They say that Edward Crawford, the man in the iconic Ferguson protest image throwing tear gas away from protesters, has been “found dead of self-inflicted gunshot wounds,” according to the headline in the St Louis Post-Dispatch.

I’ve been trying to step back from directly touching politics for a minute. It’s both hard to step back and it’s hard to address, since I’ve been deeply seized by anxiety lately, and it’s hard to focus on anything. But this really does shake me badly, and at a time when I’m already in rough shape, emotionally.

“Crawford’s death” - it’s hard not to note the passiveness of the headline. I know that this is how a lot of news is written. Suicide often seems to be described as passive, as if it’s just something that happens. That he’d shoot himself to death in his car seems suspicious from the get-go. He’s not the first Ferguson activist or protester to simply die in their car of a gunshot wound. How many people, when you hear that they’ve committed suicide - a difficult act under any circumstances - do so by firearm in their car? So we shake our heads and say, “No, that doesn’t seem right,” but we know that it’s already been ruled a suicide and we know how this will go, and we likewise know that whatever peace had been found in this community since the active protests died down a few years ago won’t last.

I’m deeply worried for my community, I’m worried for the black communities of Ferguson and St Louis, and I’m just so, so sick and depressed.
By the time Friday rolls around, my queue is full of half- and nearly done tasks or minor stuff I've been putting off over the course of the week. I'm usually tired, Kay's usually tired, so I usually feel like I'm dragging my way through the day - but I'm actually not feeling bad today, just lazy. So it's almost 1 PM and I haven't gotten too much done but, to be fair to myself, I've gotten all the important shit done and it's been raining all morning, so mowing the grass is right out.

So, whatever, right?

I'm not done being regular busy, but I'm pretty caught up on the most intense stuff, so now I get to bother with more interesting matters like, uh, what I'm doing in the future. Some of this is house stuff - we're going to Lowe's tomorrow to pick up material for the raised bed garden which is, admittedly, late to the party. I mean, this is purely a time problem, where we literally didn't have either the means or the time for one or both of us to get out and when we did, it was either still the dead of winter or else we were dead broke. I'm less interested in explicitly growing a huge amount of food this year (though I'll be growing some - especially tomatoes and green beans) than I am in simply succeeding in this bit of yard terraforming.

In the past we'd done some experiments, including just tilling the earth in the yard (grueling work, even with just grass) and using untreated wooden slats as walls for a slight raised earth bed. Both were a little successful and the latter was actually pretty successful, but the wood proved to have a limited shelf life and we were forced to tear down the beds. The math on building is really easy, and now that we have an income, the price feels really small - something that was impossible to reckon with in any reasonable way becomes trivially simple with only a small amount of reliable income. If this goes particularly well, I'm hoping to help friends in the areas do their own gardening stuff and sharing produce. All part of my sinister, long term master plan.

I'm in the process of working up a new CV/resume, and thinking up lesson plans for composition, creative writing, and prospective literature roles - the latter being a much looser, conceptually driven project since I haven't had any offers. The first two are far more likely and although I've already taught composition, I'd like to re-work my lesson plans based on my experiences and preferences. Composition needs to spend more time with digital writing and acknowledge a need to build an independent voice and writing process. Creative writing is typically less structured but, frankly, I view both classes as two sides of a single coin. Composition is inherently creative and creative writing is more than just fiction and poetry (though those are as important as ever).

I've also resumed academic note-taking for future projects.
atolnon: (Default)
( Apr. 17th, 2017 12:03 pm)
My dad co-signed for the car, and we've been hanging out over the weekend. Kay and I spent Sunday over at his place, which is starting to look a little rough. My dad will be generous with the needs of someone else, but he won't spend any money on himself and, over time, the house and all of his things have begun to look stained, strained, threadbare, or dilapidated.

This creates an odd phenomenon, because it's the house of my youth and all of the stuff is the same. Same hand towels, same carpet. Same deck, unsurprisingly. Same couches, same chairs, same speakers, same dishes. Same cabinets, tables, and stools. Except over the years they've become as faded and washed out as my memories of the place until the only thing that remains untouched are the plants outside which bloom and flower every spring.

It's trippy, man.

But I don't especially think that holding on to a bunch of stuff that's decaying is really good for the psyche. Kay and I need to get a steam cleaner for the carpet here because as long as we have it, it needs yearly cleaning, and we'll probably drive it over to my dad's place and just clean those carpets there, too. Same thing with a power washer on the sides of the place - it's not that hard, so why not? I have to refinish the deck here, and he offered to help, so why not refinish that deck, too? He spends more time out there.

New towels at Ikea or wherever follow the same philosophy - every time I go over there, I don't want to dry my hands on towels that are falling apart and he's not gonna buy them for himself, so I figure he's helped us a lot and we'll just give him some new ones.

I haven't been able to get over there very often, but I really think that he's getting older and he needs to be kinder to himself. He's not in bad physical shape, but he drinks too much and doesn't engage in any hobby past playing out, which runs until late, anyhow. Maybe coming over more and doing other stuff will help break him out of the funk he's in - doing exactly the same thing every day is bad for you, and I just feel like it's a bad sign when someone's ignoring stuff they used to want to do in favor of watching stale TV and surfing depressing news on the internet. Making the place really legitimately clean again is probably a good step in the right direction.
atolnon: (Default)
( Apr. 12th, 2017 12:34 pm)
People are vanishing from LJ in a hurry - I can't say I'm surprised. I am, myself, cross-posting to the usual place. Maybe it's more appropriate to say that I'm posting there and I'm still cross-posting here. My content isn't likely to run afoul of Russian laws, but who can say? I am prepared for most contingencies.

Small things:

I wanted to start the Metal Gear franchise on the advice of a large percentage of friends, and Kay recommended starting with Twin Snakes. It's a GameCube game and I have a Wii, but when I got the Wii set up, it seems as though there's a problem with the disk intake or reader. Persona 5 just came in, which is a powerful incentive to switch gears and further prolong my engagement with the ol' MG - I might start Persona and wait until Kay's home to do any MG playing. Honestly, I've just postponed any serious video gaming.

