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The Scalp Says: This is Not Normal

Photo on 11-19-16 at 2.18 PM

So, hi again. How are we all doing on this far side of reality?

I haven’t blogged about the United States of America’s recent Presidential election; I haven’t been able to find the words for it. I’ve been throwing myself into activism and self-care and partner care in equal measure, trying my damnedest to find some magical balance that will fix this world — if not mystically undo the election results, then make them safer, make them make sense. So I haven’t been writing in this space, preferring places where I write about comics and geeky stuff, or my own fiction where I control all the tuning knobs on reality. Until today, when I accidentally shaved my head.

That’s incongruous on purpose; bear with me here.

So, no big shame or secret: I’ve got male pattern baldness. The hair on the top of my head is very thin, with a noticeable “bald spot” taking up, oh, most of my skull. So my “haircut” is really more of an every-month-or-so going over with a hair and beard trimmer, trying to make sure the whole thing looks somewhat serviceable. Well, today was the day, I decided, as I woke up and felt that “standing straight up on end” was synonymous with “too long.” So I confirmed S. could help me clean it up when I was done trimming, got the trimmer ready, and started in — and forgot to put on the guard before I started. You know, the guard that lets you set how short you want to trim your hair? Yeah, that one.

I shaved a portion of the hair on my right temple down to stubble before I realized what I had done. I put the guard on, set it a bit lower than my normal setting, and went over the rest of my dome, seeing if maybe it wouldn’t stand out. But, no such luck; even that low setting still looked like a lush carpet of head-covering compared to the site of the incident. So I explained what happened to S., and after she tried a still-lower setting, we agreed there were no two ways about it, the best option was to buzz the whole mess down with no guard and let it grow back while we’re on Thanksgiving vacation next week.

“No problem,” I said, “I’ll just wear a hat for a week. You know, so people don’t think I’m a neo-Nazi.” That’s when this blog post hit.

Looking like I wear the trappings of racism is something I worry about a lot when it comes to my haircuts and clothing choices. I’m blonde and blue-eyed, and on top of it I’m tall and (these days) fairly well-toned, and so inherently might come off as threatening from that. I worry about days when my hair is freshly trimmed and how I might present. But today, the reality of what I might be projecting with this too-close shave really smacked me in the face: I might not just be mistaken for a racist. I might be mistaken for someone who voted for the new President of the United States.

Not because everyone who voted for him is a neo-Nazi. But we know the neo-Nazi “alt” “right” definitely went in big for him, and we know that hate crimes are on the rise, and we know that both of these things are because of the horrific things he said on the campaign trail. Whatever is lurking in his policy that got him the necessary votes (sorta…), we know that a tide of hate was a major factor. We don’t know exactly what to expect, but in the communities I am a part of, we are expecting — and speaking out against — the worst. It looks bleak out there right now, like we’re in for a four-year marathon against a Hydra that wants to put the rights of people and the planet where they live on a political chopping block, and I don’t know if my legs can carry me that far without stumbling. Self-care leaves me feeling numb a lot of the time — sometimes I manage to truly distract myself, but then all of a sudden I’ll plummet back down into the horror of what might be coming in 2017, 2018, 2019…

And I’m relatively insulated. If it is just about me, I’ll more or less be fine — I’m white, I’m male, I’m heterosexual, and I identify with the gender I was assigned at birth. My wife, the most important person in my life, is in a similar spot, though as a woman there’s a lot to worry about there. But this is not true of all my friends, not by a long shot, and even if it were, I would still fear for the millions of Americans who the extreme policy proposals of this administration would affect, even if I never met them one on one. And even if the policies never pass, the normalization of disgusting, racist behavior is a wound that will take a long time to heal and may never properly scar over. But somehow — and this is such a White Dude thing for me to say — sitting here and realizing what I am worried my hair says to people I pass on the street has made it all real for me in a way it hasn’t been before.

I plan to resist. I plan to dissent, as is my Constitutional right. I’m calling my elected officials to voice my stances, I’m making sure we do not normalize the troubling and outright disturbing things we are hearing in the news, I’m donating to civil rights and poverty outreach groups, and I am doing everything I can to help others feel safe and like we’re here for them. And I’m making art. Inclusive art. Kind art. Art that brings hope and shines a light in the darkness. Art that I hope will prop up someone besides me as we move forward. I’m sure I’ll find more I can do, for them and for myself.

