cislyn: (Default)
Today, I'm 40 years old.

There are a lot of narratives about getting older, a lot of stories we tell ourselves collectively about what it means and what it's like and what's expected and how it goes. Bunches of them deal with regret. Time is marching on, you're not who you used to be and time is running out to be that person again (for some reason) or to be someone else, someone more awesome. Pretend you don't have a birthday, have a midlife crisis, create a bucket list and yearn and yearn and yearn.

I'm not really into that.

I find myself here, smack dab at 40, exceptionally happy with who I am, and with what my life looks like. I'm really, really, really lucky. And I'm doing pretty ok - I could do better, in lots of small and big ways, of course, but that's how life works. There's always room for improvement, for growth. I could be better at so many things, and a better person in so many ways. I don't feel a sense of loss, though, for being where I am and being who I am now. I don't feel I wasted time or that I'm running out of it, either - I spent time, and sometimes unwisely, sure. But not wasted. I don't feel regret. And it's pretty great.

Today I'm feeling lots of things, but the most easily identifiable emotion is gratitude. I'm happy to be here, in the world. I'm grateful for the awesome people in my life. I'm grateful for the opportunities I have, and have had, and for all the good stuff. I love that I'm creating things. I have amazing people in my life, up close and far away and all manner of in between. My cats are fluffy and adorable, and my home is filled with games and weird things and books and I have the chance to make stuff and have great conversations and read nifty stories pretty often. I'm lucky.

It's silly, but I don't really feel like 40 is a number that applies to me - maybe that's because in my mind 40 means something Stolid and Dependable and Seriously Adult and Having a Career and all sorts of other macros which I should probably expunge from my mental space, because they're really very ridiculous and I know better. Or maybe it doesn't feel like a fit because I can remember so many other birthdays so very clearly. I remember running around with friends from school in my grandparents' living room with construction paper unicorn horns on our heads. I remember birthday parties that were girl scout sleepovers in Mrs. Simon's living room, with cupcakes and popcorn and root beer. I remember skate parties and quiet dinners out and apple pies and so many things. I remember my 16th and I remember my 21st and I remember my 27th and 35th.

And every time a birthday rolls around I tentatively pick up the new number and tilt my head and squint at it a bit and say "nah, doesn't really feel like me." Every time. I'll be 80 (I hope!) and looking at that number and shaking my head, saying "eh, doesn't really fit me, you know?". I don't know if any number ever really feels like it fits. I've always been better with words than numbers, anyway.

My thirties, as a whole, were great. I figured out a lot of who I am and who I want to be, met some of the most wonderful people, and started getting so much better at the things I love. I learned stuff, and I made stuff. May the next decade also be one where I grow in unexpected ways, and meet amazing people, and do my part to make the world around me a better place. Hello, forties! Let's be friends.
cislyn: (eclipse)
A few years ago, after the disastrous recall election here in Wisconsin failed, I wrote that elections are meant to be messages. And I was pretty bummed at the time about the message being sent by the electorate of the state I'd chosen as my home.

And here we are, once again. And I have the same kind of feeling.

Elections are meant to be messages. They are meant to say, with the voice of a people, "we support this", "we stand for that", "we will not stand for this", and so on. Today, I'm trying to figure out the message.

As a nation, we have elected the person who campaigned strongly on building a wall, over the person with the slogan "we are stronger together". We chose the person with literally no governmental or military experience. We spoke with our voices to support the person who started the birther movement. We are choosing to "make America great again" - which strongly implies that it is not great now, was not headed in good directions, and backwards is the way to progress. We have given a seat of power and prestige to someone who sexually assaults women and then brushes it off, believes climate change isn't real, is supported by the KKK. I could go on, in this vein. I don't think I will.

I feel a little bit like the comments section - you know, the ones you should avoid? Because it's a cesspool of hate and vitriol and the worst elements of human nature and nobody really means it anyway but that doesn't mean it can't do so some real damage if you read it - is smirking its way into the White House.

But the truth is that the message of this election is different than that - it's not as simple as "we support this guy!" and "we like the things he claimed to stand for" and "fuck the people who don't agree". Nor is it as simple as "we reject the other candidate!" and "we cannot support the things she stands for."

As of right now, a bleary but clear 9:52 am CST the day after the election while numbers are still coming in, I'm seeing that Trump got 47.5% of the vote, and Clinton got 47.7%. 59.354 million people voted for Clinton. 59.188 million people voted for Trump. 59 million people supported "the other person". From any angle, from every perspective, the message of this election from the people who spoke is that the United States is a deeply divided nation. We want conflicting things. It's not that we don't want this, and we do want that. It's that a helluva lot of us want one thing. And a helluva lot of us want something else entirely.

And the way we do elections, and the way this election in particular played out in the media, it's a narrative of division. Because it's a narrative. Elections aren't just messages - they're stories. And stories sell best in the press when they're simple - villains and heroes and this guy and the other. And when they're close. That's a tricky thing to manage - making nearly half the people think polar opposite extreme things. Very tricky. And very profitable.

I'm not conspiracy mongering here. I'm not saying there was A Plan or anything like that.

Mostly, I'm trying to make sense of this world, of this country. Here we are. And half of us are terrified and half of us are elated and half of us are grieving and half of us are jubilant and half of us are sure the other half want us dead - wait, maybe that's all of us? Just about?

I'm just looking at the numbers and shaking my head. 59 million people voted for this. 59 million people voted against. There are 200 million registered voters in America. That's a lot of people who just plain didn't vote. A few other million voted for third party candidates. And here we are.

So. What now? These are our neighbors and our friends and the people we're going to sit across from at Thanksgiving dinner. These are the checkout clerks at the grocery store and the other drivers on the road with us and the person you see every day at work. It's hard to be grateful, when you feel like The Other Side doesn't care about the things you care about - hell, maybe doesn't care about your life, period. I'm worried for immigrants, for people of color, for LGBTQ folks (and that B in there is for me, as well). I'm worried for the poly families I know, and the people trying to navigate hatred and fear and balance that with coming out and being true to themselves and the lives they want to lead. I'm worried for the folks who are different. For the ones who have less, and so have more to lose. I'm worried for the kids who watched along with this terrible election who are now realizing just how divided we are. I'm ridiculously worried for adults who are looking around and feeling like half the people in this place they call home don't value the same things they do, at all. And maybe don't value their lives. I'm worried for friends with chronic illnesses and I'm worried for people I know who might lose their health insurance and not be able to get any more. I'm worried about the economy tanking and I'm worried about people I know and care about losing jobs, losing their homes, losing each other. I'm worried.

But worry doesn't cut it. I think today I'm going to take some time to just step back, and try to find my faith and hope in humanity again. I'll also be reaching out to friends to make sure they're ok, to talk and vent and try to figure things out. I've already seen some folks on social media saying things like "get over it", "you're whining", "don't be a baby", "typical libtard overreaction". That's... well, that's not very gracious, and it's not very nice. And it doesn't much take into consideration those 59 million people who really, really, really, didn't want things to go this way.

