Going to Portland, Oregon (Part One)

I went on my first official vacation a few days ago. The plane landed late Friday night and I went back to California Tuesday night. So I thought it would be fun to talk about the trip. In the interest of going to bed at a reasonable hour tonight, I’ll split this post into two. Part One will cover my general experience, and Part Two will be the specifics of what I did.

Side note: Get ready for a long post with lots of pictures. I took an uncharacteristically abundant amount of them. Almost 300 in just 4(ish) days. From the time between the first and last picture I took, my rate of picture taking was around .25 per hour (or 1 every 4 hours depending on how you want to frame that ratio).

IMG_20180603_143148248_HDR.jpgIt’s worth noting right off the bat that I’m very introverted and basically don’t ever leave the house if I don’t have to. Having said that, I wanted to make 2018 memorable by making big changes to my behavior. I don’t like Southern California (it’s just way too hot), and down the road I want to move away from the desert, but I don’t want to move too far to require a plane to see family. Basically, this just means going north to Northern California or Oregon, so visiting the state seemed like a good place to start.

I’ll just tell you right now, I loved it. I only spent time in the Portland area, but the whole place is gorgeous. There are more trees in the densest portions of downtown than there are in some of the parks I live near. To sum up my experience of what Portland “is” in three words: “weird, green community”. And yes, that’s a double entendre.

IMG_20180602_141234693 (Saturday Market).jpgPortland is weird, because people just… talk to each other. In Southern California, conversations with strangers only happen when they’re obligatory, and it’s literally the same conversation every time. If an alien was teleported into LA with no understanding of the English language, I would give him a list of about 5 words/phrases and any surface level conversation would sound normal: “Hi”, “How are you?”, “Good”, “Have a nice day”, and “Thanks”. He could pretty much dictate those phrases at random to a stranger and they probably wouldn’t notice.

IMG_20180605_142405103.jpgIn Portland it’s different. I’m not used to just chatting with cashiers about my cool shirt or Steven Universe or, well… anything. It’s small talk, yes, and I thought I hated small talk, but there’s something about the easy and simple connection strangers are allowed to have that is amazing. We got into a literal argument with some guy over which of us was next in line, because everyone involved was trying to be polite and have the other go first. Spoiler: the guy ended up storming off to force us to go first, so he won. The next day, we walked by homeless people getting tattoos done on the sidewalk, and the people I was with at the time struck up a conversation about fashion. It just boggles my mind, and yes, before you ask, that circumstance made me very uncomfortable.

The city is also very transportation friendly. $5 will get you an all day train ticket, and you can use the trains to get anywhere in Portland within an hour. I got the sense that, depending on the traffic, it can actually be a lot faster than driving, especially since you don’t have to worry about parking or gas. Most of the time, the trains weren’t even that busy, my friends and I almost always had a row of seats available.

IMG_20180603_212008967 (Pioneer Square Night).jpgPortland is also amazing in that everywhere you stand, you can take a great picture. You’re also within an hour of both downtown and giant national forests, even if you’re right in the middle of the city. Plus, Mt. Hood is always in the distance, and having seen a genuine mountain, I now understand that feeling of “I wanna go there and do that”. Another thing to note: living in Earthquake Land also makes me unaccustomed to actual architecture of brick and stone. I’ve seen pictures, but man, the older buildings in the city look incredible.

So, in conclusion: Portland is incredible, and I’m going back someday.


Me — Unlocking Your Own Secrets

I’m a very introspective person. I’m constantly thinking about things and framing my experience into sizable chunks, and a lot of my life is characterized by the need to constantly improve myself and my personality.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that we as people do things for the wrong reasons a lot, even when we ourselves don’t realize it. I’m constantly trying to better myself, but I often misdiagnose the problems in the first place simply because knowing who you are isn’t always simple.

Let’s imagine a person, we’ll call him Jack. He’s very extroverted, pretty attractive, gets along with everyone. The kind of person that goes to lots of parties and has a huge social media presence just because they’re so sociable. Jack has a problem, though. He never makes time for specific people. He’s too busy hanging out with and being everyone’s friend. He might say he’s too busy with other friends to actually spend time on any one person. His best friends are just the people that he hangs around most when he goes to these parties.

