Bad Poetry and Strange News

While sitting at Borders this afternoon, I scribbled out this drivel. I think it basically counts as prose poetry. At any rate, here it is:

I get scared of how fast the day speeds by. This morning went by in a fog of unremembrance, and I did nothing to mark the day. I read a few news articles, I wrote a few e-mails, bathed. But now the noon hour has passed, and what has come of it?

I get scared of the way these meaningless days telescope and drift into each other, like puddles of water in a growing storm, melding into each other, edges blending and then disappearing altogether.

The days grow shorter too; I do less and less, and the hours pass by with greater and greater speed.

And most of all I get scared of this big block inside of me, this sleeping, slow, stupid giant that pulls on my limbs and my midsection, that gnaws on something inside, that wills down the rain and longs for the permanent fluidity of days, when all awareness of passage is gone and the fog of unremembrance is as featureless and welcoming and cold as the fallen snow in deep winter.

Yes, it exaggerates my mood a bit, but what are you gonna do? Great art demands great hyperbole. So does bad art.

In other news, it is a weird world after all. NPR’s "All Things Considered" broadcast a story (link forthcoming) about how some workers in a rest home in the Southeast somewhere are accusing labor organizers of using voodoo to frighten co-workers into forming a union. The chief labor organizer testifies that she knows nothing of voodoo, and that the "voodoo beads" she carries around with her are really a rosary. Sometimes, people are just too excitable for their own good.

And CNN is carrying this story about a "mysterious black blob" found floating in the waters off the coast of Florida.

Students of fiction writing are frequently told not to base their tales on real life events, because real life is sometimes far too unbelievable to make a good novel. I admit, though, that if I were to run a Call of Cthulhu game tonight, or write a modern day horror novel, both of these two news pieces would have a very prominent role.

Two Petals of the Flower

I think that this is the second time that I’ve posted the results of one of those silly "What kind of … are you?" in my journal — three, if you count the Which Crawford Cat Quiz that Jennifer and I came up with a few months ago — the one that prompted my aunt, my mother, and my mother-in-law all to declare, "Richard, you REALLY need to find a job!"

At any rate…

You are Civilian Calvin!
You don’t get to travel much outside your neighborhood, but you still manage to get in plenty of trouble. When you’re not acting up, you like to wax philosophical.
Take the What Calvin are You? Quiz by!

Just how accurate are these tests supposed to be, anyway?

Jennifer and I watched the Academy Awards tonight. I haven’t watched the show all the way through for several years now, and even tonight I was more focused on the novel I’ve been reading than the show itself. Shrek got Best Animated Feature Film. How spiffy is that? I was pleased that Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings received four Oscar awards. It was a stunning film; I wasn’t surprised that it didn’t get Best Picture, since there is still the stigma of the Genre Film, but LotR proved that good, intelligent, thought-provoking fantasy films are possible (as opposed to tripe like Beastmaster).

I received an e-mail a few weeks back from someone who was distraught that I was "giving up on your dreams", in response to my entry from February 28, 2002. I didn’t write back to her; I should have. I’m not really giving on anything, you know. I’m just sort of taking some time to refocus myself. I’m pretty sure that my life does have a purpose of some sort, I just don’t know what it is. I’m pulling back from everything I thought was my purpose, and giving myself some space and permission and time to discover that purpose.

To that end, I’ve decided to pick up my old copy of What Color Is Your Parachute? and wander my way through some exercises in that book. In that book, author Richard Bolles likens a person’s ideal career to a flower of sorts, with six petals and your skill set in the middle. One pedal of the flower represents your ideal location; for me, that is right here in Solano County. That’s one down. Another petal represents your fields of interest. And for the purposes of this exercise, you need to limit that to three.

How in the world am I supposed to do that? My problem all along has been that while my tangible skills have stayed relatively few in number, my interests have wandered all over the map: astronomy, botany, Chinese philosophy, xenobiology, philosophy, religion, archaeology… so how do I narrow it down to a mere 3?

Thank God for Perl. Bolles has a nifty little procedure in his book for prioritizing just about anything, and I spent a couple of hours yesterday putting together a Perl script that would let me write up a list of subjects in Emacs and then prioritize that list according to Bolles’s procedure (it’s very simple, actually; all you do is just compare every item on the list to every other item on the list, circle the one you prefer, and then count the number of times each item has been circled).

