Category Archives: Personal

Make Art Not War – 2017 Challenge

As I’ve recently expressed in this blog, I’ve been kind of frustrated and emotionally adrift. Work on Earthdawn has been good, but… well, I feel there’s more in the tank.

Driven in part by similar feelings, writer and game designer Monica Valentinelli has put forward a voluntary challenge for this year. Make Art Not War. I’ll defer to her description (at least briefly):

This challenge is about making art to tap into your voice and tell your story. After all, one story can change the world. The problem is, we have no idea which story that will be, when it will be told, or in what medium. It’s up to us to find it–by making art!

I’m stepping up to the challenge. So here we go:

  • I pledge to spend an hour a day on my personal, original art.
  • If I don’t feel motivated, I will write about why I wanted to take this challenge, either for fifteen minutes or one to three pages, whichever comes first.
  • I pledge to keep track of my output in a public fashion to be held accountable.
  • I pledge to be disconnected from the internet and social media during my creative time to minimize distraction.

Here’s my primary (but not exclusive) goal with this challenge. I’ve had a story in my head for more than fifteen years. I started working on it about the time my wife and I first got together. I produced a little shy of 6,000 words for it, and haven’t really looked at it in some time. But even after all this time, it is still with me.

So I want to see if I can make it work.

Will it? I don’t know. But it is probably the only way to get it out of my head. If I want to really make a go at writing (even as a side gig), I need to stop thinking about it, and start doing it.

Wish me luck!

Some days, I can’t even….

I’ve probably taken half a dozen runs toward this post, kind of a post-mortem of the past couple of months. Part of the reason it’s been hard is that I’m not really fond of conflict or controversy–at least in certain areas–and the thoughts and feelings I’ve been dealing with are kind of loaded with that stuff.

What I’m saying is, there’s a lot of negative stuff out there right now, and I’m not really thrilled with the idea of attracting any of it to me. May be a bit cowardly, but… well… *sigh*

Trump was elected.

The last few weeks have been filled with a lot of shock, anger, frustration, fear, second-guessing… not only my own, but also from a lot of friends and acquaintances. The Republican party, with the position it is in, has the power to affect the lives of a lot of people, and probably not for the better.

I’m a middle-aged, white, hetero (well, mostly), guy. I also live in a mostly white, rural state. I’m not likely to be in danger of any kind of systemic oppression or discrimination. But I know a lot of people who don’t have that luxury. As a friend, that’s troubling and upsetting to me. I can only imagine how it might be in their shoes.

On the one hand, I can kind of understand the attitude of those who are frustrated with the way things are. Things are pretty messed up in this country. There is a lot of uncertainty, and that leads to fear. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate…. the way to the dark side.

The world is not as they have expected — as they have been told it was. And those whose fault it is? Have lied and conned and manipulated. It’s the immigrants. It’s the muslims. It’s the blacks. It’s the OTHER.

wish they could be right. That, somehow, the upcoming administration and Republican ascension will result in — somehow — America becoming “great” again.

And, you know what? It will be. For Trump and the hateful sycophants he surrounds himself with.

But not for you.

Unless you are one of the very few with wealth and power, Trump and his ilk do not give a shit about you. They only care how you can be used to stifle dissent. How you can be used to maintain and exacerbate the differences that have been imposed. How you can fuel the engine of their enrichment and aggrandizement.

How you can be used.

There will, no doubt, be the occasional sop. The token gestures. But as the system is dismantled, our society taken apart piece by piece… people will suffer. And die. Any anger that manages to bubble up will be put down, or directed at the bogeymen they have created. The muslim. The black. The gay. The other.

There is no other.

There is only us. We have been divided. Misdirected. Pointed at each other so that we can have our pockets picked, our future sold off to enrich a select few in the present.

It’s frustrating. It’s depressing. It’s maddening. It’s infuriating.

I don’t have an answer. I don’t know if we (as a nation) are going to get through it, or what we (as a nation) will look like afterward.

I am afraid.

I want my kids to have a future… and right now that future is looking pretty dark.

I need to do something. I’ve been privileged enough to be able to sit on the sidelines the past four decades. But I can’t in good conscience do that any longer.

I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to do. What I can do.