But what he doesn’t realize about himself is that he doesn’t make actual, meaningful connections with people because he’s scared. His mom left when he was a kid, and he never understood or overcame that. He doesn’t want to get close to anybody because he’s terrified that if he allows himself to be vulnerable, that person will leave him. He may not realize it, but the brain has a way of doing things even if you’re not aware of it.

I’m not going all Freud on you, I promise. But even when we try to learn why we are the way we are, we may not be able to find a solution. You have so much baggage surrounding your life that it’s hard to parse what is and isn’t relevant towards for determining the reasoning behind your behavior. It gets even harder when we rationalize actions based on false information to unconsciously hide ourselves away.

I wish I could know every objective truth behind me and my actions. It’s a lot like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle of your brain, only you don’t know what the picture is supposed to look like, you just have a pile of pieces with no edge to work with.

But when you tell a friend about your troubles, they’re not looking at the information the same way. They don’t have all the baggage that comes with your life, they’re just thinking about the information you give them. Imagine them watching you struggle to put this huge puzzle together and they say “Dude, the box is right here, why don’t you just look at it?” The answer seems so simple that it’s hard to believe, but the more you think about it, the more you realize they’re right.

Of course, this is what psychologists and therapists are for, but sometimes a good, close friend can do the same thing.

Self discovery is a quest never finished, but it’s a much longer journey when taken alone.

Review — Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime

Part co-op, part power-up, part Asteroids, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is a game with an intriguing concept and a brilliant execution. When a friend of mine told me about it, he explained it as “four people operating a single space ship as they navigate a space filled with lasers, missiles, and as you’d probably expect, myriads of different kinds of creatures. Every ship has several different parts, including guns, engines, shields, etc. and each player can only operate one at a time, so you have to really work together to pull through.

When I heard about this game, I immediately thought it would be a hectic game in which every person will constantly be swapping between manning the guns, the engines, the shields, and whatever else may be demanded of them. But really, this isn’t that game. One person steering, one person with a shield, and two people managing all the different guns works just fine. The only thing that’s hectic is actually killing all the guys that are coming.

But the intrigue in this game is the power-ups. Because while there are only about four different kinds of stations a person can operate, there are three different power-ups you can find (Power, Beam, and Metal), and they all fundamentally change every station you put them on. Placing a Power gem on a gun will make it fire more bullets. Placing a Metal gem on a gun will change the weapon into a giant flail. Placing a Beam gem on a shield will make it deflect (rather than absorb) any bullets that hit it. There’s so many possibilities, and a lot of the fun in this game is looking for power-ups in order to utilize them in ways you haven’t seen yet.

This grows exponentially more exciting when you unlock upgrades that let you store two power-ups at each station. A Metal-Power gun will turn the gun into a giant missile launcher. A Metal-Metal gun will make the weapon have two flails! Since there’s so many different combinations of operating stations you can create with this game, it’s fun simply discovering those new things. There are, inevitably, ones that are better than others. I’m looking at you, Beam-Power engine and Beam-Metal shield. But that doesn’t make the discovery any less fun. As you progress into the game, you fight bosses, and eventually you can unlock new ships with different layouts.

Now, this game is up to four players, and we had five at the time, so for the majority of the time we were playing I sat out. But that didn’t actually diminish my experience. Since a lot of the fun is in the discovery, I got to experience all that alongside everybody else.

My biggest critique is that the discovery is sort of short-lived. I could have kept playing this game for several more hours, but I imagine this game will get stale after you’ve played it twice. You can only create so many types of enemies and terrain before it starts to get boring. I wanted to see even more discovery. Just one extra power-up. A Fire or Lightning gem, maybe. Now, I realize this is a tall order, given the number of combinations this would introduce would be insane, but since that’s where most of my entertainment came from, I think that should be a larger highlight of the game. This isn’t a puzzle game where co-op and perseverance is the only way to succeed. It’s not easy, but we never lost a single mission, and we were always playing on the hardest difficulty. So I want more ways to toy with the game interactions.

But beyond my insatiable need to have every game better than it is, this game is great. It’s loads of fun, and best of all it’s kid friendly. You’re rescuing space bunnies (often referred to as friends) as you go on an adventure literally mending a giant metal space heart.

