The Dynamic Duo

Yesterday was my brother Jeremy’s birthday. Not all siblings get along well, and goodness knows, Jeremy and I have driven each other crazy and infuriated each other any number of times. We’ve teased each other, belittled each other, ignored each other, hit each other. And yet, through all of that, we’ve generally stuck by each other. We’ve both helped each other out financially, emotionally, and in many other ways. We can go for weeks without saying a word to each other, but when we get together, it’s difficult to to shut us up or get a word in between us. In many ways, he’s one of the best friends I’ve got.

He’s 23 months younger than me. I can’t really remember a time when he wasn’t in my life. We look very different–Jeremy got all of our parents’ dominant traits (dark hair, brown eyes) and I got the recessive ones (fair hair, blue/green eyes). I’m delicately pale, while his skin is naturally tan. But we were also around the same height when we were little kids, so people sometimes thought we were twins. (Now he’s a few inches taller than me, the cheeky bastard.) We’ve always been charismatic in very different ways. I was a shy kid, lost in my own dreams, but for some reason, other kids often wanted me around. Jeremy was the kid who always took charge of a situation, becoming the leader through sheer force of will, and nobody minded, because his first concern was always justice and fairness. I was terrified of confrontation, but could often get away with things with a smile and a charming innocence. Jeremy was blunt, direct, full of righteous indignation and completely unafraid to confront older children and adults if he thought someone was being treated unfairly. He often won people over with his honesty and integrity.

Our parents split when I was four and Jeremy was two. We moved a lot after that, living in five different places from pre-school to middle school. Wherever we moved to, he and I were generally the only friends each other had at first. He and I weren’t always interested in the same things, but we had enough similar interests–and were close enough in age–that we played together a lot growing up. In elementary school, our mother took us on long road trips, when Jeremy and I had no one but each other to play with. We would generally sit in the back of the car, making tape recordings of weird “radio shows” we made up. In middle school, we both started playing guitar and writing horrible songs together. There were only two years between kindergarten and my high school graduation that we didn’t live with each other, and those were the two most difficult years of my pre-college life.

Happy Birthday, Jeremy! I’ve very thankful to have you as my brother and my friend.

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Dream a Little Dream With Me

I’ve been happily playing board games, in one form or another, since I was a little kid. Watching TableTop has reminded me just how much fun it can be to play a well-designed board game (or card game) with a group of friends. But as much fun as I have playing board games or card games–or video games, for that matter–nothing comes close to the experience of playing tabletop role-playing games.

I was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons in 1980 by my friend Luke Johnson. We were in fourth grade. I played a dwarf fighter who died from a magical trap. It was like getting hit by an amazing drug. I was instantly hooked. Soon after, a high school kid who went to my dad’s church ran me through an adventure, then decided he was giving up RPGs and gave me all of his game books, which was very much like a heroin addict saying, “Hey, I’ve decided to quit cold turkey. Want all of my leftover smack?” In middle school, I bought and played D&D, Gamma World, RuneQuest, Traveller, Boot Hill, Top Secret, Champions, Villains & Vigilantes, Tunnels & Trolls…and it just went on from there, into high school and college and beyond, up to today.

What is it about RPGs that I love so much? Why is it that no matter how much fun I have playing other games, nothing gives me the satisfaction that RPGs have?

It’s because I’ve really been playing them all my life, long before I ever knew about Dungeons & Dragons. During recess in elementary school, I would lead my friends in games of “superheroes,” where we made up our own superheroes and pretended to save the world from supervillains and natural catastrophes. In pre-school, my friends and I used to pretend to be the Six Million Dollar Man, the Bionic Woman, and other TV show characters, making up our own stories and play acting as our heroes.

Role-playing games are about getting together with your friends and playing Let’s Pretend. There may be some game tactics involved, there may be elements of competition, but it all boils down to playing Let’s Pretend. Imaginary characters in an imaginary situation, and from this comes collaborative stories and experiences. It’s really nerdy improv. It’s fiction writing for extroverts with ADD. It’s collective dreaming.

Sadly, it’s not as easy to get my friends together to play regularly these days. We’re not in grade school or college these days. We’re adults with full-time jobs and family responsibilities that take up a lot of our time. It’s been months since the last time I played an RPG. Getting together once in a while to play a board game or card game is logistically much easier. But that just wouldn’t be as satisfying to me, so I keep trying to get a game going or get in on some friend’s game. Because it’s not just about getting together with friends, it’s not just about having fun playing a game, it’s not just about rolling dice or calculating your chances of hitting an orc with a sword, it’s about dreaming out loud with fellow dreamers.

That’s a special kind of magic.

Nights at the Circus

Have you ever gotten drunk from a story? You read a book or watched a movie or listened to someone tell you a tale, and it poured itself into you until you got giddy and wanted to laugh and cry out of the sheer joy the story gave you?

I finished the audiobook of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern this evening. I’m still drunk from the story. I might be hungover tomorrow (although I’m still reading the paperback because, yes, I decided to start rereading it before I’d even finished it), but tonight, I’m enjoying this drunken state.

I love The Night Circus so very, very much. I’m head over heels in love with it. It’s one of the greatest novels I’ve ever read. There are a lot of novels I love, but The Night Circus joins the select group of books (along with Something Wicked This Way Comes, Winter’s Tale, and The Manual of Detection) that make me deliriously happy (and yet sad when they end, because I don’t want the story to be over, I don’t want the characters to leave me) because they seem to have been pulled straight out of my dreams.

