Story — The Tiny Great Big One

Zollo hadn’t exploded today, and for once, he was disappointed. It had taken him weeks to convince the rest of the council that it was a side effect of his magic. He had told them he had accidentally eaten something with a glyph on it, and instead of digesting it it just kept making him explode. No big deal. The Athaxi are a resilient race. Very good at unexploding. “The explodings will stop eventually,” he assured them.

Athaxi were dumb. It was a good thing that Zollo wasn’t dumb. Like the other Athaxi.

But what he didn’t plan for was the Ritual of Bigness. With the other council members convinced he wouldn’t explode, and with Zollo being one of the most bestest glyph-ers in the tribe, he was obligated to attend. It was a stupid, boring ritual, really. The entire council had to stand on some pillars watching the entire tribe give offerings to the Great Big One. One by one, in the hopes that they, too, might become the next Great Big One.

Zollo knew the truth now. The Athaxi didn’t ever get Big. He knew because he had a Great Big One. Only, it wasn’t Big. Or Great, for that matter. Even now he could feel it on his waist, tucked away just above his tail. It was sleeping, but warm. Zollo’s secret, Tiny Great Big One.

That was where the explodings came from, of course. Sometimes convenient, but more often than not, exploding was unpleasant. Often he considered telling the council the truth. But no, he had no idea how they would react. Or how his Tiny Great Big One would react, for that matter. It exploded Zollo often enough, after all, and it liked him. The council would surely all get exploded if they were introduced.

And so, he was stuck here, standing on the pillar as his legs ached, pretending to vary his interest in each of the mundane offerings. A couple of squibs here, a collection of very shiny rocks there. Zollo had to admit the rocks piqued his interest a bit. They were quite shiny.

But every time he found himself a little distracted, the Tiny Great Big One would shift around in its slumber, reminding Zollo how much he wanted to explode right now, just so he could be excused from the ritual.

An elbow to the side startled him, and he looked to Negs, who was vaguely gesturing to the offering table. Oh, right. Zollo nodded and joined the other council members as they all used the glyphs they had carved into the offering slab to set all of the offerings ablaze. Soon, the pit had grown into an inferno, growing higher and higher as the offerings lit.

This was everyone’s favorite part of the Ritual of Bigness. All the Athaxi in the tribe were cheering and dancing at the sight of such a Big, strong fire. It was like one one of the Great Big Ones could make. Impressive, Zollo had to admit, but fire didn’t entrance him as it had since he had discovered his Tiny Great Big One. It seemed silly to love fire when you had access to its true source. Even if it exploded you a lot.

An echoing wave broke the festivities. The distant roar of a Great Big One, the tribe knew all too well. Even if they hadn’t seen a Great Big One in years, the Bigness of its sound was unmistakable. In the wake of Big beats of its wings, soon the Athaxi were cheering even louder. Maybe it would choose one of them to be the next Great Big One, they were all whispering.

Zollo tapped an idle claw against where he kept his Tiny Great Big One. Maybe he would be exploding today after all.

Me — Getting Through the Hard Days

Emotions can be tough to deal with sometimes. I wrote a whole blog post about allowing yourself to do things you knew weren’t great in order to get through the hard times, but as I wrote it I recognized that all I was really doing was excusing my own poor behavior. I’ve been struggling a bit lately, and according to my daily journal, yesterday was one of the worst days I’ve had in three months. It’s not important why.

I’m not going to write an entire 500+ word post today. I think being concise on this topic will prove my point better.

Emotions are fleeting. They pass. Tomorrow doesn’t have to be as bad as today might have been. Time heals many wounds, so just let it do its thing.

Whatever problems you’re going through right now will get better.

Me — Mt. Wilson Hike

I have a friend that is really into exercising and hiking. Outside of work, I would say it’s probably the thing he spends the most time on, with basic exercise equipment in his room and whatnot. He’s not obsessed with it—it’s not a thing he just talks about in casual conversation—but it does occupy a lot of his time.

Recently he made a post on social media about getting a group together for his second hike up Mt. Whitney (the highest mountain in California at 14,500 feet), and wanted to see who was interested in joining him on his training hikes.

I don’t really spend a whole lot of free time exercising or even being outdoors these days, so I told him to add me to the list of invites for the hikes. So he did, and I joined him for the first hike: Mt. Wilson.

When I said I’d be interested in hiking with him, I thought I was signing up for a 3-4 hour conversation along some longer trails, but that is not what I got. This was an 8 hour hike with an elevation gain of 4,300 feet.

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The view from the parking lot: not our jeep. Also, the parking lot was already packed at 6am!

