I Promised You Me Wearing A Cape

Rebecca’s Cancer Walk was this Saturday, and the cape was the big hit of the show.  Rebecca found it to be the most awesome toy ever – we wrapped her sister in it, played tug-of-war all over the park, and spent a lot of time hiding in and under it.  If you didn’t know Rebecca had a potentially lethal brain tumor, you would have found it hard to believe she was this sick.
Which led to possibly my favorite photo of me ever taken:
Rebecca and the Purple Cape
But the Cancer Walk itself was heartbreaking.  Because it was so sparsely attended, it reminded me of all of the Men Supporting Men gatherings in Fight Club; a sad group of people battered by diseases the rest of the world ignores, struggling desperately for dignity and attention.  Nobody much likes children’s cancer.  Too many kids die to feel good about even the victories.  And we’re so good at fighting regular cancer that we assume that kids must also benefit, but kids need differing treatments.  (Which we benefit from in this case – Rebecca’s brain tumor would be a near-automatic Game Over in a grown woman.)   There were maybe three hundred people there, which seems like a lot until you look at the crowds for MS Pedal to the Point or any 5k race in Cleveland.
And when it came time to call the parents of the dead children up to the podium to release white balloons in honor of the kids who didn’t make it, I lost it.  Just lost it.
Everywhere around us were people wearing T-shirts with their dead kids on them.  And I kept looking at Rebecca and going, she’s so alive.  Such a squirming, resilient bundle of life.  
I don’t want her as a photograph. 
I don’t want to use her image for a cause, I don’t want to shamble out here once a year in her memory, I want a fucking alive Rebecca with me forever, to be a pain in the ass when she’s ten and a disrespectful teenager of fifteen and a twenty-year-old college kid who’s going through the inevitable college heartbreak and struggles with studying.
And I was, and am, infuriated by the lack of attention paid to children’s cancer.  It’s like a hideous secret club you get escorted into only once you get the bad news, one where you discover exactly what the odds are once a kid gets cancer, and discover that only 4% of cancer funds go towards kids despite the fact that a lot more kids get cancer than we’d like to think, and you feel like you’re staring into the sun.  You feel like you’re being forced to look at something that nobody else has to, and the rest of the world is looking away because it’s too horrible, but goddammit people, why are there only 300 out here on a sunny, beautiful day when I’ve been at small 5ks that were sporting at least 500?
What the hell kind of world is this, where this can happen to a little girl, and this lack of attention is mirrored across the nation?
I know, I know.  There are always good causes.  My Uncle Tommy had hemophilia, and so I’m hyper-aware.  My wife’s sister had kidney disease, as does my girlfriend, so I’m hyper-aware of that.  There’s a million diseases, and all of them are terrible.  But what’s happening to kids is so deadly and we assume it’s all just okay, that we’ve kind of gotten the level of kids’ cancer survival rates up to that of adults, that it’s just infuriating.
Rebecca has the best shot of survival the Meyers can engineer.  It’s still, as we’ve all taken to saying, a toss of the coin.  And they’ve resected her tumor and got her the best kids’ care in the nation, and done everything to maximize some pretty crappy odds.
But still.  If this enrages you the way it does me, then donations are still open.  Heck, pitch in to the fundraisers in your own town.  Because while I’m usually not a fan of “awareness” as a cure (we’ve won the battle for being aware of breast cancer years ago, folks), in this case being aware of how dire the situation is and communicating that to does does some genuine good.
Because Rebecca’s my window to a much larger problem.  My heart throbs like a toothache, all the time.  I love her, and through her I love all the other children enduring this, and through them I hope we can find something to do about all of this.
Have another photo of Rebecca.  This is who we’re trying to save.

Every Episode Of "The Dog Whisperer" Ever

AGGRIEVED DOG OWNER: “Cesar! My dog is disemboweling mailmen!”
CESAR: “You are a failure at life. Your dog must be submeesive. Here.  Stand near your dog like this.”
*Cesar strikes a pose*
*dog stops disemboweling mailmen*
VIEWERS: “…was that actually helpful for training my dog? I’m not sure.”

