Thursday, 22 March 2018

Creating in a Cage

First off, let me just put this out there: I love creating.
I love writing, painting, programming and designing. I love writing for tabletop games or building stuff for LARp games. But as of late I have realised that I feel more and more like these inspirations have turned more into cages than anything else. A restricting, closed in box that I can see out of but can never reach.

Until recently I was running weekly tabletop games for a handful of friends - we ranged from Dungeons and Dragons to Warhammer to Vampire the Masquerade. I had, to be fair, quite a lot of fun writing out all the background of the worlds they explored - the different NPCs they would interact with, the monsters they would fight and so on. The problem that I had would be that I would put so much effort and depth into these worlds only to have the players (quite literally at times) burn the entire thing down. Even settting the game in a Vampire genre where fire should be the absolute last thing they would play with, the teams we had ended up burning down three different clubs, several houses and, in the end, an entire city.
All those chaarcters, all those story arcs all floating away like ash on the hot wind.

Conversely, other issues began to arise - drop outs are a regular thing in most Table Top groups,  but it began to affect the actual game after a while - it's hard to take on a dragon if your archers haven't turned up that day, or to save a dying friend if your healer is running very late, or pretty impossible if you're supposed to break into a house if your thief wasn't feeling up to coming out to play.
I began to write entire story arcs for the characters to play out, entire storylines with character history, vengeful enemies and old friends coming out of the woodwork for them to explore their character with - all of which came to naught when the player would not turn up to explore the meticulously written story.
This reached a tipping point when I allowed the players to choose from a combination of three White Wolf games: Vampire, Werewolf, and Mage. A number of players let me know what they were interested in playing "Mage" characters and so I set out to learn the rules and setting for that game; reading up on the Vampire rules and the Werewolf rules.
It was... a lot of reading. A lot of research, and a lot of inventive design to try to make sure that everything in the game could unfold organically, not be too forced to shoe-horned together, and to make sure that no one would be too overpowered.
But I got it done, printed out a frankly embarrassing number of combat tables and character sheets, and started that game. And not a single one of the mage players turned up to play. I shrugged it off, turning the game into - effectively - a vampires and werewolves game, but the same problem began to arise. Sometimes a couple of vampries wouldn't turn up, sometimes the werewolves - at one point not  a single one of the werewolves turned up for the game, making that entire story arc pointless for the week at least, and forcing us to focus solely on the vampires without any werewolf interaction.

After a while we moved on, and one of the charcters (as a human ghoul) died horrifically - the player, who had really invested in this character, asked if he could remain inthe party as a wraith. I thought that it would make for some interesting interaction and cross genre mingling. After doing (again) a LOT of reading about how wraiths work and play, I set up his character and we got started. He came to play one game and then never came back. Hours of reading and research, an entire set up all gone and wasted.

And yeah, I get it, people have lives and other things to do. But it didn't change the feeling that was quickly creeping over me - what I was doing didn't really matter. My writing was getting trapped in a cage, the world was just getting burned down time and again, the characters were simple cannon fodder for the players, and that was only if or when they turned up to play. My writing began to suffer. I decided to put as little effort in as possible and then gave up entirely - because I wasn't enjoying it any more - the entire thing appeared to be depressingly pointless.

The exact same thing happened but from a players perspective in the LARP games I had begun to attend - character growth and exploration could only be very minimal and, in an essence, private. This is great to explore the inner workings of your character but essentially denies any character growth without climbing up the various social ladders set throughout the game - become a military leader, become a high priest, a high mage, or a politician. And I quickly realised that if you wanted to climb these ladders, the method was always the same - the route of the politician. You had to deal with people, earn favours, make deals, debate, and so on. If you wanted to become a powerful mage, you first had to assemble a number of coven members around you, join the right magical order, then spend a good three to four hours in the hall of worlds debating with other mages and listening to them debate. Once that was over you would have to debate with your order and try to wrangle up some mana stones from somewhere to cast any spells of any worth. All boring magical politics - making appeals, filling out requests, and so on. Even creating a spell involved something that resembled and council tax form that had to be filled out in triplicate with addendum 37-B added on and stamped by three Eternals from the accounting department.
It was...frustrating.
Something that did draw my attention was the idea of a darker, seedy underground of Empire - the assassins guild, the thieves guild and so on - until that got shot down very quickly. The drama of it all fizzled out and then, as far as I could tell anyway, died. There was no more mystery - no more lurking.
Issues arose when someone said thye had been sexually assaulted in the game as well - which meant that no one was allowed to go skulking around at night - no more assassins, no more theives. No more conflict. It all appeared to become very....bland and washed out.

