Passing Notice — Greetings without Intention

In the last several months, I’ve started to notice more and more how often people (the same people, not all people) will pass me in the hallway and ask how I’m doing as they pass me by. There’s no intention to the question beyond a greeting, they definitely don’t plan on or have interest in hearing the answer.

Now, I feel like here in the States and especially in the Midwest where we’re not necessarily kind but we’re kindly responsive or perhaps performatively responsive by default, this is pretty common. It’s not that we don’t know these people, or really if there was an issue we wouldn’t want to know about it. But we’re conditioned to respond to this “hey how you doing?” or “hey how’s things?” or just a simple “hey whats up?” as if it’s a hello. We say, “good”, “fine”, “oh you know” in response as easily as we might just say a hello.

This isn’t uncommon, but I feel like I’ve started to notice it more often because I’ve been trying to train myself to say something else. It’s a challenge really, for me, to try and greet people by name when I pass them in the hallway. So instead of a “Hey, how you doing?”. I specifically try and say, “Hey, Paul.” No more, no less. I started it because I felt like I was always passing people and doing the standard what’s up nod, or weird white people smile and not actually engaging. And then when people did want to say something to me, I wasn’t getting anything out in time before we passed each other by.

There is something sort of freeing, especially if you’re not really good with people or have anxiety, about being able to say something to someone in passing in a situation where no response is needed or required. You see someone down the hall, you say hello, you keep moving. I don’t typically have a problem talking to people, but I was feeling like in my corporate setting I was more comfortable passing quietly and then would feel bad when someone did say something.

Now that I’ve been doing this purposefully for sometime, the “Hello, [Name]!” Comes pretty easily, especially when I work on the same floor with the same people day in, day out. However, it’s made it far more noticeable when people ask a question they don’t want answered in response.

Me: “Hey, Stacey.”
Stacey: *keeps walking* “Hey how are you?”

Well, Stacey, do you actually want to know? Whether she does or not is sort of irrelevant in this situation. Because Stacey never broke her stride while she was asking me that question.

So here’s my new challenge. I don’t respond. It feels so ingrained, so habitual and instinctive to respond with a generic “fine” or “good” to that question. But it’s rarely true, or so simple to say and why am I bothering? One could say that it’s polite to answer. But I’m not trying to be polite to someone that’s only greeting me by way of performance.

I don’t know. Maybe it turns my challenge to be kind and engaged with the people I pass daily into a challenge to be unkind? But I also wonder how many people actually notice when you don’t respond. If I don’t say “fine” does it lose either of us anything out of the brief engagement? I don’t think it does. And I’ll go further and say that I think it’s helping train me out of snap, instinctual responses. It makes me think about the manner in which I greet people: a compliment in the elevator, a simple hello with their name, an actual question about their day/week/weekend. If I’m honest in how I start a conversation, then on the other side of the coin, I want my answers to someone else to be just as thoughtful.

D&D [Holloway]: Player Questions

In what I’m sure will be a continuing series, I bring you a very pertinent questions my players are currently pondering. In today’s edition I bring you a question from my Tal’Dorei game, currently taking place in a city heavily modified from an old 3.5 campaign.

On learning that the city they’re currently in has abnormal ghosts who function more or less as living citizens:

“Do they poop?”

To be fair, it wasn’t the very first question they asked. It also didn’t take very long for our group’s Wizard to get to it either. But you know, as the DM, I appreciate that they’re taking an interest in the great mysteries of the city. I’m sure as they continue to learn more, the questions will evolve–

No, let’s be honest.
Until they solve if and how these specific ghostly humanoids poop, they won’t be happy.

Every campaign has one. The Adventure Zone had tacos– I have ghost poo?

Look out level 20.
In which our intrepid adventurers have 17 levels to figure out how exactly it all works.

On a related note, their curiosity reminds me of a certain druid from Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series. I guess it doesn’t matter what kind of creature they are, humans (tieflings and halflings in this case) have an inherent need to know how other creatures poop.

Music: Jonathan Young – Unravel

I’m kind of a huge music nerd. Not a snob, because I like just about anything you put in front of my ears. I pride myself a little on having an ear for what’s good or bad. In fact, when I was much younger and was buying tapes and later cds as they were released, I used to challenge myself to figure out which would be the next song released from the album for the radio. I feel like I did pretty well.

Although my access to new music was more and more restricted as I grew up and my family got more and more into the church. By high school, I only kept up with as much new music as I could pack into every other weekend at my dad’s, since my parents were separated.

