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I Was a Vampire Roleplayer

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on April 23, 2012 by vprime

If you, like me, grew up in the 90s, then, you may have been lucky enough to experience the wonderland of strange lipstick colors, DIY hair dye jobs, techno music and vampire role playing games. If you were not so fortunate, come now and hear the un-shocking truth about vampire roleplaying. Let me tell you of a time before Twilight and MMORPGs when the games were on paper and vampires were sexy but never sparkly. The game of choice was Vampire: the Masquerade. V:tM could be played as either a tabletop dice game like Dungeons and Dragons or a Live Action Role Playing (LARP) game. Produced by a Georgia-based gaming company White Wolf, V:tM had several subtitle-happy companion games such as Werewolf: the Apocalypse, Mage: the Ascension, Wraith: the Oblivion, etcetera. All these games shared a universe known as the World of Darkness, which was described in several of the source manuals as a “Gothic-Punk” world. The universe created by White Wolf was compellingly peppered with mythological references, obscure vocabulary and interesting alternate histories. In short, it was like crack to the sort of nerdbrain that thrived on Joy Division, etymological dictionaries and Bulfinch’s mythology.

One of the things that made V:tM more interesting than a typical hack-and-slash role playing game was the focus on building characters. As a vampire player, your character had two archetypal personalities, your public persona and a private, concealed personality. Rather being defined by a character class (what you character does) and alignment (good or evil) you could decide to be a Benefactor/Predator or a Scientist/Martyr. Your character belonged to a Clan which dictated what sorts of vampire powers you’d have. Clan affiliation also dictated your weaknesses. For example, the Toreador Clan were your basic Anne-Rice-style fancy lad vampires, making lots of art and devoted to beauty. One of their powers was the ability to emotionally manipulate people around them—think stage presence—but their weakness was that they could fall into a paralyzing fascination in the presence of beautiful artworks or people. Your vampire powers operated on a system of finite willpower points. I think this system would be a wonderful one to implement in real life. As in “I’d love to have the salad instead of fries, but I’m all out of willpower points today, so . . .” Willpower points were regained by sleeping, feeding or other actions dictated by your personality type. In the live game, the powers operated inelegantly. For example, if your powers made you invisible, you’d cross your arms over your upper chest—hands touching shoulders—and everyone would have to pretend they didn’t see you creeping around. Even worse were the intangible powers, which would lead to dialogue like this:

“I just used my powers to make you do my bidding.”

“Oh, okay. What do you want me to do?”

“Go over there and ask that girl if she’s got a boyfriend.”

“Sigh.”

Since most of the people I played with were in high school, our characters’ concerns fell often into one of the following categories:

  1. Being sexy and mysterious.
  2. Shoving it to The Man.
  3. Killing each other. Preferably with explosives.

These goals took some doing to act out in a suburban park or in one of our back yards. It was hard to be sexy and mysterious when your mom drops you off for the game. Even harder than that was convincing all the people loafing around on your back porch that they’ve just been in a hellish explosion. LARPing with your school chums also led to plenty of awkward moments when trying to decide if the person talking to you was the kid from math class or Destructo, the Undead Viking. Generally, you’d just ask if they were in character, but by the time people started feeling comfortable slipping out of character, the game would devolve into a night of hanging out in a parking lot.  

The live-action game usually ran like a chaotic play about a deranged city council. A major premise of the game was that vampires engaged in a conspiracy to control humanity and conceal their existence from same. An easy plot was to call a meeting about some outlier whose sloppy feeding habits were threatening to reveal the existence of vampires. It’s hardly surprising that the game attracted a lot of Drama Club members highly devoted to acting out their awesome vampire characters. At live action games, the players tended to dress the part—lots of black leather jackets and thrift-store black lace dresses—and to put on British-ish accents or Enunciate. Dramatically. And crisply. The system required a folded up sheet of characteristics and powers you had. This was kept on your person and consulted when an interaction required you to engage in verbal conflict with another player. In the case that your attributes or powers were matched to your opponents, you could decide the matter with a round of rock-paper-scissors overseen by the rule-enforcing Storyteller. (I guess that by then, people had figured out that Dungeonmaster had other connotations.) Imagine, if you will, the tense confrontation between a rebellious young punk and the be-suited stiff representing the repressive social order. The harsh words and open contempt. The powerful deciding throw of rock versus scissors.  

