juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
As I post more of these boys, it's getting harder for new readers to catch up on what's come before. So for everyone's ease, I finally offer:

Ghost and Aaron: A Sims 3 Story
Introduction and Master List

Aaron (with freckles and dyed black hair) is brash and rude, but behind his bravado is certain vulnerability. Ghost (with white hair and pale eyes) is inward-turned, expressing himself through the arts—but his passivity hides depth. They are cousins who, for most of their lives, were only casual acquaintances. Two years ago, Aaron moved in with Ghost and his mother, and the boys quickly became close friends. But one day, after they had moved into a filthy suburban home in Sunset Valley, Aaron kissed Ghost—changing their relationship forever, and beginning their chronicled story.

From their first spontaneous kiss onward, Ghost and Aaron's story has been almost entirely autonomous. I set up premises, and they provide plot—and the boys have a strange magic that makes it all possible. I post lightly annotated, image-heavy chronicles of their daily lives, supplemented with text-only, non-chronological storybits that fill in gaps in their daily developments and backstory. Storybits in particular may contain explicit sexual content, so consider yourself warned.

The list below contains every post where Aaron and Ghost appear, from cameos to major developments. The numbering system is completely meaningless (but keeps things in order); storybits are often non-chronological and tangentially related, but add significant depth. I have no posting schedule—updates come when they come. Comments and discussion are always welcome. Enjoy!

Master List — The time when...
001 They first appear.
002 Aaron kisses Ghost.
003 Aaron sets fire to the TV.
004 Their romantic relationship gets going.
005 Ghost quits his job.
006 They finally have sex.
          Bonus House tour.
007 They cameo during their honeymoon period.
008 The repoman comes.
          Bonus Family photos and Storybit 01: Aaron on the doorstep.
009 Ghost says "I love you."
           Bonus Storybit 02: Ghost dreams of death.
010 Ghost's dreams get worse.
          Bonus Storybit 03: Aaron says "I love you."
011 Storybit 04: The second round, while Ghost should be sleeping.
012 They have a surprising amount of sex.
          Bonus Storybit 05: Aaron picks Ghost up from work.
013 Ghost started to come to terms with Aaron's thievery.
          Bonus Storybit 06: Aaron questions Ghost's sexual history.
014 They cameo at the Silverman-Moore wedding.
015 Storybit 07: Aaron bottoms for the first time.
016 They visit Mouse.
          Bonus Storybit 08: The night with Nathan.
017 Everything's going well, so Aaron's parents show up.
          Bonus Storybit 09: The rings.
018 Things do not happen in France.
019 Aaron's parents visit.
          Bonus Storybit 10: What does not happen after Aaron's parents leave.
020 Previous update outtakes.
021 They spend a couple irresponsible days.

You can also browse my tags for Sims 3 and Sims 3: Ghost and Aaron for some supplemental discussion and photo logs of my other Sims. All my Sims photos are gathered in galleries on my Flickr.
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
I've been thinking a lot about missing stairs and culpability and productive responses in light of Nick Robinson's suspension from Polygon.

I don't think I have the capacity for surprise anymore when a likable man is accused of sexual harassment/assault; yet this particular one has hit me hard, because Polygon-as-brand works proactively to be a safe space—which doesn't make them free from error, but does lead me to give the benefit of the doubt and expect better than average. Like, what do I do when I'm stressed, I watch Polygon videos, because they're funny and I trust them; and now the thing causing stress is ... Polygon.... It feels more like a betrayal than this sort of thing usually does, even when *cough Johnny Depp* it's someone I like or had emotional investment in.

(Car Boys is deeply, hugely important to me, on an existential/is-this-what-religion-is/emergent narrative scale; as trope, as concept, as art, also as funny.)

It especially does not surprise me in the now to discover a man's problematic behavior, nothing surprises me in the now, in this era of political and cultural crisis. I think it does surprise me to see it reacted to immediately and compassionately; to see a company take action and keep proceedings private, and for that company and independent outsiders to insist, rightly, that "it is not on anyone who has been hurt to provide detailed receipts of their trauma for your entertainment."

Missing stairs operate as a cultural phenomenon—the whole coming to light of this has felt like a thing that "everyone" knew and "no one" talked about, and also something that caught people by complete surprise; it makes me have conflicted feelings about what knowledge is within this phenomenon; about what some people experience and some people know and some people, because of their privilege, never see or never recognize. What culpability is there in that position of not noticing? when clearly it is noticeable, to those that need to or know how; even I feel like some of my "ehhhh" reactions to some things he's said have been given context. But that there are people apologizing if their involvement or position of power compelled others to be silent—and that Polygon/Vox Media is literally doing anything at all, but especially via clear, thoughtful communication....

Cumulatively: a personal betrayal in a way that's not awfully valid, because I wasn't directly effected, but I liked and wanted to like this especial person & didn't want these issues to invade that space—and a knowledge that this issues invade every space, that that's literally what the issue is: pervasive—and gratitude that this is the best possible initial reaction and response. Insofar as any of this is cogent, it's only because I turned it into a rambling narrative for Devon last night; these feelings of mine, while Very Much and A Lot, have effectively been resolved now. (Except that an actual investigation will take time, and while I don't want this to occur in internet time or internet space as a trial-by-popular-vote overnight phenomenon, I do want it to be resolved overnight and forgotten by the next so that it isn't on my mind anymore—not feasible, not desirable, but I still feel cheated for not having it.) But it was Very Much; also: A Lot, in a particular time when I've approximately 2.5 spoons and would in any other circumstances! be watching Polygon videos! for escapism and distraction!
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
I encountered a discussion on [tumblr.com profile] why-animals-do-the-thing about bi/pan/trans/ace/aro animals, or rather, about the non-existence of cis/straight animals, and how gender identity and sexual orientation work in the animal world, and the relationship between biology, gendered pronouns, and anthropomorphization, and nothing has ever better articulated my gender identity.

