The Critical Role of Critical Role…

It has been… an interesting time since last I’ve decided to put some thoughts to paper. The world, as it does in my life, has turned and changed and shifted – for the better, for the worse but all round for good. When my courage returns to me and I find the space in my head to talk about this journey that I am on, I will do so – but… not today.

Today, I want to talk about something that has occupied quite a significant portion of my time in the past 6 months. Almost 390 hours of it to be exact. Staring at it now, it is actually quite shocking but, still absolutely worth it. The new addiction and drain in which my attention has spiralled down is a web series called Critical Role, a show about – quote, unquote – a bunch of nerdy ass (professional) voice actors who sit around and play Dungeons and Dragons.  It is live streamed on Twitch.tv every Thursday evening at 7pm Los Angeles time or, for those of us living on GMT + 2, 4am on a Friday morning.

And it is very addicting.

I never really thought that I would be interested in something like this. My history with Dungeons and Dragons as a game had been quite shaky, as I had been the odd girl in a group of boys who was unanimously forced to become the cleric. “Because you girls like that sort of thing… Right?”  No, in fact – I did not and I soon abandoned the game, thinking that the RPG world just wasn’t for me. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t play well with others and being the ditz who had to run around and heal other people of their stupid actions, left a lasting dark, granted mistaken, impression of the genre. It was only when a friend of mine, StillDormant, persistently nagged me to look at the episodes on YouTube that I finally caved – if only to tell her I did watch it and I did not enjoy it.

I was proven wrong.

A hundred episodes later – which equates to over 19 Seasons of a normal television show – my whole opinion of not only Dungeons and Dragons but web series in general has been changed forever. Which is a big thing or me, because I don’t normally like to invest that much time or energy into television. I might be off a little with my math, but I think that the show has taken up more time than both my two favourite television shows (and I’m showing my age here) Stargate and X-Files combined. I think the way it sucked me into complete submission is due to a few reasons.

It might be a television show, but it feels a bit more real.
Despite the fact that it has no graphics, no script and no other visual prompts except for 8 to 9 people sitting at tables and rolling dice, it is engaging. The lure is in the story telling, one of the first things that caught my attention. I started watching Critical Role last year October in a time that I was truly struggling to keep myself together. Work was taking its toll on my energy which in turn drained all off my own creativity. My writing, which had already been struggling for the past two years, had come to a grinding halt in the months before and I often found myself sitting around listlessly in foreign hotel rooms with absolutely no place in my head to escape to. Watching this show, proverbially sitting with them around the table and watching the campaign unfold, gave me something to hold onto in the loneliness that was forced upon me by my work and my own depression.

It is about the story…
This, I should add, has a lot to do with the core mechanic of Dungeons and Dragons. In the RPG game, one person – the Dungeon Master, takes several other players on an adventure with characters that they created. No technology is needed, no high tech graphics or a ton of money (unless you are the Dungeon Master and want to buy ALL the books and ALL the miniatures…). It is simply a game played by people face to face and it is as good, or as bad, as the players and Dungeon Master tell it to each other. With Critical Role you are taken into the world of Exandria – an original concept created by the Dungeon Master, Matthew Mercer. His imagination and dedication to the story is palpable in every scene, every sentence that he speaks. The way he told the story made me remember what it was like to have my own world, my own story and listening to their adventures gave me the energy and the yearning to return to my old writing. And my own vision of completing my own fantasy story. It made me remember why I wrote and that it didn’t matter what I wrote as long as I enjoyed it. And, listening to Matt Mercer unfold his story, seeing the love he had for his characters gave me a sense of security, because I knew that this was a man (along with the other players in the game) who loved the world and what they were doing so much that they weren’t going to let something like popular demand or community opinion or their misshapen idea of art (I’m looking at you Mass Effect 3) destroy the world. They want a happy ending as much as I do.

It has diversity, in a very non-forced kind of way.
Characters of various races, sexuality and shapes appear on and off the scene. Matt’s array of Non Playable Characters (a term used for any person that shows up in the campaign that is governed by the DM) add constant flavour in the most natural way possible: By acting normal. We’ve entered a strange phase in humanity’s development where I almost feel as if we are moving backwards in our sense of self and our place among people. In my own country, sexual diversity is described as ‘un-african’ and on the continent on which I reside, people are still killed for their preference in sexual partners. America, the country of supposed dreams – whose leaders are of global importance – has seen a marked decrease in tolerance towards the LGBT community as well as gender roles (and plain god damned humanity, Donald Trump! Pulling out of the Paris Agreement? You unmentionable word…) It is such a blessing to watch a show that eases the concept in so seamlessly. Women are given equal roles to men without losing what makes them a part of their gender in the beginning. Male characters embrace the range of their own capabilities, from being burly warriors who are constantly seeing houses of ‘lady favours’ to delightfully gay shopkeepers. It links into what I had said at the top – that the story feels real, but perhaps even more so, it feels as if the characters are living in a world that we should aspire to.

