Yesterday's post felt a little rushed, and not in context, so let's slow it down. To wit, how do I talk like Lieutenant Dan to a group of 12 y.o.'s, when I'm not one (though I appear to be), so as not to scare them off. Taking note that in the film scene quoted, Dan is neither abrupt or rude or cruel, though he does mock Bubba's lip and there's a light tone of contempt — which any soldier out of boot would expect from an officer, and which any child also expects most of the time from someone (even another child) who knows something they don't. It's second nature.
The first time I went around the meadow feeding chickens, so to speak, I struggled quite a bit with talking to my peers, as I seemed — to myself — to be somewhat ahead of the game regarding schoolwork and reasoning what was going on with parents and teachers ... and I did offend my schoolmates quite easily with my nature. Yet I learned how to make friends like anyone does, which is a combination of saying things that are appropriate to their ears and not saying things that aren't. In those years between 9 and 16, however, I never made any "true" friends, which I'll define as those to whom we can say anything, because it'll be perceived that whatever we have said, the listener is ready to think there must be some good reason for it before immediately jumping to the conclusion that we've irrationally turned asshole in the last five minutes. Such people are rare. I've never known more than three of them at a time.
Going round the meadow a second time, as this series proposes, would certainly be troubling. At one time, we'd be possessed with considerable knowledge of how to give support for our peer's feelings, and definitely what not to say, and in addition how to quickly subvert another child's assumptions and actions.
Take a common incidence for a school yard in, say, early 1975, about the time I was in grade 5 — a fight after school. These were usually grappling, clumsy affairs, based largely on strength and will, and very little on skill. With the mouth I had, I'd been in about a dozen such fights by the time described. I'd learned how to make a fist, that I should try to hit first, to obtain a headlock on the other and to avoid landing on my back. Because I hated fighting, I couldn't make myself hit hard, or aim for parts of the body that would have hurt either my fist or aim for my opponent's eye or nose; I usually went for the cheek, which didn't help me much, though I couldn't understand why. Like most boys of age 10, I knew nothing about balance.
My father, nor any other relative, had never taken me aside and taught me how to fight ... and though my father didn't encourage it, he didn't discourage it either. He grew up in rural Alberta, in small villages, as the lone son of the one room school-house teacher, my grandmother. Obviously, he remembered fights — though he never spoke of them.
It may seem strange on a D&D blog to speak about the sort of brawling we did as children, but these things are educational affairs. I can imagine myself in such a fight now, without effort, as a 10 y.o. with my present knowledge. The stance, my readiness, knowing not to swing but to punch, knowing to rest my energy on the balls of my feet, remain flexible, strike fast, avoid clenches ... so on and so on. Yet I'd also know, which I couldn't know then, that the other fellow didn't want to fight, either. At the time, they always seemed so sure of themselves, so remote, so ready to hurt me — and none of that was true.
I had a fight in grade 5 with a classmate named Davy. Much later on, he and I were able to sit out back of my high school and complain about teachers and classes when we were 16, though we never became friends. When we fought, he seemed furious and hating and implacable; but today I know a lot about Davy I couldn't have possibly known then — that I didn't know about him even in high school. Davy's father was one of those that beat his children and his wife; just about daily. This came out about the time I'd reached my early 20s, when Davy's dad was arrested and imprisoned. Davy's drive to hurt me came from that classic drive to feel empowered, when the last thing he felt every day was empowered. The last thing I'd want to do today is fight or hurt Davy; and I think, had I the chance, and despite the ring of boys surrounding us who were mostly on his side, I could talk Davy down. I'd sure try. I'd engage him just enough to keep him at bay, as I was forced to, but I'd be talking the whole time ... whereas the first time around, I was too scared, too unhappy, to appreciate that Davy wasn't a monster trying to hurt me, he was a helpless victim who needed someone to hate as much as his father hated him.
If we went back to be children, knowing what we know, we could never be one of them. We'd always be ready to act from our awareness and our experience that didn't fit with how a child could. Reserve it though we tried, our adultness would always come out in ways we didn't expect; but we'd know how to play that. We'd know what needed to be said next. We'd always be apart from them ... but in understanding the hell-horrorshow that children go through from both sides, happening right in front of us, we'd know the only thing we had to do to have them like us is to want nothing from them.
Much of this series has been about the power dynamic between adults and children. This hopefully blends with the readers' comprehensions of their own childhoods — if they can remember, through the nostalgia, what it was really like to have every moment of our lives controlled and hounded by those who were trying to do their best by us, as they saw it. Every authority we knew wanted something from us — generally for the right reasons, but at the same time for reasons we couldn't understand as children. Any voice of authority that spoke to us with respect or appreciation — as some teachers were able — instantly became our favourite. Any older kid who defended us, or who seemed to grasp our point of view, became idolised. We were trained to follow. Given the chance, we'd rush to follow anyone strong enough to lead, who at the same time could accept us for who we were, not whom they wanted us to be. Thus we drifted into the influence of a friend's big brother, the teacher who made jokes or the school janitor who smiled and remembered our names.
Don't get me wrong. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it was a good influence. I never personally met that bad one. Most never did. Ha. I still remember Mr. Schmeid, who worked as a janitor in my elementary school, getting his job back when the school re-opened after the fire. Years after my leaving grade six, because I still lived in the same neighbourhood, if I chanced to meet Mr. Schmeid at a shop or walking, he'd remember my name. That's a special fellow.
In case painting all around the borders hasn't made it clear yet, this is what a good DM is to faithful players. Not a tyrant, not a boss ... and not an equal either. He or she is someone who is a step ahead, who understands the player's situation and dilemma, but who also understands why and for what good reasons players — like children in school — have to be treated as people who still need to learn things about what they really want and what's good for them. I don't want anything from my players, except that they be better players. I can't make better players by giving them everything they want, so I don't; but I have to give them some things they want, or they'll never be better players.
More to the point, I don't want anything from them, except that they know how the game works, that they know I'm serious when I'm running and that yes, I'm in authority here. We're not playing the game together; I'm running the game, and they're playing.
This is the core of Lieutenant Dan's tone and approach to Bubba and Gump. He doesn't dislike them, but he wants them to survive Vietnam and be of use to the company. He wants them to understand that this is serious. That they could die. That there isn't time or motivation in him to mollycoddle a couple of cherries who very possibly will die their first day in the field — and will die if he mollycoddles them.
That position produces a voice of authority, that a DM must have. If we haven't got it; if it isn't natural to us; then we haven't learned enough to be the sort of person a DM has to be. It's that equation that makes us, as DMs, sometimes say, "You're either the type of person who can be a DM or you're not."
At times, I've believed that ... but I'm growing and changing as a person too. I don't think that's true. I think its the case that a person isn't a DM yet. More time is needed. A greater consciousness of what a DM is, and what running is, and what the goal is, needs to be gained. Thus I've gone all the way around this barn, and invented this ludicrous supposition of my returning to relive my childhood, to get across.
Not done yet, I don't think. Not sure. End of the year, near the end of the holiday season, feeling a bit dry after this post. Haven't done too worthlessly this year writing posts; 178 altogether. Not the 300-something of those heady days between 2014 and 2016, though. Wonder what I need do to find that mindset again.
Happy New Year.