New Hobby Time

Hi. What are we doing here today? What kinda post is this? Let’s see.

Work’s been stressful again lately and Cassidy has been having nightmares and waking us up overnight to comfort her, so I’m kind of a little bleary all the time. And recovering from quite a downward spiral in the past few weeks. When I do get time to myself in a day, usually later in the evenings, I’ve felt like all I have the capacity to do is plop down on the couch and fire up the Xbox. But I’ve also been aware that this is sort of…numbing, self-medicating activity. It isn’t really time that I’m super enjoying the spending of, but like I said, it feels like all I can do.

I’m sure this isn’t new for me, but it’s one of the first times I’ve really felt aware of what I’m doing.

Last week I had to last-minute cancel an appointment with someone I consider a mentor because of stressful work things that needed completing. I was extremely upset when I made the call to my mentor, who was gracious and understanding. At the end of the conversation he cheerfully added “Take care of yourself!” and I paused for a long time before responding, because all I could think to say was “…I don’t know how right now.” And thinking that made me sad.

So, right now I’m on the lookout for things that I enjoy doing and that ‘energize’ me as I do them. Things that aren’t just ways to pass the time, or avoid unpleasantness. I’m not sure where to start, but hopefully I can start somewhere without too much hassle and try activities until I notice one that really fills me up and makes me happy to do.

(This is not to say that I’m dropping video games as a hobby; but maybe it’d be beneficial to pick up something else to do in the meantime)

Thing I Saw: this view a few weeks ago, from the corner of our company’s yard. It’s shot in slow-motion, but no other filters or post-processing have been applied (except the Instagram crop ofc)

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A moment of peace at the end of a day.

A post shared by Nathan Fehr (@npfehr) on

Thing I Learned: A surprising amount about horses from this humorous tumblr post explaining a meme. (warning, there’s a bit of naughty language)

I’m Grateful For: people who care about me as I claw my way out of yet another bout of moderate depression.

Pretty sure the new Sonic movie isn’t going to use this track and that is a terrible shame

Catching Up

The latest innovation in dental patient care at the office Lori and I visit is: TVs on the ceiling. With Netflix and Bluetooth headphones, so you can just pop on a show or movie and be whisked away while they do whatever they do in your mouth. It’s pretty great in principle, but as I expressed to Lori this morning it also led to a lot of planning and mental math as I drove to my appointment last week.

First of all, I get terrible choice paralysis when choosing something in general. On a given evening where I have free time to watch a movie on my own, I’ve often spent half an hour fretting over a few choices before getting tired of all of them and doing something else entirely. (That whole process is fodder for another couple of paragraphs; let’s just say I get hung up on trying to find the best thing for that particular moment in time, rather than just picking a ‘good’ thing and being okay with that.)

So feel like I have to start pre-thinking what I want to watch because otherwise it’ll take me half of a dental cleaning to even settle on something, which defeats the purpose of having the technology. Then there are other factors to consider like; if the thing is too funny, will my laughter interfere with the hygienist doing their job? If the thing has too much ‘adult content’, will it reflect poorly on me for choosing it in a public space? Like I said, the TV is literally on the ceiling so it’s not as though anyone working there is watching alongside you. However, people walking by can probably see what’s going on.

Language isn’t really an issue anymore, because there’s no sound coming from the TVs thanks to the headphones. They didn’t have the headphones initially, so that was another angle.

I confessed all this to Lori over breakfast this morning, with a tone of “you married a nerd and an overthinker” and because she also has an appointment today. Rather than tease me for it, she actually went right into her own decision process along the same lines. As she explained, she has a similar need to pre-decide the show to watch because when she is in the chair she feels like she can’t call to mind anything she typically enjoys and ends up watching something she isn’t interested in.

I thought she’d have a laugh, but instead she went along with me and validated my weirdness. Reader, I’m glad I married her 🙂

Oh, Epilogue: For my visit last week I settled on Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I know, it’s R-rated, but the violence early on is largely bloodless and the language is only being transmitted to my ears, so. It was that or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but I wanted something that was more action-y in the early going and Indy winds down for a bit after the boat thing.

I never wrote about the Election! Let’s try and sum things up.

