My Infinity War

This blog post deals with mental illness, depression, suicide attempts, and stuff like that. It’s not light. Also terrible pictures of me culled from Facebook.


It’s been ten years since Marvel’s Iron Man hit theaters, a fact not lost on the marketing team for Avengers: Infinity War, comic fans, movie fans, or really anyone remotely plugged into pop culture.

It’s also been a decade since my last suicide attempt. My 4th.

I was a recently diagnosed patient of bipolar disorder, and struggling with the medicines I was on.

I was on a lot of medicine. Some of it prescribed. Some of it not.

One night I took too many. By a lot.

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The only good picture of Alan circa 2008


I’m not good at writing this sorta thing. So be forewarned. It’ll all tie together eventually.

I’d been reading comics from a young age. Stuff I picked up at garage sales, graphic novels at libraries, that sorta thing. We didn’t have a comic shop where I lived at the time (not one I knew of at least), and so I was a tangential comic fan in a lot of ways. X-Men and Spiderman movies were my big exposure at the time.

Those sorta dried up around Superman Returns (which I still maintain has the best opening third of a Superman movie ever)  and X-3.

Not a big deal, I was dealing with some other stuff at the time.

Around then-ish, I started hanging out at a local comic and game store, mostly for the tabletop stuff, but I started picking up a few comics again (Captain America primarily, he’s my boy.)

I also started treatment for bipolar disorder.

I think you see where this collides.

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2012


Late that April (the 26th to be precise – you tend to remember these things), I OD’d pretty hard on sleeping pills. I woke up on the 27th, violently ill, but alive. No one had noticed. (It’s not their fault. I was adept at hiding it at that point.)

With nothing to do (no job at the time, due to mismanaging my depression), I ended up wandering down to the comic store a day or two later. I bought some graphic novels that were on sale in the discount bin.

One was The Infinity Gauntlet trade paperback. I no longer own that book, as it logged many hours of reading, water damage, food stains, moving day trauma and more, until it split and fell into it’s component pages.

However, I vividly recall Thanos and his motivation speaking to me. His nihilist take on the universe dovetailed precisely with my mental state at the time. A Mad Titan, who had amassed power that undermines the pinnings of the universe, pining for Death, and driven by ego?

Yeah. That was my bipolar summed up nicely. I was living with my own Thanos in my head, my emotions, and my intellect.

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2014


I recall being vaguely disappointed the heroes saved the day in Infinity War. I remember reading other comics.

And then I remember seeing Iron Man when it came out about a weekish later.

Despite all my comic reading, for some reason the idea of the hero’s public and heroic identity being the same had never clicked for me. But seeing Tony Stark, on the big screen, ending the movie with “I am Iron Man” jarred something in me.

A decade later, it’s all a haze, and while I could put fancy words to some lesson here, coming off where I was into a movie where a hero owned their identity somehow felt like a revelation to me. Good, bad, and all the in-between, Tony Stark was facing down himself, his weaknesses, and was gonna win.

The idea of the MCU didn’t matter to me, but I will admit, something about that ending for Iron Man spoke to me.


I am not gonna claim the MCU saved me, or Marvel kept me alive. Therapy, medication, and emotional/mental honesty about my illness saved me. There’s nothing romantic about it. It was hard work, medicine, science, and a lot of struggle.

But comics. Comics were a constant companion during the harder times there. Distractions, refreshing heroism, new stories, weaknesses and triumphs. I took some solace in those stories.

I read comics a lot less than I used to, but they still matter to me. I follow and read reviews. I read articles. I buy graphic novels and catch up on my friends at Marvel (sorry DC, Marvel’s my jam. The Superman Family is great though. For real.)

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2016 (with my best friend/wife)


Here’s the thing.  

It’s not some serendipitous thing that Infinity War hits theaters this weekend. It’s just what it is.

But, it’s been a decade, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that going to see Infinity War on the 26th (I got tickets!) doesn’t hold some level of triumph for me. I don’t know what’ll happen to the heroes in the movie any more than I know what’ll happen to me in the next decade.

But I made it a decade. And, I plan to celebrate by seeing my favorite heroes punch a bad guy I no longer empathize with, as I sit there with my best friend and wife. Maybe it’ll be sad. I’m sure parts will be exciting, happy, and triumphant. I’ll almost certainly cry.

