An Old Clay Jar

There is an old jar of clay that, for various reason throughout the years, has come to be mostly filled with toxins. It wasn’t always so – the jar was originally meant to contain good and wholesome things. But bitter things got mixed in, and they gradually grew and mingled with and eventually overwhelmed the wholesome things.

For awhile, the jar was able to contain the poisonous soup swirling around inside it. It kept its lid on. It refrained from shaking itself, making sure it never spilled or sloshed its contents. On the outside it was able to appear as a nice, sturdy, well-made jar of clay. But eventually the jar became full enough that the poison inside began to push harder and harder against the lid of the jar. So the jar allowed its lid to come off, hoping to release the pressure and hoping that perhaps someone would know how to safely scoop out the poisons or render them harmless. But things went wrong. The jar didn’t know how to handle its poison safely, so it mostly let it spill and slosh out. The poison kept sloshing around over the top of the jar, getting on things, harming them. Spreading its toxicity around. Others had lots of ideas about how the jar could empty itself of poison, but they didn’t seem to work. So eventually the jar tried the only thing it knew to try – it shoved its lid back on as tightly as possible and it tried to keep still and quiet and contained.

But eventually the poison started causing cracks in the jar, and the poison would slip out of the cracks and spill all over things yet again. So the jar tried to repair itself by patching the cracks as they appeared. Sometimes it would work for awhile but the pressure kept thwarting all the jar’s efforts to contain itself. And soon enough, the jar was no longer able to appear nice and sturdy on the outside because that takes effort, and every bit of energy the jar had was being used to hold itself together and try not to spill its poisons on others.

Soon enough, others began to look at the jar and comment on its state of being. Some would say, “there’s a brittle, cracked, and unstable jar, and it looks like it’s full of poison. We should stay away from it.” Others said, “yeah, i used to think it was a pretty nice jar, but now it’s all cracked and leaky and I’m not hanging around to watch it finally shatter.” A couple of others remarked, “if only the jar would let God fix it, everything would be hunky-dory.” And some people even said, “that jar’s not really nearly as cracked and leaky as it wants us to think it is. It just needs to buck up and hold itself together like it used to. But it wants attention, so it’s going around trying to get us all to feel sorry for it.”

And yet here is the jar. And the jar has been around long enough, and tried enough repairs, and listened to enough advice – to know that the poison, and the pressure, and the cracks, and the brittleness, and the fear of shattering and spilling its toxins all over everything is real enough. Or at least it feels real enough to the jar.

The jar doesn’t want to shatter. The jar doesn’t want to be filled with poison, and it sure as hell doesn’t want to spill its poisons all over others. But the jar doesn’t know how to heal, it only knows how to patch.

I’m getting low on patches.

Sunday Mickery: Guts Over Fear

Content Advisory: A couple of F-bombs visible to the naked eye, plus some ideas that might not sit well with asshats who are trying to keep other people down.

For the past few days I’ve been mulling over lots of navel-gazey stuff and during some down-time I made this image. Once again, Eminem reaches out and grabs me.

all these words are Eminem's, and no infringement on rights is intended.

All these words are copyright Eminem, Sia Furler, et al. No infringement on rights is intended.

No Longer Riding on the Merry-Go-Rou-Hound

lennon-wheels

I really love to watch ’em roll

Yesterday I read something where an interviewer asked Yoko Ono what she thought John Lennon would make of social media if he were still alive today. She said, if I recall, that he’d probably like using it, because he used to write letters to air his opinions on things, and that’s a lot of what happens on social media.

Then, earlier today Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels” played on my playlist, and it reminded me that, although he was still making music and being a fairly vocal activist in his final years, for the most part he’d gotten off the merry-go-round of Big Music and Pop/Rock Stardom and all that stuff. And he was pretty much cool with it.

The mental mashup of those two ideas has been sitting with me a lot today, and then on top of that I’ve spent lunchtime reading some recent tabletop rpg stuff I’ve gotten my hands on, and I also listened to a podcast awhile ago while I worked, all the while checking on Facebook and G+ every so often to see if anything interesting was going on, and – to be totally honest – checking to see if people had commented on things I’ve recently shared or posted.

