Archive for the ‘high school’ Tag

D&D Girls

I started playing Dungeons & Dragons in the mid-1980s. It was September 1984, the beginning of the school year and I had just started Grade 10. There were various announcements at the start of the year about all the clubs that the school ran, and if you were interested you had to turn up to a particular room after school that day. I was persuaded to go along to the first D&D meet by a friend of mine who was keen to try it out. She did not carry on through the year, having been persuaded by her church that anyone who played D&D was doomed to everlasting fire (we had to contend with a lot of that sort of stuff, in those days). But I enjoyed it, and continued playing. The group met in one of the science rooms, and we played once a week, after classes. We were playing version 2, and I rolled up a thief called Tera.

The cover of the Version 2 Player’s Handbook

For most of the year, I was the only girl in this group of teenage boys, who seemed to treat me, on the whole, as some kind of alien species. In the final game of the year, before we all finished school for the long summer break, all the boys in the group decided it would be fun to gang up on the only girl. They attacked my character, intending to kill her so that they could steal her stuff. Fortunately for me, the DM decided that this really wasn’t fair and he stacked the dice rolls allowing my character to escape and run away.

In those days, girls apparently didn’t play D&D. Is it any surprise, frankly, given the way we were treated? Fortunately I am made of sterner stuff. As a teenager I never really bothered too much about what girls were supposed to do and not do. I enjoyed playing this game, and I was going to continue. When the school year started again after the summer break, I joined the D&D club once more. This time I was one of three girls. We decided to break away from the boys and run our own all-female game.

Thirty-four years on, and I’m still playing D&D regularly. In 1989 I met my husband playing D&D. Not only do we still play together, but we now have three different groups. They all feature different players, but he runs them all, and I play them all. We normally manage to play each game once a month. For us, this means we’re playing three out of four weekends a month and I have to remember which character I’m playing. I make notes for each game. It helps me to remember, at the start of each game, where we were for the last one.

In the years since I started playing, things have changed a bit. For starters, it’s apparently now socially acceptable to admit to playing D&D, or at least it is according to this article. In the 80s it was very much the domain of nerds (or sinners, apparently).

It’s also acceptable now to be a woman who plays D&D. Of our three groups, there are two in which women out-number men. One of the female-dominated groups also consists entirely of people under the age of 35 (except for Hubby and I, who bring the average age up quite considerably). This makes me happy, too. The generation that has never known life without computers, mobile phones and social media, are enjoying the interaction of face-to-face tabletop role-playing games, and the unique thrill of rolling dice and recording character stats on a crumpled piece of paper covered in coffee stains.

There are still arseholes out there – mostly online, it seems, hiding behind the anonymity of digital alter egos – who seem to feel the need to give women role-players abuse. But on the whole, I think women who game have an easier time of it than they did when I started playing. And that does make me feel like we’re making a bit of progress.

Exercise and Me: Reaching An Uneasy Truce

I make no secret of the fact I hate sports. I have no hand-eye co-ordination and no dexterity. I can’t catch, I can’t throw, I can’t run without falling over. It’s been this way for me since childhood. I was always happier curled up reading a book than I was running about outside.

I hated physical education lessons and I was always last to be picked for teams. And because I am assuming this barbaric practise doesn’t happen in schools any more, let me enlighten those of you too young to experience this. ‘Picking teams’ was when the teacher couldn’t be bothered to divide the class into teams, so they would get the kids to do it instead. The teacher would choose two team leaders – generally those who were good at sports. The team leaders would then take it turns to select the people in the class they wanted on their team. Naturally they picked their friends first. Then the kids who were good at sports, and the cool people.

When it came down to only the unpopular and nerdy kids that were left, the choice for the leaders became more difficult. After all, you don’t want your street cred to suffer by picking one of the kids everyone made fun of. Whenever this ritual happened at my school, the outcome was always the same, regardless of which school it was (and it happened at several). At the end there were always two kids left: the special needs kid, and me. The special needs kid was a bit clumsy and a bit slow, but he or she had a reason for being that way. The special needs kid got picked before me. And as if being the one no one wanted wasn’t bad enough, as I made my way over to the team that was stuck with me by process of elimination, I had to listen to none-too-subtle complaints of my team mates. “Oh no. We’ve got her. We’re going to lose.”

