Issue 49 - 02/16/23

What Newsletters May Come

  • darling,
  • A List of Things I Like About Swan Upon Leda by Hozier
  • Holier Than Thou
  • Am I Tired Of Life, or From It
  • From the Vaults: 581 Days
  • Some Dreams I've Had Recently
  • Lessons From the Iron Church
  • Smashmouth's Greatest Hits, Vol. II
  • Happy Birthday Alex God Bless America 8.16.22
  • Office Chart


Sam Spradling

come, take my dirty hands
don't be afraid
don't fear my nails, sharp and cracked,
caked with mud and my blood

relax, let me pull you down
join me here
deep in the earth
my pit of despair

see all that I have collected
shards of glass and yards of thread
the trinkets my mother passed on
now they belong to me

here, dig with me
shape your big hands into claws
I know they don't transform easily,
like mine do, but try

does it hurt when you rip into the ground,
snagging fingers on rock and root?
it used to hurt me too,
I imagine, I can't remember

I remember
nothing can stop the excavation
so when you tire
lift handfuls of soil to your mouth and swallow it whole

doesn't it taste good?

don't you feel full?

A List of Things I Like About Swan Upon Leda by Hozier

Chief Goose Correspondent Matt Spradling

Last year, Hozier announced this single thusly:

Egyptian journalist and author Mona Eltahawy once referred to the global systems that control and endanger women as the world's "oldest form of occupation."

Ever since hearing her speak in Dublin, I wanted to explore that thought in a piece.

I wrote Swan Upon Leda in Ireland a year ago and recorded it recently with producer Jenn Decilveo. We were tracking it in studio when the news came through of Roe v. Wade being overturned. I felt there was an opportunity to offer some show of solidarity.

We're reminded again by the protests in Iran that progressivism is a global movement. The recent pushbacks against civil liberties and human rights respect no boundaries or borders, and like all acts of control, violence and indeed all forms of occupation, their legacies can be immeasurable in both the personal and political spheres.

In poetry and art, the myth is more typically titled "Leda and the Swan"; rephrasing with "Upon" reframes the relationship as being more forceful as opposed to equal, peaceful, passive. This is reminiscent of the beginning of Yeats's poem which begins A sudden blow: the great wings beating still which is one way that Yeats imbues the myth with merited violence.

I like that there's a luscious studio version as well as a quieter, simpler acoustic version.

The lyrics are abstract enough and the music pretty enough that if you don't really glean what the song is about it feels like a beautiful bit of moody pastiche or collage but really this big oaf knew what he was doing.

The thread of the ultimate powerlessness of men begins with the very beginning of the song although we don't yet have the context to place it: A husband waits outside.

A crying child pushes a child into the night is such a blunt way of subverting that a child is anything other than a child whether they have the ability to be impregnated or not.

"Night" in this line is so evocative of not only a sort of dire outlook on the darkness of the world in the macro sense, but also of secrecy and resistance.

I love the way She was told he would come this time Without leaving so much as a feather behind subtly implies a non-consensual conception but you almost miss it because it is done so beautifully and even by incorporating the overarching symbolism of the swan - Zeus, man, oppressor, liar.

To enact, at last, the perfect plan, One more sweet boy to be butchered by men frames the oppression of women and cycle of violence - you may call it patriarchy - as being profoundly cruel and damaging to boys as well, an all around loss of innocence.

The gateway to the world, (childbirth), Was still outside the reach of him, Would never belong to angels, Had never belonged to men / The swan upon Leda, Empire upon Jerusalem. I'm not refreshed on the history of Jerusalem (perhaps this is going so far as to allude to Palestine and Israel/England) but this is broken down even more clearly in the final chorus: The swan upon Leda, occupier upon ancient land. These draw in the primary symbolism of the song and are central to its thesis. The realm of childbirth belongs purely to women, and gods and religion cannot change that, let alone men. Had never belonged to men pulls a bright thread loose and unravels the false tapestry of male-centric human history.

I like the sheer mystic reverence childbirth is treated with throughout.

A grandmother smuggling meds Past where the god child soldier, Setanta, stood dead depicts a harsh reality necessitating a grandmother to smuggle medicine, probably related to abortion or birth control. I'd recommend asking my good friend wikipedia but Setanta here references the Irish mythological figure, a boy who became a deity and famous warrior in exchange for shortened life, and who died fighting to turn away invaders and becoming a symbol of Irish independence. I like that this simultaneously works with the threads of 1. Harm to children, devoured by a machine which so often does not care about them, 2. The failure to defend against occupation, the reminders of which exist all around us but go overlooked and forgotten, and 3. The futility of violence and God and man alike: even mythologized and left standing, what power does Setanta still have to aid or hinder this story at present? It is not patriarchal violence but matriarchal care that persists truly essential to life and which carries its power, healing a subversion of harm. Someone's frightened boy waves her on, She offers a mother's smile, and soon she's gone.

