Saturday, November 21, 2020

Grief: "I Just Want Something I Can Ignore"

 Rob says that in the film version of High Fidelity, one of the great Gen-X films of the 1990s, played by Gen-X's poster child, John Cusack. I love that quote. It's one of those things I wish I'd written, damn you, Nick Hornby. It's such a succinct thought that conveys something we don't often articulate about mass media; namely, that there is, underneath the Must Watch Shows and the Trending Twitter Topics, and the "No Spoilers" Fan-Bombs on Facebook, a second layer of media, movies, and music. It's the stuff that, for one reason or another, serves as a kind of white noise machine for our overly-stimulated simian brains. 

Shows like M.A.S.H., for instance. That's a show everyone of a certain age remembered watching, both during prime time and syndication, for two or more decades. Now, well into our adulthood, M.A.S.H. is a show that is part of the glue of television. It's always on somewhere, and we've seen every episode multiple times. Even the episodes we think we didn't me, we've seen it. It's now a digital backdrop, visual Muzak, the kind of thing that can be on in the background during a family dinner and no one minds, because no one really pays that much attention to it, even the super serious episodes where Hawkeye cries or when Sidney tries to psychoanalyze someone.

Which leads me to Gilmore Girls

Monday, November 16, 2020

Aftermath: One Month

 Cathy died a month ago today. As hard as the last two years have been, and this includes my own hospitalization and other assorted health problems, and as rough as this year has been, and as painful as the last four months have been, the last thirty days have been some of the most challenging days of my life. I went from the funeral straight to not having a vehicle for three weeks. The enforced shut-in was both oddly comforting and ridiculously stressful, in that it made me feel even more helpless an ineffectual. Running the gauntlet between our wedding anniversary, my birthday, Halloween, and Cathy's birthday sure as hell didn't help matters one little bit. 

All this to say, I am grateful that friends and family don't blithely ask me how I'm doing. Ordinarily I would be loathe to bypass the social niceties (the hi's and how are you's), but my patience is worn tissue paper thin right now, and things that ordinarily wouldn't bother me a bit are sending me into a red rage. But I can't yell in a stranger's face, "I feel like I'm trying to play the trombone with only one arm! How do you THINK I'm doing today!?"

That's how I feel: like I've been amputated. And phantom limb syndrome for me involves walking around the house like a mental patient, talking to thin air and anxiously waiting for an answer that will never come. 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Cancer: Aftermath

I feel like I have a lot to say, but I don't really want to voice any of it. Instead, I'll just dump my brain out and we'll see how it goes. 

The funeral was nice, insofar as funerals go. I think everyone honored Cathy with their words and their expressions of love and admiration for her. Several friends showed up, unannounced, just to pay their respects and be present. Most of my family was here, too. I managed to mostly keep it together. The church was kind enough to post the video on their Facebook page for the many people who could not attend. If you want to see it, it's still up.

For my birthday this year, my middle name was Duncan, because I Yo-Yo'ed up and down all day. Low points included missing my wife, and figuring out that my car wouldn't work and making plans to have it towed on Monday. Because, you know, insult to injury, and all of that nonsense.

Thanks to everyone who wished me happy birthday, and also to everyone who didn't, because there wasn't anything particularly happy about the day. You were quite right.

But I tried. I really did. And I'm going to keep on trying, because otherwise, what's the use? Don't answer that, it's rhetorical.

After the last two weeks, preceded by the last four months, my chest is starting to unclench and my breathing is back to normal. Somewhat. I keep getting into crying jags. I am still pacing the house. I'm still anxious, and scared. And sad. Just so heartbroken. I feel her absence, humming in the air like a high note that vibrates my sternum.

I'm going to look into grief counseling. After I fix the car. And pay the outstanding bills. And sign back up for health insurance (we were dropped.) And a half-dozen other things that suddenly need my attention. Somewhere in all of this, I need to have a real serious Come-to-Jesus meeting with myself about what happens next.

I have been incredibly lucky to have known from the age of 15 what I wanted to do with myself. And then I went and did it. Not a lot of people have that kind of clarity of vision, and I know it's a gift. But for the last twenty years, my goals have been intertwined with Cathy's goals. Oh, we had our side projects, too, but overall, we were always working on advancing our own desires and dreams as we helped the other person do the same.

