Category Archives: family

Sequel + Mania = Sequelania

I hate to spring another portmanteau word on you so soon after the atrocity that was “Hypocrasisyphus”, but I have been seriously putting things together that do not belong together.  For example, I have been binge-watching two Netflix series; Stranger Things 2 and The Punisher.   Stranger Things 2 is the sequel to the Duffer Brothers’ hit last year, Stranger Things, and The Punisher is the return of a surprise breakout role for Jon Bernthal as the violent vigilante anti-hero, Punisher, from Daredevil, Season 2.   ST2-Final_poster

I love the 80’s monster movie thing that is called Stranger Things mostly because of the kids.  I mean, the most important protagonists in the story are the gang of Dragon’s Lair-playing kids that are so like the gang of kids I taught and played games with in the 80’s.  They have the same cohesion and feel as the kids gangs in Steven Spielberg movies like the Goonies and E.T.   They are the real heroes of the story who actually do the most to defeat the monsters they face from a looming evil dimension on the verge of taking over our world after taking over the body and soul of my relative, Will Byers, one of the gang.

 

I won’t spend much more effort describing that one, since I wrote about Stranger Things 2 in a previous post.  Instead, I want to connect it to my most recent binge, The Punisher.  As I said before, these two series have absolutely no relationship to each other beyond one nutty retired school teacher bingeing on and loving them both.

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The Punisher is about war, violence, the trauma that those things create, and putting the shattered pieces of lives, families, and psyches back together again in a way that resembles making scrambled eggs from Humpty Dumpty.

The main character, Frank Castle, has been a special forces soldier with a talent for violence and a reasonable code of honor developed to combat unreasonable malevolence.

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He has come home from war after having been a part of a covert, CIA assassination squad that has done terrible things, in fact, things more terrible than even the soldiers themselves realize.

The result being, somewhere along the way, a toxic secret has gotten out.  Castle’s wife and two children are targeted and killed while Castle himself survives.  He seeks to put himself back together like the King’s men attempt to do with Humpty Dumpty, through revenge, and killing the people who killed his family, and the people who were part of the plot behind it.  Through two series he murders, assassinates, and otherwise exterminates bad guys, drug dealers, rogue agents, and others who have betrayed him in multiple ways.

But as mind-numbing and stomach-turning as the violence is, the story is about family.  The family that Castle lost.  And the family of the Edward Snowden-like character, Micro, who are still alive, but only because the NSA spook Micro is thought to be dead when he actually is alive and working against the same villains who killed Castle’s family.

And there are just enough scenes with family and guitar-playing moments of insight to convince us that Castle would’ve been a pretty great dad, if only he had been given the chance, thus amplifying the tragedy a hundred fold.  Aha!  There’s the unlikely link.  The two things are both about the struggle to raise kids in a dark and dangerous world.  I knew if I just twisted the puzzle pieces hard enough, I could make them fit together.

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Filed under family, insight, movie review, review of television, strange and wonderful ideas about life, TV as literature, TV review

Evidence There is a Living God

A humorist does well to remember that you should not joke about religion.  God does have a sense of humor.  But it is a sense of humor backed by the ever-present threat of being struck by lightning.  And among religious types, a sense of humor is about as common as a nudist wandering into the midst of a porcupine convention just as the thistle-pigs begin arguing about whether or not God is actually a porcupine.

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On the question of God and whether we actually have one, or whether he’s alive or not, we often turn to philosophers for insight.  Friedrich Nietzsche was a philosopher with a hard to spell name.  People often turn to him for evidence of god and the accompanying God-thoughts.

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But it is entirely possible that Nietzsche did not get the absolute last word on the matter.

Nietzsche was a bit of a poozer when it comes to questions about God.  He said that God is dead because the big guy in the sky didn’t seem to be active in the world.  At least, not since Bible times.

And if we are supposed to believe that God Jehovah is real because he’s written down in a magic book that so very many people believe in, they why isn’t god Thor to be believed in any more?  He’s written down in some very old books too.  And isn’t the story about how Thor almost drank the ocean dry on a bet just as impressive as Jehovah parting the Red Sea for Moses?

But Nietzsche wasn’t a complete and total poozer.  He did have some wonderful things to say along with the klunky and hard-to-understand God stuff he said.