You know what? If you're inclined to say anything like that - to anyone, not just me - please just step back, and don't. People were invested in this, and still are - and that's a good thing! I want people invested in the participatory democracy that we have here. People pinned hopes and dreams and fears on this. They believed and still do believe, that all of this matters. Being disappointed doesn't begin to cover it for some folks - I know a lot of people who are legitimately scared now, and if you think that's an overreaction, well, that's your business.

But maybe keep this in mind: telling someone who's frightened and depressed that they're acting like a baby does nothing other than bolster your own sense of superiority. It doesn't help them with their fears, or help you understand their perspective. You can believe that people shouldn't be afraid all you want, but maybe instead of indulging in that it would be better to think about those numbers. 59 million this way. 59 million that way. Think about that. And think about empathy. And try, in some small but measurable way, to make the world a better place for someone today.

Be kind. Think, before you speak. Be generous. Be nice. Get the order for the person in line behind you at the coffee shop. Give someone a hug. Adopt a pet. Donate to a library. Tell a silly joke. Read some puns and share them. Post cat pictures on social media. Send a card to someone you've been thinking of. Rake leaves in someone else's yard. There are a lot of little ways you can say to the people around you - even people you don't know - that you care. That you want to make the world a nicer place. Do them. And keep doing them. We need that.

Because one way or another, we all live in this bucket. It's a really big bucket, and it's got a lot of room. Maybe we can do something together to make it a nice place for all of us, and not just 59 million who spoke one way, and not another.
cislyn: (Default)
I've been hinting at a Sooper Sekrit Project the last little while - today is unveiling day! I present to you, CC: Otherworlds!

CC: Otherworlds is a collaborative project I'm doing with my friend Claire. She's a visual artist who does really nifty work. Together, we're going to make stories and art on a regular schedule, and send them in the mail (and also email!), because strangeness and wonder are meant to be shared and we all need more than junk mail and spam in our inboxes.

We'll be pulling a prompt from a hat fortnightly - and we've got some really great prompts in there. Then we each go off and make a thing separately, document our processes, and then get together and mail things off. The stories are printed on high quality paper, signed, and sealed with a red wax seal. The pictures are signed and mounted on black backing, with a little blurb on the back about the inspiration for the image. We write a letter to our patrons, seal everything up, and send it off! Oh, and we video ourselves doing to prompt pulls from one of my many silly hats, and brainstorming briefly about what to create. Our eventual plan is to pick our favorites and make a book out of them, after a full year of this.

We've got a backlog in case either of us has a case of Real Life come up and bite us (and they were all produced on the same fortnightly schedule!), but we've also practiced this process and have it down pretty well now, so we're not predicting a lot of problems. Our very first official prompt pull will be next week, September 1st. I'm super excited about this, and also nervous in a sort of silly way. No matter what, though, we're going to have a lot of fun doing this project. I hope a few of you will follow along and join in the fun.

A moment.

Jun. 30th, 2016 10:28 pm
cislyn: (fireflies)
It rained tonight, a steady, quiet kind of rain. I was playing games with a friend in a coffee shop, rainbow umbrella dripping on the seat of the booth next to me as we talked over the strategy of our moves and joked with each other about how awful we were both doing. He took quick bites of salmon salad between moves and I would turn and look at the metal tree sculpture on the wall beside us when he dithered over moves. After, I shouldered my backpack and walked out into the twilight - it was that perfect moment when it's still light enough to not be night, but it clearly isn't day anymore. The rain had stopped. The air smelled like the storm, and the ground smelled damp, and the grass was twinkling a little in the light from the streetlights. And as I walked along the sidewalk, the fireflies started glimmering in the dusk all around me, little streaks of light. One sat on my shoulder for a moment and then blinked off, away on buggy business. I walked around the block twice, past my car, back again past the coffee shop (the barista waved at me through the window as she closed up), just to enjoy it all.

I wish, sometimes, that I could capture moments, distill them down to their essence, and share them with other people across the miles. The quality of the light, the little black glowing bugs doing their twilight dance, the blue paint on the little free library in the yard I parked in front of, the runner completely soaked by the rainstorm who grinned as he jogged past me, the smell of the rain and the squeak of my sandals on the sidewalk and the cool breeze. All of it. Every bit. I want to just pour it into a cup and save it for a moment when someone needs it - maybe me, but more likely someone else - and then pull it out at need. Here. Here's this moment. Apply as needed.

And maybe that's why I write. Or at least, why I write little things like this, and share it here. Next best thing to experiential distillation, I suppose.

It's a beautiful night. I hope it's treating all of you kindly.
cislyn: (blue)
In silence

I have a belly full of stones that are words
heavy down in my gut
two dozen or more “I’m sorry” pebbles
a broken fragment of “that could have been me”
a handful of weighty “yes” and “no” and “I am too”
jostled next to jagged edges of “I wish”
though acid and time inside
have removed the rest
(but I remember that falling star).

It isn’t a curse -
if I were cursed I’d speak
and no one would listen,
or the stones would come out
click clacking past my teeth, maybe chipping a few
wet and raw into the world
whenever I spoke.

I know how curses work.
Curses change words
to jewels, to frogs, or maybe insects
like butterflies lifting into the air on lettered wings
or crickets hop-scurrying across the carpet
hoping to get away.
No, I’m not cursed. I just swallow my words
unable to find any that matter
that change things
that can move
unable to express depth with shallow syllables
and so, down in the deep they harden.

Morbidly, I imagine that when I die
they will cut me open
and find a quarry
a love letter to the world
in simple sedimentary sentiments,
igneous ideas cooled now in the darkness inside,
and metamorphic thoughts pressed together over time
into the hardened hollow places
I carry in the softness of self.
Until then
the words sit in my stomach
waiting to see light
and I cannot speak
even when I want to
even when I want to say
(something, anything, what what what)
so very, very much.

I’m not dead, though
and I do not intend to lie down
anytime soon
so, in lieu of inadequate mineral conversation
which I can’t quite manage to produce
I move my hands
making something soft
in bright and shifting colors
a rainbow to wrap around the shoulders of a friend
a gift
and I remind myself
when the world seems cruel and dangerous
that I am armored inside with rock
that change can be geologic and slow
but it happens
and that there are many, many ways to speak

What you can do to help in the wake of the Orlando shooting
cislyn: (smiting)
Imagine, Manager Mike and Programmer Pauline, sitting down to a meeting before the BluRay player's UI is finished.

M: So, this thing is going to be able to play all kinds of stuff, right? Not just discs. Because the kids like that these days.

P: Oh yes. Don't worry. There will be lots of apps you can add to the home screen.

M: Ok, so tell me how that'll work. I've added one of these apps and want to use it. What's the experience like?

P: Well, let's say you have a Pandora account, and want to listen to some music through your nice home theater speakers.

M: Sounds good.

P: Indeed. So, you navigate to the Pandora button on the home screen, and select it with the remote.

M: And then it starts playing my music?

P: No. Then it displays a black screen with white lettering that says "checking internet connection"

M: Ah. Ok. Ok. I get it. And after it's checked the internet connection, it plays music?

P: No, then it dumps you back on the home screen.

M: Right, right. Of course.

P: So then you navigate to the Pandora button again, and select it with the remote.

M: And now we're good to go with the music and the playing of it, right?

