Seven years ago around this time I was getting ready to drive to Gen Con with my buddy Sakroka to go and pitch Spell Saga to tabletop career key-holder Peter Adkison (founder of Wizards of The Coast). I had just spent three months straight trying to get the game to both work, AND look good (I was convinced I needed to design my own packaging).
Sakroka and I drove to Indianapolis on August 4th, of 2011. I was married at the time, or at least I might have been--she had told me it was over just days before the trip, and in my mind the fate of our vows was nebulous at best. I figured I could change my life in one swing--and by getting this game published it would change everything for me.
We drove back on August 5th, without a publishing deal and (at least in my case) a head filled with a growing sense of devastation.
It is now seven years later. I changed my life with one giant seven-years-long swing and got the game published myself, with the help of like, hundreds of people watching me from all over the world. I could not have done this without many of them--most of all without my Cousin Lauren, who provided an entire game's worth of artwork and more.
Yesterday a truck arrived at my house with fifty-something cartons of Spell Saga. My friend Josie and her friend Sarah helped me unpack everything and carry it up the steps into the living room I share with Meagen, the girl I met after the marriage feel apart, and a big part of how I was able to get my shit together enough to even attempt any of this.
It took almost four fucking years of manufacturing to get these boxes from a concept I shared with the world, to something sitting in my living room.
And now they're going to be sent out, and be a thing. a real thing.
This is a nice blog post about dreams and things--but to be honest (and you know I always am) I can't even look at the boxes. it's like there's too much weight attached to them. I'll get around to dealing with my emotions. I'm sure one day I'll walk into my living room and the song "turn around bright eyes" will start playing, and I'll caress each carton of this fantasy card game with tears in my eyes. But man. It's gonna take like...a week.
I keep a lot of armor on this god-forskaen body. My heart is like the back of an Ankliosorus. Wait. Is that right? How do you spell this dinosaur.... (*takes break to Google) Aww GOD that's not it at all!
Have you seen the Gary Shandling documentary--it's on HBO. It's like...amazing. But there's this scene where--their interviewing Bob Saget of all people, who was backstage after Shandling first did The Tonight Show. Appearing on that show was this guy's dream, right? And Bob Saget says that, afterwards, Gary Shandling came backstage and collapsed into his arms, crying, saying he didn't know what to do now, because that was his dream. And it was accomplished.
I felt a very similar feeling when those boxes arrived. I am--listen--I am excited (or rather, I will be) and I'm relieved. But it's the end of something and the start of another, and this damaged little middle-school heart just don't handle transitions all to well. I cant just "George Lucas" screen-wipe up tot he corner for the next scene of my life. I have to sit with these boxes. Like something that I did WRONG, and just process it. And I will. In fact, just writing this out did a lot for me.
I remember being at this book signing for some jerk, it was a Christian post-marriage book and the event was held in the cafeteria of a college I certainly did not attend (this was years before my own post-marriage crisis, when I was the age where you hang out with people you don't really know, and just go do things with them because you are young, and hoping to meet someone who might divorce you later). But I remember it really bugged me--because this guy, this author, went up on the stage and said that, after his book was published (and I use that term loosely), he just stared at this book on a shelf and was like "well...there's that." and that he felt NOTHING. And I judged him for years. And now here I am, talkin' the same shit.
but you know what? I'm as proud and embarrassed as I've ever been. And I can't wait to have Cousin Lauren fly down and autograph everything with me, and then send everything out and then--and THEN--start the long journey toward the end of this project. there's still plenty of more parts to design and print.
I hope you'll join us. We'll be thee, in the future, waiting for you.
Josie, her friend Sarah and I sat there and opened up the boxes with scissors (and, in Josie's case, the reflexes and nails of a feral cat). We are missing one of the items: The holofoil sleeves for Deck One: The Highlands, are nowhere to be found. It's a grievous error, but one that I can truly understand. I've reach out to our manufacturer (who worked with us to get everything right for over three years, including warehousing our stuff when they didn't have to)--in an attempt to see what we can do about this. In the meantime, we still have about 100 of those sleeves from two years ago, when I air shipped them over (which now, because o this, looking back is a godsend).
These sleeves cost a lot to make--but if it's a cost I have to eat then so be it. We'll see what happens. I'm fairly certain that everyone will have a chance to receive one. And if not--well, there's a lot of stuff being sent out that you don't know about yet. So please be very excited for out shipments to be sent out this October HELL OR HIGH WATER THIS OCTOBER.
MAY THE EYES THAT RISE UPON YOU NEVER KNOW (YOUR TRUE HEART) is the second EP by the Nashville based punk band EFFORTS. Describing their sound as "god is dead" and "Deaf Buckley", you can isten to the EP or download it for free after performing the monumental task of clicking this LINK.
We had two babies. First there came a Son, and then a Daughter. I remember holding them both in my arms at the same time, my face beaming the same way my Father’s did whenever he was really excited. I remember looking at them, and then looking at Meagen, my voice shaking a little the way my Mother’s did whenever she was overjoyed.
“This better not be a dream, or I don’t know what I’m going to do when I wake up!”
Then I dreamed of a lonely spaceship captain, the entire crew just holograms winking out as he drifted further and further into oblivion.
When I woke up my arms were empty, and I walked into the bathroom only mildly surprised at the tears in my eyes.
It’s Toothless Tuesday today.
No, that’s not a regular thing in the South. Well, maybe it is. Perhaps the full knowledge of it will hit me once the dentist rips out two (two!) teeth from my living skull this afternoon. I’ll wake up with a small pamphlet on my chest tomorrow morning: “WELCOME BROTHER” it will say upon it, inside will be a cross-promotional coupon for The Gap .
The number of teeth in my mouth isn’t the only thing changing around here, as ̷I̷’̷v̷e̷ ̷b̷e̷e̷n̷ ̷p̷a̷i̷n̷t̷i̷n̷g̷ ̷m̷y̷ ̷f̷a̷c̷e̷ ̷l̷i̷k̷e̷ ̷t̷h̷a̷t̷ ̷o̷f̷ ̷a̷ ̷l̷i̷z̷a̷r̷d̷’̷s̷ ̷f̷o̷r̷ ̷3̷2̷ ̷d̷a̷y̷s̷ ̷s̷t̷r̷a̷i̷g̷h̷t̷-- life has changed considerably for me in the last two weeks.
Some of it is cosmetic: I took a vacation for the first time in four years and did nothing except make new websites for both SUBHEATHEN & Spell Saga. That’s all I did, for days. And I loved it. When my time to shine was over, I returned to the restaurant with a new job and new schedule. I now work three days a week. In those 72, I make as much money as I did working two weeks at my old office job, all those years ago, when Spell Saga was just a daydream in the parking every lunch hour. (and now all that money I make GOES to Spell Saga so it’s really a full circle sort of thing).
...but some of the changes are more emotional in nature.
My own personal astral plane is often bereft of any guidebook, other than the pages I keep crumbled in a pocket or clutched in my palm. It took me an entire childhood and much of my adult life to find the truth about myself, that I am complicated, but not without logic or reason.
Like, you can be depressed and happy at the same time. Did you know this? I did not. But I found out two weeks ago during a very unexpected Bad Night.
Sometimes I feel wrong, or badly about some of the songs I’ve written. That first EFFORTS record has a lot of stuff about death and suicide on it. I’ll look back on those tunes and wonder who wrote them, or why did I think it was okay to even bring that stuff up? And then I’ll have a night where I remember; where the only point of existence (As far as I can tell) is to to die alone.
That’s when I remember who wrote those songs, and why
As for the Bad Night...I don’t even remember the details. I was talking to Meagen on our couch, and some unpolished stone of truth tumbled out of me. I became unraveled. I didn’t cry. I wasn’t manic. I was just...pointless. Don’t get me wrong...I’m always sad. But it’s often buried behind other emotions like being hopeful.
When I was a kid my parents took me to a lot of doctors to figure me out. I don’t know why they felt the need to single me out, it was obvious our family tree was mangled by the weather of Heaven long ago, why try to fix a brach if the rest are broken too? But try to fix it they did! But It never worked. In hindsight, because there wasn’t much there to fix. I just needed time to know myself.
I don’t even remember what bothered me the other night, just that I was sad, and that I’m not quite sure why. I think it had something to do with loneliness. What I do remember is that it became a hard reset for me. I had been hiding and holding myself back in the years of toil and trouble made by Spell Saga. I spent four years tiptoeing non-stop across a junkyard of broken glass to make sure I didn't’ fuck everything in my life up the way everyone growing up thought I would.
