An Anniversary, —and a Resolution Thursday, Oct 18 2007 

In which our intrepid hero looks to the past and makes plans for the future.

Last Saturday marked the close of my 22nd year of roleplaying. On October 13, 1985, I rolled up my first character for a campaign that ran after school at Belconnen Public Library—an elf named Elroy who braved the horrors of The Keep on the Borderlands—and things have never been the same since.

Of course, I haven’t been playing—or GMing—all that much lately. A combination of time constraints, stupid intra-group politics and, well, plain burnout have contributed to this.

Plus, I’ve fallen into a number of bad habits of late, like sitting down in the evenings to watch TV for its own sake. I just sat through an episode of Ghost Whisperer. I can’t stand Jennifer Love Hewitt; she has all the range of a threadbare sock.

Formerly, I would’ve used that time to read or to write, or to plan the next session’s gaming. Now I spend it trying to block out So You Think You Can Dance?

Often, I watch these things with Mim K/W. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think I can fool myself anymore into thinking that spending hours staring at shows in which I have no interest counts as quality time.

So I’m going to put myself on a TV diet. I like Mythbusters and House and NCIS (even though I think Director Shepard needs one in the head and two in the chest). I like the occasional documentary. Everything else is just wasting my time and making me dumber.

The first thing I should do is get on top of my blogging. About 10% of the articles I start never seem to get finished. This 10% generally take the most time and research to write, and I figure it’s probably the most interesting 10% of the articles I write.

I have at least half a dozen entries with extensive Open Game Content, sitting around half-written, for instance. Given a choice between reading six short articles bitching about something I’d just read on a newspaper site, and six long articles with lots of gaming goodies—well, I guess our tastes would run in the same vein.

It’s easy to complain, but much harder to create. But it’s also much more rewarding to bring something new to the scene—both for the reader and the guy at the keyboard.

Part of this decision came to me as I wrote yesterday’s post. It reminded me of one of my earliest posts, also about Canberra. Back when I started this blog, I had high ideals: I wanted to write something that would be worth reading. Instead, I’ve been lazy.

Another of my as-yet unfinished articles deals with my opinions on Facebook. In short, sending me pictures of beer is sweet and all, but I have better things to do with my time. There are a few things Facebook does well, but a lot that it does badly—and relationship management is just one of them.

I also need to spend more time getting another roleplaying campaign up and running. I’ve promised various players that I’d run something soon for the last couple of years, but I just keep putting it off. A lot of this has been work-related, but a lot of it’s been because I felt swamped by going through the motions. I spend a ridiculous amount of time doing things because they’re expected of me, and since I enjoy roleplaying, it tends to get put on the backburner.

Screw that for a joke. I’m sick of soothing everyone else’s piddling anxieties. It’s about time I dealt with my own, and took some time out for myself. I love writing, I love painting, and turning lumps of lead-free pewter into works of beauty, and creating worlds for friends to stumble through. I need a creative outlet.

So, I’m restructuring my life, and that part of it that extends onto the Internet. Next time I write something here it’ll be something worth reading—and if not, please leave a comment to bawl me out!

    The Kingdom of Canberra Wednesday, Oct 17 2007 

    In which our intrepid hero tells of the mythical lands of his birth.

    Once upon a time, a handful of workers used to cross a minefield and navigate a small gap in the barbed wire to labour daily in the US enclave of Guantánamo Bay. As the sun set, they’d file back through the opening to return to their homes in the Republic of Cuba.

    My hometown is a bit like that.

    Canberra, on the one hand, is the capital city of Australia. But it’s also the largest town in the lands southeast of Sydney. The two rarely meet, and then only briefly; by dusk, the two towns are separate once more. The parliamentarians and their staff, flown home on Thursday night, never experience Friday-night shopping or the calm silence of a Canberra weekend.

    The locals file daily across the imaginary border to their government jobs, but once night falls, they return to their homes, or stop by one of the pubs which politely eschews outsiders.

    The “other” Canberra—the one that only locals see—is a unique, bizarre, almost magical place, largely untouched by the troubles of other cities.

    Visitors rarely get to see this place; it was there I took Mim K/W last weekend. I may’ve left for Sydney some 14 years ago, but fortunately, the Kingdom of Canberra—for once it had a King—remains open to me by birthright.

    Outsiders barrel down the Federal Highway, missing the tiny village of Collector. Local guidebooks tell of its bushranger history, but make little mention of the sculptures north of town, outré forms like set pieces from a Brian Yuzna movie.

    They miss the ghost tales of the flat and eerie Lake George, where, locals have it, boaters disappear with alarming frequency.

    They learn nothing of the Government’s plot to usurp the Griffins’ geomantic designs for the nation’s hub by seizing Capital Hill for New Parliament House.

