In Memoriam: Gremlin Matthews, 1999-2016

I dreaded writing this post. It took me two weeks to drum up the courage to write it, and another week and a half to push through posting it.

A few weeks ago, our wonderful cat Gremlin passed away. Gremlin was an old fart – he was 17, which is the equivalent of something like 85 in cat years – and he was ill. We’d been treating him for diabetes and after about four months, he went into remission (something unique to feline diabetes). It didn’t last long; his diabetes came back. Daily glucose tests, infrequent insulin shots, prescription diet. And he did really well. Gremlin was a total champ when it came to his glucose tests, which involved taking a blood sample from one of his paw pads. He didn’t even care. I could flip him onto his back on my lap and get the entire test done in a matter of seconds while he just laid there and purred. Our vets constantly told us how lucky we were to have a cat that tolerated it so well. He didn’t just tolerate it, he practically ignored it.

Suddenly, in the last few months, his glucose levels spiked and we were giving him shots every day, sometimes twice per day. We took him to the vet and they diagnosed him with pancreatitis, a fairly common affliction for diabetic cats. Unfortunately there’s not a real “cure” for pancreatitis, you just have to treat the symptoms and manage flare-ups.

Days after the diagnosis, before we were even able to start treatment in earnest, something went wrong. Gremlin was even more lethargic than normal over the weekend, so I called and made another vet appointment for him. He went downhill fast, forcing us to take him into the emergency vet that Sunday night, where they told us his breathing was irregular – he was breathing through his mouth, which is really bad for cats because they’re obligate nose-breathers. X-rays revealed fluid in his chest cavity, in and around his lungs.

This prompted the single hardest discussion I’ve had in my entire life. The weighing of options, and determination of Gremlin’s quality of life. There were a number of things that could’ve caused the effusion, most prominently congestive heart failure. I won’t recount and relive the long – almost three-hour – back-and-forth with the vet, but we came to the difficult conclusion that basically anything that would cause this kind of effusion was a serious issue that would result in a ton of vet visits, testing, and rigorous treatment… none of which guaranteed any kind of improved quality or length of life for Gremlin.

This all happened very late at night. Initially, we were going to move Gremlin to our primary vet in the morning, possibly have them do a chest tap (where they insert a needle and drain the fluid from his chest) and see what other kinds of tests could be done. We never made it that far.

We got a call a little after 2am from the emergency vet, telling us that the diuretics they were giving Gremlin with the intent to pharmaceutically drain some of the fluids inhibiting his breathing just weren’t working; a very bad sign. His breathing was getting worse, even in an oxygen box. He wasn’t going to get better without putting him through a spate of risky procedures, made even riskier by his already less-than-stellar health and age. We couldn’t bear to put our wonderful cat through any of that on a vague hope supported entirely on uncertainties. That would’ve been selfish.



Gremlin was the first animal in my life that was truly mine. Sure, I’d grown up with animals all my life, but they were always taken care of by my parents. So, while they were part of my family, they weren’t solely my responsibility. Gremlin was my cat. My responsibility. My family member. My friend.

gremlin_001We picked up Gremlin and Bastion in 1999, during our first anniversary. For the first several years of our marriage, we traveled to Victoria, BC for vacation. Normally, we’d drive to Port Angeles, WA to catch the ferry, but this time our trip was slightly delayed. We missed the last boat out by literally minutes, stranding us in Port Angeles overnight.

With not much to do in Port Angeles, we decided to seek out a pet store and just go look at animals. We honestly weren’t looking to buy any, we just wanted a distraction. In our talks about animals, we had decided that our first purchase would be two kittens. We both wanted cats, but we also wanted them to have company so if we were away, we wouldn’t be leaving a solitary cat alone. When we walked into the pet store, we approached their cat area and saw two 7-week-old white and grey kittens, snoring away, the last two of their litter.

We fell instantly in love. It’s one of the few times in my life I’ve thought something truly felt like a sign.

gremlin_002We asked to see them, each picked one up, and they sunk their hooks into our hearts the moment we touched them. Christina immediately knew Bastion was “hers”, and I felt the same way about Gremlin (even though we didn’t have names for them yet). We even traded holding each of them several times, just to be absolutely sure which ones we were attached to, and from that first moment on those attachments never faded or changed. The problem was that we were about to go on a week-long vacation, and couldn’t take them with. So, we paid for them (only $10 each!) and left them in the pet store to pick up on our way home.

As we spent time in Victoria, we couldn’t stop thinking about them. We ended up cutting our vacation short just so we could take them home.

At first, their coloring was so similar we could only tell them apart by Gremlin’s black nose (Bastion’s was pink). As they grew older, they grew more distinct, Bastion maintaining a slender, lithe form while Gremlin got heavy, at one point hitting sixteen pounds. Gremlin was always the alpha of the two, definitely dominant. The two of them always curled up together, but it was always on Gremlin’s terms. Gremlin would sometimes assert his dominance by hissing or swiping at Bastion. This was especially prominent when Midnight joined the family, and they would get into little fights about who she was cuddling with. But the rifts never lasted long. They were very close their whole life.

gremlin_003He accepted Midnight into the family without even a thought. Their adjustment period was only hours, and they curled up with each other the first night they were able. Gremlin was like our family’s animal ambassador. Although he was initially very wary of Colt (which, combined with Midnight’s hostility and Bastion’s aloofness, made Colt very gun-shy of cats), he was the only cat to ever try to actively befriend Colt. He’d approach Colt for attention, try to play with him, and even walk back and forth under Colt’s midsection to try and make nice. Even though Colt was scared and not having any of it, Gremlin continued to try. I even got them to lay on the same bed a few times, without too much coaxing.

gremlin_005In my life, I’ve had well over 10 cats, starting from when I was very young. I can say, definitively, Gremlin was the best of them. He was affectionate, but not needy. Confident, but not aloof. Playful, but not manic. He was the most cuddly, warm, loving cat I’ve ever had the privilege of caring for. He loved unconditionally, and was unconditionally loved. He’s irreplaceable, and that’s the hardest part for me.

His loss has affected our whole household. Christina’s torn apart by it, Midnight no longer has any brothers to curl up with, and Colt has lost the only cat who ever showed him affection. I found, after he passed, that Gremlin was effectively a therapy animal for me, without me even knowing it. He and I had a very strong, unique bond. Whenever I was angry or sad or depressed, all it took to settle my mood was to interact with Gremlin. Sometimes, I’d just lay my head on his side and listen to him purr. Others, I’d sit in my favorite chair and he’s just come curl up on my lap.

There was no place in the world Gremlin would rather have been than curled up on me. He slept next to my pillow, or cuddled up on my chest or side, almost every night for the last 17 years. If I was sitting somewhere, it was almost guaranteed that Gremlin would show up and claim his space on my lap. If he couldn’t climb up on me, I could be sure he’d be somewhere very nearby.

gremlin_004There was something specifically comforting about Gremlin’s attention. It never felt like he was demanding attention from you… instead it was like he was paying attention to you. It’s a feeling that’s almost impossible for me to articulate, because it felt so special. So human. I’ve never in my life had a bond with an animal as strong as what I had with Gremlin. Without him, the world is a much harder place to deal with, to accept. He was with me for my entire adult life. Losing him, for me, is like losing a piece of myself.

I know, intellectually, we made the right decision for Gremlin. My heart still tears me a part over it, though. Some people will tell you that it’s somehow easier to lose an animal when you make the decision yourself, but for me, that’s a lie. Although I can be glad he’s no longer suffering, there has been nothing easier or nicer or more comforting about this. With the exception of my parents, this has been the single hardest loss I’ve ever dealt with. The thought of it tortured me before he fell ill, and eviscerated me when there was no other choice left. I’m broken.

Gremlin was my all-time favorite cat. The best animal friend I’ve ever had; likely ever will have. I don’t think, even with the words I’ve written here, I can ever appropriately express how truly awesome he was, or the void his passing has left in my life. I am sustained only by the idea that in whatever afterlife you may believe in, he and his brother are finally reunited. And that some day, maybe, I’ll get to see them again.