When I woke up the day after the Bad Night, I was filled with the sort of newfound hope and stability one would only expect after a exorcism. And that’s what it was. A stress related exorcism. And it broke me like a hard reset.
It was raining. Or maybe it had been raining. Either way everything was wet and grey. And humid. It’s July so everything was muggy, or as the toothless of The South call it, “Double-Dang Weather.” (that’s not true). But what IS true is that I was sitting on a blanket, in the road, in what soon became obvious was a puddle. I had a toothache, and I’m fairly certain my jaw was infected. I was trying to change a flat on my car--a vehicle that I wasn’t even sure would START because I’ve been ignoring all the problems it was having. And I looked down at myself, at my bird nest of a crotch spilling out from the giant hole in my jeans, I had a moment of clarity. Am I a vagrant? Why am I living my life like this?
And just like that, the place I was in--the dark curtain I had to hide behind just to make sure Spell Saga arrived on my doorstep from hong Kong...was gone.
I drove my car to get it fixed. I started combing my hair and shaving my face clean each day. I made a dental appointment. I looked at our living space and said “No. This is how animals live.” And then I bought groceries and started eating at home again. I made a budget, and plans, and started paying attention to myself and how I spend my time.
I honestly did not realize that I was depressed. It didn’t look anything like I’ve seen with other people. I was productive and happy, laughing and hopeful. Then again, I didn’t realize I was an alcoholic either, as it looked so different from any standard sort of definition (15 months sober, baby!). I suppose I can forgive my parents in retrospect, for not understanding my sadness was just manifesting unexpectedly.
I got a lot of shit done when staring into the sunset of depression; Can you imagine what I’ll be capable of, turning to see the sunrise?
I got an email that looked like a fax from the 1970’s. It was from a New York Shipping agent who told me the cargo (read: spell saga) would be arriving shortly. It is fifty-something odd boxes on three pallets weighing a combined weight of 3000 lbs. It is going in my living room.
That email was a month ago. I wrote once more. Again, a terse fax-like response, something like: CARGO ARRIVING SOON. WILL NOTIFY YOU SHORTLY.
The formatting on the letters is always so strange looking at I feel I’ve done something wrong if I respond. Like some advanced foreign nation is reaching out to me and I might offend them.
It’s to the point now where I keep forgetting that everything I worked so hard for is arriving any day now. Like, I’ll be eating a muffin and go: OH that’s right. A thing is happening. The only thing that mattered to me. And then I forget again but I’m busy doing other things.
Let’s talk about music.
Beset. Released our first double-single a year-to-the-day-or-so after The Weapon and I started the band. It took months of practicing, recording, failing. We have another single coming soon, called We Brought Weapons, and I think it’s the best album cover I’ve ever designed.
I’m also excited to say that I’ve found a way for us to do limited edition runs of vinyl picture discs. I’m having a lot of fun delving into the world of lathe cut vinyls, and so we’ll do some for Beset. And some for EFFORTS.
And SPEAKING of EFFORTS. This week should see the release of another album cover I’m in love with, and certainly our longest if not best title ever: MAY THE EYES THAT RISE UPON YOU NEVER KNOW (YOUR TRUE HEART). This is the last EP we’ll be producing before the LP is finished.
What I like about these EFFORTS extended plays is, although the songs are culled from the eventual LP (I Bought You a Coffin), each EP has a special song made just for itself. In the case of MAY YOU ABSORB ALL EVIL (released last January) there was “Ringtone Money” and on this latest release, we have “I’ll Bring The Blood”. Which is a song I begged us to record. I thought it was important for two reasons: 1) this is a real rough EP. It’s mean, spiteful, and a little harrowing. And although these lyrics came from honest and truthful places, if you write stuff like “we used to be brothers/now we’re nothing” or “what’s the use if you’re not able/to turn your noose into a halo” ...you have to have something cleanse the pallet, and push all those feelings into the right mindscape. The second reason is, though I don’t think anyone else would remember it, this was the first rough idea that all two-and-a-half members of EFFORTS ever played together as a band.
Zach and I recorded this new track (and as it so happens, the final song to be recorded for this first EFFORTS era) by having each of us playing dueling acoustic guitars, with a microphone hung between us. It was the most fun and certainly a scene that a time-traveling version of myself would say” this is fake...and did you mean to gain so much weight?”
So that’s releasing this week or the next. And then it’s on to the full length album that we spent three years working on. Three years! That is a long time! We have decided to print up several hundred promo copies to just give out to people. I’ll package them with Spell Saga and we won’t make a dime off any of it. Which was sort of the plan from the beginning. Then next year we’ll start playing shows again and shooting music videos. Here is a mock-up files for the inside of the packaging:
My other gig, DAMNSEL & THE EUTH GROUP, with my good friend Geoffrey Maybe was also supposed to be performing next year--along with various costumed creatures and puppets. But last night I sat on a couch with Geoffrey as he told me he would be leaving forever at the end of the year. I wished him luck and drove home slightly heartbroken. Hopefully his plans fail and he is forced to live out my dreams for his life.
I dreamed I was walking into a room where my brothers and childhood friends were playing music and I was not invited or allowed.
The Novel has reached a place where I can see the end off it. I stopped a year ago and went back and rewrote the whole thing, even giving it a new title and to more than some degree, a new purpose and identity.
The chapter I was stuck on before, The Return of The Häx has not only changed its placement in the story, but also its purpose and content. The stuff I was trying to write kept getting interrupted by these other ideas, until I just let it happen (by worrying about it a whole bunch and forcing myself to do it), and now I’m telling the story in a much more honest manner (and in a more original manner too, I might add). Now I just have to finish the thing, and then rewrite the chapter it now proceeds--which is also affected in a much better manner, as now a chapter that I liked, but felt worried towards, will now move all the more quicker, and will have a better purpose than it did (not just character driven, but now plot and character driven, with several different motives and emotions all playing against one another).
My favorite thing to do is take the rough nearly finished version of a chapter (or even a scene) and then read it to Meagen. There are times when I’m reading, and we both laugh at something I wrote, and it feels like a god damn magic trick (the book isn’t humor-based, but you gotta have some giggles during the introspective drama, right). Here is part of a scene that I like:
The Return of The Häx
Somewhere else, at a time yet to be determined, Sylvan The Magician was staring into the depths of a hotel room wall. There were no pictures hung for him to look at (he had taken them all down). And the wall was nothing special (except for the large stain, which hung like a grotesque reflectionless mirror before him). Sylvan knew what the stain was--he could read a magical accident with the best of them, even without a degree in occult forensics.
There had been an attack, of that he was sure. And the stain was the blood of a victim who was male, with legs thin as a skeleton, his hair styled in two long braids that hung down to his chest. Sylvan could even read the stain upon the wall in such a manner that he could knew the victim’s name (it was Cut-Punch) and his profession (a drug dealer who sold gender-bending pills). And if he concentrated on the stain for long enough, he could see the boxing gloves Cut-Punch never took off, the ones with steak-knives sticking out from the ends of them. But as to what had caused the stain, and Cut-Punch’s untimely death, of this The Magician could not be certain. There had been some sort of brawl, from the looks of things...and a demon had been involved. It was hard to say who had won, but the mark occured after the ma named Cut-Punch had been thrown against the wall.
Sylvan was sure it was quite a story, but it had nothing to do with him. In fact, the only reason he was staring at the stain now was it was the one blank wall he could stare at comfortably while sitting at the edge of the bed. He put the image of the attack out of his mind. And stared past the stain, into the white vast beyond it. He was searching for answers. And failing somewhat miserably.
The room worked best when ignored. Sylvan knew this, and had even taught himself several techniques of deliberate non-listening (from modern schools of thought, like The Crumbling Tower, to ancient ideas like The Misheed Form of The Blinded Eye.
But it was no use.
“What’s that?” Francois asked, pointing at the stain on the wall.
Sylvan pretended not to hear him.
“What are you listening to?”
Sylvan ignored that question too. His Mp3 player was set to repeat the song it was playing, and the volume turned up loud enough to drown out most of the child’s questions. But no matter how long he stared at the wall, or how hard he concentrated on the song about fleeting dreams and a place called California, he knew Francois was beside him, staring intently. And this would not do.
