Thursday, March 17, 2016

Way Back in the '90s

I spent a lot of time thinking about 1992 this morning.

When I was a kid, I calculated the year I would become a legal adult (1991) and the year I would be of legal drinking age (1994). The 90s seemed like a long way off...they were "the future, man." Prince's album, 1999 was released in '82, envisioning...well, nothing really. The possibility that we'd all be blown up in a nuclear cataclysm long before entering the 21st century, I suppose. Keep that 70s hedonism going through the 80s, y'all.

I don't know why I've been thinking about 1992 specifically, but it was a seminal year for me. I started going to movies again on a regular basis (though usually, artsy films). I made the acquaintance of Quentin Tarantino (his movie, Reservoir Dogs anyway). It was my first year in college...a place where I had many, many happy experiences compared to the drag that high school often was. I didn't have my first serious girlfriend (that would be a couple months into '93), but I did "mess around" with more than a couple young ladies. I smoked my first pack of cigarettes (though my real partying wouldn't start till the following summer). I made a lot of good friends, most of whom I've lost touch with.

The 90s were my time, man. I did the musician/band thing. Did a lot of acting (on stage and public access television). Partied a lot. Loved (and lost) more than a few times. Spent the decade enjoying my (young) adulthood. I was figuring out what it meant to be an adult, getting it very wrong most of the time. I was simply the second-coming of my teenage self, all the dials turned from 10 up to 20.

1992 was the first time I was able to vote in a presidential election. My candidate won. He was this dude from Arkansas that played the saxophone on the Arsenio Hall Show. God, we were living in a new day and age. After 12 years of Reagan and Bush we were living in a time without fear. Without some crazy Cold War, or a bunch of random U.S. invasions, or some shitty economy. Things were booming! Things were looking up! We didn't get just one president, we got two! And the second (the First Lady) was even smarter than her charismatic husband! Gosh, health care reform...yay!

I did not do a lot of gaming in the 90s. Hell, for most of the decade I didn't own a television or even a computer. I was too busy L-I-V-I-N, man. I was employed throughout (I've been working since high school...these last years in Paraguay have been my longest stint of unemployment since I was 15), though my jobs were random, haphazard, expedient...not with an eye towards long-term goals or career, simply as a means to earn ready cash. I never gave much thought to the future...I was already living IN the future. All my focus was on the present.

No internet or blogging for me back in those days. Not sure I would have had much to say.

Now...boy, 1992 is a long time ago. The 1990's are a long time ago. I still feel (mostly) young, but my youth, my stupid, callow youth is a long time ago. I still have a pile of CDs from that time (in my garage, in Seattle) like Nine Inch Nails and Tool and various "grunge" and "alternative" bands, stuff with dark and cynical lyrics and themes. Good music, but stuff I can't really listen to these days. I'm too happy, too blessed, too appreciative of what I am, of what I have. For most of my life (up until the end of the 90s), I really didn't "get it." I wasted a lot of time, blamed a lot of my dissatisfactions of life on things other than myself.

And, unfortunately, I didn't have any mentors or strong role-models to straighten my shit out. I just had to figure it out myself, the same way I had to figure out how to play Dungeons & Dragons at the age of 8 or 9. No one was showing me the right way to do anything. Most of the time, I was the person people were coming to for help or advice.


I'm not sure what's bringing this blog post out of me at the moment. I'm not drinking (well, I am drinking coffee, but not anything stronger). I've still got a bit of a cold, but I'm not feverish. I got a good night's sleep. I was originally planning on writing something about "small town" mentality with regard to D&D campaigns (maybe tomorrow)...I really don't know why I feel the need to wallow in my reminisces at the moment. I don't feel particularly old.

Yes, I know this came out
before 1992.
But there is a lot of mileage on these tires. If you'd asked me in 1992 to name a favorite film, I probably would have given you The Blood of Heroes, the Rutger Hauer/Joan Chen cult classic. If there had been blogging in 1992, I would have devoted at least a week of posts to writing about the film, the hidden nuance within its setting and writing that makes it such a fascinating entry into the post-apocalyptic genre...not to mention the coolness of "the Game." I would have lauded a lot of compliments on the screenwriter, certainly a genius, and I'd brag about how many times I've re-watched the film (since I own it on VHS. Haven't even had a working VHS player for years). Apart from a couple of weak performances (I'm not a fan of Vincent Donofrio's work in the film, for instance), The Blood of Heroes would be pretty close to perfect, in my book.

[interesting that David Peoples would get a lot more accolades for his writing of Unforgiven, another film I love, that was released in 1992]

Now, of course, there's an international sport that's been created and spread across the globe based on the game in the film (O those crazy Germans!). If I was 20 years younger and stupider (and still had two good knees), I'd probably be trying to make it on one of the American teams myself. But I'm not and I won't and...well, as I said, there's a lot of mileage on Ye Old Tires.