Now I'm alone. And I have no idea what I want to do. For the first time since the age of fifteen, I have no direction, no heading, and no hand on the rudder. I hate the way this feels. I'll be taking some time off for a bit, so that I might figure out what the next phase of my life is going to be with the label "widower" attached to me like a barnacle I can't scrape off.

I'm tired. I'm tired of crying. I'm tired of getting hit with sudden waves of sadness, whack, in the face, like a creme pie made from depression and despair.

I can't get her deathbed out of my head. I close my eyes and I see it. I see her, arranged, eyes closed, and I can smell her skin and feel her hair on my cheek when I cradled her in my arms and sobbed. I have twenty years of great memories, good times, happy occasions, and all I can think about is her final minutes.

I'm not ready to accept this new state of being. It's still too raw. Too maddening. I was afraid of this happening. Alone in this house, pacing around like a caged animal, alternating between repeating lists of things I have to do, over and over, and crying out for my wife in an empty room , because I don't think I can do it all by myself.

Maybe I'm just wallowing. I don't want to let go of the pain, because I don't want to let go of her. I'm just so angry at everything right now. Things are going to move on with or without me, and I know that. This will likely fade into a dull ache. I'll have an epiphany or two and reorganize (and maybe even reinvent) myself and as time marches on, so shall I, older, wiser, ready for what comes next.


Right now, I think I want to just wallow. And I don't want you to see me like this.


Friday, October 16, 2020

Cancer: An Obituary

Cathy Day lost her fight with ovarian cancer on 10/15/2020. She was 56 years old. 

Catherine Day was born in Dallas, Texas, the daughter of Richard Day and Diane More, and attended Vernon High School. After graduating in 1983, she attended the University of Texas, where she received a master’s degree in Speech Language Pathology. She taught in various public and private schools in California, Maryland, and Texas, helping learning-disabled children to read and speak, for two decades.

 Cathy was a lifelong student of the theater and she acted in plays throughout her school years. As an adult, she was active in community theater in Austin, appearing in Different Stages productions, and later with the Violet Crown Radio Players, of which she was a founding member. In Wichita Falls, Cathy was proud to call the Backdoor Theatre her creative home and she appeared in several productions, including “Sordid Lives” which earned her a Genesius Award for Best Actress in a Non-Musical Role, and “Dirty Laundry,” where she co-starred with her husband, Mark Finn.

Cathy met Mark in the Summer of 2000 and they were married in October, 2003. They later moved to Vernon as co-owners of the Vernon Plaza Theater where they lived and worked. Cathy was a member of First Presbyterian Church of Vernon and was active in the community as a founding member of Leadership Vernon, The Vernon Main Street Program, and the Vernon Farmer’s Market. She always had a smile and a laugh for everyone she met, and the memory of her kindness, her gentle nature and her warmth will be a comfort to her mother Diane; her step-father Pat More; her sisters: Susan, Barbara, and Erin; her brother Mike; her many nieces and nephews, and her husband, who survive her, but will never forget her.

 In lieu of flowers, the family has requested giving a donation to the Backdoor Theater in Wichita Falls in her name.

My thoughts are below. Fair warning: this is uncomfortable, and I don't recommend  you reading past the break unless you want my raw, unfiltered take on all of this. 

Friday, October 2, 2020

Cancer: End Stage

I don't know how much more of this I can take.  

Cathy took a turn this week, and it was bad. Last Sunday, I worked up the energy to come into the room, brightly, like I've been doing; I don't want her to see my anguish, and I know I'm not hiding it as well as I think I am. We've cried together enough. I'm trying to be a comfort to her. 

Ordinarily, she greets me with some variation of "There you are! Finally!" However, when I came in on Sunday, she was asleep. I let her be. She didn't wake up until around 9 pm. She looked surprised to see me, but couldn't really talk. I'd seen this look in her eyes before, and immediately thought about the double-up of medicines. 

But that wasn't it. She was just getting worse. Slower, weaker, more confused. 

Someone is always with her overnight; me or one of her sisters. We're all suspending our lives to help Cathy at the end of hers. I made plans to go on Thursday, because the doctor said we are getting close to the end. 

