Grief and Personal Revisionist History

The Queen died today (the day I wrote this, I mean). As a US citizen and a person with a great deal of disdain for the parasitic ruling class of wealth, nobility, and power, I’ll admit I’ve never had much concern for the UK’s royal family. I’m pretty sure I’m breaking some kind of rule about ways to refer to monarchs who have passed away in the transitional state between one ruler and the next, but I’d be lying if I said I cared enough to actually look it up. All I know is I started to recognize patterns in the ways that people were writing about the event on Twitter before I got tired of how EVERYONE was talking about it and found a new comic to read instead of doing my usual Twitter scrolling (Vattu, by Evan Dahm). Which I found because someone shared an image from said comic of a character saying “it’s a tragedy for an emperor even to exist.” If that doesn’t just about capture my feelings on the matter, then I don’t know if anything ever will.

Originally, I planned to never even mention this event on my blog. I don’t really care about the royal family outside of the abstract annoyance I feel about any news item that takes over the entirety of the internet for longer than an hour (there’s already YouTube videos about it, of course), so why would I waste my time on it? I almost deleted the whole post so I could write about my identity or how much I’m dreading the end of Spiritfarer because it’s everything I’ve thought it would be, but while I was looking up the exact text of the quote above, I found another tweet, this one from an account I follow because of her frank discussions about the difficulty of growing up and trying to heal from an abusive family and the grief involved therein: “You don’t have to pretend someone was kind or good because they died. Everybody dies.”

Since my grandfather passed away, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about grief, loss, and the way those things can warp our view of the past. Or perhaps the way we deliberately misrepresent the past in order to justify the grief and loss we feel. I’m still not sure which it is and I strongly suspect that the true answer is that it’s a bit of both for pretty much everyone. When he passed, my mother’s family spent a lot of time waxing poetic about my grandfather, sharing funny stories, and looking at old photos (which is when I had the uncomfortable realization that my older brother is the spitting image of my grandfather when he was younger). It was a difficult event, in part because of the emotion involved and my (to put it INCREDIBLY FLIPPANTLY) difficult relationship with that side of my family, but also because I could see my mother, aunts, and uncles leaving out parts of stories that cast my grandfather in a less than positive light.

Now, the way my mother and her siblings tell it, my grandfather was a jokester and a mischief maker who was well-liked by the people who knew him. He could supposedly talk his way into or out of just about anything. However, as someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about generational trauma and who has learned to recognize the signs of trauma in other people via the details they leave out of the stories they tell about themselves, the past, and the people who hurt them, I think the truth was more complicated. As it almost always is. I think that my grandfather was not always the kind, accepting, friendly person I knew. I think there’s a reason he used to threaten to slap people upside the head or that my mother and her siblings never tell any stories that involved them getting into actual trouble. He changed, I suspect, as he grew older, but that doesn’t absolve him of what he did in the past. I think that if he had acted to address the generational abuse he perpetuated, my mother might have been able to do so as well, rather than resist the notion that she has anything to apologize for.

As I reflect on how little I know about the life my grandfather lived and the way that people are reacting to the death of the queen–waxing poetic, noting the harm she, her family, and the UK have done to the world, or just avoiding the topic entirely–I find myself wondering if we’re ever going to be able to have a healthy relationship with grief. Will we (collectively, I mean) ever be able to mourn a person’s passing and the grief that engenders without trying to paint over all the harm they might have caused? I think there are probably a lot of people who have had a genuine emotional reaction to the passing of the queen, and I don’t mean the people obsessed with celebrities who personally feel the loss of a public figure. I mean people whose lives were touched in a positive way by a public figure through a small interaction or even act of kindness. Not even to mention her family, some of whom may have had a troubled relationship with her but who probably still care about her. I think we could make space for those people to grieve without needing to ignore all the harm the royal family has caused to so many people around the world.

I’ll admit that the idea works a lot better when you’re talking about someone whose impact was primarily felt within a family or family-adjacent social unit rather than all over the world. I think a lot of people are justified in their anger and resentment at the way that the queen is getting all of this attention despite the literal and direct harm done to the world, their country, or even their lives by the queen in her time as the (figure)head of the UK. But then again, this post was never really about her. She was just a convenient focal point for my reflections about loss and grief and this was really me trying to grapple with the flawed person my grandfather was, the flawed people my parents are, and how I’m striving to end the cycle that hurt all of us, so much as I can by myself, anyway.