P: Wrong. Now it displays a black screen with white lettering and the message "Acquiring Internet Content"

M: Is that it?

P: Yeah. That's all we print up there.

M: Mmmm, that'll never do. Let's give them something else to look at. I know! How many steps is this internet content acquisition stage?

P: Um... let's say three.

M: This is what you'll put on the screen: one slash three, two slash three, three slash three... that kind of thing. Nothing like some fractions to really make users happy, right?

P: If you say so. We could add a progress bar, too.

M: No, no. We don't want to give them too much. Oh! How about a FAKE progress bar? You know, one of those simple lines with a dot that moves back and forth on it but doesn't really indicate anything?

P: No problem, boss.

M: So how long does this process take, on average?

P: Could be anywhere up to five minutes, depending.

M: Hmm. Ok, so you're at this 'acquiring internet content' screen for a few minutes. It acquires the content. Now there's jammin' tunes, right?

P: Nope. After it finishes, it displays a big white button labeled "continue" for the user to press.

M: Hmm. Ok.

P: And after that there are tunes. What do you think?

M: What happens if the user wanders away during the process and comes back, say ten minutes later, having made a cup of tea?

P: Oh, it times out and dumps them back at the home screen.

M: So, you basically have to have the remote in your hand the entire time, press buttons multiple times for no purpose, and be paying attention to a black screen with minimal content or information the entire time lest you miss your window of opportunity and have to start all over again?

P: Uh... yeah. Yeah, we do that. We could, um...

M: SOUNDS GREAT. Ship it! We are going to make SO MUCH MONEY! Who wouldn't want to fondle our tiny little remote all that time?! Mwahahahaha!

P: That's what I thought! Awesome!
cislyn: The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. (Enemy)
I recently (as in, a couple of days ago, in a quick rush of a few hours) read The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer. It's a good, solid read. It's kind of hard to classify this book (which is part of why I like it) but it is, in large part, a memoir. And Amanda Palmer is pretty good at pouring herself out onto the page, one way and another. It's also sort-of kind-of a book about fundraising, about the arts, about figuring out how to make art your 'job' in a capitalist society, and so on and so forth.

I have some complicated feelings about it.

It's no secret that I suck at asking for help, while simultaneously really enjoying and sincerely hoping to be able to help others. I was kind of hoping this book would help me figure out how to make those two feelings line up a little better, would help me untangle some of my contradictory feelings about 'help' in general. It, uh, didn't really do that. Though it did get me thinking.

It was an interesting read, and I could definitely tell by the end of the book that the author had come a long way down that road herself - but she started out in a position of generally being more than able and willing to ask for help, and it was only with some of the really big stuff that she struggled. The day-to-day? She had that down, and expressed a bit of confusion and befuddlement that anyone could feel ashamed or conflicted or weird about asking for, say, a tampon when surprised by their period. Yeah. Honey. That's a lot of people right there. For stuff that I feel I should have handled on my own? I generally don't ask for help if I can get away with it. I don't want to put anyone out.

And I feel like there are these... I don't know, kind of like lines in my head? They delineate Asking Too Much and Asking Not Enough and Asking Just The Right Amount. Part of that is just plain being judgey, I'm sure. But you have to make judgement calls, you have to decide when and how much and how often to give, or you'll give too much away.

Confession: I... had a problem with charities in college. And also not charities, but just people who asked for help in any kind of way, but particularly financial. It's not like I had money to spare, but, hey, I reasoned with myself, I probably had more to spare than they did. I had more than many people. And so I repeatedly put myself into tight spots and got stressed because I wasn't able to say "I'm sorry - I can't right now, and probably shouldn't later". To this day, walking past folks on the street asking for money - especially if they're persistent or follow me - is incredibly hard. I want to just empty my damn wallet. Another good reason not to carry cash. I just want to help. I always want to help. Even when I know I can't.

And I feel like in a lot of ways we're living in the age of the ask. Patreon and Kickstarter and Gofundme and YouCaring and IndieGoGo and and and... and sorting through those is hard. It's really hard. All of it is hard.

And what that really comes down to is this: our relationship to money is difficult. And that's not going to go away anytime soon.

There's shame tied up in there, and guilt, and obligation, and all kinds of other heavy emotions. We all have different notions about what's Appropriate and Right when it comes to money - it's Appropriate and Right to make money, of course. And it's Appropriate and Right to share some of that - but only some, and our ideas about when and how and under what circumstances are all a little different.

Some small group of people might come to consensus that "no, that's tacky" or "that wasn't right" or "that's begging" or "that's fine so long as..." (fill in the blank with any number of different pre and post conditionals - as long as the money is all spent on these specific things, as long as there was literally NO other way to get by, as long as the person asking feels appropriately lousy about having to ask, on and on). But even with those things, you'd be hard pressed to get consensus on Right and Appropriate among a wide audience.

And I'm sure what most folks do is just muddle through, you know? This is an intuitive things for many people - you know what sets off your "nuh-uh" radar, what activates your "oh damn, I should put something into that hat" spidey sense. And we all know - and perhaps fear? maybe the right word there is 'anticipate' - at some level, being in a position to ask ourselves. "That could be me." Oh hell yes it could. That could be me. For some people that sense ends up translated into "I Would Never". For others it comes down to "I am my brother's keeper, in all things". It goes different ways, humans being different and all.

I think that's one of the biggest motivators for many who do give. They see themselves in the asker, or some facet of their situation. And that applies not just to asking out of desperation, or deep-down need, but asking out of want. Creators on patreon are trying to recreate the artist-patron relationship, trying to decouple funding from a specific product and delivery timeline (though there is still some of that). Wouldn't it be great to be that artist? To be that writer? To be that creator? And hey, what they make is cool. That could be me.

But only if we ask.

So, circling back to the book, one of the things touched in there over and over again is this - if you're going to ask, you have to believe. You have to believe you deserve to get whatever it is you're asking for. Whether that's help moving a couch or $5 / month to keep doing some thing you do, or $500k to build some specific large thing. You have to believe you deserve that help. It's not about the culture, about society, about the stuff you're asking for even - it's internal.

And I see her point, I do. Fundraisers presented with shuffling apologies and downcast eyes and long lead-ins about how it really sucks that this is necessary but, well, you see... those are everywhere. And it ties back to that shame. If only to stand out from the crowd, it's a good idea to leave that behind, to try to present not with pride but with at least a lack of shame. (Ah, but how hard is it to be truly 'shameless'!)

But when you're asking for help with things other people will claim you 'should' be able to handle on your own? How do you get over that? Is it really a matter of deserve at that point, a matter of stance and attitude? Does it help when you're fundraising for personal life stuff to present it as "I am completely awesome and I'd like to keep being completely awesome, so please help me keep on keeping on and paying my bills"? I dunno. I suspect that kind of position could (maybe even inevitably would) backfire.

Certainly, a deep down belief in the awesomeness of your offerings is necessary if you're asking for help with them - if you're promising to deliver a thing, or continue making stuff, or whatever. Help with a project? Sure. But when the project is surviving the daily grind of capitalism that pushes us all down (though certainly some of us more than others), it gets a lot trickier, and that's a lot of what's out there these days. And asking for help with those things? It's still fucking hard. And often, for so many, so fucking necessary.

