“What Is Dungeons & Dragons?”

Sometimes you ask someone if they would like to play D&D with you and their response goes along the lines of, “That sounds really cool, I’ve always wanted to play D&D, it seems neat. I just have one question:

What is D&D?”

And honestly, that’s a good question.

This blog post is my attempt to answer it, for anyone else who has been wondering but felt that asking would make them look silly.

Let me start with a little background on why I don’t find this kind of question foolish at all.

See, for as long as I knew it existed, I thought Dungeons & Dragons was the coolest thing in the world.

It would be years after that before I learned what Dungeons & Dragons actually was, though, because in addition to everything else it is…

Dungeons & Dragons Is A Multimedia Empire

You see, I was born in the 80s, which was the first heyday of D&D in pop culture. The first time you could get D&D merchandise in big box stores. The first time you could see it advertised on TV. It popped up in movies like ET. It was a Saturday morning cartoon.

The cartoon was my first real exposure. Most cartoons were based on something, and in the days when narrative arcs in children’s programming were rare and all the money was assumed to be in syndication, most cartoons had an en media res approach where you’d just sort of come in halfway through the picture and no one would explain what was going on.

So when the first episode of the cartoon aired with an opening sequence that starts with a bunch of kids at a fair noticing a roller coaster and going, “Hey, a Dungeons & Dragons world!” and winding up in something called “the world of Dungeons & Dragons”, I just kind of went with it. This was how cartoons were. 

I was a little confused with how few of the toys on the store shelves seemed to have much to do with the cartoon beyond a basic theme, but, eh. Childhood is a confusing time. 

As I got older, I discovered tie-in novels and comic books which, again, had very little to do with the cartoon and often not much to do with each other. Elves and orcs and dwarves and, yes, dragons showed up again and again. But they all featured different characters and were even in some cases clearly set in different worlds.

And that, in a nutshell, is what Dungeons & Dragons is really about: unique characters, unique worlds, unique adventurers.

But I didn’t know that. I just knew that there was cartoon that was both like all the other ones but also like nothing else I’d ever seen, and it was connected somehow to all these other things. 

When I started reading the novels and comics, I would see adds in the comics for gaming supplements that tied into the novels, that talked about going on adventures and fighting alongside the heroes from the novels.

What were they, board games? Video games? I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to know, and so I went and I found out that…

Dungeons & Dragons Is A Roleplaying Game

The best way I can describe a roleplaying game is a game of make-believe that does not immediately end in an argument the first time there’s a question of who shot first or who hit whom or who missed or if the target had their forcefield dog or if the shooter brought their attack dinosaur who eats forcefield dogs.

A roleplaying game is a game of make-believe with rules and structure to it. It’s a game of shared storytelling where everybody agrees on a basic framework for what is possible and what is likely, and one person is given responsibility for figuring out the gray areas and deciding what happens next.

When you play a game like Dungeons & Dragons, you create a character through a process that will likely be at least vaguely familiar to anyone who has played enough computer games over the years – because the computer games cribbed their concept of character creation (along with a lot of other things) from Dungeons & Dragons and its descendants.

In D&D, you define your character by choosing a race in the sense of being Human or Elf or Dwarf or some other fantastical folk, and a character class that broadly describes your special abilities and role as an adventurer: Fighter, Wizard, Ranger, and so on. 

You define your character’s basic abilities in six areas: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma. Your class and background help you determine what special adventuring skills you’re trained in, such as Stealth or Acrobatics. 

Your class gives you special abilities that defy these kinds of broad categorization. Anyone might know Stealth or Sleight of Hand, but a Rogue has special features that lets you use these skills in ways that other characters can’t.

So you create a character according to a set of step-by-step instructions in the Player’s Handbook (the rulebook for D&D) and then you have a character sheet, a paper or electronic form that records all the vital statistics of your character that impact the game. This is a picture of your character at the start of their career as a heroic adventurer. You might be a High Elf Wizard or a Hill Dwarf Cleric. You might be a Dragonborn Paladin, or a Tiefling Rogue.

Once you’ve created your character — often with guidance from the person running the game, who will usually know the rules at least a little bit — the game properly begins with an adventure.

Dungeons & Dragons Is A Social Experience.

You can play D&D with as few as two people — one person to run the game and one person to have an adventure — and in a pinch there are some variants you can play solo, but it’s intended to be a group experience, with each player creating one character as part of an ensemble for the story and serving a different role in terms of the game. 

Some characters are tougher and stronger and fight on the front lines, putting themselves between danger and their allies. The world of online gaming calls this role the “tank”. Tabletop gaming often goes with the more prosaic “meatshield”.

Some characters are skilled specialists, the kind of role that Thorin Oakenshield described to Bilbo Baggins as “expert treasure hunter”. They deal with tricks and traps that crop up along the way, look for creative solutions to problems, and often have ways of tying opponents up in combat or striking precise and deadly blows while the meatshields keep the attention on themselves.

Then there are support characters, who heal and inspire and help the whole party cohere and be greater than the sum of their parts.

Some character classes are strongly predisposed towards one role or another. Others are more flexible. The ultimate point, though, is that with a group of 3 to 6 people, you can have more fun because each character can both do their own things and find things to do that complement each other.

And of course, there’s a lot of fun to be had just sitting around a table (or in a chat server) with friends, playing a game and imagining epic adventures. 

Dungeons & Dragons Is A Storytelling Medium

When you play a roleplaying game, you’re helping to tell a story. The game runner — Dungeon Master, in D&D’s trademark parlance — serves as a narrator who sets the scene and describes how the story unfolds, but everybody playing is also advancing the story through their decisions. 

