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.
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.