The car situation is generally weirder than I like. The salesperson that we've been working with is just... I mean, he's uncomfortable to hang around. I don't like talking to him. He puts my teeth on edge and he's dismissive to Kay even when he's trying to seem pleasant. We're getting pre-approved for financing, my dad'll cosign with us, and we'll buy it on Saturday - it's just that we won't deal with the old salesman anymore. Finally, though, we won't have trouble with vehicles. I'm really glad my Camry's in such good shape despite the accident, and I'm looking forward to being able to drive it again.

It wouldn't have normally been possible for me to make the game session (and therefor run the game at all) today because Kay's got mandatory overtime this week and that's how shit is - but my friend has access to his car this week because break is on, and he'll give me a ride. First, that's rad, and second, now I'll make cookies to bring to the session at his new place.

I'm finishing up with my Norton copy of George Bernard Shaw's plays and essays written about them. I'll admit that I've enjoyed it more than I thought I would and they're relevant in ways I didn't expect them to be even now, but there's something about the writing of the period that always makes the reading something like work. I've had a mind to tackle 50 books this year, and the prognosis doesn't seem super good for that. I'm not making a really directed push for it, because there are other things I need to do (so I don't want to put a top priority on quantity) and because that's a goal I know I'm predisposed to gaming and the length of books is so heavily variable. It's very much a soft goal where if I don't meet it, I'm not like... officially concerned with it. But I'd like to get close to it, if for no other reason than the fact that I've got a huge literary backlog I'd been meaning to get to and for the last two years I've really gotten some good books read - but I've also spent a lot of time reading and re-reading old essays or books and it's gotten stale. The Shaw collection (there's another reason it gets so variable) will make 11 books finished, though.

I saw Logan, and it was definitely worth the price of admission. Feels more like a Western than a super-hero flick which I honestly prefer.

There was something else, but I forget and I have a game to refresh myself on and cookies to make.
Each one of the games I ran got a Radiohead title. For the epilogue, I chose a much deeper cut for the title in Harry Patch (In Memory Of). In order, then, the titles for the games were: Morning Bell, Give Up the Ghost, A Reminder, Jigsaw Falling into Place, Myxomatosis, The Gloaming, (The Sky is Falling In) an alt title, (Your Time is Up), You and Whose Army, and (In Memory of). It makes a small mix album, perfectly accommodating of a few additional tracks for secondary sessions or side-stories surrounding other characters or whatever.

The game was obviously not supposed to last this long - I thought it'd probably be a three-shot and wrapped up in a few days or, at most, over the course of a few weekends. As it is, if you've look at the list of game names, you can see that it wasn't exactly composed of a huge number of individual games or sessions; we probably sat down ten times to play in about five or six years. Two years passed without me running a single game. We'd be in the car and one of us would say, "Man, I want to run/play WoD. Maybe we can do it soon." Grad school was not kind to anything that wasn't grad school, though. I think that's the nature of the beast. Even before that, though, we weren't in a good state for it. There would be several days we had the time, but the subject matter was often very heavy, and we would just pass on it.

Despite that, I've found the sessions I ran with Kay to be absolutely crucial to cementing very important ideas I've had about horror gaming, what I like in systems, what I consider to be good scenes, and what I want out of my own writing. My notes are extensive for how short the game actually was, and they probably would have been impossible to derive for me, this time, without the game being 1-on-1, but now that the game is concluded, they'll serve another purpose. Past that, I really feel like my pacing could have been better, that I could have worked out my issues with mechanics better, and that some elements I was hoping to push were a bust and that the closer I worked directly with the rules for this iteration of the core mechanics, the happier I was with the results of any particular scene.

At this point, for example, I feel strongly that the fight between Kay's character Henry and three cult members outside, in a Kroger parking lot in mid-November, with Henry simply trying to escape and three of these guys rolling damage against the car windows was easily my favorite action/combat scene I've ever run. Maybe my second didn't involve combat whatsoever, but it involved Henry trying to escape an interloper into a house with an innocent bystander in tow, and the results of looking for a weapon inside a house's kitchen and trying to hide from room to room. Both of these scenes were more exciting to me than the eventual dramatic conclusion with the cult leader, and I feel strongly that the reason for that is how interactive and fluid the environment was in these scenarios. Combat and action are dull when it's just rolling dice, and it's exciting and interesting when there's risk, and when there's more demanded of the characters than simple mechanical defeat of an opposition.

The most critical dynamic in horror tabletop gaming, and possibly in all tabletop gaming, is the dynamic between a credible threat to something the character holds dear and character agency. I'm soft when it comes to character survival in itself - especially 1-on-1, I have never felt that the game dynamic would have felt particularly improved by the potential death of the protagonist. I say never only because of the scenarios I've run; I could easily see many situations where PC death is a valid option. In this game, the threats were to bystanders, or what would happen if the antagonists were successful, and in most cases Henry was only important because he was interfering; for most of the game, he could have stopped at any time, but doing so would have meant death or danger for others - just not him. So the stakes themselves were rarely directly critical to Henry's well-being. That frequently posed interesting questions for Kay, then, which was to weigh personal level of involvement and willingness to confront danger versus the well being of others. To this end, there's an understanding between player and storyteller in that we both know that if Henry doesn't bite, the game doesn't really proceed - except that it might if we work together to determine what will happen in the game world and what the ramifications will be when Henry's standing still. In a lot of these cases, then, there's a willingness to involve oneself with the metagame or even understand that there's a metalevel to the game at all.

