Group Up

This entry is going to be an absolutely blatant attempt to see if I can get some interest in games I would like to run, or at least try out. These ideas have been running through my head for days, or weeks, and I’m hoping that if I can’t at least get some interest, at least I can get them written down so I don’t lose them.

So, I’d like to run a game. Hell, I’d like to run several. Gaming is not a new hobby for me; I’ve been doing it since I was 12 or 13, and for much of that time I’ve been the guy running the games. I haven’t had a chance to get much gaming in lately, both with personal issues and work issues and occasionally school issues getting in the way. But I’d like to get back into gaming, and so with that in mind, I’ve got at least 4 solid ideas for one-shot games at the least, all of which have the option to expand into longer-running games.

Star Wars: Edge of the Empire: it’s no surprise that Star Wars is high on the list. A couple years ago, a new company, FFG, picked up the RPG license for Star Wars (they also do the miniature games for Star Wars, X-Wing and Armada, as well as the Imperial Assault board game), and split up the universe into three games: Edge of the Empire, where you play  people living on the edge of society – from bounty hunters to colonists, smugglers to explorers – in the Star Wars universe; Age of Rebellion, where you play Rebels in various roles fighting a hit-and-run war against the vast Empire; and Force & Destiny, where you play Force-sensitive characters, like potential Jedi, trying to survive in a galaxy under Imperial rule. I have all three, but I’m fondest of Edge of the Empire. What I’d like to do, ideally, is run through the beginner’s boxed set adventure, with 4-6 pre-generated characters, to get a feel for how the system plays and how Star Warsy it is, and then if people enjoy it, continue on with either the same characters or new ones as they enter the larger Star Wars galaxy. More info on the basic Edge of the Empire game can be found here, and the beginner’s game info is here.

Masks: Masks is a game about playing a teenage superhero in a city that already has two living generations of previous heroes, all of whom have their own ideas about how you should conduct yourself in the superpowered world. It’s meant to tell stories like those in Teen Titans, Young Avengers, Runaways, and Young Justice – how does your character, as a teen, handle his or her powers, and how do the adults in your character’s life affect that? It’s a game using the rules system pioneered by Apocalypse World, so it can be absorbed pretty readily in a few pages, and it’s a very rules-light, narrative game. For a bit more background, read this, and check out the link to the (now finished) Kickstarter:

Masks is a tabletop roleplaying game in which you play young superheroes who are growing up in a city several generations into its superheroic age. Halcyon City has had more than its fair share of superheroes, superteams, supervillains, and everything in between. Over the course of three different generations of super-people, Halcyon City has seen it all.

You play members of the fourth generation, young adults trying to figure out who they are and what kind of heroes they want to be. The rest of the world is telling them what to do, but they’ll find their own path amidst the noise. And kick some butt along the way. After all, what’s the point of being a hero if you can’t fight for the things you believe in? ‘

Shadows of the Demon Lord: This one is pretty new to me, but after reading through it, I felt like it would be a great system to at least try out. It’s set on a fantasy world that may very well be in its last days, and it is a dark place, but there is still room for heroes, even if they might not be the heroes you’d naturally expect. Dwarves and humans team up with orcas and goblins – who don’t seem to share typical fantasy backgrounds -to team up and try to keep the titular Demon Lord from breaking through the dimensional walls and consuming the world. To me, it’s a setting very reminiscent of Diablo, or Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying, in it’s dark and kind of grim and gritty nature, and the system sems like it’s pretty easy to pick up and explain. If you’re interested in saving a world that might be close to death, this is one to check out; I’ll link to the DriveThruR{G page here, because it has some good information and several good reviews.

Gamma World: Post apocalyptic wackiness using the 4th edition D&D system. Seriously, that’s the best tagline I can come up with. Randomly throw two character origins together (with options like Seismic, Octopoid, Cryokinetic, or the stunningly boring Engineered Human), assign some ability scores and toss in some equipment, and go out into the radioactive world to see what tries to mess with you. Personally, I’m quit fond of the intro:

‘n the fall of 2012, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, embarked on a new series of high-energy experiments. No-one knows exactly what they were attempting to do, but a little after 3 P.N. on a Thursday afternoon came the Big Mistake. Something unexpected happened, and in the blink of an eye, many possible universes all condensed into a single reality.

