Taking time to bask in joy

I’ve been trying to spend more of my time on things that are meaningful to me, and it’s been working pretty great! But I’ve realized that I need to take some time and not just jump to the next thing. Part of what makes thing fulfilling is that sensation of being full.

I have a tendency to want to be productive and so I need to schedule in enough time to enjoy what I do and take pride in what I accomplish. And journaling is a great way of processing some of this stuff.

Friday morning I had coffee with a friend, and we got to know each other a lot better. We were really vulnerable with each other in ways that men often aren’t, and we really shared some love. I feel really great about that!

This morning I spent several hours creating a prop for the role-playing game I’m running. It was super nerdy and awesome. I wanted to simulate the experience of using a dial-up BBS in 1984, and I ended up running a Commodore 64 emulator on a computer and then using VNC on a Raspberry Pi to display that on an old CRT TV. I wrote a quick-and-dirty BASIC program on the C64. It brought back memories of dialing up the Dayton Freenet on our 300 baud modem and writing programs on the old Commodore back in the day. Remember when the mouse didn’t exist? Remember back when something scrolled off the top of the screen it was gone for good? Amazing. I can’t wait to hand it to my players.

Also, I’ve been volunteering at Marvelous Math Club and it’s a really warm and loving family. It’s not simple or easy. There’s discomfort and vulnerability. But there’s also community and support and mutuality.

After some time of feeling unsure of how to keep growing as a person, I feel good about where I’m going, things I’m trying, and what I’m looking forward to. And I’m starting to take the time to really appreciate that yumminess, too.

Got away for the weekend

So, end of 2019 I was coming apart a little. Lots of little things that I wasn’t being resilient about, and the big thing of empty nesting and figuring out what the next big thing is.

Starting therapy helped me figure out how to organize my thoughts around all this stress, and gave me some exercises to practice that have helped me immensely.

And this weekend, Elizabeth and I went up to Hobbyknob Farm, stayed in a cabin, relaxed, and made plans and goals. Now I feel like 2020 is going to be a really good year (with, of course, the wild card of the election thrown in there).

I’m actually pretty happy with most of what I’m already doing. There are some new things I’m going to try, and some new attitudes I’m going to take about the stuff I’m already involved in. But those kinds of small adjustments can make the difference between feeling like you’re running your life and feeling like your life is running you.

Digital clocks are harder than you think

Almost 10 years ago, Art and I took on an electronics project. We built a digital clock (okay, it was mostly Art; I helped with getting the wiring in the right places, but the design was all him). It seemed to me like a lot of chips for such an everyday thing. But I just ran across this post about the Soyuz digital clock and compared to that, this design seems very efficient!

Fist of Besilmer

So, now that everybody has their patch, I can post about this! Art had learned to play D&D at an afterschool program in middle school in the spring of 2015, and he’d been keeping up at our local game shop, the Wyvern’s Tale, over the summer.

I was excited when he invited me to come, because it was an activity we could do together, but also because it was something I really enjoyed as a kid. My friend Rob Shroyer’s older brother was into the game, and I guess he taught us to play in 1979, because that was the Christmas I got the Basic Set (in the box with chits instead of dice because TSR couldn’t source enough dice for the holiday season). I played whenever I could harangue people into playing (I was almost always the DM). In 5th or 6th grade I got Sean Osner into the game, and in 7th and 8th grade Rob and Shane Ander and Jason Smith and I played a ton. In high school I would get Shane and my brother Michael and his friend Chris and I don’t remember who else to play, and I DMed some for my brother Doug and his friends.

When I went off to college I decided I was going to be a more Serious Person and be less of a nerd. But I’ve found out over the years that a lot of my friends were also closet-D&D players. What a waste!

Anyway, Art & I played the introductory chapters to Out of the Abyss in the fall of 2015. Fifth Edition D&D was a revelation for me. It felt like the old game I remembered, but with improved mechanics. The rules were much simplified, without endless tables to look up. Characters were created more carefully, with backstories and interesting abilities (and most of all, without the likelihood that they will die before reaching 2nd level–AD&D 1e was a brutal, deadly game at low levels!).

Then in January 2016, my friend Ian Gould started running Princes of the Apocalypse every Wednesday night at Wyvern’s. I played a dwarf wizard named Khagnarr Deepfire. Art started at a different table, but soon joined us. A kid Art’s age named Will played another wizard named Fumblemore (who we’d played with in Out of the Abyss). Ian really hooked me early on by giving my character a book about a lost Dwarven civilization that was supposed to be located in the vicintiy.

Because it was an open table, we had lots of different players week to week. Sometimes one of the other DMs (like Jason or Reuben) would play. Sometimes a regular named Andrew was there, sometimes with his adult daughter Becca. Sometimes friends of Ian would sit in. But I tried to be a constant presence and give the adventure some shape and continuity. There were enough people trying to show up regularly that the table was always full.