I postponed the last session (not the epilogue but the combat session) for a really long time just because I have a problem with ending campaigns. I've run a few games - Awakening and Changeling: the Lost - where I was deeply unsatisfied with the final session. I am not especially good at running combat scenes (I'm working on that a lot with the new Exalted games, and I'm not there yet, but I will be) and so I'd do the same thing I've seen done a lot which is to dump a large enemy and maybe some half-thought out smaller enemies at the players without particular regard for the play dynamic. The Mage characters fought a minor archmage. The Changeling characters fought an antagonist who intended to become a member of the Gentry. In both cases, the leadup and the environment were the stars of the show for sure - the Hedge environment was a hit, and the penultimate sessions for Mage did a pretty good job in escalating the tension. In the WoD game, Kay was very happy with the final result and I was still... not as happy.

I feel like the big bad became well developed and appropriately statted in the time it took me to finish the session, but that the fight itself wasn't as dynamic as it could be. It resulted in another roll the dice and mark the damage conflict, which I guess will happen sometimes, but could have been more interesting. This is a matter of having previously written myself into a literal hole, since the conflict took place in a small cave in an offshoot of a steam tunnel. My thoughts on that are, well, you know, sometimes that last conflict shit is a little underwhelming - the actual confrontation is straightforward, it's cathartic - Henry was never supposed to make friends, he was never supposed to just up and confront the cult leader, he was never supposed to just shoot the motherfucker in the exact same way that, inside the narrative of a typical horror flick, he wasn't supposed to burn the magic book and say, "Well, that shit's just too dangerous to be left intact." And he did. The result was that they successfully marched into a dangerous environment, were well-prepared, and just outright solved the problem with no additional casualties. And look, the book explicitly says "did the character learn anything?" and "did the character formulate a plan?" and "did they put themselves into danger heroically?" and he did, so why wouldn't both character and player reap the narrative rewards of that kind of behavior?
atolnon: (Default)
( Apr. 4th, 2017 11:57 am)
Enough happened between Friday and Monday that I genuinely am having trouble narrowing my subject, and I don't really want to get any more verbose on this platform then I already tend to. We had finished the last game where there was any any real conflict for WoD weeks ago, and I had finished writing the Epilogue almost immediately after. So, on Sunday, we concluded the Epilogue, too, which felt good.

Monday Kay had to take off for medical, and also because it was the only day we could really take the car we've been trying to buy on a pre-purchase inspection. It was easily a twelve hour day, and when we got back to the dealership, it was getting pretty close to closing time. We'd picked up the car at about 1 PM and got it back at about 5:30, which was a lot later than planned, but it was a matter of driving across the river and to two mechanics, and back.

The car itself is fine. It's a 2009 Suburu with 130k miles on it, so it's got some wear, but overall it looks good. A pretty fair amount of work had to be done on the engine, there are some minor mechanical problems and the seat belt needs to be replaced, but the service team at the dealership did a good job on the engine. Blue Book value, based on damage, wear, and minor mechanical issues would put it around 8k, which we're ready to pay. 10k out the door. All we really wanted to do when we got back to the dealership is drop it off, let them know we were going to finish acquiring financing, and that we should be up on the weekend to sign off on it, but the salesman wanted to make an ass of himself, and we were obliged to be his audience.

This is a dude who has had every opportunity to sell this car, and has mostly done the opposite. He's worked to obscure information, has actively mislead us about the status of the car,in some cases he's actively lied to us. He's attempted to gaslight Kay first by saying one thing and then saying the opposite, and blaming Kay for misunderstanding, misrepresenting back to him, or just asserting that Kay's making shit up. There have been times when he's simply meandered off without any real explanation. He's claimed he doesn't know the Blue Book value for the car, has claimed he doesn't understand how the turbo works, and that he wasn't aware of the nature of the problems with the engine. So, you know, after all of that he pulls us back into a cubical off the sales floor and it's like... 30 minutes until close. I know he wants to do something with this machine, but he tries to give us the hard sell right on the spot.

Kay's like - we got it back from inspection and here are some diagnosed problems we're concerned about. So, dude says, we've already sunk a lot of money into this car and we're not spending any more than we need to in order to get it saleable in this state. This price, he says, "isn't subject to negotiation." He says, okay, and this is a used car salesman, but he says that "I'm not trying to hard sell you. I'm not trying to say take it or leave it, but here's what we're gonna do." And he writes a price down on a sales sheet of 11,000. "Sign this," he says, "we'll charge you 95.50 in administrative fees and we'll get started." Then he adds the prices together - the paper mentions something that he doesn't say outright - it's a promise to pay.

So, I'm like, wait, stop. "You said that this isn't negotiable, which I understood to mean that you're not willing to pay any more on the repairs, including the seatbelt damage, is that right?" He says that's correct. "But you're saying that if we put 100 down now, the car will for sure be here on Saturday, because we're holding it for the week by starting the purchase." He says that this is not the case - we've started the process of purchasing, but anyone could just walking in with cash, he tells me, and buy it out from under.

Well, there's no point in me putting the money down now, then. "But, I say, you put 11,000 here, straight up. Are you telling me, when you say that there's no negotiating this price, that this price is also non-negotiable at this point?" Yes, he says. There is no discussing the price of eleven thousand dollars for something that's Blue Book 8,000 in fine condition, which is absolutely what this is. I said, "So you said, you're not saying take it or leave it, but it's 11k or bust?" Yes. "So that's take it or leave it." Yes.

So we said we're not deciding the price like that, and we're certainly not promising to pay 11k right this second without securing the funding in any kind of final way - you've got to be insane. And we walked the fuck out of his cubical and went home on the fucking spot. So he can think about that for a day or two, and we'll see if he's unwilling to negotiate next time we talk.
Several years ago, we were t-boned in a residential intersection by someone who wasn't really paying attention, and the impact spun Kay's car around 180 degrees. We were fortunate to escape any kind of injury; it was a pretty low-speed collision, but whiplash is still a real thing. Unfortunately, the car itself was pretty old and it sustained body damage. The insurance company totalled it out, which is a practice I have Opinions on, but can't really be helped. The damage was too much to repair and couldn't be done in installments, but the vehicle was driveable until pretty recently when the ride got too rough for Kay to really feel comfortable with. The frame was rubbing axle or something - I don't know - nobody could really determine what exactly the issue was.