But in the meantime, I am wearing the cap my wife knit me while my hair grows out, and I am trying to figure out what I’ll do for the 200+ weeks we’re going to have to walk down this path, and hoping that the worries I have on a day like today do not have to get too much more real. This is not normal, and I never want it to be.

 

 

 

On Hearts

Externalization, Internalization, and the Problems of the Rudo Brain

Hi, I’m Tyler, and I currently cannot focus on writing because my sports team just lost.

The team in question is the San Jose Sharks, and after a beautiful, heartwarming run to the Stanley Cup Finals, they are now down 2-0 against a Pittsburgh Penguins team that just seems to have their number right now. The Finals are new territory, but the way I feel isn’t. Not because the Sharks are perennial disappointments or whatever tired narrative the sportswriters have manufactured for my team, but because I have always been this way for as long as I can remember, and I still can’t figure out how to stop.

I have always taken personally things that have nothing to do with me. I come to identify with the media I consume and love to a degree that makes it hard for me to have a critical discussion of it, at least not until I have fully internalized my opinion of it (which takes a pretty long time, because I am so susceptible to others’ opinions — it comes of self-esteem issues), and not only does criticism of that thing come to bother me, anything that could invite criticism of that thing bothers me preemptively, like I feel the haters grinning in the shadows and sharpening their knives. Sports is where this problem is the most obvious, because sports performance can be so random and hard to repeat, and losing and having bad nights is undeniably a part of it — when my sports team loses a big game, I often wind up in physical and emotional pain for hours afterwards. But it happens other places, too. When WWE fans started booing Roman Reigns, a wrestler I like alright but not extensively, I ached for the poor guy. When Joss Whedon’s latter-day works proved increasingly (or at least more visibly) problematic, I went through a period of being ashamed to admit I ever liked Buffy. And I felt betrayed and angry and sick on a deep level when Captain America revealed his allegiance to HYDRA and threw open the flood gates of the Internet (though God, am I with that crowd of critics, like whoa).

It’s not even wearing my heart on my sleeve; it’s straight up internalizing the things I love until they become me on some proto-cellular level and I wind up reacting emotionally to the simple fact that other people have different tastes than me, or indeed, that sometimes other people are jerks. That’s a poor fit for the toxic narrative that surrounds the Sharks, but also for just being a human being. People are going to like different things than me, and have insights into things I do not have, and in general be people who are not me, and that is factually OK and needs to be OK with me if I am going to function. The thing is, I have no idea how to change this about myself. I’ve been trying consciously for going on a decade now, and wishing I knew how for about twice that. I’ve improved my own toxicity in terms of how I react — there was a bit of rage-posting about Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons that still embarrasses me when I think about it — but that doesn’t change that tonight’s overtime loss wrecked my mood in a way that is just not tenable long-term.

I’m not writing about this to ask for solutions, or to elicit sympathy, but just to try to figure out what the tape in my head is actually saying, and to hope that in playing it to a larger audience I begin to see how ridiculous it is. Is it that I have trouble sorting out enthusiasm from total obsession, and that I am unhealthily incapable of anything but cellular-level fusion with the objects of my interest? Is it my vaunted dislike of cynicism that has me flinching at giving the cynics more fuel for their arguments? Is this just a casualty of anxiety disorder? Is it maybe all of these things at once?

I’m honestly not sure. But it’s an ongoing struggle among many (though not that many in the grand scheme of things), and for right now, it just feels good to be able to take my brain out, turn it around, and say “OK, so why are you so sad the Sharks lost, really?” And to be able to answer back “Because I hate giving anyone an excuse to call them chokers” helps, even if I don’t have an answer to the next question: “What are you gonna do about it?”

Well, I do sort of have an answer. I’m going to publish this, and go write, and then go inside and see my wife for a little while before I fall asleep. Those are things I have control over, and those are things I am grateful for. And I am going to hope that posting this helps someone else who sees themselves reflected in this mess that is my ongoing battle with my Brain Rudos, and finds themselves slightly better equipped to wage their own fight. That’s a kind of entanglement with others I can get behind.

On Spoilers and Suggestions

Toward a Unified Theory of Spoiler Windows

It came up again on my Twitter feed recently, and I feel like it’s time for me to try to get this ball rolling. (To give credit where credit is due, it was this tweet by Saladin Ahmed that got me thinking about it again, and John Scalzi .)

