Blog Update

I completely missed posting last week and haven’t posted anything this week. This post is not going to be as substantive as usual, unfortunately (I’ll try to get a substantive post up over the weekend!), but I wanted to let my readers know what’s going on and what to expect in the near future.

NaNoWriMo is not a go.
Last November, I made very good progress on the first draft of my first novel set in Avar Narn by participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I had hoped to participate again this year to get the first draft finished. Unfortunately–at this point–I’ve made the decision not to participate this year.

K and I are still waiting on a placement of kiddos, which could happen at any moment now but (obviously) hasn’t happened yet. I’m concerned that, as November nears, I’ll need to be focusing more of my time on the kids when they arrive. As much as I’m yearning to get the first draft (and then revisions) done on this novel, it simply must take a back seat to the children and their needs.

Additionally, K and I are purchasing a house and will be closing and moving around November. K’s got a lot going on with her worklife right now and into the near future, so I intend to take on the better part of the moving efforts.

That doesn’t leave much room in my schedule to try to fit in 1667 words a day in November, so I’ve decided to give myself a little break on that front.

This does not mean I won’t be writing–just probably not as intensely as I would be if participating in NaNoWriMo. I’ve been spending time working on (and reworking) some of the setting information for Avar Narn (mythology, legends and history, religion, geography, etc.) that will be the basis for (hopefully) many short stories and novels in the future. Expect some posts related to this “background” information.

I’ve got one Avarian short story currently underway (though I’m not sure I’ll end up happy enough with it that it will get posted) and plotting in the works for at least half-a-dozen more. I have more plotting to do for the rest of the novel (and some changes in the part that’s already written, which I’ve been slowly working through) and I hope to get some writing done towards the novel in the near future.

I had said not long ago that I’d be working on some sci-fi short stories (and a few are in their infancy), but Avar Narn is my truest passion and that’s where I’ve decided to really focus.

On Publishing
I’ve been thinking a good bit about how to approach publishing some of my work. That’s a daunting set of decisions, and I’m not fully decided, but I am currently leaning toward some form of self-publishing. While I’d love to have a large readership, I’d rather follow some advice from Joss Whedon. On talking about making TV shows, he reportedly said (and I’m paraphrasing), “I’d rather make something that a few people have to watch than something that a lot of people want to watch.”

For me, the major issue (other than perseverance through mountains of rejection letters, which I could live with) is control over my projects, staying true to the story for its sake rather than caving to market demands, and taking things in the direction I want them to go. This likely means a smaller audience and less money (to the extent that there will ever be any money in my writing, which is not a guarantee) but more personal freedom. It is a quirk of my personality to prioritize my independence and doing things my way over most other advantages–for better or for worse.

This may merit a full post, and I’d love to hear the thoughts of any readers who are themselves published (I know there are a few of you out there!).

On Theology
One of the reasons I failed to get a post out last week is that I’ve recently been teaching for a Sunday school class at the church. I love to teach and its an honor to have been asked to teach by people I so deeply respect and admire. We did two weekends on the history and polity issues confronting the United Methodist Church relating to our position on homosexuality (and the LGBTQI community in general) and are now doing two weekends on the Trinity.

There are certainly some posts in the works based on this research and some other reading/studying I’ve done recently. I’ll of course have a post on the Trinity in the near future (and why it’s such an amazing aspect of orthodox Christiany faith), but I’ve also got some ideas kicking around about theories of salvation, about William of Ockham and his theology, about (modern) Gnosticism and more.

On Reviews
I’ve finished a few Great Courses on medieval history recently and I’m currently in the midst of one on Imperial China (which, as K will attest, has really gotten me geeking out a fair deal, though perhaps no more than usual). I may do some reviews on these sometime soon.

I’m also working through a few theology books which I may have some comments on.

There are a number of video games either recently out or that will be out in the next few months that I’d, one, like to play, and, two, like to share some thoughts about. The Pathfinder: Kingmaker isometric game just released; it both takes me to an RPG setting and ruleset that’s always interested me (though that I’ve found far too complex and, ultimately, flawed to play on the tabletop) and to the isometric RPGs of the 90’s that were the mother’s milk of my early (digital) gaming life. The last installment of the recent Tomb Raider trilogy is also out and I’m definitely interested in following up on the first two very-well-done games of that series.