But in May, Ian had to go back to Chicago to finish his doctoral work. The campaign felt like it had barely started (when you only have 2 1/2 hours a week, and not always the same characters, progress is slow). I volunteered to take over as DM, because I wanted to discover the secrets of this buried Dwarven realm; I wanted to keep playing. Ian gave me great advice: figure out what is fun for each individual player, and make sure to give that to them.

I was really rusty, having not been a Dungeon Master in 25 years or more. The first week was a bit of a disaster, really. But I quickly got better. One of the new regulars, Michael, was a rules prodigy who helped keep the table running smoothly. Plus, his character was a dwarf, so I was able to pass along the plot thread of discovering the ancient dwarven kingdom of Besilmer.

Summer of 2016 brought some new regulars: Ivan, a really creative player from Venezuela, and Alan and Jo, a father-daughter team who were brand new to D&D. And then one of our regular players, Mark, stopped showing up. Turns out he took a bunch of pills, held his family hostage with a gun, and overdosed. He’d seemed like a normal guy. I turned his character into a backstabbing villain.

With the coming of fall, our table was always full, and we had so many regulars that it became a problem when new people came wanting to take slots of regular players. Preston was the last player to become a regular. After that, we talked it over and decided to stop playing Adventures League and become a closed, private game. Me (as DM), Art, Will, Andrew, Becca, Jason, Michael, Ivan, Alan, Jo, and Preston. Not everyone made it every week. At this point, I think Becca was mostly in Savannah. Will would go through spells of regularity or not. After the Mark incident, we all felt the need to get to know each other better in real life, and we made a real intention of being friendly and supportive toward each other.

Right at this turning point, the party decided to leave the adventure and go visit the city of Waterdeep for supplies. I had to admit their plan made sense, but it was way outside the scope of the reference materials I had. So I did a lot of quick studying about Waterdeep and a bunch of related stuff. And I figured out how to make stuff up and follow my players’ interests and priorities. I started seeing into the future, how different plot lines could connect. And I started to have SO MUCH FUN.

As an aside, I have always been the sort of person who makes up stories in my head constantly. People, places, plots … I’m just always daydreaming them. For a long time I thought that meant I ought to be a writer. Like the old saw “you know you’re a writer if you HAVE to write.” But I never liked the solitude of writing, and I never had much desire for the selling of writing, especially after having seen how the sausage gets made. But role playing games are PERFECT for what my brain just naturally loves to do. I can’t believe I went so many years not understanding that and eschewing the very thing that practically harnesses my daydreams.

It was in Waterdeep that I named the party “the Fist of Besilmer.” Since then we’ve created 2 more parties of characters in a web of interconnected campaigns. We’ve kept playing every week for four years, with no end in sight. Ivan moved to Florida, Art moved to Durham (and now Raleigh), and Jo will be off to Vermont this fall. But Becca and Will are back as regulars. We don’t see much of Michael these days, but I hope his schedule will allow him to rejoin us eventually.

I had these patches made to give all the party members. Jason designed a coat of arms for Besilmer years ago. He said: The script reads, in Dethek: “ULLEN BURAKIN AR XOTH UNDIVVER” which roughly translates to “walk the passageway from lore to the future”. The colors of the bridge are Purple and Gold (justice/sovereignty and good will/generosity) while the shield is Red (military might) and Blue (strength and loyalty).

I could go on and on about my D&D campaigns, but they are more exciting to me and my comrades than to anyone else, because we lived through them. We created those cinema-perfect moments. We walked the passageway from lore to the future. And the real treasure we found was the friends we made along the way.

D&D&S

I’m DMing a Spelljammer campaign converted to 5e. After half a year playing the party finally has a decent ship and are taking on their first jobs as a delivery service.

Which is delivering 5 tons of shrimp cocktail to a casino asteroid. The halfling mafia boss on Rock of Bral hired them to do this job and provided a mage to cast Cone of Cold on the shrimp periodically during the 4 day journey. Along the way they only got a little distracted rescuing a survivor from a beholder attack and exchanging news with a salvage ship.

When they got to the casino asteroid, they found it was all decked out for “Shrimpfest.” The famous bard, James Buffay and his fans, the Shrimpheads were all lined up for all-you-can-eat shrimp. Hundreds of ships were parked everywhere, just crowds of people drooling for shrimp. But the halfling owner of the casino refused delivery. “My FUCKING cousin stole my magic ring and I don’t want his FUCKING SHRIMP!” was the direct quote. (There’s a bunch of backstory with the party having semi-colluded with the mafia boss’s friend who was escaping from this same casino leading up to a whole earlier shipboard murder mystery that we played through twice due to time travel.)

