Did you ever want to improve something about yourself but you were just like... “ugh... how even...?” Maybe you wanted to exercise more, eat healthier food, reconnect with loved ones, or read a new book. Maybe you want to manage your time better or not feel as stressed out. I’ve been there so many times! I’ve tried a lot of different ways of eating healthy, establishing a workout routine, reconnecting with the people who matter in my life, and reaching out to others through social media.

If you’re up for it, I would like to propose a challenge.

I challenge you to play Dungeons and Dragons. To be specific, I challenge you to begin to see your life like an individualized and personalized version of D&D where you are the character and your ultimate quest is personal growth. Why D&D? I wish there was a peer-reviewed, published study I could cite, but I can only say that since I have been a part of the community, the main theme that comes up in conversations is how much D&D has helped people in many areas of life. I like D&D because not only is it fun, but it is structured and flexible in such a way that it allows for maximum growth while letting you make your own choices. I think it can be therapeutic because it also encompasses six major abilities that touch on areas that are very important to overall health in game and in real life: strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma. These are the areas that I challenge you to work on. These will be your quests.

Why would this be useful? Well, maybe it will and maybe it won’t. I know it helped me. One day a few years ago, way before I started to even play D&D but after I’d been exposed to it, I thought, “Why not apply this to my personal growth?” I did it when I wanted to feel healthier after I graduated with my doctorate, and it worked for me. I focused on eating better and doing more physical activity 3-4 times a week, and it was totally working. Recently, my life has changed a lot, and I realized there were some things I didn’t like and I needed to do something about it, and not just in the eating habits area, but other areas as well. I figured I would try this again because it’s worked for me before, and then I thought, if it’s helpful, why not tell everyone?!

This challenge will involve six quests, one to be completed each day, and each of which is meant to help you improve an aspect of yourself and your life. They’re not meant to be super transformative in and of themselves. They’re meant to give you a little push in the direction that you want to go. These are meant to help you make small changes that add up over time.

I broke this up into ten days, but you can do whatever works for you better:

Day 1) Build your Strength.
Do some kind of physical activity. It does not have to be a hardcore workout! It can be a short walk, or stretching. It can be something like getting out of bed in the morning, which, if you have ever struggled with depression, you know how difficult that can be. Try to move the parts of your body that you can move. Why is it important? Science shows us that movement helps increase your physical resilience, making you stronger. Not only does it improve your physical health, but studies show that physical activity affects mental health in positive ways. Regular physical activity has been shown to improve some of the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and it’s been suggested that it also helps decrease the likelihood of developing dementia later in life. This means that while you’re working on your physical strength, you are also improving your mental strength. So, for the first day do something physical that you wouldn’t ordinarily do, even if for you that means simply going outside for a few minutes. So, not hard, but maybe just a teeeensy bit challenging (but please don’t do anything so physically demanding that it would hurt you!).

Day 2) Improve your Dexterity.
Dexterity involves fine motor skills, such as eye-hand coordination, and overall physical and mental agility. It's an important ability because it involves balance, coordination, speed, control of your body, and quick thinking. It's about performance, but not just for people whose jobs require them to be physically coordinated. Mental agility is important too. It helps with adapting to new situations and solving problems. Activities like squeezing a stress ball or stretching rubber bands between your thumb and index finger, or other fingers might help improve these skills. Cutting paper, doing origami, or tracing objects may also help with those visual-motor skills. Playing darts, or crumbling up a piece of paper and shooting it into a wastebasket further away from you. You might find it surprising, but video games can also be helpful because they involve movement of the fingers on the controller as you take in visual information and have to respond quickly. Putting together models or legos also builds on this skill, as does folding your laundry. Puzzles help with mental agility, and there are also a ton of apps for that!

Day 3) Work on your Constitution.
You are in a body made up of cells that need energy to reproduce. Work on your constitution by eating something healthy and/or drinking water. Too often, we find ourselves in a rush and eating things we probably shouldn’t eat. That’s okay, don’t judge yourself! But if you can and if it’s available to you, have at least one healthy snack or meal during the day. Just see if you can go the day making healthy eating choices. If not, that’s okay, because you made the attempt and that already means you have your foot in the door, which is already progress! If you’re the kind of person who already makes very healthy choices, congratulations! This should be a breeze for you! If you have a doctor who prescribed medications or supplements, you should also include that as part of this quest, as that is absolutely part of keeping you healthy. And maybe there’s something physical that you’ve been neglecting to get medical help for? Think about what’s holding you back, and think about whether you’d consider seeking medical attention.

Day 4) Reflect.
Take some time to assess how you did the past three days. We are all in different places in our journey. Maybe you work out and eat healthy, and are physically as well as mentally agile, and these three days were just like doing your normal routine. Maybe you live a more sedentary lifestyle and it was hard to find the time to do something out of the ordinary, or maybe it was hard to find the motivation to do anything physical. This isn’t the time to give up. This is the time to think on what things were hard and what things were easy. If you challenged yourself, that’s great! If you didn’t, that’s okay! Maybe the activities you chose to do helped you see where you are right now and how you are doing, which helps you identify the areas that might need more work. There’s no need to criticize or judge. You are where you are, and this journey is all about you. Change does not happen overnight.

Day 5) Repeat.
Now that you’ve had time to reflect on where you are, is it possible to try some of these again? Maybe you skipped a day and this is your time to catch up. Maybe you're doing so well that you could do all three each day going forward. Pick one or more to do again on the fifth day. If you want to challenge yourself, pick the one that you found hardest. Just see if you can do it, but don’t push yourself too much out of your comfort zone that you would no longer feel gains or no longer feel safe.

So that’s the first five days. What was that like for you? Remember, depending on where you are on your journey it might seem easy for you to do all three in one day, or it might seem hard to come up with something to do on any given day. Some people’s small habits are others’ huge leaps, so don’t compare yourself to others. Make the attempt and see where you are. Don’t judge yourself for it. Recognize your strengths and that you tried something new. When you’re ready, you can move on to the next five days.

Day 6) Work on Intelligence.
There are different types of intelligence, and going into each one would be its very own post. Instead of going into each one, I will suggest you seek or learn something new. Why? Science suggests there is a correlation between novelty and overall intelligence. That is why, even though all of these quests are personal, this one is even more so. Only you know what areas you want to improve. Being open to new experiences will help you expand this ability. Read or listen to something that stimulates your mind. Maybe there’s a podcast you’ve been meaning to listen to, or a book you’ve been meaning to read. Maybe there’s a new artist you’ve been meaning to check out. Seek novelty and learn with a curious mind. There are apps that are supposed to be designed to “train your brain,” though I have never personally tried any of them, it may be worthwhile to do some research. Please let me know if you do find something awesome! Also, if you want to know something really cool, all the previous days and those other quests that you’ve done or will do help with this one too!