Sylvan pulled the headphones out and tried his best to stay focused on the white spray along the wall. “I am Attempting.” he told him.
He could almost hear Francois cock his head to the side as he asked, “Attempting what?”
“Magic.” said Sylvan. And then, because he knew it was useless, and because he quite liked explaining how clever he was, he did his best to explain the whole thing quickly.
“Francois, you and I have done our best to tell everyone to meet us here at this hotel. We have popped and blinked across countless worlds, delivering our magic flyers--”
“But those flyers didn’t say anything on them! It was like all the words were…” Francois, paused, as if embarrassed, “...well they moved like insects, is all. I don’t see how anyone is gonna be able to read them, Sylvan.”
“It’s just an enchanted font.” the magician smiled. “The words are not viewable until someone believes they are truly a hero.”
“Oh.” said Francois. “So if the true hero of each world finds the flyer, they’ll know where to find us.”
“Well that will be my biggest coincidence yet.” Francois smiled to himself. “You’re lucky I’m traveling with you!”
“Am I?” Sylvan mumbled to himself, turning back to the stain on the wall.
“But why listen to that song on repeat? Why change a blood stain on the wall to make it look the color white?”
“It was a cheap trick, to be sure.” Sylvan agreed. “But I need to try and see things. And a blank white spot, with a simple melody, is a great start.” Sylvan turned back to Francois. “I’m trying to catch a glimpse of what our heroes might be up to.”
“That sounds like pretty advanced magic!”
“It is not so accomplished as all that.”
“Aren’t you accomplished, Sylvan?”
“I warn you. I am very Accomplished.” But then Sylvan was mumbling, his thoughts going adrift into the white ocean before him.
Why can’t I see anything? He wondered. Why is this so hard?
But he could almost hear his friend, The Wizard Jonas Tombstone’s voice answering him:
Why not stop feeling sorry for yourself? and Anyone can clearly see that your thoughts are too full to see through them clearly.
Jonas loved saying that one. Sylvan felt his face twitch in annoyance. More so that the advice was good than anything else. But how could he possibly clear his mind at a time like this? He was a magician with a lot going on. He gave himself a moment to think back on the events which had led him to ignoring a child in a hotel room.
He and Jonas had met the boy in the astral plane, sometime ago, by any decent measure of time. And then there had been that business in the restaurant, where they had first met Esperanto Crown-Killer, and then the rest of their company, The Council of Myths & Secrets.
That was when things really got uncomfortable for Sylvan, because the head of the council was a young woman named July Hollander, and though he had never met her before, she knew him exceedingly well.
Is that what bothers you? Sylvan asked himself. No, he answered. And yet perhaps it does.
A magician should know himself completely, and spend many quiet moments reflecting on the truth of themself and their actions. If they did not, magic could become quite dangerous if one was not honest with themself. In that sense, July Hollander knowing him better than he knew himself felt like a threat--in the world of magicians, knowledge was a threat. But according to xxxxx, not only did she know him, she had travelled with him in her youth.
I do hate time travel. Sylvan admitted to himself. And then, like a small firework of epiphany, he heard himself responding to his own thoughts, You hate time travel, and you hate the truth about yourself.
Because it wasn’t just that this unknown woman knew him so well, it was that she knew him with anger in her eyes. She had been through much, anyone could see it. From the missing leg she had replaced with an obsidian antler; to the leather armor she wore, her shield kept safely beside her. This woman had known Sylvan in her youth, and he was sure, beyond a doubt, by the look in her eyes and the manner she held herself, Sylvan had let her down.
That was why he felt so upset. It was unnatural event to meet someone after they had already met you, and the magician had no emotional resistance to handle it. The truth of the matter was that soon, he would meet this young girl, and he was going to let her down. And he knew this. As surely as he knew his techniques of ignoring things. Because Sylvan The Magician was selfish. And he hated this about himself.
Just admitting it was a relief. And Sylvan felt the room wash away until it was just him and his Mp3 player, staring into the stain of a white space in front of him. And as he watched, it became snow.
There were other things in that wall too. Something horrible was happening at a school. A young girl named Victoria was tied to a chair somewhere in an abandoned building. Her eyes were closed tightly as the sound a crash was coming from somewhere up above her. And someplace else, in a world of pitch black darkness, he could hear two people whispering to one another.
But it was The Tundra which had caught his attention.
Sylvan focused on the white spot, trying to see the same lone figure standing where he had seen them. He could hear the chorus repeating itself at the end of the song. He tried to blur his eyes a little. Focusing on nothing. Ignoring the room. There was a woman standing in the snow. He could almost see her. And all of a sudden, he knew her name, and much more about her.
I was in the mall, it wasn’t a dream, though I often dream of this place during times of change; this is after all, where I spent most of my early adolescence, where I spent all my time and money on fantasy card games. I was walking up the stairs and turned to find Joshua Rizzo walking down them. He said my full name when we embraced. Joshua helped me get Spell Saga ready for the public, spending most of every day for two years next to me while I did so. But we haven’t talked much in years. “I was gonna call you thiS week” I told him, honestly. “Oh yeah?” he asked, his eyes darting around like he was both happy and uncomfortable. “I got 3000 lbs. Of a fantasy card game you helped me make showing up to the house this week. I’ll call ya.”
Then I left him on the stairs and bought myself pants without holes, and a bitchin’ jean jacket.
I gotta go get my teeth ripped out. See you when I look more Southern.
With the cards (supposedly) coming any day now (couldn’t be true) part of the last month of my life has been going through the VAST amounts of updates and comments on the (2?!) Kickstarters, to make sure every single thing I promised almost four years ago is either delivered, or replaced with something better (re: costs me more moolah to produce). One thing I was really hesitant about, and really cursing myself over, was promising an eBook of all my stupid blog posts and tweets from when I first created Spell Saga to when it was funded. I often hate myself, and publishing what I consider an instruction manual for others to do the same seemed ridiculous when outside of the furry of a fully funded social media fundraising campaign. But last night I sat down, and I started to read pieces I had written about my life during the year 2009. Before I knew it, two hours had passed and I was staring at a fully edited and formatted beginning of a manuscript. It’s embarrassing stuff to look at, to be sure. But I think it’s also really helpful too, if you’re someone who wants to make things, or suffering from metal illness, or the keep of the keys to seven-hundred bad choices in a row. I made a cover for the thing today, and then, because I could, I made a back cover, and then a spine. And now I have this mock-up which has seemingly appeared upon my screen out of nowhere. so I guess I’ll end up printing my transgressions to sell on subheathen.com at some point. A memoir that no one asked for, by someone no one knows. My god, what have I done? If you are wondering about the art, it's my Cousin Lauren drawing stuff for Spell Saga, and me having to pose for it.
Beset. has released our first DOUBLE SINGLE and you can hear it now on Bandcamp!
http://besetbesetbeset.bandcamp.com/album/psychic-loan-where-is-your-ocean-double-single or (stream at bottom of post)
I am mean to be doing other things--namely re-enchanting the Spell Saga website to stand up straight on it's own, but since we released this yesterday I think it merits a small post, if only to remind myself and future "bad-music" scholars of how we got here.
Beset. was a project I started by myself after writing notes down while driving away from one bad fourth of July party to another ("why are you on your phone?" Meagen will always ask, which means "why are you endangering my life, much less your own?" These are valid questions.
But as we drove an hour back into Nashville in a car threatening to give up the ghost at any moment (seriously, this was a hot Summer day in 2017, the year white apparitional clouds began coughing up every time I started the thing) I wrote down the word Beset, and the words Where is Your Ocean?
And I can't remember if it was the next day, or the one after that, or even the NEXT one, but I remember being at work, serving in a restaurant for my last day, and scribbling ideas for an album cover down on a napkin in between a sparse amount of tables and money. I also remember trying to get ahold of Giovanni, this guy I did not know well at all--because I heard he had a small home studio. I texted him to meet me and I ended up driving to the middle of this very small downtown area of this little town. He was dressed in a full suit and standing in the dark by himself. That night he played guitar for me in the middle of The Most Derelict Room I Have Ever Been In. And then I asked him to join this band with me, and I played him a little lo-fi audio file I had for an opening of an LP.
We spent that Summer and Fall writing music together, pushing out demos as I screamed in his closet or sang on the stairs, wires pulled all over the house and the heat of the night creeping in through his open window. I started calling Giovannni The Weapon. Our plan was to make music that sounded like wizards who had shipwrecked on a tropical island. I started telling everyone we were making this thing that defied logic, and that anyone could come and join...I said we would play shows wearing robes and have a projector play old vacation footage of islands over us.