In some of these universes, little had changed; it didn’t make a big difference which team won the 2011 World Series, for example. In other universes, there were more important divergences. The Gray Emissary, who was carrying gifts of advanced technology, wasn’t shot down at Roswell in 1947, the Black Death didn’t devastate the known world in the 14th century, the dinosaurs didn’t die out, Nikola Tesla did conquer the world with a robot army, and so on. The Cold War went nuclear in 83 percent of the possible universes, and in 3 percent of the possible universes, the French unloaded their entire nuclear arsenal on the town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, because it had to be done. When reality stabilized again, an instant after the Big Mistake, the familiar Earth of the 21st century was replaced by one formed from many different realities.

The year is now 2162 (or 151, or 32,173, or Six Monkey Slap-Slap, depending on your point of view). It;s been a hundred and fifty years since the Big Mistake, and the Earth is a very different place. The ruins of the Ancients (that’s you and me) litter the landscape of radioactive deserts, mutated jungles, and vast, unexplored wildernesses. Strange new creatures, such as beetles the size of cars and super-evolved badgers with Napoleonic complexes, roam the world. The survivors of humanity gather in primitive tribes or huddle in trade towns that rarely rise above the technology of the Dark Ages. Even the nature of humanity is now different, because generations of exposure to radiation, mutagens, and the debris of other realities have transformed humans into a race of mutants who have major physical alterations and potent mental abilities.

This is the world of the D&D Gamma World Roleplaying Game. It’s a world of dangerous mutant monsters, jungle-grown ruins of the cities of the Ancients, and mysterious artifacts of awesome technology. It’s your world to survive, to explore, and to conquer – if you’re up for the challenge.’

Doesn’t that sound fun? Or at least funny? The game itself is out of print, but it, too, can be found at DriveThruRPG here.

 

So, those are the ideas that are currently running through my mind. They aren’t necessarily all of the, but they’re the four I think would be the most fun to try out. So if you’re interested (and int he Houston area, sadly, I’ve never had very good luck running games online), let me know, and if you just want to chat about RPGs, drop me a line here, or on Facebook, or via e-mail at jacobgreyfang@gmail.com. I now return you to your regularly scheduled Saturday madness.

 

‘Normal’

Do you ever wonder what normal really is, or if this mythical things really exists? I do, all the time.

There’s a lot about my life I can’t really complain about. I grew up with a good family, parents who were always there, a sister who was, while occasionally bratty (as younger siblings can be) when we were younger, was pretty good (and has become more awesome with age), and a family lifestyle that trended towards upper middle class. I wasn’t deprived of things, I wasn’t beaten or abused. We moved around a fair amount, sure, which made it hard to make a lot of friends, but it also meant that my sister and I got to see a lot of stuff that many people will never have the chance to see. I’ve always tended towards the quiet, mild-mannered, intellectual side of things; I’ve liked to read, voraciously, since I could figure out how, and while I did do some physical activities – I was in Little League, played soccer, was on a swim team for a while – my sister was usually the one who was more inclined to the more physically active side of things.

I think things started to diverge from what my mind assumes is normal in high school. I was bullied a fair bit in 8th grade – not bad enough to ever fear for my life, or contemplate suicide, but enough that my parents thought moving me out of public school was a good idea. So I went to an all-boys Jesuit high school. I actually enjoyed it, for the most part – a lot of the stuff you see in high school movies and TV shows never happened at my school, because there were no girls to show off for. But, given my normal level of introverted behavior, I never really got to socialize with girls in my high school years – I never dated, only had one female friend (who was the girlfriend of another friend of mine), and never really had that ‘normal’ high school experience. Not that my high school experience was all that normal, anyway – in high school, I was diagnosed with something called Graves’ Disease, which sounds rather dire but is really just an overactive thyroid gland.

The thyroid gland, from what I’ve been given to understand, is in charge of metabolism for the body, so an overactive thyroid basically kicks your metabolism into overdrive. This had some unpleasant side effects, to be sure – I was irritable (more than an average rebellious teenager), the overactive metabolism meant I burned through my energy levels by mid-day, which was problematic because it meant I often fell asleep in class (for me, it was English class), resulting in detention, my hands tended to shake (and since I was into playing wargames where you were supposed to pain the miniatures, this was kind of annoying, and yes, I was a huge nerd even then), and it also made my eyes kinda wonky. But, because it kicked my metabolism into overdrive, that was basically all I heard when I saw the doctor – because it meant that I could basically eat anything, in any amount, and lose weight. To a teenage guy, that sounded awesome! To current me, if I had a time machine I would go back and punch my younger self until I agreed to take my medication regularly.