Day 7) Gain Wisdom.
Wisdom involves insight and being aware of what’s going on within you and around you. Take care of yourself. Inhale deeply through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth for a few times. Focus on the present moment. One thing I really like to do to help me feel grounded is to pay attention to what’s going on around me. I like to imagine that each of my five senses is the finger of a hand that is holding onto this moment. See, hear, smell, taste, and touch. What colors or shapes stand out? If you look closely, what else do you see? What do you hear? If you listen closely, what other sounds are in the background? What smells or scents can you pick up on? Are there any tastes in your mouth? Maybe the food you ate recently, coffee, or toothpaste? Are there any sensations on your skin? Maybe your feet are warm in your socks, maybe the tag on your shirt is itchy? While you’re paying attention to your five senses, also pay attention to what you’re feeling physically. Are you tired, maybe your body aches in some areas, maybe you’re hungry. Pay attention to what you’re feeling emotionally. Maybe you feel excited, angry, sad, or very enthusiastic about something. Maybe you feel just okay.

Day 8) Work that Charisma.
It's not just important in leadership or persuasion! Personality and how we approach others is significant. Most likely, you can tell when someone is being disingenuous. Genuinely showing that you care about others is important in making and maintaining relationships, and not just romantic relationships, but friendships and family relationships as well. Call or message someone. That means something more than an emoji or a ‘like’! Think social support, like motivating others, sharing about your day, or asking someone how their day is going. Maybe text a friend you haven’t heard from in a while just to see how they’re doing. Or have a conversation with a colleague. If you feel up to it, make eye contact and offer a friendly smile at a passerby (but not in a creepy stare-y way and it doesn't matter if they smile back!) Not only does this keep you connected with those you care about, but it also builds stronger relationships as others see that you are willing to give your attention to them, and that you are present. You also never know when a simple smile can make somebody day. Being in the mental health field, I have heard this happening many times, and being an introverted person, I have experienced it as well.

Day 9) Reflect.
Again, take some time to reflect on how things are going. Like in D&D, some of us are not great at each and every one of those six areas. For example, I find it harder to work on my constitution and strength than my charisma or wisdom. It’s so much easier for me to smile at a stranger in the street than to make healthy eating choices, so I know that the latter is what I have to work on and pay extra attention to.

Day 10) Repeat.
If there were any quests that were especially hard, this is your chance to try again. This is optional!

After working on each individual quest, you might notice that some things might have been harder than others, or some might have come more naturally to you than others. Do you think you can identify the areas that were more challenging for you? Do you think you’d want to pay closer attention to those areas and make a special quest for yourself to improve them? If there is a specific area that you want to improve, take a few moments to do the following extra steps. If not, you can skip the next few paragraphs and instead focus on the quests. Maybe the ten day template didn't work for you and you'd like to condense it into seven days, doing a quest or two per day and reflect on the seventh day. Maybe your wisdom is right where you want it to be, and you'd rather focus on the other five. This is all about you, so modify it to whatever works best for you!

Extra Steps
Take a moment to think about your goal. Write it down somewhere and place it where you will see it every day when you wake up. Maybe write it on a post-it and stick it your bathroom mirror or the refrigerator. Try to be specific with your goal. Instead of, “I want to eat healthier,” make it more focused, such as, “I want to eat more vegetables, and I will start with one serving of carrots per week,” or “I will drink less soda, and I’ll start by cutting it out of my lunch.” Pick the quests that will get you there. Whatever works for you. For me, the healthy eating choices, that would mean working on my constitution daily.

Some goals might be simpler than others, and although these quests are meant to get you started, you might need extra help and that’s totally okay! In fact, I encourage you to reach out to others. This is where you would gather your party – those people who can help you along the way on your personal journey. For example, if you are struggling with getting your homework done on time, you might reach out to a buddy who is also working on that, and you might keep each other accountable. If you are struggling with depression, you might reach out to a therapist or a loved one for support. This challenge is not a substitute for professional help.

While it is important to identify what you want to do, it’s also important to recognize the character strengths and traits you have that will help get you there. Take a few minutes to think about it. What are some of your personal strengths? Maybe you are very friendly, maybe you’re very observant, or good with electronics.

Take another few minutes to identify the personal challenges. What characteristics about yourself, or about your situation, might make it harder for you to reach your goal? For example, if you want to meet new people but live in a very remote area, it may make it harder to meet new people. Maybe you want to cut out junk food from your life but hot cheetos and Mexican Coca-Cola are your weakness (that’s me). Identifying those things, those monsters that you’ll encounter along your journey, may make you more prepared for when they arise.

Okay, so now that you’ve identified a goal, people who might help you (depending on your goal), your strengths, and potential monsters you might encounter, you’re ready!

Go for it, brave adventurer, and stay safe along your journey.

image source: hulu.com/death-parade
What happens after you die? You take an elevator down to a bar to play a game, of course! Death Parade is a short, 12-episode series created by Yuzuru Tachikawa and produced by Madhouse studio (spoilers for first season ahead). The story mainly follows Decim, a bartender in a bar called Quindecim. Decim is an "arbiter," a person who judges the souls of people after they die and decides whether they will be reincarnated or be sent to the void as lost souls for eternity. The way he does this is by observing them while they play a game, while peeking into the memories of the lives they led.

How do you usually behave during competition? Do you get mad if you don't win, or not care at all? What if you believed that losing the game meant losing your life? Would you play more aggressively, or cheat? Would you give your life so the other person could live?

Each episode in the season follows the story of two people who have died and who find themselves in Quindecim. They are told they cannot leave until they play a game, and are told to play the game with their "lives at stake." They don't remember that they have died when they begin to play. To the best of their knowledge, they are trapped in a bar somewhere, and must play and win in order to get out alive. Can you imagine what this would do to someone's competitive gaming etiquette?

The twisted psychology of competition within each of the episodes was very interesting to watch. Decim and his supervisor, Nona, describe that the purpose of having them play a competitive game while they remember their lives is to create extreme situations that would elicit the darkness of their souls.

The first episode introduces a young married couple, a man and a woman, who must play a game of darts. Each section of the dartboard is linked to a body part, and each time a dart hits a certain section, the opponent feels actual pain in the linked body part. With each hit of a dart, the person recollects one additional memory. Decim sees the person's memories and observes their behavior during competition, and uses all of his collected data to make his judgment.

image source: https://copyacademyitalia.com/lezioni-di-copy-da-decim-il-barman/
gif source: copyacademyitalia.com
In this, the pilot episode, as they play, the husband begins to recall memories here and there of times he has been jealous or suspicious that his wife is cheating on him. With each memory, his anger increases, and he begins to hit the marks on the board in order to inflict pain on his wife, perhaps subconsciously. At one point, she begs him to avoid her stomach, as she is pregnant. Eventually, the husband loses it and begins to make accusations. The wife realizes they are dead, and Decim confirms this and informs them that they are there to be sent either to heaven or hell. The wife admits that she has cheated and that the baby in her womb is not her husband's, and goes as far as to mock him and say she never loved him. With this information, Decim makes his judgment. The wife is sent to 'hell' (the void), and the husband to 'heaven' (to reincarnate).