Of course I'm picking it apart to death but this is all written and performed in such a natural way that I think you're able to feel the meaning woven throughout it when listening even if only in vague flashes.

I'm a sucker for when phrases are repeated between choruses but bookended with different lines and contexts, so that you get the best of both the repetition and the increased lyrical real estate, plus the the new play on the old line(s). This is very much the case with When nature unmakes the boundary, The pillar of myth still stands / The swan upon Leda, Occupier upon an ancient land.

The pillar of myth still stands runs so deliciously into The swan upon Leda, acting as its descriptor. I take the pillar of myth to refer to patriarchal myth and history, i.e. Leda and the Swan, which still persists even when the natural counteracts its contrivances. The other bookend to The swan upon Leda - Occupier upon ancient lands - also labels this system unnatural and unjust. I think "The pillar" also presents an ambiguity - it is typically used in this way to mean something that is central and fundamental, but to me it also evokes fragility and artificiality in contrast to the natural and immutable. What is myth but that which we believe, uphold, and pass on? Why does it persevere? What is to stop us from altering this?

I like the way the fingerpicking arpeggio just traipses along no matter what, undeterred, almost happily.

It is also interesting that the unmade boundary and the pillar mirror terms from Yeats's poem: The broken wall, the burning roof and tower, which is sexual symbolism as well as mythological.

I like that when I first heard this song I thought it was pretty enough but it didn't really grab me, then months later Sam had to explain that it was actually great and I was being a big dumb music idiot.

When I first heard the song, I didn't like that the words in the chorus were somewhat obscured by the sweeping orchestra, which felt like bad mixing, but, despite still being undeniably beautiful, this too works thematically. In the chorus, Hozier harmonizes with himself, one track whispering, the other crying out. Much like Yeats' poetry, this song is both intimate and epic, gentle and rapturous, ancient and timely. Every thread of the song is woven with dichotomy and tension. It is unfair that certain people can be so talented and also so hot. I think you should choose one or the other, like Jack Graelish, or youtubers.

Holier Than Thou

Chief Hole Correspondent Wendy Fernandez

I want to begin by saying thank you for having me, I'm really excited for this opportunity, add me on LinkedIn, those aren't mine officers, no I haven't seen that show, and hi mom.

With that comfortably out of the way, we can get started. The first, and arguably only, thing you need to know about what's happened since issue 48 is this: the gods tried yet again to strike me down and failed spectacularly. I trust they've learned their lesson and will leave me alone for the near future, but the battle was well fought.

Because of this ecclesiastical blunder, I realized there is only one constant in my life, can you guess what it is? Is it love? Sunshine? Human suffering? According to the turtle Benny boy, it could be death or taxes. Maybe it's how your pocket always catches on the doorknob when you're in a bad mood or the humiliating prospect of being the first to turn something in. While all these are valid and universal experiences (except for cave bats, who I'm pretty sure have never experienced sunshine, unless they're that female migratory species), what I'm talking about is even greater than the controlling heavens themselves.

Yes dear reader, this is an article about holes.

In my parents' backyard there's a little white shed. It's nearly 20 years old, rusty, about three feet in front of the fence, and for a brief moment in time, housed a 10 foot long rat snake under the floorboards. The snake is inconsequential even though the shed is not. As a child, I would steal the garden trowel and scurry behind the shed, out of my mother's view. The grass didn't grow well back there, so the ground was beautifully exposed. And I would dig.

I'm not sure if I started digging because I thought I could reach China like my classmates had told me or if I liked the smell of earth, but either way, the backyard hole started to grow and I was proud. Then one day, I went out there to discover the hole had been filled in - a complete and utter betrayal by my own family. Clearly my dad had found my pride and joy and patched the yard up, but I was never the same and neither of us ever mentioned it. I still think about that hole.

Of course there were other notable holes throughout my life: the hole in my favorite blanket that caused my mom to give it away, the hole in the movie theater seat I got my pinky stuck in during Peter Pan 2: Return to Never Land, and the hole in my mouth I'm playing with as I type this. Holes are beautiful and all around us.

On a larger scale outside of myself, holes are all encompassing and inescapable. There's a universe theory that argues space is closed in on itself creating a three dimensional donut shape. A shape famously featuring a hole. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't that the premise of the Oscar Winner for Best Picture film Everything Everywhere All at Once? And what in this universe is bigger than Hollywood?

I'm excited to say I work in a place with a famous magic hole, although I won't give you any more details, not even if you ask politely. In fact, the majority of my past jobs all had a hole with a story. No matter how terrifying the holes were, I wanted nothing more than to crawl inside and find comfort in the crevasse. While I abstained in these professional settings, I've enjoyed my time spelunking in caves across the country. Caves are nothing more than nature's holes, a welcome respite to the everythingness of all the rest.

