2021: A Year to Believe

It’s the end of 2020, a time to make grand gestures, to talk about how horrible this year has been, a time to think of bright new potential for the future…or to lament how little change took place in the face of evident need…or maybe something completely different. I’m not sure myself.

This is also usually the time where I’d make a grand commitment, a resolve to do something different in the new year. Generally, it’s been something attached to “productivity:” to post more often to Intelligame or Patreon or Twitter or something. Maybe to work out more, to meditate, something to show that I’m capable of consistency (which, as most of you know, I struggle with). But I can say that at the end of this year, I don’t think I’m set up to make those kinds of commitments.

For so many people, this has been a year of job losses, of housing instability, food instability…a year of sickness, a year of death. It’s been a year of political turmoil, of rising conspiracy theories. It’s been a year highlighting police brutality, a year of protest, of tear gas, of riot gear. It’s been a year of right-wing extremism, of authoritarianism. It’s been a year where the bad guys won… a lot.

Some parts of me feel like expressing or finding any joy in a year where I’ve only scratched the surface through those descriptions is a bit callous. But if there’s a lesson that I take away from 2020, it’s that few things in the world are clear-cut. Another lesson: there’s some stuff you just can’t plan for.

This was a year that reminded me just how fragile practically everything we love and use is, from our food supply to our internet to social order itself. It also showed me how much privilege I have, being able to work from home amidst a pandemic, to have my own room to work from, housemates who are kind and patient, savings for tough times. It also drilled into me the importance of family, of the people I care about, and how much it can hurt to be separated from them.

People are power, and this year showed me the power of community, how strong people are when they come together. I saw friends grow as activists, as leaders, as creators…but also simply as humans. I saw people slow down, take note of the world around them, appreciate each other. In the midst of the hell year, people didn’t just find hope…they created it. They created it with homemade masks, with donations, with community support groups and livestreams and book clubs and Zoom knitting circles and all sorts of wonderful things. And now, as we enter 2021 and the pandemic rages on, it’s hard to feel like we’ve learned much of anything…but we’ve learned a lot. We’ve done a lot. And, as tired as so many of us are, I know we’ll continue to do more.

Instead of a resolution, I feel like my 2021 deserves a framework, a mindset. 2020 ripped apart many of my plans in ways I could have never expected…but it also gifted me opportunities I never could have planned for. I paneled for multiple virtual game events. I helped run fundraisers and online events for non-profits around the country. I helped launch the store for Among Us merchandise. And Intelligame’s grown in ways I can barely believe: we raised over $13K for the Minnesota Freedom Fund, we broke 1400 followers on Twitch, and above all, we’ve maintained a community that centers compassion and growth in the face of all the struggles we’ve taken on.

So I guess I just don’t feel too keen on making year-long plans. Instead, in the vein of friend and adventure cartoonist Lucy Bellwood, I’m setting a word as my frame: “believe.”

Certainly the past year has shown, in ways both amazing and horrific, the power of belief to change the world. So I’m setting a core value: believe that the world will get better, and that I can be a part of that change. Carrying hope is hard, even as someone who’s only seen a fraction of the struggles that many of my friends have, particularly those working in healthcare, or as activists on the ground. But I’ve also seen the ways that so many of them keep pushing, day after day, to help make the world better for the people whose lives they touch. They believe there’s a brighter future out there.

I do, too.

See you next year.

-Josh

Clarity.

Today’s meditation asked me to focus on my hands. With my eyes closed, I paid attention to the sensations coming from my palms, my fingertips, the back of my hand. I didn’t experience any sort of revelation during the session, but I certainly did notice feelings I wouldn’t have before. When I opened my eyes though, I saw how dry they were, white lines crossing the insides of my hands. I hadn’t noticed before.

I’ve spent much of my life searching for some kind of clarity, an assurance that the ideas I’m acting on are the “correct” ones. But the world around us seems to value broad strokes, grand statements based on how strong a reaction they create.

Those reactions can be positive or negative: it doesn’t matter much in an economy where the primary currency is attention. Attention is a currency measured with absolute value.

But I’ve been lucky enough to know a wide range of people from around the world, to hear their stories. I’ve lived in a number of places in my life, some pretty well off…some not so much. I’ve seen the ways that life is often more complicated, messier than the summary provides. Still, we have to take action based on summaries. None of us have the time or capability to fully experience another person’s life, what brings them to who they are and what they do.

