Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014 To-Do List

It's a common practice to make resolutions, but I very rarely do it. For one, I know me, and something promised does not necessarily mean something done in any reasonable time frame. Not that I won't do it eventually, but it's a thing and I'm bad at time managing my things.

That said, the beginning of a new semester is an excellent time to shake up my routine and start settling some things into place. So while I won't really set goals for what I want to happen, I will tell you what I'm doing as of next week and certain things I have to achieve over the next six months, at least.

  1. Finish my reading list and formally assemble my committee -- due by the end of January, hard stop. 
  2. Work workouts into next semester, whether with Matt or on my own. I gained more weight last summer and fall due to the sprained ankle and loads of sedentary work, and I'm not happy about it. I at least need to get back to where I was before all that, and that requires going to the gym along with food management, and that requires a schedule. I need to schedule this stuff this week, so I can start it next week. 
  3. Get a paper ready for publication. Luckily I'm taking a seminar devoted to this. 
  4. Send a paper out to be published -- sometime over the year. Start keeping a paper on the back burner for that purpose, to be polished as I go. 
  5. Start on reading list, making it a priority. I need to schedule time each day to read and make it a formal thing, so that it doesn't slip away from me. 
  6. Pass my qualifying exams. 
  7. Publish Daedalus. I'm behind on this, but there's nothing to be done really until I get home. I can write some, but really there's nothing for it. 
  8. Order books for next semester. 
  9. Put together a prospective budget for the EGSA.
  10. Figure out a bank account solution for the EGSA. 
  11. Make some regular blog posts. 
  12. ... Honestly, looking at the above, I think that's good for goals and achievements. I'll add to it as I go. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Oh my gosh, y'all, I'm gonna run a game.

Chocolate Dice, courtesy of ThinkGeek
So one of the things I get to do next semester is run a game for my gaming group. I've run two in the past, but had to wrap both of them up for school reasons. All my players want to play in these games again, and I'm pondering what to run.

1) Picking my Dresden Files game back up where it left off in Baltimore. This has the advantage of me knowing the system, it being pretty easy to add people in, and everyone's excited about it still when I bring it up. DF is a touch tricky, though, at least in the magic system, and nearly everyone's got magic of some form or other. I'm gonna go back to it sometime, and I've got ideas for it, I just don't know if now is the right time.

2) Non-Westeros Westeros? I ran a one-shot of A Song of Ice and Fire RPG set in a minor house in Dorne. Everyone was a member of the household, and most of them were siblings. It was awesome. The one problem is that nobody at the table, myself included, really wanted to run ASIoF again. It's not a bad system, it's just kinda crunchy in ways that our group doesn't use to best advantage. So I've been pondering Houses of the Blooded to keep that Westeros feel, but maybe transferring it out of Westeros altogether. I don't need the Iron Throne and all the freaking backstory to have highly political noble family politics, after all. I'm having issues slogging through Houses of the Blooded to get to the system, though. Not that the writing isn't fun, but it's not easily referenced. Matt suggested Fate, and although I'm not sure Fate is entirely where I want to go, it's not a bad idea.

3) Shadowrun. I wrote and edited stuff for 3rd ed Shadowrun back in the day and co-designed the magic system for 4th in the core book. Then life took over and I stopped having time to work on the line, then the thing with Catalyst happened and I dropped off working on SR stuff altogether. I really do love the world and the setting. It's a ton of fun to play with. But 3rd edition is so damn clunky, and 4th past the main book is really no better, and 5th takes what streamlining there was and exchanges it for 2nd ed wahoo grognard-ism. Also, 5th hurts me in a lot of ways, and I can't cope with it, so 5th is out. 4th is even out past the main book, and it really needs more than one book. That leaves 3rd... and 3rd is SO DAMN CLUNKY, and I game with a group that is largely all about rules light , narrative games (with a couple of notable exceptions). I honestly don't know how well they'll handle Shadowrun in practice, although the setting is something they're all excited about. I could port it to some other system (there's a lot of those out there), but one of the problems I have with doing that is that a core bit of SR is that there are effectively parallel experience tracks -- karma points, reputation (not always documented), and money. Gear is a BIG DEAL in SR, and if you remove it, you effectively gut a third or so of the game. It's like playing Firefly without economic stuff -- you can do it, but if the money is why you fly and how you keep to the sky, as in the show, then taking it out just kills story motivation. Keeping it in, though, means keeping all the fiddly bits associated with them -- different guns, or decks, or armor have to do different things. Different lifestyles have to do different things. Different clothing has to do different things. And I haven't figured out how to dial down the complexity and keep that yet. But I've had four different people, at least, ask to play it, and I'd really kinda like to run a game of it. I'm just not sure how.

So, thoughts?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 in review

So overall this has been a pretty good year for me and mine.

  • The tree that fell on our house last winter was removed and the roof repaired (and insulated!), and we in effect got a new bedroom out of it, which was awesome. 
  • The boys both entered high school and found stuff they like to do, particularly drama club and wood shop. 
  • Si stopped chewing everything.
  • My family is in pretty good health.
  • I finished the fall semester of GAAAH (three full grad classes, man, plus teaching) with 3 As, a conference acceptance, and a prospective novel. 
  • Our company got Tragedy in Five Acts out and in good shape, and it got listed by io9 as one of the best storygames
  • My computer died, but I LOVE my Macbook Air, so that's okay.
  • I get to teach classes I really wanted through the next summer, and my co-teachers and I got a grant for the spring. :)
There were some less awesome things, but really, we lived through all of them and nothing that bad happened. 

I'm really very happy with the year that passed, though some of my friends had a much harder time of it. Here's hoping that 2014 is a better round for everyone. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Character Creation: Better Angels

So, my husband Matt has an ongoing character creation project in which he wants to make a character for every roleplaying game he owns. As he is a collector of games and PDFs count, he will never be finished. That's beside the point, however. I occasionally join him in this endeavor.

Game: Better Angels, by Greg Stolze
Publisher: Arc Dream
Degree of Familiarity: I played a demo of it at GenCon, haven't really read it, but looked over Matt's shoulder now and again while he did. The demo had pregen characters so this will be my first foray into making one.
Books Required: Just the core.

Step One: Your Human. 
So, Better Angels is a game in which people get possessed by both demons and angels, and that's where superpowers come from. People possessed by angels get to be superheros. People possessed by demons end up as supervillains. There are some downsides, of course. No one gets asked if that's what they want before they're possessed by a demon, and once you are, if you let the demon win enough in exchange for phenomenal cosmic power, you get dragged off to hell for the ultimate in itty-bitty living space with a thermostat that never leaves "torment" no matter how many times you call the super. So assuming you're not actually a bad person, you want to be a bit evil, so they don't eat you or go possess someone else (usually nearby, usually unsuspecting). You want to be a grandiose supervillain, whose goal is to control an army of pigeons or take control of the local supermarket or hold an ice rink hostage in the off season, something like that. Enough to convince your demon you're playing along, but not enough to turn you into demon fodder.

