Sunday, November 14, 2010
Only 7 weeks or so along, and probably due sometime in July. I know it's not a good idea to announce a pregnancy this early along, but I feel so miserable right now I kind of need an outlet, and the blog certainly beats facebook. Only good friends and family tend to read the blog. And, if I am so unfortunate to have another miscarriage, I will certainly be blogging about it anyway, so no harm in posting the pregnancy at this point.
That's pretty much the news. Pregnant. Feeling like crap.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Any wonder that I seem to be suffering juuuuust a touch of identity crisis? Not so bad, and I've been through this before. Two years ago, with the book finished, the radiation over and the fatherhood new and terrifying, was much worse. Transitional times are difficult, and I don't think I'm very good at them, but they do end, they do settle, and the next thing you know you're content again, and comfortable and all set up for the next transition to knock you on your ass.
But let's see, how am I managing? The baby, now a toddler, is happy, healthy, intelligent; the same can be said for the marriage (can a marriage be intelligent? Let's just say yes and not probe too deeply); the chickens enjoy my company; the dogs still come when I call. And student life- well, no disasters yet. I've more or less kept up with reading, more or less kept up with writing, more or less not freaked out too much due to assorted academic anxieties, more or less not found myself on the wrong side of some intradepartmental machinations.
And the Autumn is settling nicely around us, with only a headcold counting against its favor. I think, yes, I think I deserve the beer I'm about to open up.
Monday, October 11, 2010
Thought about the blog. Whether I should keep it going. Whether it was finally Time. I mean, not that many people read it, we don't update it like we should, and it seems, in many ways, like a relic of the pre-social-networking world. When people want to see how we're doing these days, they don't check the blog like they used to a few years back; they check Facebook. And it's not like I've got a huge following of people hanging on my every word (Hi to my six followers, by the way! One of which is myself!), so what's the point?
And then, I went digging through some old posts.
This is a venerable piece of blogger real estate, you know? It's almost, let's see, seven years old. Seven years old. SEVEN YEARS OLD. Holy christ, how is that possible? It's not actually older than my marriage; it's exactly one week and one day younger.
That's kind of incredible.
In that time, this blog has been a record of:
- Our season in Prague
- Easter for the Czechs
- Danger in the Alps!
- a tiny little fluff of antisocial puppy that turned into spirit dog Sharka
- Various going-crazies and unhappinesses in Austin
- Warnings of Medicine Dogs in advance of our time in South Dakota
- The first pregnancy
- An exciting tribal election
- The miscarriage and the decision to leave Pine Ridge
- A longing for mountains
- The Return
- The last known sighting of the Domiwaitrix
- The first hints of an impending Bryce
- Forgotten Albuquerque (still locked for now, alas)
- OMG SANTA FE GHOST
- Courtney's huge belly
- Forgotten Albuquerque the Book
- More Bryce!
- Insightful commentary on the 2008 election
- Book launch!
- The things Bryce could do at 17 months old
- Barium Sulfate Suspension
- Why Papa is tired
- And, uh... Now.
You know what I've got here? I've got a pretty good record of our life during some very interesting and often turbulent periods. Almost every major milestone of our lives that has happened over the past 7 years is recorded here. That's kind of... awesome.
Yeah, we haven't been real great about keeping it going consistently, and yeah, sometimes I'm not as funny or as deep or as creative as I'd like to be, and yeah, there's probably a bit too much complaining if you go digging around, but in spite of all that, I'm really glad this thing is still kicking around.
I did a lot of worrying about it this week, worrying about what the blog is for, whether or not I should just kill it off once and for all. And the answer is: Nah. There's been a lot of good, important stuff on this site over the years, and my six followers and I know it.
So, let's make this official. This site's going to stick around for a while yet.
Thursday, August 05, 2010
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
It’s been about 5 1/2 months since we made the decision to give over our backyard (and Courtney’s brother’s front yard) over to three shit-where-they-please roach eating Rhode Island Red chickens, so we’re due for a little update about them, aren’t we?
I love owning chickens. In general, there’s a certain pleasure that you get from sharing your space with a pet, and the chickens have filled in a niche we didn’t know we had. No, they’re not particularly loving, nor do they offer much in the way of personality (well, one does, more on that further down), but there’s a contentment in owning them that I ascribe to two things- 1) the contemplative enjoyment of simply observing them as they stalk around the backyard, scratching up insects, tearing weeds to pieces, standing up to the dogs and just generally pursuing their own agenda with little regard for anything other than their own immediate needs, and 2) they’re productive, actually adding something tangible to the family, unlike those free-loading dogs with their “unconditional love”, or whatever.
In other words, there’s a satisfaction in tending to an animal who you’ve brought into your life, not for companionship, but because you’re actually working for mutual benefit. I’ve never had livestock, but now I see the appeal. You’re forming an actual working relationship with an animal, and that’s, well, wholesome.
So, there they are stalking about the backyard, retreating into their hen house at dusk or in the heat of the day or if it rains, or, every day at 9am for one of them, to lay an egg. They do their own thing, and we’re happy with that.
You may recall that we named them. This has turned out to be a moot point for two of the chickens, once known as Audrey and Bess, now referred to as “the other ones”. They are, as far as any of us can tell, completely interchangeable, and uninterested in any but the most passing and food-producing of interactions with human beings. They stay away from us and we stay away from them, and we're reasonably happy with each other. The third, however, seems to have sucked up all the personality from the other two. That would be Blackie, named for three black spots that were on her fuzzy red head when she was a few days old that have long since disappeared. She is actually the lightest in color of the three, so a bit of accidental irony there.
Here’s the thing about Blackie- Blackie likes us. No, no, Blackie looooooves us. Blackie comes running when we go outside, Blackie enjoys being picked up, Blackie wants to follow us inside the house, Blackie wants to go for rides in the car, and Blackie talks to us in a constant croaking chicken soliloquy. This means, naturally, that we like Blackie, and the fact that she is the first of the three chickens to actually start laying only bolsters our regard. Make no mistake, Blackie will never be eaten, even after she has outlived her laying capabilities. The Other Ones? Well...