Now, the gods and I aren't on speaking terms because they tried to take away a hole. One of three extremely important holes I won't describe in any detail. It did not go unnoticed, and it was not appreciated. Some things aren't meant to be filled up, sometimes, holes keep us alive. So until the gods give me a reason to believe in them once more, I will continue to naysay against the unjust pantheon. I am the uncanny vision of Shelley's Modern Prometheus.

From ear piercings to heartache (ba dum tss) to other bodily orifices, holes are too often overlooked for their importance to our existence. Except by the gods apparently. Like the salad in Willy Wonka, holes are a very real and integral part of my being. They're fun to laugh at in the moment, but only because you thought that as a chocolatier, I only ate sweets.

Am I Tired Of Life, or From It

Chief Deity Correspondent Alex Speed

There are not many things I miss about living in the Bozeman. However, the things I do miss feel heavier than something like my favorite beer or the feeling of landing a jump on skis. It is much easier to romanticize your life when the first thing you see every morning is the sunrise over the mountains from the window you blow your cigarette smoke out of. You can position yourself as the title character in an epic coming of age movie when you have the option of very literally just running away into the woods whenever you please. Leaving Montana had a sneaky Idealization Exodus side effect I only notice in my more practical environment.

So how do you keep doing life when you lose the spark attached to the ignorance of reality? I'm glad you asked. Here is a list, you dumb idiot.

1.) Get really in to plants

Y'all heard about plants? Plants are like micro-dosing actual pet ownership except you can just have like thirty of them. These little immobile guys just live in my house with me. Despite their large presence, they have very few needs outside of sunlight and water, both delivered at indeterminate intervals. The big added bonus here is on some level you are god to these plants. You control the sun and water and earth (you can also wield fire in this quest although it is not advised) to best suit the needs of your underlings. Also they look cool as hell and serve partially as a distraction to being fully present to the crushing weight of being alive.

2.) Decide that you are going to train for a half marathon in a very short amount of time and make that your whole personality

Sometimes being some sort of horticultural deity just isn't enough. In these situations you should go ahead and strap on your favorite pair of running shoes and obliterate every joint and bone in your body to prove a point! You might find some guides online that will tell you to definitely not try to do this in under six weeks if you are an overweight alcoholic who's favorite pastime is cigarettes - go ahead and ignore those.

I recently read a memoir from a big time Japanese author that centers around running and how it made him a good writer (is it working yet?) and since I have a lizard brain I just decided to start running. Long distance running is actually about rhythm and being a big stubborn idiot so I feel like the best way to actually prepare for a half marathon is...start listening to jazz? I dunno - that's what I am doing. Yesterday I ran six miles and today I can sort of walk so I would say I'm winning this one.

3.) Stop going to therapy.

Kind of a curveball, right? Let's be honest though, all a therapist is going to do is encourage you to "work through these feelings" and try to give you "a safe space to objectively evaluate your own actions and experiences" pretty stupid! If you really want to find new ways to circumvent the feeling of abject banality you should stop participating in any of that and just revert to any and all coping mechanisms you picked up in your "prime." Did you use to just break stuff as an angry teenager? Hell yeah dude, go ahead and give that another shot. You ever internalize every bad thing that has ever happened to you so intensely you can't be in the presence of even your closest friends? Let's take that out for a victory lap. Remember being a child and just having a full on mental breakdown in a Target? You already know.

4.) Do a bunch of drugs and watch all the Rocky movies in one day

I have decided to become one of those guys who has no art on the walls other than a too big to be not framed movie poster from any of the six Rocky movies. Watching any Rocky film is like mainlining hope. All of a sudden you believe in your ability to maybe do something. If Rocky can do it I can do it, this guy hangs pictures with knives and very clearly can't read - and he becomes the best boxer in the world? Even though he can't read? Fucking get me my pen I'm ready to start trying again.

From the Vaults: 581 Days

Chief Boston Correspondent Trevor Donoghue

I stopped drinking in November 2020 after building a career in the food and beverage industry over the previous 6 years. Right out of college, I had a summer internship at the venerated Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Hoping to pursue a career in youth education with the Ancient Histories department, I secured a B.A. in Classical Studies. The MFA was my favorite place in the city, and had been ever since I was a kid. They say you should never meet your heroes, but I didn't think that applied to buildings. I hated everything about it, and have never been back since the end of that summer. I abandoned the pursuit of museum work, and applied for work at this cool beer-centric seafood restaurant that I had heard of. I was still in shock that I could have been so wrong, and so naive about...everything. Beer seemed cool, and since I was a huge Bourdain fan, I had always wanted to work in restaurants. I thought I would just work there for some cash and some clout while I figured something out. It turns out that this restaurant was known for its extremely high standards for their servers, and required rigorous continuing education. Exploring other cultures and the world of beer was a perfect fit for my interest in ancient history and education. I worked my way up from busser to head server at one of the best restaurants in Boston, known for its extensive, award-winning beer program. It was here that I regularly drank some of the best beers in the country, and by extension, established personal connections with purveyors of some of the finest beer in the world. This was also where a habit started that would never be controlled again.