So since January, Kay's been driving my car and I've been unemployed. I don't really mind the title of homemaker, honestly, since it's not as though I'm lounging around. With the pets and Kay's current overtime work schedule combined with college courses, there's very little slack in the schedule and where there is some, it's typically in 30-minute increments in my day. That's with the two of us combined. But since the job's going well, and it's very reliable (finally), we're looking at getting a new car.

Just at the same time as someone rearends my car, too. Once again, there's body damage, but it's not really visible and I'm told it won't render the car undriveable. So I'm fixing the exhaust because I need to, but it's put us in a frustrating bind. I already spoke about that a little, it's just still on my mind, so I guess it's made its way back here. We're both of the same mind that we'd rather repair than buy, even at the same cost, and we'd rather buy used than buy new - for eco reasons, in part, but also for personal and ideological reasons. With a house, I'd always choose to buy an old one and refurbish than buy a new one at the same price. I'll always opt to buy something of higher quality that will last much longer than buy something cheap - unless I'm forced. I'm also personally attached to my car. I tend to drive them until they're impossible to repair. Given the opportunity, we'll repair Kay's old vehicle too, because there's no particularly compelling reason for me not to feel like I should.

Unlike Kay, I do actually have a little time. Like, it tends to be spread out through the day, but it's there, and if I kind of neglect housework for a day or so, things get messy but don't actually fall apart. (That's usually what happens on the Wednesday game night cycle into Thursday, where I spend all day cleaning.) I'm trying to catch up on several years of media backlogs, and my cartoon-loving friends are still all over Kill la Kill, so I'm like... tentatively checking it out. I have a certain amount of weird dislike for Gurren Lagann, which is supposed to be similar, but I'll give it it's due.

The big sticking point seems to be the fan service, which isn't really an issue for me? I know we're all in this phase of feeling obligated to come up with some justification for this stuff, so I see a lot of dude fans shamefacedly offering disclaimers - oh, yeah, well... the fanservice... yes, but there are reasons... it's satire. There's a justification! DESPITE THIS I think you'll like it... try not to judge...

I'm just like, my dude, fella, the women fans of the show don't seem to have the same kinds of hangups. I am not concerned about this. My issue is with pretend-depth, or a show pretending to have something important to say and doing it dully or badly. I didn't dislike Gurren Lagann because Yoko's implausibly hydraulic - I disliked it because I found it to be boring, and no amount of giant machines or anime mammaries is going to change the quality of the writing or pacing. It just didn't hit me at the right stage of my watching development for me to be inspired by it. Whether Kill la Kill watches the same or it doesn't is really up to the franchise itself. I wasn't really pumped by the first episode, but since I'm only watching one a day, giving it 20 minutes of my time to convince me over a week or so isn't really something I mind and at least I'll have an informed opinion.
atolnon: (Default)
( Mar. 28th, 2017 02:59 pm)
My car got rear-ended after someone hydroplaned into the back of it at a low speed and, as a result, Kay and I are being forced to deal with people, which is something I'm never especially excited about. I was thinking about writing, but both of us ended up having to deal with this, and it's forced me to kind of have to be present all day on someone else's mystery schedule.

I have an older car and, if it were any older, I'd switch it to ethanol for it's 21st. It's got over 130,000 miles on it and it's not actually worth any money - which is really weird to me because market value doesn't really seem to have anything to do with how well it drives. It's got some hail damage, but it's a metal body and the damage is easy to repair. It's entirely cosmetic. Other than that, the engine and belts are in great shape. I replaced the tubes a few years ago for a hefty sum. New tires, new brake pads, everything's good. That will not stop them from totaling the machine out, though, because of the damage from a low-speed rear-end collision.

Body damage, according to the adjuster, probably won't render it undriveable, but the damage to the exhaust needs to be repaired first. Total damage bill is estimated at twice the value to the car, so the insurance company just washed their hands of it and said they'd send the check, the miserable bastards. I need the car and I really like it - plus, there's no way we can invest in trying to get two cars yet. We're already trying to replace Kay's. If it'll really be driveable and there's little visible damage, we'll see.
Today's been going fast. The weather has jumped from cold/cool right up to the mid-70's and, like, I enjoy it a lot but it's also got me spacing out pretty badly. Nothing weird - just spring fever. My gut reaction says this is it for winter, and I'm going to get the front yard flower bed for the bees ready now. That is enough for me to be excited about.

I've been trying to get a handle on pacing and writing one game, which I haven't done super well with. Kay genuinely has had no time even to do marginal work on a character either, and I know there's at least one other prospective online player who's too busy to manage. Another is about to go on vacation abroad again (I'm envious, since I can't even take a road trip right now), so it's like, yes, I'll be giving the southeast game a lot of focus, but it's hard to justify trying to squeeze in more planning yet. The northeast game looks like it might be 3/4's, with me skipping an occasional week, but the games are bound to be short since the window of time I can play is really very narrow. Right now the only day that works is Wednesdays, and the only time is between 7 and 9:30 at the latest. 10 PM is not late for most people, but that is right at when I'm crawling into bed. I'm usually dead on my feet by 9:30.

Since the extensive Exalted wiki we were using had to be taken down because the cost got out of hand, I've been using Obsidian Portal, but I've been too lazy (or tired, if you're nice about it) to get the game synopsis up. I like editing wikis and I've done okay on the WoD WIP, so I know I can do this, but it's not especially exciting to re-write old sessions. Considering that I take extensive notes, though, I might as well preserve them because otherwise I totally fuckin' forget what's happened. I see people run this shit on the fly, I don't know how they do that. That looks like magic to me, for real. My WoD game was 9 full games and there's over 50 typed pages. There's no good reason for that, except that I remembered that I didn't do that with my Mage or Changeling games and I can't remember what happened anymore - so that might be reason enough.

