Letter to You
Outside The Black Garden and the whispers of a fallen wind, there are directions for those who hear such. And if one listens well, they might find their way to a city.
WIND: Are you one of The Shul Brunei? We say Hala Shien dt’o, to you, Ruiner.
RUINER: I know you, and I name you, Southern Wind.
WIND: The world is asleep, Atomic Mercenary. Maybe try to wake it up?
RUINER: No. Welcome Me. Bring me to the city gates, though I have no sails.
WIND: And what city do you wish to step inside, Ruiner?
RUINER:The first city outside the Garden.
WIND: Welcome to Xoto Nāʾim.
If you and yours are just now joining us on these psychic transmissions, welcome to the Towers of Doom!
I am losing my fucking mind. Yesterday I was sitting across from Meagen and whisper-talking (we were in a library, but it was the low blood sugar mainly). And I was talking to her about all the stuff spinning on my finger, all the projects that are about to see the light of day. It is years and years of work all being released at once. It feels heavy, like I have a spiral galaxy tipping this way and that on my index finger. If I’m not carefully I’ll destroy everything.
“But what IS everything, my hyperbolic comrade?” you might ask. And I will tell you:
Spell Saga is about to be sent around the world. One corner of my living room is stacked with boxes of a fantasy card game, and another corner has a table where I’ve begun to showcase various prizes that are to be sent out along with it.
For them new ruiners: Spell Saga is a game that took nine years from concept to merchandise, and was first unveiled to the public half a decade ago, during the horrific Spring of 2013. My cousin Lauren did the artwork, and I wrote and designed the game. We funded it using Kickstarter four years ago, and it’s since been an uphill battle of manufacturing woes, bad choices, amazing moments and, oh let’s say about $10,000 in unexpected loss.
There’s a whole timeline for the project that reads like a Stephen King novel, and you can find it pretty easily on this site and others. But suffice it to say, the game was meant to be released in three parts, and I went ahead and paid for the second part to be made. And now that everything has arrived from Ye olde Hong Kong...I’m still spending money.
I feel so badly, and so in love with all the people who waited (4 years… imagine waiting for something between the first and last day of high school) that I started creating new content and prizes to be sent out with everything. There’s card binders, new holofoil cards (including one-of-a-kind holofoils, holy shit) and oversized playmats. There’s shirts too, and stickers, and special limited edition card boxes...it’s about $5,000 in extra merch.
One of the things about everything taking so long is...well things take time. Especially art. Especially MY art. But the timeline actually helped us out. There was no way Lauren would have been ready to tackle part 3 of the release until now. And there was absolutely no way some of this merch could have been made into real-life objects.
The world has changed in the last four years. Often for the worst...but in terms of manufacturing…it’s incredible. Listen, I started researching how to make Spell Saga five years ago. And it was impossible. The only way to make a card game like this was to raise thousands of dollars and hope your pick of an overseas manufacturer worked out.
Now? I can log into a website, upload my shit, and wait by my door for things to arrive. Even holofoil cards! And Binders! It’s fucking insane!
The only thing that can stop anyone now is poor design, bad rulebooks, and not pushing yourself to get things done. To this end, I’ve been working on a new finalized rulebook. I know how to teach Spell Saga a lot better now, and if the game had been released even six months ago, it would have been a disaster. The rulebook used to be 50 pages long, and it barely worked. Now I’ve got that shit down to sixteen pages, about ten if you take away all the pictures. More importantly all the knowledge is in the correct order for ease of learning.
When I was a kid I had a really tough time in school. It didn’t help that my formative years were spent being “homeschooled” which I believe is a religion involving the desire for someone to kick the shit out of your kids when they enter the real world.
Looking back I don’t think I was dumb--but I was certainly made to think so. The school had all sorts of ideas about me. My parents did too. Certain terms were thrown around, and different dosages of medicine were administered. All it ever led to was them putting me in Special Education Class--That’s when you spend part of the day in a small room with the autistic kids, and the ones who can’t talk or wipe their mouths. It was a rough time. But eventually I realized that I was not dumb, that in fact I was really smart. I just learned things differently.
