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.

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.

Only phoning it in a little?

Once again, it is Friday, and once again, things are a little crazy today which makes it a little hard to carve out writing time. (Not to mention the vague writing-malaise of the week: it has been hard to come up with something to write about. From which I mainly glean that I need more shit going on in my life. Thanks, COVID!)

For now, here’s a little link roundup for the day.

Tuesday’s not that great either

I’m sure this is not a controversial opinion, but February kind of sucks. By that time it’s been winter long enough that everyone is getting sick of it, and it’s still far too long before spring will get here, and the only holiday in sight is one that tends to…induce stress, shall we say. (Not for me, not this time; I tend to favor relatively modest “let’s just have a nice time” celebrations, and have already ordered a little surprise that unfortunately was a bit spoilt when a certain someone got to the door before me. Well, whatever; it will still be enjoyed.)

Factor in a week full of adulting-commitments taking up time in the evenings (at least one of these is my vaccine booster, so there’s that) and…yeah. Vague dissatisfaction ensues.

Trying to name this feeling. What is it? Frustration? Boredom? Both?

Things aren’t bad, is the thing. Everything is more or less fine, or at least as fine as “fine” gets in the world in which we live. (Depressing that we have to knock a -2 modifier off everything for the general aura of the world.)

But I keep picking up books and putting them back down. Starting the day with the intent to move around regularly and maybe even burn an extra calorie or two and then somehow just…not getting up from my desk for three hours. Catching myself zoning out midway through a podcast I am listening to, stabbing angrily at rewind, taking 20 minutes of time to finish 5 minutes of audio as it happens again and again and again.

Nothing is really wrong. I mean, what is the worst I can say: that sometimes I feel unappreciated? That it’s a bummer that it’s been hard to find people to play games I want to play with recently? That I feel tired and irritable and would rather like to eat half a chocolate bar except I am trying to be at least kinda sorta mindful about calories, and the sense of deprivation makes me feel a bit like chucking the nearest chair out a window? These are barely even first-world problems, let alone actual problems.

Vague feelings of unmet needs are a thing right now, I guess. I do not know what you call this. I cannot even be a Karen and demand to speak to the manager because there is no manager; no one and nothing to direct my frustration at, justified or otherwise.

Perhaps frustration is the word then. There’s a lot going on I can do nothing about that sure seems to be stopping things from being as good as they might otherwise be. Well, ok, I could in theory do something about the chocolate bar part, but I am supposed to be being A Responsible Adult.

At the moment I feel about that rather as I do about February.

The matter at hand

Who out there has an inner child?

I mean, everyone, in theory. All of us are, or were, one once.

But for some of us it’s more present than others, I think. I know people who seem to have been adults forever, with only a sort of shadow-memory of what it must have been like. I have known people whose inner child is very present in a sort of healthy way and people whose inner child seems to dominate.

I think my connection to mine is pretty strong, usually. I spend a lot of time in my imagination, more than maybe one might think for somebody who also typically has a longish to-do list and works in a Proper Grown-Up Job and everything. I find it easy to connect to a more playful energy and to honor the principle that the fear of childishness is one of those things one lets go of in adulthood.

Usually, anyway.

Lately I haven’t been feeling very much myself, and I think this is one of the big ways. I am finding that the balance between “Let’s pretend” and “oh god how is the pantry this disorganized AGAIN when are we going to fix that faucet got to remember to do…” is…not great.

For example:

I have been using my creative energies, but not for myself – I’ve been helping others execute on their ideas, and it’s taken so much energy that when I do have some time to just Do Whatever I feel too tired to do much at all. I don’t regret this (I love that I’ve been able to help out, and the act of working on the projects was fun even if the tightness of the schedule meant I have burned myself out a bit) but it’s a…well, not a red flag, exactly. An orange one, maybe.

I have been a little too keen to try to Improve Myself – trying to build better habits, reading a lot of various advice, and have noticed a certain…gravity of responsibility happening. Fixating on whether [insert activity here] is a “good” use of time. Wondering if I am doing enough (spoiler: I never am, in my own estimation) to move things in positive directions.

I think I know what that is. It’s a sneaky new tactic for the worst impulses of my inner critic: a means to corrupt a legitimate interest in my own wellness without being obviously nasty. Becoming a taskmaster rather than a coach. And the playful parts of me see this and promptly nope the hell out to go hide in their bedroom, figuratively speaking, Can’t say as I blame them.

