Different Paths: Reflections and Rambling

I figured that I might as well use this week’s space to discuss something that hasn’t really come up on the site yet. I know that most people reading this probably are aware of me for my music and video game reviews…but I know in my heart that I could have very easily becoming something else instead. In fact, on a qualifications level alone, I am actually more qualified to do one of these than I am to do music criticism, as surprising as it might sound to read that.

See, for a lot of my teenage years, I had a long period of time where I barely played games and my tastes in music were very much in a state of limbo, because I didn’t have a radio and my only genre of music which I was aware of and followed to any extent was folk music. During that time, there were two things I did a lot of which, had I continued them to the extent that I had been at the time and focused on them, could have potentially turned me into someone very different from who I am today: reading fictional novels and developing scenarios for wargames, to say nothing of my own folk singing which I rarely do nowadays.

Let me explain for everyone what I am on about. This isn’t going to be a particularly cheerful article, I’ll admit, but I feel that it is time for me to wipe the sands clean from that period of my past and have it on record.

I suppose that a lot of this story starts when I was twelve and a half years old. I won’t go into all of the details on this one, as there’s a lot which is still hard for me to talk about properly, but, to make a long story short, my parents started a very messy divorce and it dragged out for three and a half years. There was a lot that went on during this time and I won’t pretend to know all of the details, but this all was hanging over me during a pretty bad period in my life, because I was going through bullying issues (nothing physically violent, luckily, but I had my share of stuff stolen from my bag, names and untruthful rumours flung around at me unfairly and being completely ignored by people whenever I did try to turn thing around to understandably feel like I had little support in the school), coping with the suicide of a person who I had come to see as almost like an uncle to me for a reason which I still can’t understand now, almost a decade later, several deaths in my high school, a difficult relationship with my now-stepmother, having my main friendship circle implode and turn against me simply for choosing to stick with my then-best friend who I had known longer than any of the others (nothing bad happened between me and him, if you’re wondering what the then-best friend comment is about: he just had to go study elsewhere during my last year of sixth form and we never really got back in touch properly since then because both of us sucked at that kind of thing, although I do occasionally see him around whenever I visit Newcastle and we chat occasionally on Facebook) and the usual teenage angst that most people go through making me more vulnerable to this sort of stuff. Needless to say, I was having a tough ride throughout high school by most people’s standards…yet I did the stupid thing and kept it all bottled up, because I didn’t want anyone to think anything was going wrong.

In the time when I needed support the most, I closed everyone off. Even now, I still can’t look back on that period of my life properly, no matter how hard I try. I don’t think that I will always be hounded by this stuff, but I can certainly say that my thought processes from back then still haunt me in some ways: I still struggle to tell other people when I need help and it can be difficult for me to trust others. I even started to feel like I was cursed, doomed to a life without any real happiness because I never had a lucky break or anyone who was willing to step out and try to help me.

That decision to close myself off, with the benefit of hindsight, was hands down the worst decision I could have made in that situation and I suppose I am lucky that I was able to fight back the idea of suicide as hard as I did, for I could have all too easily decided to give up on life entirely and taken my own life, becoming just another name on a page in a paper that nobody cared about enough to take a second look at. Even into college and within the last few months, I had to fight off my demons and suicidal thoughts and it is only thanks to support from friends and family that I have kept going in the face of it all.

Not that most of them know that. Because I still find it difficult to open up on this stuff enough to admit even that.

I’m sorry if this has already started on a really bleak note (and probably a really heartbreaking one for some people, considering this is so far away from what I suspect most people would have guessed my life was like from my writing style, constant jokes and refusal to complain about situations), but I feel that I need to paint a picture of my past so you can understand why I buried myself in fictional novels, wargaming and video games. It was as much escaping from the life I found myself having to live through as it was loving what I was taking part in. It was also this, to an extent, that kept me acting for so long in my teenage years: when your life is one that you don’t want to think about, just having someone else you can be for a few hours is something that can be a huge comfort.

Yet I always find myself thinking back on one of my thoughts from that time and I think I had far more of a point than, perhaps, I even realised myself at the time: I wasn’t living a life, I was living the sketch of a life. In an effort to keep myself going when faced with the life I didn’t want to live with, I escaped into my own mind…but, ironically, I was making it harder for me to find the life I was actually looking for, even as the possibilities to find it were around me the whole time.

Of course, nowadays, I feel a lot better about my life. I can’t say that I look at my current life and consider it to be the best life I could be having, but I feel like I’ve managed to come through it all with a much better mindset to the world than I probably have any reason to have and with a viewpoint that the important thing isn’t what happened to you in the past: it’s how you take the events of the past and learn from them to handle the present and the future. I suppose that is why, despite not being Christian (or religious in general), I have quite a few Christian values which I regard as important to have, the core of which being “do to others as you would have them do to you”. After all, if you have been the victim of others treating you badly, how can you reasonably justify responding in kind to people who have had nothing to do with your treatment? In my eyes, at least, you cannot, for violence begets more violence and only serves to cause those with no beef against you to start with to turn away from you.

