Episode 67: Summer Vacation

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Someone is exploring her American heritage

We pop by in the midst of our various travels to talk about how our summer is going and Rachel’s newest televisual obsessions.

Topics Discussed and/or Spoiled

Vacation, FOO Fest, The Velveteen Rabbi, Saga, RoboRally, US Patent # 1, Bang!, D&D Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn 99, The Office, Malcolm in the Middle, Upright Citizens Brigade, 30 Rock, X-Files, The Mindy Project, What should be Rachel’s next binge?

 

Our outro is Debs & Errol’s My Partner’s a Nerd

Geekually Yoked is a proud member of the Crossover Nexus

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Episode 66: Advantageous

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We talk about the short movie and its full length version, Advantageous.

Topics Discussed and/or Spoiled

Stop Podcasting Yourself, Gina Torres, Killjoys, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, Jonathan Strange & Mister Norrell, Hogfather, Advantageous, James Urbaniak, Blue = Future, About Schmidt, Worthing Saga, Amanda’s future, and Jacqueline Kim.

 

Our outro is Debs & Errol’s That’s What I Want In a Girl

Geekually Yoked is a proud member of the Crossover Nexus

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On Portraying a White Supremacist

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https://johnmeadowsphotography.wordpress.com/

In a letter to Natalie Wooley in 1934 talking about violence in the southern United States that claimed the lives of thousands of black Americans during his life, HP Lovecraft defended “extra-legal measures such as lynching and intimidation” because “anything is better than the mongrelisation which would mean the hopeless deterioration of a great nation.”

The topic of Lovecraft’s racism is an evergreen one that many of his ardent fans wish would go away. Since his ascent into the public limelight, it returns again and again, often being met with cries of “Stop beating this dead horse,” “He was a man of his times,” and “Pick on someone who can defend himself.” If one is being generous, then most of these folks are just tired of a topic they’ve seen debated again and again with little obvious impact beyond raised tempers. However, as someone who has spent time in Lovecraft fandom since donning his flesh-mask, I can attest that there are a disturbing number who take his racial views as a feature and not a bug. For a much more in-depth look, I heartily recommend Ezra Claverie’s article which can be found here (pdf), the source of many of the quotes provided.

In light of recent events in Charleston and debates arising about the role of white supremacy in the United States, I feel compelled to address a question I often get: How can I justify portraying a notorious and odious racist?

I first want to start on his racial views which were and are as reprehensible as they are indefensible. Not that people haven’t tried. The standard line is that he lived in a different time and it’s unfair to judge anyone who grew up in the past by the standards of today. I think that it’s absolutely important to not get so caught up in one’s own sense of contemporary virtue to think that had you lived in different times and in different circumstances, you would have made all the correct moral choices – that you would have freed your slaves, have given women the vote, have refused to renounce your faith under pain of death. However, even by the standards of his day, Lovecraft was severe.

In a 1922 letter to Maurice Moe, he called New York’s Chinatown, “a bastard mess of stewing mongrel flesh without intellect […] would to heaven a kindly gust of cyanogen could asphyxiate the whole gigantic abortion.” In a 1933 letter to J Shea, he wrote, “The Indian people represent such an abyss of degeneracy that extirpation & fumigation would seem to be about the only way to make Hindoostan fit for decent people to inhabit.”

Now these can be seen as just angry rhetoric like when Ann Coulter said “we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity”  but they speak to the mind of a man who was stewed in white supremacy and was willing to countenance (even rhetorically) unspeakable murder and terrorism, acts that the Nazis themselves went to severe pains to disguise as they carried them out.

These views, while perhaps mellowing with age, never truly went away. ST Joshi in An Epicure In the Terrible sums it up beautifully:

“It is not the mere fact that he expressed obnoxious opinions about blacks, Jews, and just about every other “non-Aryan” race; it is the fact that in this one area of his thought Lovecraft failed to exercise that flexibility of mind that made him come to grips with Einstein and Planck, Eliot and Joyce, FDR and Norman Thomas. In all aspects of his philosophy except this one, Lovecraft was constantly expanding, clarifying, and revising his views to suit the facts of the world; in race alone his attitude remained monolithic.”

