Kathy's All-Purpose Blog

I guess some people have different blogs for different subjects, but this is it for me, baby. One blog to bring them all, or something.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Downer: I Miss Dave

Most of the posts I put on these pages are going to be fairly upbeat and/or interesting. I'm not one to dwell on the Nothingness of Meaninglessness or anything like that. This post is going to be an exception. This is the only warning you're going to get--I wasn't kidding in the title. This is going to be a downer.

My brother Dave was 19 months younger than me. They say that when two kids are less than two years apart in age, they get along pretty well, and that was certainly the case with us. Which isn't to say that we never fought; we were siblings, and we fought often. He did the Annoying Little Brother about as well as I did the Bossy Big Sister. All in all, though, we enjoyed each other's company. We played together often--usually games we made up ourselves. We had a lot of the same friends. I talked before about roleplaying--it was Dave who first got me into it. When Dave first moved out of our parents' house, he and I shared an apartment for awhile. We were buds.

My brother Dave killed himself a year ago today, and I miss him.

Unlike most people faced with the suicide of a relative, I know why he did it, and even understand it to a degree. Dave had Parkinson's Disease; his body was deteriorating before his eyes, and he didn't want to be like that anymore. I get that. I don't think things had gotten nearly that bad yet, but I think he wanted to get it done while he was still physically able to pull the trigger. Dave was like that, and so am I. We were raised to be independent.

I read somewhere that the sibling relationship is unique. You might have family in-jokes and stories in common with your parents, but there is a whole other set of "insider data" shared only among siblings. That was certainly the case with Dave and me. There are things we did, little games we played, jokes we had, and stuff we talked about that was only between the two of us. Now it's just the one of us, and there are times when being the sole conservator of all those precious memories is an unbelievable burden. What if I forget something? It'll be gone forever, that's what. Nobody left to help me remember, nobody left to share it with. I miss Dave.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Why I Roleplay

One of the things I know I want to use this Blog for is notes having to do with my various roleplaying games. Before I get into that, though, I thought I'd go over what roleplaying is [for the uninitiated] and why I do it [for the initiated who still don't get why grown people would choose to spend their time this way].

Roleplaying is, essentially, pretending. There are a lot of books written and definitions debated about what exactly roleplaying is, but to me it comes down to pretending. Unlike actors, who usually pretend to somebody else's specifications, roleplayers create their own pretend world and characters as they go along. I suppose that's one of the things that makes roleplaying so hard to define sometimes--there are as many styles of roleplaying and types of games as there are people in the world.

There's more to it than just pretending, of course. There's solving puzzles, and overcoming obstacles, and teamwork. There's even a certain amount of accounting that satsfies my inner organization freak. The totality of the experience is difficult to describe to somebody who hasn't played before, and we who roleplay tend to use a lot of "like" statements to describe it. It's like cooperative storytelling. It's like live improvisational radio. It's like wargaming with funny voices. It's like "cowboys and Indians" with rules. The truth--and the reason we have so much trouble describing it--is that roleplaying isn't like anything else. It is an experience unto itself.

So, why do I do it? Like the "what is it?" question, this one has a deceptively simple answer: I do it because it's fun. That's not a very helpful answer, though, so I'll try to go into why I find it fun. It combines writing and acting, which are two of my favorite things--although that in itself is an incomplete picture. I'm sure anyone who evaluated my work would have to conclude that my acting and writing are competent at best--yet I am an excellent roleplayer. Roleplaying also involves teamwork, which I enjoy, especially since my "teammates" tend to be brainy geeks like me. For me, though, I think the element that appeals to me most about roleplaying is the constructive escapism.

"Constructive escapism" is a term I coined about five seconds ago as I was trying to describe what I'm talking about. There is an undeniably escapist element to roleplaying, especially in the Fantasy genre [think Lord of the Rings] where most of it takes place. In these roleplaying worlds, Good and Evil are usually absolute, and knowable. There are none of those pesky gray areas that give us so much trouble in real life; the Evil Necromancer really is evil and there are actually ways to prove it. Moreover, individual actions can and do have a tremendous effect on the world around them; a knight can put on armor and go into battle, knowing that she can affect the outcome, and that the outcome will mean something. How often do we get a chance to do that in real life?

Some argue that this kind of escapism is counter-productive, or at best, futile. They maintain that the world is the way it is, and the thing to do is get used to it and learn to cope. I disagree, because the constructive escapism of fantasy isn't just about avoiding tough realities. The parameters of the fantasy roleplaying world allow players to see moral questions in a new light, to draw unforeseen parallels to real-life people and events, and to examine their own ideas and beliefs from a different perspective. This can lead to some incredible new insights, which is why I view this kind of escapism as constructive.

