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!