Driven Me To

Yes, my darlings, this is what lockdown and fascist coup have driven me to: sobbing into Keep Calm and Carry On tissues while drinking my emergency can of wine. (This was last Friday, if I’m being strictly honest.)

This week, we do have a D&D game. I have a murder himbo to hire, a date between our ranger and a dwarf named Gracie to cheer on, and a party to attend. My cleric has a new dress, the rogue’s gnoll toddler has a babysitter, our half-orc barbarian has a new zoot suit, and our paladin has no idea what she’s gotten herself into.

So instead of sobbing I’ll be laughing maniacally, chewing on a burrito, and maybe downing an edible or two while being the in-game equivalent of a chaos generator. I’m looking forward to it, and I hope you have a nice Friday evening planned too, my beloveds. But first I’ve got to get through the work day. Dogs need walking, there’s a run in the pouring rain to get done, and if I work myself to the bone today I will feel absolutely no guilt about knocking off early to play with my friends.

Take what joy you can. We’ve survived another week. I think we all deserve a pat on the back and something fun.

Dungeon, Dragon, Lockdown

The wind is pouring through the Columbia Gorge; yesterday afternoon it bore smoke on its back, darkening the sky in the space of an hour and turning the sunset into a lake of blood. This morning most of the burning is gone, though I can still taste a tang or two as the wind shifts. It sounds like the sea, and the trees are flinging bits of themselves away with abandon.

It’s a nice day to be back at work, a nice day to walk the dogs, and a particularly nice day to write fanfic of our D&D campaign. I can’t do the last until I finish actual work, but I can long for it all I want.

Our weekly game was started during lockdown; our DM takes morale during uncertain times very seriously and, after a small starter campaign that almost broke us (it wasn’t designed for our play style, but we muddled through anyhow) we are now embarking on a homebrew. I haven’t played since high school, and am surprised by how much fun it is with adults.

We have the half-orc barbarian whose sartorial sense is only rivaled by his backhand and his cooking skill, a sylvan half-elf ranger obsessed with weapons and linguistics, a rogue with several past marriages and a gnoll toddler (both things unrelated to each other), an elvish vengeance paladin who keeps muttering oh my goddess, not again, and my own character–sort of my id let loose–a very young elf cleric whose last major act was biting some jerk’s nose off in a tavern.

We are a lot of fun, if you haven’t guessed. The entire session is a cacophony of laughter, in-jokes, moaning or cheering at dice rolls, lunatic roleplaying, and the DM throwing up her hands and sighing “Y’all need Jesus,” at least twice a session.

The first “Y’all need Jesus” is always celebrated with much glee.

Honestly, if I’d known it was this fun, I would have started doing this ages ago. But my initial experiences with the game were… well, it was a bunch of teenage boys who didn’t like a girl playing, so that was unpleasant. And I’m told we’re not the usual group–seducing the catfish is our preferred method, although when the murder starts we’re frighteningly good at it. The homebrew campaign is going to be a sort of mafia-wars thing in a Waterdeep-based city, and our first night in town we made a gigantic enemy who will probably kill us all.

And we regret nothing. Even the whole “steal from the banshee and almost die” affair.

Amusingly enough, with three paying projects on the burners and the alien romance tapping its foot and waiting impatiently, I’ve started doing quasi-writeups of our sessions as well–suitably altered for fiction, of course–because it’s hilarious, and it gives me a version of the fun feeling the game does. It will probably remain unfinished forever, or its finished version will eventually bear absolutely no relation to the game, but for the moment it’s therapeutic as fuck.

The biggest thing for me is a few hours each week where I don’t have to be myself, and further don’t have to perform emotional labor for everyone in range. There are consequences to actions in-game, of course, but very few outside, and that is utterly liberating. The feeling of pressure slipping away when Friday afternoon rolls around is luxurious. It’s been one thing keeping me sane through lockdown, and the story is just a bonus.

I suppose it wouldn’t work quite as well if DM, rogue, cleric, and ranger hadn’t been friends for almost a decade. The communication strategies evolved during long-term friendship have stood us in good stead, and there’s a deep comfort to doing outlandish things with people who understand your weirdness.

Not only that, but the DM created an NPC for my cleric that tickles all my narrative kinks. If that’s not saying I love you, I don’t know what is.