But the thing that matters the most is then I’ll come home, to the best life I could imagine, and I’ll get to wake up the next morning. I’m healthier than I’ve ever been (mentally and socially), I’ve grown in ways I never anticipated, and I actually think life is pretty good most of the time.

Ten years ago, I didn’t think I’d ever get that.

So I hope you had a pretty good decade MCU. I’m pretty happy with how mine turned out after all. I’ll see you tomorrow.


 

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2018 (with the best friend/wife again!)

 

 

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Pendragon Halloween Game Recipes

Cooking with Alan Time!

Some folks asked for the recipes I used for the Pendragon Halloween Game. Here they are!

You’ll have to bear with me, I’ve never written recipes on this blog before.

These recipes are deliberately medieval-styled, but obviously benefit from modern advances. I used this site to do my best to use ingredients that were as authentic as possible. But I didn’t break my back, as I was more concerned about “feel” than accuracy.

The stew (except for potatoes & the Lea and Perrins) is fairly authentic to some historical recipes that have been studied/cataloged. Obviously Guinness wasn’t around in the same way, but one can safely assume some form of beer was. Now, I’m not a scholar, so that information might be outdated, but I did do some research (yay internet and some free books!) to figure out how close I was.

The Berry crumble is a take on a Scandinavian recipe, and is a pretty reasonable extrapolation of a possible dessert (but there’s no evidence they actually ate dessert in the way we consider it now.)

As for the cider, well, that’s just really good. And it has the benefit of being possible. There’s Saxon and other cultural chronicles that indicate cider was drank regularly! So….yeah.

Not accurate, but a lazy effort!

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Star Trek: Discovery Thoughts

So, I watched the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery last night. First thing you need to understand, is I’m a massive Star Trek fan. Hugely so. It’s likely my favorite IP. There hasn’t been lots of Star Trek stuff to go gush over til recently (new RPG, which is amazing. New TV show. Kelvin timeline finally gets good in Star Trek Beyond) so my fandom has lain rather inert the last decade plus.

Well, no more. Star Trek: Discovery is airing, and I can finally let loose the rampaging beast that is my Star Trek love affair.  I have lots of feelings here.

So what *did* I think of Discovery? Well, anonymous internet reader, I’m glad you asked. Spoilers abound below the logo here.

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Let’s do this right:


THE GOOD

  • The Visuals: It was very pretty. The ship and uniforms screamed Star Trek (I adored the new ship designs they’re working with). It was a high quality and pleasing show to watch.
  • Michelle Yeoh: First off, Michelle Yeoh can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned. Also, she’s the perfect fit for a Star Trek captain. I can’t imagine a better choice. And of course, she was excellent as the captain of the Shenzhou.
  • Sonequa Martin-Green: Excellent acting, considering the writing she got (more on that later.)
  • The rest of the Cast: Solidly turned in performances. No complaints. They looked like a Starfleet crew (visually, acting, and more).
  • New Intro: I really liked the new intro music and graphics.

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This is the big section. THE BAD

Ok, so. I can’t bullet point this section because it’s way too big.

War Story: Why is Discovery a war story from the start? Star Trek has always been about exploration, hope, and diverse species working together.

I mean the famous opening leads with: “”to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations.” I’m not saying you can’t have violence or physical conflict in Star Trek (obviously you can, and should), but TNG and DS9 (which were the most “war-like” of Star Trek) still had the focus revolve around exploration, discovery and the future.

Sigh. There was nothing to indicate this is anything more than a science fiction war story, which really irks me.

Inter-crew conflict: Gene Roddenberry famously had a “no long-term inter-crew conflict” rule (which obviously was broken in the past, but never seriously, or with long term intent.) Now, as to the sanctity of that rule, I don’t think it’s necessary. We all know conflict drives good stories, and the Discovery writers have long made their intent to dispense with this rule clear. Shockingly, guess what didn’t work for me.

Good drama, pathos and conflict among a crew drives good storytelling. Having your first officer lead a mutiny against her captain of seven years (who wants to give her a command, and clearly serves as a mentor who things highly of her)? That’s stupid and lazy.  Especially when there was nothing given to us in the prelude up to that moment that suggested Burnham would take Sarek’s advice over her captain. It’s an absurd level of conflict with no basis for existing. Completely stupid. I mean, what’s the thought process?

