Posts Tagged games

Permission to Try

A while ago, I was chatting to a friend and happened to mention that I loved horror movies, especially when I was feeling low. She looked at me in horror. ‘Why?!’ she gasped.

I honestly didn’t know how to reply, because I couldn’t quite understand the question.

I don’t know if it’s still true (I suspect it is), but when I was younger, it wasn’t ‘cool’ to be really passionately into something. Be it a hobby, interest or whatever struck your fancy in a big way, it seemed that unless that topic was currently ‘trendy’ – and therefore permissible – you could expect to get mocked for it. So you quickly learned to keep it quiet.

A classic example is Dungeons and Dragons, which was widely derided for many years after launch (despite its popularity), but is now ‘cool’ because those nerdy kids grew up and are still enjoying themselves. Thus others are finally drawn in though curiosity rather than put off by derision.

I’ve never understood why someone being really keen on a subject should have to push that down for the sake of their ‘image.’ When do we learn to mock others for things they enjoy? I think the nearest I came was having a laugh at my brother for his football-madness, but our whole family had that – I always took a book (or two) wherever I went, unless I wanted to sit with them watching two groups of men chase a ball around a field for 90 minutes. Fun for many, not for me.

I still joke with him about ‘Doing A Sport’, by the way. It’s not malicious at all, as I love seeing my nephews enjoying it as they get older. I really wouldn’t want to tell anyone what they can and cannot like! My technically-correct explanation of the Offside Rule (‘that man’s in front of that other one and he shouldn’t be’) shows how daft I am, if anything.

It’s interesting to take a step back to consider why some things are permissible and others not. So many social rules fly around gendered roles, for example: historically, women were looked down upon for reading, because they might Get Ideas. Let alone Playing a Sport (still true).

I love that we’re now starting to really dig into the irrationality of such invisible laws, which seem to originate in the schoolyard. At some point (hopefully by adulthood) an individual can stop, think to themselves ‘Hang on…’ and realize that the thing they love is for a valid reason.

I mention my ribbing of my brother and his football because he has been known to do similar to me about my Paganism. He used to call it ‘That stuff you do’, until he came to my Handfasting and saw what the Stuff was for himself. It’s not for him but he gets it, and I’m glad.

At every single such event I’ve ever attended, regular folks have approached me to tell me how lovely the ceremony was, and how they’d never realized. I do wonder what they imagine Pagan Ritual to be, but it’s always lovely to share The Stuff I Do with others in an open way, so they can see for themselves. Not with a view to recruiting at all – people can make up their own minds about that! Just demonstrating.

If people ask me for introductory information about something I love, I try to help them understand and hopefully inspire a little. It’s always a true pleasure to hear others speak on such topics. Personal passion is a wonderful thing.

I’m writing this today because allowing myself to feel deeply about certain things is something that’s been on my mind recently. What I am allowing myself to have or to do. What’s permissable – and if not, why not?

I’ve been reviewing books to share my opinion and also help authors and small publishers. Genre fiction isn’t always ‘cool’, but if I liked it, I’ll say so. It’s up to those reading the review if they pick up the book themselves or not.

I’ve been watching makeup videos on YouTube, and debating playing with colours again. The greater part of a year spent in lockdown means I’ve been making do with basic primping, but I want to remember how fun it is to dress up. I love my dark red lipstick, and will have to wear it at home for a while… but that’s ok.

What do we allow ourselves to do, or not do? Why avoid things that we love for the sake of what others think, or what we feel we ‘should’ be doing? Those awful social expectations, codes and rules…

This isn’t about anarchism or chaos. This is simply about pausing to ask ‘do I really want to do this?’ when you know the answer is Yes.

Because right now, we need to give ourself permission to enjoy what we love. Explore new languages, cultures, topics, genres, games, pastimes. What can we do to brighten the days during lockdown? Bake, read, play, craft, dress up. Even play D&D with friends across Zoom, which Himself and I will be doing tonight.

I feel as if sometimes I’m relearning what I love all over again, because the depression brings back those playground voices that tell me I can’t, shouldn’t, will look stupid, etc etc.

But what if I try?

Wintry blessings, my friends.

Comments (2)

Light in the Dark

This week has been particularly difficult for me (and many others, I suspect). Despite the lights appearing to signify the Yuletide season, it’s proving more difficult to penetrate the darkness within as the days we battle through grow shorter.

I’ve not been able to do much at all. Helpful medical voices ask ‘What do you normally do to make yourself feel better?’ To which I want to yell ‘DON’T YOU THINK I’VE TRIED ALL THAT?!’

But I haven’t really, have I? Because I can’t. The dark thoughts prevent me – from focusing on a pleasing book, finding a distracting movie, concentrating on complex creativity. Several times this week, I’ve been unable/unwilling to even move from my chair, for fear of what might happen.

Instead, I’ve found myself thinking of ‘safe’ places from my past. Like a child having nightmares, I’ve reached out to memories of refuge, which was often needed in years gone by.

