Words in My Head

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Tag: musing

A Week of Highs and Lows

The saying goes “Adulting is hard.” And this little guy definitely reflects the way I’m feeling at the end of this week. A bit like I’ve been run over by a truck.

I feel ya, little dude.

Does that mean this was an awful week? No, there were some great highs to go with the lows. I’m just in full on overwhelm mode right now and trying to keep myself together like everybody else.

Honestly it’s a lot of little things. Everybody needs something. And it would be great if I could do it now. Sometimes that works. But the longer the week has dragged on, the more I’m going to have to practice my No face. 

No, not this No Face, sorry Miyazaki

One of the highs was easy to spot. We had a great time in Breckenridge for a 24 hour getaway to see the Bluegrass trio of I’m With Her, featuring Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan, and Sara Watkins. The concert was amazing – fantastic vocals and insane musical skills – and we enjoyed a couple of good meals and some fun before heading back. 

That was in the middle of the week, in addition to dealing with all the back to school craziness for two busy girls, one of whom is starting with a different soccer club at the same time. Add to that the fact that we have car troubles that are driving me bonkers and all the other stuff that’s all wearing me down quickly.

The other high was the fact that I ran three miles in about 49 minutes, with two sets of 50 push-ups and sit-ups between them. One of my miles was a bit over 11 minutes while I ran with a 20 pound weight vest. Even without the vest, 11 minutes is a great time for me, so to do it with the vest was very surprising. 

I’m trying to weigh the positives and the negatives. Trying to rise above the crap. But it’s not all wine and roses even if we have gone through a few more bottles than usual lately. 

So I will do my best to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving in the “right” direction — wherever that leads me. If you see me and I seem a bit down, just know that I’m doing my best to keep my head up and keep on chugging. 

Thanks.

The Power of Story

For years, I’ve been attempting to find my “raison d’etre” or reason for being. Sometimes the water of life gets muddied by the debris kicked up by human experience and those bedrock notions get lost. In my case, I’m not sure it’s ever something I really stopped to consider until fairly recently. As we get older, I think those moments of clarity have become more important, but it’s a bit like an archaeological dig at times.

I’ve never led what I consider an exciting life. A moment here or there, perhaps, such as falling in love or witnessing the birth of our children, watching the events of the Challenger Disaster or 9/11 unfold, or dealing with the sudden loss of a dear friend. For the most part my seas have been relatively calm with a few storms now and again. My history is not one of epic moments affecting others.

In the end, my goal is to lead a quiet life where I try to do the right thing when I can and accept my own mistakes and limitations when I can’t.

Some days I succeed.

However, I realize that when I’m happiest, I’m usually wrapped up in a story of some sort told in the company of friends and family. Sometimes they’re my stories. Sometimes those of others. Sometimes they are fictional. Sometimes factual. And all have some element of truth to them.

What I’ve come to find out is that everybody and everything has a story to tell, happy, sad, or ridiculous as they may be.

When we look at history (or herstory), it’s the “story” part that’s key, told from a particular perspective with it’s own biases. And yes, we all have biases.

Good nonfiction lets us draw our own conclusions about real events and people from the facts. Good fiction lets us follow along as our favorite characters stumble along, drawing THEIR own conclusions from their experiences and relationships. And no two people will read the same story and come to the exact same conclusions because no two people have the same life experiences to draw upon.

Consuming a story is not a passive act any more than creating one. We process it through the lenses of our own lives, generating an internal retelling of the tale using our own stories to relate whatever truths we find there and store them to memory.

Stories are magical. And like all magick, it can be beneficial or it can be dangerous.

That’s the beauty of art. Whether you are singing its praises or detailing its faults, you’re right. But others may not share your opinions. Feel free to share them, but don’t be alarmed when others’ opinions differ from your own.

My reason for being is to find and tell stories, both real and imagined. What’s your story?

Role-playing Games as an Adult

A few words ahead of this article. This didn’t start out as a blog post. It started as a Facebook update and grew to the point where there was no way it was just a status any longer. So here it goes.

Wendelyn Reishcl, who I was recently introduced to via e-mail by Alan Bahr, wrote a great article at Gnome Stew today about the impact that role-playing has had on her own life. A great article. And the more I thought about it, the more I knew I needed to write a bit of a response.

You can find her article here. I’ll wait if you want to go check it out…

Back already? Cool.

I know that a lot of people look at me askew when I tell them I play role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons or better yet when I tell them I write for such games as an adult. Why not just ditch the kid stuff and grow up already? The judgment in some folks’ eyes is harsh at times, but I’ve learned to deal with it.

I’ve been playing some form of role-playing games since I was 12. That’s 35 years, folks. Nearing four decades. And in every single decade, it’s made a difference in my life.

Wendelyn​ writes about how playing a role-playing game has helped her cope with the loss of a parent. I can’t pretend to know what that’s like. Someday it’ll happen and I won’t be ready when it does, but hopefully I can work through it.

Even so, I do see my role-playing sessions as a way of embracing several tasks at once.

  1. My primary task for many things is having fun. We all need more fun in our lives. At every game session, I usually am throwing awful jokes and puns around, if not just doing simply goofy things in the name of “character development.” And that shared camaraderie at the table, even among strangers, is a powerful motivator. I’m not the most social person in the world, but there’s something about cracking a joke and sharing a laugh after making a cool move, an awful die roll, or a poor decision that never gets old.
  2. Second, I’m always on a quest for a good story. Anybody who knows me knows I read a lot when I can, usually for enjoyment. It’s an escape. A way of dropping away from the world for a bit and exploring another landscape in my mind. But it’s a solitary venture. Tabletop role-playing takes that element of story and makes it a shared experience. When I play at the game table, I never know exactly where the story is going to take us because of that human element — and that spirit of discovery creates a spark that rekindles my creativity.
  3. Third, exploration of sometimes complex or controversial topics in a safe environment. This is a biggie, especially when role-playing with my kids. The idea that the game table is a safe space and you can get crazy and try different things (within reason) is very, very important to me. And as an adult — especially as a game master running a game, I often use these stories to explore ideas bigger than myself. The themes of inclusion and exclusion often come into play. Hard moral choices. Challenging decisions with no clear winner or loser. Sure, the games are about fun, but they’re also about exploring the edges of the human condition so we can empathize with others in a more meaningful way.

