Saturday, October 16, 2010

Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting

Well, this is being posted on Saturday morning thanks to the magic of the internet. I'm actually writing it on Thursday night after a grueling long work day. I had to get up ad 4:45 and drive two and a half hours for a meeting I really didn't need then drive two and half hours home. Suffice to say, it would be super nice if this whole writing thing worked out.

This week has been really amazing for me. I've stuck to my writing schedule and actually stayed ahead of my self imposed deadline. You guys have had some incredibly positive things to say about my entries so far, and I just want you to know how much it has truly been appreciated.

What I plan on doing from here on out is my normal 5 entries throughout the week and then on Saturday, and possibly Sunday as well, just giving a sort of 'state of the union' update. Talking about my week a bit and letting everyone know how the writing is going from my side of the keyboard. Also, if I have any interesting links or videos or anything else I can think of, these posts would include that information.

For instance:
Here's and interesting blog from Wil Wheaton (some of you may know him as Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation) that he posted on Wednesday evening. The topic is about writing, so naturally it appealed to me.

That's it for my first full weak writing The Madness Spiral. Hopefully next week will go as smoothly. I hope everyone reading this has a great weekend, and again, thank you for taking to time out your busy lives to get an inside look at mine.


Friday, October 15, 2010

But They're Evil!

I remember wandering the halls of my high school carrying more nerd gear than school books. I almost always had my Player’s Handbook with me, at least one novel (most likely Dragon Lance or Forgotten Realms), and assorted characters I had made in any downtime I had. Not to mention I usually had dice, extra pencils, and blank character sheets in case inspiration struck while in the middle of discussing “Watership Down” or some such. Who cares about talking rabbits when you can make a pirate wizard? Not me, that’s for sure. As you can imagine, I was not the most popular kid in school, but I still had a great group of core friends and I did okay with girls even though I talked more of d20s and orcs than keggers on the weekend. No matter how rough my day or week of school went, I always knew I had a fellow nerd just a phone call or short car ride away that would enjoy a brief respite from the average social pressures with me. I never drank in school or smoked marijuana like so many in my class. My drug was fantasy. I could get high on drawing out maps and creating a world for others to explore. I got a buzz from throwing a handful of dice hoping for the best result.

My parents, initially, were not too hip to the idea of me playing Dnd especially considering the aforementioned controversy. Eventually though, they accepted it knowing that it didn’t have any psychological affect on me and I wasn’t trying to cast “spells” on anyone. They knew I was a good kid and the guys I played with were all good kids too, if slightly nerdy and irritating. I think a big part of their acceptance stemmed from a change in my activities at home. Before I discovered Dnd and roleplaying I was either on our Nintendo or watching some garbage on television. After, I almost always had my head stuck in a book, reading fantastical tales of dragons and adventure. I think they understood that there was a fundamental change going on other than the standard adolescence and they let me form myself into the person I am today. They were there to advise and guide not to demand and forbid. My whole family was very accepting of my impending super-nerdom, and that was always appreciated.

As the turn of the century crept up, Dnd started to take more of a backseat to other things that were going on. I had choir, Boyscouts, church activities, and I had also started to work. There just wasn’t much time left in the week to imagine with my friends. In the summer of 2000, Dungeons and Dragons released a brand new system: 3rd edition. Immediately I went out and purchased the new books with my minimum wage earnings. The new system was great, but it was a colossal change from the 2nd edition that I knew and loved and I was never quite able to come to terms with it. I played it a handful of times, but my books were used more by my brother and his friends than myself and mine.

In the summer of 2008 Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition was released. I had been itching to get back into playing. Things were different now. I had been married since August of 2006, we had a son in November of 2007, and I had more responsibilities than I had ever had in the past. Well, after researching the new system and finding it mostly to my liking, I budgeted for and then purchased the new Player’s Handbook. What a change! They completely gutted the whole system and built it back up from scratch; and I absolutely loved it. It is great for experienced players and has a wealth of adaptability and detail. It’s also a really great system for getting new people involved without burying them in the rules. They also brought in a more visual element using gridded maps and miniatures to represent characters on the battlefield. Overall, I truly believe that this is the best incarnation of Dungeons and Dragons that there has been, and I honestly cannot see how they can change it to make it better.

What’s truly amazing is that throughout my nerd pilgrimage others have tagged along and become irreplaceable at my side. First and foremost is my brother, who would play roleplaying games with me before we knew what they were. He was always begging to play with my friends and me and sometimes we’d let him; as long as he played the healer. He always took it in stride and learned and adapted and has become a hell of a player and a great Dungeon Master in his own right. I can’t imagine playing a game without him. Secondly, my wife, who has put up with all of this nonsense since we met and has still loved me regardless. As a matter of fact, since 4th came out, she’s become a regular fixture around out gaming table. Thanks to them and to Michael and Curtis for creating in me a desire for the fantastic and to everyone else I’ve played with over the years for keeping my mind occupied and keeping my imagination alive.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

It's about to get Nerdy in Here!

