From then forward, I worked exclusively in publishing, first for game companies, then in education, while continuing to write, study, and promote poetry. It’s my opinion that poetry used to belong to the people, until academics stole it. It’s high time to steal it back from them.
I had thought this sonnet lost! But I found it yesterday, while sorting through some old boxes of games and memorabilia, and I don’t think I’ve shared it publicly before.
I wrote it for Gary Gygax after having worked with him on the Dangerous Journeys role-playing game. Like countless hobby gamers, I was introduced to role-playing through Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, in my case the first edition.
While many people were involved in publishing AD&D, I think it’s safe to credit Gary as not just the author, but also the man who gave it flight. This was my way of saying thanks.
While just a child, I learned a magic spell
that let me gaze out through another’s eyes,
and in that manner walked beneath the skies
of worlds where heroes, maids, and monsters dwell.
I shared poor Crusoe’s fearful joy to tell
a print in sand. I marvelled at the size
of Gulliver in far-off ports. The cries
of Barsoom’s lord, as back to earth he fell,
I felt, and with him mourned the story’s end.
And then, as Samwise sailed into the West,
left me behind, I met a marvelous mage
whose grimoire taught a wondrous spell, to send
my mind in guises of its own to quest
in endless worlds—and never a last page.
(from The Pastime Machine, a novel in sonnets)
“And now the air took on a barnyard odor;
our raft passed through a realm peopled by scarabs
with human faces—whites, blacks, Asians, Arabs—
each one rolling his own ball of ordure.
“Tiresias told me, ‘These are souls of bankers,
drug lords, pimps, arms dealers, and their ilk,
who for the love of diamonds, gold, and silk,
poorly spent their lives. Each one hankered
to own the most, as if life were a game
that they could win. Their punishment seems fit.’
“I watched them play, each shouting, ‘I’m the shit!’
Many had been souls of worldly fame;
now each trumpeted a crappy ball.
Though I’ll confess, one guy Trumped them all.”
A year ago, I had an audacious plan: Finish translating Aquelarre, write a sonnet weekly for The Pastime Machine, release a monthly 6-page D6xD6 RPG expansion, publish another poet or author monthly, launch a D13 RPG Kickstarter this fall, manage an annual Halloween anthology, attend a half-dozen conventions, and possibly publish a dice game and a couple of Monster Con card game expansions.
Today, I’m staring at a bucketload of unfinished business. My Aquelarre translation is overdue. I’m behind on The Pastime Machine. The monthly D6xD6 schedule is on hold after just two releases early in the year. I have a stack of unpublished poetry books and novels (including one posthumous title by an old friend). My D13 RPG project is delayed indefinitely (with a half-dozen illos already paid for). I’m barely able to leave my house. And the dice and card plans are in limbo (also with some art finished). While this year’s annual Halloween anthology, Lupine Lunes, is still a go (with family help), that project is much lower key than in the past.
So what happened?
You may know that I’ve have a neurological condition for a decade—a diagnosis of “more-than-migraine/less-than-seizure”—and over the past two years I’ve suffered some related prescription side effects. Add in new family responsibilities—including a daughter’s foot amputation—and I’m fairly overwhelmed.
As a generally upbeat, hopeful guy, I kept planning for the future, expecting things would sort out eventually.
I still believe they will, but the sorting out is taking longer than I had hoped. And part of that is facing the idea that I just can’t keep up the pace. I’m at diminished capacity. It’s sobering, but I can’t keep expecting to “recover.” This may be my new reality.
I love my work. Translating Aquelarre has been the opportunity of a lifetime, but I’ve been talking with Stewart Wieck (the publisher) about getting help. On the side, I’ll continue drafting a sonnet a week for The Pastime Machine. And with family help, we’ll finish Lupine Lunes. I can’t even think about the rest right now.
But one last thing: I apologize to everyone who was counting on me for more. That weighs on me. I’ve done my best, and my best wasn’t good enough. I’m truly sorry.