I think that’s why the rulebook has been so hard to write. Because I have to write it for myself, in a manner that I can understand. But then I also have to write it out for everyone else, working backwards to restructure my headspace into one that “normal” people might understand. Which is something I’ve had to do anyway, in my day-to-day life. (“I’m weird. You’re not. I get it. Let me find a way to communicate with you.”)
When rewriting the rulebook, I tried to pay attention to what worked, or (more importantly) what did not work when teaching the game to my friends. I also read other guides for different types of games. If you’re interested, here is the final order I came upon for learning Spell Saga:
1 Getting Started
2 Card Types
3 Play Area
4 Moving Cards into Play Area
5 Turn Structure
6 How to Battle
7 The Last Two Rules
After three years of pain and sorrow, the very first EFFORTS LP is going to be released this Monday. It took a crunch to get it ready. Zach is not just my bandmate and brother, but he’s also the producer and engineer of the thing, and he’s spent the last few months weaving in and out of his own schedule just to see this thing completed. And just like me, he’s never been busier. Right now he’s in Japan with his real band, but we decided to release the album on our three year anniversary (this Monday!) so it's up to me to see it through.
It kind of works out better this way. The songs all started with me alone in my living room, holding my Dad’s old guitar and whining about my life. A lot of the songs are about my parents, or my siblings, but most of them are about Meagen and I. So it feels right to have no one except her and my shadow beside me to celebrate the release. And my parents just arrived in town. So we’re full circle.
Before he left, Zach and I spent a full 48 hours finishing the mixes and then mastering the thing by ourselves. And it was good to do a final push like this--we had spent so many years redoing parts of songs that to have no time and everything locked in place felt really good. The night we finished I got home and uploaded the tracks online to a manufacturer, and a week later 100 CD’s arrived at my doorstep. I left 50 of them on Zach’s back porch, and in true EFFORTS fashion I walked through a giant spider-web while doing so. It was so big, it felt like I was caught in a net. Like Jesus and his fishers of men had found me once again.
This may be Nashville, but the music industry is a toxic lake of fire. Because of this, Zach and I have a lot of very strange plans for this release. One of them involves sending stacks of promo copies to various record stores, and slipping a copy in with every Spell Saga package I send out. It’s always hard to say if a plan is going to work or not (again, spell saga is four years late) but here is a pic that Zach sent me from Japan. That’s him with the owner of a really cool record shop in Tokyo called LFR. They are giving out EFFORTS LPs with every purchase.
Sometimes I worry about the music I’ve made. We named our album I Bought You a Coffin, and most of those songs were written during moments that I felt helpless or suicidal.
When I realized I was an alcoholic, one of the most upsetting things was finding that--much like math problems in 7th grade pre-algebra, I don’t uh…“alcoholic” correctly. Drinking was different for me. I wasn’t a black out drunk, and I wasn’t ruining my life. At least not quickly, anyway. The problems for me were different, but just as bad. It was the same way with feeling suicidal. I’m not listening to Blink 182 with a razor in my hands. But those thoughts were there, all the same.
Those feelings are not day-to-day for me though. So when I look back and listen to these songs we’ve recorded, I worry. “Do I have the right to sing about this stuff? Is this irresponsible?” And then I have a day like last Monday, and I remember where all those songs came from.
It was a bad mental health day. That’s hard for me to admit, because growing up we didn’t talk about mental health. We just put you in special education and filled you with meds. You were wrong, and you were stupid.
But if you are, like myself, driving around listening to Gregorian Chants all day, and walking around a department store imagining ways to kill yourself. Uh, that’s bad day. That’s a bad mental health day.
It was that spiral galaxy on my fingertips. Everything I had worked for, and everything I wanted to be, spinning on my nail. Crushing me to sorrow. I have never before felt so much pressure.
I can handle it. I can! I really can. But if something ELSE gets thrown at me--like my wife and I arguing about who knows what (last Monday) or the drummer for Beset. and I nearly getting in a fist fight (last night...when I had to walk away...and slam a metal sheet into the sidewalk...until it was bent up like the letter C, at an angle)--I just lose it.
