2015-04-27

Compulsion

I live and work amongst people who are, for the most part, a lot more driven than I feel. Or at least they put in the appearance of people who are more driven than I am, which I think must count for a kind of achievement in and of itself. Over many years spent observing, working with, and learning from talented creative people, I came to the conclusion long ago that there’s an element of compulsion to the highest levels of talent and craft. The people who are the best they are at what they do don’t just enjoy what they do — they’re driven to do what they do, in the sense of creating the very real impression that if they were ever denied the ability to do what they do, something in them would break.

My biggest problem (at least when I dig down below the even more obvious problems) is that I don’t feel that compulsion. Or at least I don’t feel it with the kind of singular strength that’s always been missing from my life for some reason. I understand that compulsion. I know what it’s supposed to feel like, and I understand the mechanics of being driven to do the best work I can do, and I’m comfortable with the notion that each thing I do is slightly better than the last thing I did, which I think is ultimately the only long-term goal that any creative person can set for themselves. But against this sense of acceptance of what I probably should be feeling creatively, there’s this sense of distraction that I’ve never been able to shake. Not just the sense of dread and self-loathing that I think accompanies every creative endeavor (and that’s totally, healthy, right?) — but a sense that my lack of a singular compulsion comes from too many competing compulsions all hammering away at each other.

I was thinking about this in the context of a recent conversation (repeating a conversation I’ve had a lot of times), talking about how I have a unique job that consists of a lot of smaller jobs all puzzle-locked together into a singular something that is my life. I do a bit of fiction editing, I do a bit of RPG editing, I do a bit of RPG design, I do a bit of story editing and consulting for film, I do a bit of writing for myself. Trying to make a living doing any one of those things would be difficult — maybe even impossible given my geographic and emotional distance from the places I’d need to be in order to be more active in any one of those endeavors. But taking everything all together, I make out pretty well.

For me, this cobbled-together creativity makes a damn fine enterprise, in that I like all of what I do, and being able to do different things makes it much less likely that I’ll ever get bored of any one particular thing. Against the sense of those singularly focused people who would break if their compulsion to creativity and ever-increasing perfection was ever denied them, I think about myself and see a person who could probably absorb the loss of a single lesser compulsion. If circumstances prevailed to prevent me from doing one of the things I do, it wouldn’t kill me. But I’m not sure if that’s as good a thing overall as it seems. Because the problem with being widely focused on a number of things is that no matter how cool those individual things are, there’s always this nagging sense that you’re never going to be as focused on one thing as you really need to. And that without that focus, you’re never going to get as good at any of those singular things as you really want to.

2015-03-12

No Jury of Graphic Artists in the World Will Ever Convict Me


ME: Okay, I’ve got that box selected. Now I’ll just grab the resize control and adjust it.

ADOBE INDESIGN: Hey! I noticed there’s another object a quarter-inch away from the one you had selected! And I’m absolutely sure that’s the one you really wanted to select and resize! So let me just select that one for you instead with no warning, and hey wow! Look at the completely different object resize itself all over the place! No, no! Don’t thank me!

If anyone ever introduces themself to me by saying, “Yeah, I’m an Adobe software developer responsible for object selection,” I’m going to jail for a long time.

2015-01-30

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 30

Best DM You’ve Ever Had

At the end of a month of thinking about D&D stuff, and with all the nostalgic reflection that inspires, I’m going to bestow this most prestigious honor on my good friend Kevin. (’Sup, man?) Kevin was the very first DM who ever ran me through a D&D session (as has been recounted here previously and was linked to on Day 1), so on some level, he can be held responsible for how much of my life has been gloriously wasted on this stuff the past thirty-odd years. But even more that, Kev was a DM I always looked up to back in the day, because playing in his games showed me how to be a better DM.

I remember Kevin for the epic scope of his campaigns. (You ever wanted to play a D&D campaign set on Larry Niven’s Ringworld? You ever wanted to play a kick-ass heroic adaptation of Lord of the Rings? We did BOTH AT THE SAME TIME!!!!) I remember the almost perfect amount of detail that went into his games — enough to make a scenario and its setting and characters feel real, but never so much that it felt like an alt-history lesson. I remember his ability to extemporize encounters out of thin air, often with no actual game materials in front of him. I remember with great envy Kev’s ability to keep a campaign moving by adroit improvisation, deftly talking his way out of the most insanely random shit that his unappreciative players (including me) could throw at him.

All the things Kev did (and made look easy, to my eyes at least) comprised skills it took me a long time to master as a DM. And though a number of different DMs (including me) have been behind some of the anecdotes relayed here over the past month, Kev’s games are ones that I still look back on most often. Not just with nostalgia, but for inspiration. I suspect that if DMing has any ultimate goals beyond the entertainment value, the world building, and the sense of satisfaction that comes with helping other people have a good time, being able to inspire players thirty years after the fact is probably high up on the list.

2015-01-29

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 29

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 29

What is the number you always seem to roll on a d20?

No specific single number shows up more often than any other to my mind and recollection, but there’s a specific range of numbers I roll way too consistently on a d20: Under 10. As a DM, I can (and often do) go through the first ten minutes of combat — making attacks, defense rolls, and saves for a half-dozen monsters — and never roll higher than 9. Not just “rolling badly”, but seriously never rolling anything in double digits. I’m a statistical wonder that way, as my players will attest.

2015-01-28

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 28

A Character You Will Never Play Ever Again

Multiclass spellcaster, at least using the D&D 3.x/Pathfinder rules. (5e does multiclass spellcasting quite a bit differently, and though I haven’t had an excuse to experiment with it yet, I suspect it’ll play better than the older systems.) One of my current PCs is a multiclass cleric/sorcerer, and he’s in a great campaign, and I like the character a lot. But when combat rolls around, playing a multiclass caster becomes exactly the same as playing two characters who are slightly lower level than everyone else in the party, and who can only act on alternate turns.