Wednesday, March 29, 2006

One Whole Person

It's been a crazy week. Lots of fighting with Tyler over stupid things. I try my best to get him to open up, but he's so closed off - I don't know if even he knows how to access and process his emotions right now. I'm hoping the counselor can give us some more insight and tools to help. Kayleigh wears her emotions a mile in front of her and can have a meltdown at the slightest provocation, but at least it's all right there and can be dealt with. Tyler maintains an excellent poker face, and his frustrations tend to come out in other, seemingly non-related ways. Now throw the beginning stages of puberty into the mix and - voila! - instant family drama.

RestorX returned three acoustic guitars to me. The Ovation Sam gave me survived the fire, as did my mother's Spanish style folk guitar (which must be at least 40 years old at this point). The third was a 6-string belonging to Sam, which frustrated her because it sounded tinny and never stayed in tune. Funny what survives. Anyway, I was elated to have them back, because I'd really been jonesing to play for several weeks. On the same day, a lot of my replacement studio gear arrived on my doorstep, which is really inspiring.

No sooner did I mention my exclusive dating relationship with MD than I began to feel like I'd taken another premature step. We'd had a terrific week of fun and romance, but when she started her new job and I went back to my schedule, we found we weren't able to meet as often, and the chemistry dampened. We have called the "relationship" quits, although we are still fond of each other and are remaining friends. I don't think it's a boast to say I've fared pretty well in that department, remaining friends with the women I've dated.

The weird schedule dance with MD also bore its own gift - the realization that I don't have to be in a relationship to be a whole person. I'd been part of a couple since I was 16, so I naturally developed a sense of completeness that was tied to my relationship. And because Sam was so much of my stimulus-response existence for so long, when she died I really did feel that chemical withdrawal those in the know said that I would. In a way, I look at my dating during the past year as a sort of "emotional methadone". And if I ended up helping the woman in her own situational process (as both LA & MD said I did), so much the better.

And now it's time to be okay with being single. More time to focus on my craft, more time to focus on the kids, less distraction from matters like the house reconstruction. Sure, I miss the emotional and physical intimacy, and eventually I'll find the right person to permanently share it with. Overall, I feel like I was really putting a lot of work into dating. Not that I've had a lot of experience, but what little I have has taught me the stuff that needs to happen to you usually does so when you aren't looking.

I'm starting to feel a bit of creativity returning, after a long, dry spell. Guess we'll see where it goes.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


The last couple days have been sorta icky, not in any my-house-burned-down kinda way, but more in a my-tummy-hurts kinda way. Tyler has been a challenge at bedtime the last couple nights, and has earned himself many non-consecutive hours of restriction. I think he must sense when I'm not feeling well, and it throws his security and routine off - thus the bedtime and morning fights.

I got maybe 5 hours sleep in 48 (Mon/Tues), and woke up Wednesday exhausted. Fortunately, I had an appointment at M3 Bodyworks - whatever was locked up got broken loose in the massage, and I came home and collapsed for 4 hours. Still didn't feel up to the trip downtown to Gilda's. And then last night, Tyler was holding James Brown (the hardest-working guinea pig in show business), and the little fuzzball climbed over his shoulder and took a swan dive to the floor. I heard nothing about it until Kayleigh, very concerned, told me that "James isn't moving his hind legs..."

Sure enough, the fall did a number on his legs and lower spine. Poor little guy was dragging his back legs around the cage. Took him to our vet today, and had him examined by an expert on guinea pigs. The bad news is he got some spinal or pelvic trauma. The good news is he's getting pain response in the legs (which were not broken), so chances are his spine wasn't broken, and a lot of times small mammals can recover from such falls and get around reasonably well. Gave us some anti-inflammatory pain meds to give him, and we'll leave him alone for a couple weeks to see how he does. He's otherwise healthy, and only about 3 years old. Still has a good year or two left in him, if this doesn't end up doing him in.