This is the book Michael had.

         I remember riding in the back seat of my best friend’s mother’s car in the summer of 1995. It was an extraordinary large car. I can’t quite remember the make and model, but I’m pretty sure it was made in the mid 80s and required a commercial driver’s license. She was taking us to the mall to hang out and run around like a couple of hooligan kids; which actually meant going to Walden Books and the arcade to waste our allowance. I retain such clarity of this day that it astounds me. It was a warm day and the sun was shining brightly. I can still smell that old beige car and still feel its vinyl seats on my skin. My best friend, Michael, had recently convinced his mother to purchase him a book at the local hole in the wall comic book store. No, it wasn’t your standard super-heroic crime-fighter; it was TSR’s Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook. Michael handed me the book to flip through as his mom was driving us around and, from that point forward, I was hooked. I had never in my life seen such a book. Questions immediately started flowing from my brain as if the flood gates had been lifted. “A game with no board?” “How does it work?”

At this point in my life, I was 12 years old, rapidly approaching 13. I had two tried and true friends, Curtis and Michael. We were somewhat like the three musketeers with less musketeering and much more playing with G.I. Joes and watching cheesy action movies. My only experience with Dungeons and Dragons was the cartoon which aired between 1983 and 1986 but was also shown in syndication for several years later. My dad never was comfortable with me watching the show as a child (either that or he thought it was terrible) so I never saw much of it. I played pretend like all boys do growing up, but I never set up hard and fast rules for anything. 

If you’re not familiar with Dungeons and Dragons you may have heard some misrepresentations about the games. The media latched on to two big incidents and used the game as a scapegoat. These incidents involved James Dallas Egbert, III and Chris Pritchard. These tarnished the Dungeons and Dragons brand for years and I'm sure there are still some people out there who remember the negative press the game received then and still believe all of the hype. At 12 years old I had no idea who either of these men were. 

All I knew is that Robin Hood was cool and King Arthur and his Knights were brave and Merlin was wise. I think that most history minded kids know those things. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever believe that I could become one of them or someone like them even if it was only on paper and for a few hours a week. Dungeons and Dragons (which I will now refer to as it’s more common term: DnD) is a game of imagination and rules. There’s really not much else to it. I had a very active imagination as a child and my control freak and borderline OCD tendencies seemed to embrace all of the different rules; and, man, were they complicated back then. Basically, one person decides to be the Dungeon Master (I know, nerd alert) which is the person who creates the situations that the players have to react to. Everyone else makes a character based on what skills they want to have. Easy enough, right?

Since that summer day 15 years ago I have had a fascination and sometimes a borderline obsession with things medieval and fantasy related. Where most 12 and 13 year old boys are playing sports and thinking about cars I spent my time flipping the pages of my own recently purchased Player’s Handbook trying to commit every picture and every rule to memory so that I could get the most enjoyment possible out of my games. It’s about escapism for me. It’s escaping the social awkwardness that a pubescent boy exhibits. It’s escaping the confines of society and the “rules” of growing up in a traditional public school system. It’s about escaping the confines of whatever keeps you from being what you want to be. I went from being a goofy acne covered tween, to a sword wielding warrior with a roll of the dice. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fatherhood - Conclusion?

I think the relationship dynamic changed between my wife and I at the very moment Grayson was brought into this world. I knew from that point on she could always win any argument; whether she was actually right or not. She had this baby inside of her for nine months and now nothing. Grayson was her baby. I have never in my life seen someone do a complete personality change like I did with her in the weeks and months following that November. She went from an awesomely funny, partially retired party girl who liked to stay up late and didn’t have the strictest work ethic to a strong independent ferocious-as-hell mother. It was cool to see her really take pride in being a mom. In fact, I still admire that about her to this day.

          Fatherhood was something I once thought of as an abstract. I never thought it would happen to me. As a matter of fact, for a long time I swore I wouldn’t have children of my own. I wasn’t mature enough to really understand what it is to be a parent. Hell, sometimes I’m still not. I remember very vividly the moment that I decided I had changed my opinion on future offspring. It was the summer of 2005 and I was sitting on a white wicker porch swing on a screened in porch with a friend of mine. I was spilling my guts to her about how I was miserable with my life and things just had to start changing. I was just babbling a string of consciousness and I blurted out that I wanted a son. She looked at me completely shocked. I paused and realized what I had just spouted.

“Yeah. A son.” I said, nodding to myself and to her. “I’ve put so much negative energy – so much shit into this world that I have to do something to make up for it.”

My friend leaned away from me. In hindsight, I’m sure she thought I was losing my mind. I, up to that point, had been so adamant that I was never having children. I was very vocal about my position as well.

