The Other Face Of Imposter Syndrome

Hello again World. Long time no see.

I would like to start today by saying Happy Wright Brothers day to all our American friends, and mentioning that today is also the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. I don’t happen to know any sex workers personally, but no one deserves to suffer through violence for any reason so raising awareness can only ever be a good thing. I have included links at the bottom of the page for anyone interested in finding out more.

I also want to highlight a couple of small changes today. First up, going forward I want to include more “On this day…”-type of stuff like above. It’s interesting for me to research, and raising awareness of good causes can only help people. And secondly, in honour of the festive season I have changed the header for a more seasonal one.

And so we come to today’s topic.

Firstly, what is Imposter syndrome? It’s Wikipedia entry states that Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. A lot of creative type people often struggle with Imposter syndrome, and a lot of work has gone into studying and understanding it, along with techniques to help sufferers overcome it. It should be pointed out that Imposter syndrome isn’t considered an actual medical condition in itself, but it does often go hand-in-hand with various mental conditions such as anxiety, depression and self-esteem issues.

However, this is only one face of Imposter syndrome. There is another face which I have had reason to think about quite a lot lately- the feeling of not being unwell enough. Which is, I’m sure you’ll agree, pretty messed up.

Allow me to explain a little better for you. One of the key steps in adjusting unhealthy thought patterns is to focus on gratitude instead of negativity. In fact, I even wrote about it myself here. But when you are under the effects of depression or anxiety, your thinking becomes more than a little skewed. Instead of waking up and thinking “I’m grateful that I’m able to walk to the shops” it becomes far too easy to think “Yeah, I have this debilitating mental condition, but other people have it worse- they can’t even walk to the shops. What do I have to complain about?”

And that is a very dangerous trap to fall into. Once you start dismissing your own condition, you limit your own ability to overcome it. It will still have it’s full effects on you, but recovery will become that much harder. It’s the equivalent to trying to get past a wall by pretending it’s not there. No matter how strongly you believe it, you’ll still get a bloody nose trying to walk through it.

So yes, please do be grateful for the blessings that you do have. And definitely please think about those less fortunate than yourself and help out where you can. But please please don’t ever think that another’s misfortune trumps your own and put yourself down because of it; your situation is merely different, not less important.

Thank you for reading and sorry for the hiatus there- I’ll try not to let it happen again. And until next time, TTFN!

PS: As promised, links for more information about or to show support for at-risk sex workers:- Sex Workers Outreach Program (in America), Sex Work Europe (in Europe), or Rest In Power (a World-wide page).

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A Kind Of Magic

Hey World. It’s time for another picture day!

I have recently started partaking in what is known in the M:tG community as creating alters– that is, cards with altered art. Some people just extend the art to the edge of the card, painting over borders and card text. Others replace the existing art with something completely different. But either way, you end up with a very distinctive (if well done) and individual looking card. Now, I don’t have the artistic training or skill of the professionals (and yes, there are people talented enough to be able to make a living from creating alters). I don’t even have the tools and supplies used by average artists that create alters. I do, however, have a weird mind, a creative nature, and a bunch of correction fluid and sharpies. Oh, and plenty of spare M:tG cards!

The first card I did when the kids and I were having a creative Sunday. The paint and pens were out and I had recently been thinking about how cool it would be to have a go at an alter or two myself. After a quick search online I came to the conclusion that I did not have access to the kit for a proper job. But if the alters are just for me, do they really need to be professional standard? Of course not. So after a quick scrabble around I came across the old correction fluid in my pencil case and figured I’d give it a try. And so we have Steward of Valeron.

As you can see, Greg Staples original art is very cool and knightly, but not particularly druidic. And as a Druid Knight, you’d think that he would be, so… Done with a combination of sharpie, felt-tip and kid’s paint. I like my art here, and the felt-tips worked well enough, but the paint didn’t work as well as I’d hoped.

