Saturday, April 25, 2020. 69°. Mostly sunny, partly cloudy, whatever.
Gorgeous, warm weekend day. The days are a bit of a blur to me right now, so I had to verify that it was Saturday. Without much structure, no job, little fire and inspiration, forced to stay home and maintain distance,
I'm mostly floating.
We all float down here. And wear masks and other face coverings to stave the flu away.
That's the here and now. Some deny, as most of the people I passed today not wearing face masks and not observing distance. Mouthbreathers with no clue whether or not they're asymptomatic carriers of the bug.
I wish I could live that naive and care-free. In my state, testing opportunities for COVID-19 have have blown up, and I plan to get tested next week. I'm hoping for a positive serology test, one that identifies that I've had this coronavirus and have some antibodies to battle the coming waves and chances of re-infection.
I walk along the river in daylight and wear a bandana over my face when people approach. It is said you can catch the virus downwind when walking near people. While I'm concerned about what they could be giving to me through their heavy breathing, I'm more worried about giving them what I had.
For a month coronavirus symptoms kicked my ass. I feel better now, but I know it's not gone. I feel it in the shadow parts of me. It drains, rattles and rages in the small hours, when life is low and the bugs crawl. It ruins my slumber with deep coughs and breathless dreams.
I wonder if they know sleep. Does the virus ever rest?
If not, woe be the human race. We are no match for voracious, careless and unfeeling monsters we know little about and of which we have no control.
The tan line from bandanas will soon be a summer fashion statement.
Speaking of statements, I went out to my Mitsubishi Outlander today to find an egg or two smashed on the driver's side windshield. I'd just come back from grabbing my Mitsubishi Eclipse from winter storage in WI, so I know the egging happened in the last day.
I stood before it in awe and concern. I confirmed that it couldn't have accidentally happened (eg. fallen from a nest). Based on trajectory of smash and egg white spray across my glass, it was clearly thrown, and probably not from a moving vehicle.
The act begs the question of "why", regardless of angle of offense.
I suppose I should be worried about the "who" a bit more, considering my beloved Trek bike was stolen off the same vehicle last summer. I have a hard time believing in coincidence. I've made frenemies, but don't know of any threats. I know I haven't led a cookie-cutter Americana life. I take positions that are unpopular and am outspoken. I am chaotic good.
The statement was either juvenile or intentional, and, either way, totally uncool and disappointing.
King Dictator makes asinine statements all the time. Many times he does so to egg on his enemies and antagonists to action, spurs his cult to spread his lies like contagion.
In a different time, I would've felt compelled to investigate such an offensive act, find some measure of justice or vengeance,
but the float has become me.
We all float down here.
Especially the ones who were dumb enough to drink bleach or breathe disinfectants at the recommendation of America's idiot King.
Just being sarcastic, of course.
You know what's suckier than having egg smashed on the windshield of your car? Having A Ha's classic song "Take On Me"stuck in your head, only replacing "Take" with "Egg". That's been my soundtrack of madness today.
"Egg on me, Egg me on…"
You're welcome. Not you who actually egged my car.
“It seems what's left of my human side Is slowly changing in me.” (Disturbed)
Pardon my departure from Bruce Lee as the intro quote for this edition of Xoterica. I wrote this blog while suffering from virus-induced pink eye, and that called for different inspiration for this blog.
Contrary to the popular Disturbed song from the year 2000 (video featured at the end of this blog), I'm not down with the sickness. In fact, I'm sick of being sick. Sick of being cooped up. Sick of the coughs, the doldrums and the unknowns. Sick of relying on social programs to keep me afloat.
I want myself and the rest of humanity to stand up strong and resolute in the face of viral tragedy.
Easier said than done.
It feels like I've been sick forever. I can't tell you when the illness started for me, and I'm not sure if or when it will end. My days feel decent and my nights are torturous. Every day I take baby steps towards better, a new symptom or recurrence of an old one creeps back into my reality. I feel broken, useless, and exhausted from the fight.
Coronavirus or COVID-19 has been a beast of a novel virus. It has inflected millions around the world and killed thousands. Without aggressive approaches to social distancing, it could've been much worse, but it hasn't come without some severe pain for all.
Commerce and capitalism have crashed with millions sick or protecting themselves from getting sick. Unemployment numbers are at levels never seen before in modern times. Companies are getting bailouts left and right, and certain citizens were granted one-time "survival funds". Political and cultural divisions have been exacerbated by austere guidelines put in place to slow the spread of the infection.
We can all feel relieved that measures have worked and have helped us steer clear of a Spanish Flu-level apocalypse, but the reality is that our fight against the coronavirus is far from over. It's considered novel because no human has ever encountered it before, thus no immune system has a defense against it.
For the elderly, obese or people with pre-existing conditions, it is a dance with death; for the young and healthy, it is an inconvenience and silent slayer - not of the individual carrying, but to those who come in contact that can catch their asymptomatic state.