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It takes a big mind in a big head to think of making the stars dance just by generating chaos-waves in your big old head.  That’s the kind of big idea that could become a religion of its own… if Nietzsche wasn’t already dead, of course.

But I tend to believe there really is a living God.  My sister posted an old picture of some of the reasons why on Facebook today.

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My thing one, thing two, and thing three (in the baby carrier with her feet up) are all the reason I need to believe in miracles.  Thing one was recently promoted to Corporal in the Marines.  Thing Two has applied for a job at Walmart, and thing three will be a sophomore in high school this fall.  Grandma Aldrich is in the middle between thing one and my sister’s girl.  The little blond one on the left is my sister’s kid too.  All of them are miracles in human form.  Grandma Aldrich is gone now.  She died not long after this picture was taken.  But her life resonates through mine, and through me to my children and nieces and nephews also. I would not be me if it wasn’t for her.

So there is proof of a living God.  Everything that exists cannot be erased from existence, even when it disappears from memory.  So we are all eternal.  We  all have touched the stars… at least, in a metaphorical sense.  And our bodies, science has proved, are made of star stuff in a literal sense.  So it is not too much of a stretch to believe we can make the stars dance.

And if my quasi-religious joking around has God thinking about how to apply a good thunderbolt, well, I was making fun of Nietzsche… wasn’t I?

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Filed under commentary, family, humor, insight, inspiration, religion, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Another Little Inn

Last week in the family D & D adventure I told you about the closest thing our campaign has to a home base.  That was the Broken Anvil Inn in Sharn.

But there are other places like that which also serve as the starting point for quests.

Let me tell you about the Purple Mermaid.

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On a lonely waterfront in Aundair there exists a sad little ale house and inn that is losing business.  Everyone is apparently apprehensive about going to a place where so many sailors who were regular customers have simply disappeared.

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The proprietor is a festive and portly dwarf named Osric who is desperate for your business.  It has gotten to the point of offering free beer to anyone willing to rent a room.  Veteran sailors and adventurers, it seems, have paid for a room, went to bed that evening… or early morning, and were never seen or heard from again.

A storyteller sits in the bar, telling tales of a long ago voyage of discovery in which the crew of an ill-fated ship, the Lavender Leaf, happened on an undersea discovery shown to them by desperate mer-people and sea elves.  It seems a great evil had taken over an undersea temple that housed a very powerful sacred relic.  Great treasures were promised for aid in liberating the temple from an unnamed evil.

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So, it is an interesting inn, with a promise of adventure.  But there are obvious consequences to choosing to stay there.  In the corner of the tavern room sits a sea wizard with an ominous look about him.  Why is he waiting there?  Are there connections between his presence and the disappearances?  Do you really want to find out?

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As always the quest must wait for the next turn at the D & D table.

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Opening Windows on the Past

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This particular Iowa trip has me thinking hard about mortality and the cold harsh wind that blows toward us from the future.  My cousin’s only son lost his battle with depression, and his family finally came to terms with the loss.  But the sadness is past.   The responsibilities of the living is what remains.

I was born while Eisenhower was President.  I was alive and aware when Kennedy was assassinated and when men first walked on the moon.  I was teaching in a classroom when the first teacher in space was killed on the exploding space shuttle.  And I was also in the classroom when the twin towers fell on 9-11.  It is an important part of the responsibilities I have for being alive to keep that past alive too.

 

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My mother’s knickknack shelf.

The reason we collect and care about little extraneous things like porcelain eggs, angels, fine blue china plates, and the California Raisins singing I Heard It Through the Grapevine is because those little, otherwise unimportant things connect us to memories of important times and places and people.   We keep old photographs around, many of them black and white, for the same reasons.

 

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The fiction I write is not contemporary.  It is mostly historical fiction.  It is set in a recent past where the Beatles and the Eagles provided the sound track to our lives.  It does not cross the border into the 21st Century.  The part of my writing that is not about the past is science fiction set in the far future, entirely in the universe of my imagination.  It is my duty to connect the past to the future.

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And I share that duty with everyone who is alive.  My great grandparents and grandparents are now gone from this world.  But their horse-and-buggy memories about life on the farm before electric lights and cars… with humorous outhouse stories thrown in for comic relief… are in me too.  I am steeped in the past in so many ways…  And I must not fail to pass that finely brewed essence on to my children and anyone young who will listen.  It is a grave responsibility.  And it is possible to reach the grave without having fulfilled that important purpose.

