As the 2010’s comes to a close, I’ve been mulling around in my head a “decade-in-review” post for a while now, like I did in 2010. I’ve been putting it off for a bit, even posting some mostly unrelated stuff in the meantime. This is largely due to the fact that there are certain dominating events in my life, especially in the latter half of this past decade, that I’m still not super comfortable discussing on a public blog, though any true review of my life in the 2010’s would be incomplete without at least mentioning some of them. Still, I’m going to give it my best shot, and hopefully won’t step on any toes in the process. So with no further ado, let’s turn the ol’ clock back to the mythical, mystical year that began this decade:
My final year of college was far overdue. I had been attending university classes in some form or another for the entirety of the 2000’s (barring two years off for my LDS mission) and, with an internship at a marketing co-op company in the winter and my final class in the spring (a Persuasive Writing class where I wrote this), I was finally done! I may have still been a bachelor, but I was also…a Bachelor!
2010 also saw Poison Ivy Mysteries begin to find its footing. Annelise had started the murder mystery company in 2009, and 2010 saw the writing and production of several new shows, including a sci-fi show, a saucy film noir show, and a medieval wizard show, though for her the year was defined by her pregnancy and delivery of her son Ian, who, sadly, was born premature and only lived for a few days.
After graduating from BYU in August 2010, I moved back home with my parents to prepare to seek a full-time career in the music industry. I was still working at the marketing co-op under Nate Drew, writing bits of commercial music for advertisements, trade show videos, and so on, in addition to working on my first album: a complement to my friend Johnathan’s ABC Monsters book he was working on. In early December I posted on my blog a bunch of the music I had written that year, which was quite fortuitous, because it turns out that those were the only surviving pieces of nearly everything I’d worked on that year. Over Christmas weekend, my workplace was broken into and somebody stole a bunch of music-related equipment in the building. All of Nate’s and my computers, keyboards, microphones, interfaces — all gone. The equipment could eventually be replaced, but all of the dozens of projects I had worked so hard on the entire year, including the ABC Monsters stuff, was irreplaceable. All I had left were the demo MP3 tracks of the ABC Monsters that I had sent to Johnathan and the stuff I had posted online in that post I linked to earlier.
It was devastating, and even now, ten years later, I don’t think I’ve still fully recovered from that blow. But we’ll get into the aftermath soon enough.
Oh, also I crashed my grandmother’s car into a wall and totaled it. She wasn’t in it, though, so it’s all good.
After my music equipment had been stolen, I had to start from scratch. Nate raised a bit of money through online fundraisers to recoup some of the costs, but in the end I only had enough to buy a cheap PC and try to install a hacked Macintosh OS on top of it, which…kinda worked, though it was real touchy (the Mac OS isn’t designed to be installed on a PC and the workarounds were unstable at best). Though I did write some more music this year, both for the marketing company and for Poison Ivy Mysteries, I was barely making any money doing it. I was still forced to live at home, and even then I had to sell plasma just to afford gas money to drive to the studio. It was an untenable situation, and I was not in a healthy mental or emotional place.
So finally, I sought out another job to pick up the slack. I wanted to at least work in a place where my skillset would be appreciated, instead of a call center or some other generic white-collar workplace; someplace where my music degree would hopefully be somewhat applicable. Fortunately, in May I applied for an opening in the audiovisual department at Little America Hotel, where at least my skills in the studio and doing live theater tech for the Hunts and for Poison Ivy would give me a leg-up. And sure enough, I got the job and was finally able to start living in the black. For a few months I continued to go into the marketing studio whenever I could, but it didn’t take long for that to dry up since I had to dedicate the bulk of my time to, you know, the company that was actually paying me to be there.
Work with Poison Ivy Mysteries continued, though due to my new job I ceased being able to actually run tech for the shows. Instead I focused on the songwriting, which I started doing solo after Nate Drew left the company. 2011 saw the premiere of Curse of the Scarab, which is still my favorite show that we’ve ever done.
I was also still active in the LDS church and was attending the YSA ward in my parents’ stake, though even at this time I was becoming more and more disillusioned with the Mormon culture, especially when it came to how it ran its singles’ programs. I still believed in the doctrine, but I was starting to become disaffected from the social aspects of the church. In particular, the fact that I was still single while approaching 30 was weighing heavily on me, and I was still unable to do much of anything about it.
This was well-demonstrated by a cruise that I took early in the year. My grandmother was turning 80, and she invited the entire extended family on my dad’s side along for a three-day Carnival cruise along southern California and northwest Mexico. Coming along with all the family was my cousin Kat, who also brought four or five of her own friends, none of whom were LDS. The time I spent with that group was probably some of the best and most eye-opening moments I’ve ever had, as it was the first time in a very long time that I could just hang out with a group of girls without everyone thinking in the back of their minds, “Hmm…which one of these people could I get married to?” and instead just enjoying themselves. Being fresh from BYU this was a whole different atmosphere than I was used to, and was instrumental in my internal debate of how the church said I could find happiness vs. what I actually was happy with.
Late in the year I finally could afford to move out of my parents’ basement. I ended up in a small house in downtown Salt Lake by Trolley Square, living with two (later three) other guys who I didn’t know before I moved in. This was not a great experience for me, as not only did I have the smallest bedroom in the house (between the non-existent floor space and the sloped ceiling I was more-or-less living in Harry Potter’s cupboard-under-the-stairs), but I had virtually nothing in common with my roommates, who were decently nice guys but also jocks (one of them worked for the Utah Jazz PR department). Still, at least I didn’t have my step-dad calling me a “troll hiding in [my] rat’s den” anymore, so it was a step up.
