3.26.2016

The Role Of The Roll

The weekend of epically awesome things continues.  Today I drove north. Out of my little Uptown apartment and a little out of my comfort zone to attend a workshop in Ashland, Ohio.  The workshop was hosted by a very talented group of writers and creatives that I met earlier this month, the North Central Ohio Writers (check out their Facebook page here).

The focus of the workshop today was using the character creation tools in the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) gaming system to aid in character creation for other things you might be working on as an author.

I like D&D. I like to write. And I liked the folks I'd met from the NCOW group. Seemed like a no-brainer.  There was a brief moment of panic this morning where I thought I might have actually slept through my alarm and shot my window for the 80 minute drive. I would have had to given it some serious thought at that point--anyone who was late was automatically relegated to creating a Bard.  I'm thinking this makes more sense if you play D&D. Suffice to say, I didn't want to be late.

On the drive up I started thinking about the topic. Linking character creation in D&D to other writing wasn't quite the straight line that one might think.  The multiverse of Dungeons & Dragons has had 30 years to evolve. Character classes, racial traits, backgrounds---heck all manner of minutia has been developed over three decades to craft one of the most amazing role playing universes in the world.

Character creation in the gaming system starts as a very mechanical process. Six major attributes are populated with the results of rolls of the dice. There are twelve major classes of characters. Each has strengths and weaknesses that can be cultivated depending on the strength or weakness of the numbers rolled on the dice.

Thinking to my own stories, I currently have nothing written in which I have a monk, paladin, warlock, ranger, fighter, or any of the other D&D classes as characters. How the heck was this going to help? It wasn't like I could just roll the dice and build some magical awesome character for my particular flavor of writing--or was it?

These thoughts were playing Red Rover in my brain bucket on the drive. When I got to the Ashland Public Library, I was greeted by happy faces. Some familiar, some new to me. I was greeted also by the smell of stew. As well as some delicious eggy potato concoction.  I knew the drive was worth it. I'm a simple man and food works. Add tasty food to my ability to get a D&D fix, and you've just added another notch in the belt of an already awesome weekend.

Things got underway and the character creation was in full swing after a brief discussion of the different types of classes available in the game. As I had played a couple of them, I spoke up and filled in some of the details of the classes in question.  And then the room became filled with 20 people rolling dice and the furtive sounds of pencils and erasers dancing wildly on the pre-printed character sheets.

I left my class and race to the whim of the dice and wound up with a Half-Elf Warlock named Bob Hooper. As I started plugging numbers in, I noticed something.  Within the Player's Handbook, which on first blush seems amazingly thorough, there was an underlying message.  The designers of the game were genius. At its core, Dungeon's and Dragon's and the scores of RPG (both tabletop and electronic) that followed was one simple truth from the creators: We have given you the basic constructs of the game...how you tell, live, or play the story however is completely up to you.

There was the tie-in for me. The a-ha moment, if you will.

Within the worlds we create as writers, there are some basic constructs.  Grammar...patterns of thought and speech. Mechanics of getting the story crafted.

Everything else, though, is wide open.

One of the best moments for me today was not creating my own character (although he's going to be fun to play even if he is a squishy 'caster). No, it was helping someone else. One of the participants was sent over to me to help fill in the character sheet (there are a few who know me that will laugh at this considering I second guess myself all the time with those damn character sheets).  She was building a Ranger and had her base rolls done, but had some questions about how to build her character beyond that.

I was flustered at first--flipping through the manual and trying to figure out how to calculate certain items, then I took a step back and we talked about the story a bit.

That's the key. Once you plug the numbers in, you can't actually play with your character until you create its story. Where did they come from? Why are they the way they are? How the hell does a Half-Elf have a name like "Bob Hooper" and is there really a place called the Straits of Sessymia from which he hails?

There's the hook. The same energy and process that goes in to creating that character's life are exactly what will help develop characters in the stories each of us are writing.

Like life, in the creation of our characters there is always more than just a roll of the dice.

-A.T.