The first step is to figure out who you were/are minus a demon. This is a point-buy system, where you've got twenty human points to spend in strategies and tactics and specialties to get your core concept down.

I'm having a horrible time coming up with a core concept, so.... Okay. I'm choosing a grad student who's studying psychoanalysis and dreams. I'll name her Sherry. Sherry Masinger. She picked up her demon by accidentally happening across something in Special Collections that shouldn't have been read, and certainly not read aloud. Just one of those things, I guess.

So, Tactics (main category points) are worth 2 pts each, Strategies (secondary skills) are worth 1 each, and specialties (jobs, areas of knowledge, etc.) are worth two. I gave her one specialty (grad student), and then I bought 2 in Patient, 3 in Knowledge, 1 in Open, 3 in Insightful, and 3 in Honesty.

Step 2: Your Demon
So now you pick a primary strategy, aspect, and power for your demon. Obviously you don't want to choose a strategy for your demon that your human sucks at, or you wouldn't have made it long enough to have a story in the first place. The mirror strategy for Insightful is Devious, so that's what I'll choose. (It's worth noting that each stat has 5 dots -- now that I've picked my primary one, that's the one where if the demon gets 5 dots in that stat, it can drag me off to hell.) Now I need an aspect and a power. For power, I've picked Terror (based in Cruelty). For aspect, I've picked Ghost Form -- walking through walls and such.

Step Three: Switch. Now we switch characters (which is why it's important to have more than one person to make characters for this game). Now we spend points on each other's characters. We start off with spending 20 more points on the other human character (Matt's character is here).You can spend them on strategies and tactics, but not specialties. I put points in the stats his demon stuff uses and spread his points out a bit.

Step Four: Pick another power and aspect for the other person's demon.
Matt's demon is sort of animalistic, so he already had Animal Form and Flame-Wreathed. I added onto that Arrogant and Darkness-Shrouded.

So now we just name our own characters and then the other guy's demons. My character is Sherry Masinger. Matt's demon, I think, should be something using an obviously false-ish name that gives its character away. I like star names, so I think Sirius is good -- the Dog Star. Matt gave my demon "Horned," which just means some sort of physical attack, and Clairvoyance. He names the demon Marax, whose goal according to the Lesser Key of Solomon is to make people knowledgable in astronomy and all the liberal arts. No wonder he picked a grad student.

So there you go!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Stress baking

Some people engage in retail therapy. I have never had enough spare money to do that, although I've skirted the edge a time or two for a meal out or a skein of yarn or a book. Some people go see a therapist, which might be the wisest thing, but by and large general "ugh, this is a really stressful time" is not really a sufficient condition, since it will resolve (unless you are thinking of self harm, which is an entirely different issue). Some people juggle geese, or so I'm told. When I am stressed, I will either travel (or plan travel, which is nearly as escapist), play video games (assuming time and availability), or stress bake.

Stress baking is, so I hear, a time-honored tradition. It was not so with my mother, or her mother before her, but it seems the sort of thing my dad's mother would have done. I never caught her doing it, but we didn't live close to them and I only saw her once a month or so -- which is pretty good for a two-hundred mile distance between. You want comfort, you want something with a payoff, you want something to do with your hands, and you want your kitchen to smell good. This semester my workload is pretty darn high and I can't easily recharge and we're really busy and I have extra projects and I think my head might explode soon. So two days ago we went to the West Side market and I bought some pie pumpkins, and we came home, and using a recipe a friend sent me, the stress-relieving Ginger Pumpkin Meringue Pie began.

See, one thing about stress baking is a refusal to take shortcuts. Now, there's stress baking which is really more like stress eating, wherein you just want the goddamned brownies and you want them NOW, and so the mix is fine. FINE. It really doesn't matter, as long as you have warm gooey brownies in your mouth in about half an hour. (I also call this "period baking.") It's soothing too, but in a different way. But when it's really about the process, the kata of baking knows no short cuts. Could I have gotten canned pumpkin? Sure. Would it have been fine? Yes. But my brain wouldn't cope with it, and so we cut up pumpkins and scoop out innards and roast them and pureed them -- and not just one for the pie, but a couple so that we have pumpkin to spare, because really, when am I doing that again this year?

Then there's a cookie crust, made with gingersnaps and graham crackers, because buying one is not sufficient -- oh no. And it gets food processed (I accepted that much of a shortcut) and put together and baked. And then we have the middle pumpkin part, which I whisked together and poured in and baked until done, and then the brown sugar meringue, which was amazing and came out perfectly, and then I put that on it and baked it longer, and then I put it in the fridge to cool for a few hours. I did use the mixer whisk attachment to beat the egg whites for the meringue. That much a glutton for punishment I am not.

And in the end we have a pie, and we had friends over so the pie was eaten, and people seemed much appreciative of said pie. And yes, friends, it was in fact tasty. But honestly, finishing the damn thing was so much more rewarding. It was a sort of long-workout afterglow worthy. I probably won't bake seriously again until the holidays (barring stress and time), and I try not to do it too often because lord knows, I don't need the calories. But in a weird Erma Bombeck sort of way, it helps, even if it leaves me with a trashed kitchen with me having flour in my hair and sitting exhaustedly on a stool, with everyone surrounding a glorious, slightly lopsided baked good. Emblematic of so much of the rest of my life too, really.

Oh, and please, take a slice of pie with you. No, REALLY. Please.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

If wishes were horses...

... then my backyard would be filled with manure.

Let's back up.

First, I wish I was more regular about posting. Certainly this blog would get a better readership if I were. The problem being, of course, grad school. I have three things due tomorrow, one of them an assignment and the others necessary steps for getting other assignments done if I'm to stay on target. Even now, this is still better than I've been about posting for the last, oh, two years or so, so I'm inclined to count that as a win regardless.

Second, I wish the news I got last night had been different. There was a thing I wanted and I didn't get it. People I esteem greatly who had great ideas did get it, and I am happy for them even as I'm sad for me. There's a lot of internal conflict to go around on this thing, apparently, although I think overall it would have been good. I always feel bad for the chefs on Chopped who are out to win as validation, because although I think that's useful, 3 our of 4 will not win -- those are lousy odds on which to stake your self-worth. Yet I think, given my reaction to the news, that I did the same thing here. My odds were a bit better, but still not a good idea overall. Because of this, I'm staggering a bit more from the outcome than I should, and that's something I don't have time for.