2012 was the first year that I would consider “status quo” for most of the decade. I had a steady job at Little America (that I still hold to this day), I had finally moved out of my parents’ house, and while I would move several more times over the course of the decade, my life was starting to settle into the pattern that would define most of my 30’s: working a job that had erratic, mostly-evening hours, where I would never know my definite schedule more than a week in advance, and where I simply could not plan *anything* outside of work that would take more than a few days. That means I couldn’t work any other job that would have a schedule involved, including getting involved in theater productions such as Poison Ivy Mysteries (though I continued to do songwriting for them this year) or community theater stuff (tech or onstage), and, probably the most difficult bit: my social/dating life became far more complicated, as the most popular times to go out with people (weeknights, weekends) were almost always my busiest times at work due to being in the hospitality industry.
Speaking of dating, there are three topics that define a lot of this decade for me that I nevertheless can’t discuss too in-depth due to the sensitive nature of the topics. I’ve already touched on one (my disaffection and eventual departure from the LDS church, which I’ll discuss more in subsequent years), and my dating life is the second. I’ve had several relationships throughout the 2010’s: some ended amicably, others less so, but all of them ended eventually, and I don’t wish to air any dirty laundry (also I haven’t received permission from any of my partners to do so), so instead of discussing many specifics I’ll instead touch on lessons I’ve learned from dating each year, and how my perspective grows and shifts on the topic, doing so in a general manner so as to avoid any issues. As for the third topic, well, we’ll get there…
In any case, 2012 was the last year where I was fully active in the church for the entire year, attending a YSA ward that met up by the U of U. I didn’t end up dating anyone from that ward (I went on maybe two dates period with anyone from there), and in general felt pretty isolated and old, being 29-30 years of age in a ward that was mostly 22-25-year-olds. Both of the two major(-ish) relationships I did have that year (one with someone I knew from college, the other from an LDS dating site) were with women who, turns out, were both hung up on other guys and just dating me because their guy was unavailable, at least until said guys were available again, which meant that, sorry Jeff, sloppy seconds don’t cut it, I’m-a marry this dude.
So that sucked.
I did end up going on a bunch of random dates that didn’t go anywhere, though, which resulted in what for some reason is still the main source of internet traffic to this blog: a post about The Third Date Dump (which, despite the name, isn’t about getting dumped on the third date, but the third date being the general time when you really knew if a relationship was going to go anywhere).
In any case, between the erratic work schedule (which was extra-difficult in 2012, as the department only had me and one other guy in a job that should really have four people, so I worked a lot of overtime hours too), the unsuccessful dating, the jock roommates, and the isolation at church, 2012 was probably one of my loneliest and most depressing years, even compared to later in the decade when I actually lived alone (but we’ll get there). It’s one thing to feel isolated because nobody else is around, it’s another to feel isolated despite being surrounded by people who simply don’t want to have anything to do with you, and that’s where I was. Around this time I got really into watching The Runaway Guys: a Youtube channel where three dudes are just playing video games together (mostly Nintendo stuff like Mario Party), back when the online video landscape wasn’t as saturated with that type of content as it is now. For me it was a throwback to college days, when you’d come home from class and your roommate was playing something and you’d watch him and have a good time for an hour or five, or somebody’d knock on the door and be like, “Hey, I’m craving Super Smash time, anybody here up for it?” and like half the time you’d be working on homework but there’s always time for Smash Bros., ya know? Anyway, watching these three random Internet dudes screwing each other over on Mario Party boards helped me feel a personal connection with at least something that year, with all my friends either married, long-distance, or otherwise occupied, and it at least made life bearable.
2012 was also the year when my religious journey began in earnest, where I started examining some things about the basics of my faith instead of just the culture. I started making some posts that seems a bit cringey and judgmental now, given my current belief status, but for me at the time were slow baby steps toward understanding why people I admired were leaving an organization that I had always believed was God’s own. The bulk of this journey was yet to come, as at the time I still believed in the church, but I was at least starting to recognize some cognitive dissonance on the subject.
In June my good friend Josh Reese turned 30 years old, and we threw him a really goofy party where the plot was that Dan Omer had built a clone army in the future and Nate Winder had sent a message back in time with me to give to Josh, who was the only one who could stop Dan from world domination. This was done by giving all the partygoers masks with Dan’s face on them with the eyes cut out, which was at once the funniest and creepiest thing I think I’ve ever seen.
Speaking of turning 30, I did just that in November of this year. The exact minute I turned 30 I was at Josh’s house, playing Kirby’s Return to Dream Land with Josh and Billy Grant; specifically, the mini-game mode where you used the Wiimote to toss ninja throwing stars at Ten Tough Targets!
I was still working terrible hours at Little America, though this year things began to get more bearable, as in December of 2012 we added a third guy to the department, and while we wouldn’t get a fourth for a few years yet, I was given at least a little flexibility regarding time off with a third guy to cover some of the gaps.