So now we come back to the main question. How can I, a white man who profits from and exploits the legacy of an unrepentant white supremacist justify it?

My standard answer is that I find Lovecraft a fascinating figure full of incongruities and inconsistencies. He was a brilliant autodidact who never finished high school or went to college. A seeming recluse who was a charming, eloquent, and above all, prodigious correspondent. A man who said of Jews, “There is only one thing we can do as an immediate expedient to save ourselves; Keep them out of our national and racial life,” and in that same year would marry a Jewish Ukrainian immigrant. The legacy of his stories and his letters (especially his letters) have had a remarkable impact on the world of art and literature and it’s not hard to see why there is such a cult of personality around him. As a friend once said, he’s the ur-nerd, an archetype for all lonely teens.

When I started to play Lovecraft, I made a few rules for myself. I never want to apologize or make excuses for his views. I don’t think it would be honest to say in character, “I’ve seen the light! Multiculturalism is the greatest! How foolish I was!” From time to time I’ve come close but I never fully go over the line. It’s part of why I enjoy having his Evil Twin PH to tackle some of these issues as I did here and here. It’s a cheat that lets me address these issues but not betray the character, such as it is.

The other saving grace is humour. My show is a comedy and as such, I’m able to poke fun both at Lovecraft’s views and also use him to poke modern sensibilities. As Rachel and I just talked about on our most recent podcast, comedy is not just a distraction from drama but can be used to highlight it and throw serious subjects into stark relief and I think some of what I do on Ask Lovecraft reflects it.

There’s also the fact that white supremacy didn’t die with Lovecraft but lives on to this day as evidenced by the tragedy we’ve seen in Charleston. It suffuses our culture and ourselves in subtle, insidious ways and while we’ve come a long way, there is still further to go. Growing up a white missionary kid in Nigeria and then moving to Tennessee, I’ve seen how racist sentiment and bigotry can grow in someone and it’s by God’s grace, good parenting, and some remarkable teachers that I managed to learn how to question those feelings and assumptions.

Finally however, the real answer is that I can only portray Lovecraft, warts and all, by being brutally honest about his problems and being willing to engage with it without throwing up defensive walls or complaining that the evergreen topic needs to die already.  As new people discover Lovecraft, eventually his white supremacy is going to show itself, either in his stories directly or through other means. As long as I take money for playing Lovecraft or accept invitations to conventions or festivals, I think it is my moral duty to stare unflinchingly at the unpleasantness and be willing to answer this question as many times as it takes.

I hope I get to answer it for a long time.

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Episode 65: Comic Relief

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In which we look on the bright side of life.

Topics Discussed and/or Spoiled

Recent tragedies, The 100, Hannibal, Killjoys, Due South, Gotham, Voyager, Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, X-Files, Battlestar Galactica, Once Upon a Time, Suits, Scrubs, Star Wars, Vorkosigan Series, Lost, Whedonverse, Game of Thrones, Corialanus, Much Ado About Nothing, American Gods, and Orphan Black.

Our outro is Debs & Errol’s BSG

Geekually Yoked is a proud member of the Crossover Nexus

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What D&D Has Taught Me About Parenting

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My brief stint as a parent has taught me that it is equal parts con artist and stage magician. It’s a constant mental game where you convince this strange, alien intellect that you are the boss and if they don’t listen to all you have to say, dire and terrible things will occur like them getting hit by a car, not getting into the right school, or voting the wrong way.

Luckily for me, this terrible duel of wits is vaguely familiar to me because for years, I have participated in the willing, communal schizophrenia known as Dungeons & Dragons. (Actually, I have played a wide selection of games but D&D owns the major market share of the general public’s understanding of tabletop role-playing games so I will use it as a useful shorthand with full apologies to West End Games’ Star Wars) Now, sitting in the player’s seat is its own brand of villainy but doesn’t have require quite the level of deviousness, cruelty, and bureaucratic obstructiveness as running the game as the Game Master (GM).