I would spend many lunchtimes at school hiding under the watchful eye of that most dreadful of gatekeepers: The Librarian. A friend to me, none of those who wished to bully me would brave her door, and so I was safe with Anne McCaffrey, the Dragonlance heroes, or any number of other fantastic and wonderful worlds.

Years later, other lunch-hours were spent in warm cafes, soft jazz in the background as I lost myself in different books. Times had changed, but circumstances hadn’t: my bullying boss would never look for me there.

On trains, in tiny secret green spaces, even walking through the streets with audiobooks being read to me, I would find solace and security in tales of wonder and magic.

Years later (again), I found myself drawn to true stories of magic: Phyllis Currott, Starhawk, Margot Adler. Wonderful, strong women who taught through their own experiences of things never thought possible.

The magic began to spill from the books into reality, as I dove deep to explore the power within me. Words, yes, but whether spell or story, I could do this. I could do magic too!

Today, I opened a book that would ordinarily be called a ‘guilty pleasure’, perhaps. Magic, romance, battles, monsters… all those wonderful things that those who love ‘The Princess Bride‘ know make for the best stories.

At last, the words caught me. I was able to turn the pages, experience the thoughts of the protagonists, see the challenges that they faced and overcame.

As I paused, a thought occurred. This week, I had revisited the very depths of that black hole within me, of illness, fear and sorrow. I hadn’t been able to pull myself out, because I could not focus on my familiar lifeline. The tactics of that Black Dog, Depression, had cunningly found a chink in my armour. By drowning my brain with a morass of negativity, self-hatred and exhaustion, I hadn’t been able to access these otherworlds. Books remind me of what is good, what is worth living for. By preventing me from seeing the words, stymying that connection, I had no way to escape my own internal oubliette. Or even notice that such an escape was possible.

It may sound strange to one who has never felt the touch of mental illness, but it really does seem like a cunning monster – hence all of the personification names. I rather like Winston Churchill’s ‘Black Dog’, but lately I’ve also become fond of ‘brain weasels’ (with no disrespect to either of those real-world animals). Either way, the monsters within try innumerable methods of breaking down your defences, until they find a weakness to exploit.

GK Chesterton (and subsequently Neil Gaiman) famously said: “Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

We find the weapons we need within the pages of magic. We see ourselves in the heroes and heroines, both old and new. We tell each other stories, as I do here, in my small way.

Because the power of the monsters within comes from convincing us that we have no power. We have no magic, are unable to stop ourselves from being overwhelmed, because we lack the ability to fight back. This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, the perpetual spiral down into the depths.

It doesn’t take much to think of stories that specifically focus on this. ‘The Neverending Story‘ is a battle against The Nothing. ‘Labyrinth‘ is a girl fighting to find her own power. Both feature disgusting swamps that drag you down and make you give up. As does the aforementioned ‘Princess Bride’.

Go back further. ‘The Wizard of Oz’ has flowers of forgetfulness and an all-powerful Witch. Odysseus almost gives in to the song of the Sirens. The original Labyrinth of Knossos swallowed up many souls…

… until the protagonist remembered the way to get through. In each case, friends provided lifelines to help the hero dig deep, to remember what they were fighting for. To keep going, to endure, to make it. (Depression isolates us, remember – another of its tactics).

I have talismans that help remind me of my own power. Sometimes they’re inspiring quotes; other times, comforting blankets, or gifts from friends. Whatever works to help me remember my connection to my own magic, to the life that exists in me and the world around.

Other physical, real-world people may seek (intentionally or not) to take that power away. But this is only possible to long as we allow it. That seems hard to believe, but it’s true.

Last night, my husband said to me something both simple and profound. ‘You know, you are allowed to say No to things you don’t want to do.’

This struck my exhausted brain surprisingly hard. I can do that? Really? Because the Black Dog had been using examples from the past to show me that this is precisely what I could not do. I had to keep my Chin Up and Soldier On. Other people, Authority People, said so.

No.

I sought comfort today, not just the urge to hide. Recharge, not just regroup. Remember that there was always power within me. Stories had always been my lifeline to that: my breadcrumb trail, my ball of yarn (as well as real balls of yarn, of course, but those arrived in more recent times!).

I thought back to those tales of true magic, from modern-day witches, bards and magicians. Every one spoke at one time or another of fighting ‘demons’ – almost like a computer game, through which we access the ‘next level.’ Stories reflecting real-world experience, and so inspiring progress. An upward spiral…

By simply surviving, by refusing to give up that last flicker of power, we win. By stepping forward, by raising our own voice, we share that power with others who may need the reminder. We can be the inspiration, the spark of Awen, the flame in the dark. Someone will hear, you can depend on that.

Sometimes, the Black Dog overwhelms and makes us forget this. Part of my battle is fighting to remember, to hold on and to Stand.

I think now of that modern fairytale, of Keanu Reeves reaching out to gently stop the bullets aimed at his heart, plucking them out of the air with that same realization as Dorothy, Sarah and Bastian.

And so on this tiny page amidst the myriad words on this InterWeb, I share this. As a reminder.

Go rekindle your candles, my friends. Inside and out. May they warm you and help you to remember your stories.

Comments (2)