How Grammar Is Like Dining At A Nice Restaurant

I wore a patched Ronnie James Dio jean jacket that featured a very large image of a demon hurling a priest into a lake of fire.  My hair was long and uncombed, and my gum-chewing date had spray-on 80s hair, fuck-me pumps, and a jacket more obscene than mine.
We had stumbled, accidentally, into one of the most expensive restaurants in New York City.
The waiters and patrons alike wore tuxedos.  The tablecloths were of fine linen, the menus engraved.  Bowls of sherbet were brought to the patrons between courses to cleanse the palate, and it was the first time in my life I might have been exposed to the phrase “amuse-bouche.”
My uncle, who was wearing his standard accountant’s outfit of blue jeans and a button-down workshirt, looked at the maitre’d. We’d been walking for hours, propelled by our picky eating habits; no restaurant seemed good enough.  And now we were exhausted, far from home, and felt wildly out of place in this exquisite dining emporium.  But even at sixteen, I did like good food, and this looked good.
The Maitre’d, God bless him, didn’t blink.  “Do you have reservations?” he asked.
My Uncle, God bless him, didn’t blink either.  “No.  Have you a table for three?”
And, unbelievably, they sat us down.
The meal was the first truly great meal I’d ever had in my life, but alas, I don’t remember the food – I remember the sherbet, I remember the way the waiter came to scrape the crumbs off the table between courses, and I remember the bill being a staggering $350, which was pretty damned pricey today, let alone 1986.
And I remember the way they sat us very far at the back, so we wouldn’t upset the other customers.
The thing is, a quality restaurant won’t judge you by your appearance.  They’ll sit you down, bring you food, and let your manners decide the course of the evening.  I think my uncle’s polite request, his fearlessness in the face of snooty, saved that evening and made it magical.  That was the secret signal to the maitre’d that “Yes, despite our slovenly appearance, we do respect this place, and will appreciate it.”
So they treated us well.
And while it was very kind of the restaurant to seat us, I also recognize that a restaurant owner would have been right to judge us.  When we showed up to a place like that, where the dress of the day was clearly above our pay grade, we were signalling a potential disrespect.  Those heavy metal jackets and torn jeans could have just as easily been a signal for, “We don’t know what this place is like, and we don’t care, we’re going to do as we please.”  Because a good restaurant wants you to care about the food, to delight in the experience, to be invested in the group experience of fine dining where everyone has a good time – and if you’re going to show up to burp Pabst Blue Ribbon and laugh at the waiters’ penguin suits, then you’re fucking it up for everyone.
Dress matters.  It’s what makes people comfortable.  In the same way that showing up to your local dive bar in tuxedos is a signal that these people don’t get what you’re trying to do, it sets people on guard, makes them look at you askance, makes them worry that maybe your appearance signals a deeper problem that you’re actually just completely disinvested in this.  Which is why you gotta tailor your look, to some extent, to the crowd… or risk people taking offense at smaller sleights that better-dressed people might miss.
It’d be wonderful if they could overlook your dress.  But the fact is, you’ve already said in one way, “We may not know how we’re supposed to act here to maximize everyone’s enjoyment.  Or we may not care.”  And they’re gonna be on their guard until you’ve demonstrated that you’re cool.
Likewise: grammar.
Someone emailed me this morning with bad grammar in an email, asking why his writings didn’t go over well.  And I think bad grammar in most cases is like showing up at an elegant restaurant in a demon-flinging jean jacket: right off the bat, you’re making people nervous as whether your inside’s as jumbled as your outside.  It’s hard to convince people you have brilliant thoughts to say when you’re showing a disrespect for the language immediately, and people will suspect your logic is as poorly-presented as your grammar.
This may not be fair.  It may well be that, thanks to dyslexia or some other issue, you’re like me and my Uncle Tommy stumbling into the lobby of the fine restaurant – secretly food lovers, clad in unfortunate garb, eager as any other diner here but having accidentally arrived underdressed.  And you can hope for a grand maitre’d, one as welcoming as that bold and wonderful man who let us in and treated us like royalty.
But what you’ll usually find is people skirting around the edges, skimming, not wanting to get to know you too closely because you already don’t look like you know what you’re doing.  And there are snobs who get too into dress or grammar, blowing people off for a split infinitive or the wrong shade of shoes – these people are jerks.  But that’s no excuse for not trying to match the general tone of the establishment… and on the Internet, barring places like YouTube comments, the tone is generally “Decent grammar.”
Because I love that maitre’d… but he sat us in the back, near the kitchen, away from the rest of the crowd.  Because we made the other patrons nervous.  They did not know that we shared their vision.  They could not know, until they got to know us better.  And if I could find that restaurant today, I would dress up to the nines, because why put up barriers when you don’t have to?
Which is why, I say, if you’re blogging or communicating, default to proper grammar when you can.  Grammar or bad spelling doesn’t mean you’re dumb, but holy God is it a big ugly jean jacket in a nice restaurant.