So, you know, no big surprise - Amanda Palmer's book is written from a particular perspective and from a particular kind of privilege. Which is fine. Like I said, it's mostly memoir, and pretty well written memoir at that. But the premise that if you just ask people will give you the world, well... not quite. Not quite.

I'm going to keep poking at my tangled feelings regarding money, regarding asking, regarding help. I will say this - sometimes, the ask is not the hardest part. Receiving the help itself is. Asking for help is a huge hurdle, but part of why is that feeling of shame, that sense of obligation and debt, the resultant feelings of inadequacy and failure. Having to ask means you failed to do it all yourself, after all (which hey, we none of us really do it alone, but I know how powerful the urge is to try) and accepting the help after there's been an ask (maybe not even by you! Maybe by a friend, or just a stranger who noticed the need somehow) is having to face the reality of that failure.

There are some self-descriptor words which we value pretty highly and view positively - "independent" is one of them. And finding it hard to ask for and harder to accept help is a huge amount of the cultural baggage tied to that word. I don't really feel it for myself - but I have aspired to it, in many ways.

The autumnal equinox is coming up - I like looking at the shifting of the seasons as a good time to try to shift things inside myself. The world is moving, and change is a constant. It might be a good time to try to figure out if some of these self-descriptors are really worth keeping around. I've already gotten rid of "selfless" (without self? Really? Yeah, no thanks. "Selfish" I'm still not embracing, but I'd be happier to be called that than selfless). Perhaps it's time to shed my nascent aspirations toward "independent" too.

I'm not. None of us are. I love my people, scattered and distant and close and silly and serious and the whole lot of them. I love helping them, when and how I can. And maybe it's time to deep-down acknowledge that the ties I've been building for years with people go both ways. Independent? Not so much. The opposite of that isn't dependent. It's loved
cislyn: (swirl)
There's something about space exploration, about pushing past the borders of atmosphere and the grip of gravity and getting beyond. It hits me right in the emotional centers, every time. This is part of why I write science fiction, and a huge part of why I read it. It's also why I teared up a little today, about a webform.

NASA is doing this really amazing and clever thing where you can send your name to Mars. Yes, you. Right here. It's just a webform, and then they'll review the names, and put them all on a microchip, and send it to another planet.

So. Yeah. Goofy grinning and moist eyes. No apologies there, even if it is about a webform.

Of course, it's not really about a webform. It's about technology making the story of exploration personal. It's about how amazing the future is, and how great it is that this kind of thing is happening. It's about possibilities and wonder. Some things are worth getting a little teary about.

Go sign up. Getting teary (or starry) eyed is not necessary, but I recommend it anyway.
cislyn: (distant worlds)
I feel like talking about my history with games a little bit today. This will be a ramble. You have been warned.

The very first video game that I played by myself was Moraff's Revenge. I was 11 when Moraff's Revenge came out - my dad belonged to a Shareware of the Month club. He got floppies in the mail, and it was a thing I looked forward to. Most of the programs were nothing I was interested in - there was a typing program I found kind of fun, but mostly I just watched my dad tool around on the computer and used it to write my school papers (I was sort of insanely proud of being able to type my book reports and print them out).

We didn't have any game console systems. No sega or nintendo. No atari. I didn't have any friends who had those things - or at least who let me play on them. We also didn't have cable tv, because we lived way the hell out in the country with my grandparents. When I wanted to play a game, I had board games available. But, again, I was an only child living pretty far out in cow-pasture country. My grandparents were not interested in playing games - they had Adult Stuff to do. My dad would play uno or chess or connect four with me some nights, when he wasn't too tired. Usually, though, I played by myself. I became the queen of parcheesi, happily inventing different people to be the other colors and ascribing different stakes and motivations for the invisible gamers I was playing with. Usually, they were just Me from different timelines or universes.

That's not to say I didn't play some computer games. There were a few educational computer games we played at school - there was the ubiquitous Oregon Trail, and a trivia game which had a Great Awk. Camen Sandiego. That kind of thing. I think there was pong installed somewhere. And I treated the shareware typing program as a game, which goes some way towards explaining my 100+ wpm typing rate. Heh.

And then there was Moraff's Revenge.

Moraff's Revenge is a very basic dungeon crawler. It came out in 1988, so the graphics are very minimal. On one side of the screen is a top-down view map which gets filled in as you explore. On the other side is a 4-panel 3-d kinda view of the dungeon as you explore. As you walk down the dark corridors, you'll see monsters in the distance, and have the choice to run away or go forward and engage them. You could also spot things like doors at a short distance, if I'm remembering correctly.

I loved that game so much.

The computer was in the formal dining room, a room we never, ever used. Not even once. There was this huge big heavy rectangular wooden dining table, and two different cabinets filled with fancy china, and my grandmother always had some sort of big fake-flower arrangement on the table. The chairs were big and heavy. We always ate at the round table in the living room, comfortable and close and informal. The computer desk was shoved up into a corner of the room, up by the door into the kitchen. The printer was down below the desk, a snaky mess of cables. My dad had brought home a small cheap black office chair, and I spent way too much time spinning on it. I called it the Twirly Chair. When my dad was on the computer, I'd pull up one of the formal dining chairs and sit beside him, and my grandmother would stick her head in from the kitchen and frown at us both because she didn't like things to be moved around in that room. My dad showed me Moraff's Revenge the day he got it in the mail and I was literally on the edge of my seat as he rolled a character and got started in the dungeon. He looked over his shoulder at me and laughed a little and said "you want to play?"

Oh hell yes, I wanted to play.

Your choices were warrior or wizard. I chose warrior, and started my career bashing in monster brains and collecting copper coins and turning them into Jewel Pieces and storing them in the bank and gaining experience by sleeping at the inn. And in the back of my head I was already thinking about how this world worked, about an economy based on jewels when all the foes you encountered carried metal coins which weighed you down (gosh, the cheaper ones were heavier) and this dungeon which allegedly contained the fountain of youth. I thought about 'levels' and getting stronger by bashing in monsters, about running a shop or an inn (there were three to choose from - and the fleabag motel had a high likelihood of making you sick and/or getting your stuff stolen). Where did the potions and pills found in the dungeon come from? Who made the armor and weapons? What motivated the monsters to attack me?

I had all these questions, and I loved the game. I was devoted to this game. I pictured dungeon maps in my mind when I went to bed at night. I was helping out at my dad's office some days after school and on weekends, and he let me install it on the office computers too, so I had multiple games to play.

And I realized pretty early on that one of the things I was so fond of was that my character was never pictured.

The representation of the player on the slowly-revealed map is an arrow, pointing the direction you're facing. The views as you're walking through the corridors of the dark dungeon are sort of what your character is seeing. Your character is never in view.

It was great. I could imagine my character to be any damn thing I wanted. I imagined some days that I was one of the pixelated hobgoblins such as those I encountered in the dungeon. I could be female, male, a green slime that could shape itself such that wearing armor and wielding weapons made sense. I could be anything and any shape. There was always armor that fit me, if I had the JP to spend.

