June 15, 2022: Fix

I got this bike as a gift about five years ago, and it’s been in storage pretty much the entire time. I probably should’ve let it go years ago, especially when we moved from Florida, instead of adding to the moving truck’s weight, but I have an irrational love for Electra bikes (it comes from having had two Electra bikes stolen back when I lived in Miami), especially for the Townie (cause seriously, look at the curves on that bike) so I hanged on to it, telling myself over and over, “One day I’ll get it fixed. One day.”

Last week I said enough is enough, and I ordered the parts and tools I needed to get it running once more.

I am not a handy person at all, but I’ve been inspired to do more with my hands, especially by Van Neistat’s The Spirited Man series, and the book Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford, to get in there and do things, figure it out, die trying. So I watched a few YouTube videos, sat outside like I knew what I was doing, and got my bike back in riding shape. It feels wonderful to have done that myself. What’s more, I could tell there were a few things that still needed some tweaking, tightening, or replacing, and my first thought wasn’t “take it to the shop,” but instead, “I got this.”

I. Got. This.

June 14, 2022: Dose

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Last week I took the first dose of my new prescription to help with anxiety and depression.

For years I have dealt with these symptoms, but always dismissed them as me being weak, just needing to do better, or in favor of taking care of others’ symptoms. I’ve been able to function, extremely well at times, enough to sometimes fool me that it was all a thing of the past, but that’s all it’s been, me just fooling myself.

After a few years of stressors, the general state of the world, and dealing with work and all the effects the pandemic has wrought on the healthcare industry and workers, it was too much. I’ve been doing therapy for a year and it has been incredibly helpful, but I decided to seek more help, to advocate for myself when medical providers did not listen to me. And after months of waiting, I finally got to see a doctor, hence the new prescription.

I’m a huge advocate for mental health, and normalizing that conversation, except when it comes to me. But I’m changing that. I deserve the same kindness and understanding that I extend to others. I deserve healing as well. Here’s to that road.

June 12, 2022: Fireflies

Photo by Tony Phan on Unsplash.

Last night I saw the fireflies in my backyard for the first time this year. To me, that marks the start of summer more than anything else.

It also means that I can look forward to a moment of pure joy each evening for the next couple of months. Fireflies twinkling in the darkness of my backyard and the woods beyond is one of those things that bring an honest smile to my face each and every single time. I hope that feeling never goes away.

June 10, 2022: Manifesto

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Back in 2018, I came up with a manifesto for the creation of table-top role-playing games called The Black Box Manifesto. Inspired by the Dogme95 film movement, the black box theatre movement, and the Art Brut movement, the idea was to create a framework for the constrained creation of art in the hobby gaming space that would strip down the flash and glitz in favor of a hyperfocus on the core gaming experience.

Some people got it (you’re all the MVPs), but most missed the entire point. They would point at a part of a rule like, “No interior artwork,” and just balk at that, rather than looking at the entire rule and think about its context, or why it was there in the first place. It was pretty much all reactionary, with little to no discussion. I wrote a think piece, and it was treated as something to scoff at.

But I still stand by it.

Recently I told someone on Twitter that “Design conversation isn’t what it used to be. It’s either hot takes or discourse.” The last couple of days have only solidified this statement, what with the latest ttrpg Twitter brouhaha that I’m glad not to be a part of. Once upon a time, we had Google+ as a place for design conversations, and The Forge/Story Games before that, but these days it’s a hundred little Discord kingdoms, or Twitter, and Twitter is good for hot takes and discourse. My detour into bemoaning the state of design discussion is that there’s no place to talk about the merits of something like The Black Box Manifesto.

But I still stand by it. And I have this blog.

Frankly, I believe The Black Box Manifesto is even more relevant now than it was in 2018. The amount of independent creators in the ttrpg space has skyrocketed, which means more games, but also more people thinking that they gotta beat Wizards of the Coast at their game without realizing they aren’t playing the same game at all. I shake my head every time I see this, but ultimately it isn’t up to me to tell anyone how to make their art. I can only control myself.

This whole week I’ve been talking about art, and zines, and design, about what it means to be your own artist self, to be spirited, and I feel it’s been leading me to this point where I lay down a new manifesto for 2022 and beyond. Much like everything else I wrote this week, this isn’t about you, it’s about me.

But it could be about you as well.

PS: See Michael Prescot’s MOSAIC Strict, an example of a different kind of manifesto that seeks to do the same thing mine did, create a set of constraints to drive the creation of art.

June 09, 2022: Art

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In all honesty, I was expecting that my post on zines and graphic design would stir some discussion. No one has as of this writing; I’ll take that as a good thing, and as a bit of a challenge to push further.

Tolstoy, as paraphrased by Van Neistat, states that art is a feeling-transmission device from the artist to the audience.

I feel that art needs constraints of some kind to be effective in that transmission of feeling. Constraints force creativity and push for the core expression of the feeling being transmitted rather than indulging in the extraneous.

I’ll contend that art that is created without constraints runs the risk of being too wide, too generic, and that the feeling it transmits is diluted.

