A Dad’s Thanksgiving

Photo by Diliara Garifullina on Unsplash

My dad once said that when I was in grade school through high school, he was kinda jealous about the education I was getting that he’d never had a chance for.

And in that moment, something clicked that I’d never before realized: I had that opportunity exactly because never once in my childhood did it cross my mind that food, clothing, and shelter weren’t a guarantee. Dad never complained about the backbreaking labor that supplied those things, so to me they felt as natural as the air I breathed.

It wasn’t until I became a husband and father myself, through some heartbreakingly difficult years, working so that my own children were sheltered, clothed, and fed, that I realized what he’d done, and the example he set.

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the US, and most of us take so much for granted. Things that aren’t actually guaranteed, but that feel as givens, like the air we breathe.

I think there’s a pretty obvious moral here. But it’s one I didn’t really get until that conversation with Dad, so I’m going to state it anyway: Most of us, no matter how modest our means, are wealthy compared to so many of our fellow citizens, to say nothing of the rest of the world. The best way to give thanks for our abundance is to share. And to honor all of the fathers, mothers, veterans, laborers, emergency workers, and educators who allow us that abundance.

Here’s to my dad, today on Thanksgiving. You set an example that led me to unthinkingly assume that hard work to provide for others is only natural. I give you thanks for that.

And to Jennifer, for giving me unthinking confidence in a marriage. And to Christine, Kate, Candace, and Karalyn for all the time we’ve spent together. You gals have taught me many, many things.

Now to celebrate the abundance that allows me to spare a turkey. 🙂

Happy Thanksgiving, folks!

 

“The Prison, Into Which We Doom Ourselves”

“‘What do you wish to see first?’ asked the abbe.” The Count of Monte Cristo

I haven’t posted much about my mental health journey of late. Mainly because for the time being it’s been more about observing and mulling than speaking.

But here’s a nutshell update: (1) a med change from an antidepressant that was also a stimulant (bad for anxiety); and (2) the realization that I’ve depended too much on employer/employee relationship for a gauge of success. The fact is, my work speaks for itself, not a company’s pay scale or willingness to share its profits.

It doesn’t take much of a look at human history to recognize the typically unhealthy relationship between business and its employees, companies and their “human resources,” owners and their hirelings, bosses and their workers. (The very word “boss” leaves a bad taste in our mouths: hence “bossy.”)

My work speaks for itself. I’ve poured heart and soul into it all, never stinting. Why the hell I’ve craved a pat on the head from whoever signed the paycheck is a shame.

In part, this change in perspective was jostled by a citation from Ursula K. Le Guin, herself paraphrasing J.R.R Tolkein, concerning escapism and the “real world.”

To quote Tolkein’s actual words, “I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all. … Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?”

And Le Guin’s continuation, “If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape? The moneylenders, the knownothings, the authoritarians have us all in prison; if we value the freedom of the mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can.”

Part of my imprisonment has been an Evangelical upbringing that castigated “America’s sinful preoccupation with fun.” Church and State so often work hand in hand to support one another in this regard. And State itself is, to quote John Dewey, “the shadow cast on society by big business.”

I believe that in the long run, an Internet full of art and achievement will change that. In part, my own escapism has lately been the wealth of art, music, and laughter I find online. The amazing things we “common folk” share with one another. That, and the open source movements that sidestep business profits simply to help one another. I believe that these will outpace and outlast the tyrants and warmongers raining destruction down upon us to maintain the status quo.

In any case, I feel a little freer today than I have before. Here’s wishing the same for you.

[P.S. My misuse of Wordsworth’s words in my title is intentional. I’d say “Nuns fret not” foreshadows his hidebound future as Poet Laureate.]

A Sisyphean Yarn

I can’t keep up.

Am learning, in retirement, to live with that.

Just asking myself each morning, “What one thing do I want to accomplish today?” And trying—trying—to ignore the Sisyphean Gordian Knot of projects built up over the years, with tangles of unanswered emails and social media threads.