For a young lady becoming increasingly annoyed with and aware of her own shape and form this was amazing. I could be an adventurer. That could be me, leveling up. Making poor choices about where to spend the night. Getting new goodies and going deeper into the dungeon. There was nothing that said it couldn't be me. It could be me.

My dad subscribed to the shareware thing for a long time. There were other games that came across that little desk in the formal dining room. Commander Keen. Tetris. Once my dad realized how much I liked playing games on the computer (and how much he enjoyed it too) he started scouring the sales racks at stores and came home with Ultima games. Wing Commander. SimCity. Populous.

I started figuring out what I liked and what I didn't in games. And as much as I enjoyed a strong story element - good writing, good characters - what I found really engrossing were games where I could make up my own story. Where I could decide where I, the player, fit into the narrative. What was my character? What was I doing? Why was I doing it? And that was always easiest when there really wasn't much of anything representing the player on the screen. The Sim games and Populous were favorites - it was great fun to be able to play around with wide concepts, to build things. But Moraff's Revenge remained my favorite game, despite all its problems. Despite the fact that really it was quite tedious. Despite the fact that there wasn't much variety in monsters, equipment, dungeon levels, any of it. Despite the fact that 'winning' the game and finding the fabled Fountain of Youth at the bottom of the dungeon just gave you the chance to start it all over again with a slightly more powerful character.

I didn't care. I kept playing. Because it was minimal and allowed me to tell the widest range of stories. Because there was nothing keeping me from seeing 'me' in some version on the screen. Because dungeon crawling is damned fun, and it was fun to imagine ways it could be more fun, to mentally stretch and say "this game would be better with" and play with game design concepts. Its failings were its strengths and kept me engaged for years, sneaking out of my bedroom at the back of the house to tiptoe into the formal dining room and turn on the computer late at night, muting all the sound and playing when I couldn't sleep. Braving my grandmother's tsks and frowns to sit down in the Twirly Chair at the computer after I finished my homework (or at least after I said I did) to play just a few more levels before dinner.

I was in highschool, a senior, before I ever played a game on a gaming console. It was space invaders, and I blew away my boyfriend's score in one sitting. He was more than a little surprised, since I'd told him I'd never played any games on an atari before (I think it was an atari. Please don't revoke my geek license if I've got it wrong. I only played it, like, twice). I kept playing the things I liked, and had resigned myself to nobody having heard of Moraff's Revenge, or enjoying it if they had heard of it. I figured it was just one of those things. I played more games. I branched out a bit.

And then, a few years later, I discovered rogue-likes. This was everything I'd been looking for in Moraff's Revenge, and more. My character was represented with an @, and I loved it. When Todd showed me nethack for the first time, he was a little apologetic about that, saying that the graphics weren't fancy but... and I just nodded. I got it. No problem. And it was a dungeon crawl. Yes indeed. I've played a lot of roguelikes - a LOT of roguelikes - over the years, and found something to like and love in almost every one of them. Even the ones with fancy tile sets or graphics that put a representation of the player on the screen that's a little more sophisticated than an @. But what drew me in was being able to imagine whatever I damned well pleased. A D was the biggest, baddest, most intimidating red dragon I could imagine. And hey, y'all, my imagination is pretty great. I didn't have to rely on a graphic artist laying out, pixel by pixel, just what should intimidate me. I could see the monsters however I pleased, my character could be a chubby sorceress flinging fireballs (why don't we ever see any overweight mages? They're all skinny, I swear. At least the ladies are - I've seen a portly mage dude or two, complete with bushy beard over a gut, but I guess if you're a femme magic user you've just GOT to swank, for some damn reason) or a turtle person slowly trundling along in heavy armor or a bird-headed spirit waving around a staff. Anything I pleased.

I've seen a lot of conversations about representation in video games these days - well, in all kinds of media, honestly, but video games is getting the most pushback, from what I can see. I think about these games, the ones that showed me the world of possibilities inherent in games on a screen. I think about the text adventure games I played, the numerous dungeon crawlers (Mordor: Depths of Dejenol, I'm looking at you. Sooooo many hours sunk in that little game), the RPGs. The long conversations about story structure, about game design, about inventory management and what do levels really mean and the power-balance of magic versus brute force.

And I remember Moraff's Revenge, and how thrilled I was as an 11 year old girl to be given the freedom to imagine anything I pleased. Representation matters. What those games did for me - what nethack and other old-school roguelikes and many other games still do - is give me a chance to see myself in the game world, if I want to. I didn't have to rely on a programmer to think of me, to get it right. I didn't want to play 'games for girls' inasmuch as there were any available back then. I didn't want things branded pink, and I found bikini armor and half-naked ladies kind of laughable and sad in these worlds where violence was the answer to every problem and just about everything you met was going to try to impale you with something sharp and pointy. I don't mind level grinding. I really like dark dungeons. And if I ever make a game (and I've been talking with a good friend about doing just that thing) I hope I can make something that has even half the impact that Moraff's Revenge had on me. Something that gives people room to think, to imagine. To see themselves. To see a world where they could be the one who saves the day, or even just the one who completes the quest and levels up. It could be you. Why not?
cislyn: (booky)
Oh wow, I just discovered NerdCon Stories.

I... really really really want to go to this. I would need a con buddy or two (because that's how I roll) but... wow. Just... wow. This is entirely and completely up my alley and exactly the sort of thing I love talking about, thinking about, analyzing, overanalyzing, geeking out about, squeeing about, and generally getting all excited and involved with. Anyone else really intrigued and maybe want to go?

cislyn: (distant worlds)
I've been playing the Atelier series for a while now. These are, undeniably, my games. Todd got Atelier Rorona for me for one of my birthdays, and it's been a tradition ever since to grab up the latest game in the series when it becomes available. They're cute, casual, fun little games. They almost universally have a female protagonist, a complex crafting/alchemy system, turn-based battles, and a slowly-widening set of areas to explore and play in.

I think Atelier Shallie, the latest game in the series, is an interesting experiment. It's kind of a frustrating and failed one, but interesting, and in a better written game it could work really well. It takes the idea of control of a character and turns it on its side a little bit. You're playing this alchemist, Shallie, and so of course you have to complete goals and do tasks and blah blah, as Shallie. Nothing radical there. You have the choice of two Shallies to play - Shallistera, or Shallotte. I chose Shallistera.

There's no time limit, which is a radical departure from previous games in the series, and in theory there's no pressure to do anything in particular. But the truth of the matter is that when you're doing the 'main' parts of the story, that's all you can do. Shallie has a happiness meter, and it drops drastically as soon as you deviate from the proscribed course of action, and the lower her happiness the less able she is to do things at all. She's slower, she's less powerful, and the play experience is less fun. All other goals and quests are hidden during the main plot, so you can't see if you're making any progress, or if the things you're doing 'count' towards any of your goals.

And the brilliant thing is they've done all this by putting it inside Shallie's head. There's this little representation of her in profile, and when she has free time, her face will flip to the left, and multiple sections open up in the "life goals" menu. All of a sudden, you can explore lots of different ways to progress and lots of different goals - there are interpersonal goals, alchemy goals, goals for getting tougher in battle. In the middle are her 'main' goals, which are, in theory, most of what she's thinking about, but at this point they'll be vague: "get stronger", "go exploring". Things like that. And as you complete the things she's thinking about there, her head will slowly fill up with color. When it's full, she flips back and wants you to progress with the plot again.

