Stress Test Sneak Attack

If I keep looking, I think I can find my joy

I’m not one to get depressed on a frequent basis – at least not anymore. My job is good, my home life is fine, and some of the typical stresses are just humming at the average level. There was even that usual jarring – back to reality – feeling that came when I returned from BlogHer, where suddenly the blue skies and perfect weather of San Jose faded and it was back to traffic and day care pickups and meetings upon meetings.

The last few weeks haven’t been perfect, but I have to find a way to climb out of this emotional rut. Vibrating not-so-silently in the background, there’s the stress of the health issues of a family member and watching them self-destruct at a faster pace than in prior decades. I walk marathons not just because I want to raise money for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute but also because I have some things to prove to myself: namely, that I can control my own body and what happens to it. This past weekend I hit a personal record for the 9mi distance, sub-16-minute miles. In any given distance, a sub-16 is decent for walking, but when you’re going 9 miles, that’s pretty damn fantastic. I can never run thanks to my busted knees, but I never want to stop walking. I don’t want to self-destruct.

MapMyRun cap of 15:48min mile average for 9.04miles

Then there’s everything unfolding in Ferguson, which is like watching a slow-speed crash of a tractor trailer and an LNG tanker. You know things are going to go horribly wrong, but it’s hard to say when it will hit some magical tipping point where there is no return. There are people protesting to have their voices heard, to question that justice is being served by drips and drops of information, to challenge the idea that ~whatever happened~ is okay. There are police (of varying denominations) fighting to keep the peace and establish order in a town that can’t seem to settle down and where they know they’re operating in an atmosphere of minimal trust.

Bad actors exist on both sides: cops who persist in calling protestors “monkeys” and “animals” and hooligans who are using the protests as cover to loot and destroy (read Bill Buford’s “Among the Thugs” to learn about the psyche of hooligans – it’s an excellent read). There are good actors on both sides, too – like the head of the state police who started first with handshakes before escalating to tougher tactics and like the protestors who are organizing food drives to feed the children shut out of lunches by the postponement of the school year. This is by no means a cut-and-dry case, but it’s giving everyone an excuse to vent their bile at their target of choice – and there’s too much friendly-fire going on in the process. We need to not self-destruct.

 

Give love

I’m going to find a way to post other things on the blog over the next couple of weeks, seemingly incongruous posts that are, in fact, a return to the type of material I’ve posted before, because I’m trying to find a way out of the funk that’s gripping me. Anyone who wants to be positive is welcome to come along. It’s time to put down the sticks, short or otherwise.

Peace and love: if you want it, you can have it.

 

We need to not self-destruct. 

Art and the week of awfulness

artheader

 

This week has sucked. There are just no two ways about it. It’s sucked.

First, there was Robin Williams’ untimely death. It seemed like a sucker-punch to the country’s collective gut, losing such a gifted and talented person. Images and sounds of some of his roles are seared on my brain, like the scene in “Moscow on the Hudson”, when his character – a defector from Soviet Russia – collapses in tears in the coffee aisle of the grocery store, overwhelmed by too much choice. He made me laugh SO MANY TIMES, and he made me cry SO MANY TIMES, and always he was this brilliant gorgeous creature. We were so lucky to have him. As so many other people, he had his share of demons to battle – depression among them – and now news that he was also in the early stages of Parkinsons Disease. I know what it’s like to have a family member commit suicide rather than lose themselves to PD and, whether that was his particular motivation or not, it’s always sad to lose someone who meant so much to you.

We were all so sad at the beginning of the week (soon to hear of Lauren Bacall’s passing, as well as Charles Keating and others…), and it seemed like this week would be measured solely in its body count.

At the same time, I managed to get a free app from the App Store – the featured app of the week – Autodesk’s Sketchbook. Ever since seeing JC Little speak at BlogHer about the use of visuals in storytelling, even when those visuals are rudimentary, I wanted to find a way to draw. So, I grabbed a stylus pen I’d gotten from some conference or another (OH THAT’S WHAT THAT RUBBERY THINGIE IS ON THE END OF THAT PEN) and started drawing.

Day 1, I made this:

elephant butt

Day 2 wasn’t going much better, so I wanted to try to cheer people up. I’m still getting the hang of the app (more detailed Help files would really make me squee in delight), so I couldn’t make a rose, like I’d originally intended. But a tulip is one of my favorite flowers, and I think it works:

a tulip

Day 3 and I’m just done with this week. I stayed up way too late last night seeing tweets and photos from reporters being illegally arrested by militarized police in Ferguson, Missouri. I saw a picture of a man picking up a tear gas canister and throwing it back at the police to get it away from people who’d been standing stock still, arms linked. I heard the deafening, unbearable silence from Martha’s Vineyard as President Obama partied rather than making calls to diffuse the boiled-over situation. I read the account from the editor of my hometown newspaper, The Washington Post, as he explained how one of his reporters was physically assaulted and then arrested by a police officer who wanted to keep him from recording, photographing or otherwise telling others what was taking place. And then today I read way too many posts of how the “thugs” who inhabit Ferguson are the cause of all of this mess. They’re no longer Americans or humans, to some; they’re just thugs. Dehumanizing these people doesn’t help and it doesn’t solve a damn thing.

And so today, this is what I drew.

tears

There’s a part of me that wants to curl up in a ball and make it all go away, but I have to bear witness because my white skin doesn’t exempt me from feeling sorrow at a trampling of human rights. This week has reminded me of days when my depression hounded me, though never so much as the days when I considered driving off the road to end my pain. If I lived in Ferguson or if I lived somewhere that wasn’t as nice as where I am now – where I can smile and wave to the police without fear – my depression might be all-consuming.

I am lucky, and still I cry.