The first half of this year went much the same as 2012, with me still living in the cupboard-under-the-stairs in the house by Trolley Square, writing the occasional music for Poison Ivy Mysteries but otherwise just kinda…existing. I was still attending church, but had no real connection with anyone there, and between my erratic work schedule and the fact that all your friends in your 30’s are busy raising families and whatnot, I was kinda left by the wayside. I don’t know how I survived (the answer probably has the word Skyrim in it somewhere), but luckily I did, as mid-year things would finally change.
In the summer one of my college friends, Sheldyn Smith, had finally graduated, and we made plans to move into a space together that we could possibly convert into a music studio, as both Sheldyn and I were music nerds (we both had nearly the same music degree from BYU, though mine focused more on composition/songwriting while his focused more on sound mixing/engineering). So in August we found a little house in Salt Lake, just west of I-15 and south of I-80 (literally, I-80 was directly behind our house, though there was at least a thick concrete soundwall between it and us) that nonetheless had space if we wanted to record anything, and while we didn’t really do any professional music stuff (other than the requisite Poison Ivy Mysteries songwriting), Sheldyn did have his gigantic prog rock drumset that we’d jam with on occasion, and we never got neighborly complaints (that I was aware of), so hey, we were all good.
Life with Sheldyn was an immense improvement from the cupboard-under-the-stairs. Not only did I finally have a roommate I actually had things in common with, Sheldyn is an inspiring person to live with, who always pushes himself to do better and for you to do better as well. We had so many different little projects we ended up working on: some successful, others not so much (more on this in 2014), but at least it was something to look forward to. Sheldyn was also a gamer, and his jam at the time was Starcraft II, and we’d watch some professional games on our TV like they were football games, at a time when eSports was just beginning to take off and hadn’t reached the cultural saturation it has nowadays. Sheldyn and I were also a good roommate match because we knew how to respect each other’s boundaries while also wanting to spend time with each other doing stuff we both liked, a balance I had rarely found before and never found since.
Dating in 2013 wasn’t tremendously notable: the two relationships I mentioned in 2012 (which were both off-and-on; I wasn’t dating two people simultaneously) actually ended for good in 2013, and everything else was just casual dating from online dating sites.
Churchwise, when we moved into the house I went inactive. I didn’t really want to attend a new YSA ward for only a few months as the old fogey before getting kicked out due to turning 31. My plan, however, was to switch over to the mid-singles ward (31-45-year-olds, if I remember correctly) in November when I was old enough. However, I only ended up attending once, as turns out the bishop had set a lot of strict rules to even put your name on the membership rolls (things like “has own car”, “attends regularly for at least two months straight”, “goes to a new-member-orientation meeting that only happens once every other month”, “doesn’t have kids or at least doesn’t have sole custody so that the ward doesn’t need a nursery/primary program”, “has letter of recommendation from home ward bishop”, and so on). Due to my work schedule I couldn’t fulfill some of these rules, so I was ineligible. Which was probably for the best, as the atmosphere was pretty depressing. The church pushes marriage and family so incredibly much that, when you have a huge group of single people (enough to fill three elders’ quorums and five Relief Societies) who, by definition, have failed at the church’s most important goal, you certainly don’t have a group of people who are naturally happy or at peace.
In fact, probably the biggest downside of (the latter half of) 2013 was that guilt I inherited from being inactive, but still believing. Knowing that I wasn’t doing everything I was supposed to, and finding it nearly impossible to rectify that (at least without making huge changes like switching jobs so I could go to church enough to satisfy that bishop). As many good times as I had living with Sheldyn (who also went inactive at the time, though he’s since returned), that hung over everything like a dark cloud, and I was still grappling with those issues as we go into…
One of the projects that dominated the first half of 2014 was my most-recent attempt to do a “52 Weeks of Music” project, where I would write and post a piece of music every single week for a year. It was the most music I’d written since my equipment got stolen in 2010, and showcases some of my best work (along with some stuff that was, y’know, pretty all right, I guess).
Sheldyn and I also started doing some gaming livestreams, and while I streamed Skyrim maybe three or four times, our main project was Sheldyn playing through Xenogears, a super-long and complicated late 90’s JRPG, where giant robots get crucified, and…well, a lot more crazy stuff happens but nothing tops the scene where giant robots get crucified, except for maybe the fact that a giant 50 ft. pink furry Pokemon-type creature also gets crucified at the same time, and it’s portrayed completely and ridiculously seriously.
Seriously, Xenogears is bonkers. Playing it through with him, though, was great fun.
Dating-wise nothing serious happened, though getting into my 30’s and starting to date older women (that is, women my age, since I was older) who didn’t play the dumb relationship games that younger people often played started to shift my viewpoint on dating and relationships in general. Instead of seeing myself as the victim of a system where I had some undefinable quality about me that women found repulsive on which I could blame all my failures, I started having a little more confidence in myself. Simply by not assuming that every date I went on was some sort of obligation or pity date, that there were actually women that would want to be with someone like me (which, for someone with the social anxiety issues I have, is very hard to believe) helped me shift my mindset a little bit and come to peace with my relationships, even if they still didn’t go anywhere. This shift would continue blossoming over the next few years.
Towards the middle of the year, Sheldyn got an offer from his mom and stepdad (who lived in Texas) to move in with them, rent-free. Sheldyn wasn’t having the best time with his job (he worked in A/V like me, but for a different company that traveled to different venues instead of an in-house hotel A/V department like I did), as they had stuck him in the warehouse and he didn’t get to actually travel and run tech for many shows. Plus, you couldn’t beat the rental price of $0 per month they were offering, so he decided to move to Texas. That, unfortunately, left me roommate-less, and I couldn’t pay the rental fee on that house all on my lonesome. However, another friend of mine from college, who had spent the last five years or so living in Idaho, had just gotten a job in the Salt Lake valley, so plans were made for him to take Sheldyn’s spot late in the summer.