No one is safe from this virus. The best thing we can do is stay in our caves and build immunities from the fell communities. And we've done a pretty good job of distance, even if King Dictator is impatient and wanting America to get back to normal life asap. Capitalism is dying on the vine, and socialism - or programs that help humans survive and thrive - is getting renewed appreciation.
Even though I will vote for Biden, I am a full-fledged fan of former candidate Andrew Yang and his Universal Basic Income proposal. I used to support the idea as part of societal evolution and the transhumanist vision of how robots will replace humans in key jobs in the near future, reducing the active workforce. I now recognize how destabilizing global public health emergencies can be.
And how frequent they probably will become.
While SARS and MERS didnt lead to a global pandemic that dismantled the foundations of civilization, COVID-19 has - and will for years to come. It has disrupted travel, trade and economic activity. It has put 22 million people out of work in the US in a matter of a month and is escalating around the world. It has shuttered stores, restaurants, gyms, salons, schools and places of worship. It has overwhelmed hospitals and exposed systemic failures in our emergency preparedness and virus testing capabilities.
It has brought humankind to a grinding halt. With coughs, fatigue, and chills.
I truly don't know when my case began. Since it can take three weeks for serious symptoms to show, it's very possible I was sick with it in February and didn't know it. Hell, word is that the virus has been circulating since November 2019, so who knows how long it has actually been in the populous. I could've been an asymptomatic carrier until I was exposed enough to succumb to symptoms. My Mom and girlfriend were really sick in early February, but I didn't exhibit symptoms until March.
Since I've been a recluse for much of the last year, my public exposure has been limited, but could you imagine if this would've kicked in around Black Friday or Xmas? Oh the holiday horror!
The last social event I experienced was St Patrick's day lunch with my Mom. After that, everything started shutting down. Work-from-home and shelter-in-place orders became commonplace. Stores ran out if essentials, like toilet paper. Restaurants turned to take-out only services.
Pandemic led to panic.
And here we are now, a month or so into the spread, and King Dictator and his red drones want to cry "Uncle" and get the economic engines running again. Plans are being made to "re-open" the country in May, even though testing isn't accessible and the medical system is already overwhelmed. Some on the right have even claimed they'd kill or die for their country, that virus numbers are overblown and inaccurate, and the gamble is worth the tragic outcome.
I wish those assholes could say that to my face. I'd give them a piece of my virus, so they could relate.
My infection started slow, but built quickly. As someone prone to bronchial infections and pneumonia, it really was just a matter of time. I had a respiratory infection every year growing up, tend to have bronchitis in winter and have become mildly asthmatic for various reasons, including pot use for my ulcerative colitis treatment. Azithromyacin, or Z-pack, has been my common treatment for coughs and wheeze, but my antibiotic resistance is growing stronger and I'm now cautious about when I use it.
Hence, I've done my best to battle COVID-19 with vitamins and homeopathic treatments. I knew that if I went to the ER with my symptoms, I would've been put on a Z-pack and told to go back home and social distance. While my attack of the virus has been uncomfortable, there have been many worse than I, and I know they deserve the priority. There is no cure for coronavirus, just remediation of symptoms.
So I waged my own war. Shut down most interaction with the outside world. Pumped myself full of vitamins and disappeared into the haze of virus.
The cough settled in deep, but unlike previous bronchial infections, never seemed to advance further. I experienced chest rattles, dry coughs, green goo and shortness of breath. Headaches, lack of appetite and fatigue. The nights were sleepless and the days were a blur. More recently, I've experienced sinus infections and pink eye, assumedly because I've been stuck in the house for weeks and am lacking fresh air.
I haven't been officially tested and confirmed with COVID-19, but I don't need a test to tell me how sick I've been, or a Doctor to confirm my symptoms and tell me to do what I've already been doing. My distance has saved lives, at least saved the health of others and my beloved.
There's so much about this new bug that we still don't know, but as we normally do as arrogant humans, we think we have it under control. Where it came from is relatively irrelevant. As overpopulation becomes the norm on our little blue dot, viruses of unknown origin and of which we have no defense, will become more commonplace. Humankind is too interconnected to believe we're safe from this happening again, next time with more dire results. Mutations of viruses are happening with stunning regularity, and expose the flaws in our human affluence and overconfidence.
While we fight each other over benign things such as abortion, gay rights and immigration, the next viral bullet is sliding into the chamber and waiting for the trigger to be pulled. We could use COVID-19 as the event that harmonizes humanity and brings us closer together to solve global problems.
Instead, we point fingers and conduct rallies to return to normalcy.
The wise creature would accept that things will never be normal and the same as before, that the war we're waging against the biological world will continue long after we're dead. The prudent approach would be to prepare ourselves for the next wave, or the next novel antagonist this race will face. We've danced with viral death before, and should be able to set aside our arrogance, affectations and addictions for the sake of humanity. Instead of making things better for all, we wish upon Kingdoms, commerce and deities for deliverance and protection.
