It seemed like the perfect marriage, but I never went through with it. I may be a recluse, but I wasn’t intimidated at the prospect of interacting with new people. I’d written or edited one of my novels everyday for over a year, so I wasn’t concerned with the work load. More than anything I was just afraid of the concept of a “job” and the weight of the expectations of others.
There’s something to be said for being your own boss. When working on my novels I set the schedule and was the only one I had to please. I was putting in 4 hour days, 7 days a week, but it never really felt like work. I was doing it because it made me feel like life was worth living and frankly, I couldn’t imagine another thing could do that.
My decision not to apply was founded largely on the events of the previous summer. I’ve had an atrocious history with traditional employment, something I attribute to my bipolar disorder to this day. These failures and subsequent bouts of severe depression led me to apply for US Government Social Security so I wouldn’t feel pressured to find a 9 to 5 job.
My life had improved in almost every regard since moving out of my parents’ house. Obviously I was more independent, but my self-confidence had never been higher and I was eating healthier and exercising daily. Despite all those improvements, it fell apart in the blink of an eye when I volunteered at the farm down the road. The people were very appreciative for my help and I was very eager to give it. They offered me money as compensation, but I assured them fresh vegetables would be good enough. I did this to alleviate the irrational worries that were likely to arise. I was stronger than ever before! I could fight them! I don’t know if I believed that, but it’s what I told myself.
An enjoyable first few days quickly yielded to paralyzing anxiety as my guilt over imaginary offenses compounded exponentially. I didn’t leave my house for more than a week. I stopped riding my bike to exercise and I didn’t even drive to the supermarket since the farm was along the way. When my dad visited, I followed the advice of my therapist and asked him to drive me there. I’d have to explain my disappearance or walk the three miles home. Only by placing the choice in his hands was I able to break the spell.
Things rebounded over the following weeks but I remained wary. I didn’t want to repeat that ordeal and so I shut off the idea of working in any capacity. Months later, life was back on track and then some. Why would I risk my beloved stability for something as risky as a position writing Starcraft?
Flash forward a year. Writing had steadily devoured more and more of my life. I never once questioned if that was really a positive. Despite having failed on two attempts to publish my works, I just couldn’t stop. I felt wasteful, purposeless and even depressed just thinking about missing a day. I skipped attending a number of events, always after hours of senseless internal debate, simply because nothing gave me joy like writing.
BlizzCon rolled around and my opinions on Starcraft were stronger than ever. I’d been contemplating a potential blog post for months (which would end up being my feature) and on a whim I clicked “jobs” on TL.net. I don’t know if I believe in serendipity, but I use the term fairly often and this felt like it. They were still hiring and the prospect of a volunteer job seemed like something I could manage. Sure, it had always gone badly in the past, but I was stronger and more stable than ever before. I consulted those close to me and they all encouraged me to go for it. To say I had my reservations was putting it mildly, but I figure it was worth a shot. I was sure the reliability of my carefully constructed schedule could see me through the inevitable difficulties. I could turn to it no matter what. Life wasn’t so scary when everything went exactly as planned. It was around the end of November that I wrote my sample articles and sent them in.
I received word pretty quickly. The person who replied to my application was very friendly. His welcoming natural made me think everyone else would be to. For someone with few friends (mostly by choice) it was a strange moment of relief, elation and suspense when I was invited to the group chat. I didn’t know what awaited me, but I knew it was unlike anything I’d been exposed to. As stupid and cheesy as that might sound, I’d spent more than two years doing the exact same thing every day. For this first time in a long time I was taking a risk and was praying it would go differently.
It turns out everyone was very accepting. At first, I was incredibly worried about how people might perceive me. I did all the irrational mental gymnastics I expected from myself as I tried to give a good first impression. I was balancing between despair, nervousness and excitement as I struggled to get a sense of what was the best way to fit in was. As far as writing went, I was learning a lot from the first person I worked under. He was kind and willing to offer help and advice, but given my mental makeup he often came off as some well-intentioned taskmaster. He was harsh and stern, but I knew I deserved it. He was encouraging as well, but I knew I wasn’t doing enough. He didn’t have to say anything, my own opinion was crushing in a way his never could be.
It was during my time working with him that my perception of myself as a writer began to crumble. I was convinced that my initially poor performances were a result of the new genre. I told myself that fiction and journalism are very different, but as of late I’ve started to think otherwise. I was never qualified to make that assessment. Underneath it all was a truth which was growing impossible to ignore. What if I wasn’t the talent I thought I was?
I was soon passed onto another person. He was much looser with the reins, but I think that was just because of the improvements I’d made during my first few months. To me it was a logical progression. The first person I worked with needed to be demanding and cruel. Because he did push me, the second was able to foster growth rather than simply monitor it. Either way I could tell things were slowly progressing. I was hungry to do more work and continue my improvement. I had no idea the windfall that would come next.
GSL Season 1 was amazing in a lot of respects. Multiple people were busy which meant that I, with nearly unlimited free time, was in an ideal position to step up. I started off with two previews for the Round of 32. I began to do recaps during the Round of 16 as well as 2 more previews. All the while, a feature I’d been working on was taking form. Most importantly, I was starting to really feel like part of the group. I was contributing as much as I could and lightening the load on everyone else. I wasn’t irreplaceable, but I was doing my part. All I had to do was keep at it and things would continue improving.
Early on in the season I was introduced to the third person who I’d work closely with from there on out. He was unquestionably talented and incredibly smart. He was willing to discussing topics other than Starcraft and I greedily opened up about myself. He was a excellent teacher from the get-go, but he didn’t stop by simply evaluating my work for TL. He became a real friend and asset. He also completely shattered my perception of self.