Speaking of eating- Damn but fresh chicken eggs are good! The yolks are the yellowest I've ever seen, and the whites have a cohesiveness to them that store bought eggs seem to lack. And their delicious, lacking in some off-flavors that I'd never realized weren't an integral part of egg-taste. Of course, the fact that they are rarely more than three days old when eaten probably helps immensely- we'll see how the flavor changes once we're getting enough eggs that we have to store them for longer. Currently, Blackie is giving us one a day. The others haven't yet gotten there, but we expect them to start sometime in the next month. If not, well, maybe I'll start sharpening the cleaver outside the henhouse door in the evenings.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Mainly because when I write something for myself at home nobody has to see it and I don't have to show it to anybody, so no matter what absolute tripe comes out I can be comfortable with it and just let it slide and no one need be the wiser. But with a blog, well, the entire frigging world could theoretically stop by to take a gander at it the moment I hit "publish" AND continue to do so for all foreseeable eons until the frigging power grid somehow collapses or, less likely, Google clears out its cache servers.
Part of the theory behind the whole "blog more" plan that I started with this summer was to get over that nonsense. I mean, for one thing, the entire internet connected world has way better things to do with its time than mock my humble postings (there's a LOT of pornography out there, you know) and it's far more likely that the only people who stand to see them are my five loyal followers and assorted family members who have already outed themselves as hardly possessing discriminating taste simply by electing to check this blog out on a regular basis. So screw it, here's a post that more or less sucks because it's my blog and sometimes things I do just kind of suck.
Now, with that out of the way, maybe I can find the wherewithal to finish some of the partial posts that are stuck in editing limbo. I wonder what horrors I could find if I went back a few years?
Friday, June 11, 2010
Playground of Doom- Albuquerque film-maker and writer Dusty McGowan (whose most recent film, Mickey, you should definitely check out,) writes about "film, pop culture, and existential dread" in an entertaining, introspective manner. It also looks like he's going to be devoting space to reviews of trashy, dvd-discount-bin cinema on a regular basis.
Zone 8- Mike and Miranda, formerly of Seattle and Albuquerque, document their experiences as recent arrivals on the Isle of Yap. Read along as they battle against continuous home invasions by an insurgent wildlife and insect population, struggle to find their place in the baroque and inscrutable Yapese social hierarchy, and drown their sorrows at Yap's best and only karaoke bar!
Regislacher.com- Regis, former editor in chief of the Seattlest, former 'Burque resident and all around elitist intellectual, offers his slightly askew observations and pontifications of The Big Issues (for instance, is that toddler frowning cutely, or "contemplating killing you without consequence or guilt"?) via his new Tumblr blog.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Let's just make no bones about it: life as a stay-at-home parent is hard . One of the most taxing things I've ever done, as a matter of fact. Not physically taxing, mind you, but mentally. There is, first of all, the constant and unrelenting fact of being in demand. When Bryce is awake, he wants as close to my undivided attention focused on him as possible until he goes to sleep, simple as that. We're talking every second of every minute of every hour that we're sharing space. And there are consequences for not agreeing to his demands, namely, whining. And maybe it's evolution or something, but hearing Bryce's whining has exactly the same effect on me as hearing teeth scraped across a chalkboard (don't ask me how I know, that's a story for the bar). But, the thing is, I'm not physically or mentally capable of devoting all of my energy to him throughout the day. I need to do things like, oh, go to the bathroom, make lunch, catch up on phone calls, that sort of thing at the bare minimum, and he's not always willing to grant that without a fight. So, there's this constant tug of war going on throughout the day, with me trying to give him enough attention and play-time and so forth (not to mention the unavoidable needs like diaper changes, meal times and keeping an ever watchful eye to prevent dangerous situations like paperclips finding their way into wall sockets) while making sure that I'm able to Get Things Done That Need To Be Done, AND maintain a vestige of my own sanity. The last being important because the adult brain WILL begin to turn to mush if fully focused on baby/toddler activities for too long.
Now, as he's grown up, things have generally gotten easier with this tug-of-war. When I think about how he was at t about 9 months old, I'm kind of amazed that I survived. He was even needier than he is now, but incapable of really communicating what, exactly, he wanted, resulting in a great deal of frustration on both of our parts. These days, he can tell me what he wants AND understand my answer as to whether or not it's possible to grant that request, and this has really opened up a whole new world in our interaction. For instance, I can now say "We'll play trains in just a second, Bryce, right after I'm done talking on the phone", and chances are that he'll be willing to hold out for a few more minutes before the whining begins. Overall, in fact, we've adapted to each other's needs and reached a point of more-or-less equilibrium, where he feels that he gets enough play-time with Papa, and I'm able to get Stuff Done and even do a little bit of low-focus activities like face booking or reading Salon articles or something like that, as long as it's nothing too involved.
However, there's a second aspect to the whole stay-at-home father thing that is tiring in its own right, but very sneaky in how it goes about draining energy. Babies require Constant Vigilance. And not just when they're awake, either. It's like, you know how when you have a big trip planned the next day, and even though everything is all packed and you're ready to go and there's literally nothing else you can do to prepare until the time that you're actually on the plane, but you can't really concentrate on your day-to-day tasks because you're constantly thinking about making sure you get to the airport on time and should we take a cab and I hope the plane's not late and what should we do when we get there? Like, there's nothing out-of-the-oridinary actually happening for you on the day before, but a significant portion of your brain power is constantly preoccupied with the trip anyway? Having a kid, and being responsible for the kid's well being and happiness, is pretty much just like that, but every single day. For instance, right now, Bryce is asleep in his bed and safe and there's nothing to worry about regarding him at all. But still, a significant amount of my attention is firmly fixed on his door: my ears are hyper alert to any sound of movement that might come from within, part of my brain is wondering whether I should open the door to make sure he's breathing, another part is wondering whether I should turn the fan off in case he gets too cold, another is monitoring for any loud sounds that might wake him up. It's like my brain has been split, and half is able to work on writing this, or whatever naptime task I choose to pursue, but the other half is totally occupied with thoughts of him. This is how it is all day long; there is literally no second where I am not evaluating the environment in relation to him, even if he's happily playing by himself and I've got a spare second to finish reading an article I'd started, or do the dishes or take a leak or whatever. And, just like an application running in the background on your computer while you browse the internet, this takes energy and, frankly, compromises my other functions. By the time Courtney comes home, even if it has been a good, easy day with no surprises like skipped naps or extended visits to the car rental outlet (and yesterday, I had both,) or anything else out of the ordinary, I'm pretty damned tired. And if, heaven forbid, it has been "one of those days", then I'm exhausted to the point of uselessness.