I’m one voice, but there are a lot of us out there. Time to speak out.

Making the sausage… one step at a time.

I’ve been kind of quiet this cycle with regard to politics. At least online.

Not because I don’t have opinions, because Lord knows I have those.

It’s mostly because the process this time around has been so gods-damned tiring. And disheartening. Like, “occasionally hating on the entire human collective” disheartening.

The United States is a nation of over 300 million people, covering some three and a half million square miles. Which is to say, it’s massive, complex, and requires a lot of infrastructure to maintain. When you factor in our relationship to the other 190-odd nations and 7 billion or so people on the planet…

Let’s just say I think we need smart, dedicated people running things.

like smart people. I like smart people that are passionate about things, like studying those things, and wonder how to make those things better. I love talking (and listening) to these kinds of people, because I learn stuff.

It usually doesn’t matter what the subject is — math, literature, physics, film, sociology, video games… I typically find myself enriched. Knowledge and understanding are awesome.

As a tabletop game developer, I appreciate passion for systems. Understanding how a tweak in one place can have repercussions in another. Being able to follow the thread of cause and effect. Looking at numbers and testing outcomes to steer towards the most desirable outcome. (Not perfect because… well… strive for perfection, but don’t make it the enemy of the good.)

Humans are… messy creatures. As a result, politics and governance are messy and only get messier the larger the group of humans involved. But it’s how we live together, maintain the support required for the society we’ve developed, and solve the challenges we face as a species.

I understand and sympathize with the many, many people who are frustrated with the way things are. I’m there with you. I wish it was easy to change the world.

But it’s not.

With so many people, and so many competing interests, changing — improving — the world is a slow process. Strive for ideals, know where you’re aiming, but fight one battle at a time. Make deals and work out realistic compromise. Accept three steps forward when you can’t get five.

Work towards a better world, but understand that it is work, and is sometimes (often) a dirty, unsatisfying, thing.

But in the end? Worth it.

As recently stated in the excellent Luke Cage series on Netflix, “Always forward.”

(You may notice I didn’t talk about any particular candidate. That’s on purpose. I’m laying out my general political philosophy — after a fashion — and not interested at this point in diving into the morass of spin und drang that dominates current political and social media.)

How many lives?

Senseless.
Hatred dressed in the costume of morality.
Poisoned hearts. Corrupted minds.
Fear and anger, a loaded weapon
Pointed at the innocent by the guilty.
Dividing.

We are not other.
Brothers, sisters, parents, children.
Bone and muscle.
Mind and spirit.
When one is injured, we all bleed.
Red.

I try not to let their hatred,
Their ignorance,
Their fear,
Affect or infect me.
But it is hard.
The right things often are.

That was the year, that was

(With apologies to Tom Lehrer, whose album of the same name is fantastic.)

So. It’s New Year’s Eve.

2015 was a year, wasn’t it?

It started off kind of rocky, with the last two months of a four-month strike. After that ended, I went back to work to learn that I really didn’t want to be working there anymore. July came along with an offer for voluntary severance, which I took. The last five months of the year were spent on unemployment, living off the buyout money and dipping into savings. I start a new job next week… but that’s 2016. (Okay, technically I had my orientation and some initial training this week, but whatever.)

On the plus side, this year did see the release of the Earthdawn Player’s Guide (PDF Version), and the electronic version of the Gamemaster’s Guide (that book is at the printer and will be out early next year). The response has been pretty decent, but we’re behind schedule, and that has made people not so happy.

In the aftermath of an enjoyable trip to GenCon, I decided to start pursuing opportunities in voice-over. That has been slow going, though I did produce and release my first audiobook. The rights holder was happy enough with my work that I’m signed for two more books with them. I’m working on the first of them now, and expect those to be out in the first part of next year.

The end of the year brings reflection, but also thoughts about the year to come. So here are my hopes and wishes for 2016.

  1. Get the production workflow for the Earthdawn books hammered out so that it doesn’t take another year or more to get the rest of our promised product done and out the door.
  2. Along those lines: Figure out what we’re going to do with future books in the line.
  3. Do more voice-over work. More audiobooks, and if I can get them, other VO gigs.
  4. Produce more content for this website. Entries, reviews, all that sort of thing. This may or may not include a podcast (which will help my voice-over and audio production chops).
  5. See if I can get some forward momentum going on the book that has been brewing in my head for years. And I do mean years.