I mentioned earlier that there are three topics I have to be sensitive about. The first is my shifting church activity and belief system, which comes to a head in 2015 so we’re not quite there yet. The second is my dating life, for reasons already discussed. The third, and the reason I was hesitant to write this post in the first place, concerns the guy who took Sheldyn’s spot and subsequently became one of the focal figures of my life for the entire second half of the decade, for good and for ill: my college friend Johnathan Whiting.
Johnathan and I had a bit of a falling out recently (in June 2019 to be precise). The entire story is long and complicated and a bit messy, and to be quite frank, none of the internet’s business. Our estrangement is still recent enough that even discussing it is a bit painful, but the fact remains that my relationship with him (and I say relationship not in a romantic sense, as we’re both straight, but it did end up being an emotionally-entangled one that legitimately felt like a break-up when it ended) dominated everything from mid-2014 to mid-2019, and I simply can’t talk about those years without discussing him.
So, in the interest of propriety, I will try to discuss stuff with him in the most impartial manner possible, and I will end up leaving out a lot. I can’t promise I’ll be perfect with it, but…well, let’s move on.
So Sheldyn was out and Johnathan took his place. Johnathan’s job ended a few months later and he couldn’t get a new one due to his sleeping habits. He was working on some children’s books, though, and was hoping that some of them will take off soon. We also started a Pathfinder (a spinoff from 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons) group with Sheldyn and some of his family members over Skype that ended up being a super-fun time and probably the best roleplaying group I’ve had, running for a few years until time constraints (mainly being that one of the players went to college and didn’t have time to play anymore) ended the campaign.
The 52 Weeks of Music project, unfortunately, ended only a few weeks after Sheldyn moved out. Due to previous promises made in this post I won’t get into the details why, but suffice it to say that I no longer had the creative energy that I had when I was rooming with Sheldyn to continue with it, which, sadly, has still not been recaptured up until this very day.
Well, that’s a bit of a depressing note to end on, isn’t it? Let’s hope things start looking up in…
The mid-point of the decade started with Johnathan still lacking a job and spending most of his days lying on the living room couch. However, he’d taken the last of his cash and invested it into an artist’s booth at the upcoming Salt Lake Comic Con (this was before the con got sued by the San Diego Comic Con and had to change its name), hoping that he could get his name out there, sell some art and some books, and maybe get things rolling in that department so he can finally start doing art professionally. Unfortunately, things didn’t end up working that way and he ended up wasting pretty much the rest of his money on the rental fees for the booth. So I started trying to think of ways to cheer him up and get him working on something worthwhile that he also had to put the least amount of effort into, and I came up with (drumroll please…)
The concept behind the Player and the Doodler Youtube channel was that I, the Player, would play through some game, and Johnathan, the Doodler, would doodle fanart of said game while we both offered commentary, and at the end of the stream we’d show off the doodles he made. Since Johnathan would often just wander into my bedroom, put his dirty feet up on my bedding, and watch me do stuff while drawing anyway (he didn’t have the same sense of boundaries that Sheldyn did, even when I told him to stop) (sorry I said I wouldn’t editorialize), I decided to make some lemonade out of that lemon and at least turn it into a project that would give him some purpose in life and make it OK in my brain for him to be in there.
So I whipped up a little theme tune, put together a twitch channel, and in February 2015 we broadcast our first stream: a playthrough of King’s Quest I. A few people showed up in the chat that had previously watched our streams of Sheldyn’s Pathfinder campaign we were involved in, and one of them made fun of a moment where Johnathan said he appreciated the art style of Castle Daventry from a distance (which was literally a gray rectangle with some bumps on it), and the Square Castle meme was born.
Player and Doodler would end up dominating most of my off-work hours for the next few years, as not only were we streaming regularly, I had to edit the videos, taking out some dead air and adjusting audio levels for what ended up in the end being nearly 900 videos, most of which were about twenty minutes long. I won’t get too much into the details, as you can just go watch the videos if you’re interested, but keep in mind that over the next few years this channel was always demanding my time in the background of everything else.
As much as Johnathan and Player & Doodler stuff took up so much of my time and effort, there was something even more momentous that defined 2015 for me, and is probably one of, if not the, most far-reaching decisions I’ve ever made, which was my decision to leave the LDS church.
I won’t get into exactly why I came to this decision, as I have posted about that before and don’t need to repeat myself. Though, if you haven’t already, I invite you to read what I wrote the day I decided to ultimately leave, in this post called “Chasing the Light” where I describe that deeply personal journey in a (hopefully) resonant way. As a side note, it’s funny going back and reading those posts, as all the issues I was wrestling with at the time seem so far away now, four and a half years later. I was so worried about losing all the spirituality and support the church provided. And while these days I still haven’t found an exact equivalent, especially on the social side (not that the social side of the church had been doing wonders for me anyway, as shown by the 2011-12 sections above), I have found other sources of spiritual strength, things that I can base my character in that demand less conformity and more empathy, less obedience and more observation, less judgment and more forgiveness, less guilt and more peace. But, as I keep saying, we’ll get there…
I do want to give a plug for the My Book of Mormon podcast, which I started listening to shortly after that “Chasing the Light” post. The podcast (or at least the earlier episodes) is hosted by an atheist who had no prior connections with Mormons or Mormonism, but who simply decided one day to pick up and read the Book of Mormon cover to cover to see what it said and record it. It’s a fascinating dive into what a complete outsider sees in Mormonism’s central text, without having missionaries or study guides to cherry-pick stuff out to fit the church’s current narrative, and even for the true LDS believer I recommend it, if only to understand what the whole religion looks like from the outside. I bring it up because it was one of the more influential voices in my faith journey that wasn’t just another ex-Mormon blog or LDS history podcast (of which there are many).
