On Disclaiming

So, I have a few new followers on social media after Convolution; that means I may have a few new blog readers after Convolution. This post is largely for you, but may be useful to anyone. I’m adding the “Disclaimer” category so it’s easy to find this later if you need it.

One day post-Convolution, I posted the following two tweets:

To my new followers (1/2): I am a speculative fiction writer and fan. I also talk about pro wrestling, ice hockey, and social justice.

To new followers (2/2): I’ll do CNs as appropriate, and hashtag wrestling and hockey posts, but social justice stays unmarked.

And so comes the question this post seeks to answer: what does Tyler mean when he says “social justice”? And why won’t he give a content warning for it?

Simple: social justice refers to the ongoing effort to truly, finally, completely, give everyone equal rights and equal opportunities in this world; to minimize violence and eradicate oppression; and to increase empathy and education and overall mental and physical health across the entire spectrum of humanity.

On my blog, and on my social media feeds, I freely and openly discuss the need to end racism, homophobia, and transphobia; I say again and again that I believe abuse victims over their accused abusers until I see a damn good reason to do otherwise;  I speak out in support of marginalized voices and in support of the exercise of free speech, even by people who are using that free speech in a way that makes me use my free speech to call them a jerk; I speak out against violence and oppression and the pernicious idea that a person can be “asking for” any form of violence, especially sexual assault; and I call out problematic cultural programming and problematic language. I also try to encourage people who are being problematic to be less so, first kindly and then if necessary with great force. These are not the only things I talk about, but they are things that come up a lot.

Why do I not give warnings on these, though? Why do I say I will give content notifications for things that might be common triggers for trauma, or warn people I am talking about wrestling or hockey, but not when I want to talk about social justice? The answer is that I do not give a warning on these things because I do not think they are things we should be sheltering each other from.

There is a belief that artists using social media need to not be overtly political, and I agree — to a point. I’m not going to use my social media platforms to stump for a particular Presidential candidate, or to discuss my thoughts on tax reform (or if I am, I’m going to do it on private feeds where I can discuss those things only with those who want to discuss them). But I am going to support equality and free speech, because those are not topics I see as “politics” — it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican or a Democratic Socialist or a moderate or whatever, the desire for everyone to be equal is something that should transcend those sorts of labels and that we should all be able to, if not agree on, at least debate.

Also, silencing the discussion is exactly what the people who oppose that equality want us to do; and while I am by far one of the least likely voices to be silenced, I still stand behind the somewhat symbolic gesture of doing so. Maybe someone will speak up because they see me speaking up; honestly, I can only hope to have that kind of reach.

So, that’s my disclaimer; if you follow me, you will hear about writing, and also about ice hockey, and about WWE and NXT and CHIKARA and all the rest of the great wrestling I love watching. You will also definitely see me being a social justice warrior. Well, more of a barbarian, really, but, let’s not get into semantics here.

Hopefully all that is copacetic, because I’m happy to have new people reading. We cool?

On Success (Convolution Post The Third)

I’m back from Convolution 2015, and trying to face the real world.

Convolution was not my first fandom-focused convention; that honor goes to BayCon. But it was the first one I made a point of becoming a regular at, and the first one I have felt this level of commitment to; the one year I had to miss it (due to the timing of our honeymoon) I honestly felt like I was somehow letting down a friend. After that year, and the discovery of the theme for this year — “FANDOM: LEGION,” and the celebration of diversity and inclusivity in fandom — I decided it was time to make the offer and see if I could take the next step: would they be willing to have me as a guest?

“I think you’d be a great fit!” I was informed by the staff member who contacted me. And then the whirlwind began.

Impostor syndrome hit literally immediately. I’m not qualified to be on panels. I’m not qualified to talk about anything to people. I’m not qualified to moderate a panel of experts, which I was going to be allowed to do. And I certainly do not even belong in the same room as the Guests of Honor, especially Brianna Wu, with whom I would be discussing the Women of Marvel. Jesus Christ, I tell myself, what have I gotten into?

But backing out was not an option; if I did that, I’d never know if my impostor syndrome was right or not, and that alone is enough to get me out the door. So I did my research. I put together my notes. I read some works by the authors I’d be on panels with. I contacted my friends and colleagues Leslie and Sara to get their thoughts on how to shot web re: panels. I did all the groundwork I could and prayed that it would be pay off.

tl;dr: Being on panels is fun, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has something they feel they can be on a panel about.

Convolution was a great con for me; it was a working con, for sure, with me passing out business cards and making awkward small talk and also that thing where I was on panels about things for 3 or so hours every day. But for all that it was a refreshing working con, and a reminder that doing what I love and being around people doing what they love is exactly the kind of work that doesn’t feel like working for me.

My greatest hits for this con:

The Women of Marvel panel, my first professional panel ever, and a total barn-burner of a way to start. The moderator (Carrie Sessarego) later told me she was worried that I was made uncomfortable by being the only man on the panel, and therefore the one the other panelists addressed when discussing the male domination of our culture. No; that was exactly what I wanted from being the only man on that panel. Plus I got to talk about Ms. Marvel, and who doesn’t love that?