I mourned my grandfather’s passing even as I recognized that he wasn’t always the person I knew. I will mourn my parents when they pass, if I’m around to see it, even if they are still the people I know they are right now. I will speak honestly of them, just as I do my best to speak honestly of my grandfather and as I hope people will speak of me when I’m gone. The passing of a person is a chance to grapple with the full weight of their life and it would be a foolish disservice to everyone who was impacted by them to do anything less. I just hope the world eventually gets on board with this idea. It would be a lot more healthy for everyone if they did.

Rewriting History Is More Difficult Than It Seems

One of the choatic elements to come out of a recent D&D session was one of the players gaining the ability to get the answer to a question his character focused on, along with the knowledge required to use it in a way to solve the problem the question related to (essentially knowledge and the wisdom to use it as intended) along with the ability to change one event from the past, specifically by causing that event to not happen. This power was earned fairly early in the evening’s chaos, so while everyone else was laughing and joking about powers gained and reacted to how many times we drew specific cards despite the unlikelyhood that they’d keep showing up after I reshuffled the deck, this player was busy thinking about how to use this specific combination of powers. As much fun as I was having with the chaos happening to the other players, I was more excited to see what this player would come up with since he’s usually the one to push the envelop and come up with things that surprise me.

For instance, the first thing he suggested as a potential use for his reality-altering power was to prevent the death of the god whose name had been granted to the world in honor of her sacrifice. This god, according to the history the players learned, chose to save the mortals around her form a raging elemental titan that would have otherwise destroyed them. The titan wound up destroying her in its rage, but her death spurred all the other gods to action, thereby starting the creation wars between the gods and the elemental titans, the results of which directly lead to the initation of the godswar an unknown (by them) time later, which resulted in much of the damage and scarring the world bears in the present day of the players’ characters. Not to mention, of course, that the elemental titans had been killed but also left in the world for reasons unknown, which was causing real problems for the people in the time of the players’ characters. Preventing the death of that one god could have changed everything!

Except, of course, that it really wouldn’t have. As my players and I discussed, prompted by that idea and a few other ideas floated by the other players in response to that one, wars typically happen as the culmination of many events. Systemic problems frequently can’t be solved by the alteration of a single event, even if you have been given the knowledge you need to understand what event needs to change to prevent the outcome you know. An abusive and dangerous empire isn’t made by a single event. You can’t dethrone a godking by making one of his supposed miracles fail. You can’t stop a war by preventing the death of the first victim in one specific moment. The empire might falter or lose a step, but it’s inertia will carry it to victory eventually and nothing short of another series of events with a similar amount of inertia will properly topple it. A godking with a failed miracle will merely find a scapegoat and then prove their power via a new miracle since anyone willing to believe in a godking will believe that a godking’s enemies were out to make them look foolish in that momemt. If someone chooses not to sacrifice themselves to save others, thereby sparking a war, on one specific day after a long series of watching people they care for be hurt, they’ll probably do it eventually and the only real change will be that more people were lost before the war began.

I tried to provide as many examples as I could of how our world’s history could change with one or two events being shifted. It can be difficult, though, because there’s no way of really knowing how things would play out with a minor tweak. People are fond of saying that Hitler getting into art school would have prevented the rise of nazism and the second world war, but I think it would have just looked different. I mean, the US is a pretty good example, what with Trump and US facism. All the elements were already there, the situation was right for the rise of authoritarianism and reactionary politics and the fascism that seems to always show up after those do. The orange menace just gave it a kickstart and launched it into the open. It might have taken more time to get where we are today without the travesty that was the 45th presidency, but we probably would have. The shithead turtle leading the conversatives in the senate was already using the playbook, so it was just a matter of time. The rise and fall of movements, power, and societies aren’t quick or easy things, nor do they reduce down to single tipping points as often as we’d like them to, so changing one single event in a massive chain like that wouldn’t have a huge, drastic effect on the world.

What the player wound up doing was changing events so that his character was in a position to start a chain of events that would change the world. In ways that are both significant and that, from the perspective of the other players, won’t have any visible change until they start digging into things. It is entirely posssible, given what the player and I have discussed, that I’ll be able to pull a “the world was always this way.” I think I can even incorporate it into the side-campaign that gave the player the knowledge necessary to attempt something like this, though even that might have been a retroactive thing he only realized once he’d used his single answer to gain a bunch of information that wound up being connected.

It’s a little difficult to parse from where I am, if I’m being honest, since it has been so many years since I made this world and started the first campaign in it. I’m not sure I’ve kept all of the details separate, but I’m sure I’ll figure that out as I go along. After all, no one but the player and I know what his character did. No one but I knows what the future originally held that will now no longer come to pass. The campaign might be radically different, and the future might change again because of what the player might still do, but I’ll figure all that out as we get to it. That’s most of the fun, anyway, having to scramble to make everything fit as my friends and I roll dice while joking about how everyone got a card from the Deck of Many Things that granted them one or more levels except one player who drew a card that gave him a servant who was given card draws that then put him at a higher power level than the player character he was supposed to be serving. Good times.