I had so much fun creating Sir Dave (as I have dubbed him), that I decided I wanted to try a few more. And as I wasn’t happy with the paints, I could just stick to the various pens. This had the added bonus of less set up before hand and clear up afterwards, and made it easier to fit into my day. I also wanted to approach it in a slightly more professional manner, and so started making sketches in my notebook to prepare.

Next up came a card from the Return to Ravnica expansion- Stealer of Secrets.

So here we have Nobby the Ninja, along with his original sketches. The name definitely has a thief-esque sound, and ninjas were originally spies and thieves rather than the assassin-types of western movies, so I thought it would work nicely. Unfortunately I made the mistake of not reading the flavour text, so created Nobby when I should have created Norma. A bit of a flavour fail there. I am still definitely happy with the cards though, and they are sleeved up and in my pauper Draw-Go deck.

I haven’t included my next ones as I haven’t finished the full playset of four cards, but it is a happy(ish) little owl. You can see the original sketches with Nobby above.

The next cards has, what is for me, the funniest flavour text in all of M:tG. Originally printed back in October 1996 in the Mirage expansion, the card has been printed a total of 22 times (although one printing was digital only) and of those printings, 15 have the flavour text. Grakk would be gratified!

As you can see, I allowed myself to indulge in a little bad punnery here- after all, nothing says pacifist like a peas protester… I would apologize for the bad joke, but I still find it really funny, to the point that I am sat here laughing at it right now.

And finally we come to Ravenous Rats. Another card that has been in the game for quite some time (originally printed in Urza’s Saga in October 1998) and been reprinted several times.

These, obviously, are still awaiting some colour, but I am happy enough to show them off here. Equally obviously, none of these characters are actually rats, but they are rodents, which is close enough. I am particularly proud of Jerry (both the original large sketch and the final version), especially as I was worried by how much harder I found the original smaller sketches. For the record, I had tried to find images of both Mickey and Danger Mouse eating (Ravenous Rats and all…), but these were the best I could find under the “how to draw…” searches and I wasn’t feeling brave enough to try straying too far from the instructions.

So there you have it- my first forays into the world of Magic: the Gathering alters. I’m prouder of all of the cards than I thought I might be and I already have more cards in the works. And my enthusiasm has obviously rubbed off on the kids as well- Ethan has a pile of various zombies to alter, Shannon has a random assortment (so far she has drawn a roaring lion based on a sketch she did, but a couple of others she ended up scraping the correction fluid off instead), and Rhys has expressed an interest in trying his hand as well.

I hope you have enjoyed seeing my handiwork and I look forward to sharing more of it with you another time.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you all again soon.

TTFN!

You Do You

Hey there World. Great to see you again!

So, I’ve been thinking lately. A LOT of the self-help crowd (myself included!) make a thing about enjoying the small things; smell a rose, enjoy a meal, that kind of thing. And this IS definitely valid advice. You do need to do the little things that give life meaning.

BUT. Don’t do them because a Very Clever Person told you to do it. Do it because you want to and because it makes YOU happy. Many sources suggest eating a goods meal; I personally find eating to be an annoying chore. There are some foods that I do actually like, but given the choice I would rather just buy a pack of pasta and a tin of franks, take five minutes to cook it and then spend more time and money on other things that mean more to me. That doesn’t mean that they were wrong to say it, but a meal of any quality just doesn’t do it for me. I’m not saying that I advocate not eating, and certainly I don’t want to do anything that will make me unhealthy, but eating is something that I have to do rather than want to do. The only times it becomes anything different is when I am snacking, and that is less about enjoying the food and more about making myself feel bad- not a healthy habit, and one that I am trying to break.

do however find that I enjoy slowing down and looking around more. I enjoy taking a walk through the park and seeing the trees, the people, dogs, and squirrels. Standing on the bridge and watching the water going past. Looking up at the clouds and seeing a fantasy map full of mountains and hills. Admiring trees that have stood in that one spot for far longer than I’ve even been alive. Or wandering through the town centre and seeing all of the people going by past the brightly decorated shops (especially now, in the run up to the festive season).