Life — Taking Risks

When you’re trying something that has a clear “success or failure” outcome, it can be hard to judge whether or not riskier tactics are worth taking. Whether the circumstance is primarily social, academic, or professional, you have to think about a number of factors in order to come to a reasonable conclusion on taking a risk to achieve the successful outcome. So when I think about the problem, I look directly at all the factors first.

The piece I consider first is: What happens when I fail? If there is a cost failure makes me pay, is that cost financial, one of wasted time, or something else? If I try to make a new friend and fail, that could cost a bit of “in-that-moment” self esteem, but that’s about it. If I apply for a job and fail, the cost is largely time I could have spent elsewhere. Neither scenario are likely to cost any actual money.

The second piece: what is the risk I’m considering taking? Does it improve my chances of success? Does it increase the cost of failure? If I’m romantically attracted to a friend, there is an inherent risk with voicing those feelings. Does it improve my chances of achieving what I want in that relationship? Undoubtedly. Not telling somebody how I feel isn’t going to magically lead anywhere I want it to go. It does increase the cost of failure, however. If it goes horribly wrong, at worst I could lose a friend. I risk embarrassing myself. Things like that. If I’m applying for a job, I could take a big risk at ensuring I am a memorable candidate. You want to stand out in a crowd in this sort of circumstance, after all. The risk here is: does making me stand out (and perhaps doing something unconventional) make me look better or worse?

The last piece is: What happens when I don’t take that risk? Can I still succeed? If I’m romantically interested in that friend, not taking the risk is a virtually guaranteed “failure”. In a scenario like this, taking the risk is the only viable option. In these cases, preparing for the worst and hoping for the best is usually the best policy. If I’m applying for a job, though, I can still succeed and get the job without taking a risk by making myself stand out. This doesn’t mean that the risk isn’t worth taking, however. You have to judge how likely success is in both cases, and what the cost of failure is in both cases. If it’s something simple like a job interview, the cost of failure will be the same whether or not you take the risk. Therefore, all you have to think about is: Does taking this risk really increase my chances of getting this job?

As I’m applying for scholarships right now, this is the sort of thought process that’s been going through my mind. I have a very clear cost of failure: mostly the loss of time (and money if I factor in the success of potentially winning these scholarships). But since being brave and doing something weird is guaranteed to make me stand out, I’m going to take a huge risk.

Me — Being Overly Critical

One of my biggest strengths and weaknesses is that I’m always critical of everything. I have to look at everything and understand everything about it, and it frustrates me when there’s something I don’t know and can’t even guess. When I’m watching a movie or TV show, I’m actively listening to the soundtrack. I’m imagining the script being written and the actors saying these lines and whether or not I think things were executed as well as they could have been. If there’s something I don’t like about the movie, I point to the clear flaws and try to find a general, concluding statement as to what was ‘bad’ about the movie.

Now, I actually really like this about me. It helps me understand a lot about things and lets me look at things on a deeper level than just mindlessly doing something because its fun. But the worst part about it is that I can’t turn this off, even when I try. When I see a flaw in a videogame I’m playing, I can’t help but notice it more and more, and in some situations it inevitably makes me enjoy whatever the thing is less. I’ve recently developed a nasty habit of talking during movies and stuff to make quips or point out certain things. I used to only do that if everybody had already seen the movie, so it worries me a little that I have such a strong desire to be funny around other people that I can’t keep my mouth shut when I should.

Unfortunately, this feature/flaw also applies to people. I could count on one hand the number of voluntary friendships I’ve had that lasted longer than three years. Perhaps I’m oversimplifying a deeper or simpler issue here, but I largely blame it on the fact that after a certain amount of time (ranging from a few weeks to about two years) of being around somebody, I start to pick out things that I don’t like about them, even if its personality traits that they can’t help, like somebody’s laugh, or their sense of humor, or their tendency to bring up certain topics too often. Many of the friendships that have lasted over a longer period of time have been the lucky few whom I’ve never found flaws for or whose flaws I’ve fortunately learned to accept.

It is entirely unfair to dislike somebody simply because of how they laugh, which has lead me to this love/hate relationship I have with this particular quirk. Once I find this flaw I can’t help but notice it more often, and it can unconsciously make me want to spend less and less time with them.