So… Having fun and telling stories, with sometimes complex themes, in a safe environment with empathetic folks. Doesn’t sound like an awful time, does it?

I can’t think of a time at a game table where I haven’t successfully hit at least one of those three points, but it’s rare to hit all of them in a single session. Doesn’t mean I don’t aim for that. 🙂

Other people choose other ways to enhance their lives and escape for a bit. We’re encouraged to find our bliss, right? Well, this is mine.

 

My wife is 29 again

It’s my wife Evelyn’s birthday today. She’s 29 again. And she’s impossible to shop for, so I thought I’d try to put a few words together to describe a bit of what she means to me.

Let me start with a crazy number. Together we’ve put nearly 500,000 miles on our automobiles since we started on this crazy road and that doesn’t even include air miles. First there was her truck and “Black Betty” my first 4Runner. Then there was the silver thing that’s come to be known as “The Street Petz Car.” And in the last couple of years there’s “The New Car.” And they’ve all been all over the place, even coast to coast in some cases. That’s a lot of miles together.

Second, let me follow that up with the fact that without her, I would probably not have traveled even half of that distance over the last 17 years. I have seen and done things that have surprised and even terrified me occasionally, but I have grown as a human being because of it. In return, I have attempted to educate her in the ways of being a geek and now we enjoy many of the same things from super heroes on the big screen to queens and dragons on the little one. Personally, I think I got the better part of that deal.

And lastly, let me try and describe how I see my wife because I may see her differently than the rest of the world.

She is a force of nature. Until recently, I didn’t know which force that was to be honest. But I have decided that she’s like the wind, moving full speed ahead one minute in one direction only to swirl, do a little dance, and shift directions in the next. I cannot compete with that, so I don’t try. Instead, I try to be the stone she wears away like a sculptor, remaining as constant as I can in the face of her indomitable will. At my core, I am the same man I have always been, but she has carved away many of the hard angles so that I don’t get so hung up on things as they fly past in the gale.

She has given us two beautiful, intelligent, strong-willed, crazy daughters we are proud of every day. They will go into the world with more than a few great role models of strong, amazing women behind them every step of the way. And at the heart of that crazy energy is my wife rooting them on with fierce determination, love, and a whole lot of sarcasm.

Today she is 29 again, but at her core she is still the youthful hurricane that knocked me off my feet and has kept me dancing ever since. My hope is that the dance never ends.

Love you hon. Forever and a day, plus one. Happy birthday!

Effective Workflows in Publishing

No, this is not a normal topic for me but it’s something I’ve recently had to ponder and decided to capture my thoughts about.

I’ve been doing desktop publishing in some form or another for a very long time. I’ve worked with Interleaf, Framemaker, Microsoft Publisher, Microsoft Word, and InDesign. And I even vaguely remember doing physical layout of copy for a class at CSU more than 25 years ago.

Yes, I’m not doing it professionally these days, even with my degree in Technical Journalism and choosing to make my living doing software development instead, but that doesn’t mean that I have stopped. My work through Moebius Adventures, even going back to the mid 1990s, has seen me lay out books of significant page counts (from a handful of pages to over 100) for quite a few projects since I stopped doing it full time.

But working alone, I probably have developed some odd habits over the last 20 years while I’ve done this work.

For instance, I do quite a bit of writing within my desktop publishing software. I don’t recommend this. In fact, I don’t think anybody does. But it’s easier for me to get some text written in Evernote or in a Google Doc and then keep working on the text itself while I am working on layout. This requires that I mix and match concepts from desktop publishers and writing tools from time to time.

I rely heavily on templates, not only for the look and feel of a book, but to help structure the content. Paragraph styles, just like in Google Docs or Microsoft Word, do that nicely. I can consistently apply the same headings, text styles, bullets, and so on, to keep the document structure manageable. And that’s probably one of the reasons why I can get away with editing/writing directly inside InDesign when I go that route.

So I would sum up my process as:

  1. Write some notes
  2. Move notes into new InDesign document
  3. Do layout and writing at the same time in InDeign from that point until completion

Recently however I hired a designer to help update the look and feel for some of our books. First to create a new template and second to actually lay out a new book.

The designer does not have the same goals in mind as I do for the results of this exchange. I mean, sure — the document has to look good in print or online. That is a shared goal and he definitely has an amazing eye for that. But I realized very late in the game that I was not specific enough in what I was expecting out of a template.

We exchanged many e-mails and sample PDFs of how pages would look and when I got the final template I discovered that paragraph styles were not part of his approach to creating templates. Instead he formats everything independently, changing space before and after, adjusting indents, adding elements, and so on. It’s a perfectly acceptable.

It became very obvious that his preferred process is:

  1. Get complete, final, unchanging document for content
  2. Move content into InDesign and do layout
  3. Produce output. Done.

When I receive the “final” documents from the designer, I will have to go through and update them locally with paragraph styles to create a usable, living document and template I can use from that point forward.

This has been a very expensive lesson to learn.  It’s not the designer’s fault. I made an assumption and it’s going to bite me in the butt.

What was the lesson? Be VERY specific when you are paying someone to create something for you, not only in what you want as your deliverables but how you are going to use the deliverables going forward.

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