Words in My Head

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Checking in… August 2020 Edition

Yeah, I know it’s nearly the middle of August, but I feel the need to take a step back and look at where I truly am after a few super stressful weeks. This has been a bizarre year with COVID-19 and all the changes that it forced upon the world, but it was the last four or five weeks that really pushed me in ways I wasn’t expecting.

I want to look at three different areas… Work, Moebius, and Health. And yes, this kind of crosses the streams a bit — but I am really trying to focus on being grateful for the good things (and even some of the bad ones) in my life to try and get back on track mentally and physically in these odd times.

Caution… this is a very long post. 🙂

Work

First, let’s look at work. This year I was presented with a new challenge at Red Hat and I accepted it, splitting time between the type of work I’ve been doing for the better part of nearly 20 years now — and a new role. I wasn’t quite sure I could handle the new but took on to test my mettle because I needed the change.

The old work persisted, but the new work lingered. It felt like starting at Red Hat back in 2009 and being dropped in the deep end of the pool at times. Though I had meetings every couple of weeks and chatted with my manager about it repeatedly, it didn’t really come to a head until about five weeks ago when I was finally able to wrap my head around a complete scenario.

Finally, I thought, I was treading water again in the big pool. Silly me.

As soon as that happened, I was able to start working on slides and refining my demo. Every few days it felt like life was throwing boulders into the pool, knocking me back and forth like the Andrea Gail in The Perfect Storm. Some days the waters were calm. Other days, it might as well have been hurricane season.

We kept pushing off and pushing off the demo and presentation I was due to give our product leadership team. Over and over again we asked for a week here or two weeks there.

And then, we had slides, we had a repeatable demo, we had a somewhat stable system that I could rebuild as necessary if I had a couple of hours… and we set a date.

This week I gave the presentation. It was at 6am on a Monday morning. I didn’t sleep well the days leading up to it and hardly at all the night before. I set an alarm for 5am so I would be up in time to get some coffee and at least not look quite as haggard as I felt. And of course the alarm never went off because I was up well ahead of it.

Caffeine in hand, I headed down to verify that everything was set for my demo. Everything had been in good shape Friday, so I shouldn’t have to worry, right?

Ha. The universe had other plans. The online demo system timed out over the weekend at some point and I had a brief panick attack. As my mom said later that day, adrenaline is much better than caffeine. I figured out what was going on, restarted the darned thing, got my ducks in a row, and was as ready as I could be.

The demo went fine. I had kudos from my manager and his boss. And now we wait to see what happens next.

All the worry, preparation, panic, and planning paid off I guess.

Long story short, that chapter of this story is over and I am back working on some other things while we figure out what’s next.

Moebius Adventures

As far as Moebius goes, I’ve been trying to finish up our new game Tattered Magicks since May. Finally got the majority of text done, started playing with layout, coordinating art, editing, getting feedback, and so on.

Had a few hiccups here and there. A discovery in May led to having to choose new cover art. A discussion in July with my publishing partner had me nearly in tears, but we resolved it. And on July 21, we released it to the world.

When I say “released,” it is available if you know where to look — but it’s not on bookshelves yet due to some COVID-related printing delays. So it’s PDF-only for now.

Even as a PDF-only release, it’s managed to achieve “Copper Seller” status at DriveThruRPG in the first 15 days it was available. Simply put, that amounts to selling 50+ copies of a product. This is the first time in Moebius Adventures history we’ve hit that number that quickly. Even Aliens & Asteroids, which was produced after a barely successful Kickstarter, took a while to hit that number (about a month).

Considering that you can’t even buy a copy of the print version of the book yet — I’m still in shock we hit that number.

Copper Seller and Five 5-Star Reviews? What alternate universe do I live in?

Now, I’m awful at self-promotion, but I’ve done my bit and shared it out on the Interwebz far and wide. I even did a Q&A over at #randomworlds with Dan Davenport and crew for a couple of hours. (Here’s the transcript!) Dan asked some great questions and I think some of them may even lead to writing some blog posts or TinyZine articles for Gallant Knight Games at some point.