My guess is that this comes as a surprise to a lot of men who find themselves in a similar situation to mine (and a few that I know might be reading this, so if you have something to add or disagree with, please drop a comment). It certainly did to me, especially right around that 6-9 month mark when I could literally get nothing done during the day, and by the time evening rolled around I had zero energy for any personal projects or the like. At that point,I felt like my life was completely subjugated to a pre-toddler's will. Fortunately, I adapted and he grew more capable of communicating, so by this point we've got it pretty much figured out. But still, it's a constant drain on energy, and sometimes I'm amazed that I get anything done outside of papa-time at all.
So, to all the ladies who've been stuck with this since time immemorial, I salute you and your hard, under appreciated work.
Tuesday, June 08, 2010
Why is it so hot? Why is it so, and please, pardon my usage of filthy, filthy frenc, why is it so goddamned hot!?
I mean, I live in a desert, I get it. But STILL it's not supposed to be this hot so early in the summer. I literally just got my swamp cooler (or, for those of you who prefer their no de a/c more descriptive than romantically accurate, evaporative cooler) turned on a week and a half ago! It's not fair! It's not right!
So, here I sit, in the basement of the Press Club, sipping away on an Old Fashioned as the raging sun begins its descent. And blogging about the weather on my iPad. I guess things could be worse.
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
Bryce likes trains.
This is an understatement.
Bryce lives trains.
In fact, over the past year and a half, one of the few consistencies in his ever-shifting identity and interests has been a near obsession with trains. It began on his first birthday, when my sister gave him a battery powered engine and a set of cars for it to pull. He wanted desperately to push it around on its blue plastic track, but it was little too large and awkward for him to manipulate well. Seeing his frustration, I picked up a set of wooden tracks and a small, red engine that fit into his hand. He still had trouble putting the tracks together, but once they were down, he was able to push the engine around the figure eight pattern with ease. Even better, the red engine was small enough that he could take it with him in his little hands, to the dining table, to bed. It immediately became a prized toy.
But it was nothing compared to the trains with faces.
Once Thomas entered our house, all other toys were forced aside. If you are the parent of a child born in the last decade, then you need no explanation as to who Thomas is. If you’re not a parent, there’s at least a chance you haven’t heard of him, although his near ubiquity is such that I think it’s unlikely that even the childless can escape his influence. But, for the sake of the ignorant, Thomas the Tank Engine is a marketing juggernaut that began life as a series of charming stories authored by an Anglican vicar in the 1940s. Not that anybody really remembers those original stories (seriously, just TRY to request a copy of the books at Barnes and Noble, just try it!) because in the last 20 years (and especially the last 10), the Thomas “brand” has well and truly eclipsed them. Thomas now lives through computer animated cartoons, poorly written films, cheaply made pajamas. And cute little wooden trains.
Most importantly, Thomas and his ilk have faces. Wide open, grinning and friendly, their faces are just this side of creepy for an adult, but for a toddler the features are perfectly positioned and proportioned to cut a path straight through the brain and trigger the neurons in charge of social response.
Or, at least, that's how it seems to have gone with Bryce. Because once Thomas arrived, the trains were no longer toys, but rather, they became peers. Suddenly, Bryce and the trains were inseparable. He carried at least one around the house with him at all times, would demand one for every car trip, slept with one at night in place of a teddy bear. We gave him several more in light of his obvious passion, some of the Thomas brand and others from elsewhere, some with faces, some without. Whatever switch was flipped with the Thomas acquisition remained on for the other trains as well, whether they had faces or not. He began to speak to them, then speak through them. "What is Thomas doing?" "Thomas is hungry for toast!" "The Black Engine wants to pick up Mama from work!"
I don't know a whole lot about child development, and even less about child psychology, but I don't think that this behavior is unusual. Typically, I suppose the kids latch on to teddy bears and dolls and the like, but a train with a friendly face isn't so far away from those. I suppose that this signals a deeper change inside, an element of who he will become building itself inside his ever-expanding brain. He is just at the age where his interactions with other children will begin to become more sophisticated, where "parallel play" (two children amusing themselves side-by-side, more or less independently) gradually gives way to actual interaction with others in his age group. My guess is that by making Thomas and his retinue into ersatz peers, Bryce is essentially practicing for these deeper social experiences. The specifics of his play often bear this theory out- with Bryce offering a running commentary on Thomas' supposed actions ("Thomas is being silly! Oh, Thomas, you're running away!"), issuing commands ("Oh, Thomas, stop it! Thomas, don't fall off the table!"), and, in perhaps an early sign of actual empathy development, making requests on the behalf of the trains ("Thomas wants to be on the table. Thomas wants to eat pancakes").
Bryce cleans Rosie the train after supper.
It's an interesting idea, and one that I'd never really considered before. I'd always thought of my own solitary play in childhood as more or less pure fantasy, but it makes sense that a growing social awareness would necessitate some testing. It might be an awfully detached and, hmm, technical way to look at a child shouting orders to his smiling trains, but I must admit that I find the idea comforting that there are no idle actions in childhood, and that play is especially important work.
