you get a sad Ray indeed.

Time passed. Got a new girlfriend that everyone hated. Dumped said girlfriend for cheating. Played a lot of video games. Went to a lot of interviews. Spent a few months working at RadioShack. Drew comics. Spun my wheels. Lost hope on the job thing.

And then in November, out of nowhere, I got a phone call.

Age 24: 11/13/2004 — 11/12/2005

It was a guy at Lockheed Martin who was looking for a computer scientist with a strong math background. UDel had given him my resume. Within two weeks, I had an offer. I tried not to laugh about the fact that Lockheed had turned me down for another job just three months prior.

On December 29th, I moved out of my parents’ house for the last time and into a ratty but cheap and comfortable apartment two hours south in Delran, a ten minute drive from my new employer in Moorestown. And I started working, and having money of my own, and spending a lot, and quickly realizing I’d made a terrible mistake in joining the corporate world. Fuck.

It didn’t even take a month. As excited as I had been to finally enter the workforce on January 3rd, 2005, within a few weeks, I was already wondering, is this it? I’m going to sit at this desk doing nothing all day, bring home my upper-middle class paycheck, week in and week out for the rest of my life?

Time kept passing. I kept spinning my wheels. I turned 25.

Age 25: 11/13/2005 — 11/12/2006

Made a new friend in April 2006 that I’m now married to. Cause and effect. Cause and effect.

Work never got interesting, and actually became downright frustrating. I couldn’t believe how backwards corporate life really was! I had assumed Dilbert was hyperbolic! I tried to push for progress at work, but all that got me was some nasty official letters in my personal file. Damn. Now what?

My first thought was that, maybe, I just needed more education, more credentials. Then they’ll give me something interesting to do!

So I went to grad school, didn’t learn anything in grad school, and then dropped out of grad school after about a year. Complete waste of my time. Haven’t much cared for the education system since.

This was when I finally decided that begging for stimulation from people with more money than me was a losing game. By age 26, my thoughts had turned to getting out.

Age 26: 11/13/2006 — 11/12/2007

Taco Man and Burrito Boy was now something that I really loved doing, and so I made it my first effort at shedding the day job life.

On the romance front, as much as I resisted it (I literally tried to break up with her three times for fucking fuck’s sake CHRIST what an idiot), my relationship with Mel started to really take off. A character based largely on her made its way into TMABB… and then broke her heart upon moving to England. The L-word (“lice”) was first uttered on 7/7/07. We decided to go with that for our dating anniversary, since we didn’t really have any idea when we’d actually started dating.

Tee-mab gathered up the slightest mote of momentum.

Let my hair get long. Grew a beard. It looked all right.

Bought a condo.

Got kitties.

Made a book. Don’t order it. I don’t have any more.

Age 27: 11/13/2007 — 11/12/2008

Kept day jobbing. Kept drawing comics. Funny how repetitive your life story becomes as you get older, huh?

At the beginning of 2008, I ran out of money. I was still spending the way I had been when I lived in my apartment, but now I had a condo that cost me about 2.5 times as much to live in. Whoops.

Spent the next year fixing my financial sitchimation. Worked out a budget; tighter than I’d wanted, but necessary. Learned how to invest. My net worth has tripled since then. Yer god damned right I’m proud of that.

The TMABB book sold okay, well enough to break even, but not well enough to make a profit. I kept updating the strip, but by April, I realized I wasn’t going to be successful with it, decided I’d rather have the time back to try something else, and ended the comic.

Quitting Taco Man and Burrito Boy was a disarmingly painful decision to reach. I’d been drawing it on and off for most of the decade and had learned and grown a lot because of it. I was more attached to my webcomic than I was to most human beings. Even thinking about it two-and-a-half years later still kind of hurts.

That and I stopped in the middle of an action scene, so that was kind of a dick move.

I will go back to it again some day. I can’t not. Haugh.

After quitting TMABB, I took a month or two to think, caught up on reading and playing video games, tried to figure out what my new get-out-of-day-jobbing scheme would be. I’d started to do some light reading on video game programming, and had a game idea I was completely in love with.