Bad Game Design That Leads To Immortality.

Magic: the Gathering was a horribly unbalanced game from the outset.  Part of that was not the game designers’ fault.
Nobody expected Magic to be as popular as it got, so with this new collectible card game designed in the days before eBay, the designers (sanely) assumed that nobody would buy enough cards to collect all of them.  They assumed most people would buy a few packs and play games with the handful of cards they had, which was inherently safe.  Maybe it would be nigh-impossible to beat someone if he got ten of all the best cards… but what were the odds on that?
But more importantly, the designers didn’t understand how powerful some effects were – a decision that warped Magic for years.  They didn’t understand that “drawing cards” and “mana for free” were actually so powerful that anyone who harnessed these strategies for cheap was effectively unbeatable.  So cards like Black Lotus and Ancestral Recall, which seemed so impotent to beginning players that many of them actually traded them away as crap cards, turned out to be so ridiculously strong that today they’re worth… well, click the links if you wanna see what they’re worth.
Which meant that the early days of Magic play often consisted of hunting down these overpowered cards, jamming them all into a deck, and making a deck literally unbeatable by poorer and less-devoted players.
Was that a mistake?
I was pondering that while I walked Shasta the other day, because early D&D seems terrible and overpowered, too.  Wizards were glass cannons at the early levels – “Cast your Magic Missile and fall asleep” – and then effectively unbeatable at higher levels.  Meanwhile, boring old fighters kept leveling up and doing the same things over and over again.
Plus – and this is a huge design flaw – Wizards can do pretty much anything except heal people.  What can’t a spell do?  The slate’s almost unlimited.  There’s no actual thematic feel to what a “Wizard” spell feels like, aside from being cast by a guy in a robe, which means that of course the characters are going to be imbalanced when there’s nothing a spellslinger is incapable of, given a high enough level and a thick enough spellbook.  If the D&D game had said that Wizards were masters of elemental energy, or controlled the mind, then Wizards would have been a lot narrower and given others room to grow… but as it is, you get to ninth level and getcher hands on Time Stop or Wish (Time Stop is better), and it’s game over.
Except as little Ferrett, ten-year-old boy, those ridiculous levels of spells were what entranced me about the game.
I loved living out my little power trips in my head.  I figured out exactly what spells I’d be kitted with on any given day, obsessed over which spells would be most useful in the greatest variety of situations, imagined the potency of a Time Stop at the right moment.  And talking to some of my old buddies, I’m not alone; in real life, people often played fighters or thieves, but I’m pretty sure that when lonely little kids were imagining the fun of campaigns, it’s Wizards who got played inside their heads.
If the early rules had been more balanced, I don’t think I’d be a D&D fan today.  Some of what made it fun was that overpowered nature – and while I acknowledge that as a game, it’s far better if all the classes are mostly equally useful at every level (or, at least, you’re open about some character classes flat-out being inferior like Ars Magica), for purposes of popularity I think it was the right move to have those ridiculously overpowered and all-encompassing spells.
We can fix the game balance in future editions.  But without future editions, we don’t have a game.
Likewise, I know a lot of the dorks in Magic who were thrilled when they discovered that shit, that useless-looking Mox Sapphire was actually really overpowered, and the chase to find those literal gems in trade bins was what got their juices flowing.  Yes, some cards were too strong.  But they weren’t obviously strong, and I think a large part of what leveraged Magic up to the next level of popularity was discovering that hell, these bleah cards were actually so good that you had to have them, and then a certain portion of high-profile fans got off on collecting the rarest cards and building unbeatable decks.  Their energy, their commitment, towards making the “twenty Black Lotuses, twenty Ancestral Recalls, twenty Fireball” deck made Magic spread further than it would have if all the cards were roughly equal.
So is that bad game design?  Or is it inadvertently brilliant game design?
I can’t decide.

