Monthly Archives: September 2016

A Shared Story

When my mom and I got back to our neighborhood from running errands, my friend was outside his house, so I had my mom drop me there. We hung out in his yard for a little while, and then we went for a wander. Somehow we ended up talking about Mythic Island. It had nothing to do with what I’ve posted over the past few days, but by the time we got back to our neighborhood we had decided to go back. We used to play Mythic Island with a huge group of friends, but we’ve decided to keep it between the two of us. We’re going to treat it both as a story and as a real, significant world, as if it really does exist. After every adventure we’re going to talk about what happened and record our conversations so we can post it as a podcast.

This got me thinking. When we played Mythic Island, we treated it as real. We would bring things from this world into that world and vise-versa. We agreed that it would probably be a bad idea to allow things from that world to come into this one. This is really just for logistical reasons. We want to be able to shut the game off, as it were. We didn’t close the door to this world when we were in middle school, so we would often see dragons flying around on the highway and such.

For weeks now I’ve been trying to get my friends together to play through a D&D campaign I’ve been working on. We just can’t seem to get everyone together at the same time. I suspect I will be in charge of coming up with a lot of the Mythic Island story because I have more time, and I think I can use a lot of the same ideas. I’ll probably have to alter the plot quite a bit because my friend and I are largely coming up with the new chapter of the story together, and we’re basing it off of where we left off about ten years ago. Can you feel the nostalgia?

The idea of my D&D campaign was that several hundred years before the characters even come in, there was an epic war. The children of two brothers who were very prominent nobles became the rulers of two opposed kingdoms, and at one point, one of the kids killed his uncle. His father cursed him and created the Darkness. That kid’s soul was then tied to the Darkness and was not allowed to die. The ultimate goal of the campaign was to first find out that there is something more abstract called the Light, and then to find out that there is a soul tied to the Light. Once they learned this, the goal of the campaign would be to find the soul of the Light. That soul would then lead you on a mission to either destroy the Darkness along with the soul that is attached to it, or to convince the soul of the Darkness to befriend the Light, thus destroying the Darkness, but not the soul.

Of course I’m over-thinking the whole thing. I think the idea of playing a story instead of simply writing it is strange to me. When we played Mythic Island as middle school kids it was only natural. It’s like it’s foreign to me now because I haven’t done it for so long. I’m going to have to get used to it again.

We stopped playing this when we went to high school. That year I took an acting class, and I felt like I was terrible at it. I guess I never equated playing the story with acting, and if I had, I still don’t know how I would have graded myself. Granted, in that case I was playing myself in an imagined situation. D&D definitely has an aspect of role-playing, but we really don’t try very hard at it. We spend a lot of time just trying to figure out what the heck we’re supposed to be doing. I think the Mythic Island scenario will be interesting because we’re the Dungeon Masters as well as the players.

When we played it as kids we spent a lot of time running from the bad guys. We made our own lives difficult, but that made the game more fun. We know what’s going on in Mythic Island now, and once again, we’re intentionally making our lives difficult. The battles will be harder, and the bad guys will be scarier because we’re older, more sophisticated, and more creative. Of course this also means our solutions to problems and our schemes will be more complex. I’ve been wanting to do this and I’ve been trying to talk my friends into it for a year now. I’m so happy we’re going to be doing it.

I’m still going back and forth a little on how I feel about keeping it between the two of us. At one point in time we had a small army of friends with us. At the same time, we were the most invested in the story, and sometimes our other friends didn’t take it seriously enough. The nice thing about it is that this friend and I don’t often hang out without other people any more. The truth is, we really don’t have that much in common other than our shared obsession with Star Wars and our history with Mythic Island. The game started with just the two of us anyway. I don’t think it’s at all a coincidence that I started thinking about this more, lately.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Look At The Sky

The other day I realized just how much I stare at my phone. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I realized that for the longest time, I had not looked at the sky. After realizing this, I realized just how much I don’t pay attention to as an adult that really seemed to matter when I was a kid. As a kid I would just sit and stare at the sky and think about a million things and nothing. It seemed like there was so much more in the world. I didn’t notice when I stopped doing that. I didn’t notice as the world became smaller and faster.

I’ve been trying to make a point to look at the sky now. I still don’t always remember. I think it’s important. I used to see pictures in the clouds. I don’t see pictures anymore, but I still think the sky is beautiful. I think it’s important to appreciate the things God made. If it wasn’t important, he wouldn’t have made things beautiful. The world could have been black and white. As an artist, I don’t always know why I make things or write things. I just can’t help it, and even though I don’t have an explicable reason for them, I love the things I make. I imagine God feels the same way, particularly about people who can love him back.

It’s funny that a lot of things in the world can keep you alive in one case, and can kill you in another. I like fire. At one point in time, fire was integral to the survival of the human race. In fact, for several years we’ve heated our house with a wood stove through the winter because it’s been cheaper. Fire is something I can still stare at for hours and think about nothing and everything. I like to play with fire. I like to watch stuff burn (yes I know that sounds weird) because it’s interesting and beautiful.