3.20.2016

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today

The year was 1996. I don't know if this was the actual day or not, but in 1996 I was in Chicago for work (much like today). My boss asked me if I had ever had Chicago-style pizza. Thinking that Pizzeria Uno counted, I assumed I had eaten something that was a close approximation of Chicago pizza.
I couldn't have been more wrong. 
He took me to the place serving his favorite Chicago pie (as he called it). It was downtown and within walking distance from the hotel. So we did. 
I have since learned a few things. The only place to get Chicago pizza is in Chicago. From a Chicago pizza eatery or restaurant. Anything else is "Chicago-style" and really not quite the same. People are fiercely loyal about which Chicago pizza is their favorite. One is Gino's East. I haven't had it, but my ex wife did and seemed to enjoy it. I think. The other is Lou Malnati's (or simply "Lou's"). I have had Lou's and it was also quite good. 
And then, there's the one I had first. Twenty years ago.
Giordano's.
I can remember ordering and asking Terry if he wanted to split a large pie. He laughed and nearly did a spit take with his beer. "Oh no, man. We'll split a small and you'll have leftovers."
It was my turn to laugh. I hadn't had leftovers from a small pizza since...well...never. But he was the pro, so I took his word for it.
I still wasn't impressed when they brought that small ass pie to the table. And then the waiter served up the first slice....the cheese...oh my god the cheese. It STRETCHED. That glorious quintessential cheese stretch when you are pulling the slice free.
It.
Was.
Magnificent.
I was hooked. We ate. We laughed. We talked about work. We talked about music. I was stuffed. We were getting ready to head back to the hotel. I looked down at the pizza remaining in the pan.
Two slices. There were two slices left. I had eaten two. Terry polished off a slice and a half. And there were two slices.
Leftovers. From a small pizza.
I was amazed. That pizza became stuff of legends. I had been to Chicago many times since that initial time in 1996, but I had never made my way back to a Giordano's.
Until today. 
I'm in the Chicago area for work and today is kind of an off-day (or rather, day off). So instead of my normal "I'm just gonna eat at or near the hotel," I looked beyond my immediate surroundings and found a little village called Downer's Grove that had quite a few things. A microbrewery. An Irish pub.
And a Giordano's.
There was no question. I mean, sure, I posed it as a question on Facebook. But I knew where I was going as soon as I saw it.
It takes 35-40 minutes to get a stuffed pizza when you order it, so I started with toasted ravioli.
Yes. They are absolutely as incredible as they look. 
I was nervous waiting for the pizza. Would it be as good as I remembered? Could anything in real life live up to the glory that nostalgia gives certain memories?
"Sir, can I serve you the first slice?" I nodded.
And then I saw the cheese.
Holy shit. The cheese.
It was at that moment that I realized that my mind had dulled the memory. As terrific as the experience twenty-years ago was, I knew in that moment that my memory had stopped me from remembering how amazing it was for one simple reason: It knew that it was an experience I would want to repeat often but would be unable to. So the pizza became good, but not great in my mind.
Stupid memory.
This pizza is amazing. I can't believe how much I enoyed it, then and now. 
It was a very zen moment for me. Sitting in some little Mayberry town I knew nothing about eating a pizza that had been part of a treasured memory for the last 20 years.
I don't know how to describe the afternoon any other way except perfect.
Would I like to have shared it with friends and family? Sure. But it would have been a different memory at that point. A different experience. This afternoon was about me. Looking in to the crevasse of my memories and seeing if what I believed still held true, or in this case if what I thought I remembered was in fact as good as the real thing.
Better. Definitely much better.
And I've got leftovers sitting in my hotel fridge.
Life is beautiful.
-AT

3.08.2016

Passing Semis

How can something be a home and yet be so completely foreign?

He walks through his apartment or what passes for one in this small college town. An afterthought on a house built to actually hold one family some time more than half a century ago sits holding his things. Not just physical possessions, but after nearly three years there is a thin layer of his soul somewhere between the dust and the wall trimmings that haven't been updated since before his daughter was born.

A recent frantic search for something believed to be lost has left this once cozy and always cluttered dream catcher in a complete state of disarray. The half-filled bags of things meant to go to the dumpster--trash and things that no longer belong in his life--echo the disheveled demeanor of a man who wanders his days knowing that there is something more for his life than re-runs of long cancelled shows and discount pizza coupons, both delivered wirelessly.

I know this man. I see him every day. Every day I wake up and see the world he lives in. I put myself in his shoes and I think to myself, "exactly how did Talking Heads capture this moment of my life so perfectly? How did they know when I was ten that thirty-four years later I would be studying the lyrics of 'Once in a Lifetime' with a fervor previously reserved for seminary students or whores running from their past?  How the fuck could they have known that?"

There is a deep, and somewhat dark answer that comes from the philosopher in my soul that often tries to put on the writing coat and pretend that the words mean something.

But the simple and therefore most likely to be true answer is that they didn't. The Talking Heads knew fuck little of who I was then and who I am now.