I've discussed my pronoun use before with a tl;dr of "female pronouns are convenient and acceptable; non-gendered pronouns are equally accurate: because I'm a cat and cats don't have genders, and using these words isn't the same as embracing their connotations"—which has always been about as close as I can come to a gender identity. I present as cis female due to my body shape/the clothing that flatters in & in which I feel comfortable, but don't identify anywhere on any human gender spectrum. My spay/neuter status as a desexed cat has always been the defining factor of my identity—and that's not even a measurable real thing; it's complicated, it has no particular overlap with human gender identities or agender/genderqueer experiences, and more to do with the way gender (doesn't) work in animals, particularly desexed domestic animals.

I'm quoting that post here, for my own record keeping and future reference, with all credit to anon submitter and the parent blog. I just want to make sure I never lose it. It's such a good post! The personal connections I make to therianthropy/my gender are a smaller, secondary conversation, but it was elucidating to see these things laid out and they helped explain some of me to me.

Read more... )
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
There have been a number of interim posts since my last post that have not been written outside my head, because I am a perpetual bundle of busy and tired, consistently overstretching my limited capabilities to do politics and be scared about the state of the world.

One post: I did skip Thanksgiving, and my parents didn't come up after because inertia is a thing. But Dee went up to Washington for the holiday and Devon did drive up to see me for the day, just for a few hours. We made in-no-ways-traditional vegetarian hot dogs and mac & cheese (with hot dogs in it); it wasn't enough, but it was significantly better than nothing and I'm grateful.

Another post: practicing by doing the easy political phone calls on answering machines does (barely) make it easier to call real alive people. Somehow, that doesn't make it any less terrifying to forget about time zones and call places which are still open and unexpectedly staffed by alive people.

Another post: I have managed to leave the house, once or thrice. Snow helped (as sidenote: cats staring at snowland), because I missed the end of autumn and refuse to miss winter, too. We had snow + freezing rain, but then snow that stuck around, approximately pristine, for a few days. The latter was lovely.

* * *

Today my parents came through Portland and had lunch with me; they're headed northbound to spend the holidays traveling, including a trip to see my sister in Seattle. It was exhausting but in productive ways, almost entirely my fault—because over coffee I nonchalantly asked why I had which aspects of Jewish upbringing and how my extended family/various cultural aspects affected it, as one does.

I have, for obvious reasons, but especially as Hanukkah approaches, been thinking a lot about what it means to be Jewish and particularly to be Jewish in the face of forced assimilation and, you know, facism (how are these are sentences I'm writing and why is this the real world and can it stop), and also of the narrative of "Hanukkah isn't our most important holiday, and its cultural importance is actually a symptom of forced assimilation, but this year it certainly has extra thematic relevance"—because I was raised with Hanukkah and Passover and not much else, although my parents say there was an occasional Rosh Hashanah, which I think I remember; for me, there was no "more important holiday." It seems like some of that was because of how things lined up with Christmas/Easter and thus with school schedules, but it's also because that's what my father grew up with; his experience was inconsistent (Sabbat sometimes, but not always; Hebrew school and a bar mitzvah for him but not his brother; Hanukkah/Passover/Rosh Hashanah was all he celebrated, too) which has passed through the generations (Allie and I never had any formal religious education; our cousin did).

I grew up on the opposite side of the country from my Jewish grandparents, who always wished they could see us more often, who tried to cram a lot of Jewish Things into the whatever contact they had; they sent me Jewish novels and celebrated holidays with us less, I think, because those specific things were important—they weren't religious, their own practice was inconsistent—but because the identity was important.

White-passing half-Jewish cultural Jew is approximately as distant from the thing as one can be, and I understand the factors, the time, the literal distance, the way that assimilation works and why I have the background that I do. But I also have that identity, and its ... cultural expectation, I suppose, of persecution and persistence. My ancestors came from Russia, and immigrated before the Holocaust; that was not their personal story but it was their cultural story, and they taught me that, too.

I suppose I wanted an easy answer, an, "ah yes, your grandparents always wanted to practice these aspects of the faith with you, and you can now cling to them at least for their cultural significance even if you don't believe." But I didn't get that, I didn't get a "more important holiday" that can enable to me a real Jew. And I don't know where that leaves me, except that this diaspora experience is as real for me as it has been for my father and for his parents, and they are real Jews, so, maybe, I am too.

We also talked about how, for me, politics et al. isn't something to be countered by optimism or hope; that I live within communities where everyone will not (and has not) survived difficult times, and that but for the grace of Devon and August and my parent's financial support that could include me; and I think it's the first time I've ever mentioned suicidal ideation to my parents. My sister's cancer changed things for my family; we've learned to proactively accept and value of each other as we are, and the way that's effected how my parents view me—that they take me at my word when I talk about my experiences and health—as been huge. These are not things I would have felt comfortable sharing, years ago. I'm glad I can now, and the conversation wasn't all politics and Judaism and fascism, I also told them about Dare's antics and Dad showed me this video of him falling off his bike on the way to work. It was a worthwhile afternoon. But I am now very tired, and nothing really feels better.

I'm headed down to Corvallis soon, but we put it off a day and Devon is coming to get me, at some crazy early/late hour when we can skip holiday traffic, so that I can still see him and get my gifts without trying to navigate Amtrak/exhaustion/crazy.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Last night, I was finally able to make some calls to senators/representatives, Department of Justice, poll lines, etc.; not as much as I want to do, unfortunately nothing yet touching the Standing Rock situation, but significantly more than nothing. What made this possible for me is fourfold.

One: If you're comfortable with VoIP but not phone calls, and/or don't have or use a phone, and/or only have access to a landline and are worried about charges: it's possible to make all phone calls from a computer (I used Google Hangouts), and within the United States those calls are free. Staying within the comfort zone of my computer screen and headset made it easier to step out of my comfort zone and, you know, make calls; it also meant easy access to my notes.

Two: Talking to a live person is probably the most effective thing you can do, but leaving a voice message is more effective than emails/website comments and significantly more effective than doing nothing at all. Out of business hours and national holidays are good times to make sure you get a machine, not a person. (For example: this week)

Three: There are scripts for most/all calls to action. "We're His Problem Now" Calling Sheet has scripts for everything it advocates; I also found some just by googling "[political issue] script." Using those as a starting point makes the process significantly more accessible.