In January Noah appeared out of nowhere, a sort of imaginary friend of a person who everyone sort of knew. We had talked about him joining the project before he ever heard the music, but he had left to live in Colorado forever and The Weapon and I went back to our indie-rock EDM ideas of percussion. But at the start of 2018 Noah was back, after one of his roommates had performed a blood ritual over his synthesizers without permission. Noah brought another roommate along with him, a girl we will call "redacted". She was an incredible violinist, and suddenly the band had a sound.
Noah and The Weapon both have similarities to their playing. There is this young man's ADHD drug haze that gets in front of them when we talk, like sheets of raw wool and funhouse mirrors. Conversations can border between funny to infuriating--but when they play enough and hit their zone it's sort of like this emotional rhythm god takes over, like their both One With Their Emotional States. I think it comes through.
We practiced everywhere. From The Weapon's apocalyptic living room (until his neighbor broke through the front door once-- I wasn't there for that) to the coldest public park I've ever been in, to a storage unit filled with garden lights that created an accidental strobe effect (it was hard to keep our eyes open).
In the end The Weapon used his resources to secure us free time at a multi-million dollar recording studio way out in the middle of Fuck Knows Where.
We tried recording Where is Your Ocean and failed so spectacularly that one member walked out of the studio never to be seen again (redacted), and it nearly avalanched the whole project. Then we regrouped two months later and brought more people int he room to record with us.
Listen. It is not a normal thing to record the whole band at once. And it is CERTAINLY not a good idea to do this with three people who have never heard the songs before, much less played them. But we did it.
And fuck me, if it didn't sound like wizard's who had shipwrecked on a tropical island.
We brought in my buddy Zach from EFFORTS to sit in and muck the bass up all pretty-like. And both Noah & The Weapon pulled in a violinist--I couldn't remember the guy on violin's name, so I just started (respectfully) calling him Whistle Boy, and that sort of stuck--and another guitar guy named Trey, who looked rightfully nervous. he kept glancing at me after every take like we might execute him. Which is funny, because listening back he was incredible. None of us have seen him since, he's sort of a transient who used burner phones. But I'm glad we could have him when we did.
Look I have a video of us recording it!
When we finished the rough tracks everything got much, much harder.
It took two months of mixing, redoing vocals, redoing guitars, awkward phone calls and patience for us to get you the Double Single you now have before you. At one point I drove to The Weapon's House and brought my dog AND air conditioner so we could sit in the living room and start mixing together.
Luckily we had this guy named Gavin the Great. His real name is Gavin Mellberg, and he's now our official engineer/absolute band member. Eventually I had to drop everything and drive down to the studio to pull together our final mix for "Oceans" (as Noah calls it). That was a good day. My car doens't like to ummm work or "not-shut-off" so driving an hour through traffic and a torrential storm is a big deal. But Gavin and I sat there and got that song done. It took six hours of him and I being as careful and yet ballsy as possible.
The general rule for mixing songs for me is really simple (because I don't know what I'm doing) as my general input is to pay attention to my body, and the bodies of everyone else in the room. You're hands and feet react quicker than your brain when it comes to a groove (god I hate that word); so that's hat Gavin and I did. made big changes and little changes, always trying to keep it to where our bodies were moving of their own volition.
A week later we were back in the studio, all of us, and finishing up Psychic Loan. Gavin and I were even able to pull pieces form the original demo (I had stolen The Weapon's files for just such an occasion).
On July Fourth, a year to the day that I cam up with Beset., I drove Meagen's car to Geoffrey Maybe's house and sat with him while he mastered the tracks, both our buddies tapping along as we finalized everything. And then I released that shit, because why wait?
And that's the story of how you are no listening to the songs you probably listened to if you're reading this. I would also like to say this: the melted-cassette-tape song at the end of "Oceans" is one of my Dad's demoes from about 1986. Having this EP end with his earnest attempt at forging a record deal is very special to me.
Beset. will return with "We Brought Weapons" this November.
Hey look! It’s a test printing for the 2nd edition of Spell Saga ~realmwalker~ Prelude: Science//Armor//Romance !!! Now with better colors, better tactile manufacturing (fuck gloss) and a dang rulebook! And just look at that shiny new company logo. These will be available this Winter. Spell Saga forever.
Ya’ll like matte or gloss? If you pitched in at least 100 bones during our Kickstarter(s) 100 years ago, yer gettin’ 1 of 25 mighty fine boxes with your cards. I love these. And I love you. Thanks for your enduring patience. Xoxoccult. -mE.
🎼 grain by cricket engine
Just got an email confirming the arrival dates for the Shenzhen shipment (assuming everything goes constantly well)--we should be receiving 50-something cartons of Spell Saga on or around July 29th. The plan is to have Cousin Lauren swing up to Nashville and help me autograph/plan for deck 3 and etc. sometime after that. My hope/goal/prayer/wish to to make sure everyone has everything they ordered and more BEFORE the 4 year anniversary of the Kickstarter (that's in October, in case ya don't recall that ancient era). In the meantime, there is a LOT to do, including the one-of-a-kind Paladin level cards promised during the 2015 New Language Launch. These were originally going to be hand drawn, until I realized it would be much more exciting for everyone to have a 1 of a kind unique holofoil that only they could use (they way they could read the rules too, my handwriting is not worth anyone's time). I was actually in the middle of designing these one-of-a-kinds when I got the shipment dates. This is the final look for the (hero) Paladin Level cards. You'll be getting at LEAST one of these packaged randomly with your stuff if you backed either Kickstarter (2014/2015) at a Weatherguard Level! OR EVERYTHING WILL GO WRONG AND THE WORLD WILL END.
I have spent the last two weeks or so since the cards were getting prepared to be shipped from Shenzhen by ignoring my feelings and throwing myself into a dangerous amount of Good Ole Fashioned Hard Work. Most of what I've been doing isn't so much art as *secret things* ya'll don't know about, like Weatherguard Prizes and such for everyone who waited so god damn long for me to pull this project together. I talked to Cousin Lauren yesterday on the phone for a good 40 minutes,just pacing around the hot salts of a dilapidated parking lot, telling her all the secrets and listening to her opinions about them. And we talked a bit about the future too.
Spell Saga has a long life ahead of it, now that it can finally be born (unless the freight shipment falls into the sea, or customs declares fantasy gaming illegal) and a big part of that future is correcting the growing pain mistakes of the past. I spent this week looking at a game I posted online almost three years ago (before pulling it for for too many reasons).
Spell Saga ~realmwalker~ Prelude: science // armor // romance was a bit too hard, had some game-fucking typos, and was pointless without everyone having their Spell Saga cards from the 2014 Kickstarter. But now I have the chance to go back, make things a little prettier, change two (major to me, but you won't notice them) specific cards and even redo the Potion cards (strange things bother me and it is a relief to fix them). And I forgot about the writing on the item cards. Some of is is maybe the best I have ever slapped onto a PSD file. And there's humor in it too! Who knew?!
Looking back over the game it is really apparent just how much I was struggling with alcohol and gender, I knew about it at the time, but with a few years comes a sense of self and some righteous clarity. It also helps that I have not had a drink in 15 months. but who's counting?
...And yes, the rumors are true--it looks like we'll have holofoil realmwalker decks for sale--that's the ENTIRE deck in holofoil. Every. Single. Card. (unless that specific factory blows up or something, or there's an international 2019 holofoil shortage).
Spell Saga forever. More soon.
Once everyone gets their stuff we have a LOT to talk about.
How do you play?
DONE. And Cousin Lauren's art has never looked better. This part's a secret, but suffice it to say, those last minute ideas take more time and money than expected. Spell Saga forever!
With the cards about to be shipped from Shenzhen, I thought I would share a little something I am working on. There is a lot of stuff everyone is getting that they don't know about. I also wanted to share the following comment I left on the 2014 Kickstarter.
Greetings, from the fabulous former fallout shelter of the former FTGco! As of this typing, somewhere far away (Shenzhen, China) Spell Saga is being packaged up to be shipped to me, so that it may be shipped to you! In preparation, I've spent the last week reading every single update, comment, and private message between the Kickstarters, in order to make sure everyone gets more than they ever planned on getting (if you got a package from us already, that's cool, but you're getting another one). Everyone is getting Deck Two, and some of you are getting much more than that.
