Why I Love Survival Horror (or, Wasting Time Is Sometimes Okay)

There are days when people look at me and see a vague, flighty girl with too much hair and not enough common sense. And yes, I’ll admit it—I don’t always do a lot to dispel that notion. And honestly, why should I? After all, that girl exists. She’s a real, true (-ish) version of me. Part, but not all.

Here’s the thing: when I’m on, I’m ON. I mean, it’s like being a person-sized nuclear reactor or some sort of freaky futuristic human battery that’s the opposite of those lazy, comatose ones in The Matrix.

I don’t need food or sleep or social interaction. I can literally live off the warm, quick-burning fuel of ideas. I dismantle things and put them back together and get stupidly ambitious. Sometimes, if I spend enough nights not sleeping, I make bloody anatomically-representational hearts out of cake. I go off on wild, incoherent tangents. I can’t tell the difference between a good idea and a bad idea, and what would be an unequivocally awesome idea if that last elusive piece would just drop into place. Basically, if I concentrated hard enough, I might accidentally catch on fire.

This is all starting to sound like a superpower, and it’s not. Or at least, it’s not a very good one. Similar to a number of chemical elements, when I’m in my most productive state, I’m also massively unstable, and I don’t mean in a mental-health way.* It’s more like I’m walking a fine line between sustained fission and full-scale meltdown. One false move and the whole structure will go up in a tower of flames.

It’s exhilarating, but unnerving. Let me just say, when I feel the productivity-switch flip, I tread very carefully.**

This is me taking an unnecessary number of paragraphs to say that I turned in my first draft of Paper Valentine, and then spent the last two days doing nothing.

And it was weird.

Oh, I did stuff—I slept ten hours a night and watched three different football games and made banana bread, and played video games. I read some books and did some Christmas shopping. I have yet to tackle my laundry.

But I didn’t do anything that really qualified as work. Later, I’ll probably make some floral-themed hair ornaments out of paper. I’ll snuggle up on the couch with a sandwich and a blanket and kill some more zombies. I’ll sleep really well.

Whenever I finish a project, it’s hard to adjust. There’s a big, important part of me that needs this—this complete powering down—but the quick, puzzle-solving mastermind part hates being put back in the box. That part panics and thrashes and tells me things like I’m falling behind, wasting time. Malingering.

No matter how stark and eerie sleep-deprivation starts to feel, it’s always kind of a rush to be in the heightened state. I can’t help it—I have a soft spot for the version of me where I write fourteen hours a day and bake ten pies and watch Arrested Development at three in the morning because it’s just going to be light in four hours anyway.

But she is not okay.

It wasn’t until grad school that I truly started to understand I was stuck with this part, maybe for the rest of my life. She wasn’t something I’d eventually grow out of (in fact, she was getting stronger), and so I was going to have to learn to deal with myself one way or another. I developed a strategy.

This is where the video games come in.

See, the mastermind part hates dithering or wasting time, but she loves survival horror. Whenever it’s time to ease her back into a normal schedule, I placate her with creaky ghost-towns and decrepit zombie-filled mansions, because if she feels useful and like she has a task, she shuts up. She lets vague, dreamy Brenna clean the kitchen and make barrettes and do Christmas shopping.

So, for the next few weeks, this is what’s going to happen: the hyperfocused, task-oriented part of me will sit quietly, shoot her zombies, hone her strategies and solve her puzzles. She will do this without complaint. Cheerfully, even. She will stop fidgeting and get a grip.

The rest of me will be doing good if I make it to the post office.

*I should check with D on this one, having lost absolutely all objectivity.

**Figuratively speaking. In real life, I bump into the furniture a lot.

6 thoughts on “Why I Love Survival Horror (or, Wasting Time Is Sometimes Okay)

  1. All of what you say is extremely true. Once I finish something I have worked hard on (take now for example, I just finished a major science project, and now surfing the Internet feels way too much like procrastinating even though I am done), I can’t help but feel as if there is more to do! Zombie video games is a really good idea though that I just might take on… I am so excited for Paper Valentine so let us know any more details you’re able to share!

