Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Worst Fear

I don’t know how to function with the anxiety I’ve got bottled up inside me. It has been growing ever since the election but this week it has reached a new height (or maybe depth) that I hadn’t known before.

Perhaps I should preface by saying that I was born in India to a Muslim family, emigrated to the US in 1996 and was naturalized in 2001 a few months before 9/11. My family is quite religious, as is most of my extended family. Both my brother and I drifted away from faith, and no longer strictly identify as Muslim. It’s something I still yearn for, I miss the community that comes with faith, and though Judaism underwent a reform movement that gave rise to secularism within the faith, no such alternative exists for Muslims that I’m aware of. Yet, I’d still classify myself as a secular Muslim, if such a thing can be said to exist.

My wife in a American-born citizen, though she did change her last name to mine, and my children – both born here – have Muslim names.

I bring all this up, because I’m afraid of what the current administration is proposing – and I admit that my fear is irrational. As of 1/26/2017, INS and ICE are planning to go after undocumented immigrants for eviction and deportation, regardless of their family situation. That’s not me – I am an American citizen, I have an American passport, I have a Social Security number, I have been married to a citizen for 12 years – but I’m afraid, that after the undocumented immigrants, the next target will be registered Muslims.

When I picture my worst fear, I see myself forced to leave my home and family, whether it’s due to deportation or internment of some sort. I imagine having to say goodbye to my kids, one of whom is too young to even remember me. I can picture him saying “Bye bye Dada” as he does whenever I leave, not realizing that I don’t know when or if I’ll be back.

Of course these fears are irrational, I know that, I live in New York City which is putting up a great deal of resistance to the administration’s efforts to deport even the undocumented let alone naturalized immigrants; but I think irrational fear is the kind that keeps you awake at night, staring at a dark spot in the ceiling, without any certainty for what will come next.

There are documents in Washington with my name and picture from 20 years ago, my fingerprints, that list my country of origin as India and my religion as Muslim. Today, those documents are in the hands of people who seem to be hellbent on making America Christian and White again. I don’t know what sort of actions they’ll take.

Irrational and absurd thoughts enter my mind, like what if I’m deported – what happens to my holdings and properties? Should I see a lawyer about having my name taken off the house deed so that it’s in my wife’s name alone? Should I transfer my 401k and IRA into her name as well, just in case? Put them in trust for the kids? Should I change their name to John and Henry? How can I secure my family from the uncertainty of a future I can’t fathom?

This government has made me afraid, irrationally afraid. And I resent this fear – I don’t want to have to live with uncertainty because of a xenophobic policy. And yet, there’s nothing for me to do but continue on like everything is fine, afraid that any moment will break this normality, so I keep waiting for it to happen, constantly walking with hunched shoulders, ready for the other shoe to drop.

I can’t undo this knot in my stomach, I can’t swallow this lead ball in my throat choking me, and the terror of being separated from my family hangs on me like a burning coat sewn into my skin. And I don’t know what to do about any of it.

Indulgence

When I run games, they become filters for me to experiment and play with themes and ideas that I enjoy most – namely horror tropes and elements of Gothic storytelling and tragedy, all seeped in misty atmosphere. I might even go so far as to say, my games allow me to be decadent in my indulgence of these thematic elements, and I might occasionally go overboard.

So last year, when my gaming group’s resident GM moved across the country to pursue a job at Paizo game company, I volunteered and took up the dice to run a game. The group enjoys playing through the long, connecting stories that Paizo publishes in six volumes called Adventure Paths, and I quite like the books they’ve put out so I’m happy to oblige. We decided on a vote to see which of the dozens of Adventures Paths we’d play next – the epic fantasy of reclaiming the world wound? The war against an underground army ? A classic adventure of Fantasy kingdom building?

Somehow, to everyone’s surprise, the Adventure Path that emerged was the Gothic Horror – a path that sneaked into the list for reasons I don’t even recall. I certainly never suggested it, and I didn’t vote for it either. And yet, it came out on top somehow!

