Awake. A short tale.

(I exit my room. The sun is shining through my open window, bright beams illuminating me from behind as I stretch and face the world. I imagine a choir announcing my return, like a second coming, of sorts.

“So, where have you been?” says Alpha Girl, sprawled on the lounge and not looking up from her magazine. My choir slurs and stops, like a wind up record player reaching its end.

“Yeah,” says Beta Max, not taking his eyes off the TV as he plays Xbox.

Scratching my unruly head, I yawn, waddle sleepily to the kitchen and pour cereal into a bowl. “I’ve been working on my blog,” I say. “And sleeping.”

“We haven’t seen you for a week,” says Alpha Girl. “Thought you’d moved out. Or died. A good outcome, either way.”

I stick out my tongue, but she doesn’t see it. “Did either of you think to knock on my door?” I say. “I suffer from depression, you know.”

Beta Max moans as his onscreen self is killed again. He looks over at me and grins. “If you died, we would have smelt it by now, dude.”

“It’s nice to know I’m surrounded by such caring, sharing people,” I respond, smiling and flipping him the bird.

Alpha Girl, still engrossed in her magazine, flicks her hair. “You told me you made a commitment to your family not to commit suicide,” she says. “And I know how responsible you are.” For the first time, she looks up and smirks. “Besides, whenever you isolate yourself like that, you put yourself through hell. And I love it when you torment yourself.” I can almost hear the sinister orchestration in the background. Thunder booms. Lightning flashes. A glint of predatory canines as she sneers.

Beta Max throws down the controller as he dies again. “I hate this game,” he says, loping over to the fridge, he drinks orange juice straight from the bottle. Alpha Girl gives him a death stare. Suitably rebutted, he pours a glass of juice and meekly places the bottle back. “Dude, you know we’re always here for you,” he says.

I laugh. “I’ll remember that the next time I update my will,” I say.)

Symbaroum – a tabletop fantasy RPG that reeks of deep darkness, blighted evil and drawn out death. Fun!

(“You and your crazy role playing games,” says Alpha Girl surveying the books, sheets and dice on the kitchen table. “You’ve even got Beta Max involved.”

“It’s all good fun,” says Beta Max, rolling a handful of dice and cheering at the result. “Another dead goblin, thank you very much.” He sits back, hands behind his head, looking smug. “Any time soon, those magical math powers will kick in.* ”

“You know, you could play if you want,” I say.

“Would I be able to kill you?” says Alpha Girl.

“I guess so-”

“I’m in. Tell me what I have to do.”)

 

I like role playing games (RPGs). I can’t help it. There’s something about giving up mundane reality to become a fearless knight fighting evil monsters in fantastic and mysterious lands. Yeah, it’s nerdy, but that’s okay. It helps to relax my overwrought brain. It also enables me to exercise my imagination – ideal for any would-be writer. (What’s an RPG? You can find out more here.)

A while back I bought a tabletop RPG called Symbaroum. It’s a dark-edged fantasy set in a kingdom on the edge of Davokar, a massive forest consumed with corruption, wherein lies ruins of the ancient kingdom of Symbaroum. Adventurers based in border towns like Thistle Hold, venture warily into the dark forest to loot the ancient ruins, battle elves, trolls and blight beasts. This often ends in madness and hideous death. Yeah! Sounds like good times all round.

Symbaroum is the brainchild of Mattias Johnson and Mattias Lilja, of the Swedish games company Jarnringen. Symbaroum is big in Sweden, and is slowly breaking ground around the rest of the world. Modiphius Games distribute the English-translation of the game.

