Disclaimer: I am a volunteer for both of the organizations mentioned below (Dragonflight and Flying Frog Productions), not an employee. While I do sometimes speak from a position of some authority in my work for Dragonflight, I do not speak in any official capacity for Flying Frog (I'm just a volunteer who helps when need with playtesting and teaching demos). Any opinions expressed in this post are mine, and mine alone, and should not be taken to represent any official positions of either of those two organizations. This isn't really a post about those groups, it's a post about my life, parts of which just happen to occur in the vicinity of those groups at the moment.
Something I rediscovered about myself this week at Gen Con. I really enjoy hard work that culminates in other people being entertained. There’s this great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes from a long day of effort, especially when that work puts smiles on other people’s faces. That’s why I loved running the 50-player LARP and all those big Magic: The Gathering tournaments back in the day. It’s why I loved even the moments of set-up and tear-down before and after GenCon this week, and it explains what I find so fulfilling lately about my physically demanding job at the grocery store (at the store I don’t bring people entertainment or fun, but I do feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of most days).
About 5 years ago or so, a crushing malaise crept quietly into my life, slowly sapping my confidence and eventually dooming my marriage. As the pain and unease overwhelmed me, I responded by withdrawing further from the world. I kept thinking I just needed more time to myself, and I trimmed my social calendar down to a nub. It is so clear now that this was a self-defeating response. For three years I pulled back “for introspection and healing” and it just got worse. The health issues that I thought were the cause of my hardships just grew more dire the more I retreated, because it turns out they were merely symptoms of my lack of self-esteem. The more I worried about them, the more I tried to hide my Spasmodic Dysphonia, the worse all my problems became.
But this is not a story that ends in despair. Just in the past two years, I’ve started getting better instead of worse. I identified the change in trajectories and have been getting excited about it, but until this week I had misidentified the turning point. I thought (incorrectly) that my healing started when I hauled a bleeding friend (Sarah Bergstrom) safely off a mountain. Truth be told, while that day ended in victory, it was emotionally traumatizing for me at the same time and probably resulted in minimal net change in my long term mental state. As epic as that tale is, I realize now that what’s been actually fixing me these past two years has been a little more mundane, and it started a week before she fell off the cliff in the first place.
Since getting drafted by Mark Walters to help with Dragonflight two years ago, I’ve been feeling much better about myself every time I work a long day to help others have a fun. When the website at Dragonflight crashed last year, I stepped up and busted my ass to make sure the convention went on (with paper sign-up sheets). It was exhausting and prevented me from getting to play games most of the con, but it felt so good. The show went on because of me. That was a major victory, and a huge bolus of actual healing from my long-denied psychic wounds took place that weekend. The next weekend was the struggle on the mountain, and they came so closely together I failed to identify which victory started the healing process.
While I was on the floor at Gen Con this week teaching people a new game, fielding questions from strangers, and wrangling up players for demos, I felt like I was King of the World. All my shyness and social insecurity fled away. Then in the evenings, when I’d get to relax with smaller groups of friends and friends-of-friends, the shy retiring Rolfe would return with a vengeance. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around it. Why was I confident and strong in a room full of thousands of strangers, but so darned quiet when it was half a dozen of us Frog people, several of whom I’ve been gaming with for months? On the last day when we where rushing to break down and pack up the booth in time to catch our flight, why did I feel so happy and strong? Why did I find it so easy to joke around with the other volunteers when we were “fighting” over who got to use the packing tape, but so hard to find the courage to talk to those same people when we were sitting right next too each other in the airport? Apparently I’m brave when I’m working, but a bit timid when at rest.
In the last few days and nights leading up to me flying to Gen Con, I was putting in full work days at the grocery, rushing home to do online administrative stuff for Dragonflight for a few hours, then carpooling up to the Flying Frog studio to pack boxes full of miniatures onto a big truck, and then coming home for a tiny bit more Dragonflight email trouble-shooting before squeaking in an hour or two of sleep. It was insane, and I loved it, and I feel like it was really good for me.
Holy crap! Am I in danger of becoming a workaholic? That kind of schedule is not sustainable. Does it matter, if it’s healing me? There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m healthier and happier right now than I was 2 years ago, despite the fact that large portions of my life fell apart less than 2 months ago and I find myself crying over random memories. It is all so weird. Is there a way I can reconnect with the braver version of myself without burning myself out? I hadn't seen that part of me in years. Is the solution to volunteer for every imaginable event until the boxes around the days on the calendar start to burst from the pressure? I have some serious soul-searching ahead of me, and _so_ much healing to do, but somehow hope is easier for me to envision now than it has been in years. That's gotta count for something.