I really hope I can help my children to appreciate how wonderful life is. I let them watch far too much television but hopefully that will change when we get back to a country where playing outside is more of an option (where the rain doesn't create flash-floods, the sun doesn't create heat-stroke, and the mosquitos don't carry dengue). My parents were good parents (for the most part), but they didn't really instill in me an understanding of the real possibility of life. They told me I could be "anything I want" but they provided me with neither roadmap, nor real support. And for many of my "dreams," the mantra was often "get an education/get a job first"...which in the end, left me with little time and energy to pursue any serious goals.  A cocktail, a film, a few hours hanging out, an occasional romance...this was the extent of my pleasure once my "responsibilities" were met.

I never learned to hustle.

Now, a quarter-century after I reached "the future" I am living in a present that is better than I ever imagined (being that I feel very fulfilled with a home, family, and writing hobby that is immensely satisfying), AND now I see a future still full of potential possibility, with no real end date. I'm not excited by this prospect, mind you...I am anxious because of it. Because I have no road map. Because I doubt myself. Because I want things to work perfectly and I keep making missteps through my ignorance or selfishness or both. Because there are no benchmarks for me as there were in my youth. The age of retirement? Only if that means something in the next twenty years. The day my children grow up and move out? Who knows when that might occur (my 40-year old brother is currently living with our mom). The day I become a full-time game publisher? Yeah,'s tough enough just being a part-time one (and the money is only enough to support my hobby).

I'm not worried about survival. I've been very good at surviving (health and sanity intact) the last four decades. I'm worried about living up to my potential, about making something of lasting value, of making a difference. Maybe I have too much fear in me. That doesn't mean I won't try. I'm just worried I'm going to half-ass it and make a frigging mess of everything.

That's definitely different from how I thought in 1992.


  1. Testify, fellow Gen-Xer. So much here I identify with.

    1. But is it "thoughtful introspection" or "naval gazing?" And is it helpful?
      ; )

  2. JB, you're the man. I'm glad you're helping to keep Old School gaming alive. 1992 was a great year. How I wish our cohort had a better moniker than Gen X. I don't know that D'Onofrio had much to work with in Salute of the Jugger... what did you want him to do in that underwritten part?

    1. @ Brian:

      As my old director used to scream at us (while throwing a folding chair across the stage): "Pick up the cues!"
      ; )

    2. I don't know. I hold directors more responsible for what goes right and wrong in films. For all we know, D'Onofrio might have been told to tone it down lest he overshadow the leads. His prior and subsequent work shows that he can fully inhabit just about any role if allowed enough rope.

  3. 'Salute to/of the Jugger' in Australia.
    The sport started out in live action role play. A post apocalyptic sport...what are the odds it outlives baseball.

  4. Having been in the place you describe, JB, where coming to reconcile one's youthful ambitions with what comes out in the wash, I can tell you that some of the best advice I ever subsumed came from a science fiction writer by the name of Spider Robinson.

    Do the next thing. Try not to think about what the thing after that is or what are the inherent consequences following the next thing; those don't really matter right now and they'll come about on their own regardless. Your role in this, as far as it goes, is deciding what's next; and then doing what's next. That's all you or I or anyone can actually manage, so it's best to put your focus there. Putting your focus on what you can't manage is crazy, man.

    Do the next thing. Just that.

  5. Another fellow Gen X product chiming in. First of all, I can relate the hell out of all of this, of course! Especially when it comes to the question "what is my legacy?" Sure, it may be labeled as just the same old "midlife crisis," but I'd like to think that our generation will do more than buy a sports car and try to trade in the wife for a younger model. I like to think we're deeper than that as a whole (the majority of us anyway), and that goes especially for us "creative types."

    Trust me, you're not alone. I'm going through my own questioning period. I too, like you and many others of our ilk, fell for the "magic formula" of "go to college, get a job." And like you said, I never learned to HUSTLE! But now, I am teaching myself to hustle, because that's the only way I'm going to ever get anywhere near my current ambitions (for a hint of what those are, take a look sometime at my "serious" blog,

    Suffice to say, I'm trying to get out of the "job" path I got myself into when I was just out of college, and into a calling that I've ignored since then.

    Now, whether this post of yours is "navel gazing" or "thoughtful introspection" is how you handle it. I think, if you treat this 40-something self awareness as a sort of mindfulness of your situation, the truth of where you are and what you'd like to do with the remaining years of your life, then that's thoughtful introspection. If you never act to explore the feelings, however, it's unproductive navel gazing and no good for anyone. So, pick which one you want it to be, and move in that direction. Gird your loins for the journey. Learn the lesson from your roleplaying years, and prepare for the adventure well. Then get moving! And remember that you have plenty of like-minded people to join your party!

  6. Right there with you, man. For me, sewing into others has been the key to moving forward with purpose (HUSTLE!) vs just moving forward. Thanks for sharing.