In recent years, I’ve really enjoyed having access to streaming services and YouTube. I signed up for a Google Music account pretty much as soon as it was possible. And I became a subscriber when that became an option. My Google Music subscription gives me YouTube Red access and whatever mess YouTube has going on currently, I like being able to have ad-free access to new and upcoming artists.

I used to do this thing on my tumblr where I boosted videos from YouTube that I was really into and I think I want to bring that over here.

Here’s my first one. I’ve turned a bunch of my friends on to this guy through his metal covers of Disney songs (which are fabulous). Jonathan Young has an absolutely amazing voice and a really great ability to make a song his own. I’ve been enjoying this latest cover from him: “Unravel” from Tokyo Ghoul. Give it a listen.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Today I had a whole day off work without any scheduled plans. Save one, finally, spend some time with a distant friend who is on a completely opposite schedule from me. Used to be she and I could make time for a chat on Discord pretty regularly, but that hasn’t happened in a long time. And since she works third shift even in the time we have off, finding more than an hour to actually chat is difficult. Both of us having the day free — and a workday for most everyone else — meant we could get together.

Today, we picked up a game to play that we’d both been putting off so we could play it together. I bought Life is Strange: Before the Storm, the prequel game to 2015’s Life is Strange by Square Enix and Dontnod Entertainment, during the Winter Steam Sale with a day just like today in mind. All three episodes of the game had been released, meaning if I wanted to spend a day on it, I could pick it up and finish it that same day.

So I did, with a friend on the other end of a Discord Chat and Steam broadcast. All hail the power of technology to bring people together.

Before the Storm picks up the story of Chloe Price some time before the events of the first game, before her friend Max returns from another school, to their hometown of Arcadia Bay. Instead, we meet the friend we’d only seen in pictures and spoken of in the past tense, Rachel Amber. Rachel and Chloe meet out of the blue at a concert one night and a very fast friendship, relationship, forms between them.

We learn more about Chloe’s stepfather, before he married her mother and we meet Rachel Amber’s parents. There are a few return names and faces in the students at Blackwell Academy as well, in addition to some new ones.

Overall, the game is compelling, as I expected it to be having played the first one. The original however has a very specific power/control set that pulls you through the story and helps you achieve Max’s goals. This one doesn’t have that. And… I don’t think it’s a worse game for it, but I’m definitely not a fan of the mechanic they choose (i.e. Chloe’s “superpower”, the Backtalk challenges). Aside from that however, the choices are meaningful, the story is wonderful and while the dialogue is very often clunky, it makes an impression.

For instance:

In episode two, “Hell is Empty”, we see the consequences of Chloe and Rachel’s actions from episode one culminate in the expulsion of Chloe from Blackwell. From that moment, there’s several really difficult scenes between Chloe and her mother, Joyce. These also include Joyce’s boyfriend, David.

I had a very difficult time with these scenes for two reasons. One, having come from a set of broken home where both parents remarried to different levels of success, I’m familiar with what it’s like having a new parent introduced into your life. Two, as a trained foster parent and adoptive mother, I know what it’s like to try and be a parent to a teenager you’ve only just met. Both are difficult for a variety of reasons. I don’t know there’s a way to do it “right” but in as much as the game makes it all feel like it’s done “wrong”, then I think they did it well.

To be honest, I repeatedly said how much I hated it as I made the choices the game presented me with to get through those conversations. None of the choices felt like good ones. And while we only see the choices presented from Chloe’s perspective… if there were a different game where you had to make the choices from Joyce’s, or even David’s perspectives, I have no doubt they should feel much the same. There’s no right or perfect way to change the make-up of your family in a way that’s going to feel good to everyone involved.

Now I wouldn’t want to sell the game on those conversations, they’re uncomfortable and frustrating. However, given how clunky and sometimes performative some of the dialogue can be in other parts of the game, this is one of the times when it absolutely feels real.

Writing & Research [Passages]: On using people

A content warning, I suppose, is in order for this. At least if it were me, I’d want to know that I’m about to talk a whole lot about some specific [if nameless] shitty Christians. Also, a trigger warning for abuse of a minor (it’s an extremely brief mention).

I’m working on a story — well, a novel, maybe — and for that, I need to do a little bit of research. I want to build a framework around some old church sermons with a pretty specific theme. Thankfully (or not so much since there’s a whole lot of things I’d rather have stuck in my head) I used to go to the kind of church that espoused the kind of ideologies and doctrines this story is going to feature. This means I know pretty easily the kind of people to look up who might have sermons online to listen to.

Specifically, I found sermons from a travel ministry my old pastor taught around the country in the years long after he was the pastor. I listened to one tonight, just one, and I had to skip ahead to avoid the most boring bits. But here’s something I discovered upon listening: this asshole pastor (and he is for reasons I won’t get in to right now) is using stories told to him by the teenagers from my old school to shill his bullshit to the masses around the country. Oh yeah. Shocked me too.