Here I am, a highly trained, very successful Starfleet officer, raised by Vulcans to be logical, confronted with an enemy empire we’ve not contacted in a hundred years. My adopted father, a Vulcan ambassador, says the Vulcans always attacked Klingons on sight, and then the warlike race sued for peace. Hm, my captain won’t open fire based on my recommendation, based on this single piece of information, only I am aware of! I know! I’ll directly break the chain of command on the bridge, and then attack her when she reprimands me! Then I’ll order the crew to open fire on an enemy who hasn’t attacked us, or even powered up weapons?

It’s inane. Martin-Green turns in such a great performance, I feel so bad that she got such terrible writing and plotting.

I don’t even know what to think.

The Klingons: Oh. Yeah. Sooooo, this was a thing. First off, NONE of those Klingons were memorable. Their scenes dragged on under the weight of all Klingon dialogue and subtitles (and I love subtitled films.) Their make-up was uninspired, and it was just a mass of 90s goth club costumes, dialogue spoken through a mouth full of cotton, and unmemorable characters.

Other Star Trek has been so good at making the individual Klingon’s individuals that, it was jarring to have to deal with the opposite.

WHY IS IT A PREQUEL?If you made some minor adjustments and updated a few details, you could slap this movie into the timeline 100 years after Star Trek: Nemesis (the last stop in our canon timeline) and we’d have an all new story that moves Star Trek further into the future. This obsession with prequels and re-writing what has gone before didn’t work for Enterprise (even when Enterprise is good, the prequelness hurts it), and I have no faith it’ll work long term here.

Sarek: What the crap was that? I know Spock and his father didn’t get along or talk much, but did Sarek have a human ward he never told Spock about…who..also served in Starfleet? And was probably somewhat infamous (as that mutiny would suggest?)

It really throws the claims of “main timeline” into murky water and tells them to tread for a bit.

Here’s a bullet point list of the rest:

  • Holograms (I can’t recall a time they used Holograms like this pre-TNG, and not even in TNG/later shows that much after season 1.) Does Sarek have a desk in the exact spot in his office, so he can mirror Burnhams? How does that sitting thing work?
  • Burnham’s placing her opinions over Starfleet values: Geez, someone did not get a complete psych eval. Why is a commanding officer so willing to throw Starfleet ideals and values to the wind to satisfy their own needs/beliefs?
  • The idiotic plan to capture the Klingons? Why would you beam TWO human Starfleet officers (Captain and First Officer) into enemy territory because you “need to redeem yourselves?” I mean, first off: A living officer with years of military experience is still worth more alive than dead to the Federation. It’s a boneheaded tactical decision.
  • WHERE WAS THE DISCOVERY?

Look, for all my complaining I’m glad there’s a new Star Trek on TV. And I hope it’ll be good. But I’m gonna be waiting til the season is wrapped up. I canceled my CBS All Access this morning.

I hope Star Trek: Discovery finds its feet and moves itself forward into something resembling Star Trek in the long term, and for it’s sake, I hope it happens fast. I’m not sure how long viewers are going to pay for CBS All Access to watch ST:D without more to it.

A boring life update post.

So what’s going on in the life of Alan these days. This poor blog has been a bit neglected.


Moving

The wife got a new job, so we’re moving! As I can work anywhere, it’s really irrelevant where we live. However, this means my day is filled with work. Frantic packing. Stress.

But it’ll be good. The new place is a better fit for our family and lifestyle (less fast-paced than SLC Valley where we live now).


Working

Oh man. Am I working like crazy.

In the last 3 months, I’ve released 2 roleplaying games, ran a Kickstarter (currently on), helped with two others, and am prepping two more releases in the next few months, and more next year.

I got a new job. It keeps me pretty busy. I’m still doing work for Nocturnal Media, Planet Mercenary and a few other items.


Gaming

With the impending move, the gaming has slowed a bit, but here’s what we’re currently playing:

  • Star Trek: Adventures – I actually get to play in this sucker, and I’m playing the Human Captain, Montgomery Rhodes. I should do a bigger write up about this.
  • Blue Rose – The new edition of Blue Rose grabbed me and one of my groups is trying it! Good times.
  • D&D 5e – We’ve got an ongoing D&D 5e campaign that is going great.

There’s other odds and ends in there, but that’s the primary thrust!


Puppies

Oh yeah. I have two puppies.

We’ve had Fae (the Black & White Chihuahua / Greyhound mix) since April-ish. She’s a little terror who runs on pure energy, and Ella (a Chihuahua-something mix) whose sweet and clingy and tolerates Fae with excessive patience.