In any case, after I had “come out of the closet”, so to speak, I was fortunate that most of my friends/family members took it relatively well. I wasn’t outright ostracized or cut off by anyone, and most of the “I’ll keep praying for you to see the light and come back to the truth of the church!” messages I got were from Facebook friends I hadn’t seen in years and the like. Most people I knew were at least willing to be understanding, even if they didn’t agree. But the fact remained that there still began to be a degree of separation that would naturally occur between any two people with a fundamental disagreement of belief, especially in a cultural environment dominated so completely by one religion. Probably the only relationship I had that didn’t suffer at least a little bit was the one I have with my sister Annelise and her family (though that’s because they left before I did). A certain person I know well (who I will not name due to privacy concerns) had previously voiced their own concerns with the church and its direction, but once I outed myself, they clammed up on the subject with me. Those kind of door slams probably hurt more than any of the “We’ll pray for your soul, you heathen!” messages. But at least I was on a new path, and was beginning to explore it to find new worth.
2015 saw the end of Poison Ivy Mysteries since it wasn’t feasible to continue with it after Annelise had made the decision to go back to school and pursue her degree. This also spelled the end of my professional music writing career, and while I’ve written a few things since then, it’s been almost entirely hobby-based. Maybe one day I’ll be able to get back into it professionally, but it hasn’t happened yet.
My extended family (my mom & stepdad, my siblings and their families, and myself) took a trip to Disneyland in the spring. This has been, to date, the most recent family vacation we’ve done. It was a lot of fun. I don’t have much to say about it, I just wanted to note that it happened.
Despite my best efforts to give Johnathan at least something to get out of bed for with Player and Doodler stuff, he still was not looking for a job and his money had run out. This left me with no choice: in August, when the rental contract for the house was up, I was forced to kick him out, and he had to move in with his sister and her eight or nine kids (I forget how many it was at the time; mighta been, like, twenty-five for all I know) in Ogden. For a little while I tried to find yet another roommate, but after my experience in the cupboard-under-the-stairs place by Trolley Square, I was unwilling to risk just having some complete stranger move in, and eventually I decided to completely move out and get a small apartment by myself. I found a little one-bedroom apartment in a complex nearby, on Redwood Road just south of I-80. My rent would nearly double due to not being able to share the burden with anyone, but at least I was free of having to rely on anyone else. I was finally independent and free, finally truly on my own. I didn’t have to wear pants when I was cooking! It was great!
It was also one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’m pretty sure that most people, especially not in a culture like mine where people get married young, haven’t truly lived completely alone for large swaths of time. Even many who are still single have roommates, or go out with extroverted friends, or at least have work buddies in the cubicle nearby. I usually worked the evening shift at my job, which meant that I saw my coworkers for maybe an hour or two a day, and the rest of the time I was either completely alone, setting up equipment for the following day, or working with clients on a superficial level (“Hi, my Powerpoint presentation isn’t showing up on the projection screen!” “Go to your display settings and select ‘Duplicate Display’.” “Oh, thanks! By the way, I make seven figures selling lotion products!” “Yeah, I know…” (ok maybe some of those lines were just implied)) and, as I was approaching my mid-30’s and the only other person I knew who didn’t have their own family and/or busy life had just been kicked up to Ogden, most days I didn’t talk to Anybody At All, other than maybe to say “I’d like combo #4, please.”
It got better, though, as I got more used to it. And leaving the Church also changed my dating life and habits, but let’s get more into that in…
While posting about my departure from the LDS church closed some doors and damaged some relationships with some people, others began to open up to me, as they were having similar journeys and craved someone to share the load with. One such person was a woman (again, I’m not naming anyone I’ve dated just in case) that I had been on a few dates with in previous years when we were both still faithful, only now she was also undergoing a faith journey, and we ended up sharing a strong spiritual connection for a number of months. It was the first post-Mormon relationship I’d ever had, and wow, was it exultantly freeing to be able to set our own boundaries and goals for what we wanted to have happen, instead of having expectations dictated onto us. We didn’t date because we were both looking to marry each other, but because we had a bond at that moment when we were going through some difficult times, and we found comfort, peace, and strength with each other. It ended after a few months, as she had eventually found and embraced a different belief system I wasn’t ready for, but I learned so much about myself and what I wanted, about what relationships could be and didn’t have to be, that I consider it to be one of the best relationships I’ve ever had, and I still think fondly of her and wish her well.
