Analysis, Quirky, Reflection

Poké Lessons: Firestones

I will risk showing both my age and some “geekiness” in this piece. When I turned thirty, two years ago, I started secretly replaying my copy of Pokémon Blue Version. Chalk that one as a reward for finishing graduate school or else something to fill the space between accepting a new job and discovering the greatest love of my life so far.

I left the job a year ago and my love left me seven months after; thus began the current period of personal development, on a jagged upward trajectory. The ultimate results are still in question, even if I now have FAITH that better days are ahead.

Charmander, a fire-starter

I digress: when I played Red Version at age 12 I chose Charmander as my starter. I played the game like an adolescent with undetected ADHD, of course: it was one long push of gutsy take-downs and near-losses. I nearly side-scrolled through an iconic RPG. I cannot comment about subsequent generations of the game (showing my age) but I was swept into the rush to collect and battle the creatures my friends already had. In the intervening years I would revisit the game in my imagination on long drives and subway rides. The possibility to play legitimately, expertly — more consummately — remained in those colorful cartridges.

Growlithe, red-version’s fire-dog

Growlithe and Arcanine were often on my mind because of a youthful mistake. As soon as I caught the little fire-dog, I hustled to Celadon department store to buy the radioactive stone and transform it (evolve it) into a magnificent Arcanine. In case this is not self-evident, Arcanine is the more-powerful, grown-up incarnation of Growlithe. I read no strategy guides– why would I? How I used the Firestone on my Growlithe is emblematic of how I thought I could use degrees and experiences on myself: hoping for a power-up to bypass the grind. In my imagination, my Arcanine would learn better or different techniques than its juvenile form. Yet, Growlithes need to learn every skill they need before evolving: my Arcanine could not learn new skills through experience. I shelved it after about five level-ups and I continued with my burgeoning Charizard, blissfully unaware that it could have learned skills sooner had I delayed its evolution (from Charmander/Charmeleon — I promise that the point is coming, folks). That was my Red Version experience in a nut-shell: I just wanted to beat the Elite-Four as quickly as possible, bag Mewtwo, and not feel inferior to my friends.

Vulpix, blue-version’s fire-dog

When I played Blue Version for the first time, at age 14, I did markedly better. I raised my analogous-in-blue-version Vulpix to maturity before giving it a Firestone, making it Ninetails (same idea, different strengths). Still, I spent the next fifteen years thinking about raising another Vulpix, getting the move-set “right” or “better”. The moral of the story is not only that I could not count on a ‘Firestone’ for success but that I needed to make even better plans, break-down steps even further, in addition to having patience.

Destroying water pokémon with cute grass-types

Wiser, I chose Bulbasaur as my starter at age 30– this was before falling in-love with the botanist, just to clarify. In fact, I stormed the S.S. Anne with no less than four ‘Plants’ while my Abra was incubating in the nursery. Everything I did that summer showed forethought . Where once I had about eight viable starters at any time, this time I was constantly developing potential line-ups. {I promise that the point is coming.}

Abra chills until ready to evolve…

How fitting, though, that I got frustrated and quit when I struggled to catch a Vulpix at the level I wanted. {I promise that the point is coming.} I didn’t really need the game in my life, anyway. Right? I still had my botanist… for a while.

Eighteen months later, my therapist advised that I do more things “that don’t benefit anyone in particular” to curb the perfectionism I suffered from at the time (before we discovered my current drug). I caught a Vulpix at an acceptable level (not perfect), traded myself a Growlithe from my Red Version cartridge, and started pondering ‘Firestones’ again. The Growlithe has a long way to go, currently at level 25. Naturally, the Vulpix is beautiful at level 32. Both of them are not especially powerful in their current forms but I can have faith that this learning period will come to fruition (I’m also dutifully suppressing the evolution of a Diglett so it will learn “Earthquake” sooner, often holding my breath as he gets pummeled in his current form). {The point is coming.}

Arcanine & Ninetails, fully evolved fire-dogs

I am also at level 32 (here comes the point). I just got pummeled AT LIFE. I wanted to just be strong enough, to prevail professionally, to not need help with depression, and to save my relationship. I wanted to win as quickly as possible and rest on my laurels, indeed. In the past six months I have learned more about personal development than I had before, since leaving Palestine in 2013. If someone had thrown a Firestone at me, finalizing my evolution and boosting all of my ‘stats’ (my existing strengths), many of these revelations and skills would not be with me — my move-set would be lame. I imagined saying that in a more elaborate, poetic way but anyone who understands Pokémon understands. No poetics needed. The period of feeling weak while I learn will be vindicated when my TRUE Firestone moment dawns. Whatever my metaphorical ideal move-set is, I’m going to learn it. In the end, having a smart move-set can make as much difference as pumped-up stats. I am stronger, I am closer to a job, I got the help I needed, and… …and…

I wish that getting-back what I most desire were as simple as storming Celadon City Gym with my Vulpix and Growlithe. Erika. I want ‘my Erika’ back. I wish it were merely the kind of ‘challenge’ I’ll have when I take-over Saffron City: if I prepare adequately I can RELY on getting a badge, a Lapras, and untold loot. Life-outcomes, on the other hand… not so assured. And yet.

I think that playing Pokémon has not entirely been an exercise in doing something useless to foil my perfectionism. My mind called me back to the game all of those years I did not play (being a “serious adult”). It does demand more than a side-scrolling game and my brain recognized the opportunity. There are supply runs, training expeditions, experimental line-ups, catches to make (exercises in judgment and restraint) and, finally, ass-kicking bouts sweeping CPU opponents. All of the leg-work does pay-off when I storm a hide-out or gym, prepared. I sometimes enter those spaces ‘more than prepared’. I seek opportunities to be preparing, readying; I mentally explore permutations and choose one that I prefer from a menu of possibilities. Before I went into the Fighting Dojo to retrieve my Hitmonlee, I spent a long time developing a Tentacool from level 5 because… no…

I digress. Simply, I spent time in development. I allowed myself space to prepare rather than worrying about how fast I was progressing. That is the precious kernel of wisdom gained. That lesson can be scaled-up to life.

A theme you all can expect to keep seeing: evolution over revolution. Tune-in next time.

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