Hitting the Reset Button

Most people engage in self-evaluation and goal-setting at the end of the year or as the new one begins. For me it typically comes up on my birthday, as my brain inevitably begins to focus on questions like “What have you accomplished?” and “What the hell is wrong with you?” In years past I’ve given myself a pat on the back for some things I’m proud of while setting my sights on what’s next.

But a while back my life got upheaved, and the process became much less healthy reflection and increasing self-loathing. I can get really angry and disgusted with myself  for not being the person I want to be, not accomplishing the goals I set, or living up to my perceived potential. And to be honest with myself and whoever the hell wants to read this, it’s particularly bad this year. I’m putting this out here in blog form—all raw and naked where everyone can see it—to acknowledge this issue and try to move past it. I’m not doing myself or anyone else any good.

I more or less lost 2016 as a year for either my career or personal goals. My daughter nearly died of cancer but rallied and kicked its ass. I couldn’t be more proud of her nor would I change the fact that taking care of her and our family was the only thing that truly mattered to me. It’s just my stupid brain keeps telling me how many balls got dropped, how many goals ignored, how many ideas abandoned. It’s really hard to ignore that little voice telling me to do more and better, but it’s stopped being a motivational speaker and turned into an angry gym teacher screaming at me to keep running after I’ve thrown up on my sneakers.

I have to get back to work. But I need to get my head right about it. Let’s do this.

Accomplished in 2016

I helped save a precious life. I’m going to give myself credit here. My family pulled together and all did our part in taking care of Liz. I acted as her primary caregiver and advocate. I literally lived in the hospital with her for long stretches of time. I got to the know the hospital and outpatient staff, and when it came time for Liz to receive a bone marrow stem cell transplant to treat her leukemia, I was chosen to be her donor in June of last year. My cells are still going strong inside her bones and her blood type has changed to match mine. All of her tests currently show her as cancer-free with a completely successful graft. All of this took more of my time and attention than anything else in the last year. No regrets.

I published a new edition of a classic roleplaying game. While the fifth edition of Metamorphosis Alpha was nearly complete a year ago after many delays, I managed to finish the final steps in production and send it to press. My goal was to highlight the unique mashup of genres and off-kilter tone of the classic game but present it fresh to a new audience. I designed a new set of rules called System 26, an RPG engine I plan to re-visit in future games. System 26 exists as an easy-to-understand core mechanic and a few basic principles that can be adapted to “crunchy” old-school gaming or more abstract and narrative styles. It’s been a blast getting feedback on the rules, how the book reads and looks, and how groups have fared in the introductory adventure: “The Petting Zoo of Death.”

I put out a bunch of microgames and other fun products. Knowing my ability to run my business was extremely limited while I sat with Liz in the hospital, I brainstormed on ways I could use my powers as a creative professional and a publisher to help raise money without simply begging for it. I enlisted the help of  friends to create microgames, little gems that could fit on a business card and sell with d20 gaming dice that I already have in stock. These include:

  • d20 Drink Card by Jeff Grubb. Turn the question of “Who buys the next round?” into a game of chance! It’s designed to migrate among a group of friends during an evening out for some good-natured dice-slinging to see which player is buying the next drink.
  • Boast or Fib by Scott Hungerford. It’s a party game that fits in your pocket! A secret d20 role determines a category for a personal story to share with the group (school, family, dating, etc.) as well as whether you tell the truth or make the whole thing up. If the player to your left cannot correctly guess if your story was a boast or fib, she’s eliminated! The last player standing wins.
  • Escape From Manos: The Hands of Fate by Stephen D. Sullivan. Fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 know Manos well, along with anyone fascinated with obscure or famously bad films. Roll your way through the events of the film, dodging the groping hands of Torgo, facing stock-footage snakes, and finally confronting The Master himself. The more of your movie-family that survives, the higher points you’ll score!
  • Pharmacology Roulette by Lester Smith. Grab a bunch of dice and become a test subject for Big Pharma! In this push your luck game you can up your doses or add even more drugs and their crazy side effects. Keep playing until someone dies! (In the game, we mean, honest.)

If that weren’t enough awesome, we also did mini-crowdfunding in order to produce posters, door hangers, t-shirts, and fun little cards to amuse your friends. We successfully raised the money needed to get our family through some truly dark times while spreading our love of games and all things Nerd. Visit the Fun4Liz online store to check out the whole selection!

I started writing fiction again. I started writing stories when I was 8 years old, and I regret that I fell off the wagon for a while. I’ve talked before about the struggle to get this important part of my creative life going again. But even with some false starts I managed to draft several chapters of a novella, a modern horror story that explores how the supernatural might collide with real ways human perception and memory work. My friend Arielle narrated a first-draft of the Prologue, and hearing her read my words makes me want to hear her perform the finished story.

I also started writing mainstream fiction under a pen name, more focused on humor and relationships and (gasp!) sex. It gained a small but active following and has been a lot of fun stepping outside of my usual genres and finding a voice for this character and seeing the world through his eyes. If any of you would like to read it, just leave a comment or send me a note and I’ll gladly forward you the link.

I concluded my tenure on the GAMA board of directors. For the better part of a decade I served as Vice President of the Game Manufacturers Association, a trade organization that supports the hobby games industry. Shortly after I joined we discovered GAMA was in for some troubled times, and though others deserve the lion’s share of credit for incredibly hard work in fixing what was broken, I am proud of the part I played and what we accomplished. Since I was unable to attend our trade show or public convention and couldn’t give GAMA the attention needed from a board member, I took a leave of absence and decided not to run for re-election. The position is in extremely capable hands with Stephan Brissaud of Iello Games. I plan to re-join GAMA as a “civilian”—a voting game publisher and member of the Academy. I can’t wait to return to the GAMA Trade Show and Origins and enjoy them as a professional and as a fan.

I’m Hitting the Reset Button

My friend Sarah gave me some great advice by text message recently. She told me to stop thinking about my past schedules, obligations, deadlines, expectations, etc. That all I’m doing is driving myself crazy and feeling overwhelmed. And that feeling is counterproductive to actually doing the things in the first place. I gotta get rid of the panic and despair that come with a double-filing cabinet’s worth of perceived failures.

So here I am, officially declaring anything before today is Null and Void. I’m forgiving myself for those things that are late. I’m putting all projects back into the Idea Closet. And I’m going to rebuild what I do and how I do it from the ground up.  This doesn’t mean I will ignore real obligations. I owe people some stuff, but in order to make sure they get it I can’t freak out about it, but rather I’m going to put those obligations into a new plan.

Next blog I’m going to share more about what I’m going to be working on this year. (Short version: Games! Stories! You’re shocked, I know.) If you have advice on doing this sort of rebuilding, how to manage things as a creative professional with a semi-unpredictable life, please leave a comment or reach out to me via social media. I’ve always been a work in progress, but now more than ever I’m trying for a fresh approach to turn my words and ideas into a viable business. It’s only with support from my amazing circle of family and friends that’s kept me going through the hard times, and I’m smart enough to keep asking for help where I need it. Thanks for listening with your eyeballs.

Red Button


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