Down with the Sickness

Yeah, the cold that has been tearing its way through my fellow B&N employees hit me with a vengeance yesterday, and so for my two days off I have mostly been in damage control, trying to alleviate the symptoms as much as I can before going back in to work tomorrow. Cough drops, DayQuil, hot water with honey, nasal rinsing, I’ve tried just about everything I can think of, and it seems to have done at least some good. So, however healed up I am, tomorrow I go back to work.

Tomorrow, I am also hosting several friends over at my place, for the first time since… well, since I had my apartment-warming party back in August, I think. Other than that, I have never had more than one other person here at a time. which is a little odd. But we’ll be hanging out, playing games, talking, eating, and waiting to ring in the New Year, and I can’t think of a better way to do it than with friends I care about. I wish that there was a way for other people to be here, but I know they can’t, so maybe they’ll be here in spirit, at least. 

That way, they can’t steal the chips and dip.

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Job Hard

Yeah, didn’t mean to imply that my job is overly hard – for the most part, it is just the right degree of hard, at least physically. I’m just happy that the other night, when my general manager pulled me aside on a break to talk to me, it wasn’t because I was in trouble – but rather because he wanted to give me the opportunity to stay on at Barnes & Noble as a more long-term employee. That’s right – after January 5th, I will be a regular Barnes & Noble employee, entitled to vacation (eventually) and everything. It’ll only be 24 hours a week, true, but it gives me time to do other things and have enough energy to actually do some stuff outside of work.

I’m still waiting to hear back from Calla; I heard from her on Christmas Eve, and it didn’t sound like she was doing too well, but I hope that she’s doing better now. I’m worried about her, but that may be just me; I just feel like there is more I could be doing, but there is so little I can do from here and with the communication restrictions enforced by her treatment center. I spend more time wondering about whether I am trying to do too much or not enough than is probably helpful for me.

Honestly, feeling like I can’t do anything to help my friends is becoming a recurring theme over the last few days. I keep hearing things from my friends that make me wish I knew how to help, but I don’t, so even though I tell them I want to help, I don’t know where to start. It seems frustrating for all involved, and so I am trying to find ways to be of more use, but with the topics at hand, it ain’t easy. Saying more than that, though, is not in the cards for now, because the topics I am hearing aren’t mine to bring to light. 

It’s times like these that I wonder how much being a good friend is a part of who I am, or who I am trying to be. It seems to me like I spend a lot of time worrying about the problems my friends have, possibly more than my own; that may be because I think that they’re more important than me – or it may be because right now, my problems, such as they are, just aren’t that pressing. I mean, my depression is under control, I have health insurance for the first time in a year, I have a regular job, and I am living on my own – what do I have to worry about? This is a topic that I need to put some more thought into, and any suggestions, questions, ro comments are welcome.

Clarification

It seems that at least one person is under the impression that I didn’t enjoy my trip to Florida. While it’s true that it wasn’t angels-trumpeting-from-the-sky awesome, I did definitely enjoy my trip. Just because there were things I wish had been different, doesn’t mean the trip wasn’t enjoyable. It just means that there are things I know bother me – as I am sure I do things that bother other people. Nobody’s family is perfect, and I’m sure it would have been easier for me to handle if I wasn’t exhausted from work.

But that’s really just an excuse, and I’m sorry that what I had to say gave the idea that I haven’t enjoyed seeing my family. 

Merry Christmahanakwanzadan!

So, I came down to Florida, by plane, yesterday afternoon. It meant getting up early, and braving the airport on Christmas Eve – which was quite a thing, let me tell you. There were huge lines – mostly to check baggage, which thankfully I avoided by packing everything in my backpack. Then there were the packed airplanes, which were uncomfortable, especially since the one I was on had several screaming children. But I managed to make it here with relatively little mishap.

So, I got to spend Christmas with my family – specifically, my parents and grandparents, because my sister spent the holidays with her in-laws. It was nice to see them, because I haven’t seen my grandparents in about a year, but I think it will be nice to head back to Houston. Getting some time to relax, and go out to eat, and do Christmas stuff was nice, but the arguing my parents do bothers me. I’ve brought it up before, when I was in Menninger, and they moderated it for a while, but it is back to the same old behavior now, and I just don’t like it. 

Now, I love my parents, so I’m not saying they’re bad people. I just don’t like all the arguing and complaining, even during the holidays. About the weirdest things, too – where to park for a restaurant, how someone turned a TV on or off, what flight to take for a vacation they’re planning. I can certainly bring the argument when necessary, but some of this is just so pointless that it hurts my head just being around it.

Still, though, it was good to see my family again, and they certainly seem to have enjoyed seeing me after so long, so it was definitely a worthwhile trip – though I may rethink that tomorrow night, since my plane gets back into Houston all of two hours before I go back to work. 

And, this is my 200th blog entry, on Christmas. Who loves you, huh? Merry Christmas (or appropriate seasonal greetings) to all my readers; I hope things are going well, or getting better, for all of you and your families. I know being here for Christmas has shown me how far I’ve come, as well as that there are still things I have yet to do.