I didn’t have a national park pass, so I couldn’t park there, so instead I spent the night at his place and we carpooled over. The thing is, I got there around midnight, slept on his couch, and we got up at around 4:30am. Our hike (with a group of 4 people) began at around 6am. (Yes I started an 8 hour hike on 4 hours of sleep. I took what I could get.)

I was also very leery of joining him because for one, the weather forecast for that day had predicted showers over the entire week, and only the day before did that forecast loosen into noon-time sprinkling. The sky was overcast, threatening to rain at any given moment.

We had a good chat. I learned lots of hiking etiquette from the more experienced hikers (which was everyone), and even though it was early in the morning, the exertion proved to be quite a workout.

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It took us about 4 hours to get to the peak, and we were excited about the prospect of a cafe at the top. We got to the observatory before it opened, and when we did arrive, the people there told us it was closed due to the weather forecast (though it didn’t rain a drop the entire day). It was a bummer, because we had planned on treating ourselves to soda at the top.

 

And so we made our descent, and let me tell you friends, if you thought going up was bad, you have either never gone down for long periods of time, or your knees are better than mine (and let’s be honest, it’s probably the latter if not both). The way down was the more scenic route, with more creeks and waterfalls  alongside (or cutting through) the path. We added a mile to our hike to go to one particular waterfall (which was the main attraction for most of the people that came here). I stopped us on the descent a lot because I saw a lot of good photo opportunities. Also, I was low-key dying a little bit, but had too much pride to call for a real break.

As much as I really didn’t want to add another mile to the hike 6 hours in, I’m glad we went. It lead to a few really cool pictures. There were lots of people there, including a few kids throwing rocks into the water to make big splashes. One of them hit me with a rock instead of the water. It didn’t hurt, but boy did I want to kick his dad in the face for not stepping in and apologizing.

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At the end of the trip was a steep 400ft incline (I’d guess maybe 20-25°), and that last quarter mile-ish killed me. Imagine walking for 8 hours and then the last legs of the journey is a steep slope up asphalt—not even nice, packed in dirt.

I was sore for two days after the trip, but I’m pretty sure that if it wasn’t for that last little bit, I would have been almost completely fine the next day or two.

So that’s it. I’m not a hiker, but this was a fun little thing to do. Some stats: Gained 4,300 feet of elevation over almost exactly 8 hours. Average pace was a 28 minute mile, but our best was 7:50 minutes. We covered 14.7 miles and burned 1,653 calories.

 

Me — June ’19 Update

With the spring semester finally over, it’s back to working full time. Theoretically, this means I have more time to pursue hobbies like writing and investing more time into D&D, but we’ll see where that goes.

So as always, the Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, work, school, D&D, video games, reading/listening, and other things.

I’ve been trying to upload at my scheduled times more consistently. It always kills me a little bit inside when I miss the 5am deadline on a blog post and I have to upload it later (or skip it entirely). That said, two posts a week still feels like a good pace. A lot of my creative energy has been being spent elsewhere, so if more content does come, it probably won’t be through my website (though I’ll certainly advertise it here, too).

That said, I’ve been writing a lot for the passion project, and we have big plans coming in in the next set of months. I’m very excited, but we want to make sure everything is in place before we hit “Go”. Apart from that, I’m planning on working on the second Act of my full length play over the summer. I don’t think that will ever find its way to the website because it wouldn’t be fair to myself to do that, but I certainly intend to throw out snippets (even if it’s just plot points) out when I do finish it. Also, a second short story anthology may be on its way relatively soon?

Work has been a little rough. As I’m writing this, I’m about to go into the first day of work with our new hire (whom I will be teaching), and the day after that is my overdue yearly review. By the time this posts those two things will have already happened, so if you’re reading this, that’s my bad. I should have came back and edited this paragraph. But if I don’t, know this: I’m leery. I want things to get better, as the pay is not comparable to the amount of work I do, but I don’t think I’ll get much of a pay raise in my review. We’ll see.

School! The spring semester is over, as I said, and I should only need one more semester of classes to walk away with (at least) two AA degrees and a few certificates. I’m also thinking about auditioning for the main stage play in the fall. Never being in a full length production was always one of my biggest regrets from high school, and I don’t want to leave college making the same mistake, even if I end up hating the experience.

D&D is going well. I’m planning on passing the DM reins to my brother once we finish this story arc, but the arc is taking longer than anticipated. I predict we have about 5 more sessions to go, and if that’s accurate, I should be done by July, but as long as we finish by August I don’t care. Mostly I’ve got a lot of DM fatigue that I need a break from, and once I’m done with school I should have a lot of fun stuff to play with to get me excited to take the wheel again. I also hope to start writing more Aleor campaign diaries and uploading them to the blog. Stay tuned.