The game uses some interesting RPG mechanics, a few of which I’ve listed below:

  • Whilst there are archetypes to create base characters (Warrior, Mystic, Rogue, each with multiple occupations), and five races, players can elect to build their characters from scratch, selecting abilities (skills) they believe relevant, up to the limit of the build.
  • The eight attribute values that underscore each character range between 5 and 15. To succeed at an action, the player rolls a D20, with success below the tested attribute value. Traits, abilities, weapons and conditions provide positive or negative modifiers. Tests compare one of your character’s attributes against another character’s/monster’s attributes.
  • Players roll all the dice in the game. This includes defending against attacks. The Games Master (GM) never rolls at all.
  • Magic and artifacts can cause corruption in characters, turning them into blight-stricken abominations, if they’re not careful.
  • Battles are hard. More often than not, players may run from conflict. That doesn’t mean they don’t fight at all, but battles can be deadly.

An adventure, The Promised Land, is included in the rule book to introduce players to the systems used.

The campaign background is very detailed, focussing on the country of Ambria and the nearby Forest of Davokar – a small section of the overall game world. The location and background establishes the flavour of the setting – it’s very dark, dank and mysterious, full of horror, manipulative factions, layered history and deep secrets.

The art in this game is by Martin Bergstrom, and it is phenomenal (see the image above for a teaser). Never before have I seen such evocative, haunting and awe-inspiring artwork in an RPG. It really helps to set the scene and emphasise the dark nature of the game.

There are a number of supplements that have been released, with the latest being Thistle Hold: Wrath of the Warden, the first in a grand campaign called Throne of Thorns.

Symbaroum is a great role playing game. It’s well worth your attention. Even if you’ve never played a role playing game before.

 

(“Hah!” cries Alpha Girl. “I killed you! You’re dead! DEAD!” She’s dancing in her seat.

Beta Max and I look at each other bemusedly. Beta Max whispers in my ear: “I think she’s getting into this game a little too much.”)

 

* Disclaimer: I never said playing RPGs would give you ‘magical math powers’. For more on that, click here.

 

You can order Symbaroum online from the Modiphius Games website at http://www.modiphius.com

Thistle Hold: Wrath of the Warden is available in print/PDF from Modiphius, or PDF from DriveThruRPG at  http://www.drivethrurpg.com

To find out more about Jarnringen, visit their site at http://www.jarnringen.com (in Swedish, Google will translate the page for you)

Online Dating Fail – Strike 3!

(I walk in the door, despondent after my latest online date.

“So, what was she like?” says Beta Max, reclining on the lounge with Xbox controller in one hand and beer can in the other.

“She looked like my ex-wife,” I say. “And was just as opinionated.”

He purses his lips. “Ooh, not good.”

“No. I’m a bit over it, actually.” I plonk on the lounge next to him, watch Beta Max despatch a few enemy soldiers in the latest Call of Duty game. Engrossed in the on-screen carnage, fingers and thumbs tapping away on the controller buttons, he doesn’t take his eyes off the TV screen. “What is it I always say?”

We speak simultaneously: “Plenty more fish in the sea.”

Alpha Girl enters at that moment. “Blew it again, did you?” she says.

I look back, resignedly, at her. “No, not this time.”

“Well, you know what Beta Max says…”

“Don’t say it-”

Beta Max and Alpha Girl in tandem this time, a huge and devious smile on Beta Max’s face: “Plenty more fish in the sea.”)

 

My second face-to-face date (and third woman I’ve spoken to*). Not so bad. Had a nice meal. Company was okay. Looking like my ex-wife was not a positive point.

Why is it that people don’t look like the photos they put online? Is it because they use old photos, when they were better looking, thinner, had different hair, before they got old and before they got the skin grafts? Yes, my photos are a few years old, but I still look basically the same (except for a few more grey hairs in my goatee and my hairline receding slightly…okay, maybe I shouldn’t be complaining about anyone else).

It is a bit unfair though. I know we shouldn’t judge people based on their looks alone, but isn’t that what first impressions are all about? If the datee puts a misleading photo (or photos) on their online dating profile, aren’t they enticing the unwary would-be dater into a trap, of sorts? The meeting is going to be a surprise, if the dater recognises them at all. Maybe they’re hoping their sterling conversational skills will save the day. After all, looks aren’t everything, right?