Third, I wish I didn't feel like grad school was such a gamble. I have the thing I like and I'm at least okay at it, if not good at it, and I want to keep on doing it. At the same time... what if the gamble doesn't pay off and it turns out I've fucked up my life and my kids' lives and my husband's life so I could chase a dream that isn't actually there? I am assured this is not the case and will not be the case. I like to believe this is so. But my frazzle level is high right now, I'm behind on a lot of things even though I'm mostly caught up, and I'm ever so slightly freaked out. I believe things will be okay, mostly, and I'm trying to enact some of that okay-ness. Fake it till you make it, if need be. Oh, and by the way, Matt is the best partner ever. I could say husband, because he is my husband, but I always feel like "partner" is actually the next step up. Lots of people are husbands or wives. Far fewer actually earn the term "partner" and live up to it. At least for me. So yes. He wins.

Fourth, I wish I hadn't been stuck with a messed up ankle this summer and I could have exercised like I wanted to and had planned on. Instead I lost the progress I'd gained and now I have to start again, basically. Full of argh on that one.

In the meantime, I will keep doing what I'm doing, and trying to apply for things, and not getting my hopes up when I do.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Identity costs

Well I can't change
Even if I try
Even if I wanted to

-- chorus to "Same Love," by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis featuring Mary Lambert

One of the great successes in my life (and there's more than one, but this is one of the biggest) has been going back to school. At first, "going back to school" was simply going to night school and getting my BA. But then it shifted, and became moving to go to grad school -- and then it became getting my doctorate and becoming a professor. I know people who credit me with putting the idea in their heads to go back to school as well, and I know people who look at what I've done and are happy for me, but at the thought of doing it themselves they give a quiet "fuck that" because it's not something they need or want. And that is TOTALLY OKAY. I can't even say with any certainty that this will put me in a good place at the end of it all, financially speaking. It's a risky sort of thing, and it's definitely not a one-size-fits-all lifepath. My family thinks I'm crazy, as do many of my coworkers (and even professors, though they understand it themselves). Going back to school (and going to grad school in particular), however, is a great success not because of grades or earning potential or any of that stuff. It's a great success because it's who I am, and it is so far more authentically than almost any other life choice I'd made before that time.

I have been a lot of people in my life -- all of them me, sure, but just parts of me, and each of those choices required that I shut down part of myself to be that person in that situation. I grew up making that choice, because to be myself was offputting and strange to my community. I believed that I was flawed simply by being who I was and that it was okay to be someone else -- preferred, really, given that I was a girl. My family/husband/children was the most important decision and action I could possibly do. And it's not that I really was told that, but it was part of a lot of underlying assumptions about life that I only half-internalized (which led to no end of trouble later on, and which I'm still unearthing). I have a limited scope of talents. I gave up all the stuff I'm actually good at in order to be the person I was supposed to be. The problem, though, was that I was never really good at it. I got better, but I just... I couldn't function effectively as the wife and mother and person I became. I couldn't make life work the way it was supposed to, and part of me -- the parts I silenced (with encouragement) -- were always, always rather sad. My mom once observed that I was kind of a chameleon, because I would change to suit the people I was with. She was right, even though I didn't realize it. It was protective camouflage, but in the end it didn't work because I was actually all the stuff I was trying to hide.

I don't want to paint the picture that all my life before that decision was bad -- it wasn't. It was sort of like wandering around blindfolded, though. My kids are another of the greatest successes in my life, for example, and I don't regret them. At the same time, I maintained a purposely passive position in my own life, following the leads of others and quietly (and without anyone asking) sacrificing bits of me to make things work. And I'm not implying that I was even good at that, or that it was noble in some way. It's just all I knew how to do. I was the princess that cut off her little finger to free her brothers, following the models of a thousand fictional (and real) women before me.

In many ways, making the decision to go back to school was hard, but not as hard as it should have been. I didn't realize the cost I'd be paying -- that I still pay. I didn't actually have a good reason to go back to school -- yes, it might let me earn more money in the improbable field of writing and editing, but not as much as changing careers would have. English, though... it was the one thing I couldn't give up. My mom wanted me to take up a med tech profession, and it would have been smart for any number of reasons. I couldn't do it, though. It was a sacrifice I couldn't make. So I went back to school, telling myself that it was all about the money and would be done soon. And then I applied for honors, because my pride wouldn't let me skip it. And then I applied for an MA, horrified at my own actions and refusing to consider the consequences of success. And then I got in, and I moved away from my children, leaving them with their father full time and taking summers and holidays (again, only for a short time, I said). And then I graduated and went on to my PhD. Only now -- only now, 3 years in -- can I admit that if I had known I was leaving them, I could not have left, but that I also could not have stayed and been happy -- pretty much ever, having given up this one last dream.

In choosing school, what I didn't realize is that I was choosing myself. I was taking a path I should have been on 20 years before -- would have been on, except for my misguided choices that I had no chance of recognizing for what they were. My choice, although I justified it in a dozen different ways (all of which had some element of truth to them), was inherently selfish. We're not supposed to be selfish, especially not women being selfish, but this was and is and I recognize that. I am still a tiny bit angry with myself about it, frankly, especially when I'm parted from my children. But -- and this is the trick -- having chosen myself and acted on it, I can no longer go back. I am more real now than I've ever been, and I can no longer be a shadow of this person I am on behalf of someone else. I am guilty and guilt-ridden and saddened and horrified, but I can't go back. I am this person. I am an academic at heart. I study and analyze and critique and write and read and try my damnedest to communicate the things I see to people who would otherwise not know. I am a teacher and a student. I am geeky and serious and overly invested in detail. I have huge blind spots about relationships and executive function and likely outcomes, which is one reason I spend so much time thinking about them and trying to predict them. I am aspie and there are things I'm just bad at and will always be bad at, because I am comparatively good at them now after 40 years of practice and I'm still bad at them. I am introverted and occasionally callous and standoffish and impolite and uncaring. I am disorganized and snippy and intolerant of people who refuse to learn, because learning is so important to me. I like dogs but only tolerate cats, and I can't handle emotional discussions because they overwhelm me, and I have to work hard at interacting with the world as a whole, even the bits of it I like. And if I ever had the ability to be someone else in any of these ways, I don't have that any more. Perhaps I'm too old, or perhaps I was only fooling myself before about fitting in. I don't know and it's probably not important anyway.

The important part is that in allowing myself to outwardly be who I am, in choosing to feed and encourage the parts of me that are central to my being, I lost the ability to pretend to some other identity or social role. I can't change, now, even if I try. Even if I wanted to. And I don't want to, but even as I stand here (metaphorically speaking) and feel myself solidly here, inhabiting this space, feeling wholly myself and happy in that person -- I weep. Because being me has a cost, and that cost is in part my role as mother and daughter to people who can't (and don't want to) share this life. The cost is in potential income, and in potential relationships, and in potential damage to the relationships I have and need and cherish because I can't say anymore "whatever you want to do is fine" and mean it. I can accept arrangements and I can make space and I can tetris things around my personal boundaries, but now because I am a person I recognize, I have boundaries, and I can lose things and people and opportunities because of it. That scares me -- rightly so, I think. Matt sees me pretty well as I am, I think, and that seems to be the person he wants, and so I'm less worried than I would otherwise be about what costs being me might have with him. But in the end, this is the bargain I am stuck with, bad or good, because if I give this away then I truly have nothing -- and that's no longer acceptable to me, if I were even still capable of it. And as much as it hurts sometimes, that's okay.