See, eventually, if left untreated (which, since I was either bad at remembering to take my medication, intentionally not taking it, or both, mine basically was), Graves’ Disease can result in heart disorders, brittle bones, and in rare cases thyroid storms (which have a lot of unpleasant symptoms, comas among them). So while I muddled through my high school years, totally unaware of how I was setting myself up for unpleasantness later – through both my almost total lack of social interaction with women, as well as my own medical condition – when I went to college, things went poorly. I basically stopped taking my medication altogether, which meant I would run at high energy for several hours, then crash at often inopportune times (like when I needed to go to class). I also had no idea how to really interact with the fairer half of my college’s population, so withdrew socially. Again, if I had a time machine, I would go back and shove my younger self into social situations, because it would have helped prevent what was coming, or at least kept it from getting so bad.

Eventually, my Graves’ Disease progressed to the point where doctors recommended that my thyroid be ablated – or, essentially, destroyed with radioactive iodine. I would then need to take a thyroid replacement supplement for the rest of my life, because I would have nothing producing the necessary chemicals to keep my metabolism working properly. Sadly, I got no superpowers from being irradiated, and I strongly suspect that that, or something related to it, was the event that essentially kicked off my clinical depression. Which, let me tell you, is not fun to have at all. Though I imagine the two suicide attempts probably illustrate that pretty well. Not getting effective treatment for that for so long would be number three on my list of things to use a time machine to punch my younger self for.

Also, sometime around the beginning of 2013, I developed Restless Leg Syndrome – essentially, my leg starts to twitch when I get drowsy, making it difficult, if not impossible, to fall asleep, and even after I fall asleep, it can continue to twitch in my sleep – either waking me up, or just using up some of the energy I would normally be recharging with a good night’s sleep. I have medication for it, but it takes a good half an hour to an hour to kick in, and sometimes it doesn’t work, meaning that some nights I get next to no sleep, or I wake up tired because my twitching legs kept me from really resting.

This wouldn’t be so bad, except that my dose of thyroid replacement hormone typically rests me at about the lowest possible point I can have my metabolism be at and count as ‘normal’, meaning my metabolism runs pretty slowly – so it doesn’t take a lot to tire me out. As well, one of the symptoms of depression that never seems to go away for me, even when my medication helps to clear up the more concerning mental symptoms, is fatigue. So on any given day, I’ve generally got maybe 8-10 hours of activity in me before I’m basically done; most days after work I just head home and crash, because I’ve got no energy left. It also means that I gain weight easily, and it’s a huge pain to lose – exercise, when not actively, physically painful – which it often tends to be – burns through my daily energy so fast that I spend several hours recovering after 30 minutes to an hour of exercise, which isn’t a very good deal. This is annoying, as there are things I would like to learn to do, like swordfighting, that while mentally appealing, I find painfully difficult to do regularly, because I just lack the energy to keep up a good training regimen.

But I can’t fix any of these things – the best I can really do is manage them, try to get my doctors to help me out as best they can, and hope for the best. I don’t know what normal is for other people, but that’s normal for me. There are a lot of areas where I am not lacking, but I would probably give up most of what I own for the ability to get through a day and not feel totally drained, or to ask a girl out and not feel absolutely crushed when I get turned down. If teenage me had had any idea about how screwed up he would be making future me by doing what he did, he probably would have punched him/me out. Repeatedly.

Questions From Hell

I’ve been thinking about a blog topic recently; I was planning on being a huge geek and talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe versions of Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Tony Stark (Iron Man), or maybe the Star Wars showdown between Anakin Skywalker vs. Kylo Ren. But then earlier today, something really unpleasant (and I only use unpleasant because right now I can’t think of a word to truly describe how it felt) happened.

I had a friend text me and ask me, ‘What is the easiest way to kill myself?’

Given my own history involving suicide, asking this question was like being stabbed in the most painful place you can imagine, by someone who I thought would never do something like that. I’ve spent hours trying to come to something I can say about it without resorting to a mixture of crying, screaming, hitting things, and four-letter words, and… I’ve come up with nothing.

