Seems Like Forever Ago

These #charactercreationchallenge memories have been popping up on my Facebook timeline this month. And today I suddenly remembered that posting them was a slow, painful climb back from three months of depression so severe that for the first time in my career I couldn’t write at all.

That seems like forever ago. So much has been published since.

The Character Creation Challenge posts that January three years ago led to a Zine Quest project in February that year for D6xD6 Dungeons, followed since by the Bauner Coast campaign setting, several new D6xD6 6-pagers, an anthology of D13 adventures, and 11 Bookmark No HP RPG titles. Along with some YouTube solo play videos and quite a few in-depth blog posts on social subjects.

Next month’s Zine Quest will be a D6xD6 2e. This month I may yet get a Make 100 KS project for a Battle Bookmark in progress. While I continue to chip away at a 21-card adventure deck for the bookmark product line, promised to last year’s Make 100 backers. There’s also a D6xD6 Dungeons Solo book already written that just needs a developmental pass.

So, three months in the abyss, a painful climb out, and three years of productivity since. Three years filled with fun with other gamers and overall joy.

Clinical anxiety and depression will always dog my heels; that’s just the nature of brain chemistry. But the old dog is learning new tricks of self-awareness ala Thomas Covenant, together with balancing some new meds.

And practicing my craft. Writers write. Game designers design. Those things are my connection to the world, and I’m grateful for every single one of you reading these words. For every person who has encouraged that work in whatever way.

Thank you for three years of hope. I wish you the very same, now and in the future.

Sincerely,

—Les

Some Human Words about AI Arts

Photo by Possessed Photography on Unsplash

Every new mass-production technology, from earliest agrarianism to computerized milling machines, has caused a tectonic shift in labor. That’s just a fact, however tragic the results have been to human laborers. (I’ll get back to that in a moment.)

But never before has a mass-production technology been used to replace human creativity. The arts are a creative expression uniquely human. Machine art simply scans those creative works and remixes them, passing them off as something new.

Mass production is all fine and good when it relieves humans of tedious labor and creates uniform products easily repaired or replaced. Neither of those ethically applies to art. Art is neither tedious nor easily replaced.

Businesses who treat it as such take a historical disdain for human suffering and lack of responsibility for the newly poor to a new level. They rob the race not only of its livelihoods (which they could ease by retraining their “Human Resources”), but now of its very soul.

The thievery is especially obvious in AI writing, which includes scans of pirated works posted here and there on the Net. The AI learns from works it never paid for.

In my experience, publishers have always been chintzy in terms of writing and illustration, with the excuse that “There are plenty of other creatives out there who would kill for this work.” With unpaid AI art, they and the AI companies who take their money carry this unethical philistinism to a new low.

AI art as a human tool, fine. Not every artist uses paintbrush or writing pen. But the sources drawn from deserve to be paid in turn. We don’t steal paint and ink, for god’s sake!

As beneficial as the Industrial Age has been to humankind in general, it has also made us callous toward suffering that isn’t right under our noses. The wealthier the nose, the further the distance and greater the callousness.

I suppose it shouldn’t be any surprise that the soullessness of that distance has bred a soullessness toward the arts as anything more than a commodity.

It does, however, make us a little less human with each passing moment. A little more like unfeeling machines.

“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?