Thursday, March 21, 2013

2.41. The Not-Knowing

"Shadowmoon Valley"
Artwork by SulaMoon

Waiting For Ater

When I was fourteen years old, I woke up one day and my best friend was gone. Not gone in the sense of some tragic accident that took his life, spiraling my childhood into a vortex of despair and anguish. This was worse. You see, if my best friend had died, at least I would know the ending -- I'd have some closure about the situation. A rare disease, a fatal car accident, whatever it happened to be, I could put my finger on it and say there. That's the reason I no longer see him, no longer hear from him. He's dead. End of discussion. In my case, however, my friend hadn't died. Things just stopped. No more phone calls, no more plans to bike down to the Mini-Golf to get in a few hours of Street Fighter II. No more plans to hit a movie or just plain hang out together. Nothing.

One day, it just stopped.

Why this was worse than losing a friend to death should be obvious, but if it isn't, here's the secret: It's the not-knowing. The unanswered questions. The whys. The what-did-I-do-wrongs. At least in death, you can reflect back and remember how it was. The last time you saw their face, or heard them speak. At least you'd have a sense of where things stood in that last encounter. You were friends, friends for life. Nothing could separate you, short of that thin fabric that kept your heart pumping, your chest breathing, and your ability to pick up the phone to chat. But when your best friend goes about his business as if nothing had ever changed, going to the same places, seeing the same movies, heading to the same video arcade -- all without you -- a darkness quickly moves in. Your brain struggles to make sense of this new alternate universe that has cut you out of the picture. Some have the capacity to move on to new friends quickly, shrugging off such radical changes as if they were no big deal; their brain gets it. Change. People grow apart, find different instances, have different opinions, seek out new adventures. Their brains find a solution, plug it in, and it allows them to carry on with the rest of their day. Others wrestle with the not-knowing for weeks, trying to maintain order and live their lives as it haunts them. Sometimes weeks...sometimes months.

My brain grappled with it for years.

I needed a reason, I needed to know why things had ended abruptly. More than anything, I wanted to know if it was something I had done, something I may have broken that could be fixed. Then, the pieces would fall back into place, and we could once again resume our friendship, as if nothing had changed. Change was unsettling and caused me great concern -- I didn't like it. I didn't feel like I had control over it. Stability is what I desperately wanted in its place, to be able to count on the same things, rely on the same people. To be able to count on someone to be there for me, to back me up, to support my decisions and actions and choices. They'd validate me, ensuring I was on the right path. Without that validation, I had no path. Suddenly, the path grew up around me, and I was lost in a forest, with no direction, purpose, or guide to ensure me that I was on the right track.

All I needed was some closure. Some sense of how close or far I was to the mark. Weeks went by as I logged into WoW, watching, waiting for Ater to return, to tell me he was settled in at work, and at last had a wide-open schedule. He'd say he was ready to jump back into Black Temple, ready to step up to Illidan and bring an end to The Betrayer.

The log in never came.

Eventually, my brain shut down the waiting part. The denial part. The not-knowing part. Temporarily disabled, until further notice. For now, something had to be done about the gaping hole that was left in the guild, in the roster...and in me.

"Essence of Suffering"
Artwork by Tom Baxa
Copyright © 2008
 Blizzard Entertainment / Upper Deck

The Fog

Shutting down left me numb to events unfolding around me. At work, sales managers berated me for my inappropriate estimates, and I just took it, while I stared into my laptop screen. Waiting for them to just shut their mouths. To walk away, leave me alone, let me code in peace. There was no point in fighting back, resisting them. They were wrong, but I was in no position to counter their arguments. What good would it do? So they berated. And I took it. And when they finally left me alone in my corner of the office, mindlessly churning out websites for people who barely knew how to use a website in the first place, I'd glance up and across the desk, looking for the place where Ater and I sat across from one another, months earlier. Him sharing new discoveries and troubleshooting problems with me. Talking about the guild, and how we were going to knock out the next few bosses.



The numbness bled into my in-game persona as well. Blain's disapproval of less-than-stellar play slowly grew in power and magnitude during those weeks. He became hyper-critical of players that had long since performed at a sub-par level, and grew tired of the constant excuse factory. Returning to Reliquary of Souls, he ridiculed another rogue, Azraella, for the player's mishandling of interrupts in the rotation. You had one job. Kick the Spirit Shock. That's it. And in my semi-conscious state, rather than recommend he chill out, give these guys a break -- I latched on to this emotion as well as it filled the void 

Anger is an easy crutch to fall back on, especially when you have a career of breaking keyboards.

I was equally punitive towards players lacking focus, yet Blain took the blame for this mistreatment -- and he was not alone in his disgust. Eventually, players started to refer to him as "Blain the Tyrant", a badge he wore with great pride. It was a running joke among the 25-Man progression team, how the tyrant would command and ridicule in order to maintain progression, and others like Dalans, with a propensity to favor anger over compassion, jumped into that boat of ridicule with us and sailed to sea. In-game, I lost my temper, pointed fingers, reminded players that the days of failing were behind us, and if they didn't shape up, they would ship out. They would claim Blain was bullying them, demanding that they reach a level of skill simply unattainable. I'd fire back seething responses:

"Oh, so you'd prefer to go back to the way it was, pre-Blain? Wiping to The Lurker Below for weeks at a time? Like a complete failure of a raiding guild? How about you stop sucking, instead?"

Everything was so black-and-white.