We miss you so much, Gremlin, and we will always love you. You are in our hearts, forever.

gremlin_006

We Can’t Allow Ourselves To Forget History

I refuse to be open to the possibility of a milder, gentler Donald Trump. Everyone who opposes him should refuse.

Now, I’m not saying we should oppose other citizens of our country (unless they’re being bigoted, sexist fuckwads, then feel free to oppose). I do think that the swath of people who voted Trump into office voted for hatred, bigotry, misogyny, isolationism, and nationalism. I won’t give them leeway on that. But I also believe that they are not exempt from the fallout of Trump’s election. You can say all you want that “they” deserve what they get with Trump, but the problem is that we ALL get Trump, not just them. The focus of our ire should not be on Trump voters, but on the man himself.

The rhetoric Trump spread during his campaign is nothing short of disastrous. Given half an opportunity to implement the things he’s talked about, he will usher in an era of nationalism, isolationism, and bigotry scarily akin to Hitler’s Germany.

It sucks to say that. It sucks to think it, to feel it, to know it. None of us – not even liberals like me – *want* to think that of our country. It’s not just frightening, it’s demoralizing. It makes us feel filthy inside, even if we didn’t vote for him.

The internet is famous for its hasty and spurious references to Hitler. So much that it’s been immortalized in Godwin’s Law. And that might be the problem, actually: We’ve spent so much time hearing idiots and assholes use Hitler as a baseless troll or a joke that when his values and policies are echoed in the highest stations of our nation’s government, we are either blind to it, or willfully resist the association.

But the comparisons are too close. We can’t forget history, lest we be doomed to repeat it. Only this time, we’d be magnifying history through the lens of a country four times Germany’s size and with exponentially more global influence.

Austrians and Germans thought Hitler was a blusterous buffoon who was merely using rhetoric for political gain, thinking he wouldn’t follow through once in power. When he came to power, the politicians surrounding him thought it best to give him a chance, thinking he was inexperienced enough that they could control him. Media dismissed his racist, nationalist rhetoric as theater.

Sound familiar?

Take a moment to read this Daily Beast article about Hitler’s rise, and try to tell me the similarities aren’t striking and horrifying.

Trump doesn’t need to be experienced to become the next Hitler. All he needs is for media and society to attempt to normalize him and his positions, for politicians to go easy on him, for citizens to back off long enough to “see if his actions match his words”. The problem is that his actions are what will destroy us. If we give him that length of rope, he’ll hang all of us with it. Even if we don’t think he’s got the wherewithal to do it himself, he’ll surround himself with a cabinet that can. Hitler did. Incompetent people can make terrible history given enough power.

A lot of conservatives right now are drawing false equivalencies between Trump and basically any other conservative politician. As a liberal, I can tell you that I would absolutely not have this attitude if it were Jeb Bush or John Kasich or Marco Rubio up there right now (maybe Ted Cruz, though, but probably not even him). I would absolutely not have had this attitude with Mitt Romney or even John McCain. Trump is different. Equating him to other candidates isn’t just specious, it’s outright dangerous.

Giving him space emboldens his positions. Gives him the power to act before we realize what’s happened. Gives him a chance to become the fascist we all imagined he’d become. I know I’m not the first person to say this, nor even the most eloquent or educated. But I have to say it. I can’t just sit on it for fear of the response.

Don’t normalize him. Don’t give him space. Don’t offer him the chance to send us down that path. Stay vigilant.

The Knot In My Chest

I’ve awoken the last few days with a rock in my chest. I’m clearly not the only one; everyone around me is just a little more frazzled, a little more distant, a little more afraid. The media is already trying desperately to paint the picture of a more reasonable Trump (I say “more reasonable”, but that’s such a low bar as to not really matter), trying to normalize the horror of what we’ve done here.

The knot in my core is ever-present, fueled partially by anger, but mostly by fear. My wife and I have spoken almost every day since the election about what comes next, and we can’t seem to come to any solid conclusion. We just know that both of us are afraid. While we were talking on Wednesday afternoon, discussing the things that frightened us most and attempting to highlight the good things in our lives to cling to, there was a pause in our conversation and my wife looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, simply, “I’m a woman.”

It might seem odd, or stupid, or obvious, but the words were an expression of every fear that Trump’s election has brought to the surface. She’s looking at a world where the leader of our country sees her as sub-human, and it broke my heart. I feel like I want to say more, but that moment is now so indelibly scarred into my memory that I’m not even sure I can articulate it. It is, honestly, not my place.

In the grand scheme of people in danger from Trump’s presidency, I don’t really rate. I’m a late-30’s white male, about as privileged as one can get, and not technically the target of the wave of hate extending out from the election’s splash. Yet, I’m still bone-shakingly afraid. My political views (primarily liberal-leaning) have put me in the crosshairs, too. I’ve been called a “libtard”, a “useful idiot”, a “cuck” – all buzzwords of the Radicalized Right that tilted this election. It wasn’t until yesterday, though, that I realized where a lot of my real fear is rooted.

In my lifetime, I’ve come to realize that many (read: most) conservatives – even the ones who might not consider themselves part of the alt-right extreme – harbor a core disdain for artists. Oh, they’ll partake in art – listen to music, read books, watch movies and TV, maybe even go to plays or buy artwork or photography. Their dichotomy is to engage in art while viewing the careers of artists invalid. I’ve had direct personal experience with conservatives telling me I should not be able to write as a career, that it’s “not a real job”, and because it’s not, it’s not a positive contribution to society.

To them, art is a hobby, and there is no value in it being a career. My skills as a writer are not useful unless being applied to a corporate job or business venture. And that’s the inherent hypocrisy I’ve seen from conservatives in my lifetime: an emphasis on the importance of entrepreneurship and individuality while simultaneously deriding anyone who isn’t part of a corporate system. It’s an amount of cognitive dissonance I can’t even fathom.

I realized, yesterday, that a Trump Presidency very likely means the death of my writing career in the womb. Under liberal leadership, art can be a career, the means and end together. Under conservative leadership – especially extreme right leadership – art only exists as rebellion.

Many of you reading this will key on that word, offering advice akin to “Well, then, rebel.” I’m still trying to figure out how that fits into my life, my psyche. As a white man, I’ve not had to endure the life of rebellion that so many marginalized people have lived every single day. I am, I think, still in shock, mourning in the quagmire of uncertainty where there was once stability.

I know, both intellectually and emotionally, that I am not endangered here like so many others. Others like my wife who, in spite of being solidly middle-class and white, is part of the 51% demographic that will see a definitive threat to their physical, mental, and social well-being. Like my gay friends, whose marriages are now on the chopping block. Like my trans friends, whose very existence is seen as an existential threat. Like the Muslims I know, who face the very real threat of deportation and mass violence.

I know I am not those people. And I know I will stand up for them and beside them in whatever ways I can. But sharing my own fear is the only way I know how to even try to move past it, to become productive again. To try to write again. Because, over the last five days, the conservative attitude toward my art has been validated and normalized by the election of their own demagogue. In a time when I know, intellectually, I should stand up and make myself heard, I find myself questioning the validity of my art, of my choices. Questioning its value. Questioning my self-worth.

I’m hoping for some level of catharsis from this writing. I can look at this blog post and say to myself I’ve used my words as and expression of my fears, and that’s helpful. I haven’t yet summoned the strength to just barrel back into the work – like I desperately need to – and I’m hoping this will help. I’m hoping I can find the strength to stop worrying about my art as a career, and engage in it as my own personal form of rebellion. I guess I won’t know until I click “Publish”.

Fear, Numbness, and Openness

Note: The feature image for this post has nothing to do with the post at all. It’s just a picture of the Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport, Oregon. A place that equates to serenity for me, so the image reminds me of that serenity in a time where I’m struggling to find it.

I keep a word document on my desktop entitled “Blog Post”, formatted in a way that makes it easy for me to open up, write, and transfer the words to my blog. This morning, I opened up this document and deleted the text that remained there from my “I Voted” post.

It seems fitting.

