One of the things that becomes immediately obvious to those who know me in person is that I am a huge, unapolegetic geek. A good part of my childhood and adolescence was salvaged by the existence of (occasionally brilliant, often unspeakably trashy) sci-fi and fantasy novels, and I had longer and more emotionally satisfying relationships with people I met through MUDs and other online refuges than I did with my ‘peers’. This is not so unusual now, as we’ve entered the so-called Age of the Geek, but it’s a necessary preamble for what I really want to write about - racism/discrimination and RPGs.
Yes, both of those together.
Continuing this mea culpa of geekdom, I have often dipped into the well of escapism that is tabletop role-playing. Originally I was deeply enamored with Shadowrun, having read the 3rd edition core book in the late 90s and deeply dug its unique fusion of Tolkienesque fantasy and Gibsonesque dystopia. From there, it was a slippery slope down to the World of Darkness system (Exalted, to be precise) and then to Dungeons and Dragons. Every step of the way I have resisted attempts to convert me to any kind of ‘orthodox’ game world - these are games almost universally created by and marketed towards a narrow demographic. I’ve created games of my own devising on and off throughout the last 15 years (jesus, that’s a long time), always seeking something that reflects my desire for engaging fiction as well as my knowledge of the many small miracles and tragedies of real life.
If we use DnD (arguably the most well-known and popular of all tabletop RPGs), anyone with half a mind or half an arts degree can see some fairly major flaws. Why are certain races good and others evil, when the very connection of ‘race’ with ‘evil’ evoke memories of the worst acts of human history? Why are drow corrupt and depraved, -as a race-, when their most obvious feature is that they’re BLACK? Why is the basic model for every game built around the idea of a handful of pseudo-European explorers desecrating tombs and invading foreign settlements?
Yes, a great deal of this can be hand-waved away by stating that the DnD world is one in which good and evil are not arbitrary notions but actual forces given power and permanence by the presence of their respective deities. But after hearing enough of that particular line, it’s begun to occur to me - why is it ok to give that explanation? Why is the most recent edition, designed to be accessible to more than the usual clichéd basement-dwelling male gamer, still towing this line of transparently-veiled cultural imperialism? I’m not trying to imply that Wizards of the Coast, or Gary Gygax, or any of a number of people involved in the game’s conception, are purposefully attempting to inject racism and imperialism into it - there’s no conspiracy, unless one considers conspicuous blindness to issues of cultural impact to be a conspiracy. Maybe a compiracy of complacency.
What’s that? You still think my examples are circumstantial and not evidence of an inherently racist product? Well, look at any character art done in 4th Edition. Heroes? Overwhelmingly white, with shades of Mediterranean colouring for variety. Villains? Dark and dusky, my multiracial friends. I recently read a comment thread where a particularly pigheaded fan of the game defended DnD from accusations of racism/sexism by stating that the earlier editions were far more diverse in their portrayal of races.
Like what books, I wonder… maybe, I don’t know… Oriental Adventures? Maybe this was an OK word to use when the first one was published, in 1985, you would think that by the time of the second and third editions (early 2000s) they’d have learned that it’s -pretty goddamned racist-. Additionally, if you happen to have any kind of creature catalogue from the earlier editions handy, flip it open and enjoy the cultural stereotypes and objectifying sexism that leap from the pages. It’s really quite endearing.