Though Johnathan had been forced to move to Ogden, we still got together on average about every month-and-a-half or so to record more Player and Doodler videos, though since he still didn’t have a job it was difficult financially, so we started a Patreon account to try to seek some recompense (and at least cover transportation costs). It didn’t do as well as we’d hoped, but it was at least something. We also had some streams where we invited guest commentators on (friends, family members, etc.), culminating in probably our most ambitious project: a playthrough of Dokapon Kingdom with my nieces Ivy and Madeleine Murphy. This project ended up taking over two years and more than 100 videos, and encompassed Madeleine’s entire junior high existence (our first recording session was the week she started seventh grade, and our final one was literally her last day of eighth before switching to ninth grade at Hunter High). This playthrough will indirectly mean something important when we get to 2017, so put a pin in that for now…
Early in 2016 Sheldyn got married. By this point he was living in the tri-city area of Washington State, and Johnathan and I took a trip up to visit him and attend the reception. Unfortunately, on the trip up there was a snowstorm that closed the freeway in Oregon. Also unfortunately, like an idiot I thought, “Well, even though the freeway’s closed, the side roads are probably open! We gotta get to Washington tonight or I’ll lose my deposit at the hotel!” So we took the Oregon backroads. In the middle of the night. In the middle of a snowstorm. In January. In a car which was definitely not built for backroads driving.
Yeah…we were lucky we only flipped the car on its side once.
We ended up staying in a motel in the middle of nowhere after a jeep came along and helped us flip the car back on the road after getting it stuck sideways in a snowdrift. We made it to Washington the next day and everything was fine from then on with the wedding and such. But that’s my lesson from 2016, folks: if people say the freeway is closed for the night due to snow, just go find a place to stay; don’t be a moron like ol’ Jeffery.
2016 was a difficult year for me, though for different reasons than 2011 or 2012. The isolation that was inherent in my current life was beginning to take its toll, and Player & Doodler stuff was my only real release, which is probably one reason why Johnathan became so central to my life in the latter half of this decade. I promised not to talk about details, though. In an effort to reach out and maybe make some new friends, I attended a few meetup groups, most notably a few post-Mormon groups that met for coffee, but just like with my ward experiences from earlier in the decade, I was never really able to click with anyone, and eventually I stopped attending those.
In October I left my place on Redwood Road and moved to a different place on Redwood Road, though this one was much farther south in Taylorsville. It was a two-bedroom place where I could set up the second room as an office, and separate my recording space from my bedroom, which has been nice. It was around this time that I began my second post-Mormon relationship with a woman I met online who had recently been divorced (as in, like, only weeks before and technically the paperwork hadn’t completely gone through yet when we started dating, but whatever). She fell for me pretty hard, largely because she had read my blog and thought she knew me quite well (and while I do pontificate a lot on my blog, it is only one aspect of me, and probably not the one you’d be dealing with on a day-by-day basis), and after only about a month I panicked and ended the relationship with a sad break-up call (our last good date was the night Trump got elected, which was…ominous…). Ever since then I’ve been afraid to truly express myself on this blog as I had been doing in years past up to that point, which is one of the main reasons why my blog posts pretty much completely dried up after this.
Oh, 2017, you sweet, sweet bastard.
In January my nieces had convinced me to play and stream one of their favorite games, an indie RPG called Undertale. At the time I really enjoyed it, giving it an 8/10 or so, but otherwise it was just another game like the bunches of games I was doing for Player and Doodler, and I didn’t get super-invested into it.
That is, until about March, when it became a symbol of something else.
At the end of March the Dokapon Kingdom crew (myself, Johnathan, and the two girls) went on a trip to Goblin Valley in central Utah. We mostly had a good time, until about ten minutes before we were going to leave, when we decided to take one last trip hiking around in the park. During this time Ivy, who had barely turned fourteen only a week or two previously, somehow lost her footing and fell off a cliff, freefalling about fifteen feet before landing on her face on a dirt incline and rolling for about sixty more. I was the first on the scene, and I thought she was dead.
I’ve posted about this (turns out she survived, which is nice), so I invite you to visit that link for the (literally) gory details. To summarize, after this traumatic experience my isolated lifestyle really came back to bite me, as since everyone else was (rightly) concerned about Ivy, I was left alone to process my grief and guilt about being the one in charge of the trip. I couldn’t rely on Johnathan, as he was more interested in offering advice than comfort, and most of my other friends were probably not even aware of my suffering, and I didn’t want to post on Facebook “Hey guys! My niece almost died and went through terrible trauma, as did her immediate family! Help me deal with that!”
So I retreated to where I often go when needing time: into video games. And I was very fortunate that the one I was playing was Undertale (I had finished it in January but was trying to see all of the endings), as it turned out the game was incredibly rich with emotional themes of trauma, loss, and depression, but also healing, strength, and coming to peace with one’s trauma. Pretty much every major character in the game goes through some sort of trauma/redemption arc (in the best ending, anyway), and the more I analyzed this game and its themes, the more I was able to process my own grief and healing.