As a GM you are expected to be a storyteller, a referee, an encyclopedia, a minor deity, an ATM, and a nanny. Parents and GMs reading this will be nodding their heads and soon widening their eyes as the terrible truth dawns on them that yes, GMing is essentially the best practice one can have being a parent without facing kidnapping charges.

Here are just a few lessons I have had to learn from behind the thin cardboard veil of the GM screen that inform if not absolutely make up the entirety of my parenting style:

 

Learn how to thwart your players at every turn and keep them from destroying everything while still providing them a satisfying game experience

Players, like children, think they know what’s best when in reality they know about as much as Jon Snow at any given moment. They are impulsive, capricious, and operate from a limited awareness of the world around them. Let them off the leash and they are just as likely to set fire to the city, try to run the king through, or drink the mysterious green potion they just found because what’s the worst that could happen?

This means the GM has to chase them around or fence them in so they don’t hurt themselves or others but do too much of this and the players will grow to either resent you, lose all sense of initiative, or most likely, both. Finding the balance where you give them enough room to explore, to experiment, and to play is almost as important as keeping them alive. With kids, the same rules apply only when they cheese you off, you can’t drop them in a 50 foot pit full of Rust Monsters and gelatinous oozes.

Not yet.

The  adventure you spend hours and hours on will often be met with a so-so reception but the one you make up as you go will be one of the most memorable.

You’ve written mountains and mountains of notes, drawn an exquisitely detailed and painstakingly realistic map, and set up a chain of events just waiting for your players to slot in and have the adventure of their lives! If my experience means anything, it means that this is the best way to make sure you never ever find players for this game ever. Even if you wrangle them first and then start putting together this Best Laid Plan, it will be so taken off the rails or wind up feeling stale and flat that you’ll just bash your head in wondering why oh why did you even bother.

Then there are the last minute pick up games when you are required to dig into your high school improv training and cobble together a barely plausible, entirely ludicrous scenario which will wind up being the stuff of legends for years to come.

In truth, the best games usually involve a mixture of these two styles but still, I’ve been burned so much by over-planning that if I’m going to err, I choose seat-of-pantsedness to taking up a Silmarillion level of effort.

The same seems to go with my daughter. Here’s a day’s worth of excitement which I’ve researched and by the end of it, you will have a milestones-appropriate experience to further your growth into a prosperous citizen. Reaction: blank stare. Let’s just start walking and see where it leads us? Reaction: The kind of magic and wonder Neil Gaiman barely scratches the surface of.

Again, some planning will help and not forgetting the diaper bag can be just as useful as brushing up on grapple rules but by and large, leaving yourself flexible and open will make you tear your hair out when it inevitably rains.

It’s okay to adjust the rules as you go. Sometimes you may even need to change systems or the game itself.

You lie to yourself both as a GM and as a parent by saying that there are some things you will never do or allow. It’s a lie because life is cruel and it’s cruelest to those with ideals and high expectations. At some point, these rules and guidelines you establish will get tested because children and players only ever come in one alignment: Chaotic Awful and when you are faced with these tests, you will have to decide what hill is worth dying on. Many times you will choose to abandon the hill and live to fight again and guess what? That’s sort of okay. Sure you’ll be disappointed in yourself and like someone currently face to seat with a commode, you will vow to yourself to do better but chances are you will find yourself here once more and again, that’s sort of okay.

Remember what I said above about Best Laid Plans? Well another maxim is that few battle plans survive the encounter with the enemy and adjusting and finagling can often times be a far lesser evil than standing on principle for its own sake. Now, there are certain principles that are worth fighting for and you will be better able to determine them if you haven’t treated every capitulation like the Battle of Manzikert.

