Category: ramblings

A Few More Dungeons & Dragons Presentation Thoughts (and a link to the presentation itself)

Now that my D&D presentation is behind me (huzzah!), I wanted to take a bit of time to look back at the process and detail a few things I would have done differently. The idea behind the presentation was pretty straightforward: I wanted to film the whole thing ahead of time, and then give the audience a series of choices about which way the presentation would go.

For a while, I thought I was going to have to do some sort of fancy editing to enable those choices, but I discovered YouTube has the ability to link to other YouTube videos at the end of each video you upload, so making those choices possible would be as simple as just mapping out how the videos could play out, and then being sure I linked everything the right way.

I learned a few things as I went:

  • To have those “links to other videos” at the end of a YouTube video, the video has to be at least 25 seconds long. There were a few snippet sequences I filmed that were much shorter than that, so I had to end up adding in some empty space at the end of those videos so there was enough time for the menu to pop up.
  • Actually, I had to individually edit each video to add blank space at the end, since the choice menu shows up over whatever is at the end of that video.
  • I used Quicktime to record myself at my laptop. I would then trim the beginning and ending portion of that recording from within Quicktime. I used iMovie to add in the space at the end of each video so I could have the choice menu pop up.
  • Somehow I had thought YouTube only let you have two linked videos at the end of its clips, but after I was into the innards of the interface, I saw you could have up to four links. I would have likely designed my presentation differently had I known about the extra capacity.
  • There were some sections where I wanted to splice YouTube clips into my presentation. I used MacX YouTube Downloader to get this done. It was super easy to do, and made for a seamless presentation.
  • I was impressed how far iMovie has come. Switching between audio tracks and video tracks is a simple process. So much better and more intuitive than it used to be.
  • Having a definite outline of what was going to happen when, and how everything would link together, was key. In the end, I uploaded the videos in reverse order, with the ones that happened at the end of the presentation being uploaded first. This way, I could link the videos that came before them properly once they were uploaded as well. (If that makes sense.)
  • It doesn’t take too much to give the perception of choice without actually having to film 1,000 different variations. For this, I filmed the lecture itself in several chunks. The choices then led to alternate takes that then funneled back to the core presentation each time. That said, if I were to really go all out on this, that could be done with more editing of the videos. It wouldn’t be hard, I don’t think. It would just involve more scripting, more recording, and a better decision tree map.
  • It would be fun to film an actual story this way, though I don’t know that I’ll ever justify the time it would take to do it . . .

With all that out of the way, I realize I linked the video of the presentation on Facebook, but I didn’t do it here. So if you’d like to see a 40 minute discussion about D&D and its impact on our society, check it out:

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Time to Ditch the Training Wheels

I love doing the New York Times crossword. I look forward to 10pm each night, which is when they release the crossword for the next day. Usually I have it done before I go to bed, because I guess I just can’t wait. And I’ve blogged in the past about my journey with the crossword: first about my decision to let myself Google information to find out answers, and then about my decision to stop doing that. Basically. I decided a while ago that I just wouldn’t worry about getting the gold stars anymore. Up until then, I would do whatever I had to to get a gold star each day.

And that just felt silly.

So I decided to let go my fixation on gold stars and just enjoy crosswords. For the first few months, that’s definitely all I did. When I got stuck on an answer, I’d turn on hints and get unstuck very quickly. It was just a crossword. What did it matter? It wasn’t like I’d be able to figure it out with another hour of thinking or anything, right?

Except because I’m so goal-oriented, I started to wonder how many crosswords I’d actually be able to complete with a gold star (no hints). And I started to track how I was doing. In April, I had 15 gold stars. May: 13. June: 11. July: 17. August: 13. September: !5. October: 14. I think that was when I started to think maybe I could try to see just how well I could do. To start working harder at solving the crosswords without giving up as easily.

In November, I had 21 gold stars. December had 26, and in January I just got 29. Saturday puzzles can still stump me, and Sunday puzzles can trip me up because they’re just so big, and finding where I made a mistake can be ghastly. But I definitely discovered that as I put my mind to it and really tried, I could do a much better job on the crosswords than I thought I could.

Some of it is definitely due to having done them daily for so long, but I think a big part of it is because I finally made the decision to commit. To throw myself into the deep end and figure it out on my own. These days, with the internet always at the tips of our fingers, it can be very tempting to just give yourself an out whenever you need one. Not just with crosswords, but with any problems. Puzzles in a game, or finding a solution to a tricky AV hook up. I’m not saying we should ignore the help the internet offers. But at the same time, I think we might end up robbing ourselves of the opportunity to really grow beyond the need to always look stuff up.