I admit that I cheated, by lumping biology, paleontology, evolutionary theory, ecology, and so on into "Natural Sciences" — mostly because I doubt that I’ll ever be able to focus on one field, and I find them all equally interesting. I also lumped archaeology, anthropology, psychology, and sociology into "Human Sciences".

So, using my program to narrow my list down to my Top Three, I get the following:

  1. Natural Sciences
  2. Travel
  3. Writing

Bolles also uses a method of writing up seven "life stories" from your past where you’ve accomplished something that you were proud of and that you enjoyed, and then writing down and listing all of the skills that you used in that accomplishment. He offers a list of nearly 100 skills just to get you started. I went through, and, to my surprise, I came up with nearly fifty separate skills. And then you have to narrow it down to the top six that you enjoy using and that you do well. Using this technique, and my program, I came up with these:

  1. Initiating, starting up, founding, establishing
  2. Creating New Ideas
  3. Writing
  4. Representing Other People’s Ideas
  5. "signing", miming, acting… "Hamming it up", in other words
  6. Helping people link up and communicate

I’m not entirely sure what to do with these lists. If I’m interpreting the results properly, it looks like I ought to retrace the voyage of Darwin’s Beagle and write a series of books and articles about it, and possibly establish a tour company and conduct the guided tours myself, then write some novels and role-playing games based on the places and people I encounter along the way.

Hm. Actually, that doesn’t sound all that bad. The only downside would be the little issue of being away from home for months at a time. I suppose it wouldn’t be all that bad if I could bring Jennifer along, but then we’d have to put litter boxes on the boat for the cats, and I’m not sure how well they’d fare aboard.

At any rate, I’ve made the inner workings of my soul public so that I could solicit feedback from anyone who has been reading this journal regularly — all two or three of you.

And one thing that struck me while I was writing up these lists and using my little Perl program to prioritize everything… Computers, programming, and web development did not show up in my lists anywhere, except at the very bottom. Hmm.

On a different note, I received an e-mail earlier this evening from the webmaster of While Jennifer thinks that this may be a 50-60% match to my own personality, I think it’s probably closer to 80-90% (I’m not all that drawn to recreational drugs or alcohol, for example). Whatever the number is, it’s good to know that I’m not the only "intellectual vagabond" out there.

Oh! And a follow up to my last entry… I’ve managed to get my Linux box working again. As always, it was a two- to three-hour project, but it was fun and worthwhile. Linux is not an OS for the weak or the easily frustrated…


Linux novices like me probably shouldn’t be allowed to even play with their Linux boxes. Such computers are simply doomed to live like cats, always dying and coming back to life. Mine has dies and been resurrected, by my count, four times now. It’s just died again, and is waiting for me to resurrect it again.

This time, I know exactly what I did wrong. In an attempt to free up some space in my root directory, I decided to move all of my command files to a big chunk of unused space on another partition. I’d done it before with some other code libraries; why shouldn’t it work this time?

Well, I discovered, it’s something like this. You can mess with the ignition in your car all you want, but disconnecting the wires from the ignition and reconnecting them to, say, the transmission is not going to make your car work better. In other words, my computer no longer knows how to start up. I can boot into Windows just fine — it’s slightly harder for an inexperienced person to kill Windows than it is for them to kill Linux (although I’ve made a couple of good attempts at this).

Fortunately, I think I can fix this error without too much grief; it will just be time consuming. What I probably ought to do, though, is just reinstall Linux altogether. I’m just not quite brave enough to do that yet. Fortunately for me, all of my files and stories and artwork are on a shared partition, so I haven’t lost any data. What I ought to do next, though, is back up everything onto a CD-ROM. Just in case.

Do you know why Jesus was able to back up his system when it crashed, whereas the Devil was completely lost? It’s because Jesus Saves. Wah ha ha haaa! Ha ha! Ha ha ha haaaaaaaaaaaaa! Sometimes I kill myself, I really do.

So here’s the moral of our tale, something I’m sure will be applicable to your every day life: when messing around with your root account in the root directory on your Linux system, be sure you have backed up your X-server configuration files and possibly established a symlink to your backup directory; because otherwise, none of your system daemons will be able to start themselves at boot time, and your system will be hosed.