If it ain’t on fire, and nobody’s dying, I’ll get to it when I can, or maybe not at all if something more joyful jumps to front of the queue.

Yesterday was layout and upload of Kickstarter bookmark #10 of 10: Bookmark the Stars! This morning was driving Jennifer to a doctor’s appointment. This afternoon I might walk the lab, more likely finally add D6xD6 Supers to DriveThruRPG. Though even more likely, end up feeling crappy from this morning’s flu shot and sleep the day away.

What’s on your agenda today?

Today & Maslow’s Yardstick

Chances are you’ve seen this graphic before. I believe it’s a pretty clear picture of why poverty hurts the entirety of human civilization, stunting potential contributions to our advancement as a species.

But that’s beside the point for this post. For me, today, it’s a personal yardstick. And this post is a journaling. Because (a) there’s no way I can manage an actual journal on paper, I’m apparently incapable of such privacy, and (b) my blog and Facebook history have proved to be effective tools for long-term self evaluation.

If you want to come along for the ride, that’s cool, I can use the companionship. But if not, that’s cool too, you should probably get out of the car here.

So, Maslow’s Hierarchy, starting from the bottom:

  • My physiological needs are fine, always have been, one of the perks of having been born a Middle Class white guy in 21st Century USA. Same with safety needs; same reasons.
  • Belongingness and love needs, I’m happy to say, are better than I feel I deserve. I use the word “feel” intentionally, because I’m intellectually aware that relationships are give-and-take, and I “think” I’m doing okay with the give part. But emotionally I feel like a drain on those relationships.
  • Esteem needs and self-actualization have been in a decline for a couple of decades, with a pretty steep nosedive over the past dozen years.

Those last few years of employment in educational publishing were brutal, taking me from heading up creation of an e-publishing department to bottom of the editing totem pole. From glowing praise from upper management (I recently found an old annual review letter in my records), to suspecting the only reason I still had a job was unwillingness to fire a long-term employee. All I can say is that I didn’t change; something else did. Call me unadaptable; I don’t think a history of success from factory to medic to LPN to teaching to game design back to teaching would agree.

Having left gaming as an occupation, by family necessity, a few years before taking that job, was its own hammer blow, with one attempt after another to revive that career thwarted. Maybe some other time I’ll explore the topic more in-depth, but for now, I can only say that whatever the creative field, it seems apparent that people follow properties more than they do the creators, something I’ve heard often from even some very big names. It’s worse with work-for-hire.

Even retired and self-publishing, as much as I’ve accomplished, in retrospect I see the nosedive increasingly apparent. I used to power through deadlines; now the very thought of a deadline is crippling. I believed it was the result of a focal seizure disorder; now I’m starting to think the disorder itself may be a manifestation of long-quashed anxiety.

Drawing this post to a close, I remind myself that its original intention was simply to record several weeks of ongoing, devastating “What does anything matter?” depression, and gratitude for a couple of hours when it lifted: Once with surprised smiles while viewing a video link Abraham Limpo Martinez shared, 30 minutes of calculating dice odds, the math involved, and how physically modeling them with dice glued together in shells goes from 2D to 3D to increasing dimensions of hypercubes; and once a Thursday night role-playing session with Steve Sullivan, Kifflie Scott, David Annandale, and my oldest friend, Jim Cotton. (I hope you lot don’t mind my mentioning you by name.) That session was mainly combat demonstrations, starting with Dracula’s three brides, then 20 of his gypsy minions, and then Dracula himself! The last with a perfectly Hammer film style conclusion, Sully apportating a stake for Dracula’s heart, on the same turn the Count summoned a cauldron of bats to drive the heroes away, allowing both sides to escape to fight another day. I better understood my own game design from that session, and learned a great recording trick from Sully!

That last paragraph is the m0st important for this record. The others are just prelude. If you’ve read through it all, here’s the point where I say “Thanks.” You’re one of the folks who help give my life meaning.