If you’ve been paying any attention at all to my entries for…well, more than the past few weeks, more like the past few years, you’ll be able to tell that by all appearances, I’ve been doing very well for myself. Every Saturday (or Sunday at latest), every Friday a little while ago, I post an entry titled “Living the Good Life” like clockwork. My days pass by without any real care or worry. I’ve done well enough for myself since graduate school that I can enjoy fine food just about every day, I can spend my time reading good books, watching good anime, or playing good videogames as I like, I’m in pretty good health, and there’s essentially nothing that really stresses me out or threatens to elicit any particularly negative emotion in me. That’s particularly because I’ve accomplished essentially everything that was or could be especially important to me, in terms of my personal sense of self (and not just basic professional necessities). I’ve got my Ph.D, and more importantly, I finished up my million-word magnum opus for the Fire Emblem fandom back in 2015, which is pretty much my life’s work. After completing that, I could die at any moment and still feel quite fulfilled. You could certainly say I’m living a charmed life.
This is especially ironic when you consider how troubled I had been for most of my life. Up to my mid-twenties, I was almost invariably some combination of angry and unhappy. In high school and college, I was always obsessed with “proving” myself academically, pushing myself to get the best grades I could, and raging when I couldn’t do so. In terms of my personal life, while I did try my best I was foolish and naive in many ways when it came to interpersonal relations. I’d always be getting into conflicts with friends, particularly online (in the Fire Emblem fandom), doing foolish things and then getting massively stressed when my friendships suffered for it, especially when everyone around me was probably more patient with me than I deserved! And then, in college, I got involved in trolling, acting even more foolish and getting into even more dumb fights that were a complete waste of time. At around the same time, I also fell into the manosphere/mgtow/misogyny scene, which was *even more* dumb and foolish. And while I thankfully didn’t fall into that deeply enough to make dumb blogs and get involved directly in *really* dumb manosphere drama, it still led to me being angrier, stupider, and much more resentful than was healthy.
Thankfully, all that is long behind me now, for reasons I’ve also described in previous entries (this one on trolling, and several I’ve made on the dumbness of manosphere ideology). I’m in a much, much healthier place, and instead of angry and resentful, bashing my head against the wall of a dumb, misguided ideology and silly fights that weren’t worth having, I’m as happy and content as I’ve ever been. By discarding misogyny as well as the various resentments that led to me being one of those “anti-SJW” dumb trolls, I can get along very well with women *and* men, making productive, mutually beneficial relationships with just about anyone of good faith, and quietly and nimbly avoiding anyone less reasonable with an absolute minimum of fuss. So yeah, it’s pretty easy to see why I’ve been able to make well over a hundred posts titled “Living the Good Life.” That kinda life is much easier to have when everyone around you is interested in sharing it rather than arguing with you about it!
And yet…this is something I’ve never really mentioned publicly, at least not until now. Despite the objective goodness of my life, recently I’ve sort of been feeling unfulfilled. Not very much so, but…I realized that I was no longer feeling any emotion very strongly. Over the past few months, I realized I felt a general sense of contentment, that things were going “pretty well,” and that I was “pretty happy,” but also that I was just…sort of existing, rather than doing anything important. I never felt miserable, or even very sad, but I also realized I never felt joyful, or like I was doing anything new. In fact, sometimes, even when I was playing a good game or having good food, I felt…bored, almost. And strangely enough, I think an anime I’ve been watching recently explains why.
I mentioned in my last entry that I found a great quote from the latest episode of One Punch Man (season 2) that really captured what I was feeling lately. I said I’d say more about it, and I’m keeping that promise today! But first, a bit of brief background on One Punch Man, just in case you don’t remember the other entries I’ve made about it.
One Punch Man is a parody of all those shonen anime about superpowered heroes, the ones who can break buildings with energy blasts or sheer strength or whatever. In a fantasy world still like our own but beset by giant monsters all the time, people with superpowers–telekinesis, incredibly strength, whatever–become “Heroes” to fight those monsters. They’re organized into classes, with S-class heroes being able to destroy entire cities easily, and sent off to fight aliens and monsters capable of the same. Our protagonist, Saitama, started out as just a regular guy, but one day decided to try his hand as a hero fighting monsters. He began as a weak human being fighting weak monsters, but he undertook an ironically mundane training regimen (situps, pushups, and a 10 km run everyday), and for some reason this made him incredibly strong, far stronger than even the most powerful S-class hero, capable of killing any monster, even the most horrifying, with only one punch.
But…despite his incredible power, Saitama realizes he also lost something along the way. His hair, for one (he’s bald now). But more than that, throughout the series he comments on how he no longer feels anything anymore–no thrill of combat, and no other strong emotion either. Now that he stands on top of the entire world, he no longer feels strong joy or any other form of excitement. In the context of the story, he literally can’t fail, so he can no longer feel the sense of accomplishment that comes from overcoming a challenge. He’s just…bored, and his attempt to find something to make him feel again, to bring back some passion into his life, is actually the main driving force of the plot, much more than the fight against evil, because he can defeat any foe with one punch.