For some reason, I suspect Aesop never wrote a fable about that one. Though "How the Ferret Dumped Its System Core" would certainly have gone over well with the ancient Greeks.

That is all. Good night.

Time, Space, the Living Dead, and My Computer

First thing’s first. I’m not entirely certain I know how I should feel about a journal entry of mine turning up for this search on Google. I suppose it takes all kinds. Ah, well.

Today’s Report:

In the job hunt, I went to a job fair in Sacramento today. If I were qualified to be a probation officer or a social worker, I would have been set! The Sacramento Office of Information Technology had a booth, but I’m afraid I’m not qualified to be a supervising technical manager; I’m not analyst material, let alone management material. A few of the booths wanted technical writers, so I dropped off my resume with them. I chatted with a few folks, but I don’t expect anything to come of it.

In the home IT front, I’ve been playing around with ports and forwarding, and discovered how to set up Apache on my personal computer to listen to a different port than port 80. Effectively, that means I can turn my computer at home into a webserver. Heck, I might decide to start hosting this journal on my computer at home. I have all the tools to do it now; however, the service at Pair is more reliable and I don’t know how effective a sysadmin I’d be, even for just one computer. Besides, I haven’t lost the 30 pounds that I agreed I’d lose before buying a webserver to live in our house. I also downloaded and installed a product called Crossover which lets me view all kinds of Windows media on my Linux box. Finally I can watch those movie trailers at Apple’s website, and listen to my favorite NPR station, KXJZ on my desktop.

Sometimes, it’s the little things.

This afternoon, my blood pressure had reached the ionosphere, and the trainers at the Healthy Weight Program were uncomfortable with me working out today. So I took myself to see The Time Machine, the latest "reimagination" of H. G. Wells’s classic 1894 novel. The word "reimagination" is an ugly word to me: especially since Evilpheemy and I took our wives to see Tim Burton’s reimagination of The Planet of the Apes (a film which, apart from its wretched script, horrid acting, predictable plot, sequences which looked like they’d been lifted straight from an old Scooby Doo cartoon, was almost a decent film — though I admit that was a an insult to Scooby Doo). That film shook my faith in Tim Burton’s directorial abilities.

I had very low expectations for The Time Machine; with few exceptions, Hollywood has demonstrated that they believe that the IQ of the average science fiction fan ranks somewhere between that of a flea and an eggplant. I was somewhat surprised, though, that The Time Machine wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be.

One of the criticisms I’ve heard of this film is that H. G. Wells’s commentary about Victorian life doesn’t translate very well to a 21st century movie screen. That is, of course, true. But I think that what these critics fail to remember is that The Time Machine is also a good adventure story, and this film captures that fairly well. I did find myself wishing that there was more action after the main character and his co-horts had encountered the Über-Morlock (played hammily by Jeremy Irons, still on the road to recovery after Courtney Solomon had drugged him and forced him at gunpoint to play the Evil Wizard in Dungeons and Dragons — the only explanation I can come up with for how that happened). But the vision of the future presented in the film was interesting and amazingly consistent with itself. And surprisingly, I thought that the social commentary that H. G. Wells had presented in his novel managed to translate fairly well to the modern film. Of course, the major themes of the novel — that there are Forces with which Man Was Not Meant to Tamper, and that The Rich Eat the Poor — are as timeless as romantic love itself, so there probably wasn’t much need for alteration.

On the whole, not a bad little film. Definitely worth a rental.

Over the weekend, Jennifer and I also saw Resident Evil, another film for which I had very low expectations, and which surprised me. Apparently the film was originally supposed to have been directed by George Romero, the man behind the Living Dead films; and there are certainly elements of Resident Evil which could have come from Romero’s mind — the ending, in particular, and the nasty surprises that turn up just when you think things are going to be okay — are very much in line with something that could have shown up in a Living Dead movie.

The special effects were pretty neat, too, though they lack the special touch that Tom Savini might have brought to them.

And that, I suppose, was my day. There wasn’t much to it. I bought a vinyl cover for the futon. I returned a CD that I had borrowed from the library (I’d returned the case yesterday). I watched Enterprise (sometimes also referred to as Spot the Nipple) with Jennifer. And I mopped the floor.

I swear. Only the Army has me beat for the number of things that they do in a single day.