If you constantly keep yourself in shallow waters, you’re never going to become a strong swimmer. I know two of my friends who ended up being very successful writers. For both of them, the change happened when they completely committed themselves to it. In one case, it was getting laid off of a job and having to write full time to try and earn money for his family that got him to the next level.

I’m not saying I’m planning on quitting my job. My goal isn’t necessarily to be a writer full time. Would I like it? Probably. But I also really love my normal job as a librarian, so I don’t think I’d give that up. Rather, I’m just saying it might behoove us all at times to see if there are some bumpers we’ve put up in the bowling alley to help us learn how to bowl, and to question if we really need those bumpers up. If the training wheels need to come off.

You get the picture.

I’m glad I started doing the crosswords all on my own. It’s turned them into a really fun mental puzzle that I hadn’t fully appreciated when I was just turning to Google to get myself out of a bind. That principle surely applies elsewhere in my life. I wonder what other training wheels I can ditch in the future.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

There are No Happily Ever Afters

First, let me lead off by saying that I don’t think this post is a negative one. At least, that’s not where I think it’ll end up. But it’s going to start off pretty gloomy. I mean, just look at the title up there. No happily ever afters? You mean fairy tales have been lying to me all this time?

If it were just fairy tales, then I don’t think it would be as big of a deal, but our culture is in many ways saturated with a happily ever after mentality, primarily because of the pop culture we consume. I love movies and books (obviously), but almost all stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. And when you watch or read story after story after story with endings, it’s easy to get to the point where you start waiting for the end of the story you’re living.

Take, for example, the story of COVID. It fits easily into any number of disaster movies, and so it’s not a big leap to try and assume it will follow the same arc of those movies. Disease is discovered. Disease wrecks havoc. Cure is found. Disease is vanquished. Fade to black. But in reality, it doesn’t work out that way. When exactly would the “fade to black” have kicked in? When the vaccine was found? It wasn’t done yet. The vaccines still had to be tested. How about when the vaccines were tested and confirmed 90%+ effective? Nope, still not done. The vaccines had to be administered. How about when they’re administered? Well, just look at what a mess that’s been in America to date to see how well that’s worked out. You could have made an entire second narrative, starting with the “happily ever after” of the vaccine being effective and then focused around the huge problems of actually getting the cure administered.

And even once we iron those wrinkles out, at what point is it “over”? I don’t know that there will be one.

This isn’t isolated to world-changing events, either. It’s very easy to assume you’ll get your “happily ever after” when long-sought for moments arrive. When you graduate, perhaps. When you marry. When you get a job. When you get a book deal. When you win the lottery. When you reach that goal you’ve been waiting a long time to reach. But if you take a look back at all those potential “happily ever afters,” I think you’ll note that it wasn’t, in fact, happy from then on. You don’t get a job, or you miss a promotion, or you lose the job, or your boss is a bone-head, or you squander your lottery money, or your book tanks, or your spouse is annoying, and on and on and on.

Happily ever after just doesn’t come.

So how in the world is this not depressing?

Over a hundred years ago, newspaper columnist Jenkin Lloyd Jones wrote, “There seems to be a superstition among many thousands of our young who hold hands and smooch in the drive-ins that marriage is a cottage surrounded by perpetual hollyhocks, to which a perpetually young and handsome husband comes home to a perpetually young and ravishing wife. When the hollyhocks wither and boredom and bills appear, the divorce courts are jammed.

Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just ordinary people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. . . .

Life is like an old-time rail journey—delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”

This speaks in many ways to what I’ve concluded as well. It’s important to celebrate the victories you get when you get them, but at the same time keep in mind that those victories are not endings. That the page will turn, and new challenges will continue.

I read recently that “the lie outlives the liar.” You can remove a liar from office, but you can’t remove the lies they persuaded people to believe as easily. The people who attacked the Capitol last week aren’t going to suddenly decide that what they did was wrong. (Though it’s been amusing to me to see how many of them have now spoken up after their arrests to explain that they were really just there to watch what was going on, and that they personally weren’t protesting anything. They walked through open doors. They picked up zip ties they ran across, and were looking for a policeman to return them to. Many many excuses . . . )

Trump will be out of office next week. It becomes that much more important for us to continue to press for truth and transparency from our leaders. To not let the Democrats now do all the things they reviled Republicans for doing for the past four years. To not assume we’ve reached our happily ever after.