The “Developing a Writing Practice” panel, the first panel I’ve ever moderated. I had a little trouble keeping a steady hand on this one, and I definitely had to walk back something I said about MFAs (short version: they are useful for learn how to write from a mechanical and framework standpoint, but never trust one that tells you how to write). The panelists were animated and engaged and the audience seemed to learn something, and I got some contacts out of it, and really it was just a huge success and I am so glad.

The Modern Boogeymen panel, with my friends and colleagues Matt​ and Kendra Pecan (whose web presence I do not have at hand at the moment)​. I learned a lot hearing them talk about their areas of boogeyman expertise, and I learned a lot from the audience, and it was one of the most engaged, interested, excited audiences I have seen at a panel in the history of ever. I need to read more Brothers Grimm to keep up with Kendra, and long-time followers of mine know that’s not a statement I make lightly. Also, obligatory: Watch It Follows.

The “I’m A Bad Fan” panel with Leslie​. It was a small audience, being one of the unfortunate post-checkout-time panels on the last day of the con; but it was an engaged audience, and one that seemed happy and relieved to be addressing the subject. I am officially borrowing panelist Brad Lyau’s phrase “the adult at the table” to describe the behavior I want to see from myself and other fans going forward. (Example: “So what if that person is just here to cosplay? Be the adult at the table and welcome them for being enthusiastic about something!”) Also: I totally didn’t freak out when an audience member told me they don’t like Superman. The table, I adulted it.

Giving my first live reading and getting actual applause from the other authors there. I feel like maybe there really is a writing community out there now, and like I really could be a part of it.

Giving out my business cards and having the other guests actually contact me. I’ve got some irons in the fire I didn’t a day ago, and some publishers to possibly submit to, and some potential new friends and colleagues to add to my list. Again: maybe I really can be a part of this whole big wonderful thing.

Having friends who can make sure “Sentinels of the Multiverse​ and chill” is an option for my evenings, after I’ve finished attending/being on panels and need to screw my head back on the right way.

The “Writing Fight Scenes That Aren’t Wack” workshop with Guest of Honor Balogun Ojetade, and not only learning volumes from him about pacing and physics and flow, but getting to be the hands-on demonstration of a take-down, and more importantly, getting a little applause for my practice fight scene we wrote at the end of the panel. Now I get to say the writer of The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman showed me exactly how he’d kick my ass.

And most importantly: Getting to do all of the above with my wife, the person I always want with me on every adventure I take. Love is so cool, everyone.

Special thanks here to go to Suzie Rodriguez, the staffer whom I dealt with most directly over the course of the con. She was friendly and helpful and made sure I figured out how to do the guest thing with a minimum of difficulty. I would likely have been a mess by Friday night if it hadn’t been for her encouragement.

In summary: Convolution is wonderful; being a guest is great; and I hope I get to do it again, and again, for many years to come.

Thanks, Convolution! See you next year!

On Tradition

(You’re singing it too now, aren’t you?)

I have beat this drum into ragged oblivion: I am a creature of habit and ritual. I like having rituals for when I start a new project, when I end a new project, when the seasons change; it’s something that I thrive on and that makes me feel good. It’s why I buy Christmas presents every year, no matter how small; it’s why I have long-sleeved shirts I change into as soon as the autumn days allow me to do that without turning into a rotisserie chicken. Lately, though, some of those rituals are threatened.

I’m an American citizen. That means I was raised with a lot of traditions that revolve around…oh yes…food. Easter ham. Fourth of July barbecues. Christmas dinner. Thanksgiving literally every calorie within arm’s reach. Birthday cake. Oh, God, birthday cake.

And now I’m diabetic.

I can live with being diabetic; it’s a lifestyle, and as long as I live that lifestyle, I will see few to no issues with it, and what issues do crop up I will deal with, knowing I am supported by my friends and my family. But it does mean so many things I am used to doing to mark the passage of time are now health concerns. My rituals have been disrupted, and this year when the fall equinox showed up on my calendar, I got hit right between the eyes with this fact.

Where was my chicken breast on top of roast potatoes and brussels sprouts?

Where were my “cheat day” pumpkin spice lattes?

What was I going to do about my Halloween candy?

I brought this to Sonya, partially to warn her that I may be a bit maudlin as the autumn leaves start to fall, and partially to say: what are we going to do? And Sonya, being wonderful, helped me figure it out. Tastes had to be substituted — but diabetes can’t take away smells, or feelings. Or books.

So the next day, I bought a couple scented candles — “Cinnamon Apple” and “Cozy by the Fire.” Good smells to last until December and the need for pine and cranberry and mint.

We agreed September would be our mystery month — a month to watch Poirot and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries as we curl up against the mounting dark. A month to read questioning and mysterious books, or maybe some Chandler to chase my monthly allowance of whiskey. A month to drink cinnamon or vanilla tisane after dinner and try to guess the answer before our dear Hercule can manage it.