As far as gaming goes, I don’t have a whole lot to say about that. I’ve still been playing Magic: The Gathering Arena trying to save up cards to make my own deck instead of modifying the ones the game gives you for free. It’s a shame the game requires so much in order to get the cards you want. Stupid card games are so expensive. I’ve also been messing around on Heroes of the Storm still. I only have eight heroes left to level up to ten. Lastly, my brother and I are planning on starting Final Fantasy VI for our retro game night this week, and I’m bringing a fellow nerd along for the ride. FF6 has been one of those games I’ve always been very excited to play, so it should be a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, all of this leads to me not having a whole lot of time to myself. The only media I’ve really been consuming in the last few months is Critical Role, and any leftover free time is devoted to Day[9]’s livestreams. That said, I’m about 3 episodes behind on Critical Role, which is about ten hours of content. On one hand it’s nice to just be able to watch new (to me) episodes whenever I want, but it also means I can’t participate in the community because spoilers.

That’s about it. I recently cleaned my room pretty extensively, and I packed the majority of my decorations/nick-knacks. I don’t really plan on moving soon, but it’s been on my radar for several months and it just felt time to start making myself more scarce. I really hope that my life looks very different a year from now. I’m at least trying to set myself up for big changes. On that note, I think I just recently saw the beginning of a really good friendship, so cheers to that.

 

Me — Accepting a Less-Productive You

I never feel like I really have any free time, but honestly, that’s not true. The amount of free time I have is honestly pretty manageable. Most of the responsibilities I have outside of work, such as my blog, are self-imposed. I end up cutting corners on D&D prep or writing blog posts late all the time, simply because the time slot I have to do it is far more easily spent relaxing. The struggle of having stuff to do after you feel like you’ve spent the whole day doing stuff is something I’ve talked about quite a bit, but today I wanted to spin it on it’s head a bit.

I know what the solution is. I need to get up super early (5am) and get all that extra stuff done before work, so when I come home everything is already done. Getting into that habit is easier said than done, I know, but that is a solution that’s worked for me in the past.

Lately I’ve been thinking to myself that I need a vacation. Just three or four days where I don’t have to worry about anything. But then I realized something. I would probably hate that—especially if I stayed home for that duration. The reason for that is because of those self-imposed deadlines. They are easy to get around, sure. I could write a short post on the blog saying I’m taking a week off, tell my brothers that we’re skipping a week of D&D, and tell my friends in the passion project that I have to skip that week’s meetings to focus on me time. After all’s said and done the only thing I’d have left would be going to work 9-5 every weekday.

But the only moments in life where I feel justified in relaxing—the only free time spent truly feeling free, is when I’ve spent so much time being productive that there’s nothing left to really do. Relaxation is only really relaxing if I feel I’ve earned it, which is rarely the case even when I spend the whole day doing things.

It’s stupid. Society has put so much pressure on us as individuals to feel like productivity level is the only measure of human value (at least, that’s how I feel), that any time spent working on building up your mental capacity feels like you’re draining your own self-worth. We’re taught to look up to the people who can write tens of thousands of words every day or star in every movie ever made and idolize them because of how much stuff they can do. Brandon Sanderson is one of my favorite authors for a reason, after all, and his sheer capacity to churn out novels is up there.

People shouldn’t feel worthless when they’re not doing something. I can manage to convince myself that meditation is being productive for a number of reasons, but it’s part of the reason why I don’t really watch movies or TV shows. It doesn’t feel worth it.

The common inspiration of “you can do anything you put your mind to” and all the similar expressions only serve to fuel this broken concept. You don’t have to spend 14 hours every day working towards your goals. This isn’t an excuse to be lazy, but it’s a reminder that sitting down and relaxing with a cup of coffee doesn’t make you the useless mistake your subconscious tries to tell you you are.

P.S. Look at the guy in that picture. Don’t mess with him. He’s got too many arms and isn’t afraid to use ’em.

 

Me — Music as a Creative Outlet

I don’t know if any one thing changed per se, but in the past few months I’ve really been listening to lots of different kinds of music and putting lots of thought into various ways I can express myself using it.

Specifically, I’ve started seriously considering two things: One, writing songs, something the current Kollin is not yet knowledgeable enough about or even equipped to do, and two, using songs as inspiration for other creative outlets. I’ll explore the former first because since it’s less accessible for me, it doesn’t make a very good conclusion to a blog post.

I’ve always been interested in songwriting. I’ve written several poems that were meant to have a sing-songy rhythm (more than one of which I intend to attach music to one day), but I haven’t seriously picked up an instrument since middle school, so my understanding is rudimentary at best. Still, over the years I’ve come up with several parody songs, and I recently realized that they all have a centralized theme. All of these songs were integral to my childhood, so the album I eventually write will be titled The Summer of Yesteryear, and all of the parodies will be about a kid growing up, using the summertime as a recurring theme.