    Nor do they hear about the tragic death of a young girl during the demolition of the old Canberra Hospital—where I was born—to make way for the new National Museum, or that Government House is haunted after all—but not by the ghost mentioned in the guidebooks.

    They pass by the Air Disaster Memorial on the way from Canberra Airport with nary a shiver, unaware that the screams of dying passengers can be heard on rainy nights.

    Outsiders think of Canberra as a city without a soul. True, Canberra is a place where nothing happens—unless you make it happen. It’s a place where generations have been born and died, have moved away and returned; its soul is built from the dreams and whimsies of true Canberrans, and closed to those too quotidian to comprehend.

    The Kingdom of Canberra is a Hy Brasil in the autumn fog, a dreamland of frigid winters and searing sun. The Kingdom and its surrounds are home to dying myths and those that linger on. History becomes fable and lives on in stories told in tones inaudible to the outside ear.

    During WWII, the 14th Btn Volunteer Defence Corps perched in a nook overlooking the slopes of Clyde Mountain. Charges were bored into the hillside to protect the road from Canberra to the sea from a Japanese advance that never came. When peace was declared, they disappeared from history, leaving behind only a mysterious hole peeking beneath the impenetrable forests.

    To this day, carloads of children honk their horns and wave as they pass the site, a courtesy to the hole’s new inhabitant, two hours by car from Canberra:

    That’s right. Sometime after peace was declared and the soldiers returned to their homes, local lore tells us that Winnie the Pooh moved in. Or maybe he always lived there. Whatever the story, Pooh still dwells on the slopes of Clyde Mountain, on the road to the sea, accepting gifts from well-wishing passersby:

    As you can see, Pooh has his own mailbox and his friends have left toys, from Tigger to the heffalump that waits outside his door. They scrawl their names on the lintel to let Pooh know they popped in whilst he was out.

    Such is the magic here.

    Last weekend, Mim K/W experienced this magic for the first time in her life. And she fell in love with the mysterious land concealed beneath the polite but staid Capital Country.

    Soon, perhaps, she’ll be one of us. And then the Kingdom of Canberra will live on in another heart.

      Four Portraits Thursday, Jun 28 2007 

      In which our intrepid hero indulges in a bit of artistic vanity.

      Mim K/W has been a bit nostalgic of late or, as she puts it, “sooky”. She grew up in Tumut and has been pining for the country. I don’t think I let on, but I still get a bit homesick for Canberra, myself.

      This current longing for the place led me to root around in the garage last week, looking for an authentic piece of Canberriana (if there’s such a word), one of my more prized possessions, that I wanted to share with Mim. But more on that later.

      I don’t generally like having my photo taken, but I’ll settle for a portrait from time to time. I have four:

      This, I called Elf-Portrait and it’s from 1998. I think I did it as a quick sketch for a D&D character. There’s a lot of cool art in the RPG genre, but I think that most of it’s a bit too conservative. This sketch is crude, but it’s also a bit confronting, compared to the usual stuff you see.

      My late grandmother used to complain that she didn’t have any pictures of me, so after much argument, I finally relented. (She always was a stubborn old cow—and I mean that with affection.)

      I used to work in Haymarket (home to Sydney’s Chinatown) and I have to say I love the place, although not as much since the 2000 Olympics; a lot of the charm has been scoured away, and Dixon St has become the stalking ground for aggressive spruikers.

      It’s a bit like Kings Cross, except that here, they pressure you into restaurants. And I’m not sure that the now-constant Falun Dafa presence does much for the ambience, either.

      Anyway, I had this pastel portrait done about a week before Christmas in 1999. I’m not even sure if the guy’s there anymore—so many people moved on when the Games hit town.

      Back in the days when I still had a static webpage, this self-portrait used to get fanmail. I think it’s my favourite of all the portraits, and I like it so much that I now use it for avatar icons whenever I need one.

      It’s called Missing K and I painted it in 2003 for my then-girlfriend Kathryn; she still has it. It was a long distance relationship (1400km or 875 miles) and I only ever saw her every second weekend.

      The last is actually a few months older than Missing K.

      Canberra’s schooling system is a bit different to most other places in Australia, in that Years 11 and 12 are a separate institution to high school—it’s referred to as “college”. My best friend in college was a guy named Raami, and although I’ve since lost touch, I did keep in contact for a few years.

      I visited Canberra in 2003 and was sitting outside with Raami and his girlfriend Clare at King O’Malley’s when a homeless man walked up to us. His name was Daniel McFadden; he was a friend of Clare’s and is better known to locals as “Filthy”.

      For a nominal fee, he offered to paint this portrait in ballpoint ink.