Seriously, given my history, what the fuck do I say to something like that? I haven’t had a drink in almost three years, but I’m tempted to do so now.

I’m Not (Always) Wrong

One of my longest-standing problems related to mental illness has been my rather high degree of personal insecurity. When I’m around friends, or really people in general, and things start to feel weird, I automatically assume something is wrong. Now, often our gut feelings on things like this are correct; odds are that the more people you are around, the more likely there is to be someone who has something going wrong in their life.  And the closer you are to someone – as in, the better you know them – the more likely you are to pick up on the little signs that they are sending to reflect how they actually feel, not how they are trying to show everyone else they feel.

Where I go wrong in this situation is, because of my own tendency to feel insecure, I assume that whatever is wrong, the fault is mine. And so I apologize. And I apologize. And I keep assuming blame that is not mine. Which both takes the opportunity for whoever is having something going wrong in their life to try and talk about what is going on, and it makes me feel worse. It can also mean that in assuming blame that is not mine, I let the person who is to blame for something get away with whatever it was they did wrong, and give them a convenient scapegoat to blame in the future, because I’ve proven willing to take the blame for things that were not my fault.

I’m not quite sure of the reasoning behind all this, and I’m sure there are reasons that I do these things somewhere in my past. While I think those things are important – determining why something went wrong is often a good way to make sure it does not go wrong the same way again – I think that, more immediately, I need to try to make sure that the feelings of wrongness I am picking up on are, in fact, accurate. And then I need to determine whether or not I actually did something wrong. Because my willingness to assume blame that is not mine hurts me, and does not help the person whose spotlight I am taking by assuming the blame. They lose their outlet for trying to talk about their shame, guilt, or pain, and I simply gain a new source.

This seems pretty vague, and it is largely because I haven’t really had a chance to talk it through with anyone, but it’s something that went through my head for a while last night before I was able to get to sleep, and so on this new year, I thought it was a worthy goal to try to take on. I’m not going to eliminate my insecurity overnight, and assuming I will would be laughable; I think it’s been there for about as long as I can remember, so it’s a habit that will take a long time to unlearn.But I think it is certainly something to work on, because I know what a problem it has been for me in the past; I think it played a part in ruining at least one potential relationship, and it’s probably been frustrating for other people in my life.

I think it can also be linked to gratitude, in a way, which is also something I have had a hard time expressing; I’ve worked through some of that in earlier blog entries, with gratitude challenges and the like. And I think I’ve improved there – maybe not by leaps and bounds, but one step at a time. So, in the spirit of that, I’ve noticed a comic – or rather, a series of comics – pop up on how to try and take the urge to apologize for things (often it can feel like the crime of even existing, if depression rears its ugly head high enough) and turn it around into thanking someone for their understanding, patience, and willingness to listen. That comic can be found here, at Just Say ‘Thank You’ And Stop Saying ‘Sorry’.

I hope that, for all my readers, 2016 promises to be a good year. If 2015 was lousy, I hope 2016 is an improvement, and if 2015 was good, I hope 2016 continues the streak and makes it even better. Thank you all for reading, and may you all have a Happy New Year!

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Well, the onslaught of negative news and hate-filled screeds continues in both the news (and by which I mean in actual news and things which pretend to be news) and social media, and so I thought in the spirit of the holiday season, I would try and post something. I am not, by nature, a hugely optimistic person, so I’m hoping this will be received in the spirit in which it is meant, and not necessarily in the manner in which it is written if I occasionally stray off-message. MY big idea here is to just try and post a list of various things, people, groups and whatnot that I am grateful to, whether recently, over the last several years, or for long-term things. I will almost certainly forget some things or people, and for that I apologize; my memory is not exactly a steel trap, and if you feel you have been missed, I will edit this entry to add you. For many people, the entry will be rather vague, since I don’t want to ‘out’ any of my friends with mental illness issues of their own unless they feel comfortable being named.  I’m not going for any particular order, save that in which things or people come to me, so don’t feel slighted if you’re somewhat farther down the list; my brain makes connections that are sometimes very strange. With that preface, let the gratitudinousness commence!