The point is that instead of it becoming a foundation upon which to build interesting characters, conflicts, and stories, it became a rather bland and restricting cage. I considered going back but found my enthusiasm for the entire thing dampened. Trying to arrange meets with other players met the same fate - many just wanted to hit things with sticks or hadn't really given their characters much thought - and more and more were dropping out every day. All the drama and excitement that seemed to be getting back to me about Empire were interpersonal conflicts - Out of Character ones. Bitchiness and backstabbing, conflict between players not characters, and all the absurd new rules that were being put out to ensure that new players wouldn't make too much of a mess of the game or end up hurting themselves or others. It became stale.

And lately I have turned all that impotent, useless creativity that I used on my tabletop games and LARP characters into writing for myself - actually creating characters and worlds, stories and horrors, all without the constraints of caged universes....and I have been loving it. I have also been having to fight back the instinct to look things up to see if they would "be allowed" by game rules. The rules are my own, the characters my own, and I have found that I can breathe some genuinely life into them withouth worrying about getting it wrong somehow.

But I have not given up entirely - I will be trying to play in other tabletop games, and may well be attending a few other LARPS throughout the year, but I know this - that focus on my family and my writing, my creativity and influence will come foremost now. Cages are fun to visit, but not to live in.


My hair is long. It's the longest it has ever been.
The reason, however, is only slightly aesthetic. Yeah, I love how awesome it looks - how gothic romantic it looks in the rain, how "mad professor" it looks when it tangles and runs wild. It's annoying, it gets in my eyes, it plugs up my sink and bathtub and it takes ages to dry but I love it.

Because it is my happiness.

Fifteen years ago I read a book by Robin Hobb that I adored - fantasy series that had a cultural tradition that would have the characters cut their hair when their loved ones died. The closer they were to the person the more hair they would cut off. For a fellow soldier a small lock of hair would be cut off - for a friend a handspan, but for a mother, a father, a son or a king, they would shave their hair down to a garishly short, prickly length. Those people would be described as "grief shorn" and their grief would show not only on their faces but also on their head.
Their hair would grow and their grief would fade, but they would always remain changed by that pain, by that sorrow.

Whenever I have been sad, grieving, or needing a change I have usually gone out and shaved my hair down to a short, prickly bristle and started all over again. But the past year has been the happiest I have been in a very long time. I have a job I like, I have squeezed all the toxic elements out of my life (like popping a rather petulant zit), and I am in love. (Yeah, go ahead, gag and roll your eyes...!)

And my hair shows this. I have had no reason or need for a change, I have felt no itch to just start all over again, to change who I am on the outside in a vague attempt to change the turmoil I feel within. I feel....content. I have found a peace, of sorts. Sure, the nightmares still linger as they always will, of cold white corridors, of wordless weeping, of loss, betrayal, and pain - all the things that make up a life lived, and yeah - I probably hate people now more than I ever have before...but I have come to find a peace in that.

But I can't show that peace, that contentment, on my face every day, so I wear it upon my head. The length of my hair is the length of my happiness - a full year and a bit of it. I hope it continues to grow at its manic pace, but for a long has my hair is a curly, frizzy mess the coils around my face, know this, friends: I am happy.