October? October can be horror month. We can do All Hallow’s Read, as so many do now, and we can watch scary movies and haunting TV shows. We can put out pumpkins and plastic skeletons, and on the big night itself we can eat apples and cocoa almonds and play Arkham Horror.

December is the home our favorite holiday, and it doesn’t have to be about food. It can be about A Muppet Christmas Carol, and Die Hard, and peppermint tea, and giving gifts to the people we love. (I have something special planned for my friends this year that I hope is very well-received.) It can be about playing one of the Christmas playsets for Fiasco.

That gets us through the coldest months, back around to spring and short sleeves. We’re thinking of trying the Norwegian Paaskekrim for Easter, and sugar-free cooling drinks in the summer. We’re thinking about how to celebrate my writing successes now that drinking is not so much an option, how to ring in birthdays and new years and anniversaries.

I know this seems like a frivolous post, but this thinking, this planning, means a lot to me. This means we’re not letting something bad rule our lives. It means I’m with someone who cares enough about my love of ritual to want to indulge in it with me. And that, more than any crime novel or any apple candle, is what matters about ritual; it marks that you care about something enough to do something to mark it.

And no disease will ever take that from me.

On Panels (Convolution Post the Second)

I’ll get right to the point here:

Convolution 2015 is next week, and you should totally come out and listen to me and all the other awesome guests speak about the things they love!

Here’s my schedule; this is final, pending any emergency changes.

Friday, 3:30pm: Women of Marvel; I’ll be discussing the female-presenting characters of Marvel Comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe with my fellow guests Sumiko Saulson, Linda Kay Silva, and Ms Brianna Wu; our moderator is Carrie Sessarego.

Saturday, 1:00pm: Modern Boogeymen. I’ll be sitting with a few like-minded guests and discussing the monsters and myths that we have created in our modern era, from urban legends to creepypasta. I’m on this panel with Kendra Pecan and Bryan Thao Worra; our moderator is my good friend Matt Marovich.

Saturday, 2:30pm: Developing a Writing Practice. I’ll be moderating this panel, meant to help people start, develop, and refine their personal writing practice — the ways they keep themselves writing and honing their craft. My guests on this panel are J. L. Doty, Emerian Rich, and Linda Kay Silva.

Sunday, 11:30am: I will be reading some of my short fiction in the Wine Room, along with Dario Ciriello and M Christian.

Sunday, 1pm: I’m A Bad Fan. I’m moderating this panel; we’ll be discussing the phenomenon of “bad” and “good” fans, and the idea that there are certain opinions fans of a given work are expected to hold in order to be “real” fans. My guests on this panel are Leslie Light and Bradford Lyau.

For those hoping to see me outside of these panels, I may be looking to decompress with some board games in the evenings on Friday and Saturday; if that sounds good to you, you can look for me in the Atrium. I make no promises about being there; this is my first convention as a guest, and managing my anxiety may require I go decompress in my room as much as at a gaming table. (Also managing my diabetes means I may be running to and from my room to grab snacks a fair amount.) But I do hope to get a chance to meet a few of my readers out there in the wild; if you get a chance to say Hi, please consider this permission to do so. If I am on my way somewhere, I will be up front about it (and may invite you to walk and talk with me if I have the time).

You can get a membership for Convolution here; rates go up tomorrow, so consider grabbing them tonight.

I am looking forward to seeing you all there! Let’s go talk about some stories.

On A Year

One year and eleven days ago, we got married.

“We.” I felt that word was really important to use. This wasn’t something that just happened to me; this was two people deciding to officially and completely team up, for real and for good, and deciding to throw a big party to celebrate it.

I can gush endlessly about Sonya. My life is genuinely better with her in it than it was without her, and being married to her is something I take constant joy in. Many, many times, we’ve been sitting around doing something, and one of us has turned to the other and said “we’re married!” in a tone of pleasant surprise, and that pleasantness is always genuine. She’s fun and she’s interesting and she’s smart and she’s sweet and I’m fortunate to have her as my partner for life.

But I also want to say that that’s true when things are hard. This has not been an easy year, all things told. Just before our wedding our cat got very sick, and now he will be on medication for the rest of his life — a life that is high-quality, the vets assure us, but also high-maintenance, and that is always dealing with the specter of the possibility that he’s gone back to his old issues that forced us to take him to the emergency vet. Since January, I have not successfully sold a single story despite attempting to submit more regularly. Over the summer, we both got diagnosed with type II diabetes. Throughout the year, we have been dealing with the slow but inexorable realization that trying to raise a family in the place our friends live is going to prove incredibly difficult, if not nearly impossible. And threaded throughout all that has been a ribbon of failure-flavored caramel: the usual but still awful galaxy of breakdowns and meltdowns and anxiety attacks and sleepless nights and sickness and fights and every other terrible thing two humans can go through that doesn’t actually require bodily harm.