So, basically, I wanted kids because of a strong desire to prove to the world and to myself that I can do something worth while. I can achieve something and have a positive affect on people around me instead of be a complete pessimistic downer.  I want to be able to teach someone from the errors and successes that I have experienced. I have a wealth of knowledge of completely random things, and I want to pass these things on. I want my children to know that they are smarter than me and have pride in that. I was a failure in school because I didn’t want to 1) work and 2) really become a geek.  (Make good grades and be into comic books and video games and Dungeons and Dragons – All of these before it was anywhere remotely cool.) I want them to have all of the opportunities that I had as a child and adolescent, but I want them to have the wisdom to make better decisions than I did.

I have learned that with children nothing will go as planned. That’s a very hard consequence for me to deal with seeing as how I am a major control freak.  Patience is of the utmost importance and I have none. I have never been a patient person but with the help of Grayson and his little brother Jackson maybe someday I will. Another realization for me has been come to the true understanding that my fierce independence can be a great weakness, but can also be my best strength.

Fatherhood for me is an ongoing struggle pitting me against myself. It’s a classic literary device. Conflict is always Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Man, or Man vs. Self. I am a traditional example of the latter; being such an overbearing (at times) control freak and the opposite all in the same day. I know that no matter what I do, no matter whose feelings get hurt by my negligence, my family will be there for me and I, most certainly, will always be there for them. On my drive home from work everyday I get excited to see the two smiling faces of my goofy boys and the one very exhausted but still generally smiling face of their mother waiting for me. These faces have taught me a true and honest love: the love of a husband to his wife and a father to his sons. When you have a family it seems as though that’s all there is and I, personally, wouldn’t have it any other way.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fatherhood - Part 2 (This is Heavy)

Summer turned to autumn and the impending day came closer and closer. On November 6th, 2007 I was scheduled to work from 1 to 9:30. At that time, she was on bed rest due to some earlier complications. We enjoyed a very leisurely morning of lying around and watching television and playing with our dogs. As work time approached, I said my farewells and off I went, not having any inkling what would happen that day. As the clock hit 2 P.M. my store phone rang and my frantic wife was on the other end.

“It’s time!” She exclaimed.

“Huh? What’s time?” I stammered, not really thinking about the statement she made. “Oh. That! I’ll be on my way soon!”

On the way home, I had to stop and get gas for the car. Rarely have I felt like such a failure in the eyes of myself, my wife, and my in-laws. My mother-in-law had warned me to not let the fuel gauge go to low, but I had no thoughts that, on that particular Tuesday, I would need to fill up before I got off of work.

I arrived home to find a wife who was contracting heavily, but also still with it enough to have her bag ready and to dish out orders on things I needed to take care of before we left. We arrived at the hospital around 3 P.M. The labor slowed a bit at that point, but they knew that my first born son would be there relatively soon.

Shortly after midnight on November 7th, 2007 my son Grayson was brought into this world by one kooky doctor, a team of the best O.B. nurses in the area, a super tough 125 lb (remember, she was 9 months pregnant) mom to be, and a very pale, almost passed out, first time daddy. The labor itself was like something from a science fiction novel. It was bizarre to someone who has no real interest in how the human body works and has a very, very squeamish stomach. It was tough for me to make it through. I can’t imagine what she put up with; what all of you ladies put up with. I had the easy part. I was there to be her rock; to lend moral support. The only requirements bestowed upon me were 1) don’t pass out and 2) Keep your dinner in you and not on the floor. I succeeded, but narrowly.

Then, that kooky doctor handed the nurses this screaming, red, ball of anger. He was none too pleased about being removed from his nice warm home. It was November in Western Kentucky for crying out loud! As I watched the nurses and respiratory therapist do their duty to make sure this little person was really ready to make his entrance into the world I felt some of the most intense emotion I have ever felt. It was love and adoration for my wife. She was a champion. The soundtrack that would play in my mind for her was authored and performed by Queen from this point forward. It was an overwhelming pride in my family and what we could accomplish. Most of all, I felt an enormous sense of responsibility. The little, angry, red person was mine. He came from a union of love between his mother and me. In the infamous words of Marty McFly, “This is heavy.” This sense of responsibility has driven me and will continue to drive me to make sure that I am the best possible husband and father that I can be. Sure, sometimes I drop the ball and make boneheaded decisions, but who doesn’t? I must force myself to pick the ball back up and get back into the game.

From November 7th, 2007 until my last day on this Earth, I will be a father. Nothing can change that. In my eyes, there is nothing more important than the responsibility my wife and I have to raise our children. No sacrifice is too much to make to be assured that they are happy and well taken care of. Does this mean I cannot take the risks that I might have taken otherwise? You’re damn right it does. These are pure fatherhood principles I have learned from my father. He never sat me down and told me what was expected of me when I had minions of my own, but instinctually I knew because I’ve seen it my entire life and continue to see it to this day.