The basic rhythm of the game is back and forth: the Dungeon Master narrates an opening and describes where the characters are, what they notice about the world around them, and asks what they are doing.

The players describe what their characters do in response to the scene, and the Dungeon Master decides (sometimes by consulting rules or dice) how that goes, and what happens as a result.

Whatever the players did probably wrought some change in the situation, so now it’s back to them to respond to that.

And so it goes, back and forth, until the story reaches a stopping point or the players do. There’s a lot of “to be continued” in gaming, especially as groups get older.

After each session, whether your character won the day or retreated or lost and even died, you’ll have a story to tell about it, one that hopefully binds you closer to the people who were there for it and helps you connect to a wider community of players beyond it.

And if you keep playing over a long period of time (which is often called a campaign), your character will grow and change to something far beyond the original concept you had when you rolled a Level 1 Half-Elf Bard. You might conquer lands or free them. You might restore the power of a lost god, or destroy them, or ascend to the heavens yourself. Long-running campaigns can change the face of the worlds they take place in, becoming the same kinds of epic stories that inspired people to start playing in the first place.

You can lose battles and you can win wars, but there’s no winning or losing the game of Dungeons & Dragons. Not even if your character dies. Because in the first place, you aren’t knocked out of the game — you can make another character. In the second place, it’s fantasy. Magic can heal even fatal injuries, if you can amass the right power and resources. And sometimes people’s best stories are how their character went out in a blaze of glory.

Dungeons & Dragons Is Fun

That’s it. Even with rules, the point of the game is to have fun. The rules are there to facilitate the fun by cutting down on the arguments and second-guessing and give you a framework whereby you can, once you’ve got your character’s features down, just confidently announce “I throw a fireball at his face.” instead of having to inquire, “So, can I throw a fireball at his face? Is that a thing I can do?”

Even the official rulemasters at Wizards of the Coast will tell you there is no wrong way to play and that if a group at a table agrees it’s more fun when they don’t sweat the small stuff or change an official rule completely, then go for it. 

Because it’s a game. It’s supposed to be fun.

And while it can be more fun when you have a strong handle on what your character can do, it’s 100% possible to play without any prior knowledge of the actual rules. It’s not a competitive game and it’s not a guessing game – most new groups have some element of learning as they go, and as long as you don’t mind asking.

Back From There Again

Well, I’m back in… dang, even years after I moved to Maryland full-time and after my parents relocated to Florida, my urge is still to write “back in Nebraska” in these blog posts. Some of my plans for my Florida foray didn’t work out so well. I was planning on blogging, but I wound up getting sidetracked on that. I was planning on doing some virtual poetry readings and other video streams, but it turned out that there wasn’t any acoustically suitable spots in the house. The place I had picked out from previous visits as being farthest away from the noisy spots? There’s an AC unit right outside it.

But, it was still a good trip! I made less progress on those particular fronts but wound up getting way further ahead on other things. I’m going to have my proof copy of First Dates, Last Calls sometime this week, which is well ahead of schedule, and means that I might actually be reading from the physical book at my reading at the Flying Camel on Saturday, depending upon exactly how timely is arrival is. 

I’ve also had some good luck in changing my habits lately, and building better ones, which I think is going to help me reach goals for things like writing, blogging, etc., as I apply them more broadly.

My big insight here is that if you think of life as a game, you have to remember that it’s often easier to alter your equipment than it is to upgrade your skills. A habit, a true habit, takes time and repetition (grinding for experience points) to develop. But if you can change something in your environment, you can make it automatic, or nearly so.

I’ve tried to cut down on caffeine and alcohol in the past. I’ve tried to drink more water. None of this attempts really took. Then I started carrying around a reusable water bottle. It got me drinking water all the time (because it’s right there), and any time I’m drinking water, I’m not drinking anything else. And let me tell you, I don’t want to be one of those boring people who tells you that drinking water will cure your depression’s cancer or whatever, but the more water I drink, the less caffeine and alcohol I find that I need.

I’m sipping a Dr. Pepper spiked with Fireball as I write this, but, you know, I woke up at 7:30 and didn’t need caffeine to get going, or booze to keep going. I just like i.

Anyway. Along those lines, what I aim to do in order to get my blogging habit back on track is just opening up a blank blog entry when I go to bed, so it’s there when I open my computer in the morning. We’ll see how that works. It’s not quite the slam dunk of a physical hack, because it requires me to cultivate a habit (open a tab before going to bed) and there will be times when I need to do something else first or I don’t have anything to say when I wake up. But it’s a start.

Seasons in the sun

So, if you follow me on Twitter you might have noticed I’m in Florida. If you’ve followed me for long enough you know this means I’m engaged with my family. In the current climate, I like to employ a certain amount of obfuscation about my movement which is why I was a little bit oblique about the fact that I was getting ready to travel and why I’m not going to have a lot of details here. 

I will say that I’m going to be down here for a while. The first little stretch is a bit like a chill vacation – each day we’re going to a different art museum or similar attraction. After that, it’s going to be a working trip – helping out around the house while also working on my writing (I’ve got a book to put to bed!) and my political commentary. It’s hard to guess how much time and energy I’ll have, though. Some of these visits have been among my most productive creative intervals. Others have been less so. There’s really no way to know beforehand. I mean, that’s true no matter where I am in the country. It’s not something particular to here.