It's ingenious, because hey, you want the experience of controlling another person, a human being with her own desires and goals and objectives? Well, ok. That means sometimes she's not going to want to do the things you want to do. Her goals don't necessarily really line up well with the play experience of a game, of a player controlling her. It forces you to care about what she cares about.

And it fails. It fails hard. Because they failed to make Shallie a character I actually care about. Like almost all the alchemists in the dusk portion of the series, she's shallow, young, naive, and stupid. Oh, SO stupid. I find it incredibly frustrating to play dumb characters who have no real dreams, motives, or desires.

Most of the time when it's time for the plot to progress the 'thought' in her head that blocks out all the other things I'm actually interested in doing is "I'm tired. Let's go back to the workshop and rest." Really? There's this whole world to explore, and all these things you cared about just a second ago, before I smashed that last barrel or killed that last monster and completed the objective which tipped you over the edge, and now all you've got is "I'm tired"?

If the role she was playing made more sense, or the world itself was deeper and more interesting, or the story writing better, then it would be a brilliant system, because it would jolt me out of my player's position and into the position of the character I'm allegedly interested in. I can see how it could work. It just... doesn't.

Add on top of that other minor frustrations and the game ends up being a very disappointing experience. When you complete an objective, or do some portion of it that nudges up the progress bar, it displays on the screen to let you know what's going on. Nice? Not actually. It displays the prerequisite for the task you just completed, and not the task itself! Your task is to gather three times in this region and you just completed it? Oh well. You get to know that what led to that was "Smash 20 barrels". That's a minor quibble that becomes a major one when so much of the focus is on these tasks, and it makes no sense in the context of it being Shallie's mind-state. Why on earth should she be thinking about Y, which led her to want to do X when she just managed to finish doing X? It comes across as random and it's just a really odd design choice.

The game setting itself is potentially interesting - there's this long, slow apocalypse happening, a world-swallowing drought that could be really interesting. And the game touches on it, but after playing the other two games in the series, I admit that I have no faith in the world-building. I like the slow, inevitable feel to it all, but I know better than to expect it to make a ton of sense, or to expect a complex ecological disaster to be handled well.

Shallistera herself is a sort of diplomat, chief-to-be of a small village threatened by the Dusk (the in-game name for this creeping desert doom), and she's come to a larger city seeking aid. And is anything interesting done with her status as a foreigner, a diplomat, and effective leader in training? No. Not at all. Not even a little bit. The city she travels to is ruled by a corporation, which seems to basically just be one rich guy. There's no mention of what the corporation does, who it employs, or how it's the governing body of this city. The actual engaged leadership of the city which Shallie mostly deals with is the "Union", lead by a younger more charismatic fellow who hands out all your quests. And to whom "Central" has sent a bureaucrat, Solle, to deal with. Solle "does reports" and "conducts investigations." Or rather, he tells other people to. The actual structure of the government of any of these places is completely nonsensical, and Shallie's status as a representative of a foreign power - even a minor one - is just completely overlooked. Solle hands out "assignments" to her and tells her she'll have to wait for Central to do things. The Corporation and Union alike basically order her around and commandeer her ship and resources. She doesn't care. It makes no sense.

Shallotte, the other playable character, comes from a poor family and is scraping by to make ends meet. I haven't played her story yet, but I have even less confidence in the game writers to tackle class issues than I do for them to tackle politics. I expect they'll just avoid it with some hand-waving, much the way they have with the political and sociological implications of Shallistera's position.

One of the things I've always liked about the Atelier series is that it tends to focus on the smaller, more personal stories. You're encouraged to care about your relationships with the NPCs - there are in-game rewards to be had for maintaining higher 'friendship levels', though the different games in the series have handled this in different ways. The main plotlines are almost always about small, personal things. Atelier Rorona was about an apprentice alchemist who wanted to get good enough at her craft to run her own shop, and had to navigate the bureaucracy of a city to prove she could do this. Atelier Totori, my favorite game in the series, was about a girl whose mother was an adventurer (just, you know, a valid career choice in that world) and disappeared. Totori wanted to become strong enough to be an adventurer herself, to follow in her mother's footsteps literally and figuratively, and figure out what had happened to her. The fact that she had alchemical talent was a thing she used to further that goal.

I fear that Atelier Shallie's plotline is ultimately not going to be about saving Lugion Village (which the voice actors pronounce inconsistently - one of a number of really irritating things about the English voice acting), or about Shallistera gaining enough confidence to be a leader and make hard choices, or even Shallotte overcoming the poverty she's mired in and the low expectations of everyone around her. It's going to be about saving the world. And actually, that's disappointing. There's not enough character here to sustain a character-driven story, and not enough world here for me to want to save it. I've never seen Lugion village and I doubt I ever will. What I have seen are constant references to the Dusk and how it needs to be fixed in order for things to be ok. I'd love to be invested in that, but I'm not. I don't believe an apocalypse can be solved by a girl with a staff and a big cauldron and her adventuring pals.

I will probably keep playing the game, hoping against hope that it will surprise me with some depth, with some twist. Against all odds, the gameplay itself is fun and fairly consistent. The battles are scaled well and there's enough variety in them that I find them fun. The alchemy system is nuanced enough that I actually like making stuff and experimenting with different combinations. I appreciate that I can just go out and gather stuff or fight monsters or make things without having to budget my time, but I do end up perversely hoping against hope that I won't do anything that Shallie cares about, because then I'll be forced to go on with the plot, and the interesting battles and gathering and free time I have will be taken up with inane conversations (she has a terrible habit of just repeating phrases from things people said - I've dubbed her Shallistera the Parrot) and cameo appearances of characters I didn't like from other games in the series. Oh hi, stereotype of the drawling cowboy. Gosh. You... sure do exist. Can I go make some stuff again yet? Nope? Ok. On with it until I can.

I'm still enjoying the things I enjoy in a game like this. I just wish... well, I wish for a lot of things. It would be super great if one of these days they made a game about a character who isn't basically a kid, for instance. Someone discovering a talent for alchemy when they're already an adult and having to make choices about what to do with that would be really interesting. The goal system in Shallie - with a few tweaks - could also be pretty great, if employed in a story that's well-written and for a character I really care about, with any depth of emotion or experience. I'm hoping that next year's Atelier game (because these things come out like clockwork) will incorporate some of the positive changes from Atelier Shallie. I'd really love to love one of these games again. I haven't in a while.
cislyn: (booky)
You know what I am? A doof. I posted on all the social medias except the one I use the most (that would be this one here) about my story which came out on Monday. I'm also a doof with a story out, and you can read it right here. It's flash, so it's guaranteed to be a fast read. I hope you like it!
cislyn: (booky)
Thing 1: The Best Of Electric Velocipede, featuring my poem "Melt", is debuting right now at World Fantasy Con. Woohoo!

Thing 2: I just signed the contract for my very first pro sale, to Flash Fiction Online! When I have more details, I will share them with you. I am suuuuper thrilled about this!

