Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 in review!

This is Leo, ladies and gents, sleeping upside down and sprawled on his bed as he hasn't done since he was a puppy, thanks to his cushy bed. That's his 2014 in a nutshell, really. :) And not a bad start for mine.

So, this was actually a really good year for me. I got a lot accomplished this year, even if it was hard won in a lot of ways.

January: Despite my early concerns, I didn't back out of grad school. I balanced school with Oscar season, which will be starting soon again as well. We went to the Flying Fig for our anniversary, which was amazing and on my list to go back to some day ( though likely not for our anniversary this year, given time and money issues).

February: I turned 43. We had an awesome Oscar party. I read a lot of stuff, but not as much as I should have, because taking comprehensive notes is only so useful. I started putting my head down and focusing on my work. I presented a paper on a Hitchcock movie at the SouthWest Popular Culture Association Conference, which was a nice trip to ABQ.

March: I went and visited my kiddos over my spring break. :) Seattle in the spring is lovely, and I miss my friends there, but it was good to see everyone. We also ran a Growling Door kickstarter that failed to fund called Mall Adventures -- but honestly, the project had some serious weaknesses that we're going to address and give it another shot down the road. Matt and I also took a crazy weekend road trip to Boston to see Patton Oswalt live, and that was pretty darn amazing. We ate in a real New York Jewish deli and we found nifty little restaurants and I walked through lots of historical Boston stuff and we had oysters. Pretty much a perfect trip, really.

April: The big thing that happened in April was that I started PT for my scoliosis, and it's made an incredible difference in my life. It wasn't a long program, but it added nearly an inch to my height and tons to my stamina. It's really been a great thing.

May: I finished coursework! Woo hooo! We found a garter snake in our basement, which was an unpleasant surprise for our basement housemate, John (it was warming itself on his Wii console). I got to see Only Lovers Left Alive, which was honestly my favorite film of the whole year. I finished the PacMan blanket, which you can see to the left, for Heather and Aaron's baby boy, Porter. It took nearly as long to make as he did, but I think it came out pretty awesome.

June: Went home to visit my family for a week or so, and during the course of it went out to see my brother's new lake house and do a little Oklahoma tourism. It was pretty darn cool, and he's done a great job with that place. Taught over the summer in the Emerging Scholars Program at Case, which is a fantastic opportunity for everyone involved. We also started getting Matt's ongoing problems with dizziness checked out, eliminating a whole bunch of stuff. We also announced Growling Door's acquisition of the Chill RPG license! :) Also, Origins was lovely, and it was great to reconnect with people.

July: I got my qualifying exam questions pretty much done, and my boys arrived for the summer. The McFarlands did a family vacation in a cabin in Gatlinburg, TN, which I'd never been to, and we went rafting on the Pigeon Forge river. It was a really nice month all things considered, and I finished my teaching assignment as well.

August: GenCon and Matt's 40th birthday! We did pretty well on sales and the con was a lot of fun, as always, and his Avengers' themed gaming party with all our industry folks was a huge blast. Such a wonderful time.

September: I got a knitting group and a great bar to hang out at called The Side Quest, which made me really happy. I spent most of the month prepping madly for exams, which means that I don't remember a lot of it clearly. All of this designed to get me ready for...

October: Qualifying Exams! Chill kickstarter! I managed to pass my written exams over Halloween and Chill gave us our most successful kickstarter ever. Other than that, I got nothin'.

November: Got the news that I'd passed, as well as taking and passing my oral exams. Thanksgiving was at our house and went very well. Bad things happened in the world and in Cleveland, with Tamir Rice's death at the top of the local list.

December: Getting caught up on media! Gaming! Working on my dissertation proposal! Christmas! My kids are here to round out the year! Hozier's album is my favorite of the year! All the good things.

And with that, time to get ready for the next go-around. May your new year be everything you'd hope it to be.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas trees are the weirdest tradition.

This is my Christmas tree this year. It says hello.

This is the first year, for me, that it really feels like a Christmas tree. We bought it from a reputable dealer who gave it a fresh cut and knew how tall it was. We measured to make sure how tall of a tree would responsibly fit in the space we have. We bought some foil garland and some new glass ornaments (and some robots) to put on the tree. We have a few older ornaments from Matt's previous tree, but they were all of a type, and now it's finally achieved "glorious mishmash" status, where the unique weird non-themed stuff outweighs the coordinated things. There are still ornaments I'd like to phase out with stuff that is meaningful to us and our kids, but that'll come with time.

Now, with all of that said... Christmas trees are a very odd tradition. I mean, for me a tree is kind of necessary. It isn't Christmas if there isn't a tree of some sort, and it's got to have some sort of gaudy lights and glass and tinsel strewn about it, and it's got to be lit at least occasionally. It's better if it's big, and not a grocery-store Norfolk Pine in a pot (as I have made due with back on my first Christmas away from home), but there needs to be something. I don't begrudge people their fake trees -- I prefer real, and even on holidays where there was no tree available, I still brought in evergreen branches for the smell as much as anything else -- but move to the beat of your own little drummer boy, you know? It's all about the good tree love, man.

But, that being said, real, fake, whatever -- the whole thing is odd. The idea of cutting down a tree, bringing it into the house, and putting stuff on it for a display... who had that idea in the first place? Branches I understand -- they smell good and are festive and evergreen, which is a lovely thing in the winter months, but a whole tree is something else entirely. While the origins of trees are unclear, it may have started in pre-Christian times with nature-worshipping peoples in Germany and eastern Europe, although bringing about branches and garlands is fairly widespread (although I still question why tree-worshippers would cut a tree down to bring it indoors to a private dwelling -- a public space makes more sense, I suppose). And then it transformed into a candy and treat display, and from there gained candles and entrance into private homes (starting from the rich and royal and moving on down in society), a symbol of the sacred in everyday life -- though what sacred thing it represents is largely lost now, other than Christmas.

It is a blatantly silly thing nowadays. We put up (in some cases assemble) a tree or tree-like creations upon which to string lights and bits of shiny stuff so as to announce, to ourselves as well  as others (because it's almost always by a window) that the Christmas season is here! And yet, without it... Christmas is diminished. It's as though we need one to share in, because without it, with only public trees to contemplate and meditate upon, it's as though the season passes us by. Without the ritual of the Christmas tree, Christmas itself is lost in some very real way. It is important if only as a step away from normal life, a small shrine to a festival of light and life in the midst of a season of dark and cold, near but not on the longest night of the year, and full of hope that its meaning, whatever that may be -- its inherent cheerfulness will somehow communicate itself not only to those around it, but also to the coming season as well.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Who's afraid of Cuba?

Not us anymore, apparently. We're over it.

President Obama's move to normalize relationships with Cuba is huge, really. The ongoing embargo, "na na I can't see you" method of dealing with Cuba was, to my mind, one of the last big holdovers from the Cold War. Small enough we could pretend not to notice in the greater scheme of things, large enough that as long as we had it, there wasn't a lot of moving forward that could happen. Untouchable so long as we held to a Cold War neo-conservative basis -- if the Cold War is your raison d'etre, then letting go of Cuba policy is the last thing you'll ever do. There were missiles there, man! Commies on the border! Insanity!

And yet, here we are.

In a lot of ways, this strikes me as a definitive blow to the neo-con baby boomers that have been in control of politics for so very long. If they were really in charge, it never would have happened -- and yet, here we are, and by and large, people are pretty happy about it. It's really the "people are pretty happy about it" part that is crucial, I might add. Gay marriage is a social issue, but people could come to terms with it and broaden their horizons without giving up a Cold War stance. Marijuana, same thing. But nobody, and I mean nobody, can budge on Cuba from a pro-Cold War position. It is purely ideological. The fact that this broke to mild applause and mutterings of approval from the majority -- it's a sea change, and one I'm overjoyed to see.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Deathy death death -- Happy holidays!

So I was reading a review of Hozier's concert in LA, and they mentioned that if there was a niche for a death-obsessed hipster guitarist, he fills it nicely. Given that Hozier's album is frankly my current obsession, I went, "hey! That's not true...." But then I thought about it and yeah, it kinda is. But I don't tend see it that way.