Anyway, I’m trying a few things different this time around that might help me have a better time managing my spoons. I’ve been hydrating like never before for most of March and I’ve stepped it up since I’ve been here. I’ve got a weighted blanket to help me sleep, which has worked to the point that I slept through at least one minute of my alarm – don’t know if I would have woken up at all but it did wake Jack up, and he woke me up. 

I am such a light sleeper that I have slept through an alarm only once before in my adult life, and that was a time I was physically exhausted.

I have a weighted blanket at home but dang, the availability and quality have seriously improved from the time I got it. I might be looking to upgrade/replace by the time this kind of weather gets to Maryland. When the weather is chilly, I just sleep with a ton of blankets… but Florida-weight blankets aren’t that heavy, you know?

So, yeah. Extra hydration, less caffeine and alcohol (which wasn’t a conscious choice, just a side effect of drinking water all the dang time), and better sleep. This could be a really productive trip. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

But right now is for family time, so for now, I’m just stealing a few moments here and there to do my thing when everybody else is sleeping and I’m not, or we’re all just doing our own things. One thing I’m going to focus on once most of the family has departed and I’m settling in to work is keeping up this blogging thing. I am already doing it more than I was. I’d like to be doing it more than I am.

I’ll keep you posted.

Well…

…I’m keeping up my streak of blogging about every two weeks or so. We’ll see if I can improve on that in the coming days.

It feels a little weird to be talking business at this moment in history, but I really do need to blog more often, and to keep up my other professional obligations.

This week I put in my party proposal for WisCon and my proposal for a trans/genderqueer reading group. Yesterday I had my best writing day in a while – I wrote a very short poem (short enough to fit in a single tweet, even!) as a warm-up, and then a 3,500 word short story, and then another story in the form of a 900 word monologue or prose poem, I’m still not sure how I’d best classify it.

The poem and the poetic monologue were written to use as reading material during my nearly weekly appearance at The Flying Camel. Last week I started doing a virtual reading on Twitter’s Periscope service around midnight on the night of the open mic night. I’d planned to do the same last night, but with the news breaking out of New Zealand I didn’t quite have the right mindset for a public performance and I decided to spend my time reporting Islamophobic tweets on Twitter. Weirdly, all the accounts I found that were spreading hatred of Muslims last night were also engaged in anti-Semitism, homophobia, and racism. Go figure.

Anyway. I’ve got a social engagement for the middle part of the day, and after that I’m going to post the two shorter works to my Patreon. The longer one will be up probably next week. When I write a story, particularly one that’s over 1,000 words, I think of it as having three stages of doneness: complete is when the whole story is there on the page. Finished is when I’m gone over the rough bits. Polished is when I’ve looked at the finished story, and often slept on it, and figured out all the ways to really make it sparkle. I wrote a complete story yesterday in about an hour, but it’s not finished and it’s not polished.

If I’m stuck on what to blog about, I might talk about the story some more, because I wrote it as a way to sort of get over some mental hurdles that have been holding me back in some of my longer ongoing writing projects.

New phone, what’s all this, then?

So, I got a new phone recently. It’s part of my ongoing drive to overhaul my life by getting rid of stuff that doesn’t really work, stuff I’ve just sort of put up with. So when I was shopping for a new phone, what I looked at was something that would do the stuff I use my phone for, but fix a couple of things that were causing problems.

One of the biggest problems was that in getting a screen size that let me use my phone as a work device, it wound up being too wide for me to comfortably hold. Even with a pop socket on the back (which helped a lot), I couldn’t use my phone all day without dropping it at least once, and putting a lot of stress on my hand and wrist.

I could get a smaller phone easily. But one big enough for me to work on yet easy on my hand was trickier.

After a LOT of research, I landed on the Galaxy Note 9 as hitting my sweet spot. It has a nice big screen and is only a very tiny bit narrower than most phones with that kind of screen real estate — but phones that size are only a tiny bit too wide for my hand. I found some similar sized phones that were markedly lighter in weight, but they seemed to get there by compromising on battery life and that’s a high priority for me.

The Note 9 wasn’t the cheapest choice, but I’ve always gone for kind of middle of the road on power… and then struggled in frustration when I tried to write on my phone and it was slow and non-responsive at my typical input speeds. So even though I wasn’t buying it primarily for the specs, I have found using it to give me the kind of profound KonMari-esque sense of relief and release that I was expecting from its shape, but all around. I can write on 4TW and it is so fast. It doesn’t reload my pages every time I switch between them. I can write one-handed using my thumb, two handed with the included stylus (first handwriting recognition thing that actually reads my handwriting!) or if I have a surface in front of me, with a bluetooth keyboard that has similar key size to the netbooks I used for years.

But it’s so much more responsive than the netbooks.

So, I have been writing up a storm. This is my second blog post of the day, the first one being up on my Patreon because it concerns the art and craft of writing. I have another blog post I wrote yesterday that I need to reformat a bit before posting. I wrote a whole short story that I had allotted four hours to write, in about 75 minutes.

Listen, if you’ve followed me for years you know that writing on my phone or other handheld device is not something new for me. It’s always been sort of the holy grail for me, of being able to write effortlessly anywhere and just have it sync to the cloud so I can finish it up on a computer. Some of my devices have been better for that than others. Sometimes I had a real working solution for a while. Sometimes I was kidding myself and trying to make something work that was just causing aggravation.

But this is so fluid and seamless. If I sit at a table or desk and prop my phone up and put my keyboard there, it does amazing things for my focus. I can see the whole screen easily, my eyes are focused right on it. I can type at a really good clip but it’s dang inconvenient for me to flip to a different app or tab, so I only do it when it’s necessary, not out of reflex. My phone is there on the table, not at my side where I can just grab it and check Twitter.