Parenting styles are not theological positions no matter what the internet or the publishing industry might try to get you to believe and when push comes to shove, your child and your sanity will thank you for showing flexibility just as they will be shored up by the hard lines you do draw and maintain in a non-arbitrary manner.

Manage their expectations.

Man alive but this is a hard thing to do but it speaks to a lot of what we’ve discussed above. One of the greatest powers a GM and a parent has is to set the tone and manage the shared mental space both of the table and the nursery. If you can communicate effectively to everyone involved just how things are going to go down and not constantly surprise them, you will go a long way towards creating something approaching harmony. You won’t achieve it because as stated above, Chaotic Awful, but you will at least go a lot further in helping everyone have some idea just what to expect and what not to expect.

In gaming this boils down to making sure that everyone knows what sort of game is being played, what emotional boundaries are present, and what sort of fun is going to be had. A GM who runs every game like Paranoia without telling his players what they’re in for is going to find his table emptier than usual. The same goes with managing players who seem to only play Paranoia regardless of what everyone else is playing. Everyone comes together with their own expectations, biases, and notions of How Things Ought To Be Done and the more they are discussed beforehand, the better.

Children are not so great at communicating their expectations but man alive, do they absorb what you put out both verbally and non-verbally without you realizing it. They are devious, cunning, alien minds behind those big eyes and the sooner you set a tone and establish predictable, repeatable patterns, the less anxious and more on board they tend to get with whatever else you have planned.

Until they hit another sleep regression and everything goes to Hell again.

It matters less how much you’re in control as it does how much they think you’re in control.

Remember what I said at the start about con men and magicians? Yeah, that. In gaming, we know that we’re lying to each other. We accept that and barring some Father Pardue sort of incident, everyone is cool with this. The lie that isn’t spoken aloud although I suspect it is known on some level is despite the GM’s authoritarian mandate, that authority rests on the consensus of the players and the players have a strong and powerful capacity both to enrich and destroy a game at any given moment. It’s not the GM’s game, it’s everyone’s. The GM acts as a focal point and an arbiter but they are not in fact divine figures with authority given to them from above and their failings and very humanity is what often makes them more compelling storytellers and managers.

Before my daughter was born, I read a book which, to my wife’s annoyance, I bring up constantly, more often even than I do West End Games’ Star Wars Imperial Sourcebook (I’ll pause so that folks who know me can finish gasping.) The book is called Far From the Tree and it’s all about parenting in extreme circumstances like disability, mental illness, criminality and so on and how this effects notions of identity and notions of parental control. My big take away from it was about that the illusion of control. As parents, we are responsible for an awful lot when it comes to these tiny, moist charges which we keep alive and safe and try not to impart with too many personality disorders but ultimately, they are these little strangers we invite into our homes and their choices and the various scenarios God throws their way go beyond anything we can do to predict, affect, or control. Making peace with that and learning the limits of responsibility while not using that as a license for complacency is a huge process that I’m still undertaking but ultimately a fruitful one.

It goes back to that notion of managing expectations and keeping everyone on the same page. Players and children need to be able to trust in the illusion of authority so that they have a safe space to explore and to play. The safety net may be imperfect and it may be imaginary but that trust is key to maintaining that sense of wonder and hope.

You know you’ve done everything right when you sit there silently and they play the game themselves.

The best games are the games where I do as little talking as possible and where my players are running the show, making plans, debating, acting, and living out the story I’m helping to curate for them. That’s when they surprise you in a good way and not just by setting fire to the tavern. There are few things like it. You’ve all come together to the table to play a lazy version of dress up and for some magical moments, everyone has bought in and is immersed in that sense of play and that sense of possibility.

As my daughter grows up, I expect to do less and less talking and more watching as she comes into herself and takes on the world without my holding her hand or pointing out where all the dangers and visible exits are and while that idea is terrifying, it’s also incredibly heartening and I hope that I take the lessons above and help her be prepared to step out on her own and start crafting her own adventures.