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In times of great sadness and loss we must think about how life goes on.  There has to be a will to carry on and deliver the past to the future.  Every story-teller carries that burden, whether in large or small packages.  And there is no guarantee that tomorrow will even arrive.  So here is my duty for the day.  One more window has been opened.

 

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Filed under autobiography, battling depression, blog posting, family, healing, humor, insight, inspiration

The Siege at Castle Evernight

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I believe I gave you fair warning that I would be telling the story of how, in our family D & D game, we conquered a castle that was occupied by the forces of evil.  Well, this is it.  It happened in the castle I described as an adventure setting last week.

The heroes, led by the halfling Gandy Rumspot (number two son’s character) and Mira the Kalashtar (daughter the Princess’s character) were asked by the Kingdom of Breland to investigate what happened to their ally, the Duke of Passage, Dane Evernight, in the Kingdom of Aundair.

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So they loaded up their trusty airship and flew to Passage.  Where they immediately learned of two mysterious boys made completely of stone and, yet, still living.

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They found the two in the city square north of the castle.

Druealia the wizardess; You two boys are golems?  Living statues?

Angel statue;  We weren’t before Dr. Zorgo took us into the lab.  We were castle pages to the Duke of Passage.

Gandy the rogue;  He changed you?  Who is this Dr. Zorgo?

Faun statue; Zorgo was the Duke’s court physician.  When we woke up in the castle, everybody had been turned into some sort of golem.  Stone golems, rag golems, animated statues… even the Duke himself.  None of us remember much about our lives before our minds were put in these new bodies.

Mira the Kalashtar; We have to get inside the castle and put things right!

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So, the question became, “How do we get into the castle without this Doctor Zorgo finding out and turning us into golems too?”

The answer came from a visiting professor from Morgrave University in Sharn.  Professor Hootigan was a sentient giant owl.  Not only could he warn them about the dangers of facing a mindflayer, a psionic monster who can read your thoughts and attack your mind, which Zorgo actually was, but he could fly the two lightest members of the adventuring party up to the summit of the castle, bypassing all the many traps and defenses that Zorgo had most likely laid.  And it didn’t hurt that both Hootigan and Mira were psionically able to protect the group from Zorgo’s mind attacks.

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So up they went.  Hootigan’s flying skill roll was high enough to not only get them inside, but get them in quietly enough not to awaken the sleeping stone gargoyles who guarded the heights.

They were protected from Dr. Zorgo’s routine mind probes of the castle by Mira’s mind-shielding powers.

Once they were past Zorgo’s lab, they soon discovered two different things.  Zorgo hadn’t yet changed the Duke’s daughter, Sien, into a golem yet.  She was still imprisoned in the castle’s dark pit, called an “oubliette”.

They also discovered that fighting golems was extremely difficult.  They discovered this in a fight with three golems they dubbed Moe, Curly, and Larry for some mysterious reason.

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After a very frustrating slap-fight in which they discovered that you can’t kill or wound a rag golem with weapons, they finally won the day when they discovered all they had to do was stop the Larry golem from playing “Pop Goes the Weasel” on his fiddle.  That took away their will to fight.  And they were even helpful as former faithful servants of the Duke.  They revealed that all the golems in the castle were controlled by one golem-control wand wielded by Dr. Zorgo himself.

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First they sneaked down to the oubliette and rescued Duchess Sien.  Then they had to steal back her magical armor and swords.  Many more golem guards and gargoyles were in the way of achieving their goals, but they used a bit of trickery to turn the odds in their favor.

They tricked Major Jak Pumpkinhead into thinking that the castle was being assaulted from the front.  When all the castle defenders rushed to the front towers, Gandy closed the inner gates on them, locking them all inside their very own defensive positions.

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Finally they confronted Dr.  Zorgo himself.  This time Mira’s defensive mind shields were not so successful.  Zorgo incapacitated Sien Evernight and Gandy Rumspot with mind attacks because they did not have their own psionic defenses (and because Mira rolled a 4 when she needed at least a 10 on the 20-sided dice).  Dr. Zorgo set the golden golem that had once been Duke Dane Evernight on a course to killing Mira.  At the last possible moment, Mira threw her magic dagger at Zorgo’s golem wand, rolled an 18, and destroyed it.   The gold golem, realizing he was now free, exacted his revenge.  He grabbed Dr. Zorgo and plunged off the balcony of the castle’s summit with him to a jarring destruction at the bottom of the 300-foot tower and cliff.

