As anyone who’s spent time talking to me in the last five years will know, I do rather like my spaceships game. Elite Dangerous has occupied a terrifying amount of my free time over this half-decade since its release. It is A-and-primarily) very fun; and B-and-secondarily-but-still-rather-important-in-the-last-year-or-two) a great distraction from irritating brain weasels – of which there have been a fair few (see posts passim ad nauseam).
This is going to be another brain weasel post.
One of the lovely things about Elite Dangerous is that, remarkably for a permanently online multiplayer game, it has a really nice community of players. Specifically relevant to me, a player group called the Hutton Orbital Radio Truckers.
The Hutton Truckers group consists of… well, honestly I’ve no idea how many ED players. It’s all very informal. Many of them are my sort of age, and the primary focus is on fun. They run events, they have scheduled get-togethers both in-game and out, and they’re generally a thoroughgoing batch of good eggs. They’re extremely welcoming, accepting of people as they are, with whatever baggage they arrive with, and they don’t put any pressure on you to play a particular way, join in particular events, or demonstrate a particular skill level in your gameplay.
They are, in short, my perfect group.
Which is why it’s quite perplexing to me that I don’t seem to be able to fit in with them.
I mean, I could: I could join in with things, talk to other Truckers, and generally make myself an active and enthusiastic part of this little community. And I would love to do that. I can’t tell you how much I’d love to.
Instead, I talk occasionally on the chat, frequently go quiet, get spiky and defensive far too often; I resolve to join in with events and then bail out at the last minute, or find some pitifully unimportant or irrelevant reason why I just can’t join in; and – admittedly infrequently but still far too often – I actually quit the Truckers community: leaving the Facebook group, the in-game squadron, the Discord channel, everything.
Predictably, a few days later I’m knocking on the doors again asking to be let back in.
And they always let me. Because, as mentioned, they’re very accepting and generally good eggs.
(Actually truth be told they probably have no real clue who I am, since I’ve never made any particular impact on the group, so letting me back in probably isn’t much different from letting a stranger in the first time; but it’s always possible they recognise the name and if so their tolerance is admirable.)
Another in-game group I wanted to join (you can be in more than one player group at once and many players are) is called the Fuel Rats. These are equally good-egg players who make it their highly organised mission to rescue other players who’ve managed to run out of fuel. The Fuel Rats have developed a full-blown call-out and dispatching system and they go to great lengths to make sure they get the job done every time; and all for no reward. There’s no in-game money payment or anything: they do it solely out of the joy of helping people.
And I would so love to be part of that.
Keen to join the ranks of the Rats, I followed the process of registering on their website, joining their IRC chat, reading the rules and regulations… and then never went any further. I was supposed to contact an established member to ask for certification, but I just couldn’t do it.
I don’t know why.
Except I do know why, because my wife’s explained it to me a fair few times now. She’s very perceptive, and sees things in me I’m only just, with her help, starting to recognise in myself.
She puts it this way: “You can’t let yourself have nice things.”
Which sounds a bit weird at first. I have lots of nice things – for, I think it’s fair to say, a moderately modest value of ‘nice’. A house that keeps the rain off; a car that mostly goes; a steady job; a mostly working Internet connection; sufficient food; and extra enough between us to be able to afford books and things when we want them. So for me to say I don’t let myself have nice things seems ungrateful somehow.
But, the more I think about it, the more I realise she’s absolutely right. Looking back, the thing I do now with things like the Truckers and the Fuel Rats is the same thing I’ve done over and over again in a repeating pattern all my life.
The trivial: Prior to this shambolic effort, I’d previously started blogs on a number of occasions. Each one got a few posts published to it, but the moment I became aware people were starting to read it, I’d delete it. I did that probably a dozen times.
I do it with Twitter accounts, Facebook profiles, everything. As soon as a profile starts to become established, I scrub it and start again.
In Elite itself, I’ve made little progress compared to many players who started the same time as me, because whenever my ship got blown up, where most players would simply curse and continue from where they respawned, I would feel compelled to wipe the character and start a new one. Often she’d have the same name as her predecessor and take roughly the same path through the game – so why restart when nothing compelled me to do so?
Because I can’t let myself have nice things.
I’ve done it in the real world, too. When I was young, I always wanted to work in Air Traffic Control. It was, inasmuch as I’d ever had a dream, my dream. I applied to National Air Traffic Services, who invited me to come and take tests – and then I’d ring them up and tell them I couldn’t proceed and ask them to withdraw my application.