And we’ve survived it. Through all that, Sonya is here for me; and through all that, I am here for Sonya. We’re committed to our fitness goals and arriving at them together; we’re stumbling through our dietary changes with minimal stumbling; I’m writing more than I did last year. We’re finding the little joys that life brings even in the dark moments, and we’re sharing them; and when the moment is just too dark, we’re there to hold a lantern and wait for the other to be ready to come back out of it. Because I’m with Sonya, I got to take my first ever trip to Hawaii; I got to go to my first live wrestling event and see my first Wrestlemania; I have a bi-monthly board game night that never fails to make me smile, and we have a Wild Talents campaign going that is one of the best roleplaying game experiences I have ever had, bar none. Heck, she made the call that got me an appointment with a therapist who may finally be able to help me get this mess in my head sorted out (or at least to a place where I can live with it). And together, with some help from our community, we are figuring out a way that we can strike a balance between the life we want and the people we love.

A metaphor here, in the form of an anecdote: I have anxiety. That means I freak out sometimes. Like, really badly. Angry, screaming, crying, denigrating myself in every way I can, acting as though the problems of our lives are impossible and insurmountable. When those end, which they inevitably do, I am left with what we call the anxiety hangover — the period of being unsure it’s actually over, and of the flood of regrets about my behavior when in the throes of my mental illness. I talked to Sonya about this problem, and we agreed that there should be some way for me to definitively say it’s over and I’d like to go back to acting normal (barring any fallout I need to discuss with her). We settled on the Dinosaur Rule: when I’m done freaking out, I give Sonya a picture of a dinosaur to look at, and we can both enjoy a cute dinosaur picture to celebrate the fact a storm has passed.

That, right there, is how I see our relationship. Most of the time, it’s comfortable; a lot of the time, it’s wonderful; and I am always glad I’m in it. But it’s not always easy, and it’s sometimes really terrible and messy; but through that bleaker part of the ride, we will always find our way to something cute and fun that we can celebrate, and we will always do all of it together. Also it’s very likely said cute and sweet thing will technically be representative of something incredibly dangerous. Reference: our cat.

I could go on, but I want to save something for next year, and the year after that, and the year after that; and I need to get back to working on my job, and on myself, and on my relationship. So for now: sweetie, I love you. And also:

Hail Hydra.

On Hugo

So, the Hugo ceremony hit yesterday.

A colleague was (deservingly) nominated, but due to their (excellent) work being caught up in the Puppy block-voting, did not win, with No Award instead being awarded in that category.

I have many thoughts on this whole thing, and they are complicated and not really that important; but here is a better place to talk about it than in random comment threads on the Interwebs. So here you go.

1: My colleague deserved that nomination. No-one is pretending otherwise. Yes, unfortunately, their work was on one of the Puppy slates, but so was Guardians of the Galaxy. Good works did wind up on there, though not at all universally.

2: The Puppies are a poison on fandom, and what they did is exceptionally heinous. Not the block-voting specifically — that’s poor sportsmanship, but poor sportsmanship that was as of the last Hugo nomination vote codified as acceptable in the rules for the Hugo Awards. The nature of their block-voting was the heinous part; the deliberate attempt to hijack the awards as a way of broadcasting their intensely politicized, racist, and sexist opinions — of, in essence, stuffing the ballot so that white men won, and then trying to claim that was because their stories were superior.

3: Any appeal to legitimacy the Puppies tried to make vaporized when they got in bed with VD. VD believes black people aren’t actually human and that thinks there are empirical facts about women that women cannot possibly contradict because they are science or some crap. It is the opinion of this author that he is a bully, a coward, a racist, a sexist, and utterly undeserving of even a single moment of validation or happiness in his miserable existence. VD being involved removes any claim to any other political agenda that the Puppies might have; they are the literary equivalent of GG and are as laughable and as terrifying to behold as that movement. And neither of them is winning.

4: Voting for No Award as a counter to the Puppies is one of the few recourses left to people who did not want to allow VD and his ilk to claim a victory. Poor sportsmanship turned the Hugo Awards this year into a war, a referendum on the Hugos themselves and on fandom’s feelings about block-voting and the atavistic toxicity of the Puppies.

5: Choosing not to vote for No Award — to decide that you really do like a work and to vote for it regardless of the slate it came from — is also legitimate. Choosing to not worry about the power play of the Puppies and fight them in the court of public opinion later is legitimate. Choosing to either thing does not make you a bad Hugo voter, just like choosing not to vote in a specific race does not make you a bad voter generally.

6: People who are claiming the No Award voters are throwing a temper-tantrum or similar are being the next step between problematic and heinous. The Puppies are an example of a very real struggle being dragged into an arena that was never meant to be an arena in the first place. Representation matters. Stories matter. What we tell ourselves in our stories matters. The Puppies’ claim that they are for “good stories” when what they are saying is that they want stories where no-one feels feelings, where no problematic elements are presented and examined, where woman and LGBT people and people of color are not the main characters — when they are in essence saying that only stories about men that are never challenging can be good — is a huge middle finger to people who need help processing feelings, who need to see problematic elements confronted, who are or care about women or people of color. The danger they present is a metaphysical one, but a real one; and to dismiss that is to dismiss the experiences of people different than you.