“Okay!” I exclaimed to no one in particular. “I’m gonna be a game developer!”

The room answered with unenthusiastic silence. I turned on some music.

Now that I and my cocktail of neuroses had finally let Mel through The Wall, our relationship was going runaway in all the right directions. I started shopping for an engagement ring in July. We’d made plans for her to move in with me when the lease on her apartment was up. Then, with a couple months still to go, her apartment got broken into and I decided to grab a U-Haul and move her the fuck over already. I think that was June or July of 2008.

I proposed on August 22th. Mel responded by falling down and, amongst a strange mix of gasping and giggling, managed to eke out a “yes”. Phew!

Age 28: 11/13/2008 — 11/12/2009

By late 2008, I’d decided the game I was working on (PDF link, sorry) was too ambitious, so I shelved it and started something a bit less involved. Back to square one! Eh, that was okay.

Of course, then I shelved the less ambitious one around the next August, but I’m totally gonna finish the one I started after that! Hey! Sign up for the beta!

Got a haircut. Wedding plans rolled along. Kept coding.

I starting reading a lot of game dev books, and found that I was learning a hundred times faster than I ever learned anything in school. I tried not to show the complete lack of surprise on my face.

It wasn’t all cheers and happy, though. Now that I had a real, viable goal that I actually felt like I could accomplish, my day job started to feel like, er, a hindrance? To my progress? And so while I was thrilled that I had found something to work on that I really loved, I was also constantly being held up by a job I couldn’t afford to quit, certainly not with an expensive albatross of a home dangling around my neck.

Had it not been for the wedding distracting me, I probably would have slipped into a deep cycle of depression. Fortunately, that didn’t start until 2010.

On November 7th, 2009, Mel and I got married.

And we had the awesomest fucking wedding. You guys. Oh my god.

Age 29: 11/13/2009 — 11/12/2010

We honeymooned in Denver, CO, fell in love with it, and now we want to move there in… 2012 or so? I think? We’ll see.

My 29th year quickly turned into a frothy, bipolar mix of depressed rage and giddy elation that continues today as I start my 30th. I haven’t felt that comfy middle ground of quiet contentment in getting through the day and being thankful for it in a very long time now. My day job is really getting to me. I rarely finish a day in a good mood anymore. Depression is taking over, even as my ambition and optimism are reaching all time highs.

Through all of this, Mel has afforded me more patience than anyone in my life ever has. It’s plainly obvious the effect my rapidly deteriorating mental health is having on her. Yet somehow, we’re still together. If we can get through this, I can’t imagine there’s any chance of our relationship ever failing on us. Perhaps a nuclear warhead detonated directly between us would cause a budge. Maybe. Think it’d be a waste of a perfectly good bomb, honestly.

For a while, I didn’t feel like I was really interested in giving games my all just yet. I had a lot of doubts. I don’t know why. Lack of self confidence, perhaps? Whatever the cause, not a lot got done until I went to PAX East in March, where I met a handful of Boston’s indie game developers, learned a lot about what the dev life is like, and finally realized it was what I wanted.

This marked the first time in history when I actually felt like I had some direction. I was committed. I joined IGDA as soon as I got home from Boston, started making friends in the Philly game industry, and the momentum has not stopped building. An exciting era in my life had begun.

Joined up with IndyHall in April and started spending more time in the city, meeting people, learning, sucking it all in and swallowing. My relationships with the folks in the Philadelphia game industry have continued to grow. I only see these people every month or so, but every time I do, they make me feel like I’ve made the right choice. They make me feel like, yes, I am a game developer. Plans are afoot. There’s just that little matter of finishing a game.

Age 30: Today, 11/13/2010

Looking back at what I just wrote is making me appreciate just what an Imperial fuckload of stuff — great, awful, and in between — has happened in the last ten years. Wow, what a decade.

Still, I hate to admit it, but I think I might actually be in the darkest part of my life at this moment. The depression has gotten bad, but we have plans in place to let me go part time at my day job so I can spend more time on game development. One sincerely hopes that will help. Unfortunately, said plans involve selling our condo to cut our living expenses, which has proven damn near impossible. No one wants to buy a home right now.