      I last saw him in 2005 (during this trip) and as far as I know, he’s still wandering around Civic making a living from his art. This guy has run across him, there’s a thread on RiotACT about him and my friend Matt also has a “Filthy” on his wall.

      I’ve often said that you’re not really a Canberran unless you drink at a real pub (like the Pot or, well, Filthy’s—forget the the Grail) and unless you have a genuine “Filthy” in your collection.

      Unfortunately, by the time I dug mine out of the garage (it’s been there since I moved house, two-and-a-bit years ago), the silverfish had gotten to it. Then again, that might just make it more authentic.

      Disneyland for the Relentlessly Paranoid Thursday, Jun 16 2005 

      In which our intrepid hero journeys to the place of his birth.

      It all began at the Crystal Palace on Friday night, over a nice, quiet drink or four. I stepped outside to answer my phone, and returned to discover that my flatmate Simon had drafted me to spend the long weekend at our friend Matt’s place in Canberra.

      Sometime around 3.30pm the next day, I found myself on a coach, winding through the back streets of Sydney, trying very hard not to pay attention as the driver dictated the fundamentals of operating a flush toilet. Apparently, this is standard procedure.

      Over the next couple of hours, I chatted intermittently with the 30-something blonde beside me. That night, in a parallel universe somewhere, a parallel Dave got laid.

      The next morning—Sunday—Canberra proper began.

      Canberra is not the nation’s capital. It is not a tourist destination. It is not a sleepy little town with infamously icy winters and scorchingly hot summers. It is a reality terrorist’s wet dream. Pavements talk; beggars lecture on metaphysics; geomantically inspired streets curl about the minds and souls of the city’s inmates.

      After a particularly intense hollandaise-induced rapture at Gus’ Café, I wandered over to Jolimont to see off fellow expat Bel, and to contribute to her steadily expanding collection of interesting small change.

      And thence down memory lane to Electric Shadows for What the Bleep Do We Know!? Nothing remotely like Electric Shadows exists in Sydney; nowhere can you find a cinema with a foyerful of hardened Bleep junkies. Not even Dendy’s slavering horde of pretentious consciousness-expansion trendies can compare, for Canberra’s cinerati seriously grok the film’s message in a way that Sydneysiders generally cannot.

      And that message is: Reality is an infinitely cool and interesting place. Shut up and think for yourself for a change.

      Simon, opted out in favour of Revenge of the Sith. Simon is from Sydney.

      Yeah, whatever. Get over it.

      As I waited for him to emerge, I had the fortune to bump into Daniel "Filthy" McFadden, local underground celebrity and guerilla portraitist. Filthy is another peculiarly Canberran object: the homeless scholar.

      Shortly thereafter, Simon headed off to meet his girlfriend. Matt and I decided to meet up with a mutual friend at ANU to pursue a quintessential Canberra Queen’s Birthday weekend activity, namely, getting drunk and blowing things up. And, hopefully, carousing with beautiful, intelligent, intoxicated members of the opposite sex.

      When we got to the bus interchange, however, I realised that, in the dozen or so years since I left for Sydney, Sunday services had not improved. The last service to ANU had left some half-hour previously.

      I inhaled a VB at the Labor Club, thoughts abuzz with murder: parallel Dave must die.

      A couple more beers at the Lighthouse followed, and Matt and I launched into a discussion on graphic design theory, which lasted well into the early hours of Monday morning.

      Monday began uneventfully enough: a late breakfast at Oporto, and then onto the coach back to Sydney. Simon had decided to stay a few more hours and get a lift back with his girlfriend, but the seats had been booked in his name (on Matt’s credit card); nevertheless, Canberran apathy shone through, and I was allowed on without so much as an ID check.

      I found myself seated next to a Hongky princess, and an iceberg at that: 90% of her mass lay below the waterline; her butt took up two-thirds of our two seats combined.

      I was not to dangle over the armrest for long, though: ten kilometres north of Goulburn, the bus’ gearbox seized. I spent the next two hours listening to the life story of the same excessively informative driver that I’d had on my inbound journey. Sure, opportunities to leave earlier had presented themselves, but I didn’t want to risk sharing my seat with Bargearse again.

      (Yes, I’m picking on the poor girl, but she could’ve at least crammed like everyone else on the coach, and let me have a little more of my own seat. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s being arsed out by other passengers.)

      I finally arrived home at around 8pm, exhausted. I scoured the house for food, finding two packs of instant macaroni, but no cigarettes—off to the convenience store, then.

      Returning with my prize, Simon and his girlfriend pulled into the driveway, nearly running me down.

      As I stared, dazed, into the headlights, as parallel Dave hanged dead by his belt from a hotel-room doorknob, I thought to myself: Well, it could’ve been worse.