The post-Columbine hysteria about the sinister practice of Vampire LARPing led to a brief spike in the game’s popularity before an almost total loss of media interest in the game. For those of us who played, the fear was totally misplaced. We weren’t keying ourselves up to be psychopaths. We were just escaping into a world where we could be glamorous and powerful. Monday morning would shuffle us back into the system, but Saturday nights we could rule the world.

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Things I Have Been Doing Instead of Writing

Posted in Uncategorized on March 7, 2012 by vprime

Yes, I am still here. Like many a Scorpio (or so I gather) I go through these periods of hibernation, isolation and torpor. These fallow periods are necessary to my continued survival. I’ve often envied the vampires in the Anne Rice books (the good ones–you know what I mean) who could sleep out a few dull decades.

So, what have I done?
Slept. A lot.
Listened to hours of Coast to Coast.
Journaled.
Prioritized daydreams and nightmares.
Watched a lot of Futurama.

I intend to return either this week or next with a substantial post.

Farewell from the land of wind and ghosts.

Is Goth the New Goth?

Posted in Clothes, Culture, Fashion, Music, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on September 16, 2011 by vprime

Over the Labor Day weekend, I attended DragonCon in Atlanta. I hadn’t been since probably 2006. At that time, there was a dedicated Goth track, mostly having to do with vampire-related materials. This time, the Goth track was replaced by a general Dark Fantasy track with a few panels on Goth-specific issues. There’s major overlap between Gothdom and Geekdom, but I suppose that as interest in Goth (as opposed to its musical & cultural cousins: EBM, Steampunk, whatever that plastic-hair, fairy-wings, tutu and Muppet-fur business is about) wanes, it gets rolled into the nearest welcoming category. There was a panel on “The State of the Scene” which I had to miss, but I was able to make it to the panel on the question “Is Goth the New Goth?” Purportedly, we were to hear a discussion on the rise of other Goth-adjacent music. The panel, composed of members of Bella Morte and The Last Dance, also included Doc Hammer. They didn’t get too deep into what identifiable causes could explain the leakage of Gothic imagery into other subcultural streams. The conversation quickly turned to whether greater popular exposure for Goth was good or bad. Hammer rejected the notion that all exposure for Goth was ultimately positive while the fellow from Bella Morte unhesitatingly championed the notion of being able to purchase Joy Division t-shirts at Kmart. Hammer expressed a concern that the version of Goth that gets sold back to us by mass media was a shallow, cheap version of the original. This distinction made him sound like an elitist and the other panelists took issue with his exclusionary view.

The thing is, I found myself agreeing with Hammer over the other opinions. He described his interest in Goth as akin to being an “archaeologist” of the obscure. Having music that you’ve carefully unearthed and treasured for its rarity suddenly explode into a commodity is an unsettling experience because it’s no longer your secret pleasure. It doesn’t “belong” to you anymore. I had to agree with Hammer that widespread popularity is a big discouragement when it comes to my personal cultural diet. I guess I am just being an elitist, the inverse of the poseur who professes love for whatever’s popular, but there it is. I also realize that there is no such thing as truly underground anything. Everything is a commodity, “coolness” is just a way to get us to buy more, and the genius creator is a Western myth, blah blah blah. I get it. But, there is also an element of ego-construction in these choices. I don’t want to be the person who cares what TMZ says or listens to Kreayshawn or invests in what the Kardashians are doing. Most of what we—as a culture—produce, is awful, soul-killing sludge, and it seems like the worse something is, the more attention it gets (Michael Bay, anyone?) It is any wonder that there are people out there who want to avoid everything with the mass stamp of approval?  The version of Goth that’s most heavily marketed—anything made by Tim Burton after Batman Returns, that “Goth” chick on that forensic TV show, all things heavily Halloween-themed—gets varnished in twee to make it go down easier. That’s the shallow, cheap version I suspect Hammer meant. I add here all the Gothic Lolita stuff, which just covers the Japanese rage for female infantilization in a coating of “spooky.” The Gothic aesthetic has absorbed a lot of kitsch, and it’s the kitsch version that sells. Maybe Goth can only be popular by being grafted onto something else—cuteness, quaintness, romance. At the panel, Hammer pointed out that Goth hasn’t ever peaked. Unlike Punk, Goth has never experienced huge commercial successes. Goth hasn’t dominated music charts or influenced bands that would prevail over rock like Punk has. There have been spikes of attention—late 90s Columbine hysteria, for example—that never last long. But Goth has been there, enduring. Goth is a bit like an underground stream. It goes on, (mostly) invisible and silent.

