Monday, November 11, 2013

I Am the Kwisatz Haderach

Okay, so I'm a Dune geek and so I'm using that metaphor. A better way to put what I want to say is in the words of Leto Atreides II: I have seen the Golden Path. I am not yet upon it, but it is within reach. And now nothing will stand in my way.

I could also put it in the words of Elphaba from Wicked:

"Something has changed within me.
Something is not the same.
I'm through with playing by the rules of someone else's game.
Too late for second guessing,
Too late to go back to sleep,
It's time to trust my instincts,
Close my eyes, and leap!"

The Golden Path, for me, is telling stories for a living. That has been my dream ever since about first grade, and now I actually see how it can work. It includes writing, but it also includes the Dystopia Rising chapter I'm currently working on starting. The process has been going very smoothly so far, as have all my other creative projects (including a novel, a role-playing game, a Jewish sweat lodge ritual, my most ambitious Purim party idea ever, and a book on Jewish folk magic). Something has indeed changed within me, from Playa del Fuego this year to Deathcon and Crucible... the magic I did on Halloween and the mindful diet a client gave me recently. It's all converged to produce in me what feels like how I imagine a satori - a moment of sudden enlightenment: Telling stories is what I was born to do. I'm going to get out of my own way and do it already. I've waited a few weeks to talk about this because I wanted to make sure it wasn't going to fade. It hasn't. It's like a switch has been flipped and I can't switch it back off again. And that makes me ecstatic.

I suspect this might be what Crowley meant by the True Will. Does finding your True Will cause bliss and euphoria? Because that's what I've been feeling ever since Crucible. A large part of that was teaching a Jewish folk magic class for the first time. I spent hours upon hours of prep time on it, and although the talk was far from perfect, I think I succeeded in presenting information most of the people in the room didn't already know. But the more remarkable thing was that I found myself able to concentrate on one thing for three or even six hours without a break. After so long out of school, I was worried I might not be able to do that anymore. This is just one example of how I got in my own way. All of you who think I'm awesome, I appreciate it... but I've been operating at maybe 20 to 30 percent of my potential for the past ten years or so. Now my goal is to be not just awesome, but epically so.

PDF (Playa del Fuego), for those who haven't heard of it, is a regional burn festival modeled after Burning Man. It's held twice a year, spring and fall, in Delaware, and draws just under 1400 people to Burning Man's 65,000. It's a great size for an event that has tons of variety but is still small enough to be intimate. And the culture of the Ten Principles there is so strong. PDF is where I learned most of what I know about radical inclusion, radical self-expression, participation and gifting.

These values also pervade the culture of Dystopia Rising, a post-apocalyptic zombie survival LARP I've been going to since December. The largest event of the year, Deathcon, happened before, during and after Crucible, so that's why I was only around for about half of Crucible. As I mentioned above, I'm now working on the application process for opening my own branch of this game in either Virginia or Ohio. I've spoken with the creator of the game, Michael Pucci, about how one of his goals with it was to enable other writers to do what he's done: become a professional, full-time creator of stories. Since events are normally once a month, even if I spent two weeks of the month writing modules and plots for the game, I'll still have two weeks a month to work on my other writing projects. Long term, I will want to run my Middle Eastern fantasy/horror game, Golden Age, as a LARP once a month as well. I also see occasional World of Darkness LARPs happening once the new rules from By Night Studios are out.

My PDF experience this year was bittersweet. I had a lot of fun, but I also suffered a lot from social anxiety. This guy I just met was good looking or seemed like he might have a problem with me (or worse yet, both), and so I'd sit in the corner and feel sorry for myself. After the event I mentioned it to my wonderful campmates from Barrel of Fun, and many of them said they'd experienced the same kind of self doubt as I had. Something about that was so reassuring that my social anxiety has all but disappeared since then.

Doing Crucible and Deathcon at the same time was a huge part of this too. I always come back from DR with great ideas, I think because I get to bounce off so many creative people there and we all cross-pollinate each other's unconscious minds. But the amount of great ideas coming off that weekend wasn't twice but more like three or four times normal. And while it's trickled from sudden bursts of insight to more of an on-demand kind of thing, that fountain of ideas hasn't turned off completely. I think as long as I tend it and drink from it regularly, it never will.

I've lost most of my will to watch hours of TV or to overeat. I'd much rather read or write something, most of the time, and when I do watch TV it's usually something interesting rather than something diverting. I've already had enough entertaining television to last a lifetime. I've also been having a much easier time with my temper because now I have perspective about what matters and what doesn't. What matters is what allows me to express myself and what doesn't, what helps people and what doesn't. But that leaves a whole lot of things I can just avoid worrying about. I do keep having to remind myself that money is not one of these things, because my day job now seems like an annoyance getting in the way of my real work. I always knew it was that way, but until recently I had no idea how to make self-employment as a writer actually feasible.