For the first few weeks I went in every evening to mainly work on something called Poll Key Exceptions. Elections Canada uses a computer system called REVISE to manage elector information, as well as store all the geographical information about individual Polling Districts in our area. Refresher: Canada is divided in 338 major Electoral Districts, and each of those EDs is divided into smaller chunks called Polling Districts based on population. The lines for these PDs are often based on roads or prominent geographical features, and shift a lot in between elections because areas grow, people move, new suburbs are built, &c. These changes have a ripple effect that creates conflicts in the rest of the system.

The REVISE system generates a report of all the Poll Key Exceptions, which lists electors whose information now seems wrong somehow, and we went through each line entry to find out why and try to diagnose the problem. Typical issues were: Somebody’s information shows them as voting in one PD, but their physical address is in a different PD. Or, somebody’s address is on a road that isn’t listed in the system, and we have to find out where it is and add it. Sleuthing these things out involved a mixture of Google Maps, Elections Canada’s internal mapping system, some awkward cold calls to electors, and emailing between colleagues in different electoral districts. Also I got to learn a lot about rural Manitoba’s Civic Addressing system, which was genuinely interesting.

(These duties were done alongside light tech support & general assistance to the other Service Agents in our office)

The Advance Polling weekend happened around Thanksgiving and dumped a lot of paperwork on our desks, with the IT people getting the weird edge cases because we have the most power of anyone in the office to make changes within REVISE. People wanting address changes to their voter information but not seeming to exist in our computer system at all. People voting at the wrong stations, or attempting to double-vote because they already voted by special ballot in our office and don’t understand the electoral process.

On Election Night I switched to the Data Entry team. I entered the early polling results as they were reported from the various stations, and had somebody next to me verifying my numbers as I entered them. While we waited, we cracked wise and ate chips. It was pretty great, and since our riding is unfortunately a lock for the Conservative Party of Canada we all got to call it a night relatively early.

The last days after the election, before the office’s closure, were once again spent dealing with the mountains of paperwork generated by an election, with our desk getting the edge cases and oddballs. By this time things were feeling tedious — the excitement of the election season had passed and it felt like progress on each discrepancy was extremely slow. We all did as much as we could before the office had to close and get packed up, and we had a lovely staff party and said goodbye. It felt a lot like doing a community theatre production — working intensely with a tight group of people until the big night, and then everybody kinda just…disperses.

Everyone was good to work with, and they were incredibly supportive and kind when word got around about our miscarriage, which I didn’t really expect. It was also a lot of shaking our heads and grappling with the way that this event, this Election that has huge ramifications on the course of our nation, is just…you know, at it’s base, it’s powered by a bunch of people doing their best and “muddling through” on a daily basis. Maybe that’s society in general, I don’t know. We laughed and got frustrated and supported each other as best as we could, and in the end, the thing happened somehow.

I’d do it again! But hopefully not very soon.

Thing I Saw: The music video for “She Says What She Means” by Sloan, twenty years after I started listening to the song, no big deal.

Thing I Learned: The video is an homage to a 1967 British film called Privilege, and Much Music didn’t want to show it at the time because the band insisted on an intro and credits sequence and MM thought viewers would be confused.

I’m Grateful For: The Navy Blues Deluxe Vinyl Boxed Set, which I got for my birthday and from which I learned all about this video and its influences. I’m still working through all the material in it, but it’s a pretty great way to explore one of my favourite albums of all time.

Sloan sometimes tours with a giant ‘4’ on stage that I’ve often wondered about. Turns out: it’s from this

Checking In

I was the emcee at another EtherLAN gaming fundraiser event, and while chatting with a friend I was asked why games matter to me so much. I opened my mouth, certain that an answer would come tumbling readily out. None did. This surprised me, and I found it difficult to come up with a good answer even while thinking about the question for a while longer.

I started to think that “passionate about video games” had been part of the story I tell about myself for so long that I had long stopped questioning why that was true. And then I worried a little that an honest interrogation of this part of myself would reveal…nothing. That games had served their purpose and weren’t really important anymore, and it was time to find something new. This wasn’t implausible, because I’ve spent time on a lot of things in my life due to inertia and not because I actually wanted to spend time on them.

I puzzled about this question for a few days, then flipped things around and decided to try a new angle. I was, of course, continuing to play at least a little bit of a video game every day; so I created a Google Doc and started asking myself “what do I like about this?” while I was engaging with something.

Here, in no particular order, are the results!