This is why I hated PE. And then we moved to Canada when I was ten years old, and my misery was exacerbated in a country that places a great emphasis on sports. Canadians are born knowing how to play baseball, it seems, and they all get put on ice skates at the time they learn to walk. I was made to play baseball with the school, but I didn’t know how to play and I was too shy to ask, and everybody shouted at me when I got it wrong. A few weeks into our new Canadian life my class went ice skating. It never occurred to anyone to ask me if I’d ever been skating before (I hadn’t). I spent the session holding onto the side of the rink, and my classmates were fascinated – they had never met anyone who didn’t know how to ice skate before.

Things came to a head with my eighth grade gym teacher. She felt I was being wilfully lazy, and singled me out for punishment. Her name was Mrs Parker, and she still appears in my nightmares sometimes with her shrill cry of, “come on ladies, hustle!”

All this led to an insecurity that persisted through adolescence. Because I was no good at sports, I was somehow inadequate as a person. An inferior human being. Worthless.

When I got to high school I was able to drop gym class, which I did, like a stone. But it took me a long time to get over those feelings of inadequacy. That not being good at sports did not necessary make me worthless. That it was OK to be a non-sporty person and that there were other things I was good at instead. Like writing stories.

The psychological scars of all this are still with me. But I have learned to regard exercise the same way I regard vegetables. I don’t like either, but they are a necessary part of a healthy life, so they must be tolerated.

I have spent all of my adult life trying – and failing – to get fit. I have listened to all the advice: “look for an activity you enjoy”. But I don’t enjoy anything. Some things I can tolerate, like swimming. Some things I can’t, like pilates. “Stick with it, and you’ll eventually get that buzz from a good workout”. For over 35 years now I have been embarking on various forms of exercise, and I have never once experienced that “buzz” that people talk about.

But I am turning 50 this year, and I am now worried about the consequences of poor health in old age. So I am trying a new tactic. I am going for regular sessions with a personal trainer.

I was very nervous about starting this. I was imaging someone like Mrs Parker, who would shout at me for being lazy or not trying hard enough. Thankfully, this fear proved to be unfounded. For a few weeks now I have been doing weekly one-to-one sessions of 25 minutes, in the local park. I haven’t been particularly enamoured about this – as well as not liking exercise, I’m also not a fan of the outdoors. But Karen has been very supportive. Each week we try different types of exercise and she guides me through what I need to do, being mindful of what my limitations are (arthritic knee for instance) but always trying to get me to push just a little farther. Today she said she was impressed with the speed at which I was picking things up. The exercises involved a medicine ball, with some throwing and catching, which I was better at than I was expecting to be. “Who said you were rubbish at games?” she asked me. “Everyone”, I said. And she said that I just need more confidence.

So far, then, this mode of exercise has been going quite well but I am aware it is early days. Having someone who’s expecting me to turn up has helped me stick to this, and I do appreciate the one-to-one session, as Karen can focus on my technique and correct me when I’m not doing something right.

So, a shout-out to Karen of Be Epic, for her patience and tolerance and willingness to help me improve my fitness level. It might be slow going, but at least I’m doing some form of regular exercise now.

And to finish, because it sums up my attitude to exercise and weight loss, here’s a spoof of Adele’s ‘Hello’ by Dustin and Genevieve, called ‘Hella Cravings’. It makes me smile and nod every time I watch it.

 

High School Reunion

I spent eight years of my life living in Canada. I moved out there with my mother, stepfather and sister in 1980. I was ten years old at the time. I resented having to move countries. I moved back in 1988, at eighteen years old, after finishing high school.

The high school I attended was Grand River Collegiate, in Kitchener, Ontario. I spent five years there because in those days Ontario had a grade 13 – now long gone, I understand. The school opened in 1966. Last year, 2016, to celebrate its 50th anniversary, it decided to have a ‘reunion weekend’ to celebrate fifty years of ‘Renegades’.

