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Time is a Cruel, Cruel Thief
Editorial by 
May 31, 2010, 04:56:02
In case you have been living in a cave, there is a new game out on the Wii right now. It is called Super Mario Galaxy 2, and it is pretty darn amazing. But I don't have to tell you that, the rest of the Internet is doing a pretty good job of praising the game for me.

I want to speak about something else. It is difficult to put into words, but I am sure many of you have felt the same way. I want to speak about the fleeting nature of enjoyment. About that feeling that we often get when we are enjoying something so much that we want it to last indefinitely, and yet we know its days are numbered. And if we don't watch ourselves, we let ourselves hear every single tick of the clock, a sort of nervous itch in the background that tells us "sure you are having fun, but for how long?" In the case of a game like Super Mario Galaxy 2, this is a very concrete thing, represented by the stars. Every new star we acquire is one closer to the end, and most of us (at least, those of us who have played previous Mario games) know how many stars there are before we start. For example, I am already at 40 stars collected, 40 stars out of 120, or 1/3 of the total stars. And yes, I know there is more beyond that, but that isn't quite the point. I'd love to say I have no idea how much longer the game is, but the fact is, I already have a fair amount of how far into the game I am, and though I still have a decent chunk of game left, I can already see the end.

This isn't just about a video games. One of my favorite novels is a Ray Bradbury story called Dandelion Wine. I suppose you could call it a coming of age story, an unforgettable summer in the life of a 12 year old boy. A lot takes place over the course of the novel, but two things in particular have stuck with me. The first takes place early on in the summer, when the boy realizes something; that he is alive, truly alive. It is a brilliant moment and he is beaming with happiness. The second takes place soon after, an inevitable realization that naturally spawns from the first; the fact that one day he will die, and that every new day is one day closer to his death. And this is, of course, a difficult revelation for him to bear.

This is called a book. It's kind of like a video game, but the graphics aren't as good.

Now, lucky for me, my 12 year old life wasn't quite as dramatic. I'm not entirely sure when I realized that I was alive (if I ever did.) But last summer I turned 30, and 30 is an interesting age. I won't go into my whole life story, but there is a lot I had always planned on doing "in the future", and throughout my chaotic 20s the future was always, well, somewhere off in the future. I didn't really have to accept that I wasn't fulfilling my dreams and accomplishing my goals, because I still had time. And then I turned 30, and I came to a couple of realizations. One being that the future is now, and that I have left many of my dreams and goals somewhere in the past. But that is neither here nor there. The main realization I came to was the fact that, yes, I am going to die someday. And that it isn't some far off unmeasurable distance in the future either. I have lived 30 years, I have what... 40 or 50 more left? If I'm lucky.

So it appears that I have the same issue with life as a whole that I have with Super Mario Galaxy 2. I want to fully enjoy it, but I can't help but hear that clock ticking in the background. And each year that passes, each star that I collect, is one more closer to the end. I guess on the plus side, at least the end of Super Mario Galaxy 2 is just the end of one more game, and with Sin & Punishment: Star Successor and Metroid: Other M just around the corner, I'm not going to run out of games to play anytime soon. But what comes at the end of life? I suppose I will have to wait and see (or not see, depending.)

How do we come to terms with this realization? Damned if I know. Douglas Coupland writes a lot about this in Generation X: Tales of an Accelerated Culture, another of my favorite novels, but I'm not sure if he has any answers. He merely affirms that it's ok to be 30 and lost and confused. Or 40, or 50, or... well, you get the point.

There are no shortcuts to finding meaning or enjoyment in life. I'm not going to give you any answers, because I certainly don't have any. However, I will leave you with this. I can't say I'm the biggest fan of American Beauty, but the ending has always stuck with me:

Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain. And I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry, you will someday.

Maybe that is just another way of saying "stop counting the stars."

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Posted: 05/31/10, 04:56:02  - Edited by 
 on: 05/31/10, 05:02:00    
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Well, I didn't mean "everything is going to work itself out!" positive. More like the glass is half full versus half empty, or in other words, looking at situations realistically and trying to pull the best out of them that you can instead of focusing on just the negatives.

But yeah, unbridled optimism can be rather dangerous. I think that is what I mean when I said but after life sort of repeatedly beat me down optimism began to feel... unrealistic? Like at a certain point you have to start looking at the world the way it is and not the way you want it to be, else you can end up with repeated disappointment.

Anyhow, I've noticed a VERY direct correlation between my body and mind. When I wake up feeling halfway decent physically, it's so much easier to mentally stay on top of things. So I kind of think getting my health in some form of order is probably the most important thing I could possibly be working on right now. Everything else sort of depends on it.

Posted by 
 on: 06/01/10, 19:12:45  - Edited by 
 on: 06/01/10, 19:14:34
Zero said:
Anyway, I think I tend to feel better when I'm away from computers. So it's tough to show the full picture, since I haven't found a way to type how I feel without being in front of a computer... yet.
Bluetooth headset and voice recognition software? A side-benefit is that your brain will be gently smoked and aged over time.

Everyone feels better when they're away from a computer. I purposely put mine in an uncomfortable position, but I still use it all the time.

Also, I really think most every bodily system is somewhat connected. You can feel changes in your digestive system from your sleep patterns, which can affect your mental sharpness, which ties back into your physical alertness, etc. Most people just aren't conscious of it.

Have you tried one of those physical/mental relaxation things, like yoga?

Posted by 
 on: 06/01/10, 19:34:31
@Simbabbad It's really difficult to figure out what my relationship's impact on my overall happiness is, and it still feels so new. I don't really want to talk about it publicly though.

Posted by 
 on: 06/01/10, 19:38:50  - Edited by 
 on: 06/01/10, 19:39:06
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