I’m truly at a loss for words right now (at least, as of this sentence). I’m hoping I’ll find them as I write this, so just be warned this post might ramble a bit. I just don’t know what to think about my home country right now, or the future of the world we live in. Two days ago, I felt like we stood on a precipice, ready to fall. Today, I know we did not just fall, we jumped. The fear I felt before this election has been replaced by horror, and a strange grieving numbness I can’t seem to shake. I don’t even have room for anger right now.

We elected Donald Trump our President.

I feel like I have to put that down in words to make it real. Because it has to be real for me. I don’t have the luxury of ignoring it or pretending it’s a fantasy or a nightmare. It’s a real thing that has happened in my country, in my world. And I still don’t understand it.

If there’s one part of Trump’s campaign I do understand, it’s the message that drove it home. Not the overt racism and misogyny, but the idea of crumbling infrastructure and rural towns in danger. It’s a message that resonates with a lot of folks who’ve been led to believe that “liberals” don’t actually care about those things (we do). It’s a message driven home by the heads of the GOP for years, by more qualified and intelligent candidates than Trump. It’s a message driven home by (sometimes) legitimate fears (although bolstered by illegitimate fears of “outsiders”). And I believe the contingent of voters who are just looking for a way to change the paradigm in rural America won him the Presidency.

(But not without the help of people who were either purposely or blindly following their party line, regardless of the figure at its head.)

I won’t excuse the fact that those voters are willing to ignore Trump’s blatant sexism and bigotry, but it’s not the part that confuses me the most. The part that just baffles me to my core is that any of those people actually believe that Trump has the power, knowledge, wherewithal, or ability to actually make the changes he so cavalierly promises. He just plain can’t, and won’t, do the things he says he’s going to do. He doesn’t give a solitary fuck about the people of this country, and never will. Trump believes in only one thing: himself. It has always seemed so obvious to me. He’s a liar. A con-man. A classic huckster.

And our nation fell for it. Tens of millions of people fell for it, radicalized, and brought a Trump presidency to fruition, while enough of us who know better, who see him for what he his, failed to mobilize against that radicalized tide. We’re here, in numbers, I know it, but we were lazy and overconfident. We underestimated the power of willingly blind faith.

This was the first Presidential election I ever voted in. Never in the past has a Presidential election had much of a direct effect on my life. I completely understand that comes from a place of privilege, but as I looked upon our previous candidates, even when I saw policies and values I didn’t necessarily agree with, I saw men of intelligence and reason. I never saw a demagogue or a tyrant in the face of opposition like George W. Bush or John McCain or Mitt Romney. Opposing viewpoints, sure, but never fascism or even anything near its like. Austerity, at worst. I was moved to finally vote in this election for two reasons:

1. I did see fascism in Donald Trump’s positions, in his words, in his frightening echo of tyrants past. I saw his lies and his bigotry and the hatred and divisiveness in his heart.

2. I saw in Hillary Clinton a historic chance for this country to continue the progress we’ve worked so hard to build. To become “Stronger Together”. To elect our first woman President, and show the world we weren’t as problematic as everyone thinks we are. To move forward.

I thought, naively, perhaps, that if someone as ambivalent as I’ve been was moved to vote, certainly there would be enough others. I was so very wrong.

I never voted in the past because I – correctly or not – never believed my vote mattered. I was hypocritical in that way, because I disliked that opinion when others voiced it, but held that very belief in private. My wife very pointedly exposed that hypocrisy in me, opening a wound that I saw fit to close by registering to vote, and participating in my first election, with the intent to continue voting in the future. But there’s a new wound there, in my psyche, bred now of that same cynicism, telling me my vote doesn’t matter because in this case, it didn’t. This might be the hardest thing to push past, for me.

I know people who will be directly impacted by the hateful policies that Trump – with his now Republican-controlled Congress and whatever Supreme Court Justice he appoints – will have carte blanche to invoke. Even if Democrats take back the House or Senate in the 2018 mid-terms, that Supreme Court has the power to cause direct harm for decades coming. The only hope is that the moderate Republicans who opposed Trump during the election have the strength to stand against him when his policies are overtly harmful. But that’s a very, very slim hope.

Hope is what I lack. I don’t know how to move forward when I don’t see a clear path through. I don’t know how to continue trudging away at my daily life when it all feels so insignificant. I feel broken. Trod upon. And feeling that way as a relatively privileged white male, I can’t even fathom how women, Muslims, and people of color feel right now (and I won’t speculate, because that’s not my story to tell).

I’m horrified. I’m numb. The last fifteen or more years of my life has been about becoming better, becoming more open, and opening myself to the world through writing and social media. Expanding my bubble to become more inviting and inclusive. I still want to move in that direction, but now I’m so frightened by the presence of 59 million people who voted for fascism, I fear my only coping mechanism might be to simply contract. To build a shell and hide within it; to eschew trust in the absence of hope.

Because I have a reputation, you see. One that I’ve never been able to fully break. A stereotype of abrasiveness. A shadow of exclusion from my twenties that now, as I approach forty and have completely erased within myself, still darkens my path. If I haven’t been able to make those around me see the openness I’ve cultivated after years of living in a society that had finally started to praise it as a virtue, how am I supposed to leave myself vulnerable in a society that threatens to preach isolationism?

I know in my head I need to be strong. Both my head and my heart are failing to find reservoirs of strength to draw upon, though. My wife is a pillar of strength in my life, but she’s just as devastated as I am right now. Perhaps moreso, because this was also her first vote, and she was ecstatic to vote for the first woman President. Hillary would’ve been her President. We’re both broken stones, standing only by leaning on one another. And that doesn’t leave me much strength for anyone else.

All I can do is try. My life contracts down to very few things: caring for my wife, caring for our animals, putting words on paper, and recreation if I can bear it. I will try my hardest to be available to my friends, and fellow gamers and writers, to anyone I know who needs a friend. If you’re one of the people who thinks I’m abrasive or standoffish or intimidating, all I can give you right now are my words, to tell you that I’m here, I’m open, and I would rather move forward with you than suffer and stew alone, or let you do the same.

I’m not comfortable with vulnerability, so I’m not exactly sure what shape this offer will take, but I just know I can’t stand by and not make it. Beyond that, I don’t know where I’ll go or what I’ll do. Right now, I’m hoping this will be enough. It has to be enough.

I Voted, and I’m With Her

Today, I voted. In a surprise to exactly no one, I voted for Hillary Clinton.

I’ve said a lot of stuff over the last year about voting against a semi-sentient rotting pumpkin with a mis-placed merkin, but that’s not the only reason I voted today. I’m not just voting against fascism, I’m voting FOR Hillary Clinton.

I believe in HRC. She has a proven track record of public service for longer than I’ve been alive. Her policies align with my values. She’s simultaneously hard-assed and compassionate, intelligent and genuinely kind. She’s the single most qualified candidate for POTUS this country has ever seen.

And that’s what it takes to rise to that position as a woman in our society. If she’d only had Obama’s qualifications, or Romney’s, or pretty much any of the previous candidates’, she’d be looked over and left behind. But she’s fought her way to this place by being better than every contemporary in her company. To quote everyone’s favorite play, she “got a lot farther by working a lot harder, by being a lot smarter, by being a self starter”.

She’s intelligent.

She’s proactive.

She’s cunning.

She’s knowledgeable.

She’s experienced.

If this were literally any other election against any other opponent, this would be 100% of my reasoning. But this is not a normal election, and the spray-tanned gibbering mouther is not a normal opponent.

In previous elections, I’ve been mildly concerned about one candidate or the other. Previous candidates’ values have run counter to my own, and I, of course, don’t want to be led by someone whose policies I oppose. But I understand the workings of our democracy and if that person is elected, I know we’ll soldier on and there are checks and balances.

But that’s not how I feel this time. I’m stressed. Genuinely afraid. And not the kind of fear the GOP whips up with propaganda. Not disgusted rage, or frenzied xenophobia, or moral indignation. No… genuine, sinking, suffocating fear. A gut-churning fear that the world I’ve grown up in, with all its progress and flaws and bright spots and blemishes, is in danger of ending.