I’ve said for some time that the Internet really needs to get its act together on the subject of spoilers. Barring some outliers, we all seem to agree spoilers are bad as a general rule: you should be given fair warning and a chance to consent to receiving information about a story you have not experienced yet. However, the exact details are a contentious issue in both directions; I’ve encountered people who insist that saying a minor character shows up in a given book/episode is not a spoiler, and I’ve also encountered people who insist that spoiling a book released in the 90s is reason enough to rage.

I think the Internet would be a nicer place if we agreed on a statute of limitations for spoilers. It turns out, the inestimable John Scalzi already hit on this back in 2009, but given that I’m still seeing people talking about this on Facebook, clearly it didn’t stick. Also I’m not sure his numbers work, and they don’t differentiate between what I think of as “soft spoilers” (the above mentioned “minor character appears in this part of the work”) and “hard spoilers” (“X character is the murderer”). So here’s me, trying my hand on my much less circulated blog. What do you think?

Definition: Hard Spoiler vs. Soft Spoiler vs. Softest Spoiler

A “soft spoiler” is a piece of information that is not known unless one has gotten to the part of the work being discussed, but does not actually affect any particular mystery or moment of tension. Examples include the above-above-mentioned appearance of a character, but also “There’s an episode all about Character Y in Season 2 that I really love!” or “Man, you’ll love Chapter 10!”; or fairly obvious tropes of the genre/setting/main character, like mentioning that Han Solo and Chewie have a scene where they pilot the Millennium Falcon. Note that I said that a soft spoiler does not affect a mystery or moment of tension, meaning it cannot even incidentally answer a question the narrative asks prior to the point being discussed; “Han pilots the Falcon” is not a soft spoiler if the survival of Han or the Falcon is uncertain at some point prior to that scene.

A “hard spoiler” is a piece of information that is a factor in a major conflict, plot twist, or other keystone moment in the work. Examples include, yes, saying who the murderer is in a murder mystery, or saying a character dies partway into the book, or explaining the big twist of the movie. Basically, if it reveals key information ahead of the work doing so, and absolutely no mental labor is required to make that connection, it’s a hard spoiler. (See how I didn’t use examples? Good job, me!)

“Softest spoiler” is added because of the example Scalzi brings up in his own blog post (whether or not The Comedian jumped in Watchmen): a “softest spoiler” is a piece of information you get within the first couple minutes of a work beginning, or something that makes absolutely no sense without the greater context of the movie. In other words, it is still a spoiler, but it does not ruin anything for you. In the former case, you still get to have all the emotional ups and downs and big reveals of the main body of the work, because all that’s happened is someone has skipped ahead about ten pages/two minutes for you; and in the latter case, you will only realize something was a spoiler after it cannot any longer be a spoiler.

So, that down, here are my recommendations for the statute of limitations on spoilers, divided into hard, soft, and softest. My proposal is that, after the statute of limitations, you are allowed to discuss the work more or less freely, perhaps with some courtesy checks (“anyone mind spoilers for Game of Thrones?”) when speaking aloud in a group whose experiences you don’t know.

Preamble: If you are not sure how much of a spoiler something is, don’t spoil it without tagging. If there is any nuance to your interpretation, don’t spoil without tagging. And personal requests always trump the statutes of limitations: if I still haven’t read Ender’s Game and have asked to not have the ending spoiled, don’t tell me the ending of Ender’s Game.

Main body:

Television:

Softest spoilers: 48 hours (because people often don’t have cable these days and should get a chance to view it via streaming sites; most will have it within 48 hours)

Soft spoilers: One week (because people are busy and may not get to their Hulu account/DVR backlog before then)

Hard spoilers: Two months (give it plenty of time to have been available before you’re just tossing out the ending of the episode)

Movies:

Softest spoilers: One month (long enough to allow people a chance to arrange child care or finish their papers or whatever and get out to the movies to see it)

Soft spoilers: Three months (long enough even second-run theaters are starting to get it)

Hard spoilers: One year (long enough for it to be widely available on DVD and streaming)

Books (Including Novellas):

Softest spoilers: One year (like Scalzi says, books take longer to reach a wider audience)

Soft spoilers: Three years (time enough for paperback and e-book versions to be created)

Hard spoilers: Five years (a nice, long period of it being available in multiple formats)

Short Stories: Double the times given for books (because short stories are even less likely to reach a widespread audience than books, and are often not presented in alternate formats for ease of reading unless they win an award or make it into a collection)

Thoughts?

