There is, literally, always some damn thing, isn’t there?
If there is not some drama in one’s personal life, there will be something at the office; if it is not that the underwire in one’s favorite bra has snapped it is that that one pair of jeans has at last worn through from long use.
It will be the furnace going out, or the oven element giving up the ghost, or the refrigerator leaking. Or it will be a leak in the bathroom. Or it will be an incursion of carpenter ants.
Or a dying plant in the garden. Or raccoons getting into the garbage cans.
Or a collapsed piece of furniture. Or a missed deadline.
Or a laptop that will not turn on.
Or a blog post that dies in the editor, without a single instant of warning.
Some damn thing.
I suppose you can tell things have gotten really stressful when there stops being space between the little catastrophes of living.
Some of these things are happening now, and some have happened to me before, and some of them have never happened but always seem to be just within range of happening.
And some of them I haven’t thought of yet, but are probably coming anyway.
It’s Friday. These thoughts are too grim for a Friday.
There is a genre of game that isn’t so much meant for playing as it is for “tinkering around with for a little while, regularly.” Commute games. Games for waiting in the lobbies of doctors’ offices or for fidgeting with on long car trips.
Last year’s Animal Crossing was one of these, and one I know was a bit of a pandemic savior for many, as it gave us all a little something to do in the mornings besides read the invariably-terrifying headlines and ponder, you know, the seemingly inevitable degeneration of the world into a blazing mess as we bear witness to the unholy convergence of the accelerationism of the desperate and the indifference of the powerful into…well. This. Screaming a little inside every day. Y’know.
So perhaps it’s appropriate that 2021 has brought us something of the love child of Animal Crossing and Edward Gorey, the creepy-cute Cozy Grove.
Here’s the elevator pitch: You are a Spirit Scout, a member of a community-service group for kids that will look suspiciously like the Scouts we all know with the serial numbers filed off. Your avatar is a bright-eyed young thing with a sash just itching to be filled with merit badges by providing assistance and comfort to the spirits of this world.
Unfortunately for you, you’re stranded on the island of Cozy Grove, which has something of the vibe of a state park and its accompanying small rural town if both had been broken up into jigsaw pieces and scattered about in Limbo. (Not the video game, Limbo as in “a kind of ever-shifting purgatory.”) The only points of true stability here are your campsite (where Flamey, your trusty…familiar? Demon pal? hangs out) and the homes of the spirit folk (mainly bears) you’re assisting in working through their afterlife issues; everything else is constantly shifting.
Each bear (like Patrice the mail-bear above) has their own set of quests for you to do, and their own story to tell, revealed in chunks as you complete said quests. In and around that, you will fish and tend gardens and catch bugs and dig up treasures and do all the other classic things one does in games like this. (At least there is not an exorbitant mortgage to pay off, so there’s that.)
The game is structured so as to reward frequent play in small increments: Complete enough quests and you will be advised in no uncertain terms that you’re done with anything major for the day.
You’re still free to putter about making money or catching fish or decorating or whatnot, but otherwise you’re good to head out and go make of the rest of your day what you will. Tomorrow there will be a few more story bits to complete, and thus the cycle shall continue.
Aesthetically, the game’s certainly appealing – the creepy-cute visuals are accompanied by an extremely chill soundtrack heavy on summer-camp-flavored instrumentation, mainly guitar/banjo-adjacent. The same creepy-cute quality extends through the narrative as well; nearly all of the game’s little plotlines so far have wavered between bleakness and adorability, and the regular emails from your scoutmaster acknowledge what ought to be a rather dire situation (a single child stranded on a remote island) with a remarkably blase cheeriness. There has not, thus far, been any indication that I am likely to be rescued. (It’s certainly possible that your Scout is in fact Dead All Along as well, but I suppose we’ll find out.)
…So how do I feel about it?
I wouldn’t class it as one of my favorite games of all time, or even of 2021 so far: this is a type of game I’ve seen a lot, and other than its black humor it’s not bringing much to the table in the way of novelty. However, as a commute game, it’s solid enough; the little stories are entertaining, the art and writing are amusing, and I appreciate that the experience is deliberately self-limiting to just an hour or so before one is encouraged to come back later.
It definitely beats watching the news while I have that second cup of coffee before work.
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:
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?
So, this week I ordered some chocolates as a present.
They are from a local place that I love very much and they are typically straight-up delightful in that “I will break your arm if you prevent me from taking that one” way. Also, they are beautiful to look at, and I would happily place a little tray of them in front of anyone I was looking to impress, or just wanted to express my affection for (so long as the person in question likes sweets, of course.)
Unfortunately, it looks as though my order met with a misadventure:
Given that these were meant to be a present I’ve reached out to contact the folks who make them, and they’ve been very gracious about offering to replace them – and since there’s plenty of time I’m not overly worried about missing my window to present them or anything, I’m happy to do that.
I also feel rather guilty for reaching out. It’s not THEIR fault that it’s ludicrously hot out there (I wonder if the courier’s AC was out in their vehicle or something like that.)
