My father was an alcoholic. He went to rehab, once, in the 1990s and toward the end of that process we had ‘family week,’ where the whole family came in for group therapy and counseling. So the other members of my family and I went, and spent a week there. It was a bit like summer camp, but the activities were figuring out how badly screwed up you were and crying instead of archery and canoeing.
While there for family week, I met a young woman who had been badly abused. I did not get, and if I am honest did not at the time want, any details of what she had been through. She was there for her own addiction. I either never knew what she was addicted to, or I have long since forgotten. She wasn’t in any of the group or therapy sessions I was in with my father and family.
She saw some of my RPG books I had brought with me, and was fascinated by them. She understood the concept immediately but, faced with multiple books of hundreds of pages each for just a few games (I know I had Rolemaster with me, I may have also had some D&D and Champions), she claimed that she “wasn’t smart enough” to play RPGs.
I assured her she was. I promised I could show her how the concept worked and we could play a game, with just a few of sentences of explanation, and three sentences of rules. She agreed.
“Tell me about your character.”
She loved rabbits. She wanted to know if she could be a rabbit, I told her she could be anything she wanted. She decided she was an anthropomorphic rabbit scavenger in a post-apocalyptic world who hunted (and killed) carnivores, and defended herbivores.
I gave her a 3×5 index card.
“Write down one thing you are good at.”
She wrote down she was good at creeping.
“Write down one thing you’re bad at.”
She wrote she was bad at keeping calm.
“Write down one important thing you have.”
I had meant one object she possessed. She wrote she had ‘limitless determination.’ This game was for her. I was not about to tell her she’d done it wrong. Limitless determination it was.
“Write down one thing you want to accomplish.”
She wanted to find a safe place to bring orphan bunnies.
I gave her a penny.
“I’ll describe situations, and you tell me what you want your character to do. For anything you try you flip a coin – your action succeeds on heads and fails on tails. If you try something you are good at or have an important thing for you get to flip twice and succeed if either is heads, while if it’s the thing you are bad at you have to flip twice and get heads for both to succeed. That’s it.”
She asked if, since she was a rabbit, she could succeed on tails, and fail on heads. That seemed super-obvious, and I agreed.
And so the “Hares & Holocausts” game was born. Getting to flip twice and winning if either was tails was a bonus. Having to flip twice and winning only if both were tails was a trial.
We played 3-4 times over that week, mostly at lunch and once one morning after breakfast. I borrowed heavily from Gamma World, Rock & Rule, Watership Down, and Seven Samurai. Her character never got a name, and she didn’t seem to care. I thought of her as “The Rabbit Without a Name,” who wore a poncho, and assumed the setting used an Ennio Morricone soundtrack.
Each scene was clearly defined as casual or dangerous. Casual scenes had no consequences. In a dangerous scene, there were normally 3 chances for her to take an action. Actions weren’t blow-by blow things like “I stab a scorpion bandit,” but more like “I attack the bandits, trying to drive them back out of the mine shaft.” One successful action out of the three was a draw–she ended up neither better off nor worse at the end of the scene. Two successes was a win. Three was a BIG win, and she got some kind of permanent improvement.
Zero successes was a failure.
If she failed at a scene, she took a wound which meant she had to either give up one of her bonuses until she healed, or write down a new trial (which she got to pick) as a scar she kept until she succeeded at a task using that trial. I remember she choose a scar at least once, getting a cut through her left eye so she got the trial “Bad at seeing things to my left.”
She picked up a katana, with a BIG win, which she got as a bonus she could use once per combat, because I wanted to introduce the idea of equipment. She also gained a psychic mind-stare with a BIG win, which let her try to take out a foe before a scene began, with no penalty if she failed.