Echoes of the Past Resonating in the Present

One quiet afternoon in my twenty-fist year of life, I decided to figure out what type of disposable cutlery I had used the most. I was a senior in college, enjoying some time in a study room in the library with my friends, and I had finished all of the actual work I had to do. I didn’t want to leave the group since they were my dearest friends and pretty much the only social contact I had at the time, so I invented a problem to research. I spent some time reflecting on the situations I had used disposable cutlery, how often those situations came up, and what type of cutlery was involved. After an hour’s worth of work, I determined that, by a significant margin (using estimated numbers), that the answer was spoons. As I reflected on this, reviewing my data and checking my math against the journal of events I had made, I realized that this was the reason one of my oldest and strongest mixes of obsession and compulsion (in fact, the main lingering component of my OCD) was about spoons.

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I Think I Managed To Visit House On The Rock Incorrectly

I recently went to House on the Rock for the first time in my life. As someone who has lived in Wisconsin for almost thirteen years now, I have to admit that a trip to one of Wisconsin’s most famous tourist attractions was long overdue. To be honest, I’m not sure why it took me this long. It’s not like it would be difficult to convince people to go with me or that I was uncertain about whether or not I’d enjoy the trip. I just sort of never went. Like how I never went to a local branch of a coffeeshop chain I’ve long enjoyed since settling in one place after college. I don’t have a good reason, I just never went. I never felt like going during a time when I had the opportunity to go and I never felt the inclination so strongly that I made an opportunity to go, despite visiting a state park near House on the Rock many times.

Having now gone, I can say that it was pretty much like I expected. The descriptions in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods always made me think the space had more of a “warehouse” feel to it than the sort of carefully arranged collection of oddities that actually occupies the space. It was exactly as much of a trip as the book made it seem, though. Sure, there wasn’t a conflict of gods happening throughout it, but it definitely felt like the place a bunch of modern gods would show up in. What made up for that loss was actually the context the foundation tried to provide at the visitor center near the start of the walk-through.

I don’t remember many of the specifics from the various informational placards, but a few things leapt out at me and the general sense I got from said placards informed the way I saw the rest of the collection. Despite the clear eccentricity of the collection being a selling point, the descriptions of the collector, Alex Jordan, seem to have been sanitized in order to avoid offense to the more conservative leaning folks of the world. Even though Jordan clearly lived a non-traditional life, so much of the truth seems to have been scrubbed away in order to make the origin of this collection “more palatable.” Given that it has been decades since Jordan passed away and so much of his life was clearly sanitized, I can only wonder what else inside the displays has been changed so as to be “suitable” for all audiences. Which feels ridiculous given the number of artistic presentations that include topless or nude women. Somehow all that was fine, but admitting that Jordan had a romantic partner who he never married but still lived with was unacceptable. They had to call her his “companion and friend.” Hogwash.

Because I had already seen so much clear sanitization of the history of the man who built the collection, I couldn’t help but wander through the aging, slowly decaying collections and wonder what else has been altered to be more palatable. Every open space that seemed like it should have held something was a place for my imagination to fill in a blank and the strangeness of the collection that remains set a very high bar for how weird or strange something must have been to warrant removal. Sure, it’s possible that parts of the collection have merely broken and been removed rather than left to collect dust like so many of the music machines, but it’s difficult to trust that nothing beyond the history of the man was sanitized.

I’m not saying it wasn’t a nearly incomprehensible experience. It was, and still is, difficult to determine if I enjoyed it or merely survived it, but I had this thought in the back of my mind that maybe there was something missing. That maybe things had been pushed in a “safer” direction, despite the clear disregard for safety in the collections at large. I mean, I was pretty much blinded by a bunch of lights and mirrors in one section of the walk-through, forced to rely on the voices of my friends to guide me through it as I shut my eyes against the vertigo-inducing sight of all that lights stretched out by the mixture of astigmatism and faint blurriness in my dominant eye (a result of my on-going eye problems that only comes up when looking at specific types of lights that aren’t terribly common and every single LED anything ever) and none of the music machines had any sort of notice about how loud or quiet they’d be.

