My Career Crossroads: a Pandemic-forced Mid-Life Crisis. Part 2: Passion

Logo from TVTropes.org

Last time I wrote about a potential music career and why that is no longer a good option for me. Long story short: I don’t have the passion for music that one would need to succeed in that business. But before we get to talking more about career options, I want to examine the question: if music isn’t my passion, then what is?

One thing that this pandemic has given me is a lot of free time. Getting furloughed in March, expecting that I would be going back in May (then in the summer, then in September, then probably next year, then who knows?), as well as everyone being cut off socially, and my current single living situation, meant that I had little that I had to do. So I was able to explore the situation that, for most, is hypothetical: given the ability to do whatever you want (time-wise, at least; I couldn’t spend a million dollars or, you know, go anywhere), what do you end up doing?

What do I do all day, when I don’t have to do anything?

And yes, the first answer that probably comes to everyone’s minds is “I bet he plays a lot of video games.” And yes, you are not wrong. However, it’s unlikely that I’d be able to make a career out of simply playing video games. I’m a little old and unskilled for most eSports teams, and they don’t sound appealing anyway. I could maybe become a professional streamer with an engaging personality, but once again, that requires a lot of self-promotion, which, as I mentioned in my last post, is difficult for me. Besides, it’s also something I tried out for a few years (more-or-less), and it didn’t ever take off like I had hoped. I’m not ruling it out per se, but let’s put it on the back burner for now (as well as related jobs like game design or coding/scripting).

Probably my second-most popular pastime of the quarantine has been watching stuff on YouTube, and spending a lot of time reading articles on various websites. What I find myself gravitating toward, though, is never the new, creative stuff, or the music videos, or the news stories or comedy shows or any of that. It’s the analysis videos. The review articles. Media that takes other media and dissects them, examining their various parts, explaining what works and what doesn’t. Video essays from such Youtubers as Lindsay Ellis, CGP Grey, the Polygon team, or RedLetterMedia I find absolutely fascinating. Despite never wanting to be a fiction author, I listened to Brandon Sanderson’s entire lecture series on fantasy/sci-fi writing and loved the whole thing. I’ve spent more time on TVTropes than I would care to admit (and the fact that I have a trope page up there that I came up with gives me so much happiness, even if it did end up spoiling the ending of season 1 of The Good Place for me.)

I’ve dabbled a bit in this myself. When I was in college I started a side blog reviewing old Atari games from my childhood, and ended up talking about every single one of them (there were over 100) over about six years, a blog that made the rounds in the online Atari community (I even got a few of the reviews published in a German hobbyist magazine, randomly). I’m currently running a tumblr blog where I’m going through Steven Universe one episode at a time and posting my notes (I’m still early on in the show, as the pace is not determined by me for reasons explained on the site). My favorite project from when I was doing The Player and the Doodler (a Let’s Play channel I did for a few years with Johnathan Whiting) isn’t necessarily the most entertaining video, nor the most impressive video, but rather the one where I felt I did a pretty good analysis of what went wrong with the 2015 King’s Quest reboot (which is why Chapter Four is the #1 spot on our Top 20 List, despite being a weird pick otherwise). And, of course, anyone who has followed me for years knows that deep delves into self-analysis form the backbone of this blog.

My passion projects aren’t creative. They’re analytical.

What drives me isn’t the need to create, but the need to understand. To take the things that others have created, and know exactly what about them is so compelling, or what they’ve done right or wrong, or how all the pieces fit together to make the whole, especially when it comes to fiction in all its forms. I want to understand the narrative that people create for their own stories, know who they are through what they do, make, and enjoy. I find that picking movies apart is more enjoyable than just watching them. I may not have the talent to make my own stories good, but I want to know exactly why yours is the way it is, for good and for bad. I want to get at the meaning of things. So I watch videos where people talk and discuss and explain, where they mull over characters and plot and motivations, where they discuss that this particular director’s choice means that the movie is like this, or that particular level in this video game works because of that thing. I want to tear apart the things that everyone consumes, twist them around and around, exposing them to new lights and new ideas, suck all of the marrow out of their bones, until I understand it so completely that I’ve internalized it. Good media is worth the analysis. And bad media is equally worth it, even if it’s just to know exactly why Transformers or The Big Bang Theory are so popular even though everyone you know hates them.

