Openhanded Victories

Dad always plays Settlers of Catan with an open hand. At any point in the game, we can all see his resource cards. When we play our knights or shift the robber, he lets us take whatever card we want.

When I first played Catan with him, I sneered at his lax playing style and determined that I was going to win this game.

“He’s not going to fool me into letting my guard down,” I thought to myself.

The crazy thing?

Dad wins quite often at Settlers of Catan.

While the rest of us play politics and cut the shrewdest bargains, Dad politely asks for resource trades while having all his resources face up….

And he still wins about half the time.


My Dad has taught me many things throughout my life. Many traits to model, and many to avoid.

But with his Catan playstyle, he has arguably the most fun out of all of us. He’s just having a good time spending time with his family. Victory is a nice bonus for him, but the real treat is just spending time together.

AND YET HE STILL WINS TIME AFTER TIME.


For a long time, I’ve lived my life in constant fear of “losing.”

As a child, one time as we exited the freeway, I asked my Dad, “Which car wins the race?”

My Dad asked some clarifying questions, and verified that I was referring to the cars that just exited alongside us.

“No one wins the race Paul, because there is no race. People are just driving.”

“But who wins?!” I protested.


It’s such a funny and seemingly pointless story, but it perfectly encapsulates my years long outlook on life.

I don’t have time to smell the flowers..

I never appreciate the season I’m in and I’m always thinking about the next.

If I’m not thinking about the next season, then I’m agonizing about the last few seasons.

What could I have done better?

What should I have said instead?

It it’s a good time that I’m having, how can I replicate this in the future?

It’s exhausting and it’s sad, because you don’t really appreciate the good ol days until they are a story about the good ol days.


There’s something so deep about my Dad showing how many sheep, ore, wheat, brick, and wood he has. His actions imply that he has surrendered keeping his intentions secret, in order to more enjoy the time he is spending with his family.

He finds that the family time is more valuable than winning and in doing so almost asks all of us: Was the game created to be won, or to connect us?

And so I turn and I ask you: Is life a race to be won with competitors to be beaten?

Or is it a journey where the connections and being present are what make it unforgettable?

Because my Dad plays to connect with us….

But he still ends up winning.

Present

The sun is scheduled to set in four minutes as Julian asks, “Let me show you this map, because I’m not sure if we are going the right way..”

As we double back over the half-mile that we just ascended, in order to re-embark on the correct trail, the crunch of gravel and dirt under our shoes becomes the backup rhythm to our pounding hearts. We begin the mile trek to the lookout point as the sun begins to fall below the hills on our left.

“The event that hasn’t occurred for 800 years, will only be visible for ten short minutes after sunset,” says the remembered quote from the article I read earlier in the day.

Our ascension becomes more and more frenzied as daylight begins to disappear and the hill to our left does not give way to allow us clear sight to the southwest. I feel the blister at the intersection of my heel and boot burst just as a piece of tiny rock slides into my other boot. The incline is relentless as our jagged breathing replaces the playful banter that we had just fifteen minutes ago.

All of a sudden, with one final incline, we lift out of the valley and arrive at a lookout point that grants us the ability to see above the hills that loomed so tall and imposing just moments before.

There in the sky, just above the gorgeous Southern California sunset, we see Jupiter and Saturn as they appear to violate social distancing rules as they meet.

Julian and I marvel at the sunset and the incredible nature of the human eye. Our iPhones and our prime lenses can’t capture the magnificence of the moment, but our eyes can.

Five minutes go by.

Ten minutes go by.

Fifteen minutes go by.

And yet Jupiter and Saturn remain, even brighter as the light leaves the sky.

As we return to the car using our flashlights that have proven handy in blackouts and fire evacuations this year, we continue to gaze into the sky to see if the planets will disappear from view. As we drive up PCH, we see the planets to our left and marvel at how frantic we were.

I say to Julian, “This is gonna be the December blog.”


I started this year with one goal: to write and release one blogpost each month.

We’ve gone on a journey this year. From leaving a job, starting a new one, finishing a Spanish course, taking an anti-human trafficking course, texting a rapper and getting an emailed response, experiencing prejudice and racism due to coronavirus, editing with a new software, producing two phases of music videos, filming an interview with Fight the New Drug, binging the Office, Dark, Rebels, the Mandalorian, & the Queen’s Gambit, processing through countless virtual therapy sessions, paying off debts and taking control of personal finances, lying in bed with crippling depression and anxiety, driving for hours to escape normalcy and to get into the middle of nowhere to take photos and to cook, playing hours of videogames with old buddies, and I’m sure more that I’m missing.

If you and I are close, you probably already know that I agonize about the past and fixate on the future.

I’m rarely happy with where I am right now, and I tend to romanticize what happened before and what could happen in the future.

2020 in a weird way, forced me to process the past and the future, BUT not at the expense of glossing over the present. If ever there was a time in my life that I was forced to be here and now, it was this year.

Three cancelled trips, a friend in South Korea’s missed wedding, the failure of negative coping mechanisms to provide sustainable highs in a quarantine environment, loneliness magnified, and more time alone than ever before all forced me to sit alone with my thoughts, my fears, my insecurities, and the long buried emotions that fueled my busy-ness.

An acquaintance called me out on instagram by saying “Your life looks like it was really cool before..” after my second repost of an old video I had made.

Fantasizing and planning for the future seemed foolish and wasteful when the future was so uncertain for EVERYONE.

And it was in that discomfort, that I began to breathe and exist in the present.


Sometimes in life, it can feel like that hike as you race this deadline to an endpoint that is uncertain.

People and resources have told you that your window is short and that you must hurry.

“If you miss your opportunity, you never know when the next will come around”

We frantically make decisions out of fear, and failing is unacceptable, because to fail is to let yourself and the people around you down.

We ignore the pain in our heels and the jagged breathing as self-care goes through the window.

Because the destination is what gives us meaning.

That destination could be tangible.

It could be intangible.

“Man I wish I was happy”

“Man I wish my emergency fund was fully funded”

“I wish I was with someone”

“I wish I was there

And as we rush to and fro, life in all of its beauty and splendor, slips through our fingers faster than grains of sand.


The people and places that we are in today, are not promised tomorrow.

Just like 2020 proved, today is a gift, not a given.

Life is so short, and we spend so much time freaking out about getting to the uncertain destination, that we forget to look around and marvel at everything that is happening around us.

Thanks Imon for being down to drive to Anza Borrego because I was having a mental breakdown.

Thanks Victoria for helping me realize that our struggles growing up as the oldest children in our very special homeschooled-legalistic households were shared.

Thanks to everyone who encouraged me to not bail out on my Fight the New Drug interview.

Thanks Mary for being there to trade stories about relationship trauma and drama.

Thanks Calista for the opportunity to learn so much about producing and overcoming personal fears.

Thanks Andy for the encouragement to just create without fearing the audience’s opinion.

Thanks Josh and Jeremy for being wholesome alternatives to so many shitty coping mechanisms. I never thought that a pandemic and cross play Call of Duty would reunite us.


Life is short my friends. Live it well.

Look around and appreciate where you are and who you are with in the present.

Because I guarantee you, life will never be the way it is ever again.

In the words of Andrew Bernard, ” I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you actually left them”

Thanks for reading this year and thanks for giving me space to think out loud!

pH out!