I have not been paying enough attention to the state of my inner landscape. Things have been too busy and too overwhelming and now we have the psychic equivalent of walking downstairs this morning and suddenly realizing that somehow there are pizza boxes and empty instant ramen packets and laundry everywhere and you’re not entirely sure how the heck that happened exactly.

There is a reconnection that needs to happen.

I can probably blame almost all of this on some combination of the pandemic and its forces – the isolation, the restrictions on where to go and what to do, the narrowing of the universe and the restriction on stimuli – and the overall creeping dread one is nearly overwhelmed by when contemplating…everything these days. None (or almost none) of any of that is within my control; I can acknowledge it and do the little I may, but I will not be able to address this by removing the cause(s).

The urge to try to Fix This, right now, is remarkably strong, but I fear if I give in to it right away that will just be perpetuating that second issue by turning this into another opportunity to be self-critical. Which will also not be helping.

So…okay. Let’s just try and sit with this a bit, at first, and then try to focus on that reconnection. Don’t “fix” it. Just spend some time thinking and doing and try to be careful not to turn everything into a referendum on something. Recognize the critical “why are you not FIXING THIS” impulses as they come up, set them aside, and keep trying.

That is going to be very hard.

I suppose I will see how it goes.

Sharing

Gave myself the “day off” yesterday, what with it being our anniversary and all. This is technically day 8 of the challenge, but I think I may stop formally counting. It’s clutter in my titles, and anyway it isn’t as though I am saving up for some Cause or other.

And it was a pretty good day all things considered. Had a nice mellow sort of morning, got our grocery shopping done, then ran through a bunch of cleaning operations so that we could have a little company out in the backyard in the evening.

And the chocolate folks sent me a replacement, with a sweet little bonus in the form of the heart you see at right:

THIS is what they’re supposed to look like. Gorgeous, no?

I wrote back to the “contact” address explicitly to say that we were really happy with them and that I looked forward to ordering from them again…and also, if any management-type folks happened to be reading this message, the person I worked with was really lovely and I felt they should hear the compliment. (I hope that helped improve someone’s day.)

Later on, of course, there was dinner to do; as it turned out we had something of a celebration of summer produce, with our guests bringing a tomato salad and a strawberry-rhubarb cake and our own offerings being a pile of bright-yellow Ontario corn and these somewhat-fussy-to-build but very tasty Grilled Chicken and Peach Saltimbocca Skewers. (I haven’t got photos just now, but was promised them by one of the aforementioned guests; I’ll get back to you with them later if anyone in the world is reading this and might care.)

We followed that up with a little screening of some episodes of Masterchef before seeing our guests off home. I did propose a screening of the classic Rear Window, possibly my favorite Hitchcock and one that seems quite seasonally-appropriate in summer heat as sticky and clinging as this, but to date I have not been able to get anyone to watch it with me. I’m not sure if this means I am just old, or the tolerance for the more sedate pacing of vintage films is lowered, or what.

Its trailer is rather fun, though:

Afterward, a cozy, quiet time, staying up far too late watching old music videos, walking through the sounds and songs that were most important to him, talking over with him what they might say about him.

He asked me later why I hadn’t done the same, walked him through music that was important to me. “Well, you didn’t ask,” I said. And besides, I was pretty sure the kinds of things I actually listened to Back Then weren’t likely to be found on YouTube.

Today, though, I wonder a little. I mean, sure, there can’t be that big of a market for ballads even there, but there might be something. But mightn’t it be sort of rude to make someone sit through something as long as the songs I used to play while I was driving back and forth between home and university, back in the day?

I wonder.

It’s a pandemic cliche, but it’s delicious

(Challenge, Day 7)

Like many folks in the last year and a half (or so), I’ve spent some time working on my bread game:

This loaf is just for sandwiches – unlike its fancier artisanal brethren there’s not much in the way of oven spring, and the crust is not particularly crackly, and it’s definitely not going to win any beauty contests.

But, on the other hand, I can mix this together just after breakfast, do a quick knead, and then let it rise – and at lunch I can have fresh bread to make sandwiches with, or serve alongside a soup.

And, what can I say, it’s fun, in that tactile, satisfying sort of way; a sticky, unappetizing mess of raw ingredients gradually becomes something that resembles dough, and then something with a structure and a shape that can be folded into a loaf, and grow into something that actually resembles bread. Then you bake it, and suddenly it’s got a lovely browned top and an actual crumb from all the little traceries of gluten inside.

(If you have salted butter on hand, I highly recommend brushing the top with it.)

Recipe found here.