  • I like seeing how technology advances. I like seeing what kind of graphics, sound, and gameplay things that become possible with each new generation of system. I like expanding my definition of what’s possible in the medium.
  • I like seeing the visual styles of games. No Man’s Sky and Gears of War 5 have been impressing me lately.
  • Feeling competent at something feels good, and games do that for me. It’s nice to feel “in control” of a situation, to feel knowledgeable, and to be able to tackle new twists in gameplay as they arise. I don’t get that sense very often from real life!
  • Listen, it has to be said that I will sometimes use video games as a way to avoid things that are difficult or stressful. In Enneagram 9 terms (and probably elsewhere) this is known as “self-medicating”.
  • I love games that let me explore and fill out a map as I go. Metroid-style games, or Action RPGs like Diablo are wonderful for this. Hollow Knight was incredible for rewarding exploration and continuing to open up new areas long after you think you’ve seen it all.
  • I like to solve puzzles! Games have those!
  • Games are exciting, and sometimes the chaos and thrill of a battle are fun too!
  • Games can be relaxing too, sometimes!
  • Lastly, games give me experiences that impact me or engage me in ways that non-interactive media can’t. Like the way Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons so effectively uses controls to reinforce brotherly bonds, or 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors drives home its final narrative twist by having you flip your DS upside-down. (It makes sense in the context of the game and a simple action makes for an incredibly powerful narrative moment). (Sorry I can’t talk more about these things without spoiling them)

So, yes, no longer worried that games and I have run out of things to talk about 🙂

Thing I Saw: Snippets of a bunch of horror films this last month, before declaring them too intense and stopping, or getting interrupted and just…never getting back around to finishing them.

Thing I Learned: ‘msleepy

I’m Grateful For: My birthday coming up! Every year I get to hang around this weird planet is a year I’m thankful for.

Have a nap like me

Mountains & Valleys

Alright. So. Let’s talk about the last two weeks.

Content warning: this post is about pregnancy and miscarriage.

On Monday, Sept.23, Lori had her first scheduled appointment about her pregnancy.

Gosh, I just realized, I hadn’t even written about that here. Yeah, we were expecting. It was only a week before that appointment that we’d started telling everybody, and I made a highly dorky announcement photo for our social media accounts. This pregnancy had been challenging, because Lori felt much more sick than with Cassidy, so I was picking up as much slack as I could while she rested and slept. Everybody was exhausted, but sharing our news with people marked sort of a turning point where we were starting to get excited ourselves.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B2cNC01neOf/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Wait, let’s back up even further. We’d been trying for a second child for almost a year, actually. If I can be candid, our first pregnancy did not take much trying at all, so we were confused as to why the second time around was taking so much longer. We took things a step further and both had tests done (at Lori’s doctor’s urging) but nothing about the results showed that anything was obviously wrong. In fact, when we discovered we were pregnant again, we were at a pretty low point about the whole thing, discussing whether to give up entirely for now or go to the next step and schedule a fertility clinic appointment in Winnipeg.

All that to say that until we started telling people, we ourselves were honestly not terribly thrilled. But we were getting there, pulled upward by the joy and excitement of friends and family. And Lori felt like she was turning a corner in terms of her nausea and exhaustion, which was heartening.

So, September 23rd. Week 11 for us. The staff at the clinic weren’t able to locate a heartbeat on the fetus, but that in itself wasn’t cause for panic, as it can be tricky when things are that early. They suggested an ultrasound the next day, but that’s Lori’s birthday and we had tickets to see Michelle Obama. She asked for a day reprieve, and they agreed that another day probably wasn’t going to make a difference either way.

(Michelle O. was very good. Interesting, funny, and really encouraging.)

We were concerned but trying to stay positive. Wednesday’s ultrasound happened, but the technicians are not supposed to interpret results, and because of an administrative mixup, we didn’t hear anything back on that day or the entire next one.

On Friday the 27th, the clinic called and asked Lori to come in at her earliest convenience, which is like, Oh. If things were fine, they would just tell us over the phone. I went in with Lori this time and we were given the news that the baby had made it to about 10 weeks, 6 days. The grief didn’t hit all at once. It sort of rolled over me in waves for the rest of the day, and I can say that by now it’s gone down from big stop-you-in-your-tracks waves to little ones, gently lapping at my feet, not consuming, but not gone.