So where does that leave us? How does one resolve the dilemma of love of the game but hate of the industry built around it? I’m sure I’m not the first to take issue with these things, and I certainly hope I won’t be the last. I’m also fairly sure that my predecessors resolved their difficulties in one of the following ways:
a) Broke away from DnD and adopted a game with more modern sensibilities
b) Broke away from DnD and created a similar but less discriminatory game/setting
c) Homebrewed a campaign setting for their games and appeased their consciences
d) Stopped playing
My first instinct, and most of the work that I’ve been doing for the DnD campaign that I’m planning for my friends, has led me towards option c). Tweaking the various details of ‘vanilla’ DnD to be less offensive is a frustrating and exhausting job, however, and led to this post and to a realization - there is nothing to be gained if I make a system for myself and my friends that affirms what we already believe. Similarly, I can’t expect WotC to change core elements of a hugely successful and profitable game just to appease a vocal minority, even in the service of better-socializing the majority. Instead, I’ve decided that I’m going to continue to develop my world, crafting every detail of it to work within the familiar DnD system but highlighting the flaws that I believe exist within its mythos. Since it would be pointless to embark on this kind of project just to scream ELVES ARE RACIST from the towertops, I’m going to attempt to make it a compelling and realistic setting. The realism, in this case, will be derived from history - I want a world that has every bit of hate and horror that we deal with, but laid over the familiar framework of DnD’s races and gameplay. I want to create the RPG equivalent of a shadow cabinet, to ceaselessly defend against the negative stereotypes and assumptions that seem to infect so much of the gaming community - and I want to release it all online.
While certain races and the DnD mechanics are obviously copyrighted, I believe that I’m well within my creative rights to develop a setting and post it for anyone to use. That’s not really of as much concern to me as this - when I sit down with my kids, some day, to play DnD or whatever game takes their interest, I don’t want them to ask why the darker races are evil.
On life, and living.
It’s been a long, long time since I’ve updated this (254 days, to be exact), and I realize that’s some sort of cardinal sin of bloggery, but here I am. Unrepentant.
The initial focus of this blog was to catalogue, discuss, and poke good-natured fun at the various symptoms/subjects of anxiety disorders and OCD. Some of my posts stayed true to this, others devolved into the same sort of navel-gazing and reblogging that can be found pretty much anywhere, and I apologize for that. Never again!
From this point on, I will be updating regularly (or trying to) and ensuring that the focus remains on disordered thinking. Yes, to some extent that will be informed by what I’ve experienced and what I’m currently experiencing, but it’ll be all about madness from here on in.
The reasons for my lapse in updates are many - sickness, work, school, love life - but at the core it’s just another symptom of disordered thinking. Failure to live up to my own expectations, which snowballs into avoidance and anxiety, which eventually grows into full-fledged neglect. So! No more of that.
The handful of you I’ve had direct contact with, I hope that you’ll get more of what you started following for. The rest of you… uh, well, to be frank you weird me out a bit, but in a flattering way. I figured it would be easier to deliver a state of the union than to try and retroactively provide context when a post demanded it. So here you go!
- I’m engaged! (to C, of previous mention) Wedding planning is one of my favourite past-times, so this is one of the best things ever. Also, I guess I’m happy to be with her forever or something.
- I’m pursuing a formal conversion to Judaism, which involves learning Hebrew and prayers and a lot of other things that are technically interesting but mostly involves a lot of awkward socializing.
- I’m pleasantly (if stressfully) engaged in a number of hitherto intimidating activities, like going for frequent walks around the neighbourhood and serving as a front-line volunteer for beloved causes. Here’s to progress!
- I’m in the process of figuring out a withdrawal plan, so to speak, to minimize and hopefully eliminate most of my medication. That’ll be a fun ride.
- For a change, I’ve used my own picture instead of one stolen from the webs. This particular one is (moving clockwise from the left) my eldest sister, my second sister, and myself. We’re all about 6 months old, and the pictures cover the 60s, 70s, and 80s (respectively). C and I were going through old albums and I was struck by the thought that as much as I feel isolated from my siblings due to my diagnosis and experiences, at some point they had to deal with their own shit, by themselves. Family history is an important topic to me, and a lot of things go unspoken either because people deem them unimportant or no one worth talking to was around. I’ve resolved to try (here, at least) to extend my musings on my issues to how it might relate to, well, the relations. Also, the pictures were cute.
That’s all for tonight.
Self-indulgent rant commences.