I don’t have much to say about the collections. I feel like I’m not yet in a place to share my thoughts in that regard (I need to go through there another time or two to figure those out), but it definitely left an impression that maybe this sort of thing was way more unique before the internet. Half the sites I used to visit before social media turned the internet into like five websites had a similar feeling to walking through House on the Rock, and most of them didn’t sanitize the history of the person who created/curated the odd collections. I guess I left there with a lot to think about, but mostly in regards to the way even the eccentric are sanitized for general consumption rather than about how strange the experience was.

Do You REALLY Gotta Catch ‘Em All?

I’ve been doing a replay of the Pokémon franchise lately, sort of around everything else I’ve been playing. It is my idle time game. During little breaks from other activities, or while waiting for something to finish (be it laundry or dinner), I’ve been filling that time with Pokémon.

I started playing Pokémon as a child, with Blue Version. I remember standing around the house, playing it on my brand new Game Boy Pocket, and learning the ropes as I experienced the game. My strongest pokemon in that first play through was my Pidgeot, followed closely by my Blastoise. I don’t remember any of the other pokemon I had on my team, but I remember those two. I remember choosing Squirtle because that was what was on the game cartridge and Pidgey because even as a small child I had an affinity for birds.

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Descent Into Darkness

“Listen well, children, for I shall tell you of the world we lost and how this place came to be. Of what once was and may someday be again.

“The world was peaceful, once. A place of prosperity, light, and community, where anyone could reach out and connect with whomever they wished. Though conflict remained, it was small and often little more than jest. A brief disagreement blown out of proportion as a symbol of the bond between two brothers. Brothers born from a shared love rather than the same mother. Truly a time when the commonality between men mattered more than the weak bonds of blood and circumstance.

“Some decried this time of peace and love as nothing more than the death throes of a society brought down by its own complacency, and they may have been right, seeing how we now live in darkness and solitude, all that we once held dear lost to us as the great libraries of Alexandria were lost to the Ancients. So to, has much of our culture and what made us great been lost to us with nothing more than the elements to blame. And we, proud and once mighty, assumed ourselves safe from such trite things as a storm or the wind and rain.

“But no. We were proud and we were wrong. And now we pay the price of our hubris as we live out the rest of our days in darkness.”

“Charlie.”

“As the darkness descends ever deeper, we must-”

“Charlie, do you and the kids want cupcakes?”

“Mom! I’m trying to talk about the collapse of human civilization!”

“What? It’s just a power outage. Are you that upset you can’t play your games online?”

“This isn’t about that!

“Leave your cousins alone and go read a book.”

 

Tabletop Highlight: Weapons of Legacy

I love world creation. I like making up complex worlds with a lot going on and creating a sense of history for the world. I want to make it feel like it stretches beyond the story being told now and, if things go well, that it will continue one for ages to come. That can always be a tricky prospect in any story-telling format, but it can be especially tricky in D&D because no one cares about the past unless you find ways to tie what is going on now to the past. The same can be said of books, but generally the characters in a book are more easily maneuvered into seeing the importance of the past than people playing characters in a D&D campaign.

While there are an endless number of details you can use to draw attention to your campaign’s history and what went on before the characters showed up, not every player is going to be willing to let their attention be drawn. Even then, a lot of the historic information feels like it has been created just to add motivation or information to a present situation, so the depth is lost. My favorite way to add some depth beyond constant references to things that happened long ago and ancient ruins that weigh down their halls with history is a mechanic that D&D 3.5 called Weapons of Legacy. It even has its own book by the same name.

The idea is that certain weapons (or armor, shields, or general items) had so much magic and power invested in them by someone that they started taking on a life of their own. They became these immensely powerful things that show up throughout history, in the hands of different owners who just add to the thing’s legacy. There are a whole bunch of pre-made items in the book and each one has stories about how the legacy item came to bear its current legacy, what has been done with it since then, and where it might be waiting for a new bearer. It even has rules for making custom weapons of legacy, either for enterprising DMs who want to add depth to their world or for players who want to create their own legacies as their characters grow in power.

I enjoy creating legacies as characters grow because it can be really fun for their legacy item to suddenly manifest powers when they’re in a tight corner. It adds a lot of flavor to the characters as they grow and can help them find direction for their growth when players are otherwise struggling to figure out what is next for their character beyond the continued adventure. I prefer to make them myself, perhaps a little tailored to fit my players, so they’re forced to do some research and learn about the past. I like to tie them to plots going on so players become invested in resolving the plots and ensuring that everything eventually gets resolved rather than forgotten about.