Today I feel like I crossed some invisible threshold. I have leveled up. I am now a Real Writer, and I feel pretty damn fancy.


Apr. 29th, 2014 12:26 pm
cislyn: More ideas than time (Ideas)
I like to tell people that though I'm not a programmer, I speak tech-geek fluently. This is true; I can follow most conversations about programming, and even contribute meaningfully from time to time, simply because I've been around so many programmers for so long. I've tried learning various programming languages over the years - I've dabbled in everything from C to JavaScript. I've played with Perl and Java and Inform and I could go on. And what I learned from those experiences was that yep, I am indeed not a programmer. Which is pretty ok, since I know a lot of programmers, so if I need a thing coded, I have plenty of options.

Todd and a lot of my Madison friends have been working on a really big project for years now - a new programming language called Avail. I've been involved rather peripherally in this, doing stuff like transcribing and editing notes when Todd was giving little classes on how to program in Avail, making sure everyone stayed fed when they were holed up for long design sessions, and, more recently, copyediting the website and contributing glossary pages and such.

But when Todd suggested that I take the silly little game I wrote for LiveJournal and port it to Avail so it could be included with the downloads as an example... well, I have to admit that I balked. I've been down this road before. I'm not a programmer. I just knew it was going to be a terrible hassle, I was going to mess up something, and I would wind up feeling like an idiot because part of the whole point of Avail is to make stuff like that easy. He only gave me half a page of instructions, for crying out loud!

I procrastinated on that thing for months.

And then I finally just sat down to get it done, thinking to myself that it was going to take ages, dreading the inevitable frustration... and there was none. It was dead simple.

The thing is, writing in Avail, I didn't feel like I was programming at all. Mostly because I wasn't. There's precious little logic in that game - it was originally written over a weekend in a dayquil haze, so it was meant to be much more "fun" than "challenging" - and I was doing the fun parts (to me) of writing the game: the actual writing. I mean, my code looked like this:

Squirrel Appeasement
is titled by "Fuzzy Nupkin Practices The High Art"
and is described by
"You hand over one of your mother's rings, passed on to you after her untimely demise.
The squirrel pushes it onto the base of its fluffy tail and preens for a moment
before turning its attention back to you.

\"Yes, this is very nice indeed. It will do.\" It hops inside. \"Bring me chalk, a
feather, and water in a silver basin, and I shall help you escape.\"

You scurry quickly to do the squirrel's bidding. Soon there is a magic circle drawn
on the tower floor. \"Step inside the circle, and I will finish the spell.\""

and has transitions
to Squirrel Zap
described by
"What could possibly go wrong?"
to Squirrel Suspicion
described by
"Hey wait, a spell-casting squirrel? This seems a little suspicious.";

The blackslashes are in front of any quotation marks that actually belong in the text. Otherwise, there's a lot of sort of arbitrary line breaks and spacing (which may or may not show up correctly here) just so I could keep track of what went where, but yeah... easy peasy. There are scenes. The scenes have titles, descriptions, and transitions. The transitions have descriptions. It was much, much easier than writing it on LJ, that's for sure. The hard(er) work had been done behind the scenes, when Todd (the actual programmer) wrote the Choosable Path engine that let my game/story be played at all.

And this is why I think Avail is neat - above and beyond the fact that an awful lot of people I think are great have put a lot of time and energy into it. Todd was able to sit down and write this thing, which is for a general purpose of writing story games, in next to no time, and hand the specifications to me. I was able to port my game to Avail super fast with so little frustration, because I didn't have to think like a programmer to do it. I was writing a game, so I got to think like a writer and a game designer. I'm still intending to go back and add more complexity to that thing - and it'll be easy to do so.

Computers are awesome. There are often times I think that I'd like my fancy piece of expensive technology to be able to do a specific thing - but I'm not any good at making that happen. Avail lets programmers create tools for people like me, who have ideas, but don't want to learn how to program to make them happen. Could I have written my silly little game in Inform or some other language specifically designed for writing text adventure games? Absolutely. I just think it's pretty cool that there was so little overhead for learning how to do it in Avail, and Avail isn't specifically designed just for that single purpose application.

Anyway, Avail has now been publicly released - anyone can go and download Avail and play around with it. And "The Ship of Stories" and some other toy programs are included with the download. If this is the kind of thing you're interested in, I strongly encourage you to check it out! You may find yourself tempted to write your own story game, and I think that would be pretty amazing. It is realllllly easy, after all. Heh.

On a similar "hey, I'm still promoting this thing" note, even if you're not into programming and programming languages, I hope you'll take a look at the website and poke around. A lot of work has gone into making it readable and accessible, but there's always room for improvement. I'm still putting in time on the website, so if you see something and don't feel like posting a bug to trac or emailing the webmaster, you can just let me know.

LJ Idol

Mar. 5th, 2014 10:56 am
cislyn: (booky)
I'm not going to post very often about LJ Idol here (that's what the writing journal is for, after all), but I did want to put out there that the sign-up sheet is now up! All you have to do to play is write up something on your journal and comment with a link to it on the sign-up sheet, and you're in.

I would really love to see some folks give it a whirl who haven't tried it before - it's a really fun experience, honestly! I'll continue to say that it's a really fun experience until the very first prompt I hate, then I'll grump and stomp about and flail because I can't ever write anything to this stupid prompt EVER argh, and then I'll write something to the stupid prompt.

That's how this works. You end up surprising yourself, time and time again. You also end up unexpectedly making friends (if you're me, anyway. Some people expect it, being slightly more sensible about these things), gaining a wider audience for your words, getting lots of feedback, and gaining the opportunity to see how lots and lots of other people take exactly the same input and put out something totally different and unique week after week. You get that last one whether or not you play, if you follow along and read what folks are writing, but it's more fun if you participate.

Go on. Try it. You might like it. :)
cislyn: (booky)
- The Names They Gave Me. I related to much of this, though my own name doesn't carry the same kind of personal cultural weight for me.
- 60 words and a war without end. This is just a really good and interesting read all around. It's a look at the history of this sentence: "That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons." And wow, what a history, and what history it's still making.
- Y'all have probably already seen Amanda Hess's Why Women Aren't Welcome On The Internet, but just in case you haven't, there you go. The most interesting part of this article to me is the discussion of law enforcement - the way things are right now, it's damned tricky to know how to get actual Officials involved when threats are made, and which people to call on is also a big question. We're going to have to figure this shit out, and I hope it'll be sooner rather than later. An interesting question which I found myself asking was "well, what can I, personally, do to fix this?" Like so many big problems (hi, energy and infrastructure!) I feel like there's a lot more room for institutional change here, and less on an individual scale. I mean, I can keep engaging openly as a woman on the internet - and I'm damned lucky to have had very few lousy interactions online, but I'm also shy and limit my audiences rather a lot, so I realize those are factors - but I can't do much about the confusion from law enforcement or the "just get off twitter" reactions or the hordes of threatening jerks. Especially since in my particular small corner of the internet things are generally good. Anyway, lots of thinky thoughts.
cislyn: (creation)
I've got a reprieve from noisiness and other people right now - the workers have cleared out until around three while some things dry out, and the cats are sniffing around and delighted to be free. I'm feeling pretty good right now - tired, but good. I learned something that perhaps should have been obvious to me about myself before this. I have always said that I do not like breakfast, and can't really eat in the mornings. This is actually not true. It's just that my digestive system takes a good long time to wake up (along with the rest of me, actually) and usually two hours after I wake up is, uh, lunchtime rather than breakfast time. Durh. Anyway, I ate breakfast this morning! It was tasty! Then there was lunch! Check that out, two meals in a row. What is up with that, eh? Also, I think that avocados may be one of the single finest foods in the world. That, and mushrooms. Not necessarily together, but DAMN those foods are tasty.