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It was a mostly “happy ever after” event.  The player characters now owned a castle, provided that Fate agreed to marry Duchess Sien and become the new Duke of Passage.

The numerous golem servants, having nowhere else to go, and no longer being human, elf, dwarf, or whatever they had been previously, stayed on to be castle servants.  Duke Evernight’s golden head was retrieved from the bottom of the cliff and, still able to talk, was to be the useful adviser of the new Duke.

That is pretty much typical of our D & D adventures.  Full of slapstick humor and mindless destruction, it was a whee of a time that made us laugh and enjoy time spent together playing weird imagination games with various toys, props, and dice.

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How Mickey Battles the Blues

It should be noted that Mickey does not battle the St. Louis Blues.  That is his favorite hockey team.  And while they have never won the Stanley Cup, they do win a lot and are almost always in the playoffs.  So they help fight depression.  Battling them would not only be counter-productive, but might also result in losing all those big square white middle teeth in that goofy smile.

But battling depression is a constant necessity.  Not only am I subject to diabetic depression and Donald Trump overload, but my entire family is prone to deep and deadly bad blue funks.  It helps to be aware that there are a lot of ways to fight that old swamp of sadness. It doesn’t have to keep claiming the Atreyu’s horse of your soul.  (Yes, I know that Neverending Story metaphors seriously date me to the 80’s and signify that I am indeed old… another reason I have to constantly fight depression.)

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I have some surefire methods for battling depression that apparently the science actually backs up.  It turns out that most of things that Mickey does actually stimulate the brain to produce more dopamine.

“Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Dopamine also helps regulate movement and emotional response, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them.”  – Psychology Today

So, I guess I am secretly a dopamine addict.  It is a brain chemical you cannot focus or function effectively without.

  1. Being creative in some way fosters the production of dopamine in the old think-organ.  So writing this blog helps.  Doodling excessively helps.  Writing novels, painting pictures, drawing cartoons, and writing really remarkably bad poetry also help, and I do all of those things every week.
  2. Chicken Dancing helps.  Really.  Flapping your arms and wiggling your butt in such a stupidly silly way is aerobic exercise, and the very act of exercising increases not only dopamine but also serotonin and endorphin get a boost.  These are your “natural high” brain drugs.  Have you ever noticed chicken dancers are never really sad while dancing?  The ones crying excessively are either crying from happiness or extremely embarrassed teenagers forced to chicken dance by their goofy old dad.
  3. For more information about chicken dancing and its possible uses for evil, check out this link The Dancing Poultry Conspiracy Theory.  Because laughing about stuff is also a cure for depression.  It tends to even bypass dopamine and take a left turn through serotonin straight into the pleasure centers of the brain.
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  5. Winning streaks also help immensely.  Of course, I can’t always count on the St. Louis Blues to give me winning streaks.  X-Box EA Sports MVP Baseball 2004 set on the rookie difficulty level for the last decade helps with that.  I have won over 300 consecutive games including two World Series sweeps that way.  And Albert Pujols has hit over 1,000 home runs in his Mickian baseball career.
  6. Check lists also help because they are the same thing as winning streaks.  The sense of accomplishment you get from checking off boxes on your To-Do List also boosts dopamine in the same way.  So what if I am listing routine things like walking the dog, picking up socks, and taking out the trash?  A check mark is still a check mark and a check mark by any other name still smells like marker.
  7. And, of course, there is listening to music.  I am seriously addicted to classical music because every emotion from beautiful and awe-inspiring to butt-ugly brutal can be found somewhere in the works of the great composers. And don’t forget, Paul Simon, Don Henly, and Paul McCartney are in that category too.

8. And please, don’t forget food.  Depressed eating can easily make you fat, but there are certain magical chemicals in certain foods that give you certain dopamine-building effects that can turn blue skies to bright sunshine.  The primary chemical is called Tyrosine, and it can be found in a variety of foods like;

– Almonds

– Avocados

– Bananas

– Beef

– Chicken

– Chocolate

– Coffee

– Eggs

– Green Tea

– Milk

– Watermelon

– Yogurt

9.  And finally, thinking skills are critical.  While thinking too much and obsessing can get you into the tiger trap pits of depression, meditation, decompressive mantras and positive thinking can all dig you out and keep you out.