She crossed The Waste, and found a mine shaft, which had evil scorpion bandits in it. Driving them away, the mine shaft lead her to a valley with a ruined town which had some bunny orphans in it. She saved them from a spider sweat-shop owner (who forced the bunny orphans to weave designer webs for uptown spiders), then went to find them a safe home. That took her to an old observatory on top of a nearby mountain, where she had to convince the ancient security AI (that controlled a robotic sphinx guard) to allow the orphan bunnies to live there. She hunted down and imprisoned a skunk airship pirate who made clouds the observatory couldn’t see through, and promised shed talk the orphan bunnies into become astronomers, and the AI agreed to let them stay and protect them.
Then she took the stench-airship, and flew off. She wanted to find, and defeat, the Uptown Spiders who received the designer webs. End of campaign.
I did not realize for weeks that she never killed anyone. Drove off, defeated, jailed, convinced to change sides, yes. Never death.
She really seemed into it, and told me she would introduce that game to friends of hers. She still didn’t think she could play a “real” RPG. I tried to convince her there were lots of games, like there were lots of books and lots of movies, and all she needed was one that was a good fit for her. I was not convinced “Hares & Holocausts” could be played seriously, thought I didn’t tell her that.
I’m skipping over a lot of the weird, awkward, difficult parts of this experience. I was making it up as I went along, and it was not as polished as this short write-up makes it sound, especially for the first game or two. There were moments I was uncomfortable. There was at least one time she burst into tears. I used some Rolemaster critical hit tables for narrative inspiration once, and that was a big mistake on numerous levels. The councilors insisted all games take place in one of the public areas, and only between 7am and 6pm. No one else played with us.
At the end of my week, I gave her my contact info. She was going to be there for at least a few weeks longer. I did not ask for, and she did not offer, her contact information. I never heard from her.
I think that’s the only complete, totally original RPG I have ever designed by myself.
My father stayed sober for 90 days, because one of the councilors at rehab told him he couldn’t — that it would be impossible. Through sheer iron will, my father took not a single sip of alcohol for three months. They were a good time to know him. Then, convinced this meant he wasn’t an alcoholic, he drank himself to death over the next few years.
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This post is heavy, not gaming-related (at least mostly), personal, and from my perspective. I’m not claiming this is a scientific or universal explanation. Just my experience.
When you experience trauma, everyone seems to understand why it affects you immediately. You witnessed blood spraying from your mother’s face as a child. You got beating bloody by a random drunk you had never met before. You saw a naked woman clinging to the railing of a motel, screaming for help while a man tried to drag her inside. You were lured into the woods by someone you thought was a friend, so a group could jump you, force you into a ditch, and threaten to bury you alive. You were in a car wreck. An earthquake. A wild fire.
In the hours and days after that, everyone gets it. It was traumatic. You were rattled. It sucked.
Years later, if something sets off those memories so you begin shaking, crying, screaming, some people don’t understand why you haven’t “gotten over it.” Why is it throttling back your productivity, or driving you to seek self-medication, or suddenly making you have nightmares. After all you were fine yesterday, right?
Well first, most likely not. But, second, life is a building, and it’s always growing. Every year is a new floor, every event and responsibility a new tenant you have to keep happy.
The foundation is SUPPOSED to be strong and reinforced enough to handle every floor you build. But some of us built our foundations under poor circumstances. The concrete was smashed, or the ground was swampy. When we put the first few floors on it, we are okay, but every floor is new weight. More and more strain on that foundation.
And not every floor gets built strong, or even correctly. Trauma is a fire on the 5th floor. A wrecking ball coming in through a corner office. Flooding in the basement.
So, we do what we can to shore it up. Self medication is trying to fix the problems of all that structural damage… but it’s not always good as a long-term fix. You’re not doing the work to code, because your problems are ones that sticking to code won’t fix. The tenants are complaining about the heat, because you never got the HVAC fixed after basement flooded. So you set about renovations in their apartments and offices. More windows, more doors, spruce the place up. Sure, you are cutting holes in retaining walls on the 27th floor to do it, but the building is only 28 floors tall, so who cares?