  1. First and foremost, I am grateful to my parents for their love, support, and trust over the past years, in not freaking out when I moved to Texas, supporting my move into an MSW program, and generally being very cool with what my life has become over the past years.
  2.  I am grateful to my sister, brother-in-law, and 1-yer-old niece for being there to talk to, and as supportive and helpful as they can be, and for being good family members and people in general.
  3. I am grateful to all my pre-Menninger friends who have chosen to keep me in their lives, however far apart we may be; I know that being my friend through all my years of depression cannot have been easy, and I appreciate all you’ve done and all the times you have been there for me.
  4. I am grateful to my extended family – uncles, aunts, grandparents, and other relatives – as well, for not excluding or rejecting me because of my problems; I’ve seen and heard many stories where family has deserted someone suffering from mental illness, and I’m grateful to not have a family like that.
  5. I am grateful to all of those friends I met in treatment, both in Menninger, in the step-down, and continuing on after that. There are quite a few of you, and I wish I could keep in closer contact with you; you are all great people who helped me realize I was not alone, and I want to let you know that I appreciate it and want to be there for you if I can.
  6. I am grateful to Alice, who I can name, because she was a good friend and a very welcoming part of my stay at Menninger, and I will always remember her fondly. I wish she had not left so soon.
  7. I am grateful to Calla, who I have spoken of here repeatedly, because even though things did not work out well, for a short time they were great, and being around her made me realize that happiness and joy were things I was still really capable of.
  8. I am grateful to (and if you want me to remove names I will) my co-workers at the bookstore, among them James, Lindsay, Jamie, Catherine, David, Rosie, Jacques, and many more; while the life of a bookseller may not be a glamorous one, I have never felt excluded or that I was not a part of the store, and that means a great deal to me. I have been lucky to find a job where I feel good talking to my co-workers and that I will be supported by the managers.
  9. I am grateful to the staff at Menninger, at the step-down program, and to my therapist, because without them to help me, teach me, and give me some guidance, I don’t think I would be where I am today.
  10. I am grateful to USC for letting me into their online MSW program, which I’ve recently finished my first semester with (did really well, too). It’s a big change for me, and I hope that when I am done I can go on and help others who have had similar mental health issues because of what I learn in the program.
  11. I am grateful to the authors who inspire me, whether they are in work related to my prospective field (such as Brene Brown), to my former area of expertise (J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, among others), or purely fictional works (David Gemmell and Elizabeth Moon, to name a few) because even in times when I feel like there is very little to be hopeful for, I can turn to their works and realize that even people who have been through darker things than I can find the light.
  12. I’m grateful to all sorts of media, really, for helping me to find ways to express myself, to vent or channel my feelings, to inspire myself, find hope, feel encouraged, or find characters to emulate – or even just lose myself in entertainment for a while when things get too hairy. Movies, books, music, video games, there are all sorts of titles I could name, and many of them I have in my blog over the past two years.
  13. I am grateful for my time as an atheist, because I think it taught me a great deal – like, among other things, that it is entirely possible for a person to be moral and good without belief in God – and I am grateful to my return to faith, for what it has taught me about spirituality, belief, and hope. I don’t know that I’ll ever be a member of any particular branch of Christianity again, and I can’t think of anybody weird enough to go along with my beliefs, but I’m willing to discuss them if you are.
  14. I’m grateful for Facebook, despite the hate a lot of social media gets; it has allowed me to keep in touch, and get back in touch with, many people whom I would otherwise not get a chance to talk to ordinarily, and who have often proven to have remarkable insights, as well as awesome senses of humor.

That’s my list for now, and it may well expand as things come to me; this is a pretty early list – just what came to me as I sat down and banged this entry out, so please don’t feel offended if it doesn’t look like you fit into one of the above listings. If you would prefer that I actually name you, or that I remove your name, let me know, as well. Above all, as this season continues, whether you are Christian or Jewish, Muslim or Hindu, atheist or agnostic, or anything else (got any Pastafarians out there?), remember the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln, as spoken to Bill S. Preston, Esquire, and Ted Theodore Logan: “Be excellent to each other. And… PARTY ON, DUDES!”

‘Tis The Season

So it’s been a month, and things have been going pretty well for me. There’s a lot going on in my head, and I’m going to try to get some of it down here.