The trouble with making a judgment on such limited information is explored in the following episode. Decim's new assistant, a young woman named Chiyuki who has no recollection of her own past, shares her thoughts. Based on her assessment, she believes the wife lied about the baby not being her husband's. Chiyuki believes that the husband was unable to focus on much more than his jealousy, which was what eventually led to the couple's deaths. The wife did cheat on her husband, but did love him and had a lot of regret about cheating. Seeing her husband's remorse about having killed their baby, she decided to lie about everything else to lessen his pain and feelings of guilt. In Chiyuki's point of view, Decim was not looking deep enough into the human emotions each player felt and the complexities of human beings and their behaviors. The judgment, then, is not entirely fair, because purposely lying so you can go to 'hell' in order for your husband to go to 'heaven' is actually not deserving of hell.

As it turns out, extreme situations may not always bring about the best in us, and it is because of this that this is not the most effective strategy for judgment. Having seen only a glimpse of the individuals' memories, and having only seen them within the context of a competitive game does not give a very accurate or complete picture of a person. When you place someone in an extreme situation, you only see one aspect of them. It may be their better self, or their worse self, but it is still only one facet of an entire, multi-faceted person. Human beings are much more complex than that, as the series explores.

image source: http://jandjproductions1809.blogspot.com/2015/01/death-parade-episodes-1-3-review.html
gif source: http://jandjproductions1809.blogspot.com
One of the main themes present in the series is the idea of living a full life. Decim is one of many arbiters, and his bar is in one of many floors, each of which houses a different bar tended by a different arbiter. The arbiters, we learn, are not alive, have never been alive, and will never die. They are but animated 'dummies' created to serve their purpose. Decim does not know what it is like to be a human, but he at one point mentions to Chiyuki that he has respect for people who have "lived a full life."

The lives that each of these people lived are as different as their deaths. For example, some people were murdered, some died in accidents, and some killed themselves. One of the characters who killed themselves is a young man with depression (not explicitly stated in the memories, but one can follow the dots). To me, as a person who often meets people who have suicidal thoughts, that specific episode hit home. The young man recalls his abusive mother, his parents' divorce, the numbness of his life, and his inability to form a relationship with the new maternal figure in his life, who actually loves him like a son. Upon realizing he killed himself, the young man is full of regret about his suicide and why he didn't open himself to others. In death, he is free of the numbness that controlled his life, which angers him as he realizes he cannot change his situation. His gaming partner, a reality TV star/mother with a traumatic past, has similar feelings about her own life, the abuse she suffered and the rage she took out on others, and not having been the best mother.

One of the episodes focuses on the relationship between two young adults who knew each other in childhood and lost touch, and died at the moment of seeing each other again after years. The episode is these people getting to know each other again and develop affection for each other, as they remember their own short lives, and their accidental death. The moment they realize they will never get to explore what their relationship could have been is very bittersweet.

source: http://aminoapps.com/page/anime-es/4508832/dekimu
gif source: aminoapps.com
There are other themes I noticed that were not as fully explored, including the idea of using 'dummies' to judge what happens with a human soul after death, and whether these 'dummies' are capable of developing human emotions. This reminded me of the concept of human emotions and artificial intelligence. I don't think there were enough episodes in the first season to explore everything that could have been explored, but the introduction of those themes makes me think that maybe this is something the creators have in mind for later.

The biggest message I gathered from the first season is that it isn't "the meaning of life" that one should be concerned about, but rather "a meaningful life." Each of the people who went through Quindecim and were forced to re-live their lives through their memories experienced also a variety of feelings regarding what they did, what they didn't do, and what they had yet to do. A woman who suffered and was able to redirect her pain into art has no regrets about her life and doesn't care to know how she died. A man whose twisted sense of avenging his wife's murder turns into a serial killer who feels only the desire to hurt others even after death. A pop star who treated his fans like trash in life is unable to let his gaming partner, a big fan, sacrifice herself for him. A young woman who killed herself declines the opportunity to live again if it means sacrificing another's life, even though she desperately wants to be alive again. Only a fraction of the guests at Quindecim could say that they lived meaningful lives.

What is meaningful in our lives varies from person to person. For me, giving, caring, having loving relationships with my friends and family, working toward improving my life and the lives of others, and allowing myself to be creative, are all very significant. If I didn't have these things, I would work harder to get them. If I couldn't get them, I may find little meaning in my own life. 

What makes your life meaningful? Have you watched this anime? What did you think?

The following links are not so much "tutorials" as sort of my "diary" of how I have gone about making my cosplays or character-inspired outfits (or in some cases putting things together to make an outfit), which I posted on my old tumblr that I no longer use. I am *not* a professional cosplayer nor a professional seamstress or costume designer. I just enjoy doing this for fun, and it has been therapeutic for me while I was in grad school. I love creating. I feel more myself when I am making something. So I kept a log of how I made what I made, and now I have decided to share it on here. Deciding to share and finding the links made me realize that I have done a lot of Black Butler cosplays for myself and others!

This is for those of you attending San Diego Comic Con, one of the busiest and most crowded conventions. Since I have written at length about this, I will keep this brief and sort of as an "addendum." Mainly I just wanted to share some tips. 

1) Wear deodorant and sunblock. Especially if you are a person who tends to experience a lot of body odor, carry a travel sized deodorant and travel sized/sample size body spray or scented lotion. I recommend the sunblock because it's SD in July. If you are going to a different convention where there is no sun, then I suppose this part doesn't apply to you, but please consider deodorant!

2) Carry a water bottle with you! Staying hydrated during the summer, especially if you are going to be standing in long queues, is just SUPER important! Always have at least one bottle water with you. Always. You don't want to pass out on your fellow nerds!

This Lego Drizzt but his eyes are the wrong color, they should be lavender, not red. And those are not scimitars, so I guess it's just a regular drow.

3) Eat breakfast. Wake up early if you have to, just eat. Eat. Eat early, that way you poop before taking off. Just keeping it real here, people. Everybody poops. You don't want it to hit you while you stand in line, especially if you're solo-ing it and don't know your line-mates yet. I met someone who planned on getting constipated so they wouldn't have to go poop while at the con, and they said their stomach was hurting a lot most of the day. Plus, it doesn't feel good. Bowel movements are your friends!

4) Take cash. Though many places do accept cards, some places still only take cash and you'll save yourself ATM fees if you just take cash. 

oh god I loved this cosplayer so much, didn't even get their name. 
5) Be nice to your line-mates. You never know if you'll need to step out of line for whatever reason and you need to inform them. You'd want them to gladly and without complaints let you back in. Being nice also means not saving a spot in a line for a coveted panel for like 7 of your buddies. That's just not cool.