I also reached out to some reviewers, though we haven’t seen the fruits of that yet. I have another chat with Mildra the Monk (YouTube) scheduled in a few weeks to talk more about Tattered Magicks (we chatted a couple of months ago about A&A and other Moebius stuff). And I had some interest from a group helping out one of my other game making friends — Will Munn, who is getting ready to Kickstart his phenomenal Arium game (you should definitely check it out!).

Of Dice & Dames had been doing some sessions of Arium online that I had caught wind of, and Level 1 Geek, who was one of the folks GMing some of their actual play events, reached out via Twitter literally the day after TM was released and we started chatting about their group doing an online session playing through the sample adventure in the book.

Well, that led to a fantastic session I watched last night that live streamed on Facebook at the Of Dice & Dames site (and will be available on YouTube eventually). Tori (Level 1 Geek), Katie, Erika, Emily, and Chase went on a wild adventure featuring ghosties and goblins and I thoroughly enjoyed it. They had fun and that came through in spades.

And though that shouldn’t have, it validated a few things for me. I always doubt myself to an insane degree. Impostor Syndrome is a definite thing. Seeing that they a) picked up the rules quickly and even better b) figured out spellcasting so quickly made me happy I spent time cleaning up the rules and adding as many examples as I did!

Knowing that players who had not played A&A previously and just picked up the TM book could make things work made he supremely happy. Life is good. Maybe I’m doing something right on that front!

Health and Wellness

Lastly, let’s talk about some health and wellness bits…

First, I really let myself go at the end of March, all of April, and into May. It was enough that I got up, continued to work, and tried to function sometimes as an adult. It was the bare minimum as we rode out the changes that started at spring break, then through the “YEAR” of April, and started to peek our heads out into the world again in May.

I’ve started to get some things back under control — mostly food and drink. And getting back into the box has been a huge part of that.

But the other half of that is understanding that I’m not in the same shape I was when all this began. I’m not even in the same shape I was a year ago or two years ago. I fell off the routine and fell apart as a result.

225-230 pounds became 260 pounds over two months. I’m back down to about 245, but it’s definitely taking longer to come off than it did to pack it on.

The most fun I have is when I discover that I can still do something that I could do previously. Climb a rope? Lift heavy weight? Do a kipping pull-up? Yup. Can I do any of those things consistently? Nope. But they will get easier as the weight comes off and muscle (and muscle memory) is restored. Slowly.

But I have to share a recent discovery. Friction.

What’s that have to do with fitness or health? Bear with me.

Last week we did a workout that involved ring muscle-up progressions. To say the least, I can’t do a muscle-up whether on the rings or the rig, but MU transitions — I can do those. So I dove in with abandon, feeling the familiar burn as skin was abraded from the outside of my biceps as they rubbed against the strap for the rings.

Ouch. Friction hurts.

So this week when we did MORE ring MU progressions, I asked if there was a way to avoid doing what I’d done the week before. We figured out an angle that I could essentially do a progression at that was more like a ring row (at an angle) than directly beneath the rings (like a muscle-up). Great!

Unfortunately, the other part of the workout involved a heavy kettle bell — a 70# beast. I was doing Russian kettlebell swings with it — just to eye level (mine were higher, but not by much). Turned out that every time the back of my forearms were hitting my shorts, they were rubbing… See? More friction.

I’m really hoping that I can exit this high friction phase of my re-education before I burst into flame or get even more bloody. Geez.

Long story short, life is a work in progress. Some progress is prettier than others. And I’ve never been described as “pretty.” 😀

Poem: Ghost

Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

Ghost

I have become
an afterthought
in my own life.

Called if needed.
Summoned like a daemon
to assist their needs.

Dismissed as quickly
as the wind.

Put back on a dusty shelf,
to watch and listen
for another chance
to feel alive.

Wondering only
if I did enough,
I drift back to a ready state
and wait for the next call.

