Building Myself

Over the last couple of years, I have spent more time reading non-fiction works than I think I have in my life. When I was a kid, it was all about reading things that filled my head with imagination and creativity. It was about leaping headfirst into worlds that were different than the one I was living in. I read stuff from Roald Dahl, Orson Scott Card, and of course the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. Those people built universes that helped nurture my brain with whimsy and allowed an escape from real life. Now I find that I still dig that stuff, but I’m also finding myself more attracted to studies on growth, how to raise kids, how to be a better man, and things like that. I wouldn’t call it “self-help” but rather research into what success looks like for people that I admire. Is it just making it through a day and being happy you get to see the next morning or pushing yourself to be something better every time you put your feet on the ground in the morning.

After I had a son, most of this kind of change happened. I would say even prior to Sam being born I found myself studying to be a better person. I tried a bit when before we even knew we were going to have a kid, but there’s something about knowing a new life is coming into the world that forces you to take a step back and see where you are. I’ve always been reflective when it comes to how I react and do things. Moreso now that I’m older. Find me a self-reflective teenager and I’ll show you the next leader of the free world. It just doesn’t happen. As teens, we’re a bundle of nerves, anxiety, and social pressure that makes us stubborn and unable to listen to reason most of the time. We have principles but generally, they’re all the wrong ones. Sam has been the catalyst for change for me and every day I’m trying to find some more tools I can use to turn myself into who I want to be.

I’m not saying that having a kid changes everyone. Millions of fatherless kids out there will tell you a whole different story. I think if we start from a good place, we’re generally more likely to attempt to improve ourselves. I started from an incredibly good place in that Steph and I were doing well financially, we’d just bought a house, and our relationship was solid. We had some messy stuff, but everyone does. Bringing Sam into all that made me want to try my best to clean it all up. I wanted to start being responsible and pulling myself together so I could provide the best model for what I hope he sees in me. He is The Little Chap That Follows Me after all. Side note, Steph gave me a picture of Sam and I walking and holding hands and stuck that poem in the frame beside it. She gave it to me for Christmas and it made me ugly cry. It’s the best give anyone ever gave me.

Jim Henson once said, “Kids don’t remember what you say. They remember what you are.” That sticks with me and every time I spend time telling Sam how to do something or when to behave, I have to look at how I’m handling myself in similar situations. Am I freaking out over something, or am I calm and collected? Do I have a negative streak when things aren’t going well, or am I thinking positively in order to change my situation? The only thing we have control over in all reality is our attitude and how we respond to things out of our control. If I’m a bundle of nerves, he’ll be a bundle of nerves. If I am anxious, he’ll be anxious. Conversely, if I’m rock solid emotionally when things are spiraling out of control, he can reach out to me for comfort when it seems nuts to him. I can be the stability he needs when he needs it.

I’ve had to seek out great thinkers and people who spend their time studying this kind of stuff, not because I think there are magic tricks regarding growth and self-improvement. If I at least seek out ideas, I can learn. Once I read some new idea or study, I tend to absorb it and it becomes a part of me. At least for a short time, it’ll stick to me and I can lean on it when I get stuck in a situation. Over the past few months, I’ve put into practice ideas I’ve learned about small talk, confidence, asking for what I want without feeling bad about it, and saying “no” when it makes me incredibly uncomfortable. I have a long way to go, but when you start looking at yourself like a work in progress, you can continue to grow. If I sit around feeling bad for myself because “that’s just the way I am” it’s a cop-out. You are the way you are often because you allow it. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s true. I’m not saying to pick yourself up by your bootstraps, but seeking out tools to help you up is a big step in growing. Challenge yourself to do something you’ve never done. Fill your mental toolbox with cool ideas to handle situations that make you uncomfortable. That’s what you do when you’re a kid and somehow we quit doing that as we age. We have a massive toolbox, but we stop filling it once we get the basics. Think about the last time you learned something that was useful. It probably came when you exposed yourself to a new task or were put in an unusual situation. You either learn how not to do it, or you learn that you handled it well. Those kinds of experience tick checkboxes in our brains that we get to hold on to so we can lean on them later.

This post totally went in a direction I did not expect when I started writing 0_0. Anyway, go find some people or books that can help you fill your toolbox without having to hurt through it first. I don’t need to screw up everything first if I can learn that there are cool starting points I can go with. Arm yourself! Keep on trying to be the best version of you that you can be. I’ve learned a ton of stuff from The Art of Manliness, and it’s a great place to start learning useful stuff if you’d like. I’ll start posting books that I’ve read and podcasts I’ve listened to as well. I feel like I enjoy other people’s reading lists so you might dig mine.