Of course, Red Dead Redemption 2 and Call of Cthulhu will be out soon, both of which I’m excited about. I was in law school about the time the first Red Dead Redemption came out, and I distinctly remember sitting with a judge in his late-sixties or early-seventies at lunch during a summer internship as he ranted about how great the game was. He wasn’t wrong.

On Roleplaying Games
As those of you who are interested in such things may have noticed, most of my recent posts on the truest-and-highest art of gaming–the tabletop RPG–have been about the Cortex Plus/Prime system. I’ll be continuing to post about my Shadowrun conversion for those rules.

I have always dreamed of an RPG to go along with Avar Narn. I’ve run several games set in the world over the years (using rulesets as diverse as The Riddle of Steel, Cortex, Fate, and D&D), but my ultimate desire is to build a roleplaying game specifically designed for the unique nature of the world (said every RPG designer with a pet setting ever, I know). While I love “generic” roleplaying games like Fate and Cortex for a wide variety of play, I am also a believer that systems specifically designed for particular settings are usually better, because the mechanics can reinforce the setting and vice-versa.

One of the most annoying things I see in D&D is the assumption by some players that the rules of D&D are the immutable physics of any setting using that ruleset rather than the rules serving the setting (and being subordinate to both normal and narrative logic).

Both Fate and Cortex intend to be rulesets that bridge the gap between the completely generic ruleset and the one-setting ruleset by using modularity and a toolbox approach that encourages customization. But even this, I think, will not be sufficient for my purposes.

I see games like The One Ring with mechanics that really bring forward the themes and motif of the game as a whole–not to mention indy games like Dogs in the Vineyard, Houses of the Blooded and Torchbearer that really push the envelope of rules for narrative games or RPGs (however you parse those two out)–and I am inspired. We’ll see what comes of it, so expect posts as I struggle through issues of design and ask for feedback (and, hopefully, some eventual assistance with playtesting).

I had mentioned a ways back that I was working on a massive campaign set in the Warhammer 40k universe. That is on a backburner, to be sure, but still in the pipeline.

I’d like to do some review of the newer Warhammer Fantasy and 40K rulesets in the future as well.

Reader Involvement
In case it isn’t apparent, thinking critically and imaginatively and then writing about those thoughts. Maybe it’s a disease–I’m just not happy if I’m not doing it, and I find a lot of fulfilment just from writing and from posting here.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to know that people find some usefulness in what I write! I’d love to have more comments, requests for topics, questions to follow up on from posts and more reader involvement in general! Drop me a line, even if it’s just to tell me what you think of the blog in general–or if you think there’s something I could improve on. And invite your friends!

Conclusion
Well, that’s a long list of things I’d like to do, perhaps more than can reasonably be accomplished. But it seems worth trying to do anyway, so we’ll see what comes of it.

Going a Little Crazy

As of today, K and I have been on the active list for our second foster placement for two weeks. The suspense is killing us.

The first time we became an active foster family, we had a placement within three days of going active. That being our only experience of the process, we’re chomping at the bit for something to happen.

We could get the call at any time, so all of our plans must currently be held in “tentative” status and every decision has a “what will we do if we get a placement call” component to it.

But we’ve only had one call for a potential placement, and that was the very day we became active again. It was a potential placement that just wasn’t a good fit for us, so we did the hard thing all of our clinicians, foster trainers and the rest of our support group has recommended to us–we passed and waited for something that will be a good fit for us. I can see how that becomes more and more difficult as time goes on and the desire to have kids in the home now continues to crescendo.

It’s a feeling of constantly being on edge–a strange combination of the night before Christmas and the night before that test you really should have studied for–but didn’t. It’s not that I don’t feel well-prepared, though, it’s quite the opposite. The source of tension is that the kids I imagine being in my home soon, falling in love with, are an amorphous blur in my imagination. We have, at present, no way of knowing what the specific challenges will be, what little miracles will greet us each day, what sorts of things will start me pulling out my hair. As is most often the case, it’s the not knowing that’s tough.

All of that is to say two things, I suppose: (1) as I hinted at back in July, there’s soon to be much more to say on this part of the blog, and (2) if I’ve been less active, or more distracted lately, at least now you have some explanation if nothing else.