When I walked into the room, she was asleep again. This whole time, I've been able to see Cathy in and amongst the tubes and the gowns and the sickness. I could still see her, the person I've spent two decades with. 

Last night, all I could see was the disease and what it has done to my beautiful wife. The swelling, the discoloration, the distortion of her skin, the skin she diligently cared for her whole life. It was too much. I've been holding open this gaping wound over my heart since July and I didn't think I could rip it open any wider, but I was wrong about that. I cried over her, quietly, as she slept. 

She's been having pain when she uses the bathroom, and it's very likely a urinary tract infection, which can cause fogginess. They put her on antibiotics with a shrug; it couldn't hurt, they said. But they are all certain it's disease progression, a euphemism I've come to despise. 

She moaned in her sleep, all night. As usual, they woke her up every two hours to see if she was resting. I couldn't help ease her pain. I could do nothing, except wipe her mouth when she coughed up phlegm. She assured me I was doing a good job. It's harder and harder to understand her. 

This morning, she was a little more alert, relatively speaking. They gave her the scheduled meds, including the antibiotic, crushed up, and mixed with pudding, Michael Scott style. She didn't eat last night. I just want her pain to go away. I don't want her to die confused and in pain. 

Before I left, I put on Downton Abbey for her. She was watching it as I packed up to leave. There was a scene where someone turned on the phonograph and asked for a dance. Others followed suit, like one does in Downton Abbey.  I leaned over to kiss her forehead and tell her I love her and she said, "I need you do do something for me." 

"Okay, sure, what'cha need?"

"I want you to tell the doctors..." she drifted away for a second. 

"Tell the doctors what?" I prompted. 

She snapped back and locked eyes with me. "Tell the doctors I've forgotten how to dance. They need to teach me. I forgot how."

Somehow I managed to smile from behind the curtain of tears and said, "I'll teach you, baby. It's easy. I know all the steps. It's going to be all right."

She nodded, satisfied, and tried to touch my hand. "Don't cry, honeybee." Her arm was swollen and she had trouble moving it. I took her hand instead. 

I don't know how much more of this I can take. 

2010. She would hate me sharing this picture,
but I think it's beautiful. This is Cathy.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Health: Weight Loss, Week 1

We’ll start with the good news: I have been on a really aggressive and restrictive diet for the past week. It’s been…an adjustment…to say the least, but I have lost 8 lbs and 5 inches in that week.

And before you say anything, let me stop you right here and say, “I know.” This is not my first rodeo. I know all about it. Your advice is, and I say this with no acrimony whatsoever, not welcome. You can’t help me. No one can help me. The only person that can help me is me. And I’m doing it this way because that’s the only way that I can move forward at this time. So, 8 lbs and 5 inches.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Hospice: Our New Normal

 Cathy has been in Hospice for five weeks now. It feels like forever. I am struggling with watching Cathy's gradual shutting down. She is at the point now where she is bedridden; her leg muscles can't support her and so any scenery changes she wants to make are done with nurses and a wheelchair. Her short term memory continues to fade, as well. People, faces, events and things are all crystal clear to her. But she can't keep up with her phone. In bed. She can't quite remember from day-to-day how to work it, either. She learns it in the morning, but by the evening, she needs help again. Hospice keeps telling me it's "disease progression." It's getting on my nerves. She's not sick, she's hungry. 

Monday, August 17, 2020

Cancer: Hospice, Week 4

 (Warning: Language)

What a shitty week. 

Sonya wasn't too happy about us leaving Cathy behind at the Hospice Center. This is her as I was driving out of the parking lot. Her way of saying, "You left a man behind, dude!" 

Trust me, Sonya. I know. And I'm not happy about it, either. 

Cathy continues to hang on, her heart beating strong, her mind struggling to connect, to understand, her lungs working, her muscles flexing. She's willing. But her body is slowly killing her. It's the worst kind of torture to see her slipping in increments that could be measured in centimeters, and there's not a thing anyone can do about it. 

