Off Topic: Behind the Scenes

One year ago, I was sitting at home surfing the Internet. My search in particular was for a Magic article I could sit-back and read for entertainment. What I found were numerous articles about deck tech, draft, and the metagame. I wished for more as I sat there in frustration. In a spontaneous attempt for diversity, I went fishing by sending a few authors and editors a couple of suggestions. The lack of a courteous reply told me I was out of luck. What did I expect? I guess in my utopian outlook I hoped for at least a nibble on the end of the fishhook. Besides, new territory is a risky endeavor and I can’t fault editors for being hesitant on taking such a risk. A thought then crossed my mind. Since no one would listen to my pleas of boredom, why not roll up my sleeves and go fishing on my own? All this sounds good and all until I had to face the facts. It was a lot of talk. More importantly, what did I have to offer the community? I was no professional Magic player, famous celebrity, or blessed with inside connections.

Not that anyone would know, I spent a long, long, long time thinking about my column. I’ve been on the forums. One misstep and the online populace would fillet and fry me in butter. Magic fans have an expectation of articles either entertaining or teaching them something. I can’t blame them. I expect the same. It suddenly dawned on me. My articles could be about all the stuff people don’t/won’t or are unwilling/scared to talk about. The idea had advantages. The format wouldn’t be invading any rival turf and the range of topics was limitless. I won’t lie: the column gave me a little leeway with the masses. Was it any surprise my column was named Off Topic and my first foray was about card shops? Looking back, I’m simply thankful was insane and brazen enough to give me an outlet. Oh, I didn’t have any hopes of fame or glory. A small minutia of me hoped some compensation might accidentally fall into my wallet. My real mission was simply to plant a seed.

Didn’t I say earlier in the year I was done writing? Yes, yes I did. Part of the problem is I get an idea that threatens to gnaw through my skull until I put it down on paper. The real reason is for therapeutic relaxation. Whacking at keys allows me a chance to escape my world for at least a moment. Also, I have been waiting to write this article for a while and the timing feels appropriate. When I made the decision to forgo the continuation of my fleeting writing career was because my parents were going through a messy divorce. The divorce was almost a relief. My parents had been fighting since I can remember. A small fragment of my memory recalls being six and asking my sister if our parents were splitting up during a particular bad episode. Frankly, I became desensitized to the matter. Then on Monday July 12th, my cell-phone rang. It rang again and again. Nobody calls me especially during the workday. I didn’t want to take the call. Sunday night had been spent calling home to talk to my dad. I knew something was wrong deep down and whisked away by denial. My wife knew it. We both knew it. I tried convincing my mom to call 911. She assured me later that night everything was better and okay. When I took that call Monday at work, everything was not okay. My dad had shot himself that morning in the heart.

On the incredibly long three and half hour drive home, my wife spent most of her time on the cell phone canceling our flight tickets, hotel, car rental, and train tickets. We were supposed to be on an airplane Wednesday morning to see her sister in Seattle. Instead, we were in a car going home to plan my dad’s funeral. The night was spent consoling each other with random spurts of crying, anger, confusion, and blame. Hardest part of the whole ordeal was walking into the dairy barn the next day. A couple of years ago my dad sold the dairy cattle he had raised since the age of eighteen. Tags from the auction still hung over the stalls. Pointing at various pieces of evidence, it concluded our thoughts of nothing had been touched since the auction. The barn stood empty, silos outside were crumbling, and broken machinery sat neglected. Everything reflected the man who wore out his body doing what he had loved. However, it was now all gone. It felt all too symbolic. Walking around the farm and through those barns, it was as if I was inside my dad’s soul.

I won’t go any further into the continual self-destructive family behavior I have to deal with everyday that could fill an entire week on the Jerry Springer Show. The divulgence of my sordid past here isn’t me simply looking for an outlet. I have multiple points to some I will allude to and others more bluntly hit upon later. This is my reaction to Mark Rosewater’s interview. Very quickly I fathom people jumping to conclusion as those previous words are read. Since you don’t know me, you might think I am trying to prove a point. A person would be somewhat right if the point was between the words since and me. As Magic players go, I find the populace forgetting the person sitting behind those seven cards isn’t just an opponent. They are more than an online avatar. It is a person with feelings, stories, doubts, hopes, dreams and possibly a painful past. Our love for Magic creates tunnel vision as the euphoria of casting spells and knocking down our opponent’s life total overrides our need for human contact. We mentally lapse in inquiring about the person peeking behind those cards. How are they? Where are they from? What do they do? Have they played the game long? Scared to get personal, I’m sure the person across the table is too.

This isn’t exclusive to Magic players and relates to the general population as well. I once had a boss I refer to as having a Disney upbringing. He was one of those touchy feely guys thinking nothing of it when he would pat his subordinates in approval at doing a good job. It was how he was raised. What he didn’t realize in is ignorant bliss is one of those female employees had a dad that did bad things during her upbringing. After witnessing a couple of crying sessions, I took one for the team and kind a chewed him out next time he patted me on the back. It got the point across without her having to divulge why. Unfortunately, it was the kind of place where any kind of rogue behavior wasn’t tolerated. I had a target placed on my back by management. They didn’t dare fire me after the episode, but the higher ups made my life hell possibly hoping I would simply quit. My schedule suddenly changed to a 6 pm to 2:30 am shift when they knew I had classes from 8:00 am to 12:00 pm. I knew full well my actions would have consequences. In hindsight, my youthful self could have been more tactful. Regardless, the reason the sequences of events unfolded in the manner presented was the fact management failed to recognize the human factor. People have different pasts.