On the other hand, maybe I should be trying to write more to stay sane–that usually helps. If only I could get my thoughts to stand still!

Soon

Since K has graduated from seminary (I’m so proud!), we’ve been working on opening our home again for a foster placement. We’ve redone our necessary training, updated our homestudy, and we’re in the process of jumping through the last few hoops to become active again and ready for a placement.

It’s strange to think that it’s been nearly two years (almost to the day) since our first placement. To go from no children to two to none again in a matter of months and then to go for so long without any kids in the house is somewhat surreal. I keep having to remind myself what it’s like to have children to care for–I keep thinking about returning to some old hobbies that I know I’ll have no time for in the near future.

But that’s an easy trade–we’re both so looking forward to being parents again! There just is nothing like it.

With a little luck, we’ll be open for a placement before the end of the month. Once that occurs, anything could happen. We’re sticking with our original placement parameters (licensed for up to three children, but we’ll probably only take two to begin with, ages 0-9 and hopefully a sibling group to keep them from being separated). We’re still open for emergency placement and “legal risk” foster placements, so we could go through several rounds before we get children we are able to adopt.

We’ve made peace with that; our resolve to help children and their families regardless of the outcome for us has only strengthened.

Hopefully, this will not mean that I post to the blog less–after all, I’ll have more to write about. Stay tuned, exciting developments are around the corner!

Fiction & Fatherhood Update and Roadmap

Most of what I’ve posted about lately has been theological in nature, so I thought it might be good to give some of my readers more interested in other aspects of the blog an update and information about what to expect in the future. Here we go:

Fiction

I’m currently working on the following for my fiction:

Avar Narn Novel

By the end of NaNoWriMo last November, I’d put on paper what I estimate to be about 40% or so of the novel. I’ve been editing and slowly rewriting scenes and plot lines for this portion of the book and have the intention of attempting to finish the first draft during NaNoWriMo this year. I may be looking for early readers of drafts, so contact me if that’s something you’re interested in.

Short Stories

I’d like to put some more short stories on the blog to give readers a better feel for my writing. I’ve got one currently under way set in the world of the Worldbuilding Example Series. Not currently sure whether most of what I work on in the near future will fall into that setting or into Avar Narn; we’ll just have to see. I’m also not sure whether I’ll try to submit the short stories anywhere before posting them here–that may depend on how good I feel they are. Again, if anyone out there is interested in critiquing and helping to edit some of these, shoot me a message.

Dark Inheritance

I’m a pretty big fan of the Warhammer 40K universe. While the logic of the setting is highly questionable at times, it’s a science fantasy setting I spent a lot of time in while I was younger, I respect the depth of accreted material over the years since, and it’s just plain fun. Also, there’s a new 40K roleplaying game (Wrath & Glory) due out about August, and I’m excited about that.

Dark Inheritance will be an expansive campaign for Wrath & Glory. It will be posted here in PDF format for any gamemaster who wants to run it for their players. I’m excited about this project as a different form of writing (for public consumption) than I’m used to, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to be writing full story arcs for the RPGs I run rather than building stories on the fly in the last minutes before it’s time to game.

Since the ruleset won’t be out until August or so, the campaign won’t be published until after that. But I’m working now on the story arcs, flow of the campaign and locales and dramatis personae, so it hopefully won’t take me long to add the rules-based information after I have it in my grubby hands.

Cortex Prime Shadowrun Ruleset

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I’m a big fan of the Shadowrun setting. Not so much the rules. I am, however, a big fan of the Cortex Plus system and its soon-to-be-released successor, Cortex Prime. So, I’m working on a ruleset for Shadowun using the toolkit that Cortex provides.

This has been done before by others, but I’ve never seen a conversion done that I really liked, so I’m doing my own. Cortex Prime has also not been fully released yet, but I expect that it has enough in common with Cortex Plus that only minor tweaks will be required after I have the new rules.

The Cortex Prime kickstarter said to expect a first draft of the rules in the next week or two nearly three weeks ago, so I assume I’ll be able to wrap this project up sooner rather than later.

Yes, that’s a lot of projects. Yes, if I focused on one at a time I’d get at least something to you faster. But that’s not how my creative side works, so it is what it is.