Friday, May 28, 2010
So, I've encountered a problem In discussing D&D as though it's one body of work- It's not. This is, actually, obvious. Not only does every Dungeon Master run a different campaign with a different set of assumptions, but the Official D&D sources (TSR, WotC) have released a huge amount of material over the decades that features a just-as-huge level of variance. You've got your more-or-less vanilla fantasy of Greyhawk, your Tolkienian Dragonlance, your sci-fi-esque Dark Sun,all the way to the bug fuck craziness of a setting like Eberron, each of which breaks the D&D mold in interesting ways (with the exception of Greyhawk, as it more or less created the mold in the first place). Take, for instance, Halflings- in Greyhawk they are de-infringed Hobbits, roly poly pipe smokers who tend to thieving; in the D&D 4e, they're a kind of mini-warrior race; while in Dark Sun they're a feral cannibal race. Obviously, I'm going to have to be careful in how I assert my broad generalizations about this game. Because, you see, I plan on asserting quite a few.
So, let me propose a construct. Let's call it Default D&D. The basic idea is that if you were to get invited to three different games of D&D, run by three different DMs with three different groups of players, in three different decades, and not really given any information beyond that, you could make some assumptions that were reasonably likely to be true in all three games. You would probably show up to each game day ready to choose between playing Elves, Dwarves, Humans and Halflings, and then choose between magic users, fighters, thieves and clerics, with perhaps some more choices extending from there. You would expect the game to primarily feature combat in one form or another, and that you mainly be fighting some sort of non-human monsters. You would expect to be rewarded for your efforts with treasure and magical items. You would probably plan on there being goblins and giant rats and, somewhere out there, giants and dragons and evil wizards. These are all assumptions that you would probably make without thinking about it too much, and, I think this part is important, you would probably make them if you were interested in D&D but had never actually played the game before.
Consider it a sort of D&D oriented collective unconscious.
Now here's where things get a bit tricky: What would the game session itself be like? Unfortunately for my Default D&D construct, I don't think that there's a good answer that applies equally well from group to group, much less across the decades. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that, generally speaking, this is the area where the assumptions have changed to most over time . In the late 70s to mid 80s, adventures were primarily about the exploration of location. Go into the ancient dungeon and, well, see what's there (while trying not to die, of course.) At higher levels, you would go out into the Wilderness and again, see what's there. "Plots" rarely went beyond "Oh, hey, there's a totally awesome pile of treasure in this labyrinth and maybe you want to go get it?", and rarely but rarely did the world need saving.
In the late-80s to sometime just before the present day, starting with the introduction of the Dragonlance campaign setting and ending at around the time of 4th edition's release, the emphasis shifted from location exploration to "succeeding" at a Tolkienesque narrative: stop some evil guy from doing a thing so that the world doesn't end, with a thousand thousand variations upon that theme. Dragonlance seems to have offered a particularly rigid version of this narrative centric play style, even going so far as to recommend that players portray characters from the various Dragonlance novels, and that if one of the characters died they be magically brought back to life at the beginning of the next module, so as to make the over aching story "make sense".
With 4th Edition, the emphasis has shifted yet again to a sort of hybrid of the two that came before. Dungeons are entered and explored, but now the emphasis isn't so much a free form process of discovery, but rather in forging a path to the next huge set piece of a combat encounter, wherein the players get to whip out their never ending panoply of awesome powers and the plot of the game is incrementally revealed. Again, please keep in mind that I'm purposefully speaking in generalities here.
So, Default D&D. Makes sense? It's a conceit, obviously, though a valid one. And it'll help later on.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
The guests, a friend of mine from high school and his three, almost four, year old daughter, were very enjoyable, and I got a chance to do some of those New Mexico things that one only does when guests are around. But man, it is kind of exhausting, isn't it? I wound up going to bed at 9:30 last night, and sleeping through most of Bryce's nap time.
Adding to that sense of exhaustion is the fact that today feels like the first taste of summer. It's only about 88 out there, which is pretty much a crisp Fall day by Austin standards, but it's just about the same temperature inside which is distinctly unpleasant. There was a time when I'd try to drag out asking the landlord to turn on our cooler, perhaps some sort of attempt to prove masculine prowess?, but those days are long gone. I expect to be knocking on his door shortly.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
I wish I could blame technology for today's malaise. It would be so very pat to say that the modern age of distraction du jour kept me from my self-appointed tasks, but it's not true. I'm a dawdler, a procrastinator, a putter-offer by nature.
If there's a value in this blogaday project beyond anything worthwhile gleaned through the writing of individual posts (surely it must happen sometimes!), it's that it gives me a bit of accountability in my otherwise self-policed writing regimen. If I miss a day, somebody besides me will know. Even if it's just the google-bot creeping its way over an absense of words. There's an undeniable psychological effect to that, and maybe it'll work for me?
So, here you go, Internet, have some more words.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
And now the moths are here. Last night, stepping out the back door to shut the chickens in, I triggered the yard light and was suddenly swarmed by dozens of non-descript grey-black moths, battering into my body and face in their sudden desperate need to get to the bulb. Moments later, after I finished with the chickens, I stepped back inside, and was followed by at least four of the winged nuisances. They immediately began kamikaze rushing the kitchen ceiling fan, the sound of their fat little bodies thwacking into the blades.
This is something I forget about every year until it happens. Late spring and cool breezes through open windows, grilling in the backyard with a beer and the company of chickens and dogs, and then one night Oh, yeah. These guys. The reason that we have screens in our windows despite having no mosquitoes.
I don't know what they are, and I don't think I've ever heard anybody refer to them as anything other than The Moths, but they infiltrate like no other pest I've encountered in this town. For a few weeks now, I'll be finding moths hiding in my bookcase, moths destroying their bodies agains the grated security door, moths landing on my face at night and shocking me into sudden frantic wakefulness. And the thing is, they are utterly the stupidest animals on earth until the moment I try to catch them. Then, they become all cunning and quick reflexes, and my hunter's pursuit is just embarrasing comedy. No, they'll starve to death inside my house, thank you very much, and my job is not to remove them to the outside world where they may pursue their mothly goals in the full flush of their vigour, but rather to gather up and dispose of their frail and tattered corpses.