6) Respect creators! I can't believe how often I see/hear people bashing on someone's art, or demanding that someone sign something for them. This is their time too, they don't owe you anything. If you don't like their work, move along. This includes cosplayers. Keep your hands to yourself! Cosplay is not an invitation to touch a prop, much less a person. I was so mad when a guy smacked my horns when I did my Aradia Megido cosplay (below). Uughghghgh.... I hate that guy. Don't know him. Still don't like him. If you want to touch a prop, ask. If they say no, accept it. 

ugh I look so ugh...

7) Plan ahead, but have multiple backups. If you really want to see a panel, do your research in terms of finding out not just the time and place, but how popular the event will be. At SDCC some of the larger and more popular rooms are Hall H, Ballroom 20, and the Indigo room at the Hilton Bayfront. You want to know how popular the panel will be so you can plan accordingly. For Hall H, people camp out the night before for the morning panels, as with Ballroom 20. I also recommend having another plan just in case you don't get in. Maybe there's a different panel you want to check out.

8) I so, so, so recommend checking out panels even if you don't know 100% what they are about. I've discovered many awesome things by wandering into rooms that are less than half full. It pays off to try something new!

9) Take a breather every now and then. There aren't any designated quiet rooms at SDCC (yet) but I've often used the Anime Rooms to get a little peace and quiet and de-stress. I've also used the outside of the convention center... meaning the stairs overlooking the harbor just outside of the autograph area. Oftentimes, you can find a place to relax out there. If at a different con, find out if there are designated quiet rooms before you go, and where, that way you are prepared with the knowledge!

10) Check out the events and after parties going on outside of the con. Many people and groups plan fun things around these days, like Wednesday night's Game of Bloggers, or Thursday night's Wayward Cocktails. Check out what's happening as the dates approach.

That's it for now. Have a fun con!!

Periods of transition can be extremely difficult, especially if the transition or change is significant. During the past few months, I have made big changes in my life. I left a job that I loved dearly, moved out of a city that I was happy to call home, and said goodbye to the beautiful San Diego weather. Needless to say, my mind has been all over the place, my thoughts very disorganized. Given that I am in a profession where my own mental health is super important, I have had to really make use of many of the coping skills that I frequently teach my patients.

There is still huge stigma around mental health issues, especially when it comes to health professionals. But our distress should not be minimized. Health care professionals have a higher suicide rate than many other professions. From my personal experience, I can say that I have struggled with very low self esteem, low sense of self confidence, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and occasionally very dark thoughts, and I have often pushed these thoughts aside by telling myself they weren't important and they were temporary. Yes, they were temporary, but they were also important! They meant I needed to pay attention to myself.

During this period of transition, I tried to place the external demands of my life before myself. I tried to focus on the needs of others to the point of ignoring my own. Being aware that doing this may lead to burnout, I decided to make a list of the things that had happened, and the things that were happening. There were two major changes in my life:

1) - I resigned from a job that I had for five years, which gave me my start in the field of psychology, where I had the freedom of expanding my professional wings. It was hard to say goodbye to my patients and my peers. + I accepted an exciting position that allowed me increased stability and structure, with the awareness that I would be providing much needed services to an under-served population.

2) - I left beautiful San Diego where there is always so much going on, the home of San Diego Comic Con. + I moved to a city where I have family and have the opportunity to visit them whenever I want.

Aside from the consequences of these two major life decisions, there were also things that occurred that were entirely out of my control during the weeks these things were happening. The most significant was on my last day in San Diego.

After a day of packing, putting boxes in my car, cleaning, and right as I shut the door of the apartment I was moving out of for the last time, I received a message from one of my sisters late at night. Our grandmother had just passed away. The realization that I had no more grandparents hit me later. I focused on the fact that I was able to say goodbye to her, to see her one last time before she passed. The expectation of a loss does not decrease the pain of it.

Another thing out of my control was my hormones. Since I had a procedure for my thyroid late last year, my hormones have been out of whack and I've been gaining weight. I also have been losing my hair a lot (it's growing back), which will continue until my endocrinologist finds the most appropriate dosage for my thyroid medication.

Third, not being able to settle into my new home was taxing in itself. It was an entire week after I moved before I received the keys to my new place.

During the entire process, I did not maintain healthy eating habits. I have not been working out consistently. These things take a toll on you. I felt very unstable. I was having trouble remembering even little things, like what I was saying halfway through saying it. I was very tangential in conversations. I would go into a room and immediately forget why. I would start doing something, then begin something else and leave the other thing undone...

Honestly, the most organized thing I had going on was my daily work routine. So when I realized I needed to take care of myself, I decided to start with that and work my way out.

I decided to keep a physical calendar, since I really benefit from visual aids. Beginning with organizing my daily schedule, I went on to taking notes about my day, including how I was feeling and my memory, whether I drank water and ate. Because the visuals help me, logging things became very useful.

I became slightly more active across my social media accounts, like I was before the move. I focused on interacting with others, even people I don't really know that well, trying to spread kindness, psychology, support, or just good intentions. Sending positive thoughts to strangers here and there wasn't anything that was out of my way, and feeling compassion for others increased my ability to feel compassion for myself.

I enrolled an "ally", someone to help keep me in check when I would start to do the thing where I started something and switched to something else mid-thing and then forgot the original thing... this taught me to recognize when I was doing it so I could stop for a minute and organize my thoughts.

I focused on activities outside of work. I recently participated with TakeThis and got to help out at the AFK Room at E3, which I'd wanted to do for a while and was awesome. Seeing the positive impact something like that can have on people firsthand was very rewarding. Having that as a thing outside of work helped me to re-focus on my other professional interests.

I resumed working out by starting to use the on-demand workout service I'd signed up for, so that I wouldn't have any excuses, and started with once weekly exercises. I have recently decided to try daily 5 minute workouts after waking up in the mornings. Five minutes only, because I don't want to sweat in the morning, I don't want to be super sore, and five minute ab workouts are pretty intense!

I began to change my thought process by working on calming down and taking things one day at a time. This was especially helpful when I was sent to a conference to a different city even though I had made plans to be at E3. Not wanting to give that up, I decided to go anyway, which meant that I flew to three different cities for two different cons within three days. For a person who isn't used to traveling and who suffers from migraines... well, I was anxious about how my body would react. By being able to keep my mind from wandering I was able to enjoy my entire week and actually avoid a migraine. This was a huge, HUGE win for me.

And I started blogging again, evidently.

I am still coming up with little things here and there, like increasing my water intake, going out for short walks outside during my workday, and turning off my monitor during lunch.

There will continue to be moments when I feel low confidence, low self esteem, times when I doubt myself or whether I am doing my job well enough, but those moments will be temporary.