Be that as it may, they’ve been lovely, and seriously, when there hasn’t been a misadventure of this kind the chocolates are beautiful AND delicious; chocolate fans who might be reading this and live or work in Toronto, check them out.
Some day I will master the art of asking if there’s anything that can be done without feeling like I am somehow overstepping my bounds. Today might not be that day, but at least I did try to do it – so I suppose there’s that?
Ages ago – over a year now – I had some friends over.
This was of course back when one could still do such things, before we all found ourselves isolated to our little pockets of spacetime.
Anyway. The evening was pleasant, a little boisterous even in the way that sometimes happens when someone brings along a box of red wine; but that is not why I mention this now.
I mention this now because one of those friends brought me a little hostess gift, in the form of a ferociously-pink orchid. I am not a Plant Person, you see; I have an absolute genius for doing something or other that just…murders the poor things. Watering too much or not enough or planting things in the wrong places or…well. You get the idea.
So I didn’t have high hopes for its longevity, but found it a little pot and put it on a windowsill and fed it an ice cube every so often and hoped for the best.
Its flowers dropped off, and I assumed that meant it was dead, and then (shameful admission time)…I did nothing to it, for quite some time. The leaves wrinkled up a bit, but that was all otherwise; just the bare stalk and the leaves and the windowsill.
I did not water it. I did not feed it. I did not trim it. I just left it on the windowsill, wondering how it hadn’t yet gone completely black and/or died on me.
I felt faintly ashamed of myself whenever I looked at it, thinking I should really throw it away.
And it got cold, and dark, and began to seem like a terrible idea to be outdoors.
And nothing continued to happen with it, and I kept on thinking I should throw it away and…not doing it, for some reason.
And then, this spring, as it started to warm up outside, I decided okay, really, enough was enough, I should toss this thing, and I walked over to it full of determination to resolve this particular awkwardness once and for all –
…and there was a new stem growing, unobtrusively, split from the original, stretching out toward the glass where it was a little hard to see.
If you looked very closely, there were buds on it.
I stood there a while and just stared at it. How? How on earth was it possible that after being completely neglected for an insanely long time by somebody who is really dreadful at taking care of plants in the first place that this orchid wasn’t just completely toast?
And then I thought: Well. If you are tenacious enough to try to blossom after all that, you deserve a little more attention, I think. Let’s see what we can do to fix you up.
And I used the little clips the plant had come with to “train” the new stem into a similar arch to the previous one, and I fed it some ice cubes once a week, and I waited.
Sure enough, the buds became blossoms, and they are as ferociously pink as before.
Today I had the rather interesting experience of looking for something interesting and/or cultural to do in an age where the place where I live isn’t really open yet; not all the way.
Here is what I learned:
There are an abundance of interesting places to go and do a little online class or something. Take local bakery Le Dolci, for instance; their catalogue of classes makes me crave cake, but there are also courses focusing on goodies such as homemade bagels or scones and lemon curd (yes please.)
I also learned that I am absolutely starving for things to do. For intellectual or aesthetic stimulation of any kind, I suppose. How much of the apathy I have been feeling about…life, generally, really…is due to a lack of this? It has been so long since I have seen or done anything that felt truly novel.
I’ve had so many daydreams of Things to Do.
It is early autumn, and I tuck my scarf into my coat as I explore a series of little vintage shops and bookstores and perhaps even wander about aimlessly in that archetypal music shop where I am not really cool enough to browse, where the obligatory hipster behind the counter gives me the side eye – but it doesn’t matter, because in a little while I will meet a friend for a coffee and a slice of apple pie, and already I can feel my fork crunching through the top layer of crisp-golden pastry.
It is high summer, and I prepare a tray of Red and Blacks to take to the little group in my back garden to ward off that last little bit of the heat as the hours melt and pool into a long drawn-out evening of conversation, the kind that could as easily turn into breakfast, if we let it.
It is pelting rain outside, but that doesn’t matter; we can all dine inside at last, and so I have assembled the biggest group I could muster to come with me for dim sum. If the table does not groan under the weight of feeding our pent-up appetites, it is only from its own long service; dumplings of every description are piled everywhere, and we fall upon them like an army of oddly dainty orcs, our chopsticks battling it out for juicy morsels. It is so loud that we cannot hear ourselves think, but who cares; we are loud in response.
I have found that rarest of beasts, a legitimately quiet bar, and work my way through a cocktail a little too delicious to be entirely safe, savoring it in anticipation: later I will go to a show. A real one. I will sit in my very favorite kind of darkness, that lovely moment of anticipation between the house lights going down and the stage lights coming up, and the play, or the dance, or the opera, or whatever it is, will begin, and I will devour it, taking in every word and flicker and fold.
I visit a museum, at one of the slowest times, wandering quietly amongst the little bits of art and history, unhurried and savoring. It is cool and dark and even in sneakers one’s footsteps seem to echo a little in such big, glossy rooms.
Perhaps I just go to a library and find a stack of books and a comfortable chair and read for hours, somewhere that isn’t my living room.
I suppose all of that will have to stay as daydreams for a little longer, at least.