They had not clue one who they were writing that song for or how it would affect anyone that heard it.  I have been hearing that song since I was ten. And mostly I just get goofy waves of nostalgia when I hear it.  And then there are times, such as these, wandering through the minefield that is my apartment (not in any way allegorically connected to my mood) where the lyrics ask me questions that I don't want to think about, let alone actually have to deliver an answer to.

I don't like to drive. At least not often. The irony of this is not lost on my as I recall with a fondness corrupted by time that one of my all time favorite jobs was one in which I drove--all the time. All over the state.  When I was 19, I loved to drive. Everywhere. Any time. Anywhere.

Now? Forget it. I drive out of necessity.  I dislike driving at night and I despise driving in the rain. If the two are combined, there damn well better be a bottle of bourbon and a place for me to crash at the other end of the trip because there's a strong chance that my nerves will be a bundle of something resembling a rubber band ball that has been bounced on the concrete one too many times.

Passing semis is the worst.  Drafting them is bad enough, the odd currents seek to just send your car to the afterworld. It's as though someone signed you up to Uber in purgatory and no one told you that you were on your way to pick up your first passenger.

The drafting, though, can be easily overcome by simply backing off or if you're feeling saucy, by passing the semi.

What I hate about passing semis though is that pit that always appears in my stomach. It's after my back bumper has passed theirs and I'm committed to this passing maneuver.  I can look over and see the support strut for the trailer, folded up, completely unnecessary while the truck is moving. And as I see that, I hit that point. That fucking point. The point in the pass where everything on that side of the car is obscured by the big rig.  By this time, someone has surely tucked in behind me--no doubt convinced I  know what I'm doing and have made the right decision even though they have no basis in this faith.   I can't go back. I must go forward. White knuckles grip the wheel as I pray that a strong gust of wind, blind spot, or blind homicidal rage don't propel the truck and trailer in to my car before I pass.

This spot seems like forever, but within seconds (that feel like hours), I see daylight in front of the truck.  Some drivers will slow down, allowing the car to have a fighting chance when passing. And then I'm past.

My life right now feels like I'm passing the semi. I'm in that spot squarely in the middle. I'm looking over at the support strut and extra time and I'm hoping like fuck that the treads from one of the eighteen wheels don't come crashing over in to my car like something out of a Micheal Mann car chase.

I know it's going to pass. Or rather, I will. Pass past this phase, that is.

But for now, I'm white-knuckling it and softly singing, "Convoy" in my head.

Don't mind me. I'm sure it will pass.  Did someone say something about bourbon and a pillow?

-AT

3.06.2016

Holy Shit


Sorry for the bluntness of the title, but it almost perfectly encapsulates my current state.

For about the last 7 days I have been in the deep end of the funk-this-shirt pool and I felt a little like I was drowning.

Last month I shot a Father-Daughter Dance. The pix were magic. The night was amazing. The families over 100 of them had a great time. I put the memory card in my work bag, thinking it to be the safest place.

Long story short, there was an issue and I needed to go back to the memory card to pull the shots off and do the edits over again.

The memory card wasn't there.

The
Memory
Card
Was
Not
There.

The little malaise I had found myself in started to take more of a flat spin. I remembered back to the last time I had physically seen the card and where.

Only it wasn't in that bag. That bag was the bag I took to NY for a business trip.
It was empty.  I had moved everything back in to my daily work bag.

Everything, it seems, except the memory card I needed.

7 days of tearing my apartment to shreds (seriously...it's a friggin' mess over here). And no joy.
I had to tell my client...my friend...that there may be no pictures.  As much as everything has been piling lately this was a conversation that nearly had me in tears.

I had resigned to the fact that...if it happened, as insanely shitty as it would be, I would have to deal with whatever the fallout was.

The soul crushing weight was only slightly eased by the acceptance of the situation.

I sat on my couch googling recipes for a hemlock cocktail when it hit me.

I was sitting on the couch when I changed from my travel bag to my daily bag.

Sitting on the couch.

The couch cushions don't come out.  If something falls, it's in the crevice. I felt again.  And there was a hole in the lining.

I lifted the couched and pulled off one side of the bottom liner.

And I saw it.

The memory card.

I damn near cried tears of joy. OK. Shut up. I did cry. So?!?

The feeling of release as the weight just completely fucked off is indescribable.