I’ve said this before, but I have over one hundred cousins of various removes, etc, so I just call them all cousins. Anyway, at camp this summer my mom had to explain to one of my cousins who has some form of developmental problem that he couldn’t touch fire. He understood that it would hurt him, but he thought he could run to the lake and put it out before it got too hot. Like me, he thought fire was beautiful and interesting and just wanted to understand it better.

Two years ago, when we had a record-breaking winter, my dad went hiking and made a video. It was snowing and sub-zero on the mountain, but my dad had the time of his life. He loves cold and snow. When I was a kid I liked it. Listening to the weather forecast and hearing seventies and eighties instead of eighties and nineties makes me a little sad these days. At the same time, a part of me is hoping for another record-breaking winter. If it has to come, I’d rather it come in full force. When we got Seamus, we tried to give him some snow to play with. He was afraid of it. He’s a really stupid bird.

I wonder if it’s easier to appreciate things when you think about how you relate to those things, or when you project yourself into a story or an idea or a situation. In my last post I talked about Mythic Island. There was a specific way in which to get there. You had to build a fairy house. Fairies would show up and live there, and in return for building them a house, they would do things for you. In particular, they would create a magical portal that would allow you to get to Mythic Island. A fairy house is a tepee made of sticks and leaves and things. The better the fairy house, the more fairies it would attract. The more fairies you had, the more they could do for you. When we hung out in the woods as kids we would think about these things, and we would build fairy houses just to be nice. We had more of a reason for being there.

I think it’s harder to relate to the world when our worlds are our computers. On Facebook and WordPress and wherever else we “exist” we create the versions of ourselves that we want that particular world to see, and we see the manufactured versions of everyone else. We can look at pictures of clouds and fire, but they’re no substitute for the real thing. When I started playing Dungeons and Dragons with my friends, it was like going back to Mythic Island. At the time, though, things from Mythic Island would come into the “real world” and we had to help dragons get back home. I guess maybe that made the world seem a little bigger, too.

What I didn’t realize as a kid was that the world is really big. It’s just my little piece of it that’s small. In Mythic Island we could ride our dragons hundreds of miles in a day, we were powerful, and time didn’t make sense. It was our world, and that’s why it seemed so much bigger than the “real world.” I guess I just kind of miss being amazed by the sky. The world really hasn’t changed. I’m just more easily distracted, and ironically, I think I’m less patient in some ways. For the longest time I didn’t want a cell phone. Everyone my age (eleven or so) had one, but I didn’t care. Then when smart phones became a thing my mom practically had to force me to get one. And a few days ago I realized that I forget to be amazed by the sky.

Don’t forget to be amazed. Even if you’ve looked at something a million times, look at it again. Listen to that song you love again. Smell those flowers. Climb that mountain. Eat that cookie. Go back to Mythic Island.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Our Cockamamie Quest

Yesterday I worked for several hours on the first leg of a journey my friends will soon embark on. I’m going to be the DM for my friends while my brother’s at school. I think I have some fun ideas to work with. It’s actually kind of terrifying being in charge of a little universe, and working on this kind of story is very different than working on my novel. I can only plan for so much because they might do something I didn’t see coming at all. I’m starting them off with a fairly obvious premise, but they do have to figure a lot of stuff out.

I’ve been having kind of a hilarious email exchange with my cousin. It started several weeks ago and our initial question was whether or not Jesus likes little kids. It was just a silly, hypothetical debate, but it’s since moved into some actually serious questions. It’s awesome because my cousin lives in Canada, and since texting country-to-country is expensive, we don’t talk much except for at camp and at Christmas. The whole thing is funny because we’ve been simultaneously having a Star Wars debate about whether or not the Dark Side of the Force is inherently evil. My position is that it is not.

I also started playing Skyrim yesterday. Anything involving dragons is automatically epic in my book. I’ve thought dragons were awesome since I was five. I’ve also started reading the Wheel of Time series, which is a humongous monster, but a huge story is no longer intimidating to me. I read the Bible cover to cover. It took me ten months, but if I can stick to that, I can most certainly stick to a long fantasy series.

I’ve also been more seriously working on my book again. It would be simply unfair of me not to dedicate this thing to God because my strategy for dealing with writer’s block or simply for coming up with ideas has been to say, “God, I’ll type, you write.” Quite frankly, he’s written a lot of my book, whether literally or not.

The point of all this is that I am completely immersed in stories lately and I love it. The other night, my friend and I watched the first eight episodes of Stranger Things, which was so great because the main characters are a group of four middle school boys who play Dungeons and Dragons and get wrapped up in a very real extra-dimensional, good-versus-evil battle. It reminded us so much of when we were kids. When other kids were doing whatever it is normal kids do on Friday nights, we would ditch the “real world” and head for Mythic Island where we plotted and fought against the wolf demon Agorauth.

It’s funny. When I was a kid I wanted nothing to do with the “real world.” I made up stories and tried so hard to escape into those stories. I guess I like stories so much because I can predict what’s going to happen a lot of the time. The real world is much more unpredictable. I love stories for what they are. I love stories about different realities where dragons are real, but I love them as stories in the real world. They make the real world better.