So far I have 7 songs, mostly parodies of songs from the 90’s-00’s. My most recent addition to this list is a parody of The Cars’ “Shake it Up”, a song called “Wake Him Up”. That’s the only one you get, because none of these parodies are actually written yet, and a few of these ideas are gold.

But even outside of that, I also want to make original music. I have three distant future goals regarding this. The first is making a solo (or perhaps not?) band called Fridays at Five, featuring upbeat jams in a union of Jukebox the Ghost and Silversun Pickups. (The idea is that “Fridays at Five” is the best time of the week because it means you get to go home from work and anticipate the weekend. I also have an inverted version of the band called Five to Nine, meaning its five minutes before your 8 hour shift starts. That music under that name would not be upbeat.)

Anther distant future goal is to put together a bunch of instrumental music using D&D spell names as song titles. The idea here would be that I’d take a spell (like Fireball, or Dimension Door) and write the song that evokes the feeling of what that spell is and does. That concept is much less fleshed out than the above two concepts, but it’s a thing I’d like to toy around with someday.

Lastly, I have an inkling. An inkling of a story being told through music and song, much like the Gorillaz’ canon of backstory and events explored through their songs. I want to do that, but with a fantasy setting, perhaps even in one of my established universes?

As far as actually using music to fulfill a creative outlet under my current means, though, I’ve been really attaching myself to songs and using it to fuel my fiction. For example, I wrote this story a while back using the song “The Hermit” from Hyper Light Drifter as a writing prompt. It’s fun to use prose to explore the depths of what a song might be trying to convey, or at least what it means to me, and I’ve been enjoying myself playing in that space recently.

Other songs that I find very inspirational:

Phantom Racer” by TWRP, commanding me to one day write a story about a race a-la Speed Racer or F-Zero.

Satelitte” by Two Door Cinema Club and “All This Time” by Jonathan Coulton” inspire me to write a sci-fi sitcom, oddly enough. This is a terrible metaphor, but imagine something like Full House but it takes place on the Enterprise and there’s just so many laser guns.

Lastly, “Do You Want it All?” also by Two Door Cinema Club, just begs to be the song for a movie trailer. Maybe some sort of adventure movie?

Anyways, none of this stuff is in the near future, really, except for the using songs as writing inspiration, which I am actively doing, but is much less obvious.

But one day, Fridays at Five might be a thing.

D&D — Campaign as Storytelling

Hello again, friends. It’s been a while since I’ve talked about Dungeons & Dragons directly (or at least not something that had a specific correlation to my Aleor campaign), and I’ve been having some thoughts I’d like to share.

Obviously, I’m a storyteller. I’ve been writing for about a decade now, so I theoretically know my way around a plot. It’s been interesting to explore plot development through what I would consider to be my first real experience as a dungeon master. Aleor isn’t the first campaign setting I’ve done, but it was made to be in the world of D&D, and is built to be a ‘world’ much more than a place for stories to exist in.

The problem with that last part is that I still want those stories to happen. I have visions. Dreams, if you will, of amazing scenes and climactic moments to share with my players. Before the campaign even started I had an inkling of an encounter involving the three party members fighting alongside (or as?) good-aligned dragons against a big bad. Part of the problem with cool ideas like that is that I can still do that in this campaign, but the location that encounter would happen in hasn’t even been mentioned in passing to the players. As in, they aren’t geographically close enough to have even heard of that place.

Now, I know you’re just going to yell at me to move that encounter closer if I want it so damn bad, but there’s the rub. Aleor is a world full of cultures, and that location was built with that encounter in mind, and simply moving three powerful dragons to another place in the world just because it is more conveniently timed on my part would ruin the entire pacing of the story. They are only level 5 at the moment, after all. Level 5 characters don’t get to be allied with powerful dragons.

But the thing that frustrates me quite a bit is that the current arc of the campaign—the story they are wading through right now—has some really cool moments and scenes I’ve been looking forward to for months, and I want nothing more than to skip to the good parts. But I can’t. Things need to take time in order to make the narrative flow well, and in order to give those moments the most impact.

It’s a little sad, because I obviously want to make the “in-between” sessions and encounters interesting and meaningful. I’m very leery of turning the campaign into “The Encounter of the Week”, just stringing combats together and arbitrarily throwing suitable creatures at the party to fill in the time.

I don’t care what’s guarding the door, but I can’t wait to reveal what’s behind the door. Problem is, if I don’t make that guard interesting (not powerful—interesting), then the reveal will just be neat rather than amazing.

D&D should be about the fun moments you create and the stories you tell afterward. I’m trying so hard to tell interesting stories, I just get so impatient!