But then you build the 29th floor. The 30th. Ten more on top of that. The external braces you bolted on to make up for the weak walls can’t handle that strain. The cracks in the foundation split their patches under years of use and tons of weight.
You seem fine… but there are problems.
Then one day, winds are just a tiny bit stronger than usual. The buildings around you are fine. They can take it. But you? Your trauma-ridden structure, patches and braces and ad-hoc fixes can’t take it. Your whole frame bends. Windows pop out. Girders on the 5th floor buckle.
People look at you wand wonder what the big deal is. The fire that weakened those girders was 40 years ago. Why are you making a big deal about them now?
We can’t tear ourselves down and start over. And while major renovations sometimes can help bring us up to code, it can be extremely difficult to use a building while it’s being renovated. Do I kick out functions like going to work, paying the bills, helping people out, so I can get the work of replacing major columns done? Especially since the workmen can’t promise the columns will ever hold the same weight, and don’t know what they’ll find in the walls when we start tearing into things?
Or do I throw up some more supports, just give up on ever using the 5th floor for anything, promise we’ll add high-speed wifi to the whole building, and hope I don’t drill through a sewage pipe as I install the fiberoptic?
Trauma doesn’t go away. It leaves scars, and you often don’t know where they are, what they look like, or what will set them off.
I spent way too long trying to decide if I even wanted to link to my Patreon in this post. It seemed cheap, somehow, to talk about my pain and then ask for money.
But I know some very brave, smart, struggling people who do it, and I never look down at them for doing so. So maybe we normalize that emotional work is work, and it’s okay to suggest people be paid for it.
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EDIT: A post-script.
Since people have asked, yes, all the traumas I list in the second paragraph are specific examples from my life. I left out the sexual abuse as a child, mockery for fat shaming, bullying as a nerd, and probably dozens of others that felt less relatable to the general public.
That’s not the point of this piece but yeah, for those of whom it seems to matter, those ARE all examples of trauma in one person’s life. Mine.
I do not accept the logic that says I must keep my political, personal, and professional online presences separate.
This is not to say I think the people who do make those distinction, at whatever level of firewalling they choose, are making a bad or wrong choice. Indeed, I suspect for quality of life, it’s often a smarter decision. I have enough stress trying to navigate the often zealous opinions the online community has on game design and the business of games before I add my political and personal opinions to the mix. And that’s allowing for the pretty high level of insulation I enjoy from people’s ability to actually harm me online. I’m not bulletproof by any means, but I am in a more stable and secure place in my career than many people.
I’ve seen the replies some of my colleagues get from posting political and personal thoughts online. I don’t blame any of them if they conclude the risk, or the emotional toll, is too great.
And there are consequences to deciding to talk about politics, and mental health, and ethics in public using the same channels and methods I use to discuss game design and funny geeky memes. People who are fans of my game industry work often engage with me in a very different way than they engage with people who are primarily being political advocates or primarily doing slice of life posts. That difference can be a good thing, but it can also result in a feeling of betrayal or anger if someone finds my game-related thoughts strike them differently than my other thoughts, or if they dislike all my work and see it overlapping arenas where they feel I should not be heard.
Angry and hateful messages directed at my privately are the most common response I see. Sometimes someone speaks ill of me in public forums (often that I’m not in, though I attribute that more to how big the internet is, rather than any effort to avoid me when discussing me), which may begin a multiple-party conversation about me. Less often (but with increasing regularity recently), someone sends complaints about me to an employer or associate of mine and tries to get me censured, fired, or blackballed.
Despite all that, I am still firmly convinced that discussing all these topics, as I find I have thoughts worth sharing about them, is the right thing for me. First, no one is forced to find or read my online thoughts. I don’t use official game company venues for anything not game related (not even the tiny game company I run). Reading through my blogs, twitter, and Facebook posts, or watching my YouTube videos, is an entirely voluntary activity. If anyone doesn’t like what I have to say, or how I say it, or how I moderate the online spaces under my control, they are free to go elsewhere.