When the raids ended for the evening, I wouldn't log out. I would just wander around Outland, performing mindless tasks, completing quests of no value. I flip over to my Rogue alt, and fly her over Hellfire Penninsula. In doing so, the memory of waking up in the middle of night with searing tooth pain stabbed me...and I remember calling Ater the next day after the tooth was pulled, hopped up on pain meds, yelling in to the phone, "Yeah, you can tell everybody at the office that I'm not coming in today! I'M ON DRUGS, MAN!" And Ater laughing.

There was the void again. Without something to fill it, my sentimental brain began bleeding back towards him. His presence. His absence.

Zanjina kneels beside the fallen Shade of Akama,
Black Temple

Promotional Distractions

In order to keep myself distracted, I tried to focus in on the tasks that were right in front of my face, the ones that needed immediate attention. I needed a number two, to fill the gap left by Ater. Blain was disinterested, and was already dropping hints that, come expansion, he would be ready to retire from raid leadership for good. Coming back in the middle of TBC had turned our progression team around, but had left him broken and worn down with weekly barrages from the excuse factory. I asked him to keep his exit on the down-low for the time being, to which he obliged. At this close stage of wrapping up Black Temple, coupled with the loss of Ater, I didn't want to take any more chances at gouging out what little morale was currently intact amongst the raid team. So, Blain had his marching orders. Continue to push us to Illidan. Keep the deadline in sight. Keep us marching.

Without Blain as an option for promotion, I began to survey the field of officership. I needed someone with a strong backbone, who shared my disgust of poor play, and was equally unwilling to let it slide. Someone who didn't put up with a lot of shit, and whom I could entrust to enforce my rules while I was offline. This approach, I felt, would stymie any possible excuse the raiders may give to go AWOL as we neared the final stretch. Based off this criteria, all signs pointed to Dalans, a fiercely dedicated member of the guild, and steadfast raider since as far back as Ater. Dalans had taken charge of the druids and kept them in shape for many moons. His no-nonsense style of dealing with whiners and complainers suited my expectations of the role. My current state-of-mind shared this zero-tolerance policy towards mediocrity with Dalans, and there was nobody around to disprove that line of thinking. He proudly took up the charge, and ran with his usual iron fist.

What remained was a spot for warrior officer, as Ater had been wearing multiple hats at the end of his tenure. The warrior most applicable for this position was Kurst, a raider stretching even further back than Ater, Dalans or Blain. Kurst's unyielding devotion to the guild, and consistent place among the raid progression team was most certainly enough criteria to warrant promotion to officership. He may have had a tendency here or there to make a mistake, but hey...who didn't, by this point? We were all human, we made mistakes every day! Maybe it was time to cut Kurst a little slack and give him a promotion that he rightfully earned. Yeah! Kurst for Warrior Officer! It's now official and done. You have any warrior problems, you take it to him, he's the expert now. Just get it out of my hair. Get warriors out of my hair. Get everything that has to do with warriors away from me right now.

Deal with it. Please.


I'd hoped that a player would come along and solve all those problems, someone that could magically snap their fingers, and make all the difficulties melt away. What I got, instead, was a mage that would push my people management skills to new extremes, granting me the perspective I needed to re-evaluate what it was to be in charge, and how to handle leadership without guidance.


Shintar said...

Nice blog you've got there. :) I've been coming back to continue reading almost every day since I first found it.

This is the first post that I'm really burning to comment on however, since it contains a big unanswered question from my point of view: Why did you let Ater disappear?

Judging from all the entries leading up to this one, you two were extremely close, what with him getting a new job through you and even staying at your house right after he moved. So... when he stopped logging into WoW, were you not able to e-mail or call him to ask what's going on?

I'm just confused because if someone I'm close to just disappeared like that I would be worried that something happened to them and do everything to get in contact, not just assume that they had suddenly decided to stop talking to me.

Shawn Holmes said...


Thanks so much for the support! Very happy to hear I'm getting readers from far away.

By this point in the story, it probably feels like we never spoke again. I'm here to tell you that's not the case. The focus on this post was purely my state of mind surrounding why things stopped *at that particular time* and how I coped (or didn't cope, depending on your perspective).

The answer to your question is that I was in a frame of mind at the time where I felt like Ater what such an integral part of the guild...that that day he decided to walk away, it would have been for a very significant reason. I got it in my head that he wouldn't throw in the towel until it truly was time for him to move on. I also knew he was settling down into a new place of residence, and had first-hand knowledge of how much gusto he poured into his job -- I didn't feel it was fair of me me to step in between any of that.

I'm not gonna lie to you, I also flat out feared the worst: plain and simple rejection. At that low point, to have Ater tell me over the phone, "Yeah, no thanks, I'm kinda done with everything" would have been the worst sort of blow to take. I had trouble interpreting those messages, and would have equated it to something like your favorite teacher or role model telling you, "Oh yeah hey that thing you love and have poured your heart and soul into, it isn't really all that important."

I took Ater's departure very personally, so chose avoidance rather than confrontation.


The good news is that, today, I am able to touch base with him a few times a year. We've reflected on this a number of times, and I have greater clarity around his departure; it'll be covered in an upcoming blog post.

I've also harassed him to come read the blog and comment!

Shintar said...

Thanks for the reply, Shawn, and it's good to hear that you did get in touch again after all!

I was wondering whether there would be an answer to my question or something later on, but I got too impatient to wait until I'd read everything else. :P

Anonymous said...

I know all about the deafening silence of an old guild mate. For years, this guild member schooled me in Quake 3 and on my own MTV Music generator song in 2001, and then just disappeared for years. (He had cystic fibrosis.) I left him for dead until he resurfaced years later. We finally met again in Aug 2014 shortly before he passed in Sept 2014.

Anonymous said...