The part I enjoy the least is the number of feats and penalties involved in a weapon of legacy. Sure, they’re often WAY more powerful than any other single item in 3.5, but I feel like the penalties take away from the fun and power the players are supposed to feel as a result of the legacy. I don’t mind if my players wind up a little over-powered because it makes them feel like they’re powerful enough to change history. That is, of course, until I throw a dragon turtle at them that nearly takes out the entire party and would have if the entire party besides the Bard weren’t strikers who can deal high damage to single targets. True story.

Honestly, the flavor parts of the legacy items are my favorite parts. I like coming up with the origins and history of the item, in addition to what the Weapons of Legacy book calls the “omen,” or the thing that hints that this isn’t just an ordinary weapon. Combining that with the Individual Magic Effects from the Goblins webcomic makes for some REALLY fun effects when a character picks up and uses a legacy item. They’re all-around fun for me to make and add to my campaign, my players love the power and history they add, and cool stuff (like a dagger made from the largest piece of a shattered Reaper’s scythe) is cool.

Saturday Morning Musing

I’ve been using Facebook since 2007 and I did a lot of growing up during the past 11-ish years. I never really did much social media posting with specifics to my life, but I sure did plenty of whining. And posting song lyrics. There are also the broken links to blogs I’ve run in the past that I ended years ago. Worst of all, at least to my mind, is that I did tons of “vague-booking.” For those of you who are not familiar with the term, it is what you call a post on Facebook that complains about something without actually indicating what is wrong or why you are upset. I’m sure urban dictionary has a better definition, but that is basically it and it annoys me these days.

It can be weird to look back on posts from the past and see myself upset about something that was clearly a big deal at the time but that I can no longer remember. Most of the big, lasting problems from my life during my later high school and college years are things I never posted about but still remember quite clearly. The break-ups, the betrayals and loss of friends, the fights between friends that shattered friend-groups, my attempts to act as a moderator to some dumb shit in college that only convinced both sides to turn against me since I wouldn’t pick a side, and more. There’s nothing on Facebook that is painful to remember mostly because I can’t remember anything I was complaining about.

These days, I maintain a bit of a “digital persona,” I guess you could call it. Maybe “Digital Identity” would be better. Either way, it isn’t an act or a fake personality. I just strictly maintain a certain self-identity across platforms. I try to use similar usernames if not my real name and be consistent in profile pictures, the things I support, and how I voice my thoughts. My blog is currently where I voice most of my thinking while Twitter tends to get more of my moment-to-moment impressions when I feel like they’re actually worth recording. Which isn’t to say I tweet everything that comes up. I try not to complain too much and don’t generally post anything that isn’t a part of my mission. I do similar things outside of the internet as well, so my online identity reflects my offline one. I just feel a little more aware of the performative aspects of being a person and constantly working toward a goal when I’m doing it online. Offline, I just want to make the world a better place however I can, so I generally try to look on the bright side, share things that are good, and generally be a positive influence. In the end, they pretty much work out to the same thing.

That being said, I’m not exactly a ray of sunshine online. I deal with my depression and anxiety a lot on twitter, posting about the weird sort of negative/positive mix of my thoughts that results from my depression and anxiety pulling me down and my attempts to avoid being ruled by them pulling me up. It is also a good exercise in making me focus on things I enjoy, setting my mindset for the day, and looking for the good that comes from everything going on in my life. My twitter isn’t happy, but it is positive and affirming. It represents what it is like to be someone who is active and creative, who refuses to stop doing anything less than literally everything he can, while struggling with depression and anxiety. At least it represents what that means to me, specifically.

My life’s goal is to leave the world a better place than I found it. To be a positive influence on the world, even if it means just making one person’s life better for me having been here. Angst-y Facebook posts from years ago don’t really support that. Plus, they’re kind of embarrassing. I thought I was so clever just sharing song lyrics instead of posting about how I felt, but the themes of the music and the specific lines I chose paint a pretty clear picture of my emotional state at the time of posting. I have to admit that the desire to get rid of these transparent references to transient, ultimately meaningless problems is a part of it.

If I’d actually posted about the real problems I was facing, if I’d shared anything like I do now, about facing life with depression and the constant struggle of managing my anxiety, I would keep it. People benefit from knowing other people out there have shared similar struggles. Something is easier to deal with when you know you’re not alone. The desire to let people know what it is like to be depressed or anxious, to have to struggle to get through every day even when you know you’ll manage just fine and aren’t a suicide risk, that is why I’ve chosen such a public forum. The few random comments I get on this blog from time-to-time make it all worth it.

I don’t really feel like it is self-censorship to remove old posts that no longe represent who I am. My social media should reflect who I am. While some of my past problems are a part of who I am today, none of the whiny little vague posts are. It feels a lot more like cleaning and maintenance to me.