I won't be making any crazy updates until said shipment arrives at the brand-new SUBHEATHEN castle (same old bread forge, but it's a new company name 'cause it's just little 'ole me). But I wanted to leave this here, split between several comments. it's a VERY detailed timeline of events from when the 2014 Kickstarter ended, to where we are today. In case anyone wants to ever make a game of their own, or wants a detailed analysis between the ratio of bad luck vs. bad decisions that goes into something like a four year delay on a project (and how to pull out of that downward spiral)
I'm just relieved to finally arrive to what I consider the beginning of Spell Saga's long journey ahead of itself. Growing pains are embarrassing, but a lot of good stuff happens between them. And If I could say just one final thing, it's that our manufacturer has been incredible. PANDA is the real deal. Would that every manufacturer be as incredible as them.
After the Fundraiser Ended,
~December xx, 2014 We are quoted the wrong amount of money from manufacturer.
Three times. (easy to do).
We changed the amount of cards so that’s on us
~December 16, 2014 Cousin Lauren finishes Deck Two ~ The Forest card art
~December 19, 2014 Deck Two ~ The Forest PnP released
~January 11, 2015 Do to a misquote, we need to create 18 new cards.
The Wand & The Hero Potion are two ITEMS I said we would give everyone for free
The Rare Story card was announced and given free to everyone
The Places + pack was available to purchase through our shop spellsaga.com
~January 11, 2015 All the card art for Deck One ~ The Highlands and Bonus cards finished
~January 14, 2015 Spell Saga contract signed and dated with manufacturer
~January xx, 2015 all 18 new bonus cards finished being created.
~January 27, 2015, I spend several weeks redoing every single card for the printer.
~January 27th, all bonus cards from 2014 Kickstarter are gifted as PnP files
~February xx, 2015 I begin to design The Prelude Deck PnP
We offered this during the 2015 campaign
Design starts to bend around Cousin lauren’s hectic school schedule
~February 02, 2015 store.spellsaga.com opens
~February 17, 2015 cannot move forward without word from digital prepress team
~February 18, 2015 Ship date slips from March to June due to the bonus cards being printed
~February 28, 2015 all cards and packaging ready
~March 01, 2015 digital prepress team gets back to us
~March 07, 2015 Packaging and cards redone abased on digital prepress teams specifications
~March xx, 2015 The wobble starts here
Shipping quote from factory was wrong. Affecting our budget.
Kickstarter bonus content was planned poorly. Dumb. Affects our budget.
Miscommunication and language barriers mean files have to redone continually.
Long weeks spent doing nothing but Photoshopping causes me to pay myself. Dumb.
We (think we) need money to send decks to reviewers. Dumb. Affects our budget.
People keep asking us how to get copies if they missed Kickstarter
An indieGoGo is planned to coincide with launch of International PnP decks.
~March 26, 2015 digital prepress team finds mistakes
Deck One ~ The Highlands ~ tuckbox need a larger bleed
Several cards are in wrong format (RGB v.s CMYK)
One card was missing a bleed
~April 02, 2015 Prelude Deck is now being printed with it’s own tuckbox
~April xx, 2015 I start working with an Italian translator (failed attempt).
~April xx, 2015 Prelude PnP design is nearly finished
~April 11, 2015 digital proof from manufacturer arrives online
~April 29, 2015 Manufacturer asks if Deck One will be shrink-wrapped into two decks
we said no, but this is why your copy might have come in two pieces inside the box
(not a big deal)
~May 05, 2015 receive word from printer we were given wrong box sizes based on their prototype
~June 13, 2015 tuckbox templates are sent to us
~June 13, 2015 “white” prototype shows sleeve is wrong size. Manufacturer sends sleeve template
~June 29, 2015 IndieGoGo is launched and immediately cancelled/moved to Kickstarter
~June 30, 2015 2015 Kickstarter is launched
~ Prelude ~ Deck (English) PnP made available
~ Prelude ~ Deck (English) now being printed and gifted to all backers of both campaigns.
Deck One ~ Das Hochland ~ (German) PnP available
translated by Raimund Ruppel over 2 years
All backers of Previous campaign bumped up a level
Deck 1.5 ~ The Undersky announced
Deck 2.5 ~ The Heart of The Roots announced
Paladin Level (one-of-a-kind handmade cards) announced
Heavenly level (one-of-a-kind handmade decks) announced
~June release date slips to September
~July 08, 2015 final (not final) Deck One box art finished for printer.
~July 09, 2015 final (not final) Prelude Deck box art finished for printer.
~July 10, 2015 all redesigned boxes and cards for Prelude deck now uploaded to manufacturer
~July 13, 2015 first shipping by freight estimate arrives from manufacturer
~July 20, 2015 2015 MYTH cards announced
~July 20, 2015 official timeline of Spell Saga (all the planned games) announced on 2015 KS
~July 22, 2015 digital prepress time finds more mistakes
Several cards are in wrong format (RGB v.s CMYK)
The boxes will need to be redone once more to make bleed match better
~August 02, 2015 Fever Games starts translating Italian Spell version of Spell Saga
~August 13th 2015 - first ever pre-production prototype overnighted from shenzhen
~September 01, 2015 new contract signed with manufacturer. Game now less expensive
~September 05, 2015 Shipment window slips from September to November
I give out my phone number to every backer.
~September 05, 2015 first three MYTH cards now being printed & gifted to backers
~September 05, 2015 Deck One ~ As Teras Altas ~ (Portuguese) PnP available
translated by Dual Pistoleiro over 2 years
~September 21, 2015 second digital proof from manufacturer arrives online
mistakes are found in digital proof (this is what it’s for)
~September 30, 2015 third digital proof from manufacturer arrives online
~October 05, 2016 Spell Saga begins mass production in Shenzhen, China
~October 25, 2016 Design work begins for Spell Saga ~realmwalker~ PSAR PNP
~November 24, 2015 Manufacturer has questions about holo foils
~November 30, 2015 we receive the first ever printed edition of Spell Saga from manufacturer
package comes with prototype laser-printed holofoils and holosleeve
the holofoil sleeve is gold and we our fault, so we pay for correcting the error
~December 06, 2015 Spell Saga ~realmwalker~ PSAR PnP is released
~December 13, 2015 we pay to have the gold holofoil sleeve material cut into blank cards
for Paladin Level handmade cards
~December xx, 2015 All cards are now printed except holofoils
~December 22, new blank silver holofoil sleeve arrived via overnight delivery
~December 22, 2015 We receive silver holofoil sleeve test printing of Deck One
~December xx 2015 Holofoil issues.
Factory cuts holofoil cards at wrong size w/slightly discolored backs.
(That's on us, holofoil stock is darker and we should have prepared our colors better)
(they offer to reprint the entire holofoil on their dime and we said no they look great)
~January xx, 2016 Spellsaga.com is updated daily with new articles
(this idea is soon dropped)
~ January 08, 2016 We receive the second manufactured Spell Saga copy including holofoils
holofoils are cut wrong, too large to play with other cards
holofoils have wrong colored backs (too dark to play with)
packaging looks somewhat horrendous
we wait to sign final contract until negotiations for fixing content go through
~January 14, 2016 manufacturer finds problem in card sizes and offers to recut them
~January 26, 2016 2nd manufacturing proof arrives with recut holofoil cards
these cards are damaged
another proof will be sent to determine if damage was caused from shipping or cutting
~February 16, 2016 Spell Saga Italian edition box finished
this becomes new packaging for entire line going forward
~February 23, 2016 we decide to pay out of pocket ot airship 200 units for backers (dumb)
This way we can fulfill orders while fine-tuning product
The pricing for this made sense at the time
Manufacturer offers to reprint holofoils if these 200 units look damaged
~February 29, 2016 Deck One ~Gli Altopiani ~ (Italian) PnP available
Translated by Emanuele Pierangelo over 5 months
~March 15, 2016 I decide to pay for Deck Two ~ The Forest ~ on my own dime
~March 15, 2016 Spell Saga ~realmwalker~ PSAR now offered on Gamecrafter.com
~March 16, 2016 pricing for airshipping 200 units goes up 400%
we still decide to do it (dumb)
~March 21, 2016 We pay to have the packaging reprinted to match the Italian packaging
The packaging we had previous is now referred to as zero edition.