Maybe I'm kinda death-focused myself, if I think about it. I find Gothic things resonate for me; questions of immortality and contemplation of other states of being feel comfortable, like old friends, and I regularly question how we know what we are and what others are, and how hard it is to leave any sort of lasting mark behind is when we go. But what does this have to do with anything, you might ask. And how it is related to Christmas, of all things! And right you are to ask such questions, dear reader. Right you are.

This time of year, I find myself particularly thinking of such things. And it's not due to missed relatives and friends long gone, and it's not due to spiritual thoughts dwelling on Christ and his sacrifice for our eternal souls (Christianity makes a hell of a mystery cult, btw). It never has been, although as a kid I was a bit more religious-y focused, though even that was mostly on the carols, and that still holds. It is, if anything, a far more pagan reflection; winter, for me, is an analogue of death.

I know that sounds really harsh, but as a kid I could not help but notice that everything died off during the winter. No plants, no warmth, no bugs, no animals hanging around except the ones we took care of, and in some places even that wasn't enough. If we didn't have houses and heat and food stored, we'd die off too. I read books in which people didn't make it through the winter without help. I read about people dying from a lack of heat and clothing. The Little Match Girl did nothing for this impression either, I have to say, nor did a parade of childrens' fiction that talked in a subdued fashion about people dying in the cold as background to whatever else was going on in the story. It was my first exposure to a hostile environment, one in which our fragility -- the fragility of all living creatures -- was brought to light.

When I was a child, I used to dread winter, the seeming forever-state of cold and wind and blight, and I always wondered whether the sun would come back and bring life with it. Of course, it always did, and thus spring was my favorite season, but winter never went away entirely -- it would return too, and sweep everything before it once again. Not unlike death, I suppose. So there's that connection. I should note, I don't actually fear death, mine or anyone else's (with the exception of my kids and my husband, who aren't allowed to die ever, as far as I'm concerned). Part of that I think has to do with my aspieness, and the weird way it deals with interpersonal relationships. But part of it, too, is that it's what we do. We aren't meant to continue forever. We hope that some part of us will, but it can't ever be more than a simulacrum, a representation of a fleeting facet that gets recorded. And... that's what there is. Anything that exists in an afterlife can't be proven or recorded, and while I'd like there to be a pleasant one, all I can be certain of is that we are incapable of understanding it, whatever it is, in any way. We'll just have to wait until we get there to find out, if there's anywhere to get to at all. In the meantime, I try to live each day so that if I didn't wake up tomorrow, the people around me will know how I feel about them -- it's the least I can do.

Anyway, so Hozier. He deals a lot with what it means to think about dying, and think about love, and think about living. I don't think of those as being overly focused on death, but for him it's all mixed up together in this album, and that's a huge part of why I love it so much, because it's all mixed up for me too. Maybe it's the Celtic influence reaching across the ages in my family, but I think these things have to be all mixed up -- that's why they're beautiful, because beauty is fragile by nature. Nothing lasts forever, and anything that forgets to honor that runs the risk of being dismissive to the things we ought to set as sacred. I appreciate that in him.

In like fashion, I prefer the carols that celebrate the light within the darkness: Joy to the World, Oh Come All Ye Faithful, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, and so forth. Light is an important celebration for me this time of year, because light is the promise that the dark isn't forever -- that it will pass in its time. Christmas for me is about bringing light out of dark, that we can huddle together and celebrate even in the darkest time -- made the more joyful by recognizing that it is dark beyond the reach of our candles and fires, and that the darkness is not always friendly and clear. We mourn those not with us and drink to the joy of their memories; we bury the past year and look to the rebirth of the next. We call forth the bounty of the year so that we may freshly remember it through the dark months to come, until spring calls forth life once more.

With that in mind.... Merry Christmas, my friends. Be safe in the light, and carry it with you wherever you go, until we meet again.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Mornings.

So, since a shift in my meds, I have problems sleeping in any more. I fall asleep earlier than I was wont to do six months ago, and I wake up earlier than I'd like. By 7 AM on a typical day, sleep is no longer an option. And I know, all of you who have to get up earlier than that for work (including my husband) are all playing the world's tiniest violins for me, but here's the thing: would you willingly get up at that time if you didn't have to? I don't have anywhere to be that early, and I still can't sleep in. Thankfully, we have an arrangement where my husband makes coffee when he gets up so that I can get some, and then I can sit in bed with my computer and drink some coffee, and then the world seems like it's a far better place. But this also means that I should get some work done.

For this week, I need to study Latin for the final on Wednesday. So that gets done today and tomorrow. I need to work on moving my article into Chicago style so it'll be suitable for sending out for publication. I should also work on nailing down my prospectus topic, but if that ends up being a thing that gets done over the week instead of right now, I won't cry. I'm wanting to get it done by mid-January, but I'm also trying to be realistic about how much time I can and will devote to it over the holidays. If I can get some preliminary work done, then I can dig in during the first half of January and get it written after my kids have gone home and Matt's back at work again. I also have the unique potential of working on some fiction I have lying around unfinished. That's not a thing that's happened in a really long time... I'm kind of excited about it. We'll see. I'm also pondering starting in on wrapping my Christmas presents early this year, so it's not a marathon session at the end. Then again... okay, there's something to that marathon session with carols and egg nog and cheesy Christmas movies on the television. I don't know. We'll see. It's nice to have options, though. Very nice. :)

Monday, December 1, 2014

Downsizing deliberately

So, my car is currently a leased vehicle, and my lease is up at the beginning of February. We've started to look at what our end of lease options are -- and one of them, of course, is to let the car go back. Currently the buy price on the car is more than it's worth, so we're not keeping it. Matt's car is a CR-V with nearly 300k miles on it, so we'd like to get something newer for him too. We've gone around about this a few times over, and really what it's coming down to is the idea that, as his new job is not terribly far from my work, it might be the right time to consider dropping down to one car, and getting a newer CR-V for the two of us together. Even if we still have a car payment, we'll only have the insurance and gas for one car to consider and I won't be paying for a parking pass at my school, which is a considerable savings. Also, our schedules work for it to be feasible.

This is a big deal for me, as I have only been without a car for more than a week once in my life since I was 15 -- and that was due to an unpleasant car death when I was living with my parents and my marriage was falling apart and I was freelancing in the RPG industry for a living and supporting my husband as he went back to school. It was not terribly fun. This time, I'm the one who brought it up, so no worries there. It would put me on campus more, but I have an office and a library carrell, so I have places to work on my dissertation without dealing with doggies. It would probably be a good thing to get me on campus more for my work, even if it makes me a bit twitchy at not driving as much. Then again... driving isn't a thing that is the end all-be all of existence. And it'd be better for us financially and better for the environment (and easier on our poor old driveway). But I'm struggling with it a little, even though I like a lot of the perks of it.

If you've deliberately downsized your driving options, I'd welcome your input in how it's affected you. More data points are always a good thing.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Looking back and thinking forward

So I think, from the clothing, that I was about 16 in this picture. That would have made it roughly 1987 or 1988. That's me on the left, and then my brother Mark on the right, and my grandmother in between us. Grandmother (because that's what we always called her) was my dad's mom. I'm closer to her age now than it really strikes me to think about, but if you look at a current pic of me and then look at her... well, the resemblance is pretty clear, allowing for purple hair and everything.

With my exams finished finally and all the good stuff going on in my life right now, I find myself thinking of her often. I admired her greatly -- she taught me a lot about crafting and being a pretty cool and creative person. She was a painter and a pretty darn good one at that. I have her art on my walls here, and I'd take more of it once I have a good place to hang it. My dad loved his mom, but their relationship was a lot more conflicted -- he wasn't wrong, and she wasn't perfect, and I had the luxury of knowing here when she was older and wiser and a grandmother rather than a young, poor woman with a temper who had three boys in four years of each other and a husband who was always out on the road, selling. And I'll leave it at that. That said... she was awesome to me, and I never saw her lose her temper once at her grandkids, and there were a lot of us, and we were not always in the best behavior.

But anyway. So yeah. I think she'd be proud of me. I think I look more like her than I realized. She contributed so much to making me feel special and loved and worthwhile, even though I was different and a bit odd. I still miss her, and even as I finish up my Ph D and move on into work, I find that one of the things I judge the world by is "Would Grandmother think this is cool?" And if the answer is yes, then on we go. She hasn't steered me wrong yet.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

THANKS-giving! Hah!

