My Restrained Addiction

cookie monster addictionI don’t have time for any more addictions.

Wife, children, writing, reading, role-playing, Doctor Who – I can’t take on one more interest; I don’t have the time.

Now, let me be clear, the new show Dads that premiered on Fox dads picTuesday night was never likely to be a show I watched. I hear it’s insulting and offensive on several levels. And it’s a sitcom, a style of television that I’ve never enjoyed. Oh, and we have chosen not to have TV in our house, just internet. But still…

There is very little new material (TV shows and movies primarily) that I have the time to take in. My choices have to be made very carefully, and with a purpose. 

As an example, I consider myself both a nerd and a geek to my core – and yes, there’s a difference, which adds to my nerdiness. But in spite of my nerd/geek status, I’ve never seen a second of The Big Bang Theory. It’s not that I’m a snob, or elitist, but when would I watch it? Instead, I’m watching Boardwalk Empire right now, because it’s research for my current role-playing game, and also because of a novel I’m working on that takes place in 1918. And I still get through only one or two episodes a week. Another example would be the sci-fi show Defiance – which my friend Eric assures me is well worth watching. I have only seen the first half of the pilot episode and it wasn’t amazing enough to hold me.Boardwalk-Empire-Enoch-Nucky-HD-Wallpaper_Vvallpaper.Net

So I find myself – because of time constraints – doing something that I generally hate in others. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but it’s true. I judge TV shows by their promotional material, and the buzz I hear from those who have seen them, and if I’m not amazed, I don’t watch it. 

I am prejudging, with no personal experience of my own, and this is exactly what I have done with Dads. I will likely never watch it just because of some negative comments I heard on NPR, so I’m excluding it without ever learning about it. If I saw you doing that, I’d probably tell you how that’s a bad thing. If you said to me “I don’t like (person/group/thing) because I hear (it/they) are (place stereotyped or prejudiced description here)” I’d get angry. But here I am, doing the exact thing I dislike.

Does that make me a bad person, or just one who realizes his limitations? And does that mean I have to reconsider the prejudice in others? 

Let me put a very fine point on it. If I don’t watch a TV show because I believe I won’t like it, how is that different than somebody not talking to a certain person or group of people because they believe they’ll have nothing in common?

Something to consider.

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Now I Own It

“You’ll read things and say, ‘this is a really good project and it’s probably going to be a hit, but I can see 20 other people ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????playing that part.’ You have to have some sense of ownership to do a good job and be married to it forever.” Eric Bana, actor

Fun fact: Eric Bana and I are the same age. That doesn’t relate to this blog at all, I just found it interesting.

However, I totally agree with the above quote. And I’ve recently come to understand what it really means, what ‘ownership’ really implies.

Without going into the gory details of my private life, let’s just say that between 2001 and 2007 I had a series of personal shocks, including 9/11, the loss of both my parents and my last grandparent, a rollover car accident, and a separation followed by a divorce. These things happened fast. I am tempted to say ‘too fast’, but now I don’t think that’s the case. You see, such personal chaos forced me to grow in ways I didn’t really want to but sorely needed to.

I went through a lot of soul-searching (I hate that term: So over-used), and I had to ask myself who I was, what I wanted, and what I was doing with my life. I have two beautiful children, and some enduring friendships, but I felt unfulfilled. I reflected on my life.

I’ve been a tabletop role-playing enthusiast for, well, a long time. For Christmas 1980 – just before I turned twelve – my parents agreed to get me red boxthe now venerable and venerated “Red Box” Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) rules. They went to their graves regretting that decision because they never really understood what I loved about that game, and the other games I bought and played in later years. I bring this up because I realized role-playing games were the first thing I took ownership of. They were the first things that a could really call mine. This interest helped to shape who I was, and my identity grew to encompass these games.

Later, when I went to college in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I studied vocal performance. I had been singing with a children’s choir at my parent’s church since I was five or so, and I knew that I loved it. But I only took ownership of my singing in college, when I was able to take lessons and perform in front of my peers. This too became a part of who I was.

More things followed through the 1990’s. My love of the theater, my fascination with history and my passion for science all followed. I was learning more about myself by learning about the world around me, and what in that world spoke to my heart. Then 9/11 happened, and things began falling apart.Nine_Inch_Nails-Things_Falling_Apart-Frontal

My soul-searching was my way of working through the pain of all these losses. It took several years and another bad relationship (one of my friends said the relationship ended like an atomic bomb going off. That’s pretty close to right.) before I was able to identify the two things I needed that I didn’t have. I think it’s no coincidence that I met my wife right at the culmination of these years of struggle, what I now refer to as my “depression era”. She was there just in time to help me find the faith I had been lacking. And for those who poo-poo faith in a higher power, it’s really quite empowering. But don’t worry; I’ll never try to convert you. It works for me, and has made me a better person (I think) internally. I’d like to think others see the change as well.

So I found a faith in God that had never really been there before, and I “owned” it. I chose to make it a part of who I am, to take it into myself. And then there was the second thing.