It’s also hard for me to tell how much weight to give these subtle details. It’s hard to find space to look for subtleties when I feel this perpetual threat at the doorstep, targeted attacks towards my existence just a couple of clicks away at any given moment.

Though that feels like a statement about me, I think it’s a feeling many of us associate with right now, regardless of our background. Sure, it’d be great to spend the time needed to discover all the sensations on the fingertips…but that’s usually more time than we’re given when those fingers are part of a fist coming for our face.

It’s difficult to frame some of these meditative concepts right now, given the state of my world…but I feel they’re important. I struggle to imagine endings to these conflicts that don’t end in more blood with as much anger, fear, and fast-paced action as we have fueling our interactions.

I want to believe there’s still a chance to see the nuance in each other, to find space for understanding, to address past pain, to make the future something we can find hope in together. I know not everyone wants that, but I think enough of us do. More than enough, really.

Gaining that clarity requires time: time to adjust focus, to realign the senses. It requires a willingness to slow down interactions, to make space in them. It requires time to search for nuance, to find and respect the realities we might have missed, to give them pause.

I don’t know if the time we need is time that we have.

But I have to believe that it’s time we can make.

These posts are responses to the Calm app’s Daily Calm meditations.

Kotsu Kotsu

I’ve tried to restart meditation twice since George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s killings. Both times it felt wrong to spend time in that meditative space, to spend time looking at anything other than the injustice, the outpourings of grief and outrage. As I start it again, it still feels wrong. But it also feels necessary.

Kotsu Kotsu is a Japanese term that, according to the meditation, loosely translates to “step by step.” It aligns with a Zen proverb: “Carry water. Chop wood.”

Concerns about WWIII in January. Australian fires. COVID. Racist murders, protests and riots in the wake of police brutality and racism… and that’s amidst climate change, rising authoritarianism/fascism… There’s not been much of a time to slow down this year. I’ve felt like I have to look at 20 things simultaneously all the time.

Mindfulness meditation as a practice calls for choosing one thing and focusing there… And particularly now, it’s a concept a part of me considers shallow and privileged. It feels like not encompassing the entirety of the world in a single viewpoint, missing any situation or struggle, even for a moment, is unfair to those experiencing it. I don’t think I can argue with that idea at its core.

“Step by step” in this context doesn’t mean disregarding the rest of the world for a single point of focus, though. It means giving full energy, full attention, even if just for a few minutes… How can you chop wood effectively when you’re carrying water?

“Step by step” is about choosing to commit to a specific place, a task, an idea, then committing to the next one. Though a part of me hates it, it also feels necessary.

Making a habit of being fully present means committing to being truly impactful wherever you are, whatever you’re doing…whether it’s speaking out for what you believe in, working a job, or resting and recharging. This means resisting the impulse to multitask.

For me, when I stop imagining I can be 20 places at once, I have to deal with the feeling that I’m constantly letting 19 places down by not handling what I feel their needs are. I have to plan, set reasonable expectations for myself and the people around me. I have to communicate those expectations. I have to make choices not on impulse, getting dragged from emergency to emergency without finishing anything, but to commit to the impact I want to make in that moment.

When speaking out, speak out. When working, work. When resting, truly rest (I know I need to take this advice myself). And, when multitasking (since the world is real and fast-paced even when we don’t want it to be), commit to specific actions for a set time.

Trust yourself: choose to do something until choosing to do something else.

Carry water. Chop wood.

Step by step.

Getting started.

I’m likening this post to scribbling on an empty sheet of paper. It might not be for much other than just getting over the hump of staring that this empty blog like I have for the past X years.

There’s still plenty of worth to that.

I’ve written about games for the past ten years of my life. I’ve worked with various outlets trying to connect game worlds with our physical ones. It’s why I created Intelligame, after all.

Games are important. But many other things are, too. The world that we live today, right now, feels precarious, on a knife’s edge…and perhaps it’s always been that way, just one strong gust away from a radical change. This certainly isn’t the first time.

So many people are doing their parts to try and make sure that this change ends up being one for the better. I can admit that my belief in our ability to stem the tides of hate and anger wavers from day to day, and lately that belief’s been hard to channel.

But today, right now, at this moment, I believe there IS a chance to make a difference. I believe in the power of art, in the power of messages, the ability to use this these words and these tools and these collective hearts to push other forward into a brighter future, one that pushes through the forces that attempt to divide us, forces that profit on cultivating fear, greed, disinformation, and willful ignorance.

This blog is part of my part in trying to make a difference.

This is me getting started.

-Josh