Wishful thinking will be our wanton undoing. Instead of asking when we will get back to normal, we should be working together to define a new, better normal for all. COVID-19 wont be the last bug humankind wages war against.
From "Obscurious", Version 8: Page 114, Published 2011
(This blog was originally published May 31, 2013. Updated and bumped to due relevance with the Coronavirus.)
In 2010, I met a man named Randall "Randy" Bunde. I tend to gravitate towards people that have a calm, sensitive presence. Randy was a tall fish in short water, with a gentle sensibility and pain-infused wisdom that you could read on his slight brow.
He'd weathered much over his 48 years--a heartwrenching divorce, distancing of his kids, and Colitis, a chronic condition that limits the effectiveness of your gastric organs. Few realize how impossible life becomes when your pipes don't work. You can't eat well, drink well, sleep well, function well as a normal human being. Pain is your center and your constant; discomfort and internal stress are your daily truths.
He knew my path well, as he walked a similar road in the early stages of his declining health. While I was fortunate to find a way to achieve equilibrium with the curses, he was not so. He went from pouch surgery to cancer in various places, seldom finding the healthy plateau that the chronically stricken wish for. Last March, he passed away from complications of cancer, initiated by the ulcerative chronic state that struck him years before. While I was healing, he was falling apart--the two of us true dichotomies of chronic results.
Today, my friend would have been 50 years old. I wrote this poem for him and about him while he was still alive, a tribute to the war that those people who have chronic health conditions wage every day. Every minute. Every second. Every bowel movement, and every glass of water that doesn't go down well.
We are all wounded, in different ways, and it is true madness that we as a species can't find a way to take care of each other, as needed.
We have become as disposable as our consumer mindset.
I had no idea that Randy would exit from my orbit so quickly--a second lesson to keep close: life is fleeting, so treasure the precious moments that you have with you true friends, family and loved ones.
Happy birthday, Randy. Lightspeed, my dear friend.
WE ARE THE WOUNDED
in sickness or in health is not a choice we have, but a bond we all share to care for the fallen and the wounded of our world for we each walk on either side of that crimson line where decay becomes the color of our days, where there is no detour and there is no escape, one morning risen, the next mourning, a wake, we all break down and eventually lose our way and even the chosen must pay with life for their grace you are no different, no better, not great and at some point you too will fall into sickness and require assistance to stand up straight
"And once the storm is over You won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, that the storm is over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, You won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm is all about."
The world has mostly melted now, the seasons have changed dramatically since my last update. Warmer weather and thunderstorms have pushed the frozen world away, and the green of renewal can be seen across the landscape. I can feel the welcome warmth of summer in the air, but it doesn't feel as inspiring and enlivening as it once did.
A year ago, I left the cushy, comfortable stability of a global corporate job for an unknown world - a future of grit, struggle and fire. I wanted to be a welder, even though it paid poorly and was a stark turn away from my professional history. My metalmorphosis was about surviving as the workers do, understanding their pain and pathway, and living a life of activity and action centered around my art. And telling the story of it. I thought my network would follow along, that all the great people that once praised my talent, production and creative output would be on the ride with me. I thought the universe would provide and come to my aid, that the successes that I had experienced over the last decade would carry into my new adventure. I listened to the wise therapists that said "live your adventure and take risks".
And so I did, and I can truthfully say that I'm now at one of the lowest points in my life. One year removed from my decision, and not a single thing has went as I hoped or planned, apart from having time to focus on my art and art product. I published one of the coolest things I ever have, and the act has felt pointless - far removed from how I thought I'd feel after publishing my 4th book. Yes, the gallery book was developed as a tool to organize my gallery, but it's also a color representation of my gallery, far cheaper than purchasing a piece of my work or spending money to experience multiple individual gallery shows of mine. It is valuable to anyone that cares about my art. I thought the audience I built would appreciate that.
I was wrong.
Even before the virus hit, my art was fading from view and memory, with only a few wonderful people putting passion behind their praise.
Now, I seldom paint. The fires of creativity inside of me have been replaced by worry, regret and frustration at a world that continues to spin and recycle lies. Leaving Facebook and Instagram were good for my soul, as it was a constant reminder of how hollow the praise of people can be. I helped build social media into the beast it is today, through advocacy armies and social strategy and content curation. I trained many on how to use social media, and lauded the benefits of the space. Those trainings and teachings have proved useful to many now that civilization has recessed into caves to dodge the virus.
Social media once made me feel valued and valuable.
Things will never be the same in our world, and the digital experience has been given new life and new meaning now that we observe forced distance. But social media will never replace the necessity of face-to-face interaction, something that was lost on me during all the years I pushed social media and tried to push my brand to new heights and broader audience. The audience metrics were always sweet, but the engagement metrics were deplorable.
I should've recognized that long ago, but there was too much money to be made as part of our current economic engine. We now live by Amazon and remote deliveries. We Happy Hour and meet using Zoom and other digital services. We breathe constant news feeds telling us how bad physical human contact has become, that we should wear masks (if we can find them), stay 6' apart, avoid gatherings and opportunities to spread the disease. Unemployment could hit 20-30%. Companies are freezing jobs and hunkering down. Millions may die, at least hundreds of thousands in the United States. There's a war for ppe, and my former company is on the front lines of criticism by elected officials.
