Feeling pretty beat today; I managed to drain my social batteries quite thoroughly, as it happens, and spending time on the internet is just putting things in line of sight like people who do not understand how prisms or album art work and people who are mad that M&Ms aren’t sexy enough, or something.

So, a few Delightful Things to share:

  • Anyone else besides me love miniature things? This is a rather charming collection of them; these come with little insights from their crafters.
  • An earnest appreciation of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day. (No less relatable now than when it was written.)
  • I laughed much harder than really seems plausible at this.
  • Some 90s nostalgia with a side order of history. And geography, of course. I think I’d forgotten how many famous folk had cameos on this show… (Warning: contains catchy theme song.)

I can honestly say I’ve never rage baked.

I recently checked out a cookbook from the library called “Baking By Feel.” It’s got a heck of a conceit: you first decide how you are feeling generally (sad? angry? anxious?), flip to that chapter, and then narrow down the specific vibe you’re having today. That, in turn, will get you to a recipe selected by the author to match that mood.

Lonely? S’mores rice krispie treats. Stressed? Buttermilk pie. Silly? Orange creamsicle cake.

Naturally I haven’t tried any of these yet – though I may be writing some of these into my little collection of recipes for later sampling – but I am sort of fascinated by the idea, however the recipes turn out to be.

I mean, it’s sort of an exercise in emotional naming (itself a mindfulness activity) – you name your emotion and then, I suppose, the recipe is meant to support that emotion in some way. Those rice krispie treats are easy to share, I suppose, and that creamsicle cake is so full of citrusy qualities I could easily imagine it further boosting a happy mood.

I wonder how well it works? I mean, I suppose on one hand we should feel some degree of guilt about anything that promotes “stress baking” – and sure, odds are great that anything I made here I would end up eating on my own, which would not be great for my overall sugar intake. But I sure am curious now. I wonder if you could do a “small bakes” version of this for people like me who love sweets but are surrounded by folks who aren’t fans?

On the other hand, it’s sort of nice to imagine a prescription for upsetting days and such that results in the creation of something. What, I wonder, would the equivalent of this be for other handicrafts? How universal might the benefits of various projects be? What to one person is an unbearable sea of miles of garter stitch in knitting is to another a form of restorative meditation.

Is pottery best for the anxious? Should the furious take up welding or blacksmithery?

I wonder what form of activity would do me the most good right now?

Some other things of note today:

  • Apparently one of the ways Kids Today are rebelling is…by conspicuously not using technology. Everything old is new again, I suppose (though good on them for disengaging a bit; we could probably all stand to do that more.)
  • Ever wondered what your favorite WordArt from the Windows XP era says about you? Now you can know.

At tea time everybody agrees

So, we recently watched a top-10 video, one of those “best songs of 2022” affairs (late, yes, I know, we’re well into 2023 now, but hey, it’s always good to hear from a creator you haven’t heard from in a while) and I got to hear this, which I’d never heard before:

I will be the first to admit that I don’t really know from popular music – I honestly think the only song on the entire list I recognized was Lizzo’s “About Damn Time,” which has definitely been on in the background on a number of occasions while I’ve been out and about. I probably couldn’t pick Harry Styles or Kendrick Lamar out of a lineup (never mind that my powers of name-to-face matching have never been all that impressive) and am a lot more likely to catch myself accidentally humming this than anything written in the last five years, most of the time.

I’m sure part of this can be safely attributed to the atomization of popular culture, as well – in prior decades I didn’t really have a clue who was popular either, but at least stood a reasonable chance of picking up enough from the radio to get by. These days, not so much – some of the video folk I follow can introduce me to such musical esoterica as Gaelynn Lea but I don’t hang out on TikTok, which is where I understand The Youth are busy defining what is popular.

“Anti-Hero” is curious, though. True expression of the insecurities of one of pop music’s big names? Another pose? Neither? Both?

It’s relatable, anyway – let whoever among us has not found themselves awake at 4 AM rehashing social missteps cast the first stone. And it’s certainly catchy; I discovered the chorus threading itself into the background music of my inner monologue pretty much immediately after the first listen. When someone eventually manages to infuse modern popular music with a memetic virus of some sort we’re all doomed; they have gotten very good at crafting earworms, out there.

(…Also, I was not expecting to hear Taylor Swift singing about being murdered by her daughter-in-law for the money; that got a bit of a startled laugh out of me.)

It must be a hell of a thing to have to deal simultaneously with being famous and also being a person.

Many of us seem to think that fame is a kind of transcendence – that to gain it is to become something other than you are, better, stronger, more talented, more beautiful. It is less a transcendence, I think, than an addition, or perhaps a division. There is a version of you that is famous, powerful, that lives in the hearts and minds of your fans and detractors. An idea of you that does in fact transcend you, after a fashion.

