I’ve just begun playing Dark Souls. I’m not very far into it. I’m not used to this degree of relentless pressure, this viscous viciousness that must be pressed through to progress. It’s clear that there is a path to victory, I know this because it is a game and because others have completed it. Though sometimes the path ahead may be obscured and take time and effort to uncover, there is a way through.
I have also been working on a programming task, one which I have tackled twice before in the past with results that were usable but unsatisfactory, which were good enough to let me table the problem for later but not good enough to be allowed into a finished product. This is a problem which should be easy, which many other programmers have solved with few issues and which there is a wealth of documentation covering, but which for some reason due to my approach or methodology is consistently nightmarishly difficult for me.
I know there is a way through, but every time I try to push past I am rebuffed. Some tasks require recklessness and quick wits, but this is not one of them. This is a task to be slowly picked apart, to be broken down into smaller and smaller pieces until it is dust which I can blow away.
I have been making my way through the last few months on money I pull together via odd-jobs and art commissions. I don’t know for how long this will work, given my current methodology, but I try to save money wherever I can and take advantage of those opportunities I perceive. I feel a constant and overwhelming pressure, particularly when I regard the small but substantial gap in between the amount of money I currently have and the amount I need at the end of the month to make rent. Every frozen pizza, every energy drink, becomes a decadent indulgence, an investment disproportionate to the caloric and nutritional content.
It’s so real. There is a direct and observable connection between the things I am doing and the benefit I reap from doing them. When I make money to live on, it’s because someone looked at a task I could do for them or piece I could create for them and decided that that was worth their hard-earned cash. It feels entirely and qualitatively different from being hired by a corporation on the recommendation of a hiring agent who read a piece of paper I wrote describing myself, from being paid month to month on the basis that I have not yet overtly demonstrated myself to be not worth that cost. Presumably, to someone somewhere that flow of money makes sense, and it may not even be very complicated, but from my place in the middle I am– possibly the greatest cliche of them all, but with good reason– just a cog in the machine.
Is it better to struggle and see the fruits of one’s labors, but be constantly under pressure, constantly threatened? Or is it better to know that one has a place in the world, to be secure in one’s role in the service of something bigger, even if the shape and method of that ‘something’ isn’t really clear?
I don’t know. Does it even make sense to ask which is better?
Asking implies we have a choice.