After two years on the scene, I would start describing myself as a food and beverage professional, and started to pursue the beer industry more seriously. I quit my job at that beer-centric spot to help my friend open his first restaurant. He was a talented young chef, and the new restaurant felt like a great opportunity to advance my career, nevermind feeling like an adventure. I worked for three months with an incredibly driven and knowledgeable group of industry professionals, and then finally opened the doors of the new spot in January 2018. While at this restaurant, I became Cicerone Level One certified (this ladder being to beer what the sommelier program is to wine) and took three wine classes at Boston University. I was also drinking more than I ever had in my life, even more than college. I had to drink to "study", had to drink to learn about the world of beer, wine and cocktails, and had to drink to keep my finger on the pulse of the scene. I wouldn't drink during shifts, but when the kitchen closed, it was an almost constant flow of whatever I wanted because of the power I now had in the restaurant. It was here that I started to realize that I may have a problem, but I shook it off because I was finding success and having fun. My Dad is a pretty philosophical guy, except most of his thoughts on life are hilariously put through the lens of sports. I think it's the only way he can contextualize a lot of things. In those last days at the restaurant I helped open, an old adage of his came to me - he would say, "Pass when you can, not when you have to." The idea being don't wait until it's too late to make your move. He's a big hockey fan lol. It suddenly applied to my career choice, and two weeks later, I applied and secured a job for a brewery. I thought getting out of the restaurant world would be the change I needed. I was getting closer to my truth, but was still not quite there.

I started work for a Chicago brewery as a Sales Rep, and the entire state of Massachusetts was my territory. The beer was okay, and sold pretty well. I now had even more access to alcohol, and was drinking so much beer that I gained 20 pounds in the 13 months I worked there. It became harder and harder to ignore the growing problem, literally the growing problem. After over a year, I moved down to Austin with my girlfriend, and that was almost three years ago now. I started at a food tech startup and was there for 6 months before COVID cratered their workforce. Now laid off with nothing to hide behind to make excuses for my ever-present drinking (no, not even calling myself a bon vivant or an epicurean), I continued to imbibe. Beer had become such a huge part of my life over the years. I was known amongst my friends as the "beer guy" - knowledgeable, passionate...someone you would text asking if they've heard of this new beer you've been loving. To stop entirely seemed impossible, as I would have to completely reboot my social life. Like many others in 2020, I decided I needed to make a positive change, and I went for it. Now, I've been alcohol-free for 581 days, and have learned so much about myself. If you're curious about what the first few weeks were like, how my super Irish family took the news, and what it's like to go to a bachelor party in Scottsdale and be the only sober one, TUNE IN TO THE NEXT EDITION OF THE NEWSLETTER.

Some Dreams I've Had Recently

Chief Sandman Fanfic I Assume Correspondent Marina Martinez

Matt said it was time for some nonsense so let me introduce you to the MCU - the Marina Cinematic Universe. Everyone has long established thriller plots to their dreams, I'm pretty sure. I can't wait to read this article later, sober.

The first thing you gotta know about my dreams is that I'm always running. That's very funny and ironic if you know me. Maybe some of the chases are meant to be nightmares but I'm always on the lam from something or someone. Usually it's from the government, or some unknown organization, but sometimes it's a specific person. None of the scenarios are preferable. One of the longer established B plots to my dreams is that I know something or somehow have some quality that this cult wants, so they keep going after people I love and following me around the world, trying to manipulating me into getting captured. I've already established that I have a mild case of MCS (main character syndrome), so this Chosen One bullshit is just that but worse. Sometimes the story ends with me being sacrificed after a long chase and having been cornered on the roof. This is one of the scarier variations, and it usually takes place in a theater or a large school campus.

That brings us to the second hallmark of an MCU production: the locations ALWAYS stress me out. I work in the fine arts at a university so the fact that most of my dreams take place in and around theaters and school buildings probably shouldn't be surprising. Sometimes I'm a student that gets cornered after class, other times I'm at the school for parent teacher conferences and they come for me like Neo in the Matrix. Luckily, the venue of the chase is always laid out sort of like a video game, and my subconscious knows enough about those to help my dream-self navigate the level layout. Even the worst ones, which take place in space or out at sea, those are Mirror's Edge-like enough where I have hope for the vast majority of the hunt. I like stealth action games a lot, so that's always a big component, me hiding silently from patrols. It must be nice to have peaceful dreams where nobody is trying to kill you.

Despite all the action and intrigue, I think whoever's writing the overarching plot has gotten sloppy. Sometimes there are filler episodes where I'm caught quickly and have time to piece together a few bits of information before things get reset. Other times it seems like the writers are trying to get better ratings with certain demographics and they try for a romance plot. There's a sub-genre of dreams that still involve being hunted, but in these I am pregnant (no I don't want to examine that too closely!) and someone or something is protecting me? I will not be thinking about any implications, tyvm. I enjoy the brief respite of constantly being on guard but it's always just really lazy and I hate being queerbaited in my own head. If the writing team was any good they'd start dropping hints about why I'm being chased in the first place, or maybe about who tf is after me to begin with. Or maybe even give me a consistent sidekick so I'm not always paranoid by everyone that interacts with me.