Strange as it may sound, that really resonated with me. No, no, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any superpowers. I’m not that strong or that fast. But I realized that when it comes to what’s most important to me, I’m similar to Saitama in one respect:
I no longer have to fear failure, and because I’ve beaten my “opponents”–that is to say, met all the goals I once set for myself–I can no longer really feel the joy that comes from overcoming challenges and growing.
I no longer have to fear failure in terms of accomplishments–I’ve done everything I felt I really needed to do. I no longer have to fear failure in terms of getting along with people–I’m at peace with just about everyone around me online and off; I’m now friends with most folks I butted heads with earlier in life, my virtuous work for the mecha, castlevania, Bloodstained, and various other fandoms has given me a devoted cadre of excellent friends, I’m mature enough to get along well with anybody new I meet now, the only ‘enemies’ from my past who might still bear a grudge have long since forgotten about me, and the only enemies I sorta-have now are random manospambots (my former fellow-travelers, of a sort) and tradcaths, who aren’t really enemies. I annoy them and they annoy me, but not much more than that, and in any case those groups are loathed by pretty much everybody (including each other), so I would have them as “enemies” no matter what I did. No sense worrying about ’em in that case, right?
Now that’s a good problem to have, if I dare say so myself. Even so, is there no way of solving it? Am I condemned to just ‘contentment’ rather than anything else? I’m not so sure, and the answer to that comes from the exchange I quoted in my last entry, between Saitama and one of his friends, the character ‘King:’
Saitama: I don’t feel anything no matter who I fight. I get nothing from it. There’s nothing I can learn from anyone else.
King: But isn’t becoming that strong an amazing feat in itself?
S: If you can’t grow anymore, it also means you can’t enjoy growing any more, either. No matter how many monsters I defeat, deep inside, I’m bored out of my mind. I never thought being a hero would be so lonely.
K: You’re lonely, Saitama?
K: Why don’t you check out the ballroom dancing school in front of City Z station?
S: What? Why?
K: Just make some friends if you’re lonely.
S: Uh, that’s not the issue here.
K: Why not?
S: Why not? Because…I’m not interested. I mean, I’m not *that* bored lately.
K: Then why not take a vacation once things settle down, for a change of pace?
S: Vacation? I can’t think of anywhere I really want to go.
K: Good grief. You say you’re bored, but you refuse to do anything. You seek stimulation, but you refuse to challenge yourself. I was like that in the past, too. Listen up, Saitama. Life is an endless journey. In order to see something new, you need to open up that path yourself.
Silly as it sounds, King might well have been talking right to me. I’m bored…so why aren’t I doing anything about it? If I no longer have to fear failure in anything that’s important to me, why not challenge myself with something new, just to see how far I can get? The ‘something new’ is the important thing…as you know, I’ve been in the history biz for quite some time, ever since I was in high school, then college, then grad school–so just over half of my 30+ years on Earth! It’s been good to me, sure, but if it isn’t exciting me like it used to, and if I can afford to change my orientation, why not give something else a shot? It’s not as if getting some new skills will make me less employable, quite the contrary in fact; a jack of all trades might be a master of none, but if you’re already a ‘master’ in one subject, acquiring competency in another one, especially one that’s widely used, can be pretty useful.
So, what am I alluding to here? Bluntly stated, this. I’ve been feeling content yet bored, feeling like I wasn’t really growing or being challenged, so I decided to go back to school. I’m gonna be attending some local college classes for…computer science!
Now, don’t think I’m being too silly about this, I have some pretty sober reasons for wanting to get into compsci, and I’d been thinking about it long before I started watching One-Punch Man. I’ll describe this more in a later entry, but if you “just” have a Ph.D in history, that makes you a good fit for academia, and it makes you a little more attractive for some other jobs (in library science or whatnot), but if you have a skill in addition to your Ph.D, there is a TON more stuff you can do. Back in grad school I noticed a lot of other grad students with a bit of programming experience managed to do really well for themselves. Some made websites like Historian’s Eye, others helped digitize materials (audio and visual), and so on. So I think getting myself a nice degree from the subject (and the place I’m going to isn’t Ivy League, but it’s quite well respected) might do quite a lot of good. But on an emotional level…the desire for both a challenge and for something new I’ve never done before also spurred me to make the decision, and it’s something I happened to find reflected in some dialogue in one of my favorite shows.
It’s still summer, and classes haven’t started yet, but when they do, expect some new adventures, though hopefully still reasonably laid-back ones. And I think they will be reasonably laid back…you’ll notice this entry was titled 1 out of an undetermined amount, there are couple more in this series I want to write, because even if you go back to college, having a good time while you do so is important as well! And there are some other matters related to this mindset (of being sort of bored even with contentment) that I’ll discuss. But those will come later. So expect another living the good life entry this coming Saturday, along with another more serious entry at some point in the future ;D Then later on, as August nears, my ‘living the good life’ entries will become ‘computer science adventure’ entries!