Maybe I’m complaining for the sake of complaining. I’m disillusioned and I’ve only met three women so far. I’m sure there will be more. Hopefully not as misleading as the first few.

Back to the coal face. Once more unto the breach. Plenty more fish in the sea (Ugh!).

 

(“Maybe you should hang out at the supermarket,” says Alpha Girl.

“You think I’ll be more successful at meeting women there?” I say.

“No, but I’d see a lot less of you.”)

 

*To find out how that one went, click here. To find out how the second one went, click here. To avoid my whinging altogether, click here for some poetry.      

Work Out Woes

(‘So, you’ve been resting for a week,’ says Alpha Girl. ‘Does your arm feel any better?’

‘Well, it did,’ I reply, ‘But I just worked out and now it hurts again.’

‘Did you go to the doctor last week?’

‘Yes, I did. He’s referred me for an ultrasound on my elbow in four weeks.’

‘Well, make sure you go to it.’

‘No worries. You know you sound like my Mum.’

‘There are worse things I could be.’)

 

So, the week of rest is over, and I’m back into working out.

I did my back workout this morning – 5 supersets of wide grip chin/pull ups (8-10 slow reps per set) combined with bent over dumbbell rows (10 reps each side per set), 5 sets of neutral grip chins (8-10 slow reps per set), 20 sets of push ups (20 slow reps per set), and 20 laps of the back yard (2 kilometres). Yes, I know push ups are for chest, but I was doing them after each lap, as part of the cardio.

And my left arm was in pain. It still is.

I know I have to get something done about it. But I’m not about to rest for 6 months. My workouts are not just physical training, they’re part of my mental health routine.

Tomorrow is chest day. We’ll see how that goes.

 

(‘Dude, you still working out?’ says Beta Max. ‘You should take a leaf out of my book, man.’

‘And do what, exactly?’ I reply.

‘I just rest 24/7, man. And I never strain anything.’)

Sherlocked

(‘So what are you watching?’ Says Alpha Girl.

‘Sherlock,’ replies Beta Max without taking his eyes off the TV.

‘It’s the BBC Sherlock Holmes show with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman,’ I say, my eyes glued to the set.

‘What’s that?’ Says Alpha Girl.

Beta Max and I do a slow double take. ‘You’ve never seen it?’ I say. ‘It’s one of the best shows. Ever.’

Beta max concurs. ‘It’s the shit.’

Alpha Girl watches for a few minutes. ‘I don’t understand what’s going on. That tall guy is a bit of a jerk, yet the little guy just puts up with him?’

Beta Max and I smile at Alpha Girl’s unintended irony.)

 

So, many of you have probably already seen the latest season of Sherlock on cable. I’m just catching up as the DVD set is now available.

I love shows that are well written, well acted, well produced and well…bloody good. Sherlock fits that bill. It’s a modern day take on the Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan Doyle, written by Stephen Moffat (current show runner on Dr Who, another brilliant show) and Mark Gatiss. Sherlock is up to it’s fourth season (fifth if you count last year’s movie fill in). Cumberbatch and Freeman have busy schedules, so they have to squeeze the series in between movies.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes is a quick-witted, super smart sociopath, who basically treats everyone he knows like a doormat. This includes his long suffering housemate, Martin Freeman’s Dr Watson, who writes about their cases via an online blog. They solve crimes.

Sherlock has a huge fan following. And so it should. It’s funny, smart, gripping television.

And with new seasons sometimes taking several years to get here, and Moffat indicating that the show might not continue, enjoy it while you can.

Season Four is a cracker. If you haven’t seen it yet, then you don’t know what you’re missing.

 

(Alpha Girl, is now ensconced on the lounge between us. I’ve pulled out the DVDs for the previous seasons, and we’re watching from the beginning.

‘Sherlock is so nasty to Watson,’ she says. ‘I like him.’

‘Thought you would,’ I say.)

