A Late Post

My grandfather was prescribed Hospice Care today. That bit of news, accompanied by the tidbit that his tests all came back saying he wasn’t a match to the genetic profile they needed for a last-ditch treatment effort, has thrown off not just my plans for today but my plans for the next few weeks. When I found out he had only a few weeks left unless he was a genetic match for this special treatment, I planned on heading back to Chicago at a moment’s notice in case something happened and that I’d spent at least one day every weekend in Chicago, visiting family with a particular emphasis on my grandpa. Now I’m planning the same thing, along with preparing a long-term bag that I’ll keep in the trunk of my car and getting my computer area reconfigured so I can dismantle it quickly for travel so I can work remotely if I wind up staying in Chicago for any length of time. We don’t know for sure how long he has left, but it’s probably more accurate to measure in weeks than anything else.

It’s difficult to focus on writing anything, right now. I’ve been trying all day to get my mind into gear for this and it’s basically just grinding the gears rather than actually slipping into gear. Trying to make myself write anything is doing more harm than good and I wasn’t able to create the stockpile of blog posts I wanted to have finished by now, so I’m going on hiatus for a bit.

I hate the thought of stopping, honestly. This decision has been tearing at me all day, despite the fact that it’s been lurking in the back of my mind every time I’ve gotten to my daily writing time and felt the black wave of grief and exhaustion (which are all I have left at this point) wash over me. I want to write more, but trying to make it happen is just making things worse on myself. As is the thought of stopping something I’ve done for four hundred thirteen consecutive days. I’m immensely proud of that streak of daily posts and the daily writing they represent, but I’ve pretty much run myself to the point of a breakdown and I can’t afford to have one of those right now. My stress levels are higher than they’ve ever been, I’m dealing with difficult emotions, I constantly feel run down and exhausted no matter how much rest I get, I’m pretty sure I’m currently sick and only not laid up in bed because I can’t afford to be, and all I want in the world is to keep writing and updating this blog because at least then I can point at it and say “look what I’ve done.”

This past year has been pretty awful for me and it has taken every scrap of willpower I have to make it this far right now. Choosing to take a break feels like giving up and writing this post, making this decision, feels like I’m rolling my soul in a pile of broken glass because daily writing and daily blog posts was all I fucking wanted out of this year. That’s it. My one goal for 2018 was to update this blog every day, write every day, and do whatever it takes to keep those things going. Just thinking about it and everything I’ve worked through up to this point makes me want to delete this entire post and re-write it as a “I’m not going to let this stop me” post. I’m not going to do that, though. I’m going to take a break. I’m going to stop making myself do this every day. I’m going to go back to journaling extensively every day. I’m going to reflect, try to deal with my emotions, deal with my anticipatory grieving, deal with my regular grieving, and then try to come back to this in the new year once I’m no longer traveling every weekend or constantly fighting back exhaustion that makes me want to just dissolve into a puddle of tears on my bed when I get home from work.

I am tempted to leave myself wiggle room for musing posts over the next few weeks, like I did seven or eight months ago when I was stressed and trying to figure out what was going on with my emotions. That might allow me to continue updating every day without the stress of creating new fiction, poetry, and reviewing things, but I think I really need a break from the internet in addition to every thing else as well. I don’t know if that’s going to mean deactivating Facebook and removing Twitter from my phone, or if that’s just going to mean I spend more time away from the computer, but I think I need that right now. Beyond the grief and pain I’m dealing with right now, I haven’t taken a break in over a year. Even the planned breaks wound up not being breaks because I was always working on something during that time. I had a project to do or some writing goal to accomplish. Whatever it was, it pretty much negated the whole point of the break, even if I tried to convince myself otherwise.

So I get I’m concurrently going on vacation and taking a hiatus. The vacation will end on the second of January, so that’s the earliest I’ll be back to writing. The hiatus will end once I’ve dealt with my grief enough to not feel like I’m shaving years off my life and pulling off splinters of my soul to sit down and make something specific. I’ll probably keep writing, but that’ll be expressive stuff rather than following the planned posts ideas I picked out a few weeks ago. I’ll be exploring my emotions and trying to cope with what’s going on rather than writing about pre-established fictional characters or creating parodies of famous poems.

See? I can’t even take a break without planning something for me to be doing while taking said break. Whatever. The point is I’m taking away the obligation and drive parts. I’m just going to create if I feel like and catch up on my giant collection of unread books if not. I’m going to try to figure out better routines for myself, ones that incorporate better physical self-care, and see if I can finally do something about the burn-out I’ve been fighting for almost an entire year.