Another entry that probably won’t make sense if you don’t play role-playing games…

The first session of the Outer Darkness playtest campaign went well. I had hoped for more than the two players who showed up, especially since both Evilpheemy and Craymore have been deeply involved in the creation of Outer Darkness since its very beginning. Since I’m looking at this playtest as a way to sort of test out the game’s overall setting and milieu, I had hoped for some fresh faces, but the two people who had contacted me who hadn’t been involved since the beginning didn’t show up for the playtest. Ah, well.

Still, I think this is going to work out well. Evilpheemy’s character is a spacer, working for the mining company to help shuttle workers and materiel back and forth to the surface of the planet. Craymore’s character, on the other hand, is a young priest working for the Inquisition, about to be assigned to work with Father Jeremiah Dako, an older Inquisitor, to solve a strange mystery on the planet: think Christian Slater’s character in the film version of The Name of the Rose. I’m hoping to get some more people involved; it would be annoying to have just two player characters throughout the entire campaign.

Meanwhile, every other Saturday night, I’m playing in Craymore’s Live Action Changeling game, Book of Dreams, the latest offshoot from the Vampire LARP I ran a couple of years ago (I think of it as the Enterprise to my Star Trek: The Next Generation). In Changeling, the characters you play are modern representations of fairy tale archetypes: redcaps, knockers, and so on. The creators of the game, White Wolf, have devised a complicated, nearly Byzantine political and social structure for these mythical folks who live in our modern world. What can be even more confusing is that the Changeling characters that you play live not just in "our" world, but also in a "Chimerical" world, where dragons and castles and magic is real. So, as you play the game, you must constantly remind yourself, "Okay, the human half of my character sees that as a particularly ugly structure on the UC Davis campus, but the changeling half sees it as a beautiful castle." Yes, it gets confusing.

As long as I’ve been playing and running role-playing games, I’ve always believed that the characters one plays embody some aspect of you as a person, or some aspect of the person that you want to be. My character in Book of Dreams is a Sidhe (pronounced "shee"), descended from the noble race of beautiful fairy folk from Celtic mythology (since this is a Live Action game, I usually just say that my character shares the same incredible rugged good looks that I have). His name is Gilbert Clooney, and he was modeled, in some ways, after the character Ulysses that George Clooney played in Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?. I invented a fictional town called Galway in Kentucky that Gilbert comes from, and made him a wanderer. Gilbert is intelligent, diplomatic, well-read, inquisitve, and generally just about everything else that I’d like to be. In the game’s storyline, Gilbert showed up in the city of Davis a few months ago, wound up helping the Changeling inhabitants of that city to kill an evil Changeling called "The Iron Duke", and wound up being the military advisor to the new ruler of the Changeling court of Davis. This fact surprises Gilbert as much as it surprises me.

While pondering Gilbert’s past recently, I realized that it’s a bit too sanitary. There was something a bit darker that was itching to be put into his background; something that wanted to come out. I thought about it for awhile, and realized that I needed to put something very dark in his background. Now, when I was running Underground Puppeteers, I had created a villain named "Buddy", a being who had been created by a group of other villains to be powerful, destructive, a nearly mindless killing machine with the ability to destroy just about anyone who came into his path. I decided that Gilbert had been involved in the creation of Buddy. I don’t think he quite knew what he was doing, or what he was involved in, but I think Gilbert probably knows very well what the consequences were. I haven’t ironed out the details yet.

I believe that stories have lives of their own, that in some way they probably exist independently of the minds that tell them (I blame that on an ill-advised course in Aesthetics that I took in college). Novelists will often talk about how the characters in their stories take on lives of their own; Stephen King, in On Writing, says that he often doesn’t know where a story is going until he writes it, until the characters tell him.

Telling a story, including the story of your character in a role-playing game, is more a process of discovery than a process of invention, in my view. My "discovery" that Gilbert has a dark, sinister, and deeply misguided element to his generally competent and friendly past came as a sort of surprise, but it makes sense to me: especially considering that how I’ve been playing him and emphasizing his somewhat brutal dedication to the order of the court and near-paranoid watchfulness for word of a possible return of the Iron Duke.