For all the drama, the story and actors give themselves the space to act just a little silly sometimes and not worry about how it will affect Ratings…
I think that is part of the charm of it. Thoughts are followed through and sometimes, every human moment appear on screen – not because it was put in there for dramatic effect, but because it was fun. It has made me laugh and cry and yell in frustration. I’ve watched three hours of characters shopping and loved every moment of it and I’ve watched 40 minutes of gut wrenching terror as cities were destroyed and people decimated.  I’ve watched characters I care for die, live and perform deeds I deem to be unforgivable. In a strange way, it has taught me to live again, to see these moments in my own life. To enjoy the moments of the mundane to forget about the moments of disaster.

All of these components have woven itself into a story (and now obsession of mine) that taught me a few lessons about my own life. That you should:

  • Listen to friends when they tell you to watch something.
  • Find joy in the small and simple things in life.
  • Believe in the story that you tell. Do not just write it because you want to become famous or because you want to get it done, but believe in it. It won’t matter if you don’t.
  • Make time. Make time for friends and family. Make time to look at each other.

I want to finish this lengthy post with a comment on my last lesson.
Urged on by what I saw on Critical Role, I started my own home game, Dungeon Mastering for my Other Half and family as well as for a group of friends of mine. In the time that we play our game, we all sit around a table and listen to each other. No phones, no background noise, nothing. We could play this game with no power in the middle of the desert, because we are engaged with each other. That is what Dungeons and Dragons gave to us, because it wasn’t something that happened often. Our lives have become so rushed that I think these opportunities become fewer with each passing day of increasing technology.

Critical Role played a critical role in the journey that I’ve been on in the past few months, in giving me a safe haven for my thoughts but also to remind me what I had wanted from life and what I was missing out on by allowing it and my work to drag me under.

Image Credit: Amanda Oliver Elm  @flyboy_elmImage Credit: Amanda Oliver Elm  @flyboy_elm

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Gamify your life. Join the world of HabitRPG.

Trekking across the wasteland of Bad Habits, seeing the Mountains of your Daily Tasks looming ahead of you, you find yourself wondering why a simple adventure and professional procrastinator like yourself ever hoped to achieve in the land of HabitRPG. Since coming here you have encountered nothing but the woes of missed daily tasks, the ever increasing pressure of the looming ToDo list and you have a lion cub (which hatched from an egg, for heaven’s sake) that is constantly hungry. The urge to give up, to take the potion of Delete Account is strong but… on the horizon you see a beast approaching you. You recognize it well, it comes for you daily so you quickly put the cub down and run to face it, lest it deals damage to your beloved pet…

It is called Dehydration, and it can only be kept at bay by increasing your strength at the office water cooler. You must drink, not one, not two but three glasses of water during the morning, lest it decides to kill you at night… You scramble up from your desk, charge towards the water cooler and…

Drink three glasses of water. The monster is defeated, you are safe for another day.

It plays like an adventure, a world in which you can create yourself to be a rogue, wizard or warrior by completely daily tasks, but it is much more than that. Habit RPG is a stroke of ingenuity created by web designer Tyler Renelle. It is meant to ‘gamify’ your life, to cast you into a role playing game scenario where the only way to level up your character is to completely the daily tasks that you set for yourself. It started off as a kickstarter project and grew into a community of souls seeking simply to get a grip of their life. I was pointed to the site by a friend of mine, and soon became hooked. It spoke to my slightly OCD tendency to create lists and strike out my daily to dos.

It is certainly more satisfying than simply crossing out an achieved objective.

jqnctnricrjbrpho4rjrI have found it to be quite enlightening. The community is support of each other, and there are guilds and parties to suit every person’s need. You find yourself fighting monsters alongside friends who are also simply trying to remember to drink their pills in the morning, or a party of resistors trying to find some way to remember to drink enough water in a day. For a gamer such as myself, it’s livened up the mediocre and the bland and it’s certainly made me focus on a few of the things I am so prone on forgetting.

If you wish to know more, you can explore it’s wikia site here, or simply join the website here.

Enjoy!