I've seen the future, brother. It is murder.

I wanted to know more about why Goth has become so appropriated. My theory is that for many people Goth is primarily a fashion to be “mashed-up” (I hate that term) with whatever else is lying around just for temporary amusement. The Millennial generation views culture as a box of crayons—they mix, combine, make whatever suits their fancies without ascribing any inherent substance to the tools. Putting on a “Goth” outfit is like costuming oneself as a hippie or fireman or a chimpanzee—it isn’t a reflection of an ideology or identity. The result of this philosophy is that anything and everything can be appropriated purely for the image. That hypothetical Joy Division shirt in Kmart isn’t going to be worn by someone who has an interest in the late 70s Manchester music scene. He may have seen Control, heard some covers, even read on Wikipedia that the singer killed himself and, you know, that’s totally emo and soo depressinggggggg. My belief is that much of what passes for Goth is just Metal or Techno dressed up in Goth clothes. But I also realize that this “kids these days” attitude finally proves that I’m an olde and cranky to boot. I wish I could find the article, but there’s an interview in which some early Goth musician expresses horror that people were getting into the scene (in the 80s) who hadn’t read Isherwood’s The Berlin Stories. So perhaps the future of Goth is plastic-haired Muppet-faerys (or however they’re spelling it) dancing to Witchhouse and I’ll just be the crank muttering the lyrics to “Amphetamine Logic” into my tea.

Music for a Monday: The March Violets

Posted in Uncategorized on August 22, 2011 by vprime

I had a cassette tape of The Botanic Verses which I absolutely wore out, driving around town by myself in my little car when I was in my 20s. If you’ve heard just about any of the Cleopatra compilations from the early 90s, you’ve probably heard at least “Snake Dance” and perhaps “Religious As Hell.” The March Violets have that very Reptile House tinny drum machine plus grooving bass sound, which is probably why they were promoted for a time by Andrew Eldritch via Merciful Release, until one of Eldritch’s characteristic fallings-out led to their split with Merciful Release.

A 2007 performance of the song I rewound and listened to over and over:

The big news is that the Violets are reforming. They have a new video for “Dandelion King,” and a new EP available for download. Details at their website: marchviolets.co.uk

Enjoy!

Misadventures in Absinthe

Posted in Uncategorized on July 20, 2011 by vprime

The jaded Goths in Poppy Z. Brite’s books drank homemade absinthe as they drifted from despair to existential horror. Like many of the kids she influenced, I became ever-curious about this bitter green potion and its supposed hallucinatory effects. In Brite’s books, the absinthe was made by infusing Chartreuse with wormwood herb. The vampire’s drink of choice was made all the more alluring by its reputation as a drink that would drive one mad with fantastical visions. And the fact that absinthe was illegal put the sugar on top, so to speak.  As I read Brite’s descriptions, I imagined that the drink would have the light green bitterness of mown grass, but that sugar and water would metamorphose this elixir into an astringent, minty drink. The fluid would glow bright green in a cut glass goblet. There would be the ritual of silver filigree spoons and cubes of sugar that would work much as a religious ceremony to usher in an altered consciousness. I think you can tell by my description so far that I was bound to be disappointed.

Years later I happened to buy my first bottle of absinthe as a gift for my husband. This idea descended upon me when I wandered into a display of several green bottles in a liquor store. I thought it would be wondrously decadent to spend Halloween drinking absinthe and listening to Siouxsie and the Banshees.  I had no idea how to compare the varieties on offer. It was as if different types of unicorns were suddenly available on the shelves of Target. First, I was unaware that absinthe had lost its criminal cachet. I suppose since I didn’t really as much time in the Goth milieu as I once had, I was far behind the fashion in spirits. Later, I learned that many absinthes were no longer made with wormwood, the bitter herb that had once been blamed for the drink’s psychedelic effects.

A note here on psychedelics and wormwood. When I was pouring all my free time into an unaccredited major in Wiccan-American Studies, I planned to someday have an herbal garden including wormwood only because its Latin name was Artemisia Something and I thought that sounded really cool. As it turns out, the appeal of absinthe was not its wormwood extract so much as it was its astronomical alcohol content. While the idea of chemically inspired visions was, and still is, to an extent, and intriguing one, it was nothing I had ever attempted to pursue with actual drugs that gave you actual hallucinations.