I am thankful that many of the people I’m closest to tend to grow an immunity to this effect. It’s only people that are in the ‘friend to close friend’ zone that are in danger.

In the end, though, I do consider this part of my personality to be a virtue. I just hope I can learn to reign it back as time goes on.

P.S. This is also something I don’t like telling people. When I do, the first thing out of everyone’s mouth is “What’s my flaw?” or “What’s X person’s flaw?” and it is never a good idea to answer that question. Could you imagine telling somebody you hate the way they laugh and making them insecure about it the rest of their life? With self-esteem as fragile as it is, it’s often best not to touch it unless you’re building it up.

Life — Making Friends

So, the problem came up in my life recently that I literally don’t know how to make friends. I’ve made a conscious effort to avoid talking to people for so long that I’m not comfortable if I’m not in a very closed off position. It isn’t that I’m shy, just that when I’m with friends, they are very specific (and almost always planned) parts of the day, so every other time I’m alone, usually with headphones in staring at my phone.

How does one solve this issue, you might ask? Well, if you look carefully, I already did. “When I’m with friends, it’s because it’s a very specific, often planned part of the day.” So if I’m trying to meet new people, the easiest way to do it is during planned parts of the day, certainly not at random times while I’m at the school. This means I have to find social situations in which people are already going to be friendly and open towards other people, (not during lunch or other times where they’re already hanging out with the people they want to). In other words, I need to join a club, or some sort of gathering that involves other people my age.

This isn’t the first time I’ve come to that answer, simply the first time I’ve been able to definitively say why it’s such a good idea. Think about it. When you’re in class (specifically college), most people will be there to learn, and even if the class is a boring one, it’s not the best place to make friends; at least, not if you’re introverted. Of course, some classes will be more conducive towards meeting new people, but for the most part I’ve gone through my college career being friendly with my fellow classmates and then disappearing off the face of the Earth when the semester is over (though who is the one disappearing has varied in each circumstance).

I’m well aware that “not having enough friends or people to talk to” isn’t a problem most people would ever consider. In our current world of social media, regular conversations with people across the globe, even regular meetings, isn’t even far-fetched anymore. If I tried hard enough. I could see (or at least communicate with) virtually anyone I’ve ever met on any given day. Even the first friend I had ever made (somebody I met before kindergarten) is a Facebook friend of mine, even if we don’t talk anymore.

So, if you’re lacking a substantial social circle like I am, there’s ways to get around it. Parties, bars, clubs (whether they involve DJs or books), etc. are great ways to meet new people, but really, the only thing you really need is to find people that are genuinely open to talk to strangers. A passing “Hello” certainly isn’t enough. Heck, getting a job could work out just fine, because coworkers are a great way to make friends.

If you don’t have easy access to any of those things (which I would doubt), my recommendation to you would be to go online and find groups in your area that physically meetup and talk about or do something you’re interested in.

And hey, making friends isn’t easy. But it’ll never happen if you’re not open to it.

Me — Being Unapproachable

(This week’s audio recording: “My Father’s Eyes“, a flash fiction piece that’s about two and a half years old at this point.)

This post may or may not sound defeatist or self-deprecating, but I don’t intend it to be that way. Most of the objective of Me posts is to talk about myself and in so doing, learn about my personality and perhaps solve some things by shedding light on my own issues.

A good friend of mine told me the other day that I’m unapproachable. It wasn’t meant in the context of “I don’t feel I can talk to you about my problems,” though. It was said to mean “You don’t make yourself available for strangers to initiate conversation with.” Simply put, I avoid all social interactions whenever possible.

This isn’t an accident. I grew up disliking people and being largely uninterested with what they have to say. It was probably learned behavior to always have headphones in, listening to music, or audiobooks, or simply be doing something that makes it difficult for somebody to talk to me without seeming like they are imposing on me.

This is the way it’s always been, really. I don’t really make friends, and the ones I do aren’t because I shared a class with them. More likely, it would be because they were mutual friends with somebody else I knew, and by hanging out with certain people I would be hanging out with a lot of people.

Now that I’m not in high school, “hanging out with people” simply doesn’t happen. I go to class, I take notes on the lecture, and then I leave to walk straight to the next class where I stare at my phone until I have to start taking more notes.