Fatherhood

Tonight, K and I begin several days of refreshing our training as foster parents. We are currently scheduled to renew our home study on July 5th. If all goes according to plan, we should be fully licensed for a new placement shortly after that.

We’re not yet decided on the timing of a new placement, but I would expect that we will take one sometime between late July and early September.

When there are kiddos back in the house, I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to write about in the currently-on-hiatus “Fatherhood” section of the blog.

Homecoming

It is eleven-thirty on a Wednesday morning. I am at home, having gone to work earlier today even than this morning person cares to. My career obligations at a satisfactory point to wait until tomorrow, I sit at the chair in front of my computer, an old piece inherited by K and made from quality wood worn smooth by hands running across it, arms resting upon it and socked feet perched upon its lower supports, the padding where I sit long collapsed to a thin suggestion of cushion. It strikes me vaguely as a chair-shaped worry stone, smoothed by time and comforting to the touch. But that’s a matter of my perception more than the state of the chair itself.

Today, Abe and Bess embarked on their first visitation with bio-mom since their removal. A case worker from CPS kindly picked them up while K was at home and I was working and will be returning with them soon. So I sit here, typing to escape from worrying about what happens next.

Tomorrow, they will have been with us for five weeks. Time they’ve spent getting settled in, coming to trust us, starting to feel safe. On the one hand, I cannot imagine what their mother has been through this past month, walking around with two empty spaces following her where children had been. She should get to see the kids, and they should get to see her. K and I long before this process began decided we would support visitation with biological family during and even after the process of fostering and adopting, so long as it’s healthy for the kids.

As with so many things we think about intellectually and completely fail to really grasp until we’re in the moment, my thoughts are selfishly not on the good that will come from the meeting with bio-mom, the potential establishment of some sense of continuity and the reduction in long-term trauma that can come from the maintenance of relationships where appropriate, but instead about where my relationships will be when the kids return. The work K and I have done in loving and caring for Abe and Bess, their development of love for us, will it all be dashed against the rocks of remembrance?

In my heart I know that it’s foolish to think so, that the belief that love is a zero-sum game we play with the world is a falsehood that leads so many of us astray. It is not K and I against bio-mom, and only our making it so will push things in that direction. The insecurity I feel now is about me, not about the kids. It’s about my selfish desire to claim ownership over the children. There’s no place for that here, and no good to come from it. So instead, as I write, I try to use these words to center myself, to remember what I’m about and who I want to be to these children. This post is my pseudo-self-therapy of sorts.

And it seems to have worked. I feel ready for the kids to come home, done worrying about what will happen and ready to constructively start thinking about what I can do to make things easiest for them when they arrive.

Thrown a Curve Ball

K and I met with our DePelchin Clinician and our CPS Case Worker this past Wednesday afternoon. In general, the meeting went well, and it’s clear that the kids have settled in, feel safe and are happy. But our CPS worker threw us a curve ball–a doozy of a curve ball.

When this placement was first pitched to us, CPS had told DePelchin (and thus DePelchin had told us) one story about the reason the kids had been put in CPS custody. As part of that reason, we were told that the parents had reported that they had no family members available to care for the children. Since K and I are fostering with the goal of adoption, that seemed like a lower risk that the children go back to the parents or family than could be the case. When the children arrived later that day, we got a different story about the reason for the kids’ placement with CPS. That was annoying, but we had committed and weren’t about to change our minds about this placement simply because wires had gotten crossed somewhere.

On Wednesday, though, the CPS worker told us thata not one, but two family members were trying to go through the process to have the children placed with them. For the time being, this would be for interim care while the case proceeds through the court, but these family members would also have priority over us for adoption if parental rights were terminated.

These family members will have to go through all of the training, review, background check and other process that we had to in order to be cleared for possession of the kids. We have no idea of the likelihood that either could actually successfully complete the licensing process, but now we have a huge “what if?” placed in our way and the risk of us not being able to move all the way to adoption has greatly increased. To be sure, we had nothing close to a sure thing to begin with, but the new information shot into me fear, trepidation and anxiety. Understandably, I think, I’m angry and upset about CPS’s willingness and ability to share accurate information.