You are probably wondering what kind of nitwit authority I can actually bring to this topic, but I have spent a lot of money on therapy, not all of it for me, and I not only listen to psychiatrists and psychologists, but I remember what they explained to me.  And I have tried enough things to know what works.

So while you are busy chicken dancing to Beethoven while eating a banana, rest assured, Mickey is probably doing something just as embarrassingly ridiculous at the very same time.

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Filed under battling depression, commentary, Depression, family, healing, health, humor, strange and wonderful ideas about life

NPC’s (Non-Player Characters)

In Dungeons and Dragons games you are trying to bring characters to imaginary life by getting into their deformed, powerful, or magic-filled heads and walking around in a very dangerous imaginary world.  You have to be them.  You have to think like them and talk like them.  You have to love what they love, decide what they do, and live and die for them.  They become real people to you.  Well… as real as imaginary people can ever become.

But there are actually two distinct types of characters.

These, remember, are the Player Characters.  My two sons and my daughter provide them with their persona, personality, and personhood.   They are the primary actors in the stage play in the theater of the mind which is D & D.

But there are other characters too.  In fact, a whole complex magical world full of other characters.  And as the Dungeon Master, I am the one who steps into their weird and wacky imaginary skins to walk around and be them at least until the Player Characters decide to fireball them, abandon them to hungry trolls, or bonk them on the top of their little horned heads.  I get to inhabit an entire zoo of strange and wonderful creatures and people.

Besides the fact that these Non-Player Characters can easily lead you to develop multiple personality disorder, they are useful in telling the story in many different ways.  Some are friendly characters that may even become trusted travel companions for the Player Characters.

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D & D has a battle system based on controlling the outcomes of the roll of the dice with complex math and gained experience.  In simpler terms, there is a lot of bloody whacking with swords and axes that has to take place.  You need characters like that both to help you whack your enemies and to be the enemies you get to whack.  There is a certain joy to solving your problems with mindless whacking with a sword.  And yet, the story is helped when the sword-whackers begin to develop personalities.

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Crazy Mervin, for example, began life as a whackable monster that could easily have been murdered by the Player Characters in passing while they were battling the evil shape-changing Emerald Claw leader, Brother Garrow.

But Gandy befriended him and turned him from the evil side by feeding him and sparing him when it really counted.  He became a massively powerful ax-whacker for good because Gandy got on his good side.  And stupid creatures like Mervin possess simple loyalties.  He helped the players escape the Dark Continent of Xendrick with their lives and is now relied upon heavily to help with combat.  He was one of the leaders of the charge on the gate when the Players conquered the enthralled Castle Evernight.

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Not every NPC is a whackable monster, however.  In the early stages of the campaign the Players needed a magic-user who could read magic writing, use detection spells and shielding spells and magic missiles, and eventually lob fireballs on the bigger problems… like dragons.

Druaelia was the wizard I chose to give the group of heroes to fulfill these magical tasks.  Every D & D campaign requires wizarding somewhere along the way.  And Dru was a complex character from the start.  Her fire spells often went awry.  When Fate used a magic flaming crossbow bolt to sink a ship he was defending, killing the good guys right along with the bad guys, it was with a magic crossbow bolt crafted by Druaelia.  Her fire spells went nuclear-bad more than once.  She had to learn along the way that her magical abilities tended more towards ice and snow than fire.  She learned to become a powerful wielder of cold powers.  And while she was comfortable in a bikini-like dress that drove the boys wild because she grew to love the cold, she didn’t particularly like the attentions of men and male creatures that went along with that.  More than one random bandit or bad guy learned the hard way not leer at Dru.  There are just certain parts of the anatomy you really don’t want frozen.

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The Player Characters will need all sorts of help along the way, through travels and adventures and dangerous situations.  They will meet and need to make use of many different people and creatures.  And as Dungeon Master I try hard to make the stories lean more towards solving the problems of the story with means other than mere whacking with swords.   Sometimes that need for help from others can even lead you into more trouble.

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But as I am now nearing the 800 word mark on a 500 word essay, I  will have to draw it all to a close.  There is a lot more to say about NPC’s from our game.  They are all me and probably are proof of impending insanity.  But maybe I will tell you about that the next time we sit down together at the D & D table.

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