One of the most important things I've learned that I have benefited from practicing is staying in the moment, being grounded, and being mindful. Not trying to get everything done at once. Taking deep breaths. Not worrying about the thing I have tomorrow, just focusing on the task at hand. I've learned that it's important to be kind to myself first, and forgive myself for my mistakes. Otherwise, I can't focus on the things that I love doing.

What do you do to take care of yourself?

image source: spoilertv.com

*You are reading a review of a psychological theme in Season 12 that has major Spoilers up through episode 3. You have been warned!*

The overarching theme of family is evident from the moment any person first watches Supernatural. It is present, front and center, in almost any episode, mainly because the lead characters are brothers. I believe this is a big reason the series is so popular twelve years in. My own family dynamics are a big reason why I feel drawn to this series: much like Dean, I was responsible for caring for my little brother most of the time, and my father was also absent from my life by choice (though, no, he wasn't looking to avenge his wife being murdered by a demon :P).

The older sibling-younger sibling relationship and the fact that Dean has had to assume many responsibilities from a young age is only one aspect of the family theme. The role of fathers is another (read about both aspects here). This season, (season 12!) we are presented with another family dynamic we had never fully explored in Supernatural: mother and child. 

img source: http://www.ibtimes.com/supernatural-season-12-spoilers-season-premiere-photos-show-mary-dean-castiel-2409748
image source: ibtimes.com

A Mother's Presence

Most people have a pretty good idea of the impact of a mother in a child’s life. A mother’s love is crucial in creating a sense of safety from the moment of birth and throughout the formative years. A mother’s rejection can create a sense of not being good enough, not lovable, not worthy, or worse. A mother’s love can instill positive attitudes about oneself, a sense of self efficacy, while a mother’s rejection can place a child at risk for behaviors that may get them in trouble later in life. A mother does not have to be perfect (there is no such thing), but "good enough." And the presence of a "good enough" mother can adequately prepare a child for life's challenges, as they have internalized her positive regard and love. 

In real life, nobody has the opportunity to get their mother back years after their death, but the reappearance of a mother after a long absence can have a strong impact. When a mother reappears in a child’s life it can answer many questions. When her presence is consistent, even if she does not live with the child, it can provide a sense of stability. When the child is an adult, they can reach a totally different level of understanding of their parent’s absence, and perhaps reach forgiveness. 

Of course, Mary Winchester was neither absent by choice nor did she return by choice. Her return has a significant impact on both Sam and Dean, although in different ways. 

image source: http://soaringeag1e.tumblr.com/post/149699902313/dead-natural-39
image source: soaringeag1e.tumblr.com

Dean's Experience of His Mother

Dean actually had a relationship with his mother for the first several years of his life. Dean had a mother who loved him, cared for him, fed him pie, and gave him hugs. She met his needs. She provided comfort. Although she was taken from him at a young age, he had her for those crucial first years. He was able to go through toddlerhood with his mom and dad, he had the experience of individuating from his mother at his own pace (realizing he is a different entity altogether-usually happens when the child is super young), he learned to speak, and probably learned his ABC’s and 1-10 with his mother’s help. She was present to help set him up for later childhood.

Dean internalized the message at an early age that he was loved and important. It was also pretty engraved in him that family is important. His mother did not leave him because she wanted to, and by extension his father did not make that choice either, but was driven to avenge his wife's death. Although John may have been absent a lot, Dean believed in his heart that there was an external reason for this. So then, perhaps in Dean's point of view, neither parent chose to leave him.

From early on, he had the experience of feeling what having a nuclear family was like. He had stability. The sudden stripping of this then sends him on his life mission. But I believe that those early experiences may have played a role in whatever gives him the strength to later on take on the roles that are imposed on him by his dad, including being a ‘parent’ and being a hunter. 

{Random thought: *I imagine a 4-year-old Dean immersing himself in taking care of baby Sam, giving him his bottle when he cried, carrying him as best as he can, redirecting the pain from the loss of his mother into caring for Sammy. Maybe this is one reason why Dean presents with a strong persona, not spending too much time talking about feelings. He has learned to push them down. For survival reasons.*}

image source: http://ontd-spnparty.livejournal.com/144659.html
image source: http://ontd-spnparty.livejournal.com

"Sammy" and His Big Brother

Sam’s experience was totally different, because he truly had neither parent. His mother died when he was a baby. Not to say that this wasn't traumatic; in some ways this is more traumatic. John's pain and narrow focus on hunting made him an emotionally distant and often physically absent father. For children whose parents are absent, life can feel pretty unstable and unpredictable. Their emotional needs are not met as they should be. There’s no grounding force, no real nurture. Sam never had a sense of “normal”, never had a 'home,' no stable family.

Fortunately for Sam, Dean was there trying his best to fill that role. Dean was a big protective factor, and Sam eventually found comfort in school as well. His role models, besides his big brother, were his teachers. 

Older siblings are usually looked up to as role models, and can be those to talk to about things you may not want to talk to your parents about because they’re closer to you in age. We may feel protected by our older siblings, so that if we are picked on at school we have someone to tell. Having a cool older sibling can even be a school status influencer. Older siblings may introduce us to aspects of growing up that parents don’t, won’t, or can’t. They may even show us how to get away with things!

Because John was absent much of the time, and because John and Sam seem to have had a strained relationship, the most stable relationship that Sam had was really with his brother. Even though being his ‘parent’ was not the healthiest for Dean, for Sam it may have been his saving grace. He had that one constant in his life. He didn't know anything else. His entire experience of his family was his older brother.

image source: http://tvline.com/gallery/best-supernatural-moments-photos-season-12-episode-3-recap/#!12/supernatural-recap-best-moments13/
image source: tvline.com

A Mother's Abandonment... ?

Dean and Sam have different ways of approaching their mother's return. For both, it was a moment of incredible happiness. But for Dean it really was a return of someone he had before, whereas for Sam it was the real first time he ever met his mother (besides the time traveling). He doesn't have anything else to compare it to, and he didn't really have the family that Dean had. 

The important piece here is that Dean has known the loss of his family, in that he had them and then he lost them, in many ways in the same night. Sam didn't really know family in the same way. His mother's sudden return is not to be minimized at all, but Sam never really knew what it was like to have her, making her sudden presence an amazing, but extra, event in his life. 

So, when Mary expresses that she needs space, Sam is willing to accept this, because he was ready to accept her fully to begin with. Dean remembers what it was like to have a mother, whether his memory is accurate or not, and her choice to leave does not fit into his conceptualization of his mother or what his family would be like now that she is back. Because she does not behave according to his idea of her, and because he has known and grieved her loss before, Dean feels betrayed, and perhaps abandoned. Because, as opposed to the first time, Mary is now making the choice to leave. 