There are only 302 zero editions in existence
The zero edition packaging was deemed not suitable by me for branding purposes
~April 02, 2016 Spell Saga makes it’s Italian debut at PLAY fair through Fever Games
~April 14, 2016 we receive a new quote to redo the packaging
~June 23, 2016 we realize we need 300 zero edition units airshipped, not 300
manufacturer above and beyond helpful with this
everything costs money. every decision. whether good or bad.
~June xx, 2016 Spell Saga ~realmwalker~ PSAR is removed from Gamecrafter.com
A typo was found that made game impossible to win (dumb)
The packaging was deemed not suitable by me for advertising/branding purposes
~June xx, 2016 store.spellsaga.com temporarily closes
~July xx, 2016 Work begins on Spell Saga ~ realmwalker ~ The Discordant Shore PnP
~July 06, 2016 300 zero edition units arrive at doorstep
~July 05, 2016 factory-cut holofoil card stock arrives for the (handwritten) Paladin Level cards
~July 11, 2016 Deck Two Holofoil sleeve designed
~September 20, 2016 Brand New Rulebook w/walkthrough is released after weeks of work
~September 24, 2016 we cannot print new packaging or deck two until remaining balance paid
this affects our plans to ship out the newly received 300 zero edition units
funds are now being pulled in two different directions (dumb)
~October 01, 2016 manufacturer heroically agrees to warehouse product until balance is paid
~October xx, 2016 the first waves of the 300 zero editions begin to ship out
Most packages have to wait for Cousin Lauren to autograph them,
her package was delayed by a hurricane
~November xx, 2016 post office gives us wrong shipping costs
the 300 units will now cost double to ship to backers
~November xx, 2016 Cousin Lauren’s autographed sleeves arrive, shipping can now begin
~November 28, 2016 Shipping dates for all 300 zero edition units are announced
End of December
~December xx, 2016 I lose both my jobs. My wife loses hers.
All plans for shipping and Deck 2 start to wobble.
~December 29, 2016 Work begins on Spell Saga ~ Deck 1.5 ~ The Undersky
~March 08, 2017 Final funds for project are wired to manufacturer
New packaging and deck two printing now okay
~April 25, 2017 final contract for new packaging and deck two printing is signed
~May 22, 2017 Shipping dates for the rest of the 300 Zero Edition units is moved to July 2017
~May 28, 2017 After 10 months of slow progress, Deck Two ~ The Forest ~ is redesigned
~June xx, 2017 Cousin lauren draws cover to Deck Two ~The Forest ~
~June xx, 2017 Design begins for box of Deck Two ~ The Forest ~
~July 06, 2017 it is decided to pay manufacturer a monthly fee for warehousing our product
(more than fair)
~July xx, 2017 shipping dates for the rest of the zero editions slips
From July to whenever final product arrives
~July 31, 2017 box and holofoil sleeve design uploaded for digital pre-press team
~August 06, 2017 - Deck 2 is finished being redesigned
~August 10, 2017 all of deck two’s files uploaded for digital pre-press team
~September 25, 2017 all the packaging is wrong sized. Manufacturer templates wrong.
New templates sent to us.
~October 10, 2017 new packaging redesigned and uploaded to digital pre-press team
~October 17, 2017 digital pre press has approved and readying a digital mockup
~October 17, 2017 box sizes still wrong, manufacturer wants a bigger bleed
~November 01, 2017 All Spell Saga pre-print files (deck 2 and new packaging) approved
~November 16, 2017 Prototype printings for Deck Two cards & new packaging arrive
~December 19, 2017 much confusion over the repackaging
~January 19, 2018 the confusion over the repackaging is finally cleared up over many emails (understandable)
~January 23, 2018 repackaging the reprinted packaging incurs a new unforeseen cost (fair)
~February 01, 2018 renewed contract signed for cost of labor
~March 20, 2018 carton marking requested and sent for freight shipping
~March 23, 2018 First production copies of Deck Two w/holofoil sleeve arrive
With new packaging for Deck One & Prelude Deck
~March 30, 2018 mass production of Deck Two ~ The Forest ~ and new packaging begins
~March 30, 2018 new shipping quote for freighter is lower than expected
~June 05, 2018 The final deposit and shipping is paid to our manufacturer
~June xx, 2018 packages are shipped by freighter
from Shenzhen, China to Nashville, Tennessee in North America.
After 2 long years, issue 2 of WHYLC is finally released. You can read it for FREE at whylc.tumblr.com //Way out West, where the black roses bloom…dear reader we return to the world of devils, pocket watches and haunted revolvers. In this issue we’ll see just how The Caballero received those terrible weapons.And you’ve met The Taker, so be ready to meet The Keeper!
DAMNSEL & THE EUTH GROUP - Birds at Night
NEW DAMSEL & THE EUTH GROUP special release!!! Happy birthday week to a certain someone who’s certainly a somebody: my partner in crime, @bluhz I know you already heard the rough of this song; but here’s the final thingamabop. I wrote this for you, and Geoffrey made it worth listening to. I am very lucky to have spent six(?!) If your b-days alongside you, and even more lucky to see who you were, and who you’ve become. Thank-you for not being embarrassed by this ridiculous song. It’ll be daylight before too long.
Everything is set. All the manufacturing is finished and tomorrow I wire the final payment to our printer in Shenzhen. All 3000 lbs. of cardboard product will arrive in about 40 days. And then the debt begins to be paid: everyone from the 2014 + 2015 Kickstarters is getting everything they asked for and more (plus surprises). I am so fucking relieved. Massive. Massive updates coming all Summer long. (you don't even know anything about the new version of Deck Two. Did you know we printed it for you, and that's half the reason everything took so long? Well yer gettin' deck two. Oh man and wait until you see The Under Sky. SPELL SAGA FOREVER. (sorry it took so long). TO ME, MY WEATHERGUARD. [[EDIT: we are sending metallic stickers to everyone]]
As I just messaged a few of you privately: This is a note to let you know that, as of next week, 3000 pounds of cardboard is being freighted across the ocean from Hong Kong and into my climate controlled home. Decks 1, 2, prelude, and all the extra cards are finally arriving in their brand new packaging. Then begins the fun part--sending everyone more than they asked for, and then sending every reviewer a copy to share with the world. I have spent the last month secretly play testing Spell Saga to make sure the correct instructions and videos will be ready for when everyone received their decks. It took four years to get this thing ready, and that ain't nothing compared to the years of product and ideas we have to share with you.
Thank you for not publicly disowning me or this project over the last nearly half of a decade. Some crazy updates and many packages will be appearing soon.
Meagen and I used to walk around the neighborhood a lot more, back when we had a dog, and before that, when we lived a street over, both of us crammed into one shitty bedroom at a friend’s house. We would walk around in the middle of Autumn, just trying to escape the stress of surviving work, life, and a relationship that had claimed more parts of our psyche than either of us could have known. It was a dumb thing to do, walk around our own temporary neighborhood hoping to find a home (we were both as it turns out, much younger and inexperienced than we thought at the time).
Hope can look a lot like madness.
We moved in a street over after a month of searching. She came home to our shitty bedroom for the last night ever, and I walked her over to our new life, in a place that was so big (compared to a bedroom), we found ourselves overwhelmed with it all.
And like I said, we don’t really walk those roads together anymore. Not since Ellie The Dog died last June. Meagen goes running down the street all the time, but I still don’t like walking without the dog, or turning down what we once called “poop alley”.
But we were walking the other day, almost half a decade since we were twenty-eight and searching for a new place to live. We were talking about prose and narration. She’s a poet, and I’m a weirdo, so I often try to pick apart our brains, and see how they fire differently. Part of that is an unconscious desire to be safe (something she realized early on in our relationship) but it’s also because the idea that minds work differently in every person is very exciting for me. I think it makes me feel okay that I’m weird, and also special. I have ideas that other people don’t And some people like them. That’s the sort of revelation a kid like me needed growing up.
Here’s what we talked about:
When I’m writing a story, it’s because I see things. It comes in flashes of sound and vision. It’s a lot like watching a movie trailer. But since it’s a movie that no one can see except me, I end up trying to pull it out and show it to people, inevitably spending a decade trying to piece it all together and force it into a presentable package.
That’s what writing is for me. Figuring out what I saw that first time, and then letting my brain find the rest of the story, one agonizing thought at a time.