I have a lot of bittersweet memories of my teenage years. Does anyone ever have a good time during puberty? But in high school, at least, there were some good experiences, and it was a big improvement on junior high. It was in high school I began to have confidence in my writing – that this was, at least, something that I was good at, and I had some very encouraging English teachers. I made some good friends in high school, friends I am still in contact with. I started playing Dungeons & Dragons. And I was finally able to drop that most hated of classes, Physical Education. The Canadian education system – at least when I went through it – did not seem to comprehend that some people will never, ever, be any good at sports, no matter how hard you push them. But that is a post for another time.

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Me (L) and my sister, haunting the old school corridors 30 years on

Ultimately the most important lessons you learn are those you discover after school. I was bullied in school. I suppose most people are. Perhaps we had it easier, in the days before social media and the internet when your bullies had to come face to face with you instead of hiding behind Twitter accounts. Bullying is always tough. But you grow up, you learn to love yourself and you learn to put the hurtful things the bullies said behind you.

Anyway, the school opened its doors for an open house weekend as part of its reunion celebrations, and I decided to go. My sister, who still lives in Canada, came along. We were both, briefly, at the same high school. But she was three grades below me and at the time she found me terminally embarrassing, so we were rarely in the same place at the same time.

It was a strange experience, going back into my old high school after nearly thirty years. I think back to those times and sometimes it feels like it wasn’t me – like it all happened to someone else. And the school has changed quite a lot since I attended. There’s a proper drama room with a stage now. We just had a room with a carpet and no desks – we had to sit on the floor. There’s a really high-tech music room, with soundproof practise booths. But as I walked around, every so often a memory would hit me. We went up the stairs to explore the upper floor and I suddenly remembered clattering up and down those stairs every day, between classes. I went into the girls’ toilets and remembered that these were the ones I used every day, at school, because they were conveniently placed between corridors. I’m pretty sure the decor, or the facilities, hadn’t changed in 30 years either.

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Exhibit A: Evidence of Sara’s terrible dress sense during adolescence?

In the corridor that used to be where all the French and business studies (ie: typing) were, ‘decade rooms’ had been set up. So of course I headed straight for the 1980s room. Photographs of the time were hung up every where, and who should I see in that room but my old typing teacher. While I was talking to her telling her how in all honesty her typing class was the single most useful class I ever took in my life, my sister was prowling the room looking at the photographs. I was in quite a lot of them. I threw myself enthusiastically into high school and joined all the clubs. I was trying to get people to notice me. My sister was making a point of trying not to be noticed. She kept bringing me pictures I featured in. Most of them I remembered – I bought all the yearbooks, and most of the pictures were there somewhere. But then she brought me one I hadn’t seen before. “How do you know that’s me?” I said. “The face is turned away.”

She gave me a look and pointed at the picture. “Look at that outfit! Of course it’s you. And socks with sandals? Who else would wear that?”

Perhaps she had a point. I am attaching the picture as Exhibit A. I am the person with long brown hair in the foreground, lookng away from the camera. You can judge for yourself whether or not my dress sense was as terrible as my sister perceived it to be.

On the whole it was fun, revisiting my high school for a day, and it brought back some good memories that I had forgotten all about. But I think the most important thing about reminiscing on high school days is to remind yourself how far you’ve come since then.

Hallowe’en

This blog has been neglected of late. There’s been a lot of life stuff getting in the way of the writing, which I hope to talk about at a later date.

Today, though, is Hallowe’en. As a horror writer I feel I can’t let the day go by without comment.

The irony is that for the first ten years of my life, Hallowe’en completely passed me by. Living in the North of England in the 1970s, we didn’t really celebrate Hallowe’en – possibly because we have Bonfire Night five days later, which was a much bigger deal – when the whole neighbourhood would throw their scrap wood in a pile on a vacant lot all year, and then on 5 November it would be lit to create a big bonfire, and everyone on the street would gather to watch fireworks and light sparklers and eat Parkin and black peas. And if none of these things mean anything to you, you’re probably not British.