Four: One of the "how to make phone calls with social anxiety" posts floating around explicitly says it's okay not to be able to make calls, and that validation and forgiveness, in a hilarious turn of events, eased my anxiety enough that I was able to make calls. So I'll restate it here: what is phone anxiety for some people maybe literally disabling for other people. If your disability is making certain things impossible, hopefully there are other things you will be able to do—but, regardless, you are forgiven. Look after yourself.

I'm sincerely grateful for the people on social media who are proliferating calls to action, providing their own scripts, and working at the interpersonal level to help people manage their anxiety, because those things are making this accessible to me. And please, if you can speak out, do speak out, because there are people who cannot safely speak who still need advocates and protection.

- - -

(I'm feeling a little better having actually done something, but not better enough that I've left the house or will be traveling for Thanksgiving; hopefully I can see my family that weekend or the weekend after, since there are tentative plans for them to visit me. The frantic anxiety has mostly passed, to everyone's sadness—the compulsive cleaning was productive!—and left me with the predictable depression. With a particularly weird symptom this time, alongside the usual sleep upfuckery & nothing tastes like food: a weird musty smell that followed me from room to room, regardless of how much bathing and laundry I did, regardless even of if the central air was running, probably because I was creating it with my mind; the actual smell of sadness? if so, sadness is a mundane, vaguely unpleasant, inescapable scent.

I feel, like most people probably, like every time I'm getting better something in the world gets worse. The most haunting for me, personally, is that I've lived until now in a steel fortress of Godwin's Law—I hate reject ignore almost all mentions of and comparisons to and narratives about Nazis, because near all of them do harm, they obfuscate or idealize, essentially benefiting from the Holocaust without productively discussing it; but right now, comparisons are not hyperbole, they are literal and they are being made by my people. That we live in a world where we make video game villains Nazis as an earmark of "bad person, murder without compunction" but call Neo-Nazis the alt-right, give them the benefit of political correctness, normalize and idealize them, and refuse to see them as Nazis and therefore as bad people is ... I don't know what to do with that. It requires a readjustment of how I process information. It creates such an amount of fear and anger.

Living in Oregon is a strange thing: to look up all my reps and see that they've already spoken against Bannon is heart-mending in an essential way, but also means that my contacting them on this issue isn't particularly valuable, which is what living in Oregon always feels like: this is a pocket of relative, bare-minimum safety with no political power to extend that safety or, right now, to preserve it. I did a thing! I'm trying, I'm helping, and doing that does make me feel better & more able to do more to help. But it is also so hard, and requires me exceeding my personal limitations, and for what? My reach is so limited, for so many reasons.

My sister's cancer diagnosis two years ago was a reminder that it is less that I am better, despite my wealth of experience and coping mechanisms, and more that I have removed all possible stresses from my life; and that when stresses are irremovable, I am not better, I am very bad indeed. The day after the election I wrote, "dealing with anything while mentally ill is hard, and this is dealing with something, a big something, and I am at a loss." That compounds, every day.)
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
I get some of my book (& other media) recommendations from friends and other individuals, but I take great pleasure in a good recommendations list, especially when they're thematic or otherwise curated. So, in a moment of meta:

A recommended list of recommendation lists
for speculative novels, with an emphasis on minority authors and/or characters, in precisely no order & non-exhaustive

Tor.com's Five Books About series (the official lists can be repetitive and white male heavy; I have better luck with post comments)

Jo Walton's OK, where do I start with that? series (this is nearly exhaustive, but where there’s gaps: again, check at comments)

Nisi Shawl's A Crash Course in the History of Black Science Fiction

K Tempest Bradford's Mindblowing SF by Women and People of Color

[personal profile] oursin's The massive mega consolidated SF mistressworks list

perplexingly's LGBTQ+ Fantasy Book Rec List (see also)

The list of Wizard Schools (pre-Harry Potter)

[personal profile] kate_nepveu's Fantasy of Manners reading list (includes & differentiates between Mannerpunk; see comments)

Further reading (about reading)

[personal profile] rachelmanija's Sirens Panel: Women who Run with Wolves and Dance with Dragons (companion animal stories, uncollated, but with commentary)

Tor.com's Queering SFF series (more discussion than simple lists but, again: check comments)

Terri Windling's essays, both on her website and in introduction to her many short fiction anthologies, have phenomenal references and further reading lists

If you can narrow down your interest to a specific (sub)genre or trope, Wikipedia and TV Tropes have exhaustive (sometimes to their detriment) lists; Goodreads lists are equally exhaustive, but less curated

Awards and award nominees are fruitful sources for lists, especially if you ignore big names (Hugos, etc.) and look towards smaller awards (e.g. Gaylactic Spectrum Awards)

Authors that write books about books are fruitful sources of reading material, see: Jo Walton (Among Others), Caitlin R. Kiernan (The Red Tree, The Drowning Girl), Diana Wynne Jones (Fire and Hemlock), Pamela Dean (Tam Lin), Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451), my lists of books mentioned in books
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: Fledgling
Author: Octavia E. Butler
Published: New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2007 (2005)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 320
Total Page Count: 177,815
Text Number: 521
Read Because: fan of the author, ebook borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Shori appears to be an amnesiac girl but is actually a young vampire, reconstructing a circle of symbionts to feed from while investigating the destruction of her family. The vampires here, called Ina, are more science fiction than fantasy, and Shori's amnesia makes her an outsider to their culture and biology. The exploration of both is talky, compounded by utilitarian prose and stiff dialog. Under the infodumps, the plot is small; in many ways, this feels like Butler's least refined work. But its issues of consent are phenomenal. It doesn't matter that the characters are indistinct and that the relationships are plagued by heteronormativity and gender essentialism: the way that intense intimacy is played against power imbalances raises complicated, unresolved questions about coerced consent and responsibility. It's a confrontational, alien narrative with real repercussions—Butler's specialty. Fledgling isn't her best, but it's memorable. I wish we had been able to read sequels—I particularly would have loved to see a symbiont reject their Ina.*