 

Until then, I’ll keep my game face on and tell her to roll for initiative.

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Episode 64: Crossover Event – Spirited Away

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We welcome Ben Avery to discuss his movie of choice: Spirited Away

Topics Discussed and/or Spoiled

Comic Book Time MachineStrangers and Aliens, Welcome to Level Seven, Daredevil, Spiderman, The 100, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Matt’s Crossover episode, Spirited Away (All the spoilers), Miyazaki’s oeuvre, Labyrinth, Mad Max (Rachel actually did talk Mad Max with Ben!), and Over the Garden Wall.

 

Our outro is Debs & Errol’s My Neighbour Totoro

Geekually Yoked is a proud member of the Crossover Nexus

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Episode 63: Too Many C(omic B)ooks

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Homework!

We talk about comic book movies and films and explore Rachel’s genre fatigue discussed on her blog.

Topics Discussed and/or Spoiled

Amy Schumer, Galavant, Sleepy Hollow, Hannibal, Lost, Fringe, Farscape, Avengers Age of Ultron (no spoilers!) and the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Daredevil, House of Cards, King Arthur, Gotham, Star Wars, Canadian Heritage Moments, Muppets, No You Shut Up! and Rebels.

Our outro is Debs & Errol’s That’s What I Want In a Girl

Geekually Yoked is a proud member of the Crossover Nexus

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My Time at CthulhuCon – A Graduation

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Facebook is peppered with the post-convention reports from CthulhuCon in Portland and I figured I might as well add my own thoughts to the mix for thems as may find it interesting. Folks might also remember our Con episode here.  I’m still fairly new to conventions and so whenever I attend, I feel a bit like an interloper and I’m never quite sure what’s expected of me so I have a tendency to meander and hover until I’m expected on stage or behind a panel table. Luckily for this con, the world of Facebook meant that I at least had tentative connections with a handful of attendees and guests so I was able to find them I meander and hover without feeling completely like it was the first day at school all weekend long.

Before I even got to the hotel, however, I managed to have a delightful interaction with Leslie Klinger whose flight arrived close to mine so we shared a courtesy shuttle ride from the airport and I got to hear his and the driver’s thoughts on hockey before he regaled me with his legal battles with the Arthur Conan Doyle estate over the use of Sherlock Holmes. That conversation was an electric shock that got me very excited for the rest of the convention. Here was the man whose annotated HP Lovecraft collection I have sitting on my shelf and whose annotated Sandman volumes I’ve drooled over and he was chatting amiably and pleasantly with me, a fellow traveler.

My schedule was fairly light although more robust than my other conventions. I had a general meet and greet Friday evening, a specific meet and greet/Q&A session Saturday morning followed by a panel that afternoon and Ask Lovecraft Live that evening with one final Ask Lovecraft Live Sunday at noon before skipping on back to Toronto. Lots of gaps to try and fill which given my above meandering meant I popped my head into various panels and hovered over a few games being played or live art competitions. Still very much feeling a bit like an outsider but finding warm welcome throughout.

My Coffee with Kessler morning Q&A session had a handful of very keen folks who were curious and eager to talk with me about the process of the show in a tucked away, intimate board room at the hotel and I’d love to see more of these breakaway sessions in the future. Doing mine so early meant that I got to get a bit of a glimpse into the kinds of folks who were going to come out and see me. My appearance on the panel, “External Monsters, Internal Demons” was a huge surprise as I wound up talking a lot about Lovecraft’s inner mind from my vantage point of having read many of his letters in my preparation to play him. The highlight of that was getting a huge laugh from the crowd making a mildly suggestive joke about his honeymoon. The live performances themselves were very well attended and I got my normal rush from having to respond to folks’ questions in milliseconds rather than in the hours of thinking over and playing around with the questions I get emailed in. Taken together, these scheduled sessions – my reason for being at the con – were absolutely delightful and by themselves would have made the entire experience worthwhile.