Note: Absinthe is not like this. It’s more like fermented licorice bug spray.

I selected a bottle of absinthe that came with a slotted spoon in the shape of the Eiffel Tower. To ensure our experience would be complete, I tracked down a box of sugar cubes as well.  With much anticipation I presented the bottle to my significant other.

“Absinthe? What’s that for?”

“I thought it might be neat to try it.”

Yes, it was a completely self-serving gift, but rest assured I did give him other items he wanted. We broke out the glasses, sugar and cold water. I poured us each a small amount of the bright green liquor. The slotted spoon fit over the opening of the glass and a cube of sugar went over that. I poured the water slowly over the cube, which only eroded slightly. This should have been my first sign that things would not end well. The liquid in the glass turned cloudy and lighter green, though undissolved particles of sugar swirled in the bottom. I slid the rest of the sugarcube into the glass and attempted to stir it in. However, cold beverages plus sugar result in a snowfall of sugar crystals in the bottom of the glass and a largely unsweetened drink. We made up two glasses like this and prepared to taste.

I had a sip.

It was horrible.

It was akin to being punched in the mouth by a giant black jellybean. The stuff tasted overwhelmingly of cheap licorice candy, only it was also bitter and boozy. As neither of us are fans of licorice, we attempted to add lemon or soda to see if the taste improved.

No. Carbonated black jellybean. The green fairy was an asshole.

The few slugs I’d had were making me nauseous and rather than spend the evening trading morbid bon mots like Edward Gorey characters, I think we just ordered pizza and watched Futurama.

I could not imagine drinking enough of the stuff to even crack a smile, forget Bohemian inspiration. Even though we push it on every guest we’ve ever had, we still have most of a bottle. And I am absolutely cured of any desire to drink absinthe.

How to Explain Your MFA Degree to Strangers.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on July 19, 2011 by vprime

First, try not to. Tell people that you teach English or you work in a library or that you sell your own hair for money. Don’t tell them you’re a writer or you’re going to hear all about a great idea they have for a novel about a guy who does whatever they do who discovers he’s a sleeper agent for the CIA and has to have sex with lots of attractive Russian spies. If you slip up and mention grad school, just tell them you have a degree in English and leave it at that. Most people will at this point get anxious about their grammar and find an excuse to stop talking to you.

But suppose it slips out that you have a degree in creative writing. Perhaps it is germane to the subject, such as during a job interview. Don’t assume people know what creative writing is, even if this conversation takes place within what is nominally intended to be a writer’s group. People will ask if you write poetry. You should probably say no even if you do write poetry because they are expecting the sort of thing that’s printed on a Thomas Kincaid suncatcher. If you’re interviewing for a copyediting position the interviewer will just frown and say “Well, I’m afraid this job isn’t very creative. You just have to make sure the client’s name is spelled right.” If pushed further you can say you write fiction. They will believe this means novels. Leave it at that. Do not tell them you write short stories, or they will become confused and ask if what you write are “little vignettes” or “chapter books.” If you mention short stories, people may ask what they’re about. For the love of Margaret Atwood do not use the words “magical realism,” “feminism,” or “speculative fiction” when describing your works. Actually, don’t describe your works. Just say you write short stories about regular people doing everyday things.

If you’ve made the big mistake of saying you have a Master’s degree or even an MFA degree you may be in trouble beyond all redemption. Then you will be asked if you have an MBA. Say no. You will be asked why you don’t have a PhD. Don’t tell them that the years you spent on your thesis were terrifying, anxiety-producing bouts of writer’s block punctuated by the sure knowledge that everything you wrote was trite, derivative and dull; and that getting a PhD after that sounds about as tolerable as cutting your tongue off with a pair of safety scissors. Don’t try to explain the futility in getting a degree that would only render you even more unemployable. Just say something vague about not wanting to spend more years in school. You will be asked how anyone can get a Master’s in making up little stories or whatever. What did they teach you anyway? Are these teachers even published? If you use the word “workshop” you will have to explain that it’s more than just reading another student’s story and telling them whether you liked it or not. Do not be led down this path. If you are, you may have to use phrases such as “close reading,” “attention to craft” or “confined to the text.” These phrases will be like silly made-up words with no meaning. Say that you read a lot of books and wrote papers about them.