Or maybe two weeks will pass and I’ll still be tired. Who knows. All I know is that writing feels incredibly painful today and I need it to stop feeling painful. Even if I want to write, even if I’m willing to put up with the pain (which I clearly am, given this blog post), I don’t think it’s going to be healthy to pull more than this out of my for the next couple weeks, at least. Catch you all later. You know how to reach me.

Tabletop Highlight: Breaks, Hiatuses, and How to Fill the Time Between

Like any Dungeons and Dragons group, or any tabletop gaming group for that matter, mine occasionally has a few weeks where we aren’t able to get enough people together for a gaming session. It happens more frequently with my group than with most given that my group is only three players so even one missing player breaks my “more than two-thirds of the players must be present to run a session” rule. At the same time, when I’m incredibly stressed like I have been for the past few weeks, I am not up to running the game even though I usually still want to. I learned not to push it on those days long ago, because they’re inevitably the days when the players get some idea stuck in their head and I’ve gotta re-do half the plot and story I had planned on the spot, even if we’re well past the point when I thought I’d have to change anything like that around. They always find a way.

It’s always a struggle to figure out how to handle gaps like this. If you’re at a plot-critical moment, it gets really difficult to keep the tension and anticipation going when you don’t meet for a month. If you’re between big moments or the players are at a point where they must decide what to do next, then it is relatively simple to skip time since all they’ll need is a refresher. If it is at all possible to time your gaps so they fall at moments like those, I recommend doing it. That being said, most gaps aren’t planned ones but one-week skips that wind up incidentally getting longer, so here are some ways to help fill time between sessions.

The easiest way is to find a way to have smaller one-off sessions so each of the players gets a chance to do something integral to the story that’s unfolding. This won’t work if they’re in the middle of a dungeon or if you didn’t end the session at a point where the various characters can temporarily go their separate ways. This is a great time for rogues to do stealth missions or for the diplomatically inclined to take the time to get to know the local gentry. Even the more mercenary characters can make connections, even if they’re just with the various mercantile forces in the area. If you’ve got a role-play heavy campaign, there’s no such thing as too many connections. If your players tend to be more interested in being murder-hobos than role-players, you can easily make up a small encounter or two that will give them a chance to cut loose while waiting for the plot to resume.

Another thing you can do is more or less assign them homework. Maybe they have some connections they should contact that will help them in this situation. Have them write out a dialogue that represents this interaction and make sure to give them something for it, maybe a bonus on a future skill check, a minor item that will come in handy, or just a smidgen of role-playing XP. This is especially useful if you’re doing a role-play heavy campaign because it lets the players get more into their character and also provides you with more information about their characters that you can then figure out how to work into the game later on.

If you’re looking for something that’s less work for the dungeon master, I suggest assigning them a text-based interaction. There’s probably a decision or two they need to role-play and they can do it via text instead of taking up time at the next session. If it’s a big decision or something that’s going to spark a lot of debate, then it’s even better to get it out of the way before the session so you all can get down to figuring out what happens next. This is useful to you because you don’t need to monitor the text conversation and can just check in on it from time-to-time or read it all whenever you feel up to it. Alternatively, and you should never reveal this to your players (so stop reading this London, David, and Daniel, and just start at the top of the next paragraph), you give them a text discussion to role-play and then you never read it. If it isn’t a super important discussion, you can just skim it for any important bits or let your players bring up the highlights in conversation. That last bit is particularly easy if you live with one or more of your players and they love talking about the game (I told you to stop reading this, David).

Another thing you can do if you’re willing to surrender a little control and need something that takes the burden off of you is have one of the players propose a little side-mission or adventure they can run. It keeps things in your world and will likely be at least tangential to the plot you’re running, but you should definitely work through what that player wants to run if you’re going to let them do it in your game world since you want to make sure they aren’t going to cut off something you’ve been saving. I don’t really recommend this option much because I’ve seen it go wrong more often than right, but it’s definitely an option. If you’re co-running a game with someone or if one of your players is a good DM, then it gets much less risky, but you definitely still need to sit down and talk to them about it before you give them the go-ahead.

As I said, it’s always better if you don’t need to find a way to fill a bunch of time without game sessions, but I guarantee that there will come a time when you will need to get through a gap at an inconvenient time. If you do something else to bridge gaps like this one, I’d love to hear what that is. Please share it in the comments or shoot me an email!