But, as many of us are, I'm getting older, and some of the lifestyle choices I made happily in my early 20's (like subsisting for days at a time on white rice) are no longer wholly my own to make. I have no problem working without rest or complaint for days on end if a project requires it. Certain other people who rode shotgun with me down from Colorado are not hardwired the same way. OK, I'll give it away, I'm talking about my girlfriend (and my cat). In the interest of maintaining domestic felicity, my major self-improvement concern nowadays is becoming more conscious of my moods, figuring out their root causes, and addressing them before I say something really mean to someone who didn't deserve it.
As I've been completing self-assigned homework readings like Goleman and Gardner's work on emotional intelligence and attempting to improve my self-awareness I've realized that I do a lot of things every day that subconsciously reflect my mindstate. My music listening habits are the best example. During the weeks of planning and packing in Boulder before our move, I listened to a lot of musical comfort food. Generally I try and spend most of my turntable time on expanding my knowledge, but the last month in our old apartment it was all Pavement, Beatles, Built to Spill, Stones, Guided by Voices. The first thing I put on when I got the receiver unpacked in Texas was Pet Sounds.
When I'm in a relaxed state, I put on whole LP's and I listen to both sides. When I'm mildly manic, I play 45's or one LP track at a time. Only when I'm too preoccupied to deal with handling vinyl do I go to the iTunes or the iPod. I must be embracing my new home, because since we've settled all I've been doing is hunting for new Austin bands on MySpace. I can't complain really about how much free digital music is at our fingertips in the modern era, because I wouldn't be able to develop this blog in the way I envision without that access. But I do worry about a generation that never decides what to listen to for themselves, since I gain so much insight into my own mysterious moods through what sleeves I pull off the shelves. Pandora or new music blogs or "Genius" mode or shuffle are all very well and good if you're feeling directionless. But everyone who takes their music seriously should spend a little time each day asking "What do I want to listen to?" and then pondering what internal feelings the chosen music reflects.
Another perhaps less universal method I use for taking mental inventory is playing Civilization IV. As I'm sure I've written before, I started playing the Win 3.11 build of Sid Meier's original Civilization in the fourth grade or so, and I've played that game or a sequel very close to every week of my life since. The game and Larry Gonick's Cartoon History of the Universe made me decide to be a history major, and so certainly influenced my choice of college. I've always understood that the game's remarkably open-ended design is central to its addictiveness. There are many different conditions for winning and many different combinations of strategies possible to reach each of the several ending points. It's like four-dimensional chess with an added time element; survive long enough and the pieces start behaving completely differently. (Of course chess itself does have an echo in this time element in the promotion of pawns, but bear with me.)
I've always figured that I love Civilization and its related family of games because I have the natural instincts of an historian; I memorize the release dates and attached personnel changes of rock records in the same way I do World Series matchups and the succession of English monarchs. But with my new developing emotional consciousness I also see that it's a way for me to put my sense of justice into practice in a sandbox where no actual nuclear warheads will be dropped on any actual Zulus. With the Beyond the Sword expansion, Civilization IV is the first game in the series where religion and diplomacy can be as rewarding as military conquest. I like to think of myself as a world leader of peace, and most of the time I only make war on my neighbors when provoked. But what serves as provocation changes depending on how my life in the outside world is going. Sometimes I will let the aggressive Spanish bully me, giving them technology and money to avoid war like Neville Chamberlain. Then sometimes I will crush the Carthaginians under my mighty boot like Zeus just because they dared to found a city in an unclaimed spot of land that I happened to need if I was going to draw a giant "W" on the map with my territory.
Experienced players will know that certain races have to be beaten into submission: the Celts are just going to keep attacking your tanks with swordsmen until you put them out of their misery, and the duplicitous Babylonians simply aren't the sort of people with whom you want your subjects sharing a continent. But how you deal with dangerous, crafty Indians or Egyptians will change with every game depending on various factors both internal and external to the game world.
Well, now I just really feel like playing. I hope today I am a man of peace.