However, I suppose this is all ignoring what I raised at the start of this: that I could have potentially not been the music and video game reviewer that I am now. Well, during my teenage years, my safe refuges were in fictional novels, video games, wargaming and music. Of them, video games and music were the ones that I held the most love for, but had the least overall knowledge of, for my gaming knowledge was basically restricted to the PS1, PS2, Wii and the Sega Mega Drive (or the Sega Genesis, depending on which part of the world you have from) on the console side of things (and it was only on the PS2 where I had any real knowledge of the system’s library, as my PS2 game library is easily the largest gaming library I have in terms of physical games) and the Game Boy systems and PSP on the handheld side of things (which wasn’t even that extensive a knowledge base) and my music knowledge was basically restricted to chart music (which I stopped following in 2006 due to me and my sister having to move out of my house into a new house as part of the divorce mess and losing the music channel as part of it), folk music, whatever my dad, mum and stepmom played at me on the CD player, whatever musicals I happened to be part of or saw at the local theatre and whatever happened to appear in music lessons. Even with those, I had periods of time where I barely focused on them: I didn’t particularly play games that weren’t Monster Hunter Freedom on the PSP (which might explain my adoration of the franchise) and the music stuff mostly only continued to live performances because I felt at home with it while recorded material in general fell out of my attention until college because of how little of it I focused on listening to. Hard to believe now, I’m sure, but I swear that that is all completely true!

The novel and wargaming sides of things, however, were where I was a lot more knowledgeable: I frequently read novels while at home (including some classic gothic novels and science fiction novels) and even studied English Literature to A-level standards, with the idea of studying it for a degree being one that I actually considered at one point (while my Music GCSE is my highest level qualification with regards to music…and I got a D on that, so it isn’t a particularly great result anyway!) and, as part of my wargaming club, I basically developed a reputation for being the guy people turned to whenever there was a rule that people couldn’t remember off the top of their heads or needed a new Warhammer 40,000 codex to look through, for I had the rules memorised and was frequently obtaining new 40K codices to read through. While I never did any real novel writing of my own up until I was in college (beyond one collection of 40k stories which I got four stories through writing, though I have no intention of ever finishing the fifth and final story because I can’t read the first four without cringing at how badly written they are!) and the whole thing has basically become a pastime for me to take part in whenever I find the free time and an idea I like enough to toy with it, I did draw up a few ideas for 40k scenarios, including some rather unusual ideas at the time, such as a battle using only flying units, and even submitted a few of them off as part of a competition being run by Games Workshop at the time (I didn’t win, for the record).

So, what changed? Well, to make a long story short, while I was in college, I found myself struggling to read anything at all because my mind was so taken up with other stuff and I was in no position to keep up with my wargaming at all, so I basically gave up on both of them. Both have become things I have returned to to a minor extent over the last two years, but I still feel like I have more of a connection to video games and music now, especially since my music knowledge and fondness pretty much went into overdrive during college and I continue to keep up to date with it quite happily and my video game knowledge is nowadays starting to catch up with it in its own way.

Yet part of me still wonders what would have happened had I pursued either of those two directions over the ones I took. I doubt my life would have drastically changed, if I’m realistic, but I can’t help wondering if, perhaps, I would have become more focused on the idea of becoming a writer. Certainly, I doubt I would have stepped into journalism at all had I not already been focusing on my blog for music reviews (and those old rants which I now look back upon with a bit of shame) and I’d not have considered focusing so much on the local radio stuff I do had I not had the music side to encourage me with the idea more, so there would have been changes that, weighing them up, would have probably been for the worse had they happened, but, on the other hand, perhaps I would have had far more confidence in my creative writing abilities than I do now.

Hopefully, I can change this in between doing site stuff. Certainly, I have an idea for a play which I’d like to work on if I get some free time and I have several books which I keep meaning to read, so maybe an idea is to look into aiming to write a short story every couple of months, work on that play as a casual thing and add book reviews onto the site, allowing me to maybe talk about old classic novels to see how they hold up or even some newer works which sound interesting. The latter is a idea with promise, I’ll admit, though I’d have to find my old ability to read books again before I can do that, since there’s not really a lot of point in opening a new site section if it’s going to end up never being updated!

Where am I actually going with all of this? Nowhere, if I’m honest: there was no grand point to make when I started writing this article and there isn’t one now I reach the end of it. But I would like to end by saying something to anyone reading this who is going through a tough time: life can throw a lot at you and you might feel like you’re alone and have no one to turn to about it. Take it from me: the worst thing you can do is staying silent and bottling it up, because all of those thoughts have nowhere to go except deeper into your head, which makes it harder for them to get out of your head again. So find someone to talk about it with. A friend, a relative, a lover, maybe even a complete stranger who asks if you’re OK in a cafe…even me, if you want to use my email (I promise I will treat any such emails with the seriousness they deserve and with complete confidentiality).

If you take one thing from this, take these words and remember them: we are all important. We all have a reason to be here and we all deserve happiness. The world isn’t perfect and has a lot of ugliness to it, but the important thing is that we help others and offer support when things go wrong for them. Because we are all people, at the end of the day: we might be separated by ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexuality, religious background and the like, but we are all part of the same species and that fact should NEVER be forgotten. We all go through problems at some time in our lives and it does feel natural to hide what is going on for most people, but silence doesn’t fix those problems and having people around you who can help you to cope with them can make the situation feel all the more manageable. It’s not weak to admit that you can’t cope or to ask for help, no matter what anyone else tries to drill into your head, and having a mental illness like depression or suicidal thoughts is not something to be ashamed of, no matter what people might tell you otherwise.

I know this week’s article was pretty serious and rather personal, so next week, I’ll make sure I talk about something less serious…how about why I consider Green Lantern to be my favourite superhero and Spawn to be my favourite anti-hero?

…OK, I can’t actually promise that one, but hey, it’s true!