How much does this really change? Practically speaking, very little for the time being. I have fallen in love with Abe and Bess and I’m going to treat them as my own for as long as I can. What has changed, I suppose, is the realization of a certain conflict related to my own parental feelings. I now find myself unapologetically praying that the kids’s biological parents and family will fail so that they can be my forever family. Make no mistake, I am ready and willing to do whatever is necessary for the best interests of the kids, including letting them go if needs be, but I’m also pretty convinced that K and I are their best interest.

This potential struggle of conscience is something we’d anticipated early in this process, and I thought I’d come to terms with it quite some time back. What I didn’t anticipate was the fierce protectiveness and attachment of parenthood that settles deep in your heart and gut and latches on. This puts me in a weird possession, but perhaps one every parent feels–that unrepentant resolution that, if it’s the kids or someone/something else in conflict, it’s the kids every time. I’m not settled on the morality of this position, its righteousness or its place in my theology. Not by a long shot. For now, all I can do is describe how I feel as I sort through things.

Just Give Her the Damn Goldfish!

I should have expected that having children would be a study in the human need for control. Our training for foster care on trust-based relational intervention (TBRI), which K and I found very helpful, made sure that we understood that there would be issues of control and authority in raising children (how could there not be?). That said, the intellectual knowledge of the thing and the experience are two things separated by a sometimes expansive gulf.

And so, it should have been no surprise that I’d have to spend some time thinking about my own need for control—both in the microcosm of my relationships with my children and in regards to life in general.

We are not allowed to withhold food from the children as a tool of compliance or discipline—nor do I think that doing so would be constructive, effective or beneficial. But that doesn’t stop food from sometimes being a struggle. There are very few things that we’ve discovered that Bess doesn’t like to eat, which is a blessing in and of itself. Sometimes though, she tells us that she wants one thing and then changes her mind, or gets served something we know she likes and she demands something else. This sort of a struggle is frustrating, to say the least.

There are some things we don’t make available to Bess—we don’t give her soda (she came to us already familiar with drinking straight from the can) and we very much limit her access to sweets (making me quite a hypocrite given my own sweet tooth, but it’s a hypocrisy I can live with). Otherwise, when she’s hungry we feed her and she gets to eat until she’s full. We serve her a lot of fruit, yogurt, milk, cheese and other things, and now that she’s settled in a bit more we’re trying to focus the offerings to be as healthy as possible. But sometimes, she just wants Goldfish, and nothing else will do.

At times like this, my initial instinct is to refuse her. I took the time to make her something else to eat, and she ought to eat that, dammit! Both the training we received and common sense dictate that this is not a fight worth having. So why do I feel a need to “win” that fight rather than avoiding it altogether?

Concerned about my own parenting skills, I started reflecting on this. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s about my own need for a semblance of control. Suddenly adding two kids to the picture has thrown everything in disarray—my schedule revolves around them and I have somehow to find the time to make a living and get some writing done. There’s not a great sense of control in my life overall at this juncture—though is there anything but an illusion of control in our lives ever, really?

I think that my desire to win arguments rather than focusing on the important stuff is about me trying to work out my own issues. Our parenting class instructor was wise to tell us to be on the lookout for exactly this sort of thing.

Perhaps above all, I tend to think of myself as someone who is more self-aware than most and, to a great degree, in control of himself to the extent that one can be. This experience has given me doubts about that self-conception.

At the end of the day, though, if I don’t learn from these experiences, I will certainly never have the kind of self-control I think that I do. So, I’m trying (“trying” being the operative word) to get over myself. If it’s not a matter of health and safety or some other significant issue, there’s not much reason for me to fight with Bess about it. Especially not so that I can feel I have some tiny amount of control in my life—there’s simply no there there (to borrow from Gertrude Stein).

When she wants to put on her own shoes, fine. When she wants things a certain way, we can do that. And when all she wants to eat is Goldfish—provided she’s generally still eating healthy—I’m just gonna give her the damn Goldfish. We’ll all be better for it, I think.

Fatherhood

Our housekeeper came yesterday. K’s been trying to work half-days to prolong her time off since I’m off work for a few weeks, so I had the kids by myself.

She kept calling me “Mr. Mom” because I was tending the children. I tried to shrug it off—I’m spending a lot of time lately learning to choose my battles. But it really bothered me.

