on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

on obsessions, levelling up and living widely

I have an addictive personality. I am surprised that I haven’t had much of a problem with addictive substances so far, though I have a genetic double mutation that prevents me from metabolising alcohol, else I suspect I could have ended up as an alcoholic.

But I get addicted to other things: computer games obviously, people, the concept of romantic love, food, random hobbies, etc. My latest addiction is food delivery, though I couldn’t understand why at first.

Once I got addicted to play Stardew Valley. For two weeks I hardly did anything else apart from toilet breaks, eating, and sleeping. I went into a black hole and didn’t respond to any attempt of external contact with the exception of family. Those two weeks, I had found a kind of joyful peace. My brain was occupied with something and didn’t have much space to spiral into unhealthy thought patterns, and since I wasn’t exposed to much stimuli I didn’t get triggered.

It was during those two weeks that I realised how miserable my brain was making me, and also how much I appreciated being a hermit.

In Stardew Valley there are multiple quests to complete. Some are sequential, some can be played in parallel. You have to finish a certain sequence of tasks and fulfill certain conditions to complete a quest. I have an obsession with levelling up and completeness – I need to complete the things whatever I set out to do or else I wouldn’t be able to relax and my mind wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about it. This unhealthy trait was actually considerable fuel for my previous career. Give me a design problem or aspiration and I wouldn’t be able to stop working until I come up with a satisfactory solution. But it is also a fuel for quick burn out.

There was a point last week that it dawned upon me that I was playing Stardew Valley in real life by delivering food. The premise of food delivery is simple enough: navigate to a vendor, pick up food, navigate to the customer and drop it off. I started off in my own neighbourhood and apart from the physical fatigue it felt simple enough. I had some anxiety when it came to interacting with both vendors and customers but I soon got used to it. Then I started delivering in the central business district. My first few days I often got lost. I bought a $50 android phone and it didn’t come with compass functionality, so I didn’t know which direction to move into. Since it is a very dense area the GPS signal itself could be inaccurate or misleading. There are some parts of the CBD that are not organised in a grid so some places are harder to locate. Some food areas have a ton of food stalls and their units are not clearly labelled so we can spend ten minutes walking around in circles just to find the stall.

Around the two week mark I found myself walking around without the help of Google maps, seeing the building name or address and knowing in my mind’s eye where exactly is the place. I got to discover the short cuts or appropriate underpasses, where are the pedestrian crossings (sometimes if you miss one of them you’ll have to walk an extra long stretch to find another one or risk getting hit by a car), how much time does a traffic light junction take to turn the lights in my favour. Every building has a different security and lift system – I remember the first time I was taking one of those new-fangled lifts I was very confused which of the 20 lifts available I should take. Or why I had to interchange lifts twice at a certain level only to find out I have taken the wrong lift lobby. Some buildings have three concierges in a row at the same lobby and we have to know which one to approach based on the floor number or business name.

So I got better gradually at all of those. Then I bought a second-hand foldie so I could try out food delivering cycling in my neighbourhood. Again, the first few days I struggled with where to lock my bike, making turns, knowing when to dismount, how to brake properly so I won’t lose my balance, how to store food in my thermal bag so they won’t spill.

There was also the fear of the unknown. I worried a lot about whether cycling was even feasible and safe, whether my bike would get stolen despite being locked, whether it would be too stressful for me. I worry a lot about little things like these, just like before I started delivering in the CBD I worried about the experience of delivering to offices because I had never done it before. Would it be easy to find people in their offices (mostly, except people who don’t answer their phones and do not leave instructions), would the security be mean (mostly nice with some exceptions)?

There are also more subtle, softer aspects to learn. When are the best time slots for certain areas? I had to experiment with a few, and in order to know there were long periods of time I had to spend idle because there were no orders. For a particular delivery company, should I accept every trip so I could get an extra incentive for X trips completed or should I cherry-pick with no possibility of incentive? Is it worth taking a longer-distance trip with higher payment or multiple short trips?

I have been living in my mind my entire life. Everything I liked to do is cerebral, both work and hobbies. There’s too much thinking and too little use of the physical body.

This is the first time in my life I had to work physically so hard (I did waitressing before which is a different kind of physical fatigue) and build up skills mostly unrelated to a computer. I got better at walking longer hours and cycling up slopes. It is fascinating for me to feel my body change.

All my life I have been obsessed with learning, but it mostly involved very cerebral skills like design and programming. I am not very street smart in many ways: I would struggle to read a physical map, I would probably die if I get stranded in a forest some day, before food delivery if I had to walk long distances to forage for food I would probably starve (not that I really have the will to survive anyway). I really enjoyed levelling-up on little things like getting better at maneuvering my foldie bicycle.

On a psychological level, I realised how much I enjoyed having my brain be occupied by something and be given a sequence of tasks to do so it would stop swimming in anxiety. I don’t necessarily think this is an entirely good thing because I don’t want to spend the rest of my life distracting my brain so I can live in an artificial peace. But both playing Stardew Valley and delivering food gave me opportunities to know what it is like if I cut off a lot of noise from myself and how much noise is generated internally and externally, and how much it impacts my well-being.

It is like if you’re born in a city and have lived there all your life, you wouldn’t know what it feels like to live in the countryside. That’s my mind: I was born with a noisy mind and I didn’t know that it could exist in a different frame.

On hindsight, when I set out to experiment with my life I was still thinking of it in a pretty narrow scope, but I couldn’t have known otherwise when I have only been exposed to such limited ways of living in the society I grew up in. I feel glad for myself that I have made a little step out of my very afe and comfortable zone:

Yet at the same time that my mind became more peaceful with the perception of safety, it also became smaller. It’s as if it shrank to become compatible with the size of the room.

– Mingyur Rinpoche

I don’t know how long if this phase will last, and I am still finding out if I’m overdoing it in the danger of losing sight of the bigger picture (what is the bigger picture anyway, haha), or is it okay to do something wholeheartedly (or actually obsessively) and trust that I will do the right thing for myself when the time comes.

Whatever it is I’ll hope I’ll always have the courage and fear to see opportunities for a wider experience of life. I think I am afraid of wasting time and going on detours, yet I am also aware that this is an utilitarian mindset I am trying to overcome.

To live more thoroughly, perhaps that is my bigger picture.