asked me a bunch of questions a long time ago, and I’ve only just re-located them. So, here are her five questions to me, and my responses.
1) Dance, drum, service: which do you spend the least time doing? What would it take to make you spend more time doing that?
I spend the least time drumming, mostly because I don’t know how to. I think I would need to feel confident and competent at playing several rhythms before I’d be willing to spend a whole lot of time drumming. I admire Jake’s hand-drumming, a lot, and think it would complement my skills and desires to be a storyteller, lots… but finding the time to learn the rhythms, and practice them… those things are in short supply.
2) Which RPGs did you play when you were in high school and college? Which of them do you still enjoy playing?
When I was in junior high, D&D 1st edition was the only game there was. So we played that. We tried Star Frontiers and some post-Apocalyptic game in Poland called Twilight 2000, but neither really grabbed our gaming group, at least not permanently, except for Billy, who eventually went off and joined the Army because he liked the idea of killing people twenty years into the future. I malign him, really, because in fact he had few other options, but I still maintain that the US Army took him because he had the kind of flexible moral code that allows him to point and click with an assault rifle.
When I was in college, Vampire: the Masquerade came out. I still remember the first time we played, because it was the first game where we had to come in costume. I’d made a character, but I wasn’t really comfortable with this whole “you’re a vampire” schtick. Role-players are supposed to kill monsters, not be them. Of course, twenty minutes into the game, I had to feed, and the GM had me stalk someone in an alley… only, things went badly. My PC basically ate a defenseless human being, and I politely excused myself to go be sick in the bathroom, and throw up a few times. I had an easier time with Werewolf and Mage, but Vampire continues to haunt me. A very good game — not one I really want to play.
We also experimented with R. Talsorian’s Cyberpunk and with FASA’s Shadowrun. Both games appealed to me a great deal, but there was never a regular session. Champions and a Palladium game, Robotech with Mechas and the conventions of Anime were a good deal more regular. A fellow from eastern Connecticut named Talis GMed the Robotech game, and he ran it successfully, week in and week out, for most of the three years I knew him. Probably the most reliable, humorous, and fair GM I’ve ever known, and he not only ran the game, but he did the illustrations of our characters, our mechas, and the world. An excellent guy, and one I wish I knew how to contact.
Today, I mostly play D&D 3.5th edition. At the moment, my regular at-school gaming group is defunct, and and I play only fitfully on an irregular schedule. With only two of us, it’s an awkward gaming group, and I’m continuing to try to find regular players. I’d also like to run Exalted, by white wolf, and familiarize myself with the rules more successfully. Mostly, I want to have two games of any kind at all … one which I get to GM, and one in which I get to play. I do pretty well with clerics and mages — and yet when the new edition of Mage comes out, that might be very appealling to me, too.
3) You left the seminary. Fast forward, you’re teaching ancient history. Please connect the dots.
I graduated from Seminary in 1996. I wasn’t getting my third-year MDiv degree, so I had an M.T.S. (Master of Theological Studies), and no clear career path with the Episcopal Church. My dad asked me what I had most enjoyed doing with my life in my twenty-six years, and I said that I most enjoyed being a teacher’s assistant in college, where I got to give occasional lectures, edit and pre-grade a bunch of student papers, and talk with freshmen students about their ideas. Dad said, “so go be a teacher.” I called around, and landed a job in northeastern Connecticut teaching at a boarding school.
My first year was total hell. I almost walked out in August, after teaching summer school. But I stayed, in large measure because I was contracted to stay. At the end of my first year, the school asked me to be the school chaplain, and so I became Chaplain for the allegedly-princely sum of $1000 a year on top of my regular salary. Suddenly, I was preaching twice a week, conducting a confirmation class, acting as an ad-hoc advisor on religious matters, running two chapel services a week, and trying to be my own sacristan, acolyte, and sexton simultaneously. I think it broke me in a couple of important ways.