Experience – The Unexpected Part 2

The last weekend in February 2014 was a nightmare for me. I had come back from the hospital’s emergency rooms with a diagnosis most dire. According to the radiologist, I had torn all of the ligaments in my shoulder and was scheduled for rotator cuff surgery that following Tuesday. I had been booked off from work for a week, something that would’ve been a blessing under less tense circumstances. As it was, I was devastated, not because of my shoulder, my mind had a strange way of just accepting it, but – I was almost certain that I was going to lose my job. I had been warned by the emergency room doctor that I was most probably not going to be allowed to drive for three months. Driving played an integral part of my work and my company had a habit of getting rid of people who couldn’t do what they needed to. From firing my manager for tearing all of his knee ligaments, to firing a colleague on his death bed of brain cancer, tolerance towards injuries wasn’t going to be on the table. I had had to call our HR officer to explain to her why I had to leave the office early. She had listened to me in shocked silence then tensely told me that she wasn’t going to tell my CEO until a week later because that would give me another month’s pay check at least.

I struggled to get my affairs in order that weekend, organising with people to take care of my pets, trying to figure out what I would need for at least a week in hospital (worst case scenario) and putting my contingency plans in order for when I lost my job. It was a harrowing two days, made even more so because I couldn’t sleep from the pain.

Monday dawned and I was whisked off to the orthopaedic surgeon by a friend of mine. The pain wasn’t any better, but the night before I had realised that I could move my arm again. Just a little, and it hurt like hell, but I was starting to doubt the diagnosis of the first radiologist.

I was very fortunate to end up with an orthopaedic surgeon who looked first and cut later. He was gruff, appearing almost irritated that I dare intrude on his practice… But he was thorough. He doubted the scans immediately, moving my arm, getting me to move it and finally deciding that he would rather have them taken again. I was send for the full treatment, an MRI scan, an x-ray and a sonar, all pointing to one thing.

My ligaments were intact. Damaged yes and I did have a muscle tear but it wasn’t big enough to require surgery. The main problem wasn’t my tendons or ligaments, it was my shoulder joint. I had bursitis, something I didn’t even know existed until it was pointed out to me. Essentially, in layman’s terms, its an inflammation of the soft pad on which my shoulder rotates. Anything can trigger it, though I was told that it rarely occurs in women my age. It is treated, not with surgery but with cortisone injections right in the joint. Surgery was a last option for treatment. All I needed to do was rest, see a physio, and come for injections once every few weeks until it cleared up. There was an underlying problem, with all the scans pointing to the possibility that my shoulder joints were degenerating due to a misshaped acromioclavicular joint. That would have to be corrected with surgery, but it was something I could post-pone until I’m ready for it. The first order of business was simply to get the bursitis to clear up.

It was as long a recovery as the surgery would’ve been – but it wasn’t invasive.

In fact, it was a message.

Something had to change. My body couldn’t handle the pace and stress anymore that I was under. I had to take it slow, take care of myself, be aware of my limitations.

I had to sort out my life because it wasn’t working. Some people are brought to realisations such as this by a miracle, an epiphany. I am such a stubborn person that the only way I was made to see on what a destructive path I was, was by dragging me to a halt through near crippling pain.

The bursitis took months to clear up, the pain lingered for weeks and still bother me sometimes. I had to go to physio simply to get the joint moving again. My medical aid didn’t cover half of the medication and procedures that had been done so I was at the mercy of a kind friend who did pro-bono work on me. And work? Work was unrelenting, unsympathetic. I don’t expect to be babied but in the course of those weeks in which I struggled to get permission to leave the office early to go to doctor’s appointments and physio appointments I realised that I had to leave.

It wasn’t going to be easy. For those who knew me before 2010 would remember how hard I struggled just to get this job in the first place. And, a part of me is a strong creature of habit. I wasn’t earning a bad salary, I just had to work my ass off to get it. I was conflicted, feeling as if changing my companies would be like a betrayal. There are very few things that are as stressful as a new job and with my shoulder, I didn’t know whether I would be able to cope.

But, I knew that I had to figure out a way because it also dawned on me that I wasn’t coping anyway. This injury was proof of it, even the situation under which it occurred wasn’t right. I didn’t want to find myself on dodgy roads anymore needing to change my tyre for fear of being robbed and murdered before rescue came.

And I didn’t want to work for a boss that had absolutely no humanity in him.

Experience – Unexpected, Part 1

2014 had started quite bleak for me. My last colleague and friend at my previous company had left us in January, one of 9 people who had moved on to greener pastures throughout 2013. I was completely on my own and the mercy of a somewhat unreasonable boss.  I was doing the work of 3 sales persons, monitoring all of the projects the veterinarians had started and doing grunt work like delivering product because our teams couldn’t dispatch anything in time.