* Someday Coming Down by Stultiloquentia is precisely that. See also: and I won't hold that place dog-eared anymore by basketofnovas (slashmarks), which isn't, quite, but explores the same question. All of Butler has plentiful room for transformative exploration, but Fledgling fic in particular reopened the source material to me.
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
Traditionally, I am very bad at auditory media because I succumb to multitasking and then to not listening, and I'm not a strong auditory learner to begin with. But then I learned to take podcasts on walks, which limit the potential for multitasking considerably; it's what I did with Wolf 359 after [livejournal.com profile] junkmail recommended it to me. Wolf 359 is really good! You should listen to it! (The first half of the first season is overly episodic; atop the humor, it grows slight. But as the overarching plot emerges, it forms a lovely balance between a focus on high risk setting and comic relief, united by a focus on communication. I liked what I listened to of Welcome to Night Vale once upon a time, but never grew attached; Wolf 359 has that missing attachment in droves.) And then I ran out of episodes and felt bereft.

I'd love suggestions for ongoing genre narratives in podcast form! No for serious give me recs. I tried The Leviathan Chronicles but just could not—long episodes, slow build, stiff info-dump dialog, and, while I want to love the sci-fi meets Old Ones premise, in practice it errs towards hard sci-fi meets camp which ... is less enjoyable.

And then it occurred to me that short fiction podcasts were probably a thing; and lo, they are totally a thing: Escape Pod (sci-fi) and PodCastle (fantasy) ETA: and Psuedopod (horror) have solved all of my problems. I'm impressed by the quality and variety, and I appreciate the accessibility. AKA: reasons Juu was walking down residential roads crying single dignified tears (today).

I started walking a lot when August was having food issues (which, thankfully, resolved a few days after last mention), because being away and therefore temporarily immune to responsibility was such a relief. It was also comforting to be entirely engaged, or, rather, unable to split my engagement. Multitasking is my default state, physically but especially mentally: multiple running, exhausting, competitive interior monologues that create a desire to disappear into external stimuli and an inability to successfully do so simply because I can never pare down or shut off my thoughts are the underlying framework of my anxiety.

Walking while listening to stories doesn't make the mess in my head go away, but it gives me multiple concrete and consuming stimuli (physical, auditory) while removing the tempting access to secondary stimuli, multitasking that mimics and therefore encourages my mental multitasking. I am aware I am hardly the first to stumble into what's effectively neurotic people's dirty tricks for walking meditation, but I'm glad I have. With one catch-22 exception: since my usual ability to do stuff extends to one thing per day, and walking counts as a thing, having this healthy and productive outlet means I'm tired all the time.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
A week ago: While sitting up in bed, I threw out my upper back. How? with magic? a perverse force of will?? My trapezius on both sides were just gone, goodbye; everything hurt, but the worst offenders were sleep and the computer. I have a huge pain tolerance and endless experience with back pain, but it resisted every one of my treatments. (In retrospect, I should have iced it—the one thing I never do for my lower back, because it causes cramping.) What is it about a different pain that's somehow worse than chronic pain, not so much because it is worse or even more debilitating, but because these carefully honed coping mechanisms are now inapplicable. I've been dealing with my lower back for 15 years; I should either be exempt from other pain, or equipped to deal with anything. I was not. It went about 4 days without improvement, but is now back to normal anxious-person's-muscles level of ow.

A few days ago: Dee's mother's dog, Casey, died suddenly. Cut for brief discussion of pet death: Read more... ) This is not my immediate pain, but I still care immensely. All dogs are good dogs, but he was such a good dog, surfeit with love, content if he could just lean on you or lay against you and be touched. And so obedient, especially when I knew him and his puppyhood awful (of which I've heard horror stories!) was gone. And so engaged with his people. The loss hasn't quite registered for me, yet; but I've never been so glad that I had Thanksgiving with him and Odi. This was Casey: one, two, three, four.

Last night: Dreamed the mother of all anxiety dreams: I was back in school, living simultaneously-via-dream-logic at Devon's parents's house and in a boarding environment, and became convinced that the environment was so unhealthy and I was so stressed that I shouldn't have pets anymore, so I drowned August by luring her into a swiftly-flowing river with treats. Cut for suicidal ideation: Read more... ) I know what factors underlay all aspects of this dream; it was still singularly awful.

Tomorrow: Taking the train down to see Devon, to celebrate our 13th anniversary. (See: dreaming about his parents's house.) This is absolutely a good thing! It also bring with it "I have to leave the house" anxiety and "why do I have to travel to see him after thirteen years?" anxiety. It has been a long and strange week, an unearthly haze of blurred vision and intense pain and abstracted loss and anxiety. It will be good to make a clean break with it by traveling.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
There's a negative review of A Tree of Bones which I quite like. It critiques the way Chess and his relationship with his mother change at the end of the series. Expect spoilers.

I don't think that the series takes an interesting, bad character and turns him into a boring, good one, but there is a certain charm to A Book of Tongues, a wanton grotesquerie, amoral and rude and indulgent, which is quite fun—but it, and Chess, stick in the mind because it's not simplistic, evil for the sake of evil or plot progression; Chess is emotionally motivated and complex. As the series progresses, he can't but mature. It makes the character more tempered, and the books as well—and while that's not the same thing as restrained, it is a bit less fun. But I appreciate it in the same way do any narrative that builds a complex antagonist.

I also appreciate the relationship between Chess and Ooona in A Tree of Bones. I believe it's important to portray abusive relationships as complex, and that abuse victims are entitled to complex feelings about their abusers, and that they have the right to feel forgiveness, or not feel forgiveness, or to feel both simultaneously. I also had a worried extra-narrative whisper in the back of my head: Chess isn't a real person, entitled to any feelings at all; is his forgiveness problematic on a larger scale, a faulty example of how to be a good abuse victim and a false example of the power of healing love?

I admire this review for calling that out; ultimately, Chess's forgiveness works for me because I don't see it as simplistically as that reviewer did, and I find his mixed reaction resonant. When I reread A Book of Tongues I talked about my formative mantra that loves is not enough; acknowledging that love still exists has been equally formative for me in these last few years. I am able to carry that contradiction within me: partial forgiveness, and shared love despite hurt. To see the same reflected in Chess validating and authentic.