See what I did there? Of course you do. :)

So, things I'm thankful for this year.

Firstly, I'm thankful that I passed my exams. Like all the thankfulness that it's done. It pretty much ate my life for a year, and while I don't regret it in the least.... I have a number of other things I'd like to move on to, not the least of which is my dissertation.

Secondly, I'm thankful for my husband. Matt made it possible for me to do... well, everything over the past year. He really honestly is the best thing to happen to me, and he makes all the rest of it worth doing.

Thirdly, I'm thankful for my kids. Alisdair and William are really the best sons I could ask for. They live much further from me than I like, but I respect their choices -- our time together again will come. They're such awesome people, and it's a privilege to be their mother.

Fourthly, I have these dogs, you see. As I sit crosslegged on the couch right now, Si has wrapped himself around me and is sleeping with his head and shoulders between me and the couch back, using my leg as a pillow. Si is irritating and stubborn and noisy and demanding and really the sweetest dog I could ask for. Leo and Sephi are lovely and I would never want to do without them, don't get me wrong, but Si's my doggie, and I'm incredibly glad to have him.

We have a lot of problems in the world, but we also have a lot of things that are right and worthwhile. Sometimes distress over the former makes it hard to identify the latter, but it's always, always worth making the effort. In that spirit, I will keep trying to find ways to make the bad better while celebrating the good, in this year and years to come. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

#Ferguson

I'm looking to my friends this morning because I need help knowing how I can deal with this. This situation is not about my feelings or my response, and I know that, so I won't waste space with them. I just... from my friends who engage more deeply in activism than I do, I want to know... where does that emotion go? And how can I turn around and help when I don't have much money to help with? How do I find a place to direct my need to engage without burdening someone who has enough burdens of their own over the system we have?

I am overwhelmed this morning, and I need a conduit, a way to refocus and help make some sort of change. If anyone has suggestions, I'm open to them.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

All I want for Christmas...

At Matt's request, I'm making a Christmas list of things I think are nifty.

First off, I have an Amazon wishlist.

Second, I love this site and nearly everything on it.

Third, I could use more winter dresses and good leggings. This site has a number of them.

  • http://www.redressnyc.com/pure-magic-microfiber-legging-plaid-perfection/
  • http://www.redressnyc.com/pure-magic-microfiber-legging-daze-of-wine-roses/
  • http://www.redressnyc.com/regular-length-teggings/
  • http://www.redressnyc.com/penny-dress/
  • http://www.redressnyc.com/vintage-cool-as-a-cucumber-dress/
  • http://www.redressnyc.com/derby-day-dress/
Fourth, I don't really have enough geeky nerdy literary shirts. There's lots of sources for those, though. 

Fifth, here's a link to my ThinkGeek wishlist

If you need more suggestions... um, I have no idea. That should do it, though. :)


Monday, November 17, 2014

Post-exams update

The Edgar Degas painting to the right is pretty indicative of how I'm feeling at the moment.

So, exams are done. I passed both my oral and written exams without having to redo any of them. I've been asked to ponder my dissertation. I have to catch up on the grading and Latin I've let slide this past week. I am so very DONE, but I'm trying to at least keep a semblance of forward momentum through the rest of the semester. My committee was helpful in pointing out some of the weaknesses in my approach for moving forward, which is really helpful, and I need to take back a billion books to the library, which I'm actually really looking forward to -- but not today, as the weather is a complete pain. As I look out the window, the snow is coming down in what I think of as sifted powdered sugar -- light enough you can't really see it snowing unless you've got a dark backdrop, but enough to slowly blanket every freaking thing out there.

I am due to phone my sons tonight after gaming, and I'm starting on new Christmas knitting projects, and I made three jars of preserved lemons yesterday, and four jars of harissa the day before that, but I still haven't made the cheesecake I wanted to make, and yesterday I ended up sleeping for two hours due to a headache, and I didn't get any grading done, but I did clean two kitchen counters and all the stuff on them, and I picked up in the bedroom a bit, and I put clean sheets on the bed, and I did dishes this morning even before coffee, and and and and and.  As you may have noticed, I'm having problems breaking out of the to-do list mode of living. To some extent this is helpful, as it actually borders on making me competent at daily life. On the other hand, I am so lost and at sea right now on what I should be doing and how I should be doing it. I feel as though I'm going through the motions and trying to catch up on what else is going on. I'm hoping this vague malaise passes before the holidays kick in -- I'm not traveling this year, for good or ill, and so I want to be able to enjoy all the staying-put-ness and build up another year of traditions.

So yeah. Back to things like blog posting. Good to see everyone again, and thanks for sticking around and reading, even if only in my mind. :)


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ugh.

I voted yesterday. I did research, I looked over the issues, I even read background on the judges, for heaven's sake -- and EVERYTHING except the school bond that I voted for lost. There were a few bright spots nationally in races I couldn't affect, but by and large, people voted for the exact opposite that common sense and a vague overview of the issues would have told them to... and I'm so very depressed as a result. What the hell, people. *hugs her coffee cup tighter*

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cue exam montage.


So today I start my doctoral exams.

I'm looking a bit like the woman in the image, except she doesn't have enough books lying around her. I've got 72 hours of doing nothing but writing like mad ahead of me, and I'm going to be crazy and non-responsive to the internet -- hell, to most of the world -- most of that time.

That being said... I'm oddly grateful to be doing this. If you'd told me in 2000 that I'd be getting my doctorate in... well, anything, really, much less English, I'd have thought you were crazy. Now that I'm doing it, I'm pretty sure I'm crazy. But it's a good sort of crazy, I think, and it seems to suit me. I've turned into this person who half the time Yodas her way through things. Somehow I lost most of the ability to have someone tell me something they want that's crazy and agree with them. Now I'm on the path of, "you want that thing? So looking at this and that and the other, here's what it takes to get that thing. Do you still want it? Then do it." Which is very straightforward but not usually, it seems to me, how we view things in our life. It's hard to do, and there are inevitably downsides. It's a gamble, and you have to know you really want that thing to make it happen. But sometimes it does, and sometimes it's better than you had any right to expect.

Now if I can just pass these horrible, horrible exams. :)


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Exams!!!

OMG, exams.

So, I was doing pretty well on the posting for a while, and I will do again, but first I have to get through doctoral exams. I am so deep into prep mode that it's not even funny, and I'm still super behind. You don't even know. So, don't expect anything new here until November, and maybe not until Thanksgiving. It's not that I don't love you, anonymous blog-reading people. It's just that I have all kinds of mental and writing stuff to do that doesn't include blog posting. So... yeah. Have fun! I'll check back with you in a month or so.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Close Reading Top 40: "Mirrors," by Justin Timberlake

So, I have this thing, because I'm an English major, wherein I listen more closely to lyrics than are probably intended by their composers. I also listen to alternative rock and top-40 in the car (and NPR -- don't judge me). And as such, sometimes I'm just floored by what I'm hearing. Today, therefore, brings a close reading and feminist analysis of Justin Timberlake's "Mirrors," off his latest album The 20/20 Experience.

Now, the history behind this song is apparently very sweet -- he wrote it about his feelings for his then bride-to-be, Jessica Biel, along with being inspired by his grandparents. The video makes me tear up a bit, honestly -- it's very sweet, at least until you get to the clown women dancing in the mirror hall.



But honestly, if we're going by the lyrics, there are some issues here. Let's start at the beginning. Lyrics are courtesy of A-Z Lyrics.com.

1st verse:
Aren't you somethin' to admire?
'Cause your shine is somethin' like a mirror
And I can't help but notice
You reflect in this heart of mine
If you ever feel alone and
The glare makes me hard to find
Just know that I'm always
Parallel on the other side
From the first line, we have an object identification going on -- the beloved isn't someone, she's something. This falls afoul of the sexy lamp test -- which effectively states that if you can replace a woman in a song/story/movie with a sexy lamp, then that's a problem because she's not a person, she's a thing.