What makes this doubly galling is that Cathy's own body is cutting off her food supply. And Cathy has never been one of those people with hang ups about food or eating. She loves to eat, and she loves good food. She's always appreciative of anyone who cooks for her. Our first date, I made her chicken parmesan, and she was so impressed, she married me three years later. 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Cancer: Hospice Supplemental


Most long-time readers here will recognize the name of Sonya, our affable pit bull pooch with the winning personality and a bevvy of entertaining tricks. She's ten years old now, and she's lost a little bit of bounce, but only a little. We've been pretty lucky in terms of dog maintenance; she hasn't cost an arm nor a leg, and aside from the occasional itchy eye from high pollen days, she's reasonably healthy. 

Last year, we took her to a specialist in Wichita Falls because (and I didn't know this) apparently pit bulls have those big, fleshy mouths that continue to grow as they age. The teeth get covered up by the gums and that's what causes the stinky-mouth, and left untreated, can rot teeth, forcing an extraction. We didn't want that, but Sonya's mouth was definitely in bad shape. 

The process is straightforward; they use a laser to cut off the excess tissue and cauterize it. This was a little more than Cathy and I could pull off last year, so we made plans to do it in 2020. 

Fast Forward to August, with the world on fire and my life in turmoil. I've got a dog with a stinky mouth, and she's in the dumps because she can't find her human, Cathy, anywhere. I've also got Cathy, pining away for her sweet baby. I've squirreled some money away for Sonya's health needs, and I thought this would be a great way to kill two birds with one stone. 

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Cancer: Hospice, Week 3

I'm running hot and cold. Some days, I've got full functionality and can do normal things and feel like an adult, and other days, I'm clutching my stomach and staggering around like I've been junk-punched by a silverback gorilla. The worst days are the ones that start out as normal and end up junk-punched. 

Cathy is still in hospice. I don't want the word "still" to have any undue emphasis, like I'm disappointed. Quite the contrary. Rather, the emphasis should be on "in hospice," meaning, she's not home yet. Yet. 

I'm still trying to find a scenario where she gets to come home. I don't have a solution yet, but I'm working on it. In the meantime, I find that a routine is settling in with us, almost like the schedule of a long-distance trucker. I'm on for three, off four four. But those three are 18 hour days a piece. This is exhausting, and the whole family has been rocked back and forth, up and down, and we are all frazzled. 

I don't want anyone to think that I am not grateful for the assistance; I am. It's been really nice having someone, anyone, in the house when I get home. But I want everyone to know that I am absolutely festooned with feminine energy right now. Covered up, even. I'm pretty sure I've started to ovulate. Everyone's cycle is all linked up, now. Mine, the dog's, everyone. 

I've been sitting on some short takes and little incidents that have stacked up in the last few weeks, and I want to share a few, if only to take my mind off of the grind of the days. 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Cancer: Hospice Week Two Update

I'm going to start this with a strange little coincidence. Cathy was moved into the hospice care center in Wichita Falls about ten days ago. They got her in and comfortable and settled and I hung around outside while nurses and orderlies swarmed over her and did stuff. 

As I was sitting outside, I noticed the tiles in the building were all donated--you know what I mean, where you pay a certain amount and sponsor an oblong tile in the name of a loved one, or just as a donation from a family or an organization. These tiles (bricks?) run two-up all around the walls, like wainscoting, down every wall and across each doorway. Outside each room, however, there is a larger plaque, presumably reserved for larger donations, or to sponsor a room. Here is the plaque outside of Cathy's room.

It says "The Hoblitzelle Foundation" for those of you who can't make it out. I read it and a chill ran down my neck. Let me explain why.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Cancer: Hospice

We tried.
We really did.
Cathy tried hardest. 
But in the end, the pain won out. 

I took her home from the hospital on Wednesday, with the understanding that in order to qualify for this eleventh hour clinical trial that had just opened up, Cathy would need to be able to eat without throwing up. She had to keep food down. Or, well, you know, broth. Soup. Liquid. 

Her family was waiting for her when we got home, and they helped her upstairs and get settled. It was nice having folks around, and Cathy seemed cheered by their presence, if a little tired. She tried to eat something, but gave up. The heartburn and nausea were back. 

