Most birthdays since I turned 30 have just been another X in the box, more or less, but this one is the first since I made a deliberate choice to reboot my life, so now I can clearly and honestly assess how that’s been going (which I guess is what I’ve done every month since I started, but whatever. It sounds profound so there.)
One year ago today, I was at GenCon, having the worst birthday and worst GenCon of my life. I should have been having fun, playing games, and celebrating Tabletop, but I spent the entire convention meeting with game publishers who had been lied to by the same person (who I thought was a trusted friend) who had been lying to me for three years, using me and his position as a trusted part of Tabletop to advance his own goals. While I was trying to deal with the emotional effects of being so totally and utterly betrayed, I also had to try my best to set it aside and save not just my show, but dozens of relationships that I didn’t even know had been severely damaged. I sat down with people who didn’t know me, who I didn’t know, and had to listen to them tell me about all the lies they’d been told about me, about my show, and about my personal values. It was horrible. I had a terrible time, and by the time the day was over, I just wanted to drink beer until I couldn’t feel feelings.
What a difference a year makes. Instead of trying not to cry all day, I’m enjoying the peace and quiet of my home. Instead of struggling to find some enthusiasm to make more Tabletop, I’m creating and writing the stories I’ve been wanting to tell for months. Instead of cleaning up someone else’s mess, I’m spending the day with the people I love.
Being betrayed by someone I loved like family was one of the most painful and devastating things I’ve ever experienced. But I can take something good out of it: it forced me to look at what I was doing with my life, how I was coping with the way I was feeling, and why I had allowed all of it to happen in the first place.
It forced me to get serious about dealing with all that unhappiness, and ask myself what is important to me? What do I want to do with my life? What can I do to take control of my life? How can I be responsible for my happiness?
It’s an ongoing process. Some days are harder than others. I make mistakes, but I learn from them. Months later, I still have profound realizations about my life, my art, and where they intersect all the time, thanks to the clarity and focus my life reboot has given me.
I never would have expected my 44th birthday to be a Big One™, but here we are. Let’s check-in and see how my seven things are working out.
- Drink less beer.
I completely quit drinking in January. I just counted, and it’s been 196 days. For someone who loves beer and bourbon and whisky, and pre-prohibition cocktails as much as I do, I would expect this to be the hardest part of the whole thing, but it really isn’t. Compared to my other goals and changes, it’s honestly the easiest thing. There are times I miss having a drink, but I don’t miss feeling buzzed or even drunk. I don’t miss turning off feelings and avoiding uncomfortable emotions. I didn’t realize it when I made this list, but this thing was the first entry because it’s the foundation of the reboot, and the cornerstone that supports all the other things.
At some point in the future, I may have a drink once in awhile, but my days of having a drink and then another and then another and then inviting the Bad Idea Bears to party with me and go shopping online are over. I don’t miss it at all, and (I think I’ve said this in previous updates) what I give up is just tiny in comparison to what I get back. Grade: A+
- Read more (and Reddit does not count as reading).
I didn’t think this was going to get a good grade this month, because I haven’t finished any books. But then I realized that I’ve been reading every night, and I actually did finish a bunch of things, if I count graphic novels and trade paperbacks as books. Which I do, because I’m an adult, and I get to decide what that means. I read for two primary reasons: to nourish and enrich myself, and to get inspired. One of the things I’m writing is probably going to end up being a graphic novel or series of comics someday, so reading all the Outcast trades, every issue of Bitch Planet, The Fade Out, and Wicked + Divine is not just enjoyable and entertaining, it’s inspiring me to make something that lives up to their example. I’m also reading lots of short fiction in LIghtspeed and from around the Internet, and that’s helping me be a better short story writer. So while I haven’t finished and 500+ page books, I have read a lot, and I have gotten a lot out of it. Grade: A+
- Write more.
I wrote my keynote address for Mensa, I am nearly finished with the puke draft of a short story, and I broke a story that’s been an idea on the whiteboard for at least a year. It isn’t writing, but I made a thing where there wasn’t a thing before. I mention this because I could easily have substituted “Create more” for “Write more” on the list. I didn’t know it when I made the list, but what I needed to do more than anything else was find my way back to my Art (yeah, it’s capitalized. Yeah, that’s a little too precious. I need it to be that important in my life, so there it is). Writing is a huge part of my Art, but so is creating things, whether they are photographs, or podcasts, or TV Crimes. I’ve been working every week on an animated series that I can’t talk about, so I’m doing good work as an actor, and even though my heart breaks every single time I see something about the new MST3K that I’m not part of, and even though I get unreasonably dejected when casting news about Ready Player One or American Gods comes out, I haven’t completely given up on good on-camera acting jobs coming my way again. Hell, my work on Powers is really, really good, and if it was on network TV so more industry people saw it, I bet it would lead to some auditions or meetings.