I also don’t feel that someone who spends money on products that I benefit from financially has bought anything beyond my work within that book. Even backers of my Patreon are paying to encourage my content and make suggestions, not to own any right to censor me. I do not owe any public group more of my time or headspace just because they buy the things that pay for my career.
Even if what they dislike is how my politics or personal experiences influence what or why or when I write, their right to have an opinion does not equal their right to try to dictate mine. As long as I own the impact of my writing, I feel entirely free to write what I feel is most important, or most fun, or most helpful, as I am moved to do so. As I rule, I welcome public feedback. When that feedback shows me a segment of the public is using my online space to do harm, or arguing in bad faith, or even just pissing me off, I also reserve the right to stop taking that feedback.
Not every opinion is equally valid or valuable. The right of people to speak in their own space, or even to do so free of government censorship, is not the same as a right to force me to listen. As I note, people are free to tune me out. And, online, I am free to mute them.
While I do not believe my writing has any major impact on the world, where it does have an impact I believe it has on the balance been more good than evil. Not the least of that good is that when I get something badly wrong, expressing my thoughts gives people a chance to offer how I am mistaken, and allows me to examine such claims. I have changed my mind about a lot of things over my life, from the crucial to the trivial, and expect to change my mind about many more before I go silent.
I hope some people gain comfort from my writing now and then. I hope some find inspiration. I hope some are amused. I hope some are edified.
I hope some snort, roll their eyes, and wonder why they still talk to me.
But on every topic where I have something I am ready to say, I plan to say it. And accept the (generally very minor) consequences of doing so.
It’s fairly common for people to tell me they think I have gone too far.
Certainly once or twice, I have.
That makes me wiser and gives me a broader experience base to draw from when deciding what I am ready to say in the future.
It does not convince me to stop saying all these things.
Speaking of my writing, if you DO find any of these helpful, entertaining, or in some way worth your time, please consider backing my Patron. Just a few bucks a month is the most direct (and one of the cheapest) ways to support my words and videos.
American Fighter was born Roy Wood to an unwed mother in 1925. Of Irish/German descent, he showed no particular faults or aptitudes as a child, getting unremarkable grades and managing well enough for a child with first no father, then a largely absent step-father, who left the family by the time Roy was 15. He was remembered as a shy boy who worked in a car shop and sang in the school glee club.
He graduated from high school in 1943, and immediately enlisted in the United States Marines. Ordered to a Repair and Overhaul unit in the Pacific, he was exposed to a mix of experimental gasses from secret super-soldier programs being run at the same facility. His skin, uniform, and helmet became significant more resilient, able to bounce small arms fire and even survive antimaterial and anti-tank munitions. He was immediately given a nom de masque of American Fighter, and sent into much of the worst island fighting. Though American Fighter is often depicted in posters and art of the era standing with the heroes of Liberty Force who operated in Europe, he never served with them, and only rarely met any of Liberty Force’s members.
In 1946 he was discharged, and moved to Los Angeles to live with his mother. He tried to join the Liberty Guard, a national hero teams forming at the time, but was rejected for low academic standards. When he was spotted by a scout for the Universal utility corporation, which was interested in creating hero teams to protect their own interests and garner positive P.R., he was signed to a lengthy U.U. “taxi hero” contract. The taxi heroes were paid on a per-mission basis and assigned to regions and teams as determined by U.U’s Hero Relations department.