I feel for my colleague, and for all the creators who had their work ground up under the tank-treads of this year’s fight. My hope is that work is done in the future to dismantle the system that allows the Puppies to do what they did, or at least to try to control it, and that in the future the Hugos cannot be as easily hijacked by a very loud minority. We knew this year was going to be terrible from the very beginning of the Puppies mess, and I only wish something could have been done sooner. I hope — I believe — that my colleague will be nominated again, and that they get to take the place they rightfully deserve on that stage.

My comments are full of spam lately, so if I do not respond to you, please do not be offended. That said, I am not afraid to moderate. You have a right to speak freely, but trolling or bellicose posts are liable to be deleted after some good-faith exchange on the matter.

On Time

I finally, officially, do not find myself homesick for a memory anymore.

Let me sum up. No, that’s too short, let me explain. For many, many years, I thought of my years at UC Santa Cruz as the best years of my life. My responsibilities were primarily to myself and my academics; I had not enough money to thrive, but enough to get by and indulge a little here and there; I had the friends I could already tell were going to last me the rest of my life. I felt in touch with myself and at peace. I mean, most of the time, there were meltdowns and freakouts and sundry bummers. That had to be my peak, right?

Fast-forward. This past week. We’ve been having a rough go of it in my household lately; my wife was diagnosed with type II diabetes, which necessitated she make diet and exercise changes that I have been expending a lot of energy helping her with, and that have required both of us do a lot more work on food prep than we are used to (no more “meh, we can both just grab McDonald’s for lunch tomorrow”). That, coupled with me waiting for the results for my physical, has led to a lot of stress and sleep issues and exhaustion and, yes, some depression. (We have since learned her doctor really likes the changes she’s made, she’s got it pretty under control with fairly low dosage of meds, and we even think we can send her into remission if we keep at it. Is good.)

But, this past week, we finally got to a break in the stress. I had Monday off for my physical, and after that was done, I came down to Sonya’s work for a few hours and hung out as a guest in the lobby, playing Sentinels of the Multiverse on my iPad and trawling the Interwebs before we headed off for our plans for the evening: the live San Jose broadcast of WWE Monday Night RAW.

It is no secret that I love pro wrestling. I love the primal storytelling itches it manages to scratch; the sort of stock characters like commedia dell’arte, the cathartic fake violence like a Punch and Judy show, the ribald and earthy themes like Greek New Comedy. I also love the athleticism and, yes, a chance to just have some silly fun and watch an Irish demon do a flying foot stomp on a sociopathic Canadian neckbeard. I never thought I’d get to see it live, though, and thanks to our good friends David and Alison, that was what we got to do on Monday. It’s actually even better live; the timing and pacing can feel a little weird due to it being filmed for TV, but live you really appreciate the artistry and psychology of the wrestling match a lot more. I got to see all my favorites, save one, go out there and show off their skills (Seth Rollins! Charlotte! Roman Reigns! Neville!) — and even the great Cesaro got to do a lengthy and fun talking segment with his current nemesis (Kevin Owens, the aforementioned neckbeard). I also got to challenge the Neolithic sexism of some jerks in the back chanting misogynistic garbage at the women’s division, which didn’t penetrate their useless brains but did feel really good. I had a wonderful time and ended the show hoarse, but joyous and celebratory. It was fun I will not fail to repeat when I get the chance.

Then came a short week of work. I got a chance to finish Revision, a character-driven sci-fi book by an author I had never read before; then the Usagi Yojimbo epic, Grasscutter, which easily deserves its place on War Rocket Ajax‘s “Every Story Ever” list; and then to start Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which is where this post started germinating. I tried to read Beloved in college (one of the handful of required readings I sorta didn’t finish), and just could not get into it. This week, though, I started appreciating it a lot more; the cadence and the pathos and the layers of emotion all really grabbed me and tore at me, and I find myself reading at far, far below my usual pace purely because I want, need, to savor all the feels and all the wordplay.

The work week ended with a relaxed Saturday of food prep (a routine we are finally falling into), writing, exercise, and at the end of it, the first session of a new Dungeons & Dragons campaign. My good friend Matt is running us through the Princes of the Apocalypse module, and last night was character creation, the first combat, and some roleplaying. I got screwed in the combat by some bad dice luck and perfectly logical targeting by the monsters (why not go after the guy who looks tough and is already beaten up?), but also got to start establishing my character’s personality. (I’ll be selfish here and admit, my favorite moment was the GM’s brother telling me that the GM tells me all the time about the Wild Talents game I am running for him, and that it sounds awesome. That’s so good to hear.)

Afterwards, we talked a little about health and a little about life and a little about next session, and the thing that struck me is how…easy it all felt. How easy it was to discuss managing diabetes, to discuss dieting, to discuss rules, to discuss education, to be there drinking scotch and rolling dice and hanging out with some guys who have, in some cases, seen me through serious drama and ugly spats and just being a shitty, shitty human sometimes. How easy and natural it feels to be having to plan around kids and jobs, or give each other advice on managing fleas. What was this feeling?

This morning, it clicked. I went out here to the garage for some writing, after prepping up part of our Monday food rations and making myself some breakfast, and I realized I needed some time for the ibuprofen to kick in on my headache before I could really craft prose. So, I booted up my emulator and started in on some Chrono Trigger; I’m on the final boss, might as well finish that up before I try to tell more stories of Playtime Town.