And most TV these days just leaves me cold. Barring the odd show (mostly just Doctor Who, actually…), most stuff I watch with someone. Twice a week Fay and I watch a DVD together (we’re currently working our way through Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and NCIS- she’s a crime show fanatic), and Ethan and I are currently watching the recent season of Doctor Who on a Sunday evening. I find that I prefer the experience of watching a show with someone over just watching a show in general. Other than that, my choice of viewing matter is game streams on twitch.tv, and usually any solo viewing is done whilst I do something else as well (watching while I wash up, or watching with one eye while I play something).

I also enjoy reading with my kids. Rhys and Ethan LOOOOVE the silly voices I do, whereas Shannon likes to do the voices for all of the characters herself while I take on a more narrator-ish role. I’ve been having an absolute blast as I have been getting more involved when the kids do arty type stuff rather than just supervising in the doorway.

I really love being a card gamer; both the collecting side (gotta love those premium foils- they’re so shiny!!!) and the playing side (watching myself actually get better as a player is super gratifying). And that has the added bonus of actual quantifiable ways of tracking growth and improvement (higher ladder placement, better win rate, actually visually seeing the collection grow).

I have been taking more responsibility for making sure that the house is tidier and more organised, and the sense of satisfaction from a freshly hoovered floor is mind-boggling.

And all of this is absolutely fine; these are all the things that matter to me. And that’s the crux of the matter- you do need to take the time to do the things that you love, to find the time for the small things that make your life beautiful. If that happens to be a well-prepared meal then get in that kitchen! If it’s curling up with a good book and a glass of wine, then have at it. And if that happens to be reading deeply insightful self-help articles on the internet written by stunningly gorgeous hunks, then feel free to drop me a line (I can’t seem to find them anywhere…)

Good luck to all of you and I hope that you all find your small beautiful thing, whatever it may be.

Until next time, TTFN!

Knowing Vs Understanding

Hello again World.

One of the habits that I have relied on far more often than I really should have is using my intelligence in the wrong way. I have tended to learn facts and figures and then used these as either a cover or on occasions something akin to a sledgehammer. Rather than actually improving myself and being a better card player or musician or whatever, I just make myself seem better. Point in case- when running D&D games, I was never very good at actually running the game, but I was really good at remembering semi-useful minutiae. The text for a specific spell or feat? I’m your man. Need to know which book to find a certain detail in? Certainly! Try to figure what should happen now that the party have just derailed the carefully plotted adventure? Ummmm…

And I was similar with Magic: the Gathering. I was part of a playgroup; the others had the better collections, but I was the one that could rattle off card text off the top of my head. I really had no more experience than any of the rest, but I came across as a better player, something that I, I’m ashamed to say, did not try and correct. I was happy for others to view me as the Great Mystic Oracle of All Knowledge, even if I rarely felt like it.

It’s never been an conscious thing- I never sat down and thought “I should learn lots to make myself look good”; it’s just how I’ve always worked. When I am interested in something, I will learn as much information as possible. There were times that I could list every actor to play the character of Doctor Who (actually- I still can, including those that only appeared once or twice or as a stand-in), and it was never just “an x-wing” it was the Incom T-65 “x-wing” space superiority star fighter. I made a point of trying to learn the periodic table when I was still in junior school and just how large a number is (the English billion has twelve zeroes whereas the American has only nine, and so on up to centillions- the English has six hundred zeroes, the American only three hundred and three). And I prefer not to watch tv shows and films (with a few exceptions)- my tendency has just been to read the Wikipedia entry. It’s less immersive, but you get the information in a fraction of the time.

But just because I know lots, it doesn’t mean that I understand lots.

Just because I know the plot, it doesn’t mean that I got the nuances or the depth; it doesn’t mean that I can get the wonder or magic.

And just because I know the theory or the insignificant details, it doesn’t mean that I can be the best player that I can be.

Knowledge and intelligence are powerful tools for those that have them, but they are not the be all and end all. These last few years I have been trying to correct this; I have been trying to not rely on my intelligence alone, and instead try to actually understand what it is that I am learning, and how it can be used to better either myself, someone else, or even just the world in general. 