The Night Circus touches on so many things that are near and dear to me: love, sacrifice, time, games, magic (both real and stage illusions), dreams and imagination, mystery and wonder, the interplay between performer and audience, the nature of stories…all wrapped up in a delightful, enchanting circus that transcends time and space (it might even transcend the covers of the book). The characters are endearing, the prose is delicious, and it even has multi-layered references to my favorite Shakespeare play, The Tempest. As I went through the last chapter, tears of joy and sorrow rolled down my cheeks. The Night Circus is something very, very special indeed.

For my last trick, I’m going to disappear into visions of paper birds and magical clocks and baroque cauldrons of snow-white fire. We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and this dream will never end.

The Work Continues

No big surprise, but I’m very pleased with how the election turned out. Not only was Barack Obama elected for a second term, but the Democrats have a majority in the Senate, a number of women senators were elected or re-elected (including Elizabeth Warren, who I think is dynamite, and Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay female Senator), marriage rights were extended to same-sex couples in three more states, and an amendment opposing same-sex marriage was voted down in Minnesota. I don’t know what the next four years will bring, but I would like to see this election as a general repudiation of the reactionary politics of the far-right Tea Party and a sign that the U.S. is moving forward, socially and economically. The future is multiracial, multicultural, and multi-faith. I don’t see how the GOP can continue if it keeps itself the party of caucasian, socially conservative Christians.

More importantly, I don’t want to see the GOP continue forward as an obstructionist party, refusing to negotiate or give ground, working more to make the Democrats fail than to make the country as a whole succeed. I’m a democratic republican, and for a democratic republic to work, people have to work together. It’s not always going to be smooth and easy, but that’s the way it goes.

And it’s not just elected officials. Everyone on the right, the left, and in the middle has to work at this. In his victory speech last night, President Obama said,

The role of citizen in our democracy does not end with your vote. America’s never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us together through the hard and frustrating, but necessary work of self-government. That’s the principle we were founded on.

It’s not just America. Any democratic republic is messy and complicated. It requires constant work. It requires you to think about and talk about politics all the time, not just every election cycle. It requires compromise, negotiation, diplomacy, argument, debate, participation, and activism. If you want to live in a democratic republic, you have to be involved. If that seems too difficult, if politics is something you don’t want to be a part of, if you’re not willing to put the work in, life in a democratic republic may not be right for you. If you want to sit back and let other people make decisions for you, go live in a monarchy, a dictatorship, a theocracy. In a democratic republic, you have to get your hands dirty and you have to deal with people you may not like. You have to be willing to give as much as you get, to not always get your way, but to speak up and make your voice heard.

Let’s get back to work, people!

Share With Me

What’s exciting you right now? What books, comics, games, movies, TV series, music, plays, art movements, people, places, things are thrilling and delighting you these days? If you’re excited about stuff, please share it with me (and others) in the comments. Let us all know what you’ve been reading, watching, playing, experiencing that is getting you all excited.

Here, I’ll go first. I’m currently reading (and listening to the audiobook of) The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I am madly in love with this book, savoring every word and sentence and paragraph. I’m also reading DC Comics’ Earth 2 and really enjoying the hell out of it. The current season of Castle is, I think, the best yet, and the new season of Grimm is really building into a great show. Also, the new crowdfunded album by Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra, Theatre is Evil, is so good, I started crying tears of joy the first time I listened to it.

Now it’s your turn. Share your excitement with me!

Pleasure, With a Side of Relish

I’m rather fond of the phrase “sharing is caring,” and not just because it rhymes. I’ve recently realized that sharing isn’t just caring for me, it’s an essential part of who I am. When I get excited about things, I want to share them with other people. I figure it’s an extrovert thing. It’s not enough for me to just love it and be excited about it, I have to share my excitement with others.

I’m quite happy to go to the movies on my own. But if it’s a movie I’ve seen before, I don’t just want to watch it alone, I want to show it to my friends and loved ones. “You’ve never seen Casablanca? WE MUST WATCH IT RIGHT NOW!” “You’ve only seen the new Doctor Who? WE MUST WATCH CLASSIC WHO TOGETHER!” It’s what started the tradition my daughter and I had for years of watching nerdy stuff together on Saturday or Sunday mornings, generally me introducing her to Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Doctor Who, Babylon 5, and more. (We usually referred to it as our “Daddy-Daughter Weekend Geek-Out.”) The first time my companion Brooke and I hung out together, I showed her the first two series of Black Books. It’s one of the best things about friendships and romantic relationships: sharing things you love with each other.

One of the things I love most about working in libraries is that I get to share things I’m excited about. I get to write reviews, create recommended reading lists, and put books and movies I love directly into the hands of patrons. And it works both ways: this morning, a patron brought a book up to me and said, “I’m returning this, but I just wanted to tell you that it’s an excellent book, especially for teens. I loved it.” I was thrilled to have a patron rave about a book and immediately put it on my to-read list. (In case you’re wondering, the book is Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. It has nothing to do with Twilight fanfic.)

It’s also a big reason why I write. My head is full of images, words, phrases, characters, worlds, and stories. There are books, comics, movies, TV shows, music, people, places, and experiences that inspire me to create. I want to share all of this with people, so I write poetry and fiction. And it’s why I write this blog. I mean, I could just write all this stuff in a journal and share it with no one, but that would drive me crazy. I need to share my thoughts–as half-baked and loopy, as personal and raw as they may be–with other people.

Get excited and share things.

“For pleasure has no relish unless we share it.” — Virginia Woolf