Do not attempt to clarify that your degree is a Fine Arts degree and as such you spent intensive time on language as an art form. Again, this will make you seem foolish or deluded since everyone knows words are just for Twitting and making passive-aggressive workplace notes. Do not identify yourself, nor let others identify you as an “artist.” If this happens, you will discover a great many people who wish to assist you in your creative endeavours by editing, marketing or collaborating with you on that Russian spy sex novel. Stop trying to explain to your mom that you didn’t write a dissertation. Don’t tell people that while you can get a job as a university adjunct instructor with your degree, working as a cashier at Target pays better. Stop imagining that it is somehow romantic that you don’t have a savings account. Collect rejection letters. Make out your checks to the student loan companies every month. Keep a journal full of ideas for more short stories. Read Nabokov on your breaks at work. Tell people you just like reading and leave it at that.

Summer Survival Tips For the Dark at Heart

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 8, 2011 by vprime

Summer time is not the best time to be a goth. Witness: http://gothsinhotweather.blogspot.com/. But like rogue nanobots, we learn and adapt over time. I spend much of my time in black jeans and t-shirts, which requires some adjustment if I have the misfortune be outdoors during the reign of the Daystar. Aside from making my peace with the totally un-goth idea of shorts, I’ve developed some other coping mechanisms for the people who sit in the shade all day at life’s Pool Party.

Neutrogena Pure & Free Liquid Daily Sunblock SPF 50 

I’ve been massively impressed by this product. Most sunscreens and lotions are unbearable for me to wear because my face is so naturally oily. I have sensitivity issues with sunscreens that can cause my face to break out in terribly attractive hives. Plus, all the extra moisturizing ingredients usually cause me to break out. All this for a weak SPF that may be slightly more effective than wearing a napkin over your face. All hail Pure & Free Liquid Daily Sunblock! This stuff has powerful SPF. None of that SPF 15 wimpy stuff. This sunscreen has a watery texture that dries matte and relatively clear. There is a white cast that may remain barely visible once you’ve applied, but that’s not really much of a goth-deterrent. I put a light amount of Bare Essentials mineral foundation powder on top just to lock everything down and make sure there’s no mimeface going on. The container is small, but it really only takes a few drops to cover your face and neck. If you have a foundation or lotion that you prefer, you can mix it with this sunblock.  So far, I haven’t experienced any sensitivity or breakouts while using this lotion. This is sure to be vampire-approved.

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab Ultraviolet.

I’ve mentioned Ultraviolet here before. As the days reach 80 degrees and higher, I’ve found the cold minty allure of Ultraviolet perfect for keeping cool. I’ve put much thought into describing this complex scent. Here is the Lab’s description: Electrifying, mechanized and chilly — the scent of crushed blooms strewn on cold metal. Lush violet and neroli spiked hard with eucalyptus and a sliver of mint. The first thing you smell is the eucalyptus followed very closely by violet. The eucalyptus here smells therapeutic but slightly soft, not like weird health store cough drops or those dried flower arrangements. The idea of cold and mechanized is prominent because of the ubermodern contrast between sharp herbal notes and soft florals. I’m not sure I could identify neroli save as a light floral note. The overall effect is fresh and unique. It’s not so green it veers into air-freshener territory. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anything remotely as interesting as Ultraviolet. I am seriously into this scent. You may feel the cold effect of this perfume when you apply. I’ve mixed mine with vodka in a spray bottle for easier application and because the oil as it comes from the Lab is quite concentrated and can cause me some skin sensitivity problems. Once diluted, though, I have no reactive issues at all. If Ultraviolet doesn’t raise your headstone, I also recommend Embalming Fluid or Undertow.

Limonana

While visiting friends in Miami we had this beverage that was bright green and icy and just delicious. It’s called Limonana and it’s pretty simple to make. Get yourself some lemonade. You can make your own or cheat and get something from the store. I like to get Simply Lemonade to make the recipe a little easier.  You’ll also need mint, a fair amount of it. I haven’t yet experienced too much mint in this beverage. Pour the lemonade into the blender. Add a cup or so of ice. A big handful of mint leaves. Blend it all until you have what looks like a frozen Slurm. Drink. Add vodka sometimes if you feel the need for a bit of Demon Booze. Rum is also good. I guess you could do gin, but you’d better be wearing a straw boater and a linen suit if you follow that Left Handed Path.

If you live in a hot climate, you’ve likely developed some coping methods of your own that I’d be interested to hear. Let me know in the comments.