Things I Dislike:
- Putting on extra clothes to go outside
- Apples that are more sweet than sharp
- Meds that make me feel sleepy but don’t make me feel rested
- Badly made coffee; bean quality is an issue, yes, but so is grind in my cup
- That I somehow lost the pillowcase for my new sheets in the course of crossing my room
- That I don’t know when exactly I can fly out to visit C (taking a page from aubade’s book, here)
- That I have to fly out to visit C, or visit C at all, when she should just be here
- That the half-dozen places I painstakingly wrote long emails to in order to volunteer for them, in any capacity, have yet to respond to me after a month; rejection during job-hunting is one thing, but this is just upsetting
This last month or so has been a very strange and chaotic jumble of events and emotions, so rather than my usual exploration of a single symptom I am going to ramble on about the general state of things.
For the last, say, six months, I’ve been generally asymptomatic, or as asymptomatic as I could ever expect to be. My medication seemed to be doing a pretty decent job at minimizing my compulsions and getting me ‘outside my own head’, as I describe it, and as such my mood was really good. I was making a lot of progress, or seemed to be, on dealing with various ongoing issues and was even getting ahead of the curve on some.
Then, about 6-8 weeks (yes, I’m making a vague mailing time joke) ago, everything stopped working. It was as if I’d been walking on the sunken plateau of a Caribbean beach, and reached the point where sand abruptly drops off into abyssal sea. I lost my footing, and my motivation, and my good mood, and have no idea why.
There’s a common issue in seeking help for mental health issues, where one becomes so eager to improve that they begin to falsify their progress. They might not do this consciously, but it’s a slippery slope - since a lot of the improvement is based in how you perceive things, there’s a constant struggle to be honest with yourself and distinguish between improved outlook and wishful thinking.
I’m not sure whether I was convincing myself that I was doing better than I really was, or whether this is yet another complication of my meds. If it’s the latter, I guess I can trust myself a bit more to keep pace with things, but it likely means switching to some other regimen, and going through the ever-entertaining rollercoaster of withdrawal and acclimatisation.
In other news, last week I submitted a short story to a publisher, for the very first time. My OCD desire for things to be absolutely perfect, and to not commit to anything without ensuring I’ve done everything possible to make it perfect, means that this is actually quite a milestone for me. Normally, I’ll sit here rewriting and revising a story and spiraling into deep anxiety, until the deadline passes and I feel that peculiar mix of relief and disappointment that I know so well.
I don’t know whether anything will actually come of that story, and I wasn’t entirely happy with how I wrote it, but the important thing is that I’ve crossed the threshold and should be able to submit things with far fewer nervous breakdowns. The story I’ve been working on since, Lemon Bees, is shaping up quite nicely so far. I hope it gets published, somewhere, though my muse has suggested that I convert it to zine format and self-publish if no one accepts it (or even if they do, and haven’t purchased all rights). Getting ahead of myself a bit, I know, but it’s exciting. Progress!
I promise I’ll return soon to our regularly scheduled Very Special Episodes of mental health.
This blog is not intended to be a politically-focused one, though naturally many topics I may discuss here will blur the lines.
As many of you, hopefully all of you, are aware, the G20 Summit in Toronto this weekend past had a number of regrettable incidents. This video is not particularly clear, and there are others shot from above that show clearly the distribution of the protesters and the police and the actions of both.
I’m posting this video here because I would like to ask, of the handful of people who follow me, that it be reposted. What is being displayed is a police tactic called ‘kettling’, where crowds of protesters are surrounded by police without opportunity to withdraw, and then held there for hours. On occasion, police will rush into the crowd and arrest those that they can grab, while dispersing whatever formation the protesters have fallen into. This is, theoretically, supposed to limit chaotic movement of protesters and prevent harm to property and citizens. Property and citizens, in that order.
No matter your opinions on what the protesters were doing, or on the act of protesting itself, I would like you to watch this and ask yourself how this tactic, used on peaceful protesters singing (albeit badly) our national anthem, diminished chaos and the possibility of injury.
I was at this protest, but prevented from reaching the main group of protesters by a second cordon of police. I was dressed inoffensively, behaved politely, and was only carrying first-aid supplies in order to help anyone who might be injured during a tactic such as this. We were prevented from exercising our right to assemble, and what I believe is my right and duty to assist my fellow citizens.