The Horror at Home

I have been doing a lot of research into horror lately; hell to be honest I've been "researching" horror most of my life - reading Stephen King books from a very young age, watching movies like Alien, Critters, and the Night of the Living Dead just as soon as I could get away with it - I have always found Horror fascinating.
Horror in all its differing media has profoundly different effects, but I'll cover that in a later blog. Right now I would like to address the topic of: The Foreign.
The best horror usually takes an average character, one we can identify with, and puts them in a new, unsafe setting OR takes a normal safe setting and twists it into something horrific. Either way we need a protagonist we can recognise or sympathize with and put them into a situation which is unnerving, dangerous, or utterly foreign to them.
In Alien, Ripley starts off as a normal mining operative - in outer space, sure, but she and her crew are just average working joes - and they encounter something so utterly foreign to them that they just cannot understand it until it destroys them. In Night of the Living Dead, Barbara and her brother are paying respects to their dead mother when they are attacked - by the walking dead. Their normal, almost mundane (including the mundanity of human grief and loss here) lives are shattered by the strange new rules - the dead get up and kill. Those that die get up and kill! Friday the 13th invovles a bunch of teenagers going out camping and having fun - a concept that up until the slasher era was as safe as apple pie. But now anyone who goes camping is terrified of masked stalkers, blair witches, and creatures that lurk in the woods. Because of horror movies.
We fear the unknown, but it is the normal made....abnormal that gives us the creeps.
The approach to "the other" works especially well for horror movies and horror games (horror games especially because we are already open and adaptive to the concpet of our preconceptions changing with the rules of the game). Movies like REC and THE RING are especially unnerving to American and Western audiences because of how unsettling the every day setting has become - people are still people, they have children, jobs, and drive cars....but they also have shrines to the dead in their own homes; they have cultural beliefs and superstitions that are strange and otherworldly to us but are completely normal to those characters - we get the feeling that everything is just a different.
This works especially well in computer games because we are already used to the idea of the rules of engagement being...more maleable. We quickly get used to the idea that door slide open sideways, that there are little tomb shrines to old gods scattered around old villages, and we quickly adapt to shinto beliefs and ideals - we adapt to them becaue we are used to adapting to the rules of games, but it doesn't make it any less unsettling to the player. In Fatal Frame (Project Zero in cool countries) we quickly adapt to the believe that the dead will stalk the streets of an old village if they died in a horrific way. We accept that they can be killed by capturing their souls in photos, and we accept that herbal remedies will heal us from getting attacked by ghosts. These are game elements. But every other part of the setting - the strange architecture, the long flowing komono robes, the halting, slightly jarring english, the multitude of shrines, old japanese dolls, and so on, help to reinforce the horrible feeling the *we don't belong here*.

This slight oddness works at its very best in the silent hill and resident evil games: both made by japanese companies, they have western characters and settings - a foreign country is holding up a mirror to a world that we recognise, but it is slightly, and horribly, distorted. Streets are just a little too wide and too long - shops have a strange...not quite right feel... schools seem too claustrophobic, school busses cramped coffins, christian churches are tall, looming, menacing shapes, doors on hinges squeal open unsettlingly. Everything just seems slightly...wrong. Like the creator saw pictures of the places but didn't quite understand them - an almost cartoonish reflection of our everyday places. In both silent hill and resident evil those slightly off canvases are then built upon - one with zombies, crashed cars, insanse mansionlike architecture and gore, the other with the horrific nightmare world and the monsters therein. This makes it all the more unsettling.
Continue looking at the Silent Hill series - the first is set in the small tourist town of Silent Hill - an almost laughably twee little town with one school, one main street, one hospital, and one church. It begins in a stereotypical american diner, and seems to visit almost very aspect of an average american life - suburban homes with dog houses outside, schools, churches,  shopping malls, and hospitals. The second is set in that same town, but further around, with a different school, hospital, mall, and so on - almost on the other side of the lake that Silent Hill has been built around. It has more apartments and taller, more looming structures than the last one. Silent Hill three starts off in a shopping mall (and a very american Fun Park). Silent Hill 4 is set in an apartment. A very american apartment.
And yet all of these very mundane settings are And that is before the designers get creative with the monsters, blood and rust colored walls, and shrieking baby ghosts crawling out of the ceiling.
How can it feel this wrong? Anyway; horror is about taking the normal and holding up a twisted reflection on it - most horror is based rather solidly on the fears of that society - on the issues that have come up in that time - the fear of radioactive materials, of aliens from outer space, of overcrowding and overpopulation, of the promiscuous nature of teenagers these days and the older generation with older values being violently disapproving of it (yeah, a bit specific there with Friday the 13th part one, but hey...) of psycology and of dreams, of machinery, and so on and so on.
They reflect our normal worlds and our fears - gives them shape and provides a much needed catharsis by either letting us feel justified in being terrified of such topics or by letting the hero overcome such terrors with steadfastness or cunning.