Monday, May 17, 2010
I loaded up five boxes of books into the back of my car today, ready to cart them up to the Northeast Heights and sell them for money, or, failing that, give them away. Didn't I just do this a few months ago? How did I wind up with five boxes of books that I'm willing to let go of? Deepening the mystery, I can count on one hand the number of books that I've bought this last year. Where do they come from?
I understand where the migratory clumps of dog-hair that flutter across my floor come from. I have dogs, dogs spontaneously grow and lose hair. Maybe it's the same with bookshelves? To keep warm over a hard winter, a bookshelf will sprout copies of Witchcraft in the Middle Ages, The Mystic Mandrake and the Ace "bootleg" edition of Return of the King? But no, I know these books, there is no parthenogenesis involved. And yes, I will admit, I bought them all.
But... Why? I haven't read them. In however many years it's been since I acquired them from whatever bookstore I was working at, they've mainly just sat on my shelves, or, in boxes during and after moves, waiting for me to put them on shelves, where they will sit, unread, for an indefinite period of time.
Until a day like today, when I suddenly realize that I could use both money and space (given Albuquerque's used bookstore market, fortunately the latter more than the former), and it becomes time to kill the darlings.
No tears. Shiva! Guide my hand.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Anyway. Time for the weekly D&D meander.
Goblins, for instance. I hate goblins.
As anyone who has ever played D&D or read through any of the endless numbers of Tolkien rip-off fantasy novels knows, goblins (and orcs and bugbears and hobgoblins and all those different "creatures" that basically boil down to the same thing with different hit points) only have one reason to exist: They are there so that "heroes" can kill some people without feeling bad about it, or even being particularly justified in doing so.
And yeah, I mean "people". There's nothing even particularly monstrous about a goblin. Let's see, they're short, dark skinned and, uh... as the Monster Manual informs us, they "have a tribal society". And that, apparently, makes them bad enough that the default assumption is that a group of players can slaughter a whole village (including women and children) and feel like they've performed some noble deed for the greater good, whether the goblins have done anything to deserve this or not. Oh, I forgot. They're "lawful evil", whatever the hell that means.
Oh, you don't have to play it that way, of course. But if you've done as much D&D as I have, you can't deny that this is how it usually goes, and almost 36 years of Dungeon Master sanctioned goblin slaughter have left an irrevocable mark on the mind of the modern gamer- if it's a goblin, it's evil, and the DM put it there for you to kill.
I'm not going to get into the racial and cultural implications now, because plenty of people have dived into those waters before me, and, frankly, if you're still not seeing it, I'm not going to convince you today. Instead, I'm going to focus on an arguably more pertinent problem (from a game narrative point of view, anyway) with this mode of play:
It's frigging boring.
To me, the whole point of role playing is to imagine scenarios that require interesting decision making and that may evolve in unexpected ways. In D&D, one of the most potentially rich areas to explore these decisions lies in finding some weirdo people in the dungeon and trying to figure out what they're all about: Are they smart? are they good guys or bad guys? Can they be negotiated with? Will they try to trick you? What are they doing down here? When the dungeon weirdos are a bunch of goblins, the party already knows the answer to most of those questions (Not very smart; bad guys; can maybe be negotiated with; yeah, they'll try to trick you; who cares what they're doing? Start killing!) and the decision tree devolves into "when do we kill them?" and "how?".
What to do? I mean, for my game, I want something with a bit of brain power and cunning living in the dungeons, and although having actual human beings fill in the goblin niche is attractive and opens up a wealth of potential complexities, the fact is that I like more of an exotic and otherworldly flair to the societies that lurk in the depths. So, in my campaign I've basically filled the goblin niche with ratmen.
Yeah, men + rats.
I'm not fooling myself. I know it's not a perfect solution, nor a particularly original one, but I think that it answers many of the problems neatly. They're reasonably exotic, and they're pretty much an unknown quantity. At the very least, the common conceptions of anthropomorphic rats range from the desperately nasty Skaven of Warhammer to the superintelligent and morally complicated scavengers of the Secret of NIMH, and there's no particular reason for a D&D player to assume they know where on the spectrum these particular ratmen are. True, a number of the characteristics we ascribe to rats themselves are present in my ratmen (cunning, fearfulness and perhaps duplicity and an unwholesome affect), but eeeevil isn't one of them, and in play it seems that my players are not as quick to leap to the slaughter as they would be with your bogstandard goblinoids.
Does it work? Well, the proof is in the pudding. I've played through the same ratman negotiation scenario with two different groups so far, and I'm pleased that the outcomes of each were quite different to each other- one party formed a guarded truce with the ratmen that soon broke down into hostilities, while the other forged a trusting alliance that has so far lasted the campaign. Importantly, neither group was entirely sure of what to make of the ratmen, the heuristic for this particular group just wasn't present and instead they had to judge them based on their actions and words. Exactly what I was hoping for.
In as much as both of these outcomes evolved organically from the players making decisions that made sense to them given the circumstances (and not because the creatures carried the DM sanctioned Goblin Badge of Evil), I consider the experiment a success.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
This beautiful machine is the latest acquisition by the BannGerald Museum of Anachronistic Communications Technology. It is the second acquisition by the museum, the first being a Royal Quiet DeLuxe typewriter that I've dutifully dragged every place I've lived since 1998. It is the "latest acquisition" by sheer accident of order, not because I got it any time recently- I've had it for at least two years. But here's the thing- when I picked it up for $5 at a flea market, it didn't work.
Then, just a few days ago, I dragged it out from a nook in the closet and kind of played with it for a bit, and now it works, almost perfectly with the exception of a non-functional backspace key. How this happened, I have no idea. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I can only assume that it repaired itself supernaturally, something like this:
Regardless of the particulars of its no-doubt demonically instigated self-repair, it's a beautiful machine, isn't it? You'll notice the extra wide carriage, suited for ledger paper and the like, the myriad strange levers that seem to have no other function than to make satisfying "thunks" or ratcheting "clicks". What you may or may not be able to tell from the picture is that it weighs a frigging ton. Seriously, if you ever need to club a deranged superfan who has been holding you hostage in her isolated snow-surrounded cabin to death, THIS is the typewriter for you.