Thinking that a life of service
is not supposed to be this way,
that love is more than this,
as I fade away
to the ghost I have become.

BTF 26-JUL-2020

Gut Check: Am I the villain in my own life?

This question rose from my gut today… Am I the villain in my own life? And it’s a good one.

Am I really Evil? Let’s find out…

Let me explain.

I have long felt like I am holding myself back on a number of fronts. Things get uncomfortable and I don’t want to push forward. I find myself waiting (sometimes forever) for others to come to my rescue. And to their credit, sometimes they do. But those few times actually seem to prove my point.

Of all the roadblocks in my life, I am the biggest. But does that make me a villain?

Let’s look at the definition (according to Dictionary.com). Apparently a villain is…

  • a cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime; scoundrel.
  • or a character in a play, novel, or the like, who constitutes an important evil agency in the plot.

So far as I can tell, I’m not malicious, wicked, or evil. Guess I’m not evil.

What am I to consider myself then? A foil? Perhaps that’s my issue.

No, not THAT kind of foil…

Again, going back to Dictionary.com, to foil something is…

  • to prevent the success of; frustrate; balk.
  • or keep (a person) from succeeding in an enterprise, plan, etc.

Yeah, that seems to be a better fit. I have a million things working in my favor right now and yet I’m dragging my feet. I’m literally balking at my own success.

Forbes had a great article a few years ago offering 48 Ways to Get Out Of Your Own Way and Start Making Real, Lasting Change In Your Life

Guess I’ll go read it as soon as I’m done wondering if I’m a villain. HA!

The Battle to Minimize Self in an Expressive World

Recently I had some time to reflect on the differences I see between myself and my wife and daughters. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m the more shy and reserved one. Haha.

Though I started to doubt whether I’d truly renewed my introvert card while during the stay-at-home period of COVID-19, I am pretty sure it’s still valid. I rely on quiet and solitary pursuits to recharge my batteries. I retreat when overwhelmed by the sheer volume of input presented by the world. And I’m more at home with my head in a book, movie, or music (with or without headphones) than anything else in the world.

Photo by Daniel Adesina on Unsplash

Falling Inward

During the pandemic, I was disconnected from a few of my more extroverted tendencies that I also use to recharge. I couldn’t go work out (which is as much a social exercise as a physical one). I couldn’t go eat at a restaurant or sit quietly in the corner of a coffee shop. I couldn’t go to the movies. And as a result, I fell even further inward. So much so in fact that I returned to extremely old habits like retreating into my work and letting everyone else do their thing.

As I collapsed into myself, I realized that it was a way to seek control over a situation I felt powerless to do anything about. I set up games I could play over the Internet via video chat and screen sharing so that I could share the one thing I know how to do… help people create stories. I’ll save that conversation for another day. But I minimized myself to save energy for the moments I wanted to expand again.

It’s a bit like breathing.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

As an inhale, I exerted control over a very few things. I would work (I work from home and that didn’t change much) or putter around the house cleaning up or fixing meals, whatever needed to be done. I read books. I listened to music. I watched a LOT of television and movies. Things I could do by myself even if I was technically around other people.

As an exhale, I wrote. I created. I worked out a couple of blocks away in a friend’s garage. I set up and ran two hour sessions of a couple of role-playing games I’ve designed.

Some days it worked out that I inhaled just enough to exhale again. I was exhausted many of those long days. I crashed hard and would do my best to repeat the process again when I woke up — inhale, exhale, sleep.

My wife and daughters express themselves differently.

Expanding the Scope

Even as I was falling inward, they were letting it all out. Yelling at one another. Laughing loudly. Singing at the top of their lungs. Talking over each other while ostensibly watching something on TV. Speaking loudly over the phone or computer doing chat after chat.

Remember how I said I try to get smaller when the sheer volume of input became too much? Do you know how hard it is to do that when you can’t find a place to do so in your own house and you can’t escape? That’s what I felt.