....This sttrangeness, this whole new set of rules that make no sense to us is probably why religion can be seen as so terrifying - religions are agreed upon myths with their own sets of rules that often make little to no sense to those outside of the religious group. Not working on sundays, having to wear things on your heads, not eating specific food groups, nonsensical chanting, self mutilation. animal sacrifice, human sacrifice, eating flesh and drinking blood are just some of the outlandish rules that come from religions (the top three abrahamic religions, in fact - Christianity, Judaism and Islam) that characters within the horror might understand but we - the audience - do not understand. Imagine a helpless character being placed in a village where the locals believe that they have to smear lambs blood all over their doorways for protection, and that sacrificing their first-born son is not only neccessary, but the right thing to do. Imagine a religion where children are seen as vessels of divine innocence - an innocence that can be harvested. Nightmarish, right? That's religion for you.

But I'll leave the religious rant for another entry - the point is that rules that we take for granted (going to church every sunday to eat the flesh and drink the blood of christ) can be seen as nightmarish to anyone else. Imagine an outsider looking at the rules of christianity without understanding the metaphor or the context and then trying to build up a religion around that.... they would be nailing children to crosses by the end of the week.
"The Outsider" - a term that I, perhaps, should have used more often in this post. Ah well - at least this has opened up my thought processes slightly and let me ponder on my own horror writing.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Black First Land First - The Fall of Man

The lie of the Lines we draw:

Fifteen years ago Zimbabwe was bathed in blood as White farmers were forced off of land by Blacks who claimed that the land belonged to them. This uprising occurred after years of oppression of Blacks by a cruel and racist white regime. Now, after the economy of Zimbabwe has spiralled into useless obscurity, the black land owners are having to turn to white farmers for help - because they have no idea how to farm.
And the cycle has begun again in South Africa - with consequences that, I fear, shall be far reaching.

Do you see how the lines of blood are drawn in the sand?
Of Us and Them? Of the Blacks and the Whites? I had thought....after a long time in a city that has become, of late, rather multicultural, that the rest of the world had started to turn around, that everywhere was becoming just that little bit more civilized. But you look around and the lines are still there - vivid and horrible like scars in the flesh.

And I honestly cannot see a way out. Trying to talk about the race issue is a....delicate process at best. There are wounds still fresh from years of abuse, from centuries of slavery and oppression, but the lines need to be obscured - we all, no matter what race, must work together.

What happened must not be forgotten, but the past cannot be used to make the future held accountable.

...I feel tired. And old. I don't think I ever really felt old until now. But looking at this....this mess of a world, I feel so very weary of it all - a tired grey weariness that is beyond even any real despair. Just a hopeless acceptance that this is what is... that some people just cannot be reasoned with.

I have tried to talk to members of the radical terrorist movement "black first land first" (BFL for some reason) about their plans - the response was....less than coherent. After having the laughably obscure insult of "Settler" thrown at me a couple of times, I was accused of speaking nothing but lies because I was white - the replies descending into naught by chanting, worldless shrieks and the battlecry of "Land Or Death" with absolutely no concept of what they would do beyond that. This isn't about equality - its about retaliation, about revenge.
And I have found that I cannot talk with them or find anything resembling a real plan... I find myself afraid for the children of humanity.

I am tired.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

"Finding my Routes"

Ironic, really, when you think about it.
I set out to start again, and I have literally returned to my routes. This Blog was started nearly a decade ago, a bright vivid scar lost on the internet - a reminder of a more romantic, simpler and more naive young man - the Shevek that I once was. After getting back into my writing in a big way, I shall be using this blog once again - I was going to start a new one and call it "Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror and hate"
Which just goes to show how much (or, perhaps, how little) I have changed.
I need to write more - I need to set hours of my day out so that I can start tyo flex those old wings again. I need to write, to create, once more. I am slowly pushing my old friends away as I did, Aeons ago it seems. But this time something feels...different. More distant, more brittle. In old days relationships were more fluid, more plastic, more flexible, but also, in some indefineable way, more meaningful.
Now I seem to feel too distant from them all, too absent.