We are only a few episodes into season 12, so we have a lot more to go. I am looking forward to see how the Winchester family is put back together, if they are. What do you think? 

It's been one week since SDCC 2016, and my routine is back to normal for the most part. Despite not having attended each day this time around (*cries*), I had something to do each day. Wednesday night, I attended the Game of Bloggers meet-up and met some awesome people. Thursday night I attended the #WaywardCocktails Supernatural meet-up, which is always a blast. I spent Friday creating an entirely new outfit once I discovered none of my cosplays from previous years fit (*cries some more*). I attended on Saturday with my family, and my siblings got distracted trying to catch a Squirtle. Sunday I walked around the Gaslamp, did the Conival thing, and had a great lunch at the Blind Burro.

I spoke with some amazing people who are geeks and mental health advocates. Over the past years, there has been an increased awareness of mental health problems in the community. Not just with superhero psychology and the benefits of geek therapy, but with the idea that we, just like the rest of the population, have certain issues that we are coping with in our lives. Each year there are more panels at SDCC that cover the psychology of one topic or another in geek culture, and that discuss mental health in the community.

The importance of recognizing these inner struggles cannot be overlooked. As a 10-year (maybe 11-year, I forget) attendee to San Diego Comic Con, I am not exaggerating when I say that each year I have come across at least one person who has become overwhelmed with all the stimuli that the event has to offer. There is just so much going on everywhere you look! Speaking for myself, I have frequently used the Anime Rooms as a quiet space. I love anime, but I have also found that I can sit in a quiet space and be away from the chaos for a short while. As an introvert, this gives me a very much needed break from the crowds, which then allows me to return to the exhibit hall or panels with my internal batteries charged, and continue to enjoy the event.

some FNAF stuff
I recently discovered that some gaming conventions have a designated quiet space, or AFK Rooms. These rooms are there for people who need that break, who become overstimulated, or people who need help. I was interested in learning more, so I asked some questions of Dr. Raffael Boccamazzo ("Doctor B"), Clinical Director of Take This (@TakeThisOrg on Twitter), an organization that works toward educating the public about mental health disorders, prevent mental illness, and reduce stigma. Take This was founded by journalists Susan Arendt and Russ Pitts, and psychologist Dr. Mark Kline, based on their experiences and knowledge of the community and the need for mental health awareness, education, and support.

"The first AFK Room was at PAX East in 2014, and we've hosted rooms at every North American PAX since, and PAX Australia since 2015. We've also expanded to other conventions and events like E3, MomoCon, QuakeCon, among others," Dr. B shared. His responsibilities as clinical director include coordinating all clinical volunteers, approving clinically-oriented activities, and ensuring uniform standards of practice.

I was curious as to what these rooms are like, what happens, and who runs them. According to Dr. B, "It's a place where people can come and find quiet respite from the fun, yet often overstimulating, environment at conventions. It's amazing to see the visible relief from people the moment the quiet and serenity hits them." Of course, it isn't only for quiet breaks. "Some people come to the AFK Room in distress, and the mental health clinicians that we have at every shift are there to answer mental health questions and provide brief, caring support for these folks. We also provide mental health referral resources, if necessary, as the AFK Rooms do not provide treatment."

The people who work at the AFK rooms are all volunteers; advanced graduate students, psychology students, and pre-licensed clinicians. Many are gamers, but some are people who want to learn more about gamer culture. There is always at least one licensed clinician present.

I found several other articles on the webs, and some people's personal experiences:

"My PAX Take This AFK Room Experience" 
"AFK Room at PAX Prime - Indigo Mental Health"
"Take This AFK Room -E3 Insider"
"The AFK Room - PC Gamer"

I was touched by reading the personal experiences of people who had visited one of these rooms. As a provider of mental health services, I know how difficult it can be to share such a personal experience. I appreciate that these people would share their stories.

After doing my research, I've come to some conclusions:

1) The people who run AFK Rooms (or wellness rooms) are providing much, MUCH needed services. We're just people, and whether or not we have a diagnosis, any of us can become overstimulated at a convention. As a community that is beginning to recognize the importance of discussing mental health issues, we need to do more to help from within.

2) I need to go to a PAX.

3) Con-goers would benefit greatly from a wellness room at SDCC. Maybe two.

Have you volunteered at or visited an AFK room? I would love to hear your experience.
Did you go to SDCC 2016? I'd love to hear that experience as well :).

There are so many ways that people choose to take care of themselves, the problem is that we tend not to do it very often. Whether it be work, kids, school, grocery shopping, or anything else, there seems to always be something that takes us away from the things that would otherwise make us more grounded, mindful, healthy human beings.

One week each year, I try to do this. Yes, it should be once a week and not one week a year... but let me finish. Each year for the past ten years, I have been able to take a week off and focus on one thing: San Diego Comic Con. I usually take Monday and Tuesday to finish the last details of my cosplay, and Wednesday to finish the last details of my person (nails, hair, etc.)

This year, I had no idea where I would be around this time. You see, I've been studying all my life (well the last 9 years) to be the kind of person who can help people with their mental health. When badges went on sale, I knew I would be obtaining my license in psychology and honestly had no idea what life had planned for me. So despite having the opportunity to buy badges for each day (I made it past the landing page with plenty of time!) I made the conscious choice to only get a badge for one day. Do I regret it? Not really, there are a lot of things that I am planning, and a lot of ways that I am still planning on taking care of myself this year during that week. Here are four things to focus on:

Last year's #WawardCocktails

1) After parties.
I am not a huge party person, but I am planning on being present for at least two parties this year. Hanging out with other people who like the same things you do is the pure essence of comic con. It is what makes this event special. Two of the parties I am attending are fandom or interest-based, so I know I will be surrounding myself with people who may be like-minded. One great way to take care of yourself is by connecting with others who are a positive influence. I consider many of the people I've met at SDCC a positive influence, or at the very least interesting in one way or another.

Tony B Kim's new men's fashion line
2) Cosplay and Clothes. 
This doesn't really need explanation, in my opinion, but getting into cosplay is another way of connecting with your fellow nerds. It can lead to intense discussion about what happened last season, what will happen to your fave character, or to a new friendship with someone just as passionate as you. And if you're not big on cosplay, you don't have to actually get into body makeup or an entire ensemble to exhibit your inner nerd. Recently, there's been a huge wave of women's clothing lines for us geek girls. And just the other week, Tony B Kim, AKA @Crazy4ComicCon announced his new men's fashion line, Hero Within, which is officially licensed by DC Comics. Browsing through the online store, I had at least two people in mind (three including me... those coats are way cool). Treating the people I love is also important to me, and part of taking care of myself. One of those people already expressed a strong liking for the Superman blazer, so I took that as a huge hint. The best thing about clothing made like this, similar to some geeky women's fashion lines, is that people may or may not "get it", and it's not inappropriate if you want to go to a nice place (like your graphic tees), so you'll still look and feel like an adult wearing the clothing that you want. You can find them on Twitter and IG @herowithininc. If you have cool, geeky people who you care about in your life, check them out, because the store is only taking pre-orders until July 31st of this year, but they'll be at SDCC if you're going there too.