For one, I finished my first semester of MSW work at USC. Well, not actually at USC, I’m in their online program – which is great, but every time I tell people, I can see the belief in the credibility of the program disappear. “Oh, you go to USC? Awesome, that’s a great school!” “Yeah, I’m in their online social work program, it’s pretty cool…” “Oh, online? How…”-slowly backs away – “fascinating…”. And it is quite a change from being in a physical classroom. For one, people only ever see me from about the chest up, so if you’re short on time, you can just throw whatever pants you have handy before you get in front of your webcam. On the other hand, unless you are almost at death’s door, there’s no good excuse to miss class. Anyway, I really enjoyed my classes – well, I really enjoyed my human behavior class, but my social policy class was less in my wheelhouse. I think I want to work on a more personal basis once I get into the social work field. I got pretty good grades on all my assignments, so I assume my semester grades will be good, and so I’ll be heading into my second semester in January.

So lately there’s been a lot of stuff that’s been really disturbing on the news, both close to home and abroad. I’m not going to get into specifics – they aren’t hard to find. But seeing all this negativity, day after day, in violence and neglect and hatred, is really hard, especially now that we’re in the Christmas season – a season that is supposed to be about hope. And I’ve noticed this creeping up a lot in the ways I choose to entertain myself, as well. I like watching shows and movies that tend to have little in the way of hope. The Walking Dead. Arrow. Jessica Jones. Even one of my favorite comedy shows, How I Met your Mother, is full of false hope for the main character, Ted – again and again, he gets let down in his love life, because he is obsessed with a woman he keeps going after who wants almost none of the same things he does, and he breaks up with many other women, several of whom would be better for him, because he can’t get over the initial interest he is still obsessed with 8 years later. I can’t bring myself to watch the last episode because of the enormous letdown I hear it is.Now, many of these are good entertainment, and sometimes they are even great TV – Jessica Jones, I felt, was one of the best TV series I’ve seen in a while, but it’s brutally dark and feels very hopeless. IT took me three years to watch anything past the first season of the Walking Dead because it’s so depressing.

Hope is very important for depression. I’ve found that it is one of the things that disappears first, and without hope, your life slowly begins to lose all meaning. You stop caring about things like eating, showering, spending time with your friends, going to work, even getting out of bed. So it’s a little weird that all these shows I like are so seemingly devoid of it. When I watched The Flash, it was weird, because while it takes place in the same narrative space as Arrow, it’s about a guy who has hope. He has superpowers, and he has fun with them, he enjoys what he does. Don’t get me wrong there’s still a lot of drama, but this is a show fundamentally about a guy enjoying learning how to be the fastest man alive. So I think I’m going to try something for December – I’m going to try to only post, or repost, things on social media that make me feel excited, or hopeful,or happy. I don’t want to ignore the plight of others, because I know it’s important to be aware of the things that are wrong in the world, but I also feel that it is important for me, for my well-being, to try to be a little more purposefully hopeful. It’s not a huge step, but it’s one that I feel like I can accomplish easily, and that will increase my mood for the Christmas season.

So, onwards from hope is friendship. I know I’ve gone on about this in the past. Friendship is very important to me, and I think I tend to define it in a much more binary fashion than a lot of people. There are people I know, who I am on speaking terms with and have pleasant conversations with, and then there are my friends, the people who I would do basically anything for. I don’t tend to have a lot of gray area in between, and I think that can be pretty weird for some people, especially if they make the jump from acquaintance to friend, because all of a sudden I’m going from “Hey, how are you?” to “Did those people insult you? Because if you want them dead, I can make that happen.” I kind of wonder what that changeover must be like, realizing that this person you’ve been getting to know is now, because of the crossing of some arbitrary line in my head, willing to do basically anything to help you out. I’ve been trying to see if I can’t have a little more gray area in between, but what I’ve found is that adding gray area just makes it harder for me to get to know people, because I constantly feel uncomfortable asking what I feel is the next along the progression – going from asking about people’s days to seeing if people want to hang out sometime is a lot harder for me, oddly. And I think that with some people, they just find that leap too much, the trust placed in them too great, like I want something huge out of friendship besides a good friend to hang out with, have decent, sometimes excessively deep and/or philosophical conversation with, and maybe play some video games or something. It’s just the process I’ve always had, and I constantly feel like I’m missing a step or doing something wrong – which is probably why two years after getting out of Menninger, many of my attempts to gather people for fun events like movies or games tend to end rather anticlimactically.