Happy Tuesday, my beloveds. I’m beginning to think I might get through, you know, all this. (Imagine me waving my hands wildly, indicating the entire world on fire.) At least I’ll go down laughing, if I must fall at all.

Over and out.

Tea, Falafel, Strategy

Made chana masala last night, so that’s what we’ll be eating for a few days. And yet, my hunger for chickpeas has not abated, and I want falafel. I want falafel with the burning desire of a thousand suns, probably because I’m super hungry after the morning’s run and I haven’t had a chance to get anything but toast down, helped along with a prodigious amount of tea.

There is even more tea cooling next to the keyboard as I type this. I thought the run would sand off my smooth edges, but I am sharp in every direction today. My temper is so jagged I have retreated (of course with a tankard of English Breakfast) to the office, and I’m casting around for a scene to write that won’t suffer from my mood.

Fortunately, there’s more than one combat scene upcoming, so I can focus on those today. Despite getting up early I’ve been grousing about and now I feel like there’s not enough time left in the day. (And it’s barely bloody noon, fa cry-eye.)

The thing about operating under these conditions is that when a good day comes along hope starts to bloom again, but then a bad one arrives and since all your resilience has gone towards the cognitive load of dealing with ongoing disaster, there’s nothing left to dull the edges or insulate the nerves.

So it’s muttering into my tea and writing nasty things happening to characters I rather like. At least I can still work–creating, despite its cost, is the only thing that gives me any sense of agency anymore.

And humans do very poorly when robbed of a sense of agency.

What’s keeping you going, dearly beloveds? I confess I am asking on the off chance that someone might have a tactic I haven’t tried yet, but I figure the more we share of our various ideas and strategies, the better off we all are. So… is there anything giving you a sense of power or agency lately? What’s holding you afloat?

Percy Rolls For Me

We’ll return to the tale of Boxnoggin, Travis, and the Venerable on Monday. For right now, meet Percy, my liver-shaped D&D mascot.

My current D&D character (I’m playing online with a few friends; we’re using Roll20 and Discord to handle communications and other minutiae) is a baby high elf cleric with an… interesting… upbringing. Somehow, she’s gotten in the habit of collecting organs from those NPCs silly enough to choose combat over discussion with our group1, so her best in-game friend (the rogue with several false identities who just had to steal from the banshee during that one session, don’t ask, we survived, it’s good enough) sent her this beautiful plush liver from IHeartGuts.

His name is Percy, and during our next D&D sessions he’s going to roll for me. Maybe he’ll have better luck with the strength checks than I do. I can hope, right? (Of course, who needs strength when your charisma’s insanely high?)

The world is on fire, but I’m looking forward to having some fun with my group tonight. I hope you have something pleasant to take refuge in as well, dear Reader. If anything can save us, it’s human connections–and it doesn’t get much more human than playing games.

Have a lovely weekend.

Monday, Not Usual Speed

Well, the weekend was full of good food, I’ll grant it that. The dogs got a whole pile of corn chips apiece, and they were absolutely beside themselves with joy. It almost made up for the artillery barrages. Even though a majority of voters went for the fireworks ordinance, some douchebags just had to ruin it for everyone else. It wasn’t as bad as it’s been some years, for which I’m grateful, but I’m still vexed.

Hopefully it’s the last gasp of selfish knobs in this particular direction. I find myself hoping for the “last gasp” in many directions lately. I spent some serious time on the couch yesterday and finished reading Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India; it’s been some while since I’ve had the mental and emotional bandwidth to read history. (Pandemic and fascist coup will do that to one.) Whatever hope I have lately–and it’s not a lot, mind you–comes from history’s quiet insistence that the crowds in the streets will bring some manner of reckoning to those who seem unassailable.

Of course the book has its lacunae; James is a firm believer in the Raj’s “civilizing mission” (such as it was) so it’s interesting to substitute certain terms from the language of empire into the language of decolonization. Next up on the reading list is Meyer & Brysac’s Tournament of Shadows, and I’m sure I’ll have to substitute a few terms in there, too.

What I did not do this past weekend was work, or do much more than glance at social media. The world is merrily burning itself down whether I look or not, and I was at the end of my ability to cope. Certainly I’m still going to have to be careful; it will take very little to send me spinning into despair again. The lack of sleep from random fireworks at odd hours, making the dogs attempt to smother me in order to gain safety from my closeness, isn’t helping. But I’m sticking grimly to my scheduled runs, hoping to tire myself out enough to collapse and get some good rest when the douchebags stop lighting off cannon.