Monday, August 19, 2013

GenCon 2013 Post Mortem

So I'm back from GenCon. I am exhausted, but if I don't write down the things in my head now I'll completely space it, and I'm already behind enough on this blog as it is.

1) The IGDN booth was largely my con-home-base during exhibit hall hours, and I think things there went really well. I'm excited to see the final sales number tally and there are refinements and improvements to process that can be made, but overall I'm very pleased with how everything played out. Also, it was great to meet so many of the other IGDN folks in person.

2) The Embassy Suites was a mixed bag of a hotel for us. It is unlikely we'll stay there by choice again, even as I clearly acknowledge that nothing was terrible in and of itself and it could have been far worse. The lack internet access that wasn't prohibitively expensive figures heavily into this equation, however (not even in the public spaces), and the free printing in the business center isn't enough to make up for it.

3) Still waiting for the final sales tally, but the numbers seem promising as a guestimate and we got a ton of good press. Didn't win the ENnie for Best Electronic Book, but then, we got beat by Deadlands (gold) and Hobomancer (Silver). Magical hobos. Hard to beat that if it's done with any panache, and how can it not be?

4) Ended up with a conflict that kept me out of my panel. This made me sad, but they found a replacement and it all went off well. Not happy about having to make that choice or about putting the rest of the panel in that position. Totally my bad, too.

5) Food trucks are awesome, but they'd be awesome-er if they had more veggies available.

6) Saw a bunch of folks. Not as many as I'd have liked. My ankle has recovered well over the summer, but an evening on it after a day standing in the convention hall and walking everywhere means that my evenings were unsatisfactorily anti social. Still, many good times were had even so.

7) Had an excellent business meeting and I'm quite pleased with how it all shook out. Good things are afoot.

8) An artist came to our booth and showed us his portfolio. We must be a real company now. Speaking of that, my biggest regret is that I didn't get to peruse the art show and collect cards so that I can offer people work later. I only got one new card from someone, and his work made me stop and stare as I walked past.

9) Harry & Izzy's is really good and really expensive. But really good. Glad to have had the chance to eat there. :)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Character Creation, the first! Earthdawn, 1st edition!

Okay, so I'm a gamer and game designer and editor of games and what not. This list is grouped by relativity to this post, not exclusivity. I am married to another gamer/game designer/writer of game stuff person, and he has an ongoing character creation project here. I will occasionally join him in these endeavors, but since grad school began I think I have a near-zero number of characters made with him. Today, however -- today his game of choice is Earthdawn, and for that I had to join in.

So, this is how it goes. I worked for FASA Corporation the last year it was in business, as it turns out. Earned my editing chops there and worked on Shadowrun and BattleTech and Crimson Skies and Crucible and VOR. What I did not work on was Earthdawn, as it was already sort of done by the time I arrived. I always thought it seemed really cool, though, and I was curious about it. Between babies and work and trying to scrape by, I never really got to do anything about that, though -- and then FASA closed and so did whatever window of opportunity I had. I got to pick up some books as a parting gift from my employer, though, so that was something.

I know there are lots of versions of Earthdawn out there now due to an odd licensing quirk that I've never fully understood (nor do I need to, as it isn't my game). I admit that I'm way more interested in the old FASA stuff than the versions that exist now, though, and so that's what I want to work with. We've talked the group into playing a game of Earthdawn coming up, and so we're running through chargen ahead of time to make sure we get it. I'm very excited.

Game: Earthdawn (original)
Publisher: FASA
Familiarity: Um, somewhat? Also worked on a lot of early SR stuff, so there's a familiar aesthetic if nothing else.
Books Needed: Just the core.

Step 1: Choose a discipline.
Ooh, so I get to choose a career, roughly. Matt hogs the book whenever we do these things and reads stuff aloud to me, so I'll be choosing from a list he reads to me. At this point I'm picking randomly, so I'm gonna pick Skyraider -- which, as it turns out, is awesome. I get to be an airship pirate (as in, raiding airships and raiding from airships). How much coolness is that?

Step 2: Choose a race.
Okay, so air pirates are cool, but I can't be an obsidiman, elf, or windling. Dwarf, human, ork, troll, tskrang are my options.... Okay, I'm going to be a dwarven skyraider, because how cool is that? And I will name her Lyran, in honor of my gaming industry origins. :) I have heatsight to 250 yds, too. Oh god, the D&D flashbacks.

Step 3: Attributes
So, there's a buy system and a random system. Given my druthers, I'll always do random, so there we be. Thanks to random.org's dice roller, I roll 4d6 and drop the lowest 6 times, giving me the following:

15 9 14 13 10 16

That's not bad.

Okay, so with that in mind, I've got to figure out what skyraiders need to be successful. The book says I need dex, strength, and toughness. I hate hate hate using charisma as a dump stat and I already get a minus 3 to it. Argh. I get pluses to strength and toughness, though... so I could put my eh stats there and raise them to middling decent, but then I lose my chance to really shine. I end up sort of splitting the difference: 15 Dex, 16 Str, 19 Toughness, 10 Perception, 9 Willpower, 11 Charisma (among dwarvenkind, I'm consider quite the life at parties -- whether that translates to outsiders is less certain but I've got a fighting chance). I've decided that part of the problem is that she always kind of feels like she's sizing someone up to see what they have that's worth taking... which is true, but not in a malicious sort of way. She just can't entirely help it. Raiding, you see.

Step 4: Characteristics
This seems to be a lot of derived value stuff, as we now tend to call it. I'm not going into all of it, because initiative scores and health points, and armor ratings and blah de blah. The highlights are that I'm hard to hurt, I get a d6 for karma, and... yeah. That's about it.

Step 5: Talents
Okay, so these are like career skills. Except they raise up your Steps, which is this odd sort of pre-Savage Worlds way of randomizing the dice you use. My options are:

Air sailing -- (must have at least 1 to be on a ship), which is basically air sailing stuff.
Avoid blow -- all about avoiding blows (seems useful).
Battle shout -- lets me yell at foes to intimidate them. Actually pretty cool.
Fireblood -- allows me to make a recovery test in the middle of a combat round, which I couldn't otherwise do. Matt cheerfully informs me that it makes oozing blood bubble and hiss. Delightful.
Karma ritual -- Lets me buy karma points, which makes me more fabulous apparently
Melee weapons -- lets me be all fighty with handheld weapons

I have 8 points to assign between them. So... bleh. Well, air sailing gets 1. Battleshout should get 1. Avoid blow can have 2, because avoiding blows. Seriously. Fireblood can have 1. That's 5 spent. That leaves me 3 -- I could do one for karma ritual and 2 for melee, but I suspect that I could skip karma and dump 3 into melee. I'll play it safe, though, and settle for 1 and 2.