I think after the next session this Wednesday, I'll be able to plan more fully for the SE game and the NE game will be more or less moving smoothly. After a while, the players do a lot to take over the direction.
The rhythm I've gotten into is close enough to good that I can work with it. I've done a lot to hit what I consider a productive groove - I go to sleep early, make healthy food, cut seriously back on hard drinking, and so on - but I'm still almost always tired. If the cause is really the weather and the amount of light, then I'm in good shape, because it's hitting mid-March and I expect that after this late chill is over, winter will truly give over to spring.

My replacement for feeling good or being able to instinctively be able to do the things that I want/need to do is just practice and repetition. Despite being home all day, my actual productive window feels pretty narrow, and I do my best to set whatever goals I can and try to hit a small number of tangible goals daily. Journalling - here and elsewhere - is part of that. Building and maintaining a minimum exercise regime is another, but one I've been frozen on for no good reason at all. So, I'll probably just set a really small minimum set of basic stuff (stretching, pushups, situps, curls, etc.) just so that I'm doing anything at all.

My phone and social media are blowing up strangely which is absolutely cutting into my ability to focus, so I'm cutting this short, today.
It seems like I only have time, these days, to meet with friends for a few hours at a time when I see them. But, I have to be honest, I'm glad I'm able to see them at all. I had thought that I'd have more time after my thesis was complete, but my domestic workload's pretty steep and my ability to drive anywhere is curtailed. I've seen some friends and family for the first time since October or even earlier, and those meetings have been kind of the equivalent of poking my head in for a moment to say, Hello, yes, I'm still alive and I haven't forgotten you, but I don't think my schedule will ever stop being incredibly messy. I hope you're doing well!

I'm trying to run an Exalted game, which has been much more difficult than I anticipated. Wednesday is the only available day, and I had been making those sessions weekly for playing, but I'd always come back incredibly tired. Drinking at all is a problem during those sessions, since they're usually very short, and I easily risk getting drunk if I don't keep a close eye on my consumption. The exhaustion's a worse danger, usually. Kay usually can't sleep while I'm out, so Wednesday ends up being a super late night for both of us, and we both get up at 5, so I have to confess a need to limit weeknight sessions to a much earlier hour until my schedule changes in any meaningful way.

Kay's working a lot of overtime in conjunction with finishing an Associate's degree. None of this creates an especially optimal climate for normal hangout times. Everyone's a night owl and I usually go to bed at 9:30 or 10:00 these days.

I'm trying to reach out in other ways. I keep trying to write letters, which I do with only modest success, but still. I owe another set of letters out, but sometimes it's just easier to call. I think my grandparents are in that set - so I called them up, which I do every other month or so. I think I last spoke to them in early January. I talked to my grandfather, who I don't usually actually speak with, and he's doing this anniversary thing in upstate New York which, frankly, is tough. Kay's not really going to have time off, yet, because there's still a new hire time-off freeze. It'd cost a lot of money we really need for debts and repairs. But... they've given us a lot of money over the years, so the dollar bill concerns really feel flat. Anyhow, I missed my grandmother the first time so she had to call me back.

So, I mean, you read the title. I feel like you see how this is probably going to go.

Back in January, we didn't talk politics at all. This is a policy I tend to have with anyone Boomer or older unless I know better. Like, two aging farm-owners in upstate New York are unlikely to have really similar values. My grandmother, I know, is one of those ol' white people racists who once, when I was a young child, evinced an opinion against mixed race marriages on account of white people and black people being different biological races. Not, she said, that she's racist! "Black people are equal," she said, "just that we should get intermarried."

So, you know, there's background to this. And I don't see them very often, and for my birthday and Christmas they send me hundreds of dollars - and I'm in my 30's, so there's really zero obligation for this. If it wasn't for this, we'd have gone hungry and the phones would get shut off and... I don't honestly want to think about it. But my grandmother's called me up, and she's gone Full Trump. Like, the whole nine. And that's disconcerting, because back in November, she liked Carson to win and doesn't trust Sanders (because Socialism - not realizing that I, a Communist, live amongst you), and didn't like Trump's rhetoric.

And now, like, it's Build The Wall, and It's Not OUR America Anymore, (as if it were ever My America, as if I want it to myself), These Are Murderers and Rapists, Have You Even Seen Dearborn?! It Doesn't Look Like America!, Thank God We're Getting Rid of ObamaCare!, and so on.

I'm on the phone having a low-key panic attack that would follow me around for the rest of the evening. I tried to explain - we have the most Syrian and Bosnian immigrants in America where I live, and they've been nothing but a great addition to our city, I tried to explain. The ACA let Kay get a biopsy we'd never be able to afford, it helped me see a doctor which I hadn't done in over 12 years previously! The wall wouldn't even help! Trump is a complete crook and rapist! Brushed off or decried as Fake News. Like, the propaganda machine has done its work but good, I can tell you that it works quick.

What's most chilling is how willfully apocalyptic the stories are. We're Not Sure If We're Going to Make it Before They Rise Up, she told me. We May Not Survive The Coming Years. They'll Come For Us, First. She said.

I sighed heavily. I have to go, I said. I have to make dinner before Kay gets home. She really doesn't know, and it makes me sad in some ways, and relieved in others - the things people tell you when they don't realize that you're not Us. You're Them. Not because you want to be, but because your own family won't listen and couldn't possibly believe you - they refuse to believe in peace because they are legitimately deafened by their own call to war.
atolnon: (Default)
( Feb. 13th, 2017 10:35 am)
There's a lot of stuff that I'm still slogging through that I had kind of hoped to have wrapped up by now. Anxiety has made is difficult to focus on any one thing for months, maybe even for the past few years. I have to think back on the kind of pace I've tended to set for myself, where a professor would assign a hundred pages of reading for a week - which my brain doesn't, at this point, parse as any kind of overabundance of reading, but it adds up.