Lately, though, I’ve felt pretty lonely. It’s not the same depression I had a year ago, by any means. This is simply the desire to have somebody to talk to consistently. The number of people I’ve met in college whom I would consider a friend reaches a grand total of zero, and I’m starting to think it’s because I’m so habitually distant.

Going into the spring semester, I’ve made it a point to take my headphones out when sitting in class, and to have a more open body language as well as keeping my head up to make eye contact more of a possibility. I find it pretty much impossible to initiate conversation, simply because that’s never been who I am, so now I’m simply waiting for somebody interesting to come along and strike a conversation, and getting frustrated when that doesn’t happen.

At this point perhaps my real gripe is that I have never felt that I needed more friends, so I’ve never tried, and now I’m woefully inexperienced in social interactions. The sense of loneliness is probably enhanced by mere virtue of the fact that I am now actively seeking attention and not getting it. I notice everything now. The few friends I do have don’t text back, the short story audio recordings get (almost literally) no views even when I advertise them in the same areas I do normally, and my blog seems to be getting less attention than it used to, a feat I didn’t even think possible.

Friday I talked about the bumpy road that is actually an air bubble in a bad tire. Right now, this is my air bubble. I know it’s not the road that sucks, its a personal issue I have. I don’t know how to fix it, but at least I’ve identified the problem, and I know that’s a good start.

Learning! — Conversations

A friend of mine asked me the other day how to bring up a specific subject of conversation without sounding strange, and I was surprised to find out that controlling a conversation isn’t really something that everybody knows how to do! The techniques that I’m about to explain came intuitively for me, so while I’ve done virtually no research as to how social interaction works (and admittedly am bad at this sort of thing in practice) I like to think I can make things go the way I want to most of the time!

There is one technique, (that I’ve picked up from the streamer Day[9] somewhere) on how to always have interesting and engaging conversations. If you think that you never have anything to talk about with this one person, this trick will help you.

First and foremost, though its not exactly related, people generally like talking about themselves. I am notoriously bad at certain aspects of this. If somebody asks me “What classes are you taking this semester?” rarely will I redirect the question to them, even if its the polite thing to do. People always have more to say about themselves, so just keep this in mind.

The idea is to never let a full thought see completion. For example:

You: “What movies do you like to watch?”

Another person: “Oh, mostly horror movies. Jaws, Saw. Stuff with a lot of suspense.”

“Oh, really? What do you like about that genre?”

“Well, I like being on the edge of my seat and that tense feeling horror movies give.”

“Oh, me too! I like suspense, but I can’t stand blood, though!”

And so on. Think of it this way. You can easily take one aspect of any sentence another person says and ask “Why?” but disguise it so you sound like you’re asking a thoughtful question rather than letting them talk. Don’t say, “Hey, I like horror movies, too!” because it leaves nowhere for the other person to go. Either ask them to explain what they said in more depth, or add a contrasting opinion that can spark more and more. That’s the first idea.

But let’s say you go into a conversation with a specific subject in mind. Let’s say, for whatever reason, you want to find out if somebody has any siblings. Now, obviously it would be weird to say “Hey, are you an only child, or no?” so it would be more polite to approach the subject with more tact, especially if you want to talk about something more sensitive. Let me give an example that is actually more plausible than siblings.

The way I accomplish this is to find something that requires no introduction, and find a way to easily tie it into the conversation I really want to have. Maybe I want to know what somebody’s shoe/shirt size is to get them a present. Now obviously you don’t want them to know this. So think about the possible topics of conversation this can branch from: clothes, family foot size, the beach (specifically sandals and stuff). You can casually mention how your shirt is too small/big, and from there branch out to how you have a hard time finding clothes that seem to fit properly (whether or not this is true). They will naturally give their own input to this, and at this point you can ask them how they gauge their own foot/shirt size, or whatever the subject happens to be. If it goes well, nobody would suspect that the conversation you’ve been having for the past several minutes was one long lead up to one specific question.

I’m sure we all go through the scenarios of a conversation in our heads before they actually happen. But rather than daydreaming and considering the possibilities, try actually planning ahead for what you would say and how they may respond.