Nostalgia Check (DC 25)

Two afternoons a week, i get to hang out with a bunch of teenagers who do whatever i tell them to do. But it’s not what you think.

This is the third year of the RPG club i’ve been running/coordinating/unleashing the unbridled chaos of at the middle school where Caitlin (daughter) is a student and Colleen (significant other) is a teacher, and the first year of the same club at the high school where Shvaugn (other daughter) is a student after having worked her way up through the middle school club farm team. The group i'm currently running are all 7th-graders, two of which have severe ADHD. (I’m aware of this because living with a teacher, you learn to pick up on these things pretty quickly.) One kid (who's a treat to hang out with regardless) is as sharp as a tack, remembers and can recite every detail of every session of every adventure we’ve ever played, can strategize like crazy — and every time he made an attack for the first two months of playing this year, had to ask "What do i do?"

As i think is true of most adults (as i hope is true of most adults), i don’t have a lot of excuses to hang out with 14-year-olds these days. And i’m glad that i get to do so in this capacity, because even after 30-odd years, i still think gaming is pretty amazingly cool, as are the kids i’m gaming with. Moreover, the parallels/reflections betwixt watching them game and remembering how i gamed when i first started playing are sometimes wryly amusing. There's a 9th-grader named Murray (who was in 7th grade when we started the club at the middle school) who is far and away one of the best DMs i’ve ever seen. And i find that his freeform DMing style and penchant for burdening the PCs with the most insanely powerful magic reminds me so much of my good friend and uber-DM Mitchell, back in the day when we used to entrench ourselves in the Peter Skene Ogden Secondary library cubicles for hours on end, engaging our imaginations and completely undercutting any hope of having a normal social life.

Mitch used to number the NPC henchman the PCs would hire because they typically never lasted long enough to remember their names, and to have relatively low-level characters trip across artifacts just for the sheer joy of watching the players of said characters succumb to the temptation of using them. Murray is fond of letting characters construct oversized ballistae capable of hitting targets at a range of several miles, and of alchemical potions that can be thrown to explode for 1d4 x 100 points of damage. Down through the years, from generation to generation, there’s a continuum of rabid rat-bastard DMing that i feel privileged to be a part of.


Let X Equal Everything I’ve Forgotten About Math

One of the greatest things about being the parent of teenage children is having to help them with their homework, and realizing in the course of doing so that you don’t remember a damn thing about any of the stuff you were supposed to have learned when you were a teenager. I guess i could split the difference and focus on teaching them in advance that by the time they have teenage kids of their own, they’ll have forgotten everything, too. However, that seems like the sort of thing everyone should really experience for themselves.

As a parent, one of the things you set out to do is make sure that your kids are better equipped to deal with the world than you are. However, the problem with that goal is that there comes a point (often the point at which you’re trying and failing to help your teenage children with their homework) when you’re forced to admit that your kids are already smarter than you and have nowhere to go but up.

I have a kind of half-assed recollection of enjoying more of high school than i hated, but i wouldn’t call my high school years a rousing academic success by any stretch of the imagination. I had this problematic little positive feedback loop going on in my life, in which i never studied or did homework (typically being too busy with things like books, movies, gaming, and just generally slacking off) even as i always completed consistently A-level work in the classes i liked, and got by with C+/B grades in the classes i didn’t like, and so had no incentive to study or do homework. For me, those years (specifically, grade 10, half of grade 11, grade 12) were more about figuring out who i was and discovering that i had a kernel of creativity in me that was ripe to be grown. It was about discovering that i didn’t have to be afraid of having ideas — which, when you’ve spent your whole life in a town of 2,000 people, is a more daunting task than it might sound.

I learned what i learned in class, a lot of which is still with me (my attempts to remember it as it relates to the grade 10 math curriculum notwithstanding). But from my best teachers (about a half-dozen all told across the junior and senior high years), i also learned how to think. I learned how to engage the world in an intellectual sense, not just an academic sense. In the most general parlance, i spent high school avoiding learning a lot of what i was supposed to be learning in order to learn how to learn, and how to keep on learning long after the high school years were done. And there’s no doubt in my mind now that this learning has served me a lot better over the last 27 years than would have a slightly more impressive transcript or the ability to remember the quadratic formula off the top of my head.


Evening, Squire

Back in my day, being a Monty Python fan meant that you had seen the Flying Circus or Holy Grail or And Now For Something Completely Different once, maybe twice, on PBS or CBC, both of whose intermittent broadcasts of the group’s canon were watched for with the desperate reverence of a Roman augur scoping out a flock of starlings in advance of a senate election.

Then home video happened, and DVD, and YouTube and all that, the net effect of which is that younger daughter Caitlin and her friends and everyone else in their age group (12– to 13ish) have all seen more Monty Python than any other human beings on earth. Caitlin has probably watched Holy Grail as many times as i have. She can quote jokes that i’ve forgotten. She once recounted for me the story of how a group of grade 7 boys in her class the previous year wowed the school talent show with a certain self-defense sketch involving bananas and pointed sticks. Walking into a classroom of pre-adolescents today and saying “shrubbery” is a guaranteed laugh.

I like this strange new world i live in.


Good Night

For the longest time (like since my university days, i guess), my own nocturnal habits have been an ingrained kind of cycle of work till 2 or 3 a.m., get up at 7, rinse, repeat until the weekend, whereupon i crash on Friday or Saturday at 9 o'clock and sleep till 10 the next morning to seemingly catch up. I never thought much about it, but in recent years as my energy levels have started to flag and my daytime crotchetiness has ever-ratcheted up a few notches more than i'd like it (which would make it a kind of cratchetiness, i guess), i've become aware of studies talking about how badly our bodies actually react to consistent lack of sleep and (especially) to working at night.

The scary thing is that our bodies have this reaction without our realizing it, such that we can consciously feel right as rain and completely in synch with things, even as our brain and body chemistry are slowly burning out.

So good night.



Movement is the key. Force yourself to push on past the landscape of the familiar, the place where things get secured. Fight the urge to circle around the steady pace of comfort, find the low orbit of conformity. Look at where you are but remember where you once wanted to be — the maps and star-charts that once marked out all possible futures. Seek out and find those fewer and fewer places left unmarked by all the people you’ve been before.

Think back to when you were young and stupid. Remember what it felt like when you discovered something that made you less stupid. Find that feeling again. Repeat.