"Our country wasn't built for this, our country wasn't built to be shut down".
No country is. No civilization is. Modern civilization involves a class and caste system that requires poorly-funded and protected slaves. Our King recently met with the heads of all of the professional Gladiator teams in America, and they whined about how their entertainment products are suffering with the country faltering as it faces the toughest test in our young history. People need the comfort of their overpaid Gladiators, they argue. Culture is more important than caution, they demand.
Even grayhairs claim that they'll die for the country, as if they're the only group affected by a bug so viral that you can catch it simply breathing around someone. Our martyrs are those people fighting the bug on the front lines of society - the under-prepared health care workers, delivery people, grocery store workers and caretakers, just to name a few. All else is overhead these days, contributors to an economic engine that cares little for cogs of its wheels.
After my divorce in 2001, I remember looking for a job, even while fighting with a dire chronic condition and suffering mightily. I remember sitting in an interview room with Aon Financial when the towers fell, watching the tragedy on the screen with awe and fear. The world felt very unfamiliar then. It's sad to say that it feels like history is repeating, with the great global human society faltering with a simple breath of the virus.
The world feels very unfamiliar now. Most of the people that I've met since that time have drifted away, leaving a handful of faithful and interested friends. All of the work experience I've had seems useless in the face of massive human tragedy, and spinning the wheels seems like the last thing I should be looking to do.
But I am, and the landscape is more dismal than ever. Few jobs. Few opportunities. No affordable health care. An administration that I don't trust. The rich get richer and the poor get lost in the mix.
And we want things to get "back to normal". I say "Fuck normal".
My girlfriend is a grocery store worker, working sick and sick of working around dangerous environments. She learned yesterday that her brother has liver cancer and needs a transplant. The poor guy needs to have chemo treatment, have a major organ transplant, and needs to survive and thrive with a new liver. He's an electrician - not rich, not affluent, not connected- the salt of the earth type of person that I set out on my journey to learn from and try to help.
Chances are very good that the process will decimate any financial stability he has, and may require help from many other sources to survive (eg. myself and my girlfriend). Chances are good that he will contract the virus with his compromised system. Care has been inconsistent during the virus, and he has waited months to get the cancer diagnosis that the affluent can get in days.
This is a terrible time to be struggling with a debilitating health condition.
When I was suffering from severe ulcerative colitis and the doctors wanted to perform a colostomy on me (incidentally, doctors were never able to pinpoint the cause of why my colitis set in, other than my lifestyle), I felt the same hopelessness. Hopelessness that I would heal. Hopelessness about my survival. Hopelessness that I would have a normal life.
Scott will never have "normal" again, thanks to a system that only takes care of those that can afford it. He lived a life of excess, never questioning the ripple effects of living drunk or living unhealthy. He trashed his liver living a life that our culture has encouraged. He is now paying for his poor choices.
As I sit here coughing intermittently, with headaches and fever and chills every so often, I know I'll never have a "normal" again either. I'm not asymptomatic; I'm not fully well; and I'm not sure what I have. Unable to have a virus test, I do my best to manage my own health with vitamins and adequate rest, knowing that I have "something" that I could pass onto others. The choices of the last year have jeopardized my professional "career", destroyed my artistic confidence, and put me on a path of self-destruction that has no precedent. The virus has shrunk the world down to my level of desperation.
And, like Scott, I'm just tired. Tired of the lies. Tired of the games. Tired of walking a stormy path. Tired of breathing in this bitter virus called "civilization", the system of excess and inequality that is as callous as our leaders. Don't let the self-help bullshit fool you: success is not guaranteed, and the universe will not come to your rescue, should you drift from your afforded comfort.
Ultimately, I'm reminded of a great song by a favorite band of mine, Morcheeba. Entitled "Self-Made Man", the song is a good reminder of how we're all connected, how we all have a responsibility to care for each other, and how the system we current live in is broken.
“Those who are unaware they are walking in darkness will never seek the light.” (Lee)
As we distance ourselves for protection, re-evaluate the cost of society and modern living, and watch the world sicken around us, our comfortable cores are changing. Realigning to strange, empty highways. Working from shelter. Dodging the paths of others and relying on social media for social connections.
Simply breathing is simply betraying.
Our route as humans is under redirection. Through division. Through suffering. Through climate change. Through rage against the system.
All harmony has been lost. Our doctors and healthcare workers and survival resources risk their lives on the front line, lacking the necessary personal protective equipment I once lauded and promoted. Unemployment could rise to 20% in the country, could be worse if we reach mythic levels. Grocery stores are bare of essentials and comfort now. We hunker down in our hovels waiting for the sky to fall, watching the stocks crash to unforeseen depths and wishing we had chose differently.
Chose pragmatically. Proactively. Protectively.