This week has been awful, and I’m lucky that I can shut it out by turning off Twitter and Facebook. Not everyone is so lucky.

This art is becoming a channel of sorts, and I suspect I’ll get better at it the more I do it, though I never expect I’ll be as good as my artist friends. But if it helps me channel my rage and fear and sadness, I’ll keep doing it.

So many thanks to whoever made that app free this week – and thank you SO MUCH to JC Little, because without her I never might have downloaded that little app and started making art of my very own.

Express yourself.

Even your sadness.

 

Movie Review: “Of Dice and Men”

Of Dice and Men

Full Disclosure Notice: I have known Cameron McNary since high school, where he was one year behind me. We lost touch when I went off to college and reconnected on Facebook a few years ago. Cam talked on Facebook about the play he wrote, “Of Dice and Men”, and I have made small contributions to his staging of the play at PAX Prime and to the making of this film. However, my friendship with Cam and my contributions have no effect on how or what I write. I’m only saying all this in the interest of transparency. I actually probably judge the work more harshly than if I didn’t know Cam at all – and had I not known him, it’s unlikely I would’ve planned to do a review, since I can’t make it to any of the official screenings. There. The DISCLOSURE is now over. On with the rest of the show.

“Of Dice and Men” is a cheeky and sweet look at what happens when a group of friends who game together are impacted by choices made by two of the trio at the center of the group. Based on a play of the same name which debuted in a staging at the PAX Prime convention in 2010, “Of Dice and Men” focuses primarily on two characters: the sweet, sensitive John Francis (Evan Casey), and his foul-mouthed, oafish BFF, John Alex (Cameron McNary). The rest of the gang is comprised of: Jason (Ricardo Frederick Evans), John Francis and John Alex’s close childhood friend; Tara (Gwen Grastorf), the lovely and sweet would-be object of John Francis’ affection; and the married couple of Linda (Rebecca Herron) and Brandon (“One Tree Hill”‘s Greg Thompson) – a hysterically funny, hyper-sexed couple that plays together and stays together.

 

John Francis

John Francis (Casey) monologues about being a Game Master

 

The movie opens with John Alex discovering John Francis packing for a move to Berkeley, and your first taste of their friendship is riddled with John Alex’s f-bombs and gesticulations. Clearly he is the “Jay” to John Francis’ (nearly) “Silent Bob”. The next few scenes fill in the backstory, including introductions to the group’s game characters – a halfling, a half-elf wizard, a dwarf, a barbarian, and a cleric. To a certain extent, those who’ve never gamed before, particularly with Dungeons and Dragons, will find themselves lost in the minutiae of the gaming characters’ presentation. The concepts of “hit points” and “rolling for damage” haven’t yet made it to a broad pop culture lexicon, but the unrequited love between John Francis and Tara is easy to understand. In many ways, a brief scene showing all the missed connections between the two is instantly relatable.

 

Tara demonstrates her geek cred

Tara (Grastorf) gives the “Are you for real, dude?” look as she is forced to demonstrate geek cred to a game store employee

 

The majority of interaction takes place at Linda and Brandon’s dining room table – where miniature figures, graph paper, pencils, and scads of dice cover the tabletop. It is here that you see the game characters reflecting parts of each person’s real personality, such as Linda’s randy Scottish dwarf (who will regale you with tales of genital girth and length for days) or Tara’s wispy wizard who dies at the drop of a hat. Brandon, who games only because of his love for his wife, makes a choppy, hesitant barbarian – yet he is, in real life, clearly a thoughtful and strong person.

One night’s gaming results in a fracture when Jason announces that he enlisted in the Marines and is headed for Iraq. John Alex is visibly hurt and lashes out at Jason, and this confrontation makes for a jarring end mid-way through the gaming session. John Francis withholds his own announcement until the following day, dealing with the personal aftermath individually – as friends one-by-one come to his rented room to find him partially packed for a move he’d planned for weeks but never said was coming. The play was inspired by McNary’s best friend shipping off to Iraq around the same time that he was getting married and establishing himself as a real grown-up, so it’s clear that the angst of John Francis and the anger of John Alex represent very real feelings McNary surely experienced.

 

John Alex as Spango and Jason as Kester

John Alex (McNary) as halfling Spango Granetkiller, with Jason (Evans) as Kester, pondering certain doom at Jason’s last night of gaming with the group

 

The movie ponders the question of whether gaming has any purpose or meaning, and though it largely leaves that open to interpretation by the individual, it makes a strong case for it – or any hobby or interest – as having value to those who participate in it. The relationships built between those led through the worlds created by Game Master John Francis all love him, and love each other, and the bonds between them are renewed each time they come together around the table with their dice and miniature pewter selves. The movie is a study of characters with characters, and so it operates on several levels. It screens like a play (which makes sense, given its source material), so there are times where scenes fade to black almost abruptly. On the other hand, several nice touches - such as the graph paper background for the credits and the fantasy world backgrounds for character intros – are clever nods to the geek culture that continues to thrive and sustain gaming.

I would recommend making it to a viewing, if attending one of the several conventions screening the movie (see below). It’s unclear whether the movie will make it out of the con circuit, and it’s also equally unclear to me that it would resonate with a broader audience where gaming might not be as widespread. Still, it’s a sweet indie film and it was clearly made with love of friendship and of gameplay. What more would anyone need to prove whether gaming matters?

“Of Dice and Men” will next be screened at Gen Con 2014 on August 15, 2014, Intervention Con on August 23, 2014, Dragon*Con 2014 (screening date/time TBD, sometime between August 29 – September 1, 2014), and PAX Prime on August 31, 2014. More information about screenings can be found at the official “Of Dice and Men” website.

2-1/2 stars out of 4

“Of Dice and Men” is currently rated PG-13; it contains frequent use of profanity and one scene with mild violence.