But now I want to go back to the Friday night meet and greet which  turned out to be an eclectic mix of guests and attendees who had paid a little something extra to get to meet and greet said guests. Moments before, I had just met Ken Hite with whom I’ve been familiar for a number of years thanks to my interest in gaming and his podcast Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff and another game designer Scott Glancy whom I met at NecronomiCon back in 2013. I also got a chance to reconnect with Wilum Pugmire who gave me one of the first glowing recommendations for Ask Lovecraft right when I was starting out. After the to-do, Robin D. Laws from Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff arrived. He came out to see my Fringe Ask Lovecraft show so we were minimally acquainted. Over the course of the rest of the convention, I spent a good deal of time with many of these fellows.

Now the reason for all this be-wikipedia’d dramatis personae is to highlight that a big theme of this convention for me was coming to terms with seeing myself not just as a star-struck fan among some of the personalities I have been fond of and following for some time or as some amateur who got lucky but rather as a respected colleague, the word Ken used when I told him how much I appreciated him letting me tag along with him and the others after he invited me to join them for dinner. Ever since I started Ask Lovecraft, I feel like I’ve been downplaying it and making apologies for it even as I’ve tried to sell it and get people excited about it. “I’m just some Canadian actor dancing in front of a bed sheet” was one of my standard half-smiling descriptions as I felt the standard, gut-wrenching need to appear not too braggy or cocksure. Indeed, this very post made me furrow my brows as I tried to figure out how to make it not sound like some pat on the back. However, this whole experience is convincing me that I don’t need to do that. I don’t need to sell myself or my show short and that’s a weird lesson that I didn’t know I needed learning.

The con ended in something of a farce as I had to race to get to the airport – convinced I was going to miss my flight – which involved taking a cab to an attendee’s house and being driven to the airport by this complete stranger as we discussed politics and religion. When I got to the airport and through security in plenty of time, I noticed a fellow with a convention badge and I went over to say hello, discovering he was a puppeteer and filmmaker who along with his film had been featured at the convention. Neither of us had been able to see the other’s work but we had heard good things about each other and shook hands as colleagues before heading to our respective gates.

Rachel referred to this weekend as a kind of graduation and I think that’s a useful image. A graduation isn’t a moment where you suddenly become something new or where you accomplish everything in one moment but instead it marks an occasion and gives you a chance to look back and see what you’ve accomplished that brought you there and that really is what this convention did for me. I had my face on a poster, had folks come up and ask for autographs and pictures (without confusing me for Agent Coulson this time) and it’s okay for me to be proud of that. For sure, I had a lot of help and support getting here from Rachel, my friends, my fans, the con organizers, and the kind folks who trust me and like what I do enough to financially support it and I am absolutely grateful for all of them and I hope to make them proud. But I, myself am also incredibly proud of Ask Lovecraft and I’m excited to see where it goes from here. It’s nice to realize that I’m allowed to feel that pride even if it’s not very Canadian of me.

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Episode 62: TV Lady Chains

We talk about what’s good and bad about women in TV

Topics Discussed and/or Spoiled

Cthulhucon, HP Apology, Zoobilee Zoo, Bunheads, Gilmore Girls, Orphan Black, Gilmore Guys, Strong female characters, Dollhouse, Buffy, Fringe, BSG, Farscape, Daredevil, Babylon 5, and Game of Thrones.

Our outro is Debs & Errol’s That’s What I Want In a Girl

 

Geekually Yoked is a proud member of the Crossover Nexus

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Episode 61: Bioethics

We have a nice and light discussion about a non-controversial topic.

Topics Discussed and/or Spoiled

House of Sadness, That Shirt, Orphan Black (with spoileriffic graphics!), BoJack Horseman, Vorkosigan Saga, Tuf Voyaging, Never Let Me Go (by Kazuo Ishiguro), Frankentein, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Gattaca, Far From the Tree,

Our outro is Debs & Errol’s BSG

Geekually Yoked is a proud member of the Crossover Nexus

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