Please note that I didn't say"conservatively". We need to spend our resources for human survival, just do it better.
Kingdom of Sorrow
The American Kingdom spends trillions on soldiers, bombers and bullshit annually, and was overwhelmed and undone by an unseen bug in a week or so.
It should be obvious where the real battles lie - deeper inside.
Yet, our fearless leaders call for us to "get back to business", like feudal Kings who have lost patience with their ailing peasants.
The Kingdom requires your supplication and servitude, or the Kingdom as we know it won't survive. It wasn't built to be closed. It wasn't built to stall. It wasn't built to fall.
There seems no end to this. The peasants get a $1200 survival check as pacification, as the King speaks of Churches packed with asymptomatic carriers and prayers alike on Easter. A mass infection event filled with nodding paupers and coughing patients.
Welcome to the New Dark Age - a time of silence, fear and tyranny. The ignorance and barbarism of our early years never really faded, and has been given a fake-tan-kissed face and grace by scepter.
A pulpit from which he can serve lies and twisted truths to his fawning followers.
A self-imbued royalty and piety.
From his gold-plated tower, the Orange King watches, seethes and dismisses all that doesn't suit or serve him.
The Ubiquitous Bugs
Those of us paying attention knew a virus could destabilize our world, and warned everyone, even published content about it, but did little was done in preparation. Too few dollars spent. Too few people employed (in fact, support staff for emergency preparedness has been fired and reduced under the Orange King).
Too few people taking possible catastrophe seriously.
In 2007-2008, I worked with CIDRAP, Dr. Mike Osterholm, and Dr. Marguerite Pappaioanou at the University of Minnesota, providing project support for an Avian Influenza project/center. I wireframed one of their first web experiences, and learned a lot about Infectious Diseases, their hotspots, global highways and public health headaches while working around the topic. Coincidentally, I was forced to leave the job due to reduction in funds for my contract.
However, deep respect of their work in public health and infectious disease prep carried into my professional life at 3M Safety.
In 2015 - 2016, I built a website for a disposable respirator stockpile management program. You can find the brochure here, but the website has since been taken down, redirected. The proud company I worked for at that time was trying to get ahead of crises like COVID-19. It developed programs with their respiratory products to keep us from reaching the point we're currently at.
Sadly, the program never really took off (ie. few entities took advantage of stockpiling respirators at a reasonable price before the crisis hit), and was eventually de-prioritized, mostly forgotten. I imagine where my life would be now if those health and safety areas I/we championed were ever taken seriously by the masses.
If funding to hospitals and preparedness programs wasn't reduced or cut outright.
If my emergency preparedness blogs and content were ever shared as real warnings and alerts to an aware public.
If resources went toward driving prudence, instead of affluence and arrogance.
If there was less noise and lies, and more truth and clarity.
Hindsight is 20/20, but historical clarity is worthless if we never learn from our mistakes, and do our best to not repeat them.
Throughout time, human civilization has been rocked by plagues and pandemics. The list is too long and gruesome to recall here, but the COVID-19 pandemic could eventually rank on that list.
Comparatively, this virus shouldn't be worth a sneeze, but it is dangerously contagious and brutal. It will kill more than the common flu before humans have it under control with testing or vaccinations. It will ruin lives. It may ruin my own. The situation should not be taken lightly by anyone, much less our leaders.
Where this goes - and how many future virus storms we'll endure before we getour #humanfirst priorities right - nobody knows. I'm no seer, but that's clear to me.
This isn't a righteous "I told you so" moment; this is recognition of the dark reckoning ahead. I face this painful reckoning and correction, just like the rest of my friends, family and frenemies are.
I did my best as a voice for truth with the platforms I have had and currently control, but truth is irrelevant when lies are in charge. My recession of voice is proof of that consuming void.
Let hope be your flashlight in the coming darkness.
The new gaming cabal I'm part of gave me an opportunity to join Hexican's Ritual Madness Podcast on February 29, 2020.
Even though it was my 4th trip to the Podcast, this adventure eloquated a different passion of mine: gaming.
As you learned in my Grimspell Gaming post, I've been playing Dungeons & Dragons (and by extension, many other games over my three decades plus of gaming) since I was very young. Gaming is woven into the fiber of who I am, as you learn in this short (1.5 hours) but energizing discussion with the members of Grimspell Gaming.
Give it a listen by clicking on the banner image below, and join me as I champion Grimspell Gaming and gaming culture by subscribing to the Grimspell blog.
If you're a friend or have followed my blog for a while, you know of my passion around the hobbies of role-play and tabletop gaming. I'm also no stranger to computer and console video games, but my love of gaming stretches to a time before joysticks and gamepads. To a time when a digital network was science fiction. To a time when mythical Gary Gygax walked the earth.
When I was very young, my Dad got a job with the Department of Defense and relocated our family to Germany. I remember the trip from Texas to Deutschland in the early 80s relatively well. My first flight. Foreign signs and speakers. Packed Pan Am and Lufthansa planes. The smell of leather and sweat. Tears. Fears.