    • I can’t help but feel as if there is more to do!

      Exactly! I finally just in the last couple days stopped waking up in the morning already thinking about how much work I needed to do on Paper Valentine … before remembering that I did that already.

      Zombie games, puzzle games, adventure games—if there’s an objective and a sense of urgency, those are the games for me! (Because I can fake my brain into thinking that what I’m doing is Important.)

      And yes, as soon as I have a release date or a cover or a teaser or *anything* you guys will be the first to know!

  2. My mom and sister are like that. They’ll go through these manic phases where they won’t sleep because they’re working on something and they’re bouncing off the walls and they feel invincible and like they can do anything, though they crash after their bodies tell them they are not really invincible and that they need to sleep. And from what I’ve observed, they seem to almost wish like they hadn’t gone through those phases. But still, they have them. I’ve never really had that. I am sleep deprived but I tend to just sit and do nothing because that’s better than dealing with the anxiety and the chance of failure. I’ve never felt invincible. And when I do want to work on something the anxiety gets in the way and I can’t concentrate. Or maybe I’m just lazy, I don’t know, haha :)

    You should tell your hyperactive self that you deserve a break because you’ve been working too hard :D

    Congrats on finishing the first draft of Paper Valentine :D and GO Brenna: Zombie Killer :D

    • My mom and my sister are both what I think of as Very Good Workers. They’re way more intense than I am, but there’s nothing manic about it. They can completely disappear into a project, rather than seeming like the energy of it is shining out their eyes, which is more how I tend to feel. Also, I used to get really anxious about things—especially when I first started school. It all just seemed like too much work for not-enough reason and I never knew how to start and it always seemed like the outcome would never be as good as what was in my head.

      Now, even when I get all fired-up about something, I have to be careful precisely because that sense of invincibility is only one step off from sitting down on the floor, covering my head with my hands and saying “I can’t, I can’t do it!” (Which, as much as it pains me to admit it, I still do religiously at least once a year, and then D is just like “Yes you can. Now get up.”) Basically, the agitation is the same, but I think I just harness it better these days.

      Also, now I want a name tag that says Brenna: Zombie Killer

  3. Is it just me, or does it seem like the “mastermind” part of Brenna wrote the first half of this entry? You can almost see the borderline-obsessive determination jump out of the screen (I mean that in a good way).

    “Whenever I finish a project, it’s hard to adjust. There’s a big, important part of me that needs this—this complete powering down—but the quick, puzzle-solving mastermind part hates being put back in the box. That part panics and thrashes and tells me things like I’m falling behind, wasting time. Malingering.”

    This is exactly how I have felt since graduating high school. I know that people are supposed to just relax and enjoy the summer* between school and whatever comes next, but I’m kind of struggling to wind down after such a chaotic year.

    Right now, I’m just twiddling my thumbs hoping I got the results I wanted to get into a decent university. I see my friends now and then to go out, watch movies, and talk about anything other than results (you can’t be as disappointed when you pretend to have lower expectations, right?), and there is a lot coming up that I guess I should be looking forward to. It’s weird that even during the relentlessly busy, festive season, it still feels like everything I do lacks purpose.

    *It’s summer here in Australia

    • Is it just me, or does it seem like the “mastermind” part of Brenna wrote the first half of this entry?

      HA! Yes, there was a little bit of self-winding-down when I was writing this—walking the mastermind over to her quiet corner and telling her to sit still, it was time for the grown-up to take over. (Also, I should find it weird that I tend to think of myself in pieces, but instead, what I find weird is that I consider the soft, dreamy, domestic, passive part of me to also be the most adult part. That makes no sense.)

      It’s weird that even during the relentlessly busy, festive season, it still feels like everything I do lacks purpose.

      The summer after I graduated was exactly like this. And I was even pretty busy—working most evenings and watching my cousins during the day and hanging out with friends as much as possible before I had to leave town (I already knew what university I was going to, so in theory, so much should have already felt settled, but it didn’t). And even though I had plenty to do on a day-to-day basis, not having a long term project or task or deadline felt really unsettling and also weirdly guilty, like I was forgetting something important.

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