They’re pretty freaking adorable, and they keep me busy. Also much healthier!

Ok, there you go. Life update! Expect your regularly served gaming posts and record reviews to start as soon as the move is over and my records are unpacked (sad Alan).

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Vinyl Review: Popular Problems by Leonard Cohen

Another Vinyl review. You’re welcome.

Today I’m reviewing Popular Problems by Leonard Cohen (one of my absolute favorite albums). It’s Cohen’s 13th studio album and was recorded when he was 80 (!). Popular Problems was released in 2014.

I got my copy from a local Barnes & Noble. It’s a single disc, ten track album.

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PHYSICAL IMPRESSIONS

  • This record is really light (160 grams most likely), and as it’s one of my most played albums, I worry about that sometimes.
    • Note: There’s no sound quality benefit to a thicker pressing inherently (there are some around the stability of the record for your needle and arm), but higher gram albums last longer, so I prefer it.
  • The record is a carbon black pressing, as I’ve noted I prefer. So great.
    • Note: Colored vinyls look cool, and are often thematic, but the carbon black increases the lasting power of the physical record itself, so I prefer that.
  • The cover leaves a bit to be desired. The colors strike me as weird, and they certainly don’t match the content of the album.

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TRACK LISTING

Of the 10 songs on the track, all  were written (at least collaboratively) by Cohen (which is normal).

SIDE A

  • Slow– I love this song. It’s focused, regular beat, and Cohen’s off-track vocals give such an authentic feel. The gravelly purr of his voice as he moves through this blues and rhythm infused track really sets the tone for for the rest of the album.
  • Almost Like the Blues – The lyrical talent on this song is incredible. Somehow the disparate words weave this perfect story, and the minimalist instrumental backing really drives home Cohen’s growl. Probably my second favorite song on the album.
  • Samson in New Orleans – A haunting song about loss and pain, and missed potential. This song continues the very stripped down feel of the album (the backing is there, but it’s so subtle, it pushes Cohen to the front).
  • A Street – A song focused on love and condemnation, somehow Cohen pulls anger, longing, pain and cynicism into a single ballad that covers all of those feelings well. A great song.
  • Did I Ever Love You? – Throughout the chorus, Cohen takes a backseat to his backing vocalists, who carry the song into what feels like uncharted territory on this album. The questioning nature of the song, and almost “bluesgrass” feel of the chorus seem jarring the first go around, but after a few listens, it all clicks.

SIDE B

  • My Oh My: Another great song (I’m going to say that a lot), and the languid pace of the instruments as Cohen meanders his way to the end gives this song a somewhat-unique feel throughout.
  • Nevermind: A bit more up-tempo than the previous few songs, Cohen returns to the signature growl of his later work on this track. There’s a deep bitterness on this track, echoing against a sense of loss.
  • Born in Chains: A great song and one that Cohen had been working on since the 1980s, the time it spent in gestation shows. A ballad in the truest sense, it showcases the troubadour-esque nature of Cohen’s earlier work.
  • You Got Me Singing: A melancholic tune closes out the album, with lyrics about lost love, and references to religion and hymns. True Cohen in the best sense, and an excellent ending song.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

I love this album. I’ve loved it since it came out, and I will continue to love it for years. Leonard Cohen is one of my favorite artists and this vinyl does not disappoint.

I do wish the pressing was of slightly better quality (I’d prefer 200 grams), but in the end, as long as I can buy a new copy when mine wears out (which it will), I am satisfied and happy!

In Memoriam: Stewart Wieck

On Thursday, June 22nd, my employer, mentor, and close friend Stewart Wieck passed.

A great many folks said very nice things about Stewart, such as HERE on rpg.net, HERE at Chaosium’s website, and HERE on Onyx Path’s website. (There’s many more, but those are a few).

Stewart touched a lot of lives, and much will be said about his career in the game industry, the boundaries he pushed, and all of those things are essential. World of Darkness formed an indelible part of my formative gaming. I talked to Stewart every day for the last 8 months (as we worked together, we had lots to discuss), and those conversations were full of his enthusiasm for gaming, life, philosophy, esoteric topics, and reading. We shared previews of projects he knew I was excited for (both mine and others), and eagerly asked and followed up on my personal life.

