In a couple months like clockwork clickin' it will happen, the double-language sheet will magically appear on my desk to ask me if I'm sticking with My Life, if I wanna choose to stay here in for my last eligible year as a high-school teacher in this program, to become more of a Japanese citizen than I was a Pittsburgher, longer than I was a college student, longer than I've lived in any one place since I was eleven. I've been going back and forth about it a lot, weighted down and lifted up by all the reasons people ponder as they consider just when exactly to change their lives completely.
As a person but also a writer I tend to cherish my credo, my mantra, "never get comfortable." The trick of it, as perhaps the trick is with all good mantras, is that in its simplicity it is complex, in seeming easy it becomes difficult. It's an impossibility, at that—how comfortable is comfortable? The problem I have with comfort is that it makes me shitty, complacent, tamps down my observational skill, dumbs my brains all up. Useless. But as humans we're obsessed with comfort—we only make ourselves uncomfortable in its pursuit. So which answer fits? Do I choose to stay or do I choose to go? Let's talk about video games.
I'm playing Darksiders, it's my second attempt. A couple years ago I tried for the first time, went through the introduction. And then, you kinda get told "this is a game." They send you to the surface, you're so pointy and angry, you are War itself! And they're like, you gotta go find this thing, here take this sidekick, here have your sword, it's been depowered though lol, and I was like "yep here is the game," and for whatever reason, I entered the portal, found the game in front of me, and quit for two years. But then the other day you know I started over, Mario 2 isn't out for a little while and I feel like a game. So I start it up, get through the intro, get to the game. But this time I keep going, I tell myself hey, I don't really know what's gonna happen. And once I start to believe that, it comes true. I realize I don't know, I don't know what is going to happen.
Some people told me it owes a lot to Zelda, this game. So I'm waiting for the dungeon, I have placed myself into the mindset where I anticipate comfort. But the dungeon doesn't come. They toss me into an open space, tell me to find some chests to buy passage from this grim reapery guy. What? This isn't what I was expecting. In fact, it's almost uncomfortable! Ohhh.
I read an article once that I have told so many people about that it is more of a personal apocrypha than an experience anymore. I read the article a while before I really decided to end my Pittsburgh life and move over here to Japan. When you apply for this thing, if you're accepted, you can't choose where you'll be put in the country. You have to say yes first, then they tell you where. And when I was trying to decide if I wanted to toss my shit up to life, let it do its thing, I found this article that said basically, your brain, well, our brains, are more active when they're in new situations, when they don't understand what's going on around them. When they are—whoa man—uncomfortable. See without the touchstones, without the familiarities, the brains fire Think Rays all over the place, trying to link things up! And when your brains are more active, they observe more, they're more in touch with the world around them.
I felt in a way that it should be something I strove for, a state that represents what I feel is the True State of humanity. As vessels for absorption, shouldn't I be absorbing as much as possible, doing as many things I can in as many ways I can, being uncomfortable, forcing my mind to take in the world in a way people don't do when they're comfortable? What do the strange formats of these Japanese license plates represent? Why are there red triangles on certain windows on the sides of buildings? Why do we put our money in a tray instead of in the cashier's hand? My answer to these questions, from the Japanese people I ask, almost invariably? "I dunno, I guess I've never really noticed."
As I push on through the opening parts of Darksiders I start to pay more attention. Oh, so they're having me do this now? But where's the dungeon? My expectations erode in favor of reality. Environment changes to environment and I wonder if maybe now, maybe this is that Zelda dungeon. But then I stop trying to match it up, I just give myself to it. I disregard the big picture in favor of smaller things. I try to become more aware of each individual setting, how long I've got until the exact second I won't be able to jump as I run off a ledge. I'm not doing things out of routine, I'm paying attention. An hour later I wonder again when I'll get to the first dungeon. Then I check the status screen and realize that I'm already in it, I've been in it for thirty minutes. But things changed so gradually, so generally, that somehow I didn't even notice. The game didn't give me the thing I expected, it gave me something I was enjoying enough to not even question it.
Of course, though this mindset was interesting in that it spoke to the strength of allowing myself to be uncomfortable with a game and just enjoy it, it also raised a strange, antithetical point: I was so absorbed in my state of higher awareness, higher observation, that somehow I didn't even notice that I was in a dungeon for christsake, for thirty goddamned minutes! Maybe this is the quaint, life-affirming twinkle buried beneath my own personal dogma. Even when you're seeking discomfort in an effort to be more in tune with the world, you can sometimes resonate on such a level with the things around you that discomfort becomes something else, not comfort but harmony. A sort of mutual exchange with your surroundings: I'll take you in as long as you exist, and let's forget about the Big Picture for a minute.
The other night I finally got to what I understand is the "first" "boss," a large and powerful monster whose heart I have been tasked with removing, who is beating my ass into the ground mercilessly, apparently not dissuaded by the fact that I am a literal horseman of the apocalypse. I die, over and over, trying to recognize his patterns. I am not comfortable. In fact, I get so not comfortable with my total lack of success that I have to force myself not to quit the game. Isn't this what I wanted? To achieve my "comfort" of winning, I have to suffer the discomfort that allows me to observe his technique, his pattern, to devise a method of victory, to understand how I can get comfy. Even when I start to perform admirably it's not enough, I just accept that I did what I wanted to do, sorta, but not on instinct, not in that way that makes me resonate, even if I look back on it and I can say yeah, that felt good. I've realized what I have attained for my struggle isn't comfort but completion, not satisfaction but success. I will always chase those things, even if they might actually never even be possible for a person like me to admit he's obtained! There's my revelation, fresh out of the bloody mauling: I'll never be comfortable, I'll never be satisfied, and if I am I've already achieved my purpose.
The sheet's going to come and I'm going to choose one or the other. Neither of them will be the comfortable answer, neither of them will be uncomfortable. I will hope something jumps out at me, something I did not expect. I don't know, I don't know what is going to happen.