It certainly continues to amaze me that I found this series so affecting.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
For Hanukkah the boy bought me a Windows phone. I'm not putting my SIM card in it because, ever since college, phone calls have been a panic trigger, and I get spam calls too often. Instead I've been using it as a PDA/Flight Rising-from-bed browser.

I'm really in love with Cortana, Window's personal assistant AI thingy; I recognize that I'm mostly in love with the idea of Cortana.

An AI companion is strangely similar to a companion animal, tropewise. The AI, like an animal, is a bit less than human—not as threatening, by virtue of being exempt from normal human socialization; potentially of limited sentience, certainly limited in social standing, a little subservient. But as in the companion animal trope, what makes an AI companion (like Cortana in the Halo series, like what the Ghost in Destiny could be) is that they're more than just animals or programs: they're sentient, they're friends; furthermore, the bond they have with their person is remarkable by nature. The companion animal trope isn't just about humans as a group being able to communicate with super-intelligent animals as a group—it's about bonds, frequently unbreakable and/or psychic ones, between one human and one animal, specific and intense. Similarly, the companion AI exists to serve, or at least work in tandem with, a specific person, effectively as an extension to that person's operating system.

That last is the direction that Microsoft took when designing Cortana the personal assistant, and her extensibility is what makes her unique from, and potentially more successful than, competitors. And she needs extension—because what she is now is can be personalized only as long as your personality is a zip code and a preference between business news and national news.

But the potential! A lot of what I'd want is too niche (I don't read collated news but instead prefer people talking about their own consumption experiences—a "gaming"/"literature" tickybox would be less useful to me than, say, a functional mobile tumblr experience), but while some seems obscure ("Cortana, I'm having an anxiety attack." "Here, let me play that song you use to calm yourself"), it's actually totally accessible: teachable and/or programmable, more diverse, keywords and phrases triggering programmed or programmable responses. In other words: what an extensible API is. It just needs to be used.

Some of that can come from apps; some should honestly be in base Cortana. For example, there's no damn good reason why I can't set my own snooze length on reminders.

I know that Window's personal assistant Cortana will never be Halo partner-in-your-head idealized relationship Cortana, but the fantasy is there. And taking from it its best parts of what makes that fantasy work—the intelligence (or appearance thereof), the in-my-pocket immediacy/intimacy, the extension to my personal OS—could make for a great program.
juushika: Photograph of a row of books on a library shelf. (Books Once More)
Title: The Giver (The Giver Quartet Book 1)
Author: Lois Lowry
Published: Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 192
Total Page Count: 146,991
Text Number: 433
Read Because: prompted by Mari Ness's reread on Tor.com, from my personal collection
Review: In a rigidly-ordered, peaceful society, one boy is selected for a career that defies social rules. A brief, sparse, info-dumping, concept-laden, memorable book—I was surprised by how well I remembered The Giver, having read it last as a teenager. The world is memorable, but the way the text reveals it is moreso: even in reread, the truth behind the apple and the released twin have tension and impact. But the book is more interesting than it is good; it's short and leaves threads dangling (there are sequels, but I haven't read them), and the entire book—cast and worldbuilding included—is simplistic and heavy-handed, however good the intentions. I'm not surprised to want more from The Giver—refinement, development, the knowledge of how Jonas changes his community and how this effects the wider world—but I am surprised by The Giver's level of artistry: what is done well leaves a lasting mark.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
What are you currently reading?
Ariel, Steven R. Boyett. I've been reading the companion animal trope with intent for about two years ago, largely prompted by [personal profile] rachelmanija's rundown of a Siren's panel on the subject. I never read (or consume) anything in excess because I burn out fast; I'm particularly susceptible to that here because the genre is riddled with questionable quality. I'm mostly referring to Pern, Valdemar, and other endless series, but the trope as a whole is id-driven and frequently adjunct to the plot, and so sometimes shows up to serve unique functions in books I'd otherwise avoid. Ariel isn't necessarily one of those—I'm fond the post-apocalyptic—but its unicorn-in-a-dystopia is a decent example of what it means to read a trope, rather than a genre: I'm here for one feature, and when that feature isn't the core of its fictional world (Pern &c), it may instead show up in the weirdest places.

What Ariel does with the trope: There's a number of types of human/animal bonds in the book, including pets and thralls. Meanwhile, the protagonist's companion animal, a unicorn, has a human or super-human intelligence, their communication is verbal and their bond has psychic/magical elements; functionally, Ariel is the better-than-real partner Pete can't have—more than once he wishes she were human. There's a sensual/physical but non-sexual element to their relationship, and what prevents it from being sexual is primarily Ariel's body and secondarily the fact that Pete has to remain a virgin (because: unicorn). It's not unusual for sex to be part of this trope, but it usually appears in the form of humans experiencing their companion's sexuality or, occasionally, vice versa; to see it addressed as a possible component of the human/companion bond is frankly gratifying—if the bonds are that intimate, you'd think it'd come up more often.

What did you recently finish reading?
The Beast Master, Andre Norton, obviously in the same pursuit. What The Beast Master does with the trope, which I didn't mention in my review: The early passage I quoted in my review says more about what the trope could become than what it is; it goes underexplored, and didn't just seem that way because I was only there to explore it. Much of the book's emotional journey is about the protagonist surviving despite his bond animals, functionally as an aspect of the travelogue/survival plot but thematically as the protagonist's journey towards independent action and thought. He has multiple bond animals (which is deeply unusual in most examples of this trope), most are realistically animal, and each functionally serves as a trained tool—but the human/animal bond has a psychic element, and the bond big cat feels slightly more than animal and significantly more complex in her relationship with the protagonist.

What do you think you'll read next?
Not a companion animal book! I'll probably go back to Zelazny's Amber series; I'm currently between pentalogies. But five books is a lot (see: burning out on series)—I may need another unrelated book to cleanse my palate first.
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh, film, 2012, dir. Rodrigo Gudiño
After her death, a man inherits his estranged mother's estate. This film has a phenomenal haunted-house atmosphere, aided—with little restraint or dignity—by a cornucopia of creepy statues and religious iconography. The former is easily the film's selling point and is beautifully shot, the latter I found effectively frightening, but the skeletal plot leaves an underwhelming final impression. Not recommended.