For me, it’s all of the advantages of a single-use word processor (as some authors use) without having to carry around a single-use gadget and hoping it doesn’t break or get lost or die before I can transfer my work off it. It’s great. It’s not cheap, but, you know, my last new phone was in fall 2017. A year and a half between upgrades doesn’t feel too indulgent for someone who uses wireless tech as heavily as I do.

Anyway. The phone is Galaxy Note 9. The keyboard I use is the Microsoft universal folding bluetooth keyboard – that’s an affiliate link, just so you know, but this is a true and wholehearted recommendation for people who can type on a netbook sized keyboard, and who will be using it while typing on a hard elevated surface like a table. Those are the caveats. You can’t hold it in front of you and you’ll be frustrated if you try to use it on your lap. But it’s hardy and robust, with a good battery life – I haven’t had it for long but I bought it on recommendations from people I consider power users when it comes to typing and traveling.

I’ve been learning what else it can do (it can measure heart rate and has a built-in pulse oximeter, among other surprises, and can do streaming video muuuuch better than anything I’ve owned before), but honestly, I bought it with the killer app being slightly narrower while still being a usable size, and finding out it’s great for writing on in any configuration has been enough of a pleasant surprise.

49 days into the new year…

I made the decision late last year I was going to resurrect my blog in 2019, as an actual blog, updated nearly daily. I made this decision because I had started daily journaling in 2018 and it was really good for my emotional and cognitive processing, but it also resulted in me being even more closed off from others than I had been before, because I now had an outlet for my thoughts that wasn’t putting them up on Twitter or throwing them into a blog post.

I did a couple of posts at the end of December because I like to get a running start on my resolutions (that’s the secret to getting anywhere with them, in my experience), and then… nothing. I’ve realized this a couple of times in January and again in February, and here we are about two-thirds of the way through the month and I’m making my first post.

I think the allure of journaling instead of blogging is that it’s so much safer, now that I’m something of a public figure. No one ever tries to start a conversation with my journal, or mistakes it for a dialogue already in progress. Nobody is combing through my journal looking for something they can later impress me by having deduced by reading between the lines and figured out. (Usually wrong. Always creepy. Usually well-intentioned. Still creepy.) Nobody’s looking at my journal ready to pounce on things they think are inconsistencies, as every life inevitably must contain contradiction.

Even as I type this, I can hear in my head as people get ready to go on Twitter or Facebook or email and tell me, “That’s alright! Don’t worry about what other people think! Just do what you want to do!” Listen, there are people who need to hear this. People who need or want a push will go digging for one. This is just me, quietly thinking out loud.

So, this is my first blog post of 2019. I don’t want it to be the last one, or even worse, for every blog post to wind up being an explanation of why I haven’t blogged more lately. So what I’m doing is another thing I started in late 2018, which is to take what works (journaling) and let go of what doesn’t. I wrote this as part of my daily journaling. Why not? It’s part of my routine anyway. 4 The Words, the site I use for my journaling (along with my more creative writing), recently had an upgrade that makes it easier to export or copy/paste formatted text from it.

Here’s some highlights of recent events from my life:

  • I’ve started attending open mic nights some weeks at a local literary cafe and bar called The Flying Camel here in Hagerstown. If you’re local, you can watch my Twitter on Thursdays to find out if I’m going to make an appearance. I will be holding a personal reading there on Saturday, April 20th, at 2:00 PM in support of my forthcoming short story collection First Dates, Last Calls, which will be available for pre-order at that time. I expect to hold a launch party there as well.
  • I’ve upgraded my look to include more hooded cloaks, because if you’re going to sit around in a bar you might as well look like you’ve got an important quest to hand out.
  • I got my first respiratory illness of the year. I came out the other side over the weekend, but my energy levels are still really low – we went out yesterday in the cold and I paid for it by being exhausted today.

That’s what’s going on here. Oh, I also poked my head into my patron Discord server for the first time in a while, back on a day last week when I *thought* was recovered from the cold. Haven’t really had the focus for chat since, but I’ll drop back in soon.

For your consideration.

File under “Better Late Than Never” – I said on Twitter back in the fall that I was going to do an award eligibility post this year, and I’ve re-affirmed that commitment to a few individuals since then. I really hoped to get this done in November, but, you know: everything happens so much. Then it felt like it was too late, though I kept seeing other people doing it after I made that decision.

So here we are, the last day of the old year looking back at what I did in the previous one. This was actually a really good ritual because it helped me remind myself that I *did* do things in the past year, I did a lot of things, including things that I’m very proud of. I’m not actually going to list them all here because I’d rather make this a “For Your Consideration” list rather than “here’s everything thrown in a pile, you figure it out”.

Short Stories

The absolute best thing I published in the last year — certainly the thing that made the biggest impact — is a short story called “You Remember This Story“, published on July 10th. It’s the first piece of fiction I’ve written in a long time that I had people come up to me at a convention to rave about. It seems to have stayed with them.

I’m not going to tell anyone what to do with their ballots but I will say that if you have the time and inclination to read any one thing I wrote while you are considering what to do with your ballot, please read this story. You will remember it.

My second favorite thing I wrote this year is a little vignette called “Table Six Needs Drinks“, published on October 26th. It’s short enough that I think any attempt to describe it would spoil it, but I’m very happy with it.

I had planned to leave it at these two things, in order to highlight my absolute best and avoid competing with myself, but close friends have counseled that I would be doing myself a grave disservice if I did not include one more story in this post: “Indelible“. My hesitation is not based on any fear of the story’s weakness, but rather the fact that it’s not a very comfortable story.