All of which sounds really intellectual and terribly Important, so I will remind my readership of the first thing I said about why I roleplay: it's fun. It's not just some esoteric philosophical and intellectual exercise for me; it's how I prefer to spend my time. It's what I enjoy. It's my idea of fun.

It's not everyone's idea of fun, though, and most of us who roleplay are well aware of that. I have a theory about hobbies. I think there are two kinds. The first kind of hobby is something that has a certain amount of mass-market appeal. Most people enjoy it to a certain extent; it's just that the hobbyists are really, really into it. Movies are a good example. Most of us like to go to the movies, or at least rent them, but film buffs go to the movies two or three times a week and have extensive film libraries. The second kind of hobby is something that doesn't have a lot of mass-market appeal. Anybody who does it at all is a hobbyist who really enjoys it; there are no dabblers. To those outside the hobby, it may not even look like much fun. Ham radio is like this, and model rocketry--and roleplaying.

So if you're one of the people who, after reading this, still doesn't understand why adults would choose to spend their time this way, don't worry about it. Myself, I don't get the appeal of ham radio.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Hello, This Is Kathy

My dentist's office just called to remind me of my appointment tomorrow. When the phone rang, I thought "Aha, that's the dentist's office calling to remind me of my appointment tomorrow." (Some may be impressed by my display of mental acuity, but those who know me well already understand that I have no life and things like dental appointments are easier to track).

My phone is not entirely my own, however, because I work from home and there was a chance it was a hotel calling me back. So I opted to use my "professional" phone greeting when I answered. "Hello, this is Kathy," I said in my best professional-phone voice.

I first hit upon "Hello, this is Kathy" when I worked for Alexandria Digital Literature. I was the Content Editor, a position I held for five years, and I worked from home. Since I worked from home, I knew I was going to have to field business-related phone calls at home, and I wanted to sound professional when I answered. I balked at answering the phone "Alexandria Digital Literature," however, and not just because it's a mouthful. What if it was somebody calling me, and not the business? Would they get confused? Would they hang up?

So I decided on "Hello, this is Kathy." It sounds professional (at least, it does the way I say it), and at the same time it reassures people calling me as an individual that, yes, they called the right number. I answered my phone "Hello, this is Kathy" pretty much day and night for the five years I worked for AlexLit, because it's one of those nutty Internet companies and you never can tell whether something is a business call or not. Well, you can't if you don't have Caller ID, which I don't.

After I left AlexLit, I got out of the "Hello, this is Kathy" habit (much to the relief of my friends and family, I'm sure), but now I'm working from home again (for Expedia this time), so I've dusted off the greeting and now use it during business hours.

None of this is apropos to anything, really, except that the dentist's office called while I was setting up my brand-spankin'-new Blog and I thought that "Hello, this is Kathy" would be a good title for a first post.

I have inadvertently stumbled upon a topic, though, which is Working from Home, so let's go with that for a while. It's weird, working from home. I've done it for some years, and honestly I'm to the point now where going to work in an actual office, with other people, would be a pleasant change of pace. I know that's hard to believe, so when I tell people I work from home, and they say, "Oh, you lucky thing" (or words to that effect), I try not to burst their bubble by talking about the downside.

For me, the main downside is the isolation. I'm single and have no roommates, which means I have a nice, quiet work environment. It also means that, unless I plan my week carefully, I can go for literally days without having face-to-face contact with another human being. On top of that, I'm shy and have trouble making new friends, so without the enforced socialization of a shared office, I wind up without a lot of human contact. If I weren't so interested in role-playing games, I'd probably be a creepy recluse by now. As it is, I'm just a creepy RPG geek.

There are other downsides, too, but they're mostly annoyances stemming from the fact that there's no little box to check. By "little box", I'm of course referring to forms and paperwork and routine questionnaires that get asked by banks and credit card companies and the government and various other people to whom we have to prove we're worthy citizens. They ask a simple question like "where do you work?" and all heck breaks loose. I explain, the person on the other end looks in vain for a little box to check, I explain again, they suggest a different little box that is very inaccurate, I explain again, they suggest another little box, and so on. How much human misery, I wonder, can be attributed to little boxes?

There are, of course, nice things about working from home. My car is 10 years old and has 80,000 miles on it. I've driven to Los Angeles and back at least five times (at about 2300 miles per round trip), plus taken other, shorter trips. It's amazing how little mileage you rack up when you don't commute. Or maybe it isn't so amazing; I don't know. I set my own schedule, which allows me to schedule "fun" things pretty much anytime as long as I make up the hours elsewhere. I can buy groceries and stamps in the middle of the day, and when my dentist or my hairdresser asks, "when's a good time for you?" I can say "whenever."

Still, I'm ready to work in an office again. With the economy in the shape it's in, though, I'm glad to take what I can get--which right now means working from home.

Hello, this is Kathy. Welcome to my Blog.