But this is, technically, about writing. And since I’ve been writing every day, even if it’s just a few hundred words at a time, I’m doing it. The goal is “write more” not “write everything”. So my grade, including extra credit for the other stuff: A+
- Watch more movies.
Anne and I watched the entire season of Stranger Things. That, alone, would earn me an A this month. We also watch Outcast, and we’ve been taking in amazing movies, like Green Room, Blue Ruin, The Witch, and The Long Goodbye. The point of watching more movies is just like the point of reading more: to not just be entertained, but to be challenged and inspired. That’s happening every day for me. In fact, I don’t know exactly what it will be, but before the end of the year, I will write and produce a short film of my own, just because I
want need to do it. It doesn’t need to be super complicated or ambitious. Just something with two or three characters that I can shoot with my DSLR and edit in iMovie. The more movies I watch, the more great performances I see, the more they inspire me and challenge me to make my own thing. Grade: A+
- Get better sleep.
My friend, Sean Bonner, convinced me to try this thing that sounds really, really dumb: about an hour before bed, put on these hideous orange goggles that block the blue light spectrum. I guess the blocking of blue light tells our caveman brains that we don’t need to go hunting, so we can relax and go to sleep. It works so well, I don’t need to take gabapentin or anything to help me go to sleep. I’m sleeping restfully every night, rarely going over 8 hours, and waking up feeling like I actually recharged my body overnight. I know that not drinking and cutting out its sugars has been a huge part of this, but the difference between the pre-hideous-orange-goggles era and now is remarkable. But I’ve officially made it a habit to not force myself to stay up and play video games or fuck off online looking for the end of the Internet or anything stupid like that. I finish my day, I go to sleep, and I get rest. It’s a huge part of taking good care of myself, and it’s working. Grade: A+
- Eat better food.
Before I rebooted, I was just eating garbage. I don’t eat fast food, and I don’t eat a lot of sugar, but my nutrition was awful. My diet was terrible, and I had no concept of macronutrients or why their balance is important. My son, Nolan, really helped me learn how to think of my food as energy and nutrition and fuel for my body (while still indulging in ice cream and stuff, in moderation). It isn’t that hard once it becomes a habit, but making it a habit is a challenge, especially when you’re lazy like I am. But I’ve stayed pretty focused on this, and even when I’ve been on the road or in a hurry, I do the best that I can. I always grade myself on a curve, though, and I haven’t done as well with food and nutrition as I could this month. I made some chocolate chip cookies, and I’ve fallen into the habit of eating ice cream almost every night. I can do better, and I have to, if I’m going to make the last 2-3 pounds come off. Grade: B+
- Exercise more.
I’ve only run four times since June 29th. Considering I want to run at least 4 times a week, that’s nowhere close to where I want to be. I’ll cut myself a little slack, because I was on vacation for a week of this month, and I spent most of that vacation taking walks and swimming like crazy. I also walk my dogs, but not every day (or every other day when I’m running at least 4 days a week). The truth is, I’ve just been lazy, and it shows. Yeah, I hurt my hip again, and it’s been really, really hot here, but those are just excuses. In a month where everything else is going so well, this stands out as a big disappointment that needs a lot of improvement. Grade: D
Okay, so it looks like it was a pretty good month. Let’s total it up and find out what my overall grade is… 30/30, after factoring in the extra credit. However, I’m taking two points off for the D in exercise, because physical fitness is as important as mental fitness, especially for someone who is now 44.
Final grade for July: A (28/30)
That’s really good, and it reflects how I feel, generally. I’m happier than I’ve been in years. I’m more peaceful, more content, more productive, and more satisfied than I’ve been in months. The whole point of the reboot was to look at my body and life as an operating system that was really fucked up, and needed to be reset (and in some cases, recompiled from source). I can honestly and unabashedly say that it’s working.
But this isn’t a destination, this is a journey, and where I have put myself right now is the best birthday present I could have hoped to give myself this year.