Game Master

How he loved to move the pieces. His own game that he created to occupy his lonely mind lay before him, having grown beyond anything he had ever imagined. No one else could move the pieces, but the pieces could and did move themselves, often in random ways that surprised him. That was the fun of it though. He knew too much, and relished any time that chaos and chance happened. It pushed the boredom back, even if only for a few moments, and made him feel alive.

Since the game began, he watched as it grew. Slowly at first, then picked up steam, and now was bordering on being too much to manage; too many pieces on the board. That was bullshit though. He got off on the challenge of such a complex thing. The more pieces in play, the better. There were times when the pawns made plays that he could not have come close to anticipating that almost ended the game, but he was gifted at restoring just enough balance insure that did not happen. This was HIS GAME, dammit, and if anyone was going to end it, he was. And so he watched and schemed, enacted complex plans and introduced twists that altered the course of the game. He was completely engrossed in his creation. Nothing else mattered but the game. It was his life, his purpose. He was consumed by it, in all its sprawling glory.

He looked at each strategy he was employing and how the pieces were reacting. There were some scenarios that were not going as planned, but he knew that he had it under control. He could introduce a new player to tame the ones that were causing upheaval in places he didn’t necessarily want to worry about at the moment. Another tactic he used with great efficiency was to enforce the rules that had been laid out at the beginning of the game. As always, time had a way of blurring the concrete necessity of these rules, and truth be told, he sometimes became so involved in the game and its intrigues that he neglected to penalize the guilty ones who took liberties with his guidelines. When he finally did police the members of the game, he was swift and harsh in dealing with those who played loose and fast with the rules. Banishment was not uncommon, but was reserved for the most atrocious offenders. He was not above torturing players in order to understand the level of their transgressions and know who was complicit in their treachery. He wielded vengeance as righteousness, and woe to those who questioned his methods or laws.

One of his greatest tools was doubt. Sowed into the minds of specific pieces, it made for interesting outcomes. He sometimes chuckled at his genius in introducing this as an element of the game. Such was the subtle power of this weapon that it could creep into those he chose to raise to a level of importance and obliterate their very existence, causing them to spiral downward into despair.

He would, on occasion, allow cooperation and compassion to take hold of large swaths of the pawns in the game. This had benefits that suited him; vast societies were built, measures taken to help those in need, and happiness spread enough that the idea of hope was a burgeoning concept.

He could not let that sort of thing stand, though. He needed things like fear, and worry, and distrust, and hatred to have sway. It was so much more FUN when the pieces were at odds with one another. Peace was boring, and he could not suffer any more boredom. So he made certain that unrest was near constant. He stoked the fires of feuds. He changed physical elements of the game without telling the players. He especially loved adding natural calamities to the mix because they allowed a small bit of cooperation and empathy to come forth, but the devastation and unrest that resulted were too delicious to ignore. He giddily clapped his hands when violence erupted as a direct result of his modifying the elements of the game itself.

Once, on a whim, he decided the game needed a full reset. He decided to take an ironic tact; the board had substantial water pockets. What if he just…added more water? The chaos that would make would be absolutely beautiful. He entered the change, and within minutes pain and death filled the board, and he was pleased with his ad lib. With but a few pieces in play, however, he grew impatient and bored. In a fit of brilliance he decided to make himself known to the participants. But he did so cryptically, and in vastly different locales, and awaited the results.

Rather quickly, different versions of his story (which he imparted to each group of players in the exact same manner, to see how or if it would take) were recounted and written down. To his complete and utter surprise, the pieces of the game closest to each place he downloaded his story began following the version that was regaled by the recipients, even citing it as the only version of the story that could possibly be true. The factions argued and fought. Violence escalated beyond anything he ever saw. There were battles, great and small, and outright atrocities committed that even he, in his constant state of depravity, could not have envisioned. He reveled in his ability to manipulate the game, to make the pieces move as he wished.

He contemplated the names he was festooned with from the players: Yahweh, Mohammed, Odin, God, Satan, Jehovah, Allah, Krishna, The All, Alpha, Omega, Osiris, and a host of others. Strange and wondrous they all were, and how lovely that they made the game so much more fun and interesting for him.

He moved the pieces as he always did, and adored the chaos that ensued.

Oh how he loved to move the pieces.

Advertisements

Sea of Imposters

The bustling of bodies seems frenetic. I know there is purpose to their movements; indeed, their purpose is mine. But I am in a city foreign to me amongst those who have honed their skills and studied their craft, and I am hoping to glean knowledge from them. I’m not overwhelmed, not exactly. What I am is petrified.

“You don’t belong, you know.” The dreadful passenger that is my constant companion lends its voice to my fears. I’m rarely without its insistence.

“Everyone will figure you out. You’ll be known as the fraud you are.” The faces passing by are friendly, their eyes meeting mine with a smile attached. I nod and smile back, even eke out a few hellos to those who are familiar. I do not let the terror show, the one that rides with me no matter where I am. I fervently worry that those scuttling past me, or worse, those who stop to share a word or a handshake or a hug will hear that dreadful passenger and know the truth. That I am a charlatan, a sham. A trickster.