Bt this is not a Blog to rant about that - or is it? Are not my emotions and my thoughts going to be core to all of my actions? All of my writing? I write most and write best when I am under some nost of emotional strain....And this is very much an emotional time.

I am going to be a father again.
And I am terrified.

Some context: Two years ago, I was going out with a young woman called "Elisha Hetherington". A sweet girl; friendly and bouncy, lovely and likeable. She got pregnant and though the pregnancy was a bit of a scary shock, I was happy. I began to sing to the baby as I rubbed body oils into her belly as she got bigger. ...apart form that, though, I cannot really remember much about the pregnancy. I remember the scans, the plans, and her nesting....I remember giving way on her plans for names and such, finding out it was a boy and being happy, buying things - books, baby grows, and so on... But there is a strange disconnect to it all - facts are there, memories stay, but there are absolutely no real emotional connections to that time. As if the scars have run too deep - as if I have denied feeling anything from that time for so long that I no longer can.
We woke up one morning with the bed slick with her blood. It wasn't normal, and I panicked. We called an ambulance, despite her insisting that she didn't need one - she would rather get an ambulance. I remember the ambulance arriving, getting my jacket and the bags...but I do not remember the ride to the hospital. I remember the bored, absent look on the midwives' faces as we came in - another pregnant woman causing a fuss. I recall Ellie being sick into a sink from the gas and air. I recall her screaming as the Indian doctor inspected her, and I remember the measured strain in the doctor's voice as she told us that the baby was in trouble and was coming out now.
I remember them wheeling her into the ER and being escorted away from it by a young, scared midwife. I remember going back to the room, sagging to my knees, shaking and sobbing.
I remember begging the silent world "No." I remember shaking and retching, begging again and again. No. No. No.
And then going numb. I locked the panic down. I locked down the pain.
Ellie's mother arrived and I hugged her numbly.
When the doctor came back to tell us that Ellie had had a close call but was going to be okay, I realised then how close it had been. Life drained from me, leaving me cold. Then they told us about my son. He had been deprived of oxygen for too long.
Ellie's mother told us that we would take care of him no matter what. I stared at her disbelievingly then. No. It was selfish of me, but no. I wanted a healthy, smart boy. I wanted my boy to be able to read, to think , to feel, to live like all little boys should.
It was selfish, or something like it, but I wanted a little boy....not a boy too brain damaged to think.
My stomach dropped away when I looked into the doctor's eyes. She had no hope there. The hope was all a fabrication, one last little glimmer for Ellie's mother to cling to.
My boy was already, in her eyes, dead.
In my cold numbness, I noted how she never said "I'm sorry". Some sort of legal thing, I supposed. As if saying a vaguely human nicety would make her responsible for it all. She shouldered on her doctor's jacket and donned the mask of professionalism. She told us that as a doctor she knew she had made the right choice and that if she had not done what she had done, both Ellie and the baby would be already dead.
And then she fled.

Those were dark days to come...the time we spent in the hospital as Ellie recovered and myson slowly died. I remember the way he smelled - like a baby, but with the vaguely chemical overtone with all those tubes and wires stuck to his tiny, skinny body. Babies always look plump and pink when they are born, but not my son. He looked frail, weak, and skeletal, but with a full head of hair. I smile painfully at that little memory.
That and the memory of Ellie hold his little body and smiling vacantly - the pain, the loss, and the drugs driving away all sense from her - her vague frown as I tried to pull the cold little body from her grip.
The corridor. The heart of all the scars, the root of all this damage. I see it now. They unhooked my son from the machinery keeping him alive and handed him to me to take to his mother, still hooked up wo wires and IV drips of her own. His tiny body felt oddly heavy to me as I carried him down that long, vacant, white corridor. I felt his little heart flutter.
And I felt it stop.
I felt my son die.
I held him in my arms as he died.
I held my baby boy in my arms as he died.
And I felt it happen.
And there was nothing I could do but walk down taht damn corridor, cradling his already cooling little corpse and hand him to his mother to hold.
What I handed her wasn't our son, it was just a little body. A tiny, vacant vessel for a life that had already departed.
I didn't want her to feel him grow cold and stiff, but she didn't want to let him go.