Sure I’m aware pastors and evangelists, revivalists and missionaries, they all use stories from their own lives to weave into their sermons. And for the most part, we don’t mind because the stories are vague and mundane. They’re stories that could really be about anyone.

This isn’t one of those stories. My high school, in a good year, had maybe a total of 70 kids. 15 kids per grade, average for years 8-12. So when you talk about kids that attended the school at a specific grade level and whether or not they had a sibling and what gender they are. It’s not that difficult (if you know the place) to start filtering down to who he might be talking about.

But this isn’t just any story he told. He told a specific story about someone who’d graduated from school with enough details to figure out who it was. And maybe if this was a happy story about the person I wouldn’t be so shocked. But this isn’t a happy tale he’s sharing with thousands of people (or is online for anyone to hear). He tells a specific story that this person shared with him in private about a time as a kid when they were abused. Using details and language that should not just be upsetting for someone that even sort of knows who they are (like me) but for a crowd of church-going strangers twenty years later. This old pastor though, he shares details about the abuse, details about this person’s life… and does so not necessarily making light of it, but ignoring the depth of it in order to make a point, to use it as the core for his sermon. As a catalyst to action.

Listen, these people I was raised with, they weren’t good people. I knew it then, I know it even better now. And yet somehow, each time I learn a little tidbit of information about one of them, like this, I’m still surprised.

How…. how can someone who worked for dozens of years as a pastor, a counselor, a teacher of minds old and young alike, casually toss out information like that in a sermon to strangers? I don’t get it.

Now maybe I’m of base here and he got the permission of the person he speaks of in his sermon. Maybe, despite the gravity of the story, it’s not a big deal to this person? Having heard the story and having a pretty good idea who this person is, I want to assume that’s not the case. But readers… I was shocked and sad and really, really disappointed to hear it. And I didn’t want to be listening to this mess in the first place.

So I don’t know what of this series of sermons awaits me next, if there more stories from the people and places of my childhood to hear about. But I’m assuming there will be.

Wynonna Earp — She ain’t anybody’s but her own.

Recently I picked up Wynonna Earp to watch on Netflix (Season 1 only at the moment). It’s been on my list of things to watch for a while now, I’ve seen enough WayHaught gifs on my tumblr dash, to know there were good things waiting for me when I got into it. What I didn’t know was how much I’ve craved an anti-hero like Wynonna. She’s bad, she’s crass and as Doc says, “She ain’t nobody’s but her own.”

If you haven’t watched Wynonna Earp, it’s about a woman named, Wynonna Earp who is the heir of the Earp curse. When the heir reaches 27 years of age all the people Wyatt Earp killed return to Earth, possessed by demons which can only be put down for good by the heir. Or something like that. Also, Doc Holliday (Wyatt’s best and closest friend) is still alive, having been granted a long life by a witch. He works at Wynonna’s side to put down the demons.

What makes this show so great is how much Wynonna isn’t the hero type. She comes back to her hometown of Purgatory after years of avoiding the place, hoping to stave off the curse. All the way back to high school, she’s been a loose cannon. People didn’t believe her about the demons (for obvious reasons) and she acted out. All the time. A whole lot. She left town with few friends (really just her younger sister, Waverly). The chosen one’s refusal to take on a task is a common enough trope. As is the rebellious champion, someone who doesn’t fit the mold we expect them to.

But you root for Wynonna because she tries.

She might hate the curse, but once it enacts in earnest while she’s in Purgatory for a funeral, she stays. She’s trying to do the thing she knows she needs to do. And she doesn’t lose herself, or her personality and wit, in the process. Picture if Buffy was older, had a gun, and gave in most often to her baser instincts. Then put it all in the southwest where there’s a lot of boots and guns and dirt. It’s a good time.

Now, all I need is for Season 2 to arrive on Netflix so I can get caught up.

TAZ: Podcast — Amnesty arc

Aside from Critical Role, The Adventure Zone is the one actual play D&D series I’ve been able to get into. Maybe I enjoyed it so much from the beginning because I was already a huge fan of the McElroys. I enjoy Griffin & Justin’s work at Polygon and I’ve been listening to the three of them on MBMBAM for a long time now. They started sort of at the right place, right time for me.