I’m enjoying Gilbert immensely. I may turn his story into a book at some point (while eliminating as much as possible about the "White Wolf" or "Book of Dreams" specific stuff to avoid potential lawsuits — and to avoid the universal law which states that all fiction based on role-playing games sucks). But without delving deeply too much into the realm of Jung, Campbell, and Bly-esque mythopoeticism, I have to wonder what to make of the fact that Gilbert, the character which I’ve largely based on what I think are some of the better aspects of my own personality, has such a dark and sinister part of his past?

I just hope that I haven’t created any supernatural, cross-dimensional supervillains that are out there, even now slaughtering innocent vampires, werewolves, and elves even as I write these words.

Ah, well. Food for thought.

Casting Off

Well, in just a few days I’m supposed to start up the playtest campaign for Outer Darkness, assuming I have any players. It’s been many years since I’ve run a campaign in any game system; there was a time when I was running two or three campaigns simultaneously, with two or three game sessions per week. I could never really do one-shot games; they’d always turn into full-blown campaigns.

Running a role-playing game is a lot like writing. When you run a one-shot game, with a definite beginning-middle-end structure, it’s like telling a short story. When you run a full campaign, it’s more like writing a novel with complex plot threads that can run every which way and sometimes completely out of your control. When you write a novel, though, you at least maintain a small amount of control over the actions of the characters (though any novelist will tell you that the characters eventually do take over the story); but in a role-playing campaign, you have no such control over the players and their characters.

But a long-term campaign, with complicated plot threads and deeply developed player characters and fully expressed villains and taking place in worlds with complex histories and intricate structures, really is a thing of beauty, in its own way. My old roommate Cavematt and I used to wax philosophical for hours, lamenting that it was so sad that only a few people could ever participate in the joy that was a long term RPG campaign. Sure, you can write down everything that happens and perhaps even market your own game system based on the campaign setting that you’ve created, but the experience of the campaign itself is a once in a lifetime event.

For ten years I ran a campaign which I simply called the Moon Dragon Campaign. This was a Dungeons and Dragons campaign with three major story arcs, and dozens of side stories and explorations into the deep past of the setting and the far future and even into far reaches of space. Because my style of Dungeon Mastering can be so haphazard and cavalier at times, elements of stories which I introduced when the first sessions of the game started back in 1987 could be re-introduced as major plot threads in 1992. I ran a "companion adventure" for some friends of mine a few years ago, a campaign which took place in the same world, on a separate continent. And one of the most important plot threads that developed from the very first sessions took on a life of its own and even became the central storyline of a Live Action Role Playing game that I ran just over two years ago. Maybe someday I’ll even reveal to my players what it was the Malayik Jyran really was up to all those years, and why he was banished from his plane of being in the first place.

In my own mind, Moon Dragon really was the pinnacle of my gaming career: a single storyline which saw me through eleven years of table-top gaming and at least one year of live action gaming. It was such a rich storyline for me: its central elements could drive the adventures of a couple of rogues in the rival towns of Slash and Smash on opposite banks of the Sles River, or the intricate machinations of beings so powerful that their consciousnesses could be annihilated and spread throughout all of time and space and they’d still be able to manipulate a group of vampires in 20th century America to do their bidding.

I admit that sometimes the stories do tend to get out of control. While the group Helter Skelter was an intriguing set of villains for the last Vampire LARP I ran, I was never entirely sure exactly what they were there for or how they managed to show up in my campaign setting. At least one of their members, Buddy, has had an impact on the character I’m playing in Book of Dreams now.

See? The madness never ends.

And in a couple of days, I’m going to start it all over with a new campaign setting. Even though Evilpheemy and I have been developing this setting since 1997, and I’ve got about fifteen years of Game Mastering experience under my belt, I’m nervous about it. It’s almost like stage fright. For the first time in all that time, I’m running a new story in an entirely new setting, using a rule system that I’m only vaguely familiar with (my staff in Underground Puppeteers, the last LARP I ran, were always frustrated with me because I never actually mastered the rules of the games that I ran). I’m going to feel like I’m adrift in an entirely new worldset, a story arc which is both familiar to me, but also entirely new. The massive story arc which drives the Outer Darkness hasn’t really been play-tested before, even though Evilpheemy and I have both run short one-shot playtests to hammer out rules and mood; this is the first time the driving story arc will be expressed, and I admit to being somewhat nervous about it.