Likewise, we need to keep pressing for people to social distance and to wear masks, even though a vaccine is currently being administered. Thousands of people continue to die every day, and hundreds of thousands continue to contract the disease.

In our personal lives, it’s important to not wait for some big life changing event to begin making changes or taking action. It’s easy to say to yourself, “I’ll do that when COVID is over,” or decide to delay things until something else is in place. Sure, sometimes you have to do that. I’ve got a kitchen renovation I really want to do, and money to do it with, but I’ve been hesitating (and will continue to hesitate) until I have more certainty about what the future holds. Committing tens of thousands of dollars to cabinets and countertops when there’s a decent chance you’ll need that money for food and clothing doesn’t seem like a good call.

But I also believe there will always be reasons to not do things you want to do, just as there will always be the temptation to plan up to a point and then assume all your troubles will be over. That just doesn’t happen. But it does mean we can choose to act today to make changes we want to see happen. Just because there isn’t a happily ever after doesn’t mean those mile markers aren’t important. It means we can be happy now, and the happiness we have now can be extended to the happiness we’ll have in the future.

I don’t know. Maybe the post ended up being bleak anyway. I suppose it all depends on how you read it. Just know that for me, as I look at it, knowing there’s no happily ever after motivates me to be find happiness in the present. To not wait for some outside thing to change, but to be the change I want to see. Take that thought for what it’s worth.

Look at it this way: it’s Friday! Weekend! We can be happy about the weekend while still acknowledging that a new week will begin in just a few short days. That’s no reason not to enjoy the weekend, however . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

The Problem with Fictional Dystopias

I read Animal Farm just barely, the first time I’ve ever read it. (Somehow I missed it when I was going through high school, though I know that’s when many people first encounter it.) It’s a very good book, and it makes some excellent observations on how politics often works out. It also presents a very bleak view of the whole process.

(I just realized I assumed everyone is familiar with Animal Farm, but that’s likely not the case. For those of you who aren’t, it’s another book by George Orwell (of 1984 fame), about a farm where the animals revolt against humans and end up running the farm on their own. They come up with their own system of government and set out to make a utopia for all animals. Things don’t really go according to plan . . . )

I’ve taken some time to read or re-read a number of dystopian novels over the past while. Animal Farm. The Handmaid’s Tale. 1984. And a ton of dystopias in YA, such as Hunger Games. It’s been scary how prescient so many of these books have been. Written well before the events of the present day, they’ve still managed to guess a lot of the techniques and arguments that would be made by people in an effort to essentially create these sorts of dystopian states. Some of that is undoubtedly because there’s a long history of people trying to grab more power for themselves, and those approaches don’t really tend to change that much over time.

Which made me wonder why more people don’t see it for what they are. 1984 stands out in particular for today’s troubles. It seems like such a clear takedown of Trump and what he’s tried to do. Why can’t other people see that?

As I’ve thought about it, I think the trouble stems from the fact that it’s much simpler to see good and bad when you’re looking at it through a story. The pigs in Animal Farm are clearly bad. So are the deluded people in District 1. You’re presented with an obvious problem, and you have a protagonist who’s working against that problem.

In the real world, you don’t get those clear delineations. I know plenty of people who really disliked Obama, for example, and saw many things to object to. So when people are reading a book, they tend to naturally associate with the main character. It becomes very difficult to recognize the traits of the villain in yourself. My friend Dan Wells observed that America is essentially District 1, for example, and I think he was really onto something there. So you’ve got a case where a bunch of District 1 citizens are reading about the evils of District 1, unable to recognize the fact that they themselves are District 1.

This is in no way a Republican or Democrat problem. I think this is a general tendency of people, to think the best of themselves and be much more ready to see the worst in other people. I’m sure I do it, and I’m sure the Biden administration will fall victim to it, though I’d like to think they won’t quite revel in it to the extent that the Trump administration has . . .

What can we do about it? I’d say the biggest thing we can do is to regularly check ourselves. Think about what we’re doing and why, and ask ourselves how we’re doing on a broad scale. Regular, honest self-reflection is something that would help many, many people improve, and if you improve as a people, you improve as a country.