Waving, not drowning. Just watch out for the sharks…

(‘So, what are you up to, now,’ says Alpha Girl, glancing over my shoulder at my laptop screen. ‘Blogging? Online dating? Writing recipes, or whatever it is you do all day on that thing?’

‘I’ve started writing a book,’ I say. ‘I’m trying to be a writer. It’s about time I started.’

‘A book,’ she says, with an air of incredulity. ‘You’re writing a book?’

Sometimes its exasperating having to justify everything I do to her, but I’m used to it by now. I guess I blow off a little steam in my response.

‘Yes, a book. I intend to be a writer and writing short stories, novels and blogs is part of that. I know you look down your nose on the things I do because you consider them unimportant, but they’re important to me. I know you probably think I’m wasting my time, and maybe I am, but if I don’t try I’ll never know if I can do it. I have time on my hands and now’s the time to do it, rather than stagnating and wonder ‘what if’ for the rest of my life. Happy?’

She steps back. The silence hangs heavy. ‘What?’ I say. ‘Are you going to tell me to stop wasting my time and get a real job?’

For a moment, I could almost believe she’s hurt. Her mouth is a thin line. ‘I was going to say good luck with it. I’ve read your blogs, and you’re obviously passionate about writing.’

She leaves the room, leaving me feeling like more of a tool than I usually do.)

 

I’ve started my novel. I’ve written unfinished novels in the past, but my intention with this one is to actually write an entire book. Maybe I’ll toss it in the trash at that point, but I have to write it, anyway. I would like to try to get it published.

I read some good advice in a book I’m reading, The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing.  In one of the many essays, Bill O’Hanlon advises to write in small increments. This ensures that you write every day and that you can fit writing into your busy schedule (yes, I have one of those. In between uni work and sitting around, that is). O’Hanlon also comments on overcoming the mental barriers associated with big and daunting jobs, using a process called ‘externalising’.

Externalising is taking the unhelpful inner voices (you know the ones – am I good enough? Why is everything so hard? Did I leave the gas on when I left the house?)  – the one’s that affect motivation – (okay, so I meant that, not the gas thing) and begin to consider them as external.

One of the examples O’Hanlon uses is: ‘I self-sabotage by telling myself I’m not a good enough writer to get published’. He suggests to think instead: ‘self-doubt is trying to convince me that I’m not good enough’. The change, he suggests, helps you to challenge negative thoughts, rather than allowing them to undermine you. This works for all things, not just writing.

O’Hanlon has written 28 books, so I can’t really argue with him. It’s one way he managed to overcome his own self-doubts as a writer, along with some other Jedi mind tricks he discusses in the essay.

So, I typed my first chapter with a newfound sense of confidence, clear headedness and purpose. Maybe this is what I was meant to do. Maybe this is my true calling.

Time will tell.

 

(I find Alpha Girl in the kitchen, making herself a huge, multi-layered sandwich.

‘Sorry if I lashed out earlier,’ I say. She turns to face me, a tight smile pinching her features.

‘I was going to say what you said, about getting a real job,’ she replies. ‘But then I thought to myself, maybe I shouldn’t shoot you down over this.’

I’m not sure how to respond. Is this a trap, another mental mind game wrapped in duplicity and deceit? I swallow involuntarily.

She turns her attention back to her sandwich. ‘I like seeing you all insecure and confused. It makes it all worthwhile.’ She turns back, the malevolent glint in her eye has returned. She tears the sandwich with razor teeth, chews and swallows, like a shark consuming a dolphin that’s irritated it for too long. ‘And I still think you should get a real job.’

I’m imagining the dolphin’s death throes, the water permeated with blood and pieces of frayed meat. The shark tears and tears, and it’s sinking into the red-hazed waters, plummeting deeper and deeper…)

 

Yes, my spelling is English, not American. So stop wincing every time you see an ‘s’ instead of a ‘z’, or a ‘u’ in ‘Humour’.   