We tried to get home health to come out, but a snafu with the hospital showed our visits had been canceled because the social worker thought we were going to Oklahoma City. That was frustrating, to say the least, and so I spent an hour on the phone lining up meds for Cathy to be administered tomorrow. All she had to do was get through the night.

She got about one hour of sleep. The pain and the cramps were just too much. I didn't do much better, but I napped a bit, and then started calling people at 7:30 to get her some help. I was on and off the phone for roughly four hours. In the middle of all of it, Cathy said, "Call hospice." 

When everyone showed up, it was all within a ten minute window. The house was full of health care folks, and it took a bit of sorting out. In the end, this is what we decided: the Hospice people have an actual facility in Wichita Falls, and by checking her in there she'd have constant care. They would get her stabilized and comfortable, and then we could send her home for home care in a couple of days. 

Back into the car we went, and drove back to Wichita Falls. I've come to really resent that drive.

She was made comfortable, in a nice, spacious room, that looks like a nursing home room decorated by a mid-price hotel room. Hey, it beats the hospital. She was feeling better, and we were amiably chatting about I don't even remember what, when she grabbed her nausea bag and filled it. 

I jammed the button and yelled for nurses. They came running and took over as the crap in her stomach poured out of her. I've never been so scared, nor felt so helpless. 

They cleaned her up and changed sheets and all of that, and also gave her a powerful anti-nausea med in her port. Later, at midnight, she would get a drug that limits the production of stomach acid. But even after she threw up, she was feeling better. And I think we both realized at that point that what she did next was dependent on her stomach. She wouldn't be able to eat solid food anymore. And for now, liquids were working, but they may one day stop. And then the clock would start counting down. 

I read to her until she fell asleep. I watched her, until some time after midnight, and then I crashed in the chair. I woke up with a nurse in the room, and Cathy awake. "Hi, Honey!" she said. Perky. Like her old self. She was hungry, and wondered if they would bring her crackers. I told her no. But I get it; she's feeling better now. We had a long talk about stuff, interrupted only by a nurse who said her doctor had ordered some more drugs for her. He wanted to know if he should order a NG tube (that thing that went up her nose in the hospital).  I said no, she didn't want that. Cathy looked at me and said, "Well, maybe."

This is what we are currently weighing. With the tube, she's going to be able to hang on for a while. But she will have to stay in the center. She can't come home with the NG tube. If she takes that NG tube out, the timeline is shortened, but then so is her pain and discomfort. 

The drugs she is on right now seem to be working spectacularly. She has a day or two to mull it over. We've all decided that whatever Cathy wants, Cathy gets. That includes Ginger Beer, as I am under strict instructions to bring some back when I return. 

And that's all I know at the moment. She's resting and she's comfortable--well, as comfortable as she can be in a hospital bed. She's seen a lot of family and she's got more coming. She's making calls and talking to people. I don't know if this is a rally, but I hope it is. I hope we see a few of them. 

I know these posts are upsetting to a lot of you, and I don't want you to have these terrible images in your head as the last memories of Cathy that you have. I'm not going to show any more pictures of her fight with cancer. Instead, I'm going to show only pictures of the Cathy we all remember, the Cathy we know and love. This is one of the photos we took for our engagement announcement. Not a lot of people have seen it. I guess it was a little too mushy. But it's a really good picture. 

I will post again when something changes. Hopefully I can get Cathy home one last time. 
Thank you, everyone, for your friendship and your love. Thank you for your courage and for going through this with me. Thank you for everything, from me and from Cathy. You've all made an incalculable difference in our lives. 

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Cancer: Three Days Later

Many of you aren't on Facebook and don't follow me there, so here is the update on our situation. Suffice to say, we are mostly out of the woods now, and Cathy is doing much better. Thank you all for your words of comfort, encouragement and strength and support during this hellish ordeal. It's been a long week. I feel like I've aged a month. But things look much much better.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Cancer: Three Days

Happier Times.
Two years ago, almost to the month, Cathy started cancer treatments. At the time, she had a rare and aggressive form of ovarian cancer, and they were calling it Stage 3, but with a look on their faces that suggested that number could change at any second.