To say the Adventure Path was in my wheelhouse would be an understatement. The whole adventure is set in a Gothic Horror setting, with mist and moors and mountains, an ever-hanging threat from a restless but slumbering undead wizard demi-god, vampires and serial killers in urban centers, werewolves in the woods and haunted old buildings everywhere.

Well, who’m I to say no to the people’s will? I dove in with gusto, running the adventure path more or less as written, but for the occasional flourish of Gothic flair. Everyone has been enjoying the game, and I haven’t had to do much more than play out the story as written. I’ve been quite restrained with my wishes to meddle with the story and to push it even further into horror tropes and themes.

That is, until the players decided to nibble at one stray side-quest that I tossed out to gauge interest. Like travelers in some Hammer Films production from the sixties, the characters arrived at an old inn in the countryside, and descended into a valley to recover some lost children of a failed branch of a once-noble family.

What followed was an utterly self-indulgent tale that ran characters through a barely-disguised Fall of the House of Usher remake. Roderick and Madeline were there, one wounded and failing, the other drained of all vitality, their children under the dark guidance of wraiths.

A valley full of mists where a servant’s corpse swings above a deep, cold pool, crypts beneath the house where generations lie restlessly, a haunted harpsichord, Roderick’s unexplained disappearance, Madeline’s utterly self-destructive depression, a girl unable to stop playing the same music over and over, past the point of exhaustion, a boy who follows new friends down a dark chamber to fall to his death, the youngest daughter, lost in the woods and hiding within a tree-hollow, like some feral animal, afraid of the sun.

By the time all was said and done, the players walked away from the house, a fire consuming its rotten timbers, before a crack split the house at last, like a rotten beam sighing with relief to be put out of its misery.

I do feel a little bit guilty for indulging myself so much, but man, did I have fun.

Ad Hoc Writing

Generally, I write for myself more than anything else.

Writing is a pleasure, one derived from exploring stories that begin with a single idea. I follow the thread to where it leads, scenes pile up on top of each other and then suddenly, there is a story, all formed and standing up on its own. The remarkable thing is how often problems solve themselves. Often, all that’s necessary is time.

However – while writing for others, this sort of luxury and joy isn’t possible. There are considerations for the other person’s taste and specific desires, there might even be explicit expectations. I’ve talked before about writing spec material, but there is another sort of writing that I quite enjoy. Writing for others, when they need a speech or ceremony.

This weekend, I was lucky enough to be invited to not only write but conduct the wedding fro two dear friends and I worked pretty hard on the ceremony. Performing in front of others isn’t generally an issue for me, and the Bride and Groom were both great sports about everything. But here’s the odd bit – the ceremony as I wrote it, was fairly somber and serious – the sort of decorum one might want to ground such a solemn function.

The rehearsal played out that way, the night before, but during the actual ceremony, as I was reading, the words took on a new tenor, a different rhythm and tone, different words emerged from my mouth than the ones on paper. What came was, generally a bit funner that what I had written down. A couple of jokes improvised themselves on the spot and the ceremony felt a good deal more… I suppose, loose and comfortable rather than stiff and formal.

I wonder if that was me doing an impromptu draft on stage, or if it’s the sort of thing that stage actors talk about, reading the room and then modifying what they’re doing to fit the space they’re in. (Yes, I’m sure some works exist that are designed to discomfort or set an audience uneasy but I had no such pretensions (at least, this time.)) Regardless, I found myself enjoying this version of the ceremony quite a bit more.

So, there was an ad hoc sensibility that came together and – to my delight and surprise – worked in this instance. I find that the times I’ve had to improvise at a crunch moment is when I’m able to suddenly find disparate threads and tie them together. Something it makes a neat bow, and at others, an ugly knot. And that’s the risk – careful, planned and outlined writing will always be at least good if not better than good. Improvised material have a might higher possible peak – and also a far deeper pit to stumble into.