We were strangers in a strange land on a very strange trip that would take us away from American culture for five and a half years. Comforts of home were found in sparse supply on the Army bases we frequented. As DoD civilians, we weren't cool enough to get to live on base with the rest of the stationed soldiers and their families, but we were allowed access to military facilities. The Military PX and bookstore was where we did most of our shopping and socializing, connecting with other families on the same strange trip in the name of "Force".
I purchased my first Walkman there. My first cassette tape there (Megadeth's "Peace Sells", an ironic purchase at a military store). My first skateboard there.
So, the fact that my parents were able to find First Edition Dungeons and Dragons manuals and modules in a military bookstore speaks volumes for early appreciation of the game. They didn't know what they were buying at the time. The game of D&D was as foreign as the new land in which we lived.
What started as a way to entertain me turned into a hobby that has stretched over thirty years and has served as an engine of creative and professional evolution. At the gaming table and behind the DM screen, I grew up.
Take On Me
My brothers probably don't remember my early attempts at running modules when I was eleven. They were busy with Legos, G.I. Joe, Transformers and stuffed animals. At that early age, I didn't know the game yet, didn't understand the mechanics, nor did I own a DM screen. But I loved reading about the heroes and monsters, and rolling dice. Worthwhile video games didn't exist outside of an Arcade at that time, and the digital world had yet to be born, so it was easy to stay focused on mythical D&D content.
My loving parents continued to buy me D&D modules for a while, but soon interested waned as hormones raged. There were few kids on the bases where I attended school that were role-play gamers, and my attention gravitated towards girls, music and soccer.
I would be remiss if I didn't throw love at Netflix's "Stranger Things" for replicating the look, feel and complexity of being a pre-teen D&D gamer in the 80s. If you can picture me as part-Will and part-Mike, minus the gaming circle, malls and Mind Flayers, you'd have an accurate snapshot of this early nerd.
However, gaming was put on the back burner until high school.
Youth Gone Wild
My family moved back to the states in 1988, mostly so I could start High School in a familiar place.
But the U.S. wasn't familiar anymore, and I had developed an negative opinion of the military after being around it for many years. The bus I took to school was checked for bombs daily. I witnessed protests against the US presence. And after seeing the East-West wall and turrets and touring Nazi horror sites, I had grown to become a loner and outcast. When I started tenth grade at my new school in Sparta, WI, I disappeared into music, drawing and writing.
My high school friends were mostly the fringe crowd - metalheads, geeks and other relatively unpopular kids. After living so many places, I had adapted the ability to get along with others and bond fast, and late in my sophomore year, I connected with a group of young adults (and in some cases adults) that eventually became my first gaming group.
I have fond memories of that group, the adventures we shared, the marathon campaigns we undertook and the long days of dice, Mountain Dew and camaraderie.
Jason was our DM, and he wrote binders worth of material. Rich, Kurt, Dean, Ray and Mark rounded out the party. Rich was usually the spellcaster; Kurt, the healer; Ray, Dean, Mark and I were thieves, rangers and warriors of various classes. We lived in different cities, had busy lives and lacked rides, but still managed to make gaming happen regularly for years.
Cats In the Cradle
Then adulting happened.
Babies. Marriages. Divorces. Tragedies. Responsibility eventually called the curtain on gaming for many of us in my first gaming group.
As that party was ending, a new one was beginning for me. College gave my gaming passion second life as I became a regular participant at the UWGB Gamer's Club, and connected with a slew of new geeks and games. I played as many games as I could, ran games, and eventually rose to co-President of the Club. I helped coordinate and run their annual gaming convention, Chaoticon, and organized the first college dance run and sponsored by gamers, the "Gravedancer's Ball".
As President, I attended college seminars put on Christian local groups that painted D&D and metal music as Satanic, and defended gaming against their attacks.
After years of hiding the gamer side of me, I finally let my geek flag fly. Gaming triggered creativity that helped me acquire a Bachelor's degree in Creative Writing; gave me the confidence to act in productions as part of the Humanities Council; and instilled the professionalism to run effective meetings.
While I had set ablaze the gamer fire within, life would trample down those flames with personal tragedies that shook my ability to make gaming a priority in my life.
And it would be that way for almost a decade.
Return to Serenity
Gaming has been about connection and community to me. Gaming was how I grew up in high school, and how I found myself in college. It gave me the voice and self-confidence to tell stories, run campaigns and characters, and illustrate my content. It fostered strong bonds of friendship that last to this day.
But tragedy, illness and divorce became my reality. Fantasy is a foreign land when pain and failure are your constant, struggle and desperation are your companions. Like any adult, survival became my focus, leaving the wild wilderness of gaming to a "once upon a time".
The rise of social media brought me personal and professional success. It also created bridges to gamers and gaming communities that were sparsely connected until the proliferation of social media. Through Facebook, I made new friends and launched a new chapter of gaming in my life. In 2016, I ran my first 2nd Edition D&D game in decades. The Dew, the dice and the dungeons felt like home again.