But the thing is, you’re also still a person. With all the irritating foibles and failings and little weirdnesses that entails. You are still you, just a you that exists in multiple, perhaps somewhat schizophrenic forms, and you cannot escape your self by sometimes inhabiting a public version of it.

Feels rather exhausting to think about, honestly.

I wonder how many people who are famous really just wanted to make art and then had to put up with fame as the price of it, versus people who wanted the fame and make things to that end?

The Misery Index

Back in the days when “Harvest Gold” and avocado green were the It Colors, a thing called the “Economic Discomfort Index” was created – a kind of summation of inflation + unemployment and their effects on the populace.

It would later be re-named “The Misery Index,” because that is what it was meant to be in practice.

I heard the term for the first time this morning, an offhand mention in the New York Times, and thought: Well, it’s pithy, even if it doesn’t really fully express all of it.

I mean…

The prices of food are skyrocketing (I learned this week of the existence of r/dumpsterdiving, and of course that is a thing, but…)

Insane people appear to be uncomfortably present in (if not dominating) most spheres of public life, if not all of them. They are in the media telling us we should be freaking out even when it is completely ridiculous to do so, they are in politics repeatedly failing to perform the most basic functions of governance, they are even now lining up to make everyone’s life markedly worse by privatizing public health care, etc.

They are in faraway lands, invading their peaceful neighbors and killing thousands on thousands for no good reason.

My phone is constantly receiving spam texts and calls, and the only thing corporations seem really passionate about is “monetizing” every little corner of everything I enjoy. Video games are crammed with microtransactions. Tabletop RPGs face the incursion of a new “open” gaming license with absolutely bonkers conditions that are, justifiably, raising objections.

I am not suffering from any of this to the degree that many are, true. So far, at least, I can eat and I am housed, and I am relatively healthy (as far as I know.)

But even I feel…a pressure. It’s not the Big Bad Wolf at the door out there; the Wolf would be here because he was hungry. In a weird, very bad-for-me way, he would care. This, though…this is a greed without hunger, a want without need: give us more. Not just your money. Your data. Your loyalty. Give us the workings of your mind, the boundaries of your creativity. Give us everything that you are. Not because we want you – there is nothing about you that matters. You will become numbers, and we will offer them to our gods.

Our gods do not need the numbers that you will become. But they want them. And their want comes above all things.

…It’s a mood, I guess, is what I am saying. And every time I feel it out there, lurking at the edges of the places where I get by, I feel a strange urge to go and smash a window (if I am otherwise feeling sturdy) or to fortify the last little inch of myself even more, to place it beyond their grasp (if I am not).

There is something almost insulting about this kind of devouring, I suppose. To be sure, you’d end up dead either way; but the Big Bad Wolf would, at least, presumably relish the meal.

The Misery Index should really encompass all of those things, I think. I imagine one of those forest-fire boards one sees in national parks. Misery Index today: Moderate.

Though I do not really know how one goes about taking a daily measurement of existential despair.

It’s not all bad, of course. I have a plan to make a birthday treat coming up, which I will not link here just in case. And someone out there is making this Delightful Thing: Lego mukbangs. (Even if one cannot get onside with the whole mukbang idea, the Lego artistry on display is charming.)

And I think I want to try and cultivate an art habit, however small, for the new year. That’s a good resolution, right? I feel rather disconnected from my creative self of late, and reconnecting with it would, I feel, do me some good.

Let’s see how I do.

I think I can be forgiven

…for falling off the wagon over the last week or so, between going back to the office for the first time, starting a professional development course, and the sort of creepingly ubiquitously distracting awfulness of what is going on in Ukraine as I type.

I think I will try to keep conversation on that particular matter to a relative minimum here; there are many who can discuss such things with more insight than I have. It is heartbreaking and more than a little terrifying.

It is strange to me, though, that somehow the rest of life is…still going. That we finished up our watch of the Ring Cycle and, right on time, started a playthrough of Elden Ring over the weekend. That I made a meal plan and went to the grocery store and thought to boil some eggs and folded laundry and did…all of the other things, even though an amber alert late last week may have given me a momentary heart attack as it did many others. That I did homework and prepared for tonight’s session of this professional development course, as I always do.

I keep waking up not dead, I suppose. It’s a start.

And, should the very worst happen, I suppose at least it’ll be over with pretty quickly for me, so that’s a mercy.

For now, it’s pretty quiet, but it is a very, very weird feeling.

I wonder what will be next.

So today I read a piece about how browsing isn’t so much a thing any longer.

This strikes me as both true and – as someone who has quite enjoyed long afternoons wandering over to the local bookshop and just…seeing what there was to see – rather depressing. I like puttering around; I like exploring. I have missed it tremendously during this long time of Not Very Much.