Please, repost. You don’t need to include my comments here, and feel free to respond to it however you feel, but I would like this to achieve wider recognition. Thank you.
I can believe things that are true and things that aren’t true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they’re true or not.
I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Beatles and Marilyn Monroe and Elvis and Mister Ed. Listen - I believe that people are perfectable, that knowledge is infinite, that the world is run by secret banking cartels and is visited by aliens on a regular basis, nice ones that look like wrinkled lemurs and bad ones who mutilate cattle and want our water and our women.
I believe that the future sucks and I believe that the future rocks and I believe that one day White Buffalo Woman is going to come back and kick everyone’s ass. I believe that all men are just overgrown boys with deep problems communicating and that the decline in good sex in America is coincident with the decline in drive-in movie theaters from state to state.
I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative. I believe that California is going to sink into the sea when the big one comes, while Florida is going to dissolve into madness and alligators and toxic waste.
I believe that antibacterial soap is destroying our resistance to dirt and disease so that one day we’ll all be wiped out by the common cold like martians in War of the Worlds.
I believe that the greatest poets of the last century were Edith Sitwell and Don Marquis, that jade is dried dragon sperm, and that thousands of years ago in a former life I was a one-armed Siberian shaman.
I believe that mankind’s destiny lies in the stars. I believe that candy really did taste better when I was a kid, that it’s aerodynamically impossible for a bumble bee to fly, that light is a wave and a particle, that there’s a cat in a box somewhere who’s alive and dead at the same time (although if they don’t ever open the box to feed it it’ll eventually just be two different kinds of dead), and that there are stars in the universe billions of years older than the universe itself.
I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn’t even know that I’m alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck.
I believe that anyone who says sex is overrated just hasn’t done it properly. I believe that anyone who claims to know what’s going on will lie about the little things too.
I believe in absolute honesty and sensible social lies. I believe in a woman’s right to choose, a baby’s right to live, that while all human life is sacred there’s nothing wrong with the death penalty if you can trust the legal system implicitly, and that no one but a moron would ever trust the legal system.
I believe that life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you’re alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it.
Picture stolen from Von Flickr.
I’m a bit tapped out for writing today (apparently focusing my entire brain on writing fiction for the last two days has left it with no energy for reflection), so I’m going to touch on one of my really huge topics - anxiety. I’ll likely come back to it several times over however long I keep writing this blog. Anxiety affects everyone, of course, but there are also various anxiety disorders - OCD is one of them, for obvious reasons, but I also have the great fortune of being diagnosed with ‘social phobia’. Yeah, it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like.
The thing is, I’m a very social person. I talk non-stop, I tell jokes, I flirt like a C-list movie star. At the risk of sounding immodest, I have been called ‘the life of the party’ more than once. I will never pretend that this is a good thing; my ‘style’ of socializing is more often used as a threat one friend will hold over another.
This is all very subjective, however. The people that would identify me as doing those things, as being that way, obviously only see me when I’m around them. When I’m alone on the street, or in class, it’s all I can do to keep aware of what’s around me, much less utter a word to anyone. I spend most of my time inside, because my fear of judgment by other people or embarrassing myself in some other way (the social phobia bits) is compounded quite effectively by my OCD habits - imagine that you already have a preoccupation with presenting yourself well, and then add to that the eternal doubt that your appearance is satisfactory, and the expectation that people will be severely critical of the slightest flaw. And the fear of accidents, of forgetting something important, of countless other things that my mind latches onto throughout the day.
Combine these things, and you could call it by a simpler name - agoraphobia. There are good days and bad days, of course, as there are with the symptoms of any disease. The standard response to anxiety disorders is ‘self-medication’, which is simply another way of saying that we get so high or drunk that are heightened inhibitions settle down to at least the level of a ‘normal’ person. I am unique, apparently, in that my incidence of drug/alcohol use is far below what would be expected for the severity of my symptoms. I sort of hoped that if I was going to get the award for ‘most boring of the most crazy’, there would at least be stickers involved.