That about does it for now. Raise a glass with your beverage of choice, toast to the year past and the one to come. We only get one go-round, an it’s important to make the most of it.

A life half-lived…

As has been my habit lately, I haven’t been posting much of anything to this blog. Last time I posted was back in early October. It is now the tail end of March. That’s six months. Half a year.

Also, as is my habit, I’m writing this in the wee hours of the morning as I am gripped with a case of insomnia and self-reflection.

We went on strike. The strike lasted about four months, from mid-October until the end of February. It was a long, difficult, frustrating process. I had my birthday on the picket line.

That’s kind of what inspired the title of this post. I mean, it’s kind of a play on a thought — I turned 40. About halfway through the typical life expectancy of a person. It’s also one of those lovely round numbers that we humans are so enamored with, the kind that makes you all introspective and shit.

And by you, of course, I mean me.

Going back to work four weeks go made me realize something. I do not like my job, and I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing it. Front line customer service is a draining, often thankless, annoying pain in the ass. It saps my energy. It makes me unhappy and short-tempered.

I’ve started looking for a new job, but my options are kind of limited. I had a very short college career — only completing one semester (that is a long story that I may get to one of these days). I never went back, for a couple of reasons. One, I could never decide what it is I actually wanted to do. Two, I am a generally lazy sack of crap that prefers to coast along as things are.

Now, with my family and financial situation, going back to school seems to be right out. Not that I know any better what I want to do now than I did twenty years ago when I first came up to this wattle on the neck of the east coast.

I really think I need to get out of Maine, or at least out of Bangor. This past winter was rough, and I don’t think that hanging around this area would be the best for me.

As usual, I don’t have the foggiest fucking idea what I’m going to do. Half my life is behind me, and I have no idea where the second half is going.

 

Insomnia

I don’t know where this one is going to go.

I’m sitting in bed, shortly after midnight, unable to sleep.

I’m not sure how much to talk about, or what to talk about.

Some things aren’t going well. The combined stresses of life, the universe, and everything are really weighing on me.

A couple of weeks ago, we learned (during our annual furnace tune-up) that we need to get the furnace replaced. This is a not-insignificant expense, and our financial situation was already tenuous enough.

The Earthdawn books are behind schedule. Part of this was an inability on my part to judge how much work was involved, as well as an almost pathological need for perfection. At this point, the Player’s Guide is waiting on art to be finalized, but the GM’s Guide is not anywhere near the shape I want it to be.

I am afraid. Of so many things.

The 9-to-5 is going okay. Not great. We’ve been working without a contract since the beginning of August, and there is a good chance that we will be going out on strike sooner rather than later. I don’t really like the job, and I really wish there was an alternative available that would provide for my family and not leave me waking up in the morning with bleak, fading hopes that things will turn around.

We are moving into fall and winter. Hopefully the anti-depressants and vitamin D supplements will stave off the worst of the winter doldrums.

I love my family so much. I can’t help feeling like I am letting them down, that I’m not strong enough, or good enough to deserve them. I’m scrabbling hard to keep us from sliding downhill too quickly, but I am having a hard time seeing any kind of positive direction at the moment.

I don’t know. I really don’t.

Hell, this whole post feels like some adolescent call for attention, a self-indulgent whine in the dark that things are hard, and I want them to be easier.

Some things never leave you. I can’t shake the feeling of that inadequate teenage dork who doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing, and is terrified of being found out as a fraud and banished to the outer darkness. But that was half a lifetime ago — I’m pushing 40.

Seriously, does anybody ever really figure it out? Intellectually I understand that on some level, nearly everyone is stumbling blindly in the dark, doing the best they can to keep their heads above water. But why does it have to be that way? The universe is a vast, dark, unfeeling place when it comes to the greater scheme of humanity, but why does our own balance seem so askew? I think that the cosmos has whatever meaning we give it, and right now there are so many of us on this speck of dust that know something is off, some sense of justice or decency or empathy that just seems to be lacking…

Is this a cultural thing? I don’t think so, as there certainly seems to be enough of this sentiment going around in the world at large — though American cultural dominance makes it hard to tell how much is universal and how much is exported.