Why am I then taking such a big risk laying out all my cards? As I have grown older, my anecdotal accounts on life has made me realize just how scared people are to opening up to others. It is here I feel compelled to run a disclaimer. A risk exists every time when exposing one’s soul. Take care what information you let people know. It can come back to haunt you. I willingly do this today for I have been crafted of tougher metal by years of tempering. Risk is a double-edged sword. If a person never risks, a person isn’t known. Take a risk, you might get hurt. The compelling part I feel is everybody is way too worried about the one side of the sword. Take this article for example. I took a risk. My experience tells me when this article goes up it might get a couple hits for two weeks. Soon after, the article will disappear into the abyss of the forums. That will be it. People will quickly move on to the new shiny thing. I am not being cynical about it. I’m a realist. It is the nature of people. The same held true eight years ago when my best friend committed suicide with a shotgun. I have learned people say a lot of things at funerals. Eventually, people move on. People stop calling. People don’t fulfill on promises made. I don’t hold a grudge. I can’t fault for people being people. It is how people cope. They move on.

The hardest part of writing I find nowadays is I forget my readers can’t see my face. How did you see my face as you read the above? Was I angry? Was I sad? Actually, I am gingerly smiling as I write this article. My friend Jameson doesn’t hurt any in keeping my spirits up. My anecdotal accounts tell me the majority of problems in interpersonal relationships are expectations. We all have them. Let me ask you a few questions. How often do you expect your friends to call you? Should people reciprocate when you greet them with a hello? How many times should you go home to see family during college? Everyone will have different answers to the above. However, problems arise when others don’t meet our expectations. In my younger days, I was naïve enough to expect my friends to call me weekly. I expected my friends to have the same expectations as myself. It wasn’t realistic. My ever-evolving self has learned people are people. Don’t expect anything more. That just sounded pessimistic. Try this instead: people have natural behavioral tendencies. Funny analogy, should you get mad when dogs chase cats? Dogs chase cats. Since this topic could entail an entire article unto itself, careful as I change gears into the rest of my article.

As I sit here clacking away at my keyboard, I wonder if my spectacle today will push officially recognized writers to be a little more daring. Even though I welcome idea, I am more concerned with the blunt point up ahead. This game means nothing except for the people behind those initial seven and the twenty some life. It is why I highly value my fraternal days in college during my impressionable years. It wasn’t the parties, drinking, and the scantly clad girls. The memories ingrained in my brain forever are exemplified in a jaunt to the Mississippi river. A fraternity brother with a keen sense of humanity coyly convinced us to stroll to the murky waters along Winona, Minnesota. He was wise enough to understand the frustration, anger, and other emotions being exhibited needed a release. The negativity was infecting the house. The virus spread and fed upon that negativity. It was corrupting us. At the bank with a bottle in one hand, he reached down and picked up a rock. With it, he commanded each and everyone to pick up a rock and chuck it into the depths of the Mississippi. Before we hurled the stony mass, we were to yell all of our anger, dark emotions, and what ailed us onto the rock. It began innocently enough. Each person that night took a turn then revealed something and hurled a chunk of stone. It wasn’t long and demons began to creep into the night. I was shocked at some of the revelations made by my friends. At the end of it all, the sun began to rise as if to ring in a new day. We trudged back home forever different and the closest young college kids could ever be. All of it bestowed by the demon cleansing power of the Mississippi. That night changed me forever. I can’t recall a time when casting a Jace, the Mind Sculptor made me feel the same way.

If I may for a moment consider myself a writer, I have some advice for anyone contemplating the art of writing or for any writer reading this very article. My one piece of wisdom is this: don’t be negative in your writing. People don’t like and appreciate it. It is probably one of my biggest regrets in any of my pieces. I apologize to everyone for those dismal columns. Besides, don’t just take my word for it. Any article laced with negativity has always been met with reciprocation. My least liked articles have always been when I have ridden the negativity train off the tracks. The numbers spoke for themselves. This includes bashing other sites, writers, and people in general. If I may speak for the Magic populace for a moment, we don’t like it. Stop it. It isn’t good for the health of our game or the players. I know when I click on a Magic article my hope is to escape the world for a brief moment of entertainment. I don’t want to be immersed in some else’s negativity. Magic is a place I come to be happy. A place where I can forget and bond with my kindred brothers and sisters.

This doesn’t mean reality should be ignored. I’m fully aware of it with my inherited second weekend job. It is why I am trying hard to be more positive these days. The problem with reality is it sits in between the fine line of negativity and positivity. An interesting study I read recently was an account by a group of scientist who showed negativity spreads like a virus. A single negative behavior can spread and infect the surrounding hosts. The good news or spin is positivity is also infectious. Spread it. A positive outlook can even corrupt the most pessimistic of players. Even pessimism can be turned positive. It is called spin. I think spin is a lost art. Politicians once excelled in it. Take something bad and turn it around into something good. The night I biked home from work in a rainstorm that eventually dumped 15 inches of rain could have been one of the worst nights of my life. Instead, I had the greatest time biking into the greatest puddles of my life. I walked into my house that night soaked down to my bones with the biggest smile on my face.


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