For Lori there remained the matter of getting the baby out, which I won’t go into in detail, except that after waiting the weekend to see if her body would work on its own, we ended up checking in to the hospital on Monday. There is still considerable pain and discomfort to deal with even at this early stage, but thanks to our family taking care of Cassidy and the pets I was able to be with her while we waited.

For both of us, there was also the difficult matter of telling family & friends what had happened. Knowing that we had just asked people to celebrate with us made it hard to follow up with such unfortunate news, and yet, Lori and I have both talked about how glad we are for the timing of our announcement. Firstly, as we’re both peacemakers, it’s our first impulse to keep pain & suffering to ourselves, in order not to “impose” on others or “make trouble”. Sharing our happy news forced us, in a way, to share the sad news as well, which has led to so many people coming forward to share our grief, sympathize, and lift us up with prayer, kind words, and gifts. I was able to lead singing with my worship team on Sunday morning, and I’m convinced it’s because God answered the prayers of others to heal me and give me strength.

The second good thing about the timing of our pregnancy announcement was that, like I said, the joy of others helped us to feel joyful and positive. Had we not been buoyed by that joy, I can’t imagine how much more difficult this all could have been.

So this week I’ve mainly been feeling okay but deeply tired. Lori is on the mend, and she and I are, I think, doing a good job of continuing to communicate about what we’re feeling, and trying not to judge our thoughts and reactions as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but just sharing them as they are. We weren’t anywhere close to a name for the baby beforehand, but just yesterday we felt like we’d landed on something we like, but that’s not something we’re broadcasting either. Not sure why.

Some challenges I’ve had this week involve Marvin, my Low Self-Esteem creature, who’s been nattering at me about two main things; one is whether or not I am displaying the appropriate amount of grief, as though there were rules about such things, or somebody watching and judging me for talking too enthusiastically about Untitled Goose Game. Ridiculous when I say it out loud, but definitely a worry that I’ve been grappling with.

The other thing Marvin would like me to know is that I don’t deserve people’s care and support; that I haven’t done enough for others in their times of grief (and at one point I seriously found myself reviewing the past and feeling guilty about how much I did or didn’t support people in my life), or that people are being Too Nice and I just…haven’t earned that, for some reason.

Again, ridiculous. Nobody is “keeping score” about these things. I can get out of my own way and accept what others offer with simple, sincere thanks and no assumption of personal obligation being paid, or created. We are, as I’ve said several times, extremely grateful for the support we’ve been offered, and I think that all that I need to “do” in response is pay forward that kindness and support to someone else in the future.

I suppose that underneath both of these things is a fear that I’ll come across as disrespectful or selfish. That by not being sad enough, or not returning others’ “investment” of support I won’t meet their expectations and they won’t want to associate with me at all. I think Marvin’s afraid of that, and I need to gently remind him that he can take a seat, and we’re going to accept help as it’s offered.

Thing I Saw: I took a day off to serenely wander around the St. Vital mall yesterday, and learned that EBGames’ are like two-thirds geek-adjacent merchandise and about 1/3rd actual games. Digital distribution must really be eating their lunches.

Thing I Learned: A float spa tank (also tried yesterday) can really help you focus in on your Super Metroid run and think through ways to optimize it. Then you become distracted by keen awareness of your own heart moving blood to all parts of your body.

I’m Grateful For: Once again, friends, family & community. In good times and bad.

Getting Chills

Leaves are falling all around, which means it’s about time that I start my annual brief fascination with the horror genre. This is a couple of weeks where I work up just enough courage to watch a few scary movies (or play a scary game), until something I see scares me too much, and I mostly quit the genre until the next year. The buildup to Halloween is an obvious inspiration, but what else is it about this season that inspires me so? Is it the chill in the air? Earlier sunsets, so I’m moving around in darkness much more than I’m used to?

Or maybe, it ties in to my general sense of unease and restlessness around this season, because for so many years of my life, Fall was a time of big transition and change, and for the last number of years this has not been the case. But, I still find myself feeling ‘twitchy’, like something big needs to shift in my life, and I’m missing it. So maybe the horror genre is my way of unsettling myself and my thinking when the rest of my life seems much more settled by comparison. (I mean, there are always ups and downs, but at my stage, change is a steady constant rather than a Big Event).

Whatever it is, last year’s Horror Kick ended with The Babadook, which genuinely got under my skin and rattled me. “I’m good on horror for a while,” I remember telling people. And yet, here I am, back at it again, reading reviews and impressions and trying to psyche myself up to put something on. Maybe I’ll document the capper to this season as well, if there is one as clear as last time.