It’s a horror story that was published on October 22nd, and it includes references to sexual assault, substance/alcohol abuse, and self-harm.

Poetry

I wrote a few poems in 2018, but I would say most of them are more writing exercises, warm up sketches, literary doodles. The only poem I would like to put forward for consideration in 2018 awards is “A Wizard of Earth“, written in memory of Ursula Le Guin and published on January 23rd, 2018.

Fan Writing

As most of my meta writing and commentary on fandom politics in 2018 was in the form of Twitter threads, I believe that rather than nominating individual “works”, the best way to recognize that I believe would be to nominate me in the category of Best Fan Writer or similar, in awards where such a category exists.

Final Considerations

So, these are the works I would like to submit for your consideration.

Now, you might be thinking something along the lines of, “But these stories were all self-published on your Patreon! Does that really count as being published, for purposes of an award requiring publication in 2018?”

My answer to that is pretty straightforward: they count as published for all other purposes, including any attempts to subsequently publish them (the first rights are gone) and also under United States and international copyright law. I recognize that there are differing opinions and an ongoing conversation and if you have a strong personal conviction in this area I’m not going to attempt to sway you.
However, if you believe that any of the works above are worthy of recognition, then I would urge you to make your voice heard. Let the people who think otherwise vote otherwise. You don’t owe them any portion of your ballot.

If the question is truly not settled, it’ll be settled by the choices we make, this year and in subsequent ones.

Thank you for your consideration.

Coming clean.

Whew. I think I said in the last blog post that my next one was going to be personal. If I didn’t, then I meant to say it, as a sort of accountability thing, to make sure I actually write this post.

One of the reasons that I tend to fall off the blogging train is that I can have a hard time letting people in and talking about what’s going on in my life, when I’m not sure it would make sense. In a lot of ways I’ve left concerns like shame and guilt behind me, but there are still things that have the power to make me feel like hiding.

As a writer, gamer, and fantasist, I’ve always been pretty good at checking out of my actual life. “Maladaptive daydreaming” is the technical term for when you get so wrapped up in an imaginary world it begins to affect your real life. Add a(n un)healthy dose of depression and the kind of disassociation that can come really naturally if you’re trans and… you know, if you don’t feel like your real life is your actual life, then it’s easy to let things sort of fall by the wayside.

And then you start adding in various crises, emergencies, complicated family situations, political upheaval…

Anyway. I let a lot of stuff slide, around the house and in my office and bedroom in particular, for much too long. To the point that it wasn’t just unpleasant, but unsafe and unhealthy. There were reasons. There are always reasons. Past a certain point, though, it doesn’t really matter what they are. Also past a certain point, the accumulated problems all pile up on top of each other and reinforce one another. I couldn’t get my life together without getting my room together. Couldn’t clean up the room without unpacking these boxes and storage tubs; can’t unpack them without a place to put them that’s not a stack of storage tubs. Need to get rid of stuff but don’t have room to sort it. Way more stuff to throw out than we can reasonably leave at the curb in one go.

Stuff like that.

(Did you know? I’m magical. I can see into the heads of all the people reading this, and I can see ideas forming. You want to tell me about organizational systems. You want to tell me that I can donate stuff. You want to tell me about haul-away services and rentable dumpsters and gig economy programs and you want to tell me what worked for you. Don’t worry! You don’t have to tell me. I can read it in your mind. And also this story is mostly being told in past tense, so that you the reader can understand what’s been going on with me. It’s not a question or a cry for help. No audience participation is necessary.)

So then a couple of things happened in November. One is that the new Netflix series, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, came out, and I watched it. Over and over again, actually. I love… basically everything about it, but one of my favorite things is the character Entrapta. Entrapta has several traits I identify with, including a tendency to get hyperfocused on something to the point that she loses sight of everything else (like me, watching the same series over and over again.) At one point, while listing her reasons for building robots, she mentions that she relies on them for basic hygiene and cleaning.

And after losing her robots to a computer virus, she spends the entire series wearing a dirty shirt.

I mean, it’s a cartoon, everybody’s wearing the same clothes every day even when it makes no sense, but hers has a mark on it that really looks like it’s a stain.

And I thought, that’s me. I know how to do laundry. I know the importance of doing laundry. I actually have a whole fabulous wardrobe of terribly aesthetic outfits. But I’d lost control of my life to the point that I would just roll out of bed and immediately put on the same shirt I wore the day before. I did laundry and showered if I had a trip. Otherwise… bleh. My mind was elsewhere.

So I thought, I can’t actually build magical robots to fix these things for me. I’m not a character in a cartoon, and anyway, that didn’t work out so well for Entrapta. But I could still invent solutions. Innovate. Tinker with my life. Devise processes that would work with me, that I could carry out and maintain even when life goes all squiggly around the edges.

“Conceptual robots,” basically.

The problem was that my life wasn’t at a mainenance level yet, and I had no idea how to get there. My room — both of my rooms — were disasters.

Then I went to visit my family around Thanksgiving, and the day I left, our furnace here broke. For several days, Sarah was the only one home, alone with the cats in a house without heat. I know that cats are cats, they’re pretty good at regulating their own temperatures compared to us, as long as they are out of the wind and the wet, they would be perfectly fine, but I kept worrying about them, because they were a thousand miles away from me.

 

And I kept wondering, what if Sarah woke up and couldn’t find them? And she had to go through my cluttered, dirty rooms looking for them? What if one of the cats was hurt because something fell over? What if Sarah got hurt trying to navigate the mess to get to them?