So, this time, I don’t get to vote for Hillary solely on the basis of her own qualifications, although that is enough. No, in this election we’re quite literally voting against a fascist demagogue whose rhetoric echoes the worst the human race has ever had to offer. A misogynist, racist, ableist, subhuman caricature whose vision for our nation would undo literally the entirety of our progress since our founding.

The entire world looks to us as the superpower we claim to be, and is collectively holding its breath against the potential for the worst parts of our nature to become normalized across the globe. And I won’t stand to be a part of that. I will stand on the right side of history.

I look forward to seeing our country’s first woman President. I look forward to being led by a capable, sophisticated, progressive President. Even though it’s too much to ask, my hope is that she’ll stand side-by-side with cooperative Legislative and Judicial branches to push our country forward rather than stall in quagmire or de-evolve.

Barack Obama has been my President. I’ll miss him, dearly. He is a man who has accomplished more positive outcomes for the United States in his eight years in office than nearly any other President in my lifetime, and all of that in the face of the single most obstructionist Legislative branch in our history. Although I’ll miss him, Hillary Clinton has the chance to carry on his legacy, and improve upon it. To make history herself.

Today I voted.

I’m With Her.

Board Games and Metal Coins, An Obsession

One of my favorite sub-hobbies within the hobby of board gaming is to upgrade my board games with “premium” components. Sleeving cards, replacing resources, laminating player sheets, upgrading filmsy boards, making custom bits and custom boxes to hold bits, building foamcore inserts, and building full custom boxes for card games (check out my tutorial on creating graphics-wrapped card boxes.)

But the one thing I’m absolutely obsessed with is metal coins.

You wouldn’t think that something as simple as coins could have much of an impact on a game. They don’t alter gameplay at all, they don’t have any specific impact on the rules or a game’s implementation. But the atmosphere they add – for my wife and I, anyway – is *immense*. It’s something that a lot of people who game with us comment on, too. So many board games rely on economic mechanics and employ some sort of money to make their world go ‘round (the table). So adding that “realistic” feel and sound to the coinage used in a game is just a fantastic boost to the environment, and one that now drives an upgrade obsession for me.

I could’ve simply bought one or two sets of coins and used them as generic coinage for many different games, but that’s not how my brain works. Instead, my wife and I have been picking up specific, thematically appropriate coin sets. I’d like to share the coins in my collection, the games I’ve added them to, and information about where every set can be obtained (if they’re still available).

About a year ago, Reddit user FlakyPieCrust put up this post about the various companies who make coinage, and it’s an awesome primer. There will be some overlap with this article, but my purpose here is to share pictures and hands-on impressions of the coins I actually own.

NOTE: This article will not be an entirely exhaustive list of available metal coins. I detail the coins I have experience with personally, or the ones I haven’t picked up and the reasons why, but there are definitely still games I don’t include here. This article covers a lot, but I’ve included a few notations for games that were mentioned by Reddit users after I posted the article there.

I have pictures throughout the post, but if you don’t want to read the whole thing and just want to look at pretty pictures, here’s a link to the Imgur photo gallery

Anyway, on with the show…

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


GAMES THAT INCLUDE METAL COINS

Games that already come with metal coins are generally “deluxe” or “collector’s” editions, but they’re worth checking out. These are not the only games (I don’t think) that have metal coins, but they’re the only ones I own.


Small World Designer Edition

The one that started it all for us. I could wax poetic about all of the components in this set, but the icing on the very substantial cake is the coins included. I mean, look at them. They’re gorgeous. They’re thematic. They’re heavy, and detailed, and oh so clinkity clink. I loves them. They’re mine. My preciouses.

These were my first exposure to the idea of having metal coins for a board game, and the ones that started me down this dark path. Obviously, these coins are difficult to obtain. The Small World DE was expensive to start (we paid $320 via Kickstarter), but now it goes for anywhere from $800 to $1500. It was definitely worth the $320 we paid… I’m not sure it’s worth what it goes for on eBay.


Tokaido Collector’s Edition

These are nice coins. Nothing too fancy, but they’re heavy, substantial, and pretty enough to supplement the beautiful artwork and theme of Tokaido. As of this posting, the Tokaido CE is still pretty readily available for about $100 and, in my opinion, worth it for the extras included. Also there’s a Deluxe Accessory Pack available for people who already own the standard edition of Tokaido, which includes the metal coins without having to buy the full CE.


Orleans Deluxe Edition

We snapped up a second-hand copy of the Orleans DE partially for the wood tokens, but also for the metal coins. These are almost identical to the Tuscany coins, except… I’m not sure what metal they’re made of, but they have a different sound to them than most of the others. Maybe a little tinny. They’re still metal, so they still clink, they’re just… strange. And I completely understand that you really just don’t give a shit. But I’m weird. And it doesn’t matter, because they’re otherwise fantastic.


Black Fleet

This one surprised me. Black Fleet is just a light, fun, pick-up-and-deliver game, but the components are absolutely great. The molded ships are awesome, and it came stock with these metal coins. They’re not as chunky as some of the others I’ll list, but that’s neither here nor there: The game costs the same as most others in its range, and it still came with metal coins! Kudos to Space Cowboys for that.


Brass Deluxe Edition

Okay, so here’s the one game I don’t own, but I have experience with the coins. They’re very nice. I’m not as big a fan of Brass as others, which is why I haven’t bought it yet, but there seem to be a bunch of the Eagle & Gryphon Deluxe Editions floating around game stores now. Here’s the rub: The box isn’t marked as a Deluxe Edition in any way, so you have no idea whether the copy you’re buying has the coins and double-sided board. Most stores will mark them as such, but I’ve read stories of people being surprised by it when they buy it. Weird. The coins can, however, be purchased ala carte on Amazon or the Eagle & Gryphon website.


Seafall

This one could’ve been listed in this section or the next, but as of this posting the pre-order bonus for Seafall is still in effect (check it out here). If you pre-order, they will include a set of upgraded metal coins for free. Which seems very worth it, because they plan to charge $40 for that same set of coins by itself after the pre-order window closes. That may seem expensive, but Plaid Hat Games is stating that it’ll be “over 100” coins, which actually puts this set into the bottom-end price range.

Obviously I don’t have any personal experience with these coins, yet, but I wanted to include this link since it’s appropriate for the post (and I put it in this section because I have already pre-ordered it, so technically I own it). If they look as good as the pictures on that pre-order page, I don’t think I’ll be disappointed in them. I’ll also note that the coins are relatively generic in design, so one could easily use these coins for a wide variety of games.


Other Games That Include Metal Coins

Dominion: Empires/Guilds/Prosperity/Seaside
Puerto Rico Anniversary Edition
Raiders of the North Sea
Die Speicherstadt: Kaispeicher
Vault Wars
Xia: Legends of a Drift System

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BESPOKE COINS

What do I mean by “bespoke”? I mean coins that are designed very specifically for a single board game, and built to mimic the design of whatever chipboard coins were originally included.


Viticulture/Tuscany

These are fantastic, large, weighty coins and worth the MSRP if you can find them for that price. When I originally wrote this post, these coins were becoming rather scarce. Due to popular demand, however, it looks like Stonemaier Games is re-minting these coins and selling them again. It looks like you have to pre-order them to get them, though, so you should get on that. Here’s a link to the pre-order campaign.


Scythe

Obviously I don’t actually have my copy of Scythe yet, but it will be coming with the metal coins in the picture above. It’s a Stonemaier game, so they ought to be identical in size, weight, and finish to the Viticulture/Tuscany coins. That link above will allow you to pre-order the Scythe coins in addition to the Tuscany ones.


Puerto Rico

These are fantastic, chunky, pewter coins, minted to look just like the cardboard coins in the game. I found these via random searching from this seller on eBay. They’re a great addition for anyone who loves Puerto Rico, and at $15.49 for 60 coins, they’re some of the cheapest I’ve found. A no-brainer, in my opinion.

There are metal coins included in the Puerto Rico Anniversary Edition that I listed in the previous section, but that version of the game is prohibitively expensive now and, in my opinion, these coins are actually better than the ones included with that edition.