At least there are things beginning to happen, I suppose; today was my first day back in the office in a very great while. This meant quite some time today went toward moving all my things from one desk to another to support social distancing, for example – and wiping dust off things, organizing papers, making sure everything’s in order with my dishes and such…

And then there was a group meeting tonight for classwork – and, oh yeah, also all the everything what with us maybe being on the brink of another world war or similar, and…

Yeah. I think I’m tired.

A non-comprehensive list

…of things I have caught myself daydreaming about doing over the last couple of weeks:

  • Spending some time building maps in Dungeon Alchemist, once it is released in March, then using these as the basis to build a little module. Offer this as a freebie to friends of mine who are running campaigns where dungeon crawls might feasibly happen.
  • Planning an elaborate dinner party that is based around the principles of the Great Work of alchemy – so, for example, the first amuse-bouche represents calcination, and so on. There are potentially a lot of phases, so it would have to be a “many small plates” kind of affair – or else you’d have to do a drink pairing for each that would represent a phase. Bonus points if I could arrange it such that the ingredients for each course had the right concordances.
  • Playing Persona 4 Golden, to re-visit a world I enjoyed very much the first time.
  • Attempting to put together a trip to Ireland themed entirely around folklore and ballads.
  • Playing in a roleplaying campaign again. (I miss the one that would become my benchmark for all future campaigns; would love to reconnect with that energy for a while.)
  • Going for dinner somewhere I’ve never been before, and then to the theatre for a show.

Unreliable narration

A few days ago I was poking around the random site results on Marginalia (I’ve recently linked this, but if anyone reading this missed it: It’s a search engine that deliberately emphasizes the weird little sites that don’t have a lot of “weight.” They’re not necessarily popular, so larger search engines like Google won’t recommend them.)

A lot of these are the kind of thing you’d expect to make up such results: tiny little blogs and personal sites. Shrines to favorite characters. Members of webrings (Web rings! Those still exist!) People who make loads and loads of dedicated little animated link buttons that you can download and use to link back to them. It’s a weirdly nostalgic little reminder of how the internet was before everything became an app; before all of the weird nooks and crannies and edges were filed off into a nonthreatening corporate realm of sans-serif fonts and vowel-less names and vague promises to reinvent the [insert everyday object or concept here].

One thing that is…completely expectedly popular on sites like these: Assortments of personality test results. A site owner may list themselves as an Enneagram type 5 and an INFJ and a Choleric type and also Lawful Neutral…and so on. I am not surprised to see these. I took most of these at some point in history myself (Enneagram type 4w5, INFP, Neutral Good, for the record.)

Looking at these also makes me ponder something about those personality tests: I wonder how many of us take those more for validation of our ideas about ourselves than we do to learn something about ourselves. Surely I cannot be the only teenager who was disappointed to find that an assortment of responses to multiple-choice questions determined that I was a warm and fuzzy loyalist who was kind and committed to people rather than something exciting, like a sensitive artist or a brave adventurer?

I mean, the more accurate way of looking at it is probably that I have some of both of those things in me; I care a lot about my friends and relations, yes, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I also long to be a creative person, and – more than that – to really feel like I belong in the land of creative people, which is much harder if you are like me and regularly bump into our old friend imposter syndrome on the bus.

From there of course it gets a lot more existential – who gets to decide where the bar is that one must get over in order to be “really” creative? Is “creativity” a thing you have, or a thing you do? Both? Neither?

What “counts” as a creative activity? Is cooking creative if you are following a recipe? Is writing creative if all you are doing is expressing yourself about what happened in the checkout line at the grocery store? Can something be creative if it is also analytical?

These things are so often set up as opposites, as “or”; one is either a logical left-brained robot with a genius for puzzle-solving and language OR a messy and colorful right-brained artist who is brilliant with visuals but not both, never both, never ever ever both. You are supposed to pick a side; the two camps are mortal enemies with one constantly seeking to crush the vibrant soul of the other and force it to do times tables, or something. (This is rather unfair to both the analytical and the creative brain, of course, neither of which deserves to be pigeonholed forever as either a flaky, self-important artiste or a soulless lizard-person in a sleek business suit just because they happen to be good at different jobs.)

But how would you know whether or not you already are what you want to be?

How would anyone know?

Perhaps that is the point of all the lists, really. To reassure those of us who sense that our inner narrator might be unreliable that someone, somewhere, agrees that we might be a thing we believe we are but cannot prove.

Nobody can disprove it either, not precisely, but there are some of us who will otherwise always wonder. Am I who I think I am? Am I who I want to be?

How would I know?

So tasty, but so much I am probably mispronouncing on the menu.