3) Healthy Food and Exercise
Several years ago I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, which in simplest terms means I have to take a pill a day to keep my thyroid in check so my body doesn't get out of control. My doctor found I had high cholesterol and arrhythmia. If you looked at me then, short of being just a bit heavier, I didn't look "unhealthy." That was a few years ago. I started eating healthier food, but it was only last year that I started to exercise and drink more water. I started using programs that I could do at home, and I'm happy to say that I've gone from 6lb weights to 8lb weights. I've also found that your food does not have to be bland to be healthy. This is a huge misconception. Nowadays you can find a LOT of tasty, healthy options. I'm not saying I'm perfectly healthy now, because my condition unfortunately worsened. But that is why it's SO much more important to keep working out and keep eating healthy. And because I've been working out, I've developed awesome muscle and I feel overall healthier. So even though it's hard to keep eating healthy while you're waiting in line, you can find healthy snacks and pack healthy lunch. Here's an idea if you have parking nearby that you can get to reasonably quickly without missing out on too much stuff: get an ice chest, pack a healthy lunch, and store it in the trunk of your car. You can walk to your car (get exercise and may be pokemon), eat your healthy lunch, and then walk back. And if you are NOT lucky enough to have found parking nearby, pack nuts or dried fruit and water, make wraps at home/hotel, and/or make sure your budget allows for food outside the convention center. Budgeting for yourself is just as important as budgeting for those awesome exclusives, if not more. #AbsWereMadeInTheKitchen :)
I had this AMAZING healthy food at Toscana Cafe
4) Remain Calm
I tell myself this every year, and especially this year because I'm only going one day. Even if you don't get into the panel that you want, and you've missed the other one due to standing in the queue for the first one, relax. There is always something to do at SDCC, always something to see. If you didn't get into Hall H, and you can't find anything else that you are interested in (or that other panel is way too far and you're too tired) you can almost always find a spot to sit overlooking the water. Looking at water tends to help people relax. Sit outside the autograph area or by the harbor for a few minutes and take deep breaths. Pay attention to the details. Feel the breeze on your skin. Look at the cosplayers and LARPers, and think of how much more there is to see in the exhibit hall. My point is, even if you don't get into the panel that you really really really really wanted to see and that's the only thing you wanted out of the entire four days, you CAN find other amazing things to see and do.
for example, I found this stuck to a Furby

How do you plan on taking care of yourself this year at SDCC?

It is not always easy to talk to young kids about subjects like where babies come from, drugs and alcohol, or sex. Much less to talk about terrifying things, like terrorist acts. Unfortunately, sometimes this conversation needs to happen. Children benefit when parents maintain an open line of communication with their kids about certain things. Children are going to have questions. These are some things I've learned while working with kids, and some recommendations about how to have this difficult conversation with them:

Be open to their questions, and encourage them. Ask where they heard about it. What do they know? Where did they see it? What did the source of communication (TV, radio, a kid at school, etc.) say? Encourage questions, and be nonjudgmental when you ask them how they heard about it. Keep your questions simple, and few. "Oh, where did you read about that?" "I see, what did they say?" Remember, if they cannot feel comfortable asking you, they will ask someone else, or they may look it up themselves. "You can ask me anything at all, always. I'll always try my best to answer."

Be honest about what happened, in a language they can understand. An act of terror leaves us wondering why. It leaves us baffled, and we might have many questions. And we're adults! Imagine being a small child and watching your mom or dad's reaction to something so scary. Imagine being a little kid and hearing it on the news, or from a friend at school. A lot of us of a certain generation may not have to imagine, because we've lived it. On September 11, 2001, I was part of an entire classroom of teenagers watching a terrifying incident unfold live on television. We watched thousands of people die. My brother was in 5th grade, and he remembers watching it on the news too. Nobody had any clue as to why this had happened.

When you're little, you might rely on a parent to provide an explanation. "That man hurt a lot of people." "He hurt a lot of people, and it's very sad." "It's not okay. Most people don't do that." "He made a very, very bad choice." "I don't know why he did it." It's okay to say if you don't know something. It's up to one's personal feelings about it, but I think there's an opportunity to instill empathy, while drawing the line between what's okay and what's not okay. "What he did is never okay. Hurting others is never okay. Maybe he had a lot of bad feelings and he needed help. When we need help, it's okay to ask for it. I'm always here if you need help." It's also important to help your kid feel safe when explaining. "It's very scary. Most people don't do things like that. I'm right here if you feel scared or sad."

"How does it make you feel?" Teaching kids to name their feelings, so they're easier to identify, and so they can better communicate to others about how they feel, is a very active task for a parent. There are feelings beyond sad, angry, and happy that you might have to help them label. With younger kids, I recommend materials like emotions charts or cards, and I've even seen emojis effectively used in this task.

"Use your words." Parents must often model this. Parents sometimes have to make the observation to their child, to be reflective. "I see you don't feel okay. We all have times when we don't feel okay. I'll be here when you're ready to talk." Validating the emotion is also important. "It's okay if you feel scared." "I feel scared sometimes too." Talk about how you cope with your feelings. "When I feel scared, I ______."

Draw how it makes you feel. This is one way to help kids express their feelings. When we employ our creativity it helps us express ourselves effectively, and perhaps even more effectively for kids who may not have the vocabulary.

This is never an easy conversation, but sometimes, it is necessary. Hope this has helped!



Center for Reflective Parenting
PBS: Talking and Listening to Kids
American Psychological Association: How to Talk to Children About Tragedies
Sesame Street: Children and Grief
SAMHSA: Helping Children Cope After a Disaster or Traumatic Event
Red Cross: Helping Children Cope with Disaster

Maestro is the second book in R.A. Salvatore's Homecoming series (Drizzt Do'Urden novels), set in the Forgotten Realms. This review will contain BIG SPOILERS for the book, so if you have not read the book, I suggest you do.

As the title suggests, the book centers around Jarlaxle and his workings. I want to start off by saying that overall, I truly enjoyed this book more than Archmage. I only didn't finish it in one day because I have other obligations. There were some really cool fight scenes that really pulled me in, and for people who like reading about the drow city of Menzoberranzan and the chaos that prevails, they will probably enjoy this book.

Some of my favorite things:

1) That cover art! Jarlaxle on the cover by himself with that much detail is the best. And the fact that the book is heavily about him. It's about time that we got another look at this amazing and favorite character.