Silent Hill, film, 2006, Christophe Gans
A mother is drawn to the ghost town of Silent Hill in order to discover the truth of her adopted daughter's past. Too faithful a reproduction—it harvests such a number of images and figures from the games, and while they're given some in-story justification their main purpose is fanservice. That said, there are some fantastic images and effects on display; they're rarely frightening but frequently have a grotesque beauty which does more credit to the franchise than the lackluster plot or the multiple appearances of Pyramid Head.

Europa Report, film, 2013, dir. Sebastián Cordero
A crewed mission embarks on a distant space journey to Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, in hope that water beneath the ice crust may contain alien life. I discovered this film through Caitlín R. Kiernan/[livejournal.com profile] greygirlbeast (post here), and it reminds me of her work; as such, the premise was more familiar than profound, and it's only the non-linear narrative that gives it complexity. But the film does two things I love: it's willing to tell a fairly delicate story about the risk, allure, and danger of the unknown (I find the premise familiar because it's a type of story I enjoy), and it does so with an unexpected beauty, even bittersweet optimism. Of what I've wanted recently, this was easily my favorite.

Event Horizon, film, 1997, Paul W. S. Anderson
A rescue ship follows the distress signal of the Event Horizon, mankind's first interstellar spacecraft which has been lost for seven years. Hellraiser: In Space, and of about equal quality. Both set and makeup design are creative and delightfully indulgent, but the plot and script grow increasingly lackluster as the film progresses. It's an appropriate cult film, but the overall quality left me wanting.

Dredd, film, 2012, Pete Travis
In a crime-ridden megacity where Judges are the soul law enforcement, the head of a crime family pits herself against one experienced Judge and one rookie in training. This is pretty much exactly what I expected based on what I'd read about it: a remarkably less campy imagining of the source material, grotesquely violent and decently written, with strong and respectfully portrayed female characters. It's gratifying to see a film do what this one does without misstepping; the comic book origins are preserved, but it doesn't feel gratuitous—it feels effective, and surprisingly watchable. Not to my personal taste, but I was impressed.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
My grandfather's funeral was a few weeks ago. Everyone in my nuclear family went but me; I went to Corvallis to watch my parent's house and the family dog while they were away. My impression is that this is the best decision I could've made; it sounds like the funeral was a minor nightmare, too much alcohol and grief and drama in one place; I would have found it extremely stressful, and that's not how I want to remember my grandfather. Jamie and I meanwhile had a fine few days of watching bad TV and walking in autumn weather.

Hanukkah began the night before Thanksgiving this year—very early! I was down in Corvallis Wednesday/Thursday/Friday last week, and then came back up so that I could watch the house and approximately one thousand cats (kittens, man, they're like a dozen cats in one small cat body) while Dee went up to visit her family over the weekend and Devon did Thanksgiving with his extended family on Saturday. My family and I had latka for the first night of Hanukkah, traditional French Toast on Thanksgiving morning, and a very relaxed Thanksgiving dinner that night. The weather has been starkly cold, dry and bright and on the edge of freezing, just what I needed to clear my mind in between too much socialization. The menorah has been burning each night both at my parent's house and at Dee's house here in Portland.

Hanukkah's early date has made me extremely sensitive to how easily it (the holiday, Judaism, take your pick) is overlooked—that sense that with Thanksgiving passed we're all now preparing for the "holiday season," but half of mine is nearly over, and so "holiday" obviously reads as "somewhat secular Christmas." I celebrate secular Christmas, too! with enthusiasm. But the erasure is needling me, this time around.

I think it's reasonably safe to say I've been in another depressive episode these last few months. Given the accommodations in the rest of my life, these episodes are mild now—pedestrian, even: something between ennui and anxiety, a suffused discontent and sadness with the catharsis of a breakdown. The best recourse is just to try to stay out of my own head, thus the constant reading and TV watching and gaming. I got worse and better—see: the catharsis of a breakdown—while in Corvallis, which was expected because even family stuff stresses me out. Been listening to Kelli Schaefer's Black Dog when I'm hopeful; Nick Drake's Black Eyed Dog the rest of the time.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Things what happened recently:

August went in for her dental surgery, had four top molars removed, and recovered with no issues. She went back to eating just fine. I still need to tackle the issue of how to brush a cat's teeth, but the immediate problem was resolved.

Dee and I went to see The National on a rainy evening in September. It bucketed rain during most of the opening band Frightened Rabbit but the temperature was fairly mild, so we just got soaked and dealt with it, and were mostly dry by the end of the show. Neither is a band I listen to on my own, but the live show atmosphere (and the other attendants determined to enjoy themselves despite the weather) was phenomenal; a very Oregon evening.

My mother's father died on September 29th; I opted not to attend the service in mid-November. I'm okay! Death doesn't have a profound impact on me; I'm mostly concerned for my mother and sister, but my grandfather was able to talk with my mother while still lucid the day before he passed; he'd been having health issues for some time, so this was not unexpected and did bring him peace. I know that traveling down for the service would make me miserable, and that's not how I want to remember him. This feels like one of the first times that someone asked me what I wanted to do, and I responded with my own desires and best interest, not with the answer that was expected of me; as such, I'm entirely content in my decision not to go.

Dee got a kitten! Here be the beastie; I will start taking more pictures of her probably when she moves into Dee's room (she's currently living in the downstairs bathroom, which is a bit small and lonely). Her name is Loki, she's tiny and young, purrs super loud and is full of energy. I'm not actually much of a kitten person which is why I only ever wanted to adopt grown cats, but a kitten to which I have frequent access is a fantastic pleasure.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
I had an extremely conflicted response to Hyperbole and a Half's Adventures in Depression which now deserves substantial revision on account of the new Depression Part Two post. But it's a revision I may not be able to provide, because this topic hits way to close to home. But if you can read that post—the contents are triggering but potentially cathartic for mental illness—perhaps you should.