Anyways, today was one of the rare days that I ventured outside. In fact, I went to a place I’d never been before, with someone I’ve only recently become reacquainted with. It’s the furthest, by far, that I’ve been from my house in at least the last week. I went prepared with my usual wards against the crowd; iPod with noise-canceling headphones, two books of short stories, two books for writing, an outfit sufficiently dressy that I felt I would warrant the least possible judgment.
Waiting was agony, of course. Anxiety about the walk there, anxiety about being there, anxiety for the conversation that was supposed to follow.
As soon as she started speaking, I forgot everything.
I know. Sickening, isn’t it?
Stolen from flickr, of course, after wading through 17 pages of results to find ‘love’ that wasn’t heteronormative or completely abstract. And even with all sorts of adjectives (except the blatantly insulting), apparently all love is white or possibly, in a few scattered instances, a white female with a black man. For artistic and progressive street cred, I’m sure. I don’t know why I’m surprised by this but I suppose I am, and damned angry about it. I’ll carry on though.
Given the time of year, and all, I thought it might be appropriate to ramble on about the only thing more divisive and controversial than religion - love. A few days early, but I don’t celebrate the ‘holiday’ and plan to be thinking about entirely other things. Love is the root of religion, anyways; loving each other, loving ourselves, loving what makes us able to love. Some people are passionate in their belief in God, in Jesus Christ or Abraham or Mohammed or Buddha or a hundred other characters of nigh-unprovable authenticity, and yet scoff at the idea of love, of true love, as being a foolish fiction that causes nothing but harm.
Love is one of those mysteries that I have absolute faith in. I can’t pretend to understand it, or predict it, but I know I feel it. For most people that know me ‘in the world’, so to speak, this would be surprising - my real friends know that I love quickly and I love deeply, if perhaps foolishly, but all others would judge me too cynical and irreverent to tie myself to such a concept. And yet I do, with all my dark and angry heart.
Love is much the same as faith, if not the very same; you can feel it, you can feel how true it is, but how can you know to trust that feeling? How can you explain it to someone who has never felt it, or who has felt it differently? It’s impossible.
The other revelation that would surprise the masses is that though I bear grudges for an eternity, for the most part I never stop loving those people, even as I rage at them. It’s a bare handful that I truly despise, that I have found completely without merit, while the others have simply hurt me so profoundly that I have to hide my love with anger. Again, something my true friends know too well.
These things are universal, I think, though perhaps not everyone examines themselves closely enough or responds directly enough to observe their own motivations. We all fear rejection, we all crave companionship. As I said before, we are each an accumulation of self-conscious need, drifting from one source of acknowledgement and approval to the next.
I’ve always been a romantic; when I was younger, I liked to say that I was a Romantic, in the literary sense, aspiring to the Byronic. In some way, I suppose, I’ve achieved that - there is nothing more romantic, or Romantic, than the struggle with madness in those who wish to achieve something good and lasting in the world. This is no book, though, as much as I might like it to be, and that achievement is not the natural end to this path; it just another struggle, and another, and another.
The real issue is how to prove your love is genuine, when the very nature of your illness is to instill doubt. The sort of honesty that is the goal (at least for some) in a relationship becomes a bit harsher edge - when do you tell someone that you have a problem like that? That you can’t do this thing, or wear that, or go to this place, without a dozen other factors weighing in. There is no handbook for ‘normal’ love, much less for this. And the ones who already know, the ones you have spent time with and feel like you could spill your heart to whenever they so much as breathe, how do you prove that your love is not just another… obsession?
Stolen from http://www.flickr.com/photos/christinielsen/
I’m going to step away from symptoms for a moment, and take a look at the actual approach to how you go from being ‘random person’ to being ‘random person who does strange things’ and finally to ‘random person with this particular problem that we have named’.