Delightful things, February 19, 2020

Today, a food edition:

  1. The experience of “seasoning to taste” – gauging the difference before adding that sprinkle of salt or dash of citrus and after it; sensing the layers of a flavor gradually unfurling with every little adjustment.
  2. Adjunct to that: the long and gradual process of learning what seasonings DO. Learning that the presence of one flavor can enhance another, that sweetness can counter and elaborate on heat, that the vague sense of something missing in a dish is often acidity (and that a dash of apple cider vinegar can convert an already perfectly tasty goulash into a superlative one.)
  3. Layers in a laminated pastry, the ones you’ll see in a well-crafted croissant. The way the crisp edges crinkle between the teeth, little valleys embracing half-melted butter and lacings of sweet-tart jam. Knowing that this, somehow, has been rendered from a heap of flour.
  4. “Blooming” pour-over coffee, pouring hot water over ground beans to encourage them to release any gases trapped in the grounds. They expand, bubbling, releasing a wave of that rich coffee scent.
  5. Watching milk fold into coffee or strong black tea, a kind of fractal swirling that mellows into something softer and warmer. It tames acidity, affects heat retention…and, of course, it’s delicious.

Kentucky Route Zero, Act 1: Roll with it.

These are some thoughts on the first act of indie video game Kentucky Route Zero, which just recently – after almost a decade – finally released its fifth and final act. With all of the story available, we can at last begin.

For the curious, here’s the trailer.

This is not the real Kentucky.

I have been to the real Kentucky, as a kid; back in the days when becoming a park ranger was one of my big dreams. Mammoth Cave is here, somewhere; there’s a road that bears its name, and somewhere in my childhood home is a battered caving helmet I returned with as a souvenir from my first wild caving trip.

But this isn’t that Kentucky.

In this Kentucky, trees that burn forever are just part of the landscape. A landmark, like a corner store or a little white clapboard church or one of those memorial plaques for someone whose name rings a bell, in a vague and distant sort of way. This is just where we turn left.

In this Kentucky, there are people playing a mysterious game (Dungeons and Dragons?) in the basement, in the dark, and being unable to see doesn’t seem to bother them. They don’t seem to see me either, even with the lights on. I’m not quite sure if that should bother me.

Ah, well. We roll with it.

—-

The first episode of Kentucky Route Zero is quiet, but not shy about announcing what it is. A man named Conway is making a delivery to 5 Dogwood Drive, and stops for directions at one of those kitschy retro service stations, the one you’ve seen in screenshots if you’re in the habit of following gaming publications: Equus Oils, with the huge and dramatic horse’s head. Immediately I wonder if the name is just a reference to the horse, or to the play – but happily our hero’s eyes are in the usual places, at least for now.

The power is off, because the power is always off in games; the owner seems oddly unconcerned about this, perfectly content to lounge in an antique chair and chat with whoever happens by. Maybe they don’t really sell gas here? Maybe it doesn’t matter.

He has some thoughts about how to get where we’re going, though. We have to take the Zero.

Nobody bats an eye at the impossible number. If that’s where we have to go, then that’s where we have to go. That’s all. We roll with it.

—-

Everything about this presentation seems calculated precisely to lull the player into a kind of meditative dream-state. Visuals are spare, with a careful calculation of angle and lighting and colour and perhaps especially darkness that is striking without taking you out of the moment. Music is quietly lovely – here a surprising little folk song, there a kind of eerie electronic thrumming.

Everywhere I am encouraged to take my time. The spiderweb of little side-roads on my map – none of them the Zero, but it must be there somewhere, unless it mustn’t – is peppered with encounters that have the feel of those tiny little dream-fragments one wakes up with when the alarm jangles in. But the alarm isn’t coming, not here, and when the fragment is over, here is the map once more, and I am no wiser about where I am than I was before. Though perhaps I have learned a little more about Conway.

In a way that seems to be the point, really. I can’t help but notice how the decisions we’re making have a lot more to do with what kind of person our hero is and what’s behind him than what’s before him. We’ve chosen to take this ride, and we’re going where it’s going; it is our own perceptions we change with our decision-making.

We roll with it.

Delightful things, Monday, Feb. 2, 2020

In the spirit of this morning’s This American Life, some things that are delightful:

  1. Apparently, big cats are fans of perfume, and Calvin Klein’s Obsession is particularly popular.
  2. Oven spring, the magical phenomenon whereby a ball of flour and salt and water and yeast begins to resemble bread. I do not think I will ever pull a loaf of bread out of the oven without feeling vaguely like an alchemist.
  3. The tactile sensation of folding laundry while it is still warm.
  4. Watching snow fall when one does not have to go out into it.
  5. The teeny-tiny meow of small kittens.