 

Anyway, I came back to my life in Maryland fully resolved to turn things around… and then had to wait a while because we still didn’t have heat and it was too cold to do much of anything.

But once the heat was back on, I started making plans. Identifying things that definitely didn’t work, both practices in my life and stuff I had kept hanging around. It’s amazing the stuff you can hang onto that doesn’t work any more, or that maybe never worked but always felt like it should, or that kind of works but not really but close enough that you feel bad replacing it with something else.

I had a pretty good year this year, financially. Covering the election on Twitter worked out pretty well for me. I had some money saved up. I… well, I was going to say that I blew it, but I don’t think it was blown. I think it was spent. Invested, even, in some cases. Invested in replacing things that needed replacing, in shoring up the parts of my life that don’t work. I’ve been throwing out clothes that are ripped or faded or falling apart. Replacing tools that cost me more time and energy in keeping them working than they saved. Getting flat pack storage shelves and chests of drawers that let me unpack and organize my possessions.

I’ve thrown a lot of stuff away purely on the basis that it was packed up for over a decade and if I hadn’t needed it in the intervening time, I’m not likely to miss it in the future. That wasn’t my only consideration, mind you. I’ve also unpacked stuff that was packed away for that long or longer that I had been really looking forward to finally having the space to use it.

Anyway, as i write this, I’m typing it on my laptop in my bedroom, which has been 100% transformed. From the day I moved in here, it was more of a storage room I slept in than a living space. Now the floor is clear. I have places to put things away, and mostly they are. There’s one corner of it that still has a few storage boxes I need to finish going through, but that’s it.

I’m typing this blog post in my bedroom because my office? My office is still a work in progress, by which I mean a disaster. It was already in bad shape when I basically abandoned it to the summer heat, which I do in the hottest part of every year, it’s just not energy efficient to cool it compared to the ground floor or my smaller and darker bedroom. But this year I never really went back to it, and while I have started cleaning it, it’s also holding things like a giant pile of cardboard from boxes (the ones I unpacked, the ones my new life tools came in, miscellaneous Christmas stuff) that I need to break down and bundle up for recycling, bags of stuff that I need to actually throw out, etc.

In order to get my bedroom as clean as it is, I’ve had to use the office as a holding facility for stuff I move out of here. I needed the space. Once I have the corner in my bedroom I was talking about cleared out, I’m going to be reversing polarity, and that corner will be where I move stuff out of the office in order to have room to work on cleaning it up.

In the meanwhile, I have made a little space in my bedroom that can function as an office, so I’m not just sitting at the dining room table all day when I want to write or tweet. I have a little podium style sit/stand desk and a chair, and it works pretty well.

I’ve already made some progress on the office. As the bigger of the two rooms, it had even more storage tubs and boxes stacked against the wall. Those are all gone. I’ve cleared out most of the empty cans and bottles that accumulated on and around the desk. I took down the old blinds, which weren’t a great fit for the windows in which they’d been installed and so had a tendency to fall down out of their brackets when I tried to raise or lower them, and replaced them with curtains, which I can just open or close.

Anyway. This is all to say that I let my life become a mess, physically, and I’m in the process of straightening it out. At the peak of my bedroom clearing, I was off of Twitter completely — the need to get my space in order wasn’t the reason I took that break, but boy did it help me accomplish my goals.

When I decided to take the Twitter break, my thought was that I would alternate cleaning with writing and editing my fiction. I had a NaNoWriMo project to whip into shape, and stories I wanted to write. But I discovered something: when you’re cleaning up a mess that is that bad, and you don’t have a lot of space to work with, and you have to make decisions about how to even dispose of the stuff you’re getting rid of and where to put it until you have a chance to, and you have to figure out how to work with what you’ve got and what needs replacing, you wind up doing a lot of creative thinking just to get the job done.

So I didn’t have any creative energy for writing. I’d sit down and I’d open my writing program, and I’d find that I could journal my thoughts, which was useful. It kept me writing something every day. And it helped me process my feelings, and make decisions, and plan out what I was going to do next.

I wrote about 10,000 words every day of my Twitter break. All journaling.

Somewhere in there is where I decided I’m going to start blogging again.

Anyway, I worked for about a week and a half solidly on my bedroom, and at the end of it, it was completely transformed. It was satisfying but also unsustainable. It’s not that I couldn’t keep going like that and power through the rest of my bedroom stuff (which at that point included things like the inside of the closet, which is now finished, and inside some other storage furniture, which is still ongoing) and then the office, it’s that I would be trading one set of addictive behavior for another, and while re-ordering my life is work it doesn’t pay the bills. I’ve been spending and spending money all December and not really making any in return.

So January’s going to be more like business as usual, with cleaning mixed in. My goal for my office is going to have it transformed by the end of the month in a similar fashion to how I had my bedroom at the end of about a week, while also keeping up the bedroom. And also doing my thing on Twitter, as that’s what pays the bills.

Once my office is useable and presentable, I’ll start seeing what I can’t improve around the rest of the house. I’ve already got a couple of things to try to get the bathrooms in a better ongoing condition. This is an old house with a lot of retrofits and a lot of decisions for how to handle problems that we kind of inherited that I think we can improve on.

Anyway, that’s what’s been going on with me, why I haven’t been as active on Twitter in the past month and a big part of why I’ve just been more and more closed off in general over the past few years. Things in my life had been getting worse and my response was to ignore my actual physical surroundings which just made other things in my life worse.