 

God of War

I have never played a God of War game. It was just a whole series of action game that looked super fun, but I didn’t have a PlayStation and it wasn’t enough to pull me in. I didn’t have any friends with the games so I just never got to pick it up. Truth be told, those kinds of games just don’t work for me like others do. I’ve always been a story oriented gamer. The story has to be the highlight. Obviously the gameplay matters or I’ll never get to the story, but in general, I’d say that the games I enjoy most are heavy on well-rounded characters. My top games list includes games like The Last of Us, the Uncharted Series, Grim Fandango, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and others.

This latest edition of God of War scratched nearly every itch I have when it comes to a video game. It had incredible visuals, sound design, story, character development, world building, and, of course, outstanding gameplay. The graphics in this game are second to none. When I mention graphics, I mean the animations, textures, models, and everything. The lighting in some of the caves is astounding, and I felt at times that I was just watching a fully realized movie. Granted so many movies use CGI, they might as well be video games but still. One of the awesome choices the team made when they created this game was that the camera would be fixed and over the shoulder for most of the game. This is a huge departure from previous games that were more of an isometric, or 2D side-scrolling perspective. This basically leads to a seamless experience. There are never any cuts away from Kratos. You’re following him the whole time. Unlike Uncharted games where full-on movie sequences take place, this game leaves you viewing the world from Kratos’s perspective.

The gameplay was also super solid. I’ll admit, I’m a dad and don’t have the time to die over and over again. I took the difficulty down to the “I want a story” mode so I could just play and enjoy myself. I regretted it initially. Honestly, what kind of a gamer am I if I can’t play a game on “balanced” (ie. “normal”) mode. A gamer who digs stories more than challenge, that’s who. I got so much more joy after I toned down the difficulty. I really appreciate this new trend in not referring to modes as easy, normal, hard, but rather tailoring it to different play styles. Some folks don’t want to play with a Dark Souls level of challenge. I’m one of those gamers. Mainly because I don’t get a lot of time to game. I can’t play for 2 hours only to make roughly 45 minutes of progress in the main storyline. That would never work for me. With the difficulty toned down, I got to really blow through enemies with the incredible abilities that Kratos has. The fighting was fluid and responsive. Dodging, blocking, and swinging my axe all felt great. I’d honestly play this again just to enjoy the battles I got into.

Sound design. Man, sound design. There is a lot to say about this game, but the overall thing that I think sold it more than any other aspect is the sound. When Kratos picks up a boulder, it’s accompanied by a rock crushing sound. Bits of dust and tiny rocks can be heard crumbling off whatever structure he’s struggling with. Arrows zoom past with a sound that indicates just how fast they are. Punches land with gruesome thuds. There are countless moments where the sound made the difference regarding how believable something was. Opening a chest and pushing the giant stone cover off, hearing it crumble to the ground, is on par with the Zelda treasure music. It was so satisfying to hear it every time. They worked tirelessly to make this game feel epic and getting the sound right was key to that.

The relationship between Kratos and his son is simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking. I’m a dad now, and I think this game had more impact on me than it might on someone who doesn’t have a son of their own. Stephanie even took notice that this probably had a lot more to say to me than it did to her. Kratos is a hard father. You understand that from the moment the game starts. His son is just a kid trying to figure things out and doing his best. The thing I learned as it went on is that Kratos is only doing what he knows how to do, but he does take the time to listen. Amongst all the intense battles and puzzle solving in this game, there are quiet moments where Kratos and Atreus just talk to each other. Those are some of the most amazing moments in the game and it speaks to the writers and their ability to build solid, believable characters.

This game is everything I expect when I pick up a game that talks about being an epic story. Stephanie and I both came to realize that the games that work best for us, are the ones where there is more than one character completing a task. The dialogue is almost constant in this game. Either Kratos, Atreus, or Mimir (a disembodied head you carry) are talking about something while you are running from here to there. Sometimes it’s just to fill in lore, and other times it’s something important that you’ll want to remember as you go along. I never got bored in my entire playthrough. I haven’t completed the whole game, but I did finish the main storyline and it was very satisfying.

This is one of the few games that I’ve played that I want to run right around and play again. If you’re into heavy narratives and action-packed gameplay, I can’t recommend this enough. I’m already crossing my fingers for a sequel.

God of War: Buy it Now

Infinity War

I’ve been meaning to write something up regarding Infinity War for quite a while, but I just never got around to it. I’ve seen it twice now and I feel like it’s about time that I let my thoughts loose about the movie itself and some of the contentious reviews surrounding it. As always, everyone is entitled to their opinions about whether something is good or bad, but in many of the reviews I’ve read, their issues don’t seem to stem from the movie itself, but rather what they know to be true of the world outside the MCU.