On the way to the vet, I reminded Kayleigh that he might not make it through this injury - not that I wanted her to worry, just that I wanted her to be ready if it did happen. She totally understood, and added that if James died, then Mommy could play with him again. What must it be like to be 8 years old and already have such perspective? Anyway, the jury is still out on James Brown, but we'll keep y'all informed.

Aside from that, there is a mountain of boxes for the recycling tomorrow, due to the stuff for my studio arriving by the truckload. Got the new work computer up and running, with its new video and sound cards, and have begun extracting some of the salvaged data. It's a slow process, especially with media files.

Gotta get a vacuum tomorrow, and get to the storage unit to grab 10 cases of the Red Dwarf RPG for our consolidator - I've been remiss in getting the product out to the fulfillment warehouse, but it's on the way...

Saturday, March 18, 2006


When I went to Ensinada, Mexico, with Randy in 1989 to visit the orphanage where he'd lived and worked for over 2 years, the kids had a cute expression for anything cool. The word "machine", but pronounced with a long, drawn-out eeeee on the second syllable. Combined with an approving nod of the head, it was the total package of affirmation.

So when my new work computer showed up yesterday, I couldn't help but utter, "machiiiiine!"

Because I do a lot of graphics and multimedia, an off-the-rack desktop doesn't really cut the mustard... in fact, there are very few condiments it will cut. So with the insurance advance to cover my business machine losses in the fire, I bought a new media workstation and started to replace elements of my studio. The main machine is a Dell XPS dualcore (where they put two chips on a single processor). While most computers are getting smaller, this guy is unashamed to be a muscle car. It's as tall as my last tower and about 3" wider, and looks like a chrome version of the old SGI workstations we had at Boss - the ones that started with a key ignition.

Sam's brother Doug came out to the rental house today and set up the network. Many trips to Staples later, the new rig is working, the laptop is wireless, and our Vonage phone is set up. The last thing to do is get the kids' machine working in the next room. I have one of the rescued data DVDs dumping to the hard drive as I finish this post.

Got a box back from RestorX today. An old renfaire shirt, a pair of Sam's dress shoes, and a bunch of fabric remnants. None of it stuff that we really need to keep.

Tomorrow I will head over to Brian Chase's studio to learn a sound app and get some of our tracks in progress. Then I'm taking Kayleigh to a friend's birthday party, then meeting with Ron. Hope to get out this week sometime to see V for Vendetta. Trying to stay focused on "stuff that needs doing" and keeping positive. I'll let you know how that works out.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

More Tears

Our Gilda's Club contact with Extreme Makeover took me aside and informed me she'd received a response on our submission. They loved our story (which means we evidently passed the pity threshold), but apparently the show's producers don't like doing projects in Washington State due to the unstable weather (hey - we have variety: rain, snow, sun, hail, wind, sometimes all at once!), but asked for my contact info so she could talk to me about submitting to another show. I wonder if Oprah would be interested. ;)

My friend Patrick Goddard works for Rhino Records. He sent me a box of really great CDs (thanks, Pat!). For the past few days, I've been switching between the Doors collection, the New Order collection, and a couple of my own acquisitions (Matisyahu, Morningwood & KT Tunstall) in the car while I drive all over Seattle shuttling children and running my various errands. Today I finally got the desire to pop in a Chameleons compilation CD that survived the fire by virtue of it being in my car. Of course, Tears is probably my favorite track of theirs, and when the acoustic version came on, Kayleigh and I began singing along with it. But when it got to "waiting for the light to turn green/carry me home/to the kindest eyes that I've ever seen", the early part of my relationship with Sam came rushing back and I choked up.