American Fighter was initially assigned to the Coastal Crimefighters, who largely opposed the Undertow Gang of underwater pirates. While he was always assigned back-up or support roles, he also received training from Universal Utility handlers in public speaking, judicial law, small unit tactics, horseback riding, and etiquette. As he was photogenic he also came to be featured heavily in hero-themed magazines, despite his relatively minor activity level. Through the late 1940s and into 1952, he also worked with the Freedom Hawks, Hero Cadets, and on loan as one of the Big Man’s “irregulars”
In 1952, American Fighter was assigned as the team leader of the Furious Five, with the more experienced heroine Talavera as the team secretary and unofficial second-in-command. Talavera had worked with American Fighter in the Freedom Hawks, and had a career that went back to before WWII. The Five quickly grew to be too popular to keep as a single unit, and each was moved to taxi hero roles in other groups for part of every year from 53-55, with American Fighter serving as second-in command for the Hero’s Horizon and then standing as the leader of the Law Breed when founder Golden Blade was injured in the line of duty.
In 1953, a new villain struck the we coast. Known only as the Obsession, this mastermind combined complex heists with random acts of mayhem and violence and terrorist attacks using clouds of psychotropic drugs that made coordinated responses by local authorities almost impossible. The Obsession began to co-opt and unify organized crime west of the Rockies, and Universal Utility suffered multiple significant thefts and kidnappings for ransom. U.U. turned all its Hero Relations resources to bringing the Obsession to justice. In a Los Angeles raid on August 4, 1954, American Fighter was part of a small team that breached the Obsession’s base of operations, and American Fighter delivery the knockout blow to the crazed villain—immediately elevating himself to major hero status.
By 1955 American Fighter was voted one of the ten most popular and effective heroes in American by Modern Hero Magazine. Universal Utility immediately made him the focus of multiple teams, including the newly-renamed Fighting Five, the Freedom Brigade, and the Giants of Justice.
However, his popularity waned within a decade. By 1965 the Fighting Five and Giants of Justice had been disbanded, and American Fighter had been moved to “emeritus” status in the Freedom Brigade, to make room for new heroes such as Repulsor, Fast Cat, Chiller, and Doctor Phoenix.
During this time it became well known in the hero community that American Fighter was gay. He was discrete about his privacy, and little attention was publicly paid to the question at the time. His handlers as U.U. worked strenuously to keep his private life out of the public eye.
American Fighter left the Fighting Five (which disbanded a few years later, though numerous revivals have been attempted) when his U.U contract ended, and tried live as an agent of S.T.E.E.L. (Special Taskforce on Espionage and Enforcement of Law), and then as one of the Strangefellow, and finally as the leader of the Second Chances (a time-travelling group that worked to fix minor disasters in such a way as to not affect history in any other major way). Though none of these efforts were considered noteworthy at the time, the Second Chances have in recent years come to be considered one of the few truly successful time-travelling hero teams.
Moving back to traditional hero teams, American Fighter joined The Undefeated, a team of U.S. heroes operating overseas in 1969. The team was fairly well-known as successful, but their operations had a high financial and political cost, and they were disbanded in 1971. From ’71 to ’77, American Fighter settled down in San Francisco, and operated with the Heroine Saint Angel as part-time, local heroes taking on minor regional issues. He and Saint Angel married, but quietly divorced in ’76, though still working as crimefighting partners for a year after that.
A lifetime of heavy drinking and smoking began to take its toll in the late ‘70s and early 80s. American Fighter participated in a number of one-time mass hero operations, but could not catch on as a permanent member of a hero team. He notably took part in the Avalanche Wars in 1978 and the Martian Campaigns in 1980. An effort was made to build a new team around him, the Devlin Dogs, in 1981, including adding Fighting Youth to the rooster, the son of American Fighter and Saint Angel from before their marriage as a teen sidekick. However, multiple bypass heart surgery sidelined American Fighter a few months after the team launched, and though he returned to it after recover, the team disbanded within a year after that.
He joined the Dynasty of Warriors in 1984, but was clearly past his prime and often contributed little to major conflicts.