I’d been watching Tabletop on Geek & Sundry for a couple seasons, I’d started getting into Critical Role and looking into story-like podcasts that were something other than Welcome to Nightvale. And then the McEl-bros started The Adventure Zone.
And as I mentioned in yesterday’s post… they just sort of started. There was no long lengthy introduction to their characters, there was no overly detailed explanation of anything. Griffin just started narrating and they just ran with it. As much as I love Critical Role (and that’s a lot) something about the tight time of the TAZ podcast and the extreme humor they pack into those hour-ish long episodes really connected with me. Plus, Griffin’s storytelling is pretty amazing. He started with that first Phandalin adventure that a lot of D&D 5th edition groups start with and then… he made the whole thing his own. Which is EXACTLY what you should do as a DM. Just start. And then figure out the story you want to tell. That doesn’t always come before the players are around the table for the first time. At least, not the whole thing.
Anyhow. I say all that to say this, TAZ is one of my favorite things going. It’s one of my favorite podcasts and fans of McEl-content, TAZ specifically are really, pretty great. The McElroy brothers have gone out of their way to try and make listeners comfortable with the stories their telling in the best way they know how. They don’t always get it right, but the effort is always apparent.
With the ending of the TAZ: Balance arc, they guys have been working on shorter story arcs. Clint, their dad, ran one recently using the FATE system. Griffin is picking up a short arc using the Monster of the Week rules. Travis is working on his currently and cards are in the air on what if anything Justin will run before they pick up with a longer arc again. 
The first mini-story arc, Commitment, wasn’t my favorite. The 100 years arc in Balance that solidified how the end of the bigger story would play out was a low point for me as a listener. I’m not crazy about monster-of-the-week shows in general but I bided my time for the story to finally come full-circle. It did and when the whole story paid off, I bawled my eyes out in the final episode.
Commitment though, I felt disconnected from almost completely. I didn’t listen to all of their set-up episode, I gave introductions about 15 minutes and moved on. The story was alright, the humor was present but really, I got through those episodes because the brothers are still themselves at the end of the day and know how to make jokes deliver. While it didn’t resonate with me on a story or rpg level completely, it was worth it to listen to Clint stretch his storytelling abilities and Griffin take a turn as a player. 
Now in our second arc, with Amnesty, I did make it through all of the setup episode although it was a near thing. The episode released Friday 1/12 though, that was something. And honestly, I wish this is the episode they used as their “set-up” episode. I didn’t need to listen to them describe the game play and their characters for an hour. This hour long episode where each character Duck, Lady Flame & Edmund get a tiny adventure for themselves that we can assume is building to all three characters getting off on their adventure together. 
So, yes, one of the things that helps ties things together better here is that Griffin’s had three years of GM experience with the Balance arc. Whether or not all of the pieces in that story were successful is up to listener interpretation, but most fans can agree that the story pays off in the end.
For this first real episode of Amnesty, Griffin spoke into existence a story… and everyone just yes and-ed the hell out of what he provided them with. I really wish the previous episode had just been skipped. We’ll get just as much knowledge of your character from context clues and in-game interaction through the course of this arc as you gave us in that one set-up episode. I find that makes that build up unnecessary. 
This is a bit of a rambling through process about how games and stories begin and what I think is successful. Sorry about that. But I wanted to post about TAZ today because I really did enjoy this episode. It was a good salve for being strangely…. caught up… on Critical Role. 
I’m looking forward to what this new arc brings us (Bigfoot? *fingers crossed*), aside from the banging new intro Griffin wrote for it. But two days, two good beginnings on stories for my two favorite actual play games? 
Yeah, I’m good here.

Critical Role Season 2

Maker bless these nerdy-ass voice actors. Season 2 is off to a fantastic start… well, after some technical difficulties that kept the Alpha stream down for a little bit.

Although even before that, I thought that I might miss it given that the weather is bad here and we went without internet for a few different hours earlier in the evening. But, it came back on and stayed on for the entirety of the new episode. I switched back and forth between YouTube and twitch to watch a steady stream until the Alpha stream was back up. Alpha has people’s names and character portraits and they were slowly being updated throughout the evening as we learned who was playing what.

Here’s the biggest thing I enjoyed about tonight. And it’s one of the things I like about Matt’s storytelling, about the way Critical Role began in general and one of the things I like most about new games I DM. There was no extended discussion at the forefront of who was playing what and which classes they were or what their abilities would be. There was no awkward discussion introducing each individual. We got these characters as if we were picking up with new friends. As observers we’re coming across the characters in medias res. As players, they’ve talked to the DM, they’ve talked to one or two other people in the group and they have things already in place.