As quiet as I tried to make myself, they filled the void. And I don’t blame them, but it was a bit like being in a pressure cooker. I’d look for a place to sneak away for 5 minutes of peace and quiet and inevitably I’d hear my girls, or my wife, or my dogs expressing themselves to the world. Move. Hide. Yelling again… on and on.

I fall inward. They expand outward. The world is a big place, but not big enough during a pandemic it seemed.

Photo by Camila Quintero Franco on Unsplash

Trying to Hold Together

Slowly I seem to be hitting some sort of balance again, but for a while I felt like I was losing my mind. I’m hopeful that I will continue to stay on an even keel for a bit — maybe even make progress on some fronts I was stuck on before.

We shall see.

Leave Me Behind

Photo by Sheri Hooley on Unsplash

Leave Me Behind

I am always here,
cheering you on
through it all,
good and bad.

Never second guess
how much I love you,
or wonder if I
still walk behind you.

Be stronger than Orpheus.
Resist the urge
to look back
as you press on.

Fly far and fast.
Sing free and strong.
But leave me behind
and know I’ll always be there for you.

BTF 15-JUN-2020

The Fallacy of #alllivesmatter and My Cautious Steps Forward to Help

Let me preface this by saying that I am a middle-aged white American male. I was raised in a predominantly white neighborhood. I made my first Black friends in college and afterwards in the workplace. And I know that I might as well be one of the poster children for White privilege.

In my heart, I believe that all lives matter. I was raised to treat everyone with respect, “from the janitor to the CEO,” though I hate that particular turn of phrase. Kindness matters. Meritocracy matters. Empathy matters. Actions speak louder than words and I am always listening.

But even with all of those ideals, I have come to see how #AllLivesMatter does a disservice to #BlackLivesMatter. All lives DO matter, but that does not change the fact that some people judge others based on the color of their skin and see them as lessers. Black lives are disproportionately harder in our country. Period.

I have heard tales from friends and acquaintances of being pulled over or stopped on the street just for being Black. Questioned or looked suspiciously upon on the way out of a store just because you’re Brown. Or had your word doubted simply because you met some vague description rattled off by a scared white person.

Though I’ve never seen those things with my own eyes, I don’t doubt that they exist. Even if I hadn’t heard those tales, the media is painting a pretty dark picture of race relations these days and our country’s leaders aren’t doing much to help.

We have friends on both sides of this divide. Police. Protesters. And I can only hope that things stay civil. I know they haven’t been civil in some places and both sides have done wrong. There’s plenty of blame to go around even though it helps nothing move toward any kind of reconciliation or promise for such.

I am heartbroken, like so many others. I said this week that it seems we’re on the corner of Disappointment and Despair wondering which direction to turn. But no one thing is going to solve this problem created by generations of abuse going back to the founding of our country. No one thing can right the wrongs or fix it overnight.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Never one for crowds or shouting, I have been listening and watching for ways to help in some small way. Hoping that a cautious step forward is better than none at all.

To ensure that Black voices are not only heard but that I keep listening, I’m reaching out and seeking voices to support. I ordered a copy of the Haunted West project from Chris Spivey from Darker Hue Studios that features stories I haven’t heard and a community working towards telling them. I am seeking artists, writers, and other creators whose work to support publicly and privately so that I can learn from them whatever I can. And I am always willing to listen and learn.

All lives matter, but I hope that each cautious step we take moves us forward to close the gaps any way we can so that we’re all eye to eye and seeking common ground. We’re all human.

#BlackLivesMatter

Five Decades

It’s been a long time since I was a fan of celebrating my birthday in any meaningful way. I don’t like the attention or the pressure that comes with it. I would much rather enjoy a quiet day doing the things that I love with the people I love to do them with.

This year is stranger than usual with the worldwide COVID-19 crisis and the fact that I turn 50. The big 5-0.