So I feel trapped and helpless. I keep getting more depressed. I’m still generally hopeful about the future, I feel like I’m right on the cusp of something big, and I don’t want anyone to think nothing has gone right lately, but I really do fear these last couple of years are going to go down as my worst overall.

I have no one to blame but myself. I fell into the same trap most kids of my generation fell into. I went straight to college out of high school, because that was what I thought I was supposed to do. I dove into the work force right out of college, because that was what I thought I was supposed to do. I bought a home, because that was what I thought I was supposed to do.

And every time I did the things that were expected of me, I ended up regretting it. College was a waste of time. Jobbing brought me nothing but misery. My home forces me to keep jobbing and being miserable. At no time before age 26 did I step back, examine myself, and figure out what choices I wanted to make because I wanted to make them. I let social pressure and norms dictate the choices I made, and I pretty much wasted ten years of my life in doing so.

In the interests of safety and security, I have, in the last decade, delayed everything. But by seeing all the things I could have accomplished by now had I made better choices, I’ve learned a valuable lesson: There is no better time than now.

Thinking of starting college because you don’t know what else to do? Travel instead. Learn about the world. See what’s available to you outside your dinky home town. Explore.

Thinking of entering the corporate work force because it’s secure and pays well? Hold off. Go ronin! Spend a year in lower paying, lower pressure jobs. Bring in enough to afford to live, but spend the rest of your time trying things. Make new friends. Find ways to make money for yourself.

Don’t delay your dreams just because you want to figure out how you’ll be able to afford to follow them first. Stop thinking and just go. Be brave! A way to keep yourself fed and clothed and sheltered will present itself. Don’t waste your youth in a cubicle.

I’m in a unique state of mind about turning 30, in that I’m not freaking out about it. I’ve actually been looking forward to this. It seems like people make their big accomplishments during their 30s. Maybe it’s not always the case, but that is what I want from the next decade. I feel genuine optimism right now, even if my face doesn’t always show it. Given my patented blend of chemical imbalances, that’s a big deal.

It’s easy to focus on the regret of having squandered my 20s in the name of security, gods know I spend a lot of time beating myself up over it, but I haven’t completely lost hope yet. Things are going to change. They have to. If, on my 40th birthday in 2020, I’m able to look back at myself today and find any more but the basest resemblance to what I am then, something will have gone terribly wrong.

On Capsaicin

‘Tsup Witchyo?

I just realized it’s been months since I talked about what I’ve been up to in my life. I’m sure the burning question on all of your minds is, “What the fuck?” Here today, I shall tell you what the fuck.

The biggest thing the fuck in my professional life these days, assuming you don’t count my day job, which, GAH, yeah, don’t, is game development. It’s plodding along, more slowly than surely, but hey. The game that I’m working on is called Fortress, and it’s the iPhone/iPad version of a card game that I came up with several years back and started refining about a year ago with the help of my wife and a handful of geek friends. It’s designed to be a deep strategy game that can be played with just a single deck of cards. Suits confer attack and defense bonuses and loyalty. Two Kings face off. One dies after a half hour or so. So far, everyone finds it clever and addicting and like Magic except not so danged cumbersome.

I just revealed it publicly for the first time on my company’s new website that I spent like four hours putting together last night.

“But hey,” you say, “That’s cool and all, but where’s the good graphics?” THEY ARE COMING. I’ve lined up an artist for the game. He’s a good dude. Done other stuff recently. He’ll do just fine.

And hey, related, I mentioned looking into coworking many moony months ago, and indeed, I joined IndyHall as a basic member at the end of April. It’s been brilliant. Just as I expected, being around other self-driven creatives on a regular basis has been great for my motivation, and I’ve met a lot of great people (like the artist for Fortress) who are both cool and useful. I shall make them my army and we’ll do epic shit together.