To find out more about Bill O’Hanlon’s books and methods, visit http://billohanlon.com/

To find out more about ‘The Complete Book of Novel Writing’, visit http://www.writersdigest.com/qp7-migration-books/novel-writing

Rest, Recuperation and the Art of Camouflage

(It’s been three days since my last workout. I’m lying on the lounge, checking Twitter. Alpha Girl enters and does a double-take. “Hey,” she says. “Aren’t you supposed to be doing 500 push ups or something, by now?”

“I’m having a week off,” I reply.

“So, you’re resting your arm?”

“As a matter of fact, yes.”

“Good. It’s about time you used your brain for something other than being stupid, or upset with yourself. Are you intending to lie around all week?”

“That was my intention.”

Alpha Girl’s hands are on her waist, her head cocks slightly to the side. An air of haughtiness floods the already cramped room. “Oh, no you don’t, mister. If you’ve got a week off, you can help Beta Max to paint the spare room. And clean up all that crap in the back yard.”

Beta Max enters the room and smiles. “No rest for the wicked, bro.”)

 

Every few weeks of working out, I have a week off. This is so my body has a chance to completely recover, allowing time for muscle tissue to grow and ligaments to repair themselves.

At my age, you don’t recover as fast as you do when you’re younger, so you need to take a bit more care. For those of you who have followed my blog from early on (that would be none of you), you may remember (or not) that I have a long-term tendonitis injury in my left elbow that causes me pain when I use it (read about it here). I’ve been using an ultrasound wand on it, but after some initial positive results, my elbow seems to have settled back into the “I hate you and intend to hurt you by making all your fevered self-torture dreams come true” mode.

If you’ve read any of my blogs, you will know that I use exercise as a way of combatting my ongoing depression (along with medication, therapy – you know, the usual suspects), so skipping a week is a big thing for me. But I have to weigh up the pros and cons. On one hand, it’s good for my tiny brain, on the other, I need my arm to get (slowly) better.

Yeah, I can still do chores and the like, I just don’t push myself with big weights until I’m a wet smear on the ground. That means no tabatas as well (don’t know what a tabata is? You really haven’t been reading my blog – check it out here). So, this week is going to be laid back. A week I can catch up on my uni work, watch some TV, look for jobs (yes, I do that occasionally, y’know), read, and do some work around the house. I might even do some meditation.

I think I’m going to be absolutely desperate for a workout by the end of the week.

 

(“Have you finished that yard work, boys?” calls Alpha Girl from the kitchen window.

Beta Max hides his beer and yells: “No worries, we’re right on it.” It’s been three hours and we’ve managed to move one small pile of junk about five feet away from where it was originally.

“She’s going to come out at some point,” I say.

“By that time, my friend,” says Beta Max, “we will be safely ensconced at the pub.”

While his logic is sound, I don’t believe the final outcome will be ideal for either of us.)

Blog Addiction – it’s a real medical condition…

(“So what are you doing, now?” says Alpha Girl.

“The usual,” I reply. “Posting a blog.”

“You have become obsessed with that thing.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“So, how often do you post?”

“Almost every day.”

“Hmmm. And how often do you check your stats? You know – looks, or whatever they’re called.”

“I don’t have to, I have an app that tells me. It beeps at me.”

“Oh, it beeps, does it? And I suppose you look every time it does?”

“Ummm. No.”

“Really… So, if I was to check your phone right now the app wouldn’t be open?” Alpha Girl swiftly grabs the mobile phone from my hands, flicks through the screens. She turns it to me. Sure enough, the app is open, the stats bars shiny and resplendent in blue and white.

“That proves nothing,” I say.)

 

I started this blog to force me to write every day. So far, so good. Originally, I said I’d be the only person reading it, and didn’t care if anyone else did. After all, it was cathartic, a way of getting issues off my chest. But I guess lately I’ve gotten caught up in whether people are actually reading what I’m writing.