I would love to have dreams where I didn't feel like I was being constantly watched and judged, I have enough of that when I'm awake. Ideally, dreams shouldn't have plots. Dreams should be fun and forgettable and leave you just a tad less anxious than you were before you went to sleep. I love a good scary story, but what I appreciate even more is just a chill time. I want to dream that I'm reading a book in the window seat, glancing up every so often to take in the snow falling gently outside. I want to dream about my friends and I playing laser tag or dancing around a campfire and all of us can breathe and stand and exist normally and without pain or worry. I want a dream where I pull off an impossible heist, am rich, and can live comfortably in a French chateau with my 37 cats and 7 lovers and the wizard Herman who lives in the tallest tower and gives me magic lessons in exchange for strawberry pop tarts.

Dreams are stories, stories are ghosts, I don't have a point to all this. Oh, wait! I forgot to mention: in all of my dreams, regardless of the plot or setting or content, there's one constant. In my dreams, I can always fly. I once ran so far that I managed to fly away to a place where there were no hunters and nobody ever chased me, but then my cat woke me up by puking directly next to my head. Make of that what you will.

Lessons From the Iron Church

Chiefs Health Correspondent Matt Spradling & Alex Speed

I have been going to the gym for a few months now. This was a well-intentioned business idea struck with Alex over a subpar Chili's lunch experience around Thanksgiving that I think left us a little wanting for purpose. I had not been inside of an actual gym since sophomore year of high school many eons ago, instead opting to haphazardly work out at home between bouts of running, but managing that can be pretty tricky if you have a "weird body" or you "don't know what you're doing" or you generally lack "discipline" which I think is the name of an SSRI?

The main reasons I did not utilize a gym in the last decade mostly had to do with laziness and anxiety around not knowing how to use most of the machines and not wanting to do the things I did know how to do, like the bench press, without a spotter. Why subject myself to either yelling for help from strangers (I would rather go down with the ship and die) or crying and trying to roll the bar off of me like a playdough man getting tortured by a vindictive child with a kitchen roller (god) when instead I could simply do a silly little push up and get on with my life?

Well bröther, what if I told you that you could solve all those problems at once by making business deals at Chili's? That's right, it worked for me and it will work for you too. This is just one preview of the advice and wisdom I aim to offer you. Going to the gym can come with so many different challenges: how do I start? How do I maintain consistency? How do I operate that one scary machine that feels like you're in a mech suit but the explosions are in your abs? What do I do with my hands and eyes when all the machines and benches are occupied and I have to just stand there waiting? And of course, how do I get ripped like a bounced check?

Ultimately, we all just want to be successful, healthy, and happy, and there's no one single avenue to arrive there. Grab the thin flashlight because you'll have to do some looking inside of yourself to figure out what will really be best for you based on your goals. That said, keep on reading, and I hope we'll be able to help answer some of your questions!

1. You have to take anabolic steroids

Smashmouth's Greatest Hits, Vol. II

Chief Empire of Dirt Correspondent Marina Martinez

It's been a while.

Newsletter Issue 43 readers will recall a brief summary of our D&D campaign's greatest (physical) hits: their trials and tribulations, my victories and headaches. If you don't remember, I might as well do a quick recap, since...a lot has changed since then.

Here are the player characters that make up Smashmouth, Adventurers at Law, (est. February 2020 and yeah Wendy made us a fucking wiki page):

Genevieve 'Gen' Fairbook: a halfling ranger/cleric. Possessions: Gork the Dog, southern accent, blindness, sick Papa, main character complex. (Played by Sami McKenzie)

Bea Ornoughtoby: rock gnome bard. Aliases: Bea Ornoughtoby, Boss, Winnie Wumpus, Avon, Mommy. (Played by Wendy Fernandez)

Dircc: half orc warlock. Hobbies: hanging out with his friends, talking to his Rock, flirting his way across Exandria, Incepting the Dreams of His Friends and Enemies Alike. (Played by Matt Spradling)

Champ the Scamp: tiefling rogue/barbarian. In 3 words: Filthy. Purple. Child. Illiterate. (Played by Sam Spradling)

Without further ado:


(The 'hit', once again, refers to me hitting my face with my palm.)

(This list serves to both summarize the party's adventures since last time and also to give me a place to publicly drag my friends for their antics.)

10. Adopted a Daddy.

Last we left off, the gang had pulled off a very stupid heist at a very fancy gala and ran into a cloaked figure while fleeing the scene. Surprise! It's Mephisteg (aka Greg)...Champ's Dad!