Step 6: Skills
So, I get a rank 1 artisan and knowledge skills, on top of either 2 skills at 1 or 1 skill at rank 2. For my artisan skill, I can choose either bone, rune, or wood carving. I think wood carving -- boats, you know. Scrimshaw would be cool, but a bit more thoughtful than I picture her as. So I can kinda fill in knowledge skills -- I'm choosing weather lore (important when you fly through the skies, really) and geography (she gets a top-down view, just like Google Maps).

Step 7: Equipment
I'm so spoiled by not playing games where I have to do equipment. Seriously, it's a thing for me now. But here we are, and I don't have weapons or armor yet, so... okay then. The example character has hardened leather armor, which seems reasonable for me. I've got 120 silver to start with and this one costs 40, so it's a good bet. I'll also get a dwarf sword, since I'm a dwarf. This isn't splashy, but it's servicable. I've decided that her goal is to someday own a griffin to ride around on. Since a trained griffin costs 7500 silver and an untrained griffin is liable to eat you, this will take some time.

Step 8: Flesh out your character.
So, Lyran was born to a clan of skyraiding dwarves, which only sounds odd if you aren't from Barsaive. She is as comfortable under the open sky as others are below ground, and although she's spent her time in a kaer, she's never as happy as she is out beneath the blue arc of heaven. She's well aware of the threat the Horrors still provide (and also aware of her lack of skill and funding to really let her take up the skyraider mantle in earnest), so she's going to do her time in community service, as it were, and take up the battle while making her fortune, so to speak, and readying herself to return to her people. Lyran is about 4 feet high and 130 lbs. She has pinkish skin, contrasting vividly with blue and green tattoos, and she blushes pinker when in battle or stressed or roused with emotion. Her ears are pierced with gold hoops, her hair is a bronzish-brown shot through with streaks of gold highlights, and her eyes are a vivid dark blue. I'm not answering all the questions (there are 20 suggested) because OMG it's late and because I think I have a sufficient sense of her for now. If I ever get to play her somewhere, maybe I'll follow up.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

My Life As a Superhero, or What Color Is Your Spandex?

So, one of the things I've figured out along the way is that the people I most admire and am personally wowed by are all actually superheroes. I collect them, in fact, and store up their reflected awesomeness in my heart and mind, so I can bathe in the light they generate in the world. They are the epitome of cool, the loci of wonder, and I rejoice secretly each time I meet a new one.

Now, it is worth stating that when I say superhero, I don't mean Phoenix Jones, masked fighter of urban mischief in Seattle, or Superman, or even Wonder Woman. I don't need spandex or bracers or masks to garb my heroes in, though far be it from me to say them nay should the drive come over them. They may or may not actually fight crime in the guises in which they are known; I look on that as a personal choice, unrelated to hero status. I speak instead of the people who, in their public personas, wow me with their awesome, eclectic, one-of-a-kind personalities -- the kind of people who, if you put "and they fight crime!" at the end of a description of them, no one would be surprised.

For example:

She's a red-haired, straight-talking criminal justice grad student with a black belt in karate and a passion for all things caffeinated.


He's a passionate, tattooed, green-eyed man who is an accomplished foodie and amateur chef, who helps children talk while he thinks of ways to show the people around him how they shine through playing games.


She's a gimlet-eyed, West Coast literature prof with a silver streak in her dark hair, who spends her time mentoring those who seek the hidden truths about understanding the mind through culture.

You get the idea? It's like a catalog of the ways someone is spectacular in totally mundane pursuits that, in real life, are absolutely star potential. The primary difference, really, between these people and superheroes as in comics is that the alter-egos of comic superheroes are generally really boring. Their personality is who they are with the mask on, not who they pretend to be to the world. All the interesting stuff really only comes out when they hide their faces. In contrast, these people show off their superpowers every day. Their real-world lives are way more interesting than their masked crime-fighting alias would be, in no small part because they don't hoard their awesomeness and save it for when they wear improbably fitting outfits. They allow their lives to express the person they are, with as few walls as possible between themselves and the rest of the world. I find that inspiring.

In my own life, I try to make this a plan for action. It's part of why I decided on grad school. It's part of why I decided to take the risk and get married. It's part of why I moved cross-country. It's part of why my hair is purple, and it's part of why I write games. I am only here once, and I have no way of knowing how long that stay will last. Being the most "me" I can manage allows me to achieve my own superhero way of life, something I'll keep working toward until I don't work toward anything any more. In the meantime, I will be the superhero I can be, and perhaps one day I'll even "fight crime," for whatever value of fighting crime that takes.

So, since I love to hear these stories, how are you a superhero? What makes you awesome?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Perils of Gardening

house with weeds in front of it
Image 1.1. This is my house.   .
This is a story about my flowerbed project. Having come in from today's gardening, I feel as though people are unaware of why I hate landscape fabric so much and the righteousness of my cause, so today I have a post (with photos!) to justify my wrath. But first, let's have some introductory photos to illustrate the problem.

So, in our first image, we have my house, as viewed from the driveway (and largely also from the road headed east about 50 feet to the right of this view (roughly). This was once a roughly grand-piano shaped flowerbed. It is now a weed patch that overwhelms my ability to make it not weedy through normal means. This year I found out  why that is -- the top 3-5 inches of dirt are not dirt, but roots, and they are almost exclusively roots because there is a layer of landscape fabric below that, meaning that only hardy, shallow-rooted weeds can live there, but they're almost impossible to get rid of by hand once they are.

Image 1.2. This is the view of my house from the porch, looking toward the driveway. 
Image 1.3. This is landscape fabric.
This is what it looks like facing out from my porch. A bit better, but not that much so. Perspective helps -- it's a downhill slope to the drive, you see. As you can observe, close to the camera there is brown, not green. This is where the work is happening. I have to get from the porch all the way down to the drive. I cannot simply plant things, however, because the landscape fabric prevents me from doing so.

Image 1.4. This is the section of the garden I've cleared of weeds.
To that end, rather than struggling fruitlessly with it for years to come, I've decided to just dig up all the damn landscape fabric, since I can largely just pull up all the matted soil and move it, pulling up the fabric underneath, then putting down dirt and mulch to prevent the weeds from taking it back over again. I'm not planting anything this year because I think this is all I can conceivably finish over the summer, even with the arrival of my minions in July.

As you can see, this is what I've cleared so far -- roughly half the length of this strip still has fabric under it because I'm still trying to find the edges. The kneepad is in the middle of the hole I just started clearing to make sure the area there was fabric'd, as I'd lost the fabric portion about two feet south (toward the end of the porch). If it seems like it's going slowly, you're right.