Two Stephen King references in the same post? IT MEANS SOMETHING!
I wish I could tell you a little bit more about the age and the model, but it turns out there are so many Underwood models out there that most collectors' websites only list a few of the seminal ones as examples. Since I'm not willing to give this more than a cursory amount of research, I've decided to be satisfied with "cool, old Underwood" and leave it at that.
Well, there's one more obvious clue-
So, the typewriter did some amount of time with Stanolind Oil & Gas Company. A quick Google reveals that Stanolind was the name of a conglomerate of companies that eventually became the Amoco Corporation. The name Stanolind was only used between 1931 and 1957, so, uh... I've narrowed it down to only three decades! Go me.
But, this is New Mexico, so maybe that can narrow it down a bit further. Turns out that there was a flurry of Stanolind activity out here between 1947 and 1952 or so, with hundreds of oil wells drilled in the north and western parts of the state during that time, so that seems like a pretty likely window.
And now, a moment just to picture this self-same typewriter in 1951 being slaved over by a Stanolind secretary, some quiet spring evening in a hastily erected wooden shack out in a barely productive oil field. Ledger paper rests in the carriage as she takes a moment to cross check the figures on the yellow pad that hold the day's totals. Maybe the open windows let in the sweet tar smell of crude oil and the clank of machinery, or maybe they let in nothing more than the scent of the cooling desert as the sun goes down.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
First off, there's nothing wrong with me. Every six months, I go in for some testing to make sure that the cancer isn't attempting a encore in my lymph nodes. One visit a year is devoted to a CT scan, and that means I get to spend my morning attempting to down two pints of barium sulfate suspension.
The suspension is a contrasting aid. The idea is that it fills up your gastrointestinal tract so that your stomach and intestines easily stand out in the scan image. So, obviously, since the purpose is to fill up your whole digestive system, you have to drink a lot, and over a two hour period so that it gets down into the lower nooks and crannies that I'd rather not think about too much.
The first few swallows aren't too bad. It doesn't taste awful at all. In fact, it doesn't really taste like anything. It has the barest hint of vanilla to it, but other than that, it's just pure texture. A thick, chalky, slimy texture. And, with each swallow, it only seems to get thicker, chalkier and slimier.
The second pint is the worst. By the time you crack it open, you've probably been choking the stuff down for 45 minutes all ready, and have just been sitting there feeling your stomach fill up with... filling.
Did I mention that they tell you not to eat or drink anything for four hours before starting the suspension? That's because they want your stomach empty, so that when you puke it's easier on you.
Not that they recommend that you puke, but there's a good chance you're going to want to.
I've done this, four or five times now? Today, for some reason, was the worst. Maybe because I had an early morning appointment and thus had been de facto fasting (read: sleeping) for some 10 hours before starting the suspension. I had a killer headache and desperately wanted some coffee and eggs as I opened the first cannister. I didn't feel hungry anymore after the first swallow, but the headache stayed on. And I just felt worse and worse as I struggled through the first pint and a half.
In order to coat my esophagus in the right way, I was instructed to reserve the last half pint until I was actually in the room with the machine. My stomach gurgling, I dutifully choked it down, and managed to make it through the scan itself without any retching (good thing, too, because then they would have just made me start over). In fact, I thought I was in the clear as I walked out of the Cancer Center, started the car and then turned onto Lomas.
No. I wasn't in the clear.
I've never had the experience of vomiting while driving, and I'm happy to say that I avoided it by the narrowest of margins today. I pulled over onto the rough road in front of one of Albuquerque's most neglected cemeteries (the picture is from a different visit) and let the inevitable occur.
Back at home, Courtney made me drink water and brewed me some tea. About an hour later, she made me a grilled cheese sandwich and I felt better.
I am 0% thrilled with barium sulfate suspension.
Monday, May 10, 2010
See, if I tell you that I grabbed Courtney and the kid right after work on Friday and headed up north to Santa Fe, stayed the night, and the following day went trekking high into parts of Northern New Mexico that I've either never been to or never really took any time to get to know about, that's one thing. But if I could show you the pictures of the surprisingly lively downtown Las Vegas (NM, of course), or Montezuma's Castle (some strange stories on that web site, please take with a shaker of salt), or the 45 degree road to Morphy Lake, or the crumbling adobe churches of Mora, well, that would mean that I had been thinking of you, my dear readers (hi Ringo! hi Regis!) even as I was galavanting about these pastoral mountains villages with my family. Yes, thinking of you and how I might bring these morsels of my experience back for you to partake of and enjoy with me.
I totally wasn't thinking of you at all.
But next time, I will, I promise. Maybe the attitude I should be adopting here is to treat the every day experience as nothing less than an exotic trek into the wooly parts of the world. If I blogged about this banal stuff like I did about Prague or Pine Ridge, maybe I would start to embrace my life as a valuable experience that must, MUST be shared with others. That's the point of writing, isn't it? To find the value in your experiences and communicate it to others? Consider the rhetorical question answered in a loud affirmative grunt, a "hoo-ah!" even. Why not? It's my blog, I'll hoo-ah if I want to.
Anyway, the point is that I'm going to be downing a vial of barium sulfate contrasting solution prior to going through the "popcorn" setting inside one of UNMH's most expensive microwave ovens tomorrow morning and I'm going to bring a camera so that YOU, my treasured and more-or-less imaginary companions can enjoy the experience with me.
Friday, May 07, 2010
I just made this theme-day up, right this second. Why not, right? So, let's say, starting NOW, every Friday I'm going to post something related to role playing games, and since the one I'm currently playing is a knock off of D&D, I'll probably post about that.
Anyway, let me show you what I bought!
It's a box! With a dragon and a wizard on it and inside. . .
A bunch of little books and some dice and a... hmm... pencil.
So, yeah, this is a printed copy of the game I mentioned above, the D&D knockoff. Why a knock off? Well, this is a legal "clone" of the original 1974 ruleset, with better editing and a few little improvements. It's basically a way to buy a copy of the original set without spending $150 on ebay.