2) Reading about Jarlaxle and Artemis Entreri again. I have missed these two SO MUCH. They are easily my favorite characters, far above all the others, including Drizzt, and especially the Companions. They are probably the main reason I keep reading these books. Jarlaxle and Entreri have such a unique relationship --bromance, if you will-- that overshadows even that of Drizzt and Cattie-Brie. I do wish we would have seen more of them. I could write an entire blog post about those two.

3) Seeing how Jarlaxle works.

Jarlaxle: We're friends, right?
Person: ...... What do you want?

Sure, he's a manipulator, but in the end he does it for a good cause. Jarlaxle is and has always been an opportunist, but that doesn't mean he doesn't value his relationships. If he can benefit from a friend, he will do it. We've always known this about him, but this book lets us see it in action.

4) Seeing Jarlaxle not know what to do for the first time. This really made me, as a reader, anxious! If Jarlaxle says things will be okay, you know things will be okay, no matter how bad they seem. Jarlaxle has the answers to everything, and always seems to find a way out of a jam. But in this book, he finds himself in quite a pickle, several times. I honestly didn't know if my favorite characters were going to make it, and I loved that, because a story shouldn't be predictable.

5) Seeing different individuals of different alignments coming together for a cause, even if their individual reasons are different. I mean, a gathering of some of the most powerful individuals in the world of Drizzt Do'Urden, how can that not be cool?

6) Yvonnel. I actually enjoyed her, to my surprise. The way her mind works was a fresh change to your typical matron mothers. Everybody knew who they were dealing with after meeting her once. She is a bad person, but I enjoyed seeing how she put the matron mothers, especially Quenthel Baenre, in their place.

Yvonnel to everyone else
7) The two pretty cool fights: Drizzt vs Tiago and Drizzt vs Demogorgon. Not going to say too much about them, but probably my favorite part is how Menzoberranzan comes together to help Drizzt defeat the Prince of Demons. I didn't think we were going to see this one in this book. That was probably the best encounter I've read in a long time. Also, Tiago finally gets his.

8) Drizzt and Cattie-brie arguing. Finally a bit of real-ness to that relationship! We haven't really seen them be real with each other since way before she died the first time. It was a nice change of pace for them. After all, every couple has arguments.

9) The changing dynamic between Entreri and Drizzt. These two started out as nemeses, but have become more like frienemies. At one point, I even thought Entreri would sacrifice himself for Drizzt. I was about to close that book and never open it, or any future Drizzt books, again. I am happy to report it didn't happen.

10) The overall dynamic between Entreri, Jarlaxle, and Drizzt. Whenever you have those three together, it just increases the value of the story. It was a bit like they were bros, and also a bit awkward, and Jarlaxle grew weary of playing mediator, but it seemed fitting for those three.

11) Cattie-brie's reunion with her "parents", and the fact that they have moved on and had another child of their own. I feel like it addressed the question of the importance of the Companions' family this time around. Cattie-brie never had a mother of her own the first time, and I'm glad Salvatore didn't just completely ignore the fact that finally having a mother would be significant in her life.

There were a couple things that I wish Salvatore had gone more into:

1) Jarlaxle and Entreri's reunion. This is something that was hinted at at some point during the Neverwinter saga. There was a scene in one of the Neverwinter books were Entreri sees Jarlaxle again after many years (and after being betrayed terribly by him), and Jarlaxle says something to the effect of having things to talk about. I was hoping that after Archmage we'd get to see that long-awaited, surely angst-ridden reunion (I imagined Entreri would punch Jarlaxle in the face). Sadly, this doesn't happen, and instead we jump forward to where they have already sort of become bros again, and it is hinted that Entreri is the one who sought out Jarlaxle to guilt-trip him into helping.

2) Most people won't care about this one at all, but what did Bregan D'aerthe do to Calihye, specifically? Is she dead? How did she die? I had given up on ever finding out, and then in Maestro, Salvatore writes that Entreri 'lost' Calihye to Bregan D'aerthe, but he lets us assume what this means beyond having been forced into working for them. What did she even do for them, and what happened to her? I know many people really don't care. I do, especially since she's mentioned again in this book. I mean, it would take like two sentences.

And yes, there was one thing that, to be completely honest, seemed way out of place and out of character. If you've read the book, you probably know what I am going to list:

1) The sexual tension between Gromph and Cattie-brie. I mean, WHAT EVEN...???? I know I'm not the only one thinking this was odd and felt unnecessary, as I've conversed with other readers about it.

It seemed to me that Gromph was trying to intimidate Cattie-brie by putting NSFW images in her mind, but surely someone of his caliber would not resort to something so basic. And why would Cattie-brie react the way she reacted? When Cattie-brie was alive 100 years previous to this, AND when she was in Iruladoon, she had conversations that led readers, me, to believe that she was beyond basic physical attraction in terms of her love for Drizzt and in terms of how she approached relationships. She made it a point to say that what she had with him was more than that, that if Drizzt was intimate with others, she would understand, but she would also know that it meant nothing because she loved him and he loved her. 

So, when she has a conversation with Penelope in this book about what it means to be physically intimate and why Penelope is okay with being physically intimate with people other than her husband, it just feels a bit out of character. Cattie-brie 100 years previous to this wouldn't have cared. Maybe I have misinterpreted Cattie-brie all this time, but I feel that she would have instinctively known what exactly was happening from the beginning, and confronted the Archmage immediately, and not gone about it in a sneaky way. Both Cattie-brie and Gromph, to my (maybe flawed?) understanding, were way beyond these simple shenanigans. If it were some other less mentally powerful and less magically focused character (like Wulfgar), I would have been more understanding. Maybe this was done to show how bored Gromph was and how out of his element he is, and also how arrogant, and maybe to set it up to show his layers later on. Or maybe it was just done to show, yet again, how ridiculously powerful Cattie-brie is now. Whatever the reason, this happens, but then everything is okay between them in the end, which somehow feels even more odd.

Again, I really love reading these books, I have since I discovered them. I will continue to read them (as long as Artemis Entreri doesn't get killed). So the following may come across as odd for a fan of Drizzt's story, but the entire concept of Menzoberranzan still being so obsessed with Drizzt is something I find a bit... tiring. 

Drizzt to the Matron Mothers
I know the longer lifespans make it possible for grudges and such to be held for much, much longer, but I guess I would have expected by now that Drizzt's life would have had other problems. I understand this is the whole premise of the Homecoming series, it just overall seems a bit repetitive. 

However, I really did enjoy Drizzt's visit to his city of birth this time around, and I really did want them to get Dahlia out of there. New things happened because of the Faerzress that spiced up the story. Maybe this is due to my background in psychology, but the fact that the book ended with Drizzt essentially being psychotic (temporarily and due to magical influences) seems more interesting to me than if the book had ended as they usually end, with everything everywhere being mostly okay (which of course I am also a fan of). Drizzt contracting the "sickness" and the fact that it is making him question everything in his reality definitely sets up the next book and I honestly can't wait to read that.