I'm Suspicious Of Anyone Who Idolizes Me, And You Should Be, Too.

Rain DeGrey wrote an awesome post  over on FetLife called Take It Down A Notch, Rock Star, about how community leaders need to not accept the adulation given them. She talks about how it’s bad for the community; I’m gonna talk about how it’s bad for you, buying into your own hype.
Read fast. I’ve got five minutes to write this before my therapist arrives.
The thing you need to realize about people loving your shit hard enough to follow you about is that in many cases they don’t love you, they love the idea of you. They want a world where someone has it all perfectly goddamned together, where mastery of a technique or wisdom in an area spreads out to touch all other areas of life. They make you perfect because they want to be perfect some day, and if they can put you on a sufficiently high pedestal, then they can believe that some day they too will never make mistakes.
You made perfect art == therefore you must be perfect == therefore, I will one day shed this annoyingly inconsistent life.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s an honor to have someone love your stuff. There’s a core of you-ness at the center of it that they genuinely resonated with, and you did the hard work of transforming that you-ness from an internal to an external state. I demonstrate my being with words; others do it with rope, or guitars, or video productions, or what-have-you, and learning to translate your inner thoughts into a form that others can appreciate takes time and effort that should be appreciated.  What you did was awesome, and many of the folks who stick around to see what you’re doing next are doing so simply, and rationally, because you make good stuff and they are eager to see your next…stuff.
So I am not, repeat not, saying that nobody should compliment you or like you or want to follow you. But I am saying that this compliment often inflates into a “She’s so good at rope, she must be perfect at playing in the dungeon, she must never hurt anyone,” and that chain of logic inevitably meets a messy end somewhere.
I’m really, really good at not accepting adulation. And I think that’s saved me from some pretty horrendous fates at times in my life. It’s a toxic drug, because you want to believe that life has quick-fixes where you’ll never have to feel lost or stupid or uncertain again, and here’s someone telling you that you know the answers.
When you know the answers, you stop asking questions. And it’s the questions you don’t ask that fuck you up the most.
Buying into your own hype stops your development as a person. And I think if you’re lucky enough to get any kind of fame, even a small one like “Having a C-list blog” fame, you need to learn how to shake off the idea that this means anything beyond the fact that you connected with someone, and that’s awesome.
Doesn’t mean you’re skilled in other areas beyond communication: some of the greatest writers were completely dysfunctional in their real lives.
Doesn’t mean you’re incapable of making mistakes: some of the best magicians still fuck up.
Doesn’t mean you’re a nice person: God hands out talent with one hand and kindness in the other, and you’d do well to remember that.
It means you succeeded as an artist. That’s wonderful. That’s killer. And if someone tries to bring more to your table, your best bet is to push it away with a pleasant “No thank you” and return to the hard and confusing and often completely dissatisfying work of improving your life.
And if you’ll excuse me, my therapist has arrived. Time to improve mine.