Image 1.5. Freaking tree roots.
Part of the reason for everything going slowly is shown here, in image 1.5. You see, it's not just matted baby roots or plant roots on top of the landscape fabric. It's tree roots that have grown across but been unable to burrow deeper, like they should have. I'm pulling out and tugging on roots that have no inclination to move anywhere, but have to if I'm going to get the freaking stuff out from the dirt. I placed the kneepad under the root so you could see it better. Also, that's my shadow taking the picture. Hi, shadow! On top of that, I found potting soil today ON TOP of the landscape fabric. AAAAARRRGGGHHH. Poor plants. They had no chance.

Image 1.6. Mulch.
Image 1.7. Silly dog.
 A shovel can't get through the roots or the fabric, so it's a matter of pulling all the matted roots up by hand, then pulling up the landscape fabric, then putting dirt back in the trench I've now dug, then putting down at least 2 inches of mulch to keep it from growing stuff I don't want. These are my bags of mulch. It's maybe half of what I need, maybe less. Also, the dogs think it might be something like dog bubblegum, a result I had not forseen. Sigh. Silly dogs.

With all of that, perhaps it is now clearer why I curse the makers and buriers of landscape fabric, whether under dirt or mulch, because eventually mulch turns into dirt and then you have this situation.

On the upside, though, apparently heavy gardening is excellent strength training.

Silly dog. 

Post-semester update post!

I'm done with the semester! This puts me at the end of my first semester of PhD coursework... which looks a lot like my Masters coursework, except that a) I have more teaching responsibility, b) I seem somehow to have managed to get myself together more thoroughly, and c) I can see sort of a sea-change in my academic writing. Something took, I think, and I'm managing to engage more thoroughly with my research topics and moving more toward primary sources, which is what I'm supposed to be doing, so that's all to the good.

My house plans for the summer thus far include:
1) Clean and decorate the bedroom, including art on the walls and curtains.
2) Clean the library, including reclaiming my desk from my knitting and random stuff piled there.
3) Get the hole from the old iron stove fixed, even if it won't be beautiful.
4) Clean out the remaining cabinets that haven't been touched since before I moved in and get more usable storage space out of it.
5) Get at least one of the flowerbeds not looking like an overgrown vacant lot.
6) Fix the screen door so we don't have to slam it to close it.

 My academic plans for the summer thus far include:
1) Write a letter of recommendation for my student
2) Study Latin -- attempt translation by the end of the summer.
3) Teach the class I'm being paid to teach (I need another post about this).
4) Get my last-year's ASECS paper worked up for submission for the journal.
5) Possibly brush up another paper or two.
6) Write some pieces for the EGSA website
7) Start making stabs at a tentative reading list.

My work plans for the summer include:
1) Write the sourcebook for Seattle for Interface Zero
2) Go to Origins.
3) Go to GenCon.
4) Go to Toronto Fan Expo.
5) Finish revisions to my short story for the ctd anthology.
6) Start working on M0arPIGz!
7) Edit Demon: the ???.

Yeah. That's a list. And across and above all of that -- spend time with my sons, who are coming out to visit at the beginning of July and staying until the end of August. Some of these things may not get done. It makes me sad to ponder it, but it is the way of things. However, this semester I accomplished more and, I think, more successfully, than I ever have before. I owe a lot of that to Matt, but not all of it. I think, really, that now that I have an actual support base, I'm just managing to get better at knowing my limitations and working within them, which ironically makes me more successful at life and less limited by them. Overall, it's a very good thing.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Gardening and the afterlife.

I will preface this by saying that I'm sorry, but anyone who lays down non-biodegradable stuff in their flowerbeds, be it landscape fabric or rubber mulch or whatever, is hereby barred from whatever pleasant afterlife there may be. You forfeit your ticket, sir or madam. Off the bus with you, and don't let me catch your kind around here again! *shakes begrimed fist*

So. We have a front flowerbed by our walk that shows that at one point, previous owners of the house tried to do something to it. It's got edging and once had bushes and part of it is (badly) covered in rock but hasn't been maintained cause there are weeds growing through it. I tried last year to do something with the bigger part of it, but all I managed to do was get rid of the tall unsightly weeds, allowing short unsightly weeds to grow instead. This is not a significant improvement. I had thought I'd mulch and plant things, only to discover that the previous owners laid down landscape fabric and then mulch on top of it. This sounds like a good plan short term, and it is -- except that mulch degrades into topsoil for weeds to grow in. You stop mulching, you get a nice shallow weed bed that you can't dig into.

Now, landscape fabric doesn't degrade. It doesn't let things grow through it, either, unless these things are very insistent. The only way to remove landscape fabric is to dig it up. Yes, that's right. Remove the new topsoil and weeds and pull it off/out of the ground. This year, I set out to dig up the short weeds and figured, hey, while I'm here, I should get rid of this landscape fabric. We can put down some cardboard as a barrier (which degrades), then put down some mulch -- voila, attractive garden area with very little upkeep, especially as there are some rocks in the "garden" already for visual interest.

Last week I started weeding along the border of the house and discovered, hey, no fabric here! I can dig down at least five inches. Now granted, those five inches are full of woody tree roots, but that's not a huge surprise given the number of trees in the area. Maybe, I think, I was mistaken about the amount of fabric in the garden! Buoyed by this happy thought, I got rid of the weeds next to the foundation in front of the porch and thought, well, I'll start out another couple of feet and head back across the flowerbed again and see what happens. What happened was that I suddenly couldn't get more than three inches down, if that, and what I did get was full of roots, like way more than by the house.

I started wandering over to where I could see some fabric sticking up from the ground and started pulling on it. Amazingly, close to the surface, it comes right up AND it tears fairly easily but not so easily you can't pull it. So far, so good, because a couple of those rocks (which I'm pretty sure are on top of landscape fabric) are not moving. When I try to dig up the dirt on top of the fabric, though, and move it, I get nothing. I can, however, push up on it as a large mass with my hand. That's right. The root pack is so tight and so deep that I can lift it en masse and tug on it with my hand. AAAAAAAAGH.

Now, on the one hand, the roots themselves are somewhat delicate and mostly belonging to plants no longer living, so they're brittle. They're too tough altogether for a shovel to get through them, though. This means sliding my hand under the roots, because they haven't grown into the fabric, and pulling them up to move them off the fabric. This is both easier than what I was trying to do before and exhausting all at the same time. I got maybe a square foot of fabric unearthed, in part because I didn't come to this discovery earlier, but partly because being bent over for that long and unable to kneel on the ground because I don't know where the damn fabric stops and I want to have room to work makes me a bit dizzy after a while. It's like a parking space and a half of ground I have to remove the stuff from in 18 inch strips and then still figure out what I'm doing with the damn spot, which is also shaded and wet all the time.