For a long time I didn’t like my own story because I didn’t understand my own story. Maybe it’s cliche to call a life a story, but that’s how I think of it. I like my own story. It’s unpredictable, and the world it takes place in is scary, but the worlds of all the best stories are scary. Some of the best stories take place after the end of the world, or some catastrophic meltdown. Realistically, most of the stories I like–most of those worlds–are a lot scarier than this one. This one’s just the scariest to us because we’re living in it. What also tends to be true of my favorite kinds of stories is that humans (or other humanoid creatures, elves, etc) are more powerful than they are in the “real world.” Characters are a lot more capable of taking care of themselves.

In this world God says “surrender.” It’s the most counter-intuitive thing a person could do. Our instinct is to armor up, grab a sword and fight against whatever evil confronts us. We want to fight because we think it’s our job. We think we’re the main character. In Mythic Island, my friends and I were the main characters. In this world we’re only seeing our little pocket of reality in a finite blip of time and space. At the same time, we’re not insignificant. In church on Saturday we sang a song, the chorus of which was: “Long have I waited for you coming home to me and living deeply our new life.” We’re not the main characters in the epic story that is reality, but we all have an important part to play. We matter and what we do matters to the story. God made us because he loves us.

God says “surrender.” We have to surrender to something. We may not be the main characters in The Story, but we’re the main characters of each of our own individual stories that are significant to The Story. Ultimately, everyone has a destination and their own mission to complete. I like thinking of it that way.

Surrender means listening. Surrender means trusting. Surrender means embarking on the cockamamie quest that is your life. In the best stories; the ones that matter; the one’s that really influence you, the characters are asked to do seemingly ridiculous, impossible things, but these things are asked of them by someone they respect and maybe even love, and they wouldn’t be asked if it wasn’t of utmost importance. You’ll also notice that they aren’t told all the details at the start. They are presented with a problem, they are told what to do, and the details become clear as they move along. This is true in the Gospels. It’s true in real life. Jesus says “Follow me.” His first followers didn’t ask why. They didn’t ask where they were going. They didn’t ask what they were supposed to do. They trusted him. If you’ve ever played Dungeons and Dragons or a game like Skyrim, your character is presented with the same kind of scenario. You’re given something to start with, and as you move along, things become clear. Our first “quest” as Jesus’ followers is to learn to surrender; learn to trust.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

I Was Angry At God

Two or three weeks ago I slept late. My cousin was at my house, and he, my brother, and my parents were trying to decide where to go for food. I invariably wake up hungry. After some deliberation we decided on a Mexican restaurant nearby. Between the time we left the house and the time we arrived, my epilepsy started acting up so that by the time we were ready to order, I couldn’t speak and my dad had to order for me. Most of the time my epilepsy doesn’t do much other than stop me from processing language.

For some reason I usually tend to have problems at home, or at least some place where I can escape from humans. This time was an exception, and on top of that, it was “girl time,” my hormones were a little wonky, and I was rather emotional about the whole thing. I don’t like people to see when I’m having problems. I want to just hide until it’s over. This time I couldn’t, and it pissed me off royally. By the time we got home my brain was fine, but I wasn’t. I went in my room and did the only thing I could. I went to bed and silently screamed.

I screamed, I cried, and I flipped out at the only person I knew I could; the person who loves me most. I didn’t want to be around people, but I didn’t want to be alone. I was angry at God for letting this happen. At the same time, I needed him. Any other person would have run for the hills if they had even an idea of how mad I was.

In less than an hour, my anger turned to desperation. I yelled, but my plea was, “Don’t leave me!” He didn’t leave. I knew he was there the whole time. What I’ve learned from this is that God is unfair partly because the world is unfair. I’ve also come to believe more that God uses our bad experiences to bring us closer to him and teach us things if we let him.

Last night I had insomnia because I slept late yesterday, and had brain fuzz pretty early, which made me sleepy, so I went to bed around ten-thirty. I woke up around one-thirty because my bird started screeching for no discernible reason. I was thoroughly awake at that point, so I started talking. For some reason, I find that the middle of the night is a good time to pray.

A lot of time has passed, but it was still bothering me that I got mad at God. The fact of the matter is, though, that I loved him, even in the deepest, darkest, angriest corner of my mind. I held nothing back, and he took it. He stayed, and when I realized that what I was doing was wrong, he stayed, and all this time while I’ve been trying to figure out how to make it up to him, and realizing I can’t, he’s stayed. I’ve thought about going to confession about this, but I got mad at God about something once before and my priest said it basically wasn’t a sin as long as I deal with it in a reasonable, healthy way. The truth is, God helped me work through it in that one hour. I know he’s forgiven me. I’m having trouble forgiving myself, and I need his help to do that.

I was finally able to put into words what the root of the problem was today. It’s been bothering me all this time because my anger was misdirected and unfair in the exact opposite way that God’s love is unfair. God loves those who don’t deserve it. I was angry at the one who deserved my anger the least. It’s often difficult for me to view my epilepsy in a positive light, but it’s at times like this that I am able to. The world is unfair, but so is God.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!