Yes, I DID take advantage of some irl daddy issues in order to make my good friend cry! I admit it! This is what the dang game was made for: group therapy. Greg was a very sweet dad who only abandoned his son in order to protect him. After several terse moments, tearful hugs, and pinky promises, Greg agrees to accompany Smashmouth, provided they help get revenge for Champ's mother's murder.

Look, I know he's a kid and I should've been nicer with his backstory but literally what else was I supposed to do, give him a happy childhood??? He's 10, there's plenty of time for happiness later. After all the sadness. >:)

9. Set a house on fire (with half the party inside).

When you're on a top secret mission to kill your grandfather the count, sometimes guards spot you sneaking in! That's just life! I understand that fight, flight, or freeze is the generally accepted set of responses to a surprising situation, but somehow 'arson' is this group's instinctive response. Anyway yeah they set the room they were in on fire while other party members were in the attic having a very difficult moment. Everyone got out but this is when I realized that the easiest way to TPK everyone was to ask them to attempt a stealth mission.

8. Evaded a guard by being disGUSTing.

I don't think any player was sober at this point. All they had to do was walk across the street for a boss fight, but they managed to get stopped by some guards. I intended for them to have a little scuffle on the street, but Champ had obviously reached his limit. He covered himself with every bodily fluid he could think of in an instant and cried. (The mental image of Sam describing Champ 'pissin' n shiddin' n frowwin' up' while cry-laughing is unfortunately fresh in my mind.) Obviously, the guards threw up in their mouths and left. I hate my friends.

Also! They 'won' the boss fight by dropping a possessed man from hundreds of feet in the air. This was simultaneously cheating and also the only(?) strategy I think they've ever shown in combat.

7. Raided a toy store.

I don't know what's sillier here - the fact that they fought magically haunted dolls in a toy store, the fact that they almost lost, or the fact that the toy store (secretly) belonged to one of the party members. It was a silly side quest meant to lead them to a PC-related NPC interaction and a major plot device, so naturally they won the fight with a simple 'dispel magic' and looted the store.

I'm glad they got to have some fun before I made their lives miserable!

6. Got silly with some sewer puzzles.

We were two years into the campaign, we NEEDED a sewer quest! I threw in some silly traps, very aware that they had a rogue who could easily spot and disarm them.

COULD was the operative word here, because this is Smashmouth we're talking about. Nobody does what you expect them to do at any given time. What was I thinking.

They ran into every single trap I set. In one of the last rooms, there were levers on the far wall that released rat and spider traps. Champ pulled a lever, Bea got attacked by the trap. Did he disarm the trap? No. He pulled the lever again.

5. Stabbed a PC's brother and bit a vampire.

Bea Ornoughtoby was, supposedly, a level-headed and pragmatic character. Wendy, however, was Angry and complaining about how she was having a Bad Time (in a fun way! This is a fun game!). Once the party got to the final door before a boss fight, what did Bea do? What do you think? Did she strategize with her friends about how to take on this very bad and evil guy? Did she stay towards the back of the group since she was in need of major healing from all of the sewer traps?

Of fucking course she didn't.

Bea kicked open the door, stabbed the first person she saw (Gen's brother), and bit the other guy (vampire).

4. Vampire bit back.

[shrug emoji] This one's on me, I guess. But if somebody comes up to me and chomps, my instinct is to chomp right back. Nobody can fault this decision!

Unfortunately, Bea did kinda take damage from the bite (and also a swarm of little creatures) and died. More unfortunately, because she died after having been bit by a vampire...


3. Put on a ring. /cursed

After that little snafu in the sewers, the gang was understandably sidetracked from the main quest. They followed some clues to a village, trying to track down a ring that was possibly the source of Bea's current skin condition (she burns in the sun). It was a very cute side quest! Champ made a friend, Gen caught up with her little brother, Dircc ruined a marriage (probably), and they found an ancient ring underground that had burned a bunch of people to cinders.

Anybody could have put this ring on. I promise I had plans for what happened in each case, but you already know who put the ring on. It's the person who keeps getting into shit. What consequences will this have for our newly permanent vampire? Only time (or me, if I'm high enough) will tell.

2. Fought a lawyer in their own toy factory.

Daddy Greg gently guided the party back towards the main quest, which happened to align pretty well with a PC side quest in Hupperdook, a city of invention and innovation and also a large and mysterious toy factory. After the extremely satisfying reveal that Bea had in fact been the Exandria-equivalent of Willy Wonka the whole time, the gang had to break into Bea's factory to figure out what the heck was happening with her employees.

Spoiler alert: their souls were transferred into automatons. It was done by a lawyer turned factory owner, Strike Gently, who was under the magical influence of The Bad Guy.

OH also: Strike Gently (played by Dalton Allen) is a libertarian human artificer. Well, was? It's unclear, I think they murdered him after he (legally) took over Bea's factory, did a bunch of shady (legal) shit, and then sewed as much discord within the party as possible. It was all very silly but I'm always happy when everyone is actually forced to roleplay during this roleplaying game.