Lords of Waterdeep

These coins are awesome. But holy hell are they expensive. You can get a set from The Broken Token for $55. For 60 coins, that’s only just under $1 each, which is really steep. But, Lords of Waterdeep is one of my all-time favorite games, so we knuckled under and got a set.

Now, however, Fantasy Coin, LLC makes a set of LoW coins that are equal in quality, and less than half the price. If you get two of this set, you get the same number and style of coinage for only $28. Ordering from Fantasy Coin can be a bit strange, depending on your timing, and I’ll go into more detail about that later.


7 Wonders

These are also distributed via The Broken Token, and cost the same as the Lords of Waterdeep coins. Again, buckled and bought some (this time I supplemented the cost with poker winnings, so that’s cool) because, frankly, they’re just awesome. They look great, they’re heavy and large, they’re (obviously) perfectly thematic. But wow. Very money. So dollar. Much spendy.


Other Bespoke Coins

Coins for Carson City
Coins for Caylus
Coins for Hegemonic (listed as “Futuristic Metal Coins”)

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FANTASY COIN, LLC

I received my first coins from Fantasy Coin recently, and I’m absolutely blown away by them. They’re thick, heavy, chunky coins with great designs and awesome finishes, and they’re surprisingly inexpensive for what you get.

Here’s the rub: You have to catch them at the right time. They do sell out of the sets they make, and then you have to wait until their next Kickstarter campaign for them to re-stock. Between KS campaigns you may find a lot of coins out-of-stock on their website. But it gets even stranger during their KS campaigns.

During their Kickstarter campaigns, you can contribute via KS to get the coins you want. Between the time the campaign ends and they fulfill orders, you can pre-order the sets via their website, but it’s a little confusing because pretty much everything on the site is listed as “Out of Stock”. This is what we did for our coins because we missed their KS, but it’s a really, really strange business model. Now that the campaign is over and backers have been fulfilled, the extras they minted are available for sale.

The beauty of their system, if you’re willing to wait quite a while to receive your pre-order, is that their prices are pretty fantastic. When we pre-ordered, we ordered enough coin sets to have our order discounted to $10/set, which meant the price was about 33₵ per coin. Which is absurdly low, actually, for the quality. Even now, outside the KS or pre-order window, their coins run $16.99 per set of 30, which is still a pretty ding-dang good deal. Anyway, take a look at some of our sets…


Caverna

These are Fantasy Coin’s “Dwarven” set. They’re beautiful.


Five Tribes

I was originally looking into getting a generic Arabic set for Five Tribes, but couldn’t find one in my price range. I think I did okay, though. These are a mixture of the “Serpent” set in silver and the “Elemental – Air” set in gold, and I thought they were great stand-ins for the Djinn.


Lords of Xidit

I love this game, and getting coins for it was not only difficult, but wildly unnecessary. It took a lot of searching through several companies’ offerings to find coins that I thought were thematic enough to warrant a purchase, and now that I have these side-by-side with the game, I think I made the right choice. These are Fantasy Coin’s “Paladin” set.


Yedo

Yedo is probably one of my all-time favorite worker-placement games. It’s an all-around gorgeous game, and deserved some nice coins to go along with it. These are Fantasy Coin’s “Feudal Japan” set.

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ARTANA

I picked up my first set of Artana coins from eBay after their first Kickstarter, and I was really pleased with them. Artana focuses more on pseudo-historical sets, but does have some more fantasy oriented ones as well. Their coins are really nice, if a bit smaller and lighter than the ones by Fantasy Coin. As far as I can tell, their coins are only available via Kickstarter (which they label “The Best Damn Gaming Coins Ever”), or via Backerkit pre-orders during their KS campaigns.


Akrotiri

The beauty of Artana’s pseudo-historical designs is that they go really well with pseudo-historical games. Have a game set in ancient Greece? Grab some of their “Ancient Greek” themed coins. And, come on, how much more thematic for Akrotiri can you get than those coins with the dolphins on ’em? Geez, they look like they were made just for this game.


Archipelago

These are technically part of Artana’s “Pirate Ship” theme, but I selected coins that were less pirate-y and more just nautical. I think they go really well.


Castles of Mad King Ludwig

Here’s the one set that’s not technically appropriate, thematically. The theme set is called “Early English Kings”, and I’m using them for a game set in mid-1800’s Bavaria but… you know, whatever.


Concordia

Same situation as Akrotiri, but in this case these are from Artana’s “Ancient Rome” line. Note: These Roman coins from Minion Games actually look closer to the coins included with Concordia, and are also an excellent choice for the price. We just wanted something a little more stylized, so we went with Artana’s coins.


Troyes

Game set in the Middle Ages? Artana’s “Middle Ages” theme has you covered. These might not be perfectly thematic since they’re a bit more Anglo Saxon than French, but no one’s ever going to care. It wasn’t until after I posted this article that someone pointed out these coins designed for Caylus that are a near-perfect thematic match for Troyes. I’m now contemplating buying these, and shifting the Artana coins to another game.


The Voyages of Marco Polo

These are the coins I originally picked up on eBay. These are part of Artana’s “Renaissance” theme.

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OTHER RANDOM SOURCES


Le Havre

For Le Havre, I just absolutely could not find good fake coins. So, I just picked up real ones. These are actual aluminum 1- and 5-Franc coins from WWII era France. Technically not the right time period, but who cares! They’re great! They need to be cleaned, though.


Libertalia

There is absolutely no shortage of “Pirate Dubloon” style coins available in both metal and plastic. They’re probably the most prolific style you can get. I picked up these coins from Amazon, and they’re awesome, and relatively cheap. About the same size as a quarter and they come in four different finishes.

Of note, these are the same coins Eagle & Gryphon Games sells for Empires: Age of Discovery, but they can be obtained cheaper and in larger quantities via the above Amazon link.


Suburbia/Panamax


Since these games both have a modern-day theme, I just used pachinko slot tokens I picked up off eBay. They’re almost identical in size and weight to quarters, and they look just fine for both games. Plus, anything’s better than those lame plastic coins that come with Panamax (yick). I also use these coins with The Gallerist, but they’re basically just a stand-in until I find something more appropriate.

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HONORABLE MENTION


Lord$ of Vega$

While not technically coins, these mini poker chips definitely fit the overall theme of the post. Unfortunately, these particular chips aren’t available anymore. Most of the ones you can find now are these ridged chips by Koplow Games. The Koplow chips aren’t terrible, but the ones I have are thicker, heavier, and feel more like real poker chips.


Patchwork

Buttons, duh. Buttons are pretty much ubiquitous. The real problem is getting buttons in small quantities with the same style. For some reasons, the most common way buttons are available is in giant packages of randomized styles, even when you’re trying to buy buttons of the same color. I mean, who needs that? You’d think if someone needs a bunch of blue buttons, they’d need a bunch of the same blue button. Maybe? I dunno. Anyway, you can either buy multiple packs of small quantities (like 2 to 10) at your local fabric or craft store, or you can get them in fucking ginormous batches on Amazon like this and this. The per-button cost on Amazon is obviously significantly cheaper, but who the hell needs 500 buttons?

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DISHONORABLE MENTION


Tokaido

I know, I already mentioned the Collector’s Edition, but before I had a copy of the CE, I bought these coins for my regular edition. They’re absolute garbage. They’re thin and flimsy and tiny (smaller than a dime!) and they don’t sound so great or feel particularly better than cardboard. And, to cap it off, they’re Chinese, not Japanese.

But, I paid $2.47 for 40 of them, shipped. So, I guess you get what you pay for.

If I were to order coins for a non-CE copy of Tokaido now, I’d either get the Deluxe Accessory Pack for their branded thematic coins, or Fantasy Coin’s Feudal Japan coins, like the ones we bought for Yedo.

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COINS I DON’T OWN (AND WHY)

There are a few manufacturers of coins that I don’t have any experience with. I’ll be honest, though, the main reason I don’t is because of their prices. I was willing to spend the extra bucks for game-specific coins for LoW and 7 Wonders, because the theming made it (sort of) worth the extra cost (I’ll be honest: I own and love those coins, but probably wouldn’t pay that price again. Maybe. I think?). Most of the coins below cost nearly the same (75₵-$1 per coin), but aren’t specifically themed for a board game.