The final boss was easier than I remember, probably due to be planning tactics with the brain of a 33 year old instead of a teenager; and then I got to the ending. (There are spoilers for a 20+ year old game here, so be warned.) I smiled when King Guardia and his ancestors and descendants announced they knew what had happened and wanted to celebrate Crono’s achievement. I grinned and shook my head at the old 16-bit moonlight parade they put up for you, and wondered at the decision to have a Mystic leading the parade (which implies things I am only just now considering). Then I got to the back of the Millennial Fair, and to the sequence where everyone says goodbye. And I misted up a little at Ayla leaving, and a little more at Frog leaving. I…sort of didn’t care when Magus left, though I found myself hoping he found Schala. And then Robo went to leave…and yeah, I teared up a little. Because somewhere in the background of all that fighting, Robo and Lucca became such good friends, and Robo’s life was hands-down the most disrupted by the events of the series, to the point where his previous life quite possibly does not exist anymore…I mean, is it possible Robo is the most heroic character in the series? The one whose hero’s journey is the most damaging to his everyday world and who learns the most?

Then I got to the credits, and somehow, the comedy bit with King Guardia and Taban set me off grinning and misting again. And then I paid attention, I mean really paid attention, to what was happening in each of the characters’ final moments in the series. I saw the little touch the programmers gave us in Leene looking toward a clearly wistful, thankful Frog. I saw the playfulness and togetherness of Ayla and Kino. I saw Magus, still searching, clearly unflagging in his quest for Schala. And I saw that not only was Robo sitting with a no-longer-villainous Atropos, they were sitting together on a familiar-looking mountainside, next to a familiar-looking bridge…a reminder that we really had saved the future.

Chrono Trigger was what put this week into perspective for me. I have a depth of being and of perception now that I was only just learning about in college. I indulge in things that please me without shame, and I take care of myself with pleasure. I have friends who accept me for me, and who I do the same for right back. I make a difference in the world, even if it’s only on a local scale for the moment. I am more authentically myself, more in touch with my emotions and with the emotions of the world, than I have ever been in my life. And I am only going to get better at it as time goes on.

I don’t need UC Santa Cruz, except as one step in my journey. That doesn’t mean I’ll never focus my life on that county again, but it does mean that there is not quite so large a part of me unable to stop living in it. I am the best me I have ever been right now in this moment, and tomorrow I will be an even better me.

Now excuse me. I need to go start my New Game Plus.

On Not Being Political

I saw some wonderful advice on a friend’s Facebook page the other day. I have since allowed the link to slip through my fingers, so please accept my apology for not having the exact wording to hand. But, basically, it boiled down to this: that to be against things and to make enemies is to put your artistic career at risk; to instead be for things, be for people, be a positive force in the world. That gets you more friends and more allies and it helps your career.

And I agree, though I think the progenitor of this idea was a bit categorical about it. I’m sure that’s a casualty of them saying it in an eloquent way, or possibly of them being of a life experience that is disconnected from a lot of the tragedies and injustices going on today (in an empathetic way where they see it’s terrible). I’m sure they didn’t intend that. But I only agree to a point, and that point is this:

I don’t think there is anything wrong with being angry about some things.

There is nothing wrong with being angry about inequality. There is nothing wrong with being angry about injustice. I won’t sit here and itemize, but being upset at people and at institutions that believe in the idea that some people deserve a better life than others because of some accident of geography or birth or ability is a perfect legitimate, human reaction to things, and I think that the fear of it limiting our success if we say something is partially born of a desire to not offend, to be friendly, to get along, but also of a system that will do anything it can to keep us from talking about those things. It’s the system that gets prominent web personalities to dismiss the Puppies as just another voting block and ignore the very real problems underlying their stated goals; it’s the system that gets mad at us whenever our reaction to mass shootings is to maybe talk about gun control. Because our outrage, and our desire to fix things, is seen as some kind of verbal flatulence, something unsightly that people do not want to deal with.

And yes, there are times when that is inappropriate to bring up — spaces where people are there to relax and blow off steam. You shouldn’t interrupt little Jane’s birthday party to talk about what you think the latest shooter’s motivation was, and you shouldn’t go into the con suite and apropos of nothing make the discussion about Teddy Beale’s loathsome beliefs. (Though I’ll be fair, if I for some reason saw VD in a con suite I probably would not be very civil with him.) And certainly there are topics outside of, like, civil rights that are perhaps best left behind when in public spaces — I’m not going to push my socialist agenda while on a panel at a sci-fi con. And yes, you should try to be positive when you can. But being angry because people are being treated poorly, are dying — especially when you know that is happening because of a trait you or a loved one share, especially when there is a centuries-old legacy of people being treated this way, especially when you live with the threat of it every day — is not indecent, and it should not make you enemies, except among those who were enemies to humanity already.