This is also why it’s often difficult for me to get into new pieces of media (especially the one that you, yes you, dear reader, recommended to me that one time). It’s difficult for me to just sit back and enjoy something on a surface level. Either I have to take the time to really get into it, pick it apart, learn about it and figure it out, or I just quickly lose interest. And I don’t always have the time or energy to do the former. But if it’s good enough, I’ll get to it eventually, I swear! Don’t hold it against me!

I am, admittedly, uneducated about all this. And the internet is already full of armchair fiction quarterbacks. For every good video essay channel, there are dozens of nerds in badly-lit webcam-filmed bedrooms screaming profanities about how every piece of media in existence sucks (except for the one thing that they have hanging on the wall behind them from their childhood). And media analysis doesn’t exactly lend itself to a lucrative career. But if there’s one thing that I’ve learned about myself, especially over the past several months, it’s that this is what drives me.

This is also a little tricky, as in school I found it somewhat tedious to examine works I felt no connection to, good or bad, and dry literary analysis usually didn’t work for me either. What I enjoy is analysis done in ways that help convey emotion and depth, rather than just terms and definitions. I don’t know exactly how to define that (probably because, ironically enough, I don’t have the proper terms nor definitions), though I also understand the need for a basic common vocabulary when discussing specialized topics, so maybe I just need some more education on the subject.

What I would really like to do is take things that are important to me and convey them to a large audience in a digestible way. I think that if, for example, I was able to turn something like my unwatchable hours-long ramble about Chara from Undertale into something that you, hypothetical current reader who’s never played the game, would watch and appreciate (much like the aforementioned YouTubers can do about media I’ve never experienced firsthand), then I would be more proud of that than any music I’ve ever written.

Even when it comes to music I’ve normally been far more interested in analysis than I have in creation. By analysis I don’t mean most of the analysis classes I took in college; those had to do with different classical forms and sonatas and figured bass and so on, none of which ever interested me much. I mean the type of analysis where your audience has an emotional reaction to a piece. Why that emotion? What particular part of the music brought that out? What instrument, or interval, or sonic space, or other aspect of the piece, made the impact? How could you replicate that in a similar setting? As a result, my favorite pieces of music that I have written (other than the goofy ones) have been intensely emotional pieces for me, and I’ve found it frustrating that others haven’t been able to connect as well to them as I have. And I want to know whyyyyyyyy…..(it’s because I hate writing lyrics, isn’t it? Maybe? I connect with music first through the music itself and then the lyrics afterward, something that only about 15% of the population does, according to a study I read once and can’t currently find online so I hope it’s true; it seems correct).

The only part of my entire music education that I remember with any sort of passion was a music history class I took during my last year, where I wrote a paper on Terry Riley’s “In C.” I won’t bore you with the details of the piece here, but it was an example of the American minimalism movement in music, where you would take a musical phrase and repeat it over and over so often that it would turn into the equivalent of wallpaper: present, but not actively noticeable. Then the patterns would subtly change over time in a way that may not even be noticed by your conscious brain (unless you were paying close attention or had studied the piece beforehand) but your subconscious would detect the changes, turning the experience into a sort of undulating, shifting sonic experience. “In C” was a good example: while one instrument (usually a piano) just kept plunking a C in eighth notes the whole time, everyone else had a set of short musical phrases that they could just play whenever and repeat them as often as they wanted, as long as they played them in order and didn’t get too far ahead of or behind everyone else. The result is difficult to listen to blind (without copious amounts of drugs at least: the piece was written at Berkeley in the 60’s), but fascinating when you understand how the phrases are built and are able to recognize them as they come up. This was something that I grew to enjoy and love, because the analysis itself led to an emotional connection that otherwise wouldn’t have been made.

So how would I take this passion and turn it into a career? Should I even try, or would it ruin both the passion and the career? Maybe I should just do something else and keep this a hobby? Aye, there’s the rub (especially with an end-of-September deadline), and something I want to look into and maybe seek input on. (Anyone want to pay me a living wage to keep making self-indulgent navel-gazing blog posts? …anyone? Well, I tried.)

I apologize for not talking about tech jobs in this post as I had previously stated, but this point is so important that I want to let it stand alone. Next time we’ll get into my other weird passion: customizing everything, and how that ties in with tech work.