 



 

One of my earliest interactions with Stewart as an employee was around the failure of IVF for my wife and I. We were on our fourth cycle, had undergone a majorly invasive surgery to set this one up for success, and had spent two years and almost immeasurable dollars on IVF (I say almost, I am acutely aware of how much we’ve spent).

Stewart had known I’d be unavailable the day of the results, and when I didn’t respond with good news, he reached out and asked how we were. We chatted briefly, and he gave us his good wishes.

A week or two later, he asked what our plans were, and I informed him we were going to stop trying IVF and take some time to sort out the future. He commented that he understood, and asked if it was financial (I’d made a comment about the excessive cost to success rate we were experiencing at this juncture), and offered me an advance against royalties to do another round.

IVF is not cheap. And here, my boss who’d I’d worked for about a month, was offering me a significant advance because 1.) he cared about our family, and wanted to help, and 2.) he believed in my quality enough to have the confidence he’d make his money back.

We didn’t take the advance (we’re trying private adoption), but I kept that number in mind as a bench mark, quietly tracking when I’d have earned out that advance and could justify his faith in me.

If you discount Kickstarters (which I do), I would have earned that advance out right around this week.

 



 

More than anything, Stewart left a mark on me in the way a publisher, game designer, and individual could behave. There was no malice in him. He welcomed designers new and old to the Nocturnal fold, helping to put their games out there, wanting to teach everyone about the joy in gaming. He was quite literally, a paladin and champion for the virtues and transcendental abilities of gaming.

I have three moments in my life that I consider defining. The first was my marriage. The second was the Planet Mercenary project and running that game for Steve Jackson.

The third was a conversation I had with Stewart after I’d joined the team, where I asked him quite bluntly why he felt my company and time were worth an acquisition and salaried position.

He told me that he felt I understood the potential of gaming to change lives as he did, and that after we’d spoken, he’d felt I’d be a partner who would focus on uplifting the industry. I left that conversation feeling as though I’d just won the lottery.

That was Stewart in a nutshell. That response is exemplary of the sort of person Stewart was. Not just a brilliant, boundary pushing game designer. Not just a giant in the gaming industry, who molded and challenged us all. But at the most essential and fundamental level, he was a good, kind person.

That’s the legacy I’ll remember most of all. That’s what I will try to emulate and carry forth, more than all the other pieces of his legacy.

 



 

No matter what the future holds, Stewart helped me set a course that I can be proud of. He showed me how to be a good person, a good businessman, and a good friend.

His loss is a hole I won’t ever fill.

Thank you Stewart. For everything.

-Alan

Leonard Cohen

I’m not really a person who gets invested in celebrity as a concept. There’s actors I like and follow, musicians I enjoy, but I don’t really tie my personal life or feelings up in them or their works.

That being said, Leonard Cohen was a massive influence on my musical listening and personal life. The raw, hoarse, gravelly voice was among some of the first CDs I bought as a college student. There was something about the old fellow in a fedora on the cover that grabbed me. Bought a CD sound unheard, and sort of ignored it for a while in favor of Guns n’ Roses, and 80s rock I already knew I liked.

I can’t remember anymore why I listened to it when I did, but at a time when I didn’t know I was bipolar and struggling through depression, Cohen’s music and his voice struck a personal chord, and it became one of the closest things I had to a friend during those days. It was a personal thing. I wouldn’t play it if others were around, or could hear. It was music that I listened to by myself, for myself, and with myself.

There’s a sense of personal loss at the news of his death. It’s a sort of an echoing, rattling feeling, bouncing around my emotions and brain like a hollow echo. It’s something I hadn’t quite expected to feel or have resonate within myself today.

I’d put off listening to his music in the last half-decade, as I’d attempted to put those negative memories behind me. I don’t think I’ve really listened to a single song of his until last night. I shrugged it off as another event in 2016, and while sad, it was just…what it was.

Today, I found my old Cohen playlist, and loaded it into Google Play. Hearing that off-key, yet familiar voice coming through the speakers today was like seeing an old friend. I’ve found the bad memories have washed away, and I’m left with the deeply personal, almost spiritual reverberations. I’m looking forward to updating this playlist and exploring what I’ve missed. It hit me harder than I thought it would today, and so here we are. Me placing words on digital paper as the album Ten New Songs is playing behind me.

Thank you Mr. Cohen, and I hope you have found what you needed to. You left something indelible on my soul, and I’m better for it.

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