Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Rejuvenating after the Lost Years

 With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

A reproduction of an Egyptian scarab figurine sits on my desk. He’s plaster, painted as if he were blue faience, a souvenir from my last visit to the Worcester Art Museum ages ago. I bought it and set it on my desk because he embodies the creative spirit of the ancient Egyptian god Khepri, inspired by the beetle that rolled around dung balls from which its offspring miraculously crawled, seeming to summon life out of nothing. Khepri was also revered as a god rolling the sun from the dawing horizon on its skyward course each day. The figurine on my desk isn’t as much an inspiration as a reminder, a talisman symbolizing the imaginative spark. He’s not been very happy with me during nearly two years of pandemic privations. He sits there, silently, but in my mind he’s furiously shouting at me: “Create something out of nothing! Better yet, create something from a ball of crap!”

Almost two years of covid precautions and anxieties have played havoc with my creativity and productivity. Looking back over that time I’ve spent more effort helping my family through the difficulties imposed on us by covid-19 than on my own creative endeavors. With both my wife teleworking from home most of that time and my son, until this past August, attending school online, I was often on standby to assist in their requests, whether crisis or whim...especially with my son’s “distance learning.” Without many of our usual recreational activities we worked hard to find other ways to relax, many of which required extra energy on my part. It seemed like everything took more time and effort yet still didn’t provide much satisfaction.

This isn’t to say I squandered what little time I found for myself. I’ve kept busy, but it ultimately seems I’ve produced very little game work and what I’ve managed to create, in my eyes, has little merit. I completed an engaging freelance project yet to see publication; something positive to look toward in the new year. I continued to write missives for Hobby Games Recce on a fairly regular basis, most of which consumed an inordinate amount of my motivation, energy, and inspiration with little in return, though I am very grateful for the few engaging interactions they’ve sparked. My work developing wargaming programs for kids at the local history museum proceeded in fits and starts as covid allowed; before the delta variant emerged in September I’d managed to give a presentation on wargaming for newcomers and kids followed a few weeks later by an American Civil War ironclads game. (I’m currently working on porting the miniature wargaming experience to some kind of online experience, though I’ll admit it feels like a faint shadow of the in-person experience.) I’ve dabbled with game projects here and there, most notably a simple skirmish game for kids and more recently yet another fantasy roleplaying game setting that’s at least engaged my imagination for the moment. I worked in dribs and drabs on revising the neglected, hot mess that is my Infinite Cathedral system-neutral fantasy roleplaying setting, something I’ve carved up and reassembled more times than I care to recall; alas, each revision effort drains more of my waning enthusiasm for it. I have a solitaire adventure written to introduce the setting, but, though it’s near ready for publication, I don’t quite have the heart to release it to the public. Although I found time to create and write, little seemed worth publishing; and in this day and age it seems if you’re not cranking out a four-page, $1 roleplaying game PDF pamphlet every month on DriveThruRPG you’re obviously a failure, why are you even bothering, right?

I’ve seen many people lament the difficulty in creating/producing in spite of the soul-draining pressures of the pandemic, the societal chaos we’ve experienced these past few years, and the diminishing prospects for the future ever returning to the way things were. Just as we seem to emerge from yet another wave of the pandemic, a new covid variant rears its head, threatening to send us all back into more stringent precautions and curtailing our blissful return to any semblance of “normal.” How do we lift ourselves out of this lingering malaise, the ennui that seeps into our lives during almost two unprecedented years of pandemic privations, social friction, and unrelenting bad news about covid? I’ll freely admit my own strategies to rekindle my imaginative spark have not proven terribly effective or lasting, but they at least offer some brief respite. Immersing myself in books and movies offered a brief if solid break from my daily woes, with the added benefit of new “experiences” whether absorbing non-fiction information or enjoying a well-told story on the pages or screen from which I might glean some new ideas or inspiration. The few breaks we’ve taken as a family helped rejuvenate me. Time spent on holiday activities felt good, whether decorating the tree, wrapping presents, or hanging out Christmas morning opening presents and just lounging about relaxing; even focusing on cooking holiday meals helped give me a break. We’ve played a few games, though not as regularly as I’d like, but each one proved opportunities to relax, learn, and focus on something new. Even indulging in solitaire games helped me focus on something new and exposed me to different game mechanics and strategies. Immersing myself in varied interests – flitting about from one topic to another, starting to develop ideas without really finishing them, and generally having little to show for my effort – at least diverted my anxieties from dwelling on the pall of woes that plague us.