I’m getting a handle on things again, though. Bit by bit, I’m getting a handle on them.

An update, out of the wild blue author.

Hello, internet and all the ships at sea!

Been a while since I’ve blogged on here regularly. I mean to start again in 2019, and normally when I’m going to start a new thing in the new year, I start it before the new year. This is both because of a superstition about not starting anything new on January 1st (it’s an elective superstition; I don’t have any beliefs attached to it but I choose to follow it) and because I think a good resolution requires some momentum.

The trajectory of my life has been such that this wasn’t a good month for blogging. It was, however, a great month for journaling, which has given me some habits in terms of both writing and presence of mind that I think will help me with the whole blogging habit. This first blog post is just to say hey, I’m blogging here again, and to drop a couple of recent professional developments.

One is that I have Kickstarted (successfully!) FIRST DATES, LAST CALLS, which is (or will be) a physical, print collection of some of my best short stories. The Kickstarter is almost 200% funded and still has three weeks left to go. Note that I took a very simple, streamlined approach to this, my first Kickstarted product. Due to a lack of experience when it comes to things like shipping prices and logistics, I’ve chosen to absorb the cost of shipping physical copies of the book to backers into the tier price, and I’m limiting the physical copy reward tier to US only.

This does not mean that the book will only be available in the US! Once the book is out, it will be offered through every e-tail platform I can get it onto, and ship everywhere they will ship to.

The purpose of this Kickstarter was just to pay for the cover art (a beautifully hand-painted image by professional illustrator Amanda Sharpe) and an initial stock of the book for myself, so I have the copies to send to backers and patrons who qualify and then have on hand for conventions where I can hand-sell them. This was one of the reasons I wanted to do this: I keep going to conventions and people keep asking if I have anything they can buy and have signed, and since my work is all digital and mostly ephemeral, the answer has been no.

The official delivery date for the project is June but I am going to try my hardest to have them ready for WisCon (end of May), so I can instead say yes.

Jeweled mechanical bees flying through a window in space.

Isn’t it the bees’ knees? And also the rest of them. The entire bees.

Separate and yet related: I have found a couple of event spaces (read: bars) in the area that will host readings and book signings for area authors and I am planning on sending out some feelers to do some such events in like the middle of June (when I’m recovered from WisCon travels but before any prospective 4th of July family trips that may happen).

I will see if I can also swing a dry venue like a coffee shop or the library or something, if I can manage it. Sorry to make that sound conditional; I do see that as an important priority, but it’s still not certain I’ll have any events.

Anyway, one of the two bars, the Flying Camel, is in town even, and I have been attending their open mic nights the past two weeks and will do so the next few weeks and then probably off and on.

Watch my Twitter on Thursdays if you’re in the area and want to know if I’ll be making an appearance. As I noted on Twitter, the open mic readings are done in very short time slots, so my part will be 5 minutes or less. Don’t road trip for it. Buuut I’ll try to give as much lead time as possible for larger, more me-centric events that might happen around the book release.

Anyway, that’s what’s going on. I think my next post will be more of a personal update, but if I don’t get it up tomorrow or Sunday, it probably won’t see light until a couple of days into January.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/alexandraerin/first-dates-last-calls-short-stories-by-alexandra

Amanda Sharpe portfolio: http://www.amandasharpe.com

Flying Camel webpage: https://flyingcamelcafe.com/

Conventional Wisdom

Well, it’s WorldCon weekend, and tonight is the night of the Hugo Awards. I’ve only been to one WorldCon before, at which I was a little bit of a cause celebre (that’s French for meme) because of my role in both explaining and skewering what we might call the, ah, alternatively righteous element in the community of science fiction and fantasy literature: those who believed their tastes were the same as objective truth, that their favorites (or indeed, their own works) were the only ones allowed to win awards, and that any other outcome meant the whole thing was rigged, rigged, rigged, I tell you. (WITCH HUNT!)

This is only my second WorldCon. I missed last year’s in Helsinki because of money and other external factors, but the year before that I made a point to go because that was the year of Sad Puppies Review Books and other satirical or analytical works. I knew I’d received many people’s nods for a Hugo Award, even if I didn’t quite make the shortlist, and I woke up the morning of the award ceremony the year before last feeling an overwhelming (and entirely unaccustomed) sense of humility in the face of how the fandom community had rallied against these gatekeepers, this ballot-stuffing clique of bullies who wanted to tell them what to read and who to like and what to do and who were determined to burn the whole concept of awards to the ground if we did not wholly surrender and give them everything they wanted. I wrote a blog post describing my thoughts and feelings about the whole thing.

It is a little bittersweet to read it now, as it is to read just about anything that touches on politics written in the fall of 2016. Before 2016, I would not have expected to be so close to a major industry award for non-fiction. After 2016, I found my always unconventional career taking a very different turn, one which I think my little skirmishes with the so-called Sad Puppies helped prepare me for. On November 8th, 2016, I found myself on Twitter, helping to explain what was happening. Then it kept happening, and it never stopped happening, and I have kept explaining. That’s not exactly a job, but it is certainly a calling, and it is, for now, how I pay my bills.

My burgeoning success as a political analyst, commentator, and all-around Weird Politics Mom on Twitter consumed so much of my attention that I didn’t have much to say about the Hugos last year. When I look at the two blog posts I linked above, though, I feel like that left things a little incomplete, that I didn’t have a finale for the little trilogy, full of pithy thoughts and wry observations about the final and saddest refutation of the Sad Puppies, when their influence died not with a bark but with a whimper.

But then, maybe silence was the appropriate way to mark that moment.