The beloved in question isn't even beautiful or soulful or gorgeous, she's shiny. Like a mirror.  But people aren't shiny, not unless they've been playing around in shellac or latex, neither of which have anything to do with people but rather things. In addition, the primary aspect of mirrors (as the next lines note) is reflection of those around them. Mirrors are empty -- they don't have any substance, they just reflect back the people who stand in front of them. What a horrible thing for a person to be, really. If he can't help but notice the beloved's shine, then she's pretty, I suppose, but more importantly, if she reflects like a mirror then there's a good chance of seeing himself in/on his beloved.

Now, I suspect that the next line might not be correct, but not having the album and any liner notes available, I can't say for sure. But lets interpret it two ways. If he can't help but notice that she "reflects in" this heart of mine, then his own heart is mirror like and they are similar in that way. That is the more charitable reading, although it turns his own heart into a sexy mirror, which is perhaps accurate but not ideal. The other reading, which is keeping with the syntax of the song, is "you reflectin' this heart of mine" meaning that she reflects his own heart. This would be sweet, except for the objectification that occurred in the lines previous. If his reflection is what he sees, then how would he know? And does that mean she is similar to him, or that he only sees himself? Is there anything to her beyond the reflection?

Now, in the next four lines we have an interesting set up, and the reason I think he is not setting up himself as a mirror to her. He acknowledges that she might feel lonely, specifically lonely without him (mirrors don't have agency to go have lives of their own, they wait wherever they are placed for someone to reflect back) and he won't always be there with her. He also notes that the "glare" might make him hard to see/find. Light does not come from her, it comes from him/outside. This has been interpreted as paparazzi flash or his own star power, but either way, she is not included inside it, but rather as an outsider. This is made even more apparent in his positioning as "parallel on the other side." Parallel lines do not touch -- a barrier of space is always between them, even as they seem close to one another. There is an implied distance here that can't be bridged, which he goes onto explore in the bridge (funnily enough).
'Cause with your hand in my hand and a pocket full of soul
I can tell you there's no place we couldn't go
Just put your hand on the glass
I'll be tryin' to pull you through
You just gotta be strong
So here we a future condition of them holding hands -- but again, it's notable that it's not presented as a couple holding hands, but her hand in his. There is no action imputed to her, no agency. Soul is likewise made oddly quantifiable as something held in a pocket, implying a small amount. There is "no place they couldn't go," suggesting something that hasn't happened yet but might in future. So she is still not a person with agency -- still a thing. In fact, she is trapped within the glass of a mirror. Now she's no longer a person at all, but purely a reflection -- and by extension, a reflection of him specifically. She no longer exists if he moves away from the mirror, where he is looking at himself. There is a hint of the princess in the tower, sort of, but really, it's much simpler. The earlier parallel lines are the glass between him and his idealized self -- his reflection, which is his beloved. We'll explore that further in the chorus.

Chorus:

'Cause I don't wanna lose you now
I'm lookin' right at the other half of me
The vacancy that sat in my heart
Is a space that now you hold
Show me how to fight for now
And I'll tell you, baby, it was easy
Comin' back here to you once I figured it out
You were right here all along 
It's like you're my mirror
My mirror staring back at me
I couldn't get any bigger
With anyone else beside of me
And now it's clear as this promise
That we're making two reflections into one
'Cause it's like you're my mirror
My mirror staring back at me, staring back at me
He doesn't want to lose this reflection and is staring at the other half of himself, which is himself as the beloved. Like Narcissus, he is enamored of his own reflection to the extent that it has taken up residence in his heart as the beloved, in the form of a woman/mirror (ostensibly). He wants to fight for preservation of this moment (again playing with the princess trapped in a tower theme). He says it was easy to come back once he figured out what he wanted (his reflection) because obviously, the mirror doesn't move. It stays put, given that it has nothing beyond himself that he recognizes.

If this seems like I'm reading in, the second half of the chorus states it plainly. The beloved is his mirror/reflection. He feels increased by this in some way, "bigger," as though he is somehow multiplied by standing next to his reflection and prefers it to all others. There is a promise (lover's vow) implying marriage or joining, where "two reflections [become] one." That is actually an interesting line, as it potentially implies he is nothing more than a reflection himself. The end result, though, is that he and his reflection join to become one whole him, rather than joining with someone else to become something new -- a union. His reflection stares back at him, and he sees nothing but himself.

2nd verse:
Aren't you somethin', an original
'Cause it doesn't seem merely a sample
And I can't help but stare, 'cause
I see truth somewhere in your eyes
I can't ever change without you
You reflect me, I love that about you
And if I could, I would look at us all the time
Here in the second verse, we see the theme continued. He calls his beloved an original rather than a sample, meaning a musical sample gotten from somewhere else. And yet if she is merely his reflection, she can't be original, except in that she allows him to see himself, who is supposedly unique. He "can't help but stare, 'cause / I see truth somewhere in your eyes," -- again, we see Narcissus rear his pretty head here, as he cannot stop looking at the truth of his reflection, searching it for meaning. The next line is unintentionally funny, I feel, as "I can't ever change without you" calls up ideas of the role of mirrors in changing clothes and checking your look, whereas the intention was doubtlessly more on the level of personal internalized change, yet I feel the previous meaning is far stronger, particularly when connected to the next line "you reflect me, I love that about you." A mirror cannot instigate change, and here he says quite plainly that what he loves about the beloved is his own reflection, his ability to see himself in her/it. Her qualities begin and end with what he sees about himself and the extent to which she enables him to see them. He would look at the two of them together constantly if he could, meaning he would stare at himself, as Narcissus stares down into the waters of the pond, wanting what he cannot have.

Final bridge:
Yesterday is history
Tomorrow's a mystery
I can see you lookin' back at me
Keep your eyes on me
Baby, keep your eyes on me
The past and future are both relegated to nothing in the first two lines -- we are given an eternal present of him staring into his beloved mirror, talking to his reflection, urging it to gaze back at him always.

And then we get into the latter part of the song, where he dedicates the song to the mirror woman and decides to buy it/her and take her home, where she can reflect him all the time as he pledges his undying love -- to himself, strangely. And we'll just leave it with his words, I think.

You are, you are the love of my life [x10]
Now you're the inspiration for this precious song
And I just wanna see your face light up since you put me on
So now I say goodbye to the old me, it's already gone
And I can't wait wait wait wait wait to get you home
Just to let you know, you are
You are, you are the love of my life [x8]
Girl you're my reflection, all I see is you
My reflection, in everything I do
You're my reflection and all I see is you
My reflection, in everything I do
You are, you are the love of my life [x16]

Sunday, August 31, 2014

I hab a code.

It's not so bad as all that, really, more just sinus headaches and sore throat and feeling blah. I'm 99.5% sure it's not ebola, at any rate, so that's something we can all celebrate.

I'm working on getting back into my reading list in some depth, so I've reorganized things and made some piles of books so I can see what I have left to do, and I find this is far more motivating than words on a list. Visual stuff for the win. I have a new lamp sitting beside my chair, and it really improves my whole world. Yay for seeing things!

After taking a few days to read secondary material (so much faster) I'm back to reading primary stuff. I have 9 of the 15 primary novels (the longest sources) that I need to read in my possession. The rest I'll end up getting from the library. I have a lot less of the poetry, but that's a much quicker read, and I've got half of the drama. I'm starting on DeFoe's Roxana today after a round each of secondary sources from each portion of the list.

I still have to finalize my questions. I should work on that today so I can start on my drafts of my answers, but I haven't. Perhaps tomorrow I'll do that. We'll see. I have until Friday, when I'll meet with my advisor.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Affordances and Feminism in Games

I'm currently reading James Gibson's The Ecological Approach To Visual Perception, which seems like it would have nothing to do with literature at all -- except you'd be wrong. (It also seems like it'd be boring, but you'd be wrong there too, amazingly enough.) Basically, this book applies early systems theory to visual perception and moves it outside the eye and into the environment in a very painterly, "what sort of things do we actually see and interact with" sort of way. In it, he puts forward the theory of affordances, which is basically that things give us opportunities or possibilities when we interact with them depending on their physical qualities. That sounds simple enough on the surface, but really there's a wealth of applicability there to things beyond just the environment, particularly when it comes to literature.

