Thursday, May 18, 2006

Alternate realities

First, let me link downward to my ramblings about The Da Vinci Codesince I and others have been pointing people to it.

Now, on to my random musings of the day.

It's possible that my "midlife crisis," such as it is, began one day when we lived in Berkeley. I was walking through the city (what a beautiful city; I miss it) and thinking about crows. Wondering what kind of social groups they form, how they've adapted to life in an urban environment, that sort of thing. Neurons associated with that memory seem to be closely linked with neurons associated with the memory of reading something about how smart crows are: they can figure out how to get something hanging on the end of a string by pulling on the string, holding it in place with a foot, then pulling more, repeating until the tasty morsel is in reach.

The point of this being that, at that point, I started constructing an alternate identity for myself: an urban ornithologist. I'd study crows and other birds that adapted to urban environments. (I heard on the Scientific American podcast just yesterday morning that those populations are among the few bird populations that aren't in trouble due to human expansion, as you'd expect, I suppose.) 

Over the years, I have imagined other alternate identities. Around the same time, I started working through The Vein of Gold, a sequel to The Artist's Waythat's about unlocking your creativity. (Never made it all the way through; can't really recommend for or against.) One of the things that book asked me to write about was, "If I had 5 other lives to lead, I would be..." My answers, on 2/20/1999:
(a) an astronomer (SETI, cosmology)
(b) an ornithologist! (crow behavior)
(c) a computer programmer
(d) a bestselling novelist
(e) a composer

The ornithologist one is actually kind of amusing, because I was really into birds when I was in elementary school, and thought at the time that I wanted to be an ornithologist when I grew up. 

So the other day I was thinking about the question again. I alluded to the professor of New Testament alternate life in an earlier entry. I've got a random new one: A cultural anthropologist. Specifically, I'm fascinated by the little crosses you see erected on the roadside to commemorate someone's death on the road. There's one I pass every morning driving my son to school, and I noticed the other day that it's been cleaned up, maybe replaced. Who's doing it? When do they come? Why that site, rather than a grave? Is there a message it's intended to convey? How does it fit in to rituals and psychological processes of grieving? 

Wow, look what I found. Fascinating! Oh, and this one too.

Science tends to play a big role in my alternate realities, which is also kind of funny, because of how fully I turned my back on science in college and since. Maybe one could argue that I have embraced the emotional, spiritual, and creative parts of my personality while neglecting the rational-scientific. One of the things I really enjoyed about doing web and multimedia design was that I felt that work used "both sides of my brain"—the creative aspect was in perfect synergy with the technical work. To an extent, I think that's true of game design. So maybe my recent renewal of interest in science serves to counterbalance all the creative energy I've spent writing novels and such. :)

So the professor of New Testament is an alternate career I could theoretically still pursue. The others seem less realistic somehow. Well, bestselling novelist isn't too far-fetched, I guess, especially depending on how far down the New York Times bestseller list you still consider to be "bestselling." 

All right, enough rambling. Quickly: I've been back at work this week, with my back mostly better. Still some discomfort, and I'm writing this from my accustomed place on the couch, knees up. But I actually think that it's helped to be up and around. And it's been good for my spirits (and spirit) to be back at work and out of the house and such. I'm still working on an outline for my next Eberron novel, but I hope to start writing in earnest within the next couple of weeks. I started a new WoW character on Khaz Modan so that I can, once again, play with others. Play Horde on Khaz Modan? I'm Shazu, currently a 9th-level troll shaman. The weather has been beautiful the last several days. This afternoon, a quorum of the D&D design staff held our twice-weekly meeting at Baskin Robbins. I didn't even notice any funny looks as we talked about dwarves and elves. 

Hey, on that topic: What races do you play? What goes into your decision of what race to play? How much is it a mechanical choice, and how much do you make the decision based on other factors ("I like dwarves" "Elves look cool" "Goliaths have a really interesting culture")? Beyond the mechanics, what do you feel it's most important for you to know about a new race if you're going to play one?


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