Brace yourselves. I’ve got quite a bit to say, and most of it is rambling and smacks of “back in my day, we didn’t have feelings!” Also: end-notes. When you see this symbol (*), scroll to the bottom for some addendum that is neither funny nor pertinent.
So it’s been a hot minute. And I only have myself to blame for not following my own advice that I dole out every morning to my students. Write it out. No matter how you feel, what time of day it is, nor what reasons you have to avoid it, write it out. “I’m their teacher, though. I don’t have to follow my own advice!” he exclaimed, snickering at the hot pokers in the fire while casually denying that his wife looks a little too much like mommy. Rip. Bleed. Hubris. Bottling up your perspectives on and reactions to life’s interminable downward spiral is irresponsible and damaging, no matter what level of emotional human you claim to be.
And, boy, have I done a number on myself. Feel free to tl;dr this next part (hint: it gets personal). Beginning in January, and spanning about a month, I rolled initiative to encounter the following: potentially losing my mother to cancer (again), losing my cousin to a massive coronary, losing my great-aunt (and the matriarch of my extended family), and burning the bridge between myself and one of the best friends I’ve ever had. If 30+ years of experience and Insight checks have taught me anything, it’s this: when life sucks, it either flows in rapids or tsunamis. It’s a little bit of crazy over the course of a long river or it’s one quick and massive blitz of black tar bummer-missiles over an otherwise calm ocean. Mid-winter 2012, for me, was the latter.
Of course, half of the things I was deeply shit-storming about didn’t pan out in the soul-necrotizing way I thought they would. My mother is okay now, and my cousin is recovering quite well. But I’m not wholly unconvinced that the world made me roll percentiles and call “high” or “low.” A “1″ would have made it all happnen. A “100″ would have made it all go away. Otherwise, it was a 98% shot that some thing was going to go some kind of wrong. One: RIP, Aunt Polly. Two: I have never wanted Hermione’s time-turner more in my life.
I think I’ve emerged as an emotional human, level 10 (on a scale of 1 to this-isn’t-a-thing). That means that I’ve seen some shit, dealt with some shit, but mostly have shoved the shit to the side in order to enjoy the latest iteration of my EA space stories. Most of the time, this works. Most of life’s little nega-demons roll off your back if you’ve thickened your skin and acquired a +3 Feelings Class shield.* However, no item — no matter how charismatic its inter-dimensional vendor was — grants you the internal peace after a long, hard existence.*
No, for that kind of emotional respite, you need real things like friends, outlets, and — most importantly — distractions. Distractions aren’t avoidances. They can be, but initially should be used to throw up your arms, flip reality, and admit that you just can’t deal with this right now. Distractions let you know your limits. It’s suggested that we think about the specific distraction chosen to temporarily circumvent a problem. Chances are, that distraction is a microcosm of that problem itself. Rage issue? Play a game in which you easily eviscerate enemy minions. Love issue? Read a book about some roguish rake who isn’t shackled by the l-word. Sick pet? Listen to The Airborne Toxic Event’s discography on Spotify and cry alone in the dark on your bathroom floor. Some emotional problems cannot be distracted. Sick pets is one of them.*
These real problems arise when the previously mentioned I-can’t-deal-with-this-right nows become I’ll-deal-with-it-tomorrows and, finally, I-don’t-even-remember-what-I-was-butthurt-abouts. The latter feels good, but it’s never that accurate presentation of how you feel. Just never. But, for one reason or another, we succumb to the pretentious “I’m fine” and reluctantly move on. How fucking irresponsible are we that “moving on” is a cultural standard? If a problem is settled, fine, yes, move on. But most of them simply aren’t. And won’t be. And instead “settle” in your psyche, vomiting up choler-filled wrath balls like some twisted piranha plant from Mario Bros. whose only goal is to prevent you from escaping down the pipe of emotional lucidity.
When you finally admit that your feelings are the emotional equivalent of Chipotle Barbacoa beef* is when you can get rid of all the mope. And this is where writing gets up to bat. Before that moment, it’s just been sitting in the, well, dugout I guess, biding its time as an eleventh hour pinch-hitter (is that a thing?). It climbs out, knocks the dirt off of its, um, cleats? And then, it…. I really don’t get sports metaphors that aren’t spouted with a southern twang by Coach Eric Taylor to The East Dillon Lions.
What I do get is table-top. And what I can do is write one mean table-top campaign for willing players. Furthermore, what I ultimately understand is the risky venture of pouring your heart and mind into a character-driven narrative affected by other, real people. Chances approach infinity that you will divulge much of what’s affecting you through constructing the story. I’d be bold-face lying to James, Taylor, John, and JJ if I said I created the story from my fanciful (and perhaps cruelly ironic) imagination only. Just check out the mother issues, world-altering death, and gutting loss that pervades the campaign. Does it fit the narrative? Check. Is it slightly autobiographical? Yep.
Because I stopped feeling sorry for myself and wrote it out.
I’m a lucky DM though. I have four players who handle the story as a story that’s not complete until the final hour of the fourth 12-hour season finale comes to a close*. And that’s a long, long way away. Miles to go before we sleep, etc. And three of the four players are rooks that have barely tapped dice to top before. I call the whole venture “risky” because some unexpected, and unrelated, chaotic moment in-game is going to wake you the fuck up. And it’s going to suck. And it’s going to hurt. And it’s going to cause catharsis. Because, no matter how good of a liar, how good of a pretender you claim to be, the real world is an indifferent DM who forces you to roll percentiles and call “high” or “low” when you just want to roll a straight d20 and add the relevant modifier.
Now. Enough of that; let’s get back to our regularly scheduled programming. I have a new campaign to tell all of you about.
*+3 Feelings Class shield: This item prevents you from emoting to Stephenie Meyer or Nicholas Sparks but still allows you to weep like a formula-starved infant while watching “Friday Night Lights.” It’s Texas, football, and kids in wheelchairs. I’m not a monster.
*long, hard existence: Unless it’s an intelligent item, and the souls inside belong to Bob Ross, Jim Henson, and Flo, the Progressive Auto Insurance lady. Because then you feel great about yourself and save money on your car insurance. Which, really, when you think about it, makes absolutely no sense and is a dumb, dumb metaphor. Hence the end-note. Also, that’s what she said.
*Sick pets is one of them: While we’re on the subject of pets and pathos, fuck you, Sarah McLachlan for making me feel things. Fuck. You.
*Chipotle Barbacoa beef: You know: shredded, festering in its own juices, and delicious to others.
*season finale comes to a close: We play for four hours, once a week. However, at the end of a major story arc (I have four planned), we get together for a half-day (literally, 12 hours) marathon of intense RP. Consequently, our blood sugars and calorie counts rival those of a glutton demon hell-bent on tasting every Gusher in existence. It gets sugary, caffeinated, and alcoholic.