But, more importantly, this box represents the promise of the internet fulfilled. Why? Well, story time.
Once upon a time, back in the glorious 1970s, a bunch of crusty old wargamers invented a game where they could play around in a Swords & Sorcery world of their own creation. Pretty much everybody even slightly inclined toward such things dug it, and, after whipping up some capital, a couple of the guys printed up a few dozen copies of
a white box with some little books in it and some dice in a little bag. Probably no pencil, though. And, despite being poorly edited and formatted and having some of the worst illustrations you've ever seen in a "professionally" published product, it sold like frigging crazy. And, at this point, even as it was selling more and more copies, it was still just a bunch of guys who played a silly game and had a good time and nobody took it very seriously, and people who bought it made up their own rules and published their own material and DIY was the order of the day.
And, you know what happened next. D&D became a phenomenon and the money came in by the truckload and suddenly everything changed. The products became slicker and more well organized, TSR launched a war against the people who were publishing their own rules expansions and if they couldn't shut them down legally they adopted a tone of derision to sway their fan base away from anything but Official TSR products, there were corporate manipulations and underhanded backstabbings and boardroom coups and parents freaking out about Satan and a second edition was released that got rid of the stuff that freaked parents out and was even slicker and more expensive than anything that had come before and there were terrible novels and terrible cartoons and terrible movies and when the internet came TSR's legal department worked overtime sending out cease & desist letters and the company teetered on the edge of bankruptcy somehow and was bought out by Wizards of the Coast which was bought out by Hasbro and new editions were released that drew on the lessons learned from collectible card games and even newer editions came out that encouraged even more reliance on official TSR rules and, well, here we are.
For better or for worse, time passes and companies change hands and games change. But, to my mind, something important got lost along the way. Specifically, the idea that the game was ours, that it literally belonged to the people who played it. That the official rules weren't nearly as important as the fact that you were having a good time sitting around a table with your friends, and if TSR's interpretation of the Sleep spell seemed kind of dumb, you could change it, or if somebody really wanted to play a a robot, well, go ahead. In the beginning, the rules were put together by some guys hanging out in their basement trying to have fun; if they could do it, why not us?
But that culture was fragile, and as the books became more aesthetically impressive and the company that made them became more corporate in its structure and ruthless in its actions, new crops of gamers saw things more and more in terms of "right" (the official published way) and "wrong" (the dreaded houserules that threaten to derail a whole finely balanced ruleset). And, in those days, you basically had your choice of a small group of peers or the official products to look to for guidance, and as the original group of DIYers drifted away from the hobby, the official products gained more and more influence.
But now it's the age of the Internet! Essentially, what has happened recently is that the official Dungeons and Dragons game has moved radically away from its roots, with the fourth edition rules being almost unrecognizable when compared to the original, and very complicated. Seriously, kudos to the guys who thought this stuff up and spent untold hours testing it, it's a wonder to look at. But not a game that I feel like I can screw around with. However, the Internet has made it easier than ever for people who enjoyed the older systems to connect with each other, and something of a counter movement has formed, mostly centering around this guy and his various pontifications. Due to a bit of legal weirdness, someone in this group realized that they could legally put together a restatement of the original rules, and basically bring them back from the grave. And so they did.
And that's what this is. Swords & Wizardry was created to call back the DIY, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants make-the-game-your-own aesthetic that the original rule set encouraged. And, they've succeeded in creating a product that is at once a heartfelt homage to the spirit of the basement-produced original, and a fun, very playable game in its own right. Most importantly, it's a game that makes you want to take ownership of it for yourself. I know that I couldn't read through it without immediately wanting to try out new systems of my own devising.
That's what the internet should be for; it should put you into contact with things and people and ideas that encourage your creativity. It's strange that, for all its power to put powerful tools into the hands of almost everyone and then connect them with each other, so much of the net's output seems to be negative and cynical. Dammit, it's time to get past that.
After all, if those guys in the picture can make something awesome, so can you.
Still not sure that the pencil was necessary, though.
Awesome D&D horse by Lauren Gregg.
Thursday, May 06, 2010
Act I- The pleasant pastime of railroading is interrupted when a Frightful Insect appears upon the tracks. A plaintive cry for help!
(For the benefit of ladies and children, the actual act of ant removal occurs off-screen, due to its intensity and drama.)
Act 2- The still-dazed conductor recounts the Tale of the Defeated Ant in a tone of wonderment. The railways safe once more, the trains resume their operations and peace is restored.
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
Unfortunately, The Agreement is easily trumped by the whims of a two year old, and today that whim is for him to, apparently, throw his toy trains around the room and shove railroad tracks under the door. He won't actually open the door, because when he does this I immediately put him back to bed, so instead he attempts to exploit a loophole that if he remains in his room and doesn't sound like he's getting too out of control or hurt or something, I'll generally leave him alone and he can get away without actually sleeping. The problem is, of course, that this loophole doesn't actually prevent the aforementioned toddler crankiness (and, necessarily, the aforementioned Papa crankiness). Also, I will eventually relent if he goes for an hour like this, and bring him out into the living room, because really, what's the point? And, invariably, when I put him in the car to pick up Courtney he will hit the car-seat and immediately fall asleep, which is maddening.
I really need a lawyer to get that contract written up. But ever since he got optioned for a movie, Harvey Richards, Esq doesn't have the time for us little people anymore.
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
The Sony Touch eReader (PRS 600)
Right off the bat- Electronic ink is nothing short of a display revolution. And, honestly, I really, really mean this, a reading revolution to boot, perhaps even the savior of long-form ,profitable , writing, whether journalism or fiction or essays. Without E-Ink these readers would be overpriced garbage, little more than crippled cell phones. E-ink renders text readable in a way that a light emitting screen cannot approach, and the eReader display is, by far, the most conducive to actually sitting down and reading for an hour or so of any medium this side of an actual piece of paper. So, make no mistake, if it doesn’t use E-ink, it isn’t an eReader, nor should it be considered a viable alternative.