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

The Party That Didn’t Happen

My wife, wonderful human being that she is, threatened to organize a big party this year like she did when I turned 40. I just smiled and told her that I know whose aid I would enlist when the time came to do the same for her. Though the pandemic hasn’t done anything to help my state of mind, at least it got in the way of a dreaded party held in my honor. 🙂

UPDATE: Instead of a party, she has done something amazing. “For your birthday since I can’t throw you a party. I have organized a 50 messages/memories for your 50th. I have asked family and friends to send pics/video messages/special memories of you!!” — I have seen pictures (and videos!) of faces I haven’t seen in years and years, not to mention getting to hear from some wonderful people.

THANK YOU HONEY!

I’m only half joking about parties. About the only “birthday” thing I remember looking forward to from my youth was being able to “play hooky” on my birthday with my Dad. We would go fishing. He would call it “fishing fever.” Often we would take my grandfather with us and just have a pleasant day.

But this year is different. Five decades is tough to wrap my brain around.

Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash

Diving Deeper

My mind is wired for books, games, movies, music, and television — I’ve always been attracted to anything with a story I could create or consume. I saw a sign on the side of the road recently that made me ponder some of the bookmarks along my five decade journey so far.

Note that these are in no clear order of precedence — just in the order in which they emerge as I write this post.

  • Decade 1 – NASA, the Six-Million Dollar Man, Space: 1999, Star Wars
  • Decade 2 – D&D, The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Take Five (Dave Brubeck), Spyro Gyra, David Sanborn, Huey Lewis and the News, The Last Crusade, Aliens, Icehouse, the Nylons, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Erasure, high school, jazz band, college
  • Decade 3 – Moebius Adventures, technical writing, Depeche Mode, The Matrix, The Fifth Element, T2, Ren & Stimpy, Batman TAS, X-Men TAS, Animaniacs, Indigo Girls, Fiddler’s Green, Red Rocks, Robert Jordan
  • Decade 4 – loss, Ev, kids, Phoenix, remote work, Iron Man, Gladiator, Game Knight Reviews, work, V for Vendetta, so many book/movie/music reviews, Jonathan Maberry, Harry Dresden
  • Decade 5 – Aliens & Asteroids, writing, work, Avengers, Iron Druid, Mira Grant, Larry Correia, Alan, my girls growing up, crossfit, Italy, Germany, Spain, Czech Republic

I’m sure there are other things. These are impressions… feelings… random thoughts. And yet, so many memories.

Now let’s see if we can do another few decades to add to this, shall we?

Thank you to everyone who has dropped me a message via text, phone, e-mail, or carrier pigeon!

Cheers!

Poem: Status Quo

Photo by Oumaima Ben Chebtit on Unsplash

Status Quo

Broken,
the door slams
back and forth with the wind.
We’d grown used to the noise.
Tuned it out.
Refused to see, hear, or accept
its brokenness.
Then, a stranger points it out.
Can’t you hear that?
Doesn’t it bother you?
Hear what? we ask,
returning to our phones.
Status quo.

BTF 11-MAY-2020

Marks

Made of memory,
we are but moments
wired together
into patterns
that make us who we are.

Every song we sing,
word we write,
thing we make,
and tale we tell
leaves a mark.

Those marks are us
in that instant,
captured for eternity
as part of the checkered whole
everybody sees.

Perhaps
we should focus more
on leaving marks
on the world
before we go.

BTF 1-17-2020

Poem: The Mirror

Photo by Andre Mouton on Unsplash

The Mirror

Afraid, I wander
many empty roads
full of people
fulfilling lofty goals
and wondering
if my little dreams
stood up.

I used to sing.
I used to dance.
I used to draw.
I used to tell stories.
But now I stop
for fear
they aren’t good enough
for the ones
who stop to care.

To hell with them all.
Create. Create. Create.
And let the world see
what I can do
with a damaged soul
and a fragile ego.
So I may once again
look in the mirror
and see me
for who I really am.

Brilliant.
Misunderstood.
Creative.

To hell with the doubt,
the agony,
the fear.
Embrace the love.

See the journey
for what it is.
Let it all run free.

BTF 9-28-2019
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