Wednesday, May 29, 2024


Hope folks had an enjoyable Memorial Day weekend. Mine was chock-full (as long weekends tend to be with wife and kids) much so that I spent most of yesterday just "catching up" on things.

As such, I haven't taken the time to mention my meeting with Alexis Smolensk last Friday...and darn it, he beat me to the punch, despite having to drive back across the country!


It's funny, this day and age we live in. I've "known" Alexis...emailed with him, done podcasts with him, blogged about him, even (briefly) participated in his on-line game...for close to fifteen years. Longer than my children have been alive. And, yet, this is the first time I've had the chance to meet the man, the myth, the legend (I'm sure he would laugh at that appellation). He and his partner were out on the west coast, and so (flattering, this is) took the time to drive down from Vancouver. Just to shake my hand and buy me a beer.  

Touching...though I'm sure I'd have done the same if (for God knows what reason) I was driving through the frozen wilderness of Alberta.

[I mean, I suppose I could cut up there from Montana, one of these summers but there's a DAMN GLACIER between Kalispell and the Canadian border. Jeez...]

I digress. It was fun. He had wanted to meet my family, and I arranged dinner reservations for the six of us, but in the eleventh hour we (mutually) decided our time would be better spent just hanging out and "talking shop." Which we did, whiling away a perfectly grey and drizzly Seattle afternoon in a run-down, nautically-themed dive bar in the heart of Lynnwood's strip mall sprawl. 

No, this was not The Baranoff...we were at the far more creatively named "Pub 44." Um...let's see if I can get a good screen shot:

Not pictured: dark, cramped interior, pool tables,
rotting dinghy hanging from ceiling.

Pretty much perfect, in other words.

Alexis and I spent the better part of 4ish hours, hanging and talking. A lot of talk about writing, publishing, and blogging. Stuff about D&D. Patreon. Some stuff about generational divides. Some personal stuff. 

Mainly, though, we just spent the time getting to know each other...these two people who have never met or interacted in a physical space together. Trying to gauge the differences between our "on-line personas" and who these real human beings are. Sizing each other up, conscious of being judged by the other, and yet trying to be as authentic as comfortable, out of the mutual respect we share for each other.

It was odd. But fortunately, it's a dance we've both been through...mine most recently at last year's Cauldron convention, when I had the chance to meet and interact with folks like Prince and Melan and Settembrini and Raggi. People who have put so much of their soul's out over the ether-webs...both in writings and podcasts. Does the "real person" bear any resemblance to the "virtual person?" One can only tell by actually encountering the human behind the screen.

So...probably should write my impressions of Alexis the man (as opposed to "Alexis the writer" or "Alexis the DM"). I'm sure he, at least, is curious of my thoughts after our meeting.

I think that...some...folks would be surprised. For a guy 10 years my senior (I'm 50, folks) who'd just spent several days on the road (and just got into town a couple hours before we me), Alexis comes across as a vibrant, energetic man of middle years. "Animated" isn't the correct word to describe implies (for me, at least) "hyperactive" and there wasn't anything "hyper" about him, though he does gesture more than I do. The word I want to use is "galvanized"...the man has an inner fire and verve (?) to him. Even relaxing in a booth, drinking beer, talking in leisurely fashion, he gives the impression of being fully engaged

Bright eyes. There is an intelligence behind them that is neither lazy nor slothful.

Alexis is very, very observant. Extremely so, scarily so. There were times (once or twice) when I could tell, based on what he said, that he had been carefully observing me...not just my words, but my non-verbal cues. Like a parlor trick that gives the illusion of reading someone's mind. It seemed obvious (to me) that he wasn't doing this purposefully, to disconcert me and was, in fact, holding back...not drawing attention to what he was order to not disconcert me. I appreciated (and still appreciate) that. But I did notice...just as I noticed we were both somewhat selective in what we chose to discuss with each other. "Safe" subjects (or subjects we assumed were safe). As you do, with someone you just met.

Even someone with whom you feel a great affinity.

Physically, Alexis is about my height, perhaps a smidge taller, but very thick, in comparison. Trim enough, for a man his age (he's been exercising lately, for health reasons). Grey hair, medium-long, pulled back in a (small) ponytail. Clean-shaven (note to self: if the hair goes grey, you look a lot younger without a Gandalf beard). Glasses that don't hide those intelligent eyes.

But not an intimidating man. He is warm, not fiery. Friendly. He is a grandfather, a teddy bear.. Admits to being a hugger; he is tender and considerate of his partner. He is self-effacing. He talks about being old...but only as a point of fact, not as a nostalgic, "get off my lawn" curmudgeon. Alexis is a progressive; he is a futurist (at least, in comparison to me) or, more accurately, a realist. He embraces the usefulness of technology. He seems to despise only uselessness and ignorance, though he has little time or patience for institutions that have (in his opinion) reached obsolescence. 

He loves D&D. He is an unabashed, unashamed, unafraid D&D nerd. From long habit, I tend to hide my nerdiness under a veneer of "normalcy," unless and until the subject is brought up. Alexis does not. Telling the bartender or barista he's a DM that teaches people how to play D&D comes as readily to his banter as saying he's just visiting from Canada. He is what he is. And he loves it. He lives it.

[second note to self: you can grow up without growing old. Better than the other way 'round]

It was a good time. We both, I believe, got something of the measure of each other. We were able to connect on a level that was personal, not just electronic. And because of that, I think our respect for each other has deepened. I know mine has. It was a good meeting. I'm glad we were able to do it.

Anyway. I would be remiss if I didn't say at least something about my admiration for Alexis. How much I appreciate the impact he's had on my gaming hobby. It was nice to meet someone for whom you have admiration and come away NOT being disappointed. That doesn't always happen. It was also ESPECIALLY nice that he had some kind words to say about my writing...I had really not expected that. 

And that's about all I want to say. Except this: I scratched on the eight ball in our FIRST game of pool, and I left you with four balls on the table in our second. Come on, Old Man, your memory starts slipping after two beers? Jeez!
; )

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