Unknown to the public, American Fighter was diagnosed with HIV in 1984, just one year after the initial identification by scientists of the HIV virus. The hero kept the disease secret for many months while working with old colleagues to search for a cure. His health was visible declining. Rumors began to spread that he had liver cancer, but eventually his publicist announced that American Fighter had AIDS. As one of the first well-known American heroes to be publicly diagnosed with AIDS, this sparked a national debate about his sexuality and the disease.
American Fighter died in October, 1985, of infections related to the AIDS virus.
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This isn’t a fun post. This is a mental health post, for me, and I don’t blame anyone for skipping it. The neat game rules and industry observations are still all available, this just isn’t one of those. And it’s going to meander.
Sometimes, my desire to write and publish posts for therapeutic reasons is put at odds with my internal censorship rules.
Some of those rules are based on ethical concerns–when I know and am bothered by something I’m not in an ethical position to reveal, whether than be the result of an NDA, or something I learned in confidence, or that I have reason to believe revealing would result in the harm of someone who doesn’t have harm coming to them over it.
Others are the chain of mental iron forged by my introversion, or family ties, or appropriateness, or common decency.
Sometimes I am just too mentally and physical exhausted to face the inevitable backlash of revealing my raw feelings on some contentious topic.
Sometimes I am ashamed. Those hurt the most, I think.
Sometimes I don’ feel like my opinion is on a firm enough footing of being well-informed and rational a topic. this is especially true when it touches on an area where I have significant advantages over other people who might be impacted by either the issue, or my thoughts on it.
Sometimes I don’t want to worry people, because it sounds worse than it is.
Of course it is the perversity of life that these topics, ones I don’t think I should share due to good and reasoned personal guidelines, are the ones which are most likely to infest my mind. Venomous thoughts I am ill-equipped to tackle on my own, and that seem similar to things I have defused with the coping mechanism of writing about them.
The more it’s something I have good reason not to talk about, the more it can be a relief to talk about it.
Of course therapy can help with that. And sometimes therapy can bring me to a new place where I can talk about an issue, either because I am better informed or because it has less ability to hurt me and others. This is what lead to my being able to discuss the fact I was sexually abused by someone I thought was my friend as a child.
Or to discuss the memory of kids in the Boy Scouts digging a pit as Scout-A-Rama, and having a young woman lure me out to it, and as a group encircling me and shoving me over and over until I fell into it. How they jumped on my back, and held me in place, and began to shovel dirt down around me. How, during this time, several of them laughed that I was stupid enough to think anyone would actually want to spend time with me.
I have nightmares about that still, sometimes. It feels like the worst bullying I ever received. It’s given me trust issues my whole life. I was almost never bullied in school, as a result of some unusual circumstances, but scouts was different. My troop was never involved—I think the troop fathers were too good at monitoring the group as a whole, and being strong role models. But when we gathered with other troops, and I was separated from the people I knew, it was different. It’s the main reason I gave up on scouts.
But sometimes it’s not something I can’t share because it hurts too much. It just wouldn’t be fair or appropriate to talk about it, and I want the relief I get from using writing as a coping mechanism.
So sometimes, I write about something else. And that can help, too.
Generally speaking as a writer, if you get a cold, or get the flu, you write as best you are able while sick, and to still hit your deadlines you depend on being able to catch up in a crunch when you’re better.
If you’re going to be sick for longer than a few days or a week, things change.
I have a medical issue causing severe fatigue. We know at least part of what is going on, but don’t know yet if we have identified the root cause, or just found a symptom of something more serious. And, it may be months before the testing finds a conclusive answer to that question.
And that means, I have to consider how I am going to manage if my energy levels crashed for weeks, or months to come.
I have, for the past month or so, been more exhausted every day than the day before. Since the issue causing my fatigue is at least potentially progressive, I began to despair that I was on a downward arc that might actually incapacitate me sometime before it gets addressed up to 3-4 months from now.
Of course I *also* had two conventions nearly back-to-back in the past month, and am under pressure from a number of major deadlines. That can be exhausting under the best of circumstances.