Yes, you got me. I care if people actually read what I write. That’s what writers do, after all – they write to be read. That doesn’t mean I have to cater to the popular crowd. It just means I have to write what I’m happy writing, and hopefully other people will like it, too.

So, I’ve had about 400 views on my blog so far. That’s not bad for a month, I guess, and it is early days. I haven’t exactly been marketing it, or anything. (Okay, I told some people at Uni via the discussion board threads – that doesn’t really count, does it?)

So far, my blogs have been varied, from film and music reviews to posts about my mental health issues, my son, gym workout injuries, computer breakdowns, writing and recording music, Dungeons and Dragons, Kung Fu, books and Christian online dating. I understand that blogs should really be a bit more focussed if you’re aiming for higher views, but I’m happy talking about anything. And that’s how it will stay.

I’m not obsessed with blogging. But I do really, really, enjoy it.

 

(My phone beeps. Before I can reach for it, Alpha Girl pipes up. “Bet you can’t stop yourself from checking your views?” she says.

“Yes, I can. Look – not touching it.” It beeps again. Sweat on the brow. Hand visibly shaking. Alpha Girl watching like a hawk.

I grab the phone and check the app. “Hah!” says Alpha Girl. “Just as I suspected – a blog addict.”

“Shut up,” is my brilliant comeback.)

That’s an Online Dating Fail! (Or, Strike One)

I joined a Christian online dating service a week or so back (get the lowdown on why, here). I was contacted by a lovely lady; we emailed back and forth, then texted, then spoke on the phone, and texted some more. We set up our first face-to-face meeting, to have coffee and see a movie together.

Then she went away for the weekend and went silent. I thought I had done something wrong and so I sent an apologetic text (I had no idea what I was apologising for), and she replied with a very nice “it’s not you it’s me” text, advising that she was going through a lot of heavy issues and didn’t want to bother me with them. See you round, and good luck with your ongoing search. I’m trusting she was telling the truth, but maybe I‘m just naïve. We never even got to meet.

 

(“Hah!” says Alpha Girl. “I knew you would bomb! Can I say ‘I told you so’?”

Beta Max shrugs. “Don’t worry, man. There’s plenty more fish in the online sea.”)

 

I’ve read a bit about online dating. I know that on apps like Tinder and sites like Match, some people play the field. I chose a Christian dating site because I’m Christian, and hopefully would avoid that sort of thing.

Being a nest of buzzing insecurities, I can’t help but wonder what went wrong. I was charming, funny, and honest. I’m a fit, late forties student with no job, a blog, and a dream that I can one day write for a living (okay, now I’m starting to see what’s not so appealing about me…). Maybe the age thing and the lack of employment made a difference. I’d like to think that my potential future dream girl would be honest enough to tell me if that were it.

 

(“I’ll tell you,” says Alpha Girl. “People don’t like you because you’re a boring, know-it-all, nerd. I don’t like you. You must have picked up on that by now.”

“Beta Max likes me,” I say.

“He’s an idiot, like you,” says Alpha Girl, smiling.

“Thanks a lot,” says Beta Max, slumping dejectedly.)

 

The Christian dating site I’ve joined is “slim pickings”, to say the least. There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of Christian women, in my age range, in my area. I don’t want to join multiple sites as that may make me no better than a serial Tinder dater (no offense to anyone using Tinder, I’m sure you’re a wonderful person who doesn’t fit the stereotypical serial hook up mould).

Maybe I’m worrying as little too much. It is, admittedly, my first failure (possibly, of many). I just have to get back in the saddle and keep trying.

I’ve been told by several of my previous partners that “I’m easy to love”. I don’t know what that means, but I assume it’s positive. I just need an opportunity to demonstrate it. And maybe then I’ll understand it as well.

 

(“So much for your blog not being about picking up women,” says Alpha Girl.

“I’m too depressed to argue with you,” I reply.

“Good. That’s the way it should be,” she says.)

 

I live in Australia, where we use English spelling. I’m proud of my spelling. It’s not American spelling. And that’s okay.

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