One argument is that there is no actual progression; the more you examine things, the more you uncover what’s always been there and just never registered. While there are periods of more noticeable or less noticeable symptoms for OCD, and for pretty much anything, there’s always something that’s been lurking there behind it. It’s brain chemistry, an essential part of everything you are, that’s just… wrong.
I’m not sure how much I buy into that - or, to be more precise, I’m not sure whether I buy into the belief that there’s some baseline of normal. I recognize that there are things that I deal with that many people don’t, that they can’t even really comprehend. I have no desire to be like them, though, I just want to be able to be like me. I don’t enjoy the throat-clenching, or the rising bile, or the cold shudder whenever someone writes on a blank page, but I can’t comprehend a version of myself that could do that same thing without hesitation. Who in the world would want to change that much, to destroy all the peculiar habits and quirks that make them who they are?
There’s a book that anyone with even a casual interest in the realm of psychology becomes quickly familiar with - the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’. The DSM-IV; on its fourth version, but with the fifth being tweaked and tailored as we speak, for release in about three years. It’s a pretty heavy name when you weigh it on your tongue, tasting of all the many flavours of science, cold and sharp and bittersweet. Satisfying for anyone who likes to balance their calories and write down their appointments.
I kind of despise it, even as I depend on it.
Without it, I’m a normal person, whatever that’s supposed to mean. I have no label, and therefore I have no problem; but without having any problem, you never have any help. That’s how most of my life has gone, pretending that I have no problem and therefore need no help. I’m fairly good at that game - I’m good at lying, generally speaking, as most people with hidden problems are. Ask addicts. Ask adulterers.
There are no neat boxes, though, no orderly list of symptoms that puts you in one box or another. I knew the DSM long before I was ever subjected to it, and I know what things apply to me and what those would mean on a doctor’s checklist. There are checks for that kind of thing, of course; ‘subject reported higher-than-expected rate of (blank) inconsistent with answers regarding (blank)’ and so on. It’s still not an exact science, though, if you bother to learn the science and you really, truly, want to jump categories. Obviously the desire to do all of that is a pretty clear symptom all on its own. But I digress.
This is the sort of thing teenagers and other inhabitants of the social fringe love to rally around - labels are useless, labels are divisive, labels are meaningless. Untrue. Labels are the only things that mean anything, how else would we order our world? If you say that we are all just people, that I am a person like everyone else, you would be speaking a truth, but not a whole truth. You don’t and can’t see what I see, no more than I can see what you do. The DSM might be arbitrarily divided, subject to change with politics and linguistic evolution and all manner of things that are unrelated to the actual symptoms its based on, but it at least recognizes that there are a thousand different worlds brushing up against each other that can never really meet.
My problem isn’t that there’s a place for me somewhere in the DSM, a place with shifting names and loose boundaries; my problem is the people that think there couldn’t possibly be a place for them. Like the Cat said, you can’t help that. We’re all mad here. Where are you?
For the edification of the unsure:
This blog is about obsessive-compulsive disorder. Well, it’s sometimes about random other things that are shiny or pretty or funny, but it’s mostly about OCD. Like virtually any other serious health issue, OCD is often misunderstood and misrepresented by people who are, at the base of things, misinformed. I figure that a better thing than being eternally annoyed by these people, or the people who only know about it through these people, is to try and inform them.
I have OCD.
Let me state, though, that I’m not writing this from some unassailable position of objective truth; I write things how I feel them, and how I see them. I’m writing what happens in my head, same as everyone else on here writing about movies they’ve watched or books they’ve read. Your OCD might not be my OCD, and that doesn’t make either of us wrong, it just makes us human. And if you don’t have OCD, and you’re just a friend or an internet acquaintance or some completely random person reading this on a printout in the depths of the jungle, well that’s fine too. Don’t feel embarrassed to read, or make requests, or ask for clarification; I’m not embarrassed to write, and why should I be? I’m really writing this for myself. Ask anyone with a mental health issue how lonely it feels to be thinking at right angles from everyone around you, and to be unable to express or explain that. This is me trying to show you those angles, but at the same time simply having those thoughts written down eases that isolation.