So I have maintain the best self-care I could, and attempted to employ new coping techniques suggested by some research.
Today, for the first time in 4 or 5 weeks, I’m not immediately more fatigued than I was yesterday. Indeed, I haven’t been this functional for a week or more.
Any medical condition is likely to have ups and downs so I don’t plan to read too much into this, but it’s nice that I might not exclusively be looking at a downward spiral for personal energy.
That said, as I finish short- and mid-term projects, I’m not replacing them with anything. Hopefully that’ll leave me with time and energy to tackle my long-term things (especially those that are months behind schedule) even if my energy level doesn’t recover any more than this in the foreseeable future.
That’s the only way I can see to keep my career on-track, and not let down anyone who is depending on me.
And I’ll monitor my progress, both medical and wordcount-wise, and see if the steps I’m taking are good enough. If not, I may begin to consider backing out of some long-term commitments, as much as I hate doing that.
For a couple of weeks now, I have dealt with the specter of possibly having cancer hanging over my head.
To cut to the chase—that doesn’t seem to be the case. Thank goodness.
The full version of the story isn’t a whole lot longer.
But please, only read this if you can resist giving me any medical advice. I have a good relationship with my medical team and a few folks I turn to if I need advice. I prefer not to get advice from the general public, and ask you not offer me any.
For months now, I’ve had much less energy than normal. Given the number of enormous projects and drains on my serenity I’ve had in the past couple of years—from helping design the Starfinder RPG to moving to overextending myself on other game-industry matters—for quite some time I assumed I was just exhausted.
But when that didn’t seem to be getting better, I decided to talk to my doctor about it, and that brought on a series of tests.
One of those tests did point to a potential cause… which can itself be a sign of cancer. So, that lead to a whole new round of tests.
These tests are, apparently, not completely definitive. There isn’t an absolute yes/no about having cancer of the type I might have had. But all the test results are giving the results you’d most likely expect if there was no cancer. Having no other symptoms, that’s what we are assuming for now, though it’ll change the context with which we’d look at certain other changes should they come along.
Now, I can see about trying to fix the energy level thing with my doctor. That’s still going to take some more tests and maybe trial-and-error, but it’s still ncie to be at the stage that largely rules out worse possibilities.
Dan Harmon has confessed to harassing Megan Ganz when she worked on Community. He has detailed the circumstances, apologized, and she has accepted and public stated she forgives him.
I think seeing this handled to Megan Ganz’s apparent satisfaction is important. We do need to think about, since all these terrible things happened, once we accept that…. then what?
I’m not claiming anyone gets a pass, or that even that a harsh, honest accounting and confession fixes everything. And clearly in the broader context we need to look at what needs to happen for men to stop harassing women.
But we also need to look at what are the correct steps to take for harassers, both in acknowledging their wrongdoing, and what is appropriate from there.
And to be clear, there’s no room on this post for discussions of due process or innocent before proven guilty. None of that is relevant here. Dan Harmon acknowledges his guilt.
He has apologized for it. Megan Ganz has accepted his apology and forgiven him.
I’d be entirely understanding if a production company said “Given your self-confessed track record, we’re not willing to allow you to have hiring and firing power over women anymore.”
Should a company Dan works with do more than that? Should no one be willing to work with him? Does he get three strikes? Is there something more he must do to make this not a major concern to those interested in working with him?
This is about the sexual abuse I suffered as a child. It’s the most I have ever said about it, and I say it simply in the hopes that others who have suffered will find some strength in knowing they are not alone, and it’s not their fault. If you don’t want to read about that, I certainly understand.
I’m not sure how old I was. Older than 7, younger than 12, but I can’t tell you where in that range. The abuser was someone I and my entire family trusted, but not a family member. They were my friend. The abuse occurred once, that I can recall.