I still struggle with it, and the temptation to just get lost trawling the Doctor Who wiki or read article after article of TCG strategy or self-help blogs is always there. But I know that the way to a better me isn’t just through more and more facts; it’s through learning a smaller amount but understanding it.

And with that thought, I’m going to have to call it there. Thanks for reading, and I’ll speak to you soon.

TTFN!

Reasons To Be Thankful

Hello there World.

One of the problems that a great many of us in the world today struggle with is gratitude. I know that I have been guilty of this for a lot of my life, and I hear it now in my own children. I hear it a lot in the world as well, both in person and online. No matter what you have, society has taught us to want more, to never settle.

Now, not settling is in itself a good thing; if we as a species had not had the drive to want more, to expand and grow what we have, we would still be living in caves and hunting yaks with spears. But often we get too caught up in the pursuit and the wanting and fail to appreciate what we already have.

Point in case- I am a really big fan of Trading Card Games (TCGs), as I may have mentioned once or twice. And the Granddaddy of them all is Magic: the Gathering, the first ever TCG and my personal favourite. But despite following it for almost twenty years and being super pumped about it, I have very rarely (especially in recent years) actually played. For a long time I told myself that I wasn’t comfortable enough around people. I told myself that the time investment is too big. I told myself that the money investment is too big. I worried about trying to keep up with the new sets and the latest deck building ideas. Getting the biggest collection I could, be the best player I could, learning the lore and back history (in- and out-of-game). Again, going back briefly to what I mentioned in my last post, approaching it all as one big thing and overwhelming myself.

As a result, for the longest time I have been miserable about M:tG. I wanted to play but I talked myself out of it by focusing on why I couldn’t do. But that failed to take into account what I do have. I have a collection several thousand cards strong. Fay has deliberately avoided it, but Rhys, Ethan, Shannon and Shawn have all expressed an interest and have 400-card collections carefully curated for them from my boxes of spares. I failed to appreciate the fact that I could play the game. I couldn’t do everything ever thought of, but I could still play and have some fun. And I would be getting to have fun with my children! Where, I ask you, is the bad?

It wasn’t until the last few years that I began to understand this. Partly it came from reading self-help posts and books, but partly it came from starting to listen and pay attention to the world around me.

I vaguely recall hearing about Band Aid and Comic Relief, and all of these other big charity drives that started sweeping the world in the 1980’s. And everyone would include posters or video footage of sob stories; children in Africa with no food or water, people dying of diseases, the sick and the helpless. Or you would hear stories on the news about people getting hurt because of their religious beliefs or ethnicity. But all of it seemed (to me, at least) unreal. They were just names and pictures. A way for parents to guilt you into doing things. “It doesn’t matter if you hate sprouts. There are starving children in Africa”. Just words. And I had more than enough problems of my own- feeling like an outcast, anxious and depressed, never feeling like I was any good. Wrapped up in a mess of insecurities and problems of my own making.

But a few years back, when I started my journey of self-improvement, one of the things that I did was to pay more attention to the world around me, both in real life and on social media. I started to follow and interact with people that shared a love for M:tG. But along the way I learned more about other people’s problems. The horror stories I began to hear and see were more real. People being discriminated against because of their gender, or race, or religious beliefs. Decent and honest people, the kind that I would be proud to call friends. And not even in some far away barbaric country; from so-called civilized nations such as the US and over here in England. People disowned by their own families because of sexual orientation, or prevented from bettering themselves simply because of an accident of birth. Mocked, threatened or even actually attacked.

It certainly puts things into perspective. I may not have been where I wanted to be, and I had squandered more than enough opportunities, but no matter how bad my life was there are always those that have it worse. I was laughed at in school, but I only ever got in one fight; I wasn’t beaten everyday. I’m high-functioning autistic which makes social interaction hard, but there are people with even more severe disabilities that prevent them from doing anything for themselves. I never felt close to my parents or siblings, but I was never starved, beaten or abused. I know that every night I can go to sleep next to my wife whom I love and wake up the next morning and spend time with my children. Others spend whole days without human contact.