And I haven’t run a table-top game in at least four years, really. Oh, I’ve tried here and there to do minor things, but nothing has really taken off. So yeah, I’m feeling a bit of stage fright too.

But I’m confident that it will work out. My main concern is that my cavalier and haphazard approach to storyline development will overwhelm the driving story arc of Outer Darkness, if that makes sense. It must be similar to the feeling that the writers of Enterprise have: I’m sure that they’d love to do galaxy-spanning storylines, but they’re restricted in that so much of the Star Trek universe has been so thoroughly developed over the past thirty years, and the consistency of the central story arc has to be maintained.

I’m sure that only a handful of my readers will actually care about this entry. But even if you don’t: Wish me luck.

Thoughts from the Basement

Yesterday was a fairly productive day for me. After contacting most of the employers I’d spoken to at Wednesday’s job fair for yesterday’s round of "Nope, we don’t have anything your skills would be useful for, but we’ll keep your resume on hand just in case", I went off to the public library in Davis to do some writing and see if I could track down any poetry by Gary Snyder (more on that in a moment). Since "Mother Tsan-Chan" has been giving me such trouble lately, I decided to get cracking on the player’s information guide to the campaign setting for "Incident at Mount Joyce". To my surprise, I got nearly two thousand words written. Sometimes, it takes just a change in scenery to get the creative juices flowing. And during the excellent Call of Cthulhu game that Evilpheemy ran last night, I managed to churn out another two hundred more words.

Yeah. I love my Palm Pilot and the keyboard that comes with it. Much easier to lug around than my laptop; I can put my Palm Pilot in my pocket and ride my bike down to Starbucks to work there. Not that I actually get on my bike nearly as often as I should, of course. But the important thing is that I could.

Sadly, today has been less productive. I’m simply not feeling as inspired as I did yesterday. I forced about five hundreds words out today, of which perhaps three or four are good. But that’s okay. The point now is simply to get words written so that when I present the campaign setting to the players in two weeks, they’ll have some background. Quality work will be expected as some point, of course. After all, Evilpheemy and I plan to sell this product to someone at some point.

But today wasn’t a waste. I read a lot. Jennifer and I rode our bikes about four miles down the county roads. I read some more. We watched an old episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I read some more. I surfed the web and thought about writing.

But the muse just didn’t feel like talking today. Some days, the muse can’t keep her gob shut; and some days, you have to strangle the words out of her one by one. And far too often when she’s running off at the mouth, you find that what she’s inspired you to write is just plain excrement and needs to be reworked — usually on a day when she isn’t available.

While I was working out the other day, I read a magazine article about photographer David Robertson, who teaches at UC Davis. The article caught my eye because I had taken a class with Dr. Robertson back in my freshman year of college, a class called "Ethics and Society", in which we students were assigned to write a credo of our beliefs and values. I still have that original document somewhere; it would be interesting to read it, since I’m sure much of what I believed and valued back then has changed significantly.

In this article, Dr. Robertson told the interviewer that much of his work was inspired by Gary Snyder. Gary Snyder is a poet (who also teaches at UC Davis), whose work, in his use of nature imagery and mythic elements, really reminds me of Robert Bly. Dr. Robertson said that Gary Snyder’s poetry reveals a universe which is "wild and imaginative" and "un-sort-out-able" by human beings.

I’m down with that. I think that I could get along pretty well with a universe which is essentially barely controlled chaos; I’ve never really believed that the universe made much sense anyhow. I think, though, that I just enjoy the idea that the universe is, at some level, essentially unordered, and that is where the surprises come from. Ideas and inspiration come from there as well; it’s the unordered, messy level of things that don’t make much sense, like dreams, and it’s where most of what goes on actually happens (this might be a clue as to why I prefer Linux to Windows: it’s vastly chaotic on a certain level, but that’s where the good stuff really is, as opposed to the neat and orderly universe of Windows). I suppose you could say that my muse is just a filtering mechanism of sorts, that goes through the bizarre stuff that happens in my subconscious and occasionally finds something worthy of notice.

I could go on about this for quite awhile, but it would probably just degenerate into some really bad poetry, and no one wants that.

At any rate, that’s why I was looking for poetry by Gary Snyder. It doesn’t explain, though, why I couldn’t get any good writing done today.