Sometimes, my chest feels heavy, like there is an invisible weight pressing on my ribs. I can’t see it, and I can’t touch it with my fingertips, but I can feel it there, sinking down, deflating my lungs.
Sometimes, my brain feels messy, like there is a thousand strands tangling together across my cortex. I can’t unravel them, can’t untie the knots they make, but I can feel the chaos, tiny strings of thought snarling together and taking up valuable space.
Sometimes, my soul writhes, like it is yearning for something I am afraid I will never have. I can’t calm it, can’t satisfy it, and so it continues to thrash somewhere deep inside, sucking my energy and dimming my mood.
The clouds roll in for us all sometimes. The world is not always a kind and joyful place like we all know it should be. We feel intense emotion, and for some reason as adults we often feel we must hide it away or ignore it all together. I validate the way you feel. Your emotions are yours and they are real and they are always, always valid.
When the light seems too dim and when the clouds seem too gray, find the little bits of joy along the way. The tiny things that bring us a smile can lift the heaviest of spirits and cast light in the darkest of corners. When I feel that weight or that mess or that writhe, I pause to breathe and search around me for the small fragments of life that bring joy when life gets rough.
That perfect grilled cheese.
Always remember to find those little bits of joy. They’re hiding in plain sight and give hope just when you need it most.
I found myself giggling this morning as I reclined with a fresh cup of coffee and the Nintendo Switch in my lap.
Some adults read the paper on a Sunday morning… I sip coffee and play Animal Crossing.
I consider myself a “gamer” to a certain extent. Gaming amongst adults is pretty normal now, and I don’t feel it makes me any less of an adult. It’s a casual hobby to be enjoyed when the dust settles around all the moving pieces of life. I could never get paid to game, and I’m not on any leaderboards, but it’s something I enjoy doing when I actually find the free time.
It started in the 5th grade when Santa brought a green special edition Nintendo 64. It of course came with Donkey Kong 64, the only game I had for a while until I saved up for MarioKart. It took me a shamefully long time to figure out how to toss around explosive oranges, but once I did, there was something incredibly satisfying about running around as one of 5 monkey aliases collecting bananas of various colors in each level. I later realized DK64 is classified as a “collection game,” and not everyone enjoys that style of video game.
You mean to tell me not everyone gets strange satisfaction from collecting 201 golden bananas and 101%-ing a game?
DK64 is the reason I call myself a “completionist” in the gaming world. I love finishing every single objective, checking all the boxes, discovering all the items, exploring every corner, and seeing a 100% after the end credits. I’ve done this with DK64, Banjo Kazooie, Mario, the Resident Evil franchise, and many others.
Most notably, I did this with Zelda, Breath of the Wild. 100%-ing Zelda took me over 200 hours (not consecutively). Finding all those Korok seeds to hit 100% was straight up Nintendo trolling the completionists, let me tell you. But the accomplishment I felt was incredible.
As I was counting the number of fossils I’ve discovered in Animal Crossing this morning, a realization settled over me. “Completionist” is not only an adjective for my gaming style, but also a personality trait I developed as I advanced through adulthood.
This may be more of an epiphany than a realization.
I think I finally figured myself out.
In reflection of my recent posts, it seems I have a fixation on checking all those adulting boxes, covering all my bases, experiencing all the moments. When expected moments don’t happen, I feel empty with unspent momentum and the disappointment can be bitter.
I want this experience to be complete.
I want to collect every single banana and see that 100% at the end.
But whose game is this?
Animal Crossing has built-in goals to accomplish. Resident Evil 3 has a pre-written story. DK64 pre-placed all those bananas for discovery, and I know damn well that blue turtle shell that smacked my ass at the finish line was gunning for me from the beginning!
I need to complete these virtual lists and check these non-existent boxes that were programed into a digital game for entertainment, because they bring a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that we all seek in real life but cannot always instantly have.
Sometimes we cannot control reality’s storyline. It spirals out in these strange microbursts of energy and fury. So instead, we control digital pre-programed stories and feel like we’re getting somewhere when reality feels paused.
200 hours in a game is like a lifetime of adventure and yields a few moments of blissful satisfaction along with infinite bragging rights.
200 hours in life is barely enough time to make a decision.