One character in particular (technically unnamed in the game but everyone in the fandom calls them “Chara” as that’s the name variable pulled out of the game files, short for “Character”) undergoes what was the most fascinating arc for me. In the game’s backstory (spoilers for the next few paragraphs), they (I say “they” because Chara’s gender is either ambiguous or gender-neutral, depending on how much you want to argue about it on Tumblr) end up falling into this underworld populated by monsters, but they’re friendly and adopt Chara as one of their own. Turns out they were trapped down there countless years ago in a war against humans, and the only way the barrier can be broken is by using seven human souls, though only one is needed for a single monster to leave. So Chara, despite being portrayed as a withdrawn, awkward kid who laughs at inappropriate times and can make a “creepy face,” decides to make the ultimate sacrifice to free their new friends, and commits suicide with the plan that their adopted monster brother will take their soul, cross the barrier, find six more souls, and free everyone. I’m not going to get too deep into the plot here, but to make a long story short, instead of freeing everyone, Chara’s brother ends up getting killed himself, their parents descend into grief and pain, and everyone in the kingdom becomes violently anti-human despite being very friendly otherwise, resulting in at least six more human deaths in the subsequent years. In short, Chara just wanted to help people by sacrificing their own life, but ends up making things far worse and is unable to fix it because, you know, they’re dead.
The point of the game, then, at least in the best ending, is that you play as a different human who fell into the underground sometime later, who takes upon the responsibility to save these monsters who have undergone so much pain and trauma due to both their underground imprisonment and the aftermath of Chara’s failed escape attempt, and to help out those who had isolated themselves or lashed out to find some peace. This even extends to Chara’s brother, who, despite being killed, is still around in a certain form due to some mad science-y stuff. In fact, the only major character who doesn’t get an explicit redemption and/or healing arc…is Chara.
I say “explicit” because there is an implicit redemption arc for Chara, as Chara’s name in the game is actually the name you input at the beginning for your character that shows up in battles, on the info screen, etc., and there’s a popular theory that this means Chara is there in spirit, maybe acting as the narrator, even though the actual human you play as is revealed to be somebody else (named “Frisk”). This means that you, the player, by playing to get the best Pacifist ending, redeem Chara yourself. The game doesn’t give Chara redemption or forgive them because that’s your job. But so many fans completely miss this storyline since it’s not spelled out (and the average age of the Undertale fan skews pretty young so I’m not sure a lot of them would be able to pick it out anyway), going so far as to demonize Chara (since the only ending where you see Chara in non-flashback form is the one where you kill everyone).
Even from outside the game, the only person who can give Chara redemption, forgiveness, and peace…is you.
I could go on and on about this (and apologies if you’ve read this far and couldn’t care less about Undertale), but the reason I bring this up in a 2010’s decade-in-review post is that this story, about active redemption and forgiveness, about taking control of your own healing process and finding your own inner strength, is the first real basis of spirituality I’ve had since leaving the church. For years I was worried that I’d lost the peace and guidance that I’d expected within its folds. And after the Goblin Valley accident, I kept blaming myself for not being more responsible, for taking these kids somewhere dangerous without proper precautions or training.
And then I found this Character, this person who had only wanted to help their friends but ended up making things far worse, who was forgotten from within the game and demonized from without, who had caused so much pain and suffering without even the option to fix anything because it was all taken out of their hands after they screwed it up…
…and I found a kinship.
I couldn’t fix Ivy. I couldn’t go back in time and tell her to stay away from that cliff. I couldn’t even help her much now, as her parents were already doing that and all I could do was go home and let them do what they needed to. But I could give myself that forgiveness, tell myself that it’s OK, that it might or might not have been my fault, but all I can do is learn and move on, and maybe make the world better from now on, like the player could do with Chara in the game, and therefore find my own peace.
This was finally something I could rebuild my spirituality on. Something I could use for guidance without carrying the baggage of Mormonism or even Christianity. I’m not starting the “Church of Undertale” or anything, since it’s merely a starting point, not an entire belief system or moral code, and besides, I think everyone has to travel their own personal spiritual journeys for them to have any lasting meaning. But Chara has kind of become my mascot. Their in-game symbol, a pixelated red heart representing their soul, has become my symbol, to the point where I wear one around my neck, as a representation not unlike what garments are for many LDS members. I don’t believe my necklace provides any literal physical protection like some members do about their garments, but I do find peace in the spiritual reminder that it is.
This didn’t all happen in 2017. In fact, it wasn’t until 2018 that I even picked up Undertale again after leaving it in Chara’s hands (see the post I linked to earlier), and it wasn’t until 2019 that I had really processed it all. I’m dropping all this here in the 2017 section, however, because this is where it all started. And also because this trip overshadowed so much of the year that everything else seemed trivial in comparison.
So I guess we can go over the other 2017 stuff real fast. Work was the same as it had been, though this year we added a fourth guy to the department. I mended fences with the woman I had dated in late 2016, and though we tried dating once more for about a week, we ultimately decided to remain friends and had lunch together once every few months or so. Dating was otherwise uneventful, probably even moreso than previous years (OKCupid changed their messaging policy, which prevented a lot of unwanted solicitations but also made it harder to open with a funny or clever message, which had gotten me most of my dates in the past). I tried some different types of meetup groups and made a couple of friends, but I still didn’t really feel completely comfortable anywhere.
I also finally officially took my name off the LDS church records late this year. I’d like to say that it was for some noble moral reason, to show my dissatisfaction with its immoral policies or something like that, but really it was to stop the emails I kept getting from some ward in Sugar House (where I’ve never lived) asking if I wanted to sign up to clean the chapel every weekend.