It was an unsuccessful start at launching a long-term campaign, but foretold of a gaming renaissance in my life. My re-invigoration with gaming became less about Dungeons & Dragons and more about getting experience with different games, DMs and gamer personalities.
About connecting with a community.
About creating better fantasy content than I ever have.
About helping to lead a new gaming revolution and appreciation with my present skill, talent and experience.
A true union of creative storms.
It began with "Folklore: The Affliction", which my friend Harrington introduced me to. The tabletop roleplaying game had me hooked right away, and I was able to pull a gaming group together involving my friend Tyr that met regularly. The mechanics of gaming, the focus on storytelling and the visual awesomeness of the game sparked conversation about videocasting our games for edu-tainment purposes.
As I learned about the gaming backgrounds of my friends, I discovered synchronicities and similarities of path. I also recognized the skill, talent and experience of the members of our little gaming group. Harrington had developed boxes full of gaming content, and an insatiable interest in testing and running new games. Tyr and I were interested in the games, but weren't sure how we could find time in our lives to try them all.
Enter Grimspell Gaming. Our concept is to learn games and teach our audience how to play them, to share our experiences with the world via blog, video and podcast.
In order to make that concept come true, we needed other skills on the team. I approached my friends Hexican and Kevin, who have podcast and video experience and a love of gaming. Using Harrington's long list of games he wants to try, we developed a plan to produce and promote "Game Showcases" - a recorded walkthrough of a game each month.
Where it goes from here, only time (and content) will tell. It has become a powerful new outlet for my creativity and unification of my faculties, with the site and concepts for Grimspell designed by me and new blogs published by me regularly on gaming topics. Gaming has always been a trigger to greater things for me, and I can feel myself come alive in this new, nerdy world.
If you're interested in learning a new game, or want to see five venerable dudes stumbling through a new gaming experience, I hope you consider subscribing to and following Grimspell Gaming and our future endeavors.
The world outside is melting again. Temperatures returning to bearable. Light stretching the days longer. A new groove outside the common social lines. Exited Facebook, Messenger and Myspace this morning. Centralizing my output, thought processes and shares to my Artrovert space and to DeviantArt, if you haven't caught that already.
My plan is to use #SERESTATIC as my content channel for regular reflections and updates around my life which will eventually feed into a newsletter, and #XOTERICA for my more polished and comprehensive rants and rages.
Without further ado, let's get the static on.
My gamecast group recorded our first Podcast yesterday, and it went well. As with any band of geeks, there are challenges with getting a final answer with who we are, what we do and we are going to do. Seems to be a continually evolving story, but exciting progress has been made. Still finalizing the name of the group, but has the potential to be an exciting project with vast opportunity. More to come soon.
Speaking of temperature rising, so is the decision of what's next for me. I'd love to get a decent-paying job outside of marketing, commerce and sales, but am finding it very hard to find a gig that checks all of the soul boxes. This is life off-the-rails, careening with destructive force through a weak forest that applies very little resistance to the rush of metal and deconstruction.
While life is in chaos, my art seems to be finding better order. I planned out the next five years of projects the other day -rebuilds, sequels and other exciting new creations. I'll share more about them someday soon.
In the meantime, I must throw love and appreciation to my long-time friend and artistic compatriot, Terry Bentley. Terry created the acrylic piece below using 3M tape, and allowed me to purchase it. The image is #reflectiveart and imagines a shot from my trip to California last year, using Terry's brilliant and unique abstract skill.
See the original photograph below Terry's work, from my "Fog of Life" photo journey from Summer 2019. His adaptation captures the essence of a scary race with doom, while adding a personal touch of calm. Another piece from a talented artist to add to the Serenity Gallery.
Since this is now my channel of choice, I plan to post more regular updates like this, hopefully a few times a week (possibly even a few times a day, if I'm feeling saucy). The social world has its feeds; I have a blog.
Time to feed my blog, not an endlessly distracting and scrolling trough of nonsense.
“Do not run away; let go. Do not seek, for it will come when least expected.” (Lee)
Closing one door opens another, or so the trendy wisdom claims, mostly from pseudo-therapists making too much money selling wisdom to broken people. They're junkies, just like the rest of us.
For most of my adult existence and recent memory, I have had social media tubes tightly connected to my veins. When times were chill and more innocent, digital media was an addiction, fun and blissfully necessary, like the first puffs of great ganja where the high is endlessly vertiginous.
Now, I'm pushing the poison out of my pores, like the bile that once flowed from broken organs out of my skin, jaundicing my whole existence. Walking away from attention to social media is the ultimate antithesis of what I built SERE to be - an outward-facing creative organism created to show, to share and to breathe life into a dull digital world.
Attention to that addiction brought me much success, allowed me to exemplify the best of my creative talents and demonstrate that my artistic voice is worthy in a world of shouts and tweets. While it didn't get me rich, it allowed me to be comfortable.