If I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to work, I should at least utilize it. I might even turn this bloody epic fantasy in on time–although that is a wildly optimistic thought. It will take a lot of tea, I’m sure. Fortunately, I have boxes and boxes standing ready, though only a few bags of my favorite chai masala. I’ve plenty of British Breakfast and a not-inconsiderable amount of Earl Grey, which should drag me through quite handily.

I won’t be quite at usual speed today; having to sleep with both dogs practically atop me sort of put paid to any real rest. But I can run, and that will both give me enough energy to get through the day and wear me out so I won’t bloody care if there’s stray crackles and booms to make the canines nest on me tonight. At least they sleep when they’re nestled as close to Mum as possible. It’s calming to know that I possess some power, however fitful, to soothe their fears.

Onward and upward, nolite te bastardes carborundorum, and all that. I would wish for peace, but that hardly seems likely; instead, I wish for strength.

Or just sheer stubbornness–always a favorite in these parts.

Tasty Victory

I did chana masala for the first time! There are a million recipes for it online, and I found one that uses cocoanut oil for “blooming” the spices, which I wanted to try.

The chickpeas were soaked overnight and simmered with lemon rind, olive oil, onion, and salt for a long while; about a half-hour before dinner, I began with more onions and spices in hot oil, then the crushed tomatoes. The resultant stuff went into the chickpea pot for the last simmer. I was nervous about the whole experiment–there were a lot of chickpeas to throw out if this went wrong–until the very end, when I dumped in the garam masala and stirred.

That was what it needed, and finishing with a little lemon juice just made it OMG WOW. My faith was utterly vindicated and restored at once, especially since the kids both pronounced this something they’d eat again. (They’d better, we have a lot of leftovers.)

So at least this week has contained one (very tasty) victory. Heaven knows I needed it, and I hope your week had at least one victory as well, no matter how small.

Onward to the weekend, then, once I get today’s work finished. (There’s always a catch…)

Love and Failure

I had to make the painful decision to close down the writing Substack lately, and this morning the notification went out to subscribers. I’m in mourning, I suppose.

I really wanted this experiment to work. It didn’t because pandemic, which nobody could have predicted, and the absolute mess made of pandemic response in the US, which anyone with two brain cells could have predicted when the election was stolen in 2016. It was never a question of if, it was only a question of when a giant disaster would occur, killing swathes of American citizens and enriching the criminal cabal still busily entrenching themselves in power and looting the public treasury.

I love doing writing advice. I love mentoring and helping fellow writers, I love sharing my expertise–such as it is, of course, since each path to publication is unique. And who knows, once all this calms down I might try the experiment again, with better results.

Failure is never comfortable. I keep reminding myself that if not for the pandemic and its associated cognitive load, if not for the terror lurking in my house, under my skin–because I am absolutely terrified my kids will get sick and need hospitalization we can’t afford–I would have energy for all my projects and experiments on the side. I hate the persistent feeling that I’m letting readers down by not being a superhero immune to fear.

Maybe I am a superhero, just not high-powered enough to do all this. I don’t know.

It’s a lovely grey morning outside, misty and perfect. Despite heartbreak and failure, the dogs still need walking, dinner still needs to be planned, and the paying projects still need to be nibbled at. I keep telling myself, like George Burns says, it’s better to be a failure at something one loves than a success at something one hates, but I still wish there wasn’t a bloody pandemic and I had a better chance at being a success at sharing writing advice. I’ll still do the occasional writing post here, but not for a while. Keeping all the other plates spinning is about all I can handle right now.

If you’ve had to shut something you love down because of all this bullshit, my heart goes out to you. It’s uncomfortable as fuck, and it’s all right to mourn. It’s absolutely natural and normal to grieve a project or experiment you had high hopes for. (And if you suspect I’m giving this advice partly because I want to remind myself, you’re absolutely right.) Let yourself feel it, if you can in a safe space; the only way out is through.

So I’m off for dog-walkies. Canine joy is a balm, and will help mend the cracks in my heart. Dogs are too good for us. *sigh*

Over and out.