Now I’m starting to have more time for my own endeavors and not be at everyone’s beck and call while they’re home all day. My wife’s going in to the office (though still telecommuting occasionally). My son’s back in school despite it’s lax mask policy and complete lack of social distancing (and the requisite rise in covid cases and exposures among the school population; at least we’re all finally vaccinated). A “return to normal” with the abnormal layer of manic anxiety about the pandemic and its related societal issues.

I realize in the overall scheme of the universe I shouldn’t complain. We’ve fared decently enough despite our community’s demonstrated apathy and occasional hostility toward “public health” and the “common good” an effective response to the pandemic requires. Our family has enjoyed relatively good health. We’ve not experienced financial stress from job loss or other economic strains. We’ve done our best to support those in need during these trying times, with the realization it’s never enough. I look beyond my own pathetic complaints and see every thoughtful human contemplating what they’ve experienced these past two years, what they’ve sacrificed, what they’ve lost; and, after some reflection on those things, determining how they’ll move forward into the future, a “new normal” plagued not only by biological pandemics but the ills of human society, natural disasters, and other turmoil requiring us to do our best despite disruptions beyond our control. In this we strive – like little faience-blue Khepri on my desk – to build something creative, anything positive, out of our ball of dung.

Happiness is not an ideal of reason, but of imagination.”

Immanuel Kant

Project List

In my middle-aged years I’ve given up on New Year’s Resolutions, but the list below offers a glimpse at some things tempting me in the coming months:

Skirmish Kids: The rules for small-unit actions suitable for kids and newcomers deserves some attention. My hordes of Armies in Plastic soldiers would very much like to see action on the wargaming table testing these rules...and further tempt me to develop something for larger battles along these mostly simplified lines (though Neil Thomas’ One-hour Wargames works for me in this larger capacity...I’m always tempted to tinker).

The Infinite Cathedral: I really should sit down and rework this...again. The system-neutral solo adventure “introducing” the setting is finished, but I’m not confident enough with it to release it...and it seems odd to publishing a teaser for something I might never pursue to completion. I have a lot of issues with creative and publishing aspects, all diluted by my continued frustration and disappointment.

The Other Fantasy Setting: My ideas for a hypothetical (for now) B/X Dungeons & Dragons campaign for my son and some friends (when we can do that again) has run off in its own direction. What began as an idea for a wizard’s ruined dungeon laboratory for characters to explore has inspired ideas for an entire region blighted by the mage’s antediluvian magic.

Pulp Egypt Solo Adventure: An idea lurks in the back of my mind for a full-length, D6 System solitaire adventure for Pulp Egypt, set in Cairo and Giza. It offers an opportunity for Jamie Douglas, the protagonist from Trapped in the Museum, to become embroiled in espionage intrigue and dabble in supernatural powers.

Tidy Up Online: I have a host of tasks to tidy up my online presence. I want to transform the focus of my website (including a place for slightly more politically tinged missives), though with the Griffon Publishing Studio site still accessible in a secondary role. I need to investigate porting my PDF products over to so I don’t have all my eggs in the DriveThruRPG basket. I should look at prepping more PDFs for print-on-demand through

Gamer Dad Ideas: I’ve more recently considered compiling and expanding on past Hobby Games Recce missives about parenting with games into some kind of publication, especially considering my work developing suitable museum programs. Maybe look into producing videos? I don’t know....

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