This, dear readers, is why there is no nirvana for these people. In the name of posterity, consider what non-biodegradable choices do to the people who come after you -- and someone will always come after you. Meanwhile, I'll be over here digging up an entire flowerbed by hand. *shudder*

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Emails and efficiency

Thanks to my students, I learned that you can set up your unread emails to show up apart from and above your read emails in gmail (why yes, I am late to the party, where should I put my coat?). Having something like 4k+ unread emails in my box that have accrued over the years (primarily because I am both lazy and, on the occasions where I felt like getting rid of them, too damn easily overwhelmed to pick them out from the rest), I decided I should adopt this since it would let me find them easily. Sure enough, two days later, I have no unread emails in my inbox. Woo hoo!

It's not like all of these were important emails, mind you. Lots of them are store mailing lists that I want to stay on because I occasionally find something useful (but often don't). As I was clearing them out, though, it went fine back to 2011, and then jumped precipitously to 2008... and that was suddenly hard. I didn't have a lot of old spammy emails from back then; they were notifications from my son's little league team and knitting meet-ups with friends and stuff sent round to the LARP mailing list and emails from people I was sort of trying to date and stuff from old freelance projects... it was unexpectedly hard to let those pieces of correspondence go. I did, of course; none of it was something I needed to hold on to, nor was it anything worth archiving; they were the useful sort of thing that isn't terribly useful five years down the road. And yet... suddenly my inbox was filled with the names of people I used to see that I don't any more, and likely won't ever again on any sort of regular basis. I miss them, even if I don't say it often, and that missing surfaced hard today.

My inbox is clean now, though.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


It's been a long semester -- not just for me, but for everyone, I think. I haven't heard anyone anywhere say "oh, this spring was a blast." My school workload isn't even as heavy as it has been in semesters past, and I'm still just trying to hold on a few more days. There are a number of factors that play into this, really, and I won't get into them all here. Suffice it to say that I at least partly did this to myself, and partly had this done through things that were good but largely unavoidable, and partly had the hell week that everyone else had with more death and destruction and sadness than anyone should experience, and that led to this weekend's personal shutdown.

See, this weekend was THATCamp Games, a conference on game design and education being held at my university. I was really looking forward to this and wanted to go a lot. At the same time, between my introvert nature and the autism sensory/anxiety stuff ramping up like a reactor that lost its "off" switch, I knew it'd be a near thing. I'd actually planned for hermiting the week before and weekend of at home, so that I'd have as much time to recharge as possible, as being out in public with strangers I have to try to quickly understand, place in context, and talk to can feel overwhelming even when I'm having a good day and can actually be overwhelming if I'm not. My planned hermiting didn't happen, though, for reasons that I can confidently lay at the feet of the Universe and nothing more, and so I came into this weekend with my internal emotional/mental battery sign flashing red at me.

Friday morning I was in rough shape. I really wanted to go and felt like I should, though, so I managed to get there, albeit nearly an hour late. I spent the day doing conference and department stuff and even worked on game design for an upcoming class of mine with my friend and co-instructor, Jess. It was really good stuff. By the end of the day, though, I was good for nothing more than hiding in bed and avoiding everyone. I was even sensitive enough to touch to have to stop myself from flinching when a kiddo hugged me unexpectedly at the "wrong" sensation level. Matt, for whom I am eternally grateful, knows enough about autism to help ground me and help me work through the sensory issues, so that helped. On Saturday, though, when I would have gone back and run a session, I was overwhelmed again that morning and sick to my stomach, whether from anxiety or something else I can't say. I ended up staying home, and while I am sad that I missed it... I would have just been unable to cope with anything had I gone, and that's not good for anyone. Non-functional Michelle has no business being around people who have no context for what's wrong or how to help me. So I stayed home and I felt a bit better and I hermited and I got work done, and I thought "perhaps I'll go tomorrow, since I'm feeling better."

Well, here it is tomorrow, and I am at home. Honestly, the thought of having to look at and listen to and talk to people I don't know is still overwhelming to me, and so I've just decided that home is the better place for that. And yet.... and yet. I feel guilty for not being there. I feel like I ought to be able somehow to overcome this and just decide that it's all okay. I feel sad that I'm not networking and learning stuff and exchanging ideas. I feel bad that I'm not there promoting my game and finding out what would be useful from it in a pedagogy format. I feel bad that I'm not playing new games in the game room and getting to talk to people I hadn't known before but now could know next year. But I'm not doing any of those things; I'm making a virtue out of my inability to cope and getting work done, but that's not why I'm not there and I know it. I guess in the end, though, I feel more relieved to stay home and sit next to a snoring dog and "plug in" than I feel any of the above bad stuff, and that's why I made the choices I did.  

Thursday, April 18, 2013

There are days...

Things are good these days. I have a wonderful relationship, a husband who cares for me even when I'm cranky and a touch on the chemically irrational side of things, good friends, and a degree program that's going well. My house is in good shape even if it does need a bit more care than I can give it the next three weeks. I have food and clothes and my car works and my kids are healthy and happy and my parents and brother are all well. No one has been blown up or swept off to Oz. My life is measurably better in pretty much every way here than it had been for a really long time.

Despite all this, there are things I miss.

I miss driving to the top of my hill in Seattle in the morning and gazing off at the misty Olympic mountains on the other side of the Sound, with the Cascades in my rear view mirror.

I miss the green chile tuna melts at the Columbia City Ale House, with a glass of hard cider to go with it.

I miss the green chile in Albuquerque altogether. 

I miss the scent of cedar smoke in the air in Albuquerque, on an early spring morning when the light is rose and gold in the sky.

I miss reaching out to my kids for a hug whenever I felt like it.

I miss watching the water ebb and flow at the lakeshore from the trail by the pine forest.

I miss sitting in the bay window of my second-story apartment and watching all the people in the street go by.

I miss the smooth hardwood floors under my feet and the built-in old fashioned china hutch at the end of living room.

I miss Rosie.

I miss dance classes and moving around the floor so smoothly I forget that it's just steps I'm taking, and feeling for a brief moment like I'm as graceful as I want to be.

I miss raising my voice in chorus and hearing it blend with everyone else's, and feeling the resulting chills travel across my skin, leaving goosebumps in their wake.

I acquire these mental snapshots slowly. These are not things I will ever recapture, not in anything but fleeting moments, if that. Some are gone temporarily, while others are gone forever. A bit of this is nostalgia, of course; these are isolated from the rest of whatever went on during that time, and that's as it should be. Nothing is ever perfect. I am still finding these moments here in my new life, and I say new knowing that I've been here for three years now, so how new can it really be? And yet it is. I am not naturalized yet here in Ohio. I do not fit. I still find things that take me by surprise, basic knowledge of this place that I am only now discovering. My snapshot book for the present is still sparse, and most of them involve an amazing person I ended up marrying rather than the places I inhabit. I guess that's why I still find myself thinking back this morning, to the best and brightest of what came before.