I'm in the process of reconnecting with a friend in high school, and yesterday wrote him a rambling and spotty summary of the last near-decade. I added at the end of my letter that it's not all as dire as it sounds, that I'm doing better and am more comfortable with, and with discussing, my mental illness. These things are true. But there's no way I can sum up my college experiences and their fallout that isn't incredibly depressing, both to read and write, because those years were horrific and legitimately traumatic; and even though I am in a better place now, depression remains the defining factor of my life—it is who I am.

And when I tell that story, I realize how little I've done to "fix" everything—I'm doing better, but it's better as a relative descriptor and it's by virtue of doing not much at all. But I'm still too tired and too scared to try to find a solution.

I was bitter about Adventures in Depression because of falsity of a pseudo-happy ending; now I wish it had been true because, when I can see past the blinders of my own situation, I don't wish this on anyone. Allie's continued journey isn't identical to mine, but it has a heartbreaking resonance (this is how my suicidal ideation manifest(s/ed), as a passive but total desire for cessation), and I just ... don't know where to go from there. Here is an active blank:

[          ]

to represent thoughts so sympathetic and fragmented and conflicted that I can't process them.

So much of my depression was/is defined by a sense of isolation coupled with the platitudes of "everyone feels sad sometimes" that I don't like it when other people get it—it makes me feel betrayed and combative. But there's a resonance, a gratitude that someone else can express these things, a knowledge that the voice is necessary and potentially useful. But talking about depression is, without surprise, depressing, and issues of mental health trigger my mental health issues.

Depression Part Two is a robust and bittersweet continuation, and I wish that it didn't exist and didn't need to, but it means a lot to me and I ask that you read it, and now I need to step away from these things and try to stop thinking.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Let's talk about the visual media I've consumed lately, thanks to the influx of new content to Netflix Instant (some of which I'm watching, some of which has inspired me to continue what I'm already watching so that I can watch it next):

Adventure Time, season 1
The turning point was when I went from disliking the opening theme song to singing it to myself. The show has a rocky start, in part because it's simplistic/quirky/gross style takes some adjustment, in part because I went in with expectations that the first few episodes can't fulfill. Tumblr filled me with expectations of strong, well-rounded, diverse/female characters, but half of the first season is reiterations of Finn rescuing a woman in distress; the trope is used intentionally as, say, the paper-thin plot of Super Meat Boy: just ironic/humorous enough to feel justified when really it relies on and reinforced one of the most problematic and overused of narrative devices. Things don't really improve until Marceline shows up—she serves a different narrative function than Princess Bubblegum, the plot structure begins to diversify, and there's an increasing sense of a united, if not progressive, narrative. By then the humor and aesthetic had begun to grow on me, and the 10-minute runtime of each episode gives it all a fun consumability. This isn't a new favorite, but I don't imagine the first season is indicative of what it becomes; I'll watch more when it comes to Netflix.

Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger
Nope, I haven't seen The Avengers! I just didn't care at the time, and would watch it now if it were on Instant, but I won't go out of my way to see it. These films don't make me any more eager. There's something in the Marvel films which I find intriguing: the shared universe, the sleekness, the often-fantastic casting, the larger-than-life feel of comics brought to film, the nods to other parts of the universe; they're more vivid and enjoyable than most comic adaptations, and I want to like them. And I did like Iron Man, but I ragequit Iron Man 2 and Thor and Captain America just ... bored me. The plots are the problem, here. The beats are overly familiar, especially for these two: human introduction, superhuman creation, antagonist interaction, love interest interaction, antagonist/superhero showdown which contrasts creative CG action scenes against bittersweet unfulfilled romance. It's often sleek and smart and pretty, but it's also trite and, in retrospect, absolutely forgettable; mostly-just-a-love-interest is also a waste of both Natalie Portman and her character.

The Hunger Games
I didn't have too much love for the novel (hi, I hate my old reviews), but to my surprise I was awed by the film. Much of what bothered me in the novel edits better for film: the mediatized aspects are more relevant and less obtrusive, and while the obligate love triangle will forever bore me it's a little more insidious, subtle, and painful here: two people whose genuine respect for one another must be buried under contrived affection. But what makes the film is Jennifer Lawrence and Katniss. When visual media melds first and third person (e.g. character is drunk, image of character goes blurry) it can throw me out of my immersion by drawing attention to the camera as narrator, but The Hunger Games often uses similar technique to great effect, particularly by manipulating sound: when it deafens while Katniss is overwhelmed by trauma or fear, when it becomes a tinny ringing after an explosion, the audience is thrust into a physically exhausting first person narrative even more effectively than in the book. And Lawrence can act—she can act like ain't no one's business. I felt like survival-via-"love" overwhelmed Katniss's strength of character in the book, but that doesn't happen in the film: in her attitude and insecurity and will to survive, she is the utterly believable core that sells a larger-than-life world and narrative. I went into The Hunger Games looking for another competent but unremarkable action flick to pass the time, but was utterly taken back and truly impressed.