The days after that are a blur, and the weeks beyon dare a blank.
In a frenzy of need Ellie and I tried for another baby as soon as we could. Nothing came of it - whether because she was not healed or because I was not ready I do not know.
Our son did not survive the incident. And neither did we.
Not really. We were shambling shells for the longest time after that. I recall nothing of it, really. Pain turned to hate and we lashed out at each other. I tried to save us...but too little. Too late.
Dark days continued. I slept on a pile of fake fur in the corner of the room that was to be the nursery next to an empty cot. Along one wall remained the unfinished mural that I never got around to painting...something that I blamed Ellie for, in my mind. Yet I cannot remember why. I suppose I needed someone to blame for the pain. I suppose we both did. She started to live again and I sank down into my misery, scrabbling desperately for something to hold onto. My world fell away - or I fell away from the world. When seen through the eyes of an astronaut jettisoned out into space do the semantics really matter? My scars must have healed around that time though, because I can remember some of those days with something resembling clarity - events come in order and make sense, emotions scrape together roughly again. I know that I listened a lot to counting crows (for my son) and Teegan and Sara (to bewail the loss of love).
But I still remember the pain. And the hate. And the desperate need to connect to someone, to anyone.

But enough. Enough of that. It was my darkest times, perhaps. I can barely remember the pain any more, but the gaping maw of agony I do remember makes me terrified. All I can do now is wait for my second child to be born, but this time I shall feel every second. Every DAMN SECOND of it. And I shall not forget. I will not let myself forget.

I wondered what this blog was going to be when I started it. Now I know.
It will be me finding my routes through bringing this new life into a world I barely understand. It will be me venting my fears, my horror, my fury. It will be me drawing a map for myself and for him, when he comes out into the world. I shall guide both him and myself here with these worlds, with these thoughts. I shall forge a future out of nothing more than words - because that is all I can do - it is all we have ever done.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

I am now a HANDMASTER!

Yup, just got handfasted, and am loving every second of it.
The ceremony went off without a hitch, even when the community service warden wandered over and asked us what we were was just perfect. Ellie was stunning, and everyone had a great time. It was perfect. We got to meet most of our friends on and off throughout the day, people coming and go, which I think was a lot better than trying to cope with everyone at once!
Ayva tried to be center of attention in the ceremony, again! But i was great, and I'm hoping to have some photos up real soon.
Other than that, I finally heard from my god-mother on th net...I'm annoyed because me letters aren't getting through and I wanted to keep them updated! Other than that, we are all happy, and having a great time.
I'll be back soon, but until then, you take care of yourselves!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Ties that bind

Well, the time is getting closer, and I have to admit I'm getting pretty nervous.
Ellie and I are set to get handfasted on the first of May, in front of her friends and family; and from then on we are bound. I've had to explain it to a few friends, but ceremony is simply this:

A swearing of love and fatihfulness to each other. Nothing less than a marriage.
In every way but legally we are getting married.
In a year's time, we are going to take our bearings and if we are still together and willing to be together, we will hold a proper christian ceremony to satisfy the law, her family and mine. But that isn't what's important - the fact is we are swearing to each other, and declaring our love and partnership to the world - Marriage in all but legal documentation.

It's strange and rather horrible to find just how hard it is to actually get married; even getting married in the registry office (a bleak, horrible little place where the plants are plastic and the chairs are bolted down so no one steals them!) costs hundreds of pounds. It's silly and it's stupid, but getting married and being in love apparently costs money.

In a world where love costs money are we all anything more than whores?

In other news, the votes are being cast in South Africa today - I know how it will go, the ANC will come out on top, but the question remains; will they actually do what they promised? Obama, oddly enough, seems to be making some of the waves that he promised - even the CIA are getting pissed at him; claiming that without torturing suspects (note the word: SUSPECTS) they cannot protect their country. They have cited, and get this: JACK BAUER as a case in point. The FICTIONAL hero from 24 is their example and excuse for slamming suspect's heads against walls and for using such extreme tortures as waterboarding and worse.
...But hell, it wouldn't be politics if it wasn't dirty, right?

Anyway, on my way again, see you all soon!