You see, I’m not a babysitter; I’m not a guy playing at being a mom. I’m a father. That means caring for the children, spending time with them, being present, and doing all of the not-so-pleasant things that come with parenthood. It’s not a burden only for the female sex, nor are the privileges and the accomplishments of parenthood reserved for mothers.

We often say, “It takes a village,” to raise children, but we seem to mean that it takes a village of women. Predetermined societal roles and expectations do not appeal to me much; in fact, I find many of them detrimental to living life in ways that would be more meaningful, fulfilling and joy-inspiring.

I am pleased by the prospect of more stay-at-home dads in the world, both because it empowers women to be the breadwinner in a family and allows men who are excellent caregivers to take on that role within the family. This arrangement shatters pretenses of bygone ages that a man’s role is to make money and a woman’s is to bear and raise children. The fall of these societal obstacles allows us to be more complete people, to use all of our skills and fulfill more of the life-roles to which we’ve been called.

Even more, we live in an economic era where single-income families are less and less feasible—particularly if both spouses want to have work-life balance. Y’know, that phrase, “work-life balance” is a very telling one, when you think about it. There’s work and there’s life, and never the twain shall meet it seems to say. I’m not sure that that’s entirely true, but it’s something worth keeping in mind.

Neither does a such a gender-defined set of roles allow us to understand same-sex couples or other non-cisgendered parents in any respectful (or even truly understanding) way. My experience tells me that anyone can be a great parent. Sure there are aspects of personality or expertise in certain skills that make some better suited than others, but neither of these have anything to do with sex or gender.

I consider myself a pretty traditionally masculine guy. Not the most masculine to be sure—I’m not much impressed by bodybuilding or machismo and such—but I do fit a lot of traditional male roles: I like the outdoors; I like to participate in martial sports; I’m a “identify and fix the problem, let’s not talk about it too much” sort of guy.

Gender definitions aside, I could see myself being a stay-at-home dad. If I could make a living writing and spend much of the rest of my time focused on the kids, I would find that very fulfilling. I like practicing law, and I do a lot of good work for people about which I can be proud. But pondering big thoughts and writing about them is my passion, and I’m very excited about the role I get to play in raising our children. To combine both would be amazing. Realistic? I’m not sure; making a living as a writer is extremely tough and not necessarily based on skill. But maybe it could happen.

My own desires aside, let’s keep in mind that parenthood is a calling for both parents; and our expectations of parents should follow suit with this: we should both expect fathers to be active parents and then not treat them as second-class surrogates for mothers.

 

Ask and You Shall Receive

No sooner had I published my post about our false alarm earier this week, than my phone rang. One of our placement workers on the line; they had another potential placement for us. This time, a 3-month old boy (We’ll call him “Abe”) and a 2-year old girl (we’ll call her “Bess”), just taken into custody by Child Protective Services today. We didn’t have much information to go on about the situation they’d come from, but we were ready to take the plunge. A quick conference between K and I and we were back on the phone with the placement worker.

She submitted us for consideration for the placement and we waited  an hour and a half that seemed to drag on forever. We got a call back just before noon that we’d been accepted and that the kids were coming to us that day. I rushed home from work to make sure everything was in order. K joined me sooner thereafter and we tried to busy ourself as we waited for the call from CPS that Abe and Bess were on the way.

They arrived around dinner time Thursday evening. After signing all of the CPS paperwork, our time as parents had begun.

I had intended to post something on Thursday, but I found no time to do so. Here we are, two mostly sleepless nights, and the sun is coming up again. We managed to get Bess to go to sleep around eleven last night (for some reason unknown, trying to put her to bed is one of her triggers, although after last night we may be easing our way thr0ugh that), so K spent most of the night up with Abe. Since I’m a morning person who doesn’t nap, K let me try to get as much sleep as I could last night. She’s a night owl who would much rather sleep in, so we switched off with Abe about twenty minutes ago.

Abe is asleep (only so long as he’s behing held–he’s currently comfortable in one of those wrap-carrier things so that I can type). Bess is still in bed and has a decent sleep debt from Thursday night (when she wouldn’t go to bed until after 5 a.m.) to catch up on. K is resting while we can. I sit at the kitchen table, a mostly-empty bowl of cereal beside the Ipad and a pot of coffee brewing. It’s the most peace and time for myself I’ve had in two days. We’ll see how long it lasts…