There has always been an overabundance of shit to tackle.

So, when mid-January hit (making this almost a month since I finally submitted my thesis), I figured there'd be nothing on the other side of that and I'd rapidly pick up a similar pace with personal reading and projects. The real situation's more complicated - it's been "the thing" I've been writing about here this whole time - that there's simultaneously no real pressure imposed by deadlines or institutions and a huge backlog of stuff I want to do that's been left totally untouched for two years that I want to tackle all of, right away.

The result's a mental log-jam. No pressure from the river, too many things trying to be processed at once. A game to play. A book to read. An essay to check. A game to write. If you try to do it all at once, a little gets done, day by day, but not a lot on any one given thing and it feels like I'm spinning my wheels. But I'm not entirely unproductive. All at once, a lot will get done, and then I'll be taking on each project one at a time. Already I'm better at focusing. It's honestly weird to look at grad school, where I felt very focused, and still see all the ways that I was wrenched back and forth from one project to the next. Professionally, that might still be as good as it gets, frankly. In terms of personal life, though, you know, I just try to cultivate patience from one moment to the next and do only one thing at a time.

I believe that people can multitask effectively, but studies have shown that it still results in decreased productivity. For me, it makes me a nervous wreck.

I'm coming to the end of the Kafka. I don't wonder if he didn't suffer similarly. His works have a dreamlike quality that, to the degree that I've read them, I feel like their unfinished nature results in an inherently non platonic nature that possess a kind of internal, symbolic logic that doesn't translate with much fidelity to a waking experience. In the post-script, the book mentions Camus's statement that "the whole of Kafka's art consists in compelling the reader to re-read him." Much like trying to remember a dream and interpret it on waking, the thing itself might be nonsense (or there might be a sense to it but) the compulsion is almost a kind of free-association. The lack of an ending is a boon for most of these works; you cannot conclude them effectively, because we hope that a conclusion ties things together. Even works like "The Judgement," seem to dissolve into the air or else float down the stream to a place we cannot see from where we stand on the bridge.
atolnon: (Default)
( Feb. 3rd, 2017 02:53 pm)
Things have been weirdly hectic over here, but for reasons that become understandable once you've got a good idea of what drives our daily life and what tends to influence our schedules. Not bad - just busy. Not as productive as I'd like, but still going pretty well.

Finally wrote the Epilogue session for WoD. We've played the last boss game, and closed that out, but the epilogue is really where all the satisfying conclusions come into play.

I think I made a big mistake in trying to run the conclusion game during my last sprint to finish my thesis. But the thesis went well and Kay liked the game, so it was still a success! I feel very good about this epilogue session then. 
I  haven't been too keen on working in January - words wouldn't come, and I wanted to watch movies or read instead, so that's generally just what I've been doing. The Peripheral was pretty good. I think that Cory Doctorow really liked it, and I thought it was okay, but Gibson's work doesn't usually tend to broadcast directly into my brainstem as much as I read it, unpack it, and reread it - the reread is always better. So maybe the jury's out. You might suppose that I'd be eager to write on it but, frankly, my first takes on things are always bad. Honestly they are. I tried with Hyper Light Drifter, and it was abysmal.

I'm always kind of glad when I write something that I think is bad. Just, like, objectively poor. I can be like, "Oh, okay, see? That's what bad looks like. Maybe this other thing you think is okay is pretty good. It's much better than this bad thing you did, at least." Produce something that's clearly shit, you know, and you've just managed to produce some perspective, is all. So you'll see me do that here, but probably not anywhere else. I'm typically averse to that, but if you're creeping here, than you already know - this is where all of my very worst writing ends up, outside of my paper journals which, I assure you, are some of the most incredibly boring documents you could imagine someone painstakingly writing in pen. (Those things exist largely as a means of self-flagellation - a kind of ritual cleansing - where things like my need to go grocery shopping are listed in minute detail in expensive pen.)

We watched Stand Along Complex this month, we're starting on 2nd Gig. I'm reading through a volume of Kafka's complete works that I'd been meaning to get to. This weekend was strangely packed. I know that Trump shenanigans are taking up a lot of processing power for me, eating up a lot of time, and I'm trying to strike a balance between keeping informed and actually living my regular life where things need to get done. I would say, "being more informed, past a certain point, isn't particularly helpful," since after a while, you know that the verdict is "Bad." But, on the other hand (and it is a heavy hand) I might point out to myself that the new developments have a fairly dramatic daily impact on many, many people around me. And things are coming very quickly and getting very bad. So, yes, it makes sense to stay informed. And prepare. Will the yelling and gunshots get closer, or recede? We have blocked the windows, and this does not seem excessive.

Strange days.

Weird, weird, weird stuff to write about catching up on media and writing that I've wanted to do over the course of a few years while I was neck-deep in coursework and grading while, simultaniously, I write on fascism taking hold. But where is cyberpunk more applicable, I ask you, than in the heart of a new flavor of dystopia?
atolnon: (Default)
( Jan. 19th, 2017 08:55 am)

I left a job unloading furniture off trucks and loading it into buyer’s cars to go back to grad school a few years ago. I can’t go back, because that same job doesn’t exist the way it used to just two years ago.

That’s the new job market. Turnover can be lightning fast when there’s a suspicion that the workforce isn’t compliant. We started asking questions about pay scale, about how they were paying the black lesbian on the dock the least of any of us while hiring white men at a higher rate than the veteran team member who was a woman (for example), about how they were out of compliance with health, safety, and labor laws, et cetera… suddenly everyone was out. Managers who supported the team were moved, supervisors were canned, the entire team was either moved to other stores, fired for blatantly false accusations from anonymous sources or trumped up reasons, or incentivised to leave. All in one year. 

There are very little protections for workers. I wasn’t fired - I left. But the manager and supervisor who stood up for the team aren’t there, replaced by someone I butted heads with - there’s no reason to go back there for the $10 an hour wage I was making.