If we look at literature as an assembly of concepts (setting, characters, plot, genre conventions, objects), then it's intentionally made. It forms a sort of virtual environment for the reader as they ramble about in the story, following the navigational path laid down by the author but able to skip around in time as they wish. Video games are like this, but with even more observational freedom to the player/reader, because often there's a sandbox element involved. Even when one follows a tight narrative path, there's often room for exploration and interaction outside the main plot (subplots, NPCs, minor quests, walking around, etc.). The narrative elements we encounter have purposes and applications for us, in terms of story, relationality, and impact on the reader. 

The question is, then, what are the affordances for something like the BDSM nun assassins in Hitman: Absolution?


The poster above, as you can see, was a preview for the game. It features the Saints, as the hit team is called in game, with the word "TEASE" spelled out behind them. Of course, it's a tease as it's a promotional photo, but the shape of the "A" in the middle at hip/crotch level with the two central figures on either side, draws the eye straight there and leaves very little doubt as to the sexual implications of the image. 

My husband's been playing the game (he picked it up used, as he's traditionally been a big fan of the series but couldn't bring himself to give the company money after the above campaign). The plot involves killing his oldest "friend" at the Agency for her betrayal (and doing so while she's in the shower, naked) and then trying to save her daughter/ward, whose identity is in question and who is more than she seems (although she's powerful, she's helpless the whole time and unable to protect herself), from the Agency who wants her back, ostensibly for experimentation. The Saints pictured above are a pet project of 47's old boss -- according to overheard dialog, they are all war orphans and juvenile criminals and foster kids that he picks up, trains, and turns into dominatrix nun sex worker / assassins (the former proven when we're shown a cut scene of her taking a call while "working." The assassin team, however, doesn't command any particular respect from the men they command (and yes, all the regular soldiers are men, unburdened by traumatic, weird/bad sex-laden pasts), nor do they pose any real threat to 47. They'll shoot at you the same as the rest of them, but mostly they wander around and wait to be killed. 

So: ineffective emasculating traumatized women with daddy issues wearing porn-wear and waiting for you to kill them -- as a selling point of the game. What affordances does their presence in the game provide? Sexual arousal, almost certainly. A feeling of superiority, definitely. Ultra-feminized but in a punishable way? Yep. A minor challenge to be surmounted without much difficulty? Yep. Gendered appeal? Largely, yes. They aren't presented to be sympathetic to women or as an option for play (which would have its own eyebrow-raising issues). Appeal to taboo in the form of religion? Um, yeah. 
On top of all that, what does killing fake sexualized nuns really do? They don't have a place in the game canon. They aren't an ongoing threat, despite the promotional images and trailer. It's one level in the game plus a prior cut-scene to set it up. That's it. There's no narrative significance to their deaths -- we don't get any speeches, any drama. The end of the level is picking up a phone and talking to the boss, who's pissed off at 47 generally, but not about the deaths of the women. At this point, they aren't women. They're obstacles, targets, corpses, and prizes, objectified and rendered inert. 

Affordances don't just apply to the player/reader, though. If we take a step back and look at it from a creator perspective, what are the affordances/uses/possibilities the Saints provide? Effective "scandalous" sexualized marketing images? Definitely. Are those images directed at a particular demographic? Absolutely. They will, of course, drive away other demographics, but targeted sales are desirable, right? There are also questions of what satisfaction including these images/plot devices in this way may give the creators of the project, but those are questions we can't answer. It is clear, however, that they were purposefully included in this game with no precedent to consider -- so everyone ought to be asking themselves why.  

See, I get why a certain demographic does not want the portrayal of women in games to change, looking at the above. None of the affordances above are things one can really ask for in polite society. It's easy gratification for some darker stuff that doesn't bear talking about -- it just is. The people who enjoy it don't have to admit to it, and the people who don't care one way or the other may wrinkle their noses a bit, but it's so woven into the backdrop of what we see in the entertainment world that it barely registers -- it's normalized. 

Let me repeat that, just to let it sink in. 

A game where you beating up sado-masochistic women costumed as sexualized nuns (who are virgins and brides of Christ, thus just hanging a lantern on the virgin/whore thing) for the entertainment of the heterosexual male viewer with a bit of kink is NORMALIZED. 

More than that, even it's a selling point. A marketing win. 

A tease. 

I don't know about you, but those are some affordances I could live without. 


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Truth to Power, or that sort of thing.

Soapbox time.

So. We're only human, right? And one of the things we hate (as humans) is hearing about when we've fucked up. We get cranky. We get defensive. We get anxious. We feel attacked, and all those panicky feelings shoot us full of adrenaline and we have to react right the fuck now to make them go away.

Heck, I even feel accused looking at the image I uploaded. Um, sorry about that.

But here's the thing -- sometimes we fuck up. And when we mess up in a way that affects someone else, and that's a fairly common thing, it is often the right and proper thing for them to call us on it. Particularly, as it happens, if it's part of a pattern of error, or mistaken beliefs, or bad choices, or just mishandling we don't realize we're doing. It's entirely possible to be wrong and not even realize it, and our friends are doing the right thing if they call us on that, no matter how icky we might feel inside. The right thing to do, in that case, is not to defend our territory, right or wrong. The right thing to do is take a moment, think about what they're saying, acknowledge the truth of it if there is any, and apologize -- period, end of story.*

We are not good at doing this, and by we I mean apparently as a species. We invest a lot in the appearance of being right, of being perfect, and it can feel like a loss if we say "You're right, that's a problem I have and I was wrong. I'm sorry." We feel inferior and uncertain, and we worry about the consequences of admitting a thing is not well done. We teach our children to apologize through catching them doing something wrong, and it is often accompanied by punishment and shaming. It's hard to feel good about apologies when that's the way you experience them.

Apologies are golden, though. They allow the injured to feel heard and know their annoyance or suffering (hopefully minor) can be productive. They let people forget something and move on. In business or personal life, they are the pallative to social ills, and they don't have to mean a loss or putdown to the giver of the apology unless you make it so.

The real problem with not apologizing, though, has nothing to do with the outside world and everything to do with the person who can't or won't give one. The more you declare you have nothing to apologize for, the more weight that belief has to have -- after all, if it crumbles, you might have even more apologizing to do, and even the little bit you were presented with wasn't palatable. So the more you double down, the more invested with meaning and import that non-given apology becomes, and the more effrontery it seems that someone continues to confront you with it (or else just slips away from your life without you realizing it). Suddenly instead of you being wrong, you have to make someone else be wrong in order to make things okay, and that's a problem. The real test of "wrong" is, "is someone injured (possibly repeatedly) by my actions? Do my actions impact my own life negatively as a result?" If the answer is yes, you must confess.

I mess up a lot. Part of it is a cognitive/neurological issue, part of it is being human. I don't mean to, and a lot of the times I'm largely unaware of it until it's pointed out to me. My awareness of the ways in which I mess up has grown over the years, which is both painful and a blessing, because it lets me accommodate my natural differences in a way that doesn't affect the people I care about negatively, at least not for the most part. Apologizing is a big part of that -- acknowledging that I messed up and did something that made someone else uncomfortable and unhappy, whether I meant to or not, lets them know that they are valued and that I care about how I affect them. It doesn't mean I have to put up with being treated badly in return; it means I know my own worth and when I'm negatively affecting someone else.

I've been seeing this a lot lately; it seems like this simple rubric is one we have a great deal of trouble understanding or putting into practice, from Ferguson to my own daily internet experience. It's not okay to hurt others or make them feel lesser. It's not okay to refuse to acknowledge our own actions or complicity in that. If this is something we've done, the right answer is to Say We Are Sorry, Acknowledge What We Did, and Not Do It Again.

What's so hard about this, people?

[steps down, puts soapbox away until next time]


*Note that you do actually have to mean it and make an effort to change along with the apology, but that's about making your insides match your outsides and is really closer to another blog post altogether.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rising Waters, Session 6

Song: "Why Don't You Do Right," Carolina Chocolate Drops


(Honestly, the video is so awesome I had to include it, even though I usually just link. Fantastic performance.)