And now there's a tiny little apartment that needs some serious cleaning. Which is cool. I have been meaning to do this anyway. Not necessarily with the do-or-die-find-it-or-else vibe that's been there this week, but you know, spring cleaning.   It's about 3 years overdue.

If you're reading this...any of the 8 of you that read this...if you need a laptop bag (primarily messenger), please let me know. I have several very nice ones, including a brief case, that will need good homes soon.

Funny thing about today's Holy Grail Moment...It might have happened last night. But last night I forced myself to go outside (like way the hell outside) of my comfort bubble. My friend Chris was having a gathering of hometown writers. Writers...editors...artists...publishers...all of whom were friends of his. Some were in the local writing group we're in. The others were in a group he's in up near Mt. Vernon/Ashland way.

I knew when I accepted the invite 2 months ago that I would have a high probability of trying to find a plausible sounding excuse to politely bow out and give in to my burgeoning introvert (being a crazy old  hermit takes practice, after all).  This week as shit was hitting the fan I made a bold move. I committed to bringing a dish.  If I commit to bring something, there's a less likely chance that I will bow out (self-awareness is a wonderful thing).

So...I made an eclair cake. I showed up an hour late.  And you know what?

I had a fucking amazing time. I left the CPAP at home because I convinced myself that it would be better to not stay all night (rookie mistake that I won't make again).

I learned quite a lot. I made some great connections, and more importantly, I think I made some friends.

That positive vibe coupled with the whole finding that which was lost thing this afternoon have me awash in happy contented relief.

Things are taking a turn for the good.

Alright. I really should shower and try to make some progress in this apartment before the UN sends a peacekeeping force over.

Have a kick ass day my friends!

-AT


3.03.2016

Comfort Food

Things have been...well...funky...lately. I don't mean like George Clinton funky...more like Bruno Mars. Feeling the same as before but somehow a little tinnier...with less soul.

I don't know how to explain it really. I can feel

*4 week pause*

First off...a few of you have checked in/up on me. Thank you, I'm fine.

I must be clear...I really hate the word fine. Most of the time I use the word 'fine' when I want people to know that I'm going through some shit that I'm still trying to process and not really able to talk about it right now, but that when I am ready to talk about it, there will quite likely be a post or 17 about it on this very site. Or one of the other outlets that I use to get the uncomfortable thoughts out of my head.

So, yeah, I'm fine.

I have a couple of different comfort foods. For me a comfort food is something that requires little to no prep...tastes good and caters somewhat to the latent gluttony that floats around my still too rotund but slowly shrinking frame.

My top three are (in no particular order):

  • Macaroni shells (with the liquid cheese pouch)
  • Pizza (and usually some kind of poultry wing)
  • Pot Roast (or something equally mindless) in the slow cooker
  • Sugar cereal (like Frankenberry or one of the other Monster cereals)
You can generally tell how things are going by the number of pizza boxes at any given time. If there aren't that many, things are going pretty well (or I'm out of town for work).

Lately I've been digging in to the comfort foods.  Part of it is winter. That always makes me a little more introspective. I think a lot of it is the fact that I can't just get out and wander around as easily.  

The other thing is...I'm feeling alone more lately. Do I miss either of my wives? No. Thankfully, I'm not wallowing in the 'what-if's...those ended a couple of years ago.  I have moved on from that. 

But there are nights when I'm watching something and I want to share it with someone. A joke on a show. A movie. Someone to snuggle with while I Netflix and chill.

Here's the irony, though--I don't really like dating. I don't necessary like the trappings that go along with a girlfriend.  I know. Sucks, right?   That's part of the disconnect. The need for human contact but the innate sense of being uncomfortable with some of the things that go along with said contact.   The joys of being an introvert.

But Todd, you're not an introvert.

Yeah. I am. It is mentally exhausting for me to be in social situations. When I'm in the moment, I'm usually OK and have a good time. But the hours leading up to the event and the hours after are generally what I would consider unpleasant.  I don't know how to explain it.  I don't even know if I need to explain it.

I guess I just wanted to let everyone know I was ok. I'm alive. I'm busy making a difference at work (and being appreciated for that). And I'm writing when I can (or when the thoughts can no longer be in my head).

So...yeah...I'm fine ;-)

I'm late for a meeting. 

Promise I won't leave you hanging for another 4 weeks and I may actually try to have the post be slightly coherent next time.

Have a great Friday Eve,
-AT

The 10th Annual Typewriter Meetup

I'm tired. I'm not going to lie. My body is doing that thing where, after a short period (48-72hours) of intense emotions and pe...