When I talked to Caleb later this evening, he asked a very good question. Did I miss Sam, or did I miss how I was when I was with her. And he wasn't surprised when I said "both". I've said it before on this blog - a big portion of one's grief (especially in relation to a spouse) is more than just missing the person. It's missing the person you once were. It's missing the life you shared together. It's missing the history and the little secrets and jokes to which only the two of you were privy, and that now must reside solely in your memory.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived home to an email from an old Aptos High theater friend, Michelle Welk. Michelle and musician/actor Gary Hagen were a year ahead of me in high school, and had become an item the year before I moved to Palo Alto and met Sam. They were the only two friends from school who'd been together as a couple longer than Sam & me. The last time I'd had any contact with Michelle was in about '93, and Gary in about '96. They didn't know about Sam, they didn't know about my dad, they didn't know about our house. It's weird telling the tale to someone I've not been in communication with in over a decade.

Spoke to Randy tonight. Talking to my big bro always makes me feel better. It's a relationship that now spans 26 years and gives me a great sense of continuity. He's known me literally since I was a kid. I've only known Dave & Adam Beach longer. He was able to dump some rare vinyl to CD, including The Humans Happy Hour LP and their Play EP. The Humans were a talented Santa Cruz band merging new wave and surf music with sophisticated lyrics. Randy took me to see them live at the Catalyst in 1982 when I was 14. I credit that as my first rock show. The frontman, Sterling Storm, is now a successful production designer.

Tyler amazes me. Here's a kid who's gone through the personal hell of losing his mom, grandpa and home, on top of trying to function with ADHD and starting puberty... and what does he post on his blog? His recipe for egg salad. Here I am, angsting it up, and he's sharing something nice with others. I've been really surprised (pleasantly so) at his maturity level of late. Of course, it all came crashing down tonight when he and Kayleigh decided to have a fight at bedtime. That stuff happens from time to time. But overall, I can see him evolving - and I'm encouraged to see the direction in which it's happening. In fact, I'm pretty happy with both of my kids. Yes, this is the same guy who wanted to sell them to visigoths not long ago, but they're both ambulatory, clever as all heck and talented like you wouldn't believe. I shouldn't complain. I absolutely love them to pieces.

I think I've rambled enough for the midweek check-in. Be well, and thanks to everyone for the notes, emails and care packages! :) And Piggy, thanks for the cookies, goo and all.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

11 Months & Scar Tissue

Woke up at 5AM this morning, and for a moment I wondered why. Then I remembered - 11 months ago Sam died. It's incredible to ponder how radically different my life is now, compared to 11 months ago.

In some ways, the pain has dulled. In others, especially the horror of her last breath, the pain is still fresh. But I do know the passage of time has dulled all sensation somewhat. That makes it possible to keep moving. I'm not emotionally vulnerable anymore. The two people who knew me best in the world are gone, and I'm not anywhere near that level of intimacy with any of my other friends. The last year has been like a prison rape of the soul - and the time spent between each horrific event just adds layer upon layer to the cicatrix growing over the wound.

Every day nothing gets done at the burned house just adds frustration. Between three insurance companies, you can imagine the foot dragging, despite promises to "get this done real quick for you".

Last month was especially dificult, due not only to the house fire, but to four anniversaries: Sam's birthday, Dad's birthday, 10 month marker of Sam's death, 9 month marker of Dad's death. This month is a bit of a reprieve, but April and May will be tough again. I'm sure I'll have more clarity next month when I'm staring down the 1 year marker of Sam's passing. All I want to do is make it through this first year. For whatever reason, whether the hype is internally or externally created, I just have a sense that things will stabilize after the year marker.

In other news...

I should get my new work computer on Monday. Already received the video card from ATI. Thanks for the recommendations, Doug & Randy.

Thanks again to everyone who has been sending care packages of cool stuff. At this point, we're set for all the necessities and really don't have room to store toys and that kind of thing in the rental house. We've also got the food thing figured out.

The kids have been making their beds. Now I know I'm in the Twilight Zone.

Tyler just informed me he has a blog.

Feeling a bit more in-balance overall, with regular trips to the chiropractor and the massage studio. Also have been seeing a local woman for about a week. Schedules are about to get crazy again, so I'm hesitant to make anything too momentous out of it, but the fact that I'm even in a place where I could be open to a more exclusive dating relationship is another big leap forward on the grief continuum. Romance is a totally different beast when you're in your thirties, as opposed to high school. So much more to consider...