Now, is an E-ink display actually superior to a book? No, absolutely not. The background is not quite white enough, the fonts are limited, the tactile experience is lacking, blah blah blah. That’s all true, but you essentially exchange that for the device’s portability (even the comparatively cramped storage of the Sony readers can hold dozens, if not hundreds, of books) and access to a huge number of free, public domain titles through sites such as Project Gutenberg. For new releases, sure, go to bookstore, purchase a good, old fashioned hard cover and curl up in anachronistic bliss. But if you have an interest in catching up on older works, or if you’re a student who’s sick of lugging around text books, I can’t recommend an eReader strongly enough. Since getting our Reader, my long-form reading has increased several fold, especially after picking up the Calibre program, which has a nifty feature where it downloads RSS feeds from magazine websites (like Newsweek or Atlantic) and compiles them into an eBook perfectly suited to the Reader.
As to the particular variety of reader that I, personally, own, well... The touch screen is a trade-off that I’m not sure I can recommend. In order to have the nifty layer of touch-sensitive material over your screen, you must put up with a somewhat murky text read out. Oh, and glare. The glare is bad enough that reading in full sun is out of the question (which isn’t a problem with the Sony Pocket edition or the Kindle), although it’s still perfectly usable under artificial light . It’s still an enjoyable read, but I sometimes find myself wishing I’d gone for the cheaper the Pocket edition instead. Of course, the Touch has a bigger screen AND native pdf support, which is what pushed me over the edge in its direction, but, honestly, I don’t use the reader for pdfs so much since I acquired the iPad, and the larger screen is really neccessary to make up for the loss of clarity.
So, in summation- eReader? Yes! Get one! Sony Touch? Er... maybe?
I am 85% thrilled with my Sony Touch.
I stood in line for this thing. Seriously. You know those idiotic news reports where they show footage of all the douchebags waiting in line for the latest gadget from Jobs and Co.? That was me, I was one of those guys. Waiting in line. For an iPad.
And you know what? I’m glad I did. The wait was twenty minutes and they had free coffee and bagels and everyone was kind of friendly and excited. When you got toward the front of the line, one of the Apple blueshirts made sure to get your name and relay it to an Authority insde the shop, so that when it came time to go in and get your doodad they would open the door and say “Hey Ty, come on in! We’re ready for you” and you felt like Willy Wonka had opened the gates of the factory just for you. They even assigned each customer his personal blueshirt employee to take you through the process from entry to purchase to exit. So, props to Apple for making it a little more fun to spend $500 on something you probably don’t really need.
The iPad itself? It’s awesome. Don’t let anybody tell you anything different. We use it all. the. time. For web browsing, for email, for watching movies, for stupid little games about flinging exploding birds at catatonic pigs, for pandora radio and itunes and just having a second computer that you can slip into your satchel and cart around to wherever you need to use it. And it’s super fun to use. It’s responsive and smooth in its transitions, the display clarity is outrageously bright and sharp, and even the tiny little speakers on its sides are surprisingly high quality. I mentioned above that we are using it to read pdfs on and it’s perfectly suited for the purpose.
I guess there are some downsides. Yeah, the lack of Flash is a drag, and a pretty weird battle for Apple to start waging, but definitely not a deal breaker. And if you’re into coding applications, than I’m sure that the “walled garden” approach to the OS and the App Store is a real pain in the ass, but for someone like me who is a consumer of said apps? I’m totally happy. The virtual keyboard is juuuust a little too small to feel totally comfortable, but you can use any bluetooth keyboard with the device, so that’s not really a factor unless you’re just stubbornly refusing to shell out any more money on the thing. But that’s really it. So, let’s see, I’ll just plug in some numbers here and... it looks like I’m... Hmm... Carry the 3.
I am 97% thrilled with my iPad.
Monday, May 03, 2010
The title of this post is a phrase that turned up in one of my course descriptions for the MFA program at UNM (did I mention the big news? No? Well, here it is. What are you complaining about?), and it struck a chord. The meaning should be obvious, that being disciplined, in the manner of your choosing, is a moral imperative. And, conversely, that being undisciplined is, at the very least, amoral. This is, no doubt, debatable, but for the purposes of saving my immortal soul, I've decided to take the assumption as beyond argument.
See, the thing is, I haven't been writing. Much. Oh, I manage the every-few-monts late night scrambles required to complete my handful of articles for the Alibi, but other than, that nothing has been happening as far as regular, every day writing. Why? Well, let's see... how about the baby? Partly, yes, but mainly my own mental stumbling blocks. I'm good at creating obstacles for myself, and having the baby to pin it all on has been very handy for my procrastinating nature. But guess what? He's not going anywhere (thank god, as I've grown rather fond of him), and I still want to write. It's time to figure out how to work around him.
Grad school is going to be an ass-kicking experience, no doubt, and if I'm going to survive I'd better get used to the idea that I'll be writing every day. Several hours. In addition to reading for classes and baby-watching (toddler watching? He is two, after all,) and the usual family and home life obligations. I need to train.
Hence, this blog entry. My training schedule is something like this: 6am-7- stream of consciousness gobbledygook, fit only for the Pythia or my therapist; 2-3pm (approximately, as it's dependent on Bryce's nap), blog entry. So, obviously, this site will be updated a whole lot more often. Hopefully, my two followers have a great appetite for my navel gazing, as daily entries means that there'll be plenty. Expect there to be filler between our every-two-months Bryce picture posts.
I've shut down my Forgotten Albuquerque site for the time being. Since ending the Letters entries in a whimper I just haven't been able to muster the passion for pursuing Albuquerque's history, nor the time to do proper research. I'd like to write "hopefully, there'll be more to come in the future!", but the fact is that I just can't promise that right now. The next six months will bring major changes, and I'm not exactly sure where they'll be taking me. I could leave it up, I suppose, but really, it's only purpose lately has been to make me feel guilty.
So, a bunch of BS? Will I even be able to make it a week with this newfound "discipline"? There's no room for self-doubt here! This is about morality!!!