I know Calla isn’t able to read this, but I’ll say it anyway – Merry Christmas, Calla. I miss you. I’m here anytime you need to talk, and if there is anything I can do to  help or be a better friend, let me know.

Holiday Workathon

Well, today at 7:30 PM marked the end of 5 days straight of working. It’s been a pretty exhausting set of days, but then it has been retail during the holidays. I invested in a ton of over-the-counter painkillers, several pairs of shoe inserts, and a back brace, but it’s really all been about pain management, not actually making it go away. It’s exhausting, both mentally and physically – having to be nice to people I don’t know, and who often aren’t terribly interested in being nice to me, is rough on an introvert.

Tomorrow, I fly to Florida, to spend some times with my parents, who I haven’t seen in several months, and with my grandparents, who I haven’t seen in a year. It’s a quick trip – leave tomorrow, come back Thursday, just in time to head right off to work again, hi ho. It should be a good trip, and hopefully it will show them just how far I’ve come since coming to Menninger back in February – man, has it really been almost ten months? Time flies. In any case, I plan to do as close to nothing as humanly possible, because my aching body has no interest in much else. 

I’ve been playing phone tag with Calla for the past few days; we seem to keep missing each other, which is really hard for me because I really miss talking to her. I keep hearing that she’s doing well from another friend of hers, but second-hand info just doesn’t feel like enough. Calla is important to me, and I care about her; I like hearing from her. Good news is good news, of course, but I’d prefer to hear it from her. As the prophet Jagger has said, though, you can’t always get what you want – but sometimes, you get what you need. I don’t know what it is I need, which is, of course, confusing, but I’m hoping I figure it out.

S, to recap – work exhausting, family visit impending, Christmas good, Calla confusing.Life is strange, but good. I hope to have another update for y’all tomorrow or Wednesday, but if not, Merry Christmahanakwanzudan!

Atheist Morality

I overheard a discussion the other day between tow people – both apparently religious, one more reasonable (as in, willing to reason instead of simply decide something and never be willing to change) than the other – and they were talking about morality. One was fairly certain that even without a belief in God, or god, or a higher power, atheists could be moral, though not in the same way that a religious person is. The other, however, was vehemently opposed to this, saying that without faith in a power like God, atheists had no moral compass, and that all atheists were just a step or two from being total psychopaths.

Now, being an atheist, this kind of bugged me, but it wasn’t my conversation (plus I was working), so I didn’t jump in. But, despite being an atheists, I was raised Catholic, and I know what religion is, and what religious faith feels like; I used to have it, after all. I just don’t have it anymore. I’m not anti-religious; I’m just areligious – that is, I have no desire to be a part of a religion. Not because I think they’re all bad, but for the same reason some people don’t join bowling leagues or go camping on weekends – it’s just not my thing anymore.

But I also think I have a pretty strong sense of right and wrong. Being raised Catholic, I am well aware of what Catholicism, and the larger extent Christianity, views as right and wrong. And, largely, this tends to map onto Western society pretty well. But, being a fantasy nerd, my ideas of morality have also been shaped by my favorite characters, fictional and historical. Some of them are harder – much harder – to live up to than others, but I like to think that I try, even if not all that actively.

I think my second entry to this blog – or maybe my third – was on the fictional codes of conduct I keep in my wallet. Those were just the easiest to codify in a wallet-portable form; there are many great, moral characters that I feel have been important to me. The easiest example would, of course, be the Jedi from the original Star Wars movies – well, mostly Luke and Yoda, because Obi-Wan’s ‘true from a certain point of view’ schtick was a littler weak, morally speaking. But after that, I think the big one from early one would be Sturm Brightblade, iconic paladin-type character from the original Dragonlance novels. They aren’t high literature, to be sure, but they were one of my earliest introductions to fantasy literature, and my worn and beaten copies of that trilogy still rest on my bookshelf, over twenty years later.

There are so many other character which fit the bill as moral characters whose devotion to doing the right thing, even when times are tough, makes them guides and shapers of my childhood morality. Captain America is one – a piece of Captain America art is one of the few pieces of artwork in my apartment; my collection of Cap graphic novels was one of the important things I brought to Texas from St. Louis. The character of Michael Carpenter from the Dresden Files book series is a great one, as well, even though he is explicitly a servant of God – he wields a sword with one of the three nails from the crucifixion worked into it.  There’s also Aragorn, the classic Tolkien character; while worn and hardened by life on the edge of civilization, he still has a strong moral core. Almost any member of the Fellowship of the Ring fits this bill, even Boromir – his momentary lapse in the face of possibly the second-greatest evil in existence never seemed to me a reflection of his character, just that people can fail.

I could go on and on – there are almost certainly more than I can think of in a reasonable period of time. But the point is, I’m an atheist with a finely-tuned sense of morality. Religious folk have no particular claim to that particular arena; without deeper insight into why God, or whatever divine being a person believes in, commanded people to by compassionate, merciful, and good, just doing so is meaningless. As Adam Lee notes in his article The Basis for an Atheist’s Morality, “In your column, you said that morality cannot be anchored without reference to a higher power: that if God had not commanded us to be good, we would have no reason to be good, and no justification for condemning those who were not. This claim betrays its own incoherence, for we can then ask, why does God command us to be moral? Does he have reasons for that edict? If so, then we too can make use of those reasons, for if they are good ones, they will stand on their own without reference to who is giving them. On the other hand, if God has no reasons for his commands, then religious morality is cut loose from any anchor. God commanded us to be merciful and kind, but that was just an arbitrary choice with no deeper significance. He could just as easily have commanded us to be vicious and cruel, and those traits would then be the definition of goodness which we were all bound to follow. Can any rational person accept such a nonsensical conclusion?”