So after the group left Adelphia's lover's house, they went back to the garage to regroup. Uno was determined to go see the winter changelings trapped in cold storage by Mab as punishment and question his counterpart Ymir, the minor Winter Knight. Zeke agreed to go with him, as an angry Uno was not someone you wanted to see out on their own confronting enemies. (That Mab might be annoyed with their interference didn't really come up.)
Image copyright Inhabitat (www.inhabitat.com)

Dylan was very focused on making his diving bell, and neither Eldi nor Adia wanted to tag along to the cold storage facility so they stayed to "help" Dylan. Viktor got in touch with his contact on the White Council, but she needed more information before she could definitively help identify any monsters in the deeps of the bay other than "Chessie."

Zeke and Uno head over to the storage facility, about 20 minutes away. As they cross the 21st Street bridge, though, they feel a WHOMP. They don't see anything as they look back, but the sky is suddenly darker, almost like evening, and there's a chill to the air. They keep going, but the whomp keeps coming, now spaced like someone -- or something -- walking after them. Zeke calls Adia to request backup. Adia and Eldi interrupt Dylan, scaring him in the process and causing his Southie accent to resurface, and the three of them grab Viktor and head down to the storage facility, with Dylan using a bit of kinetomancy along the way to speed things up.

In the meantime, Zeke and Uno pull into the parking lot of the facility, and Uno jumps out of the car, fully pissed off. He issues a challenge to whatever is following them to show itself. It doesn't yet, but it addresses him, saying in a deep voice, "You are unwelcome, Summer Knight. Leave or pay the price." Uno refuses to leave, unsurprisingly, and then the creature unveils itself and steps forward. It's a 15-ft-tall, gray-ish green, ugly, rubbery, warty creature wielding a giant meat cleaver -- a bridge troll. Zeke takes a shot at it, wounding its hand and making it drop the cleaver, but that only slows it down. Uno slashes at it and does a goodly bit of damage as well, but that only seems to enrage it further. It flips Uno's car and knocks Zeke to the ground, concussing him. Uno slashes it again and some sort of strange black ichor shows, but it scarcely slows down. While Zeke gets to his feet, Uno and the Troll exchange a couple more attacks, but Uno's tumbling ability and speed keeps him out of harm's way.

Uno's managing to hold it off but just barely when the rest of the group shows up. Dylan's driving, and when they pull up they can see Uno's car on its side and a huge troll, but no Uno (behind the troll) or Zeke (behind the flipped car). Dylan decides he can just run through the fence and hit the troll, understanding all this physics stuff as he does, and rams through. He does a decent amount of injury to the troll, which is vaulted through the air over Uno to land behind him. It looks caved in over its ribs, and the skin is split open and blood is spilling out, but then it pushes up and reinflates, straightening out, and everyone collectively goes "oh, shit." It turns and attacks Uno, who vaults out of the way, and instead it hits the car, burying its cleaver in the hood/engine, which kills the car accordingly but it does not, in fact, blow up. Uno attacks it from behind, causing it to bellow in rage and pain and distracting it from the car full of his friends.

Adia takes this opportunity to leap out of the car, running over to the far side of the driveway behind the fence (a fighter she is not). Eldi leaps out as well, flying out of reach. She tries to glamour the troll's cleaver to make it think it's on fire so it'll drop the weapon, but she fails. The cleaver appears to burn, but it doesn't bother the troll. Viktor runs up and, using his kinetic ring, punches it in the knee to make it drop -- which does some damage, but doesn't inconvenience it as much as he'd hoped.

Zeke is up, but hurting. He asks Sauriel for help and feels his cross glow warmly against his skin. The pain fades and he can think clearly, feeling filled with divine joy and purpose but still in control. He shoots at the troll again, but misses. The Troll staggers, but takes another swing at Uno and misses again. Eldi is studying the troll and realizes that the blood is covered with a glamour, and it's not really blood -- it's little trolls, not much bigger than her. She cancels the glamour, allowing everyone to see (and be grossed/weirded out by) the composite troll. Adia starts looking for something to throw, based on her work with Dylan before, while Viktor tries to punch it again. Dylan decides to have the engine explode, on the hope that metal hurts it, and spray shrapnel at the troll -- he succeeds, doing damage and causing the troll to bellow in pain again.

Zeke takes another shot, doing damage again and causing a head wound that bleeds little men... but then closes itself up as the tiny trolls pull the skin of the wound shut. Eldi decides to convince the troll that the engine is continuing to spray shrapnel, since that seemed to make it unhappy, and her trick works, but only the troll can see it. Anxious to get out of the way, it comes around and tries to flip Dylan's car -- that he's still in. It fails, though, unable to get a grip on the car and only rocking it threateningly. Dylan yells to Adia -- "throw the hammer!" since she had it in her purse from the diving bell. Adia throws it toward the troll, but doesn't hit -- that's okay, though, as Dylan "catches" it kinetically. Viktor, in the meantime, creates a gravity well on the troll to crush it, and it seems to suck it inward, collapsing it in places along with tiny screams. Eldi does not cope well with this, triggered by the realization that she's not much smaller than the tiny trolls that are dying, and goes to hide in Adia's purse, traumatized by the eldritch screaming. Dylan then sends the hammer at the troll, trying to disrupt its "surface tension" and collapse it into its component parts. He hits it and its boundaries seem to wobble a bit as a new "rent" in its skin opens up, but it resolidifies. Seeing that, Zeke comes over and, holding up his cross to it, commands it to depart and go back from whence it came. There's a flash of light as the cross touches the troll, then the wound starts smoking and burning, and then the entire creature collapses into countless tiny trolls who run back toward the bridge en masse.

Still pissed off, Uno manages to capture one. He insists on questioning him, asking why the troll attacked, while Viktor starts inscribing a binding circle (at least partly as a show). The troll freaks out and points out that he's Winter affiliated and thus bound to protect this place against the incursions of Summer -- particularly the Summer Knights. Uno demands the creature's name, saying that he only wished to talk, and the troll says, "What?" The conversation comes to a standstill, before the troll volunteers that he is called "21st Street." He says if Uno swears an oath on his lady that he has come only to talk, he will act as a go-between to parlay and give Uno access. Dylan, suddenly disgusted that his car got cleaved over a misunderstanding AND that he missed valuable crafting time, gives up on this whole process and takes a seat, waiting for it to be over so he can get his car towed.

Uno doesn't want to give his oath at first, but he finally does. The troll swears back by air and darkness that he accepts the oath and will act in good faith so long as Uno does. Uno releases the troll and it scampers into the building and disappears, only to have the door open soon thereafter.

Zeke feels his divine aura fade and some of his pain returns, but his head is still better than it was. He decides to go inside with Uno, while Viktor, Dylan, Adia, and Eldi stay outside -- Eldi doesn't want anything more to do with the winter court than the summer court, Adia is calling tow trucks, and Viktor and Dylan are both kind of annoyed. Uno enters the facility with Zeke at his side, a place he hadn't been in two years. He sees the storage compartment and opens it, revealing a circle of human figures, all completely encased in an inch and a half of ice, like trees after an ice storm -- and at their head, Ymir, Winter Knight. He tries to determine how to move them, but they're frozen to the floor. Just as he thinks about getting out his sword and using it, he feels a warm glow in his pocket -- the chess piece. He places it next to the ice from the Winter Knight and it glows more brightly, the ice melting out from around it. Rapidly disappearing and turning into slush, the Knight finally surfaces from his icy prison, shivering but aware.

"Uno," he said, sneering. "To what do I owe the honor?"

"I want answers. I'm apparently engaged to be married against my will, and I was told to ask you why," Uno said.

"Congratulations," Ymir said sarcastically. "You'll pardon me if I don't attend."

"Fuck off," Uno replied. "I freed you. Tell me what I want to know."

Ymir shuddered as ice fell to the floor. "Free the others."

Uno shook his head. "No chance. You can do it when you've got the time."

Ymir shook his body, ice crackling as it fell to the floor. "I don't know about an engagement -- I've been out of touch for a while."

Uno said, "Fine, but someone in Winter's got an interest in there. Who is it?"

Ymir smiles. "Why don't you ask your mother?"

"What's she got to do with it," Uno asks, a sinking feeling coming over him.

Ymir takes a moment, gloating, then says distinctly, "let's just say she's got a Winter vacation home."


And that's it for this session! I'll be putting this game on hiatus until I finish my exams, but then we'll pick it back up. Stay tuned!