Spoilers below!

Level 33

I am officially level 33! I have earned enough experience to get myself to the next great step on the way to taking a permanent dirt nap. I feel pretty good to be honest. I’m not the model of perfection I may have hoped to be by this point in my life, but I’m pretty happy with the progress I’ve made so far. I have a house, a wife, a kid, a job, and all the other essentials it takes to feel like you’re doing pretty good in your life. I’m also exercising regularly now, which is totally new for me but such a great thing. It’s never too early to start taking care of yourself I guess.

As far as my actual level up day goes, I had such an amazing time! We had a wonderful church service that morning, then Stephanie and I went to see The Avengers: Infinity War at the Alamo Drafthouse. I loved it! It was such an amazing movie and such an awesome experience at the theatre. I would totally go back to the Alamo again. I had a couple little troubles that I won’t get into here, but it wasn’t Alamo’s fault and they were so good at making it a fun experience. The movie was unbelievable. I’ll likely go through the rollercoaster of emotions it caused me in another post.

The fun didn’t stop at seeing movies though. I came home to some wonderful Mario decorations that Sam, Jacob, and Ashley all worked on while we were out. They were so cool. Not to mention the awesome cookie cake that Stephanie made me. Oh! And the rice krispy treats! She shaped them like stars from Mario. Everything was so perfect.

They hooked me up with some phat loots as well. I got some new shoes, a fantastic leather bracelet that says “Fight in the Shade” on it, some Bowser socks, underwear, shirts, and last but definitely not least, God of War for my PS4. So that’s a ton of really adult gifts and then one gift I would have loved as a teenager and still love now. My presents are changing greatly as I level up. Not sure how I feel about that one.

It was an amazing level up day and I couldn’t have spent it with better people. I have such an amazing family. Here’s to another trip around the sun! I’m going to try to make this one even better than the last one!

My Wife Loves Me Pt 2

Last week, I wrote a post about how my wife loves me by hating me just enough to get me into the gym. This week, I’m here to talk about an entirely different kind of love. The kind of love that lets you live out your dreams without making you do things that are good for you. The kind of love that says, “You’re a complete nerd and you have habits that may kill you one day, but I’m going to let you indulge in this one because it means so much to you.”

That kind of love, ladies and gentlemen, buys you tickets to see The Avengers: Infinity War at the Alamo Drafthouse!

Yep! The Alamo Drafthouse here in Raleigh opened on April 12, just in time for one of the biggest releases of the year and the kickoff of the Summer movie season. I’m so unbelievably excited about this. The stars aligned and not only did Marvel decide to shift The Avengers release to my birthday weekend, but the Alamo Drafthouse is here for me to watch it in all it’s glory. It’s prove that God loves me and wants me to be happy.

I’ve wanted to go to an Alamo Drafthouse to see a movie since I lived in Tallahassee way back in ’08. I think that was around the time where I discovered that they existed and had some pretty intense rules for movie viewing in their establishment. They’re a place that you go if you’re a movie fan that really doesn’t have any patience for people who aren’t really there for the movie, or love to pull their phones out while you’re trying to enjoy your film. I was really keen on it a few years back because I think Tallahassee audiences were some of the worst I had ever been around. The Raleigh area hasn’t really messed me up too much when we go to see movies. I think I’ve had to tell a couple people to be quiet over the few years that we’ve been here. That being said, a set of rules that means you can get pulled out of the theatre for being obnoxious is pretty awesome.

They have a ton of food and drinks as well, so I’m excited to see how all of that works. I’m just so pumped I’m gonna die. I can’t believe Stephanie thought to do this for me on my birthday. The Avengers on my birthday at Alamo Drafthouse. Good gravy.

Here We Go Again

A while back I posted some stuff about how I was eating healthy and my life was going to change for the better. Well, my life did change. I went UP a waist size in my jeans.

I could get all downtrodden and ask for a bunch of pity over my plight, but here in the Adams household we beleive in personal responsibility. Most of the problems in a persons life is due to the way they reacted to some external force. I don’t want to react to this external force with a “woe is me” attitude so we’re just going to move past that and take the bull by the horns.

Stephanie and I have spent the last couple weeks doing pretty great at eating some decent food. She’s been doing far better than me, but she’s also a far better human than me so that’s to be expected. One of the tricks we’ve learned is making food ahead of time. For instance, I’m eating food today at work that I made either last night or on Sunday night. A healthy breakfast sandwich along with a banana to start my day, and a delicious wrap that I’ll detail in a later post for lunch.