Rich has informed me that he is on a fiction strike until I write a novel or novel-length collection of connected short stories. He won't read any other novel length book until he reads mine. Mind you, I haven't got one of those in the works (any more than I usually do) but I have to admit this incentivizes me. I am also aware that this isn't as much of a sacrifice as it sounds like - he's been so busy he hasn't actually read a book in more than a year (!!) so yeah, I don't feel like I'm rotting Rich's brain by keeping him waiting a bit longer.

I love that he does things like this, especially because I know what a picky reader he is. While there certainly is an element there of him reading my things because they're mine, I know that's only a piece of it - he wouldn't keep reading them, or try by hook or by crook to get me to make more of them and put out a book of them (he has sent me the info on amazon self-publishing something like five times now) if he didn't actually like them. He would tell me if he thought they were crap, and that counts for a lot.

Anyway, that's that. In other news, I've been exterminating humanity a lot lately playing Plague Inc, getting reading of my own done (the pile is slowly diminishing!) and doing a lot of thinking.

This getting up early stuff sucks, and I definitely won't be keeping it up, but there's something to be said about having all this time in a day, and since I'm so sleepy anyway I spend even more time just sort of staring into the middle distance and letting my mind work on things quietly.

I feel like all around me there are all these changes - long in the coming or surprising and sudden or subtle or obvious, there are a lot of them - and I feel sort of like I need to join the spirit of the times and shift a few things in myself as well. I find myself sort of painfully aware of the things I haven't been doing - making things, painting and drawing, studying Japanese - and turning them over in my mind and trying to figure out why.

With Japanese I can see the answer a little bit - I really, really like two things when studying a foreign language: structure and company. Once we weren't going to a class anymore, that got rid of the structure element. And company? Well, I was studying with Todd - we started the class together, were reading things together, and listening to some podcasts together. But he is WAY more diligent than I am, partially because he retreats into Japanese language study when he's avoiding work. He spends at least an hour a day drilling vocabulary, listening to podcasts (he raced way ahead of me) and practicing kanji (I have learned, like, two kanji. It's sad. To be honest I'm barely competent with my kana). So I lost my in-person study buddy and I feel both slow and lazy in comparison to Todd (I don't often compare myself to him, but when it's a thing we started together, and he's measurably so far beyond me... yeah, I've been doing that) and it's been hard to motivate myself to just get back to work and do it.

I do want to learn, though, and I'm happy when I'm actively learning something. So, I need to either try once again to set aside time and find self-discipline and structure some lessons and study time out for myself, or try to find another study buddy who's at about the same level I am and wants to learn together with me. When someone else is involved, it's always easier for me to be put in the work, because there's an element of letting someone else down, and I never want to do that.

When it comes to making things, I want to make a big list of all the in-progress projects I have going on (they are many) and, starting with the curtains for the master bath, start working on them. No deadlines, no pressure to be perfect, no schedule, just "do this thing first. Then choose from the list what to do after that".

And then there's drawing/painting. I miss the drawing and painting dates I had with Heidi back when she was living here. We were going through the "drawing on the right side of the brain" book together, and we'd meet in the afternoon once a week or so just to draw. Once I discovered brush painting, I brought along black ink and a brush or two as well and would spend part of the time doing 'sketches' in ink while she played with charcoal or pencils. It was awesome - not because I produced awesome things (though I am inordinately proud of the paintings and drawings I've done) but because I never, ever believed I could do any kind of visual art like that, and here I was doing it. Plus, you know, spending time with the person who's known me longest in the world who isn't related to me and goofing around together. We would always bring a small collection of objects to draw / paint, and they were so very uniquely us - mine were almost always things like dice, or game pieces, or a steampunk blaster, or a strange plushie or something. She brought little wooden or soapstone carvings of animals - owls, a giraffe, a turtle - bracelets, a whisk, a prayer wheel from Tibet, glassware from her lab.

I haven't opened the drawing book since she moved. Which is silly, really, because learning that stuff was awesome and I had made such good progress and it was great. But yeah. I miss my friend. Speaking of which, I need to write her again about a visit in October. She's been swamped with finishing up her dissertation and hasn't gotten back to me in a bit, but I'd like to go ahead and plan that.

Anyway. Yeah. Painting and drawing is a thing I want to do more of, because it was gloriously fun and I got such a kick out of doing a thing I had always told myself was for other people, people who were good at that kind of thing. Maybe I should try to find out if anyone I know in town would be willing to start reading through "drawing on the right side of the brain" (it was working really well for me! I'd totally be up for starting over) and doing some drawing dates with me. And if not, then, I don't know, just picking a day or two and doing it myself, even if it does make me melancholy.

And now Bubbles is purring in my lap so I'm going to go pet her instead of writing more of this entry.
cislyn: (mundragon)
Man, WisCon is awesome. So, I'm totally going to talk about some of the panels I've been to (I say this every year, don't I? But I mean it this time! Please believe me?) and stuff, but first, I'd like to try to start a discussion here.

I went to a panel today titled "Monstrous females and female monsters" (or perhaps it was vice versa - I'm too lazy to look it up right now) and I ended up ducking out early for various reasons (mostly my phone died. Yarg!). This is a topic which is near and dear to my heart, though. I LOVE female monsters - I love monsters in general, but there's something really enchanting to me about the lady ones. I was taking pictures of every single gorgon depiction I came across in the British Museum, and let me tell you, that was a lot. So. The first question that was posed to the panel was this:

What makes a monster?

And I find this really fascinating. What's a monster, as opposed to say, a person who does monstrous things? Is a witch a monster? How about an evil queen? Is there a monster spectrum along which someone can fall? Does a monster have to have something weird or inhuman about their body? Is it a factor of how scary they are, how dangerous?

Now, the panelists came up with some answers to this question, and I have some thoughts of my own, but I want to hear what you think! What makes a monster? Talk to me.
cislyn: (booky)
Hey guess what? Electric Velocipede published a poem by me, and you can read it right this very second!

And now I'll go back to bouncing up and down and being delighted more quietly. Carry on!
cislyn: (angbandy)
So! My friends are neat, and they are designing and coding a roguelike game in seven days for the Seven-Day roguelike challenge. And I'm helping! I won't be doing any coding, but I'm writing up item descriptions, monster descriptions, help text, and most of the other text for the game. If you're interested to follow along with our exploits, Leslie created a post over on the Avail website which I'll be updating from time to time with design notes, progress, silliness, and other such things. I hope that when our game, Last @ Standing, is finished you guys will check it out and let me know what you think.
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