First, I stopped believing most of the Church’s official theologies. I started to acknowledge that Spirit is a powerful thing, but that it has intermediaries, and multiple facets. Second, I disdained the Church’s official hierarchies. In four years of being Chaplain, I never got a call from a bishop or any official of the Church — it’s not that they didn’t know what I was doing, it’s just that they chose not to acknowledge it in any way. The bishop finally came to visit, and he spent two hours with the headmaster, and ten minutes with me.
In the meantime, I was teaching ninth grade history, which the curriculum assigns as “the ancient world”. I taught a section of ancient history my first year of teaching, in 1996-1997, and had a blast. Over the years, I’ve refined and honed the curriculum to the point where I’m not only teaching content, but also descriptive and summation-writing skills, as well as classroom participation skills, research skills and note-taking. All of the projects the students did, I did, and I did lots of extra reading. Gradually, I came to understand deeply the truth of our old New Age hymn, It’s the Blood of the Ancients that flows in our veins; the forms change, but the circle of life remains. Right now, I can’t imagine doing anything else besides teach ancient history. It’s powerful, it’s universal, it’s an everflowing stream, and it’s constantly changing and deepening. There are new discoveries being made literally all the time, and some of them blow my mind.
Four years after I took the chaplaincy, the disconnects between the official party line and what I was preaching, and what I actually believed and kept to myself, just became too much for me. I’d describe it as a nervous breakdown, but I think it was more about making an honest assessment of who I was and what I believed. I left the school for a year, to finish my master’s degree in ancient and classical history, and put my head back together. It was an interesting year. I started wearing kilts regularly during that year. After that, I came back to the same school, and began teaching ancient history again, but now they had a different chaplain, and I didn’t have to do all that preaching and preparation. So, I do occasionally put my hand in, and preach or run a service, but now I do it two or three times a term instead of twice a week, and it’s keeping me a little more sane. I also use what I know of the past to inform and enrich my sermons and my preaching, and a bit of my understanding of magic and paganism probably creeps in too. It’s all good.
4) Share a phrase or passage from an oral work that makes you shiver.
This is by no means easy, especially without reference to the library at home.
Below, I reference Prescott’s History of the Conquest of Mexico, which includes a powerful and desperate description of a human sacrifice to the god Tlaloc (how will modern neo-paganism work to prevent permanently the reinstitution of this barbarous custom? I’ll/we’ll have to work on that.) That’s probably the strongest piece I’ve heard recently in recording, but I don’t think it was really meant to be heard so much as read.
On the other hand, last night, live, I heard perform Lord Buckley’s Da Naz, which is a jive/jazzspeak summation of the gospels dating from the 1940s or early ’50s. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end while he was reciting. But I don’t have a copy of it (although I would like one) and no particular line from it stands out.
5) What’s in your reading pile these days?
Four books by Jack Kerouac that a kid at school lent to me.
Island in the Sea of Time, by S.M. Sterling. The island of Nantucket in 1998 gets dropped through a wormhole to about the year 1250 BCE. I’ve just finished two of his other books — Dies the Fire, about what happens in the rest of the world when Nantucket vanishes; and Conquistador, about what happens when a WWII vet finds a way to enter a parallel universe where Europe never found the Americas.
a biography of Alexander the Great
Israel Regardie’s book on the Golden Dawn magical tradition
Oak, Ash and Thorn, a book about Celtic shamanism.
The poetry of Wilfred Owen, who died at the end of the First World War.
Book One of the Inarion, this epic poem I’ve been working on for a while. I’ve forgotten what I wrote, and I’m refreshing the story in my mind.
Of late, I’ve also discovered the joys of Audible.com and audio-books that I can listen to on my iPod. I’ve just heard the new translation of Gilgamesh by Stephen Mitchell that way, and I’m currently listening to the Persian Wars parts of Herodotus. About two weeks ago, I listened to PRescott’s History of the Conquest of Mexico, and was blown away by the description of the process for sacrificing a human being to the god Tlaloc in the Aztec tradition. I had to pull off the road and get my head together a little. Next on the list after Herodotus is Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War.