The problem is, once I figure out what the story is, I have to believe that deep down, somewhere else, all the stuff I saw truly happened. Because if I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be able to spend a decade writing about it. It would sound bad, like I was making shit up.
This method of make-believe/make-real becomes a problem when you have to change something in the story. And that shit happens all the time. It is necessary for thing to change while writing. A story needs certain things in it’s plotting, and what those things might be grow and change as I rush (for ten years) toward the end of the work.
Part of my growth as a writer has been learning how to believe the moments of the story occured in real life (just someplace else, in the unknown universe inside my head), while learning how to bend or even ignore the truth of them happening. It is nothing less than controlled madness.
I’ve had to do this several different ways, like pretending I didn’t “see” part of the story correctly (ie the events happened but I was squinting, or looking in the wrong direction), or pretending there are many alternate realities, and I was only looking at one of them (ie the thing happened just as I saw it, but the universe of my imagination has infinite realities, and I need to zoom out in my consciousness and dive into another).
It happens all the time.
Recently I was writing about this in middle school, and I had to change it to a kid in high school. That is not a huge leap to make.Surely I myself was not so different between seventh and ninth grade. But to change the story, even by that little flick of a memory, was excruciating.
Doing something like this always causes a slight panic in my head; the same primal warning that reality has shifted, and that true madness might occur if I can’t remember what is real or not real.
I’m getting better at it though. The novel is one of several gods in my life. My time and thoughts are a welcome sacrifice.
It has been unexpectedly hard to write about this kid in high school. After all, he is, for all intents and purposes, very much like me when I was his age. And that was not a fun age for me to be.
For me, good writing means I gotta delve on down, and pull up some real emotions to work with. But it also means knowing when not to go that deep; when to hold back the barrage of truthful thoughts, and make sure the vibrational energies of my theme and style are coming through correctly.
Make it fun to read. Simple. Some days it’s impossible, but it’s simple, really.
Writing about this kid means I’ve had to do a subconscious dive into my childhood, a place that for me still very much exists. It may be the past, but that world is just as real as the ones I make up. That means I can go there again, if I want to. I can walk those halls and be in that place. I can smell the vinyl seats of the bus and hear the noises of the road and the other kids who were excited to be in a place I considered a warzone. I carry that world in me wherever I go.
Those thoughts are part of the weight of Who I Am, the roots of my life which almost destroyed me.
When I look back at school, at the kid I was, I see trauma.
I see a child from an emotionally unstable family, forced to swim through the burgeoning expanse of his own mental illness, all while learning how to navigate a jungle-like prison filled with other kids who hated him for seeing it as such a place. And if I were to try and write about the things that happened to me, even just for one day, you would think it was fiction.
So that’s just what I did.
It was surprising to be in that world again. The daily repetition of constant fear and hatred eventually formed something out of me. It was a bomb-drop which caused the rest of my life to explode outward just the way it did; unliked and unloved, until i was good at something.
Damn, that’s almost too much to write, even for me. Too deep.
But I spent a week inside that world. Living a past life while forcing myself to pull up and stitch what I saw together into a cohesive plot, to shape it all just correctly to fit into the story I first saw flash before me eleven years ago. And one day, while I’m stuck in this other, painful world, time-travelling by myself in a library, my phone buzzed on the table next to me. It was my mother. The message was unexpected, for a thousand reasons. But she just wanted to tell me that she had seen all the things I’ve been doing with my life, the music, the writing, the games and whatever, and she thought that I was courageous for just putting myself out there and doing things that I wanted to do.
It’s hard to write that down and not go into some wikipedia length explanation of how my family does or does not work, depending on the definition of the word. Or to not explain how we don’t talk really all that much, that I wasn’t understood growing up and it led to years of unnecessary medication, public fallouts, and painful memories that will never be healed. But they are there for me when I least expect it, and I’ve spent years trying to rebuild the damage caused by the echoes of two stunted family trees crashing into one another.
But to hear those words from her, just at that moment, when I was trapped in the painful world of my childhood, meant a lot to me.
Three years ago my brother Asher sent me an email saying we weren’t brothers anymore. It was in the midst of a flurry of text messages. I had called him out on something, harshly, and he reacted about the way I expected. He was living in an asbestos lined closet of a bar he worked at in NYC. And he was mad as hell that Summer.
It got to the point where I would have a small panic attack every time he texted me. It was like his texts had the ability to explode in my hand if I wasn’t careful in my reply. And since it was the same Summer I had started writing songs for a band that would eventually become EFFORTS, I wrote a song about it all, and I played it, every time he texted me, before I responded. I would play the whole thing through by myself on the couch, quick and angry-like. You can play the whole thing while sticking your middle finger up. So it’s helpful.
Asher’s been in town the last month. We got better. Mostly. But I still have the song. He asked if he and a friend might stay at our tiny place. But I said no.
Addiction is a word that I don’t like. It brings up the wrong color. It used to mean blue–and blue was bad. Blue was a way of explaining or condemning the stark raving mad among our lot.
Addiction could mean the color green, if you let it. And green would be shared among many words. It would be a normal human function. Like intelligence or charisma.
Addiction should be a character trait in Dungeons & Dragons. Because the human mind, everyone’s palace of thought, is partially constructed upon a solid and necessary foundation of addiction. In some people, that trait is higher than others, sure. But the word addiction just sounds wrong. It sounds like junkie.
Now, I’m not someone who fears words. My youngest brother Ben used to be really afraid of certain words, and it would worry me. We grew up in a family where thinking or doing certain things would inevitably start the paved path to Hell. So I’m not sittin’ here, typin’ on a wobbly table in a coffee shop preachin’ that we should not Use This Word. I just don’t like it as a descriptor.
(Some words are wrong. They should not be said. Some are universal and some are just based on if you belong to the culture that spawned or adopted said words. That’s how I feel).
I love my family. We don’t talk. I have no idea what’s going with their lives, and I love them.
“Addiction Green” runs pretty hard in my ancestry, probably more so after the Michaud’s (ma’s family) and the Rogers (Dad’s family, originally Roge´, till my French ancestor changed it) met down in Florida and created me and five other chitlins.
Dad was the first to figure it out. He traded Christianity for AA meetings, but he was just as addicted to the circle and bad coffee as he was the alcohol and Thy Lord. It took me years to pull myself out of a tailspin of OCD, panic attacks and substance abuse–to figure out that my mind is many things, but it’s mostly an underwater minefield of addition-based behaviors.
It’s hard to be around my siblings. I think about them all the time, and I miss them a lot. Or maybe just the way it cold, or should be, based on traditional thinking of How Families Should Be.
I’ve seen a family work, once, in the wild. They galloped away before I could take a picture.
Everything is an addiction for me. Writing. Coffee. Going to the same places. Talking about myself. If it can be repeated, it would consume me. Complaining. Skittles. Cheesecake. Ice Cream. Airplane bottles of alcohol. Celadon American Spirits. That one good Murder Jerk of my dick at 1:00 am each night.
I have done my best to control it. To force it like some addiction-based Waterbender, to turn the tide of horror into something useful, productive, and beautiful.
I make projects and try to finish them. A decade is a long time for a thing to take to be finished, but I’m getting faster. I make plans and say I can’t do tham until I finish the things I started. I cut out the things that are harming me and try my best to learn from my mistakes.
(I’m six or seven weeks without sugar, as of this writing. And those first two weeks were so bad I ended up shaving my head like some sort of monastic living-room-rehab monk.)
So it is scary for me, and emotionally treacherous, to stay in a constant communication with my siblings. And I’m not saying it’s because I’m fighting my own wars and their not. I’m sure they are. They would have to be. But it’s painful because when they get what they want–when the younger kids I once held in my hands are happy, surrounded by the substance, people, or lifestyle they crave, they are so wonderful, and loving to be around. They tell me they love me. They hug me. They engage with me and ask questions about my life…
It’s like seeing someone come back from the dead.
But when that thing goes way…the substance, the people, the lifestyle, the high of getting whatever it was they wanted at that moment, the mood comes crashing down. And I’m nothing to them. They’re dead again, and I’m dead TO them.
And it is debilitating.
I was a very late bloomer. I assume it will be the same for them. So I reach out every once in awhile, try to remain safe but available in the distance.
It is possible I am a coward. And I don’t like that thought. But certainly if addiction has different hues, than cowardice does too.
The plan is to finish the EFFORTS album and self-release it in October (it’s a very Octoberish album). So Zach and I have been getting together most every week, trying to mix the album down so it’s ready for us to master. It’s the tail-end of three years of work.