Such epic the fuck shit as a game developer conference yeah! Scott was not kidding about getting a GameLoop event running in Philly, which is good, because I and a handful of IndyHallers had already started discussing the idea like halfway through the Boston one in August. We’re having meetings and spamming the damn it out of our Google Group trying to figure out the deetales. This thing is going to fucking happen. Look for it in Aaaaaprriiillll? Maaaayyyybeeeeee?

Let’s see, what else… I started and stopped writing for Just Another iPhone Blog this summer. I actually just gave my notice there yesterday, citing potential conflicts of interest down the line, plus my need for the time elsewhere. It was fun, and you can read everything I wrote here. Hint: It’s mostly game reviews. I’ve got another one or two posts in the pipeline before I sign off for good. I’m gonna miss it. The free games were great, and I’ve been slammin’ happy with my writing lately. I’m gonna miss it.

I’ll be using the extra time to blog about the happyhaps Re: Fortress on Hindrances (which, at last count, has now been repurposed for the fourth time). I want players to be able to connect personally, even if only at a passive level, with the people in my company, of which there are me right now but you know maybe others eventually. Gonna try to see how high a level of transparency I can muster without seeming narcissistic.

My wife has been on fire. I mean, apart from being hot (and smart, honey!). She’s pretty much taken over Bathtub Brewery, which she’s welcome to. It’s yet another thing that I’d love to contribute more to, but must preempt for the sake of other priorities. And anyway, that’s the least of what she’s accomplished. I mean first, Bathtub is really starting to build a name for itself because of her, she’s got this way with people. But her quality has also led to a new writing gig at Ladies of Craft Beer a few months ago. She do good work. I has proud.

Oh hey and we’re probably going to move to Denver in 2012 or 2013. :D

I’m glad I decided to write this post this morning, because I have been fucking depressed this year. My day job is as taxing as ever, moreso than merely ever, actually. I have a plan for scaling back on it, but the plan is not working out. The idea was to sell our condo, which is expensive, and then move into a cheap apartment near a PATCO station, giving Mel a shorter commute, me an opportunity to get rid of my awful terrible car, and (also) me an (also) oppor(also)tunity to go part time at said detested day job (Said Detested Day Job is the name of my Weezer cover band).

Imagine being able to drop to just three day job days a week to head across the Gap the other days and crank at IndyHall until my eyes bleed salty maple syrup? Fortress could get done by year’s end! But alas, the condo is not selling, and we miss our cats that we dumped with my grandparents under the assumption it would be easier to sell the place without them around but the place isn’t selling and we haven’t seen them in three months and it suxs.

But I’m plugging along, trying to wait patiently for a buyer, trying very hard to stay productive, because that’s the only thing that keeps the depression from getting too bad. I feel pretty good now that I’ve taken an inventory of all that’s going right so far. Ten paragraphs of booyah vs. only two paragraphs of godsfuckingdammit. I’ve grown as a person!

I’m literally taller!

Boston GameLoop — A Doodle Journal

Go See Scott Pilgrim vs. The World Now Please

YEEEEEESSSSSMy wife and I got to see an advance screening of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World last night. Let me be clear: I have not been so excited for a movie since Revenge of the Sith. The difference here, however, is that ROTS disappointed me to an extent, while this movie did not. At allScott Pilgrim vs. The World is, without equal, the best happy movie I’ve ever seen. Which is to say, it isn’t better than, say, District 9, but as far as movies that actually leave you in a good mood afterward, SPvTW wins forever.

Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way. First:

Michael Cera, all right?

There’s a lot of concern that Michael Cera is a bad fit for the lead role. Good news: He’s just fine. He does not play George Michael Bluth in this movie. He plays Scott Pilgrim. That said, the character of Scott Pilgrim is both written and portrayed somewhat more meekly than in the book, but given the nature of the adaptation, it works just. Fine.

Which brings us to the second obvious concern: the adaptation. We’ll use one paragraph for this and no more. I hate it when people dwell on this stuff as much as you do.