Fatherhood - Part 1

Nothing in this world, or any other for that matter, could have prepared me for the change my life would undergo when my lovely wife first found out she was pregnant towards the beginning of 2007. We had discussed children before we were married and we had decided that we both wanted to have at least one child together; most likely, two. We had discussed these things with an eye cast far upon the future. The same future in which I was going to be a successful writer (or musician, or something else that makes good money without the mandatory college education), and she was going to be able to stay at home and rear our offspring. She came out of the bathroom holding that plastic pregnancy test with a smile, or a blue line, or four dots, or whatever that particular brand used to signify that your human mating ritual had succeeded in furthering the species. I remember feeling clearly terrified and exhilarated at the same time. This was a monumental event. This was an event so important to the Ragsdale family that the patron would one day write about his feelings of it to six people on the internet. My wife seemed to have the same fear and joy in her eyes as we hugged and discussed what we would do and pondered how our lives would irrevocably change. We had no idea.

Fast forward to the summer of 2007 and we had purchased a new home about 10 miles from where we were living. We had outgrown our original homestead and since we were bringing a small person into the world, we thought it would be a good time to upgrade to something bigger and closer to what would end up being our primary childcare provider; my in-laws. Throughout that summer I worked a full time retail job, played in my classic rock band ( ) packed up all of our possessions and moved my wife, myself, and our three dogs. It was hot. She was very pregnant and not always in the best of humor due to the heat and the being very pregnant. It was, most assuredly, not our best summer nor our easiest or most fun. Life is hard. That is one thing that I can never again underestimate. We celebrated our one year wedding anniversary in August of 2007, but our minds were much more intent on the future than the past. Life was moving quickly.

From 2003 until 2005 I was absorbed in my selfish little world. I worked between 25 and 40 hours a week for most of that stretch. Like any early 20-something I spent a few nights a week at the local watering holes. My wife was the same way. We spent so much time focused on ourselves and our friends that I believe we really had no idea how to be 100% devoted to another human being. Not to intimate that we weren’t in love or weren’t faithful – we were. We were absolutely head over heels for each other. I cannot recall a single day from the time that we decided we wanted to be together until August of 2009 that we didn’t see each other for at least a little bit every day. I knew from our first date (which was a blind date we set up through MySpace) that there was something special about her. As the days and weeks of her pregnancy rolled by, I truly began to understand the love and adoration that we shared for each other. She was making the tremendous sacrifices of having her body bent and shaped to the will of this thing growing in her and having, some days, wildly uncontrollable mood swings. It’s worth mentioning that her entire first trimester she stayed sick and dehydrated and exhausted. (Ladies, I know you ALL make sacrifices.) I realized that she was going through these things so that we could have a family. She was dealing with all of this stress and pressure (and working a new job) so that the dream we had of our future could begin to come true. 

(To be continued...)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

First Post.

This blog, most certainly, is not a big deal for anyone who perhaps stumbles upon it. However, this is a big deal for me. For as long as I can remember I've had this store of creative energy in me. At times music has been my muse. Other times it's been poetry or drawing. There have even been thoughts on writing children's books or movie scripts, or comic books, or science fiction/fantasy novels. I have a visceral urge to create and since I’m not good with my hands, my brain has to be my tool of choice.

Writing, for me, has always been mostly joy with a bit of anger and a pinch of necessity. As I look back on my 28 years, rarely have I written for the sake of writing. I am changing my history starting today. I no longer have a teacher or professor breathing down my neck for an argumentative paper. I don’t have an impending project of any sort that I have to complete by a deadline. I will be writing for writing’s sake. I will post something on here at least five days a week just so that I can prove to myself, and to anyone who may be reading, that I can. The advice I keep reading on writing is to write. Quit researching how to write and do it. That’s my plan here. As a father of two and a full time employee of a retail company, time will be scarce, but I promise that an effort will be made to update with some sort of writing, Whether it be a poem, song, short story, an anecdote from my life, my thoughts on a particular topic, or just a stream of consciousness rant, there will be something new five days a week.

Ideally, I would like to make a career doing something involving creative writing. Science fiction/fantasy books have always captured my imagination, as have comic books. (Specifically DC comics.) One (or both) of those fields is what I dream of being involved in and what I will strive from today forward to be a part of. Again I proclaim that my history changes today. Ten years from now I want to look back on 10/10/10 and realize that my new profession began then. I need to change my course and really find something that I truly have a passion for. (Apparently, my passion lies in being a mega-geek.) I need to make this opportunity to succeed for myself and no longer rely on natural aptitude or hoping something will fall into my lap. Today I firmly grasp the reins of my life and I will steer this son of a bitch to success or die trying.