For a while. Stability was great while the world was stable. And then elections. Tariffs. Viruses. Deaths. Regression and recession.
Everything tumbled down. Dreams. Reality. Fantasy. Stability. It's still tumbling down. It's amazing how doorways of our lives can remain standing in the face of raging tornados or other disasters, raging or otherwise.
It would seem the union of storms I once spoke of has returned, minus the red windows and pockets of bloody pain. A life once again in crisis. This time, I have enough success under my belt that I should qualify a specific level of compensation. Call my shot better than before.
But I'm not the same as before. Skilled, but not thrilled by the machine or my need to return to solve my life crisis. Talented, but jaded by the reality of pandering to an audience. Healthy, but broken in more ways than I can possibly repair with current resources.
The hours of wealth wasted on social media resulted in a constant reminder of how broke, imperfect and unhip I am. The failing metrics of dreams that were supposed to work with the right tactics ended empty, walletdrained and heartbroken. A cacophony of past mistakes and communities of hate trumpet my walking away.
The exit reflects my present paradox: I am not who I want to be, but do not know who I am beyond this voice. Education bought me intelligence. Trauma delivered me dexterity. Persistence offered me charisma. But I lack the strength and wisdom to be a fully effective character in this campaign.
Always looking for the exit door, not a new entryway to an adventure with better treasure. The dungeon was manufactured, just like the gilded compensation upon which the dragon sits. Slay one dragon and empty one cave, and find that the wizard has a machine that generates dragons like popcorn. Always more caves, and dragons lurking in the shadows.
Right now, a dragon called "novel coronavirus" is bringing countries around the world to its knees. It is a shadow of grimmer things to come, destabilizing global economies and dragging mighty corporations into contraction and fear of the dragon's ultimate roar.
Stability is the new illusion. We live in a world built on dragon hordes that don't really exist, erected with the tinder and matchsticks of combustible countries that are a strike away from catastrophe. Social media sells us fantasy, tells us that we're worthy, and aligns us with consumer thinking that keeps the machine spinning. And spinning. And spinning.
As if our front door is an ever-flipping revolving door of a bankrupt mini-mall filled with the ghosts of Blockbuster Videos stores, Pier 1s and arcades. Keep smiling. Keep watching. Keep buying.
The bullshit. The fake tanner and cheetospit. The lies from the pulpit.
We love our social media and social hipness to death, but despise socialism and sacrifice for the better good. We pound our fists on tomes, and the dust that rises from those strikes is often racist, woeful and inhumane. We scream "Love thy neighbor", then shut ourselves away in perfect pixelated bubbles.
Every bubble bursts, just like every star can only grow so large before it explodes and shrivels away into a dwarfed anti-self. That dark dwarf drifts in space, a shadow of its former self and seething with sublime power. I grew my social media audience to over 50,000 "fans, followers and friends" over 14 years across MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube and DeviantArt. I paid thousands of dollars to promote my pages to peeps who would like or follow my pages and profiles. For all of that effort, I walk out of primary social media profiles with roughly the same number of personal connections I went into it with.
As of this weekend, I will have exited Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, MySpace and Tumblr. I'm still deciding on Twitter.
My email list is my true dwarf star; it is the true measure of how many people have went outside of easy social media connections to follow who I am and what I have to say. Even my email widget overcompensates for how many people have subscribed to my email list (sorry - I can't seem to figure out how to shut off that flawed function of my website using the recommended methods; I'm trying). At current count, my email list is .25% the size of my social media audience.
That period isn't a typo.
My metrics for engagement per post are even worse, even with my discipline and focus.
So, I asked myself "why the actual fuck am I doing this?" I imagine myself as hulked-up Russell Crowe, standing tall bloody and battered in the gladiator ring, extending out scarred arms, and saying
"Are you not entertained?"
After having spent 14 years in social media and netting as many true followers as I could fit into a bus, the illusions fell away: I discovered that I was spending too much time sharing, and not enough time creating.
Too much time selfie'ing, too little time living below the surface.
Too much time posting, and not enough time learning.
Too much time being manipulated by the machine, and not enough time appreciating the life of the luddite.
Too much time plugged in, too little time tuned out.
These days, the hours I once spent scrolling walls and trolling halls of thought are devoted to building new horizons, new visions and new dreams. The time I spent arguing with lurkers in my world is focused on returning to the discipline of production, of an artist focused on goals, rather than audience enragement, engagement and entertainment. The only metrics I plan to meet are the ones that are aligned to my production targets for upcoming releases. The shares and cares that I once dumped into vaporous social media conversations are channeled into print and works that always should've been my platforms.
I suppose it's a bit of a function of growing older, the changes that flow from turning of seasons. "Less is more" is now good enough for me. As a vegetarian, minimalist and frugal human, excess and "greater" are no longer impressive to me. No life or ecosystem can survive constant growth; every life explodes someday, like a frail piñata of memories, fantasies and intestines that spews innards everywhere. Death of every system, structure and lifestyle is inevitable.