I was at wits end come February 2014, travelling more than 8000km (5000 miles) per month. On one particular journey in February, I was rushing from the small town of Swartruggens to Zeerust (another small town) when I got a tyre puncture. Now, something I have to add is that this is quite a regular thing for me. I considered waiting like a damsel in distress on this dirt road in the middle of nowhere but then I realised that I a) didn’t have the patients to do so and b) didn’t want to risk being mugged. So, I got into my overalls that I normally keep for farm visits, changed the tyre and set on my merry way. I didn’t even think about it twice, apart from the grumbled realisation that I was going to have to replace another tyre.

The next morning however, I woke up in pain. I had been in an unfamiliar bed and had thought that I had simply slept the wrong way on my left shoulder. The bed and breakfast lady, (who treats me like a daughter rather than a client) volunteered to rub my shoulder for me. I allowed her to do so for about a minute but upon manipulation of the joint the pain was so excruciating that I soon bid her to stop. I drank an anti-inflammatory and went to my car where I discovered another problem. The shoulder refused to move. I couldn’t lift it, couldn’t change the gears, couldn’t even raise my arm to the steering wheel. As I sat there in my car, more than 300km from home, I began to suspect that I might have a problem. I went to the local doctor, hoping for an emergency consultation but the good town of Zeerust has only 3 doctors and on that particular day, only one was working. The secretary immediately pinned me for a foreigner and sweetly said that she could only help me the next morning. I explained that it would be a very quick consultation, but no. I had to wait till the morning. The pain in my shoulder was getting worse at that stage and because I had to drive home, I didn’t want to take too many pain medication so I lost my temper with Zeerust and decided to head back to civilisation. I called my friend and physiotherapist on the way home and requested that she sees me when I returned. She was able to fit me in immediately.

As luck would have it, with only one arm and no way to safely change gears, I was struck in one of the worst rains storms I had ever driven in that day. A journey that usually took me two and a half hours now took me four and I’ll be the first to confess that I was crying from frustration and pain by the time I reached my friend. She looked at the shoulder but her prognosis wasn’t good or comforting. I either had bursitis, an inflammation in the shoulder joint, or I had somehow torn my rotator cuff ligaments. I had to go to the emergency room but as I didn’t have the strength for it that evening, I stalled till the next day.

Which happened to be a Friday.

In hindsight, my timing probably wasn’t as well thought out as it should’ve been, but I still feel that regardless of what time one arrives at an emergency room, the level of service should always be professional. As it was, my experience hadn’t been very pleasant.

For one thing, because I’m not in the habit of putting up a performance, the emergency staff didn’t take me very seriously, thinking that I was there to waste their time. My shoulder was in agony, I could hardly close my hand from the pain, but I didn’t sit there with a moaning expression on my face declaring how much it hurt. I was friendly to the admittance staff, joked a bit and very clinical with the doctor as I described my symptoms. Her doubt was clear immediately and I would never forget how she had looked at me and said:

“Well, you realise that we will have to do a scan. And take x-rays. If it’s not serious and we don’t admit you, you will have to pay for it.” She had said it with so much doubt, implying that I was lying that I was angry immediately.

“I’ve brought my credit card,” I had told her and gave her its limit. “I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to cover whatever expenses I have. And I know that I’ll be scanned, that’s why I came here because despite my many talents it’s the one thing I can’t do on my own.”

In hind sight, I might’ve been grumpy because of the pain that I was in, but with a sceptical look, the doctor had taken me to radiology and left me at their Friday staff’s mercy. They were the ones who had the pleasure of delivering the blow of bad news to me. A hasty scan later, the radiology department confirmed that I had indeed torn all of the ligaments in my shoulder. The only treatment was surgery and I was lead back to the emergency room, with the knowledge that my life had suddenly changed in the blink of an eye.

You see, I knew that this surgery was complicated and it took months to recover from. The icing on the cake was that a few months prior, my CEO had fired one of our previous employees because had he had torn all of the ligaments in his knee and the CEO didn’t want to allocate him the given amount of leave. With my left shoulder out of action, knowing how difficult it as for me to drive, I couldn’t imagine that my CEO would spare me.

The emergency room doctor had turned a corner in her behaviour however. Upon seeing the results, she was suddenly concerned, even asking me in how much pain I was exactly. Despite my shock, I couldn’t help but be a little bit snarky.

