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.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Things and stuff

One of the odd things about working with thing theory is how all-encompassing and yet oddly specific the words "thing," "object," and "stuff" suddenly become. Well, maybe not stuff, at least not for formal discussion. And what's worse, everyone who uses them means something slightly different by them, which only makes sense as we're all just sorta making this up as we go. We know there's something there worth talking about, but the vocabulary to talk about it isn't fully formed yet. Latour gets around this by discussing human and non-human actors, but that makes some people squirrelly about evening the playing field between people and objects (even though I like it).

The difficulty, then, in writing about the ways we interact with the things we make (and what effect those things have on us in turn) is that sometimes we can be specific (i.e., what effect does a soccer ball have on the people who interact with it) but sometimes we have to be general, and general discussion of things is hard.

I'm thinking about this so much, of course, because this is effectively the problem I'm going to encounter when I start on my dissertation, because I think the way we interact with things is fascinating, and because I think the way we interact with pretend things (like, say, in literature and language) is even more fascinating -- how the physical impacts us when we aren't dealing with the physical anymore. And I haven't figured it out yet, but I'm working on it. It's a thing. :)


Saturday, August 2, 2014

I seem to have lost the talent for blogging

I know there's a thing where you post something that doesn't have to be much at all, and at least it's
there on the blog, without having to be a multi-hundred word entry. I used to be able to do that on LJ -- the stakes were lower somehow. But now I feel like I need to have a substantial entry of note for each thing I post, as though it were a real publication that I need to justify the existence of. After all, if it's not interesting, why publish it?

Which means that there's a lot of weight in that word, "publish," as opposed to just writing something. I'm not just writing (which is an inherently self-directed/absorbed activity), I'm publishing, which means I'm doing this for someone else. I'm not just diarizing, I'm blogging. I'm courting an audience, sort of. I'm creating something outward-facing. It needs to be impressive, thoughtful, funny, meaningful, or somehow otherwise worth the time of random people who might stop by.

You know what? To heck with that.

I'm going to journal. I'm going to post things that are too long for Facebook but not so long they take up a great deal of time. I'm going to break myself of the thought that writing is somehow always on show, that if it isn't perfect, it's not worth doing. I'm going to write for myself -- and if you (anonymous reader) find it interesting and stop by, so much the better. And if you don't, that's okay too. Because I'm a reader, and a writer, and sometimes it's just nice to have a place to talk about random thoughts. So here we are, and that's what I'll try to keep doing and ignore all the expectations I've been developing for the words I set down.

Rising Waters, Session 5

Song: One Less Problem (Ariana Grande ft. Iggy Azalea)

The play session started with everyone meeting back at Moe's for lunch after disbursing to their homes for the evening. There was no luck tracking the third ghoul or finding out for sure if the second had been eliminated, though there's no reason to assume it wasn't -- it was a pretty effective method they used, overall.

The problem came when they tried to figure out what to do. Uno was adamant about not contacting Adelphia, but he wasn't sure who he should be talking to either. Dylan was fascinated by that glimpse of something in the deeps of the bay and felt the ghoul attacks were linked to it, and wanted to investigate further. Zeke wanted to make sure the ghoul wasn't heading around hungry. After discussion, Dylan reveals that he wants to make a diving bell go to down and see what's down there in the Bay. The rest of the group is somewhat skeptical, but it's a plan, at least. They decide to split up -- Uno, Zeke, and Victor head out to talk to Duff again and find out what they can about Adelphia's lover, in case she's the one trying to kill Uno, and Dylan, Eldi, and Adia head to the junkyard so Dylan can get the parts he needs for his contraption.

The three guys find Duff willing to talk a little about Adelphia's lover, a mortal named Peter Willoughby. Turns out he's a college student, and he and Adelphia have been a thing for a while now. They decide they'll go track him down and see if he can lead them to some useful information without tipping their hand.

Dylan meets Blue, the guy in charge of the scrapyard (and a friend of Oscar, a mutual acquaintance). Dylan gets some materials, while Adia starts talking to spirits to find a garage they can use (Dylan's apartment doesn't come with work space). Her ghost friends talk to other ghost friends, and by the time Dylan is wrapping up his transaction, a ghost has offered them the workplace/garage in his house -- in return, however, he wants them to get his widow and her lover out of the house. They're on vacation, and the house should be empty for the work. Adia's good with this, but Dylan balks. He offers instead to find out what killed the man, and the ghost agrees. Dylan futzes with some relative gravity to make transportation and delivery easier, and they tie a bunch of stuff to the roof of his hoopty and they head off to a northern suburb. When they arrive, the garage is a freestanding building with a back driveway away from everything -- it's perfect. They pull in and Dylan begins sorting out stuff in this immaculate workspace -- all the tools, all in drawers, it's all perfect.

Meanwhile, Zeke does some checking and finds out that Peter is the son of a guy who ran for city council in a northern suburb back in the day, but died last year. He was a good guy and generally well respected. The father's house is back there. The son has that listed as his permanent address. They head up to the suburb to check out the family and see if they can locate the son. When they arrive, they discover that the house is big, with a big walled yard and grounds in back. There's a single car there, a compact sedan -- nothing fancy. The pool is covered over, like the owners aren't home. Victor gets out and investigates. He sneaks around the house to the backyard, only to discover that there's someone at the back garage. He goes up to the window and looks in, only to see Dylan and Adia and Eldi. He goes back out to let Uno and Zeke know to come around back, and then everyone is together again -- it seems the ghost was Peter's father, and someone -- Peter, presumably? is inside -- possibly with Adelphia!

Uno is torn -- he didn't want to confront Adelphia yet, not without knowing more, but she's right here, caught redhanded. Victor, fed up with dithering, throws up his hands and walks out of the garage, across the yard, up the back steps onto the deck, and then knocks on the backdoor. A woman answers, and he says, "Is the lady Adelphia here? Her knight would like to see her." The woman smiles and invites them all in.

Once they get into the living room, the woman drops her glamour and reveals herself to by a sylph. There are three more like her, all bodyguards of Adelphia -- and all of whom know Uno. They cool their heels and make small talk with the guards briefly, before Adelphia comes downstairs, dressed in a silk robe. Uno kneels, and she greets him warmly, chiding him for not having come to her before. She tells him that though she values him, she will not marry him, one way or the other. He has to become human if he is to be her knight, or he has to find another way to disqualify himself from the running -- she doesn't care how he does it, but he has to do it. She says she didn't try to have him killed, but there might be others who would prefer it. She doesn't consider herself bound by an agreement she has only now heard of, but that there are issues at play he'd do well to think of. She leaves him to figure it out and goes back upstairs to her boyfriend, and the sylphs escort the group back outside, but not before one of the sylphs comes on to Uno. The suggestion that he might seek out his counterpart in the Winter court is made, and then the door shuts.

Join us next time to see what happens!