My brother (the youngest of the surviving siblings) is about to be the first of the three of us to get his degree and actually graduate college. I did a 2-year animation trade program in college, but that's different. Gavin will actually have his degree and be able to start teaching. I'm VERY proud of my little brother - he's worked his ass of for this.

Off to coffee with Ron. Was gonna try to pick up some furniture from a friend of my Mom's in Bellevue, but I haven't been able to track down DJ and his cargo van.

Blah blah blah...

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

...And Breathe.

I suppose I should post something since it's been almost a week. Friday was fortunately the last day I had to don the yellow Tychem suit and dig through ash for identifying portions of my old life. Thank heavens - that stuff wears on your soul, and you smell like a barbecue gone wrong besides.

Mad props to Titan Games, who sent a thoughtful box of geekery (including a limited edition D&D Player's Guide for Tyler). Also to ACD Distribution who sent a box of awesome board games and goodies. Thanks to Ken Whitman at RapidPOD for his offer of assistance. Thanks to my buddy Gordon in Oregon, formerly one-half of the experimental band Mozart Air Raid, for his offer to help rebuild my music collection.

I also want to give a special thanks to Dave Alpern, who runs the John Steakly fan site. I've known Dave for about 6 or 7 years (although we have never met f2f). He writes the Balancing Act column for GamerDad. Anyway, Dave knows I'm a fan of John Steakley's 2nd novel, Vampire$ (which is not to be confused with that terrible film "adaptation" John Carpenter made of it). He also knew that my trade paperback copy (as well as 2 other standard novel-sized copies) were consumed by fire. So since he was just at an event with Steakley, he sent me a new trade paperback copy of Vampire$ with a very nice personalized dedication by The Man himself.

We're still receiving help from various church groups, industry organizations, fellow game publishers, schools... it's so heartening to be lifted up by our fellow human beings after the trauma of loss. I know I can't remember everyone to thank all at once, so be patient as I throw in a few here and there as I go. Just know we appreciate your help.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down.

Spent the day - all day - sifting through the blackened remains of my home with the cataloguing crew hired by my insurance company. Itemizing losses.

Itemizing losses. Twenty-plus years of memories and generations of family antiques and memorabilia reduced to lines on a sheet with an approximate replacement value and an age for depreciation.

Among the pots and pans, we found a simple utensil from when Sam was a Pampered Chef rep (which she only did long enough to get the discount on the cool gear), which triggered a million memories. Across the fridge, crisp black rectangles that were once photographs of the kids, or of Sam & me.

In the corner of the dining room, I discovered a pile of photos which must've fallen out of a box. Singed around the edges. The ones on the top and bottom were blackened and unrecognizeable. But in opening the pile to the middle, I found the picture of Sam feeding me cake at our wedding reception.


Even though I was kneeling solidly on my right knee and not crouching, I could feel it give way and my vision went misty with tears, like I was swimming in a badly chlorinated pool.

The ladies were understanding and let me take a break.

All in all, we spent a full work day picking through ash, describing what the ash used to be, figuring how much the ash originally cost and how long I'd owned the ash. I came home at 5:30PM, covered in soot and smelling like a strip club before the smoking ban, my nose and throat scratchy with dust and ash, one knee strained and a heart filled with angst and sorrow.

And tomorrow I get to do it all over again.

I would like to mention that the folks in the adventure game industry are some of the most incredibly kind and generous people I have ever met... and not met. Apparently there is a silent auction to be held at the GAMA Trade Show (GTS) this year - to benefit my family. Some folks have offered a number of favors, goodies, services and the like. And Matt Forbeck (who has contributed to several of my favorite RPG titles evar) posted a really unexpected and completely wonderful blog entry about me, my company and my family. As Matt says, we don't even really know each other personally (although we did meet at Gen Con 2003, if I recall correctly). And yet, when there's a man down, everyone rallies. As Rule #1 clearly states: Never split up the party.

Thank you all. You're amazing.