I don’t swing at anyone. I’m not that person. And I don’t often yell, not for more than a few words. I don’t like the idea of making anyone else feel stupid or wrong. Even when I’m angry with them. But I lose...my ability to be myself...I lose all the bricks I built up around my heart. The Tower of Todd falls and everything that I worked for since I was too “stupid” or “mental” to be in class with regular kids, is laid bare.
It is these moments that I write little blogs and post them online. These Letters to You (whoever you are), are my way of building my bricks up, one word at a time, until that tower is back where it needs to be.
Everything Will be Wrong & Fine.
I sent my Cousin a package of things to autograph and sketch upon, and then, when she sends it back, I’ll be ready to start sending out all these Spell Saga packages. Everyone’s getting one. Even people who already got cards from us. This is the long awaited end of the fundraiser, but much more importantly: it is the start of Spell Saga’s true beginning: 2019 will be the year our tabletop novel gets to shine.
And it will also be the year Zach and I start playing shows again, and filming videos while we send our album into every shop that will have us.
I’m not sure what’s to become of my other groups. Beset. Still seems likely to give it a try, but DAMNSEL & THE EUTH GROUP is floundering, not least of which because Geoffrey Maybe is leaving town forever, and did not see fit to join us in finishing EFFORTS. It will be weird to play these songs live without a bass player. But fuck it. We’re so loud it won’t matter.
One last bit: the whole thing about driving around and listening to Gregorian Chants. That was true, but I did have reasons beyond madness:
I’ve been rewriting The Novel again--I know! I know! I need to get to the end. I can’t just keep going backwards...but...I have this idea. Because I don’t learn the same, or drink the same...or do anything tried and true, I have this sort of plan for how to present this novel...one that requires me to go back and fix a few things in the first couple of chapters. So I’ve been rewriting those again.
But something has happened.
If typing words to you is one way of building myself back up to normal, than reading on a couch late at night is another. Those bricks are some of my oldest, and the tower they build is filled to bursting with a sense of self.
I pulled a book off the shelf the other night, and sat down, and started reading. And something inside me broke. Something that was holding me back. There are many towers inside a person, and not all of them are good. I don’t know if it was the type of paper, or the font, or some form of mental illness they never cruelly diagnosed me with, but I saw the writing the way the enlightened might see a man’s spirit. I saw the structure, and the rules, and I learned it, in a way that others could not. I saw what to bend or what to break, and how to do it. I read language the way that trees breathe the wind.
It was music. And it was not. It was something I could do too, now that I saw it. Now that I could see the form and function, the veins of blood and ore that make something into something else.
I think it helped that I had been using an online service to check my grammar in the novel. I had spent about a week or so doing this. The combination of hard work, online corrections and a good book in the right light finally taught me what I’ve been striving toward for over a decade. I just wanted to write things, and write them well. But it’s so god damn hard for me to learn. It takes me so much time. I used to rip out pages of good writing and hang them around my walls, as if begging the room to teach me by osmosis.
Now I see the path to a finished story, a story I might have finished at any given time, but not in the manner I wished for it to be seen. But knowing is not enough. I still need some more music in those words. Listening to Gregorian Chanting will, I hope, do the trick.
Or this is all a very convoluted breakdown. Either way. I am at the end of it all, very happy and relieved. But also very tired. And far too overwhelmed.
Meagen will be going out of town the end of October. She will be back the day of our seven year “we made it” anniversary. In that time I’ll be sending out packages, and finishing the Spell Saga website, while I send the album out to any blog that will have us. But I’m also going to move forward too.
It is time to start finishing this novel, I want it done by December 31st. And Beset. Is supposed to be recording in November...we have three full days in a multi-million dollar. If we can keep it together. The Weapon went and got us a new practice space, so next Monday is sort of a test run. I need to keep the galaxy on my fingers spinning, and balanced. It will require a tower stronger than I’ve ever built before. Writing thee words has helped to build it, and knowing you have read them will help as well, so I thank you.
One last thing. I called The Weapon last night and he gave me some advice that I had once given him. It was a rough night and he told me, “bad things lead to good songs.” It was kind of him to remember this, and to feel the need to call me and say it. Here is a demo I started last night.
I have to go meet my parents, they just landed.
May all you towers hold, and fall only when they should.