I have a small but reliable handful of folks who usually engage with me on G+, and a different but equally small handful of folks who will engage with me on Facebook. Generally, written responses don’t come my way outside those small – and cherished – handfuls of friends. Sometimes there’s a voice in my head that tempts me to be sad or whiny about that. But when I really think about it, I’m pretty happy with where I am – close enough to the merry-go-round to observe and comment upon its whirly-twirly spinning, but not actually riding on it. And not TRYING to get back on, either.

I was on it for a while, in my small way, as a podcaster and as a wannabe-game-designer. I made some noise, I had some fun, I expressed myself to varying degrees of success, and got exposed to a whole bunch of new ideas, concepts, perspectives, and people. I was privileged and lucky. Most of the people were awesome and I still cherish them. Many of the ideas and perspectives were eye-opening and life-expanding. And many of the game-concepts opened up a whole new way of playing that I now value so much that I can’t imagine life as a tabletop roleplayer without them. Meanwhile, there were very few downsides. I said plenty of stupid things, not to mention some inadvertent and ignorantly sexist things, participated in cultural appropriation and stereotyping, and other stuff that I now wish I could have unsaid and unwrote. But very few people ever called me out on my crap, and when they did, it was almost always with patience and integrity. I only ever got involved in one fairly significant shitstorm as a podcaster, and only one other separate incident as a wannabe-game-designer.

Each of those shitstorm incidents came just before I got off of the merry-go-round, but I can’t say that either of them “drove” me to step off. More than anything else, the tangled web of my mental health and a stint in partial-hospitalization that grew out of that web was what prompted my exit from the whirling wheel of rpg-podcaster-indie-designer-microfame.

A few years have passed, I’m better, I’m stronger, I’m wiser, I think. But even though I admit that the bug still buzzes around my ears, and I still think about both podcasting and finishing my game design ideas all the time, the bottom line is, I doubt I’ll EVER be strong enough to jump back on the merry-go-round. If I did, I’m pretty sure I’d quit again, the moment someone pointed out I’d made a mistake and said, wrote, or did something problematic. And I would. I’m a straight, mostly-cis White dude in North America. Of course I’m going to write, or say, or do something problematic.

So yeah, among many other lesser reasons and lame excuses for not jumping back in and sharing my full potential – and I DO believe I have the ability and potential – I’m pretty much scared of screwing up – not on the idea or talent front, but on the problematic accidentally offensive socially progressive front.

So, here I stay. Watching the wheels, using social media to occasionally toss out a witty bon-mot or rant, or, on my better days, giving big, loud shouts of support and thumbs-ups to the folks on the merry-go-round who do stuff that I think is cool, or brave, or meaningful.

But I doubt I’ll ever step back on. I’m don’t think I’ve got the guts.

I Am Now a Star Wars Fan!

my-heroes-swtfaOkay, now I’ve seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And I can say this much – other than one thing that irked me so much I’ll have to revise it in my head-canon, I have *never* been a bigger fan of the Stars Wars universe than I am now.

I loved it. I love Rey. I love Finn. I’m in.

Assumptions and That Ass-Making Thing

You know that old saw that says, “If you assume you make an ass out of you and me” right? Tired and lame as that saying may be, it still tends to ring true.

I get caught up in my own assumptions and biases all the time. And I’m often guilty of letting those assumptions become self-fulfilling prophecies. This is never more true than when I’m making choices about what roleplaying games I want to play, and which people I want to play them with.

If you’ve been listening to my squawking recently you’re probably aware that I’m trying to commit myself to the idea of becoming a better, more welcoming, more collaborative player. I want to encourage a wider diversity of humans to come to the table to play, I want to help make them feel welcome and safe when they get there, and I want to help them express and enjoy themselves freely once the game has begun. It’s pretty much Decent Human Being 101, but in our current play cultures, basic human decency often gets trumped by lesser considerations.

For most of us hetero white males, those lesser considerations usually involve a set of assumptions and biases born from Privilege and from the traditional view of “Gamer Culture*” cherished by so many.

So in order to grow toward my goals as a player and decent human being, I need to check my assumptions.

Here’s the thing I’m discovering, though – my assumptions seem to follow a different pattern than the Stereotypical Gamer Dude. My assumptions, in fact, are mostly directed at the Stereotypical Gamer Dude.

When I am seeking a group to play with, I want at least one woman in the group. Ideally, there will also be someone who’s skin tone and/or cultural heritage are not like mine. If one or both of these things are not true, then I assume that I’m not going to have as much fun at that table as I want. Now to be clear, I don’t think my desire to have diversity at my table is the problem. But to assume that things are going to be boring and typical just because it’s a table full of white guys? Yeah, that’s a problem.