The sun is out; fluffy clouds drift overhead. In the back garden the clematis and lilies are blooming. There has been at least one honest to god butterfly; I haven’t seen one of those in so long it’s a bit like encountering a mysterious new species on a remote island one’s been shipwrecked on.
Oh, right. Nature. I keep forgetting about aspects of you after a year and a half of time shut up in my house, with nowhere to go and nothing to do.
Oh, right; when it rains sometimes little snails appear on the sidewalk.
Oh, right; if you drop food outside there are ants.
Oh, right; squirrels.
It is moving toward high summer, and the world outside is alive. I should relish this. It seems that everyone else is doing so; I see people walking by outside.
Instead, I am inside re-making all of the beds and washing all of our linens and thinking about death.
How, some day, I will not be here any more, and someone will be doing this for the last time, as they clear out all the remnants of me to make way for whatever will be there afterward. And I will be forgotten about entirely. Maybe that will take a while, or maybe it will happen right away. I have no way of knowing.
When it actually happens, of course, I won’t be able to care about it; I will be dead, and therefore not likely to give much of a damn about anything.
But I hope that not everything that I was gets thrown out with that week’s trash, whenever it happens. This is not a very new or original thought, I know. But it does have a way of bashing at your brain.
It feels positively unjust to be preoccupied by such things on a day like this.
Is it a terrible thing to put this kind of thing forth on the internet? It feels so much more perilous to express anything to the world than it did ten years ago, eleven years ago, more years ago than I like to think back when I was barely out of kid-hood and too naive to read the intentions of people I chatted with but did so anyway.
It seems so easy to say or do the wrong things.
I suppose one day all of that will be forgotten about, too, for all the comfort one can find in that.
The weather outside is gorgeous; the weather inside, not so much.
I suppose I should try and find something to do to relieve these feelings a little. I wonder how successful I will be.
It is underground, ostensibly, but it is an Other sort of place. A sprawling labyrinth where seekers and finders once congregated, set about with mysterious rules and guardians and keepers. It contains all of the stories, every story; it is a Harbor on the shore of a great and starless sea.
Once, the son of a fortune-teller found a door to that place and did not know it. And he did not step through.
I haven’t read anything of Erin Morgenstern’s before now, but found The Starless Sea rather charming (it probably does not hurt that as a massive library fan I am squarely in the target audience.) It’s a bit magical-realism to begin with – shades here of Charles De Lint – and gradually turns into a sort of…kaleidoscopic collection of fragments. As though someone had made up a Tarot deck of elements of the characters’ stories and assorted fables and then played 78-card pickup with them, placing them back into the book in the order they were collected.
There’s a real knack for description here, in my opinion – lush without an excess of enthusiasm – and I particularly enjoyed exploring the more mystical locales in the story; if a few bits of the narrative didn’t really crunch in that satisfying way for me that’s forgivable in favor of hanging out listening to someone’s imagination firing on all cylinders. Fans of tightly-plotted narratives may struggle here, I think – this reviewer over at the NYT certainly seems to have done. (I think I agree with them that as an aesthetic the book is bloody fantastic, though as a story it has some troubles.)
This is also one of the only books I think I have ever read in which a male protagonist has a crush on another man. (I am informed this just means I am not reading the right sorts of books. ;)) The crush, too, is charming; it’s sort of refreshing to see queer folks in stories where their queerness just is.
Honestly, though, if I were to choose a character in this book to be I would pick the girl whose most notable contribution to the world is at the very, very, very end. For reasons that will become very obvious if you read it yourself.
That is a lie, of course; I would not set my challenge without a purpose.
But this is not for anything.
I am not raising money for a Noble Cause (not now, not with this) or embarking on a Grand Project or setting forth on some sort of Quest.
…Maybe I am doing that last one, a little.
But to name what I am trying to do seems to me like a way to threaten it as well, and so I will keep that to myself for now, and instead say: Hello again. How are you?
How have you been?
That last especially seems like a bit of a silly question, doesn’t it; I disappeared from here and from everywhere for over a year because of the Great Sickness that upended everything, and I still cannot decide whether things going “back to normal” seems like a good thing or not.
And yes, I am among the legions for whom it hasn’t been entirely great. I have held up well enough, I suppose; things have gotten done around the house and I have grocery shopped and done laundry on the regular and I have tried to be assiduous about keeping in touch with isolated friends.
I have tried to be supportive, and I have tried to be kind, and I have tried to look after myself, and oh I am not so good at that but I have tried. Honestly. With my inconsistent routines and my wavering but earnest attempts at healthful eating and my persistent failure to sleep enough because sleeping seems to steal time from the precious chunks of free space that aren’t consumed by the minutiae of adulting.
Soon, within the next few months, I must prepare to re-enter the World. To be in places with more than five people. That will be hard, I think.
Perhaps in a way this is training for that.
And perhaps it is just self-care, of a kind. Set a modest goal, try to meet it regularly, without judgment for one’s failures. Sustaining exercises for the voice.
That’s all right.
I may be rather timid at first. I beg a pre-emptive pardon for that.