I spent some time as a TA, which I hated. The teaching was great, but balancing my coursework and teaching was awful. I was told that I had to prioritize myself over my students, but these were just first years. They were all afflicted with terrible anxiety. They expected me to abandon them to their course load, which I refused to do. I worked around the clock to give each assignment my personal, undivided attention. I can say I wanted to die, honestly. I was in a state of absolute despair. Teaching set my thesis writing back by the year I engaged in it, and I only taught a max of two classes, but I feel like it was worthwhile.

Our household starved in both the summer and the winter. My TA colleagues often had another job - or more than one - in addition to their studies and their classes. The adjuncts make an average of $12 an hour if they only work for 20 hours per class. The math gets significantly stranger and less appealing the more work they take on. I’ve heard that even TAs and adjuncts are “bourgeois.” I’m not sure that bourgeois and proletariat are useful terms for how we operate in this moment. They’re historically useful. We can use them that way. But attempting to draw 1:1 comparisons from Western industrial and capital structures when they were coined and initially implemented, and trying to apply them directly to our current situation I think obscures the structure we live in now by trying to map the structures of past theories over it.

I’m just thinking in text. I’m always tired, I’m always hungry, and I’m always poor, and it always sucks.

atolnon: (Default)
( Jan. 17th, 2017 12:23 pm)
That shit on the 12th was a cut-and-paste job, and I probably won't be doing that again. The formatting's a mess.

Quest #1: CAKE.


When I was writing these all up, I kind of designed some to be easier than others intentionally. My idea was that I'll be busy, or tired, or overwhelmed and I could occasionally just select a quest from the list that's easier to do and I'd continue to move on; I'd just put a few things in that I'd always intended to do but never got around to.

Baking a cake from scratch was one of those.

So, since I was just wrapping up my big thesis write, and it just got submitted, and I was still super tired (and honestly both super broke and more or less unable to leave the house). Doing the whole cake thing seemed pretty straightforward; I'd made cakes from boxes occasionally, but I'm not actually that big on dessert, so it's more often that I bake cookies or muffins. I have made cookies from scratch plenty, and I figured a cake would just be kind of like that but... more.

The first thing I did was some basic research. I guess it would have been interesting to start with, like, cake history, but I pretty much just Google'd “cake recipe” and went from there. I remembered reading, like, Momofuku's Milk Bar book, and I might go out of my way to do it again, but Google did what Google is supposed to do and turned up my results in droves. So, the only question now was, “what kind of cake did I want to bake?”

My absolute criteria for the first bake was, “Okay, what cake looks easy as hell to make?” I don't have the kitchen space or tools (or money) for anything elaborate. I also don't have any real baking chops. One time I was making cookies and I confused powdered sugar with flour, and my cookies absolutely didn't turn out as intended. (They ended up being actually pretty delicious shards of burnt sugar, chocolate, and nuts – so if I had wanted to make candy glass, I would have succeeded pretty admirably.) Not only did I fuck this up the once, I managed to fuck it up three times.

My softer criteria was that it not be overly sweet. Yeah, I know, it's cake. But I'm a fan of either very tiny bites of very good, pretty expensive cake or else something that borders on bread – something I can eat for breakfast when my stomach hasn't finished booting up and I'm still waiting for caffeine to provide its particular brand of animation to my essentially lifeless corpse of a body.

Bonus points if it uses up some of this fucking black-strap molasses sitting in my cupboard. I mean, that's what I ended up doing – it was incidental. I've been unwilling to throw it out, but it's not exactly used in a lot of contemporary cookery.

So, this is what I decided to go with:

It calls for low-fat butter, and I'll be honest with you – I neither know what that is nor do I have any interest in interacting with it. That sounds awful. It also calls for just, like, regular-ass molasses which I guess is fine, but I don't have that. Generally, you can figure what happened.

I know that one element of baking is that it's a science to cooking's art (also a science, but a more free-wheeling, forgiving one, albeit with probably more meat-related food poisoning), and so following instructions is valuable. Fat content will alter texture, as will butter consistency, whether you've sifted the flour, and so on.

This recipe totally did call for softened butter to be mixed with sugar, and even though I had left the butter out under glass for over an hour, it hadn't really softened at all. Unlike, it seems, in the summer where high temperatures will soften your butter, a maintained-with-difficulty temperature in the lower-mid 70's, in January, doesn't easily facilitate a softened texture.

I did what any reasonable person would do in my situation, which is to just get a small sauce pan and heat the butter directly. (I don't have a microwave.)

This is not any of those methods found here:

Despite that, and despite the fact that the butter and sugar mixed together, but didn't mix well with the rest of the ingredients (I ended up whisking them into the batter once it hit the cake pan) the molasses cake looked like it had turned out pretty well. I hadn't greased the pan well enough, I guess, and the bottom stuck a little too much, causing a bit of a mess. It was also a bit crumbly the first time around, which could have been a result of the generally low fat content, insufficient mixing, or maybe even both.

Frankly, I wasn't really satisfied with either how easy it was or how insufficient I was in meeting those admittedly low standards. Although I consider this quest technically fulfilled, I want a re-do. I won't consider it to be well completed until I'm sufficiently proud of my cake result.

atolnon: (Default)
( Jan. 11th, 2017 10:33 am)
I've been posting more frequently, I know. Three times last week, only once (so far) this week - I don't know how many people everyone follows. My own dash is cluttered with my own posts, I know. Hopefully it's not too cluttered on your end, or else that you don't mind. LJ is a much sleepier community than it used to be.