In a lot of cases, getting enough coins for a board game involves getting multiple “sets” – as the manufacturers define them – so you don’t run short during play. With these manufacturers, multiple sets just end up being too damned spendy. That being said, the coins they make do look fantastic. The designs are really good, but they’ll need to come down in price before I’d be willing to buy some.


Legendary Metal Coins

The designs here are really great. I had contemplated getting a set of their Arabic theme for Five Tribes, but I couldn’t justify the cost. Even in bulk, at their cheapest offering, they’re still 70₵ per coin. Most games, in my experience, require 50-60 coins to ensure you don’t run out at higher player counts, and that rounds out to about $35-$48 for a set (depending on how you acquire them). That’s a little above my top end; half-again to double what I paid for the coins from Fantasy Coin and Artana.


Campaign Coins

Campaign Coins are really beautiful, and have the most “high fantasy” feel of any I’ve found. I actually considered getting sets from them for Lords of Xidit, simply because they match better thematically. However, at their cheapest, they’re about identical in price to the Legendary coins, so just out of my range.


Minion Games

Minion Games doesn’t have a wide variety, and they’ve got an odd mix of coinage. They only sell three different themes of coins, two of which are far too expensive, ranging from 70₵ to 90₵ per coin. Their third set, the “Roman” theme, though, is a fantastic deal at $17.99 (on sale) for 55 coins (I link to these coins above in my description for Concordia).


Never Stop Tops & Coins

Again, gorgeous, but expensive. :/ Not quite as expensive as some of the others here, but still just outside what I would consider affordable.


Shire Post Mint

Shirepost’s coins aren’t really viable for this kind of application. They primarily do licensed coins (Lord of the Rings, Kingkiller Chronicle, A Song of Ice and Fire, etc.), and they’re not built for bulk orders. They’re designed to be a novelty, and are wildly expensive, coming in at well in excess of $1 per coin. So, they’re cool, but not really worth it for board gaming.


Rare Elements Foundry

Rare Elements Foundry is one of the first companies that I ever encountered making metal fantasy coins. Unfortunately, they are ungodly expensive for the most part. Their coins run around $22-$25 for a set of 10, pushing them up to and even beyond Shirepost’s prices. Their coins are very beautiful, but not feasible in quantity. That being said, they do now offer this 100-piece generic fantasy set for $25, and that’s a price you can’t really beat.

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CONCLUSION

Of all the metal coins I’ve bought and still intend to buy, I think the best deals – the ones that balance quality and price better than any other – are Fantasy Coin, LLC and Artana. Acquiring them can be a little wonky because of their Kickstarter-based release model, but if you’re into coins and don’t want to spend a mint (ha), they’re the best options. Some of the individual coin sets (like the coins for Brass and Minion Games’ Roman coins) are also worth a look at the price, but Fantasy Coin and Artana just have a great range at fantastic quality for decent prices.

Coins are one of my all-time favorite game upgrades. They’re definitely not for everyone, especially for the price, but they’ve become nearly a compulsion for me. Luckily, almost every game I own that involves coins has been upgraded at this point, so I’m not as tempted by them at the moment. I love seeing the looks on players’ faces when we break out a game from our shelf and dump a pile of metal coins on the table alongside the game. Everyone that plays with them comments about how awesome they are, and I agree.

Thanks for reading, everyone, and happy gaming.

My Zen Place

If you follow me on social media at all, you know how into tabletop gaming I am. For those of you who don’t… Well… uh… I’m really into tabletop gaming. Over the years I’ve been a gamer, I’ve noticed a confluence of different aspects of my personality that have led me to being a sort of specific type of gamer. Today, I’m talking about how my collector’s mentality has affected my board-gaming hobby.

I grew up collecting things. Comics, trading cards, POGs, what have you. I’ve always been meticulous about caring for my collectibles. Comics are always bagged and boarded (and HOLY SHIT don’t ever open one far enough to cause stress lines around the staples), trading cards always in sleeves or binders, stored carefully away from any potential damage. As I’ve grown into board gaming, I’ve found my collector’s mentality not just creeping around the edges of the hobby, but taking it over full-force.

sleeving_01See, I can’t just buy a board game and play it as-is – especially if it includes cards of any type. Thoughts of drink spillage or Cheeto-fingers grubbing up the components… I just… I can’t even. The concept of “mint condition” is so deeply embedded in my psyche that I get the same ragey hind-brain reaction to someone gunking up a game component as I used to when I’d see someone bend a Magic card or break the spine of a book. Though there’s not much I can do to protect a standard game board or punch-out components, if there’s something I can laminate I probably will, and every single card in every single game goes into a sleeve. EVERY ONE.

If you’re not familiar, sleeves are simply small plastic pockets made to fit snugly around gaming cards to keep them protected from the elements. Originally they were made out of thin polypropylene – exactly like comic book bags – to protect baseball cards. When Magic: The Gathering popularized the concept of playing a game with trading cards, sleeve technology changed to offer better protection not just from dirt or moisture, but from the rigors of constant shuffling.

An Aside About Shuffling: In addition to sleeving every card I own, I even now play poker and other standard card games with high-quality plastic playing cards. I can’t stomach the thought of shuffling bare paper cards in a normal riffle shuffle anymore. They’ll wear out! Shuffling will warp them over time! They could get marked! DEAR GOD WHAT IF ONE GETS CREASED YOU FUCKING ANIMALS no it’s fine I’m fine

sleeving_03So, I sleeve all my cards. For many gamers, the downside of this is the actual act of putting decks of cards into individual sleeves. It’s not so bad when you’re thinking of a standard deck of cards. 52 cards? Meh. Even a standard M:TG deck is 60, so that’s okay. But what happens when a game has hundreds?

I played a ton of M:TG in high school and college, and the M.O. for most TCG players is to have a good storage solution for the bulk of your collection, and keep a few decks that are regularly played in sleeves. So, a Magic collector might have thousands of cards, but they’re not sleeving every single one of them.

That’s not really the case with board games. Each board game is its own, individual thing that has to be ready to go every time you pull it off the shelf. So, if you own a ton of games, you can’t just keep a certain subset of cards sleeved. If you (*I*) are going to sleeve any of them, you (*I*) have to sleeve them all, and the number of cards that come in a board game ranges from “almost none” to “Vegas casino”.

sleeving_02For example, we just picked up a copy of a card/board game called Trains and its expansion Trains: Rising Sun. Between the two boxes, there are over 1,000 cards. One thousand. Games like Dominion might have 300-500 cards in a box and 10+ expansions. That’s a damned lot of cards to sleeve. At last count, I have over 130 games on my shelves, plus expansions, and I’ve sleeved every single card.

And, you know what? I find the activity supremely relaxing. There’s just something about it… It’s not just the repetitive monotony, it’s the peace of mind. As compulsive as I am about the condition of my games, when I’m sleeving cards there’s a part of my psyche that realizes I’m doing my part to ensure that I don’t have to stress over those components anymore. I put on a podcast or a TV show and sit down at my desk or on my couch with a pile of cards and sleeves and just go.

The task itself is almost meditative. Time just floats on by, and before I know it I’m packing up a nice, protected, aggravatingly slippery deck of cards into a new game box, and making that game available for play (I mean I wouldn’t let people play it before the cards are sleeved what kind of monster do you take me for). I’ve even, more often than I’d care to admit, taken to cutting down some of the off-sized sleeves so they fit the cards better, and even this has become relaxation time for me.

I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who would say that sleeving this many cards from this many games isn’t worth the money. It does, on average, add $3-$15 to the cost of a game (or, in the case of a game like Trains, more like $30). For me, just knowing that my games are armored against the terrors that gamers can inflict is worth Every. Solitary. Ducat. Knowing that 15 years from now, these cards will be just as playable and nice as they are now. Combine that knowledge with the zen-like trance I achieve while actually carrying out the task?

You can’t put a price on that.