This situation was driven home for me at GenCon a few weeks ago. During one of the Games on Demand slots on Saturday, my new pal Derrick Kapchinsky and I were hoping to get into a Monsterhearts session that Jeromy Hastings was running. Jeromy’s table filled up before our boarding passes were called, but eventually we got into a Monsterhearts game in the overflow room that Trevis Martin was going to run.

And here’s how it went:

So I’m sitting there with Derrick and Trevis and yeah, all three of us are white males. I’m talking about how it is my first-ever game of Monsterhearts, even though I’d played many sessions of other games that used the Apocalypse World engine. We’re chatting about AW, and playing out high-school angsty relationship stuff, when they walk in – two dudes. And in this case I mean Dudes, in that I immediately profile them as typical Dudebros. Two young white geeky-looking guys with most of the stereotypical trappings. They sit at our table, say “hi” in that sort of way that geeky convention-going guys say when they don’t know each other, and then one of them places his large print of a painting of Danaerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones on the empty seat next to him, which happens to be the seat directly opposite me. So I’ve got two young greasy dudes with con-funk sitting next to me and a large painting of the sexified nubile face of the Mother of Dragons staring right at me for the whole session.

And I am making ALL KINDS of assumptions.

Then Trevis asks the guys if they’ve ever played Monsterhearts or any other *World game before, and no, they haven’t. They play D&D, Warhammer, Pathfinder. They’d heard of Dungeon World but never played it, but they wanted to play something and so they chose Monsterhearts because it was available.

And I’m sitting there making A WHOLE SHITLOAD of assumptions.

Trevis, to his credit, explains the themes and basic conceit of Monsterhearts to them, like you’ve gotta do with anyone who doesn’t know what they might be in for, and he asks if they’re cool with that kind of thing. Yep. They’re willing to try it.

Then Trevis explains the X-card concept, and they’re nodding and everything seems fine and dandy, except I’m staring down at the table trying to avoid the languishing gaze of the Danaerys painting and I’m TOTALLY MAKING ASSUMPTIONS.

Next, we’re getting an overview of the scenario Trevis will be facilitating, which is a special thing that Monsterhearts author Avery McDaldno has written for one-shots and conventions. Derrick chooses his character, and there are three left to dole out between me and the two dudes. The three characters are two girls and a guy. I hold back because I’m ASSUMING that those guys probably don’t want to play girl characters, even though one of them will have to, but I want to let them make their choices and then I’ll take the one that remains.

They each choose a girl character.

And of course, I’m sitting there … yeah. ASSUMPTIONS.

Because yeah, two greasy D&D dudes who, by appearances, are barely out of high school themselves, are TOTALLY going to be able to play high-school girls with a sense of authenticity and without pulling out all the shitty stereotypes that most such guys I’d played with often used when playing female characters. Yeah, right.

To be honest, it’s fair to suggest that if I was thinking all this stuff at that point, I should have excused myself from the game. But I wanted to play with Derrick. I wanted to try Monsterhearts. I didn’t want to be a dick, even though I was already being one in my head.

So I stuck around, tried to shut my inner-assumer up, and played.

And my assumptions and I got totally schooled.

The two dudes not only took well to the Monsterhearts rules and the overall thematics, they ended up doing a totally fine job playing female characters with honesty and sincerity. In fact, I’ve got to admit that they both did a much better job authentically playing their characters than the knuckleheaded 40-something who was sitting in my chair did at playing a high-school aged boy. I haven’t felt so personally disconnected from a character in a long time. I couldn’t get a handle on the guy without resorting to my own worn-out stereotypes of what a punk-loner 16-year-old witch who watched his mom eat the mailman for breakfast would act like.

That wasn’t the system, it wasn’t Trevis’ facilitating, it wasn’t the other players. It wasn’t even the painting of Dany. None of that got in my way or hindered my experience. I hindered my own experience. Me and my damn assumptions.

So, although I’ve no doubt that I’ve got a lot of growing to do in the area of being more welcoming and collaborative in playing with women and people of color, it turns out that I’ve ALSO got to get my assumptions and biases in check when it comes to guys who I identify as potential Dudebros, too. My “Mister Enlightened Progressive Story-Player” persona needs to chill the hell out and do some growing, too.