On KublaCon 2016

Where You Can Find Me

IHey everybody! With 9 days to go, I thought I should say (for what will not be the last time): I’ll be GMing at KublaCon 2016! If you want to come play some games with me, Burlingame, California is the place to be! I’ll be at the con all weekend, though typically we leave early afternoon on Monday. As far as formal events I know I will be partaking in, here’s my schedule:

On Friday, at 4pm, I’ll be demonstrating Sentinels of the Multiverse. Come see the card game I never stop gushing about!

Friday at 8pm, I’ll be running my four-color superhero one-shot, “Head Games.” “Head Games” uses the Wild Talents system with the optional Nothing But Shock and Four-Color Healing rules to give it that DC Animated Universe flavor. The game is scheduled to run four hours. Come be heroic at me!

Saturday morning at 10am, I’ll be demoing Villains of the Multiverse, the multi-villain add-on to Sentinels of the Multiverse. More of the card game that never stops! The card game is forever! The card game is legion!

Then Saturday night, I will be with Sonya, helping run support for her as she runs two sessions of “Darkbad Dungeon Dungeon” at 3:30pm and again at 8pm. “Darkbad Dungeon Dungeon” is her intentionally bad, unbalanced, randomly generated Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition dungeon crawl, and I have to say, as a playtester of the game, that it’s a whole heck of a lot of fun. I highly recommend you check it out.

Otherwise, I plan to play whatever the sign-ups afford me the opportunity to play, and generally be a kid on Christmas. If you approach me with a book, I’ll happily sign it, but I’ll also just be happy to say hello! Hope to see you there!

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 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 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 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.

On Mementos Mori

Hi, I’m Tyler, and I’m terrified of death.

I’m not terrified of it in the sense that it’s imminent; I’m not wounded, I have no terminal diagnosis or indeed diagnosis at all, and with the exception of probably needing to lay off the red meat and Cheez-Its a little I have a pretty healthy diet with an attempt at regular exercise. I’m terrified of it in the sense that I want it to never, ever come anywhere near me or the people I love.

It’s to the point that I lose sleep over it. There will be nights that Sonya will hear in my breathing and my movements that I’m tense, and being the person she is, she’ll check in on me, and all I say anymore is that I’m having my existential crisis, because I have so thoroughly exhausted the topic beyond any sane person’s capacity to tolerate that there’s no need to elaborate further. But it doesn’t change that I worry. I worry about cancer, and car crashes, and heart attacks, and the thousand ridiculous no-shit story ways a person could just suddenly die. I check myself for tumors so often I’ve actually caused skin irritations. It’s pathetic, a lot of days.

Death terrifies me because I don’t want this to end. I feel like I’m just really becoming a real person, like I’m just getting a handle on big concepts like good and evil and the balance between “adulthood” and mental well-being and how to tell a good story and the idea that everyone is gross sometimes. I want to keep growing, and learning, and improving. I want to refine myself into a sparkling diamond, and raise kids who get to refine themselves into sparkling diamonds. I want to have the time to save up the money to buy a house, to raise a kid in an environment we know is ready for it, to write every novel that pops into my head, to read all of Terry Pratchett and every Superman story and build a house and try out pro wrestling and…

As Roy Baty once said: I want more life.

I don’t know what happens when we die, and I wish I did. When I’m awake at night, eyes screwed shut, listening to the highway growling and the occasional detonation of late-night parties, I find myself hoping for an afterlife, but also terrified of what the afterlife could be. What if the afterlife is eternity in a cramped box, alone? What if it’s always like I’m having trouble breathing? What if it’s just blackness and contemplation with no filter to keep that from being exactly like my current consciousness would experience it? Will Sonya be there with me? What about my friends? What about any of my cats?

I know, I’m supposed to take this as a sign that I need to seize the day and really drink deeply of life. I try. But at the end of the day, it’s a thought that always haunts me, waiting in the wings for when the joy and the laughter and the sweat and the tears all subside, asking me questions about what comes next. It’s the one question I can’t know the answer to, and the one question I have to hope I just get more comfortable with as my life goes on.

I don’t have a concluding point on this one. I don’t have any kind of revelation. I’m also not looking for an outpouring of sympathy. But I’m hoping, maybe, someone who reads this finds some comfort in it, or something interesting. Because if nothing else, that’s one more life I know I touched on my journey across this weird suspended ball of mud.

End of line.