Monday, August 25, 2014

50 posts, yay!

So I managed to make it to 50 posts! While I'm not posting daily, I'm posting semi-regularly, and that's something in and of itself. Today's post, then, is sort of a general update.

1) GenCon is done. We did well (I won't say we made money on the con as a whole), but we offset a decent portion of our expenses. We sold through nearly all the stock we brought -- we might have sold more had we been more ambitious about bringing material, but then we might have had to carry stuff home, too, so it worked out. I had a great time, my kids had a great time, and all is well on that front. And now on to Chill, 3rd Edition. *grin*

2) Classes start today. We got glowing reviews from the summer course I co-taught, so I'm thrilled with that. I've got Latin this afternoon but that's the only class I'm taking -- so long as I can order my books today, I'll be fine.

3) I've got a ton of studying and writing to do. No really. You don't even want to know.

4) My kids flew back to their dad's house last night. It's like part of me is missing. It always feels like this until I get used to it again, and there's nothing for it but to buck up and try not to expose myself to stuff that'll make me cry, and not go up to their room for a couple of weeks. Every time they leave here, I ask myself again why in the world I thought leaving them was a good idea -- why I thought I was okay to do that. The answer is, of course, that I thought it wouldn't be permanent and that when I sent for them after I'd gotten set up, they'd come. I also wasn't supporting us on the income I could get, and I needed to go to grad school -- it's the best thing I've ever done, and I'm good at it, and I couldn't do it where I was. Also, there was this guy, who is now my husband, which means I can't go back. My life is wonderful, except that my boys aren't here with me, and that just kills me even though every single other aspect of it is a vast improvement. It'll get better. It always does. But right now it sucks.

5) I think Matt and I might join a bowling league in October. We shall see.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

GenCon: The Rest of It, 2014 edition

So I did day 1, and then GenCon happened, so now I'm doing a recap, because seriously. There's not enough time in the world.

Friday: So Friday was a big booth day for me. I spent most of my day there meeting people and selling stuff. Seriously, we had a great booth that had very little downtime for the whole con -- I'm thrilled with the Indie Game Showcase and how successful it was. In the afternoon, I left the booth and went to a panel on "Intro to RPG Design" run by Mark Richardson, whose game Headspace is currently being playtested with an eye to release soonish. Very pretty, I have to say.

Anyway, the panel was well attended and well received. We were able to give some suggestions on moving from idea to design and design to game. I think we may have been too broad in terms of what people might have expected to be covered, but it worked out well and people said they appreciated it.

Following the panel, though, I had to high-tail it over to the JW. We all ate briefly at the Crowne Plaza, then Matt walked his cake over to the JW because I couldn't carry it (seriously, it was massive) and we followed behind, because it was time for his 40th birthday party! We had a great turnout and the rooms at the JW (and the food!) were awesome. Matt got all manner of drinkables and played games and chatted with people, and it was just really all we could have wanted. Thanks to everyone who joined us or wished they could have. :)


Saturday: Saturday I worked in the booth a bit, but I started off the day with my "GMing as Women" panel, which was really well attended and turned out to be a fantastic event. If you're a woman and you're interested in GMing, you should do that! We are, and it's awesome. Look for a repeat performance next year, possibly split into social group-management aspects and game-related aspects.

From there I did a couple of short stints in the booth and hung out with my long-term bestie, Nicole, who came up for a couple of days with her friend Derek. It was so very good to see her again -- I've missed her like whoa. I wish we could have spent more time together, but we had booked an event that evening as we didn't know when she'd be in town exactly. It's okay, though -- we'll be doing it again soon.

After a quick dinner and parting hugs with Nicole, we went off to play Ragnarok: Fate of the Norns, which is a totally amazing game. It's rune based, and the graphic design is not only beautiful, but it's integral to the play experience. I cannot say enough how amazing this game is -- you should buy it, flat out. The game was really good, even if I was really tired by this point, and I enjoyed it immensely. From there we went back and crashed.

So Sunday morning I opened the booth while Matt ran his traditional Sunday morning game of Clay-o-rama for the kids track. We had a good opening run, and I handed off booth duties at noon, just in time for Matt and I to get lunch and go shopping!




























This is a picture of our haul. We did a decent amount of shopping, and I was pretty thrilled with all the stuff we picked up. We wanted to get 7 Wonders, but they were sold out apparently by then, so we did without. I'm particularly excited by Atomic Robo -- everything I've seen from that I'm loving, and I plan to run it at some point. Yay games! Yay GenCon! :)

Friday, August 15, 2014

GenCon, Day 1.

So Matt and the boys and I drove out to GenCon on Wednesday, getting here a day ahead of the official start so we could set up the booth and attend Trade Day and represent the Indie Games Showcase! for the con. Getting it set up was the usual mix of Victory! and frustration, so that was about par for the course. I did kiss a guy on the cheek for bringing me a bottle of water, though.

Thursday morning we head over bright and early to finish setting up the booth -- it takes a village and people with more coffee than I'd had, but we get it running, and then I spent most of the day there. Once we had it going... well, we had a really good day.

Thursdays are normally a decent day, but today was crowded like no Thursday I'd seen before. The hall was packed and not just in a huge queue for the one big thing, but in a lot of lines for a lot of cool things, and then also wandering around. The Indie Games Showcase (#1539) is our booth, and by our I mean Indie Game Designers Network, and it's got a wealth of games available across a number of different styles of play -- from pick up card games to full-on campaign settings and fleshed out game systems, with supplements. Good stuff.

I spent the day largely there, with some digression to the IGDN Game HQ, which is where our designers are running games for the most part. It's been a really good setup, and was packed all day.

When the exhibit hall closed, we decided to splurge and go to Mikado and have sushi, me and the boys and Matt. It was very good, but we won't get another such splurge again -- not cheap. And after dinner I played in a game called Dime Stories, which is a Western set in space, effectively. It was really good.

And now it's far too late and I need to fall over and go to bed. Tomorrow's a new day (and a new blog post) though!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Garden plans!

So, back to the whole getting the grounds at the house fixed up thing.

This rose is called Laura -- this color spread is actually
my favorite.
Once upon a time, this house was owned by people who enjoyed doing garden stuff. I can tell this, because the things they did were really quite expansive and required a decent amount of money to do. Unfortunately, they got old/died/sold off the house, and no one after that has cared quite so much, and now it's over a decade later and I'm excavating the garden, essentially, to find what they did and whether I want to/care to recreate it.

I really like old-fashioned roses, and this one's hardy.
This year, my sons are old enough and big enough to handle and even subversively enjoy some light manual labor stuff. I have therefore put them to work in the garden to help me with some of the heavier lifting. In the last week they're here, I'll have them help me with planting, perhaps -- we'll see, but at least we can get the beds somewhat ready.

These are called Gold Band lilies, and I think they have a nice
balance with roses. 
So, the first part of my plan has been to scale back my ambitions somewhat: I can't tackle all of the huge bed by the driveway. There's still too much landscaping fabric to pull up, although my younger son likes digging enough that I may set him at it and help me get the rest of it out this year. I can, however, tackle the front of the house facing the road, as that's arguably the biggest "eyesore" portion. In those halcyon days of yore, there was a raised bricked flowerbed along the front of the house. I know this, because I've seen pictures. It was torn out, though, leaving just its foundations and a gap between the sidewalk and the house that filled in with weeds and grasses. I've had the kids working on pulling the big, obnoxious weeds and digging up the sod, as well as finding where the foundation bricks are. I'm not having them dig the suckers out -- that's more than I actually want them to do, and I've no idea what I'd do with that space anyway. But it tells me where my plantable area is, and that's helpful.

