June 20, 2010

On the Subject of Fathers

In an interview a few years back, the big yin, Billy Connolly spoke about his tormented upbringing, outlined in a biography written by his psychotherapist wife, Pamela Stephenson--a book about healing more than anything else. 

The abuse was terrible: abandonment, sexual, violence. But in the interview--which covered far more than his tumultuous upbringing--he was adamant about not harboring resentment about his past, nor being portrayed as a victim.

When asked about his father, who sexually abused him for several years, Connolly spoke on forgiveness, and how it allowed him to continue to love his father now as he did growing up. How the betrayal that occurred was not the dominant feature of how he saw his dad.

The interview was remarkable to me because of how difficult forgiveness comes to many (myself included at times). How easy it is to carry resentment deep in your gut and allow it to color the way you see the world. Especially when it stems from such scarring trauma.

My life in comparison to Mr. Connolly's is almost innocuous. I had caring parents who did their best to raise four children. My father worked too hard for too little and that made him tired and short-tempered. But there was never any doubt that he was dedicated to his family--that the lack he felt in his own upbringing would not carry over into the one he helped create.

He wasn't perfect--wasn't easy to please. But he was and is a great teacher. Even today, kids gravitate towards him, his strange and silly humor, his willingness to engage with them at their level. And his capacity to forgive and not be tied down by resentment is paramount to this.

It's difficult to place value on these traits, but when I look at my daughter--the single greatest achievement of our lives--I know I take these traits to heart. Somewhere, in the convoluted world of parenting, I know a few things will stand true.

June 16, 2010

Anyone Up for Some LARP?

LARP, as defined by Wikipedia, is a form of role-playing where the participants physically act out their characters' actions. The players pursue goals within a fictional setting represented by the real world, while interacting with each other in character. 

The outcome of player actions may be mediated by game rules, or determined by consensus among players.

Cornwall Park, Bellingham (pdf)--a series of trails and playgrounds under the cover of cedars, elm, and the occasional maple. On a whim, I stopped there to hike one afternoon, wife and daughter in tow. After negotiating a well-worn trail we found ourselves on a small incline, looking down on an oblong and asymmetrical grass field.

At the base of the incline, directly below us, a cluster of people. Larpers--at least thirty. All of them dressed in peculiar fashion, and carrying weapons--of the home-made sort. Now, if this were Los Angeles in the 60's, we'd be buried at the park somewhere by now. But in 2010, the weapons were...well...odd.

Large foam jousts, duct-taped to hockey sticks. Papier-mâché swords, helmets with sagging viking horns, capes made from shag carpet, wiffle-ball bats, plastic katanas. One guy had a makeshift spear that would have given Goliath a hernia. The best item: an old pair of goalie pads, wrapped in tape, colored with jiffy markers, and sporting two handles not unlike those seen on a pommel horse.

Such refined weaponry only begged closer scrutiny. We stared at the herd of combatants now trying to assemble into two opposing teams. Again, Los Angeles in the 60's and we'd see muscular, tattooed bad-asses, dividing on lines of colored handkerchiefs. The people on Cornwall Park field? Not so much.

Basement dwellers, but not the, "hey it's all I can afford" kind. I'm talking those people who prefer the dark, stuffy confines of their parents homes, where the only light permeating their finger-smudged glasses comes from an out-dated CRT monitor. Slender wrists and Cheeto-bellies. Side-parted hair and a bespectacled unfamiliarity with sunlight. Harmless, friendly geeks with a penchant for choppery.

Why so many of them would find it acceptable to meet together, I'll never know. Safety in numbers perhaps? They divided into groups based on proximity and I think who had the most Dungeons and Dragons clout.

A few minutes later and two wheezy troupes had formed. Some "maidens" remained near several large coolers, no doubt harboring Jolt Cola and Slim-Jims. Someone yelled an incomprehensible word. Klingon perhaps. And all nerd-hell broke loose.

Lumbering towards each other they flailed with their swords, rammed their jousts into doughy mid-sections, and shouted phrases not unlike those imagined in Tolkein's personal diary. Some feigned heinous deaths. One fellow, upon being battered in the back, clutched his head and collapsed to the lawn, bemoaning his scalp.

By now a group of bemused walkers stood with us. And I heard the query, "what in the holy hell?" upon the arrival of each new spectator. A legitimate question, when you think about it.

But such shows are short-lived. Especially when put on by those who rarely traipse into the outdoors. Within four minutes, the battle was over--ending with a prolonged, confused murmur. Most of the nerf-warriors collapsed around the coolers, begging for grog. A few sat in the field, waiting for Mel Gibson to ride up on a horse and lug them to safety.

Perhaps the strangest thing I have ever seen. Coincidentally, perhaps the most entertaining too.