If you’re a fan of the books, you will spend the first hour in an uncontrolled SQUEE. Bring a sock to the theater and keep it in your involuntarily squeaking pie hole until halfway through the Todd battle. That’s the point where the shot-for-panel faithfulness diverges a bit, which makes sense: Up until we meet Envy in the books, the subplots are more tightly woven into the main story. After that, slightly more disposable. And so, the movie damn near mirrors the first three books, and takes liberal liberties with the second three. Most subplots are gone, all characters are less complex, things get shuffled. The Katayanagi fight is completely changed — Scott does not get to fight robots, sadly. That and Kim Pine’s deceptively complex character in the books being woefully reduced to little more than the bitchy drummer in the movie count as some serious missed opportunities (though we do still get some pretty sweet shit for the Katayanagi twins battle). Overall, the movie is faithful enough. That said, if you’re the type who gets his panties in a bunch over the Harry Potter movies, you’re not gonna feel much better here.

But get over it. Please. This is a fucking marvelous film.

If you don’t know the books, it all starts off normal enough. Scott’s in a band, Scott meets a girl, Scott tries to get the girl to like him then meets another girl and uh oh is this a rom-com? Oh, cute, there’s little comic booky effects CGIed in. That’s kinda cool. Oh but then a guy crashes through the ceiling, challenges Scott to a fight, “VS.” flashes on the screen, Scott juggles his adversary in the air for a 64 HIT COMBO, he bursts into coins, there’s points, what the fuck?

That’s when you realize: This is the most epicly epic bit of epic win you’ve ever epicked. It’s silly, nostalgic, bright, flashy, and beautiful. Rarely does anyone manage to portray such an unbelievable world with such realism. The suspension of disbelief is so well crafted, the thought that a vegan with mystical powers could turn into money when you headbutt him makes perfect sense. It’s the funnest form of sensory overload you’ll ever see.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is probably the best timed movie in the history of timing. The youngest of the generation that was bred to eat this film up, the kids like me, born between 1975 and 1985, raised on video games, sugary cereal, and anime, are just now at the point where they have more disposable income than they know what to do with. Five years ago, half of us would still be poor college students, and five years from now, half of us will be poor parents. But today, we have money, and a geeky itch that loves a good scratchin’.

We will consume this with reckless abandon.

Between Dreams, Comfort, and Fear

While the current thinking in business schools holds that all someone with an idea needs to succeed are focus, clarity and a good business plan, I have found that bringing together a great team that’s united by strong motivation, determination and bravery is much more important.

The above quote (emphasis mine) comes from an article by Richard Branson on how to succeed as an entrepreneur. The rest of the article is worth reading, but before you do that, I want to talk about Branson’s use of the word bravery.

Choosing to work for yourself is extremely brave. The vast majority of the people reading this work for a corporation, and there’s a reason why corporate work is so popular: The income is steady, and at least in the US, working for a company is the best way to get affordable health insurance.

Steady income and healthcare; If there was ever a source of comfort in the world, it is these things. To hell with adventure, dreams, self actualization, PAH! “Be realistic, kid,” they told us on our way off the football field on graduation day. “You don’t have time for travel now! Go to a good school! Jump through the hoops there so you’ll be able to jump through the hoops at a corporation and be secure for life!”

It made so much sense. We all bought into it. Many of us are even perfectly content with it, years or decades after entering the work force.

And now here we are, still running on the treadmill after all this time, our dreams in the backs of our minds, endlessly shouted down by those old words of advice: “Be secure.”

We’re gripped by those promises of security, especially in today’s job market. We can’t leave our jobs to pursue new things! What if we don’t succeed? What if we get sick? What if we can’t find new work after we fail? What if what if what if?

And so we keep our comfortable jobs, refusing to give them up because, very simply, we are afraid.

It’s one thing to feel fear. Everyone feels it, even the bravest of us. Bravery, after all, is not the absence of fear; it is action in spite of it. Most of us, however, take action because of fear, and there is a word for that, too:

Cowardice.

We’re chicken shits, all of us, slouched over our corporate desks, staring at our glowing corporate rectangles, eating our unctuous corporate lunches, getting better every day at ignoring our subconscious cries for real accomplishment so we don’t have to give up our precious security. We may not be happy, but at least we have nothing to fear. We’re comfortable.