As a final side note: I know I said I’m not a great self-promoter, but there are some things I’ve done that I’m irrationally proud of, and my Atari Reviews blog I mentioned earlier is high on that list. Despite being a pretty narrow focus of interest, I tried to write them with the intent that anybody could enjoy the reviews even without knowing anything about the games discussed, and so help me, I still like reading them even years later! It combines my passion for analysis I mentioned in this post with my passion for goofiness I mention in the last post! Check them out! Some random quotes (and I do mean random; I just clicked on random pages and pulled a dozen quotes or so):

“Hey, Jed, we’ve sure had a lot of beers tonight! Let’s see how drunk we are by using this educational program I found on this disk for my 25-year-old computer system! And if our blood alcohol level is over 100, we’ll know it’s OK to puke on the keyboard!”

L.E.A.P. Disks

What’s that, zigzag? Really? You want me to do what? But where will I hide the bodies?

Jeff’s BASIC Games

A game that takes a deep look at market research, what makes a deep, engrossing storyline and a multifaceted gaming experience, and then tosses it all out the window in favor of “Guys like stuff that blows up!”

Kaboom!

Donkey Kong was a big success in Japan. It was also a big success in the U.S. and probably Europe; I’m too lazy to look that up. But when it came to Australia I guess they ran it by the quality assurance guy and he said, “That monkey’s too bloomin’ big! Turn him into a lot of smaller monkeys! Also, make the main character a kangaroo instead of a plumber. There are a lot of kangaroos down under, but I don’t know anybody who’s ever seen a plumber there. It’s not relatable! That won’t play in Perth! Crikey!”

Kangaroo

I’m also not entirely sure how both Egyptian deities and Old Testament plagues can co-exist peacefully, so as a distraction from that conundrum I will mention that there’s also a crocodile in this game.

Pharaoh’s Pyramid

…if you get hit or drown, a little ambulance (or an, uh, ambulance boat, I guess?) rushes to the scene to pick up your bunny corpse. I assume this was added after the programmer’s 5-year-old daughter asked, “Daddy, what happened to the cute hopping bunny? Why isn’t it moving anymore?” and the dad, not wanting to explain death to his little princess, programmed in the ambulance so he could say, “Don’t worry, sweetie, the bunny just got a boo-boo. See, the little ambulance is just taking it to the bunny hospital, where the bunny doctor will make it aaallll better!” thus preserving the innocence of little girls everywhere.

Pacific Coast Highway

The fewer people that remain, however, the faster the UFO goes, to the point where he’s speeding along faster than you and only stays stunned for maybe half a second, requiring you to have insane reflexes to save everyone. Oh, well, I’m sure he only sacrificed Steve from H.R. to the volcano gods. Nobody liked Steve anyway.

Protector II

…if you took too much time solving the problem, an unseen assailant would throw a book at it and a giant “WRONG!!!” would appear at the top. This was obviously in the days before political correctness would take effect; nowadays an authority figure would put an arm around the snake and a giant “YOU ALMOST GOT IT!! KEEP TRYING!!” would appear.

Professor I. Q.

If you crash into anything (another car, a road sign, etc.) you will immediately reappear, but since the time ticks over a crash, it becomes more unlikely that you’ll finish the race with each crash. This is preferable to actual car racing, where each crash results in fireballs and thousands of dollars in property damage and hospital bills, so there’s something to be said for that.

Pole Position

No mention is made of how the H.E.R.O. actually evacuates the miner, so I assume that he is actually just a Catholic priest, flying into mines to perform last rites before perishing along with the miner in the gloom.

H.E.R.O.

This leads me to believe that the underlying plot of this game is that classic sad tale of girl meets walking eyeball, girls falls in love with walking eyeball, girl ends up leaving walking eyeball, girl meets spiky green alien, girl falls in love with spiky green alien, girl feels trapped by spiky green alien, girl misses walking eyeball and wants to be with walking eyeball again. I mean, how many times have we heard that old story?

Drelbs

Your main antagonists are angry fires!

Mr. Robot and his Robot Factory

3 thoughts on “My Career Crossroads: a Pandemic-forced Mid-Life Crisis. Part 2: Passion

  1. Pingback: My Career Crossroads: a Pandemic-forced Mid-Life Crisis. Part 3: Have I Tried Turning My Job Off and On Again? | Jeff's New Blog

  2. Pingback: My Career Crossroads: a Pandemic-forced Mid-Life Crisis. Part 4: Miscellanous Jobs and At Least One Decision | Jeff's New Blog

  3. Pingback: My Career Crossroads: a Pandemic-forced Mid-Life Crisis. Part 5: Apathy | Jeff's New Blog

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