If you find yourself in a similar place as me, I can’t make a lot of recommendations, but I do have a few (in no particular order). I can’t say they’ll work for you at all; scariness is obviously personal and subjective, but I’m sharing them anyway. I used to watch tons of scary movies in University, but I don’t anymore, because I lost my edge; they frighten me more easily. I also like to stick with things that are more supernatural / cosmic, because when it comes to people doing harm to each other on film, I mainly watch and think “people actually do this to each other in real life” and I’m just sad and nauseated.

With all that out of the way, some memorable scary movies:

  • The Ring (2002) – I know I’m supposed to like the Japanese original more, but I saw this one first and couldn’t shake it for days. I watched it in the actual theatre. Why did I do that?
  • Annihilation (2018) – is so beautiful and weird and unsettling, like a fever dream.
  • Resolution (2012) and Endless (2017) – While I don’t think you need to see the first one to jump into the second, it’s worth it and will enrich certain scenes.
  • The Cabin in the Woods (2012) – apparently a great year for metahorror, this one is also funnier than everything else on this list.
  • The Thing (1982) – One of my friends pointed out that what makes this scary (besides the insane creature effects) is that these men are rational scientists and for once make all the “right” decisions about their predicament — but it doesn’t help

Thing I Saw: A copy of Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams for the Xbox sitting in a little drawer in my home. I’m fascinated and terrified by the SH games, but watching a Let’s Play of this game years ago is part of what inspired me to make my own videos. I recently bought this copy in hopes of making my own series on it, but that means I’ll have to play it for more than ten minutes at a time, and that might be too much for my nerves. We’ll see.

Thing I Learned: The number of 1kg bags of fries to prepare for roughly twenty construction workers is: eight. (We had a company BBQ lunch here today)

I’m Grateful For: Space in my day to chill out and blog.

Have a lil’ weekend dance

Making Sausage

Apparently I’ve not managed to write about my upcoming job with the Canadian federal election, even though I’ve been sitting on this news since like, spring? I guess nothing much has really happened until this week.

So yes, I’ll be working on the federal election! We’re expecting the writ to drop (government dissolved, campaigning begins) on either the 8th or the 15th, because as I just learned it only happens on Sundays. I’ll be working evenings and weekends as an Assistant to the Automation Coordinator, or AAC, until the end of October. In Canada, voting districts are determined mainly by population numbers and geography, and each electoral district has a main office to coordinate and manage voter information, run advance polling, answer questions, and do training and such. The Returns Office, as it’s called, was recently moved to my area and so I got this job offer through word-of-mouth.

The Automation Coordinator does light IT for the office, manages the computer system that stores voter information, and generates/prints reports for the political candidates and other stakeholders. My job as assistant is to do whatever the AC doesn’t get round to during a the day, which as I understand it, is basically the busywork of watching printers. Probably it’s more than that, I don’t know. This week I had my first visits to the new offices, as well as a big meeting yesterday with the primary staff for our new location. The AC and the Returns Officer (boss) are really friendly and easygoing, and aside from sacrificing my evenings, I’m really excited about this opportunity.

Mainly that’s because I’ve often enjoyed going “behind-the-scenes” for things like this and seeing just how things function. I don’t consider myself incredibly interested in political systems generally, but as a voter, I’ve always just shown up on the day, done the card in the ballot box, and gone home, with no idea of just how much work goes into making sure that the box is even there. And that things are fair and accessible and unbiased. I’ve already learned a lot just by chatting with the others, and I expect to learn a lot more before October ends.

So far I’m already impressed at how much work Elections Canada does to ensure that everybody has a chance to vote, and my boss has talked a lot about the work that’s done between elections to reduce or eliminate barriers to voting access. Things like: setting up polling stations in large apartment buildings or seniors’ complexes. Or in one funny case, creating a polling location in a tiny town after residents vigorously complained about having to vote in a nearby town with whom they had a fierce, longstanding rivalry. We might roll our eyes, but the issue is treated non-judgementally and seriously, if it seems like it’s going to present a genuine barrier to people doing their civic duty.

When I read about all the voting chicanery that goes on in other countries (un-registering voters, gerrymandering, ballot tampering &c) it’s dawning on me how important it is that our electoral process is so reliable and non-controversial. It’s been stressed to us several times that Elections Canada does its level best to maintain public trust and impartiality, and I guess I’d always taken that for granted, too.