Goals For 2016

Three years ago, I quit my job at Nintendo after nine years. When the opportunity came to leave and write full time, a burgeoning passion spurred by the ongoing work of my first novel, I couldn’t pass it up. I’d spend virtually every night after work for months cramming writing into what little time I could eke out, and the concept of being in control of my own work-flow and having exponentially more time to accomplish what I was already doing in my free time was… unfathomable.

After releasing Construct, I found myself drifting.

At work every task I was assigned was time sensitive, and I had a constantly shifting list of rolling deadlines. It was a driving force that helped me to maintain focus and determination. Without those clear delineations, my lack of focus became clearer and clearer as 2015 drew to a close and I failed to finish my second novel. At first, I wanted to finish it by the end of September. Then November. Then the end of the year. And as those deadlines kept slipping away, I presented myself with unavoidable evidence that my time-management skills weren’t as robust as my old resume would have one think, at least not without a boss looking over my shoulder.

I need challenges. I need tasks to complete. Preferably long-term projects comprised of a series of short-term tasks that I can check off as I go. So, for 2016, I’ve set myself a hefty list of goals to try and get myself into the professional shape I’ve desired ever since finishing Construct. Only one of these goals, technically, is directly related to my professional development. All of them, though, will require discipline to attain, and I’m hoping to channel them into long-term skills that will help me professionally, creatively, and personally.

GOALS #1 & #2: No alcohol or caffeine in 2016. These aren’t specifically “goals”, but rather omissions. These were both actually my wife’s idea, and I loved them, so we’re doing them together.

Most people, upon hearing this resolution, have the same reaction: Alcohol is easy enough, but HOLY SHIT CAFFEINE BUT HOW HOW WILL YOU HOW?! I’ve gone for a year without alcohol before, and as most people think it’s pretty easy. I’ve definitely gone more than a year without drinking soda, but I filled that caffeine gap with coffee and tea.

Which is part of the problem. I actually don’t know how much I rely on caffeine as a stimulant. Morning coffee, afternoon soda, and evening tea have become such an ingrained part of my life that I’m not honestly sure what will happen when I’m finally going without. I’m sure there will be some grumpiness and withdrawals, but I’m hoping it’ll help me find a better balance where I can start supplementing my energy in healthier ways.

Ideally, both of these will help with focus and clarity, and get my brain running at a better pace creatively.

GOAL #3: Read 50 full-length novels in 2016. I tried this challenge a couple of years ago and fell short. At some point toward the end of the year I sort of faltered and gave up, and clocked 43 reads that year. I had all kinds of excuses and rationalizations for failing the goal, none of which I will accept this time.

If writing is breathing, then reading is hydration. As a writer, reading is an absolutely essential part of my creative development. If I treat it solely as a throwaway hobby, then I’ll find all kinds of excuses not to better myself through books, and my writing will suffer and stagnate because of it. This goal isn’t so hefty that it’s unattainable, but it’s definitely hefty enough that I’ll have to carve out specific time to make sure I accomplish it. In doing so, I hope the challenge itself will help with my time management, and the reading will enrich me both personally and creatively.

GOAL #4: Read 50 comic book trades in 2016. I have a giant shelf of comic book trades. I’m a huge comic book nerd, but an embarrassing number of those trades stand unread, and I intend to correct that. It’s an art form that I absolutely love, and one that – much like reading 50 prose books – I hope will enrich me in a number of ways.

GOAL #5: A 20×5 board game challenge. My wife and I have always been board gamers. As kids we’d play the old standbys like Monopoly and Stratego and Clue, and in the mid ‘90’s, we were introduced to Settlers of Catan. For about six months straight, we played Settlers with a group of friends every Saturday until the wee hours of the morning. A year or so later, when we picked up Carcassonne, we were hooked.

Once we finally had a place of our own with space to play – and, more importantly, store – games, the rabbit-hole opened up and we ran through like madmen. We now have a dedicated gaming space in our home with over 120 board games, a collection that keeps growing in spite of that already huge number.

Every year on Board Game Geek, they post what is called a 10×10 Challenge. The idea is to combat the “cult of the new” by picking ten games from your collection and playing each of them at least ten times over the course of the year. We wanted to do a similar challenge, but wanted more variety, so we modified it by picking twenty games, and pledging to play each of them at least five times. At two games per week, it’s an attainable goal that I hope will make us more familiar with our collection.

My intention is to keep track of this challenge here on the blog, and to write a review of each of the twenty games in the challenge as soon as we complete the requisite five plays.

GOAL #6: Maintain a writing pace of 5000 words per week throughout 2016. This is my big professional goal. This is strictly drafting – not editing or revision – and specifically drafting fiction, not blog posts or other non-fiction. Maintaining this pace would put me at 260,000 words written for the year, or approximately two novels the length of Construct.

For a professional writer, this goal isn’t strictly ambitious. This is a pace maintained and frequently exceeded by many pros, and attaining this goal is an absolute necessity for me if I intend to make a go at an actual writing career. For the last third of Construct, my pace was more like 7-8k per week, so I think 5k is reachable.

My biggest hope for this particular goal is simply to develop some sort of routine. My failing as a writer, right now, is a lack of rhythm. If I can build a repertoire and maintain it, I’ll be able to start churning out the fiction that’s still in my head, and free up some space for… well, more fiction that’s still in my head. Hell, this blog post alone is almost 1,300 words, and that’s already one quarter of my weekly production goal, if I can apply this pace to fiction.

All in all, this will be a hugely ambitious year for me. If I can translate that writing pace into two actual book releases, I will triple my bibliography in one year and set me on a pace to legitimately call myself a professional writer rather than just some guy who self-published a book that one time. My other goals are meant to fill and balance the non-writing aspects of my life while fueling my creative and cognitive abilities.

This year is all about fun, ambition, and focus. Let’s do this.

In Memoriam: Bastion Matthews, 1999-2015

It’s been almost a week since my wife and I lost a family member, and I’m not okay.

Last Thursday, our cat Bastion passed away. He’d been struggling with a renal insufficiency (a problem with blood-flow through the kidneys) for a while, and had taken a downturn a couple of weeks ago. He’d lost weight and wasn’t eating much. Try as we might to get him to eat, we just couldn’t get him to take in enough sustenance. The day he passed away, I had made a vet appointment for him for the following morning to try to get him back on track. A few hours later, he was gone.

My wife and I were married in 1998, and Bastion had been a part of our family for almost that entire time. Early in our marriage, we’d take a trip up to Victoria, British Columbia for our anniversary each year (it’s also where we had our honeymoon). On our way to our first anniversary in 1999, we missed the morning ferry from Port Angeles, and needed to waste some time. So, on a whim, we stopped into a local pet shop.

bastion_7_smallWe didn’t really have any expectations at the time. We were just browsing. When we rounded the corner in the store to see two tiny, weeks-old kittens behind the glass of a play-area, we instantly fell in love. We asked to see them, and the moment we held them in our arms, we knew we were taking them home. Each of us picked one up, and we knew from the start that the one I held was “mine” and the one Christina held was “hers”. That little guy was Bastion, and I held his brother, Gremlin.

We bought them on the spot, but told the store that we would have to pick them up when we were on our way home from Victoria. We left them there, then headed out for our vacation. And we couldn’t stop thinking about them. We talked and talked about taking them home, about what we’d need to get and how we’d potty train them and how things around the apartment were going to change and on and on.

bastion_square_smallAlthough I already knew I was going to name “my” kitten something like Goblin or Gremlin (I even considered Kobold), Christina had no idea. It wasn’t until a couple of days later, while wandering through Victoria, that we came upon a beautiful little public market space called Bastion Square, and something just clicked with her. She’d picked her name. I settled in on Gremlin, and the vacation was instantly doomed. Now that we had names picked out, we couldn’t stand to wait the extra three or four days we had left in Victoria, so we cut our trip short and headed back to Port Angeles to pick up our kitties.

They were both freaked out by the drive, but Bastion was the loudest. He didn’t stop screaming for a single moment that the car was in motion (which ended up being his M.O. any time we put him in a car from that point forward). The closest to quiet he got was when we were on the ferry. Christina and I stayed with the car, and let them out of their little crate to explore. They wandered around the inside of the car and crawled all over our laps, Bastion still meowing his displeasure with the scary situation. We got them home, and our lives were forever changed.