The easiest way to know that you’re not being honest enough with yourself is when you think you’re 100% right. When you see the other side as totally villainous, and your side as completely virtuous. I think it would be fascinating to write a book from the point of view of a District 1 person. Someone who’s totally drank the kool-aid and is convinced they’re right. Of course, I’m not sure how readable and interesting that book would be. Imagine Harry Potter from Umbridge’s point of view. I tend to think they’d view it as a tragedy, or be very frustrated that the villain ends up winning.

Perhaps a more interesting approach would be a book that alternates between viewpoint characters, with a District 1 person contrasted with a District 12 person. The easy way out would be to have the District 1 person realize at the end of the book that they were wrong and District 12 was right. The more accurate, true to life approach would be to have both of them realize they were right and wrong.

(I might have to think about that idea some more. It really appeals to me . . .)

Anyway. Just some dystopian related thoughts I’m having as we’re all living through the current dystopia of our lives. Happy Wednesday, everybody!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Dismay at a Lack of Empathy

I’m behind on work, so I don’t have much time to post today. I did, however, want to step in to just offer one observation on something tangentially related to the [points wildly at everything that’s happened in the past year or more] that we’ve all been going through.

Like many of you, I’ve been shocked by much of what we’ve undergone as a country. COVID, Black Lives Matter protests, insurrection, quarantines, and more. In many ways, I feel like I’ve been walking through one long gauntlet of events that in any other year would have been considered THE defining event of the year, except they’ve all been rolled into one in a way that makes them all feel like par for the course.

And so I think it makes sense that I’m struggling. Struggling to keep a positive outlook. Struggling to help my children get through all of this and still stay sane. (Remember how horrid middle school was? Now think about trying to do it in 2020. My middle school years were a cake walk in comparison.) Struggling to keep my creative writing going. Struggling to maintain my friendships even during social distancing.

I’m trying to keep in mind that everyone in the country (and the world) is struggling as well, but there is one area where I’m particularly disappointed in what I see as a shortfall in far more people than I would have thought heading into all this.

It feels to me like many people have a severe lack of empathy. I don’t know any other way to put it. People who are looking at the almost 1.9 million people who have died of COVID this year (370,000 in the US alone) and dismiss them. Who look at the hurt so many people of color were (and are) feeling earlier this year, and dismiss the protests or condemn them. Who watched the insurrection at the Capitol yesterday and say that it’s no big deal and being overblown.

Because as upsetting as all of this has been to me, the gaslighting attitude that’s been pointed at me by some has only made it worse. The way some will casually shrug it off and tell me I’m overreacting, or worse yet, dismiss it with some pithy saying.

I understand many of these events have had political undertones, and that there are multiple ways to view them. I genuinely try to understand people who disagree with me on any number of topics, and I try to see things from their point of view. I’ll admit to being worn down to the point that my tolerance for this attitude has gotten much, much shorter lately. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get upset anymore when people continue to take that approach, whether it’s with me or my friends.

Yesterday was traumatic for me, even as far away from the events as I was. It was likely the same for many of you. And the one thing we don’t need in that situation is to have someone come by and tell us we’re wrong for feeling upset. If a child falls and scrapes a knee, do you comfort the child, or tell them there are plenty of people dying of cancer, so they should really suck it up?

I don’t know who my audience for this post is. The people who already feel what I’ve been going through already know all about it, and the people who have been casually dismissing all that pain seem to be past the point of caring. I always thought “being a kind person” was a pretty low bar. It doesn’t really cost me anything other than discomfort now and then. Sort of like putting on a mask when I’m out in public. It’s not a big reach. And I realize that we all have different capacities for kindness, and troubling times can use up those capacities much more quickly.

But I hadn’t expected them to wear out as fast as they did.

So maybe the next time someone is expressing how upset or hurt they are on social media, or how shocked or disappointed, if you’re tempted to speak up, ask a few simple questions:

  1. Do I know this person well enough so that my words would really be helpful?
  2. Is what I’m about to say really going to help them, or is it only going to antagonize them?
  3. Am I posting to help them feel better, or to help myself feel better?

Almost all of the time, if the answer to either of the first two questions is no, then you shouldn’t post anything at all. If the answer to the third is yes, then ask yourself how good a friend or contact you are with that person to begin with.

This is one case where “literally saying nothing at all” is free, and it would actively help the other person far more than any one liner you’ve cooked up in the last five seconds. It might be about a topic you’re passionate about. It might be something you’re convinced you’re right on. But trying to engage people when they’re upset by leading with the argument that they’re actually not upset (or upset for false reasons) is far worse than just keeping your comment to yourself.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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