Now, I’m not trying to downplay my own problems; anxiety and depression are very real and absolutely life-changing. Nor am I trying to diminish anyone else’s experiences  or saying words to the effect of “Suck it up, Bucko; there’s starving kids in Africa!” And I’m also not saying that you should use other’s misfortune to feel better about yourself. Just this- in even the blackest night, there will always be a bright star shining somewhere; find that star and hold on to it. Find that thing that you are grateful for, and it can give you the strength that you need to keep going.

Well. That got deeper than I’d originally intended. Thank you for sticking with it and I’ll see you all soon.

TTFN!

Stay On Target…

Hello there World.

Today I would like to talk a bit about a problem that I like to call excessive creativity. It could also be called bubbling brain, because that is how it can feel sometimes. Basically too many ideas and not enough time, or more accurately too many ideas and not enough focus. It is a problem that has plagued me since pretty much as long as I can remember. I have been creative my entire life, but so few projects have ever been finished. I have written several songs but only four made it as far as being recorded. I have poured countless hours into creating characters, stories and entire worlds for D&D but never had a campaign actually end, just kind of peter out or stop dead. I discovered a cool piece of software called Magic Set Editor that allowed me to create actual properly laid-out Magic: the Gathering cards, got part way through creating an entire block, then just stopped. I even have my old blogs; I’d get an idea, start working, then another cool idea would strike. My brain would immediately switch track, spend far too long on this other tangent, then struggle to finish what I’d already started.

Even this very post was originally supposed to be written last Friday. I got about half-way through, then got distracted by a different idea for a post for another day, then completely bombed my thought process. Which was in part why we have such a short post for Friday. [Ed.- Although the irony of losing focus during an article on staying focused was REALLY funny…]

So the thing is- how to deal with this problem? Because you really can’t go through life never completing anything. At the very least it’s bad for your self-esteem.

Well, the first thing is to ask yourself who you are and what you want. Because every project that you commit to is going to take a chunk of your precious, extremely finite and non-refundable time, any time lost to things that don’t matter or speak to you on a personal level is time that you then can’t spend on the things that do matter. If you see yourself as a social-conscious serious journalist, writing some overly silly fiction piece is not going to help move you towards serious social-conscious journalisting, and nor is writing a piece that undermines or diminishes your personal message or stance. By the same token if that self-same writer also values quality family time with their children and their daughter loves stories about magical multi-colour ponies, then writing a silly fiction piece about these ponies will still be a valid use of their time. If you want to be a blogger, save learning about video editing software until after you’ve posted your daily blog post…

The second thing to ask is can this project wait until a later time. If something is particularly time sensitive, then it becomes a bit more of a priority to do it now. But I’m pretty sure that you’ll find that most often there is wiggle room. There is no need to immediately drop whatever it is you are already doing and do this other thing. Of course, if it does need to be done now you still need to take the time to at least temporarily wrap up whatever you are doing first. Don’t just drop everything exactly where it is, because you almost certainly won’t be able to just jump straight back in. Any flow will have been lost. Even just a few scribbled notes may be enough for you to be able to pick back up again where you left off. And, of course, if there isn’t a time crunch then just make a note of this new idea then get back to what you were already doing.

