Thursday, November 5, 2015

Serious

More important things in our lives . . .

I have a daughter.  She's 27 and so together that she gives me solid, sound advice.  She's in a 9-year relationship with the strong, industrious, thoughtful man she lives with - a fellow I really like.  They have their lives so together I don't have to worry about them.

It wasn't always so.  Things were fairly rough when my daughter was a young girl, when her mother was stricken with multiple sclerosis and it was all doctors, hospitals and money issues.  There was plenty to worry about then, plenty of importance to gather our attention.  Yet still, somehow, I found the time to be serious about other things than my troubles.  Troubles, I think, are a convenient excuse.

Here's a story.  My daughter was born during my third year of university, in 1988.  I had been told up and down by family and authority figures that having a baby was a terrible, nerve-wracking, exhausting thing, something that would challenge my free-time and my comfort level.  Thankfully, I had a wife, Michelle, who had experience with babies who was quick to tell me that was all bunk.  She was right.  I quickly learned that it takes less than five minutes to change a baby and less than that to properly prepare a bottle and help the baby feed.  Since Michelle worked during the day and I merely took classes, I had plenty of time to stay at home and be a househusband - which was sort of a joke, since I learned taking care of a baby simply meant keeping my daughter right next to me, where she could see me and burble happily, while I worked on my D&D world.  I could quite easily write this post with a baby beside me.

Truth be told, I always thought university was a joke, too.  It was 15 hours a week of classes, with five courses and three classes a week for each.  In the Humanities, it was 10 tests in two groups of five spaced 2 months apart, with five essays ranging between 500 and 3000 words.  Apart from that, it was reading - granted, lots of reading, but reading is the easiest work I've ever done.  This is a laughably small amount of work.  It was very easy to manage this 'grueling' schedule while taking care of a baby.  Michelle, who gave music lessons and helped manage a daycare, worked far, far harder than I.

Yet once I had a daughter, I knew well enough to make sure that at the beginning of a semester, it was a good idea to take her to university with me and show her around to all my professors.  "This is my daughter," I would tell them, knowing that each professor would melt and feel enormous sympathy for my enormous burden, struggling to be a father and go to school at the same time.  As such, if I needed an extension on a paper?  No problem.  We understand.  You're really against the wall, Alexis.

It was all horseshit.  The only reason I ever needed an extension came about because D&D had run really late on Saturday and I had slept in Sunday.

Sure, I'm a special case.  I'm smart and I see things as solvable problems.  I had a flair for writing, research and grasping things without bottle feeding from profs.  I skipped many of my classes so I could stay home without needing to call my mother to come take care of the baby for a few hours.  I loved the reading, loved the time I spent delving into the subject and embraced it, sat in the offices of the profs when I could and occasionally went drinking with them - which was far, far more instructive than classes.  I aced my tests and wavered between a solid A- and B+ average.

I don't make work for myself that doesn't need to exist.  I didn't, for example, squander my time rushing around shops looking for crap to buy to make my baby daughter's life more plush.  I didn't take silly classes to teach me how to be a better father.  I found staying at home with the baby five days a week to be pleasant.  I found it equally pleasant to play with the baby for a few minutes when thinking about a problem.  And I found it easy to feel love and to show love.  As such, my daughter has grown up brave, healthy and loving.

I'm passionate.  I rant a lot.  I talk unrestrained about educated, intellectual issues and I always have.  I did that right in front of my daughter for two decades and she soaked it up like a sponge.  I didn't need to send her to piano lessons, soccer practice and camp to make her feel 'involved.'  Instead, she took political seminars, spontaneous lectures in ethics and aesthetics and interactive gaming on a daily basis, all for free, starting at the age of, well, zero.

This is why I don't understand when someone says, "people only want to play for fun and can't be bothered to care overmuch."

I see that and I sputter, "What?  What?"

What a message.  Life is hard.  The important things are so exhausting, I don't have the will to care.  I can't be bothered.  These players I play with?  Yeah, they're all right.  Whatever.

For some people, role-playing is this:


Escapism.  The killing of reason, goals, enlightenment . . . any thinking at all, really.  Guys down at the restaurant where I work get off their shifts and sink into a chair at the bar and proceed to get themselves blotto as fast as possible.  Because the struggle of having to work as a cook is so mind-grating and stressful that the only possible solution to that exhausting, deadening effort is a beer in hand and the steady progression towards comfortable numbness.

Here I am, working alongside them, doing the exact work they do.  On some level, it might seem I have more reason to be depressed.  I'm educated.  I've had jobs that paid me twice, three times what I'm earning now.  I've spoken with Hollywood Studio execs on the phone and interviewed politicians and CEOs.  I've been published hundreds of times in magazines and journals.  I've earned my living at my chosen vocation.  And now I'm doing shit kitchen labour with fools who come in drunk or high at the start of their shift because they can't endure the space between awaking and working.

But I'm not depressed.  Oh, I'm not exactly satisfied.  Yet I'm waiting for the recession to fade and for the better job that I expect to have in a year.  I have something to look forward to.  I don't have to wallow in my misery because I know this misery is temporary.  I've stacked my choices and opportunities for the Great Come-and-get-it Day I know is out there.  I don't need beer.  I care.

Life - and by that I include role-playing - is still this for me:


It's dark.  It's uncertain.  It's scary.  Most of all, it is deadly serious.  I like it that way.  I'm not looking to climb out of this adventure - I'm dedicated to climbing into it.  The beer is back at the tavern for those who are too compromised to be down here, where it isn't fun, it isn't escapism and it isn't safe.

It's more interesting.

5 comments:

JB said...

Ah...I feel so much shame reading this post. But you are, as often, right on.

Fuzzy Skinner said...

Spot-on as usual. I, too, find thinking about a problem (be it mechanical, ideological, or grammatical) to be a far more productive use of my time than getting drunk or high, and the only use I would have for any mind-altering substance would be to help my thinking in some fashion. And I certainly learned more by hanging out with my parents while they worked on things or attempted to further their own knowledge (and through the occasional one-on-one conversation with my professors, which I still have rarely) than by going to classes and "having experiences".

Tim said...

You are such an inspiration. Another awesome post.

Doug said...

I had a friend who was in the military reserve. When he came back from the Iraq War, he returned to his regular job. One day, his supervisor rushed up to him and declared "We have an emergency!"

His response, in deadly earnest, was "Who's dying?" When told no one was, he returned "Then you don't have an emergency."

Perspective is a wonderful thing.

Zrog (ESR) said...

Alexis - as always, thanks for the inspirational post. Although - some of us wonder where you get that drive from. It takes a lot of energy to care, and some days, I just... run out. It must be a blessing not to have that limitation, or have found a way past it.

Doug - I appreciated the example of "perspective". My wife had a similar experience when she left veterinary tech practice and started an office job (for better hours and pay), and someone said to her "I hope this isn't too stressful for you". If someone's beloved pet is on the verge of death and you could kill them with anesthetic if you screw up, office work isn't stressful by comparison...

Eric