Writing.

This isn't me or anyone I know, but they are a wonderful example of a modern gaming group. Thank you unknown gamers!

This isn’t me or anyone I know, but they are a wonderful example of a modern gaming group. My spot is usually behind the screen. Thank you unknown gamers!

Going back to the role-playing games, I realized I had been telling stories all my adult life. Whether as a player, or as the storyteller in a tabletop RPG, you are a part of the creative team that makes up the story you are all sharing. But I was most often the storyteller in these games, leading my friends through stories born in my feverish brain. I had “owned” my role as storyteller within the context of these games only. All these changes made me realize I was a storyteller in a broader sense. And so it was that in the winter of 2008/2009 I made the conscious decision to write seriously. I “owned” my storytelling nature, and accepted that I should write. I finally, after 40 years, took that into my soul and made it a part of me.

I am a writer.

You may not be a writer, but I hope you understand how my story can apply to your life. You may not be able to force yourself to be something you fancy, but if you enjoy something, and you let it become a part of you, you may also come to own it. And it took me a long time to reach this point, so don’t get discouraged. Please. We all have something to offer the world that wasn’t there before. You may believe it’s because God has a plan, or you may choose to believe it’s because of your unique set of random genes, but either way, you have something that never existed before. You may never be a movie star, or a president, but you can still have meaningful impact on the world. Be positive about it, and “own” it. Because I, for one, am waiting to see what you’ll come up with!

Sorry. I just couldn't resist!

Sorry. I just couldn’t resist!

Shared Worlds and Fanfiction

Props to whoever owns this pic. I don't.

Neil Gaiman is a fantastic writer. He’s invented whole worlds that are uniquely his own, with a style and form that defies comparison to any other author. However, he’s also a master of writing excellent stories within the context of other people’s universes. He’s written for Babylon 5, the Marvel Comics universe, and – my personal favorite – Doctor Who. You can read an excellent article discussing just that here;

-> http://www.tor.com/blogs/2013/05/neil-gaiman-cant-help-creating-his-own-universe-inside-of-yours

Which brings me to my topic for the day. This is one that’s bothered me on several levels, but I’ve not seen many discussions about it. So here goes, into the tangled mire of my mind.

What, really and truly, is the difference between a story that I might write in the Doctor Who universe and a story Neil Gaiman writes? Another way of stating the question would be this: Where is the line between so-called ‘fanfiction’ and a more canon or accepted story.

Take My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic as an example. If you aren’t aware of the phenomenon occurring around this children’s show right now, please take a moment to look it up here. -> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Little_Pony:_Friendship_Is_Magic

A quick Google search turns up thousands upon thousands of fanfiction stories written about this children’s television series. And if we go beyond the written word, a YouTube search turns up 465,000 videos, many of which are fan-produced. So, lots of people love this show and devote heaps of time to that love by writing stories and making videos. But none of  this would be considered canon; none of it would be official.

So when does it become official? Of course, if you’re a writer (famous or not) and you are directly hired by the production team of a TV show, then that would presumably be a canon story. But what if you’re a writer (let’s assume famous) and you write your own story for an existing universe. Let’s assume that you’re careful to stay in the official universe (you don’t give The Doctor a second head, for example). Can this be considered a canon story?

Props to whoever owns this pic. I don't.

This question first started to bug me when I read the very excellent Thrawn series of Star Wars books back in the early ’90’s. They are not, technically, official canon. However, Star Wars has something called the Expanded Universe, which is stuff that George Lucas didn’t write about, and didn’t forbid others to write about, within the framework of his six movies. Characters and settings that appeared in those movies, or that could be understood to exist were fair game. People wrote many stories about the Hutt crime family, for example. And characters and settings that weren’t known to exist from the movies, but didn’t contradict them, were also written about. Grand Admiral Thrawn is a perfect example of this.

So if Lucas doesn’t officially approve, but he and his people (and now, I guess, Disney’s people) didn’t officially deny, then it’s canon, right? And for fans, what if there’s something in the Expanded Universe that we really hate. Are we free to just ignore it?

The reason I ask this question now, in a public forum, is primarily because I have several worlds I’ve developed myself, and if I am able to get stories published in those worlds, I would be thrilled to have other writers explore those worlds with me. It would be a dream for an established writer to pick up a book I’ve written and say “I’ve got an idea for this…” and write a cracking story.

Props to whoever owns this pic. I don't.

d20 and girl pic

Lucky for my wife, I DID see the d20 first!

For me, storytelling is and always will be a group activity. My roots for storytelling are grounded firmly in role-playing games. The old kind, you know, at a table, with paper and pencils. Most of my game settings were born at a gaming table as I told stories both to my friends and with my friends. I don’t want that to end as I build a career as a writer. I want to see how others see the worlds I’ve spent so long building.

In short, dear readers, I want to tell my stories with you, yes you. Because at the end of the day, I have some pretty good ideas, but I will never have all the good ideas. Come with me, and let’s tell some lies together, shall we?