Writing feels so safe at times – well, it certainly doesn’t feel that way when you’re submitting pieces. But ultimately, the embarrassment of a bad piece is distanced through reviews and layers of abstraction. A performance leaves you at the mercy of the people right in front of you. For me, the risk of absolute and public failure elevates whatever small measure of skill I might have. Of course, none of this accounts for the actual reading and performance of a ceremony, and for that, I have no objective ability to judge myself. And considering my posture, voice, diction and lack of dramatic training, that’s probably for the best.

A Late Night Chat

My son, who’s in the later half of his third year of life, is pretty good about sleeping through the night in his own room at this point. Most nights, I don’t hear anything from him till the sun comes up, and he usually comes to wake us up for water or bathroom or if he’s really hot or cold in his room or something like that.

Last night was an exception.

He kept waking up crying, and my wife went to see him and would come back frustrated, she couldn’t make out what he was saying or why he was up. This happened two or three times, and eventually her patience broke. The next time he woke up, I went to see him – it was about midnight, and he was crying a bit.

Some pointed questioning and interrogation ensued and he eventually settled on complaining about his night-time water cup. “It’s too small,” he said, as if the reason was self-evident, and I was the child that needed to be educated on the matter. There are fights worth having and this wasn’t one of them. Rather than argue about the value of various cup sizes and the importance of a closed top versus an open one, I shrugged and swapped the small cup out with a larger one that we use during dinner, and he was content with it after a long drink.

Since he was already awake and sleep didn’t sleep likely to come anytime soon, I hung out with him. We were both sitting on his bed, and he kept talking to me about the kinds of stuff that three-year-olds find interesting. The alphabet, whether he was still thirsty or not, what he’d be doing this weekend, the imminent arrival of his baby brother, what was that sound, could I keep the cat out of room somehow, and I listened to him and answered what questions I could between yawns.

Among the exchanges, I had a moment when I realized I was hanging out with my son and we were talking, and I wasn’t mad about being up, and he wasn’t being cranky and sleepless, he just wanted to hang out with me. We chatted for about 15 – 20 minutes and then I asked him if he ready to sleep. After a bit of tossing and turning, he found a comfortable spot (he’s still getting used to his new bunk bed) and I patted his back for a while before heading to my room.

It reminded me of when he was very young, less than 6 months, and one night he just couldn’t fall asleep. He kept crying, and my wife gave up eventually. I went in to hold and rock him to sleep, and he was just so uncomfortable, or cranky from being tired, or whatever it was, that he just squeezed his little eyes shut and wept and wept and wept. But a half hour of rocking and walking and singing later, he quieted, put his head down, and eventually fell asleep.

Another 15 minutes later, I put him down in his crib and sneaked out. I’ll never forget that night, something about it just really shook me up, and I kept tearing up afterward, as if I had never felt quite so much emotion before. The powerlessness of the situation combined with the desire to help him get to sleep made for an incredible cocktail of emotion.

I’m sure all parents have had a moment like that, over something simple like this, or seeing their kid sick and feeling so helpless and useless, when the most you can do is hold them and give them medicine and comfort them through their pain.

But this was a different kind of interaction, it would have been easy to go in, tell him to go back to bed and leave no room for discussion. There are nights where I have done exactly that, if I thought he was just being a brat. But last night, I think he wasn’t being a brat. He was just… confused and tired and and maybe he just wanted a friend for a little while to chat with to help him get back to sleep.

It was the kind of interaction I’d never had with my dad. He was very distant and aloof. When I had my kid, I was worried I’d be like that. I’m also the primary disciplinarian in our home, so he sees me as a sort of ogre sometimes, and is quick to obey me but is definitely his mother’s son.

Sharing a moment like this meant so much to me in more ways than just connecting with my son. It gave me hope that maybe I’m not a terrible dad, and maybe I’ll have a better relationship with him than I had with my own dad.

Of course, we got hit with a major thunderstorm last night with bright sheet-lightning and booming thunder, so he wound up in our room anyway, but that’s neither here nor there.