We were terrified, if I may be allowed the largest understatement of my professional writing career. Petrified. But also, weirdly, galvanized. There was a sense—more from me than from Cathy—that this was a temporary state of being. An inconvenience to be conquered, and then monitored closely thereafter. We were getting older. Trade-offs being, now we have health problems. But even though the numbers of recurrence were scary, 48% chance of the cancer returning, we were committed to powering through this. The cancer, after all, showed up at the worst time. Super inconvenient. We were just getting our shit together, after, what? Fifteen years of marriage? But we had time to fix it.

Now we have seventy-two hours. 

Friday, May 1, 2020

Waitaminute...orcs are what, now?

This past week, GamerTwitter erupted into a massive feud, ecologically intended to cull followers, block bad actors, and re-affirm tribal politics and practices, by declaring that orcs in D&D are racist. Or, rather, the idea of orcs in D&D are inherently racist. Or, rather, the language used to describe orcs in the official books is the language of oppression and dehumanization used in racist pograms. Or, rather, the historical antecedent of orcs was borne out of racism, i.e. Tolkien was a racist who didn’t like the Huns. Or was it Vikings? Or Asians? Or, rather, or rather, or rather…

Maybe you can see what the problem was, but just in case you can’t, I’ll tell you. Blogger A was arguing X, and Personality B was counter-arguing for Y. Gamer C was really incensed about Z. No one was approaching the subject with agreed-upon terms and criteria. Everyone was talking past one another. Oh, and the name-calling was a nice touch, too. This is why we can’t have nice things.

I saw a lot of people my age and older flip the table at the suggestion that they were racists because for the past forty-five years, orcs have been the default bad guys in D&D. “Why can’t we just play the game?” they yelled. “Why must you people politicize everything?” Setting aside how you might feel about that over-simplification, I think that, if we dial it back a few notches, there might be a useful conversation to have. But it can’t start with, “Um, okay, I think you should know that you’re part of the problem,” because that murders the discourse in its crib.

Let me try this as a way to get into the topic without anyone flipping anything. We didn’t perceive there to actually BE a problem with killing orcs back in 1984, because we were teenagers playing fantasy games, and we weren’t being asked to, nor did we suspect that we even could, examine the cultural implications of what that meant; For a lot of other reasons, but mainly because the game itself has had a moral and ethical compass baked into it (called alignment) that tended to render abstract the underpinnings of everything in the game. There was good and evil, law and chaos. Monsters tended to be evil. People, not really. But only, yes, actually, the players. Well, some players. Most players were good. But there was always that one kid that wanted to play an assassin. Or the bad guys who were humanoid necromancers and raised undead simply because they could. Their goodness or evilness was never examined, unpacked, or sorted through. These stories we were creating together were morality plays, fairy tales, penny dreadfuls. And orcs were bad guys, because they were in the Lord of the Rings, and even back before Peter Jackson, elves were cool and hated orcs and everyone liked them so everyone hated orcs via the transitive property.

If you tell me that Tolkien’s depiction of orcs is racist because the language he used to describe them is akin to racial stereotyping or propaganda, I won’t debate you. I don’t have a horse in this race. I’m not, and never was, a huge Tolkien fan. Those books don’t figure into my creative DNA. I read them because as a D&D player, it felt wrong to not read them. So, go ahead. Throw him under the bus. It won’t matter, as his place in the canon is deeply and firmly entrenched. But, sure, yes, okay. Tolkien used them to make humans inhuman, and thus, easier to hate and easier to kill.

So, where does that leave D&D?

Well, the earliest depiction of orcs we were shown were basically pig men in 1970s D&D. Someone somewhere said there was a linguistic reason for this, but I don't want to chase it down. 

By the mid-1980s, the drift over into more humanoid-orcishness was happening. Here’s the image of orcs from the second edition of D&D, published in the 1980s. 

Games Workshop, meanwhile, was developing a wargame and rpg empire over in Great Britain called Warhammer and their orcs were goblin green and had mohawks and spoke with Cockney accents, like British soccer hooligans. Avocado green. Huge, comical underbites with huge, comical tusks jutting out. 

This is a half-orc paladin. From the Player's Handbook.
You've come a long way, baby.
Successive editions of D&D and other games followed suit, until we have the current depictions that run a full spectrum from scary to sexy. Anime kids, it seems, can fetishize anything. I'm not a fan of TVTropes for a large number of reasons, but this entry for Our Orcs Are Different does a good job of breaking down the nomenclature and the genus and phylum of orcs and orks and all other versions of same. 