I am an imposter.

There has never been a moment where someone outside of my mind has heard that voice. Not a single instance of accusation from another human being. You’d think that without any sort of substantive proof that I’d be able to silence the dreadful passenger. To annex him to a dark cell and seal him off from any input in my thought processes. This is his true genius. He needs no proof. He can manufacture doubt from nothingness, and it will CONSUME me. The skepticism runs quickly through my nerves and bloodstream. It renders me motionless, afraid to move. As if stillness will shield prying eyes and minds from my fraudulence.

I am a writer, or at least that is who I am when I am here. I am also a father, like nearly everyone else is here.

Here happens to be Dad 2.0 Summit, a conference for dads who are telling their stories and sharing their lives through an array of mediums. Writing, video, photography….all ways these folks are presenting their journeys through parenthood. Lending themselves bare for all to see. Like I am. Ostensibly I am part of this clan. Yet the dreadful passenger tries to foil my membership with this community.

“Look at how popular they are.”

“They’re so much more successful than you are. You’re not on their level.”

“Why would you think that they’d want to talk to you? You’re nobody.”

“You can’t even get a hundred people to like one of your posts.”

He’s had years of practice to cut my confidence down in mere seconds. Fear and insecurity are his weapons, and he uses them with utmost precision. Attacks are brutal and swift and devastating. He doesn’t limit his ruthless barbs just to occasions like this. He’s omniscient. Nothing is out of his reach for comment. Parenting. Writing. Being a husband. Self-perception. What I eat. What I drink. How I love. Every crevice of my existence is available for his special brand of critique. He pulls no punches and takes no quarter. He lords over my self-esteem and pounds it to dust when he deems I’m challenging his rule.

Normally when his sharp words play in my head, I’d shrink into myself and try to quell the uncertainty raging within. But this time I allow the sea of peers to push and pull me about, adrift on camaraderie and compassion. The more I let myself bounce along the ebbs and currents of support and relatability, the quieter that voice becomes. He is losing this round, and it enrages him. He launches a final salvo.

“See all these men? They’re REAL dads. Look at you; you’re a terrible father. You sacrificed a weekend with your kids to come to a conference to be with people who know you don’t matter? Huh…some dad you are.”

That’s an uppercut to my psyche most days.

But this is not a day for hammer blows to my confidence. The waves move me towards kindred souls.

Thom, a warlock with words, seeks me out. We share stories and a few drinks. He compliments my writing and my family. I’m more than a bit floored by his generosity. Hugs and handshakes, and we carry on conversations with others who want to share their lives bare and fully.

I talk with my friend Scotty, who tells of a horrific past that you’d never suspect. He’s a humorous sort, quick with a smile. The adoration he has for his children explodes from my phone each time I see it. Tears are spent from both our eyes. His courage is immeasurable, and I’m proud to know him.

Then there’s Spike who’s a whirling dervish of ideas. We’ve had many a conversation via text and good-old-fashioned-honest-to-goodness phone calls. We’ve never met, but he and I sit in adjoining chairs, whisky in hand, catching up and casting story ideas off each other like we were college roommates. The good kind though, not the creepy ones that you invariably got assigned to for your first semester. He makes my mind buzz with creativity and the desire to commit to the concepts moving around my head at mach speed.

My roommates for this excursion, Ryan and Dan, two men I’ve never met nor hardly had spoken to prior to arriving, were sincere and hilarious, combinations not normally found together. I feel fortunate to have known them briefly there, and thankful for the friendships we’re constructing.

I have heard speakers on a large stage talk about being bullied; I’ve been in small rooms with fathers sharing their deepest fears and troubles with each other. Judgment was not cast. Empathy was the rule of the day, each day, that I was in attendance. Bonding was not a big enough word to encompass what was happening here.  It was a collective, a commune, a brotherhood.

The last night I was there, I was lucky enough to be present for a conversation between two men I admire more than I can express. Two utterly different fathers talking through their experiences. A black father who remarried and is now part of a blended family consisting of black and white children, and a married gay father with one son. They related. They regaled each other with the common struggles all parents face. They were both fathers. The rest of the descriptors I gave? None of that mattered in that moment. Or any moment, really. We were all parents, all striving to be the best parents we could be. Each one of us wanting to raise responsible, well-adjusted children that could succeed and flourish when released from the relative safety of our wings.

As I was awash in the realization of how we are all connected by the threads of fatherhood, it dawned on me: the dreadful passenger was silent. He had nothing to combat the sense of belonging I felt. Especially knowing through so many wonderful and intriguing conversations, no matter how brief or elongated, that I was not the only imposter here. I was surrounded by imposters. We all felt the niggling doubts regarding the ways we parent; how we addressed challenges; how we uttered phrases by our parents that we’d all swore we’d never levy against our own offspring.

Yet here we all were, at Dad 2.0 Summit, each seeking to silence our own dreadful passengers and become the fathers we should be and our children deserve.

Self-doubt be damned, we’re going to get there.

Photo credit: Flickr:Wild_and_Natural