I never told anyone. I didn’t know how, and the transgressive nature of what happened to me was so great I was afraid. Afraid I’d get in trouble. Afraid I’d be blamed. I felt too much shame to tell my family, and had too many bad experiences with trust violations or lack of belief with other authority figures.
I was also afraid I’d be a social outcast. I didn’t have a lot of friends. I mean, 3 or fewer. Often only 1. Losing someone I could hang out with, that my tiny number of friends hung out with, someone important to my social existence outside the home, was more than I could handle. The idea I had to spend time with my abuser or be alone was horrible, but ultimately I decided to be with my abuser. I know that doesn’t make sense, but it happens. One reason I have said RPGs saved my life is that they gave me a way to make more friends. Once I had a few more friends, sometime in the 6th grade, I stopped ever speaking to my abuser. I think that hurt their feelings. I don’t care. As I was making that transition to new friends, suicide had begun to be a practical solution for me.
For years, I couldn’t tell anyone. I was in a youth support group for most of my teens. These were people I trusted, literally with my life in a few cases. But I couldn’t even hint that I had been abused. It has been so long, people would wonder why I hadn’t said anything.
I told one of them, a young woman slightly older than me, on a weekend retreat to a rent house. She burst into tears, and told me how many times she’d been raped. We talked about her, not me, and I think that was the right call. She swore me to secrecy. I’ve never said anything about it, and only mention it now because it’s impossible even for people who know me to identify her, for various reasons. She never brought it up in group. In fact, she really never talked to me again, and I understand. I hope she got help.
I had been married for years before I told my wife. I had been in therapy with the same therapist for years before I could talk about it in therapy, and it’s still something that makes me freeze if I try to talk about it in person. Writing is safer. And writing about it, when I can, is the main way I try, still, more than 35 years later, to someone grapple with it.
I try to be open about my various mental, emotional, and physical issues. But I also try to not harp on them. I’m not sure what the right balance is, but as I sit 10 days from Gen Con, and the release date for a whole series of books that have eaten up a lot of my headspace, it seemed reasonable to offer a snapshot of how I am doing.
The idea here is not to bemoan my circumstances (I am fortunate and privileged in many, many ways) or ask for help (I have the support I need). But I do want people who feel their own limitations puts various achievements out of reach to be able to see the spectacular level of imperfection that is normal for me. Your path may well be much harder. I’m not trying to give some life coach pep talk. Just honestly share where I am, and let all of you who care to read it decide what that information means for you.
There’s more work to be done than hours or brain cells to do it, and even when I have the time I don’t always have the capacity. Numerous things that trigger many of my anxieties are all happening at one, and even knowing I have been through these things many times before doesn’t really seem to help me keep a handle on things. This is a spectacular confluence of events hammering my sense of calm. As an analogy–knowing ripping the band-aid off will hurt, and that it’s both necessary and temporary, doesn’t reduce the pain of doing it.
I’m not getting enough sleep, and I am stressing too much. These factors will build until after Gen Con, and then, maybe (but only maybe) I can get my life back to some semblance of normalcy. Until then, I am desperately trying not to let anyone down, not turn over sub-par work for anyone else to have to clean up (a task at which I have apparently already failed a couple of times), and not cry in public. That last is trickier now that I work in an office than it was when I worked from home 90% of the time.
I know, intellectually, I am going to get through this. I am even proud of a lot of the things I am accomplishing, and I have no intention of giving up. But I also am being honest with myself–there are yet more rough times ahead. There will be great times mixed in with them, too. That’s kinda how life works. My depression is a wild card, but even that I’ll get through if it rears up. The important thing is to keep doing everything I can, whenever I can. Some days will be good. Some will be bad. And I need to keep to my coping mechanisms, and forgive myself when they break down.
I’m exhausted, and repetitious, and run down, and worried. But sometimes I am proud and excited, too.
To a lesser extend, this is what any major new release or convention appearance does to me. this year is just magnified significantly in all regards.
It’s all imperfectly normal for me.