Anyway, I’m not sure how much more specific I can be about what goes on from this point forward, but I thought the whole thing was worth mentioning. And now I have!

Thing I Saw: Super Metroid surprise-dropped on the Nintendo Switch, today! Nintendo added a bunch of SNES classics to their online subscription service and I am very hyped. You’ve no idea how often I want to play SM on a nice handheld, that isn’t a phone with a wonky bluetooth controller or something.

Thing I Learned: S U P E R M E T R O I D

I’m Grateful For: A fair and democratic electoral process!

Why can’t this be in a format nicer than 480p, whyyyyy

Sidehug Your Problems

At counseling last week, I was talking about the personal difficulty I’d been having in the weeks since my return to tabletop RPGs. (Among many other things; it’s been quite a busy couple of weeks)

The first sessions went well! We’d blocked off two evenings, which was good, because character creation and rules discussion took most of the first one. DungeonWorld’s suggestions to ask questions and incorporate the answers into world building went well, and as I went home that night I had lots of energy and excitement to begin building the world and the story that these players would inhabit. I stayed up late that night, materials spread across the table, grinning from ear-to-ear as I wrote out the ideas we’d generated.

Next evening was playing, which flowed well. At some point during the adventure one of the guys asked if they were “doing it right” and I cited the three Agendas: Are we portraying a fantastic world? Are we filling the characters’ lives with adventure? And, are we playing to find out what happens? The answers were yes to all three, which felt great. We ended the night at sort of a natural lull in the story that would provide a good jumping-off point for the next adventure, and resolved that we’d meet in a few weeks to continue things.

Since then, as I told my counselor, I’ve managed to do some behind-the-scenes work on preparing the next adventure but it’s been quite difficult to get motivated. I miss that excitement and drive from the first night. Partly, it’s because things in the rest of my life have been taking up a lot of bandwidth and I’ve but DW stuff on the back burner because of it. But the other reason is because of another battle with Marvin, the Low Self-Esteem Creature. As I explained to my counselor, as time passed from our first session, Marvin worked harder and harder to convince me that none of my ideas were good and that the others were (for some reason) just humouring me while secretly having a bad time. I related that I’d quite harshly (mentally) told Marvin off more than once.

“You’ve gotta love Marvin,” said my counselor.

“Tch, I know, right?” I said, misunderstanding him.

I kept talking about some other issue, also involving Marvin, and my counselor said basically the same thing again; that I had to love Marvin. Hearing it differently this time, I stopped and asked what he meant.

He went on to explain that a way to deal with Marvin is to accept that, in its own roundabout way, it’s trying to help. The voice of my fierce inner critic and my low self-esteem isn’t trying to tear me down for funsies; it’s trying, in a misguided way, to protect me from things I’m afraid of; that my ideas won’t be accepted. That I’m an imposition, clueless about where things really stand. That I’ll lose connections with others and it’ll be my fault.

Marvin, said my counselor, is a part of my life and probably always will be. It’s part of what has informed the person that I am today. Rather than angrily fighting and trying to reject that, isn’t it better to embrace that aspect? Even to see it as a gift from God? Not to say “yes I believe you, my ideas are trash” but to say “Marvin: I see you there and I recognize that you’re trying to help. But I don’t care what you think.” In the way you’d talk to a friend that you just can’t agree with.

I read and hear about treating yourself with goodwill, grace, kindness, and gentle curiosity; but this was a major area that I had overlooked. I’ve been thinking about our conversation since then, and I hope this can be the start of more positive growth for me.

Thing I Saw: A friend of mine sent me this listing from our local online Classifieds:

…and I was like, this person is my exact opposite. We should probably never meet in person, for the preservation of the universe. (I have a long history of badly disliking this game — so much that I overcame my fear of dating in order to avoid playing it)

Thing I Learned: I’ve finally started listening to Reply All and just finished this fantastic two-parter about CompStat, the NYPD’s accountability process and its modern-day problems.

I’m Grateful For: Dare I say it? Rock n’ Roll Racing. If I can embrace Marvin as being necessary for my journey, then I have to accept RnRR as well???