It’s like a new television show. You get contextual clues about characters as the first episode progresses. Most shows do not sit you down like an episode of the fucking Bachelor and give you every person’s backstory. It’s one of the things I think SO MANY actual play shows and podcasts get wrong. [The Adventure Zone’s Balance arc did this really well. The boys didn’t know what they were doing the first time around and their first episode gave us brief intros and then they just jumped into the first adventure at Phandalin. I feel like in these more subsequent stories where they’ve spend a whole episode on character introductions, I’ve enjoyed those less.]

And as I mentioned, it’s one of the things I like as a DM also. I want characters that come to me sort of half-formed. I want players (and observers) to come to the story with little expectations. Learning through play is one of the best and most exciting things. You don’t know how a character (including your own most times) will react to certain situations until you come across them. So while you might plan to play a trickster (and be still my heart about Vex’s new character, Jester) until you get to stretch your legs with that character you still don’t know how they’re react in each situation.

As an aside about RP characters in general — this is why as a DM (and a player) I highly advocate for rolled stats and randomization tables upon creation. As a player, if I can completely randomize character creation, I will. I love rolling up a character that might not make much sense and then having to play and find out what I can do with them, and what they might grow up to be. I’ve played some really interesting characters through the years as a result.

When the first season launched, we got the characters and the game sort of already in progress just by fact that there was already a game happening. They just moved it in front of the cameras and stuck to a schedule. But they didn’t spend the first episode just explaining anything… Matt just jumped them right into the game with a minimal recap. I really appreciate that they kept that mystery for Season 2. The slow reveals of what people were playing, how they would speak, what they’d be good at and what exactly their roles would be, were fantastic. It wasn’t forced and it wasn’t over-explained. Over what might be another 100 episodes, we’ll figure these characters out pretty thoroughly, if experience with Season 1 has taught us anything.

I’ve got more specific character thoughts I want to put down, but I’ll save those for another post.

GCF: Podcast — I am a C. I am a C.H.

A little while back I discovered the podcast, Good Christian Fun.

According to their website:

Good Christian Fun is a podcast delving into the strange upside-down world of Christian pop culture. Hosts Kevin T. Porter and Caroline Ely are your tour guides through the weird and hilarious world of faith-based entertainment. GCF is a show for skeptics and believers alike, all are welcome. 

Don’t worry, we won’t make you go to church 😉 

Let’s have some good Christian fun!

Typically, I tend to stay away from all things church-based, but I’m also a bit of a masochist, so I thought it might be worth a try, given their description. Plus, while I didn’t listen to the Gilmore Guys podcast Kevin Porter previously hosted, I never heard anything but good things about it.

Cue: Me laughing out loud at work, dying at the memories this podcast has dredged up that I would’ve previously been loathe to relive. Instead, Kevin and Caroline do hold up their end of the bargain. What they provide is a good time and lots of laughs about the weird and often absurd world of Christian entertainment. Even for me, who went to a church too strict to enjoy many of the things they address in the current 18 episodes, there’s been something in everything I can relate to in all of them.

In fact, I spent the better part of last week remembering the awful, but catchy, kiddie Christian songs that they taught us little kids in Sunday School. The absurdity of them is laughable now, but what’s even more hilarious (and perhaps troubling from an atheist’s perspective) is how universal and resilient these songs are. They’re the eternal earworm. Not only did I remember them, but I remembered all the words and often the hand movements or “dances” (we didn’t dance, but the few movements could barely be called a dance) that went with them.

I brought up one of them at work and all but one person on my team was able to remember the song word for word. (The last one gets a pass because she didn’t grow up in the States.) And it wasn’t just one song it was more than a handful of songs that we memorized at Sunday School or V.B.S or Church Camp.

It only took me an episode to realize that this was a podcast I was going to turn to every week for an hour an a half or more of laughs and maybe a more fun spin on subjects that aren’t particularly happy memories for me. It definitely puts them in a different light, and lets me enjoy them in some way. For that, I’m grateful.

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A Little Madness is Key

Cleaning this place out and starting over. I’ve been feeling nostalgic for the old world of LiveJournal and while I’ve owned a permanent account over there for the better part of a decade, I feel more comfortable letting Google host my thoughts than I do god knows who in the RU. So here we are. This place used to be a host to all my old Sim legacy stories. Well, it took me about two seconds to hit delete on those, so we know they were super important to keep around after seven or eight years.

Anyway. As I said, I’m feeling a little nostalgic for the old journaling platform, mostly in having a place to engage in a way that’s not the reblog mentality of tumblr or even facebook. Or heaven forfend, the micro-interest of the twitter platform, which for me at least, is just as bad in the reblog/repost weird timeline issues of the other two. I get it, it’s a way to share info, but one of the things I miss about LJ and even the early days of tumblr is getting to know people. Actually know them. So here’s my attempt at something sort of like that once more.

A woman can dream.