I believe in the inherent nobility and decency of the human spirit. It is just very hard to see at times.

Fuck if I know. Another sunrise tomorrow, and another one after that. Keep moving forward, and try to bring a little bit of light and decency to the world.

A few things to muse on today.

First of all, the Red Sox won the World Series in four games. It seemed somehow anti-climactic, to be honest. After that amazing series with the Yankees… I somehow expected more drama. The Sox were so dominant, though (at least in games 2, 3, and 4)…

I called my dad during the fifth inning of game 4… and we watched the end of the game together. Okay, he watched the game and I watched the play-by-play update on ESPN.com (we don’t have Fox through Dish Network). Still, it was a nice “together moment.”

I will be really happy when the election is over with. This year, especially, the rhetoric and whatnot is disappointing and upsetting. There is so much anger out there… emotions are running high, and there is an even greater lack of rational thought…

Frankly, I hate it. This election — any election, really — should be approached with care and thought. This election, on the other hand, seems really driven by a desire to “punish” President Bush — it doesn’t matter who we put in, so long as we put him out.

That’s just wrong.

As I’ve said before, I’m not convinced that re-electing Bush is the best course of action. But senselessly voting aginst him because of a feeling that he stole the 2000 election (which he didn’t), is to disrespect the process.

Indecision 2004

I saw the second presidential debate the other night, and it really solidified a few things in my mind. First of all, I really feel cut off from the political process — I don’t feel that either major party represents my interests at all.

Traditionally, I’ve voted Republican. Despite my agreement with some of the socially progressive ideas of the Democratic party, I feel that the fiscal responsibility traditionally championed by the Republicans was more important. I don’t care how good an idea is, if you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. I also tend to favor the “smaller government” idea — I think that people are capable of running their own lives, and the government should stay out of that as much as possible.

However, the current administration has showcased the worst excesses of the Republican party (at least, in my opinion), and I don’t feel comfortable voting for them again. Kerry, on the other hand, I am familair with as a long-time Massachusetts resident (18 years). I don’t trust him, and I don’t trust his politics. Despite all the talk that’s been going around the last couple of weeks, I have yet to hear any real plan that will effect the changes he’s talking about.

So, for the first time ever in my political career, I am adrift. A man without a party (though, based on what I’ve heard from other people, hardly the only one). I’ll try and watch the last debate (this coming Wednesday), but I’m really expecting more of the same.

I’m not sure yet, but I’m pretty sure that I will vote for a third party candidate (to increase the percentage of the vote they receive — in Maine it helps ensure they’re on the ballot next time around).

There really needs to be some kind of change in the political dynamic in this country. It seems a shame that my generation seems to not care enough to get involved.

Well, a little under a month and it will be over (for this cycle, anyhow). I don’t care who you vote for, but I urge you to get out and vote. Get involved in the process, learn what you can about the candidates (locally and nationally), and make a choice.

Still plugging away…

Once again, there are no significant updates to the material on the website, but once again, there is a reason for that — and it doesn’t mean I’ve been slacking off!

First of all, at my “day job” we’ve spent the last couple of weeks training for the new contract we’re servicing. The training was kind of easy, because 90% of the stuff they were teaching us we already knew… but the training ran from 7am to 3pm. Since I’ve been working 2pm to 10pm the last three years (or so) my whole schedule was thrown out of whack.

It can be tough to update a website when you’re desperately needing sleep.

I’ve been continuing my work on the Workings of Magic chapter for the Earthdawn Classic Player’s Compendium. I’ve been in semi-regular contact with James Flowers (current line developer) and Lou Prosperi (former line developer) to make sure that everything is up to snuff. It’s fun, but it’s a lot of work.

Hopefully, we’ll be playing Earthdawn tonight… but at this particular moment whether we will or not remains to be seen… the lovely wife was put through the paces in her first week back at school, and may choose to sit out and get some homework done instead of gaming. She also has an 8am class, so it’s likely to be an early night.

Which is cool — your real life should take priority over fantasy life. It’s good to relax and blow off steam with an RPG, but when your real life suffers… you should take a step back and examine why you feel the need to shirk your responsibilities.

That about does it for now. See you ’round the net!