Not relevant, I just like it

Goin’ Through Stuff

Due to getting married, my Dad has sold his house, and the possession date is this Friday. Of course there is no minute like the last one for cleaning up and moving things out, so as of last week I was helping him list a bunch of stuff online. I’ve also taken a few things for myself that he no longer needs, including a full set of dishes & cups, to replace our own. Also my mom’s accordion, under the condition that I learn to play a song. She apparently used to play it before I was born. I think I saw her get it out maybe twice in my lifetime. It’s in beautiful condition, but the straps are a little to small for me, so I need to find replacements I guess?

I also found a hidden cache of my old stuff in the back of a storage closet, which I cleaned out this morning. Lots of stuff ended up in the garbage, some things are coming home with me, and a few things got recycled, too. One oddity is a bottle of “Monty Python’s Holy Grail Ale” that looks to be about 17 years old, given to me as a gift in a time when I didn’t drink beer (but was a Monty Python fan). I’m assuming it will poison me if I try to drink it now, so I guess I’ll put it on a shelf somewhere. Or pour it out at some point.

After that, I took a few moments to quietly go around the house and say goodbye. It was good, and sad, and I surprised myself by calling up memories of times I haven’t though of in ages, and room arrangements that haven’t existed for almost twenty years. I spent my formative years there, I guess, moving when I was 12 and living there off and on until I was like, 26. Even after getting my own place I was there every day for years while the Jelcan offices were in my old room. So I felt like it was important to take a moment and sit with that, and not try to force any particular reaction but to feel whatever came up. I thought about taking pictures, but a lot of it has been cleaned out, and I already have pictures from the old times. I want those, not the empty ones.

I also said a little prayer of thanks for the times I got to have there, and to ask that the next people get to have good times there, too. Okay, I did take one picture of questionable goodness:

The entrance, with ridiculously tall Dieffenbachia plant that we have always had around in one form or another. Not that one specifically, but you know, that kind.

Probably a few years from now I will creep past it and something will be visibly different, which will rankle me for no good reason. Or it will look the same but feel different anyway.

Thing I Saw: An ancient, empty bottle of “Orbitz” sitting in the same bottle collection that the unopened ale bottle was hiding. It was the first and last bottle of that stuff that I ever had. Hashtag only nineties kids will remember

Thing I Learned: Two things, just now! First, I knew that the tall plant from my youth was called a “Dieffenbachia” but always assumed it was a Low German pronunciation/corruption of “Dieffenbaker”, which, maybe you had to grow up around the Low German dialect to judge how plausible that theory was. But no, it turns out that is its real name. Also, they’re poisonous, which I was dimly aware of, but the specific harm they cause makes them also known as “dumbcane” because they can remove your ability to speak. Fun!

I’m Grateful For: The places I’ve called “home”.

Play this while walking around your old house. I didn’t, but it seems fitting

What Do You Do?

Who says blogging can’t change things! Nobody? Probably nobody.

A few weeks ago I wrote about wanting to play a tabletop RPG with a group, and because of that post one fell into my lap. Our first session is tomorrow, and we’ll be playing Dungeon World with me as Game Master, which at first I didn’t think I wanted to do? But this opportunity is too good to ignore. The group is actually the fellows from the Whatevertown podcast, a super fun show I’ve guested on nearly three times. They came across my post and got in touch, because it turns out, they were looking for an opportunity to play and weren’t sure where to start.

Our first session is tomorrow night, and I’ve wanted to write about the experience of preparing for a little while. But also, I mean, I didn’t want to, because I know that my soon-to-be players might read this and I did not want that. When I examined my resistance, I thought at first it was because in D&D tradition (which is where I’ve spent the most time) the Dungeon Master doesn’t allow players to peek “behind the curtain”. The dungeon master’s screen — that bit of foldable cardboard that the Head Nerd sits behind — is there to keep players from seeing future story information, prepared surprises that you’re about to drop on the table, or even just that you’re fudging the results of your dice rolls (always for noble reasons of course). There is always a veil of secrecy, and DMs often try to come across as aloof, mysterious, all-knowing, and ready for anything.

Thus, writing about my excitements and anxieties in an open way, that my players might see, first struck me as being a very bad idea. I can’t drop the veil because it would make me vulnerable to the players, and thus ‘weaker’ somehow. But Dungeon World is very different; the game is much more of a back-and-forth conversation between players and the GM, and while there can still be surprises, there’s much less to keep hidden from players because we’re making things up together. In DW, the game master saying “I don’t know — what do you think happens?” is a valid thing to do when stuck for a good answer, which reduces pressure significantly on the person in that role.