Player and Doodler continued, though with Johnathan’s financial situation it started getting more difficult, and as a result the stream quality suffered a bit toward the end, culminating in a few streams recorded in October where there was quite a bit of anger simmering under the surface (I won’t say which ones, though I’m sure any interested detectives can figure it out) and ultimately led to the decision to end the channel in early…
We recorded our last normal Player and Doodler stream in February (with the exception of one Dokapon Kingdom session that we recorded in May), ending very close to our three-year anniversary. Due to the tremendous backlog of videos and editing I had to do, stuff kept going up on our Youtube channel clear until November. Despite the channel coming to a close, Johnathan was still a big part of my life, even with the distance factor.
Honestly, I’m having a hard time even remembering important events from 2018. After all the traumatic stuff that had happened in the previous years, 2018 was kind of a filler year. I didn’t move anywhere, I didn’t change my belief system (though I was still sorting through the emotional aftermath of 2017), I wasn’t dating anyone, and my only actual blog post was about how I hadn’t posted anything in a while. About the only notable thing that happened all year was the trip I took with Annelise and her family to Universal Studios in the spring. It was a fun trip, to be sure, and I got a Ravenclaw hoodie out of the deal (before JK Rowling got too cringeworthy), but I don’t have much to say about it. I was also on a D&D podcast that Brady Flanagan spearheaded, which was fun, but not really something I was invested in other than playing a character in a session every other month or so. Oh, and toward the end of the year I had to finally break off the friendship I had with the woman I was dating in 2016, due to the inability to keep it strictly friendly (and the fact that we really were incompatible in several ways).
Also my car got rear-ended once and my bumper is still torn up. So there’s that.
I guess I was just in… a place in my life? Maybe I just had to take the time to process everything from previous years, and my psyche just had to shut down for a bit. I did, however, come to the conclusion (due to attending a session of a therapy thing that Ivy was going through for her OCD) that I have some pretty serious social anxiety issues. I don’t know if it’s a full-blown Social Anxiety Disorder, but if it’s not it’s still pretty severe.
Even searching through Facebook turns up little material for me to write about. So, before jumping into 2019, here’s a quote from my Facebook wall from April 2018:
“I’m trying to read a pseudo-Cliff-Notes version of Homestuck, but so far it reads like an essay on ‘How I spent my summer vacation’ written by someone with aphasia.”
In many ways the status quo continued on from the previous year, but there were a few things this year that separated it from the weird lull that was 2018. First was the fact that I moved again, though it was within the same apartment complex to an apartment with the exact same floor plan, but this unit wasn’t facing a freeway, so I could actually open the window without hearing cars, which was nice.
Secondly, and with far more reaching effects, was the effectual end of my friendship with Johnathan in late June. Like I’ve already stated, I don’t want to get into details, but though it hurt (and still does), it was ultimately for the good of both of us, I think. What I can share is the straw that broke that camel’s back as it’s a part of the public record: early in the year I posted about my 2017 Undertale experience in that post I linked to earlier (in case you don’t want to scroll back, here it is again) and Johnathan left a very lengthy comment on it. Read both the post and comment and draw your own conclusions. Or don’t. That’s fine too.
One of the downsides to that ending, however, is that, since then, the isolation issue that’s been an on-and-off problem for the whole decade is starting to get worse, and I don’t know how to fix it. Making new friends is difficult, old friends are busy or otherwise unavailable to the extent that I need them, and I still live alone. I started livestreaming again in December (it took me awhile to work up the desire to do so again after the Johnathan thing, what with all the Player and Doodler livestreams we’d done together) with the intent to alleviate some of that with inviting literally anyone who wanted to to join in and chat, just like the old college times that the Runaway Guys reminded me of. It has helped, though not to the extent that I need. Still, it’s something.
Dating has gotten weirder as time has gone on. When I first left the church I had some great experiences with some wonderful ladies, and even the relationships that didn’t end well (i.e. all of them) I still feel had value as learning experiences. But as time has gone on, I find it more and more difficult to put forth the effort anymore. I’ve had to come to terms with my own singlehood, and, even if I’m not fully at peace with that I’m at least in a good place with it. Getting into a serious relationship with anyone would require some vast changes in how I currently approach life, and while I know there are people out there worth changing for, I have no idea how to find them or recognize that, and I don’t know if they’d have the patience to help me become the person who’s right for them instead of this dude who’s been living by himself for half a decade and has started going a little “crazy bachelor” as a result. So we’ll see. I did have an interesting “text relationship” with a woman who was super cute and seemed fun, but we had little in common and, despite her being the one to contact me, she never actually asked me to do anything, so that didn’t really go anywhere.
Oh, also this past June I got glasses. I was also diagnosed with type II diabetes, but through some diet and exercise changes I lost eleven pounds and got dropped down to pre-diabetes levels by December.
So what’s next?
I dunno. Honestly, both these past years have kind of run together, and I don’t know if the next years will be similar, but they very well might be. And I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing; whether or not I’ll just work and go home to an empty apartment and repeat that for the next thirty years or so. I’ve finally reached self-forgiveness and peace, but that doesn’t do much to provide a sense of purpose. That’s still a phase of my spiritual journey that I haven’t got a handle on yet. I’m not asking for suggestions either; this is something I have to discover for myself. But I will. I promise you that. I promise me that.
So that’s my decade-in-review for the 2010’s. As I approach 40 within the next two years will I have a mid-life crisis and buy a cool car and run off with a hot secretary? That’s what 40-year-olds do, right? Well, whether or not that happens (it won’t), the 2020’s will hopefully be full of growth, joy, and happiness. Or, at the very least, I won’t spend half of it editing Player and Doodler videos.
Here’s to the future!