Anyway, in January 1980 we moved to Canada, and in October of that year I experienced Trick or Treating for the first time. I was a week past my eleventh birthday. I dressed up as a princess. My sister and I went out with my mother and stepfather and a couple of friends, and we hit three or four of the neighbourhood streets. I came back with a haul of candy so large it lasted me pretty much until the following Hallowe’en.

I didn’t get many trick or treating years in, as two years later – a week past my thirteenth birthday and in Grade 7 – I decided I was too old for trick or treating and volunteered to sit at the front door handing out the candy. I ended up serving it up to quite a lot of my classmates that year. Which they seemed to find quite embarrassing.

What I’ve always loved about Hallowe’en, though, is the concept of dressing up – of being somebody I’m not, just for a day. In high school everyone was allowed to turn up for school in costumes for Hallowe’en. One year I decided to go as a punk. This was so far removed from what I usually looked like at school that most people didn’t recognise me. Which was the idea, of course. And it was quite liberating, to shed my usual goody-two-shoes image and pretend to be a bad-ass. Even if it was for just a few hours, and it was entirely theoretical because I was way too timid to be a bad-ass for real.

Nowadays I’m in the UK again and although Hallowe’en is more of a thing than it was when I was a kid, it’s still not as big a deal as Bonfire Night. Trick or treating happens, but not everyone buys into it and for stores it’s pretty much nothing more than another retail opportunity. Some kids may get to go to school in costume, and some retail outlets let their staff dress up in spooky costumes for Hallowe’en, but I don’t know any offices that will let you do so, and as I sit here typing this at my desk at the day job (I am officially on my lunch break, so even now I’m not breaking any rules), it’s just business as usual.

But in spite of that, I still want to acknowledge the occasion.

Happy Hallowe’en!

halloween2

Geek Games

I started playing Dungeons & Dragons in the 1980s, right at the height of its popularity. There was a D&D club at my high school. We used to play on Mondays, after classes, in one of the science labs. I was 15. I developed a crush on the DM (that’s Dungeon Master, for the uninitiated – the person who runs the game), who was a classmate of mine. Sadly, beyond the fact that we played D&D together every week, he barely knew I existed, and my affection was entirely unrequited.

I first met my husband 22 years ago, also through playing D&D. He, too, was my DM. Clearly I have a thing for DMs. I think it’s all about the power. The DM has god-like power, controlling the game and having final say over what happens to the characters. If you’re staring down a dragon and you fail all your saving throws, the DM has control over whether your character lives or dies.

We still play D&D, and my husband is still the DM. About once a month, generally on a Sunday afternoon, our dining room table becomes the games station, covered in coffee-stained character sheets, dice, lead figures, pencils, and snacks. Don’t forget the snacks. They are a vital part of table top role playing. The unhealthier, the better.

I have noticed that the vast majority of table top role players are my generation – those of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s when D&D was all the rage. The generations that have come after are more interested in the online role playing games than those that require dice, pencils and calculators. There’s also a trend amongst 13-year-boys nowadays for Warhammer, which seems to have come out of D&D, but is more about building an army big and powerful enough to smash your opponents, and less about strategy.

D&D Game In Progress

D&D is more than just combat. It’s also about strategy, decision making and role playing. And the role playing is a big part of its appeal. When you play a D&D character, you can become someone you’re not. It’s all about escapism. My current D&D character is a kick-ass warrior woman. She has incredible strength, she wears plate mail, specialises in the quarter staff and is a one-woman killing machine. She wades through the beasties smashing them to a pulp whilst barely breaking a sweat. The down side is, she really isn’t very bright. So when the group is discussing strategy, I sometimes have to remember to keep quiet. Sara might have this idea, but Hylla probably wouldn’t. Therefore I should stay in character and not vocalise it.

Playing a character that’s so far removed from me, though, is rather fun. And orc-bashing is a great stress reliever – almost as good as zombie slaying.