I try to do good, or at least not do evil, in my everyday life. I love my family and my friends, and I would do almost anything for them. I believe in helping people rather than hurting them – though occasionally (and profanely) I get rather violent-sounding when stuck in Houston traffic. That’s part of why I started this blog; not just to try and work things out in my head in a more open forum, but also to try and share any helpful parts of treatment I picked up with people who don’t have the luxury of going to someplace like Menninger. And I do all this not because I was commanded to by God, but because I want to. Because it feels right. I mean, hell, I feel guilty when I play a bad guy in video games. Zapping people with Force Lightning when I try to play a Sith in a Star Wars video game? Not fun, more like almost painful for me. 

So, is this morality? According to Merriam-Webster Online, morality is defined as ‘beliefs about what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior; the degree to which something is right and good : the moral goodness or badness of something’. I think I have a pretty healthy regard for what is right and wrong. So apparently, even though I don’t have religious faith (at least, at the moment; I’m open to change), I can be a moral person. 

No offense is meant to any readers who are religious, by the way; just because I’m not religious doesn’t mean I have a problem with those who are. I simply take issue with the idea that, because I lack faith in a higher power, I have nothing to keep me on the straight and narrow. If you have comments on this, and are willing to be reasonable with them, I am willing to listen. I haven’t deleted a comment yet, and I don’t intend to start now.

Why RPGs?

It’s been asked why I am so fond of RPGs; I mention them a fair amount, and they aren’t something that everyone is all that familiar with. So I’ll take a bit of time here to explain.

First, RPGs – at least, starting with the original Dungeons & Dragons – grew out of strategic wargaming. You know, put a bunch of miniatures on a big board, pick armies, and have them fight it out, with different models having different weapons, abilities, strengths and weaknesses? Well, D&D came out of that, from someone saying “What if, instead of cammanding entire forces, each person commanded just one figure – and a group of people with their own figures, or characters, then fought battles against another person controlling larger (in number, but possibly also in size), but much more expendable, things?” This started in 1974 with Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, first with a game called Chainmail, then the first edition of D&D; in 2014, they will be releasing the 5th edition of D&D, and there are now hundreds of other RPGs.

I started playing RPGs when I was 12 or 13; seeing as I’m 34 now, it’s been over 20 years. For me, the average tabletop RPG, which you play with funny-shaped dice, sometimes miniatures, books, and character sheets, is somewhere between a complex boardgame and freeform drama. One person in the group takes it upon themselves to act as the Game Master, or GM; that person controls what the world around the player characters does – what the townspeople say, how goblins react to adventurers, when a dragon attacks, things like that. Everyone else in the group plays a single character, generally a part of a group – often, in D&D, adventurers. They don’t have to be friends (the character, or really the players, though a certain amount of friendliness on the part of the players helps), but they do have to work together to accomplish goals. The goal might be stopping an evil warlord, fighting a dragon, overthrowing a kingdom, or starting your own kingdom; players – acting as their characters – decide this together. They then act within the rules of the game.

There are so many RPG books because there are so many RPGs on the market now; it’s easy to publish your own these days. Some RPGs are very light on rules, relying on a social contract between players and GM to keep the game going without conflict. Some RPGs have a lot of rules, so that almost every situation that the game’s creators can think of has some kind of rule to govern it. A lot of people like something somewhere in between. One guy, Ron Edwards, actually created a theory about RPG design and social interactions, called GNS Theory. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, it’s worth a read.

I play RPGs because I like it as a social activity, and because I like the escapism it presents me with. I can pretend to be all kinds of things that I’m not; I’m partial to holy warrior types — the paladin archetype, if you’re interested – even though I’m not particularly religious myself. It lets me explore a lot of things I wouldn’t get to in life; I’ll never get to slay dragons, or pilot a starship; odds are I’ll never be in the military, or travel back to the medieval period. It lets me explore possibilities both within and without, without ever having to leave my area. 

Now, I also play videogame RPGs; there are some amazing ones out there, like the Final Fantasy series, or Planescape: Torment, The Elder Scrolls series, or the Mass Effect trilogy. While you, as a player, generally get to play a role – perhaps several, depending on the game – and take part in a well-crafted story, you basically always play alone, and the ending is always something that has been planned and scripted. It’s fun, but it isn’t the social activity that a tabletop game is for me, and while it beats a tabletop game in visuals and musical score, it doesn’t have the same life that a group can give a game.

So, maybe that’s a little insight into why I like and play RPGs. Or why I have so many of them. Maybe not; I don’t know if I have really answered many questions, or just created new ones. But that’s what I have to say on the matter for now; feel free to ask more if you like.