So, I will try to be positive, to be an advocate, to be a fan, especially because I do not believe in co-opting the rage of marginalized people for myself; but I will not be pleasant for the sake of being pleasant, if it means that we are silent when someone speaks out in favor of oppression. The choice there is, and should be, obvious.

End of line.

On Dice

As of about a week ago, there is a large glass cookie jar on one of the shelves of our gaming bookshelf (slash bar), into which we have poured all the dice we are not using for an active RPG campaign.

Initially, the idea was one of convenience and aesthetics. The jar looks much cleaner on the shelves than a bunch of loose bags of dice, it gives us a place to put dice not currently being used, and it makes it very, very easy for people who come over and forgot their dice (or don’t have any) to know where to grab a few for the session. But as I looked at it and thought about it, and considered the fact that eventually the yellow d6s I’m using for Mouse Guard will go into the jar, I realized it’s something more. It’s an excuse to tell stories.

That cookie jar contains a lot of dice, random d6s and d10s especially, that I cannot track back to this game or the other. But it also contains the special “d’oh!” polyhedrals I got as a gift during the beta-test of Pathfinder, and that saw me through Joe’s 4th edition campaign. The teal dice Sonya used for her first-ever D&D character. The dwarven-rune dice I used for the first, now-shelved run at Sonya’s “Hammerhome” D&D campaign. The green dice Sonya used when we first playtested 5th Edition D&D; the pair of percentile dice that steered Ellis into disaster in Roo’s Eclipse Phase game; the speckled polyhedrals I picked up as an emergency, when my dice went missing (temporarily) right before I was slated to run “Lost Mine of Phandelver” from the D&D starter set. It even has the crystal-shaped d10s I used for my famous college Changeling: the Dreaming campaign. And some time soon, it will have the Lion Clan d10s that back up Ikoma Hanzo in our Legend of the Five Rings game, and the aforementioned yellow d6s, and whatever stormy color of polyhedrals I glom onto for Karai al-Amun in Matt’s run of “Princes of the Apocalypse”; and eventually, sad to say, the pile of d10s that I use for “Great Responsibility,” my Wild Talents campaign.

So any time I want, I can pick up that cookie jar, and I can tell you all about what stories I’ve gotten to take for a spin with the dice you might be reaching for to get through a difficult session.

“Oh yeah, those dice rolled the damage that killed Corwin the troll in the sewers underneath Los Angeles.”

“Those dice? Those were how I placed third in the Topaz Championship. Sonya got first.”

“Those dice were how Red Death nearly killed the New Firm during the Night of the Red Death.”

“I don’t remember any of the numbers that die rolled, but it was with Tome all the way from level 1 to 10…”

This is what gaming is all about, for me: a chance to talk about the successes and the failures, to remember a story we shared in a more direct, if also more mechanical, way than a movie or a book. A reminder of the great times I’ve had with great people. A chance to remind myself that for all it may not feel like much, I’ve accomplished a lot in my life. It’s just that some of it is fictional.

And maybe, if I’m lucky, that jar is a chance to hand off some dice to a new friend, or an old one returned to my life, or one I am glad to have around every day…or a pair of tiny hands, ready to carry a torch and fifty feet of rope into their first crypt.

It started out as something convenient, but it made itself into more. And really, I think that’s the best we can hope for with any part of our lives.

On KublaCon 2015

So, I am back from KublaCon, and I have gotten the apparently requisite ten hours of post-con sleep, so it’s time for my con recap post.

tl;dr: This Kubla did some things better than last year and some things worse, but averaged out to the usual superb gaming con that I would recommend to anyone who wanted to get their game on.

I view KublaCon as a chance to relax in the middle of a very hectic part of my year. May is often a brutal period in our publishing cycle at work, and it’s often just starting to warm up in my area, with the concomitant discomfort and fussiness from me and my high natural core temperature. So finding something good to do on Memorial Day weekend is important for my sanity, and Kubla offers exactly what I need — gaming, friends, and some enforced relaxation away from the travails of the word processor and the writing desk. It’s one of my few moments of total unplugging, and this year it couldn’t have been timed any better.

I went to Kubla with the goal of getting a little bit out of my comfort zone and trying some new stuff – nothing that would ruin a vacation, but some things that would keep said vacation from being staid. So on Friday, I made a point of answering a request for an RPG that needed players, and throughout the weekend I tried to sign up for things I hadn’t played before or that wouldn’t normally sound all that interesting to me. I even took a stab at trying Ultimate Werewolf, but honestly the conference rooms they were holding those games in were too small for me to deal with and remain sans anxiety.

I played in a few more games this year than I did last year, partially due to our very smart decision to only try to Shuffle for RPGs that actually sounded like fun to us. As a result, there was more tabletop gaming, though the sign-up sheets were often very congested and I didn’t get into as many as I might have otherwise. I played in a game of 7th Sea on Friday afternoon (the aforementioned game that needed players) that was a real blast from the past, though not as much fun as the games I used to play in college, partially due to a problematic player (more on that in a minute), and Saturday was a D&D 5th Edition game that reaffirmed my love of 5th Edition and left me with a new GM whose games I will make a point of shuffling for in future years. Sunday I played about four or five straight hours of Sentinels of the Multiverse, a game of Lords of Waterdeep, and a game of Pitchcar, which was completely new to me and which I highly recommend. And then Monday I wrapped it all up with a nice game of Paranoia that left me with yet another new GM to watch. I’m hoping I don’t pull the stories about my Team Leader being telefragged and then killed by teleporting into a closed suitcase at too many parties, but there will be at least a few.