Bastion’s boisterous vocal nature was part of him his whole life, and an indication of his clinginess. He was, without a doubt, the neediest cat I’d ever encountered, but that also meant that he was by far the most affectionate. Most people talk about cats being independent and aloof, and Bastion was the opposite. He always made you feel like you were the most important person ever, like he was giving you attention, not the reverse.

bastion_5_smallWhenever you entered a room with him, he’d stop whatever he was doing – even sleeping – to come to you. When you carried him on your shoulder (my wife’s right shoulder was one of his favorite places in the world), he’d nuzzle his head into the side of yours and be content to sit there for as long as you’d hold him. He spent most of his life upside-down, flipping onto his back in that goofball, uniquely kitty-cat head-turn flip maneuver that meant “Pet my belly!”. He wasn’t so much our cat as we were his humans, and he loved us unconditionally.

Which is why losing him is one of the hardest things I’ve ever dealt with. I’ve had a lot of pets over the course of my life. My childhood was always filled with cats and dogs. But they were never, really, mine. When you have pets as a child, there’s a sort of mild separation or distance that, I think, is bred by the fact that you’re not wholly responsible for their welfare. I’m not trying to diminish any of my pets’ role in my life – I loved them all – but losing a pet that your parents are responsible for and losing one under your own care are wildly different experiences.

Neither of us expected this to be so difficult. The toughest loss I’d ever dealt with before this (aside from my parents) was my childhood dog Smokey. We picked up Smokey when I was in sixth grade, and he passed away when he was 12 years old. At that point I’d been away from home several years, and although I still thought of Smokey as “my” dog, that separation blunted the blow of his loss. I cried for a day, grieved for a while after, and then my life shifted back to normal.

Bastion, on the other hand, was a constant presence in my everyday life in a way that Smokey hadn’t been at the time he passed. Every morning, I’d wake up with Bastion curled up next to my pillow. All day, I’d take moments to give him and his siblings little scritches and love, especially for the last three years that I’ve been working from home. Every evening, he’d wander around our bedroom vocally declaring his displeasure with our attention being focused on books or sleep until we’d call him over and give him some cuddle time.

bastion_3_smallIt’s been tough to roll across little comments and in-jokes that Christina and I would have about our group of cats as a whole, now that Bastion’s missing from that group. We used to make jokes about “being surrounded by 3 Billion Kitties!”, where Midnight was half-a-billion, Bastion was one billion, and Gremlin was one-and-a-half billion (because of their relative sizes). We used to refer to the three of them as “Wee, Not-So-Wee, and FRICKIN’ HUGE!”, from an old Saturday Night Live skit with Mike Meyers and Patrick Stewart. We’d make comments about having “three kitties but only two hands” when they were all begging for attention at once.

I hadn’t really realized how much emotional support I got from Bastion until he was gone. That feeling of love I talked about earlier was an amazing force for self-esteem. It was almost impossible to feel down or angry or frustrated when Bastion was head-butting us in the face, or lying on his back stretching out his paws to us for a hug. If there were ever a moment when I was having a tough time and needed a buoy, he’d be there for me.

Our other animals have always served other roles in the family. Gremlin has always been the stalwart – yes, he loves attention and loves us back, but he’s got his own things to do. Midnight has always been the adorable little girl, and she definitely loves attention – but only on her own terms. Colt has always been the most empathetic of the lot, but that also means his emotions kind of mirror ours: if we’re happy he’s upbeat; if we’re sad, he’s sad too. Bastion was the light. He was always in a good mood, and always did his best to make sure you were, too. His loss leaves a hole in my life that will never be filled, and will take a long time to pave over.

This is why it’s so hard for me to understand anyone who utters the phrase “just a cat”. For us, pets are family. As much family as any other member. We allow ourselves an attachment, a love and deep connection, to our animals that makes them a part of our hearts. To not do so would seem pointless, and do both them and us a disservice. If not for that connection, then why have animals in your life? That connection makes for a terrible sense of loss when they leave us, and sometimes we feel like others look at us askance for grieving so hard. To those people, I say: You can fuck right off. But I digress.

For both Christina and I, Bastion is the first pet we’ve ever lost who we were solely responsible for. For me, that means I’ve spent every moment since he died feeling like I let him down. What if I’d been more diligent? Would he still be with us if I’d taken him to the vet fifteen minutes, or two hours, or two days, or a week earlier? Are all of these warning signs that I’m seeing in hindsight things I should’ve caught in the moment? How could I not have seen? Why wasn’t I paranoid enough?

That feeling of responsibility – and, frankly, guilt – indescribably magnifies the grief I feel at his loss. I’ve cried every single day since we lost him. I knew Bastion was getting old, and I didn’t expect him to live forever… but I did expect more time than we got. People can talk about his “long life” until they’re blue in the face, but it will never assuage that horrible feeling that we still could’ve (maybe?) had just a little more time with him. If only I hadn’t failed in my duty as his caretaker.

The only small solace we have is that we were with Bastion when he died. We’d just given him his nightly dose of medicine for his renal condition. He was weak, and we both laid down on the bed with him to give him our attention. We laid there petting him, hoping that he’d feel a little better. I worried about him, trying to decide whether he needed to go to the vet right then, happy that I’d made an appointment for him for the next day. Thinking I’d made the right decision.

I honestly believe that our presence – surrounding him with love – helped him decide it was time to let go. We rushed him to the emergency vet, but somehow I knew we weren’t getting him back. Before he finally passed away, we both had the chance to lean down with a hand on his side, pet him one last time, and tell him goodbye right in his ear. To tell him that we will always love him.

I have absolutely no insight on grief. I have no way to know how long I’m supposed to feel this way, or how to move past it, or if I’m over-reacting to his passing. I have questions that will never be answered, and all I can hope is that he enjoyed his time on Earth. That he wasn’t angry at (or worse, scared of) us for the times we scolded him or yelled at him or shushed him or swatted him. Whether or not the love we felt for him was conveyed, and made up for the times when we were impatient or frustrated with him. No one but him can tell us whether we gave him a good life.

But now, he’s gone. And we have to try and figure out how our life will balance out without him here. Colt is worried about us – you can see it in his eyes, in how he approaches us, in his posture. Midnight is still kind of aloof, but is looking for more attention than she ever has before, needing some sort of connection. Gremlin misses his brother. He’ll stand in the middle of the bedroom – their domain – and cry, just meowing and meowing until I come in and spend a little time to calm him down. He never used to do that.

And I’m stuck in a sort of constant state of mild panic about them. Gremlin’s diabetic, and Midnight has a cardiac consult next week for a heart murmur in addition to a milder form of the same renal issues that Bastion suffered from. Colt’s a little overweight, but in pretty good shape. But the suddenness of Bastion’s passing shot a spike of fear through my heart that leaves me manic, a knot of worry settling into my gut that won’t loosen. I question every little movement, every moment, wondering if it’s out of the ordinary or just another day. Wondering if I’m doing enough. Wondering if I’ll be able to take care of them.

I’m not sure if writing this will be damaging or cathartic. I know I wanted to write it, but I have no idea whether it will help. At this moment in time, I don’t think much of anything will. All that’s left to do now is to say:

Goodbye, sweet boy. We all love you with all of our hearts, and we will miss you forever.
bastion_6_small

TSP Ep. 100: Preacher – Our Final Episode!

preacher_coverEpisode 100 of Trade Secrets is now available! On our FINAL EPISODE, the TSP crew discusses the danger of slavish devotion to characters, the past five years of podcasts, and Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon’s seminal Vertigo book PREACHER!

The Trade Secrets Podcast crew would like to thank all of our listeners and guests for participating in the show over the last (almost) five years. This has been an incredible ride for all of us, and we’re glad to have been able to entertain you for so long. Feel free to post your thoughts for the crew on Twitter, Facebook, or e-mail us at tradesecrets@geekerific.com.

Subscribe to the show on iTunes or by clicking on the feed to the right, or download this individual episode HERE!