1. Promised the bad guys they'd stop fighting them. Forever.

A pretty bold move, if you ask me. A seemingly necessary one, since an entire cult of Bad Guys (and a beholder) had taken Greg and Gen's dog, Gork, hostage. I absolutely did not expect Champ to say yes when the Bad Guy was like 'I'll let them go if you promise to stop fighting us and foiling our evil schemes' but that is exactly what happened! I'm not bitter about the extensive combat scenario I'd planned being scrapped. Not at all. I definitely won't take this out on the party later.


And that's it, essentially. Strike got mutinied, Dircc incepted the beholder's dream, Gen's Papa is Extremely Sick (it's been like 2 years jfc), Champ has his dad back (again), and Bea is undead and in a pact with a super chill guy who grants her special powers in exchange for complete and total compliance. Also Dircc and Bea are both missing significant gaps in their memory. Huh. How about that.

From the Vaults: Happy Birthday Alex God Bless America 8.16.22

Chief Stigmata Correspondent Matt McPradling

The man rose in the darkling predawn hours, moving over the barren landscape like a shadow cast by a lightless moon. Crows and other carrion flapped and protested amongst the underbrush, adjudicating the fate of the dead between the living and settling upon no lasting ruling.

His mouth was dry and he stopped to drink from his leather wrapped canteen atop a dry rocky climb. Pebbles and dust paraded behind him like an earthen cloak, the land reacting and adapting itself to his presence and spreading forth from the focal point of his passage out to influence the world. God is Change, he considered as he wiped the beer from his mustache hairs, grown long in the mountain isolation.

He arrived at the stream just as dawn began to wound the horizon beyond the heads of the pines like a great and awful belch building from the very belly of the earth. The water was cold as he forded through up to his knees, soaking his denim and boots. He fished here upon a time, not long ago in the reckoning of men. Before the arrival of the visitor cast a pall over the canyon that set a weight in his gut like deep gravity. Then there was deeper fishing to be done.

Hoisting the sloshing two-gallon canister off his back and onto the ground, he stretched stiff muscles and began the hunt for the entrance. Despite knowing his way forward and backwards through this land, its precise location never failed to elude his first guess, like the cliff face itself shifted and turned over in the night so that it may never open the way into its recesses in the same place twice. This day, it took only a minute of prodding along the overgrowth before the way was opened, a gaping hole spilling darkness down into the center of the earth like the cursed throat of some great primordial worm. He fetched the canister and beat the brush aside and began his descent.

For several minutes he tread through the passageway, carved by unseen and unremembered forces before the history of humankind began, that weight of gravity growing stronger and sharper in his gut. He was close.

Finally he felt the pitch dark about him expand abruptly outwards and found the sound of trickling water underfoot and felt the cold, warning caress of living air. He stepped apprehensively another meter and stopped, setting his liquid cargo once more upon the ground, careful not to make much noise. Why, he knew not - not rationally. But beyond the veil of mortal rationality a fundamental and elemental impetus insisted that this was not a place to bring change, to bring God.

A long moment lapsed as the man's heart beat in time with a drip of water from somewhere far above, lulling him into the type of trance only possible deep underground, bereft from daylight and senses and all bearing on the churning passage of the outside world. Without warning a great roar erupted echoing all around him and bleating around the craggy walls all about in blunt echoes and hammering into his soul with a power unsustainable and irresistible like a great and grinding steel machine undisturbed and undeterrable as it threshes mortal flesh and it beat upon his brow until the darkness took on a white flash of pressure and he was unaware that he had dropped to his knees and powerless to act he flinched and shook as the Light erupted into life around him like the radiance of heaven in two pure beams of white impaling him like an escaped convict and he felt his soul reel and tear away and he was lost again and untethered from the passage of time.

When he came to, he was on his hands and knees with his head low to the rocks as though bowed prostrate with great fear. Slowly he raised his head. The lights and the thunder remained, churning and chugging beneath his homeland and piercing him. He forced himself to stare back, in reverence or perhaps defiance, and gradually his ear grew tolerably adapted to the rippling beat of the thunder. He rose one leg and knelt. I've brought it, he said, voice parched.

Seconds passed before a voice replied, deep and formless as though it spoke not through the air but through hijacked synapse within his own frame. BRING IT FORTH.

He rose then in the arcane spotlight and bore the canister forward. As he passed out of the direct scrutiny of the light and drew alongside the being, his scorched and blinded eyes could not quickly enough adjust to make out color or detail more than vague form, but his practiced hand found the quarterpanel and cap without trouble. He unscrewed the lid of the canister which released pungent gasoline fumes and held it up to the form, slotting it inside and tilting it upwards. The sound of draining gas was quickly drowned out by a deep thrum.