They couldn’t get the casino owner to sign for the shrimp (though he gave them a letter to deliver to his cousin) and he warned them against trying to sell the shrimp at shrimpfest, but the halfling mage had disappeared, and they did not like the prospect of hauling around 5 tons of spoiled shrimp.

So they loaded it all up into the shipboard catapult and launched free shrimp over everyone until it was all gone. BEST SHRIMPFEST EVER. It was an epic ending to the session, and one of my players commented “That is the most shrimp-centric session of D&D I have ever played.”

Schell Stereo Cabinet update

The Sony stereo receiver is conking out. The right channel is going all mucky. It’s 15 years old or so, so I guess it’s no surprise. Before I order a $150 unit off Amazon that I can’t really afford right now, maybe I’ll hit Goodwill and a pawn shop or two. Stereo units are hard to find in this brave new world of 2.1 and 5.2 and 7.2 and all kinds of surround sound. Two channels are enough for me, with A and B speakers for two rooms (I drilled holes through the wall and replaced the molding to put the wires in, I don’t give up easy!).

Waiting for Peri

Much as I have enjoyed the new Steven Universe Future and its rejection of the “happily ever after” narrative, I have mourned the lack of Peridot, my favorite Crystal Gem. Okay, not just my favorite, but the one I most identify with. If you take the Diamond Authority as a stand-in for patriarchy and its various follow-on oppressions, Peridot is the character we most see travel the arc from privileged enforcer to woke revolutionary. That’s where I want to get to.

One of the things I admire about Peri is her willingness to stay in the background. She can rise to leadership when called upon, though she is comically bad at it (she is no “the Garnet”). Mostly she stays out of the picture, growing her garden and supporting Lapis, but she’s always ready to step in when her skills are needed.

Of course, I can’t be a side character in my own life story, but I do think as a straight white cis man who is a home- and business-owner I have to work to not take up too much space, to find more background and support roles and let other people take leadership positions that have traditionally been reserved for people like me. It’s funny to see a goofy green cartoon as a role model, but there we are.

So while I wish Shelby Rabara were getting more screen time, I totally understand why she isn’t. Meanwhile it makes no sense that Connie is getting similarly sidelined, except that it probably points to something big yet to come. We don’t know how many episodes this “limited series” will have, but it’s not over yet.

Ununited Methodist Church

I was a Methodist from 1996-2006 or so. Back before any of the mainline denominations were really officially ordaining or marrying LGBTQ folx. We worked to try to change that, but conservatives poured a lot of money into changing the UMC from a social gospel church into something more authority-driven. Between those changes and generally having less and less interest in a literal god or constant re-interpretations of stories from thousands of years ago, we eventually left the denomination.

It was sad to see so many other denominations modernize and adapt and see the UMC stuck in a morass of bigotry. I know people who have stayed in that denomination, and I find it hard to understand why, just as I’ve always found it impossible to understand why a feminist would stay Catholic. Religion doesn’t exactly promote consistency, I guess.

Now it seems there is finally a plan to split. I am pleased that it is the bigots who have to walk away. It’s indicative of the change in our culture that theirs is the minority position overall. Of course, mainline Protesant denominations are bleeding membership anyway; whatever message they are conveying is not bringing new people to the pews.

Institutions tend to grind down individuals. That’s just the nature of large groups, I don’t think there’s a structural way around it. So maybe our religious tendencies should not be played out primarily in institutional settings. Jesus certainly never intended to set up an institution, and his teachings pretty well contradict any kind of institutional authority. But I guess we’ve learned precious little over the last two thousand years. Good thing Jesus isn’t really coming back or he’d be mighty disappointed. I think we’d all be going with the goats, considering his fabled bad temper.

Free to Be…

Elizabeth grew up with this record as a little girl. I never heard it till I was in high school–I think it was Suzanne who spearheaded its resurgence. I listened to it a lot as a teenager, and for a teenage to listen to a dumb kids’ album, it must have been revelatory. Gender roles were so pervasive growing up, and so corrupting to the soul. This album was such a weapon in the battle against patriarchy, conscripting children into the fight, using humor and logic and emotion and story and song.

Of course, it’s terribly dated now because it buys into the gender binary even as it blows up gender roles and gender expression. It’s a hand drill in an age of power tools. What is today’s Free to Be … You and Me? From my experience, I’d say it’s Steven Universe. All the humor and kindness, celebrity appearances, and catchy tunes, plus a deep story, great animation, and an expanded outlook, all in the service of recruiting people of all ages into the fight against conformity and oppression.

It’s amazing when deeply countercultural works can spread through networks that exist to support the status quo. Here’s to the miracle of Marlo Thomas and the miracle of Rebecca Sugar. Part of what I can do is listen and signal-boost positive messages. We haven’t reached that land where the children run free yet, but we’re still growing in our understanding of what that freedom looks like.