This one's as close to a white as I'd likely put in -- very pretty.
In that area, I'm looking at planting a series of 3-4 shrub roses and some lilies -- it should nicely screen the house and the roses will keep the deer out of the lilies. It won't do anything about bunnies, but one thing at a time. If I discover I need something closer to the ground... maybe some hostas? Maybe something that takes up less space? We'll see. I don't feel the need to put more flowers out there if I've got lilies and roses. Enough is enough, right? It's also the only garden space I have that gets enough full sun to support these efforts, so go big and floral or go home, I suppose. The other question, of course, is what roses to plant? I can only afford about three bushes right now, so I should plan so they look nice together -- or just plant random stuff and hope it all comes together in the end. :)

This sweet little rose is called April. It's pretty cute.
 I've also given some thought to putting some shade-tolerant lilies up next to the porch, on the side that is such a pain. Deer aren't likely to come quite that close to the house, and they'd be pretty when they bloomed. I could put some ferns down in front of them, and they'd be really nice together. But then, that's part of the whole "biting off more than I can chew" problem that I have.

This rose is called Portlandia, and yes, it grows in clusters.
This is pachysandra. 
If I'm going to go whole hog, mind you, then I'm going to do the following: I've got some Japanese pachysandra already growing from a patch started back in the day. I want to put it in the small flowerbed next to the huge maple tree -- it's too root bound to grow much, but pachy doesn't care and loves shade. It also need edging to keep it in check, so that rock-surrounded garden should be fine. I'll also just need to watch it to make sure it doesn't escape into the grass. If it starts surmounting the rocks, I'll put some edging in at the bottom. I may even install pachysandra around the maple tree itself, if I feel like raking out all the rocks and putting them somewhere else -- (rocks around the tree over landscape fabric, that's now been buried with dirt under rocks over landscape fabric... and so weeds grow between the rocks anyway. Ugh).

These are maidenhair ferns. Aren't they pretty? 
So with that done, I'd need to concentrate on the front bed, which has thus far been my undoing. I like tulips and tried them there this year, but it was too weedbound to really make a show, and I didn't get around to pulling things when I should have. With that, I may try bulbs again, but not until I have done a bit of working on the ground as a whole to tame it. Again, once the landscape fabric is up, I'll be able to do some planting. I'm looking at ferns -- I actually really love ferns, and given how shady the front is, I won't be able to do a lot of flowery stuff anyway -- maybe some hostas. Ferns have the advantage of being native (if you buy the right stuff) and deer resistant, so even if I plant a couple of hostas and the deer nibble them to nubs, the ferns should make it through. My big question then is, will I still need to mulch? These are the horrible thoughts gardening makes you have, friends. It's a wonder I'm halfway sane with working on this.

Lady ferns.
Here's the irony: I don't like gardening. I have this weird leftover plant phobia from when I was 4 and I saw a show about a man-eating office plant (thanks, Tim Conway) and so certain plants can twig me still -- which is an improvement over when all plants did it, but I've gotten better at handling it. But I also hate it when the yard looks abandoned. I don't want to stamp "People Live Here!" all over the yard -- we have a woods that extends into our yard, and I really like the natural landscape. But up next to the house it helps keep critters at bay and makes it look like we care about the house and the place we live, which we do. It also makes guests feel welcome. I might also just be weird.

A nice blue hosta that makes mauve flowers. It only looks
a little like an alien life form. 
In addition, I only have so much bandwidth to devote to gardening. Seriously, I don't like it that much and it wears me out, and I can only keep up with so many things. In addition addition, Matt hates yard work, so whatever I'm doing, I'm doing myself. I need to get a section to be largely self-sufficient barring some weeding and watering. I want to plant things on purpose to crowd out weeds that still look nice, that I can keep up with. Once I get the house squared away, I can move out to the barn and the old deck and the place the grapevine arbor used to be but is now just a huge pile of overgrown viney stuff. Sigh. Talk about a need for manpower.

 I have to say, though, just looking at this post with all the pictures gives me hope.





Friday, August 8, 2014

GenCon Schedule!

Si says hello.

So, for those who would like to find me at GenCon, I'll be working at the IGDN booth most of the time, which is Booth #1539. Come by and say hello!

In addition, I'll be on two panels:

How to Learn RPG Design: Friday August 15th at 4PM-5PM, Crowne Plaza Union Station in room Pennsylvania Station C.

Looking to get into designing RPGs? Curious about what you need to know? This panel will help you get started! Join Jason Pitre and other Independent Game Design Network members to talk about learning what you need to know to work on RPGs!

GMing as Women: Saturday August 16, 10am-11am, in the Crowne Plaza Union Station in room Pennsylvania Station C.

Are you a woman? Do you GM or are you thinking about doing so? This panel of women GMs will answer your questions and help you get a handle on how to deal with GMing challenges, large and small. Come on down!

Please note that both panels are currently sold out, so that means that standing room/sitting on the floor might be a thing. I'm so excited!

See you there!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy!

So, I am not a big comic book goob, unless you're talking about the 90s run of Vertigo, and even then not nearly so much as some. I knew vaguely of the Guardians, but much in the same way I knew of the Inhumans, which is to say names and not much more. I went into this movie neither knowing nor caring about it, for the most part -- but it looked fun and my friends and husband were excited, so here we go.

This movie is awesome. Now, I'm a big adherent to the maxim of "It's okay to like problematic things" because, being a geeky woman who specializes in Gothic and 18th-century British Literature, from a 21st-century and personal perspective, nearly everything is problematic. It's not a question of "if," but "how much" and whether whatever it is exceeds its problematic content by enough for me to put it aside. There were some problematic issues in GotG, I can't lie. Every now and then, I'd be going along and totally into it, and then there'd be some oddly wrong note that made me stop and go "What did you just say?" and then things would move on and it wouldn't be repeated, for the most part. But the fact that they were random and fairly rare rather than constant is a big thing, and I'm willing to forgive it a lot for that.

Things GotG did right:

Attitude: Yes, there's an "everyone grows up just a little" character arc for everyone. Yes, it's juvenile at times. But overall, there's a glorious straightforward genuineness about the camp and the space and the costumes and the everything that hasn't been seen in movies in some time, especially not genre movies. I had to love it for that.

Music: I really hate a lot of 70s music, but it was perfect and diagetic and really, really nifty despite my initial impressions.

Visuals: Everything that was supposed to be bright was glorious and four-color, and everything that was supposed to be dark and brooding was exactly that. Totally on point, all the way.

Acting: My lord, everyone was just on their game, and willing to be subtle with the funny as they played it completely straight. Expertly cast and executed. I was happily surprised.

Writing: I've seen people complain that it's a simplistic plot, or that Marvel's loving their MacGuffins a bit too much. To which I say... well, have you read comics? I think the writing was spot on for what the movie wanted to be, and that's all I ask from it.


And now, let's talk about Gamora.

She's not the only woman in the movie, but she's the only one we really care about (well, some of us might care about Nebula. And some of us might care briefly about the Collector's slave, but neither of them get a ton of screen time -- and no one cares about Glenn Close's character, regardless of the quality of her representation of good-guy-authority). I am not sure I love Gamora more than Black Widow (the only other comparable character in the Marvel movies thus far). Then again, Black Widow's been in a number of movies, and this is Gamora's first outing. I certainly like her portrayal far more in this than I did BW's in Iron Man 2.

The film passes the Bechdel test, if only barely, but that's really neither here nor there. We've got a strong, smart, independent woman who ends up joining because it suits her plans, not because of an existing relationship with the male lead (and hints at that relationship place it far more on his end than hers, and aren't automatically reciprocated, and don't end with them in bed). She finds family, which is what she wanted even if she didn't know it. Her parents were killed, but everyone's got family issues in this group -- and rape wasn't a part of her backstory. She kicks a lot of butt, and does so pretty much on her own at least part of the time. She is a bad ass in her own right, and although I would have liked her to get a bit more screentime overall, this was not a full ensemble piece and she seems to have gotten about as much as everyone else did. She did get damseled, which irks me, and the whole issue of her in the bounty hunters when she should have been able to take any number of them is... troubling. Also Drax's description of her as a whore -- totally uncalled for given the rest of the script and plot, and just completely out of nowhere. But overall... I'm willing to take the small victory that we know Drax is wrong and, as an audience, we react to it.

In regards to my sensory stuff, I found myself almost overwhelmed by low-frequency noises a couple of times, but in both cases it ended before my reactions got really bad. That was it, though -- and for a movie set in space, that's awesome.

tl;dr: I really enjoyed this movie, and I'm absolutely going to purchase it when it comes out on DVD (or maybe a bit after, so the price can drop, because grad school). It's well worth going to, and it was a ton of fun to see.