On days when senseless things happen and the aftermath is still rolling down upon us in waves of smoke and death and sorrow, it can seem unbearable. If I allow myself to dwell on humanity's seemingly boundless capability to be cruel to one another, it can feel like I might drown in despair that anything can ever be right again, if it ever was. I'm not exactly neurotypical to start with, and my buffer for emotion is small and easily overwhelmed, particularly if it's negative emotion. I don't process it well, and I find it all too easy to lose hope in the face of knowing that someone is so divorced from human feeling that they could rain death and destruction on others for any reason at all. The way I look past these things is to get out my mental book of snapshots and remember the awesome things that exist in the world, and know that even if I am parted from them, they go on unimpeded because the world is so much larger and more stable than anything any one person can do. I reorient myself in the scale of things through remembering the good until I feel stable once more.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Conversations about conversation

One of the courses I'm taking this semester is Discourse Analysis, not because I felt it had a tremendous amount to do with what I want to study, but because I think it's important to have a varied intellectual toolbox and it's something I'd kind of been interested in, in a roundabout way. For those who haven't encountered it before, discourse analysis is a practice that pulls from a bunch of different humanities disciplines and looks at all manner of discourse, which is basically any information transferred between people (media, laws, emails, forms, recordings of conversation, non-fiction, fiction, discourse represented in drama, corporate texts, PR docs, etc.). It does so to find patterns and determine what the discourse is actually doing, along with what it says it's doing, and figure out how it accomplishes that end.

As with all classes, there has to be an end project, and DA's end project is a piece of discourse analysis. I had a hard time choosing anything, but in the end I ended up making an observation about how important the mechanics of conversation were for people who, for example, have ASD (autism spectrum disorders) and how they aren't really used pedagogically. We talk about conversation skills, but we don't tend to link that to examination or methodology of how it all works and why, which is actually the sort of explanation that tends to work for people with Aspergers, for example. In addition, the research I've done on the topic has thus far been unable to turn up any discussion of discussion as seen or understood by individuals with autism. It focuses on what they don't do in conversation, what they should do in conversation, what they do too much off, and how to fix all of these things. They analyze, but don't ask what the person at the center of all this thinks.*

To that end, I decided to interview my son, Alisdair, and have a conversation about conversations and see what he thought about the whole process. I interviewed him and his brother, Will, starting with some basic questions, and then I transcribed the end result. This post is an effort on my part to sort through the responses I got and see how I'm moving forward with it.

It's tempting to start analyzing the phrasing and conversational movement of his dialogue, but examination of ASD individuals' speech has been done. I want instead to focus on the content, which was singular (and particularly insightful as compared to his brother). Al is 15 now, and was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome when he was 9. He has had behavioral therapy (which focused largely on identifying emotion and using coping strategies for it) and one session of social skills workshops the summer before he entered sixth grade, as well as being part of an inclusion program in grade school and a pull-out program in middle school. Even with this, the focus of his training has not been on social skills but rather on academic and life skills: executive function, etc.

In reading over the transcript, one of the key factors was how aware of conversation he was. He preferred it to writing because of the addition of tone of voice and facial features, taking advantage of its multi-channel capacity for conveying exact meanings. He was concerned about multiple meanings and the need to ask for clarification, as well as how much easier it was to talk to people he knew better so that he understood how they thought and could apply that to the interpretation of meaning as well. He referred to the "rules" of conversation, and how one could tell if your conversational partner was feeling awkward or embarrassed, as well as how being as precise as you can in your meanings is something you do for the people you're with, while at the same time trying to stay within the limits of appropriate vocabulary and expression for your audience.

When asking Will the same questions, he showed no awareness of the mechanics of conversation or his role in it. He recognized that there were times when it was awkward and that when he felt pressured in it, he tended to speak randomly in order to change what was going on -- trying to take control of the conversation by changing its focus to performance rather than communication (my words, not his). Although he is, by all accounts, more comfortable with conversation than his brother and more skilled at it overall in terms of fluidity and perception, his facility is intuitive, not something he consciously understands. Al gets it intellectually and works at putting it into practice, but that alone doesn't overcome his blind spots. Then again, with a greater understanding of how conversation works and how we take positions within it and receive information, he might be able to integrate that into his approach as well. 

I think, therefore, that I'm going to focus on the understanding of conversation on his part, with the takeaway being that since individuals with ASDs tend to build a model of social interaction they can copy (or recognize as patterns and variations), additional pedagogy in conversation analysis can likely provide additional help in refining their approaches.

Thanks for being my sounding board, blogworld. You rock.

*To be fair, some of this is because most of the literature to this point focuses on younger children. Books on the problem are addressed to parents, teachers, and medical professionals, not to the kids themselves -- or, significantly, not to older teens or adults who have these issues. That trend is changing as we realize it's not something even high-functioning people grow out of, but that's a slow process.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Joys of Being an Introvert

Okay, so one of the downsides of poly is that there is someone else in my space on a regular basis who isn't my husband, my kids, or even my housemate. I have to take account of this extra person (and who's playing said person on a give day shifts, as there isn't just one, although there's starring roles and special guest stars). This in itself is not a huge deal, except that I'm an introvert by nature, and the more stressed I get (especially later in the semester) the more introvert-y I become. It takes energy to be social beyond the few people I can accept as family/extended self, and I've got so many demands on my energy and time already. And I know, it may not seem like a lot, but I'm rationing to get through as it is when the demands get high.

One of the things this has brought up to me is the idea that I need to be able to ask for more alone/just family time, and if I can't have it with people, I need to be able to go and get it somewhere else. I need to get okay with taking off for a few days and finding someone who likes me, has a guest room, and doesn't mind a person in it, and just take mini-retreats every so often to recharge. If home can't be where I get my recharge time, then I need to find another way to do it, even if it means doing a short road trip or getting a hotel room down the street for a couple of days or something. There's got to be a way, right?
Alright, so starting a new blog to see if I can reboot my journaling habit. I haven't figured out yet if I can import all my old posts so it can be relatively contiguous or not, but if I can't I'll live. That's what archives are for.

So, who am I? I'm a early-40-something grad student and erstwhile English prof who's in a poly relationship. My household includes three dogs, two sons who live with their father halfway across the US from me (most of the time), two step kiddos who are here with us a few days a week, a husband who makes sure I eat and get love and all that stuff, his girlfriend, our housemate, and all the friends/gaming groups that act as special guest stars. I write and edit pen-and-paper RPGs when I'm not teaching people how to write and read and think about stuff (or learning about that stuff myself).

I have a game company. It's called Growling Door Games, and it's a joint effort between myself and my husband. Our second game is due out next week or so. It's my baby, and I think it's pretty awesome.

Um... yeah. That'll do for an intro for now.