In any event, I am here at my second WorldCon, again on the morning of the Hugo Awards ceremony, and my thoughts are not on the puppies nor really on the awards but the convention itself. This is my second time at a convention larger than my beloved WisCon, and while this time I feel much more like a part of it and much less adrift in a sea of people… I’m now able to fully appreciate both how big a WorldCon is, and how it is big.

The people who sought first to steal and then downplay the awards insist that WorldCon is a little, piddly, rinky-dink little thing, because compared to one of the big media events like San Diego Comic Con or DragonCon… well, it’s just not at the same scale as those things. But it’s also not either of those things. It is its own things. It’s about all of science fiction and fantasy in every form insofar as it brings together people who love it in every form, but at the beginning and in the end it’s about books, which are intimate conversations between authors and readers.

And this is why WorldCon feels so huge to me: because I’m not here for movie spoilers and big announcements and I’m not here for an award, but I am here for the people. There may be more people at a media convention, but the attendees are just attendees. At a lit con, the attendees are the con. The people are the convention and the convention is the people, and if it were twice as long I could not possibly spend enough time with everyone I want to see.

I know (she said with all due modesty) that what I do right now is important to so many people. I know this because, among other indicators, I have had people come up to all weekend to tell me, “Thank you for what you do, it is so important.” And this is both uplifting and baffling to me, but I understand that even when I don’t know what to do with the information, it means something to the person saying it that they were able to say it. So more so than usual, I’ve been trying to keep myself available, make myself visible, make sure that anyone and everyone who want to find me and see me in person has the chance to do so.

But I know that for my best efforts, I’m going to get at least a few “I looked for you and couldn’t find you” messages, because that always happens, just as there are people I’ve been looking out for whom I haven’t seen.

That’s convention life, though. It is a sign of the health and vibrancy of the WorldCon community that even somebody on the fringes of it, as I am, can’t make all the connections she’d want to in the course of four days.

Back in 2016, I said that awards don’t matter so much as the genuine appreciation they represent matters. They’re a symbol, like a flag, and while a flag may stand for freedom the flag itself is not freedom. The map is not the territory. The symbol is not the thing.

Though I have recently become a bit more of a fiction writer again, I did very little in the speculative world in 2017 and I did not have the bandwidth to think much about stories or trophies. This year I have just started to kindle a bit of a spark of the old creativity and curiosity again, and in doing so I discovered what a wonderful thing a spark can be in the middle of a very long, very cold, and very dark night.

And so here is my insight for this year: the awards matter because they represent genuine appreciation, and the appreciation is genuine because it comes from people, from real people, a real community of people, a community of communities — some old, some newer, each diverse in different ways, each with their own competing and conflicting and even occasionally complementary tastes. This community is here at the convention and it is distributed somewhat haphazardly across the globe, wherever people are reading and writing and appreciating science fiction and fantasy literature published in the English language.

WorldCon is a concentration of that community, and the Hugo Awards are a concentration of WorldCon. The community is people, the convention is people, the awards are people, Soylent Green is people, and it is beautiful and it is glorious, even when the community stumbles.

If you have never peeked behind the curtain of a fandom convention, here is a key insight you must understand above all else: the best-run cons have just about enough time, money, resources, expertise, and personnel to not quite throw a convention, and then they do it anyway. When everything come together perfectly and for even a single shining moment it all just works, it’s like a perfect magic trick from the outside because the labor that goes into it is invisible. When there’s a false note or a missed step and something goes sideways or belly-up, those are the moments that the people in charge get the most recognition.

So while I will never not push a convention to do better — I think the essence of science fiction is being able to look at the world and imagine how it might be better — I think we do need to take a moment to recognize the miracle inherent in the fact that conventions get done at all, and then recognize that it is not a miracle, or if it is one, it is one that comes with great sacrifice on the part of people who, all things considered, probably wish they could just be attending the convention like the rest of us.

I am grateful to be here, I am grateful to be a part of this community. I am grateful for all the old friends I have been able to see and the new friends I am making. There is a song that says the latter is silver and the former gold, and if this is true then I have a positive embarrassment of riches, a hoard of treasure any dragon would envy.

My first WorldCon was a bit like a fairytale. I found myself at the legendary Hugo Losers’ Party hosted by the man himself, George R.R. Martin, not because I had lost a Hugo but because the puppies’ machinations had knocked me off the ballot, denying me the chance to even lose it. I was philosophical about this, because my works that had garnered the attention to get me within striking distance of the shortlist wouldn’t have existed without those same machinations, being a response to them. So I went to the convention with no expectations and yet the wildest ones I might have set would have been blown away.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be any closer to a Hugo Award than I was that year. My first Hugo Loser’s Party was probably my last one, too. My interests are eclectic and my career has been unconventional to say the least, and I just don’t see that kind of mainstream success for myself while I am called to do the work I’ve been doing on Twitter.

But even if it never happens, if I never find myself a Hugo winner or even an actual loser, I still had my moment, and if it happened in a way that seems ridiculous and impossible — nearly as ridiculous and impossible as throwing a convention in the first place — well, maybe that’s the only way it could have happened for me. I am, after all, a ridiculous and impossible woman.

I’m going to close this by noting once again that conventions are people, and that we go to conventions to see people. If I am one of the people you came here to see, you should know we are lighting out first thing tomorrow, slipping out for the airport like a thief in the very early morning. That means today is going to be your last chance say hello, introduce yourself, to talk about my writing or whatever’s on your mind, and if that is something you have a mind to do, I encourage you to do it.

Happy WorldCon, everybody.