The third question is how big is this project? One of the reasons that some of my ideas have flumped is thinking too big. When creating the M:tG cards, I was not just building a set of cards, but I was working on a whole block. For those not in the know, basically a block was a series of connected sets that covered a year’s worth of releases- one large set and two smaller sets that further build on the themes and mechanics and advance the in-game storyline- somewhere in the region of roughly 600-700 cards (a practice that has actually been phased out over the last few years). And I was doing a job that for Wizards of the Coast (very wisely, I hasten to add) took an entire company. They had three separate design teams (one per set), three separate development teams (one per set), a whole art team, and many others around them. For a long time I felt bad that I never fully finished the block (actually, I never actually even fully finished the first set…) but in fairness I had set myself an unreasonably Sisyphean task. Had I broken it all down into smaller tasks and organised myself better I would almost certainly have gotten further with the process. But instead, I kept darting around from idea to idea, and even from set to set with little rhyme or reason or focus. I was searching the internet for artwork that fitted the cards (whilst aware that I had created some world-specific bits that I wouldn’t be able to actually find); I was creating cycles of cards (faction specific cards based around a specific mechanic or theme, one for each faction), mega cycles of cards, cross-set cycles, and individual cards. I was world-building (and using the same campaign world for both M:tG and D&D). Needless to say, the current iteration is quite the mess, and still unfinished to this day. TLDR: Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Finally, make sure that where you do the whatever-it-is is conducive for it. Trying to write while that TV blares at you and your kids are underfoot and everything is a mess is guaranteed to fail. If you allow yourself to work in a place with distractions, your brain will find ways to distract you. I have taken to leaving my phone in a different room more often to avoid the temptation to let myself get sucked into the mental cocaine of social media and Reddit. It always starts as “I just need to check something” and ends with railing against the latest political catastrophe. Or “What did that card say?” turns into “Oooh what does that deck do? And what about…?”.

I have only very recently started being stricter with myself (okay- since Friday…), but already I think that I am seeing a difference. I make the point of always having my cheap journalist’s notepad with me, either within arms reach or in my back pocket. Any time I have one of my random thoughts, whether an idea for an article, a deck idea, or even a memory of a song that I suddenly want to try and look up, I just jot it down. For one thing, the last few blog posts have had at least a smidgeon more thought going into them rather than just sitting down and letting my hands wander on the keys. As I said above, I try and keep my iPhone in a different room. I work in my basement office, and only on week days, when no one is around.

Of course, you don’t need to use a notebook; smart phones have note apps and voice memo apps and all sorts of other doodads let you make little notes to yourself for those that have more mobile-related self control. You can even just grab an odd scrap of paper and jot something down.

All I will say is whatever method you use, make sure that (a) you stick to it, and (b) make sure that you have somewhere to consolidate ideas. For example, if you have many ideas for a D&D campaign, don’t leave them spread over several notebooks, make sure that you have one place to keep all of the notes together and set aside regular time to consolidate them. That was one of my biggest downfalls with that particular pass time- I had ideas on my laptop, ideas in a couple of exercise books, ideas on scraps of paper, and no real organisation system. Looking back at some of the old stuff now I struggle to remember where I was going with a lot of threads, which is a real shame.

And that I think will do for today. In fact, that’s probably actually the final thing to say here- know when to stop. Just because you think you may be able to think of more things to say, doesn’t mean that you need to do it.

And finally I would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge that today is a special day for Fay and I, as it is our eleventh wedding anniversary (Woo!! Yeah!). I was originally going to lead with this, but in light of the topic at hand it seemed somewhat counter productive.

So with that, I will bid you all a fond farewell and I’ll see you again tomorrow. TTFN!

29,000 Words

Hello World!

IMG_1197

They say that a picture paints a thousand words. In which case, I have over 29,000 words for you today!

I finally got around to doing something this morning that I have been meaning to for a little while now. For the last two years now my hometown has hosted the Cheltenham Paint Festival, a celebration of street art right. This years’ event took place on the 8th and 9th of September and saw a great number of artists, volunteers, spectators and even young kids hitting the streets to paint the town (literally!).

Some of the pieces of art nearest to me are situated around the North Place car park, and after the school run this morning I decided to visit and take some photos.

 

 

 

As you can see, there’s a lot of different artists and styles just in the one location. Some not so much my personal tastes, but some I really love (the whale definitely caught my eye, and the Deadpool is suitably hilarious). Sadly, time (two months!) has not been entirely kind, and a couple of the panels have been knocked over and broken.

For those that are interested, you can find the official photographs of all these images (including the undamaged art) and many more from further afield around town at the official Cheltenham Paint Festival website. You can also find all of the art from last year and find out more about the different artists.

I hope that you enjoyed seeing these pictures as much as I did, and I’ll speak to you again tomorrow. TTFN!