No one has made me feel worse about myself in recent years than this person. He has this incisive manner - he sees through the bullshit like others see an unclouded sky. He pointed out errors in my all different aspects of the writing I had taken incredible pride in. And he didn’t just stop there, he tore it apart, lit it on fire and buried it beneath a layer of concrete. In the deepest corner of my mind, far from the disappointment, despair and my broken confidence, I was relieved. I had sorely lacked critical feedback on my work and I was finally getting it. More than anything it meant that my failed attempts at publishing weren’t a matter of bad luck. If I worked harder and got better, I’d have a better shot at making my dreams a reality. There are no guarantees in life. Putting forth your best effort is all you can do and I wasn’t even doing that.
I began to work closely with him on my feature and after almost four months of treading water I began to make real progress on the actual text.
After a few weeks of intense editing sessions, I finished my first feature. It was a serious piece that had required an amount of research I’d never before done and it meant more to me than anything I’d done while at Teamliquid. It signified that I could create content, not just talk about games. I still don’t fully understand the implication of that realization, but I’m starting to.
I wrote the first preview for the round of 8 and half of the second. I got praise from the unlikeliest source and I was finally beginning to feel like I was creating something worthwhile
Having just proved my legitimacy as a writer, I promptly came up with the idea for “Fourth” which was based on one of my greatest joys in life – Kpop. Despite all expectations the higher ups were not just interested in the idea, they encouraged me to pursue it. It was a joy to work on the project. Part of me wished that the more serious work had been released first, but it didn’t bother me for long. Despite my concerns I ‘d managed to make something that disturbed and pleased audiences, the exact reception I wanted.
I wrote both previews for the semifinals. It put my total up to 6 previews (1 of them split into 2 articles). Considering only 13 were slated for the whole season, this was a tremendous achievement. I’d also written 7 recaps, something I did gladly because readers really seemed to appreciate them. It wasn’t all about writing for them, though. It was about repaying the trust those I worked with had placed in me. They had helped me from day one and while their methods had been different, they were exactly what I needed.
I’d been working for Teamliquid for almost four months at this point and my life had changed dramatically. I wasn’t toiling away blindly at novels anymore and I wasn’t tying all my purpose in life to them. I was working with one of my colleagues on smaller projects instead. We weren’t trying to hone my skills, the goal was simply to lay the foundations. A long road stretched before me, but I was determined to stay the course There were incredibly frustrating moments as he was forced to pry away at me in order to dissect my writing, but I knew it was all done with my best interest in mind and I was extremely thankful for his friendship. I felt like I was just a little bit better at my craft than when I first joined and I was glad to have taken even the smallest step.
During the course of the season, what I had thought would be a casual volunteer position had become something more. I was building relationships and the clues were there that my trial period might be coming to an end. I’d structured my life to prevent disappointment so I bottled up my optimism and shut it away. If something good was going to happen I’d deal with it then. For now all I could do was work. It was the only way I could I prove my worth.
As wonderful as things had been I’d been riddled with worries from the beginning. I’m not really comfortable around new people and I have a constant perception that I’m unwanted. They can indicate otherwise, but the doubt is always there. It’s never going away, but the confidence my colleagues showed in me went a long way in dispelling it. Nobody is perfect and I, like all people, am flawed. Just because I view my shortcomings so negatively might not mean others are so critical.
My goal when writing previews is to do more than generate hype. I wanted to give readers something to think about that framed the series in a manner they might not have considered or at least made them look at it more vividly. My work on soO in the Round of 8 and Round of 4 were perfect examples of this. For the first time since joining I’d written previews I was really proud of. I wasn’t the amazing fiction writer I thought I was, but what I was was wonderful in its own right.
Since early on in the season, I’d told myself that I’d leave the latter portions of the elimination rounds to more accomplished writers. After writing the semifinals, though, I started to dream of working on the finals. I was touched when a friend of mine asked if I was going to do so. I told him that I hoped to. And I really did.
I didn’t get to do the finals though. You’d think I’d be mad, but I didn’t really mind. Instead I was given carte blanche to do the recap as I wanted. The fact that my bosses had that much faith in me was refreshing. It’s not that I hadn’t expected it to happen so soon, it’s that I never even considered the possibility. It’s amazing how these sorts of things can creep up on you when you’re staying present in the moment. It felt good. I was happier than I’d been in a long time.
I was informed that same week that I was in fact going to be promoted. Of course I was delighted, but not in the way I’d anticipated. For me the experiences from applying, to that moment had been the real reward. I’d loved the journey, even the difficult parts, because it had been a chance to grow. My approach to TL.net hasn’t changed now that I’m a full writer. I’ll still keep trying to come up with features and absurd fan-fics as well as the more traditional recaps and previews. I’m going to work to further improve my writing, because I still want to pursue a career in that field.
TeamLiquid is a dream come true. To think that the same website would let me post nonsensical fan-fics about Kpop as well serious journalistic efforts on game theory is unbelievable. On top of that I got to create content for the game I love on the most prestigious website related to Starcraft (which was all I had really wanted in the beginning). Most of all, I’ve developed new friendships, some of which have transcended Starcraft. I’d spent most of the last half decade systematically removing people from my life, but a few months with my colleagues made me realize it didn’t have to be that way. The writers and editors of Teamliquid have become a gateway to something I’d closed off and I told myself I wouldn’t, but had in fact sorely missed. Life isn’t about writing and it certainly isn’t about Kpop or Starcraft. For me, life is about choosing to be happy. Finally applying to TL was just another step on that path.