As I thought about my resistance to writing about my experiences, I realized that my problem went beyond the idea of vulnerability with players into a more common, not-RPG-specific issue; I don’t want them to know that I’m anxious because I don’t want them to feel guilty about “making” me feel anxious. What I mean is that…at various points while getting to grips with the rules and getting supplies ready for tomorrow’s game, I’ve had to tell off Marvin the Low Self-Esteem Creature. Marvin has been trying to convince me that I won’t be ready, that the goodness of this game is entirely on my shoulders, and if it isn’t Perfect, I will ruin tabletop RPGs for the group forever. I know these things are not true. I’m in a good place about the game tomorrow and I’m looking forward to it, but I had to work through that stuff first. And in my typical way, I want to keep all my struggles to myself so that nobody else is burdened by them or made to feel in any way less happy.

If you’re an Enneagram enthusiast, this is probably a super typical ‘9’ thing to do. Anyway, I will probably write more next week, once the first session is under our belts. Now I just have to stop myself from trying to ‘cram’ between now and tomorrow; we’re all learning to play this thing together. Perfect is the enemy of good, after all. 

Thing I Saw: Some pretty gorgeous and elaborate dungeon master screens while googling for that image I linked earlier. Gosh, people really do go to lengths for their hobbies. It’s cool!

Thing I Learned: The children’s show The Backyardigans draws from a wide variety of musical styles, including Highlife, a super upbeat kinda African dance music that I have been jamming on for a few days. This is a good Spotify playlist!

In case you don’t have a Spotify!

Steps

So, my Dad’s getting remarried in just over a week, and I feel like I want to talk about that.

Her name’s Alice. She’s pleasant, gets on well with children, has a real heart for volunteer service (much like Dad) and is twice widowed herself. They seem like a real good fit for one another and it’s certainly not something that any of us have had a strong reason to be opposed to. We’ve actually known that this was coming for a little while now, but everything has been very hush-hush because…I guess I’m not sure? Dad seems extremely reluctant to talk about relationship things, and the wedding is going to be a small affair for family in Alice’s backyard.

That part right there has been weird for Lori and me, because usually things like this are exciting! And people want to make announcements and get excited with the people around them! But we also recognize that we don’t know what it’s like to be in that stage of life, having been through what both of them have been through. Maybe we wouldn’t want to make a big deal out of it either.

Most people ask how I feel about all of it, and I say, “Fine…?” Again, I think they’re a good fit, and all of the children are adults — and mostly living elsewhere — so it’s not like it changes very much about our day-to-day living. I’m grappling a little bit with the idea of having a stepmother and stepsiblings, but not in a negative way so much as just…turning the idea over and looking at it. Repeating it to myself.

And actually, one of my new stepbrothers sounds fascinating and like somebody I could get on very well with, but! He lives and works in Taipei, so, unlikely we’re going for coffee anytime soon

On that note — Alice and sons have been cleaning up the house to make way for Dad to move in, and while talking about that I was thrilled to learn that this future stepbrother left behind a bunch of Dungeons & Dragons books, and records by a band named Rush. In this area, there’s still a lot of suspicion of D&D left over from the “Satanic Panic” years of the 1980s, so Alice had been advised to just destroy them altogether, but she wasn’t sure. My brother Lloyd and I made the case that D&D is fine, just a framework for group storytelling and adventures really, and in the end she seemed willing to turn them over to me (!!!) for which I would have been extremely grateful.

However, a trip to her house last night revealed that they weren’t D&D at all but the “Mysteries of the Unknown” hardcover set, interesting and valuable in their own right but certainly not what I was expecting. Future stepbrother’s (I’m not being coy, his name honestly escapes me at this moment) record collection was awesome, though. Big stack of 1970s prog rock including Yes, Rush, lots of Jethro Tull. Super cool

Anyway life is an adventure and a weird old thing, and sometimes you find yourself revisiting the story you tell about yourself in order to add a chapter that you never thought you would.

Thing I Saw: A concert program from Jethro Tull’s 1979 tour, which folded out to a pretty cool poster.

Thing I Learned: Alice’s house has cozy guest rooms but doesn’t seem to have any video games at all, so I may just quietly install something retro to complete the place.

I’m Grateful For: Dad finding somebody good for him, so he doesn’t have to be lonely