On top of the eating right thing, I have offically put some skin in the game by paying for a gym membership. “But Stephen! You have a free gym at work!” You’re not wrong, inner-voice. I have a free gym at work but that doesn’t come with a brotato like Jacob to help me get my feet under me and do the right workouts. Jacob and I went to the gym for the first time Monday morning and everything worked out well. I have plenty to learn about how to get around a gym, but we’ll get there.

Not only is going to the gym a good exercise for my body, it’s also good for my mind. I suffer from a lot of gym anxiety as I detailed in the previous post. One of the best ways to get over that is what they call “exposure therapy.” Basically, do the thing that you’re afraid to do. It’s the only way to truly override your brains fight or flight system and get you comfortable with what is uncomfortable. The good news is that my brain is totally on board with this plan because logically I know it’s stupid. Hopefully all this becomes natural in the long term and I just become another dude that goes to the gym every other day.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress. Unfortunately, one gym visit did not transform me into Captain America, but we’ll get there.

My Wife Loves Me

My wife is an amazing human being. I would not be nearly the person I am without her by my side. She’s a force in my life that I need in order to be remotely successful at even breathing oxygen.

She’s also a cruel woman who loves me so much that she’s forcing me into the gym. Imagine that?! Telling someone you care about that you want them to live for as long as humanly possible so they have to eat right and exercise. It’s pure lunacy. How could she do this to me? Should I not be allowed to sustain myself on sausage biscuits, pancakes, and pizza? I totally would, but NO! I have to “take care of myself,” or some nonsense.

Seriously though, I love her to death and I need the push. I really would be a bump on a log if she wasn’t there making sure I did the right things. I’ve baby stepped my way into a level of physical fitness that is a lot less fit than I should be. I’ve never struggled with weight for the most part, but I’ve also never tried to do anything to increase my level of fitness. Barring weight at all, I just can’t do a lot of physical exercise without wearing out pretty quick. I’m a developer so I sit at a computer most of the day. My brain gets an incredible workout, but the rest of me notsomuch.

She’s decided to pull my brotato, Jacob, into this nefarious plot to make me a healthier human being and he wants to go to the gym with me. It’s important to note that I have a HUGE anxiety attack when I think about going to the gym. It’s a problem. It’s a problem that I feel is completely ridiculous and I should be able to get over it, but it’s a problem nonetheless. Also, it’s apparently not a good idea to take anti-anxiety medication and then go to the gym. I have no idea if there is truth to that, but Steph told me so I’ll just go with it. I also don’t have anti-anxiety medication so that would be a problem anyway. Jacob was just talking about the things we could do at the gym and I had to leave the room for a minute and breathe some. Oh sure, people can laugh at me over it, it’s stupid, but it’s real.

I was talking to her last night about this particular issue, and I think I came to the answer as to why I have such a negative reaction to the gym: kids are terrible. That’s it. Kids are awful human beings who can have a strong impact on the rest of your life and not even really know it. Sometimes this is a positive, but more often kids are terrible and you’re going to have a bad time. In my case, I was around a lot of kids when I was really young who were strong in areas of athletics. They were good at baseball, basketball, soccer, you name it. There was always a crew of kids that were just better at sports than me. Thanks to our school system, all kids have to play these sports during PE or whatever. The bad news is that they rarely are interested in teaching you HOW to play this stuff during those classes. So when you suck at basketball, they don’t take some time and work with you on how to get better, they just pick you last. The ADULTS in the room, let the kids publically shame you by picking you last and then just generally not throwing you the ball. It’s stupid and I hate playing sports because of it.

Back to the gym thing. Sports and the gym are one in the same for the most part. At least growing up, if you were in the gym it’s because you needed to get your body in better shape for a sport. I didn’t play sports, so the gym wasn’t a thing for me. The only people that went to the gym were the people that played the sports that I couldn’t play, and often the very same people that would let me know how bad I sucked when I tried to play. So it’s not the gym itself or the equipment or the stuff  you do there, its these people in my memory that cause me anxiety. They don’t exist in real life anymore, but they still bring back bad vibes when I think about lifting anything. When you’re a nerd like me, it’s like having to be on the constant defense of your own physical prowess. Even in the data center racking servers, “You sure you got that?” YES! Yes, I’m sure! It weighs 30 pounds, man. I can lift it, and believe it or not, I can also use a screwdriver.

-_-

Anyway, I say all this to say that I’m going to go to the gym with Jacob. I’m going to fight through the anxiety and stress, and just try to do something good for me. It might not fade right away, but over time, I’m hoping I can fight off these demons and tell them to go screw themselves because I look like Thor…minus the hair.