Mixing for us means more recording though, whether it’s vocals (“I can do that better, punch me in”), or adding strings from a $3000 keyboard owned by some guy in New Zealand neither of us have met. (Zach has a lot of weird stuff in the studio. It’s great).
But it’s been just the two of us, really. Geoffrey might have been the bassist but he sort of disappeared from the project sometime last year, if he was ever really part of it to begin with. It was equal parts him being busy, a possible midlife crisis, and a partial and partly imagined falling out.
That was a hard thing to go through, for me. I think of my friends as siblings, in an effort to create the safe and similar family I always needed. Which isn’t to say that’s far to the parties involved. You can’t make someone be your brother, a lesson I never took to.
Abandonment issue smake for great songs but not a great band dynamic.
It was a welcome surprise when Geoffrey showed up in the studio to help us finish mixing the song I had written about my brother all those years ago. Between the three of us we make music that I find truly astonishing, and by the time we reached the end of the night (now technically morning) we had a finished track that I never could have expected. It’s called Ash to Dust.
I don’t know what will happen with EFFORTS. It would be nice to play out again. But I know that we will finish this album, and print up vinyl copies, and give the digital version away for free.
Music business is a joke. It doesn’t work, at least not for the type of music I want to make. Hanging all my hopes on the “Big I” industry is something I learned the hard way with my game, Spell Saga. And so it only makes sense to do things my own way with the music.
I have, as of right now, five various bands/projects/endeavors.
I have EFFORTS with Zach and Geoffrey, the side project DAMNSEL & THE EUTH GROUP with Geoffrey, I have Beset. with The Weapon, Noah (and more?), DEATH.GIF (just me), and possibly a new thing called Gender Scouts with my buddy Carminati.
We’ll see on that last one. I have a album cover and we’ve been sending each other demos. It could be great, so fingers crossed.
But the plan is, so far, pretty simple: send all my music to everyone who purchases the game, and film music videos when we have the time and money. Same goes for physical printings of albums. Who cares when the songs hit the internet? There’s no rules anymore. I’m just trying to make shit and do things my own way. And I’m very grateful to have people who want to do this with me.
The day after EFFORTS reunification, I had to wake up early (for me anyway) and drive down to the same multi-million dollar studio Beset. tried it’s best to record in.
It is a damn shame to be given such an opportunity (for free mind you!), and have it fall to pieces under the weight of a band who was not ready to be there to begin with. I cannot fathom a world where such a band would get a second chance. But we did. Thanks to The Weapon, our guitar player, who interns at the studio.
I was nervous. And I had every right to be. The last time we didn’t know the songs and had to play the same one twenty-one times just to get something unusable. Our violinist walked out and quit during a take and we all left feeling mildly concerned that our haphazard music was perhaps a sin against some unknown religion.
As I drove to the studio (a quite literal wooden castle hidden out in the country) I was forced to take a different route than I expected, which brought me past not one, but two familiar places. The first was the very school I had been writing about. The middle school building where I had been punished for being born. I craned my head as I passed, tryin to soak up as much of the horror as I could.
After that I ended up down a road I had not been on in many years, it was the back entrance to the first home we ever had in Tennessee. This was where we had arrived after driving cross country to a house we rented sight unseen in 1995. It was the place where I first turned twelve. Where my father spent his nights in the living room, trying to make music in a homemade studio, trying to make it in music city. It was also the place I discovered (but was forbidden to play) magic: the gathering, if I’m not mistaken. (though that might have been a news report in Spokane Washington, warning of the dangers of cards and modern witchcraft (“see!” I showed my parents excitedly, “It’s evil! Can I play?!”)) It’s also the place we got our first Super Nintendo (I’m listening to the Donkey Kong Country OST as I type this) and where my brother Asher ran away from home for a day.
But the most surprising thing about driving down that old road, and I must have known this at some point, but the name of the neighborhood we lived in was The Highlands. And not only that, but as I look at a map, it seems we lived on Highland Rd.
How could I not have known that? I must have.
For those of you wondering why that would matter to me, Spell Saga (my one player game/bane of my life, available now!) is split up into several decks of playing cards. The first the one I Kickstarted at least twice, the one that people around the world hae translated and played, is called The Highlands.
When I got to the studio I was no less nervous. Last time we didn’t know our songs, but The Weapon, Noah and I had been practicing almost every week for two months and we had two down real solid. It should have been a easy thing to knock both out in a day’s time. But we decided to do it the hard way, and had invited four other musicians to come and join us that day. None of them knew the songs.
I wasn’t worried about the bassist. Zach and I have been doing music together as EFFORTS for a solid couple of years. I was surprised when he agreed to join us, but I had not reservations he could pick up and play with any weird thing we might do.
For strings we had Evan on cello (he had played with us once before, and we practiced quickly upon a wooden turret so he would know the songs. But the violinist was new. He was young, and kind of like if Peter Pettigrew was a feminine festival kid. He was also technically proficient with an omega-level of ADD that put the rest of us to shame. But he was very gifted.
The last piece of the puzzle with this kid named Trey. Noah and The Weapon insisted on bringing him in for a second guitarist. I told them no, but he showed up and plugged in anyway. He was real nervous. But man, he was the find of the day.
It takes a long time to set up a recording session. We were very lucky to have Gavin the Engineer with us once more. Brave kid to go at it again with us. Gavin looks like a Viking and constantly vapes clouds of grape bubblegum scented chemicals throughout the room. He feels like part of the band now.
I drew out some reallllly crude “song maps” of where the changes were in the first song, and then Evan left (it takes a REALLY long time to set up) and then we went at it.
The main room o the studio is huge. It’s wooden, and it feels like some sort of Norwegian travelodge. Gavin sits in the middle, between a thousand cables and operates the machinery. At the far end of the lodge is a windowed drum room. Noah and The Weapon play in there, the amps for both guitars down somewhere in a room on the floor below us.Just outside the room sat Zach with his bass and a bemused look on his face. And beside him stood Trey, nervous and staring at me like a deer caught in a band’s headlights. The room behind him was windowed, and the violin player set up in there, moving so quickly he looked like a spider trying to wrap up a meal. And at the far end of the room was me, by myself, watching everyone, including my wife Meagen, and Noah’s girlfriend Corri, who sat together on a leather couch, supportive but unimpressed.
We could talk to each other through a confusing machine that sat next to each of us, and hear ourselves through headphones. “Play more like the lower deck passengers of the Titanic, but while it’s sinking” I said, trying to slow the violinist down and encourage him. “I can’t hear Todd.” said The Weapon. “You control the mix for your own headphones!” we reminded him after every take. “God Damn it!” I yelled when Noah dropped his sticks after the best intro I’ve ever heard in my life. “Keep that one.” Zach told us.
In the end we left with both songs recorded in about two and half hours. Which is insane. While they cleared the gear at the end I commandeered the speakers (imagine the soundsystem a billionaire might have in the seventies, only nicer) and Zach and I listened to the EFFORTS song we had recorded just the night before. It sounded good. Real good. And everyone seemed to notice. The Weapon walked up to me and stood in the center of the room (best place to listen to the monitors). “Todd, in a few years, I think you’re gonna be underground famous.”
“Thanks man.” I said to him, real stern-like, just the same as when my family talks to one another. The way someone does when they just want to stay safe.
I pieced together some of the takes a few days later. We sound good. Real good. Even without effects or mixing, and with rough “sang like this just for tracking” vocals. I played it for Zach in his studio, and I think he likes it too. Noah concurs, and Trey has joined the band. It turned out his guitar parts on the second song were my favorite part of the whole thing.
Spell Saga should be here, at my doorstep, in about two months. That gives me roughly enough time to finish half a dozen projects, so they can all be ready to launch at the same time.
It will be the Summer of Subheathen. A year long feast to celebrate the culmination of so many years of hard work. The Beset. double-single of “Where is Your Ocean” and “Psychic Loan” should be out this July, EFFORTS in October. The first DEATH.GIF single “Peasant Water” sometime between them.
Even The Novel should have it’s second draft finished by the end of December. And throughout every month, more Spell Saga news and packages then you could ever imagine.
I’m just relieved to have plans, for the repetition of familiar things to work on for a set period of time.
A of this writing I have been sober from alcohol for one year.
Summer 2018. It’s happening. More info soon!!