I have a poster on my wall at work. Very simple in design- two feet wide and three long, a soft collection of various browns, beiges, and even a faded orange rectangle neatly tucked away in an odd side. It’s just a collection of all the odd warning signs scattered throughout the video game “Portal 2” - one of my favorite games, really. Not because of some deep, over-arching plot devices, but, the subtle complexities of it – and, the inherit simplicity of making such a universe completely relatable, despite being so far from reality.
See, this game is first and foremost, and shooter. However, you don’t blow anything up: you use a gun to great little pathways that are used to navigate from area to area. The environs are wide and varied, filled with perilous pitfalls, shimmering sharp shapes, and a flaming furnace containing a catastrophic cake. You have to think, pay attention, move carefully, and above all else, laugh at the inordinate amounts of self-referential, absurd, Monty Python-esque dialogue.
Of all these signs, there is one that I find most intrguing for what it warns. This saying – this sign – is inspired when taken out of context. It’s a testament to the human will. Maybe more to our programmed habits and desires. Maybe to a higher level of complacency.
“Remember! If a future you tries to warn you about this test, DON’T LISTEN.”
Everyone will go through trials in life. Through different tests, challenges, moment of moral clarity. There will be epiphanies, and catastrophes. We will fail at least twice as often as we succeed. These are parts of being human – understanding the challenge, and being aware of all consequences. And then there are some that just blindly ignore the lessons of those that have preceded them. Nothing wrong with that – hell, I’ve done it many a time. What I have always found spectacular is how people will frequently make the same mistakes repeatedly. I can understand ignoring advice, and learning a lesson the hard way once.
But for the love of fuck, people: if you put your hand in a fire once and it burns, the next fourteen times it is still going to be a hot fire.
More miraculous, is that as a modern, tech-aware (I hate saying tech-savvy; very few are truly tech-savvy, we just call people who understand the general state of things and how they operate as such, while those that do get it, are nicknamed things rhyming with ‘hill mates’ and ‘leaf mobs’) society, we have surrounded ourselves with stories from all walks of life at varying stages. These people are moving through the events that others may very well face. The logical response to this seems to – instead of learning from it – give it a thumbs up on Facebook. From their cellular communications device. While driving.
About two months ago, I stopped using Facebook. At the time, it was more of necessity. Little did I realize through the next two weeks how addicted I was to just skimming through the “News” feed, leaving funny or snarky remarks to the feedback of others, and posting some caliber of drivel greater than the sum of my parts – both physically and intellectually. That is to say, in retrospect, following Facebook may have caused as-yet undetermined long term brain damage. Maybe a few folds went a bit smoother, at least.
I would share, comment, post – whatever – almost ALL of the inane babbling that would come to my mind. Which, trust me, is a good deal more than the sane amount of conversation I have in a day. I would even post hard won challenges and trials, and forget the morals and lessons between the humorous replies, the counting of how many ‘likes’ I could get, or posting it and checking to see what everyone else had been up to. All in all, I spent over an hour a day watching a text-based version of Jersey Shore, and aborting my own life experiences in favor of it.
Facebook has taught me how to brag and boast, broadcast and convey, but not how to actually BE a better person. In the time I have forced myself to not convey my every waking thought - whether it be whimsical, crass, sophisticated, convoluted, or downright perplexing - the more I have felt like I actually understand myself better. I honestly feel as though I have been going through a series of motions, and, only when I made the world stop watching, I was able to see these motions for what they were.
But that’s only a part of why that Portal quote sticks with me. It’s more the expectation that doing the same thing over and over would ever result in a completely different outcome, despite all variables remaining the same. That’s easily the most applicable understanding of this quote.
Let’s look at an expectation versus exception. I commonly was working around ten hours a day with GameStop – twelve or more, come holidays – and that was the “norm”. Matter of fact, we were bound by a supposed contract (upon termination it was made transparent that I was, in fact, not contracted thanks to a merger half a decade past) to perform at least 44 hours a week from January through October, then 53.5 from November through December. There was little regard for personal life, families, emotional well-being – and this was all the expectation. Working all of that time without additional pay – while only being offered incentives or vacation displacement – should only be an exception. Bells and whistles do not put food on my table; hell, that much time away from the home kept me away from the table. In actuality, a normal week with GameStop would result in 48 or more hours, while, during holidays, I would easily pull down 65 a week.
It was worth it for the compensation, though, right? – All three additional days off that could only be used from February to April? Fuck, people: I would have made more in those 12 hours a week of regular, salaried pay, spread across five weeks (because our season really started mid-November and ran to the end of December), than I did in those three, eight-hour days they were “rewarding” me with.
The only person responsible for setting that exception as an expectation, though? - That was all me. So now I have this time with myself. I find other projects to do. Hell, finally getting around to editing the first draft of The Brass Gentleman novellas, while penning in the next three simultaneously (easier explained at another time; suffice it to say, someone’s got a copyright finally). I have more time to perform odd jobs around the house. My time at work is better spent, now that I’m not peeking at my phone every forty minutes for new status updates.
You get the idea: I am getting more done, learning more about what I do, and learning better ways to overcome failures, just by getting rid of a few (hundred) extra voices in my day to day life. I also like to think I’m producing better material, not nearly as much of an elitist douche, and, hey – maybe I’m even a little less racist, since I’m not awkwardly laughing along with everyone else’s racial slurs on an hourly basis. Maybe I don’t find torture-porn jokes as funny, because really, I never did. It’s only now that I don’t have the daily exposure to them requiring me to ‘just deal’, and occasionally laugh uncomfortably. I’m even finding it harder to laugh at TextsFromLastNight.com, and that’s saying something. It’s not because I’m becoming some prude – it’s because there is nothing to substantially glean from that exposure; it has little net worth in addition to what I can do during a day.
If I should have ignored my future self and fallen back on comfortable habits, well, then I’m glad that I stabbed that asshole in the throat. I’m not going to tell you what you need to do to grow: it’s different for everyone. My wife found invigoration and respite in building her personal strength. I still find a certain peace to a long run (more of an ambling tumble on an elliptical while the bone in my leg continues to heal). But if you’re spending every day wishing you could be so much more, and you do nothing to that end, then I salute you for taking Portal’s advice, and ignoring your future self.