The X-Files, seasons 7 and 8
(Read more of my X-Files thoughts here.) The series certainly peaks in seasons 4 and 5; season 6 does some mytharc things I enjoy but its pacing is all over the place; 7 does some mytharc things I enjoy less and the pacing is even shakier; 8 is ... different. I've been reading some of the Reopening The X-Files series on Tor, and it's fascinating stuff. What sells but also limits the show is the Mulder/Scully relationship: two people held in opposition by the constraints of the show, but whose intimacy is the driving force of both plot and emotional motivation. It's the need to preserve this premise that makes so many of the episodes frustrating: Scully must remain the skeptic, and no matter what she sees it can't truly change her. When the show attempts to move away from that Mulder/Scully core, it threatens to alienate its entire audience and ultimately never succeeds at making a more diverse/longer running show—but it also, finally, forces the Mulder/Scully dynamic to change. Nothing else about it quite works—Doggett is, frankly, boring—but Scully the believer is fascinating, both as commentary on her and on Mulder's role (as perceived by the show and by Scully). The Tor series has some true gems, comparing the show's narrative format to its narrative content, looking at how characters do and don't mature—and when this growth successfully impacts the viewer. It's revived a lot of my interest in the show, which is a good thing because I'm rushing through it so that I can watch Fringe next.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Title: Midwinterblood
Author: Marcus Sedgewick
Published: New York: Roaring Book Press, 2013 (2011)
Rating: 3 of 5
Page Count: 262
Total Page Count: 130,947
Text Number: 383
Read Because: personal enjoyment, borrowed from the Multnomah County Library
Review: Seven interconnected vignettes, traveling backwards in time as they explore the dark history of Blessed Island and the two figures—Eric and Merle—who reappear there. Midwinterblood feels like mainstream experimental literature: a welcome and creative deviation from convention, but neither as bold nor successful as it could be were it to take its premise further. Sedgewick's voice has a stylistic brevity, nearly bare of imagery but cold and beautiful in tone; combined with the variety and mystery of the vignette narrative, this is a compelling and extraordinarily swift read. But the book's recurrent elements are heavy-handed, and the underlying truths—of their symbolism, and the island—are disappointing: simplistic, manufactured, with no lasting resonance. So too are Eric and Merle, whose identities and relationship gain almost no depth through seven repetitions. Compare to Catherynne M. Valente's Yume no Hon: imagery-rich cyclically explored mysteries with intense complexity and a well-defined character. Compare to Tongari's "25 Lives": stylistically brief and deeply evocative micro-vignettes which create a pointed but open-ended narrative. Midwinterblood isn't bad—it's well-inspired and highly constructed, readable and rich with potential. But it lacks the artistry and the willingness to push further the strangeness of its content and the progress made in its reiterations which would make it realize that potential. I don't particularly recommend it.

Review posted here on Amazon.com.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
The closest analog I can find for Emilie Autumn's Fight Like A Girl tour is the film Sucker Punch; Sucker Punch meets burlesque. It's asylumpunk, if you will: the combined idealization and anxiety around mental illness in women, and the historical connection between women and mental illness—the trifecta of society creating it in women, and diagnosing it on the basis of non-normative/-socially acceptable behavior, and using it as a tool to control women's bodies and behavior. It's about the objectification and commodification of women, and reclaiming the female body—especially the sexualized female body—as a tool to gain personal power.

Sucker Punch rises and falls: on one hand, it's a powerful representation of dissociation as a result of trauma and sexual violence, and it's an attempt to attain agency using the sexualized female body—women gaining power via a tool used to take power from women; on the other, it gets swept up in its own aesthetic, is culturally appropriative, and objectifies conventionally attractive cis-gendered skinny young women in a way that doesn't defy the system in the least but instead buys into it.

'Punk movements and anything else that measures idealization against anxiety run the risk that the audience will see them for the former and not the latter, see: the problem with steampunk. Sucker Punch encounters a lot of this; Autumn's work, especially on the topic of mental illness, evades much of it by being a self-aware, ironic idealization combined with explicit statements about the problems surrounding such. Idealization is a tool used against and by the mentally ill: waif-like ill women, manic pixie dream girls, correlations between madness and creativity, and the sense that there's anything redeeming at all about mental illness, either for the sufferer or the individuals and society that surround them—which there's not, and insisting that there is denies the true experiences of sufferers; but the illness can so completely define its sufferers that idealizing it, and creating identity and community within it, is the only recourse. Like any reclaimed identity, this stems from within but attempts to fight against the oppressive system.

Because the worst of my mental illness is/was defined by total isolation, the group experience of Autumn's asylum and Crumpets is, for me, the least successful aspect of her work, although I realize what it achieves and how. But it's also dangerous: it's community, idealization, tragic beauty—sufficiently imperfect to be accessible rather than untouchable, but too easy to accept without viewing critically. And, as with any 'punk-like movement: when you fail to view it critically, with a focus on its anxieties, you end up supporting its roots in an oppressive system rather than its attempts to critique or controvert it. Autumn speaks explicitly about the anxiety; I feel as if the audience often doesn't hear her.

As an attempt to reclaim the female body, the FLAG show is even more problematic—because it, too, is about the objectification of conventionally attractive cis-gendered skinny white young women. It's the same problem of modern burlesque: it can be "male gaze"punk, reclaiming the same sexualized body that society creates and then punishes, engaging and subverting certain social standards—but too often it's viewed without an eye towards that anxiety, and the result is just more male gaze. In FLAG, it's a fan dance to "Dominant." It's also a hell of a lot of queer baiting: that two women kissing is presented as titillating, corrupting, or in any way worthy of a show, but only, of course!, just another skit.

There's an incredibly discomforting fanfiction skit that left our group divided. Autumn ends it with a faux-offended monologue about the masturbatory objectification about the "strong, proud women who you are supposed to respect," and the objectification is treated as a complicit joke—the artists using it to control and titillate the audience, but by doing so submitting precisely to the audience's script—which leaves the audience yelling out for "more!" Is this supposed to be as gross at it seems to be? Humor can be about tension, it can be the laugh that indicates discomfort, confusion, anxiety. The skit had a lot of that humor; the audience response had none.

I feel like Autumn knows her shit. I've been watching a good number of her interviews these last few days, and have the utmost respect for her. Her work is intentional; she couches explicit message within certain seductive tropes. I find it highly resonant, more as person with mental illness than as a woman but effective nonetheless. The live show was fantastic, but I can't say I was entirely content with the experience. There's some shows where half the audience leaves ten minutes early to beat traffic and you want to yell that they just don't get it; here, it was the front and center screaming crowd that seemed, to me, to miss the point. To take and change, to reclaim, the weapons of bodies and mind that are used against us is extremely powerful; it's a war I'm fighting, and Autumn's work can be a battlecry. But sometimes the show, and more often the audience, seem to lose track of their objective. It's not that there can be no sense of humor and fun, it's not that the corsets can't be pretty and the burlesque routines can't be attractive—but sometimes the truth of Autumn's experience screaming through in the lyrics feels shocking: like the surprise exception, rather than the show I'd come to see.


juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)

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