I’m pretty sure that something is going wrong, but I’m not sure what. Maybe I’m doing it, or maybe the other people are expecting some sort of cue that I miss because I don’t know to make it. Maybe I’m missing the cue that they’re trying to be friends because I don’t see things the same way, relationship-wise – which may also be why I have such trouble asking women out, come to think of it. I have a lot of difficulty in casual social situations, especially with new people, because I feel there’s such a leap between general small talk and the full-on nerdity of my usual train of thought. Some people keep trying to suggest I go to new places and get acquainted with new people, but then the problem starts all over, because first I have to feel comfortable enough with them to even talk at all, then to start getting into the everyday stuff, and then slowly open the floodgates to talking about my huge nerd-on for RPGs, Fallout, Captain America… and if you’ve met me and talked to me int he last two years, you probably have some idea what that’s like because some days I’ve practically monosyllabic, while others it’s hard to shut me up if you say the right combination of words. Weird, right? And I have no idea if other people feel this way, or if I’m just really awkward getting to know people. For some people, like my sister, it seems easy, but I don’t know if it is because it comes easy to her – like reading does to me – or she is just so practiced at it that it seems easy, and her head is going through the same gymnastics mine is.

But the gist here is, if you’re trying to get to know me and I come off like I’m being an ass or avoiding you, it may very well be because I have no idea what to say or how to say it, and I think too much of you to let loose the full fury of my geekitude without some warning. Only I’m not so good with the warning, so I generally just smile, nod, and choke back the questions I was about to ask about what you’re reading (by an author I love), what game you’re playing (that I thought was awesome), or the new movie that just came out (that I really really really want to see, but probably won’t because I hate seeing movies alone and I’m feeling too freaked out to see if you want to go see it with me).

Well, unless I actually don’t like you, in which case I’m probably just being a passive-aggressive jerk. But odds are if you’re reading this, that’s probably not true of you.

 

Myths of Today

Note: this will likely have nothing to do with my mental state, mental health, or anything along those lines. It’s just something I felt like writing about, and seeing as how this is my blog and writing’s what I do here, a detour from the standard path it travels along can’t be too bad, right?

So, as many of you know (or not, but if you didn’t, now’s a good time to start), I’m a pretty big fan of superheroes. I read a lot of Marvel comics, and it’s been noted that my apartment seems a bit like a shrine to Captain America. In fact, I have a Captain America cosplay outfit I’ve been working on for about a year and a half, and it’s what I wore for Halloween. The shelf space I set out for my comics in my apartment is overflowing, and I’m looking for new places to stash my collection and keep it readily available. I’m also waiting for an RPG I helped fund with Kickstarter, called Masks – which is about teenage superheroes discovering their place in a world where they are the third generation of heroes and their place int he world isn’t clear – to release new playtest rules so I can try it out. Right now, a good chunk of the time I spend playing video games is spent on Marvel Heroes 2015, which is a kind of Diablo-like Action RPG with MMO elements, where you can play 52 (and counting) different Marvel. I’m not so much a DC fan, since I disliked what they did with their universe reboot – they eliminated a bunch of characters I liked, and changed several more to the point of unrecognizability. So, have we established that I’m kind of a comics/superheroes nerd? Good, then let’s move on.

I know at least some people I’ve met find it weird that a 36-year-old guy is so enamored of comics and superheroes; they are often seen as kind of a childish pursuit, which I can see – not understand, or agree with, but see nonetheless. Oddly, I never really got into comics or anything until my teens, and even after that, after a few years of comic collecting, I dropped out of the scene for quite a few years – I don’t think I really picked it up for about ten years, in my mid-20s. Oddly, I think getting into grad school for English was what really kicked that interest into high gear. And if that seems weird to you, just wait, it keeps going.

See, I really like things like history and mythology. I love reading tales about the Greek, Norse, Egyptian, etc. gods and the things they did way back when, the various ways that different groups thought of the world being created, destroyed, and things in between. I find the epic stories of the Iliad and Odyssey captivating; I love the bizarre family dynamics of Thor, Loki, Odin, and their other assorted relatives; I love the hero myths and the end-of-the-world predictions. I think they say a lot of things about the cultures that created them, and I find that kind of insight into the lives of people who died hundreds or thousands of years ago amazing. And I think that, in a way, superheroes are one of the ways in which we are creating our own modern mythology.