And I did that three times in all, over several years. I imagine by the third they were about ready to tell me to shove it, but they didn’t need to. By then I was too old to try again anyway.
I did it with a career opportunity I had in a city setting once; a chance to get a foot in the door with an organisation I’d love to have worked for. I did the tests, passed the interview… and then rang them up to withdraw. Told myself it wouldn’t work: it’d be too expensive to move with the job and I wouldn’t have the means to support myself. Thinking back, I can’t honestly say whether I thought that was true or not. All I know is I had that job reasonably in the bag, but in the end I turned my back on it and walked away.
I even had a plan to join the Navy once. I mean the idea is laughable now, sure – but at the time I was young enough and could have made myself fit enough to do it; and the prospect of getting to learn all about electronic warfare was, back then, quite an intriguing notion. And again, I’d done pretty well in the tests. But again, I backed out. For no reason I can bring to mind; I just rang them up and said, “Not going ahead, please withdraw my application”. So they did.
I did it with the Open University: took courses with them, started three times to begin learning something and each time, as I approached the middle or latter half of the course, I’d contact them and say I couldn’t continue. And each time it wasn’t true. I could’ve – I just chose not to.
Because I can’t, apparently, let myself have nice things.
I’m sure I gave myself reasons at the time. With the OU it was because I “didn’t have time due to shift work”. Bullshit. Shift work is one of the reasons why you do the OU. With ATC it was… what? I told myself I wasn’t good enough; that I wouldn’t pass the tests? Well, no – if I don’t take them I certainly won’t pass them. Maybe I just didn’t want to risk passing them. Because then I’d have had a nice thing.
Same with Futurelearn; with Duolingo; with my flute lessons; with my flying training. Same with all the things I’ve ever started because I want to and ultimately end up putting down, not because I’ve tried them and failed, but because, apparently, I won’t let myself try a thing if I think there’s a chance I might succeed and end up with something nice.
Lest there be doubt, the purpose of this post is not to bewail my lot. It’s not to say “Pity Me”. It’s not to make excuses for this weird behaviour I have. And it’s not even to admit to laziness, as such – though I can imagine it’s difficult to see the difference from outside. All I can say on that point is that many of these things I’ve stopped myself doing are things that I’d be quite engaged with, and quite keen on spending time doing. This isn’t just “I can’t be bothered to do a tiresome thing”. It’s “I’m not going to allow myself to do something I want to do.” Sure, I can tell myself afterwards that it’s because I’m lazy, and I’ve no doubt it looks very much like laziness. And actually that works pretty well because that means I can give myself a kicking for being lazy, too.
And this isn’t going to be a “For My New Year Resolution I’m Going To Stop Stopping Myself Having Nice Things”. I don’t know what’s at the root of this but I don’t imagine it’s something I can just make go away all at once.
But it might – it might – be something I can take this opportunity to acknowledge, and then say, “I’m going to start trying to counter this tendency a bit.”
I’ve already gone some time without deleting my Elite Dangerous character, despite having been blown up a number of times since the last restart. So that’s something. I can’t do anything about Air Traffic Control any more – I’m far too old now – but I can maybe start looking at doing some short courses on Futurelearn again.
And I’m going to undertake to be a little more positive and active as a member of the Hutton Orbital Truckers, too. I want to be, and there’s absolutely nothing stopping me except my own godsdamned weaselly mind.
Finally, and probably most importantly, I’m going to reconsider where I’ve been going with some real-life stuff of late. Whatever this nonsense is that my brain has been trying to pull in the last year or two, I’ve been fortunate to have had several people around me who are very keen to help me deal with it. And recently I’ve been trying to push them away from me. I’ve told myself it’s all for their good, that I put an unacceptable burden on them by letting them get and stay close enough to support me. But is that really an all-or-nothing thing? Can I acknowledge a need to think about their well-being while still accepting their right to choose whether to put themselves in that position? At the moment I’m trying to deny myself their support and deny them their right to choose whether to offer it – but I’m telling myself it’s the only moral choice to make. It isn’t, though. It isn’t moral. It’s indulgent of this tendency to shut down things that might be beneficial to me; this tendency that affects aspects of my everyday life from the trivial and momentary to the absolutely critical and long-term.
I can’t realistically say “It stops today”. But I can say “I’m going to try to keep an eye on this.”