Before break, a few suggestions were made to me - that I play Transistor or, failing that, Bastion. I've started Gibson's The Peripheral. I'd like to chew my way through a few of these just so that I don't have multiple balls in the air at the same time, media-wise. For no particularly good reason, that kind of thing drives me nuts, and I have a hard time focusing. My computer's too shit to run Transistor. The video card sucks too badly, my machine's too old. It can run Bastion, though, which seems to follow a pattern in my gaming selection very recently, which is to run another relatively short, isometric-style, point-and-click beat 'em up adventure. I grew up in the 80's and 90's, and pretty distinctly remember games like Crusader: No Remorse (which I assume is up for a remake any time, now, since we've already done Wasteland and X-Com), so this doesn't really feel novel and it's new enough that it doesn't really feel nostalgic in the same way that Hyper Light Drifter kind of did. Bastion came with strong reviews and, so far, it just feels "pretty good."

It's given me something to think about, though. It feels very "video game-like," in the way that it has a fairly simple plot and it's driven very heavily by its easy-to-understand mechanical gameplay. It might have felt challenging if I were still a kid, but there's not much teeth to the gameplay - I've found it very easy. I would be surprised if the developers expected it to be difficult, actually. It doesn't have a save system where you save to a file - it's just an autosave that continues from the last place you left off. This has caused me some legitimate irritation, since only one person can really play at a time per account (probably the intent), and it stops me from reloading at will in the one place I actually want to do that.*

Bastion is much slicker, in the traditional way, than HLD, but it doesn't seem designed to be the same kind of play experience. HLD has investigation and introspection as core components of its gameplay; there's a story, but it's not really clear or easy to access all the time. It's technically more demanding, and it also seems designed to evoke a sense of nostalgia by virtue of its art and musical stylings - it's really evocative of a type of gameplay that manifested due, in part, to the serious technical limitations of very early video games that were lost when the technology advanced though, in HLD's case, the design painstakingly re-creates them intentionally and with a clear eye as to what remains compelling about these technological artifacts of style and method. Bastion is a similar experience mechanically, but the style and gameplay are quite different - it's linear, it possesses a very clean and vibrant look, the storytelling is unambiguous - you are literally told the story, piece by piece, by a narrator so that nothing is left to guess. None of this is bad, but it does lead to a less memorable gaming session. I have to invest less in the game, both in terms of the difficulty of play and in terms of narrative analysis. I'm just playing it and, when I'm done, that's it. There's a new game+, but the difference in play experience is basically none.

It may be that Transistor is different - more complex, deeper, whatever. I'm looking forward to playing it when I upgrade my machine, but I won't do it just to play it.

* Minor Spoiler: I had some pets, and they got attacked in a plot event, and it's difficult to save them all. I didn't manage to do so and wanted to go back and try, but the game refused to let me because I had accidently let it get too far into a scene immediately after the fight.
atolnon: (Default)
( Jan. 6th, 2017 11:29 am)
I'm coming to an equilibrium with the new schedule. 5 AM wakeup times don't really suit me, but going to bed early hasn't really changed much in my life. I've ended up with what appears to be more up-time on paper, but it's not productive or especially pleasent. I thought that it'd be a little like when I got up at 6, but moreso - that I'd get up to speed pretty quickly and feel up to working, but that's a mindset that never actually gelled; it'd be 11 AM and I'd still be groggy and kind of ill-tempered despite coffee, a shower, being dressed, breakfast, and an additional pot of tea.

In fact, I never got up to speed. I'd spend the whole day at a solid 60-70% of my normal energy level. It felt a little like a permenant hangover. If I rest for an hour, like from 8 to 9 AM, I feel way, way better. I don't even have to sleep, but I do end up dozing off into a semi-sleep state pretty often. I square it to myself like so - you were definetly going to waste that hour anyhow, because every day you try to avoid it, you do it anyhow. Ideologically, I don't believe in the productivity culture, but I know I've internalized it pretty seriously, so I'm constantly justifying rest by indicating how much more productive I am when I get back to work. I'm legitimately stuck at home for a little while, at least, though, so there's no reason in particular for me to be freaking out about minute-by-minute productivity metrics when it comes to getting the housework done.

I worry anyway, but I'm working on not worrying so much, which requires writing and introspection.

I ended up dropping my Sartre reading yesterday at about 250 pages in. I was hitting a new chapter section and realizing that I wasn't really retaining much of what I'd read; I had started while I was finishing up my thesis, and Sartre was laying out his terms in the introduction and first chapter - I didn't really have time to make good notes and hash out his ideas deliberately. So, over a quarter of the way in, I kept following along hoping that I'd be able to make sense of things better.

For whatever it's worth, I got the gist, but it was dense reading and I don't have anyone to share it with, so as the ideas progressed, a lot of the nuance was getting lost on me. I figured - better to start again in a little while and tackle it section by section and giving it the attention it's due. At least a part of the problem is Sartre's cyclical and self-referential prose which often resembles a mirror. This seems really intentional! But it's also awful to process, sometimes. I know that what he's writing at is attempting to get at ideas that are difficult to render into language because he's dealing with the sense of self, and the nothingness that this sense of self endeavors to mask. To describe nothing, you can say "there's nothing," but that doesn't describe nothing's relationship with something that interacts with it. See? Anyhow, this is my problem. In the same way I feel compelled to come back to Derrida, I'll have to come back to Sartre.

Being defeated here is something of a luxury that I actually enjoy. To say, "There's nothing riding on my immediate processing of this text, and I can come to really understand it in time rather than rushing and faking it, or experiencing that terrifying feeling of being uncertain under fire." I can just read my new Gibson novel, which so far has seemed pretty good. After that, I think I'll probably tackle a re-read of Barthes' "The Pleasure of the Text," which I might just do concordantly with Gibson.
Fucking done, that's what.

Final revision sent to the Chair for cursory review and resubmission comfortably before the Jan. 13th deadline - all 88 pages of it.

I'll probably write up a nicer abstract for it - the one that's posted is a super rush job. Looks like there was an almost complete 1 month turnaround from my submission to the committee and my finalization, but the finalization was really just a week before the committee met and the last four days of admittedly leisurely minor edits.

Now to do the writing for Exalted. Hell yes.


atolnon: (Default)


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