I also ran a couple games this year. The Sentinels of the Multiverse demo was again a success, with me getting to play the game with a mother-and-son pair who were attending their first convention together in a couple years, and who not only bought the game after I showed it to them, but also bought the Silver Gulch environment deck specifically because I had a card in it, which was a sweet gesture on their part. (They were disappointed when, during the big bout of SOTM the next day, they didn’t actually get a chance to fight my card.) The “Ghostbusters Bay Area” session I ran was a success, with an unexpected twist ending engineered by my players; the highlight of that for me was hearing two of my players talking about how fun it was in the hall afterwards, without them realizing I could hear them. I think Fate Accelerated may not be the right generic system for me, and I’m going to be taking a look at Fate Core in the intervening year before I try to run anything again. Though it may not matter; I recognized a gap in the programming in the form of very few supers games (other than ones where players were playing characters from existing IPs), so I think there is more Wild Talents in my future. I ran a game set in an…er…alternate reality of my main Wild Talents campaign last year, and it was well-received, so I think I may go back to that well.

(I feel weird saying that I’m running an AR game in a universe of my own design. It sounds too much like too many nightmarish gaming stories I have heard. Which is why I’m making myself say it, because it’s nothing to be inherently ashamed of. Comfort zone.)

My only gripes with the con were things that I think will be gripes with all cons, in one way or another. The results from the randomizing RPG sign-up system posted too close to the sessions themselves, and in one case after the session started, leading to a bit of decapitated-chicken action here and there as I found out I was in a game with too little time to reasonably get to said game. There were a couple games that didn’t get going particularly on time, and a couple cases of standard-but-still-unacceptable nerd rudeness that stick out in my mind even through the haze of pleasant memories. The sushi restaurant next to the hotel is inexplicably closed on weekends. That kind of thing. But it’s nothing that would keep me from going next year or recommending the experience to others; not in the slightest. I am confident that next year those problems will be fixed and replaced with new ones. It’s the nature of humanity.

Speaking of convenient segues, one thing that Kubla did for me was make me extra-grateful for the great gaming groups I’ve had over the years; and it did that for me by reminding me that not everyone is that great. Over the weekend I met many wonderful people, some a bit awkward, some trying a bit too hard, but all good at their core. I also met a GM for a tabletop game who got derisive and stuttery when faced with a woman holding a baby who wanted to play in his game (it seemed to be more tone-deaf than outright judgmental, but it was still lame behavior); and a player in a game who wanted to make sure at every moment that we knew she knew the system better than us, and who literally broke into song when we stopped responding to her and then started shouting at us about acting poorly near the end of the game; a guy who felt the need to tell me at length about what sounded like maybe a minor kidney infection or food poisoning while he debated whether to go to the E.R.; and my least proud moment of the weekend, an encounter with a teenage player who checked off all the stereotypes of the teenage player at a gaming con. I won’t enumerate them, because he does not deserve to be shamed for being at an age when we’re all frankly both poor and insane unless we are leading a particularly lucky life, and that’s all it was; but he does deserve my apologies for getting curt with him in the middle of one of his many, many rants about the pragmatic (read: full-on bag-of-rats dungeon munchkinry) way we should be approaching the dungeon-crawling experience. I could have handled myself much better, and I am grateful the others players and he did not seem to get too upset about it in the long run. I’m also grateful, in a weird way, that my outburst was not as explosive as some of my temper issues have been in the past. Progress! (I feel weird sharing this, too. Comfort zone.)

The one thing I really want to fix on my end, besides watching myself around teenagers, is the sleep issue. I have had trouble sleeping enough at every con I’ve been to at that hotel. I suspect it’s the dry recirculated air, or possibly the kid-on-Christmas emotions of being at a convention, or possibly both or some other thing, but it has to stop, because by Sunday I was just constantly tired, and even ten hours of sleep last night didn’t fully purge the feeling of fatigue from my body. I’ll be at the same hotel this autumn for another convention, and I’m going to use it as a chance to experiment with natural sleep aids and maybe bringing my own pillows and some other stuff to help me get to bed. It’ll be doubly important then, since I’ll be a panelist, and I’m hopeful that I can get this problem licked.

I believe in ending on positives, so I’m going to end on two. The first is that I got a chance to game with a few friends I haven’t seen in a while, including one who was one of my original gaming buddies back in Fort Bragg, and that was just so nice. The other is that I made a couple new friends – probably just friends I’ll see at con, but people I really enjoyed gaming with and who it was a pleasure to be around. I plugged into the community at KublaCon a little more this year, and that was exactly the kind of experience I need. I love games on the face of them; but the way games can be the pillars on which rest a community is what attracts them to me even more. I can’t wait until next year.