The Saturation Point

The Saturation Point is defined by Dictionary.com as the point in which a final capacity is reached. When no more of a substance can be added or held. When it comes to getting caught out in the rain, this is the point in which your clothing is so thoroughly soaked that you simply cannot hold any more water.

It is rare that we hit our saturation point, as despite complaining about getting caught out in the rain, with our modern conveniences it is rare to be thoroughly waterlogged. Shelter and towels are usually close at hand and for those that are impatient with the rate of evaporation, hair dryers and clothes dryers provide speedy alternatives.

Vehicles make transportation luxurious as we no longer must we trudge through the elements to travel…

…unless we want to!

In May of 2015, I elected to trudge.

While running Kickstarter campaign, a man told me that self-promotion is a full-contact sport. The message resonated with me, particularly as I was pulling 15-18 hour days at conventions demonstrating my game in an effort to raise funds for the campaign. The whole process was alleviated by the fact that I genuinely enjoy talking to people, but still; 18 hours of talking non-stop is still 18 hours.

After speaking to people for so long, I felt the impulse to take a few hours to myself. During a convention called Keycon, I planned to repeat my annual walk home at 2:00 A.M to be my downtime, a period of 2.5 hours to reflect on the convention and catch up on the latest episode of my favorite podcast: Hardcore History.

The previous year the walk home had been easy, as summer nights in Winnipeg are typically calm and serene with gentle breezes that take the edge of the hot and humid days.

May 16, 2015 was not one of these serene night.

After a hot and muggy week, I watched through the windows of the convention’s game room as dark clouds accumulated throughout the evening. At around 1:00 A.M it began to drizzle and by 2:00, it had progressed into a mid-summer shower.

Being stubborn about sticking to plans, I decided that shower or not, I was going on my contemplative walk. I began by stuffing all my belongings into a water-proof bag and zipped up my water-resistant jacket (not to be confused with water-proof).

I said goodbye to the stragglers in the gaming room, namely two men engaged in a three day game of Star Wars miniatures with enough figurines to re-mortgage a house. After learning of what I was about to attempt, they informed me in no uncertain terms that I was clearly insane and begged me to reconsider my travel plan.

I brushed it off with the inane response only a particular sub-section of geek subculture that the three of us inhabited could understand, namely that that “I loved Bladerunner”. [This is not hyperbole, it is Why I Write]

I then walked into the rain-slick cityscape, confident in having established myself as a bona fide insane game designer.

When I began to walk, the rain remained mild; neither a drizzle nor a downpour. Accompanying me was the voice of Dan Carlin in his most recent episode of Hardcore History, which covered the trials and tribulations of World War I.

At about the fifteen minute mark and just as I was in the middle of an open bridge with no shelter, Poseidon suddenly began to play hard-ball and the rain and wind rose in synch, creating a torrential downpour.

For my part, I took solace in the thought that in these conditions, I was probably safer from muggings or harassment during this late night stroll then at any other point in my life.

Not knowing what else to do, I also turned up the volume of my podcast.

This was a mistake.

In the two hour trudge through waterlogged streets and alleyways, I struggled to distract myself with the podcast. The trouble was that this particular episode had decided to spend an inordinate amount of time on the subject of trench warfare and the horrific conditions soldiers endured perpetually wet in the muddy trenches. At one point, Dan Carlin commented that people today don’t know what it is like to experience being so wet, so thoroughly saturated.

This did not take my mind off the rain.

After an hour and a half, I had reached the saturation point in more ways than one. Physically, I was entirely soaked. Water dripped from every piece of clothing and every exposed extremity. My shoes made a disconcerting squashing sound as it slowly transformed into an aquarium for my foot.

Mentally, I was also at my capacity to hear about the extremes of WWI trench warfare. “Screw you, Dan Carlin” I said aloud. “I have pretty good idea of what it is to be wet.

Removing my rain-slicked ear buds, I decided to simply take in the environment around me. I marveled at the iconic downtown skyscrapers that illuminated the sky like torches and became enamored with how the city’s lights danced on the rain puddles. Neon signs glowed with product placement and reflected off store windows and passing cars like the futuristic films and books I enjoy so much.

For another hour, I simply pushed forward. Buses had stopped running before I started my journey and there was only one option left. Walk forward and admire the present.

Though I have never found guided meditation to be very effective, this small odyssey through the cityscape of Winnipeg gave me time to reflect on life, my journey so far and on the world I live in.

I returned home carrying my own body weight in wet clothing but surprisingly at ease mentally. I lived in a city that upon close inspection, resembled much of the science fiction worlds I read and dreamed about growing up. In my free time, I was promoting a game to the public, a task that has since culminated in the funding and present manufacturing of my very own game, marking the achievement of a life goal I have held for many years

In short, life on the whole was pretty darn good. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of discomfort to see it.

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Giving Until It Hurts

It’s 7:00 A.M. and I struggle to shake the sleep from my body. My eyes are a bleary red not unlike those of the Terminator and the bags under them give the impression of mascara. The symptoms are of my own doing, I had a commitment that kept me up until 2:30 A.M and another that required I assist a soup kitchen at 8:00 A.M. The result was less than four hours of sleep. My body was being less than cooperative, manifesting the aforementioned symptoms in an effort to push me back to the warm embrace of my bed.

Something overrides the desire for comfort however and I push myself into my car (after downing enough coffee to make the world seem like it has entered bullet-time) and start my day’s commitments. The commitments I subscribe to are of my own doing; I choose on occasion to overbook my body and pay the price for it; sometimes through physical symptoms and sometimes through a breakdown in communication as my mind slows from sleep deprivation. For prime examples of my incoherent blather be sure to check out articles published on this blog, particularly those posted after midnight.

So why do I do it? Why do I (and many other generous volunteers) place ourselves in discomfort in the service of others? Beyond the obvious response of building a better world through volunteering our time, I personally feel that adding discomfort helps to fortify the mind against discomfort.

We have a natural tendency to avoid discomfort. This makes sense as keeping my hand on a hot element only succeeds in hurting myself, but reduces the amount I can do for myself or others. I have yet to hear a compelling argument for a burnt hand leading to increased productivity and in this context, the adaptation to avoid situations that produce discomfort.

The trouble is that from my own experiences, my mind has difficulty differentiating between tasks that threaten discomfort without reward (putting your hand on a hot element) v.s tasks that provide tangible rewards with a cost (e.g. volunteering at a soup kitchen and feeling some groggy effects throughout the day…and maybe cutting a few days off my lifespan). There is value in disciplining the mind to override the urge to pursue comfort and endure a bit of pain to accomplish tasks that matter. That doesn’t mean you have to be a sadist about pushing yourself to the limit, it just means that occasionally you should be prepared to accept the trade of mental malaise for accomplishing a task that you value.

While at the soup kitchen today, a fellow volunteer with an aged and tired face weighed down with the artificial mascara of sleep deprivation mentioned that she had received a severe blister from all the food preparation she did on her last shift. I stared back at her with my bleary, mascara-laden eyes and a crooked smile betraying a man whose mental presence was outsourced somewhere on Jupiter and replied “sometimes you have to give until it hurts”. We both laughed at my incoherent blather, as judging by tiredness in her eyes, we were on the same page mentally.