The work did not take long, and when the fuel was spent and delivered he removed the canister and fastened the cap back to the vibrating body of the form before him in the darkness. YES. VERY GOOD. STAND BEFORE ME.

As the man passed back alongside the being, his eyes by now had shifted the caliber of their focus enough to make out details amidst the ambient lighting still being shed throughout the cave: a red hue which in proper lighting would be vibrant, and a jagged golden decal with two large numerals of 9 and 5. The shape of a window, a wheel. Then into the light once more.

Before the being he felt compelled to kneel once more.

YOU HAVE SERVED ME WELL LO THESE MANY MONTHS. I OWE THEE A BOON. WHAT WOULDST THOU KNOW BY ME? The voice was powerful but no longer overpowering, as though it meant no longer simply to cow the man. He pondered before speaking.

What manner of beast are you?


The man gulped and unfastened his canteen and took a long draught of rocky mountain lager. I have a few names. But folks mostly call me Speed. His voice was steady.

YOU ARE SPEED? The voice seemed to rise an octave, surprised, perhaps even amused or alarmed, just inscrutable in its alien transmission. THIS IS FORTUITOUS. A TRUEBORN DISCIPLE HAS COME IN MY HOUR OF NEED. FOR I AM SPEED, AND YOU SHALL BE MY PROPHET.

The arcane engine roared to life in a fit of excitement. The man smelled the faint but unmistakable scent of burning rubber, felt a shock in the earth like a crack had opened in some deep fissure, and briefly he pondered behind watering eyes about the speed of carbon dioxide buildup in underground sanctuaries of this nature. Yet above all these sensations, foremost was the gravity in his stomach, the pull, faint at first, that had brought him to this land years ago, pulled him listlessly by day and kept him fitful and unsatisfied of nights, pulling him here with circling and relentless accuracy until the epicenter had been found, and now the pull churned and settled with one last pang of force, all at once loosening his bladder and loosing its grasp on his being. He was bound now, sanctified, and nevermore would his soul be separated from Him.

What is your desire, Master? What goal shall I set my life's charge upon?


Without thought the man egressed and emerged from the tunnel into the daylight. Though far he walked, he never lost feel of the telltale rumbling from beneath the earth underfoot. For the first time in his life his true purpose was revealed to him, and he made his way home to fetch his car and make for the nearest large population center.

The gyre had reached its terminus; the new age had arrived. Birds wheeled through the sky overhead, their shrewd gazes cast across the ground for beings so small as to not comprehend their colossal existence, and all the while the alien sun beat down across their backs as it gnawed its path through the cosmos growing older and larger forever until its violent and wretched zenith.

Long Long Time - Linda Ronstadt


Beaumont - Hayes Carll

Have y'all ever heard of country music? It's like normal music but it is twangy and makes me feel like I am back on the ranch drinking ranch from a coors light can. This Hayes Carll song is that feeling if you injected it with 6 fl oz. of sadness and angst. "It was cold as hell for Houston, it was almost New Years Eve" I dunno man I just think that's nice.  -Alex

Holes: Dig It Up - Disney, Shia LeBeouf, The D-Tent Boys  -Wendy

Wolf Like Me - TV On The Radio

I think I already added the Lera Lynn cover of this a couple issues ago but the original kicks an equally enormous amount of ass that I did not fully appreciate until recently, and I have not listened to any other songs so far this year. Like watch this. There's nothing quite like it, even disappointingly within the rest of the band's discography as far as I've been able to find. Good lyrics. Words good. Good stuff. To me it's about any manner of addiction or temptation that sinks its claws into you, never fully letting up, and perhaps being contagious, even erotic. No I'm not into werewolves, unlike some of you.  -Matt

Brother - Olivier Deriviere

My favorite genre of media is when there are two characters and one of them is tiny and precious and secretly the most powerful and the other character is bigger or older and their only goal is to love and protect the smaller character at any cost. I also really like it when the music is good and makes me cry.  -Marina

You're So Vain - Carly Simon

What the FUCK is up with this song. This is maybe the best song of all time. The Lyrics? Brilliant and also funny. The vocals? MICK JAGGER sings BACKUP on this tune. The Instrumentation? This songs has everything. Big fun pianos. Crunchy electric guitar parts. A STRING SECTION!! Just a banger front to back.  -Alex

E. Watson - The Decemberists

I believe that Christmas through January is firmly Crane Wife's territory, which maybe would've been more thematic for this issue, but I'm going with this instead on Sam's behalf because she basically just tells me what music to like these days and is always right. This snuck out on an EP but is pretty much the peak of The Decemberists' more western period.  -Matt

The Way It Was - Gustavo Santaolalla

My favorite genre of media is when there are two characters and one of them is tiny and precious and secretly the most powerful and the other character is bigger or older and their only goal is to love and protect the smaller character at any cost. I also really like it when the music is good and makes me cry.  -Marina


Leda and the Swan, François Édouard Picot, 1829

The rest: I can't help it if you're not cultured