——-

* a term that needs to die. And, if recent events are a good indicator, it IS dying. But not before it screams, yells, wails, and lashes out at everything around it, apparently.

Not Today, My Friend. Not Today

A Monkey's HarpSeveral things have been swimming in my brain for the past few days — My plans and hopes for becoming actively involved in justice/equality/human rights issues. My plans for creating and sharing ideas for growing as a tabletop roleplayer. My reborn itch to run/facilitate games again, and my desire to work on and finish some of the half-baked designs I’ve left lying dormant for years.

Of course a lot of this energy has been fueled by my time at GenCon, which has fueled bursts of similar energies in the past. This time it also has a lot to do with a wakeup call regarding P.G. Holyfield, a brilliant, creative, wonderful human who supported and participated in the Harping Monkey podcasts and website who now is dying of some fucked-up form of cancer that only showed itself after it was far too late.

So yes, I’m energized. My creativity and determination is on the upswing.

Problem is, I’ve been here before. Many, many times. And in almost every case, sooner or later, my own chronic disease, Depression, rears up and drags me down into inactivity, lethargy, and self-doubt. And I quit moving forward. I stop before I’m even really started. I break promises, I turtle up, I go dark.

The subtle, snickering voice that reminds me of my history, of my habit of giving up – it’s been there this past few days, too, waiting around the edges reminding me that the last twenty times I said I was going to get up and do something useful or meaningful or creative, it always went sour.

Here’s a thing, though. Something else happened recently that shook me more than I ever imagined it would. Robin Williams, one of the most brilliant, creative, energetic people in the history of ever, hung himself. His depression got him in the end. His disease reared up one too many times and killed him. And on the one hand, I think it shook me because some voice inside me said, “See, dude, there you go. Depression is an incurable terminal illness. Even someone like Robin Williams couldn’t fight it when all was said and done.”

Well.

You know, I suppose I could try to write something more hopeful and shiny at this point. I could say to myself and to you, “Hey, Bullshit! I’m not going to listen to that voice. My disease is NOT terminal! I’m gonna beat this thing, and all of us who are stricken with it, we can beat this thing! RAWR!”

But that would be very, very dishonest of me.

Because here, now, in this present darkness, I really don’t know. I just don’t.

On the other hand, there is at least one hopeful takeaway for me – and perhaps for many of you – thanks to Robin Williams. 

Because yes, the disease eventually beat him. It did. We can’t sugarcoat that and we sure can’t deny it. But oh, dear gods the stuff he accomplished BEFORE the end. The lives he touched and the difference he made, not just as an actor/comedian/celebrity but as a humanitarian. He fought depression all his life, and every single day, until the last one, he held it at bay. Maybe it’s fair to say that even though the disease ultimately beat him, it really only beat him once. The rest of the time, he pretty much kicked it right in the teeth.

I guess my point is, whatever happens in the end, whether Depression gets me or not, whether it gets you or not, I can still – WE can still – fight the damn thing every day, beat it back and not let it bury our creativity, our human uniqueness, our will to be meaningful, our truth. 

True Grit?

Angela Lee DuckworthLeah chose this video last night for our family tv-time and while we watched it, I must say, I wanted to rail against it big-time, a feeling that increased as the talk went on. As I pondered it afterward though, I realized I wasn’t pissed off because I thought Dr. Duckworth is wrong, but because I’m forced to admit that – at least in terms of how success is measure in mainstream education and society – she is right.

The thing that she calls “grit” (I’m not fond of that word, honestly, but whatever) is something that I lack in abundance – at least in terms of the success rubric being covered in this talk. So this is a particularly touchy subject for me.

I’ve grown up telling myself that the ease with which I tend to give up on things is mostly a product of two big childhood factors: One, how easy school was for me in general, to the point that I was rarely challenged to try very hard and thus never learned how – and Two, how difficult my home life was, where I was taught to equate “grit” with violence and bitter rage, to the point that I tried to excise any hint of “toughness” from my personality so that I would not grow up to be the violent hair-trigger ball of anger that was my father. Somewhere along the line, those two factors added up to me having lots of trouble mustering the kinds of stick-to-it behaviors that mainstream society puts under the umbrella of “work ethic”. That is apparently what Dr. Duckworth is calling “grit”.

