Sense Memories, Grief, and Growth

The last time I was updating my blog as rigorously as I am updating it now, I wound up stopping because I had too much stuff going on. Between work, my grandfather’s final months, trying to support my family during that time, sorting through my feelings about my family, and being forced to confront the loss of the one person who seemed to just be happy to see me any time my family gathered, I just didn’t have the time or energy to keep up posting. Plus, a lot of the time I spent on things like consuming media or resting vanished as I wound up driving back and forth from my home to my parents’ home. It was a trip that took about three to four hours to travel just one way, depending on the time of day and traffic, and I was doing that at least once a week, sometimes twice as I haphazardly worked from my parents’ guest bedroom when I could and had to return home when work demanded my physical presence. The only thing that made this segment of late 2018 (from November onward) and early 2019 possible was that I’d just gotten into podcasts.

While I started with ambitious plans to listen to a wide variety of podcasts based on recommendations from friends, I quickly realized that showing up late to the party meant that I had a significant backlog of episodes to listen to. I started with comedy and informational podcasts, but those were difficult to listen to when you’re in the car for four hours in a row, for the fourth time in a seven-day period. Not because they’re not fun, but because you’re exhausted and there just isn’t enough of a through-line to really hold your attention. I mean, there usually was a through-line in the informational ones, but if I wasn’t incredibly interested in the subject matter, they tended to make me drowsy rather than hold my attention. As I sought to remedy this problem before I ran out of audiobooks to listen to, I stumbled into The Adventure Zone. It was my first foray into the “actual play” genre and I haven’t looked back since.

I could probably write several posts about my favorite actual play podcasts and why I seem to be able to stick with listening to them better than I could ever stick to watching them, and even an entire series about the format and how editing allows for the somewhat humdrum parts of tabletop roleplaying games to be removed so only the fun, interesting bits remain. I’m saving that for another day, though, since I’m only thinking about this period of my life because of the recent release of the fifth installment in the graphic novel adaption of the first season of The Adventure Zone. This book represents the first story arc of the podcast I listened to entirely while driving to and from my parents’ or grandparents’ houses. The timing of the show and my visits was such that I listened to the very last episode sitting on my couch in my apartment after completing the drive back from my grandfather’s funeral.

Revisiting that season is an emotional journey. I still cry every time the story ends and not just because of the beautiful, sweet way it did. It’s difficult not to remember how I felt that night, as I privately mourned my grandfather’s passing and what he meant to me. It’s difficult not to remember the context in which I first experienced that story. The graphic novel adapts it well, changing a lot of the details to fit the more streamlined and concise format of a printed medium. After all, it’s not like a graphic novel needs all the unresolved plot hooks and dangling threads that make up most D&D campaigns and actual-play podcasts. They need to be tight and trimmed to the essentials.

I had long worried that the adaption wouldn’t do this section of the story justice. The Adventure Zone really picked up during the fourth mini-arc, as the GM really buckled down and started planting the seeds that grew into the second half of the game. It was the fifth arc, though, that showed me what the entire group could accomplish. That drew me in and made me emotionally invested to the degree that I stopped noticing every time the rules got bent or ignored. So I worried that some of the pieces that I loved about this arc would get trimmed and that, without the voices of the players, some of the heavy, hard-hitting moments wouldn’t land. I was very glad to see, when I finally got my hands on my copy last week, that I had worried for nothing. If anything, it hit even harder than the podcast had. Maybe because I know what all the foreshadowing means this time around, maybe because I’m re-experiencing it from a slightly altered perspective, and maybe because it provides the pictures and visual emotion that the audio, which I can still hear in my mind, lacked.

All I know is that I spent the last few days thinking about the podcast all over again. About the time in my life that I listened to it. About my grandfather and my family and how much has changed in the last four years since I made that final drive and listened to that final episode. About grief and loss and growth and change and the slow grind of time. About everything I’ve been avoiding for months or maybe even years as I’ve tried to last long enough in the rough situation I’m in that I could maybe come out the other side ready to spring into action or make some major change. I’ve been telling myself for a long time that the only way out is through, that sometimes things must be endured so that you are ready when the time for change arrives. I’m not sure that’s the wrong way to think about things, given how my current set of stresses, anxieties, and plans seems to be the perfect example of all that. Still, part of me feels like maybe a little action is needed now since there’s actually a lot of ways to get past something other than simply going through it.

I don’t really have answers or even actionable ideas (not even bad but actionable ideas), but the tail-end of everything I went through four years ago was the knowledge that things had changed and it was up to me to keep changing them in a way that would be healthy and beneficial for me. A lot of life has gotten in the way since then, but it is still up to me to keep changing things.

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