I’m not going to say that unconstrained art isn’t art, but I also wonder, is any piece of art truly unconstrained? The mere fact that the artist is trying to give tangibility to something that’s internal and ephemeral creates an inherent constraint.

When thinking about all of this in regards to the art I create via table-top role-playing games, it leads to wonder, what constraints am I operating under, or put in place, that work to make sure my art transmits the feelings I want it to?

Full disclosure, I’m still working out the ins and out of this theory, but it is something I feel in my gut, so I will ask for your trust and indulgence at this time.

June 08, 2022: Design

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I’m gonna talk about graphic design and layout, and I wanna navigate this carefully cause I have lots of friends and acquaintances who are graphic designers, and much like my post on zines, this isn’t about you, this is about me.

I have a weird relationship to graphic design and layout when I do my projects: I generally feel like it’s theft.

When I’m creating a book or zine that’s going to be primarily a digital item, I can do as much or as little graphic design in service to the work. I’m not generally a flashy designer, but I like a splash of color here, a spot illustration there, just to create an experience that better serves the words I’m delivering.

But when I’m creating a book or zine that’s going to be printed, that’s when I feel like graphic design is stealing from the audience. I have X number of pages to work with, and Y amount of words to deliver, and I’m usually caught in a tug-o-war to fit those words to the available pages. Graphics eat up pages, which I feel either cheats the audience of space that could’ve been used to deliver the words, or adds pages that inflate the cost of the product.

I’m not a graphic designer by trade or training, I just know enough to put together my own projects, so I’m not gonna get into the theories behind it all. I get the use of graphic elements to break walls of text, to give our eyes a rest, or to guide the flow of information, but my main concern as a writer is delivering my words. That’s my priority, the words. It doesn’t mean I don’t use graphic design (see the sample page spread from THRU-HIKER below), but it’s definitely a struggle.

Sample page spread from THRU-HIKER.

Again, this is about me, and it’s a compromise I work to reach in every project I do in order to present my words in the best way I can.

June 07, 2022: Zine

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I personally make a distinction between a zine and zine-format. You don’t have to, but I do.

Most of the definitions of “zine” I find online focus on the details of its creation: An inexpensively produced, self-published, underground publication (TheFreeDictionary); small-circulation self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images, usually reproduced via a copy machine (Wikipedia); zines are homemade magazines, and that they are self-published, often on a copy machine (Brooklyn College Library). It’s easy to see why the term gets thrown around so loosely since zines were originally created to defy traditional publications and become a vehicle of expression for any and everyone.

My brain, however cool it may be with abstract notions at times, finds comfort in order, and thus I find it irksome to see the term zine applied willy-nilly, especially around certain yearly commercialized events targeting the format. I mean, I’ve seen a 96-page publication called a zine. Which it could be? Maybe? Maybe not?

To me a zine is a publication that has thematic continuity from issue to issue, reflecting the mind, heart, passion, and art of the creator. It’s a conversation that carries from one issue to the next, although sometimes, just sometimes, a single issue is enough.

Zine format (a.k.a. pamphlet) is just that, the physical format of the artifact: usually digest-sized (8.5″ x 5.5″), 24-36 pages (I have a hard time calling anything longer a zine), self-made and self-published, sometimes on a copy machine, but let’s face it, print-on-demand sometimes makes small batches far more affordable per-issue than Kinko’s.

Zine is about content. Pamphlet is about format.

There’s a lot of zine-format/pamphlet table-top gaming stuff out these days (I did once say that the revolution would be pamphletized), but I don’t see a lot of zines.

And I want to.

There’s a reason this is on my mind, and it has nothing to do with what anyone out there wants to call their publication; it has to do with what I call my publication.

As I said, these are distinctions I make. You don’t have to.

But you could.

May 06, 2022: Spirited

The Spirited Man logo by Van Neistat.

For some time now I’ve been subscribed to Van Neistat’s YouTube channel, The Spirited Man. I got the link from my friend Berin, and I trust him implicitly in terms of the media he recommends. Once again, he was not wrong.

The name Van Neistat meant nothing to me when I subscribed. I did it based on the videos he had made at that point, and they were phenomenal. Short and punchy, more mini movie essays than the standard YouTube fare. They were, quite simply, art.

In the year or so I’ve been following the channel, I’ve only watched about 40% of his videos, something I am fixing by going down the line one by one. There’s so much in there to chew on, videos about repairing things and what that means in a disposable society, videos about things he learned while living in New York City and working for Tom Sachs, videos about his artistic peculiarities, videos about running, his Toyota truck, filmmaking, and more. They are about him but not about him at all, but rather the human condition through him.

The spirited man knows he is a spirited man.

Van Neistat

I enjoy my televised sugary snacks just fine, but following the analogy, The Spirited Man is that gourmet dish with ingredients you’ve only seen in cooking shows that once you eat it makes you wonder, how the hell do you go back to processed meat again?

I highly recommend you check the channel out. I’ll leave you with the promo video Neistat made for The Spirited Man, as it sets up the whole tone and vibe.