Saturday, January 5, 2008

Beauty and the Beholder

You’re probably wondering what this is a picture of. I can tell. You can barely stand it. What could it be? And though I can remember precisely, not exactly, I know it’s an unnecessarily close-up of some plant in the botanical gardens in Belfast. Though I don’t know its fancy scientific name or its folky local name, I do know it’s beautiful. But then what’s beauty? They got a whole branch of thinking for that, don’t they? Aesthetics. But most people are fine with the cliché: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Who is this beholder? Other than a monster in D&D with the body of one big eye and the power to, and I quote, “disintegrate objects, transmute flesh to stone, cause sleep, slow motion of objects, charm animals, charm humans, cause death, induce fear, levitate objects, and inflict serious wounds” … now, that’s love.

D&D is, of course, Dungeons and Dragons and with fear and trepidation I admit to having played it. No, no, with pride I admit not only to having played it, but to having been the Dungeon Master on most of those occasions. Actually we rarely even played the official AD&D (that’s Advanced Dungeons & Dragons for you losers who may not know) but other lesser known RPGs (role-playing games). What gets me is that I may have just alienated loads of people from this admission because few things are unanimously acknowledged as pathetic as role-playing games. It is the quickest pop culture shortcut to geek characterization. Twenty-sided dice=Loser! Yet, it’s the very people who were rolling these 20Ds that are writing these clichés today, having bought into their socially constructed past identities of dateless teens gathered around a table in a friend’s basement, or in my case, a free-standing garage. But despite my aunt’s fear that I was involved in a Satanic cult and my parent’s fear that I would end up like Tom Hanks in Monsters and Mazes, I look back on my role-playing days as formative to my writing, grappling with a story with the audience right there pushing back, demanding to be entertained. And though I’d never play today (why play D&D when I can write?), a friend of mine told me he runs games for his wife and her friends. When he told me, I was a little condescending (who has the time?), but now I think what’s the difference in that and my obsessive TV watching, my marathons of The Wire and Extras? Am I spending my time any wiser?

To those around me, I admit to DMing with more fear than I do confessing that I was a fairly big guy—I guess I still am, but it has little to do with my life now, but back in those teenage wastelands it was my ticket to avoiding the bullies. But I was a violent big guy. And as things happen, I at times became the bully. I used to punch one of my friends from the bus till he was black and blue. His arm eventually turned green. To this day when he sees me, every single time he sees me, he retells that story about his green arm and having to account for its color to his dad. I’ve apologized, and, of course, what does it matter now? He manages a comic book store. I’m a professor. We both survived. But its one of those things that bruised me longer than his arm. I hate the person that did that. I hate that I could’ve ever been that person. And I try never to talk about it and the other times when I fell into violence. But inevitably when I do, no one reacts, no one is particular scandalized. The women I’ve dated are shocked when I reveal my geeky past—I can see their fear that they’ve made a mistake. But when I less forthcomingly admit to savagely beating a guy half my size to the floor, they jokingly chastise me, their eyes bright with what I fear is admiration.

Is sin also in the eye of the beholder?


Derek Nikitas said...

Jesus, man, you just jump right into it, don't you? I played Top Secret more often than D&D, which is why I write crime fiction today. Not really.
When Brad Land came for a reading at my college, he told a class of undergrads (many of whom were students of mine) that he and I used to go on three-day nonstop D&D binges in grad school. They believed him. For weeks afterward.
I didn't know you were doing The Wire. I just did three episodes staight last night--mid Season 2. Where you up to? God, that show's quality is beyond comprehension.

S. Craig Renfroe, Jr. said...


You mean you don't remember the D&D marathons in grad school?

I love The Wire. I'm watching it oddly...I saw all of last season, but that was the only one I'd seen, so I'm halfway through the 1st season now, and it's fun to see the origins of the characters I know from the later season. Plus I'm watching the newest episode tonight...