“As much as I was in when you first saw me,” I had said. “More so now that my shoulder’s been moved for the scan.”

She had the grace to apologise to me and even offer pain medication. But, it was a very thin salve for a deep wound. They wanted to admit me to the hospital immediately, to schedule surgery but the orthopaedic surgeon was out of town and none of the other alternatives were available. I was scheduled to see the hospital’s orthopaedic surgeon the Monday and booked off for a week. Surgery was tentatively scheduled for that Tuesday and I was send home for the weekend to sort out my life that felt as if it had been irreparable turned upside down.

That Resolution Thing – Musing on 2014’s

Generally I’ve always been very lax about New Year’s resolutions. I tend not to make them because I don’t normally take them very seriously. A year ago, as a few friends and I waited in 2014 we had a discussion about what our plans were for the year. I listened to them and send a quiet resolve into the universe. I was going to make some resolutions and stick to them.

They looked something like this, with a few I might’ve forgotten.

  • Lose weight – it’s always on the list. I think all women in the world wants to lose about 10 pounds and I was no expection. Only, I wanted to loose 20 because I was actually quite chunky.
  • Live kindly – I can be an unpleasant person at the best of times, but it was my wish to really be a better person in 2014.
  • Stop smoking – Err. Yes. I started. Bad 2013. Shame on you.
  • Get another job – because mine was killing me.
  • Work on my relationship with Other Half – speaks for itself.

Looking back, I can say with a smile that I covered most of them. I lost the 20 pounds that I wanted to loose simply by eating right. I have insulin resistance which essentially means that my body doesn’t metabolise sugar as it should. That’s really the layman’s explanation but the bottom line is that I shouldn’t eat food with a high Glucose Index. Which I did. Frequently and in excess. I tried, as every body does at some point or another, to do a “quick” diet. I tried a diet called “The Military Diet” in which you diet for 3 days on a very strict program and then eat as you want for the next four. They claim that it works on enzymes and metabolism and all of these impressive sounding explanations but the truth is that for the three days, you consume less than half of the calories that your body needs to keep itself going. Your essentially slowly starving yourself and THAT did not work out. I went back to basics, went to see a professional dietician and did some exercise.

And I lost weight.

The unbendable fact about losing weight is that there is NO EASY FIX. We all want to lose weight by simply sitting on the couch and doing nothing but you know what. That’s never going to work. EVER.

And I’m fulfilling my second resolution by simply telling you this out of kindness.

I did really well with THAT resolution this year. whistles and looks the other way

But, I did stop smoking. It wasn’t easy, even though I wasn’t a very serious smoker,  I was one out of habit. And, I’ll be the first to confess that I LOVE smoking. I like the habit of it, the way you can comfortably leave a conversation with the excuse that you need to go for a smoke. I like how you can pause your thoughts, or let it go. I didn’t like the way I smelled, but that didn’t really stop me. The need to get life insurance however did and money, or rather, paying a lower premium, was a very good incentive to let my little cancer sticks go.

I did get another job, but I’ll elaborate on that in my “Experience” posts as it needs some explanation.

And – a year later Other Half and I are not only celebrating 7 years together already, but we also finally bought a house. It’s a very new and exciting step in our relationship. It’s development, it’s commitment on paper. And it’s something that’s been long overdue.

So all in all, I think I did well. I worked at it, I worked at it all the time but it paid off.

I have high hopes for this year. I think that 2015 is going to be whopper. Tough yes, with new experiences and pressures, but I want it to be about growth in my professional life, my personal relationships and even my writing. The only resolution that I do have is to have a working manuscript of my original novel. It doesn’t have to be good, but it has to be finished, I can edit and work on it later. The thing what I learned through my resolutions is that whatever I want as a person, I really have to work to achieve myself. And if I don’t start – if I don’t get up early in the morning for my run, if I don’t sit down and write a paragraph or I put down the chocolate that mysteriously slipped into my shopping bag, I won’t succeed. People can support me yes, but I have to make a decision to pursue my goals.

And, I think it’s the same for all of us. We like to think that we can succeed by taking the easy way out but the truth is that there is no such thing. There is simply a varying degree of determination to succeed. We’re all struggling, we’re all having a hard time. I read a friend’s blog before starting this one and I realised and remembered that despite our ‘uniqueness’ we are all the same because we are all fighting the same battle with ourselves. So, to come back to that second resolution that I perhaps neglected to pursue as hard as I should’ve, I would like to remind you and myself, that we have to be kind. That 2015 promises to be better and worse and faster than 2014 and it will be what we make of it.

And what we make of ourselves.