So, yesterday was one of those holidays.

You know the ones – the ones that you feel a little conflicted about honoring even if you enjoy a little party every now and then, the ones where it just seems a little too much like you can feel the grinning specter of corporate profit looming over everything.

But it IS nice to have an excuse to celebrate something, especially now, and so I bought a box of chocolates and around lunchtime we realized we’d need to do SOMEthing for dinner but didn’t yet have a plan. After a brief Google search revealed that some places were doing prix fixe meals in honor of the occasion, we rolled the dice and tried shooting an email to a place to see if we could arrange some last-minute takeout from a place we’d never tried before.

To my very great surprise, the answer was “No, sorry, we’re not accepting takeout orders for tonight – but we’ve just had a couple of cancellations. Want to dine in instead?”

Well. I mean. Why not?

And so it was that we found ourselves heading down to St. Clair to try some Filipino food at Lamesa. No sooner had we pulled into the public parking space when a departing driver offered us their parking ticket, which was fortuitously paid through to the next morning. Serendipity was really with us, I suppose!

As to the dinner itself: I am by no means an authority on this particular cuisine – I think I have sampled it a grand total of once – but this was excellent in my opinion. I had:

  • An amuse-bouche of crisp wontons with a sausage filling
  • Ukoy, a kind of shrimp-and-vegetable fritter
  • A main of chicken adobo with rice
  • Mango tiramisu for dessert

All of the courses were tasty, with an interesting balance of textures and of sweet/sour/salt/acid that I think is characteristic of Filipino cuisine in general. These are big, bright, powerful flavors that are easy to linger over with a cocktail. The service was great, too, and the space is charming and cozy – in non-pandemic times I can easily imagine it being a vibrant little neighborhood spot. I’d be interested in going back in order to try some of their other offerings!

…I’d be interested in going anywhere, really. Going out now – being out in the world – really drives home how limited our environments have been during the pandemic. How little there is to do, and how much of what there IS is mediated by screens. It’s been both kind of exciting and kind of exhausting to get out and about in the World these days (I certainly find myself wanting to curl up and not engage with anyone when I get home.) I wonder how long that will take to go away? If it will go away?

Why did we not choose this moment to go away?

This morning’s internet brings this little essay about charlatanry. There have been con men as long as there have been men, I suppose; who, I wonder, was first to try sleight of hand, first to sell nothing as something one simply must have? Who was it? Was there a stone you could tuck into your basket in the hunting and gathering days to ensure it was never empty? A charm to ensure your arrows always struck true?

Or were those perhaps articles of faith, and the abuse of that faith came later?

All one needs in order for a liar to exist is a truth that is inconvenient, but at what point do civilizations start to see true con men emerge among them?

Oh, they’re not always bad, not all the time. Some of them can even be the heroes of the piece, in this world where we all grow up with vague mistrust of the Man and a general sense that a degree of cunning is required to get ahead. Sometimes even the overtly criminal type of con man is a little more Robin Hood and a little less scammer, as in the delightful “The Great Pretender,” where our core squad of confidence-folk go after other criminals, mainly. Other folk who have been so bad, and their comeuppances are so satisfying. We love them. We wish we were as smart, as witty, as charming.

Raw “The Magician” energy, I suppose. In its purest form, all fire and heady glee at the Great Work before it.

And yet we also know there is the other kind of charlatanry. The one that promises infinite wealth if only you yourself can be charming enough to convince others to buy in underneath you. The one that promises health and vitality if only you will buy that miracle cure. The one that promises a bright, secure future, one that looks a lot like your past if you squint, if only you will follow that flag, salute just so.

Why do we not choose that moment to go away?

I suppose some of us are going away, or at least trying to. We quit Facebook (as much as it is possible to quit something that would happily buy its way into tracking every minute of our lives, anyway). We stop watching the news or logging into Twitter. We host our own websites, like this one, in a manner that another of this morning’s reads likens to a modern extension of the sixties’ “dropping out.”

Dropping out, back then, was a way to preserve your inner life, protect it from all of the things that The Man was throwing at it. Certainly feels timely now, what with so many parts of our world engineered to devour our attention, keep you “engaged” as cheaply and easily as possible so that out there in a nebulous somewhere a line will go up and a shareholder will be pleased.

Of course, we also feel guilty, now, for not engaging. There is so much in the world that is so awful, and even if we can do little about most of it, one feels that, at a minimum, one should stay informed. Perhaps, after all, there may eventually BE some meaningful action we can take, one where the smallness of our selves will not matter as much as the greatness of our intent.

Still. There must be some sort of balance one can attain, wobbly though it might be.

It is weird to think of this little writing exercise as a form of resistance – as choosing a moment to go away – but perhaps in a way it is.