This post has been therapuetic. Thanks for that.

Dungeon Mastering

On Tuesday of next week, I’ll be dungeon mastering for the first time in maybe six years. I’m terrified.

I know I can do it. I’ve been a dungeon master for a game before, but this time it’s a little more complicated. We’re using Roll20 to play the game since we’re all in different states, so I have a lot more to plan for and learn. When you play a game of Dungeons and Dragons live at a table, you have a lot of options of how to make things super fun and think on your feet a bit more. When you play with an online tool, you’re fairly restricted to how the tool works and what you have available there. I can draw all over a piece of paper to make a new area of a map or create a new village out of nowhere, but I’m pretty locked in with Roll20. Not to mention we’re even playing a version of this D20 game that I’ve never ran before called Pathfinder. That was my idea though, so I can blame myself if the ruleset gets confusing.

The great news about all of this is that I’ll be playing with friends who already know that most of this is new and we have a lot to learn together. They’ve already been very supportive regarding their expectations of what the game is going to be and they know this is the first time I’ve used this tool. I couldn’t start in a better position.

We’re doing a brand new boxed adventure from Paizo, the publishers of Pathfinder, called Crownfall. It’s kind of a political intrigue game where there’s a lot of roleplaying going on. I think it’s going to be super fun for all of us, especially considering the fun cast of characters playing. I have to study up on the history and the adventure though, because there is a lot for me to digest and understand regarding the lore. There’s also a ton of little “if this then that” moments where I’ll have to think on my feet to keep the game interesting. I love boxed adventures because they are a great way to get used to the game, but there isn’t a whole lot of room to improvise since there are specific moments we need to hit. In my own stories we can go whatever direction we want, but with these there are specific beats.

I’m really excited to give this a try and see how it goes. I think everyone else is pretty pumped as well, so regardless of how much we fumble around with the story or the tools, I know we’ll have a great time.

Iron Man Holds Up

Tonight, I watched Iron Man for the first time in a long time. Stephanie and I decided that we wanted to attempt to watch all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies leading up to Avengers: Infinity War, and that starts with Iron Man.

This movie came out in 2008, so there are definitely some things that would likely have been different in today’s world. There is a brief mention of MySpace which I’m sure will leave some kids shaking their heads in the future. All in all though, it does a great job of telling a story and not grounding itself in a time past. Even the CGI is great in this. I actually though the CGI in this is far better than Justice League and that just came out late last year.

Marvel took some major gambles on this one, mostly in the form of Robert Downey Jr. At the time, he wasn’t just a name in Hollywood, he was one of the names you can’t put on movies without putting up a fight. He’d had some trouble with substance abuse and was just trying to get his feet back under him. Lucky for him, he had Jon Favreau going to bat for him for this movie. So much of what this movie became depended on the casting. RDJ was a perfect fit for Tony Stark, because he IS Tony Stark. There is a surprising amount of improv in that was done in this movie all thanks to him. If I remember correctly, the writers would basically bring him the script for the day and he would toss out quite a bit in favor of his own flair.

The one major thing that didn’t work out is Terrence Howard as Rhodey. It’s one major issue with the whole franchise. I liked Terrence Howard just fine, but I’m so much more of a Don Cheadle fan. They made a great move in decided to move on. I think it was a money thing with Howard and he just wouldn’t play along. To be fair, this was at a time when Marvel was under Ike Perlmutter and he was a notorious penny pincher. In recent years, Disney has moved the Marvel Studios division out from under him and I believe it’s made them free to make better movies and better decisions since they have a seemingly endless bag of money.

While watching this, I was really amazed at the setup for the whole universe that they were doing. There was no guarantee that there would be an Iron Man 2, much less the slew of other movies that came after that. They took the chance anyway. They through in reference after reference of a bigger universe, culimating in that first post-credits scene involving Nick Fury. Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury, no less. They went all in on believing that this was going to be a huge hit and usher in a new era of cinema. Now, for better or worse, everyone has a universe. Some more successful than others. Marvel did the right thing by setting out from the start to make a universe and tie everything together. They took their time, and they established every character before putting them all together. I’m looking at you DC. Get your crap together.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching Iron Man again, and it made me realize that Marvel has been making good decisions since day one when it comes to these movies. The Incredible Hulk being the only possible exception. It wasn’t a bad movie per say, it just wasn’t great either. Iron Man totally holds up, and I’m excited to get to watch all of these leading up to Infinity War. I have a feeling it’s going to be so awesome.