I feel like Lester Burnham at the beginning of American Beauty: Like I've been asleep for ten years and I'm just now waking up. Here's a secret that I now feel entirely comfortable sharing - for years, I was a notorious TV addict, overeater, pothead, even sometimes a shopaholic. I realize now that I wasn't an addict so much as I was an artist who was starved for creative expression. Filling that void with creativity is so much easier and more rewarding than filling it with anything else, at least for me, because it makes my everyday life far more interesting than TV or food or buying things. So the big secret is this: I play a Telling Visionist well because for a long time I enslaved myself to the boob tube. But now I'm back on books, and like the book of Proverbs says, Wisdom is a much more rewarding mistress than Foolishness.

I have to thank Dystopia Rising and especially everyone at Eschaton Media for creating a game that gave me a good excuse to write and sing and paint and craft things. I knew that it helped my mood, but it does so much more than that... it helps my soul even more. If not for all of you, I might have slept another ten years and not even known it. You've also created a place that draws so many game designers that it seems just as good for networking as a convention might be. And do you have any idea how unusual it is for players to have the kind of reverence for writers that your players have? It's done wonders for my self-esteem, let me tell you. I look forward to bringing your terrifying and illuminating vision to many more new gamers who can appreciate it.

I'd like to close by sharing the secret of how I'm able to get so much done these days. It comes down to a few simple tips that I learned from Landmark Education. The first is to be unreasonable when you know you want something. The second is to do whatever it is that makes you feel the most alive or the most yourself that you can possibly be.  And finally, there's the power of enrollment.

Landmark defines "enrollment" as "authentically sharing a possibility with someone, such that they are touched, moved and inspired by that possibility". So to translate that out of Landmarkese, if you're really jazzed up about something and you share your enthusiasm with others, there's a pretty good possibility that they might decide they want to help. This is exactly what I've done with Dystopia Rising: Illyria, and I've got a bunch of people already who are volunteering to build things once I have a site finalized. That's also how I've started up Psycho Sex Kitten Camp for next PDF so easily. When you've got a community that's into radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, and radical inclusion, enrollment is even more easy and rewarding than usual. And an essentially open-source mindset like that of burners or DR players leads to greater innovation and thus fun for everybody.

Having just visited the Pennsyltucky game, it struck me how interesting it is that Boulder Run, like Playa del Fuego and like Burning man was at one time, is a great example of a Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ). The writer Hakim Bey describes a TAZ as the perfect form of government, because it allows people to work together without stifling their creativity at all. But by definition it is always temporary. Communes and so-called pirate utopias are other examples of TAZs from history.

I'm beginning to ramble, but it's only because I'm trying to describe something ineffable. Something has changed within me. The Golden Path is within reach. Expect great things from me soon. I promise you will not be disappointed.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

We Need to Talk About Ender's Game...

I've been seeing all sorts of venom on social media directed at Orson Scott Card because of the new movie version of Ender's Game. While I appreciate your support in a way as a gay man, it also appalls me as a writer that people seem unable to grasp that being a bigot does NOT make someone a bad artist. I want to talk a little about why I think everyone should go see Ender's Game, regardless of where some of Card's money goes.

As an intelligent, geeky kid, I got teased and bullied a lot. Being socially awkward made it worse. So when I finally got to go to CTY (the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, a.k.a. nerd camp), it was a revelation. Here was a place where liking Rocky Horror and Monty Python actually made you one of the cool kids, after a fashion. Here was a place where it was okay to discuss philosophy while lounging on the couches with your friends. And CTY was the first place I heard about Ender's Game. (Unfortunately, my roommate ruined the twist for me when I asked what it was about, but that's not the point here.)

Everyone there had read it. Everyone there loved it. Ender's Game is the quintessential parable of our time about being intelligent and socially awkward. Beyond that, it's a story about how capable outsiders seem eternally destined to get screwed over. This makes it an effective allegory for gay or transgender people just like any other marginalized group. The great irony of the story of Ender's Game is that a homophobic writer has written one of the most powerful stories about tolerance ever told through science fiction. I personally happen to think it was the tolerant part of him, deep inside, desperately trying to get out. But regardless of the reason, art ceases to be the property of the artist once it's out in the world having people interact with it. Ender's Game is a story about tolerance, plain and simple, and that story has great potential to help closeted gay kids just like it has helped so many shy gifted kids in the past.

More importantly, it's a damn good story. The characters are real, the geopolitical power structures are believable, and the twist is one you won't see coming if you haven't read the book. This is because Card is a master of his craft. His book How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy has been my bible on the topic ever since I first read it in high school. Yet another way this homophobe has benefited this gay Jewish writer. I would argue that because this particular work is written in such a way that it might easily give hope to people who aren't comfortable with themselves, supporting it is the ultimate act of protest against Card's politics. And if we discarded artists' work because of their archaic or bigoted beliefs, there goes Carl Jung, Aleister Crowley, Walt Disney, and all of the Founding Fathers, just to name a few. Surely you must see how little sense that would make.

Finally, if you've read the book, you might find the absence of the word "bugger" conspicuous in the movie. We hear "bug" once or twice, but usually it's "Formic" instead. This is a convention from the Ender's Shadow series, but it's more interesting to me that the one homophobic slur that appeared in the book has been deliberately omitted. I doubt that was Card's choice, but more likely a smart one on the part of the studio. When I first read the book, I didn't know that "bugger" meant "faggot", but it would bother me now rereading the book and the movie avoids that problem entirely.