No, really, think about it. Look at the most popular characters in comics and comic-related properties. They are larger-than-life people often with bizarre and stupendous powers, who have an enormous impact on the world around them. Superman? Invincible alien from another world. Batman? Arguably insane, vengeance-driven billionaire vigilante. Wonder Woman? Literally a creation of the ancient Greek gods. Iron Man? Billionaire alcoholic with unparalleled engineering genius, who makes intelligent armor. Captain America? Blond, blue-eyed super-soldier created to fight one of the greatest evils in history. Thor? Like Wonder Woman, a figure right out of mythology. These are characters who are all powerful, with amazing abilities and often facing things that we can’t even comprehend facing – alien invasions? Criminally insane cadres of villains? Evil deities from ancient cultures? The stories being told about them are about these amazing powers they have, and the amazing things they do, but they are also stories about the very human parts of each of them.

Superman might be alien, but he was raised on Earth, and has to reconcile the astounding power he has with the morality he was raised to believe in. He could easily conquer the world, and kill anyone he wanted, but instead he chooses to be a protector. Batman, in an ideal setting, would need mental care because he has essentially given up his identity as a person in society to become an almost mythic figure of vengeance. Iron Man has all this money and ability, but constantly, arrogantly, overestimates what he is capable of doing because he assumes his being smarter than others means he knows better. Captain America is a man who became something amazing selflessly, and gave up his life – only to find out it wasn’t given away, just delayed, and now has to adapt to a world far different than the one he left. And these are just some of the big names; there are some great stories going on in other comics.

Ms. Marvel? A second-generation Muslim child in New York, who was already having difficulty bringing the world of her faith and culture into the world around her, when she was given powers she didn’t understand – and yet, given these powers, which she could have done anything with, she decided to emulate her idol – Carol Danvers, previous Ms. Marvel – and try to do good. As one of her creators notes, “As much as Islam is a part of Kamala’s identity, this book isn’t preaching about religion or the Islamic faith in particular. It’s about what happens when you struggle with the labels imposed on you, and how that forms your sense of self. It’s a struggle we’ve all faced in one form or another, and isn’t just particular to Kamala because she’s Muslim. Her religion is just one aspect of the many ways she defines herself.” The Runaways? The children of a group of supervillains, who, upon finding out who their parents are and what they do, decide that they don’t want to be like their parents. They run away – from their parents, from other adult heroes who come to try to get them and ‘fix’them – because they want to be able to define themselves, to decide on their own which direction their lives will go. Alias? A young woman gains superpowers, and has fun with them – and then is victimized in an absolutely terrible fashion, driving her away from everyone she knew, realizing that her powers can’t help her work through her pain and trauma (incidentally, this comic is the basis form the upcoming Netflix series Jessica Jones, which looks like it will be super-dark).

I know that, with comics, there isn’t a lot of change in the status quo – the world mostly stays the same, because publishers want to keep telling stories about the same characters, and to do that the world can’t change much. This is why, 50 years later, Tony Stark is still Iron Manning it up, fighting many of the same villains with many of the same allies, without ever seeming to age a day. And this can often be frustrating, because I think it would be cool to see how writers would have a world change if it did have groups like the Avenger, the Fantastic Four, the Sinister Six, or the Thunderbolts. But even without a lot of actual change int he world, the comics can pretty clearly lay out the personalities and problems each hero (or villain) faces. They put a human face and motivation to the fantastic, and they tell stories that often resonate with us, as readers, because of the place we are in the world or our lives. I think the movies help, because since the character must be played by actors, the characters by necessity change, grow older, and evolve or die – they have to, because (sadly) Robert Downey Jr. can’t be an ageless Tony Stark forever; in the movies, the character will either die, retire, or pass on the mantle of Iron Man. And we can see at least some of the effect they have on their world – the trailers for the upcoming Superman/Batman movie show Superman being brought before the government, and Batman seemingly trying to deal with the existence of someone so much more powerful than him that nothing he can do will help.

I obviously can’t see the future, but I’d like to think that, somewhere down the line – a hundred years, 200, more – people will look back on these characters that were created, see the types of stories that were told with them and what kinds of things they did, and see them as the kind of mythical figures we see in Greek and Norse (And other assorted) mythologies – not figures to be worshipped, but characters who help to explain who we were, what we did, and why we thought the way we thought.