Dreams and comfort share a competitive balance. To pursue one requires a sacrifice of the other. To chase one’s dreams, one must endure years of temporary discomfort: low-income living and sacrifice while you start up your business, stress while you work to make it sustainable, constant wondering whether you’re reading the market proactively enough to anticipate the inevitable catastrophic shifts therein. Some of the comfort may return years later as your business takes off, but there will always be that little bit of worry that your adventure could end at any moment. Taking the path of dreams, therefore, requires immense amounts of bravery.

“But ho!” you exclaim. “What if you dream of being comfortable?” To you, I say this: Fair enough. That makes you a hedonist, mind you, and I’d prefer you didn’t exist, but okay. Will you ever be truly happy, though? Don’t mix up happiness and mere relief like so many do. It may feel good when you get home from your day job with your paycheck, knowing you’ll be able to get that new TV after all, but is that happiness you’re feeling, or are you just relieved to have survived another week? Are you genuinely able to look at those personal ideals in the back of your mind and say “meh”? If so, all right then, enjoy.

Perhaps the dream chaser doesn’t value comfort, anyway, and vice versa. Perhaps the dreamer finds the discomfort thrilling, and the comfort chaser has enough to worry about without going on some highfalutin adventure.

I think you can tell I’m in the former group. Why else would I be so very miserable in the corporate world and so very eager to be rid of it? I’m sacrificing my dreams temporarily for the sake of comfort, saving up my steady income to ease the inevitable discomfort when I take the big plunge into entrepreneurship in a few years.

I readily admit the thought of striking out on my own scares the hell out of me. Actually, admit is probably the wrong word. It implies that I’m ashamed of my fear. More precisely, I’m ashamed of how many actions I’ve taken in service of it since I finished high school, of how many years of dreams I’ve sacrificed to be comfortable.

The world outside your cloth box is frightening. Without bravery, you will never face it. You’ll sit at that desk forever. Ask yourself if you’re okay with that. Ask yourself whether you value comfort over dreams. Think about all the actions you’ve taken for fear of loss versus in hope of gain. Can you justify being guided by fear for the rest of your life?

Why GTD Is So. Very. Hard. To Read.

Getting Things Done is a magnificent productivity system. I could go on about why that is so, but let us take it as lemma and proceed.

As great as GTD is, learning the system itself is a chore, because the only way to ensure you really learn it right is to read the book by David Allen, which, to sugar coat the matter, is as vibrant as The Silmarillion but with twice the fun (the zero property of multiplication applies here). The first three chapters, in particular, are devastating to get through, and it wasn’t until I was halfway through Chapter 3 (“The Five Phases of Project Planning”) that I realized Allen explains right in his book exactly why his book is so awful to read.

As he describes it, the first step in good project planning is Purpose. Why are you doing what you’re doing? After that, Vision. How do you define when the project is complete? These steps seem obvious, but most of us don’t do them. We dive straight into the work, and most of the time, we don’t finish our projects, because we’ve lost sight of why we were doing them in the first place.

That, right there, is why the first 90-odd pages of GTD are so hard to read: We want to jump in and learn the system, but here’s Allen going on about why we need the system. What a bore! I know why I need the system! I need to get organized!

Ah, but what does that mean? To get organized, I mean. Why do you need to get organized? What will “being organized” look like?

These first three chapters answer those questions! Chapter 1 explains the Purpose, the why: Here is why things suck. Chapters 2 and 3 explain the vision, the what: Here is what it will look like when you’ve unloaded your mind and are flowing like water once again. Allen is following the exact process of project planning he describes in Chapter 3 during these first difficult chapters, and uses that same chapter to tell us why he is doing so!

Unfortunately, he also bores the fuck out of us in the process. Ah, irony.

I once advised someone to skip the first three chapters of GTD so he could jump right into implementing the system. He never finished the book, and never started using the system. Now I know where I went wrong. He didn’t take the time to understand the purpose of GTD, or to visualize what an organized system would look like, and so he lost focus, and his project fell apart. Oops.