I cannot continue to look at life the way I look at a game. This isn’t a battle of completion. There is no pre-determined storyline, there is no list of objectives, there is no meter measuring my success.
I program this path.
I decide what it means to be an adult.
I decide what it means to be successful.
The goal isn’t to complete everything.
The satisfaction is in the journey.
If I can keep this in my mind, the pressure I feel to achieve everything I wrote for myself dissipates a little.
This is my game. My life. My list of objectives. In videogames, there’s no negotiation on what it means to “win”. In reality, goals can flex. They can shift. They can move fluidly through time and adjust at will. You don’t “win” life.
No one gets out alive, after all.
Being a “completionist” is placing a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself, and hinders my ability to enjoy the ride.
I’m going to finish this cup of coffee. I’m going to keep counting my fossils in Animal Crossing. I’ll probably never get the paper and read it on Sundays like my dad. There’s no deadline for my goal of publishing a book, I don’t have to be a parent right away, and so what if I haven’t put away the laundry yet.
An Animal Crossing bug just flew by that I need to go catalog, and I have all the time in the world.
Maybe it’s the dissonance between my adult brain and my child heart. Perhaps it’s a defense mechanism meant to protect me from hurt or disappointment. It’s possibly a lack of self-confidence, or insecurity sprouting from a quarter-life identity crisis.
I don’t really know the reason.
But the way I feel today is different from the way I felt yesterday. The way I will think tomorrow will be diverse from how I am thinking now.
Yesterday, there was fire. It was a blazing passion in my eyes and at my fingertips. I was rabid resolve and fierce fortitude, dancing in flames and writing in smoke.
Today, I have only burns, the blaze of yesterday a faint echo around piles of ash in my brain. I am aching to rekindle the bliss of before with only scars on my palms and dust at my feet.
Dreams and reality.
Madness and rationality.
Hopefulness and pessimism.
Heart and Mind…They are at odds, two vital beings tugging my soul in opposite directions. I can feel it in my ribs, this stretching tension as I wobble in the center, tilting one way or the other each day.
Back and forth.
I am a perplexing paradox.
Yesterday, I could do this.
Today, I can’t.
Tomorrow, I don’t know.
Sometimes it feels as though we must choose between chasing dreams or living reality. It seems impossible to make room for both. And in those moments, the mind shouts louder than the heart and we wonder if it is all a colossal waste of time.
Might I live a simpler existence if I leave it all behind? Shall I drop the pen, chase humbler dreams, search for meeker purpose?
Then forever wonder what might have been.
I don’t know if I can do this. I cannot yet recognize if this truly is a waste of time, and if one day I will come to accept that of myself and let the words run dry. But for now, even on the days I don’t really think I can do this, I keep pushing.
Because it’s a journey, and we take it one step, one word at a time.
“Alright, Kait, where are you going with this?” I ask myself for the fourth time today. Adults usually have a plan. They’re normally organized. They know where they’re going.
The thing is, I don’t know where I’m going with this. I just start writing. It’s a lot like the piano for me, now. I took lessons for a dozen years. I was great. But then I went to college and the music wasn’t a priority anymore. It’s funny how we are somehow pushed to let go of the things that bring us joy when it’s time to become an adult. We don’t do it on purpose. We must learn to prioritize before we’re even ready, and sometimes things slide off the list. Take the piano for instance. Now, I can’t even play a fraction of what I used to. There are a couple songs I can still tickle out, but I can’t think about it. I can’t analyze it, because it’s not in my head. My brain has no idea how to play Fur Elise.
But my fingers remember.
If I don’t think about it
If I refuse to stop
I can still play Beethoven’s Fur Elise.
But the second I start to scrutinize the notes I’m hitting, the moment I focus too hard on the movement of my hands across black and white keys, I stumble. And I can’t start again.
Sometimes, writing is the same. My fingertips tap keys at a speed which leaves my mind in the dust. I start without an end in mind, and my hands take me forward. The words just pour out of me, and if I stop to think about where they’re coming from, I won’t be able to find them. They’ll disappear, evaporate from my tongue. They’ll be gone. It’s like an object in the dark that seems to disappear when you look directly at it. You can just make out it’s shape in your peripheral vision, but the instant you turn your head, it’s gone.
So, I keep writing. I let my fingers move as fast as they desire, and I watch the words appear on my screen with wonder.