Over the years, I’ve seen D&D drift more and more into the lanes of playing exotic monster races, including goblins and orcs, as well as minotaurs, yuan-ti, and any other creature type that was perceived as a “monster” but intelligent and thus, capable of free will. Even the original “dark elves,” the Drow, are playable, alongside other races of humanoids from the Underdark. You can even play...*shudder* people...if the DM will let you. Hint: I will not let you.

But D&D is still D&D, and that means at first level, you are probably going to fight goblins (Tolkien's other name for orcs, but let's not further muddy the waters). And when you’re strong enough, you’re going to graduate up to orcs. And then minotaurs, and medusae, and eventually dragons, demons, and so on and so forth. It’s how the game has been played forever.

Except, it hasn’t, not really. There’s no one way to play the game, as you will see if you join any of the hundreds of Facebook groups dedicated to D&D. There’s no one way, no “right” way, and there never has been. And moreover, anyone who says so these days is roundly shouted down, pilloried, and beaten with sticks. Every DM is different. Every game table is different. Fifth edition in particular leans into that assertion and customization of D&D is now a feature of the game.

One other note: D&D 5th edition’s artwork is an inclusive cornucopia of skin tones and, if not a fifty-fifty mix of men and women, at least a lot MORE women than in past editions, and no perceived class bias, either. The illustration for the Fighter is a black woman in armor, looking as cool and capable as any D&D player character could. This was largely applauded, and the current rules state that skin color and sexuality are open in the game and have no bearing on mechanics or the world itself. Humans are humans. Everything else is a player’s choice.

I am willing to bet you a million dollars that, when they were working all of this out in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, that they would have ever dreamed that one day, they’d be raked over the coals on Twitter because the orcs aren’t woke.

I must confess, and I realize that I’m opening myself up for this, but I read the original tweet that started the firestorm, and I think this is a non-issue. Or, rather, this is only as big a deal as you want to make it. This, right here? It was  two paragraphs from one of the supplemental books called Volo’s Guide to Monsters. This is a book you do not need in order to play D&D. It’s not part of the core of rules. It’s optional, an add-on, non-essential. You have to seek this book out.

One of the main features of this book was taking many of the humanoid races that have been deemed “monsters” and opening them up for role-playing by players. Those two paragraphs are immediately followed by the background traits tables that all players use to flesh out their D&D characters. They include personality traits, bonds, ideals, and flaws. 

It seems to me that whatever orcs maybe used to be, they aren’t really that now, and that's been 100% by player choice, and if the rest of the 10-page entry on orcs and not just the two paragraphs above are any indicator, this is supported by the game itself. I’m not saying that orcs maybe aren’t differently problematic for some people, but I think it might be worth acknowledging what D&D got right this time before you tell the 40 million people playing it that they are doing it wrong.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Cancer: The Devil Defeated

In the middle of all of this insanity comes the best good news we've had in a while: Cathy is through with her course of treatment on the Red Devil. That doesn't mean we are done with chemo, or done with cancer. Only that we are done with the horrible poison they were putting into her body for the past seven months. Or to put it another way: we're not out of the woods, yet, but the deranged mutant bear that has been pursuing us this whole time finally gave up the chase and we can take a minute to catch our breath before resuming the hike to get out of these woods.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Health Update: Cancer and Quarantine

Cathy and Sonya, rocking the matching sweaters.
It's been a while; too long, in fact, and I sincerely apologize. 

We're all friends here, so I'm just going to dive right in. 

I'm not in a good place right now. About two month ago, I realized that with the stress of the recurrence of Cathy's cancer so quickly on the heels of the successful surgery, and the subsequent difficulty of Cathy's chemo treatments on her (and by extension, me) this time around, I had slipped back into a state of depression. 

I wish I'd caught it sooner. This self-diagnosis was a result of some tangential health concerns popping back up and me realizing that I'd not been addressing them like I had been before. Mostly therapy stuff, but also some physical symptoms, too. 

Man, this whole ordeal has just sucked.