Since I’ve grown up and encountered various types of therapies, I’ve learned to adjust my thinking and cope with this stuff a bit.  And I’m still working on it, because I realize it is incorrect to assume that every time things get really tough or challenging or tense that my only two choices are to lash out violently or totally turtle up and make myself as small as possible. I don’t need to take the concept of fight-or-flight to its dramatic extremes and then always choose flight.

Anyhow, here’s the video that got me musing all this stuff today. What do you think? Is “grit” the right answer to the question of success in school and in life? Is the prevailing rubric of “success” even the right question in the first place?

 

Direct link to this video on TED channel

Embers of Imbolc

Monkey Goddess FoolI’m sitting here tonight learning how to make chain-maille jewelry, I’ve got a new leather mask drying in the other room, I’ve made several other nifty things this past week that’ll go up on my Etsy store soon, I’m thinking all kinds of thoughts about fools and vagabonds and how I’m not inclined to let those parts of me die, and it’s the evening of my favorite holiday. Here’s to Brighid’s fire that keeps burning within me even if it is sometimes only an ember.

In defiance of this often dark and bitter winter, may you be warmed by the fire of creativity, nurtured by the spirit of your muse, and strong in your passion to protect those things that matter to you most.

Meta Navel Gazing: Why I Post My Whiny Bits

Oops

My efforts to start blogging again have contained a lot of navel-gazing – Hell, I’ve even got a whole category called “Navel Gazing” because I know myself well enough to realize that if I keep up with the writing there’s going to be more than a fair share of it involving my whiny postmodern introspective TMI stuff in the mix.

So, in an effort to rationalize my proclivities, I figured I’d try to suss out why I do it. So here’s a post where my navel explains itself. It’s like META navel gazing!

The easy and obvious reason is that I want the attention, that I want you to feel for me. I suppose there’s some truth in that, if I’m honest. But then again, if you’re honest about whatever things you share with others in your life, that’s likely to be true about you, too. Which is part of the thing I’m leading up to.

See, I’m hoping that the bigger reason that I do this is that I’m human, and I want to be MORE human, and I want to think that there are other humans out there who might get some ray of hope (ironically), or at least connection – out of reading my whiny bits.

I actually tend to enjoy it when others share their messiness and insecurities, especially in well-written prose. If I didn’t like reading it, I doubt I’d have any tendency to write it. When all else is stripped away, it’s all about stories – about connecting to the messy beauty of humanity through the sharing of our stories. It’s about being reminded that I’m not – that none of us are – as alone or as fucked up as we feel when our armor and security blankets are set aside.

So, if I keep writing, I’m very likely to keep writing about my shit. The thing I hope to do, though, is to get better at writing it so that it comes across as slightly more elegant in its messy honesty and thus becomes more accessible. That comes with practice, trial-and-error, and taking cues from those who are already doing a bang-up job of it.

One of the Smart People I like to read regularly is J.R. Daniel Kirk, a professor at Fuller Seminary who’s blog, Storied Theology, takes a good long look at Story and Narrative in all their messiness as the essential means of our connecting with one another and with the Divine. Recently, he wrote a post called Story Telling & Crisis, and the bit I’ve quoted below is spot on, in my thinking:

We realize that our own stories are not stories of confidence and glory but rather of fumbling and shame and wounds all mixed up with moments of hope and beauty. But somehow we encounter other people and assume that their lives are the public moments of being put-together and beautiful that we happen to encounter–creating a content for the label “normal” that applies to no actual person that we have ever known with any depth.

Reframing normal. That’s what storytelling is about. It provides the rich, comforting revelation that my crap is, in fact, normal, and that there are fellow travelers through the mire. And, hope for moments of rest and peace and beauty.

via Story Telling & Crisis | Daniel Kirk

So that’s my hope. That through these acts of navel-gazery I’ll be jumping into the mire and helping other humans in the subversive act of reframing normal. And instead of waiting until I think I’m fairly good at it, I’m just going to open my overcoat and you can watch – or choose not to – while I practice getting better at talking about it.

Maybe you can think about doing it, too. I’d love to see what’s under your overcoat, and I don’t need it to be Photoshopped or censored or anything that will obscure the honest you from being visible. We are beautiful in our ugliness. We are godlike in our humanness. We are elegant in our messiness. And we are are wonderfully flawed and normal in our realness.

I’m showing you my navel. My paunchy, more-flabby-than-I-want-it-to-be real human navel. Now you show me yours.